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.

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SFRC Confirmation Hearing: Marshall Billingslea to be Under Secretary for Civilian Security, Democracy, and Human Rights (J)

 

On September 19, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee will have a confirmation hearing for  four Trump nominees including Marshall Billingslea to be the Under Secretary for Civilian Security, Democracy, and Human Rights (J) at the Department of State. This office oversees five bureaus and four offices.
Mr. Billingslea was originally nominated in 2018, and re-nominated in January 2019.

Via WH, August 21, 2018:

Marshall Billingslea of Virginia, to be Under Secretary for Civilian Security, Democracy, and Human Rights at the Department of State.

Mr. Billingslea currently serves as Assistant Secretary for Terrorist Financing of the Treasury Department. Previously, he worked for Deloitte as a Managing Director; the Department of Defense as Deputy Under Secretary of the Navy, Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary for Special Operations/Low Intensity Conflict, and Deputy Assistant Secretary for Negotiations Policy; the NATO Headquarters in Brussels, Belgium, as Assistant Secretary General for Defense Investment; and the United States Senate Committee on Foreign Relations as a senior staff member in national security affairs. Mr. Billingslea is the recipient of the Secretary of Defense Medal for Outstanding Public Service, the Cross of Merit of the Minister of Defence of the Czech Republic, and the Order of the Cross of Terra Mariana of Estonia. Mr. Billingslea earned his B.A. from Dartmouth College and M.A. from the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University.

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Reuters: State Department watered down human trafficking report

Posted: 3:45  am EDT
[twitter-follow screen_name=’Diplopundit’ ]

 

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In the weeks leading up to a critical annual U.S. report on human trafficking that publicly shames the world’s worst offenders, human rights experts at the State Department concluded that trafficking conditions hadn’t improved in Malaysia and Cuba. And in China, they found, things had grown worse.

The State Department’s senior political staff saw it differently — and they prevailed.

A Reuters examination, based on interviews with more than a dozen sources in Washington and foreign capitals, shows that the government office set up to independently grade global efforts to fight human trafficking was repeatedly overruled by senior American diplomats and pressured into inflating assessments of 14 strategically important countries in this year’s Trafficking in Persons report.

In all, analysts in the Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons – or J/TIP, as it’s known within the U.S. government — disagreed with U.S. diplomatic bureaus on ratings for 17 countries, the sources said.

The analysts, who are specialists in assessing efforts to combat modern slavery – such as the illegal trade in humans for forced labor or prostitution – won only three of those disputes, the worst ratio in the 15-year history of the unit, according to the sources.

As a result, not only Malaysia, Cuba and China, but countries such as India, Uzbekistan and Mexico, wound up with better grades than the State Department’s human-rights experts wanted to give them, the sources said. (Graphic looking at some of the key decisions here: reut.rs/1gF2Wz5)
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The final decision on disputed rankings this year was made in meetings attended by some of the State Department’s most powerful diplomats, including Deputy Secretary of State Tony Blinken, Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs Wendy Sherman and Kerry’s Chief of Staff, Jonathan Finer, according to the sources.

Read in full here.

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Related item:

-07/27/15  Under Secretary of State for Civilian Security, Democracy, and Human Rights Sarah Sewall on the 2015 Trafficking in Persons Report;  Under Secretary for Civilian Security, Democracy, and Human Rights Sarah Sewall; Washington, DC

Burn Bag: State/CSO gets a new mission statement but remains a bureau in fundamental crisis

Via Burn Bag:

As of Friday morning’s announcements of the new mission statement and the bureau town hall (from which most everyone left more confused than informed) to discuss the new organization chart, we remain a bureau in fundamental crisis. Everyone scratching their heads about what they do and exactly whom they support.

CSO’s contractors continue to be an internal force just as the OIG report cited. Worse yet, we already have total supervisory overhead (civil service, foreign service, and third party contractors’ employees) of almost 1:1 with “doers” and despite what the bureau told Congress. Lots of editing and reviewing and pontificating takes place but very little drafting or other original work. It reminds me of a third world state run enterprise!

Should the new name now be the Bureau of Conflict Analysis and Atrocity and Violent Extremism Prevention and J Undersecretary Pet Issues (CAAVEPJUPI)?

tumblr_inline_when you do stuff

via canadian foreign service problems

 

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QDDR II Walks Into a Bar and Asks, What Happened to the Bureau of Conflict and Stabilization Operations?

