@StateDept Bureau Junks Professional Ethos Big Time (Who Wanna Tell Mike?)

 

 

I am a champion of American diplomacy.

My colleagues and I proudly serve the United States
and the American people at the Department of State,
America’s first executive department.

We support and defend the Constitution of the United States.

We protect the American people and promote their interests and
values around the world by leading our nation’s foreign policy.

As a member of this team, I serve with unfailing professionalism
in both my demeanor and my actions, even in the face of adversity.

I act with uncompromising personal and professional integrity.

I take ownership of and responsibility for my actions and decisions.

And I show unstinting respect in word and deed for my colleagues
and all who serve alongside me.

Together, we are the United States Department of State.

 

 

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Ex-StateDept GSO Steven H. Hassan Gets 40 Years For Sexual Abuse of Children and Child Pornography

 

 

On August 13, USDOJ announced that former State Department employee, Steven Hadley Hassan, 52, was sentenced to 40 years in federal prison for sexual abuse of minors, and the production and transportation of child pornography. Our sources identified Hassan as a General Services Officer (GSO), a Foreign Service specialist who joined the State Department in 2010. We could not verify at this time that “he was in the Specialist Orientation class in 2010″ or that he  only “served two overseas tours” or that he “was never tenured.”
The DOJ announcement only identified Hassan as having served in the Philippines and South Africa. In his guilty plea, Hassan admitted to the sexual abuse of Jane Doe 1 in government housing in those two locations  from October 2010 continuing until mid-2013.
Indictment: Abuse in USG Permanent Housing
Count 8 of the Superseding Indictment filed on October 11, 2018, notes that in or about July 2010 through no later than in or about June 2012, the defendant resided in the Philippines in connection with his work as a State Department employee. In or about October 2010, he moved into permanent housing located in Dasmarinas Village, Makati, Philippines, provided by the U.S. Government. In or about June 2012, defendant repeatedly sexually abused a minor, Jane Doe 1, in his permanent housing. 
The Stipulation of Facts in court records signed and agreed to by Hassan says that while stationed in the Philippines, Hassan also sexually abused two pre-pubescent minors who resided in Manila-Jane Doe 2 (born in October 2003) and Jane Doe 3 (born in September 1999), who are sisters, and Hassan produced images of the abuse. Further it states that both Jane Doe 2 and Jane Doe 3 met Hassan in 2010 when he offered them food from a local restaurant near where they lived. Thereafter, the Defendant transported Jane Doe 2 and Jane Doe 3 in his minivan to a local hotel and sexually abused them.[…] Hassan most recently sexually abused Jane Doe 2 in 2015 when he visited the Philippines for a brief trip.
Count 9 of the indictment notes that in or about July 2012 though no later than in or about July 2014, the defendant resided in South Africa as a State Department employee. He moved into permanent housing in Pretoria, South Africa, in a U.S. Government-provided housing. Thereafter through in or about September 2013, defendant repeatedly sexually abused  Jane Doe 1 in his permanent housing.
Work Background
Steven Hassan’s 18-page resume online indicates that he worked for the U.S. Navy from 1987-1993, and various military-related work from 1993 to 2007 in Guam, Everett (WA), Yokosuka, Japan, and Whidbey Island (WA). It also indicates that he worked as an Administrative Assistant for the State Department’s MED Bureau from 2007-2008 (FederalPay.org lists him under Miscellaneous Clerk and Assistant for the State Department in 2007). From 2008-2010, he worked for the National Cancer Institute (FederalPay.org lists him as working for the National Institutes of Health in 2008 and 2009). His online resume also identified himself as Assistant General Services Officer (GSO) at the US Embassy Manila in the Philippines from June 2010-June 2012, then Assistant GSO at the US Embassy in Pretoria, South Africa from July 2012-August 2014. 
The Stipulation of Facts includes the following detail: “Hassan eventually brought his Sony camera and the SD card within it back to the United States after his tours overseas were completed, some time after November 2015.”
Hassan’s online resume notes that he worked as a Senior GSO at the U.S. Consulate General in Karachi, Pakistan from September 2014 -January 2016. Hassan’s brief visit to the Philippines in 2015, and the most recent abused of Jane Doe 2 alleged in the Stipulation of Facts appeared to have occurred while Hassan was assigned to the US Consulate General in Karachi. 
The last entry in Hassan’s online resume indicates that he worked as GSO at the “Near East Asia/Pacific Executive Office” at the State Department from “February 2016-present” but also lists as part of his duties and accomplishments updating “all EAP/GSO standard operation procedures.” We should point out for those unfamiliar with State Department bureaus that NEA and EAP are two different offices.
Arrest and Detention
According to the “Affidavit in Support of the Criminal Complaint and an Arrest Warrant” executed by a special agent from DHS/ICE’s Homeland Security Investigations, an FBI Task Force Officer in an undercover capacity accessed a publicly available peer-to-peer file sharing program known to law enforcement to be used by individuals with sexual interest in children from an Internet-connected computer on January 22, 2018. 
The undercover (UC) was “friends” with a user, and downloaded 24 folders from that user which contained approximately 2600 depictions of child pornography. The UC determined the IP address of the user, eventually served a subpoena to the ISP provider which returned the user name during the session as that belonging to Steven Hassan.
On March 27, 2018, a judge authorized a state search and seizure warrant of Hassan’s residence in Frederick, MD.
On April 13, a federal search and seizure warrant for Hassan’s residence was issued for evidence relating to possession with intent to distribute child pornography.
On June 8, 2018, Hassan was arrested at his residence in connection with a federal warrant and has been detained since that time.
On August 17, 2018, the State Department (through HR’s Office of Employee Relations, Work/Life Division) updated 3 FAM 1810 Family Advocacy Program (Child Abuse, Child Neglect, and Domestic Violence) of the Foreign Affairs Manual. Was this pure coincidence or did this case precipitate the update of the FAM? 
Plea and Sentencing
Under the plea agreement signed by Hassan on March 5, 2019, the penalties under the statute he was charged has a minimum  of 15 years, and a maximum of 30 years, with supervised release for life.
On August 12, 2019, United States Attorney Robert K. Hur wrote to the court informing the judge that “three of Defendant’s victims in the Philippines have informed the Government that (1) each is seeking restitution for harm suffered as a result of Defendant’s offense; and (2) each is willing to agree to restitution in the amount of $1,000 per person. The Government has informed Defendant’s counsel of the amount of restitution sought by each of the victims. Defendant does not object to it. Accordingly, the Government at sentencing tomorrow will ask the Court to include $1,000 in restitution to each of the three victims who have sought it in the Judgment and Commitment Order.” 
On August 13, 2019, U.S. District Judge Paul W. Grimm sentenced Steven Hadley Hassan, age 52,  to 40 years in federal prison, followed by a lifetime of  supervised release.
Questions
If not for the undercover officer who was able to access Hassan’s pornographic files online, we would not have known about his sexual abuse of Jane Doe 1 and other minors, or his production and transportation of child pornography, would we?
What medical and mental health assistance were made available to Jane Doe 1 whose abuse occurred in USG-provided housing?
We recognized that Hassan has been identified in court documents as a former State Department employee. But when exactly did Hassan become a former State Department employee – was he already a former employee before his arrest, or did he become a former employee following his arrest? We’ve sent the State Department several nagging questions about this case on Wednesday; to-date we have not heard anything back. 
And then there’s this: Diplomatic Security’s DSS conducts more than 38,000 personnel security actions each year for the Department of State and other federal agencies. What happened to this one? Also what about the Continuous Evaluation Program?  Diplomatic Security says on its website that the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI) implemented Continuous Evaluation (CE) program in December 2016 to ensure the federal government maintains a strong and trusted workforce.  CE applies to all Executive Branch personnel who require eligibility for access to classified information or eligibility to hold a sensitive position. How did that work here?


