Tillerson Delivers to @StateDept’s Africa Bureau Its “Most Significant Management Challenge”

Posted: 12:25 am ET
Follow @Diplopundit

 

All Foreign Service posts in Africa receive post hardship differential, that is, an allowance meant to provide “additional compensation of up to 35 percent over basic compensation for the majority of employees officially stationed or detailed to a mission with extraordinarily difficult living conditions, excessive physical hardship, or notably unhealthful conditions.” More than half of all AF posts have been designated “Historically Difficult to Staff” meaning fewer than three at- grade/in-skill-code bids were received in three of the last four summer bidding cycles. Of all AF posts, 47 percent (24 posts) have also been designated ” Service Need Differential” that is, 20 percent hardship differential/standard 2 year tour of duty gets a 15 percent  bump in pay if employees agree to serve a third year.

According to State/OIG, the AF Bureau’s FY2017 staffing includes 1,147 American Direct Hire overseas, 572 local staff, 140 reemployed annuitants (retired Civil Service or Foreign Service employee rehired on an intermittent basis for no more than 1,040 hours during the year), and 14 rover-employees based overseas who go where they are needed. State/OIG also says that the AF bureau relies on 399 eligible family member employees for its overseas staffing. The 399 EFM employees are not specifically excluded from the State/OIG 1,147 count; we calculate that family member employees encumbering direct-hire positions constitute 34 percent, or a third of the bureau’s overseas workforce. If the 399 employes are in addition to the 1,147 count,  the number would be 25 percent, or a quarter of the bureau’s overseas workforce.

To be sure, staffing the AF Bureau’s posts has suffered from longstanding difficulties. Unfortunately for everyone with few exceptions,  the 69th Secretary of State sure made it worse.

On January 23, 2017, President Trump ordered a freeze on the hiring of Federal civilian employees to be applied across the board in the executive branch (see OMB Issues Initial Guidance For Federal Civilian Hiring Freeze (Read Memo); President Trump Freezes Federal Hiring Regardless of Funding Sources (Read Memo).

In April, while the OMB lifted the hiring freeze, the State Department with very few exceptions continued with its self-imposed freeze (see No thaw in sight for @StateDept hiring freeze until reorganization plan is “fully developed”).  On April 12, 2017, the State Department posted a statement indicating that the current hiring freeze guidance remained in effect particularly as it affected the hiring of Foreign Service family members (see Are #EFM positions literally about to become…extinct under #Tillerson’s watch?).

During the first week of August, amidst cascading bad press of his stewardship of the State Department, Secretary Tillerson quietly “approved an exemption to the hiring freeze that will allow the Department to fill a number of priority EFM positions that are currently vacant. This exemption gives posts authority to fill critical vacancies supporting security, safety and health responsibilities.”

The hiring freeze snared folks who transferred between January and July (FLO April data says 743 jobs were pending due to security clearance or hiring freeze). Deputy Secretary Sullivan told members of the press on August 8 that “almost 800 EFMs [that] have been approved since this – the hiring freeze was imposed.” So, that’s like everyone who’s been waiting since January. And we were all so happy to see folks granted the exemptions that we forgot to ask who’s the “bright” bulb who started this mess. And if these EFM jobs were finally filled in August (a month before the end of the fiscal year), these employees could not all show up to work the following week, given all the paperwork needed and security investigations required.

Freezing EFM jobs never made sense. We’re still floored that it lasted that long and no one told S “But that’s nuts!” Despite Mr. Tillerson slip of the tongue (“we’re styling as the redesign of the State Department”), we can’t imagine the “redesign” resulting in zero jobs for diplomatic spouses overseas, not only because EFM jobs  makes sense and help post morale, but also because it is the cheaper option.  Unless, of course, 1) the “employee-led” redesign teams are proposing that embassies hire third country nationals for mailroom, escort, fingerprinting, and all support services for post overseas, too (yes, we heard North Korean labor imports are way cheaper). Or 2) this is part of the strategery to reduce the FS workforce without going through a reduction-in-force, while maintaining a goal of a 3 for 1 in attrition.

In any case, as we’ve pointed out in May, when the EFMs leave posts during the transfer season, their positions would not have been filled (with very few exceptions) due to the hiring freeze; and they could not be hired at their next posts because of the same hiring freeze. And that’s exactly what happened. In the oral history of the State Department, this will be remembered as that time when the Secretary of State created/produced/delivered one bureau its “most significant management challenge.” We don’t think this is limited to just the AF Bureau but it’s the only one reported on by State/OIG at this time.

Via State/OIG (PDF):

Four previous OIG reports over the past 20 years have highlighted challenges in staffing AF’s overseas posts. OIG found that these challenges persist, despite reforms to Foreign Service bidding and career development processes intended to promote service in hardship posts and bolster bureau efforts to improve recruitment. Hardships at AF’s overseas posts include ethnic violence, deteriorating local infrastructure, evacuations, health risks, high crime, limited recreation opportunities, physical isolation, political instability, pollution, poor medical facilities, severe climates, and substandard schools. All 51 AF posts receive post hardship differential, 27 posts were included in the Historically Difficult to Staff program, and 24 were Service Need Differential posts.

AF’s difficulties in filling its overseas positions were profound. For the 2017 summer bidding season, AF attracted, at most, only one Foreign Service bidder on 37 percent of its positions, leaving 143 of 385 total positions potentially unfilled. The bureau used a broad range of alternative and sometimes costly personnel mechanisms to fill vacancies and short-term gaps. It relied on 399 eligible family member employees, a roster of 140 reemployed annuitants, 14 rovers based overseas, and approximately 50 senior locally employed staff members to fill staffing gaps and support essential services. AF also filled about 25 percent of its 2017 positions with entry-level employees. AF overseas management officers who responded to an OIG survey cited concerns about eligible family member employment as their most significant management challenge. Because of the Department-wide hiring freeze, these positions could not be filled as they became vacant. These vacancies are of concern because, as explained by the Government Accountability Office in 2009, staffing and experience gaps place at risk diplomatic readiness, particularly for high-threat environments such as those in which AF operates.

