Tillerson Aide R.C. Hammond Officially Departs @StateDept’s Position

Originally posted December 4, 2017; 2:55 am ET
Updated: Dec 13, 2017 to reflect actual departure (Tillerson Aide R.C. Hammond to Leave @StateDept This Month)

 

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Tillerson Visits Turkey, Gets Complaints Here, and There

Posted: 12:48 am ET
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Below is the transcript of Secretary Tillerson’s ‘meet and greet’ remarks at US Mission Turkey, his first one since his appointment as secretary of state. No photos of the embassy ‘meet and greet’ available so far.

Thank you, thank you. And it is, indeed, a pleasure to be in Ankara and to have the opportunity to visit the embassy here and get a chance to speak to all of you. And what a great way to be greeted, with a great-looking bunch of Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts, and I’m well familiar with both of those organizations and a lifelong scouter myself, and I want to express my appreciation to the adult leadership that it takes to make those opportunities available to these young people. And to the parents that support them as they move down that advancement pathway to earn their way to higher achievement, I’d like to thank all of you as well.

This – and I don’t have to tell you how important this particular mission is to us in terms of its strategic value, its place in the region, but certainly the complexities of what we’re dealing with as a nation and as a world with what’s happening just on the borders here to the south of Turkey. I know it’s a high-stress posting, I know it’s been a difficult couple of years for everyone in terms of status changes in this mission, as well as the other three locations. And so we appreciate your dedication and your commitment throughout all of that, staying the course, keeping up and out in front of you what you know is important, and what’s very important to our nation back home. So I thank all of you for your commitment throughout that period of time.

I also want to talk about three values that I’ve been trying to talk everywhere I go within the State Department. I expressed these on day one when I made my first-day appearance at the Department, and that’s that I have three key values that I think will be useful to all of us as we go about our daily work in terms of how we interact with each other and in terms of how we interact externally as well.

And the first of those is accountability, that I think it’s really important with the work we do, because it is so vital and important that as we produce that work, we’re holding ourselves accountable to the results, and that’s the only way we can hold our partners accountable. We intend to hold other nations accountable in our alliances for commitments they’ve made, but that starts with us holding ourselves accountable, first as individuals, then collectively as an organization. So we ask that everyone really devote themselves to that, recognize that we’re not going to be right all the time. We may make some mistakes and that’s okay. We hold ourselves accountable to those and we’ll learn from those and we’ll move forward, but that it’s important that we always own what we do – that it’s ours and we’re proud to own it.

The second value I’m talking a lot about is honesty. That starts with being honest with each other, first in terms of our concerns, in terms of our differences, and we invite and want to hear about those. That’s how we come to a better decision in all that we do. And only if we do that can we then be honest with all of our partners and allies around the world as well. And still, I mean, we’re going to have our differences, but we’re going to be very honest and open about those, so at least we understand them.

And then lastly is just treating everyone with respect. I know each of us wants to be treated with respect. You earn that by treating others with respect. And again, regardless of someone’s stature in the organization or regardless of what their work assignment may be, or regardless of how they may want to express their view, at all times we’re going to treat each other with respect. And in doing that, you’ll earn the respect of others. So we ask that everyone devote themselves to accountability, honesty, and respect.

And starting with the scout promises and laws, that’s not a bad place either. If you haven’t looked at those, you ought to take a look at them. They’re a pretty good playbook for life, I can tell you that. They’ve been a great playbook in my life throughout all of my professional career prior to coming to this position, and they continue to guide me every day in terms of how I want to hold myself accountable is against those principles.

So again, I appreciate what all of you are doing on behalf of the State Department, in particular what you’re doing on behalf of our country, both those of you that are here on posting as well as those of you who are part of our national workforce as well. So I thank all of you for your dedication and commitment. I appreciate you coming out today. It is a rather nice, beautiful day, so I knew I’d come out too. (Laughter.) But again, thank you all for what you’re doing. It’s just a real delight to see you. Thank you. (Applause.)

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Gay Men Allegedly Attacked Over #Orlando Condolence Photo Published by US Embassy Côte d’Ivoire

Posted: 3:50 am ET
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Gay Ivorian men who signed the Orlando condolence book at the U.S. Embassy in Abidjan were reportedly attacked by an anti-gay mob after the embassy published a photo of them on the embassy’s website.   According to the AP, the embassy contacted three LGBT organizations but did not contact the men directly prior to putting the photo online. The embassy’s press officer reportedly told the AP that the embassy “deeply regrets that any individuals were attacked based on any kind of orientation they might have.”