Via USDOJ: Former Foreign Service Officer Sentenced to 40 Years in Federal Prison for Production and Transportation of Child Pornography
Sexually Abused at Least Five Minors While Stationed Overseas as a Foreign Service Officer

Greenbelt, Maryland – U.S. District Judge Paul W. Grimm today sentenced Steven Hadley Hassan, age 52, of Frederick, Maryland, to 40 years in federal prison, followed by lifetime supervised release, for sexually abusing minors to produce child pornography and transporting those images to the United States.  Judge Grimm also ordered that, upon his release from prison, Hassan must register as a sex offender in the places where he resides, where he is an employee, and where he is a student, under the Sex Offender Registration and Notification Act (SORNA).  Hassan has been detained since his arrest on June 8, 2018.

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State Department Official Patricia DeLaughter Pleads Guilty to Procurement Fraud

 

On August 9, 2019, USDOJ announced that State Department employee, Patricia DeLaughter pled guilty to disclosing confidential State Department bid proposals n an effort to help a furniture company executive win a lucrative government contract. Sentencing is scheduled for November 8, 2019.

Photo via State Magazine, April 2009

Via USDOJ: State Department Official Pleads Guilty to Procurement Fraud

ALEXANDRIA, Va. – A Washington, D.C., woman pleaded guilty today to disclosing confidential State Department bid proposals in an effort to help a furniture company executive win a lucrative government contract to provide furniture to a United States embassy abroad.

According to court documents, Patricia DeLaughter, 69, was a State Department official who was responsible for procuring furniture for United States embassies. In or around December 2016, the State Department was constructing a new embassy in a foreign nation. DeLaughter and another Department official participated in the process of soliciting bid proposals from contractors for the procurement of furniture for the new embassy’s offices.

From in or around December 2016 to in or around March 2017, DeLaughter and the other State Department official knowingly disclosed to Steven Anstine, the vice president of sales for an American furniture manufacturer, the confidential bid prices and design plans of at least three of Anstine’s competitors. DeLaughter knowingly disclosed this information in order to give Anstine—with whom DeLaughter had a social relationship—a competitive advantage in securing the procurement contract for the new embassy. The information that DeLaughter and her coworker gave Anstine enabled him and his company to win the contract with a bid of approximately $1.56 million.

