Hopeless But Optimistic: Journeying through America’s Endless War in #Afghanistan (Excerpt)

Posted: 2:24 am ET
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Douglas Wissing previously wrote a book entitled, Funding the Enemy: How US Taxpayers Bankroll the Taliban.  He’s back with a new book, Hopeless but Optimistic: Journeying through America’s Endless War in Afghanistan. Kirkus Review calls it “a scathing dispatch” with “pungent, embittered, eye-opening observations of a conflict involving lessons still unlearned.”

As he gets into Kabul to embed with the military, the author notes “a USAID (United States Agency for International Development) billboard proclaiming women’s rights in English and Dari that few Afghan females can read, because almost 90 percent of them are still illiterate after more than a decade and $100 billion spent on grotesquely mismanaged US aid programs.”

That Ring Road?  Wissing writes, “During his frantic reelection push after the botched Iraq invasion, President George W. Bush decided that refurbishing the Ring Road on a yeehaw schedule in 2003 would show Afghans how things were done the American way. Well, it did. The highway is infamous for its poor construction and extravagant price.”

It’s that kind of book. It reminds us of Peter Van Buren’s We Meant Well book on Iraq.

A couple of notes, Chapter 35 titled Embassy includes a nugget about Embassy Kabul refusing to allow the author to meet with SIGAR John Sopko who was also at post, without a minder. Sopko, according to Wissing was furious, demanding a private meeting without embassy handlers but “the diplomats won’t budge.”

Chapter 36 talks about Loss.  A cynical USAID financial officer earlier told the author that “given the amount of money the United States was pushing on the Afghan insiders who were “bankers,” he didn’t blame them for stealing it.” This is in relation to the Bank of Kabul scandal that involved an almost $900 million Ponzi scheme of fraudulent loans. The chapter also talks about Anne Smedinghoff and four other Americans, including three soldiers and an interpreter lost during a suicide attack in Qalat. The author previously meet Smedinghoff during a visit to the embassy compound in Kabul where the latter acted as his minder, assigned to escort him for an interview with a Justice Department official who was working the Afghan Threat Finance Cell (ATFC).

The author told us that he find audiences in the U.S. are often surprised to learn that Afghanistan remains our largest foreign military engagement–$44 billion requested for FY 2017 (vs $5 billion for Syria) “to add to the trillion dollars already wasted.” He also notes that around 10,000 US troops are still there, along with up to 26,000 defense contractors.

We’re posting an excerpt of the book courtesy of Amazon Kindle/Preview:

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Former @StateDept Employee Assigned to PRT Kirkuk Indicted in $2M Government Contract Conspiracy

Posted: 1:50 am EDT
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On December 18, the USDOJ announced the indictment by a grand jury of former State Department employee, Kenneth Apple, 65, of Beaverton, Oregon, on charges related to his role in allegedly awarding $2 million in micro-dairy contracts from the U.S. government for use in Iraq.

Via DOJ/U.S. Attorney’s Office, Eastern District of Virginia:

According to the indictment, Apple, a former employee with the U.S. Department of State, helped to steer the sole-sourcing of $2 million in micro-dairy contracts to a company in which his son, Jonathan Apple, owned a 50 percent interest.  However, Jonathan Apple and his partner had no technical experience in the industry.  Kenneth Apple conspired to use his official position to pass on non-public information to his son in order to fraudulently award and administer government contracts.  The conspirators further provided false information to, and concealed material details from the U.S. government.

According to the indictment, Kenneth Apple provided templates and technical specifications used in the proposal submitted by Jonathan Apple and his partner to the U.S. government.  In addition, Kenneth Apple caused false and misleading statements to be made to the U.S. government regarding his experience, ownership interest, and the status of the projects.  For example, Kenneth Apple directed a conspirator to keep Jonathan Apple’s name off the company’s website and any ownership documents.  When federal law enforcement agents confronted Kenneth Apple about the scheme, he made false statements, including that he could not recall the owner of the company that won the micro-dairy contracts and that he did not receive any money from the contracts.

