GAO Calls For Pompeo’s “Personal Attention” to Address Priority Open Recommendations

 

The Government Accountability Office’s Gene L. Dodaro, the Comptroller General of the United States has written to Secretary Pompeo calling for his “personal attention” to the GAO’s multiple “open recommendations that should be given high priority.”

In November 2018, we reported on a government-wide basis that 77 percent of our recommendations made in fiscal year 2014 had been closed as implemented.2 State’s recommendation implementation rate for the same time frame was 91 percent. As of March 2019, State had 101 open recommendations.

Among the recommendations are apparently 20 open priority recommendations. The State has implemented 10 of the 20 recommendations since GAO wrote Foggy Bottom a letter in February 2018. And now GAO has urged the secretary’s “personal attention” for the remaining recommendations. In addition, the GAO has added eight new recommendations as priorities in 2019; these are related to data quality, the administration of hardship pay, and embassy construction and now brings the total number of open priority recommendations to 18.

Here are some:

Security of Overseas Personnel and Facilities: Of the 18 open priority recommendations, eight are related to the security and safety of personnel serving overseas. State concurred with these eight recommendations and reported some steps taken to address them.

Fully implementing our two priority recommendations on personnel security could help ensure State personnel are prepared to operate in dangerous situations. In March 2014, we recommended that State take steps to ensure that U.S. civilian personnel are in compliance with the Foreign Affairs Counter Threat (FACT) training requirements. State has taken action to clarify agency responsibilities and plans to verify FACT compliance. To fully implement these recommendations, State needs to complete and carry out its plans to monitor and verify compliance with the FACT training requirement for permanent and temporary personnel.

Fully implementing our three priority recommendations on physical security at overseas posts could improve the safety and security of personnel serving overseas, particularly in high-threat locations. For example, in July 2015, we recommended that State take steps to clarify existing standards and security-related guidance for diplomatic residences. Although State has conducted a review of existing security standards for diplomatic residences, State needs to complete its efforts to update these standards and take several additional actions to improve its ability to identify and mitigate risks and enhance security policies.

Fully implementing our three recommendations related to transportation security, such as those related to armored vehicles, could improve State’s efforts to manage transportation-related security risks overseas. In October 2016, we recommended that State take steps to enhance its efforts to manage such security risks, including by improving its related guidance and developing monitoring procedures. Although State implemented a shared site for reporting and monitoring each post’s armored vehicle fleet, State needs to create consolidated guidance that specifies transportation security requirements to ensure that posts comply with State’s armored vehicle policy

Security Assistance: Every year the United States provides billions of dollars in assistance to other nations in the form of security equipment and technical assistance. In April 2016, we recommended that State develop time frames for establishing policies and procedures to help the U.S. government provide a more reasonable level of assurance that equipment is not transferred to foreign security forces when there is credible information that a unit has committed a gross violation of human rights. State concurred with this recommendation and reported that it drafted standard operating procedures for conducting equipment vetting globally. To fully implement this recommendation, State needs to finalize its revised guidance for overseas posts that are responsible for vetting foreign security forces prior to transferring equipment to them. Information

Technology: One open priority recommendation, if fully implemented, could improve information technology at State. In May 2016, we found that State spent approximately 80 percent of its information technology budget on operating and maintaining older systems. For example, three of State’s visa systems were more than 20 years old. The software for one of these systems was no longer supported by the vendor, creating challenges related to information security. We recommended that State identify and plan to modernize or replace legacy systems. State concurred with the recommendation. According to State, it is developing a plan for modernizing and migrating each eligible system to the cloud by the end of fiscal year 2019.

Data Quality: By fully implementing three priority recommendations we are adding this year, State could improve the quality of foreign assistance data, including data on democracy assistance, and ensure consistency in published information.

