Nominee For Peru Ambassadorship Lisa Kenna Gets a Late Thunderbolt

 

Via Politico:
Lisa Kenna, Pompeo’s executive secretary — a gatekeeper of sorts to his office — told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee that she was unaware of the substance of Giuliani’s outreach at the time, but now knows it was an effort to discredit Yovanovitch. Giuliani made calls and delivered documents to Pompeo that came from Ukrainian figures viewed as corrupt by the State Department.
“At the time, I did not know what the documents were about. It’s deeply disturbing,” said Kenna, who is being vetted by the committee for the ambassadorship to Peru.
Ms. Kenna’s prepared testimony for the SFRC is available to read here.

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American Oversight Publishes Heavily Redacted State/OIG Hotline Complaint Regarding Pompeo Conduct

 

In May this year, American Oversight filed an FOIA request to the Department of State seeking “records sufficient to identify any whistleblower complaints containing allegations that concern the conduct of Secretary Mike Pompeo.” It also asked that the request be processed on an expedited basis. “The request was made in light of news on May 15 that President Donald Trump would be ousting State Department Inspector General Steve Linick, the independent watchdog tasked with overseeing the State Department headed by Secretary Mike Pompeo.”
On July 17, 2020, American Oversight published the State/OIG Hotline Complaint, a 4-page heavily redacted document of a whistleblower complaint.
The complaint was not/not submitted anonymously, but the sender marked “no” on the section for willingness to waive confidentiality.
The whistleblower said that they witnessed “concerning activities” in Washington, D.C. , other locations in the U.S. including New York and Florida, and overseas.
A heavily redacted Summary of Incident notes whistleblower “directly witness and/or heard numerous firsthand accounts” followed by two paragraphs of blackened entry.
Under “False or misleading statements” were two paragraphs that were ruthlessly Sharpied.
Under “Direction by” two paragraphs were also under cover of darkness.
The complaint states, “tried on several occasions to obtain clarifications and guidance from senior leadership in S/ES and from the Office of Legal Advisors, but were blocked from doing so.”
Redacted names “were made aware of these concerns on repeated occasions.” “To my knowledge, none of them ever took action to resolve the issues, and several of them specifically directed subordinate staff to continue facilitating questionable activities after the concerns were raised.”
At some point the names of these alleged enablers will be known to the public. Please be alert on what happens to this whistleblower whose identity is known to State/OIG.
S/ES is the Executive Secretariat of the State Department.  The Office of Legal Adviser is currently encumbered by an Acting Legal Adviser since the departure of the Legal Adviser in May 2019.

So That’s Why @StateOIG Steve Linick Was Fired Urgently Under Cover of Darkness

 

State IG Steve Linick appeared before HFAC on June 3rd. You can read his prepared statement in the link below. There is also a summary of his congressional interview today. We understand that a transcript will be made available publicly at some point.
Politico reports:

“Linick also confirmed to lawmakers that he was investigating Pompeo and his wife for “allegations of misuse of government resources.” Linick revealed that he had sought documents from Pompeo’s executive secretary, Lisa Kenna, and discussed the probe with Bulatao and another senior State Department official, Stephen Biegun, to ensure that Pompeo’s inner circle “would not be surprised.” Pompeo later told The Washington Post that he was unaware of the investigation.”

The panel plans to seek interviews with the following current and former State Department officials. Dear HFAC, please have public hearings so we can see them earn points in their professional ethos scorecards.
Related:

 

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@StateDept Officials Reportedly Wary of Acting IG Akard Who Also Reports to Pompeo BFF Bulatao

 