She added that the embassy was in contact with the men and urged them to report the attacks to the police. Nonetheless, the photo was still up on the embassy’s website early Wednesday, with Ategou saying that there had been no request to remove it.

Waaaaaah!

Pardon us for that …

As of this writing, the photo no longer appears to be anywhere on the embassy’s website or on the Wayback Machine.

Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 2015 | Cote d’Ivoire

Via State/DRL:

Acts of Violence, Discrimination, and Other Abuses Based on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity

No law criminalizes homosexuality. The law’s only mention of same-sex sexual activity is as a form of public indecency that carries a penalty of up to two years’ imprisonment, the same prescribed for heterosexual acts performed in public. Antidiscrimination laws exist, but they do not address discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity (see section 7.d.).

Unlike in previous years, there were no reports of security forces beating, imprisoning, extorting, or humiliating members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) community due to their sexual orientation. Law enforcement authorities were at times slow and ineffective in their response to societal violence targeting the LGBTI community. The few LGBTI organizations in the country operated freely but with caution.

There was no official discrimination based on sexual orientation in employment, housing, or access to education or health care. Nevertheless, societal stigmatization of the LGBTI community was widespread, and many members reported discrimination at health clinics, particularly when seeking treatment for sexually transmitted infections. Persons believed to be gay also faced societal discrimination in finding employment and housing.

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Leaks in the Department of State in 1963, and a Scolding on Leaks in 2015

Posted: 1:40 am EDT
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Foreign Policy’s John Hudson recently did a report on Secretary John Kerry admonishing State Department employees about making unauthorized disclosures to the press.

In a tense Monday meeting about leaks, which was promptly, well, leaked to Foreign Policy, Kerry told staff to keep a lid on internal deliberations or find a new place to work.
[…]
“In slightly more polite words, Kerry said if you want to leak, you can get the f— out,” a State Department official said.

Asked about the meeting, State Department spokesman John Kirby said at no time did Kerry “discourage anybody at the State Department not to talk to the media.”

Read more  (registration may be required):

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The National Archives,  did a blogpost on Leaks in the Department of State, 1963 on March 17, 2015. That post includes an 8-page memo to President Kennedy on how Under Secretary of State George W. Ball (then the Department’s #2 official) plan to deal with the issue.

On April 28, Mr. Langbart posted additional documentation on what led to that memorandum in his post,  Leaks in the Department of State, 1963: Antecedents.

By early September 1962, President Kennedy and Under Secretary Ball were discussing how to handle relations with the press.  To brief the Under Secretary and provide him with food for thought, Assistant Secretary of State for Public Affairs Robert Manning to sent Ball a long memorandum.

Among the points he made were (the following are all direct quotations from Manning’s memo to Ball, 1962):

  • [O]ccasionally top officials of the government display a certain lack of reality about (a) the degree to which we can expect the day-to-day coverage of foreign policy to reflect only the assessments and characteristics that we believe are the correct ones, and (b) the degree to which we react to individual stories or pieces of speculation we do not like.
  •  [I]n almost all instances where given stories or reports seem to raise serious problems for us, experience shows that a few hours or a few days later there was, in fact, no real cause for demonstrable concern. We too often allow ourselves to react when in fact the problem would disappear — or prove to have been non-existent — if we were to just relax and move on to other matters.
  •  [W]e have to give more thought to what can be done to protect the main objective, namely the pursuit of the national interest, from harm or mischief that can be done by ill-considered reporting or ill-considered talk and gossip by government officials.
  •  I would be deeply concerned — for the government, for the Administration and for the President himself — if this concern were to provoke us into oppressive practices or other inhibitions that would not solve the problem yet might very well hamper the ability of officials to get the information they need and use it for legitimate conduct of their duties.
  •  I might give a few opinions on what produces the kind of talk and gossip and bits and pieces of fact and fancy that make up a large part of the dialogue between officials and the press in Washington.
  •  There is no doubt . . . that the official State Department position is that within the limits of national security and national interests there is supposed to be direct dialogue between officiers [sic] dealing with policy and members of the press. . . . and it is in the interests of the competent men dealing with policies to take a direct responsibility for making those policies clear to responsible correspondents.
  •  People who talk to the press are supposed to be motivated by the simple purpose of the Department policy, namely to explain policies to the American people and to make a public use of the power of the press and of public discussion to help carry its policies forward.
  •  Often, however, those who talk are propelled by other impulses:

— There are a few who get a simple personal enjoyment out of talking with newsmen, out of cultivating them, their acquaintance, their approval, and . . . out of the personal publicity and identity that can be attained by press, and . . . public attention.