For readers who are not familiar with the Foreign Service and spouse employment — say you and your spouse arrived at a 2-year assignment at a post in Africa in late October 2016. You found an embassy job in December 2016 but was not officially hired prior to January 22, 2017, so you would have been included in the hiring freeze. When the EFM exemptions were granted on August 4, you would have already waited some eight months to start on that embassy job. Wait, but you needed a security clearance or an interim security clearance which could also take a few weeks to 90 days (or longer). By the time you officially start work, you have some 12-14 months to do the job (maybe less). And then you move on to your next  post and do this process all over again. Now, imagine doing this every 2-3 years, that’s the arc of the working life of a diplomatic spouse.

Advertisements

Career Diplomat Eric P. Whitaker to be U.S. Ambassador to Niger

Posted: 4:56 am ET
[twitter-follow screen_name=’Diplopundit’]

 

On September 2, President Trump announced his intent to nominate career diplomat Erik Whitaker to be the next U.S. Ambassador to Niger. The WH released the following brief bio:

Eric P. Whitaker of Illinois to be Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the United States of America to the Republic of Niger. Mr. Whitaker, a career member of the Senior Foreign Service, class of Counselor, has served as an American diplomat since 1990. He is currently the Acting Deputy Assistant Secretary for East Africa and the Sudans in the Bureau of African Affairs at the Department of State. A two-time Deputy Chief of Mission overseas and a senior official at the Department of State at home and abroad, his diplomatic career has been diverse, and included consular, economic, commercial, political, and refugee assignments. He has served at U.S. embassies in ten African countries and was a Peace Corps Volunteer in the Philippines. Mr. Whitaker earned an M.P.P. from Princeton University, an M.P.A from the University of Pittsburgh, and an M.S. and B.S. from the University of Illinois, Champaign-Urbana. He speaks Spanish, Portuguese, French, Visayan, and Korean.

The State Department has a more detailed bio via state.gov:

Eric P. Whitaker joined the Bureau of African Affairs Front Office as Acting Deputy Assistant Secretary in January 2017 with East African Affairs, Sudan, and South Sudan. His previous position was Director of East African Affairs.

Born in DeKalb, Illinois, he attended the University of Illinois, where he earned a BS in general biology and an MS in community health education. Eric thereafter earned a Master of Public Administration degree at the University of Pittsburgh and a Master of Public Policy degree at the Wilson School at Princeton University while serving as a Weinberg Fellow. Prior to entering the Foreign Service, he served as a Community Health Development Peace Corps Volunteer in the Philippines and as Assistant to the City Manager for the City of Lodi, California.

As a Foreign Service Officer, Eric has held several positions: Consular Officer – Seoul, Korea; Refugee Affairs Coordinator – Khartoum, Sudan; Kampala, Uganda; and Zagreb, Croatia; Economic/Commercial Officer – Addis Ababa, Ethiopia; Political/Economic Chief – Bamako, Mali, and Maputo, Mozambique; Trade Policy Officer – Bureau for Economic and Business Affairs; and Political/Economic Counselor – Khartoum, Sudan.

Eric also served a tour of duty as an Embedded Provincial Reconstruction Team (E-PRT) Leader in Baghdad, Iraq, heading an eight-member team composed of State, USAID, and DoD civilians. Covering the districts of Karada, Rusafa, and Tissa Nissan, the E-PRT supported local governance, economic growth and development, essential public services and infrastructure, and community reconciliation. In August 2008, he departed for Niamey, Niger, where he served as Deputy Chief of Mission and then as Chargé d’Affaires at the U.S. Embassy. In October 2010, he commenced service as Counselor for Economic Affairs at Embassy Nairobi, Kenya, our largest diplomatic post in sub-Saharan Africa. Thereafter he served as Foreign Policy Advisor (POLAD) at Combined Joint Task Force – Horn of Africa (CJTF-HOA) in Djibouti on Camp Lemonnier. Finally, from October 2012-2014, he served as Deputy Chief of Mission at U.S. Embassy N’Djamena, Chad, before returning to the Department of State.

Eric speaks Portuguese, Spanish, French, Visayan, and Korean, and has received eleven Meritorious and Superior Honor Awards, as well as the Department of Defense Meritorious Civilian Honor Award.

#

Nomination: Career Diplomat Peter H. Barlerin to be U.S. Ambassador to Cameroon

Posted: 2:47 am ET
[twitter-follow screen_name=’Diplopundit’]

 

On July 17, President Trump announced his intent to nominate Peter Henry Barlerin to be the U.S. Ambassador to Cameroon. The WH released the following brief bio:

Peter Henry Barlerin of Colorado to be Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the United States of America to the Republic of Cameroon. Mr. Barlerin, a career member of the Senior Foreign Service, class of Counselor, has served as an American diplomat since 1989. He is currently the Deputy Assistant Secretary in the Bureau of African Affairs at the Department of State, a post he has held since 2016. Mr. Barlerin also served as Deputy Chief of Mission with senior level appointments at the State Department. An economist, he has served at seven U.S. Missions overseas. Mr. Barlerin earned a M.A. from University of Maryland, College Park and a B.A. from Middlebury College. He speaks French, Japanese, Spanish, and Norwegian.

#

“The Secretary” Writes FY18 Budget Love Letter to Foggy Bottom, But What’s This About Post Closures?