According to DeLaughter’s admissions, DeLaughter made intentionally false statements to agents investigating her conduct. She falsely told State Department Office of Inspector General special agents that she had nothing to do with the embassy furniture project. She also falsely told the agents that she did not have a social relationship with Anstine. In fact, DeLaughter and Anstine had a social relationship and attended dinners, sporting events, and concerts together. Anstine paid at least a portion of DeLaughter’s expenses for these events.

In June 2019, Anstine pleaded guilty to one count of illegally obtaining contractor bid or proposal information in the U.S. District Court for the District of South Carolina.

DeLaughter pleaded guilty to one count of illegally disclosing contractor bid or proposal information and faces a maximum penalty of five years in prison when sentenced on November 8. Actual sentences for federal crimes are typically less than the maximum penalties. A federal district court judge will determine any sentence after taking into account the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines and other statutory factors.

G. Zachary Terwilliger, U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia, Brian A. Benczkowski, Assistant Attorney General for the Justice Department’s Criminal Division, and Steve A. Linick, Inspector General for the Department of State, made the announcement after U.S. District Judge Rossie D. Alston Jr. accepted the plea. Special Assistant U.S. Attorney Russell L. Carlberg, Deputy Chief Robert J. Heberle and Trial Attorney John P. Taddei of the Criminal Division’s Public Integrity Section are prosecuting the case.

A copy of this press release is located on the website of the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Virginia. Related court documents and information are located on the website of the District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia or on PACER by searching for Case No. 1:19-cr-205.

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Delayed Report Over Retaliation Against @StateDept Career Staffers Heats Up

 

In September 2018, we blogged about State/OIG and the Office of Special Counsel looking into political reprisals at the State Department (See State/OIG and OSC Reportedly Looking Into Political Reprisals @StateDept); Office of Special Counsel on Political Inquiries/Political Discrimination During Reassignments).
Via Politico:

The probe is expected to cover a wide array of suspected mistreatment of Foreign Service and Civil Service officers by Trump political appointees. The majority of the alleged improprieties are thought to have occurred under former Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, but the accused include some political appointees who also served under Pompeo.

Among the allegations: that a political appointee made loyalty lists of career staffers she considered supportive or unsupportive of Trump; that numerous career employees, including high-ranking ones, were given low-level duties processing Freedom of Information Act requests to punish them for work they did under former President Barack Obama; and that one career staffer’s assignment to a top policy post was cut short because of her Iranian ancestry and her work on the Iran nuclear deal.

Revelations that outside conservative figures, such as former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, may have played a role in targeting career staffers have fueled the anticipation of Linick’s findings.

Originally, one major report was expected, but Linick has said he decided to split it into two. The first will cover dysfunction in the State bureau that deals with international organizations. The second will cover the actions of top officials who report directly to the secretary.

We’ve asked State/OIG about this and here’s what the office told us:
“We submitted the draft report to the Department in July. As is always the case, we have given the Department the opportunity to submit a response to the report, and the Department has informed us that it wishes to do so. We have granted the Department’s request for two extensions for this report, and its response is due this week. We regularly grant extensions because, if at all possible, we believe that it is important to have the Department’s response to our conclusions. We anticipate publishing the report this month.”

 

U.S. Embassy Nassau: Aging Facility, Staffing Gaps, Curtailments, Morale Issues, and More in Sunny Bahamas

 

In 2012, State/OIG did an inspection of the US Embassy in Nassau, The Bahamas (see US Embassy Nassau: Where Absence Makes the Heart Not/Not Grow Fonder); State/OIG Nassau Report: What’s taking them so long?
The new inspection dated August 2019 reveals that the aging facility which was supposed to have been replaced in 2016 is still aging. The IG report now says that construction of a new chancery building is scheduled to begin in 2019 and be completed in 2021 on property purchased by the Bureau of Overseas Buildings Operations (OBO).
The State Department announced on February 1, 2019 that it has awarded the Design-Build contract for the new U.S. Embassy in Nassau to Caddell Construction Co., LLC of Montgomery, Alabama. Ennead Architects of New York, New York is the design architect for the project and Integrus Architecture of Spokane, Washington is the architect of record.
The report notes that the embassy had been without a permanent, confirmed ambassador since November 2011, when the incumbent, a political appointee, resigned. Her replacement was never confirmed, and, at the time of the inspection, the current nominee had been awaiting confirmation since 2017.
In May 2017, the WH announced the president’s intent to nominate Doug Manchester to be his ambassador to the Bahamas. His nomination was cleared by the SFRC in the fall of 2017 but failed to make it to the full Senate. His nomination was resubmitted in January 2018 and again in January 2019. The SFRC has held hearings on June 20, 2019. According to congress.gov, this nomination remains pending at the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

 

Below via State/OIG:
  • Embassy Nassau is located in an aging facility originally leased by the Department of State (Department) in 1973 and purchased outright in 1994. Construction of a new chancery building is scheduled to begin in 2019 and be completed in 2021 on property purchased by the Bureau of Overseas Buildings Operations (OBO).
  • A related classified inspection report discusses the embassy’s security program and issues affecting the safety of mission personnel and facilities.
  • At the time of the inspection, the embassy had 143 authorized U.S. staff positions, 2 eligible family members, and 76 locally employed (LE) staff members. The embassy houses 11 different U.S. Government agencies and sub-agencies. Embassy Nassau also provides International Cooperative Administrative Support Services (ICASS)1 administrative and logistical support to U.S. Government agencies on Grand Bahama Island, Great Inagua Island, Andros Island, Great Exuma Island, and in Turks and Caicos.

