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SFRC Clears Mark Green’s Nomination to USAID as Talks About State/USAID Merger Get Louder

Once a year, we ask for your support to keep this blog going. We’re running our fundraising campaign until Saturday, July 15.  Help Us Get to Year 10!

Posted: 4:51 pm PT

 

On July 12, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee finally cleared Mark Green’s nomination to be USAID Administrator. Also see Trump to Nominate Former Ambassador Mark Green as USAID Administrator (May 11, 2017);  Expected USAID Pick Ex-GOP Rep Mark Green Lost in the Trump Jungle.

Ambassador Green appeared before the Senate panel on June 15. Click here for the hearing video and his prepared testimony.

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AND NOW THIS —

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FY2018 Trump Budget Word Cloud: Cuts, Reduction, Elimination

Posted: 10:23 am PT

 

President Trump’s FY2018 federal budget was rolled out today. Here’s the first of the highlights as we’re combing through the document.

Via FY2018 Budget Proposal

Request For Diplomatic Engagement

The FY 2018 Request for Diplomatic Engagement is $12.3 billion in discretionary enduring and OCO appropriations, $4.7 billion in fee-based spending, and $159 million in mandatory funding for the Foreign Service Retirement Disability Fund. The FY 2018 Request focuses on key Presidential and Departmental priorities including defeating ISIS and other terrorist groups; strengthening our borders; enabling our allies and partners to defend shared interests; ensuring operational and personnel safety at posts; strengthening cybersecurity; and ensuring accountability and efficiency with taxpayer resources.

Reduction of State’s on-board employment by nearly 2,000 through FY18

The Department is implementing the principles outlined in the Administration’s plan for reforming the Federal government and reducing the Federal civilian workforce. This includes a detailed review of State and USAID’s core missions, personnel, programs, and operations. The results and recommendations of this reform process will be released no later than February 2018. In the meantime, the Department is responsibly reducing its Foreign Service and Civil Service workforce through ongoing attrition and anticipated targeted (FY 2018) buyouts, which are projected to reduce State’s on-board employment by nearly 2,000 through September 2018.

Reduction of Funds for the UN

The FY 2018 Request proposes to reduce funding for the UN and affiliated agencies as well as other international programs and organizations that do not substantially advance U.S. foreign policy interests, fail to demonstrate effectiveness and transparency, and/or for which the funding burden is not fairly shared amongst members. The FY 2018 Request sets the expectation that these organizations rein in costs, and that the funding burden be shared more fairly among member states.

Facility Upgrades in Somalia, Turkey, Afghanistan

The Department appreciates Congressional support for security investments in the Security Assistance Appropriations Act, 2017 (SAAA), which provided a combined $1.7 billion for Diplomatic and Consular Programs – Worldwide Security Protection (WSP) and Embassy Security Construction and Maintenance (ESCM). These resources are enhancing security protection and facilities for civilian personnel on the front lines against ISIS and other terrorist organizations. As the WSP funding supports expanded Diplomatic Security operations through FY 2018, those funds are largely non-recurred in this request. Within ESCM, $0.6 billion of the SAAA is being applied towards State’s share of the FY 2018 Capital Security Cost-Sharing and Maintenance Cost-Sharing program, including facility upgrades for Somalia, Turkey, and Afghanistan. This reduces the level of new FY 2018 ESCM appropriations needed to sustain the $2.2 billion interagency level recommended by the Benghazi Accountability Review Board.

Elimination of Funds for East West Center and Asia Foundation

As part of the Administration’s plans to move the Nation towards fiscal responsibility and to redefine the proper role of the Federal Government, the budget proposes to eliminate earmarked appropriations for the East-West Center (EWC) and The Asia Foundation (TAF). Elimination of line-item Federal funding will not terminate these organizations, due to their non-profit status, and they remain eligible to apply and compete for federal grant funding opportunities, as well as receive private sector contributions.

Cuts Direct Funding in Half for the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs (ECA) 

The request cuts direct funding in half for the Educational and Cultural Exchange Programs from the FY 2017 Estimate. In a fiscally constrained environment, the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs (ECA) will focus its support on core global programs such as Fulbright and the International Visitor Leadership Program (IVLP).