— Domani Spero

The State Department says that the Quadrennial Diplomacy and Development Review (QDDR) is “a sweeping assessment of how the Department of State and the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) can become more efficient, accountable, and effective in a world in which rising powers, growing instability, and technological transformation create new threats, but also new opportunities.” 

In July 2009, Secretary Clinton announced that the State Department, for the first time ever, will conduct a QDDR. The report from a 17-month review was released in December 2010.

Yesterday, Secretary Kerry, joined by Deputy Secretary of State for Management and Resources Heather Higginbottom, USAID Administrator Rajiv Shah, and recently appointed Special Representative for the QDDR, Thomas Perriello launched the State/USAID review process for the second Quadrennial Diplomacy and Development Review (QDDR II). Special Rep Thomas Perriello was appointed top QDDR II honcho by Secretary Kerry in February 2014. Previously, Mr. Perrielo served as the congressman from Virginia’s fifth district, and most recently served as CEO of the Center for American Progress.

Secretary of State John Kerry delivers remarks at the public launch of the Department of State and U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) review process for the second Quadrennial Diplomacy and Development Review (QDDR) April 22, 2014 (state.gov photo)

Secretary of State John Kerry delivers remarks at the public launch of the Department of State and U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) review process for the second Quadrennial Diplomacy and Development Review (QDDR) April 22, 2014
(state.gov photo)

Also yesterday at the DPB, the State Department spokesperson Jen Psaki said that The 2014 QDDR builds on the foundation established by the 2010 review as a part of Department and USAID’s processes of continuous improvement.” And because AP’s Matthew Lee was in attendance, it was quite a show (see Erik Wemple’s AP reporter scorches State Department spokeswoman on Hillary Clinton initiative over at WaPo).

We understand that the Deputy Secretary will also host a QDDR II Town Hall meeting in Foggy Bottom today.  Perhaps somebody could ask how the State Department is going to fix QDDR I’s offspring, the Bureau of Conflict and Stabilization Operations?

Why fix it? Well, in March 2014, State/OIG posted its inspection report (pdf) of the Bureau of Conflict and Stabilization Operations (CSO). It looks like a huge mess and may need more than therapy.

The CSO was created in November 2011, as directed by the 2010 Quadrennial Diplomacy and Development Review (QDDR), to replace S/CRS and be “the institutional locus for policy and operational solutions for crisis, conflict, and instability” as a whole of government endeavor.  CSO is one of eight bureaus and offices that report to the Under Secretary for Civilian Security, Democracy, and Human Rights. The Under Secretary position was vacant for much of 2013— the second half of CSO’s 2-year existence.  Below are some of the OIG report’s key judgments:

  • The mission of the Bureau of Conflict and Stabilization Operations remains unclear to some of its staff and to many in the Department and the interagency. The bureau was established in 2011 but there remains a lack of consensus on whether coordination, analysis, or operations should dominate its mission.
  • The bureau does an inadequate job managing its large contingent of contractors. The inspection uncovered weaknesses in oversight, performance of inherently governmental functions, and incomplete contracting officer’s representative files. [Redacted] (b) (5)
  • Bureau practices violate basic Department regulations and procedures in several areas, including security, travel and hiring. Procedural and physical security programs require prompt attention.

But there’s more. The following bulleted items are extracted from the OIG report:

Leadership: Leading By Example

  • The Assistant Secretary’s leadership resulted in some progress toward establishing new directions for the bureau in a short time. There have been internal costs, however, as CSO struggles from a lack of directional clarity, lack of transparency, micromanagement, and re-organizational fatigue. The turnover of 54 percent of CSO staff between February 2012 and August 2013 created widespread internal suspicion and job insecurity in addition to confusion in the Department and the interagency.
  • The new noncareer leadership arrived with fresh models and analytics for conflict prevention and intervention, but some of them lacked basic understanding of the roles, responsibilities, and workings of the Department, especially of the regional and functional bureaus they are tasked to support.
  • The Assistant Secretary sought to demonstrate the bureau’s value to senior leaders in the Department and Congress in the bureau’s first year of operation. His early focus has been for CSO to operate where it can, rather than where it should. Relatively few of the bureau’s engagements to date have been in places or on issues of significant foreign policy importance.
  • In addition, the Assistant Secretary and several of his deputies promote a culture of bending and evading rules. For example, the OIG team heard in multiple interviews that CSO leadership loosely interpreted the level of bureau or embassy support for certain of its activities, arguing that doing so is justified by the urgent nature of its work and need to build a more innovative and agile bureau. Interviewees gave examples of disregard for the Department’s procedures, This laxity contributed to low staff scores for morale and leadership of some in the front office. The perceived CSO attitude that it does not have to follow [Redacted] (b) (5) rules is cited by some bureaus and ambassadors as reasons they seek to avoid working with CSO. The Assistant Secretary needs to lead by example and ensure that the deputies do the same.