Yay! Sections

  • The Chargé and, beginning in October 2018, the acting DCM carried out regular reviews of the Consular Section chief’s nonimmigrant visa adjudications, as required by 9 FAM 403.9-2d and 9 FAM 403.10-3d.
  • The Consular Section chief, who arrived in August 2017, demonstrated strong leadership in developing standard operating procedures, mentoring three First- and Second-Tour officers, and preparing for future hurricanes. OIG determined that the embassy’s consular programs generally complied with guidance in 7 FAM, 9 FAM, 7 FAH, applicable statutes, and other Department policies.
  • Embassy Nassau’s American citizen services workload consisted primarily of processing emergency passports. Nassau hosts up to six cruise ships from the United States per day with approximately 3,000 passengers each, the majority of whom are U.S. citizens. Passengers who missed their ships’ return to Florida contributed to the more than 400 emergency passports Embassy Nassau issued in FY 2018.
  • OIG determined that the Chargé and the acting DCM conducted their security responsibilities in accordance with 12 Foreign Affairs Handbook (FAH)-1 H-721[…] Shortly after her arrival, the Chargé reviewed, revised, and reissued all security directives, including one to all personnel under chief of mission authority mandating participation in the weekly checks of the emergency and evacuation radio network. In addition, she emphasized to staff that she expected full participation in the radio checks. Participation rates increased from 20 percent in spring 2018 to almost 90 percent by October of that year.
  • The Chargé successfully oversaw the embassy’s First- and Second-Tour employee development program for five officers and specialists, as directed by 3 FAM 2242.4. Participants commented favorably on the Chargé’s involvement in the program.

Oh, Yow! Sections

Via reactiongifs.com

Lengthy Gaps in Key Leadership Positions Hampered Operations

Embassy Nassau faced significant operational challenges due to lengthy staffing gaps in three key leadership positions: ambassador, DCM, and management officer. The embassy had been without a permanent, confirmed ambassador since November 2011, when the incumbent, a political appointee, resigned. Her replacement was never confirmed, and, at the time of the inspection, the current nominee had been awaiting confirmation since 2017. As a result, three different long-term Chargés have led the embassy since 2011. The current Chargé arrived in March 2018. Additionally, because the embassy’s DCMs have served as Chargé, it has also had a series of acting DCMs. The current acting DCM arrived in June 2016 as the INL Director and assumed the collateral duties of acting DCM in June 2018. As a result, like previous acting DCMs, she shouldered two sets of responsibilities. Finally, due to a series of curtailments in the management officer position, from 2014 to September 2018, the management section had relied on nine temporary duty officers as well as support from the Florida Regional Center.

OIG found that the lack of consistent leadership in the ambassador, DCM, and management officer positions, combined with a series of section heads covering two positions at once for long periods of time, led to serious internal control deficiencies and morale issues, as detailed later in this report. The newly assigned Management Officer arrived in September 2018 and started addressing the embassy’s internal control deficiencies, lack of procedures, and outdated policies. However, the current Front Office structure continued to place undue burdens on both the Chargé and the acting DCM, making it impossible for them to perform all of their required functions.

Internal control deficiencies

During the inspection, OIG identified numerous internal control deficiencies and vulnerabilities in the Management and Information Management Sections. The lengthy staffing gaps in key leadership positions exacerbated many of these issues, particularly those detailed in the Resource Management section of this report.

Management Section operations and oversight suffered as a result of staffing gaps due to two previous curtailments in the management officer position. Since 2014, the embassy had relied on a succession of nine temporary-duty management officers. Additionally, from 2014 to 2018, both the embassy and the management support structure at the Florida Regional Center experienced high turnover of staff.

Embassy Nassau did not have internal controls in place to ensure maintenance and repair charges for its vehicle fleet were properly recorded and monitored, increasing the risk of fraud. OIG’s review of maintenance logs and procurement orders found that in FY 2017 and FY 2018, the embassy spent $244,533 on maintenance and repairs but did not keep records to document that the work was necessary or was actually completed.

INL’s $17.8 million foreign assistance with no formal evaluation

INL has supported Bahamian law enforcement since 1978, including committing $17.8 million in foreign assistance since 2010. […] INL Nassau lacked appropriate metrics to monitor progress for its four law enforcement and judicial assistance projects. Specifically, OIG found that project metrics had not been updated since at least 2014 and were outdated. Furthermore, INL Nassau did not formally evaluate project progress on a quarterly basis, as required by INL guidance.7 INL Nassau told OIG that it informally reported project progress on a quarterly basis but was unaware of the requirement to formally track and monitor project progress against established metrics. Without current metrics for its projects, the embassy cannot measure progress and performance against the embassy’s ICS goals and INL’s strategic planning objectives.

Intranet woes, and WHA the hey?