Posted: 2:21 pm ET
[twitter-follow screen_name=’Diplopundit’]

 

Earlier, we posted about Trump’s “skinny budget” which guts the State Department and USAID funding by 28%. (see WH/OMB Releases FY2018 Budget Blueprint – @StateDept/@USAID Hit With 28% Funding Cuts).  We understand that the actual cut is closer to 36% once the Overseas Contingency Operation (OCO) is factored in. In early March, media reports indicate that the proposed cuts for the international affairs budget would be 37% (see In Disaster News, Trump Budget Seeks 37% Funding Cut For @StateDept and @USAID). If there was push back from the Tillerson State Department in the weeks before OMB released the “America First” budget blueprint, T-Rex’s diplomatic nudge appears to result in a 36% funding reduction instead of the first reported 37% funding cut.

Yesterday morning, as folks were waking up to the OMB release, a letter sent from Secretary Tillerson’s office arrived in the inboxes of State Department employees:

THE SECRETARY OF STATE
WASHINGTON

Today the Office of Management and Budget released a preview of the President’s budget request for 2018.  It is an unmistakable restatement of the needs the country faces and the priorities we must establish.  The State Department’s budget request addresses the challenges to American leadership abroad and the importance of defending American interests and the American people.  It acknowledges that U.S. engagement must be more efficient, that our aid be more effective, and that advocating the national interests of our country always be our primary mission. Additionally, the budget is an acknowledgment that development needs are a global challenge to be met not just by contributions from the United States, but through greater partnership with and contributions from our allies and others.

Over the coming weeks, we will work together to draw a new budget blueprint that will allow us to shape a Department ready to meet the challenges that we will face in the coming decades.  We will do this by reviewing and selecting our priorities, using the available resources, and putting our people in a position to succeed.

We have a genuine opportunity to set a new course.  Together, we are going to advance America’s national security and its economic security.  I am motivated to tackle this challenge and am eager to realize what we will achieve together.

We understand that this letter did not get very good reviews in Foggy Bottom. We really do think that Secretary Tillerson needs to have a town hall meeting with his employees as soon as he gets back from his travel. Before perceptions become realities.  We already know the why, now folks need to understand the where and how.  And it doesn’t help to just tell one bureau it’s zeroed out in funds, and then come back another day and say how about a 50% cut? As if the 7th floor taskmasters got off the wrong side of bed one morning and on the right side the next day.

During his stop in Japan, Secretary Tillerson finally took a few questions during press availability with Japanese Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida. The State Department budget was one of the questions asked during the presser. Below is a transcript from state.gov:

QUESTION: Secretary Tillerson, today the White House is revealing its blueprint for the federal budget that will include deep cuts to your department. Do you support efforts to make such drastic cuts to diplomacy and development funding at this time? And are you confident that you will be able to continue to represent U.S. interests with such reduced room to maneuver?

MODERATOR: (Via interpreter) Secretary Tillerson, please.

SECRETARY TILLERSON: Well, I think in terms of the proposed budget that has been put forth by President Trump, it’s important from the State Department perspective, I think, a little context, to recognize that the State Department is coming off of an historically high level of budgetary resources in the 2017 budget, and this is reflective of a number of decisions that have been taken over the past few years, in part driven by the level of conflicts that the U.S. has been engaged in around the world as well as disaster assistance that’s been needed.

I think clearly, the level of spending that the State Department has been undertaking in the past – and particularly in this past year – is simply not sustainable. So on a go-forward basis, what the President is asking the State Department to do is, I think, reflective of a couple of expectations. One is that as time goes by, there will be fewer military conflicts that the U.S. will be directly engaged in; and second, that as we become more effective in our aid programs, that we will also be attracting resources from other countries, allies, and other sources as well to contribute in our development aid and our disaster assistance.

I think as I look at our ability to meet the mission of the State Department, I am quite confident. The men and women in the State Department are there for one reason. They’re not there for the glory. They’re not there for the money, obviously. They’re there because they’re extraordinarily dedicated to the mission and dedicated to ensuring America’s national security, economic security. We are going to be undertaking a very comprehensive examination of how programs are executed, a very comprehensive examination of how we are structured, and I’m confident that with the input of the men and women of the State Department, we are going to construct a way forward that allows us to be much more effective, much more efficient, and be able to do a lot with fewer dollars.

So it’s challenging. We understand the challenge. I take the challenge that the President has given us on willingly and with great expectation that with everyone in the State Department’s assistance, we’re going to deliver a much better result for the American people in the future.

Secretary Tillerson talking about “historically high level of budgetary resources in the 2017 budget” for the State Department made us look up the budget request for the last five fiscal years. The largest funding request was five years ago for FY2013 at $51.6 billion.

FY2017:  $50.1 billion.  The State Department $50.1 billion request includes a base of $35.2 billion and $14.9 billion for Overseas Contingency Operations (OCO) request. (SAO: For FY16 and ’17, we will be using OCO to support countries and programs that require assistance to prevent, address, or recover from human-caused crises and natural disasters, as well as to secure State and USAID’s operations from hostile acts and potential terrorism. OCO will be providing about 50 to 100 percent of the funding for some countries and programs, including a range of ongoing assistance operations and treaty commitments).

FY2016:  $50.3 billion. The State and USAID budget request totals $50.3 billion.  The base budget request is $43.2 billion plus $7 billion in Overseas Contingency Operations funds  — to respond to immediate and extraordinary national security requirements. OCO funds supports critical programs and operations in Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Iraq, as well as exceptional costs related to efforts to fight ISIL, respond to the conflict in Syria, and support Ukraine.

FY2015: $46.2 billion. The overall State and USAID Budget Request is $46.2 billion, plus $5.9 billion request for Overseas Contingency Operations (OCO) which funds key programs in — Iraq and Pakistan helps sustain hard-fought gains in Afghanistan through the 2014 transition.

FY2014: $47.8 billion. The overall request is $47.8 billion, includes $44 billion as part of base budget or enduring budget, and $3.8 billion for Overseas Contingency Operations, (OCO)  which — largely covers the extraordinary costs of Iraq, Afghanistan, and Pakistan.

