Confirmations: Todd Haskell (Congo), Tulinabo Mushingi (Senegal/Guinea-Bissau), Terry Branstad (China)

Posted: 2:29 am ET
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On May 18, the U.S. Senate confirmed the nominations of career diplomats Todd Haskell and Tulinabo Salama Mushingi to be the U.S. Ambassador to the Republic of the Congo and the Republic of Senegal/Republic of Guinea-Bissau respectively (see SFRC Hearings: Mushingi (Senegal/Guinea-Bissau), Haskell (Republic Of The Congo).

2017-05-18 PN83 Republic of the Congo
Todd Philip Haskell, of Florida, a Career Member of the Senior Foreign Service, Class of Counselor, to be Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the United States of America to the Republic of the Congo.

2017-05-18 PN84 Republic of Senegal/Republic of Guinea-Bissau
Tulinabo Salama Mushingi, of Virginia, a Career Member of the Senior Foreign Service, Class of Counselor, to be Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the United States of America to the Republic of Senegal, and to serve concurrently and without additional compensation as Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the United States of America to the Republic of Guinea-Bissau.

On May 22, 1017, the U.S. Senate confirmed Iowa Governor Terry Branstad as the next Ambassador to China (see SFRC Hearing: Terry Branstad to be Ambasador to The People’s Republic Of China (Updated)Trump to Nominate Iowa Gov Terry Branstad as U.S. Ambassador to China.

2017-05-22 PN52 People’s Republic of China
Terry Branstad, of Iowa, to be Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the United States of America to the People’s Republic of China.

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Lonesome Rex to Make Inaugural Trip to Asia Without His Traveling Press?

Posted: 2:37 am ET
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Secretary Tillerson knew when he took this job that he would be the face and the voice of America to the world. That includes talking to the press, and more importantly answering questions from the press corps. We get that he’s new at this but he better get it together fast; he’s now one of our most prominent public servants, and he cannot continue to evade the press and avoid answering questions without running afoul of one of his three core principles.

NBC’s Andrea Mitchell  has now been escorted twice out of a State Department presser. Reporters were also previously escorted out during the Lavrov-Tillerson meeting in Germany. We betcha when Secretary Tillerson starts talking to the press, reporters would not have to shout their questions during every 30-second photo-op. And now, we’re hearing that Secretary Tillerson is making his inaugural trip to Asia next week. He will be traveling with the new Acting Assistant Secretary of State for the EAP Bureau Susan Thornton who assumed post after Danny Russel’s recent departure.  According to the State Department, Secretary Tillerson will arrive in Tokyo on March 15, continue on to Seoul on March 17, and travel to Beijing on March 18 —  apparently without his traveling press.

Here is the official word on this according to the acting @StateDept spox, Mark Toner:

[W]ith respect to the trip to Asia, we’re still working out the logistics, so I really can’t say specifically or speak definitively, I guess, as to whether we will be able to accommodate any press on the Secretary’s plane. I think we’re all aware that it is a smaller plane for this particular trip. There will, as you know, going to – there will be some U.S. media who will be traveling to the destinations, each destination, and of course, we will do our utmost to support them at those destinations and provide whatever access we can.  And I think going forward, the State Department is doing everything it can to – and will do everything it can to accommodate a contingent of traveling media on board the Secretary’s plane.

Wait, Secretary Tillerson’s minders did not purposely select a smaller plane, did they?  The smaller plane excuse would only really work had Secretary Tillerson traveled with the full press during his trips to Mexico and Germany, then say, hey, can’t this time because we’re forced to use a smaller plane. But in Mexico, Secretary Tillerson reportedly only traveled with press pools, took a small plane and had one writer and one photographer. So this is starting to look like this could be the new normal.  If he can get away with not taking his traveling press this time, are we looking at our top diplomat ditching the press for good in the future?  This is, of course, worrisome coz how are we going to Make America Great Again if we can’t even provide a good size plane for our chief diplomat and his traveling press?

Folks, this doesn’t look good. You need to make this right. And hey, about the milkbox, does he have a favorite color?