Embassy Nassau’s intranet network faced critical processing delays and frequent variations in processing speed due to internal IT infrastructure issues. The May 2017 Bureau of Diplomatic Security CSA report also identified this severe network performance deficiency and recommended that the embassy work with the Department and the Regional Information Management Center in Ft. Lauderdale to resolve the issue. In August 2017, a regional center network technician performed a limited service repair to the network infrastructure but did not complete all needed repairs. Embassy staff told OIG that despite repeated embassy requests, WHA had yet to provide the additional Regional Information Management Center technical support to complete the work.

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@StateDept’s “New Camp Sullivan” in Afghanistan Four Years On: A Lovely $103.2 Million Flat Dirt

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State/OIG’s Office of Evaluation and Special Projects has released its Evaluation of the Bureau of Diplomatic Security’s Aegis Construction Contract at Camp Eggers in Afghanistan (PDF). Well, nothing good to read in this report, but the flat dirt is lovely, and makes us want to pull our hair out in  frustration. We bring you some GIFs to make us all feel better.

Camp Eggers Afghanistan, Photo by State/OIG

Things of note excerpted from the IG report:
The Department awarded Task Order 10 in July 2011 to Aegis (GardaWorld)  to provide and manage an armed and unarmed guard force known as the Kabul Embassy Security Force (KESF) for Embassy Kabul and other U.S. diplomatic facilities within Kabul, Afghanistan. On September 30, 2014, the Department modified Task Order 10 held by Aegis to allow for the renovation of Camp Eggers in its entirety and to erect a new facility known as the “New Camp Sullivan.” […]Modification 43 was issued to Aegis under a firm fixed price for the design-build of the Camp Eggers construction project. The task order modification was valued at about $173.2 million with an estimated completion date of March 31, 2016.
[…] An Aegis official told OIG he did not believe the company had undertaken any construction projects other than building a shooting range at Camp Sullivan. An OBO official noted that Aegis lacked the “institutional expertise” to build to OBO standards, and several Department officials told OIG that they had doubts about Aegis’s ability to carry out major construction work.

 

On January 10, 2014, AQM awarded a contract to the management consulting firm, Markon, on behalf of DS to perform professional engineering services.[..] Markon […] warned the Department in August 2014—a month before the task order was modified—that the project would not likely be finished on time or on budget. The Department nonetheless chose to move forward with this fundamentally unsuitable construction mechanism because of what it viewed as exigent need and a lack of alternatives.

 

Multiple Department officials, as well as an Aegis official, told OIG that they viewed the initial 18-month project timeline as unreasonable. An official from AQM expressed skepticism that such an extensive project could ever be completed so quickly in a construction environment as logistically complex as Afghanistan.[…]The renovation of Camp Eggers entailed extensive demolition and redevelopment, including [snip] the construction of new facilities. The “New Camp Sullivan” facility was intended to become a self-supporting, multi-use facility, which included life support for up to 900 personnel (expandable to house up to 1,500 personnel) all within a secure perimeter.

 

Aegis, through its subcontractor, CWI, purchased materials costing approximately $19.4 million for Camp Eggers. However, roughly 23 percent of these materials ($4.5 million) were obtained without submitting proper documentation or receiving proper Department approval.[…]The materials had to be stored due to numerous project delays, which prevented CWI from using the materials as they were delivered. The storage continued throughout the life of the contract until all of the materials were disposed of by May 2018. Over the life of the task order, the Department wasted about $22 million on materials that were never used and then paid to store them

 

Although Aegis continuously missed project milestones and failed to adhere to contract requirements, the Department still did not take meaningful corrective action against Aegis beyond issuing LOCs. As noted, these were primarily issued by DS. The Department also held a number of meetings with Aegis personnel to discuss the lack of progress made on the project, but no further corrective action was taken.

 

The Department reached a settlement with Aegis in March 2019 whereby the Department agreed to pay Aegis a total of $94.6 million. Based on this figure, in addition to three separate contracts with Markon Solutions, Incorporated for professional engineering and design review services, OIG identified a total of $103.2 million in questioned costs related to the Camp Eggers project.[…] the “New Camp Sullivan” remained flat dirt after more than four years of effort. The Department estimated that approximately 10 percent of the construction work was completed, and the 100 percent design—the final design—remained unfinished.

After the termination of the Camp Eggers project, the Department transferred materials stored in Kabul to fill other U.S. Government needs in the area. Regarding the materials in Dubai, Red Sea Housing Services Company FZE (Red Sea), the company with whom the Department ordered CHUs, reached a final termination settlement valued at about $2.5 million with Aegis and the Department under which Red Sea would keep all the materials and equipment they procured on behalf of the Department. The remaining materials in Sterling, VA were disposed of through the General Services Administration’s excess property program and some were scrapped.

Via reactiongif.com

 

OIG’s conclusion: [T]he Department’s sense of urgency, the selection of a non-construction contractor, the assignment of officials inexperienced in construction to oversee the project, and the failure to hold the contractor accountable for particular instances of poor performance led to the expenditure of more than $100 million without any discernible benefit to the Department or the people it intended to protect. OIG also notes that, more generally, this project illustrates many of the broader concerns that arise when the Department pursues construction projects in contingency or otherwise challenging environments. The Camp Eggers project again highlights the importance of making well-informed, thoughtful choices regarding the most appropriate contract vehicle; careful, consistent oversight; and development of a process for construction work in contingency zones that is sufficiently nimble to address urgent security needs but also considers the resources and capabilities of all relevant Department bureaus.