FY2013: $51.6 billion. The Department of State/USAID budget totals $51.6 billion which includes $43.4 billion for the core budget,  which funds the long-term national security mission of the Department and USAID and $8.2 billion for Overseas Contingency Operations (OCO) to support the extraordinary and temporary costs of civilian-led programs and missions in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Pakistan.

The second thing we’d like to note is Secretary Tillerson’s assertion that “there will be fewer military conflicts that the U.S. will be directly engaged in.” If that’s really the expectation, why is Trump’s budget giving DOD $54billion more in funds as it guts the State Department and USAID? As we write this, we are mindful that the United States is still in Afghanistan and Iraq, in Syria, in Yemen, and a host of other places that are not front page news.

By the way, what’s this we’re hearing about the transition folks looking to close some US embassies in Africa?  Apparently there are now people at State who think we should close our embassy in country X for instance because — hey, AFRICOM is already there so why do we need an embassy?  Argh!  These folks realize that 3/4 of AFRICOM actually works at the command’s headquarters in Stuttgart, Germany, right?  AFRICOM’s HQ is not the point, of course, but if there are transition folks thinking about AFRICOM (just one of the six geographic combatant commands) as an excuse for post closures overseas, where else might they be thinking of playing their game of disengagement?

#

US Embassy Madagascar: A Post Far From Heaven With a $700K Imaginary American Center

Posted: 1:02 am EDT
[twitter-follow screen_name=’Diplopundit’ ]

 

Last week, State/OIG released its inspection report of the U.S. Embassy Antananarivo in Madagascar. It’s one of those report that you read and you want to pull your hair in frustration. By the time the OIG came for a visit, there’s a new chargé d’affaires, a new staff rotated in and a new team is tasked with correcting the mess left by the previous officials assigned to post.  The previous CDA identified fuel as a management control deficiency but did not see the rest of the good stuff.  The OIG report notes that other vulnerabilities discussed in the report “would have been apparent if embassy leadership had conducted a comprehensive, office-by-office review of all activities with management control implications.”

The report highlights non-use of record email to effectively track important exchanges on policy and programs, use of social media to reach a mainly urban, youthful, and elite audience where only 2 percent of the Madagascar population has access to the Internet, and Meritorious Honor Awards without proper documentation. Beyond the more problematic public affairs grants and purchases discussed below, post also spent more than $10,000 on computer equipment for use in Comoros, even if — get this —  there is no U.S. Government office space in Comoros in which to place that equipment.

And here’s one that’s going to make you unfriend this fella on Facebook: “The previous chargé d’affaires departed the embassy without completing six interim evaluation reports for American employees he supervised, as required for periods of 120 days or more under 3 FAM 2813.4. He did not respond to email reminders from the embassy human resources office and the Bureau of African Affairs. ” 

A quick look at US Embassy Antananarivo:

The mission has a total staff of 296, with 57 U.S. direct-hire positions. In April 2010, the embassy occupied a new embassy compound (site acquisition was $3.6 million, and construction was $102.3 million), consisting of a chancery, a warehouse/shops facility, a Marine security guard quarters, and a swimming pool. Embassy housing consists of 38 leased and 2 government-owned residences, 1 of which is the Ambassador’s residence.

The good news: A recently arrived chargé d’affaires

Stephen Anderson arrived in August 2014, about two months before the OIG inspection.  The OIG inspectors write:

The recently arrived chargé d’affaires has made a good start in leading the embassy during a period of profound change in the political situation in Madagascar and the subsequent restart of the bilateral relationship between Madagascar and the United States. … The chargé d’affaires, working with a collegial country team, has also demonstrated interpersonal engagement within the embassy…..The chargé d’affaires has also demonstrated his commitment to management controls within the embassy. He directed that each Department section conduct a self-assessment of its management deficiencies. At the time of the inspection, the mission had completed corrective action on 73 of the 122 action items identified and was working to close the others.

Some other good news:

1) The information management office is led by a seasoned information management officer. The section received good scores on ICASS customer surveys and OIG questionnaires, as well as A+ ratings from the Department’s network and systems monitoring software. 2) Community liaison office operations received high marks, exceeding both regional and worldwide scores in the 2014 ICASS customer satisfaction survey.  3) OIG surveys noted that parents are satisfied with the quality of education; and 4) The health unit’s ICASS customer satisfaction scores are above worldwide averages.

Now for that American Center boondoggle: 

According to State/OIG, the American Center was funded with embassy public affairs funds (approximately $116,328) and by two large allotments provided in June 2012 by the Office of American Spaces in the Bureau of International Information Programs (totaling $559,062).  The OIG report is careful to point out that though current staff members will play a key role in identifying a path forward on this project, they are not responsible for the existing situation.  But all those responsible and accountable for this project are left unnamed in the OIG report presumably because they are no longer at post and have been successfully recycled to other posts. And since IERs (inspector’s evaluation reports) are no longer in season, none of the details from this report will ever make it anywhere near a promotion board.

A former embassy public affairs officer in 2011 proposed an American Center for the capital on the basis of a public-private partnership model. The concept initially envisioned a partnership of the English Teaching Program (ETP), a restaurant, Voice of America, a telecommunications company, and a publisher of a free entertainment monthly. A memorandum of understanding was drafted and signed by some of the prospective partners in June 2013 after lengthy delays. However, two prospective partners failed to sign on and a final partnership memorandum never entered into force.
[…]
Disregard of policies and procedures concerning grants and cooperative agreements have put at risk the embassy’s approximately $700,000 project to establish an American Center in Antananarivo. The OIG team noted that the decisions and actions that led to the American Center problems predate the arrival of the employees presently assigned to the embassy.
[…]
The embassy initiated a massive public relations campaign and announced the start of construction at a press conference in April 2012 attended by the former chargé d’affaires and the deputy coordinator of the Bureau of International Information Programs.