On May 30, CNN tweeted that “the ousted State Inspector General Steve Linick is expected to sit down for a transcribed interview on Wednesday, June 3rd,  with lawmakers who are probing his firing earlier this month, according to two congressional aides familiar with the inquiry and scheduling.”
Steve Linick’s removal was effective in “30 days.” But Linick has since been told apparently that “he is physically barred from returning to the State Department even to collect his belongings, complicating his ability to finish his work.”
Meanwhile, over in the Foggiest Bottom, the Acting State/IG Stephen Akard (who is reportedly keeping his other day job as @OFM_Ambassador) has assumed charged of the IG office the Monday following Linick’s Friday night firing.
Politico’s Nahal Toosi  is reporting about the reactions from State Department officials, and there are all sorts of worries:
    • “State Department officials are increasingly uneasy with their new acting inspector general, fearing he has conflicts of interest that could lead him to derail ongoing investigations — including ones into Secretary of State Mike Pompeo — while endangering cooperating witnesses.”
    • “Some State Department staffers fear Akard will try to rescind, or otherwise undermine, past investigations conducted by his ousted predecessor, Steve Linick.”
    • “Others worry that the presence of Akard, who also has ties to Vice President Mike Pence, will scare off employees who wish to report waste, fraud and abuse.”
    • “Meanwhile, State Department employees who were interviewed for ongoing and past investigations – often under conditions of anonymity – are worried that Akard will track down their identities and share them with Pompeo and others. They fear they will be targeted for professional retribution as a result.”
    • “Another State Department staffer predicted that colleagues will shy away from reporting future cases of wrongdoing at the department because of Akard.”
Concerns from Capitol Hill:

“There also are concerns on Capitol Hill and beyond that Akard will seek ways to undermine Linick’s past, completed investigations that may have upset Pompeo and some of his top aides.”

Now, this part of Politico’s reporting should be a red flag. If true that this was Akards defense when asked about a potential conflict of interest, this is a bad sign:

“When asked about these potential conflicts of interest, Akard has offered a “head-scratching” take, a person familiar with the situation told POLITICO. Akard has said that, in reality, Bulatao is not his supervisor, but that his actual boss is Trump, because it’s the president who technically nominated him to serve as the head of OFM.”

OFM’s Stephen Akard reports to Under Secretary for Management Brian Bulatao. Period.

“As the head of the Office of Foreign Missions, Akard reports to Bulatao. As the undersecretary of State for management, Bulatao also oversees several other major divisions within the State Department, such as the Bureau of Diplomatic Security and the Bureau of Consular Affairs.

If any of those other units falls under investigation by the inspector general’s office, some State Department officials argue, Akard can’t reasonably expect to play a role in the probe because he also reports to Bulatao. Bulatao is a longtime personal friend and former business partner of Pompeo’s.

His new staff have asked him what he will do if instructed by Pompeo or others not to investigate something. His response was that unless there was a very good reason, he would say that such an instruction was inappropriate. Akard also has acknowledged that he may have to recuse himself from certain matters.”

What does Pompeo want? A pet in his pocket?
    • But the fact that the chief U.S. diplomat has been so public about what he views as the proper role of an inspector general worries staffers who fear Akard will internalize the message.
    • In a Thursday interview with Fox News, Pompeo indirectly made it clear what he would like to see in an inspector general when he hinted that Linick was too independent.
    • “He was acting in a way that was deeply inconsistent with what the State Department was trying to do,” Pompeo said of Linick. “We tried to get him to be part of a team that was going to help protect his own officers from Covid-19; he refused to be an active participant. He was investigating policies he simply didn’t like. That’s not the role of an inspector general … This was about an IG who was attempting to undermine the mission of the United States Department of State. That’s unacceptable.”
Watch Pompeo’s actions not the blah, blah, blahs!
    • “One of the political appointees singled out for criticism by Linick was Kevin Moley, the head of the bureau. Even though some of Pompeo’s top aides acknowledged many of the problems described in Linick’s report, they claimed the secretary of State had no power to fire Moley because he was a presidential appointee. Instead, Moley was allowed to quietly retire several weeks later.
    • “(The State Department has never responded to questions from POLITICO about whether Pompeo had ever asked Trump to fire Moley. He did do so for Linick, who also was a presidential appointee.)”
The fact that Pompeo asked Trump to fire Linick but offered no actions following the IG reports on staff mistreatments says something about his organizational view of Foggy Bottom. There is an in-group and an out-group in Foggy Bottom’s universe, and only the in-group really matters.
You folks notice that Pompeo is really doing a nasty number on Linick? Not just recommending to Trump that Linick be fired, but throwing rocks and mud at Linick on his way out.  It really makes one wonder what kind of issues Linick was digging up as Foggy Bottom’s junkyard dog.
Linick was fired at a carefully selected time, then reportedly barred from returning to his office even if the firing did not become official for 30 more days. Pompeo quipped that he “should have done it some time ago,”  So why was it not done some time ago?
Why did it become so urgent, they had to fire him under cover of darkness on a Friday night on May 15th?
Then they apparently barred him from returning to his office, not even affording  a dedicated public servant the courtesy of allowing him to pack up his personal things, say goodbye to his colleagues, or have an orderly transition.
Then the Acting IG, double hatted as @OFM_Ambassadorshowed up at his new office the following business day to make everyone happy.
State OIG has a Deputy IG Diana R. Shaw.  Why was she not picked as Acting IG?  Questions, so many questions. If you got answers, we’re interested in listening.