Kenneth Apple faces a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison if convicted of wire fraud or obstruction of an official proceeding, and five years in prison if convicted of conspiracy or false statements.  The maximum statutory sentence is prescribed by Congress and is provided here for informational purposes, as the sentencing of the defendant will be determined by the court based on the advisory Sentencing Guidelines and other statutory factors.

Dana J. Boente, U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia; Paul M. Abbate, Assistant Director in Charge of the FBI’s Washington Field Office; Frank Robey, Director of the U.S. Army Criminal Investigation Command’s Major Procurement Fraud Unit (MPFU); and Robert E. Craig, Special Agent in Charge for the Defense Criminal Investigative Service’s (DCIS) Mid-Atlantic Field Office, made the announcement.  Assistant U.S. Attorneys Uzo Asonye and Katherine Wong are prosecuting the case.

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According to court records, Kenneth D. Apple was arrested on December 18 in Oregon.  His defense is currently listed as the Office of the Federal Public Defender in Alexandria, Virginia.

The indictment says that Kenneth D. Apple was a civilian employee with the Department of State assigned to the Kirkuk PRT in Iraq from January 2009 through March 2011 as an agricultural advisor.  Micro-dairy processors are self-contained, mini-factories that are used to process milk into cheese and yogurt.

Related court documents and information may be found on the website of the District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia or on PACER by searching for Case No. 1:15-cr-363.

An indictment contains allegations that a defendant has committed a crime. Every defendant is presumed to be innocent until and unless proven guilty in court.

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Related items:

News: Micro-dairy plant brings Kirkuk local farmers together | Dvidshub.net (2.21.2011)

Beaverton man indicted in alleged Iraqi contracting fraud | Oregon.live

DOD Builds the World’s Most Expensive Gas Station in Afghanistan For $43M, Oh, Joy!

Posted: 1:01 am EDT
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Apparently, we’ve built a compressed natural gas (CNG) automobile filling station in the city of Sheberghan, Afghanistan. The project cost almost $43 million, and the average Afghans can’t even afford to use it.

The Task Force for Business and Stability Operations (TFBSO or Task Force) was originally created by the Department of Defense (DOD) to help revive the post-invasion economy of Iraq. In 2009, TFBSO was redirected to Afghanistan, where its mission was to carry out projects to support economic development. From 2010 through 2014, Congress appropriated approximately $822 million to TFBSO for Afghanistan, of which the task force obligated approximately $766 million.

The contract awarded to Central Asian Engineering to construct the station was for just under $3 million. Yet according to an economic impact assessment performed at the request of TFBSO:

The Task Force spent $42,718,739 between 2011 and 2014 to fund the construction and to supervise the initial operation of the CNG station (approximately $12.3 [million] in direct costs and $30.0 [million] in overhead costs).

SIGAR says that the $43 million total cost of the TFBSO-funded CNG filling station far exceeds the estimated cost of CNG stations elsewhere. According to a 2010 publication of the International Energy Association, “the range of investment for a public [CNG] station serving an economically feasible amount of vehicles varies from $200,000 to $500,000. Costs in non-OECD [Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development] countries are likely to be in the lower end of this range.”

The SIGAR report notes that the total cost of building a CNG station in Pakistan would be approximately $306,000 at current exchange rates.  In short, at $43 million, the TFBSO filling station cost 140 times as much as a CNG station in Pakistan.

$43 million from the American taxpayers.

The SIGAR report also says that its ’s review of this project was hindered by DOD’s lack of cooperation, and when it comes to TFBSO activities, DOD appears determined to restrict or hinder SIGAR access.

It is both surprising and troubling that only a few months following the closure of TFBSO, DOD has not been able to find anyone who knows anything about TFBSO activities, despite the fact that TFBSO reported directly to the Office of the Secretary of Defense, operated in Afghanistan for over five years, and was only shut down in March 2015.

Further, SIGAR says that “If TFBSO had conducted a feasibility study of the project, they might have noted that Afghanistan lacks the natural gas transmission and local distribution infrastructure necessary to support a viable market for CNG vehicles.  Additionally, it appears that the cost of converting a car to run on CNG may be prohibitive for the average Afghan. TFBSO’s contractor, stated that conversion to CNG costs $700 per car in Afghanistan, where the average annual income is $690.”

