US Embassy Tashkent: OIG Report Plus What’s This About “Fun Community Policing”?

Posted: 3:13 am ET
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The U.S. Embassy in Tashkent, Uzbekistan is a medium size post with a complement of 408 authorized staff which includes foreign national employees, locally hired Americans and 64 direct-hire Americans.  State/OIG released its inspection report of  US Embassy Tashkent last April. Given that the inspection in 2008 was a limited scope review– with focus on major areas of interest rather than examining all the items covered in a traditional inspection — it is surprising that the 2016 report, a traditional inspection conducted after 7 years  is only 4 pages longer than the 2008 report.  There are no discussion about morale (excerpt that bit about nepotism as being bad for morale), or spouse employment (no spouses looking for jobs?), or schools (no dependents go to school there?). What about the embassy Health Unit? Is it good, bad, non-existent?

Summary of Findings:

  • The Ambassador steers the United States-Uzbekistan engagement in constructive ways, including the signing of agreements on counter-narcotics and the U.S. Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act.
  •   Washington end-users uniformly expressed satisfaction with Political/Economic Section reporting that provides the information needed to understand the United States- Uzbekistan relationship.
  •   American and locally employed staff members in Tashkent described the Ambassador’s collaborative style, interest in a variety of views, and openness to suggestions, in keeping with the Department’s leadership principles.
  •   The Consular Section did not comply with non-immigrant visa adjudication review standards, visa referral management and referral procedures, and consular management control requirements.
  •   The Bureau of Overseas Buildings Operations has not addressed the seismic risk by identifying suitable housing with the lowest possible risk to life safety as required by 15 Foreign Affairs Manual 252.6. The embassy has taken steps to prepare its staff for the aftermath of a major earthquake.
  •   The embassy’s social media outreach is limited by its reliance on English, rather than Russian- and Uzbek- language material.
  •   The reporting and supervisory relationships among the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention regional office, its locally employed staff, the Political/Economic Section, and the Front Office are unresolved and contentious.
  •   Innovative Practice: The embassy produced a no-cost and reliable short message service for employees.

The IG report also includes a section labeled “Tashkent Initiative Worthy of Emulation” which is rather underwhelming. Like  —  we have totally not/not seen this set of activities done elsewhere before! Dear OIG inspection team, c’mon folks — really? Where have you been all this time?

Screen Shot 2016-07-06

 

Excerpts:

American and locally employed staff members in Tashkent described the Ambassador’s collaborative style, interest in a variety of views, and openness to suggestions, in keeping with the Department’s leadership principles.
[…]
The Ambassador is aware of her chief of mission responsibilities in accordance with 2 FAM 022.7. She expressed support for internal controls, reminding the staff that fraud and misconduct cannot be tolerated, and reissuing management notices concerning illegal currency exchange and gift acceptance. The embassy has made it clear that action will be taken in accordance with regulations against those who cannot meet ethical standards. In the 14 months prior to the inspection, seven locally employed staff members were dismissed for misconduct or unethical behavior.

Tone at the Top and Standards of Conduct | American and locally employed embassy staff members told OIG of the Ambassador’s collaborative style, interest in diverse views, and openness to suggestions, in keeping with the Department’s leadership principles in 3 Foreign Affairs Manual (l) 1214. In mission-wide town hall meetings and other fora, the Ambassador has stressed the five values she wants the Mission to exemplify: gratitude, teamwork, partnership, opportunity, and balance.

Lack of a Representation Plan and Uneven Spending | Embassy Tashkent expended approximately $13,000 of its $21,418 in FY 2015 representational funding in the last 2 weeks of the fiscal year.

Interagency Working Groups Not Active | Embassy interagency working groups met infrequently, if at all, reducing their effectiveness in coordinating U.S. Government programs and policies across agencies. Embassy officers told OIG that informal exchanges of information within the mission were sufficient. Chiefs of Mission are charged under 18 FAM 005.1-6b and 18 FAM 005.1-7f with promoting a culture of interagency problem solving and leveraging a wide range of U.S. Government specialized expertise and assets under common objectives. The Law Enforcement Working Group did not meet during FY 2015. Implementation of end-use monitoring for $49.6 million in armored vehicles was not coordinated among embassy offices that could benefit through their participation.

Relationship between Embassy and CDC Office Needs Improvement | The reporting and supervisory relationships among the CDC regional office at U.S. Consulate General Almaty and Embassy Tashkent’s CDC locally employed staff, Political/Economic Section, and Front Office are unresolved and contentious.