Image via US Embassy Antananarivo/FB, April 2012

Image via US Embassy Antananarivo/FB, April 2012

We were able to locate the embassy announcement of the new American Center from April 2012.

Welcome to the new American Center.  In a few months time this space will be transformed into the most modern and technologically advanced space that Madagascar has ever seen.  It will be a place to learn, to explore, and to connect.   It will not be your traditional cultural center.  This initiative is an innovative collaboration between the American Embassy, our private sector partners, and the English Teaching Program.   It is this ambitious vision for a cultural center based entirely on the model of a public-private partnership that has brought the person in charge of American centers worldwide for the State Department to Madagascar.  I would like to acknowledge Michelle Logsdon, the Deputy Coordinator for International Information Programs who has joined us today to learn more about this important initiative.
[…]
As you will see in the presentations that each partner will be delivering shortly, they have not only embraced the potential of this center, they have developed it in ways we would have never dreamed possible.  VIMA plans to put on some of the most spectacular shows Antananarivo will have ever seen.  Orange and Teknet will make the latest technology accessible to a new generation of Malagasy, while the Cookie Shop will create a new environment for learning, exchanging, and of course some great brownies.
[…]
We will organize trainings, cultural programs, and conferences with our partners that connect them and their clients to individuals, information, and opportunities from around the globe.  We will also have a team dedicated to finding the latest information, technology, and developments for the Center.  While many of the services at the Center will be fee-based, just like at an internet café or a theatre, the Embassy will ensure that there will be more resources and events than ever that are available to the public for free. 

This is going to be a fee-based center in a country where the per capita gross domestic product is only $1,000 (2013 est.), with 92 percent of the population living on less than $2 a day. Who’s going to be the audience for these programs? The same urban, youthful, and elite audience that belongs to the  2 percent of the Madagascar population with access to the Internet?


I Dreamed a Dream … a Cookie Shop and Some Great Brownies

The OIG team inspected Embassy Antananarivo from October 7–29, 2014.  At that time, the team visited the proposed American Center site in a shopping mall and observed the following:

[A]fter almost 2 years of construction, the site, covering 1,200 square meters (or 12,917 square feet), was a shell. Rooms were laid out, but lighting, flooring, doors, and other infrastructure were absent. A small bathroom shared with the rest of the mall was located at some distance from the site on the other side of the mall. Other problems included the lack of storage space, ceilings below standard height on the mezzanine level, and inadequate provision for air conditioning. On a weekday afternoon, some minor construction work was underway. However, no agreement had been reached on a final design or construction plan, including where the U.S. Government portion of the facility might be located.

Storage in seven 40-ft container for nearly two years?

As the American Center is not ready for occupancy, much of the furniture and equipment ordered for it has been stored in seven 40-foot containers located in the embassy parking lot, some of it for nearly 2 years. The OIG team spot-checked the contents of the containers and did not observe water or insect damage.

The embassy did not have a plan (which details needed resources, deadlines, partners, and costs) that could lead to a decision whether to close or salvage this project. Without such a plan, the embassy runs the risk of repeating past mistakes and failing to make the best use of funds already expended.

No Bona Fide Need for Much of Equipment Procured for American Center

According to information the embassy provided the OIG team, the embassy has expended approximately $400,000 to date on furniture and equipment for the American Center project. However, the embassy failed to establish a bona fide need for many of these procurements. This failure—and the subsequent misuse of some of the furniture and equipment—constitutes a management control weakness.

A notable example of a questionable procurement is a $47,938 telescopic theater-style seating system, which the embassy purchased even though the prevailing wage of workers who could set up and remove chairs is $10 a day. The shipping cost for this item alone was estimated at $19,175.

Other examples of questionable procurements abound and include the following (costs are rounded and do not include shipping):

  • Twenty-five 46-inch televisions ($21,500) and six 70-inch televisions ($24,600).
  • A motorized theater curtain system ($7,150).
  • Twenty iMacs ($22,935), 16 HP TouchSmarts ($14,247), 20 Wii stations ($4,230), 20 Apple TVs ($1,920), and 10 iPods ($1,790).
  • Fifty home theater chairs ($26,600).
  • A replica of the Seattle Space Needle, painted wall mural, and totem pole ($4,810).
  • Decorations, including more than a dozen fish and turtle sculptures ($5,400).


Whatsadoing with a $5,500 coffee grinder/espresso maker?

The OIG report says that records the team reviewed indicate that the public affairs section recommended specific vendors to the procurement unit, most often identified through Amazon.com. Looks like no one bothered to make a distinction between government shopping and personal shopping, and folks were in a hurry to spend end-of fiscal year funds:

No documentation in the procurement files shows that procurements greater than $3,000 were properly competed, as required. A number of the items ordered were not part of the original equipment lists submitted in support of the request for funds. For example, the original request did not include any food preparation equipment, yet the embassy purchased items such as a wine cooler, a $650 residential blender, grills, a $5,500 coffee grinder and commercial espresso maker, refrigerators, and other kitchen items.

Property Control Does Not Comply with Regulations, No Kidding

The amazing thing here is there is no discussion why USG properties were lent to two private businesses without documentation.  Who signed them out? Who approved these loans?  What did the USG get for this sweet arrangement? Did those companies just come by the embassy, pick up the USG properties and the embassy guards just waved “bye, come back soon?”

As the American Center was (and still is) not ready for occupancy, much of the furniture and equipment has been stored in seven 40-foot containers located in the embassy parking lot, some of it for nearly 2 years.