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Killer Air in China: Pollution Kills an Average of 4,000/day x 365 = 1,460,000

Posted: 4:18 am EDT
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Berkeley Earth released a study showing that air pollution kills an average of 4,000 people every day in China, 17% of all China’s deaths. For 38% of the population, the average air they breathe is “unhealthy” by U.S. standards. According to the study, the most harmful pollution is PM2.5, particulate matter 2.5 microns and smaller.  This penetrates deeply into lungs and triggers heart attacks, stroke, lung cancer and asthma.

“Beijing is only a moderate source PM 2.5 ; it receives much of its pollution from distant industrial areas, particularly Shijiazhuang, 200 miles to the southwest,” says Robert Rohde, coauthor of the paper.

“Air pollution is the greatest environmental disaster in the world today,” says Richard Muller, Scientific Director of Berkeley Earth, coauthor of the paper. “When I was last in Beijing, pollution was at the hazardous level; every hour of exposure reduced my life expectancy by 20 minutes. It’s as if every man, women, and child smoked 1.5 cigarettes each hour,” he said.

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Perhaps it’s time to revisit this Burn Bag submission?

“Why are we still downplaying the enormous health impact to officers and their families serving in China? Why are State MED officers saying ‘off the record’ that it is irresponsible to send anyone with children to China and yet no one will speak up via official channels?”

Embassy Beijing and the five consulates general in China house one of the largest U.S. diplomatic presences in the world (no presence in Kunming and Nanjing).  Service in China includes a hardship differential (when conditions of the environment differ substantially from environmental conditions in the continental United States) for poor air quality among other things, ranging between 10-25% of basic compensation.

According to the 2010 OIG report, more than 30 U.S. Government agencies maintain offices and personnel in China; the total staff exceeds 2,000 employees. Consulates General Guangzhou and Shanghai are as large as many mid-sized embassies, each with more than 250 employees. Consulates General Chengdu and Shenyang are smaller but serve the important western and northern parts of the country respectively. Consulate General Wuhan, opened in 2008, is staffed by one American. Mission China is a fully accompanied post; we have no numbers on how many family members, including children are present at these posts.

Screen Shot 2015-08-14

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State Department Deputy Secretary Tony Blinken Meets With Junior Diplomats

Posted: 12:26 am EDT
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In London

Deputy Secretary of State Antony “Tony” Blinken meets with junior officers at the U.S. Embassy in London, United Kingdom, on March 4, 2015. To the left of the Deputy Secretary is Embassy London’s Deputy Chief of Mission Elizabeth Dibble. [State Department photo/ Public Domain]

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In Paris

Deputy Secretary of State Antony “Tony” Blinken speaks with junior officers at the U.S. Embassy in Paris, France, on March 2, 2015. Also pictured to the left of the Deputy Secretary is Embassy Paris Deputy Chief of Mission Uzra Zeya. [State Department photo/ Public Domain]

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In Seoul

Deputy Secretary of State Antony “Tony” Blinken, U.S. Ambassador to the Republic of Korea Mark Lippert, and Special Representative for North Korea Policy Sung Kim meet with junior officers at the U.S. Embassy in Seoul, South Korea, on February 9, 2015. [State Department photo/ Public Domain]

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In Beijing

 

In Foggy Bottom

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September 11 Remembrances From Around the World

— Domani Spero
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U.S. Embassy London, UK

Via U.S. Embassy London/Flickr (2013)

Via U.S. Embassy London/Flickr (2013)

U.S. Embassy Singapore

Commemoration of the 10th Anniversary of 9/11, U.S. Embassy Singapore

Commemoration of the 10th Anniversary of 9/11, U.S. Embassy Singapore (2011)

U.S. Embassy Canada

Hundreds of fire and rescue workers and their supporters participated in the 9-11 Memorial Ride.  Here, riders arrive at the Peace Arch. Photo via US Embassy Canada/Flickr (2011)

Hundreds of fire and rescue workers and their supporters participated in the 9-11 Memorial Ride. Here, riders arrive at the Peace Arch. Photo via US Embassy Canada/Flickr (2011)

U.S. Embassy Santiago, Chile

The Chargé d’Affaires of the U.S Embassy in Santiago, Stephen M. Liston, presided over an official ceremony of remembrance for the victims of the terrorist attacks on New York, Washington, D.C. and Pennsylvania occurred on 09/11/2001 (US Embassy Chile - 2013))