 

Trump to fire State/OIG Steve Linick who is reportedly investigating Pompeo

 

So Friday night, just when folks were getting ready to mute the chaos and the crazies for the weekend, news broke around 8:30 pm EST of another IG firing. This time, it was the removal of State Department Inspector General Steve Linick.  This follows the firing of both ICIG Michael Atkinson and DODIG Glenn Fine in April, and of the HHSIG Christi Grimm in early May.
WaPo reported on May 16 that “A Democratic congressional aide said Linick was looking into Pompeo’s “misuse of a political appointee at the Department to perform personal tasks for himself and Mrs. Pompeo.”
NYT also reported on May 16 that “A White House official, speaking on the condition on anonymity, confirmed on Saturday that Mr. Pompeo had recommended Mr. Linick’s removal and said that Mr. Trump had agreed.”
Wowowow! If true, hang a new poster from the ceiling!
On May 17, NBC News reported that “The State Department inspector general who was removed from his job Friday was looking into whether Secretary of State Mike Pompeo made a staffer walk his dog, pick up his dry cleaning and make dinner reservations for Pompeo and his wife, among other personal errands, according to two congressional officials assigned to different committees.”
(Also see “UberEats With Guns”, Susan Pompeo, and Don’t Forget Sherman)
Neither Sherman nor the new dog, Mercer has been accused of wrong doing, but we might see the dogs as witnesses in Senator Grassley’s congressional hearing as a warning to other dogs who may be thinking of taking walks or going to groomers with folks on the clock.
Trump’s congressional notification of his intent to remove Linick is dated May 15 and is effective in 30 days.  The required 30-day notice was put in by Congress in 2008 so that “it could push back if the proposed removal was to cover up misconduct.”  Given that this would be the fourth IG removal without any consequential push back from Congress (writing a letter with no follow-up action doesn’t count as consequential), don’t be surprise if the federal government  won’t have any IG left by fall.
Say, is it possible that we’ll see State/OIG release the work product that instigated Linick’s removal prior to his departure?
SFRC’s Senator Bob Menendez and HFAC’s Rep. Ellion Engel have now announced a joint investigation into Linick’s dismissal.
State IG Steve Linick has been with the State Department since September 2013. Prior to joining State, he was the Inspector General of the Federal Housing Finance Agency. Two months after moving to State. his old office, FHFA/OIG with the Justice Department and other state and federal entities secured a record $13 billion global settlement with JPMorgan for misleading investors about securities containing toxic mortgages. 
Linick officially started work at the State Department on September 30, 2013.  Folks with short memory may not remember this but on October 1, 2013, the federal government went on shutdown and Mr. Linick’s office was one of the very few offices at the State Department whose employees were put on furlough). He lost 65% of his entire staff during that  furlough. In his almost 7-year tenure as State OIG, he had been the subject of attacks by blue politicians, particularly during the email saga. He has also been accused by red partisans of being part of the “deep state” and being an “Obama holdover” during the Ukraine mess. It is within the realm of possibility that we could soon hear additional attacks to justify this dismissal.
State Department spox told NPR reported Michele Kelemen that “the State Department is happy to announce that Ambassador Stephen J. Akard will now lead the Office of the Inspector General.”
Happy, huh?
Akard, is a former Foreign Service officer who leads the State Department’s Office of Foreign Missions.  He previously worked at the Indiana Economic Development Corporation under then-Gov. Mike Pence. He was originally nominated in 2017 to become director general of the Foreign Service. (see Trump’s Pick For @StateDept Personnel Chief Gets the Ultimate “Stretch” AssignmentTen Ex-Directors General Call on the SFRC to Oppose Stephen Akard’s Confirmation).
Tell us how this is going to end.