Other furniture and equipment was loaned to two private businesses for their use without any documentation. The embassy loaned at least $42,000 of computers and office equipment to one telecommunications firm alone. These items included 12 iPads, 16 iMacs, and 2 70-inch and 3 46-inch televisions. The embassy purchased a $6,700 eBoard from this company and then lent the item back to it. The embassy told the OIG team that these items were retrieved from the firm in February 2014 after a year or so in use, though the lack of documentation makes the timing unclear. The other firm, a restaurant chain, was lent at least $5,000 worth of U.S. Government property. The embassy warehouse unit retrieved these items, including a refrigerator installed in the restaurant owner’s private residence, on September 15, 2014—3 weeks prior to the OIG team’s arrival. These deficiencies were not, but should have been, included in the 2014 chief of mission statement of assurance signed by the previous chargé d’affaires on August 11, 2014.


Who Bears Responsibility For This Project, Anyways?

Short answer from OIG: Bureau of African Affairs, Bureau of International Information Programs, and Embassy Bear Responsibility. Here is the longer answer:

The lack of accountability for the American Center project extends beyond the embassy because additional management controls exist for projects of this scale. The Bureau of International Information Programs and its regional information resources office in Nairobi approved two large American Spaces funding requests despite warning signs. These included the requests’ hyperbolic language (“the possibilities are endless”) and the questionable suitability of such a large, public-private project in a very poor country, especially when the project would be managed by a public affairs officer and section lacking the necessary business and accounting acumen and grants management experience. The Bureau of African Affairs approved the project despite the fact that it had not received the necessary project details from the embassy and despite the many flaws in the grants documents that they did receive. The embassy did not caution the Department that the project’s prospective partners had never cooperated in such a joint venture, had no understanding of its public purpose, and had no record of such cooperation with the embassy in the past. The Department should have drawn on its technical and regional expertise and understanding of public-private partnerships to identify flaws in the initial plan before it was approved and funds were allotted.

Note that the new Ambassador to Madagascar Robert Yamate was only confirmed by the Senate in November 2014, and did not get to post until December 2014, five months after his nomination was announced and two months after this OIG inspection.  The previous ambassador appointed to Madagascar was R. Niels Marquardt who departed post in June 2010.

#

 

Related item:

ISP-I-15-20A Inspection of Embassy Antananarivo, Madagascar | May 15, 2015  

 

State Dept OIG – Published Reports, September 2014

— Domani Spero
[twitter-follow screen_name=’Diplopundit’ ]

 

The following are the OIG inspection reports and audits posted online by State/OIG in September. All are in pdf format.

 

-09/30/14   Inspection of the Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs (ISP-I-14-24)  [925 Kb] Posted on October 9, 2014

-09/30/14   Inspection of the Bureau of Diplomatic Security, High Threat Programs Directorate (ISP-I-14-23)  [584 Kb]  Posted on October 8, 2014

-10/31/14   Agreed-Upon Procedures Relating to Employee Benefits Information Submitted to the Office of Personnel Management (AUD-FM-15-01)  [648 Kb]  Posted on October 3, 2014

-09/30/14   Management Alert – Grant Management Deficiencies (MA-14-03)  [1541 Kb]  Posted on September 30, 2014

-09/30/14   Audit of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty After-employment Benefits (AUD-FM-IB-14-34)  [2093 Kb]  Posted on September 25, 2014

-09/30/14   Audit of International Boundary and Water Commission, United States and Mexico, U.S. Section, Information Security Program – AUD-IT-14-33  [1040 Kb]  Posted on September 24, 2014

-09/30/14   Management Assistance Report- Termination of Construction Grants to Omran Holding Group (AUD-CG-14-37)  [1338 Kb]  Posted on September 22, 2014

-09/30/14   OIG Inquiry Into Use of Confidentiality Agreements – sample letter  [389 Kb]  Posted on September 19, 2014

-09/30/14   OIG Inquiry Into Use of Confidentiality Agreements  [41 Kb]  Posted September 19, 2014

-09/30/14   Audit of the Department of State’s Management of the Marine Security Guard Program and Plans for Program Expansion (AUD-SI-14-30)  [4897 Kb]  Posted on September 18, 2014

-08/31/14   Compliance Follow-up Audit of Department of State Actions To Address Weaknesses in the Ownership, Award, Administration, and Transfer of Overseas Construction Funded by the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (AUD-ACF-14-32)  [1414 Kb]  Posted on September 8, 2014

-08/31/14   Inspection of Embassy Kabul, Afghanistan (ISP-I-14-22A)  [977 Kb]  Posted on August 26, 2014

-08/31/14   Audit of the Administration and Oversight of Contracts and Grants Within the Bureau of African Affairs (AUD-CG-14-31)  [4102 Kb]  Posted on August 18, 2014

* * *

Photo of the Day: First Parent-Daughter Assistant Secretary of State

— Domani Spero
[twitter-follow screen_name=’Diplopundit’ ]

 

 

President Obama announced Ms. Crocker’s nomination in October 2013. The WH released a brief bio at that time:

Bathsheba N. Crocker is the Principal Deputy Director in the Office of Policy Planning at the Department of State (DOS), a position she has held since 2011.  Previously at DOS, she served as Chief of Staff to the Deputy Secretary of State from 2009 to 2011.  From 2008 to 2009, Ms. Crocker was a Senior Policy and Advocacy Officer for International Affairs at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.  She was the Senior Advisor to the Assistant Secretary-General for Peacebuilding Support at the UN Peacebuilding Support Office from 2007 to 2008.  From 2005 to 2007, Ms. Crocker was the Deputy Chief of Staff to the UN Special Envoy at the Office of the UN Special Envoy for Tsunami Recovery.  Ms. Crocker worked at the Center for Strategic and International Studies on the Post-Conflict Reconstruction Project as a Fellow and Co-Director from 2003 to 2005 and as an International Affairs Fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations from 2002 to 2003.  Ms. Crocker was an Attorney-Adviser for the Office of the Legal Advisor at DOS from 2001 to 2002 and from 1997 to 1999.  From 2000 to 2001, she was Deputy U.S. Special Representative for Southeast Europe Affairs at the U.S. Embassy in Rome, Italy.  From 1999 to 2000, Ms. Crocker was Executive Assistant to the Deputy National Security Advisor for the National Security Council at the White House.  She has served as an adjunct professor at Johns Hopkins University, George Washington University, and American University.  Ms. Crocker received a B.A. from Stanford University, an M.A. from Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy, and a J.D. from Harvard Law School.