U.S. Embassy Gabon: State/OIG’s Ode to All Things Dreadful in a Small Post

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For small posts in the Foreign Service, the Eagles’ ‘This could be heaven or this could be Hell’ line is often appropriate.  And in the case of the U.S. Embassy Libreville in Gabon, it sounds pretty much like the later. With few exceptions, it’s hard to find things that are working well at the embassy in Gabon based on State/OIG’s inspection. The report lists career diplomat Joel Danies as U.S. Ambassador who arrived at post in March 2018. The listed DCM Randall Merideth arrived at post in August 2017.

Although we don’t have the date, the embassy’s top two officials must have departed post sometime this past winter.  By March 2019, CDA Robert Scott was listed as CDA (chargé d’affaires), with Sam Watson as DCM (deputy chief of mission).  As of this writing, the U.S. Embassy in Libreville is headed by Chargé d’Affaires Sam Watson.  The June 18, 2019 Key Officers of Foreign Service Posts for Gabon (PDF) does not list a Deputy Chief of Mission.

We understand that retired Ambassador Robert Whitehead who was appointed three times as  Chargé d’Affaires to Sudan and was previously the U.S. Ambassador to Togo (2012-2015) has been recalled to service as full ambassador to Libreville. He reportedly arrived in D.C. this past weekend for consultations before going to post. 

The OIG inspection team was headed by former Ambassador to Micronesia Peter Prahar.  Below are selected excerpts from the OIG report on Gabon. You may read the entire report here (PDF).

Post Snapshot:

At the time of the inspection, Embassy Libreville had 36 U.S. direct-hire positions, 116 LE staff members, and 8 eligible family member positions. Other agencies at the embassy included the Department of Defense and the Department of the Interior. The Department of State (Department) completed the new embassy compound, including the chancery, a warehouse, and other facilities, in 2012. [..] A related classified inspection report discusses the embassy’s security program and issues affecting the safety of embassy personnel and facilities.

OIG Sources:

OIG assessed Embassy Libreville’s leadership on the basis of 73 interviews that included comments on Front Office performance; staff questionnaires; and OIG’s review of documents and observations of embassy meetings and activities during the course of the on-site inspection.

Front Office Background:

The Ambassador, a career member of the Senior Foreign Service, arrived in Gabon in March 2018 after an assignment as Associate Dean of the Department’s Foreign Service Institute School of Professional and Area Studies. His previous assignments included management and political positions in Belize, Switzerland, and Afghanistan, and he served as Deputy Special Coordinator in the Office of the Haiti Special Coordinator.

The Deputy Chief of Mission (DCM), a career Foreign Service officer, arrived in August 2017 after an assignment as director of the Minneapolis Passport Agency. His previous Department assignments included consular and management positions in Cote d’Ivoire, Afghanistan, South Africa, and Germany. He had served as a Peace Corps volunteer in Gabon.

Ambassador Did Not Set a Positive and Professional Tone for the Embassy

OIG found that the Ambassador did not set a positive and professional tone for the embassy in accordance with Department leadership and management principles outlined in 3 Foreign Affairs Manual (FAM). In interviews with embassy staff, OIG found that the Ambassador’s verbal outbursts created anxiety and impeded communication and embassy operations. The Ambassador told OIG that he was passionate and committed to improving embassy operations and advancing U.S. interests in Gabon but that he became increasingly frustrated when the staff did not appear to respond to his directives or keep him informed of significant developments. He also acknowledged that he sometimes cursed at employees. American and LE staff told OIG that they were reluctant to provide the Ambassador with complete information on developing situations, fearing they would receive a negative reaction if he did not like what he heard. Finally, OIG noted during the inspection that the Ambassador was in conflict with a key member of the embassy’s security team over an issue that occurred 2 months before the inspection. This conflict resulted in an almost complete lack of communication between the Ambassador and this individual. In discussing the conflict with OIG, the Ambassador agreed that it was essential for embassy security that he take action to repair his relationship with the security team.

The Department’s leadership and management principles require leaders to hold themselves to the highest standards of conduct and to be self-aware. OIG advised the Ambassador to take advantage of the Department’s leadership and coaching programs. The Ambassador welcomed the advice, telling OIG that it was exactly the type of feedback he had hoped to obtain from the inspection. He also committed to work on his tone with staff by moderating the volume of his voice and eliminating the use of profanities.

Ambassador and Deputy Chief of Mission Did Not Form an Effective Leadership Team

The Ambassador and the DCM did not form an effective leadership team, as described in 2 FAM 113.2, which requires the DCM to serve as alter ego to a chief of mission in coordinating mission activity to meet broad program needs. Specifically, OIG found that the Ambassador did not establish clear expectations for the DCM regarding his responsibilities to manage the embassy. For example, the two officers had not agreed on a work requirements statement for the DCM, which should have been prepared within 45 days of the Ambassador’s arrival in March 2018, as required by 3 FAH-1 H-2815.1a(1). In discussing this issue with OIG, the Ambassador agreed that he had been remiss in not making it clear to the DCM what was expected of him. OIG also found that the Ambassador directly assigned tasks to LE staff members without informing the DCM or section chiefs. He told OIG his intent in doing this was to be personable, accessible, and aware of embassy operations. However, OIG found that the Ambassador was unaware that the practice frustrated supervisors. Embassy supervisors told OIG that although they often did not know about the assignments, the Ambassador subsequently would hold them accountable if the projects were not completed.