We meant well in Afghanistan, too. Oh, joy!  What edition are we on?

But serious question. How can we have something happen like this, with DOD hindering/restricting SIGAR’s access and no one is in jail?

The read and weep report is available online here: https://www.sigar.mil/pdf/special%20projects/SIGAR-16-2-SP.pdf 

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Conspired to Defraud Uncle Sam? Be Very Afraid. We’re Gonna Put You in Home Confinement!

Posted: 9:40 am EDT
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Remember the USAID nonprofit contractor IRD? (See Dear USAID OIG — That Nonprofit Contractor Mess Really Needs a Fact Sheet). Well, here’s another one.  This is a case where the CEO of a major USAID contractor gets feather-slapped by the court.

A 2011 ranking of private USAID partners by devex.com lists LBG as the third largest USAID private-sector partner that has contracted some of the government’s largest post-conflict redevelopment projects in Iraq and Afghanistan. According to Bloomberg, Louis Berger International, a unit of Louis Berger Group, got about $736 million to modernize a power system and rehabilitate the Kajakai Dam in Afghanistan.  Whoa! We thought that dam only cost $305.5 million! Plus cost of fuel that  US taxpayers also had to shoulder.

What is missing from this announcement? How much was the total contracts that LBG received in the last 20 years? Who’s paying the independent monitor? And for heaven’s sake, what lessons are we sending to other reconstruction capitalists doing awesome work for love of god and country?

Via USDOJ:

The former president, chief executive officer, and chairman of the board of a New Jersey-based international engineering consulting company was sentenced today to 12 months of home confinement and fined $4.5 million for conspiring to defraud the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) with respect to billions of dollars in contracts over a nearly 20-year period, U.S. Attorney Paul J. Fishman announced.

Derish Wolff, 79, of Bernardsville, New Jersey, previously pleaded guilty before U.S. District Judge Anne E. Thompson to a superseding information charging conspiracy to defraud the government with respect to claims. Judge Thompson imposed the sentence today in Trenton federal court.

According to documents filed in this case and statements made in court:

Wolff, the former president and CEO of Morristown, New Jersey-based Louis Berger Group Inc. (LBG), and the former chairman of LBG’s parent company, Berger Group Holdings Inc. (BGH), led a conspiracy to defraud USAID by billing the agency on so-called “cost-reimbursable” contracts – including hundreds of millions of dollars of contracts for reconstructive work in Iraq and Afghanistan – for LBG’s overhead and other indirect costs at falsely inflated rates.

USAID, an independent federal government agency that advances U.S. foreign policy by supporting economic growth, agriculture, trade, global health, democracy, and humanitarian assistance in developing countries, including countries destabilized by violent conflict, awarded LBG hundreds of millions of dollars in reconstruction contracts in Iraq and Afghanistan as well as in other nations. LBG calculated certain overhead rates and charged USAID and other federal agencies these rates on cost-reimbursable contracts, which enabled LBG to pass on their overhead costs to the agency in general proportion to how much labor LBG devoted to the government contracts.

From at least 1990 through July 2009, LBG, through Wolff and other former executives, intentionally overbilled USAID in connection with these cost-reimbursable contracts. The scheme to defraud the government was carried out by numerous LBG employees at the direction of Wolff.

Wolff targeted a particular overhead rate, irrespective of what the actual rate was, and ordered his subordinates to achieve that target rate through a variety of fraudulent means. From at least as early as 1990 through 2000, Wolff ordered LBG’s assistant controller to instruct the accounting department to pad its time sheets with hours ostensibly devoted to federal government projects when it had not actually worked on such projects.

At an LBG annual meeting in September 2001, Salvatore Pepe, who was then the controller and eventually became chief financial officer (CFO), presented a USAID overhead rate that was significantly below Wolff’s target. In response, Wolff denounced Pepe, called him an “assassin” of the overhead rate and ordered him to target a rate above 140 percent, meaning that for every dollar of labor devoted to a USAID contract, LBG would receive an additional $1.40 in overhead expenses supposedly incurred by LBG.