New “Consular and Border Security Programs” (CBSP) Account

The FY 2018 President’s Budget proposes creation of a new fund in which to deposit the receipts from retained consular fees. The new fund, known as the “Consular and Border Security Programs” (CBSP) account, will consist of the fees listed under the Bureau of Consular Affairs, and will support the provision of consular services, with expedited passport fees continuing to support the Department’s information technology programs. The CBSP chapter will continue to include the H and L Fraud Prevention and Detection Fee, but as the CBSP’s only collection scored as mandatory, the H and L fee will continue to be collected in a standalone account outside of the new CBSP account.

Diplomatic and Consular Programs – Enduring

The Department’s FY 2018 Request for D&CP Ongoing Operations is $3.9 billion and includes $3.5 billion for Program Operations and $452 million for PD. The request is -$283 million below the FY 2017 estimate of $4.2 billion, and includes $42 million for the American pay raise, -$97 million to absorb all other current-services adjustments, such as overseas and domestic price inflation, base adjustments, GSA rent and Locally Employed (LE) staff wage increases, and -$325 million in program changes.

The Department has begun engaging its entire workforce with a listening tour to provide the Secretary with input for a broader reorganization proposal to be released in 2018. The Department has begun to reshape its workforce and will reduce staffing levels through attrition and anticipated targeted buyouts. By the end of FY 2018, the Department anticipates reducing its workforce by approximately 8 percent. The D&CP request for American Salaries funding reflects this projected attrition, as adjusted for the American pay raise. However, this Request generally does not show reductions in bureaus’ authorized position levels, as Department’s strategic workforce analysis is still underway. Detailed information regarding personnel adjustments will be provided once the comprehensive plan to reorganize the Department is finalized.

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U.S. Senate Confirms Seven Foreign Service Lists (347 Nominees From State/USAID/Agriculture)

Posted: 2:14 am ET

 

On May 18, the U.S. Senate confirmed the nominations in seven Foreign Service lists with 347 nominees from the State Department, USAID and USDA’s Foreign Agricultural Service. Click on the hyperlinks to view the names in congress.gov:

2017-05-18 PN116 Foreign Service | Nomination for Alexander Dickie IV, which nomination was received by the Senate and appeared in the Congressional Record on March 21, 2017.

2017-05-18 PN353 Foreign Service | Nominations beginning Joel Justin Agalsoff, and ending Iva Ziza, which 201 nominations were received by the Senate and appeared in the Congressional Record on April 25, 2017.

2017-05-18 PN354-1 Foreign Service | Nominations beginning Edward Francis Acevedo, and ending Benjamin D. Zinner, which 96 nominations were received by the Senate and appeared in the Congressional Record on April 25, 2017.

2017-05-18 PN355-1 Foreign Service | Nominations beginning Jim Nelson Barnhart, Jr., and ending Anne N. Williams, which 19 nominations were received by the Senate and appeared in the Congressional Record on April 25, 2017.

 

2017-05-18 PN356 Foreign Service | Nominations beginning Jeanne F. Bailey, and ending Robert Henry Hanson, which 9 nominations were received by the Senate and appeared in the Congressional Record on April 25, 2017.

2017-05-18 PN357-1 Foreign Service | Nominations beginning Jeffery S. Austin, and ending Jeffrey G. Willnow, which 20 nominations were received by the Senate and appeared in the Congressional Record on April 25, 2017.

2017-05-18 PN358-1 Foreign Service | Nomination for Scott S. Sindelar, which nomination was received by the Senate and appeared in the Congressional Record on April 25, 2017.