Embassy Does Not Use Record Emails | Embassy Tashkent and the Bureau of South and Central Asian Affairs exchange daily official- informal emails but never use record emails,as required in 5 FAM 443.2, even when the exchanges contain information that facilitates decision making and document policy formulation and execution. The embassy Front Office and the Political/Economic Section report that the State Messaging and Archive Retrieval Toolset (SMART), which is meant to record and retain record emails, is too cumbersome to use. Only the Consular Section uses record emails when sending reports on child abductions. Failure to use the SMART system hinders the Department’s ability to retain and retrieve records, as required by the Federal Records Act.

Political/Economic File Management Not in Accordance with Department and Federal Regulations | Embassy Tashkent does not enforce Department and Federal regulations on records management. The Political/Economic Section does not maintain centralized files. Officers have individual files based on their own filing systems that are maintained in personal folders. As a result, these files are not accessible to others and are not archived, retired, or readily retrievable if the action officer is absent or transfers.

Social Media Outreach in English, Not in the Languages of the Host Country | The embassy’s social media outreach is hampered by its lack of Russian- and Uzbek-language material and its reliance on English. Russian media is understandably pervasive in Uzbekistan. A 2010 survey conducted by the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe found that 90 percent of the population spoke Uzbek and 57–70 percent spoke Russian. English is the main compulsory foreign language taught in schools, but only 1 percent of respondents to a survey of students, teachers, professors, and bureaucrats use and read English. However, as of October, 92 percent of embassy tweets and 100 percent of ambassadorial tweets sent in 2015 were in English, as were the majority of Facebook entries. Embassy officials said that a strategic decision had been made in the past to offer the embassy’s Facebook and other social media in English.

Non-Compliance with Consular Management Controls | In five areas, the embassy does not comply with management control requirements for overseas posts, as delineated in 7 FAH-1 H-630-660, “Consular Management Controls.” The FAH requires an Accountable Consular Officer (ACO), a Consular Systems Administrator (CSA), and a back-up for each.

Visa Referral Program Not Compliant with Visa Referral Systems Policy | The embassy did not comply with the visa referral management and referral procedures in the Worldwide Non-Immigrant Visa Referral Policy as described in 9 FAM Appendix K “Visa Referral Systems.” OIG found referral form or data entry errors in 39 (45 percent) of the 86 visa referral cases adjudicated in FY 2015. In 58 cases (67 percent), the case notes did not document properly the validity of the referral or the adjudicating officer’s decision. FAST officers adjudicated a total of 41 referral cases, including 33 cases that should have been adjudicated by the Consular Section Chief. The section’s annual validation study on 2014 referrals was 4 months overdue. These errors occurred because the embassy did not comply with the visa referral management and referral procedures. A non-compliant referral program inhibits the ability to identify individual instances or patterns of fraud or abuse.

Visa Adjudication Reviews are Not Compliant with Standards | The embassy does not comply with the non-immigrant visa adjudication review standards in 9 FAM 41.113 PN17 (Review of Visa Issuances) and 9 FAM 41.121 N2.3-7 (Internal Review of Refusals), which require that reviews be performed on the day of issuance or refusal, or as soon as possible thereafter. OIG examined FY 2015 adjudications through September 20, 2015. The adjudication reviews of visa issuances did not meet the review standards for 73 percent of the 219 work days on which visas were issued and for 76 percent of the 184 work days on which visas were refused. The Regional Consular Officer based in Frankfurt reported to the Bureau of Consular Affairs and the embassy that the Consular Section Chief had not conducted any reviews between December 12, 2014, and May 26, 2015. OIG found that the Consular Section Chief had not conducted any reviews between July 2, 2015, and September 20, 2015. Systematic, regular reviews of non-immigrant visa adjudications are an important management and instructional tool to maintain the highest professional standards of adjudications. Such reviews also ensure uniform and correct application of law and regulations and enhance U.S. border security. Absent such reviews, adjudicator training and uniformity of adjudications can be irregular and border security compromised.

Seismic Studies of Embassy Housing | Embassy personnel occupy eight residences that received seismic hazard rating of “Very Poor” and eight residences that received seismic ratings of “Poor” in a 2012 Bureau of Overseas Operations (OBO) study. Embassy personnel occupy 38 (of a total of 54) residences that have not been evaluated for seismic adequacy, as required by 15 FAM 252.6. Tashkent is located in an active seismic zone. An earthquake almost completely destroyed the city in 1966. The OBO Natural Hazard program categorizes Tashkent as has having a “very high” seismic risk. In accordance with 15 FAM 252.6d, embassies in high-risk seismic areas must address the seismic adequacy of residential units and seek housing that is the best suited for high-risk seismic areas. OBO has not addressed the findings of the 2012 study to reduce the seismic risk of the housing pool.