In response, Pepe and former controller Precy Pellettieri, with Wolff’s supervision, hatched a fraudulent scheme from 2003 through 2007 to systematically reclassify the work hours of LBG’s corporate employees, including high-ranking executives and employees in the general accounting division, to make it appear as if those employees worked on federal projects when they did not. At his plea hearing on Dec. 12, 2014, Wolff admitted that Pepe and Pellettieri, at Wolff’s direction, reclassified these hours without the employees’ knowledge and without investigating whether the employees had correctly accounted for their time, and at times did so over an employee’s objection.

In addition to padding employees’ work hours with fake hours supposedly devoted to USAID work, Wolff instructed his subordinates to charge all commonly shared overhead expenses, such as rent, at LBG’s Washington, D.C., office to an account created to capture USAID-related expenses, even though the D.C. office supported many projects unrelated to USAID or other federal government agencies.

On Nov. 5, 2010, Pepe and Pellettieri both pleaded guilty before then-U.S. Magistrate Judge Patty Shwartz to separate informations charging them with conspiring to defraud the government with respect to claims. Also on that date, LBG resolved criminal and civil fraud charges related to Wolff’s and others’ conduct. The components of the settlement included:

  • a Deferred Prosecution Agreement (DPA), pursuant to which the U.S. Attorney’s Office in New Jersey suspended prosecution of a criminal complaint charging LBG with a violation of the Major Fraud Statute; in exchange, LBG agreed, among other things, to pay $18.7 million in related criminal penalties; make full restitution to USAID; adopt effective standards of conduct, internal controls systems, and ethics training programs for employees; and employ an independent monitor who would evaluate and oversee the company’s compliance with the DPA for a two-year period;
  • a civil settlement that required the company to pay the government $50.6 million to resolve allegations that LBG violated the False Claims Act by charging inflated overhead rates that were used for invoicing on government contracts; and an administrative agreement between LBG and USAID, which was the primary victim of the fraudulent scheme.

In the settlement, the government took into consideration LBG’s cooperation with the investigation and the fact that those responsible for the wrongdoing were no longer associated with the company.

Click here for the original announcement (pdf).

 

Related posts:

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Anything Can Be Sold Campaign: Try ‘Afghanistan, Always An Adventure’ — The Pomegranate Peace (Excerpt)

Posted: 1:32 am EDT
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rashmeeRashmee Roshan Lall started with The Times of India newspaper in Delhi, made a brief foray into publishing as editor of Rupa and HarperCollins India, and then took up broadcasting with the BBC World Service in London. She presented ‘The World Today’, BBC World Service’s flagship news and current affairs program. She was subsequently The Times of India’s Foreign Editor based in London, reporting on Europe. Till June 2011, she was editor of The Sunday Times of India. A Foreign Service spouse, she previously spent a year in Kabul, Afghanistan, working for the US Embassy’s Public Affairs Section. She also spent six months in Washington, D.C., reporting on the 2012 American presidential election.  Visit her website at www.rashmee.com.

The Pomegranate Peace is a work of fiction.  The author of that dark dramedy on Iraq clearly see this book as art imitating life.  Five million dollars in U.S. taxpayer money, handed over to an Afghani-Canadian contractor resident in Vancouver to grow pomegranates instead of poppy? Check.  Peter Van Buren  writes that “one could retitle Pomegranate Peace as We Meant Well, Too and not be too far off the mark.”   And we have to agree.  The excerpt below is Chapter 11 of the book; we imagine this is how you brand a country — with a PR flak, lots of money and a small shot glass topped with magic and imagination.  Read more via Amazon, HuffPo, the Good Book Corner.  Thanks to Rashmee, Piers  and Arcadia Books for permission to share the following excerpt with our readers.

pomegranate peace cover

Reprinted from The Pomegranate Peace by Rashmee Roshan Lall by arrangement with Arcadia Books Limited. Copyright © 2013 Rashmee Roshan Lall. Available as an ebook from any ebook platform.