 

 

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Trump Administration Plans @StateDept-@USAID Merger and Deep Program Cuts

Posted: 2:49 am ET

 

The FP exclusive says that the Trump administration is planning to merge USAID into the State Department, and imposed deep cuts on USAID programs.  Apparently, senior USAID officials have “told staff that the agency is attempting to cope with the steep cuts by prioritizing its field offices abroad over its offices in Washington. Nonetheless, the agency still anticipates that the budget proposal will necessitate eliminating 30 to 35 of its field missions while cutting its regional bureaus by roughly 65 percent. USAID currently operates in about 100 countries.” Also this:

“That will end the technical expertise of USAID, and in my view, it will be an unmitigated disaster for the longer term,” said Andrew Natsios, the former USAID Administrator under President George W. Bush. “I predict we will pay the price. We will pay the price for the poorly thought out and ill-considered organization changes that we’re making, and cuts in spending as well.”

The article talks about reorganization but does not talk about a reduction in force, which we think is inevitable if this budget is approved.  If this administration slashes in half or eliminate entire USAID programs, what is there left to do for staffers?  In the 1990’s when State and USAID went through similar cuts, USAID lost about 2,000 jobs. By 1996, WaPo reported that USAID’s overall work force “has been reduced from 11,500 to 8,700 and is heading down to 8,000.” The number did not include a breakdown but we are presuming that this overall number included local employees overseas. See The Last Time @StateDept Had a 27% Budget Cut, Congress Killed ACDA and USIA.

A white paper submitted to the then Obama-Biden Transition in 2008 noted the staffing woes with USAID:

The number of employees at USAID has dropped from 4,300 in 1975, to 3,600 in 1985, to 3,000 in 1995. As of September 2007, USAID was staffed with 2,417 direct hire staff (1,324 foreign service officers and 1,093 civil servants) and 908 staff with limited appointments (628 personal services contractors and 280 Pasas, Rasas, and others). In addition, the agency employed 4,557 Foreign Service nationals at missions overseas. While staffing levels have declined, program responsibility has increased from approximately $8 billion in 1995 to approximately $13 billion in 2007 (in 2005 dollars). USAID has set a target of a contracting officer managing a range of $10-14 million per year, but the current level is at an average of $57 million.

There are inadequate numbers of experienced career officers; as a result, management oversight of programs is at risk. Fifty percent of Foreign Service officers were hired in the last 7 years. One hundred percent of Senior Foreign Service officers will be eligible to retire in 2009. Of 12 Career Ministers, six will reach the mandatory retirement age of 65 in 2010. Mid-career Foreign Service officers in their mid-40s have less than 12 years of service. Until 2007, 70-80 members of the Foreign Service would leave the service annually, 85% for retirement; that rate has fallen to 45-55%. Of 122 new hires in 2007, only 10% were experienced mid-career hires.
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DOD maintains a 10% float (for training and placing staff in other agencies and organizations). AID has float of 1⁄2 of a percent, little training, and is unable to take opportunities for placing staff in other agencies and organizations.

In 2016, the USAID workforce composition is as follows:

[T]he Agency’s mission was supported by 3,893 U.S. direct hire employees, of which 1,896 are Foreign Service Officers and 253 are Foreign Service Limited, and 1,744 are in the Civil Service. Additional support came from 4,600 Foreign Service Nationals, and 1,104 other non-direct hire employees (not counting institutional support contractors). Of these employees, 3,163 are based in Washington, D.C., and 6,434 are deployed overseas. These totals include employees from the Office of Inspector General.*

Folding USAID into State would most likely require congressional approval, but the work to get there is most probably already underway.  When USIA was folded into State, a new PD cone was created; does this mean a Development cone will soon be added to the Foreign Service career tracks?  Will the USAID development professionals move to State or will they find they find their way elsewhere?  The already stressful transfer season this summer just got tons harder.

Also see Former Director of Foreign Disaster Assistance (USAID/OFDA) Jeremy Konyndyk Twitter thread below on why this is such a short-sighted idea.

FY18 Budget Control Levels via Adam Griffiths, Foreign Policy:

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Hopeless But Optimistic: Journeying through America’s Endless War in #Afghanistan (Excerpt)

Posted: 2:24 am ET

 

Douglas Wissing previously wrote a book entitled, Funding the Enemy: How US Taxpayers Bankroll the Taliban.  He’s back with a new book, Hopeless but Optimistic: Journeying through America’s Endless War in Afghanistan. Kirkus Review calls it “a scathing dispatch” with “pungent, embittered, eye-opening observations of a conflict involving lessons still unlearned.”