Read the whole report here: Inspection of Embassy Tashkent, Uzbekistan, March 2016 (PDF).

*

A separate but related note, we received the following email in our inbox:

Uzbekistan not only has a politically repressive government but a one with a poor understanding of market economics. Uzbekistan pegs its currency, the soum, to the dollar resulting in a currency black market. While the official exchange rate is 3000 soum to a dollar, in reality it’s closer to 6500 and the gap keeps growing. Local prices of course reflect the black market rate.

The Embassy has decided to not allow American staff to use the exchange rate citing some sort of regulation. Not only that, but after a letter from the host government urging diplomats to use the official exchange rate, the ambassador asked the FMO [financial management officer] to monitor cashier withdrawals of employees to ensure they are not using the black market rate.

Fun community policing! Very Uzbek in style!

Well, there is indeed “some sort of regulation” on this.

According to the FAH, the Chief of Mission has the authority to require all U.S. Government employees to obtain their foreign currency through U.S. Government facilities when the Chief of Mission deems it necessary. Here’s the cite:

4 FAH-3 H-361.3-2  Compliance With Laws and Regulations
(CT:FMP-82;   09-04-2013)

Whenever accommodation exchange services are established, the Chief of Mission or designee takes actions necessary to assure that all accommodation exchange is performed in full compliance with U.S. Government and host government laws and regulations; and that all American Government personnel are familiar with the provisions in 3 FAM 4123 and 22 CFR 1203.735-206, Economic and Financial Activities of Employees Abroad.  The Chief of Mission has the authority to require all U.S. Government employees to obtain their foreign currency through U.S. Government facilities when the Chief of Mission deems it necessary in order to assure full compliance.

See more here.

Note that 3 FAM 4123.1 specifically prohibits a U.S. citizen employee, spouse, or family member from engaging in “transactions at exchange rates differing from local legally available rates, unless such transactions are duly authorized in advance by the Chief of Mission.”

3 FAM 4123.1  Prohibitions in Any Foreign Country
(TL:PER-491;   12-23-2003)
(Uniform State/USAID/Commerce/Foreign Service Corps-USDA)
(Applies to Foreign Service, Foreign Service National, and Civil Service)

A U.S. citizen employee, spouse, or family member is prohibited from engaging in the following activities while present in any foreign country:

(1)  Speculation in currency exchange;

(2)  Transactions at exchange rates differing from local legally available rates, unless such transactions are duly authorized in advance by the Chief of Mission;

(3)  Sales to unauthorized persons (whether at cost or for profit) of currency acquired at preferential rates through diplomatic or other restricted arrangements;

(4)  Transactions which entail the use of the diplomatic pouch or other official mail without official authorization;

(5)  Transfers of blocked funds in violation of U.S. foreign funds and assets control;

(6)  Independent and unsanctioned private transactions which involve an employee as an individual in violation of applicable currency control regulations of the foreign government; and

(7)  Except as part of official duties, acting as an intermediary in the transfer of private funds from persons in one country to persons in another country, including the United States.

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Related items:

OIG Limited Scope Review – US Embassy Uzbekistan 2008 (PDF)

Inspection of Embassy Tashkent, Uzbekistan, March 2016 (PDF)

 

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What happens when you contravene the worldwide nonimmigrant visa referral policy? It depends.

Posted: 4:08  am EDT
Updated: 2:29 pm EDT
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Our State Department friends have a favorite response to most questions. “It depends.”

About 10 years ago, State/OIG conducted a review of the Visa Referral Process in Nonimmigrant Visa Adjudication.

