Ambassador Richard Olson as New Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan (SRAP)

Posted: 1:06 am EDT
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The State Department announced the appointment of Ambassador Richard Olson as the new Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan (SRAP).

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Ambassador Richard Olson will succeed Dan Feldman, who concluded his tenure September 18, as U.S. Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan (SRAP). Ambassador Olson will assume his responsibilities as SRAP on November 17, after concluding his service as the U.S. Ambassador to Pakistan. As were his predecessors, Ambassador Olson will be responsible for developing and implementing policies and programs that support U.S. national security interests in promoting stability and increasing prosperity in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Ambassador Olson brings extraordinary experience in Afghanistan and Pakistan, as well as elsewhere, to his new position. He has served as U.S. Ambassador to the Islamic Republic of Pakistan for the last three years. Prior to his experience in Islamabad, Ambassador Olson served as the Coordinating Director for Development and Economic Affairs at U.S. Embassy Kabul, Afghanistan, from 2011 to 2012, during which time he oversaw all U.S. non-military assistance programs and support for the Afghan government. He also served as U.S. Ambassador to the United Arab Emirates from 2008 to 2011. He is a member of the Senior Foreign Service, and has served at the U.S. Department of State since 1982.

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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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Meet the New Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan – Daniel Feldman

— Domani Spero
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The State Department recently announced that Daniel Feldman succeeded Ambassador James Dobbins as the U.S. Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan (SRAP).  Ambassador James Dobbins concluded his tenure July 31. The announcement says that SRAP Feldman spent his first official days as SRAP on travel to Kabul, Afghanistan where he “will reinforce President Obama’s message urging both candidates to continue their dialogue on the details of the political framework that they agreed to during Secretary Kerry’s last visit, and to accelerate the ongoing audit of ballots when it resumes August 2.”

 

Below is SRAP Feldman’s official bio via state.gov:

Daniel F. Feldman is the Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan (SRAP). He has served in the S/SRAP office since its creation in 2009, first as deputy and then as principal deputy to Ambassadors Richard Holbrooke, Marc Grossman, and James Dobbins. He has been deeply engaged in all aspects of U.S. policy formulation and implementation for both countries, including overseeing political transition issues, economic growth initiatives, regional integration efforts, international engagement with key partners, strategic communications, and Congressional outreach. For his service in the S/SRAP office, he was awarded the Secretary’s Distinguished Honor Award by Secretary Clinton.

Before reentering government, he was a law partner and co-chair of the international Corporate Social Responsibility group at Foley Hoag LLP, the only such legal practice in the U.S. His previous government experience includes serving as Director of Multilateral and Humanitarian Affairs at the National Security Council in the Clinton Administration, and as Counsel and Communications Adviser to the U.S. Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee.

He was Senior Foreign Policy and National Security Advisor to the Kerry presidential campaign in 2004, communications advisor and recount attorney for the Gore campaign in 2000, and a senior campaign advisor to Senator Mark Warner. He helped to found, and subsequently served on the board of, the National Security Network, and is a life member of the Council on Foreign Relations. He has been appointed a White House Fellow and a Henry Luce Scholar, and was a law clerk on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit and on the South African Supreme (Constitutional) Court. He is a graduate of Tufts University, Columbia Law School, and Princeton University’s Woodrow Wilson School.

 

Last month,Alyssa Ayres, a deputy assistant secretary of state for South Asia during 2010–2013 argued that the departure of Ambassador Dobbins was the perfect time to fold SRAP back into the SCA bureau. “A seamless overview of U.S. relations throughout the SCA region, and the impact of the coming drawdown in Afghanistan, would be far easier to accomplish if our focused diplomacy towards Afghanistan and Pakistan was embedded within the South and Central Asia bureau.” SRAP is one of those offices that reports directly to the Secretary of State. Obviously, the SRAP office will remain a separate entity for the next couple of years or the Secretary would not have appointed a new SRAP. Remains to be seen what changes happen after the drawdown, or under a new administration in 2017.

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US Embassy Kabul: Eileen O’Connor Moving from Afghanistan to SRAPistan?

We recently posted about the new and sparkling Ryan C. Crocker Expeditionary Production Studio at the US Embassy at the US Embassy in Kabul.  (See Ambassador Ryan C. Crocker “Dedicates” The Ryan C. Crocker Expeditionary Production Studio – to Whom?)

Our reliable Baghdad Kabul Nightingale amusingly informed us that the Ryan C. Crocker Expeditionary Production Studio is the only building in the complex that actually says what its purpose is, on the outside.  The Baghdad Kabul Nightingale is not counting “New Office Building” or “Existing Office Building,” aka, “Old Chancery Building,” and convinced that those two buildings were clearly not/not named by someone in public affairs.  Apparently, there are many other buildings in the embassy complex with boring names like DFAC, tower, staff housing, etc, or have state names like Michigan, Florida, etc.  The Ryan C. Crocker Expeditionary Production Studio is the only one that says “Broadcast Studio”; it’s the only one (at least for now) that says right on the front and the back exactly what it does.  The Baghdad Kabul Nightingale informs us that the public affairs folks over there clearly knew how to brand.

In a related but not unexpected news, word has it that Eileen O’Connor is leaving post soon, moving to DC and into the Office of the Special Rep for Af/Pak (SRAP); the late Richard Holbrooke’s old office now encumbered by Marc Grossman in Foggy Bottom.

Via US Embassy Kabul/Flickr | Minister of Border and Tribal Affairs Khalid greets Eileen O’Connor, Director of Communications and Public Diplomacy, U.S. Embassy, before the inauguration of the Access English program at Rahman Baba High School in Kabul, Afghanistan on Saturday, June 4, 2011. David Ensor is the guy with the red tie.

In any case, in 2010, we had David Ensor (formerly of CNN) over at the US Embassy in Kabul as Director of Communications and Public Diplomacy, a newly created title. He had since moved on to VOA in 2011.

He was soon replaced by former CNN/ABC correspondent Eileen O’Connor as Director of Communications and Public Diplomacy.  Don’t worry, she’s not leaving government service. If what we’re hearing is true, you will soon rub elbow with Ms. O’Connor at the State Department cafeteria.

So a now vacancy at US Embassy Kabul for a public affairs professional, huh? You can try Wolf Blitzer but you are wasting your time. Or John King who just lost his show, but it is an election year. Who wants to be in Kabul wrestling with the Taliban on Twitter when there is an Obama-Romney face off at the homefront?

We have just the right candidate for you, folks — and she’s somebody familiar, taa-daa! Dr. Liz Colton.

Dr. Colton previously worked as a journalist with firsthand experience abroad. She reported for Asia Week, a Reuters magazine, and was a London-based television producer for both NBC and ABC covering the Middle East and North Africa. She even has an Emmy for two ABC Nightly News pieces on Libya. Later she established Newsweek’s Middle East bureau in Cairo. She covered the Persian Gulf War and was even NPR’s State Department correspondent. And best of all, she is a former Foreign Service officer. One of ours.

Pardon me? Dr. Colton took the State Department to court for age discrimination? Oh heck, that’s like problematic, isn’t it?  Here’s a public affairs professional whose talents they could really use over there, they don’t need six months to get her up to speed, but she took State to court and while in an ongoing legal tussle, she was thrown off the airlock at 66… and …

But…but… DGHR is so full of nice people, surely they did not take that personally.

Domani Spero