The Chargé d’Affaires of the U.S Embassy in Santiago, Stephen M. Liston, presided over an official ceremony of remembrance for the victims of the terrorist attacks on New York, Washington, D.C. and Pennsylvania occurred on 09/11/2001 (US Embassy Chile – 2013)

  U.S. Embassy Tel Aviv, Israel

The U.S. Embassy, Keren Kayemet Leisrael (KKL-JNF and KKL-USA), the city of Jerusalem and families of victims, gathered at the “9/11 Living Memorial” site at Emek Arazim, Jerusalem Hills Park to commemorate 10 years to the terror attacks of September 11, 2001. Photo by US Embassy Tel Aviv/FB (2011)

The U.S. Embassy, Keren Kayemet Leisrael (KKL-JNF and KKL-USA), the city of Jerusalem and families of victims, gathered at the “9/11 Living Memorial” site at Emek Arazim, Jerusalem Hills Park to commemorate 10 years to the terror attacks of September 11, 2001. Photo by US Embassy Tel Aviv/FB (2011)

U.S. Embassy Beijing, China

September 11th Ceremony, 9/11/11 via US Embassy Beijing/FB (2011)

September 11th Ceremony, 9/11/11
via US Embassy Beijing/FB (2011)

U.S. Embassy Canberra, Australia

10th Anniversary of September 11, U.S. Embassy Canberra, Australia. (2011) (Official U.S. Embassy photo by Adam P. Wilson)

10th Anniversary of September 11, U.S. Embassy Canberra, Australia. (2011)
(Official U.S. Embassy photo by Adam P. Wilson)

U.S. Embassy Wellington, New Zealand

10th Anniversary of 9-11. Commemoration Service, Wellington, New Zealand (2011)

10th Anniversary of 9-11. Commemoration Service, US Embassy Wellington, New Zealand (2011)

Christchurch, New Zealand

9/11 Memorial Service, Christchurch, New Zealand, September 11, 2010

9/11 Memorial Service, Christchurch, New Zealand, September 11, 2010

U.S. Consulate General Vancouver

Plaque Presentation at Vancouver International Airport  YVR Managing Director Larry Berg with U.S. Consul General Anne Callaghan beside a plaque expression thanks, presented to the airport by the Consul General on September 11, 2011.

A memorial plaque thanking the people of British Columbia for the assistance they extended to Americans and others on and after September 11, 2001. ‘In commemoration of the tenth anniversary of the terror attacks of September 11, 2001 the United States Consulate General in Vancouver, on behalf of the people of the United States, wishes to thank the people of British Columbia for their support and generosity following the events of that day. Canadians received diverted passengers unable to land at their U.S. destinations, opening not only their airports, but also their homes and hearts.’ 
Plaque Presentation at Vancouver International Airport YVR Managing Director Larry Berg with U.S. Consul General Anne Callaghan on September 11, 2011.

 U.S. Embassy Chisinau, Moldova

Prime Minister Iurie Leanca, accompanied by Deputy Prime Minister for Reintegration Eugen Carpov, today laid flowers at the Chisinau-based US embassy, in the memory of the victims of the 11 September 2001 terrorist attack in the USA.

Prime Minister Iurie Leanca, accompanied by Deputy Prime Minister for Reintegration Eugen Carpov, laid flowers at US Embassy Chisinau, Moldova in memory of the victims of the 11 September 2001 terrorist attack. (Photo via gov.md 2013)

 U.S. Embassy Yaounde, Cameroon

Embassy Yaounde Pauses to Remember 9/11 Colonel Morgan plays the bagpipes during the ceremony. [Photo by U.S. Embassy Yaounde] 2013

Embassy Yaounde Pauses to Remember 9/11
Colonel Morgan plays the bagpipes during the ceremony. [Photo by U.S. Embassy Yaounde] 2013

U.S. Embassy Kuwait, Kuwait

U.S. Ambassador to Kuwait, Deborah K. Jones and Brig. Gens. William Frink and James Walton, commander, 311th Sustainment and 335th Signal Commands, lead over 500 participants during the Freedom Walk held at the U.S. Embassy in Kuwait, Sept 11, 2008.