 

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Some Dings and Cheers For the Bureau of Counterterrorism in New OIG Report

State/OIG recently released its inspection report of the Bureau of Counterterrorism.

“At the time of the inspection, the bureau’s authorized staffing included 112 Foreign Service and Civil Service positions, augmented by 53 contractor positions and 43 additional personnel and detailees from other U.S. Government agencies. The bureau has 13 offices in addition to the Front Office. Nine offices support policy issues, such as counterterrorism finance, aviation security, collection of biometric information, foreign terrorist fighters, and bilateral and multilateral diplomatic engagement. Two offices carry out operational responsibilities related to the Department of Defense, and one office designs and manages CT-funded assistance programs. Finally, the Office of the Executive Director focuses on bureau administrative requirements and also provides support to the Office of the Special Envoy for Hostage Affairs. The bureau managed $642 million in active foreign assistance program funds that spanned multiple fiscal years, including through annual and multiyear projects involving other Department bureaus and Federal agencies.”

The report says that the CT Coordinator “exhibited decisive leadership” but apparently, CT bureau employees and senior officials from other Department bureaus “told OIG about occasions on which the Coordinator lost his temper in meetings with U.S. Government officials and foreign partners. When OIG spoke with the Coordinator about the issue, he acknowledged the problem and responded positively to OIG’s suggestions for improvement.”
The report notes that “staff in interviews and in responses to OIG questionnaires gave the Coordinator lower marks for adherence to leadership principles found in 3 FAM 1214b(6) and (9) regarding self-awareness and managing conflict.” 
The Bureau concurred with all 11 recommendations and the OIG considered all recommendations resolved.
Summary of OIG Findings:

• The Coordinator for Counterterrorism exhibited decisive leadership, marked by setting clear strategic goals and communicating them effectively to staff. This enabled the Bureau of Counterterrorism to navigate major shifts in its mission since 2016.

• At times, the Coordinator engaged in conduct that negatively affected employee morale and productivity.

• The bureau established effective internal policy coordination and communication processes.

• Employees from other Department of State bureaus and Federal agencies expressed differing opinions about the bureau’s effectiveness in promoting its policy goals in interagency processes.

• The Bureau of Counterterrorism did not provide sufficient policy guidance, training, and administrative support to overseas employees responsible for coordinating and reporting on regional counterterrorism issues.

• Vacancies in 22 percent of the bureau’s Civil Service positions hampered operations.

• The bureau’s Office of the Executive Director did not have systems in place to measure the results of key administrative activities and efficiently communicate with customers. As a result, bureau staff expressed dissatisfaction with the administrative and support services delivered by the office.

• The bureau did not follow Department procedures for software development.

•The lack of information technology contingency plans placed at risk the bureau’s ability to support these functions in the event of an unplanned disruption.