 — There are the simply garrulous types who in fact enjoy being in the know and are apt occasionally to try to demonstrate this point. . . .

 — There are those who use the channel of the press to leak partial information on policies they oppose, in the hope that such publicity will defeat or amend those policies; or who, conversely, will talk prematurely in order to push a policy into the open and therefore closer to acceptance. . . .

—  There are those who in all sincerity believe they have all the facts at their command and that they have a mandate to make them clear and forthright within the confines of security practices and other restrictions.  This type represents the best and in my estimate should be protected should there be any attempt to bring the other types under control.

 — There is the person whose primary function is to talk to the press on behalf of the government in the role of information officer or public affairs adviser or spokesman or whatever you want to call him. Since this is the breed that includes . . .  myself . . . , I have a particular interest in promoting their worth and enhancing their value. . . .  I do feel strongly however that more has to be done about bringing this group or a representative of this group into the very middle of the most delicate situations. . . .   Once a correspondent knows he is talking with a person “who was there” and once he has come to trust that person, he is willing to stake his own reputation on the information he gets. . . . .

  • I do not believe that there are any simple mechanical ways in which the problem of leaks and unknowing conversations can be completely cured. I would be strongly opposed to any steps designed sharply to inhibit responsible officers from contacts with the press . . . [as they] would have unfortunate repercussions in the actual performance of officials in the Department.
  • It may be possible . . . to produce a sharper awareness of the problem and to get some useful result if you were to follow your idea of talking personally to officials . . . of the Department about the nature of this problem and the concern that is felt by you, the Secretary and the President.
  • [I]t would also be of immense help if some similar educational process could be applied to that area of the White House staff that maintains its own intimate and, frequently, very thorough intercourse with the press.

Read the original post here via Text Message.

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State Dept Responds to Purported ISIS ‘Hit List’ — This Gives Me A Sad

Posted: 3:18 pm EDT
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On August 16, we blogged this: Purported ISIS ‘Hit List’ With 1,482 Targets Includes State Department Names.  We asked the State Department about this over the weekend. We wanted to know if the agency has been able to confirmed the affected State personnel. The State Department, on background, told us this:

We acknowledge the reports. While we will not comment on or confirm the specifics of this particular assertion, we know that malicious actors often target email accounts of government and business leaders across the United States.

We’ve also inquired about its response, or guidance to personnel , if any, and the State Department, still on background, would only say this:

We believe it is important for not only government and private sector companies but also individuals to improve their cybersecurity practices. That is why this Administration is working hard to raise our cyber defenses across the board.

Yikes! ¯\_(ツ)_/¯  

Well, we hope they’re talking to employees behind the firewall with more substance than this two-sentence practically useless response.

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We have not been able to find anything State Department related-response/guidance on this on the public net, but DOD has some useful reminders posted on the wide-web, no logons required. The first set of slides below is actually a social networking cybersecurity awareness briefing by Diplomatic Security. The slide set appears dated a few years back (uses 2009 examples) and is not available, as far as we can tell, from state.gov. We found this set posted on the slideshare site maintained by the Defense Department. The other two set of slides are on opsec for families and one on geotagging safety for those who posts photos online. both from the DOD site.

Social Networking Cybersecurity Awareness


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Social Media Cyber Security Awareness Briefing | OPSEC For Families

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Social Media Roundup/Geotagging Safety

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U.S. Embassy Caracas Issues Security Message on Recent Detention of Several U.S. Citizens in Venezuela

Posted: 00:53 EST
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We saw this the other night:

 

On March 4, the US Embassy in Caracas issued the following security message on the recent detention of U.S. citizens in Venezuela:

The U.S. Embassy wishes to call to the attention of U.S. citizens traveling to or living in Venezuela the Government of Venezuela’s recent detention of several U.S. citizens in Venezuela. Under the Vienna Convention, if you are arrested overseas, you have the option to request that the police, prison officials, or other authorities alert the nearest U.S. embassy of your arrest and to have communications from you forwarded to the nearest U.S. embassy. In practice, the Venezuelan government frequently fails to notify the U.S. Embassy when U.S. citizens are arrested or detained, and/or delays or denies to U.S. detainees. Please ask friends or family to notify the U.S. Embassy immediately on your behalf should you be detained by government authorities.