Top-Heavy Bureau, Staffing “Churn” and Curtailments

  • Since the establishment of CSO, there have been curtailments in six of its 15 Foreign Service positions. The bureau had not been active in recruiting Foreign Service officers in the past, but for the past cycle it actively campaigned for candidates with some success.  Upon the departure of the remaining Foreign Service DAS, there will be no Senior Foreign Service officer in the front office.
  • Athough the bureau is new and its organizational structure in frequent motion, CSO has many relatively new, talented, and dedicated, staff who frequently impress bureaus and embassies when deployed. The staff includes Foreign Service, Civil Service , fellows, and contractors. They function in a chaotic atmosphere and sometimes lack familiarity with their portfolios and the Department.
  • The CSO front office promotes turnover among its staff to foster innovation. This philosophy creates considerable job insecurity and uncertainty. According to one study, 54 percent of CSO’s staff (direct hire and contractor) has turned over since the reorganization. The human resources team has started conducting exit interviews with departing staff to determine their reasons for leaving CSO.
  • Overseas deployments of 6 months or longer offer both opportunities and heavy responsibilities. Deployment burnout is evident as reported in interviews with staff and personal questionnaires, and the OIG team questions how long this model can endure.
  • The bureau is top-heavy. Its front office comprises the Assistant Secretary, a Civil Service Senior Executive Service principal deputy assistant secretary, two noncareer deputy assistant secretaries (DAS), a Senior Foreign Service DAS for administration, and two GS-15 senior advisors. In addition to the four DASes and two front office GS-15 advisors, CSO has 21 GS-15 and FS-01 positions.

The Traveling Band of Conflict Mitigators to Honduras, Nigeria Plus Conferences/Meetings in the UK, Belgium, and Switzerland — Oh, My!

  • In Honduras, CSO estimates the budget for its 2-year anti-violence program at $2 million. Six CSO staff in Washington support the program. According to CSO data, in FY 2013, 28 CSO staff members made 58 trips to Honduras, collectively spending 2,837 days there, at a cost of approximately $450,000. By contrast, USAID’s Office of Transition Initiatives employs one staff member in Washington and two in Honduras to oversee a similar but larger $12 million program.
  • In Nigeria, CSO estimates that its anti-violence program in the Niger Delta region will cost $5.6 million. The central component is a television series that will advocate nonviolent ways to address grievances. CSO estimates it will broadcast one hour of programming a week for 13 weeks. It hopes to complement the television series with support to community groups and local governments. CSO envisions maintaining three Washington-based staff members on long-term temporary duty assignments in Nigeria in FY2014 and hiring two more staff locally. It expects to devote up to eight staff—four to five full-time—in Washington to support the program. In August 2013, to prepare for the program and begin implementing it, CSO travelers spent 578 days in Nigeria at a cost in excess of $111,000.
  • Many CSO employees commented in OIG personal questionnaires and interviews that some front office travel to conferences and meetings, especially to Europe, appeared to be linked more to personal interests than to the bureau’s mission. During FY 2013, CSO employees took 17 trips to the United Kingdom, 7 trips to Belgium, and 6 trips to Switzerland. In one case, the PDAS and two other DASes were in London at the same time for different meetings.
  • Justifications provided in the approved requests for travel authorization and invitational travel often do not contain sufficient detail to link the trips directly to CSO goals. According to 14 FAM 533.4-1, authorizing officials must ensure that conference travel is necessary to accomplish agency goals. Likewise, Department policy on gifts of invitational travel in 2 FAM 962.1-8e (1) (b) states that travel must relate to an employee’s official duties and represent priority use of the traveling employee’s time. Without adequate justification, funds and staff time devoted to travel and trip support could be wasted. More transparency in the travel approval process also could increase staff understanding of the purpose of travel.