By law neither an ambassador nor a DCM can direct a consular officer to issue a particular visa. Even the Secretary of State has no authority to override a consular officer’s deci­ sion, pursuant to the Immigration and Nationality Act, 8 USC 1104. Recognizing the importance of the visa process both as a bilateral diplomatic issue and as a legitimate diplomatic tool for achieving U.S. aims, and considering the importance of providing as much information as possible to consular officers, the Department has long understood the need for a policy and system to allow all elements of the mission to benefit from the visa system and to protect consular officers from inappropriate pressure. After September 11, 2001, this system has been signifi­ cantly strengthened.
[…]
Based on the results of the survey, observations in the field, and discussions in Washington, OIG concluded that most ambassadors and DCMs appear to under­ stand the importance of their personal oversight of the referral system and that there are serious repercussions, including removal from post, in the most egregious cases of abuse. While Department oversight of referral systems is important, entrusting chiefs of mission with local supervision and responsibility is still appro­ priate and necessary, just as the Department entrusts chiefs of mission with the lives of all employees and dependents in their missions, the management of top secret information, and the conduct of key bilateral relations with the host country.
[…]
Clearly most missions’ front offices are overseeing the referral system as intended by the Department, sometimes after a little persuasion. For example, an officer at a post that was having problems said, “Our recent OIG inspection was helpful in making the front office realize the impact of their interventions with us and the appearance of undue influence. Despite our education of the front office, they have been incredulous that their good causes may pose us problems under the law.” One of the areas of emphasis for OIG inspection teams is border security readiness, which includes oversight of the referral program.

The survey, however, did reveal some disillusionment with the available recourses in those instances when the front office was itself exerting undue influ­ence. One officer at a post in the Near East said, “In general the consular section feels pressure to act simply as a rubber stamp to visa referrals by chiefs of section and above.” Another stated,“The front office is the only section that has ever tried to influence decisions in referral cases. If I were to refuse the case, then I would be hurt in the employee evaluation report (EER) process as my rater is the DCM and the Ambassador is the reviewing officer.”

It’s an instructive read from 2005, see in full here (PDF).

Let’s fast forward to two cases in 2015 specifically mentioned by State/OIG. The following is from the State/OIG inspection report of the U.S. Embassy in Tajikistan (PDF). The IG report lists Susan M. Elliott as COM, and Robert G. Burgess as DCM.

The Offices of Visa Services and Fraud Prevention Programs, the Consular Integrity Division, and the front office of the Bureau of Consular Affairs all expressed concern about the embassy’s contravention of the worldwide visa referral policy. In the latter half of 2013, the Ambassador in seven cases and the DCM in two cases contravened the worldwide nonimmigrant visa referral policy by submitting noncompliant referrals and improperly advocating for issuance.

Complications arising from noncompliance with the policy led to deteriorating relations between the consular officer and other embassy offices, perceptions of intimidation and isolation, and increased involvement of and intervention by various offices in the Bureau of Consular Affairs. In response to revised guidance from the Bureau of Consular Affairs on referral policy, dated January 13, 2014, Embassy Dushanbe issued a management notice on January 17, 2014. On October 15 and 17, 2014, the embassy conducted briefings for referring officers and obtained current compliance agreements reflecting the revised policy guidance. The OIG team met with the front office and the consular officer, and they confirm that they understand and are committed to continuing to comply with the policy going forward.

How is it that this consular officer did not get the Barbara Watson Award for demonstrating courage?

C’mon!

The “Worldwide Visa Referral Policy Problems” below is from the State/OIG report of the U.S. Embassy in Armenia (see PDF). According to the IG report, the ambassador at that time was John Heffern:

In at least 15 documented cases, the Ambassador contravened the worldwide nonimmigrant visa referral policy (9 FAM Appendix K, Exhibit I) by contacting the consular chief to communicate information about visa applicants instead of providing referral forms for the applicants. The referral policy states, “Referrals are the only allowed mechanism to advocate for or assist visa applicants prior to visa adjudication.” Some of the cases involved previously refused applicants. Referral policy permits requesting assistance via referral on behalf of previously refused applicants only in extremely limited circumstances. Few, if any, of the violations involved applicants who would have been eligible for visa referrals. The consular chief did not take adequate steps to stop the Ambassador’s inappropriate communications or to report them to the Department, as required by Department referral polices.
[…]
The embassy provides no formal, detailed briefing (“referral school”) as recommended in the worldwide policy. The consular chief gives informal referral briefings on an individual basis to new arrivals at the embassy. Lack of a formal understanding of the referral policy and process can cause misunderstanding or abuse.

Wow! And the consular section chief got harshly treated by the … the um alphabet, which did not quite line up to say he/she was at fault but you get the idea.

It is not clear what kind of repercussions are suffered by chiefs of mission who contraven the worldwide nonimmigrant visa referral policy.   According to a FAM update last November 2015, Consular Affairs has now added a NIV Referral Program Ombudsman (see 9 FAM 601.8-8(C).

Oh, wait, there’s more.

There’s an FSGB case where an FP-03 Diplomatic Security (DS) Special Agent (SA) with the Department of State (Department) was warned that there were strict prohibitions against anyone attempting to influence the visa process. The State Department later proposed to suspend him for four days on a charge of Misuse of Position. The proposal was sustained by the Grievance Board on March 3, 2015.