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Mr Khayber Ahmad, veteran of regime change, was not the only one thinking ahead to yet another transition. Over at the embassy, we were obsessed with plans for departure. Our president had set a date, or at least the year: 2014. We had 700 days to shape up and ship out. I was on the Transition Planning Team (Small), otherwise known as TPTS, or Tippets if you wanted to run everything together because you had run out of time, or patience, or the desire to be accurate.

Tippets was born of Tipple, the Transition Planning Team (Large) or TPL. The smaller group had a hundred people; the large was twice as big. Tippets was supposed to think, plan, do (TPD). That is how ‘Campaign Afghanistan’ began. Out of two acronyms and a string of alphabets. I was there. I saw it come into existence. I watched it take shape and I was present when it was launched.

It took a little while for Campaign Afghanistan to become the new standard for management courses taught at American universities. But it happened because of Sam Starkowsky’s excellent and highly readable book, The Donkey in the Dark. The book became a bestseller and Little Sam was anointed the world’s favourite management guru. But at the time, no one could have imagined that Little Sam would turn the 30-million-dollar ‘Campaign’ into the American version of Rumi’s 700-year-old story ‘The Elephant in the Dark’. And a solid business theory to boot, one which is routinely cited as the essential philosophy of creative problem-solving.

Everyone now knows the way in which Professor Starkowsky reprised Rumi. The original had a group of men touching an elephant in a dark room and offering wildly differing reports on the creature. The one who touched the trunk said it had to be a hosepipe; the man who felt the beast’s ear thought it was surely a fan; the third ran his hand over the animal’s leg and pronounced it a pillar and the fourth caressed the elephant’s wide back and decided it was a throne. Just as Rumi used the story to illustrate the limits of individual perception, Little Sam’s modern fable about a dozen Americans and a donkey underlined the importance of seeing the whole, not just parts of a problem. I have to hand it to Little Sam. I never knew he had it in him. He seems to have been the only one at a Tippets meeting to see the big picture.

It seemed such a good idea at the start even though the memo that set it off was the usual bureaucratese:

Agenda for TPTS:

TPD for APA – Sustainability. Selling Afghanistan to tourists, businessmen, the world.

To decode, this meant that the Transition Planning Team (Small)’s Think, Plan, Do strategy for Afghanistan-Post-America was all about selling the country as a brand.

As a former journalist, I was on the Tippets Working Group, which was smaller – just 25 people. We spent a whole day talking ‘Afghanistan, the idea’. Much of the time we debated the images that come to mind when the name Afghanistan is said out loud. Mountains, brave men, weapons, war, beautiful but benighted women. What, if any of that, to sell? Could it be sold at all?

Opinion on the working group was mixed. Little Sam thought that anything could be sold. Anecdotally, even refrigerators to Eskimos.

‘And in the real world, plots of land on the moon are sold,’ he said gravely. ‘And what about the promise of hundreds of thousands of dollars if you send a check for a mere ten bucks to a certain address? Dreams can be sold,’ he added persuasively, ‘though sometimes they might be dud.’

 

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Dear USAID OIG — That Nonprofit Contractor Mess Really Needs a Fact Sheet

Posted: 1:23  am EDT
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We’ve used the USAID OIG website but it does not have a smart nor responsive search function. We wanted to know how many inspections, audits, whatev reports the Office of the Inspector General at USAID did on IRD over the years.  If they were rigorous in their oversight and, if USAID and the State Department did anything about it. That is an important component to this story.  And if that is true, we wanted to see just how rigorous is the OIG’s oversight based on the documents it put out through the years, because how else can we tell but by the number and quality of their output?

We sent a direct message to USAID OIG via Twitter and we got a response back:

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For specific inquiries, please contact our office directly http://oig.usaid.gov/content/contact-usaid-oig

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You click on that link and you’re told that “for media or general information inquiries, contact the OIG’s Immediate Office by mail, telephone, or fax. Whoa!  The Immediate Office, apparently, is not immediate enough.