U.S. Ambassador to Kuwait, Deborah K. Jones and Brig. Gens. William Frink and James Walton, commander, 311th Sustainment and 335th Signal Commands, lead over 500 participants during the Freedom Walk held at the U.S. Embassy in Kuwait, Sept 11, 2008.

U.S. Embassy Paris, France

Ceremony at the Trocadero esplanade in Paris, September 11, 2011 Drapeau américain sur la Place du Trocadéro. Photo P.Maulavé U.S. Embassy Paris, France - 2011

Ceremony at the Trocadero esplanade in Paris, September 11, 2011
Drapeau américain sur la Place du Trocadéro. Photo P.Maulavé
U.S. Embassy Paris, France – 2011

U.S. Embassy Tokyo, Japan

(September 10, 2014) Flowers at a memorial for the Japanese victims of the September 11 terrorist attacks. Caroline Kennedy, U.S. Ambassador to Japan, participated in the memorial at the Mizuho Bank. The victims were working in the offices of Fuji Bank (now incorporated into the Mizuho Financial Group) in the World Trade Center in New York City. [State Department photo by William Ng/Public Domain]

 

U.S. Embassy New Delhi, India

 

 

 U.S. Embassy Kabul, Afghanistan

A steel carving of the lower Manhattan skyline on display during a during a 9/11 commemoration at the U.S. Embassy in Kabul, Afghanistan, Sept. 11, 2011. DOD Photo by Master Sgt. Michael O'Connor

A steel carving of the lower Manhattan skyline on display during a during a 9/11 commemoration at the U.S. Embassy in Kabul, Afghanistan, Sept. 11, 2011. DOD Photo by Master Sgt. Michael O’Connor

 

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State Dept’s Critical National Security Database Crashes, Melts Global Travelers’ Patience

— Domani Spero
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The first announcement about the troubled Consular Consolidated Database (CCD) went out on Wednesday, July 23:

The Department of State Bureau of Consular Affairs is currently experiencing technical problems with our passport/visa system.  This issue is worldwide and is not specific to any particular country, citizenship document, or visa category.  We apologize to applicants who are experiencing delays or are unable to obtain a passport, Consular Report of Birth Abroad, or visa at this time. We are working urgently to correct the problem and expect our system to be fully operational again soon.

The AP reported on July 23 that unspecified glitches have resulted in performance issues since Saturday, which would be July 19.

On July 25, CA announced:” Our visa and passport processing systems are now operational, however they are working at limited capacity. We are still working to correct the problem and expect to be fully operational soon.”

A State Department official speaking on background told us the same day that this issue was not/not caused by  hackers. We were told that the CCD crashed shortly after maintenance was performed and that the root cause of the problem is not yet known.

On July 27, CA released an update:

As of July 27, the Department of State has made continued progress on restoring our system to full functionality. As we restore our ability to print visas, we are prioritizing immigrant cases, including adoptions visas. System engineers are performing maintenance to address the problems we encountered. As system performance improves, we will continue to process visas at U.S. Embassies and Consulates worldwide. We are committed to resolving the problem as soon as possible. Additional updates will be posted to travel.state.gov as more information becomes available.

On July 29, CA posted this on FB:

The Department of State Bureau of Consular Affairs continues to make progress restoring our nonimmigrant visa system to full functionality. Over the weekend, the Department of State implemented system changes aimed at optimizing performance and addressing the challenges we have faced. We are now testing our system capacity to ensure stability. Processing of immigrant visas cases, including adoptions, remains a high priority. Some Embassies and Consulates may temporarily limit or reschedule nonimmigrant visa interview appointments until more system resources become available to process these new applications. We sincerely regret the inconvenience to travelers, and are committed to resolving the problem as soon as possible. Additional updates will be posted to travel.state.gov as more information becomes available.

 

The CA Bureau’s Facebook page has been inundated with comments. There were complaints that at one post the visas were printing fine and then they were not. There were complains from people waiting for visas for adopted kids, for fiancees, for family members, for family waiting at the border, for students anxious to get to their schools, people worried about time running out for diversity visas, applicants with flights already booked, and many more.  One FB commenter writes, “I feel that the problem most people have is not that the system broke, but the lack of clear, meaningful information so people can make appropriate plans.