On October 5, 2010, a family friend of his (REDACTED), a (REDACTED) national, applied for a B1/B2 non-immigrant visa at the U.S. Embassy in REDACTED. His stated purpose for the visa request was to visit with grievant in the U.S.  When the application was denied, grievant sent an email on that same date from his State Department account to REDACTED, the Deputy Consular Section Chief in REDACTED voicing his disappointment that his friend’s visa application had been turned down. In the email, grievant asked for assistance, provided additional information on behalf of his friend and cited his own experience as a DS officer who had collaborated with consular officials investigating fraud cases. All of grievant’s emails contained his electronic signature and identified him as “Special Agent, REDACTED, U.S. Department of State, Bureau of Diplomatic Security.” In response to this email, re-interviewed and approved his visa application. REDACTED subsequently visited grievant in the US.

To make the long story short, grievant was investigated (PDF) by DS for his efforts to procure visa approvals for his friend.

The Department reviewed the DS report of investigation (ROI) and determined that between 2010 and 2012, grievant used official communication channels to contact consular officials in the U.S. Embassy in and identified himself as a DS Special Agent in order to influence favorable decisions on visa applications submitted by his friend. On December 2, 2014, grievant received notice of the Department’s proposal to suspend him for four days on a charge of Misuse of Position. The proposal was sustained on March 3, 2015.

So. Right.

It depends.

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US Embassy Abu Dhabi: A+ for Commercial Promotion, “Below Average Scores on Every Leadership Category”

— Domani Spero
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State/OIG has just posted online its inspection report of the US Embassy in Abu Dhabi and CG Dubai, United Arab Emirates. The mission is headed by career diplomat, Ambassador Michael H. Corbin and DCM Victor Hurtado who both arrived in July 2011.

Below are some of the key judgments extracted from the publicly available report:

  • The Ambassador’s focus on business development as the mission’s primary goal has contributed to an increase in U.S. exports and created a favorable image in business circles for both the Ambassador and the embassy.
  • Front office support for the bilateral military relationship has strengthened that valuable tie. The Ambassador has been a key facilitator in gaining the release of U.S. military equipment for the United Arab Emirates, including through effective congressional testimony.
  • The Ambassador’s focus on commercial promotion has de-emphasized other important U.S. interests, such as law enforcement and illicit finance that agencies at the mission are working to advance. The Ambassador received below average scores on every leadership category in OIG questionnaires.
  • The United Arab Emirates’ strategic location and stable environment has led to an expansion of U.S. Government agencies at the embassy, without a corresponding increase in management support positions. The National Security Decision Directive 38 process is not accomplishing its purpose of subjecting proposed staff increases to careful review.
  • The embassy’s Defense Support Division contract merits comprehensive review. Issues include cost, standards of service, possible expansion, duration, and the contract’s heavy reliance on mission assistance.
  • Demand for consular services at both Embassy Abu Dhabi and Consulate General Dubai has mushroomed in recent years. Both are making progress transitioning from small-scale to medium-sized, high productivity operations. Frequent requests for special handling of routine visa cases from the front office and other parts of the mission impede this process.

The inspection took place in Washington, DC, September 3–23, 2013, and in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, between October 19 and November 7, 2013. Ambassador Marianne Myles (team leader), Michael Hurley (deputy team leader), Alison Barkley, Beatrice Camp, Roger Cohen, David Davison, Shawn O’Reilly, Keith Powell II, Richard Sypher, Joyce Wong, and Roman Zawada conducted the inspection.

Below are additional details that need a highlighter:

Staffing Quadrupled in Last 10 Years

Staffing for Mission UAE, which consists of Embassy Abu Dhabi and Consulate General Dubai, has quadrupled from 80 to 325 Americans in the last 10 years. More than 30 non-Department of State (Department) offices and agencies are present in country, and the mission houses 14 regional offices that cover the Middle East and other areas. The chancery is less than 10 years old but faces major space and infrastructure challenges. By 2017, the mission may also need to provide management support for 90 or more FMS personnel now supported by a private contractor that runs the Defense Support Division (DSD).

Mission UAE supported 1,605 temporary duty visitors and 63 VIP visitors in 2012, and the heavy visitor workload takes a toll on staff morale. All locally employed (LE) staff members are third country nationals, many from South Asia.