Executive Direction:

Tone at the Top and Standards of Conduct : The Coordinator assumed his position in August 2017. At the time of the inspection, he also served as acting Under Secretary for Civilian Security, Democracy, and Human Rights. Prior to joining the Department, the Coordinator was a law professor. He previously served as Deputy Assistant Secretary for Policy in the Department of Homeland Security and worked on counterterrorism policy and judicial confirmations in the Office of Legal Policy in the Department of Justice. The Principal Deputy Coordinator, a career member of the Senior Executive Service, arrived in 2016, after having previously served as Coordinator for U.S. Assistance to Europe and Eurasia in the Bureau of European and Eurasian Affairs, among other senior positions in the Department and the U.S. Agency for International Development.

Coordinator Decisively Led Bureau During Major Mission Shifts, but Travel Schedule and Temperament Issues Resulted in Employee Stress: The Coordinator exhibited decisive leadership during a major expansion of the bureau’s counterterrorism efforts. CT employees and others interviewed by OIG described the Coordinator’s operating style as decisive, strategic, and action-oriented — qualities that are consistent with leadership principles in 3 Foreign Affairs Manual (FAM) 1214(2) and (3). The Coordinator demonstrated a command of complex technical and diplomatic policy issues in meetings OIG observed, consistent with responsibilities outlined in 1 FAM 481.1. Since 2016, the bureau had broadened its efforts to counter violent extremism, launched the Counterterrorism Partnerships Fund (CTPF) initiative, 9 assumed responsibility for aspects of the Global Coalition to Defeat ISIS, and took over responsibility for the sensitive policy area of terrorist detentions. OIG concluded the Coordinator took appropriate steps to set and communicate policy priorities for these new responsibilities.

Nonetheless, despite positive comments regarding his decisiveness, staff in interviews and in responses to OIG questionnaires gave the Coordinator lower marks for adherence to leadership principles found in 3 FAM 1214b(6) and (9) regarding self-awareness and managing conflict. Staff described the Coordinator as unaware of the demands his travel schedule placed on employees and said that at times they lacked a clear understanding of the purpose and outcomes of the Coordinator’s travel, which included 21 international trips in FY 2019, of which 1 was to a CTPF focus country.10 Additionally, the Coordinator’s practice of scheduling trips on short notice burdened staff, who had to put regular duties on hold to prepare briefing documents and handle travel logistics. OIG advised the Coordinator to share readouts of the outcomes of his travel with his staff to broaden their understanding of the purposes and results of his trips. Although it is within the Coordinator’s discretion to determine the extent and nature of such readouts, providing at least some information would be consistent with the Department’s leadership principles in 3 FAM 1214(4) and (7) pertaining to communication and collaboration.

Bureau employees and senior officials from other Department bureaus also told OIG about occasions on which the Coordinator lost his temper in meetings with U.S. Government officials and foreign partners. When OIG spoke with the Coordinator about the issue, he acknowledged the problem and responded positively to OIG’s suggestions for improvement. OIG advised the Coordinator to review the Leadership and Management Principles for Department Employees in 3 FAM 1214, which he agreed to do.

The Coordinator delegated many operational and policy tasks to the Principal Deputy Coordinator, with whom he had a productive relationship. In responses to OIG’s questionnaire, bureau staff gave the Principal Deputy Coordinator strong scores on her performance and leadership. In addition, several bureau employees cited her improvements to, and transformation of, the bureau’s budget and program management functions as positive developments for the bureau. Outside observers also noted the Principal Deputy Coordinator’s leadership and support for CT staff as being essential to the bureau’s success at a time of rapid change and significant pressure.

The CT Coordinator is Nathan Sales. The Principal Deputy Coordinator at the time of this review was Alina Romanowski. She was confirmed as U.S. Ambassador to Kuwait in December 2019. The inspection team was headed by Ambassador Joseph Macmanus, former U.S. Ambassador to UNVIE and Executive Secretary of the State Department from 2014-2017.