Ms. Crocker’s father, Chester Crocker is a career diplomat who served as Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs from 1981 to 1989 in the Reagan administration.  Click here for his ADST oral history interview (pdf).

* * *

 

 

 

 

 

 

The State of Foreign Service Family Member Employment 2013 — Where Are the Jobs?

❊ If you want to help keep us around, see Help Diplopundit Continue the Chase—Crowdfunding for 2014 via RocketHub ❊


— Domani Spero

According to State/FLO, the total adult family member population of the Foreign Service in 2013 is 11,528.  This number was 9,243 in 2007 and  9,819 in 2009. Family members are 78% female and 64% are not working.  Male family members are slowly expanding in numbers; they constitute 20% of the family member population in 2007, 19% in 2009 and is up 22% last year.

Of the 36% working , 24% works inside the U.S. mission with only 12% working in the local economy. The total number of family members employed was 25% in 2009.   While more jobs have become available since 2009, the FS family member population has also expanded by 1,711 in the last four years.  Of the 64% not working  or 7,392 family members — the FLO data does not provide insight into how many of these have opted to stay home voluntarily and how many are interested in working but could not find work overseas.

We should note that the State Department has created an Expanded Professional Associates Program (EPAP) for family member employment.  These are professional level Foreign Service full-time positions, centrally funded by the Department of State and some through ICASS (as opposed to post-funded positions). But the program only provides “186 filled EPAP positions in total.”  Not all family members would like to work, of course, but for those interested in professional level positions, 186 EPAP positions amount to a 1.6% drop in a universe with 11,528 individuals.

The 2011-2013 data indicates that the largest number of FS family members at post is located in the EUR bureau (3,319) followed by the WHA bureau (2,716).  However, the total number of family members employed at post is highest in the South Central Asia countries, followed by posts in Africa.  The South Central Asia bureau only has 615 family members at post, the lowest number among regional bureaus but at 53%, it has the highest  number of employment among family members. The SCA bureau includes Afghanistan and Pakistan  where adult family members are allowed to accompany employees pending job availability at post and “M”bureau approval .

The top leading locations for family member employment have not changed.  As in 2009, the top leading posts for family member employment in 2013 are located in the following bureaus:

#1 South Central Asia (see posts here)

#2 Africa (see posts here)

#3 Near East Asia (see posts here)

Screen Shot 2014-02-10

Screen Shot 2014-02-10

Screen Shot 2014-02-10

Screen Shot 2014-02-10

Click on image to view the State/FLO report in pdf)

* * *

Enhanced by Zemanta

A Blast From the Past: How to Purge a Bureau? Quickly.

|| >We’re running our crowdfunding project from January 1 to February 15, 2014. If you want to keep us around, see Help Diplopundit Continue the Chase—Crowdfunding for 2014 via RocketHub <||

 

— Domani Spero

Via the National Security Archive (NSA):

“Reflecting a perpetual annoyance with unauthorized disclosures, Kissinger purged several senior staffers from the State Department’s Bureau of African Affairs in December 1975, after U.S. aid to opposition groups in Angola leaked to the press. Kissinger told Scowcroft that “It will be at least a new cast of characters that leaks on Angola” [See document 7].

Below is the telcon between Scowcroft and Kissinger recently released by the Archive. For additional background on how these docs are able to get out of the lockbox, see here.

Via National Security Archive

Via National Security Archive
(click image for larger view)

Here Kissinger and Scowcroft discuss the purge of the State Department’s Africa Bureau.  At a departmental meeting that day Kissinger said that the leaking of information about Angola policy was a “disgrace” and that he wanted people who had worked on Angola “transferred out within two months.”  Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Nathaniel Davis, whom Kissinger associated with the leaks, had already resigned under protest (Davis was slated to be ambassador to Switzerland).[4]  The reference to the man who is a “hog” is obscure.

That meeting on Angola occurred on December 18, 1975 attended by Henry Kissinger, then the Secretary of State, Deputy Secretary Ingersoll, Under Secretary Maw, Deputy Under Secretary Eagleburger, Ambassador Schaufele, Mr. Saunders, INR, General Scowcroft, NSC, Mr. Hyland, NSC, Mr. Strand, AF and Mr. Bremer, Notetaker.  The 56th Secretary of State who purged the Bureau of African Affairs had some memorable quotes:

The Secretary: The Department’s behavior on Angola is a disgrace. The Department is leaking and showing a stupidity unfit for the Foreign Service. No one can think that our interest there is because of the Soviet base or the “untold riches” of Angola. This is not a whorehouse; we are conducting national policy.

[…]

The Secretary: I want people transferred out within two months who have worked on Angola. Did I cut off cables at that time?

Bremer: They were restricted.

The Secretary: Even more repulsive is the fact that AF was quiet until Davis was confirmed and then it all leaked. If I were a Foreign Service Officer I’d ask myself what kind of an organization I was in. I’ll be gone eventually but you are people whose loyalty is only to the promotion system and not to the US interest.

[…]

The Secretary: The DOD guy then says it’s between Henry and his Moscow friends.

First I want discipline. Someone has to get the FSO’s under control. If they don’t like it, let them resign.

Eagleburger: I have some ideas on that, Bill.