Other than what the CA Bureau chose to tell us, we cannot pry any substantial detail from official sources.  We, however, understand from sources familiar with the system but not authorized to speak for the bureau that the CCD has been having problems for sometime but it got worse in the last couple weeks.   If you’re familiar with the highs and lows of visa operation, this will not be altogether surprising.  Whatever problems already existed in the system prior to this “glitch” could have easily been exacerbated in July, which is the middle of the peak travel season worldwide. A source working in one of our consular posts confirmed to us that the system is back running, but not at the normal level and that the backlogs are building up. Another source told us that Beijing already had a 15k NIV backlog over the weekend.  We haven’t yet heard what are the backlogs like in mega visa-issuing posts like Brazil, Mexico and India.

We understand that everyone is currently doing all they can to get the process moving, but that some cases are getting through the system, while some are not. No one seems to know why this is happening. These machine readable visas are tied to the system and there are no manual back-ups for processing these cases (more of that below).

 

So who owns CCD?

The Consular Systems and Technology (CA/CST) manages the CCD.  We have previously blogged about its troubled past:

CST is currently headed by a new Director, Greg D Ambrose who reports to the CA Bureau’s Assistant Secretary.  It looks like despite the 2011 OIG recommendation, the CST deputy position remains vacant. We should also note that the  Asst Secretary for Consular Affairs Janice Jacobs retired this past April.  No replacement has been nominated to-date and Michele T. Bond has been Acting Assistant Secretary since Ms. Jacobs’ departure.

Last September, Mr. Ambrose was with FedScoopTV and talked about Consular One, the future of consular IT.

 

CST Just Got a New Data Engineering Contract

In Many 2014, ActioNet, Inc., headquartered in Vienna, Virginia,announced a 5-year task order for data engineering, supporting CST.

ActioNet, Inc. announced today the award of a five (5)-year task order entitled Data Engineering (DE) in support of Department of State (DOS). This task order will provide data engineering and database infrastructure support services necessary for planning, analysis, design, and implementation services for the Bureau of Consular Affairs.  These service also include contract and program management support to ensure that innovation, efficiency, and cost control practices are built into the program. […] The Office of Consular Systems and Technology (CST) within the Bureau develops, deploys and maintains the unclassified and classified IT infrastructures that help execute these missions. The Bureau currently manages over 800 servers worldwide, in order to comply with the fast paced changes inherent to data processing and telecommunications, CST requires that contractor services provide for rapid provisioning of highly experienced and trained individuals with the IT (information technology) backgrounds and the security clearances required of CA’s environment of workstation-based local and wide-area network infrastructures.

Due to limited information available, we don’t know if the new Consular One and/or the new DE contract are related to ongoing issues or if there are hardware issues, given the multiple legacy systems, but we do know that CST has both an impressive and troubled history. Let’s take a look.


Records Growing by the Day

The 2010 Consular Consolidated Database (CCD) Privacy Impact Assessment (PIA) describes (pdf) the CCD as “one of the largest Oracle based data warehouses in the world that holds current and archived data from the Consular Affairs (CA) domestic and post databases around the world.”  According to the PIA, in December 2009, the CCD contained over 100 million visa cases and 75 million photographs, utilizing billions of rows of data, and has a current growth rate of approximately 35 thousand visa cases every day. The 2011 OIG report says that in 2010, the CCD contained over 137 million American and foreign case records and over 130 million photographs and is growing at approximately 40,000 visa and passport cases every day.

That was almost four years ago.


A Critical Operational and National Security Database with No Back-Up System?

According to publicly available information, the CCD’s chief functions are 1) to support data delivery to approved applications via industry-standard Web Service queries, 2) provide users with easy-to-use data entry interfaces to CCD, and 3) allow emergency recovery of post databases.  The CCD also serves as a gateway to IDENT and IAFIS fingerprint checking databases, the Department of State Facial Recognition system, and the NameCheck system. It  provides access to passport data in Travel Document Issuance System (TDIS), Passport Lookout Tracking System (PLOTS), and Passport Information Electronic Records System (PIERS).  The OIG says that the CCD serves 11,000 users in the Department and more than 19,000 users in other agencies, primarily the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and various law enforcement elements, and is accessed more than 120 million times every month.