@StateDept Contracting Officer Zaldy N. Sabino Gets 87 Months in Prison For Bribery and Procurement Fraud

 

This is the conclusion to the court case of a State Department contracting official charged with bribery and procurement fraud (see @StateDept Contracting Officer Zaldy N. Sabino Convicted of Bribery and Procurement Fraud; @StateDept Contracting Officer Faces 17-Count Indictment For Bribery and Procurement Fraud).  On February 14, 2020, USDOJ announced that the former contracting officer Zaldy N. Zabino was sentenced to 87 months imprisonment followed by three years of supervised released.
Via USDOJ:
State Department Contracting Officer Sentenced to Prison for Bribery and Procurement Fraud Scheme=

A contracting officer with the U.S. Department of State was sentenced today to 87 months of imprisonment followed by three years of supervised release after he was convicted of 13 counts of conspiracy, bribery, honest services wire fraud and making false statements.

Assistant Attorney General Brian A. Benczkowski of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division, U.S. Attorney G. Zachary Terwilliger of the Eastern District of Virginia, Special Agent in Charge Marc Meyer of the U.S. Department of State Office of Inspector General and Assistant Director in Charge Timothy R. Slater of the FBI’s Washington Field Office made the announcement.

Zaldy N. Sabino, 60, of Fort Washington, Maryland, was sentenced today by U.S. District Judge Liam O’Grady after Sabino’s conviction on Oct. 4, 2019.  In addition to his term of imprisonment, Sabino was ordered to pay a $25,000 fine.

According to the evidence at trial, between November 2012 and early 2017, Sabino and the owner of a Turkish construction firm engaged in a bribery and procurement fraud scheme in which Sabino received at least $521,862.93 in cash payments from the Turkish owner while Sabino supervised multi-million dollar construction contracts awarded to the Turkish owner’s business partners and while Sabino made over a half million dollars in structured cash deposits into his personal bank accounts.  Sabino concealed his unlawful relationship by, among other things, making false statements on financial disclosure forms and during his background reinvestigation.

The Department of State’s Office of Inspector General, led by Steve A. Linick, and the FBI’s Washington Field Office investigated the case.  Trial Attorney Edward P. Sullivan of the Criminal Division’s Public Integrity Section and Assistant U.S. Attorney Jack Hanly of the Eastern District of Virginia prosecuted the case.

 

DynCorp Pays $1.5M to Resolve Kickback Allegations in Baghdad, Iraq

 

This is a follow-up to a 2017 case about a former government contractor sentenced to four years in prison for his role in a government contract kickback scheme that caused a loss of more than $3.4 million to the U.S. Department of State.

According to court documents, Wesley Aaron Struble, 49, a U.S. citizen of Batangas, Philippines, engaged in a conspiracy to violate the Anti-Kickback Act in 2011 and 2012 while employed in Iraq as a government contractor. Initially employed by a business identified in court documents as Company B, Struble learned that another business, identified in court documents as Company A, was seeking a lease of real property for use related to a U.S. Department of State contract. Struble knew that Company B was paying approximately $124,000 per month to a third business, identified in court documents as Company C, for a lease of real property. According to court documents, Struble became a manager for Company A, and together with another manager for Company A, engaged in a conspiracy with associates of Company C to make the lease of property available to Company A at an inflated rate of $665,000 per month.

(See That time when a real property lease in Iraq jumped from $124,000/mo to $665,000/mo).
Last month, USDOJ announced that DynCorp Pays $1.5M to Resolve Kickback Allegations:

ALEXANDRIA, Va. – DynCorp International, LLC (DynCorp), located in McLean, has agreed to pay $1.5 million to settle civil fraud allegations involving two former DynCorp officials, Wesley Aaron Struble and Jose Rivera, who solicited and accepted kickbacks from an Iraqi subcontractor in connection with DynCorp’s lease of property for its operations in Baghdad, Iraq on behalf of the U.S. Department of State.

Struble and Rivera previously pleaded guilty in the Eastern District of Virginia to violating the Anti-Kickback Act for their role in soliciting and accepting at least $390,000 in cash kickbacks from the Al-Qarat Company in exchange for influencing DynCorp’s lease of property in Baghdad at a lease amount higher than the previous lease. The lease costs were included with services for international civilian policing that DynCorp billed under a U.S. Department of State contract in 2011 and 2012.