The Secretary: I want action today. I am not terrified by junior officers. I want to discuss Angola. I’ve got papers on the UN and on the Security Council. I had a foretaste from Moynihan who had been brought into the discussions.

[…]

The Secretary: Who will shape up the Department? I’m serious. It must be a disciplined organization.

Eagleburger: The focus now must be on AF.

Schaufele: I’m bringing the new director of AF/C back soon.

The Secretary: Good.

Schaufele: Yes, he’s good and tough. He’s due out at the end of the month.

The Secretary: Well get him back sooner and get Nat Davis’ heroes out fast.

Schaufele: As soon as we can find replacements.

The Secretary: No, I’d rather have no one. I want some of them moved by the end of the week. I want to see a list. I want progressive movement. Should I swear you in?

The exchange above is from the Memorandum of Conversation (memcon) of that meeting, published by history.state.gov. Imagine if you can read these memcons a year or so after the top honcho’s departure from office and not after four decades?

Below is the Wikipedia entry on Ambassador Nathaniel Davis’ resignation:

Operation IA Feature, a covert Central Intelligence Agency operation, authorized U.S. government support for Jonas Savimbi‘s UNITA and Holden Roberto‘s National Liberation Front of Angola (FNLA) militants in AngolaPresident Gerald Ford approved the program on July 18, 1975 despite strong opposition from officials in the State Department, most notably Davis, and the CIA. Two days prior to the program’s approval Davis told Henry Kissinger, the Secretary of State, that he believed maintaining the secrecy of IA Feature would be impossible. Davis correctly predicted the Soviet Union would respond by increasing its involvement in Angola, leading to more violence and negative publicity for the United States. When Ford approved the program Davis resigned.[4] John Stockwell, the CIA’s station chief in Angola, echoed Davis’ criticism saying the program needed to be expanded to be successful, but the program was already too large to be kept out of the public eye. Davis’ deputy and former U.S. ambassador to ChileEdward Mulcahy, also opposed direct involvement. Mulcahy presented three options for U.S. policy towards Angola on May 13, 1975. Mulcahy believed the Ford administration could use diplomacy to campaign against foreign aid to the Communist MPLA, refuse to take sides in factional fighting, or increase support for the FNLA and UNITA. He warned however that supporting UNITA would not sit well with Mobutu Sese Seko, the ruler of Zaire.[5][6][7]

* * *

Enhanced by Zemanta

State/OIG Semi-Annual Report to Congress (Apri 1-September 30, 2013)

— Domani Spero

State/OIG submitted its last semi-annual report to Congress signed by Harold Geisel in September. Steve A. Linick took charge of the OIG on September 30, 2013.  The report was not published online until late December.

Via State/OIG

Via State/OIG

Under Oversight Review, State/OIG tells Congress it is conducting an in-depth review of Diplomatic Security’s investigative process.  This is in connection with last year’s allegations that several recent investigations were influenced, manipulated, or simply called off. (See CBS News: Possible State Dept Cover-Ups on Sex, Drugs, Hookers — Why the “Missing Firewall” Was a Big Deal):

The Office of Investigations (INV) is conducting an independent oversight review of certain investigations conducted by the Bureau of Diplomatic Security, Office of Investigations and Counterintelligence, Special Investigations Division (DS/ICI/SID). This is an in-depth review of the DS/ICI/SID investigations to assess the adequacy of the investigative process.

State/OIG also informs Congress that it audited seven posts under the purview of AF that had threat levels ranging from medium to critical. The audit was conducted “to determine to what extent the selected embassies in Africa complied with current physical security standards, and whether management officials at these posts used available authorities to effectively implement the posts’ security programs.” The audit identified physical security deficiencies at Embassy N’Djamena, Chad; Embassy Monrovia, Liberia; Embassy Nouakchott, Mauritania and Embassy Dakar, Senegal.  A brief summary of the audit is posted here but the reports are not publicly available.

The semi-annual report includes an item about the non-compliance of the local guard contractor for Embassy Lilongwe, Malawi, who was required to pay local guards $100 per month supplemental pay in addition to the guards’ regular wages and benefits, based on a provision in the contract. OIG estimated that the amount invoiced by the contractor and not paid to the local guards as of June 2013 could be as much as $1,489,200.

Other items of note:

  • OIG conducted an investigation after receiving allegations of improper activities being committed by a major contractor that provides survey services to the Department and other agencies. The investigation determined that the contractor provided false pricing information to the Department during negotiations for a 5-year, sole source contract worth $25,000,000. OIG led a multi-agency investigation which resulted in the contractor agreeing to pay a $10.5-million civil settlement for improperly inflating Department and U.S. Mint contract prices and engaging in prohibited employment negotiations with a Federal Emergency Management Agency official.
  • OIG conducted a joint investigation with the OIG for USAID into allegations that two foreign real estate companies paid bribes to two LE staff members at the local embassy in order secure U.S. Embassy lease agreements. During the investigation, the company presidents admitted to paying the bribes and both employees were terminated from employment at the embassy. On May 9, 2013, the Office of the Procurement Executive issued six contracting debarments for a period of 3 years in connection with the case, two for each former employee, two for the two firms, and two for the presidents of each firm.
  • OIG conducted an investigation of an assistant regional security officer who submitted a false reimbursement voucher in connection with an extended hotel stay. The investigation determined that the officer knowingly submitted two fraudulent vouchers for reimbursement to the Department and received $14,630.83 to which he was not entitled. On March 11, 2012, The Department of Justice declined criminal prosecution of the officer. On March 28, 2012, the Bureau of Resource Management initiated a collection action against the officer for the full amount of the false claims, and on April 23, 2013, the Bureau of Human Resources issued a 10 day suspension to the officer.

See more Semiannual Report to the Congress April 1, 2013 to September 30, 2013  [1990 Kb]  | Posted on December 30, 2013.

* * *