Administration of Hardship Pay: When fully implemented, two priority recommendations could improve State’s administration of hardship pay and its ability to identify and recover improper payments related to hardship pay. In September 2017, we recommended that State assess the cost-effectiveness of its policies and procedures for stopping and starting hardship pay and analyze available data to identify posts at risk of improper payments for hardship pay, among other things. State concurred with the recommendations and reported that it is working to identify changes in policy that would result in greater efficiencies and is planning to utilize the Overseas Personnel System to centrally collect and analyze arrival and departure data. To fully address these recommendations, State needs to provide documentation that the efforts are complete and that the actions have enabled the department to more easily identify and prevent improper payments.

Embassy Construction: By fully implementing three priority recommendations, State could improve budgetary decision-making as well as better align Bureau of Overseas Buildings Operations (OBO) staffing levels and capacity with workforce needs for its Capital Security Construction Program (CSCP). In September 2018, we recommended that State determine the estimated effects of cost inflation on planned CSCP embassy construction capacity and time frames and update this information for stakeholders on a regular basis, such as through the annual budgeting process. We also recommended State provide an analysis for stakeholders identifying those embassies that still need to be replaced to meet State’s security standards and estimating total CSCP costs and projected time frames needed to complete those projects. In addition, we recommended State conduct an OBO-wide workforce analysis to assess staffing levels and workload capacity needed to carry out the full range of OBO’s mission goals, to include the CSCP. State concurred with the recommendations and described several actions planned or under way to address these issues. To fully implement these recommendations, State needs to provide documentation that it has completed these efforts.

Click PDF for the full list of the the GAO’s 18 priority open recommendations for the Department of State as of April 2019.

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Snapshot: Accountability Review Boards 1998-2012

— By Domani Spero

Extracted from State/OIG report

Extracted from State/OIG report

We’ve listed 18 since 1986 when the ARB was first mandated under the Omnibus Diplomatic Security and Antiterrorism Act of 1986. See 18 State Dept Accountability Review Boards Convened Since 1986 – Only Two Publicly Available.

(O_O)

Intel Signs of Al Qaeda Plot in the Making: U.S. Embassy Closures — Sunday, August 4

By Domani Spero

Updated August 2, 8:08 am: Additional U.S. embassies/consulates closing on August 4: Khartoum (Sudan), Basrah and Erbil (Iraq) and Amman (Jordan).

Updated August 3, 10 pm:  Other posts included in the temporary closures for August 4: Dhahran and Jeddah (Saudi Arabia), Djibouti (Djibouti) and Dubai (UAE), bringing the total closures to 23 at this time. The US Tel Aviv Embassy post closure includes the American Center in Jerusalem and the Haifa Consular Agency.

 

As of this writing, 15 embassies in Africa, Near East Asia and South Central Asia have been ordered to close on Sunday, August 4 due to a security threat attributed to Al Qaeda. CBS News reports  that U.S. intelligence has picked up signs of an al Qaeda plot against American diplomatic posts in the Middle East and other Muslim countries. The intelligence does not mention a specific location, which is why all embassies that would normally be open on Sunday have been ordered to close.

According to CBS News, officials say that this appears to be a real plot in the making and not just the normal chatter among terrorists talking about attacks they’d like to carry out. But these same officials add they are missing key pieces of information.

An unnamed senior State Department official also told CBS News: “For those who asked about which embassies and consulates we have instructed to suspend operations on August 4th, the answer is that we have instructed all U.S. Embassies and Consulates that would have normally been open on Sunday to suspend operations, specifically on August 4th. It is possible we may have additional days of closing as well.”

Below is the message posted by the affected embassies; links to the emergency message are listed at the bottom of this post:

The Department of State has instructed certain U.S. embassies and consulates to remain closed or to suspend operations on Sunday, August 4.  The Department has been apprised of information that, out of an abundance of caution and care for our employees and others who may be visiting our installations, indicates we should institute these precautionary steps. It is possible we may have additional days of closings as well, depending on our analysis.  The Department, when conditions warrant, takes steps like this to balance our continued operations with security and safety.  However, beyond this announcement we do not discuss specific threat information, security considerations or measures, or other steps we may be taking.  