Given that the CCD is considered “a critical operational and national security database,” there is surprisingly no redundancies or any back-up system.


Resurrect the Standard Register protectograph aka: `Burroughs visas’?

No one is actually suggesting that but when the CCD system is down, there is no manual way to issue a visa. No post can  handprint visas  because security measures prevent consular officers from printing a visa unless it is approved through the database system. Here is a quick history of the handprinted ‘Burroughs visas’ and the machine readable visas via the GPO:

November 18, 1988, mandated the development of a machine-readable travel and identity document to improve border entry and departure control using an automated data-capture system. As a result, the Department developed the Machine Readable Visa, a durable, long-lasting adhesive foil made out of Teslin.

Before MRVs, nonimmigrant visas were issued using a device called a Standard Register protectograph, otherwise known as a Burroughs certifier machine. It produced what was colloquially known as a “Burroughs visa,” an indelible ink impression mechanically stamped directly onto a page in the alien’s passport. Over time, Burroughs machines were gradually replaced by MRV technology, which is now used exclusively by all nonimmigrant visa issuing posts throughout the world.

Burroughs visas contained a space in which a consular employee was required to write the name of the alien to whom the visa was being issued. An alien’s passport might also include family members, such as a spouse, or children, who also had to be listed on the visa. In March 1983, in order to expedite the issuance of nonimmigrant visas and to improve operational efficiency, the Department authorized the use of a “bearer(s)” stamp for certain countries so that consular officers would not have to spend time writing in the applicant’s name (and those of accompanying family members). MRVs, however, must be issued individually to qualified aliens. Consequently, the “bearer”annotation has become obsolete.

The problem with the old Burroughs machine, besides the obvious, was maybe — you run out of ink, the plates are ruined/broken or you need it oiled. We could not remember those breaking down. With the MRV technology, all posts are connected to a central database, and the new machines by themselves cannot issue visas.  Which brings us to the security of that system.

 

Management Alert on Information System Security Program

The State Department PIA says that “To appropriately safeguard the information, numerous management, operational, and technical security controls are in place in accordance with the Federal Information Security Management Act (FISMA) of 2002 and information assurance standards published by the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST).” Must be why in November 2013, the Office of the Inspector General issued a Management Alert  for significant and recurring weaknesses found in the State Department’s Information System Security Program over the past three fiscal years (FY 2011-2013).

In 2011, State/OIG also issued a report on CA’s CST division and has, what appears to be a lengthy discussion of the CCD, but almost all of it but a paragraph had been redacted:

Screen Shot 2014-07-30 at 8.40.37 AM

That OIG report also includes a discussion of the Systems Development Life Cycle Process and notes that decision control gates within CST’s SDLC process are weak. It cites a couple of examples where this manifested: 1) the development of the Consular report of Birth Abroad (CRBA) system. “The ownership of development and deployment shifted throughout the process, and the business unit’s requirements were not clearly communicated to the development team. As a result, CST designed and tested the CRBA for a printer that did not match the printer model identified and procured by the business unit;” 2)  the Crisis Task Force application, for which CST was tasked to enhance its Web-facing interaction. “The deployment of this application has been challenged by the lack of project ownership and decision controls, as well as by the incomplete requirements definition. The use of incorrect scripts that were provided by the CM group has further delayed the Crisis Task Force application’s deployment.”

 

If there’s somethin’ strange in your CCD, who ya gonna call? (Glitchbusters!)

The Consular Consolidated Database (CCD) is central to all consular operations. It is run by CST where according to the OIG, “the smooth functioning of every part of the office depends on its contractors.” And because it runs such an important element of U.S. national security systems, if all CST’s contractors, all 850 of them quit, this critical consular data delivery to the State Department and other Federal agencies would screech to a a halt.