As he gets into Kabul to embed with the military, the author notes “a USAID (United States Agency for International Development) billboard proclaiming women’s rights in English and Dari that few Afghan females can read, because almost 90 percent of them are still illiterate after more than a decade and $100 billion spent on grotesquely mismanaged US aid programs.”

That Ring Road?  Wissing writes, “During his frantic reelection push after the botched Iraq invasion, President George W. Bush decided that refurbishing the Ring Road on a yeehaw schedule in 2003 would show Afghans how things were done the American way. Well, it did. The highway is infamous for its poor construction and extravagant price.”

It’s that kind of book. It reminds us of Peter Van Buren’s We Meant Well book on Iraq.

A couple of notes, Chapter 35 titled Embassy includes a nugget about Embassy Kabul refusing to allow the author to meet with SIGAR John Sopko who was also at post, without a minder. Sopko, according to Wissing was furious, demanding a private meeting without embassy handlers but “the diplomats won’t budge.”

Chapter 36 talks about Loss.  A cynical USAID financial officer earlier told the author that “given the amount of money the United States was pushing on the Afghan insiders who were “bankers,” he didn’t blame them for stealing it.” This is in relation to the Bank of Kabul scandal that involved an almost $900 million Ponzi scheme of fraudulent loans. The chapter also talks about Anne Smedinghoff and four other Americans, including three soldiers and an interpreter lost during a suicide attack in Qalat. The author previously meet Smedinghoff during a visit to the embassy compound in Kabul where the latter acted as his minder, assigned to escort him for an interview with a Justice Department official who was working the Afghan Threat Finance Cell (ATFC).

The author told us that he find audiences in the U.S. are often surprised to learn that Afghanistan remains our largest foreign military engagement–$44 billion requested for FY 2017 (vs $5 billion for Syria) “to add to the trillion dollars already wasted.” He also notes that around 10,000 US troops are still there, along with up to 26,000 defense contractors.

We’re posting an excerpt of the book courtesy of Amazon Kindle/Preview:

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Around the Foreign Service: Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays 2016 (Videos)

Posted: 1:41 am ET

 

US Embassy Tokyo, Japan

It looks like we have our first viral embassy holiday video at over 3.5 million views in the last two days. Ambassador Kennedy and U.S. Mission Japan staff in Tokyo, Sapporo, Nagoya, Osaka, Fukuoka, and Naha got into the holiday spirit and showed off their dance moves. Below is their rendition of the “Koi Dance” (Love Dance) from one of the most popular TV shows in Japan this season.

Here is a bonus clip with Santa going down the chimney:

 USAID

US Embassy Warsaw; USCG Krakow, Poland

US Embassy Bangkok, Thailand

US Embassy Manila, Philippines

 

US Embassy Prague, The Czech Republic

US Embassy Seoul, South Korea

US Embassy Ottawa, Canada

US Embassy Oslo, Norway

“It’s Ambassador Heins’ first Christmas in Norway, but will he find julestemning? In this year’s Embassy holiday video, the Ambassador, Tone Damli and Ole Torp drive around Oslo singing Christmas carols and practice Norwegian in their quest to find true holiday spirit.”

 US Embassy Zagreb, Croatia

US Embassy Zagreb also launched their celebration of the holiday season with their new Mannequin Challenge video.

US Embassy Quito, Ecuador

USCG Toronto, Canada

U.S. Consulate General Toronto’s multilingual and diverse team wishes Happy Holidays on this Mannequin Challenge video in 19 languages.

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#HurricaneMatthew Closes US Embassies in Haiti, Jamaica, and The Bahamas; USAID Activates DART

Posted: 1:44 am ET

 

Due to Hurricane Matthew, the State Department has authorized the voluntary evacuation of authorized family members of U.S. government employees from the The Bahamas, Jamaica, and Haiti. A Travel Alert for Cuba recommends that U.S. citizens defer travel to eastern Cuba.