We are pleased to see that they are being prudent.  While we have not been glued to the news this past few days, we heard that hundreds escape from the Abu Ghraib jail in Iraq. There seems to be a whole lot of prison breaks  lately in other parts of the region.  While these incidents may not be connected, we find it disturbing and gravely unsettling.  We are also just a few days away from the 15th anniversary of the twin U.S. embassy bombings in East Africa.  We might also remember that in the last several years, August has been a month of death and mayhem for our diplomatic posts overseas.

AUGUST 7, 1998 – EAST AFRICA BOMBINGS: Near-simultaneous truck bombs exploded and severely damaged the U.S. Embassies in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, and Nairobi, Kenya, killing 291 people (including 12 Americans) and injuring nearly 5,000 (including six Americans) in Nairobi, and killing 10 people and injuring 77 (including one American) in Dar es Salaam.

AUGUST 7, 2004 – AL-JAWF, YEMEN: Angry local villagers opened fire on vehicles of the U.S. Embassy Force Protection Detachment.

AUGUST 21, 2005 – PAGHMAN, AFGHANISTAN: Assailants detonated an explosive device as a U.S. Embassy vehicle passed, wounding two Embassy employees and damaging the vehicle.

AUGUST 29, 2006 – KABUL, AFGHANISTAN: Unknown individuals detonated a remote-controlled bomb against a U.S. Embassy vehicle, damaging the vehicle but causing no injuries.

AUGUST 27, 2006 – AL-HILLAH, IRAQ: Four or five mortar rounds were fired at the Regional Embassy Office Hillah, injuring two U.S. soldiers, one U.S. contract employee, and four local employees.

AUGUST 28, 2008 – BASRAH, IRAQ: One of two rockets fired at Basrah Air Station penetrated the overhead cover of the Regional Embassy Office located at the station, and passed through two trailers before embedding in the ground. No injuries were reported.

AUGUST 26, 2008 – PESHAWAR, PAKISTAN: Gunmen opened fire on a vehicle carrying the U.S. Consulate General’s principal officer to work. She and her driver escaped injury when the driver drove the vehicle in reverse, to the safety of the officer’s residence nearby.

AUGUST 3, 2011 – BAGHDAD, IRAQ: An explosive device detonated against a U.S. Embassy protective security team, injuring five persons and damaging one vehicle.

AUGUST 8, 2012 – ASADABAD CITY, AFGHANISTAN: Two suicide bombers detonated their explosives near U.S. provincial reconstruction team members walking near Forward Operating Base Fiaz, killing three U.S. service members and one USAID employee, and wounding nine U.S. soldiers, one U.S. diplomat, four local employees, and one Afghan National Army member.

 

Below is a list of August 4, 2013 U.S. Embassy Closures:

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Snapshot: Attacks on US Diplomatic Targets from Nixon to Obama (1970-2010)

Via MoJo:

Wendy Chamberlain, a career foreign-service officer who was serving as the US Ambassador to Pakistan when Al Qaeda struck the World Trade Center on 9/11 talked to MoJo on The Truth About Attacks on Our Diplomats:

“High-profile targets like ambassadors have always been in danger because they’re the symbol of the United States.”
[…]
The primary responsibility of the Marine Corps’ Embassy Security Group states that its “primary mission” is “to prevent the compromise of classified material vital to the national security of the United States,” while their “secondary mission” is to “provide protection for US citizens and US government property” during “exigent circumstances.” Their first responsibility is to guard secrets, not diplomats.
[…]
It’s currently unclear to what degree mismanagement, security lapses, or intelligence failures meant the United States failed to anticipate the attack on the consulate in Benghazi. But no matter which party is in office, no matter who is president, terrorism and violence are always going to be a potential risk for foreign-service officers serving in troubled areas.

– DS