This announcement is available on the U.S. embassy website, but is not/not available on the embassy’s Facebook or Twitter feed.  When we inquired from the embassy’s Public Affairs Office, we were told to direct our inquiry to the Consular Section. Like whaaat?

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This can’t possibly be an easy time for what is already a challenging environment, so let that slide for now.  The American Citizen Service at Embassy Caracas did not respond to our inquiry.  A related note, the Diplomatic Security’s Crime and Safety report on Venezuela in 2014 says:

Harassment of U.S. citizens by airport authorities and some segments of the police are limited but do occur. Any incident should be reported to American Citizen Services (ACS) Unit at the U.S. Embassy. The ACS Unit can be reached by telephone at +58 (212) 907-8365 or by e-mail at ACSVenezuela@state.gov.

The recent detention of U.S. citizens in Venezuela is clearly an escalation beyond simple harassment.

The United States does not appear to have a bilateral agreement with Venezuela concerning mandatory notification when it comes to the arrest of U.S. nationals in Venezuela.

However, Venezuela is a party to the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations (VCCR), a multilateral treaty to which the United States and more than 170 other countries are party. This is the same treaty that President Maduro cited in announcing the reduction of U.S. Embassy staff in Caracas (see Venezuela: Nicolas Maduro’s Theory of Everything — Blame The Yanquis!).

Venezuela is also a party to Treaty of Peace, Friendship, Navigation and Commerce with the United States of America, Jan. 20, 1836, 12 Bevans 1038 (entered into force May 31, 1836), a bilateral agreement addressing consular issues with the U.S. since 1836 (see Consular Notification and Access-pdf).

Let’s stop here for a moment and look at Texas. As in Medellin v. Texas. The United States has been cited for failing to provide consular notification in cases brought by Paraguay in 1998, by Germany in 1999,and by Mexico in 2003 before the International Court of Justice.

State Department officials have travelled since 1997 but more extensively since 2003, throughout the United States to give classes and seminars about consular notification and access to federal, state, and local law enforcement, corrections and criminal justice officials.

The obligations of consular notification and access apply to U.S. citizens in foreign countries just as they apply to foreign nationals in the United States. The State Department’s guidance to the arrest of foreigners in the United States is to “treat a foreign national as you would want a U.S. citizen to be treated in a similar situation in a foreign country.”

Because when we don’t, it’s hard to make a  case that other countries should abide by their obligation for consular notification and access when U.S. citizens are arrested overseas.

And as if things are not strange enough in the U.S.-Venezuela relations, take this one:
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Amb to Canada Bruce Heyman Retweets Embassy on Locked Down Tweet, Confusion Follows

— Domani Spero
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On October 22, 2014, a gunman now identified by police as Michael Zehaf-Bibeau (32) fatally shot Corporal Nathan Cirillo, a soldier on guard duty at the Canadian National War Memorial in Ottawa, Canada. Following the shootings, downtown Ottawa was placed on lockdown while police searched for any potential additional shooters. According to media reports, the lockdown lasted into the evening and ended at 8:25 p.m. ET, when the safety perimeter in downtown Ottawa was lifted.

Earlier that day, we saw this news clip from ABC7 I-Team Investigation. The US Mission Canada has about a thousand employees, but okay, Ambassador Heyman is the best known Chicago man at the mission:

Screen Shot 2014-10-25

Ambassador Heyman retweeted  Embassy Ottawa’s tweet that post is in lockdown. Apparently, 421 tweeple, (including this blog) also retweeted that embassy tweet.

Screen Shot 2014-10-25 at 4.35.51 PM

On October 23, ABC7 made a follow-up report:

As it turns out, Ambassador Heyman, a former Chicago investment banker, was not locked down in the Embassy or even in Ottawa, the I-Team has learned. It is unclear where he was.
[snip]
We were told by Embassy press assistant Jennifer Young that “the Ambassador is not available for interviews at this time. As far as the situation here in Ottawa, what I can tell you about this evolving situation is that the embassy is currently locked down.”