To carry out its mandate, CST must provide uninterrupted support to 233 overseas posts, 21 passport agencies, 2 passport processing centers, and other domestic facilities, for a total of 30,000 end users across 16 Federal agencies and in nearly every country. CST faces 24/7/365 service requirements, as any disruption in automated support brings operations to an immediate halt, with very serious implications for travelers and the U.S. image.
[…]
CST is led by a director and is staffed by 68 full-time equivalent (FTE) employees (62 Civil Service and 6 Foreign Service). There are 12 positions (3 Foreign Service and 9 Civil Service) currently vacant. CA recently authorized CST 19 additional FTE positions. There are also more than 850 contractors operating under nearly 30 different contracts. In FY 2010, CST’s annual operating budget was approximately $266 million.

If CCD is compromised for a lengthy period such as the last couple of weeks, what is the back up plan to keep the operation going?  Obviously, none. It’s either down or running under limited or full capacity.  No one we know remember CCD problems persist this long.  Right now, we know from a reliable source that the system is not down, and some cases and going through but — what if the CCD is completely down for two weeks … four weeks … wouldn’t international travel come to a slow stop?

What if CCD goes down indefinitely whether by hardware or software glitch or through malicious penetration by foreign hackers, what happens then?

Currently, it appears nothing can be done but for folks to be patient and wait until the fixes are in.  We know they’re working hard at it but there’s got to be a better way.   Perhaps we can also agree that this has very serious national security implications on top of disgruntled travelers and a grave impact on the U.S. image overseas.

 

 Related items:

May 2011 |  Inspection of The Bureau of Consular Affairs, Office of Consular Systems and Technology (CST) Report Number ISP-I-11-51

-11/30/13   Audit of Department of State Information Security Program (FISMA) (AUD-IT-14-03)  [3610 Kb]  Posted January 29th, 2014

-01/13/14   Management Alert on OIG Findings of Significant, Recurring Weaknesses in Dept of State Info System Security Program (MA-A-0001)  [6298 Kb]  Posted on January 16, 2014

 

 Related articles

 

 

Photo of the Day: Casual Tuesday in Beijing

— Domani Spero
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Secretary Kerry, U.S. Treasury Secretary Jack Lew and U.S. Ambassador to China Max Baucus visit the Great Wall of China prior to the U.S.-#China Strategic & Economic Dialogue. More photos here where our ambassador has, we’re told “clearly been cropped out of the photos …probably because he looks so ….so… really… a polo?”

 

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry poses with U.S. Treasury Secretary Jack Lew and U.S. Ambassador to China Max Baucus as the three tour the Badaling section of the Great Wall of China after the Secretaries arrived in Beijing on July 8, 2014, for a two-day Strategic & Economic Dialogue with their Chinese counterparts. [State Department photo/ Public Domain]

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry poses with U.S. Treasury Secretary Jack Lew and U.S. Ambassador to China Max Baucus as the three tour the Badaling section of the Great Wall of China after the Secretaries arrived in Beijing on July 8, 2014, for a two-day Strategic & Economic Dialogue with their Chinese counterparts. [State Department photo/ Public Domain]

Maybe there’s a new dress code?

Photo via state.gov

Photo via state.gov

 

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U.S. Embassy Pakistan to Get ‘Camel Contemplating Needle’ Sculpture at Reduced Price, Let’s Buy Two!

— Domani Spero

 

Joshua White, the deputy director for South Asia at the Stimson Center tweeted this last week:

On March 30, The Skeptical Bureaucrat blogged about it:

The U.S. State Department has purchased for $400,000 a reproduction of that sculpture you see in the photo above, and will display it at the new U.S. Embassy that is now being constructed in Islamabad, Pakistan.

Acquisition of “Camel Contemplating Needle” by John Baldessari. Includes production cost related to the procurement of representational artwork to be displayed at the new US Embassy Islamabad and reproduction rights.

Representational artwork in embassies is intended for cross-cultural understanding through the visual arts, or something like that. So, what does that sculpture say about how the United States sees its relations with Pakistan? Is one of us the camel and the other the needle?