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Late last year, following a Washington Post report on a USAID program in Pakistan, USAID OIG released (pdf) a statement with the following:

OIG is committed to providing products and information that are responsive to the needs of external customers and stakeholders. In responding to questions posed by Members of Congress and congressional staff, OIG has always endeavored to provide complete and accurate information based on the documentation and information available to us.

This is USAID’s largest nonprofit contractor.  According to WaPo, USAID suspended IRD this past January from receiving any more federal work. The suspension came in the wake of allegations of misspending highlighted in a Post investigation in May 2014.  USAID told the Post that they are cracking down on contractors who misspend tax money.

Hookay. So let’s start with finding out what type of oversight USAID OIG provided on IRD contracts since 2006. This is one time when those USAID OIG Fact Sheets would really be helpful.

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Related items:

USAID Suspends Big Contractor IRD: What Took So Long? (NonProfit Quarterly)

Doing well by doing good: The high price of working in war zones (WaPo, May 2014)

 

Snapshot: Top Recipients of State Dept Afghanistan Reconstruction Funds (2002-2013)

–Domani Spero

Via SIGAR:

State data indicated that the top-five recipients of State Afghanistan reconstruction awards by total obligations accounted for approximately $3.5 billion, or 87 percent, of total State reconstruction obligations. State awarded the remaining 13 percent of obligations to 766 recipients,who averaged about $676 thousand each in total obligations.

The top recipient of State reconstruction funding by total awards was Dyncorp International Limited Liability Corporation (Dyncorp). Dyncorp received approximately $2.8 billion in contracts, accounting for 69 percent of total State Department reconstruction awards. The majority of Dyncorp contracts were for governance and rule-of-law activities such training and equipping the Afghan National Police. Dyncorp contracts included police trainers, construction of police infrastructure, and fielding police equipment and vehicles. PAE Government Services Incorporated (PAE) received the second largest amount of total State reconstruction awards, receiving $598 million in contracts. PAE contracts supported development of the rule of law, including police training, counter narcotics advising, and justice sector development.

Of the total reported awards between the beginning of fiscal year 2002 and March 2013, 98 percent of awards by total value were scheduled to be complete by the end of calendar year 2013.

Screen Shot 2014-04-22

According to SIGAR, the U.S. Congress appropriated $96.57 billion between fiscal year (FY) 2002 and FY 2013 for Afghanistan reconstruction, principally for the Departments of Defense (DOD) and State (State) and the United States Agency for International Development (USAID). SIGAR analysis of Department of State data indicates that State obligated nearly $4 billion for reconstruction in Afghanistan between the beginning of fiscal year 2002 and March 2013.

Read more here (pdf).

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Snapshot: US Mission Iraq Staffing as of July 2012

The following numbers and info from the July 30 SIGIR report:

As of early July, according to DoS, 15,007 personnel were supporting the U.S. Mission in Iraq:

  •  1,235 U.S. government civilian employees (includes full-time and temporary government employees and personal-services contractors)
  •  13,772 contractor personnel (U.S., Iraqi, and third-country nationals), 5,737 of whom were providing security services

In a change from its past reporting practice, DoS said that it obtained this quarter’s data on the number and role of contractors from the Synchronized Predeployment and Operational Tracker (SPOT) database maintained by DoD. SIGIR also obtained data from the SPOT database that showed 12,477 employees of U.S.-funded contractors and grantees were working in Iraq as of July 2, 2012—1,295 fewer contractor personnel than reported by the Embassy. The data may have been accessed on different dates, but SIGIR does not know if that would completely account for the difference in reported number of contractor personnel.

Reconstruction Staff Down to 6, But Wait —

According to DoS, only 6 personnel—the number of staff in the Iraq Strategic Partnership Office—support “reconstruction activities.” DoS estimated that 67 contractors also support reconstruction programs. However, in its tally of reconstruction personnel, DoS excludes the entire staff of the Office of Security Cooperation-Iraq (OSC-I), which manages Iraq Security Forces Fund (ISFF) projects and the Foreign Military Sales (FMS) and Foreign Military Financing (FMF) programs; DoS Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs (INL) personnel working on the Police Development Program (PDP); and personnel working on U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) programs.96 DoS contends that it excludes these individuals because they work on “traditional assistance programs (assistance programs that are found in embassies worldwide).” However, SIGIR takes the position that Economic Support Fund (ESF) and FMS, for example, are reconstruction programs in Iraq—a position supported in a March 31, 2011, letter by the Chairmen of the House Committees on Oversight and Government Reform and Foreign Affairs to the Secretary of State.