We were not informed by Ms. Young that the ambassador was actually not present and his retweet that “we are currently on lockdown” suggested he was indeed hunkered down with his staff. A woman who answered Ambassador Heyman’s cell phone did not say that he was out of the office and took a message which was not returned. Heyman did not respond to emails or social media messages.
[snip]
On Thursday, after we reported that the ambassador was locked down with the rest of his staff, his public affairs chief Diane Sovereign contacted the I-Team, stating that “the Ambassador was not in the Embassy yesterday and has not returned to Ottawa.” Ms. Soveriegn said that they “don’t post the Ambassador’s location on the Embassy website.”
[snip]
We repeatedly asked Embassy officials for the whereabouts of the ambassador during the incident and whether he was in Chicago. The spokesperson would not say where he was, nor why he wasn’t in the Embassy at the time of the attack that occurred about a quarter-mile away. His staff members at the Embassy were on security lockdown for more than eight hours on Wednesday.

 

Typically, our ambassadors are engage in external relations while his/her deputy chief of mission manages the internal business of the embassy. So it would not at all be surprising if the ambassador was not inside the embassy that day.

On October 21, @BruceAHeyman tweeted this:

We understand that #TechDayontheHill was held in Ottawa, so we know that the day before the incident, he was in Ottawa.

On October 22, he retweeted several official USG messages from the White House, the National Security Council, and the State Department related to the Ottawa attack.  According to Ottawa Citizen, upwards of 50 ambassadors were in Regina on Wednesday, (the day of the attack) for an economic forum, organized for the diplomatic corps by the Department of Foreign Affairs, Trade and Development and the government of Saskatchewan. So maybe he was in Saskatchewan that day?

Then, it looks like he was in Ontario on October 23:

 

So if Ambassador Heyman “has not returned to Ottawa,”when the lockdown occurred, he  could have been in Saskatchewan or traveling to  Ontario for that speech?

We don’t think anyone expects the embassy to post on its website the ambassador’s location but his whereabouts during the Ottawa attack is certainly of public interest. He is President Obama’s personal representative in Canada. We expect that as chief of mission, he would have been in constant contact with the embassy.  If he was not in lockdown with his staff, where was he?

We know that some sections at some posts have instructions not to talk to this blog. We don’t know how widespread is that instruction so we wrote to Embassy Ottawa’s public affairs folks anyway and see if we can get some clarification on the ambassador’s whereabouts.

On October 27, we heard back from Diane Sovereign, Embassy Ottawa’s Cultural Attaché who told us that on October 22, Ambassador Heyman was on “a pre-scheduled trip for meetings in the Toronto area and was not in the Embassy at all on that day.” The ABC affiliate reporting about the embassy’s Chicago connection incorrectly assume that Ambassador Heyman was inside the embassy during the lockdown. Ms. Sovereign said that “At no point on October 22 did any media outlet ask us about the Ambassador’s location or ask us to confirm that he was inside the Embassy.” Following the original report talking about Ambassador Heyman “caught in the mayhem” and locked down inside the Embassy, Embassy Ottawa reportedly reached out to the ABC affiliate asking that the inaccuracies be corrected.

The response we received from Embassy Ottawa did point out that the embassy, for understandable reasons, does not make public the ambassador’s schedule or location but — there actually was a second part to that response — if asked:

“For security reasons, we normally do not make public the Ambassador’s travel schedule or specific location.  However, if asked, we have no issue confirming whether the Ambassador is or is not inside the Embassy,” Ms. Sovereign said.

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Media Operations Centers in Afghanistan: $7.2Million Build/Suspend and Demolish Projects

— Domani Spero
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They’re called MOCs or Media Operations Centers (MOCs). We’re building them in Afghanistan.  One State Department grant was for the construction of one MOC at Balkh University for $3,782,980. A second grant was for the construction of another MOC at Nangarhar University for $3,482,348. The grant awards totaled $7,265,328, and the periods of performance for both grants were October 1, 2013, through December 31, 2014.   According to State/OIG, these grants were executed in Afghanistan by Omran Holding Group (OHG) with two subcontractors, Capitalize Omran—a company based in Washington, DC, responsible for managing the overall project—and TriVision Studios, the firm responsible for outfitting the MOCs with broadcasting equipment. Apparently, the contraction construction related to both grants was suspended in January 2014 and has not resumed. On September 18, State/OIG recommended the immediate termination of the two grant agreements. Why?