Today, it became a Buzzfeed Exclusive, U.S. Taxpayers To Spend $400,000 For A Camel Sculpture In Pakistan:

A camel staring at the eye of a needle would decorate a new American embassy — in a country where the average income yearly is $1,250.
[…]
Officials explained the decision to purchase the piece of art, titled “Camel Contemplating Needle,” in a four-page document justifying a “sole source” procurement. “This artist’s product is uniquely qualified,” the document explains. “Public art which will be presented in the new embassy should reflect the values of a predominantly Islamist country,” it says. (Like the Bible, the Qur’an uses the metaphor of a camel passing through the eye of a needle.)

To emphasize Baldassari’s fame, the contracting officials pulled a section from Wikipedia. “John Anthony Baldessari (born June 17, 1931) is an American conceptual artist known for his work featuring found photography and appropriated images.”

In a statement, State Department press spokeswoman Christine Foushee said the proposed purchase comes from the department’s “Office of Art in Embassies.” In new construction projects, she said, a small part of the total funds, about 0.5%, is spent on art purchases.

Steven Beyer of Beyer Projects, the art dealer for the project, points out to Buzzfeed that while some Americans may find it frivolous for the government to pay for art, others will find it important. “It depends on what part of the public you are in,” he said. “If you go to the museum and enjoy art and are moved by it, things cost what they cost.”

“Things cost what they cost” would make a nice motto.

In December 2013, The Skeptical Bureaucrat also blogged about the  artwork of Sean Scully that will be displayed at the future new U.S. Embassy in London:

The incomparable State Department Deputy Spokesperson Marie Harf displayed some performance art of her own at last Friday’s daily press briefing when she tried to explain why she thinks this purchase is “a good use of our limited resources” (yes, she does):

Okay, on the artwork, we have an Art in Embassies program run through the Office of Art in Embassies which curates permanent and temporary exhibitions for U.S. embassy and consulate facilities. It’s a public-private partnership engaging over 20,000 participants globally, including artists, museums, galleries, universities, and private collectors. For the past five decades, Art in Embassies has played a leading role in U.S. public diplomacy with a focused mission of cross-cultural dialogue and understanding through the visual arts and the artist exchange.

In terms of the London piece, like much of the art purchased by this program, this piece was purchased under the market price after considerable negotiation with both the artist and the gallery. This is an important part of our diplomatic presence overseas. We maintain facilities that serve as the face of the U.S. Government all throughout the world, and where we can promote cross-cultural understanding, and in this case do so for under market value, we think that’s a good use of our limited resources. Yes, we do.

Expect the official response to inquiries on the albino camel with blue eyes contemplating a gigantic needle artwork to take a similar line.

Go ahead, and just write your copy already.

Here’s one that reportedly takes 3 days to clean to bring on the full shine!

Tulips by Jeff Koon U.S. Embassy Beijing, China

Tulips by Jeff Koon
U.S. Embassy Beijing, China Photo via Art in Embassies/FB

 

The Office of Art in Embassies, in the Directorate for Operations, in the Bureau of Overseas Buildings Operations (OBO/OPS/ART) curates, plans, and administers exhibitions of original art for the chief of mission residences overseas. It is also the office which oversees all aspects of the creation of permanent collections for new embassies and consulates through the Capital Security Construction Program. With a focus on cultural diplomacy, these collections feature the artistic heritage of the host country and the United States.

So far, we have not been able to locate a list of the artworks in the State Department’s permanent art collection.

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US Mission China: Ambassador Max Baucus Says Hello and Xie Xie

— Domani Spero

The video below was produced by the Department of State’s Bureau of International Information Programs in March 2014. Speakers include Max Baucus and his wife, Melodee Hanes.

Via State/IIP:

“Former Senator from Montana, Max Baucus, returns to China as the U.S. ambassador with his wife, Melodee Hanes. While in China, the ambassador is very interested in working on a number of issues and seeing many different places. In this video he will tell you all about it. His wife will also tell you a little bit about the ambassador and just where you may find him running around – literally!”

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Confirmations: Baucus, Rivkin, Sewall, Stengel

— Domani Spero

 

On February 11, the U.S. Senate confirmed the following executive nominations for the State Department:

Previously on February 6, the Senate also confirmed the nomination of Max Sieben Baucus, of Montana, to be Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the United States of America to the People’s Republic of China.

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