Less Expensive Staffing/Life-Support Options

DoS is working to reduce direct-hire staffing by 25%–30% by the end of 2013. Moreover, the Embassy is continuing to hire more Iraqis to fill direct-hire positions, reporting that 240 of the planned 400 were on board, as of June 28.

With regard to life-support contractors, DoS’s goal is for 50% of all life-support contractors to be Iraqis. As of late June, Iraqis made up about 24% of life-support contractors.

US Consulate Kirkuk Closes Today, Maybe

The U.S. Consulate in Kirkuk—which has been operational, though not providing most traditional consular services, for about one year—has been scheduled to close by the end of July 2012. The consulate, which had been colocated with the OSC-I site on the grounds of an Iraqi Air Force base, will transfer most of its personnel to the Erbil Diplomatic Support Center (EDSC). To accommodate this move, the EDSC is preparing additional containerized housing-units that will serve as living quarters and office space for those personnel relocated from Kirkuk. About 30 private-security  contractors will move from Kirkuk to Erbil as part of this plan. U.S. facilities in Kirkuk had been subject to regular indirect fire attacks since they opened. OSC-I will close its Kirkuk site by the end of September.

That’s a “maybe” because nowhere in US Mission Baghdad’s website or social media digs is there an announcement or an indication that the consulate in Kirkuk is about to close.  In fact, the embassy’s lengthy job vacancy list, still has the following:

Jobs/Vacancies in Consulate General Kirkuk:
Political Assistant, FSN-8; FP-6* (PDF 93kb) Closing Date: Open until filled

An FSN-8 at $40,102 USD per year. Not bad for a local rate in a country where the average annual income is $3,500.  But Iraqis may still not want their neighbors to know where they work. The job was originally published in February and republished in May.

Domani Spero

Officially In: John F. Sopko – from Law Partner to SIGAR

On May 23 President Obama announced the appointment of John F. Sopko as the next Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR). The WH released the following brief bio:

Photo from cspan

John F. Sopko is currently a partner at Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld LLP, a position he has held since 2009. From 2007 to 2009, Mr. Sopko served as Chief Counsel for Oversight and Investigations for the U.S. House Committee on Energy and Commerce. Previously, he was Deputy Director of the Homeland Security Institute from 2005 to 2007, and Minority General Counsel and Chief of Investigations for the U.S. House Select Committee on Homeland Security from 2003 to 2005. From 1999 to 2003, Mr. Sopko held a number of roles at the U.S. Department of Commerce, including Deputy Director of the National Technical Information Service, Acting Assistant Secretary and Deputy Assistant Secretary of the National Telecommunications and Information Administration, Deputy Assistant Secretary for Export Enforcement, and Chief Counsel for the Special Matters Unit at the Office of General Counsel. From 1982 to 1997, Mr. Sopko was Deputy Chief Counsel at the U.S. Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations and from 1978 to 1982, he was Special Attorney at the Organized Crime and Racketeering Section of the U.S. Department of Justice.

He holds a B.A. in Economics and Sociology from the University of Pennsylvania and a J.D. from Case Western Reserve University School of Law.

WaPo writes that the previous inspector, Arnold Fields, a retired Marine major general, resigned in January 2011 after “a review by the Council of Inspectors General found that many of his office’s audits barely met minimum quality standards and that Fields had not laid out a clear strategic vision.”

SIGAR conducts audits and investigations to: 1) promote efficiency and effectiveness of reconstruction programs and 2) detect and prevent waste, fraud, and abuse.  President Obama designated Steven J Trent as Acting Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction on September 3, 2011.

This is a presidential appointment that does not require Senate confirmation. So hopefully, the new appointee will hit the ground running.

Domani Spero

Related item:
President Obama Announces More Key Administration Posts | May 23, 2012