Mission Morale Is Poor

Morale and the housing program received the lowest scores on OIG questionnaires by a wide margin. Many complaints are caused by Abu Dhabi and Dubai being understaffed in management sections, lengthy initial stays in temporary quarters, and the location of the Al-Reef housing compound. Understaffing has a cascading effect on housing maintenance, personnel, and financial services, and subsequently on morale. Abu Dhabi and Dubai are not hardship differential posts but do receive a 25 percent cost of living allowance.

This is the second inspection conducted by State/OIG in less than 5 years. In the OIG inspection of 2010, the report noted a major challenge in  managing the unique and complex task of supporting one of the world’s largest foreign military sales accounts, amounting to some $15 billion. According to this latest OIG report, that contract is now valued at $34 million over 5 years. It appears that the challenge has not abated. Excerpt below:

Defense Support Division Contract 

Embassy Abu Dhabi and the Department determined that the existing ICASS support platform could not handle a large and rapid influx of FMS personnel and in 2011 created the DSD platform to augment embassy services. The DSD contract provides traditional ICASS administrative support services to approximately 90 FMS personnel; most of them arrived in 2012 and 2013. That number is expected to increase. The contract is for approximately $34 million over 5 years. The UAE Government pays for the contract. The embassy is responsible for overseeing it.
[…]
According to a March 2011 memorandum of understanding between the embassy and the Department of Defense, the Ambassador is responsible for ensuring that the quality, quantity, and cost of support provided by the contractor matches the support provided to embassy staff through ICASS. The Ambassador is also responsible for reviewing performance standards to assess the services provided by DSD. At the time of the inspection, no cost audit had been planned or performed.
[…]
Extensive interviews with staff indicate that embassy leadership and staff members do not fully understand the DSD support arrangement. The embassy has received no firm estimate of the numbers of future FMS personnel who will need support, where they will be located, and what support they will require. The Department has received personnel projections and estimates, but has not shared them with the embassy.

The air show has already made huge news with multiple announcements of civil aviation deals between the U.S. and #UAE topping $100 billion. These record contracts underline the partnership and the already strong bonds that exist between the U.S. and the UAE overall and in the commercial/private business sector. (Photo via US Embassy UAE/FB)

Dubai Air Show 2013 | The air show has already made huge news with multiple announcements of civil aviation deals between the U.S. and #UAE topping $100 billion. These record contracts underline the partnership and the already strong bonds that exist between the U.S. and the UAE overall and in the commercial/private business sector.
(Photo via US Embassy UAE/FB)

 

Visa Referrals Violations

The steady stream of inquiries from other parts of the mission for updates and special handling of otherwise routine visa cases hampers efforts in both Abu Dhabi and Dubai to provide efficient services for all consular clients and are in direct violation of Department regulations. The OIG team observed many examples of these inquiries via phone and email during the inspection. 

Pressure to handle routine nonimmigrant visa cases in a special or expedited fashion has the effect of slowing down the entire standard process in both locations, undermining cooperation and trust between the consular sections and other parts of the mission, and creating an appearance of impropriety. Responding to these inquiries, often from multiple sources relating to a single case, distracts consular chiefs from managing the day-to-day operations of the sections. These inquiries are being made in violation of 9 FAM Appendix K, which permits advocacy only through a formal referral process. Both consular sections should familiarize all staff with this policy.

 

Psst — A Special Mention on Gifts

Embassy Abu Dhabi has not designated a gifts officer or standard operating procedures for disposition of gifts, as required by Department regulations. Per 3 FAM 4122.1, the gifts officer is the embassy management officer. Because gifts are used and disposed of in accordance with Department regulations governing property management and disposal, management offices often delegate this role to the general services office. The absence of a clear standard operating procedure for gifts disposition places gift recipients at risk of ethics violations.

 

Goodbye to All That — MEPI, R&R Travel Benefit

The State/OIG report recommends that the Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs (NEA) close the Middle East Partnership Initiative regional office in Abu Dhabi.  Apparently, in October 2012, the UAE government directed MEPI to end all grants within the country. With the suspension of grants in the UAE and increased restrictions elsewhere, the OIG team questions the justification for a regional MEPI office in Abu Dhabi. State/OIG notes that closure of the MEPI office would save approximately $1.5 million.

State/OIG also recommends that the Bureau of Administration eliminate the rest and recuperation travel benefit for personnel posted in Embassy Abu Dhabi and Consulate General Dubai. Elimination of R&Rs would save $260,000 on rest and recuperation travel cost.