Based on preliminary results of the audited sample, OIG identified areas of concern related to two construction grants being executed in Afghanistan by Omran Holding Group (OHG) that require immediate attention. These areas of concern include misuse of Government funds, significant noncompliance with Federal regulations, and inaccurate financial reporting. Additionally, OHG failed to comply with the terms of one grant agreement by beginning construction without required design approval, and also began construction of the building in the wrong location. We therefore recommended, among other actions, that the Bureau of South and Central Asian Affairs (SCA) immediately terminate grant agreements S-AF200-13-CA-012 and S-AF200-13-CA-014 with OHG, and that the Bureau of Administration’s Office of the Procurement Executive (A/OPE) develop Department guidance regarding the use of Federal assistance funds for overseas construction.

 

So one MOC was constructed without the required design approval:

“The grants required that the recipient develop building designs for the MOCs and that these designs be approved by the Department prior to the commencement of construction. However, OHG “jumped” the construction schedule and began to construct the Balkh University MOC in December 2013, without prior approval from the Department. As a result, certain aspects of the newly constructed structure were not in accordance with the Department’s requirements for the building design.”

The same MOC was constructed in the wrong location, and had to be demolished no later than October 31, 2014.

“OHG began the Balkh University MOC construction in the wrong location, based on the direction of a local Afghan government official who did not have the authority to direct the grantee, resulting in the need to demolish the new structure.” 

How did we end up from design/build to build/demolish?

State/OIG may have an answer:

“OIG also noted concerns related to the Department’s oversight of construction grants, in general. Specifically, the Department had no policies or procedures for awarding or overseeing construction grants, which resulted in ineffective construction grant agreements. For example, the OHG grant agreements lacked details that are normally included in construction contracts, and the terms and conditions were created by the GOR without documented input or approval from Department legal representatives or construction specialists.”

The Bureau of South and Central Asian Affairs (SCA) and the Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan (SRAP) concurred with the recommendations with the later noting that the termination letters for each award are currently in the clearance process. A response from the SRAP also notes that the Public Affairs Section (PAS) at embassy Kabul has “obligated more than 975 awards totaling over  $270,000,000  under extraordinarily challenging circumstances.”

Think about that for a moment.

We don’t know how many MOCs have been constructed in Afghanistan, but in January 2013, the State Department announced a $325,000 award for “the completion of the PAS-funded Media Operations Center (MOC) at Herat University”and a maximum award for $200,00 for the  the operation and maintenance of this facility for a period of up to 24 months.  In spring 2013, the US Embassy in Kabul also announced the inauguration of a state-of-the-art Media Operations Center (MOC) at Kabul University.  The Embassy provided a $2.67 million grant to the HUDA Development Organization, to build and equip the Media Operations Center there.

So just to round-up, our precise and active verbs for these Afghanistan projects now include: design, build, suspend,complete, equip, maintain, and demolish. Also terminate.

Although, possibly, terminate is only good until a new grantee can be located to complete these grants.

Read the audit here (pdf) and weep.

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SIGAR: Not angling for another gov job, movie role, book advance or to be next YouTube hottie

Domani Spero
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“Unless a piece of information is legitimately classified or otherwise restricted, it ought to be available, even if disclosure is not technically required. And, when disclosure is legally required, as by the IG Act, then agency refusal to provide timely access to the data is intolerable.” — DIG Gene Aloise, SIGAR 

 

Patrol Boat Purchased for the Afghan National Police (SIGAR photo)

A BOAT, A BOAT! Patrol Boat Purchased for the Afghan National Police (SIGAR photo)

A couple of days ago, Gene Aloise, the Deputy Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) was at the CIGIE Federal Audit Executive Council Annual Conference in Virginia and gave a speech on “Transparency—For the IGs and the Public Interest.” He was standing in for John Sopko, the IG, who apparently is still recovering from knee surgery.  Excerpt below:

You may have noticed that many SIGAR reports have made the news. One reason is that we publish, post, tweet, and otherwise publicize virtually everything we do.

Some people are unhappy with the fact we get press coverage, even though our two-person press shop pales in comparison to the squadrons of PR people at Embassy Kabul, ISAF, or DOD. Some people think we’re doing this to attract attention and gratify our egos.

They are mistaken. Neither John nor I are angling for another government job, movie role, book advance, or trying to become the next YouTube sensation.

We simply follow the basic principles that: (1) unless it’s a security risk or classified, we publish it; and(2) if it’s worth publishing, it’s worth publicizing.