The settlement resolves the alleged liability of DynCorp for violation of civil penalties under the Anti-Kickback Act and the civil False Claims Act arising out of Struble’s and Rivera’s fraudulent conduct while employed by DynCorp.

The resolutions obtained in this matter were the result of a coordinated effort between the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Virginia, the Department of State Office of Inspector General, and the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

The matter was investigated by Assistant U.S. Attorney Christine Roushdy. The civil claims settled by this False Claims Act agreement are allegations only; there has been no determination of civil liability.

The original announcement is available here.

IO’s Kevin Moley Accused of Political Retribution Finally Leaves the Building

 

Friday, November 29 was reportedly IO Assistant Secretary Kevin Moley’s effective date of retirement. Via AP:

A senior State Department official accused of carrying out political retribution against career diplomats deemed insufficiently supportive of President Donald Trump has announced he is stepping down.

In a note sent to colleagues Friday, Kevin Moley said his “long-planned retirement” would take effect on Nov. 29, the date of his 50th wedding anniversary. Moley serves as the assistant secretary of state for International Organization Affairs.

“You have been great colleagues,” he wrote. “Keep up the fight.”

His four-sentence note made no mention of the controversy surrounding him and his former senior adviser Marie Stull.

As of this writing, Moley is no longer listed as IO’s assistant secretary but his bio is still up. on state.gov.  Two of the top bureau officials including the Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary, Jonathan Moore and  DAS Joseph Manso are career FSOs, a third one is a career Civil Service Nerissa Cook, and the fourth, Kathy Wright joined the Department in 2018 following her tenure in the Office of the Majority Leader in the United States Senate as the Policy Advisor for Nominations.

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U.S. Embassy Maseru: A Small Post That Works Better Than Foggy Bottom’s 7th Floor

 

State/OIG recently released its review of the US Embassy in Maseru, Lesotho. Post is headed by Ambassador Rebecca Gonzales with Daniel Katz as deputy chief of mission. The full report is available here (PDF). Excerpt below.

Post Overview

The Kingdom of Lesotho is a small, mountainous country slightly smaller than the state of Maryland and completely surrounded by the country of South Africa. In 2019, an estimated 51 percent of Lesotho’s population of almost 2 million were under the age of 25. More than half of the country’s population lives below the poverty line, and its HIV/AIDS prevalence rate is the second highest in the world. Human trafficking is also a significant issue, as Lesotho serves as a source and a destination for trafficking in both adults and children. Approximately three-fourths of Lesotho’s citizens live in rural areas and engage in animal herding and subsistence agriculture.

Staffing

The FY 2019 authorized staffing levels for Embassy Maseru included 32 U.S. direct-hire positions, 3 eligible family members, and 91 locally employed (LE) staff members. Additionally, the Peace Corps had 93 volunteers serving in Lesotho. Other U.S. Government agencies represented in the embassy were the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), the Department of Health and Human Services’ Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the Department of Defense, and MCC.

Front Office and Leadership/Management Principles

The Ambassador, a career member of the Senior Foreign Service, arrived in Lesotho in January 2018. She previously served as the Chief of Staff for the Assistant Secretary for Administration and, prior to that, as the Deputy Executive Director of the Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs. The Deputy Chief of Mission (DCM), also a career member of the Foreign Service, arrived in Maseru in October 2017. His prior assignment was the Mission Deputy at Embassy Koror, Palau. OIG found that, overall, the Ambassador and the DCM led the embassy in a collegial manner and worked together effectively. The Ambassador, a management officer, provided the DCM with guidance on management operations, while the DCM, a political officer, advised the Ambassador on political issues. For example, the Ambassador worked with the DCM to resolve an LE staff tax withholding issue, described in more detail below, and the DCM helped the Ambassador strategize on how best to engage the Government of Lesotho on political matters. The Ambassador and the DCM had an open-door policy, which the American staff confirmed. The Ambassador held monthly meetings with all agency and section heads, in addition to a weekly Country Team meeting. The DCM attended these meetings and also met weekly with section heads to discuss and resolve outstanding problems.