Abu Dhabi and Dubai are non-differential posts, which normally would not qualify them for rest and recuperation travel. In May 2012, the Bureau of Administration’s Office of Allowances analyzed hardship differential questionnaires from embassies and consulate generals worldwide. It used a 12-point scoring system to determine rest and recuperation eligibility. One-hundred eighty-one missions were recertified as eligible. Another 23 missions not receiving a hardship differential, including Abu Dhabi and Dubai, were examined further using the 12-point scoring system. This analysis determined that neither Abu Dhabi nor Dubai was qualified. Abu Dhabi met the rest and recuperation criteria for only 2 of the 12 factors (climate and unusual personal hazards), and Dubai for only 3 (climate, unusual personal hazards, and communicable diseases). The allowances office recommended to the Assistant Secretary for Administration that Abu Dhabi and Dubai cease the authorization of rest and recuperation travel. 

The Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs countered this decision with memoranda from Abu Dhabi and Dubai detailing social/cultural/gender isolation, geographic isolation, climate, health conditions, and similar issues. Inspectors noted that, with the exception of climate, the post report for the United Arab Emirates addresses none of these elements. The Bureau of Administration concurred with the Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs and retained rest and recuperation travel for Abu Dhabi and Dubai.   A review of the rest and recuperation destinations indicates that Dubai remains a “regional rest break” location for employees based in Kabul. There is no justification for continuing this benefit for employees assigned to Abu Dhabi or Dubai. In FY 2013, the mission spent $260,000 on rest and recuperation travel. 

 

Front Office Leadership and Management

The report says that its most significant recommendations concern needed leadership in establishing clear priorities for the whole mission and managing growth. But there are other stuff, too. Excerpt on front office leadership and management below:

DCM Gets a Nice Mention

The DCM is respected for his sound judgment, fairness, and ability to resolve issues. He has sought to clarify the Ambassador’s goals and objectives and help section chiefs and agency heads understand them. He is engaged and has hands-on knowledge of almost every issue and problem, with one person stating what many expressed in different ways: he is the “glue that holds the place together.” Senior staff members express appreciation for his open-door policy and the access it provides.   Nevertheless, the DCM needs to focus greater attention on LE staff support, mentoring of first- and second-tour employees, housing, mission expansion, office space, and the DSD contract.

Chief of Mission  — Thumbs Up

The Ambassador has accomplished much in support of the President’s National Export Initiative. He has made significant contributions to increased U.S. exports to the UAE as evidenced by his nomination for the 2013 Charles E. Cobb Award for Initiative and Success in Trade Development. He interfaces with Fortune 500 firms and has won particular praise for the assistance he has provided to smaller companies that are less certain of how to conduct business in the region. Heads of agencies with significant trade and business advocacy responsibilities characterize the Ambassador as the most engaged chief of mission with whom they have ever worked. The Ambassador has been a key player in promoting government-to-government economic dialogue and receives high marks from the local American Chamber of Commerce for including private-sector considerations at that forum. He attends dozens of trade shows and assemblies. He is generous in introducing newer U.S. companies to UAE officials.

Chief of Mission  — Thumbs Down

The Ambassador has not focused sufficiently on his staff and the internal workings of the embassy. In OIG-administered questionnaires, his staff rated him below average in every leadership category. Segments of the embassy community, including first- and second-tour employees and LE staff, feel under-supported. Staff members reported their belief that the Ambassador does not spend enough time in the embassy and is disengaged from the community. Both Department and non-Department staff members assert the Ambassador does not have a full grasp of the mandate of their office or agency. Several employees reported that the Ambassador has never visited their offices. These factors, as measured by OIG’s questionnaires and confirmed by OIG interviews at the embassy, contribute to poor morale. A systemic analysis of the underpinnings and potential impacts of these concerns is beyond the scope of this inspection. However, these results suggest the need for a more methodical review.
[…]
The Ambassador’s focus on business has left other elements of the mission somewhat adrift. Law enforcement, illicit finance, civil society, human rights, and other policy concerns receive relatively little attention. The law enforcement working group met only once in 2013, and no agenda or minutes are on file. There has been no formal illicit finance working group since the arrival of the Ambassador and the deputy chief of mission (DCM), despite the presence of more than five agencies with responsibility for sanctions, money laundering, and similar programs. The front office needs to pay greater attention to this cluster of issues.

Pesky Stuff — Leading by Example

Speeding Fines | “One result of the Ambassador’s frequent trips to Dubai and his crowded schedule is a large number of speeding fines on his vehicle. The mission has asked the host government to reduce or eliminate these fines in both Abu Dhabi’s and Dubai’s jurisdictions. This practice is contrary to Department and mission policy.”