Oh, Lordy!

OIG found the DCM to be generally unengaged in embassy operations, unfamiliar with the work of the embassy’s sections, and uninvolved in performance management, as discussed later in this report. The DCM told OIG that in the 6 months prior to the inspection, he had prioritized introducing the Ambassador to Gabon but that in the future he would turn his attention to embassy operations.

Deputy Chief of Mission May Have Violated Anti-Nepotism Guidelines

The DCM likely did not comply with the requirements of 3 FAM 8312 to avoid nepotism and the appearance of nepotism in all employment matters. Embassy staff told OIG that the DCM repeatedly urged them to identify an embassy job for his spouse, either by selecting her for an eligible family member position or by encouraging other embassy agencies to create a position for her. This conduct is inconsistent with Department policy. Guidelines in 3 FAM 8324 state that an employee must scrupulously insulate himself or herself from acts benefiting, affecting, or giving the appearance of benefiting or affecting a relative’s career or responsibilities. The DCM denied to OIG that he had pressured anyone to create a position for his spouse or that he had made any comments to compel another embassy agency to hire his spouse. However, based on a review of documentation and interviews with embassy staff, OIG found that the DCM’s actions to secure embassy employment for his spouse likely violated Department standards. Additionally, as discussed further in the Human Resources section of this report, his conduct negatively affected embassy operations, as embassy staff sought to avoid the issue entirely by not advertising to fill any vacant eligible family member positions.

Embassy Did Not Advertise Eligible Family Member Positions (Or how five vacancies could have been filled by  5 of 8 EFMs) 

At the time of the inspection, the embassy had four vacant eligible family member positions that it had not advertised. In addition, another family member was due to transfer within a month, but the embassy had not advertised for a replacement. Management staff told OIG they were reluctant to advertise any eligible family member positions because they feared pressure to select the DCM’s spouse for one of the positions. (This is discussed in more detail in the Executive Direction section.) OIG advised the embassy to advertise and to comply with Department standards if the DCM’s spouse applies for the vacant positions. Failure to advertise eligible family member positions hindered the embassy’s operational efficiency.

Deputy Chief of Mission Did Not Review Nonimmigrant Visa Adjudications as Required

The DCM did not review nonimmigrant visa adjudications in a timely manner, as required by Department guidelines. A Bureau of Consular Affairs analysis showed that from April 1 through June 15, 2018, the DCM reviewed nonimmigrant visa adjudications twice, with an average lag time of 90 days between the visa adjudications and the DCM’s reviews. According to 9 FAM 403.12-1d, however, reviewing officers must review adjudications within 3 business days. The DCM had no explanation for this deficiency. Failure to review visa adjudications in a timely manner increases the risk of visa malfeasance or improper adjudications.

Ambassador, Deputy Chief of Mission Failed to Establish Work Requirements for American Personnel

Neither the Ambassador nor the DCM followed Department guidelines regarding completion of work requirements for American staff. Specifically, at the time of the inspection, the Ambassador and the DCM had not established written work requirements for any of their subordinates within 45 days of the beginning of the rating cycle, as required by 3 FAH-1 H- 2815.1a(1). Developing work requirements ensures that both the supervisor and subordinate participate in the process to develop a mutual understanding of the expectations for the subordinate’s work and how it aligns with the embassy’s goals and priorities. The DCM told OIG he was unfamiliar with Foreign Service performance management requirements because, in his previous assignment, he had only supervised Civil Service employees. Failure to establish work requirements in a timely manner disadvantages employees and can harm operations. Without clear expectations set at the beginning of the performance cycle, employees risk not understanding how to meet or exceed their supervisor’s expectations to achieve organizational objectives.

Embassy Did Not Comply with Department Guidelines on Acceptance of Gifts

The embassy did not adhere to 2 FAM 960 guidelines regarding the solicitation and acceptance of gifts to the Department. Embassy staff told OIG that the embassy did not review the list of companies solicited for July 4th contributions to ensure that proposed donors were neither seeking substantial assistance from the embassy nor would be substantially affected by a pending or reasonably anticipated official action, as required by 2 FAM 962.8a(1). As a result, at least one company for which the Ambassador had actively advocated was solicited for a contribution. The Ambassador also accepted travel on an aircraft chartered by the same company without seeking concurrence of White House Counsel, as required by 2 FAM 962.12h. Failure to comply with these guidelines could create the appearance of partiality or favoritism on the part of the U.S. Government.

And more!

State/OIG made 28 recommendations.  The Department and the U.S. Agency for Global Media concurred with 25 recommendations and disagreed with 3. State/OIG Recommendation 1 says that “The Director General of the Foreign Service and Director of Human Resources should review whether anti-nepotism violations occurred at Embassy Libreville and, based on the results of its review, take appropriate action. (Action: DGHR).”