Alert October 3, 2016 Cuba Travel Alert
Warning October 2, 2016 Haiti Travel Warning
Warning October 1, 2016 Jamaica Travel Warning
Warning October 1, 2016 The Bahamas Travel Warning

 

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Contractors Settle False Claims Allegations Related to USAID Food Aid Storage/Redelivery For $1.075M

Posted: 3:55 am ET

Via USDOJ:

Jacintoport International LLC and Seaboard Marine Ltd Agree to Settle False Claims Allegations Related to Delivery of Humanitarian Food Aid

The Justice Department announced today that Jacintoport International LLC (Jacintoport) and Seaboard Marine Ltd. (Seaboard Marine) have agreed to pay $1.075 million to settle a lawsuit alleging that the companies violated the False Claims Act in connection with a warehousing and logistics contract for the storage and redelivery of humanitarian food aid. Jacintoport is a cargo handling and stevedoring firm headquartered in Houston, Texas, and Seaboard Marine, an affiliate of Jacintoport, is an ocean transportation company headquartered in Miami, Florida.

In its lawsuit, the United States alleged that Jacintoport executed in 2007 a warehousing and logistics contract with the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) for the storage and redelivery of emergency humanitarian food aid. This contract contained explicit caps on the rates Jacintoport could charge ocean carriers to load humanitarian food aid onto ships (referred to as “stevedoring” charges) bound for crisis areas around the world. The complaint alleges that beginning around January 2008 and continuing through at least October 2009, Jacintoport, under the supervision and control of Seaboard, charged ocean carriers more for stevedoring than permitted to load over 50,000 tons of humanitarian food aid. These inflated stevedoring charges were subsequently lumped into other costs for delivering humanitarian food aid and passed on to the United States.

“USAID’s humanitarian food aid program provides critical assistance to starving people all over the world,” said Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General Benjamin C. Mizer, head of the Justice Department’s Civil Division. “The Justice Department will hold accountable those who seek to abuse this important program.” ‪

“It is unacceptable for companies that do business with the federal government to inflate their costs,” said U.S. Attorney Channing D. Phillips for the District of Columbia. “This settlement demonstrates our determination to protect the taxpayers’ dollars – and humanitarian programs – from abuse.”

The allegations resolved by this settlement were initially brought in a lawsuit filed under the qui tam or whistleblower provisions of the False Claims Act by John Raggio, a shipping contractor who allegedly received an invoice from Jacintoport that contained the excessive stevedoring charge. Under the Act’s qui tam provisions, a private citizen, known as a “relator,” can sue on behalf of the United States and share in any recovery. The United States is permitted to intervene in the lawsuit, as it did here. Raggio will receive $215,000. Earlier today, the government requested that the case be dismissed.

This matter was handled by the Civil Division’s Commercial Litigation Branch and the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Columbia, with assistance from the USAID Office of the Inspector General. The claims resolved by this settlement are allegations only and there has been no determination of liability. The case is United States ex. rel. Raggio v. Jacintoport International, LLC, et al. Case No. 1:10-cv-01908 (D.D.C.).

 

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Snapshot: Top Recipients of U.S. Assistance — FY1995, FY2005, FY2015

Posted: 1:35 am ET

Via CRS:

In FY2015, the United States provided some form of bilateral foreign assistance to about 144 countries. The following identifies the top 15 recipients of U.S. foreign assistance for FY1995, FY2005 and FY2015. Assistance, although provided to many nations, is concentrated heavily in certain countries, reflecting the priorities and interests of United States foreign policy at the time (via – PDF)

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Did USAID/OIG Retaliates Against an Auditor Alleging $120 Million Waste?

Posted: 12:18  am ET

 

The Foreign Service Grievance Board (FSGB) wants to know.