OIG found the Ambassador demonstrated the Department of State’s (Department) leadership and management principles outlined in 3 Foreign Affairs Manual (FAM) 1214. OIG questionnaires and interviews indicated embassy staff found the Ambassador to be open, honest, caring, and passionate about her work in Lesotho. OIG interviews and surveys showed that she encouraged staff at all levels to bring their ideas, concerns, and questions to her, which led to productively identifying and resolving problems. She actively solicited feedback on issues affecting morale and sought to resolve them. For example, when embassy employees had difficulties crossing the border into South Africa, the Ambassador raised the issue with the Government of Lesotho, and the situation improved.

Embassy employees told OIG the DCM modeled 3 FAM 1214 leadership and management principles that relate to valuing and developing people, as he was skilled in mentoring and committed to subordinates’ professional development. Employees also described the DCM as approachable and collaborative, and they appreciated that he organized embassy community events that included both LE and American staff.

The Front Office Led an Effort to Resolve a Tax Issue for Local Staff

OIG found that the Ambassador and DCM strengthened relationships with both LE staff and the host country by resolving a tax issue involving the LE staff. Based on Department policy, the embassy had not withheld local taxes for the LE staff. Instead, employees were expected to pay their taxes directly to the Lesotho tax authority. However, local employees had not always complied with this requirement, and the Lesotho tax authority eventually began seizing funds from LE staff members’ bank accounts for back taxes. After the LE staff asked the Front Office to help resolve the issue, the Ambassador worked with the Department to allow the embassy to withhold taxes from LE staff pay. She also met with the LE Staff Committee on several occasions to hear their concerns. Furthermore, beginning in June 2018, the DCM, along with the Management Officer, met with the LE Staff Committee at least once every 3 weeks to work through the details of resolving the tax issue. The Front Office also used Country Team meetings and town halls to keep the embassy community apprised of developments. In April 2019, the embassy began withholding local taxes and sending the funds to the host country’s tax authority on behalf of the LE staff.

Spotlight on Success: Crisis Preparedness Fair (Report notes that RSO is Dennis Jones)

In December 2017, the Regional Security Officer organized a Crisis Preparedness Fair as part of a broader crisis management exercise. The Crisis Preparedness Fair was an effort to involve the entire embassy community—especially LE staff and American family members— in emergency planning. Most embassy sections hosted their own emergency preparednessthemed activities. For example, the Public Affairs Section held a question and answer game show, the Information Management Office displayed emergency communication equipment, the Regional Security Office and Health Unit had trauma and medical treatment demonstrations (including CPR), and the Facilities Management Section offered fire extinguisher training. The fair included information for participants to take home. In addition to providing training and exposure to emergency resources and personnel, it gave key external contacts an informal environment in which to meet the embassy staff with whom they would interact in an emergency. The fair was well received within the community, and the Regional Security Officer planned to make it an annual event.

Spotlight on Success: Management Section Instituted a Continuous Process Improvement System to Improve Management Controls (Report notes that MGT is Jacob Rocca)

In 2018, while working on the annual Chief of Mission Management Control Statement of Assurance, the Management Officer instituted a continuous process improvement system that significantly improved the embassy’s ability to track and resolve its internal control deficiencies. The embassy also created a quality coordinator position, currently filled by an eligible family member, to run the tracking system. The system includes all deficiencies identified through the statement of assurance process as well as in OIG questionnaires and recommendations in past OIG reports of other embassies. The quality coordinator tracks the deficiencies, meets regularly with the employees responsible for addressing these concerns and enters into the system updates on the embassy’s progress in resolving the problems. A deficiency is not considered “corrected” until preventative measures are in place to ensure that it does not re-occur. As of April 2019, the embassy had successfully resolved 62 items identified since the process began in December 2018.