In its May 29, 2019, response, DGHR disagreed with this recommendation. “DGHR does not concur with the recommendation. The individual in question has left the Department, so no further action is necessary.” 

The report’s second recommendation says that “Embassy Libreville should comply with Department guidelines regarding the acceptance of gifts. (Action: Embassy Libreville)”

Management Response: In its June 3, 2019, response, Embassy Libreville disagreed with this recommendation. The embassy noted that the travel was not provided as a gift and that travel orders were issued for the Ambassador to accompany Board of Directors members to observe the offshore drilling site by helicopter and return by commercial aircraft. The embassy also noted that actions taken by the Ambassador and embassy staff to facilitate access of a U.S. company to the appropriate Gabonese Government officials were consistent with the guidance provided in 2 Foreign Affairs Manual 962.8 that the entity was not “…seeking substantial assistance from post (e.g., nonroutine consular assistance or nonroutine commercial advocacy or assistance) nor would be substantially affected by a pending or reasonably anticipated post official action….”

OIG writes that it considers the recommendation unresolved. “Notwithstanding the embassy’s rationale, the Ambassador’s acceptance of travel on an aircraft chartered by a company for which the Ambassador actively advocated could create the appearance of partiality or favoritism on the part of the U.S. The recommendation can be closed when OIG receives and accepts documentation of Embassy Libreville’s compliance with Department guidelines regarding the acceptance of gifts.”

OIG’s number 3 recommendation says “Embassy Libreville should comply with Department instructions and guidance on reporting significant political, economic, and societal developments.”

Management Response: In its June 3, 2019, response, Embassy Libreville disagreed with this recommendation. The embassy noted it complies with reporting guidance and dispatched cables and communications on significant political, economic, and societal developments through every channel available despite a severely depleted formal reporting staff.

OIG writes that it considers the recommendation unresolved. “During the inspection, OIG identified numerous instances where the Ambassador did not report the results of substantive meetings with business leaders, host government officials, and other senior contacts. The recommendation can be closed when OIG receives and accepts documentation that Embassy Libreville is reporting on significant political, economic, and societal developments.”

 

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State/OIG Nassau Report: What’s taking them so long?

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We did ask State/OIG about this because well, somebody was too shy to ask. Below is the response we got that we’re passing on as there were other posts also inspected in 2018:

“The report addressing our inspection of Embassy Nassau is in progress. [W]e anticipate that it will be published this summer. For background, all of our Fall 2018 inspection reports were delayed due to the shutdown.”

 

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State/OIG Substantiates Allegation of Whistleblower Retaliation, @StateDept Says Nah, WhatYaTalkingAbout?

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Via State/OIG Semi-Annual Report to Congress: October 1, 2018 – March 31, 2019:

The whistleblower protection coordinator, OIG’s Assistant Inspector General for Evaluations and Special Projects, educates Department and USAGM employees, as well as contractor and grantee employees, on the rights and protections available to whistleblowers. As required by the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2013 (41 U.S.C. § 4712), the coordinator oversees investigations of allegations of retaliation filed by employees of contractors, subcontractors, grantees, and subgrantees, as well as personal services contractors.
[…]
[T]he coordinator investigates complaints under Presidential Policy Directive 19, which prohibits whistleblower retaliation in the form of actions that affect an employee’s eligibility for access to classified information. During this reporting period, OIG’s whistleblower protection coordinator completed one report under 41 U.S.C. § 4712, which substantiated allegations of whistleblower retaliation.

Department of State:

“OIG substantiated one allegation of whistleblower retaliation related to a Department personal services contractor. This case was referred to the Department, which is responsible for making a determination as to whether to grant or deny relief to the whistleblower. On March 25, 2019, the Department denied relief to the whistleblower because it believed that there was a lack of direct evidence of retaliation.”

 

Burn Bag: Hello! Hello! Anybody Home?

 

Via Burn Bag:

“I’ve been trying for several days to call the OIG hotline. Even though the recording says it is staffed during business hours, I tried several days and always got the recording.  I did find a phone book online called called someone in the OIG office who returned my call but I think there is either a backlog or my information isn’t important.  At least I tried to report potential fraud and mismanagement.”

We asked State/OIG about the Hotline, and we received the following response:

“We take our hotline obligations very seriously, and we review all information that we receive. OIG’s hotline unit is staffed with analysts who receive and review allegations regarding fraud, waste, abuse, mismanagement, or misconduct affecting Department of State and U.S. Agency for Global Media programs and operations. If our hotline staff cannot answer a call during regular business hours, callers are directed to the hotline voicemail, where they should leave a message. Our hotline analysts regularly check those messages. In addition, complainants can use the hotline form on the OIG website at www.stateoig.gov/hotline-form. Once the form is submitted, a message appears on the screen explaining that the complaint was received. Hotline complaints may also be mailed to our office at: U.S. Department of State, Office of Inspector General, P.O. Box 9778, Arlington, VA 22219. As our website explains at www.stateoig.gov/hotline, once we receive a complaint—regardless of the format—we may take a number of different actions, including contacting the complainant for additional information.”

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