In December, it granted the unnamed auditor’s (the charged employee) Motion for Additional Discovery. USAID/OIG was ordered to produce the investigation files of both Mr. REDACTED and Ms. Lisa Mcclendon, the Deputy Assistant IG for Investigations at USAID OIG. Below is a quick summary of this case extracted from the publicly available records of the FSGB:

REDACTED, was employed by the United States Agency for International Development in the Office of the Inspector General (USAID OIG, agency) as a financial auditor in REDACTED from 2009 to 2011. During that time, she was assigned, inter alia, to audit two USAID programs (a REDACTED HIV/AIDs program in 2010 and a REDACTED Family Planning/Contraceptives program in 2011). The charged employee stated that she was prepared to make negative findings about both programs, alleging a waste of $120 million and $100 thousand dollars in each program, respectively. The OIG responded that the employee’s audit manager,REDACTED, and the Regional Inspector General, REDACTED, overruled her negative findings on grounds that they were erroneous and/or did not need to be included in the audit reports.

On June 9, 2011, an anonymous or confidential complaint was delivered to the REDACTED USAID OIG office, stating that the charged employee was submitting partially false vouchers for two-way education transportation reimbursement, because her husband was driving the children to school in the mornings. REDACTED, an investigator in REDACTED received the complaint and after consulting with an Assistant Special Agent in Charge in Washington, D.C., REDACTED, arranged for a Regional Security Officer (RSO) to follow Mr. REDACTED in the mornings to confirm that he was driving the children to school. The investigator also requested copies of the education transportation vouchers that showed that Ms. REDACTED had requested reimbursement for the cost of transporting the children to and from school.

Several weeks later, Lisa McClennon, the Deputy Assistant IG for Investigations, traveled to REDACTED allegedly for a routine site visit. When she arrived and reviewed the pending investigations, she testified that she concluded that REDACTED investigation “had not progressed.”2 She took over the investigation, interviewed more than a dozen witnesses and requested a large number of financial documents that Ms. REDACTED had submitted for reimbursement. Ms. McClennon stated that when she reviewed the documents and interviewed the witnesses, she concluded that the employee had submitted a number of false vouchers for reimbursement of educational travel expenses, a number of requests for cost of living allowance (COLA) payments to which she was allegedly not entitled, and a request for larger housing to which she was also allegedly not entitled.

(Note: WHOA! — requesting larger housing is against the rules? Isn’t that for the Housing Board to decide on entitlement? Active link and emphasis added above).

Ms. McClennon reported her findings to Mr. Carroll in Washington. He ordered Ms. REDACTED immediate curtailment, despite the fact that at that time she was away from post with her family. In addition, Mr. Carroll proposed to separate Ms. REDACTED from the Service for cause. After reviewing written and oral replies from the charged employee, Mr. Carroll recommended in a letter, dated August 3, 2012, that the employee be separated for cause.3  Ms. REDACTED responded to the recommendation by arguing that the investigation and the resultant charges were retaliatory based on her status as a whistleblower when she attempted to report negative findings in the REDACTED and REDACTED audits.
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Before the Board was able to issue a final order,5 however, the employee filed a motion on November 14, 2014, advising the Board that Mr. Carroll had withdrawn his name from consideration for the position of IG and the President had formally withdrawn his name from consideration by Congress on November 12, 2014.6 The motion sought leave to file a supplemental pleading and to reopen discovery based on newspaper articles that reported that  Mr. Carroll was accused by OIG auditors (not including Ms. REDACTED of putting pressure on them to modify audit reports in order to delete negative findings about USAID. In addition, the charged employee requested the opportunity to depose Mssrs.REDACTED  and REDACTED.

The footnotes:

  • The Board initially came to the conclusion that Mr. Carroll did not have authority to prosecute this matter because his term as Acting IG expired before he recommended Ms. REDACTED for separation. The case was then dismissed. However, in 2013, Mr. Carroll was nominated to be the IG for USAID. Thus, he again became the Acting IG, pursuant to the Federal Vacancy Reform Act (FVRA) of 1998, 5 U.S.C. § 3345 et seq. As Acting IG, Mr. Carroll ratified his earlier recommendation to separate Ms. REDACTED for cause and the grievance appeal was reinstated.

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