Morale needs duct tape over there!

  • OIG’s pre-inspection survey results reflected lower than normal morale among bureau staff, in terms of both personal and office morale. Ninety-six percent of CSO staff who completed personal questionnaires responded to questions on morale. The bureau average for office morale was 2.75 and for personal morale 3.09, on a 5-point scale. Bureau leadership sought to attribute these low scores to dissatisfaction among former S/CRS staff who, due to reorganization and other changes, perceived themselves as marginalized in the new bureau. The OIG team found that dissatisfaction was more widespread than this explanation suggested.
  • Comments on morale in the personal questionnaires cited many factors behind low bureau morale. The most common included cramped office space/lack of privacy (cited by 20 percent of the respondents); too many reorganizations and physical moves; pressure from senior management (including the Assistant Secretary and deputies) to bend, force, or evade Department regulations and hire favored candidates; top management’s philosophy of “churn” to prevent people staying in CSO for more than 3 years; lack of clear communication or inconsistent application of policies; shifting priorities; fear of retribution from senior management; and the residual impact of the reorganization and layoffs during the creation of CSO.
  • The status of the former S/CRS staff and the impact the reorganization had on them merits attention. Although some have been promoted to leadership positions, surveys and interviews with other S/CRS staff indicate they feel they are treated shabbily, are encouraged to leave because they no longer fit the organization’s new needs, and are not valued. CSO leadership needs to find ways to address these perceptions.

Integrated Not Replicated — Really?

  • Several Department offices and other agencies work on issues similar to CSO’s. For example, the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor promotes democracy and the rule of law, including free and fair elections. The Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement trains police. The Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs’ Middle East Partnership Initiative manages programs that support democratic transition in the region. USAID has experience, infrastructure, and programs in place in most nations facing conflict.
  • USAID’s Office of Transition Initiatives has a mission statement almost identical to that of CSO. CSO and the Office of Transition Initiatives have worked together on several engagements with the participation of staff from both. The QDDR acknowledged that the capabilities of USAID and the Department often overlap. But their efforts must be integrated, not replicated. When asked about the imperative to engage in program activities overseas, many CSO staff told the OIG team that the bureau needs to implement overseas programs to be considered relevant and influential within the Department and interagency.

These are all troubling items, of course, and there’s more but this report is frankly, depressing to read. We should note that another disturbing content of the State/OIG report is the significant number of Equal Employment Opportunity (EEO) complaints within CSO in the last year. The per capita rate of informal complaints from direct-hire employees according to State/OIG is five times the Department average. So the bureau tasked with “operational solutions for crisis, conflict, and instability” not only had a 54 percent turnover (see page 8) since reorganization, it also has five times the agency’s average in informal EEO complaints.

Maybe this sounds crazy — but we think that the bureau with “Stability Operations” on its name ought to have stability, steadiness and firmness in its operation before it starts “fixing”, “mitigating” or what have you in conflict areas.

Perhaps QDDR II will provide an opportunity to do just that?

If not, there’s always QDDR III in 2018.

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Photo of the Day: Under Secretaries for “J” and “R” Now On Board

— Domani Spero

Under Secretary for Civilian Security, Democracy, and Human Rights (J):
Sarah Sewall

sewall swearingin with jk

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry greets Sarah Sewall and her husband, Tom Conroy, before swearing her in as Under Secretary of State for Civilian Security, Democracy, and Human Rights at the U.S. Department of State in Washington, D.C., on April 14, 2014. [State Department photo/ Public Domain]

Under Secretary for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs (R):
Richard Stengel

stengel_swearingin with jk

Secretary Kerry Swears in Rick Stengel as Under Secretary With his family looking on, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry swears in Rick Stengel as Under Secretary for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs at the U.S. Department of State in Washington, D.C., on April 15, 2014. [State Department photo/ Public Domain]


This completes the ranks of the senior officials of the State Department. Deputy Secretary Bill Burns is, however,  retiring in October so we expect that the top blocks of the org chart will be reshuffled/changed once more in the next six months.

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