We seek publicity because publicity has impact.

Very few Americans have seen the Health and Human Services Department IG reports on billing fraud against Medicare for motorized wheelchairs. But millions of people have had the chance to read, in print or online, the Washington Post’s 4,000-word illustrated story on August 16 that dramatized and humanized the problem.

The Post noted that Medicare has paid out more than $8 billion for motorized wheelchairs for 2.7 million people, even though a large but unknown portion of the payments involved offers of free wheelchairs, recruitment of people with no mobility problems, and prescriptions faked by corrupt doctors or even by scammers using the names of dead doctors.

That’s the kind of story that gets attention. Editorial writers, ordinary citizens, congressional staff, and think-tank researchers pick up on such revelations and weigh in. Members of Congress call hearings and draft legislation. Agency heads eagerly or reluctantly draft responses, policies, and testimony. With any luck, things get better, whether systematically or a bit at a time.

Let’s face it: No matter how good an IG audit, GAO report, or commission finding may be, if it falls into a black hole and molders unnoticed while Washington bustles on, it helps no one.

Widespread dissemination of IG reports can promote the following good outcomes:

  • Publicity brings problems to the attention of senior leaders whose information gatekeepers may not have relayed unwelcome news.
  • Exposing incidents of waste can motivate people to do the right thing, whether sharpening their own performance or calling out problems.
  • Publicity may prompt managers to take corrective action before they get a nasty memo from the boss.
  • Publicity can deter government contractors from cutting corners, using substandard materials, or tolerating unsafe practices if they fear they may not get paid, or be debarred.
  • Publicity can deter fraud. When potential wrongdoers read about a federal civilian, military member, or contractor going to jail and paying big fines for taking kickbacks or bribes, or stealing, or smuggling, they may decide not to give in to temptation.
  • Publicity can encourage people to come forward to the IG community. Some of our best tips and other information have come from senior officials, including generals and ambassadors, who approach us here or in the field, or use the SIGAR fraud hotline.
  • Publicity that points out successes and best practices can encourage agencies to continue improving their own performance, or to follow the example others have set.
  • Finally, and perhaps most importantly, publicizing our work gives the American taxpayer—and congressional appropriators—confidence that someone appointed by the President of the United States is looking out for how their money is spent.

As our friends in the armed services would say, publicity is a force multiplier for the substantive results of your hard work.

When you turn up an important finding that involves serious threats to mission, to lives, to public funds, or the public interest, don’t be shy about spreading the word beyond the usual channels of distribution. It’s legitimate, it’s helpful, and—even if some officials get peeved at you— it’s a public service.

Read the whole thing here.

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Monday Inbox: US Embassy Baghdad’s Conrad Turner Recites a Russian Poem, And ….

— Domani Spero

Updated on 3/24 at 11:24 pm PST: The YouTube description now indicates that this is “One of four videos celebrating international poetry during the visit to Iraq of poets from the University of Iowa’s Writers’ Workshop.”

The video below was published by U.S. Embassy Baghdad on March 4, 2014 on YouTube. The video includes the English and Arabic text translation of a Russian poem.  The speaker is the embassy’s Public Affairs Counselor in Baghdad reciting a poem by Russian poet Alexander Sergeyevich Pushkin in Baghdad. The embassy’s AIO also recited a poem last February; can’t say whose work he is reciting here, can you?

Oh, please don’t get us wrong, we love poetry.  We love Mary Oliver’s “Wild Geese and  Lawrence Ferlinghetti’s “Underwear“and Keats, and Yeats, and Billy Collins, too.  But somebody from that building sent us an email asking if this is “really clever use of PD time and money?” So we went and look.  The YouTube post is 1:40 min in length, has 256 views, and does not include any context as to why our U.S. diplomat in Baghdad is reciting a Russian poem. What’s the purpose why this video is up, anyways? Was this part of a larger event? Nothing on the embassy’s website indicate that it is.  Was he just feeling it?  We can’t say, no explainer with the vid.  This could, of course, be part of celebrating poetry month, but the National Poetry Month in the U.S. has been celebrated in April since 1996.

In related news, according to iraqbodycount.org, the March civilian casualties in Iraq is currently at 749; the year-to-date count is 2,755 deaths.

Well, what do you think –  is this “really clever use of PD time and money?” or is this Reality Detachment, a chapter in Peter Van Buren’s future novel?

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