Inappropriate Use of USG Resources |  “The Ambassador has requested that Consulate General Dubai pay personal expediting services with the consulate general’s government credit card for his convenience. Though he reimbursed all personal expediting services, he benefited from the corporate rate and inappropriately used government resources for personal purposes.”

In 2010, the OIG report on UAE said that then COM Richard Olson (now ambassador to Pakistan) and DCM Douglas C. Greene both scored “a perfect five (on a scale of one to five) on the OIG “leadership qualities” confidential survey among non-Department agency heads before the inspection.”  Links to both reports are listed under related items.

* * *

 

Related items:

-05/31/14   Inspection of Embassy Abu Dhabi and Consulate General Dubai, United Arab Emirates (ISP-I-14-11A)  [468 Kb]

OIG Report No. ISP-I-10-62A – Inspection of Embassy Abu Dhabi & CG Dubai, United Arab Emirates – June 2010 

 

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State/OIG: US Mission Vietnam — One Mission, One Team, Well, Sort Of

Several weeks back, State/OIG released its inspection report of the US Embassy Hanoi and Consulate General Ho Chi Minh City in Vietnam. The US Ambassador to Vietnam is career diplomat, David Shear who arrived at post in August 2011. The Consul General at Ho Chi Minh City is An T. Le who arrived at post in August 2010. The Consular Chief in Hanoi is Deborah Fairman who arrived at Embassy Hanoi in August 2009 and became section chief in July 2011, according to the OIG report. The Consular Chief at CG Ho Chi Minh City is not named in the report.

The inspection took place in Washington, DC, between September 7 and 27, 2011; in Hanoi, Vietnam, between October 20 and November 2, 2011, and between November 19 and 21, 2011; and in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam, between November 2 and 18, 2011. The names of the members of the inspection team have been redacted.

U.S. Ambassador David Shear opens safe medicine exhibition in Hanoi
(Photo from USAID Vietnam/Flickr)

Some of the key judgments, so very well couched you got to read between the lines:

  • The Ambassador in Hanoi, the consul general in Ho Chi Minh City, and their respective deputies, should be at the forefront of an effort to more effectively coordinate embassy and consulate general operations. Increasing and formalizing regular, planned working visits of American and local employees between the two posts are a necessary step.
  • Embassy Hanoi’s reporting is generally comprehensive and of high quality, although staffing gaps and the loss of a position have adversely affected Hanoi’s output. Consulate General Ho Chi Minh City has not reported frequently enough or in sufficient detail on the official activities, meetings and policy views of the consul general.
  • Overall management operations at Embassy Hanoi and Consulate General Ho Chi Minh City are effective, although stronger cooperation and teamwork between the two are necessary.
  • The need for heightened involvement by embassy management in the mission’s management controls program is evident. Management control procedures at both Embassy Hanoi and Consulate General Ho Chi Minh City need to be carefully reviewed to ensure that employees at every level are fully aware of their responsibility for ensuring that controls are in place to protect assets and to avoid any perception of conflict of interest.

    U.S. Consul General Le An at Long An Province during a visit to USAID flood relief beneficiaries
    (Photo from USAID Vietnam/Flickr)

Ambassador Shear arrived at post about couple months before this OIG inspection.  The previous Chief of Mission at US Embassy Hanoi was career FSO, Michael W. Michalak who left post on February 14, 2011. Some of the finer points from the report:

  • The Ambassador also has engaged decisively with the embassy’s sole constituent post: the large and influential Consulate General Ho Chi Minh City (formerly Saigon). On his introductory visit to Ho Chi Minh City, the Ambassador stressed to the American and Vietnamese staff that, as Chief of Mission, he values the important role of the consulate general and expects the embassy and consulate general staffs to function as “one mission, one team.” His message was especially welcome in view of a number of legacy issues, including Ho Chi Minh City’s continuing role as the economic and commercial hub of the entire country, the persistent cultural and historical differences between Vietnam’s North and South, and the symbolic significance that today’s consulate general is located on the site of the former embassy.
  • Embassy Hanoi and Consulate General Ho Chi Minh City, until recently, have operated more like two, separate missions than one, cohesive entity. The embassy has not provided, nor has the consulate general sought, regular guidance as to how the two posts can best operate together. With the arrival of new staff in summer 2011, both the embassy and the consulate general have started thinking about ways to project a “one mission, one team” face to the government and people of Vietnam and to the respective mission staffs. A necessary step to improving the mission’s cohesiveness will be increasing and formalizing a process whereby American and local employees conduct working visits between the two posts, for consultations and training.

There is no “I” in team, and hey, what about those pol reports?

  • The consul general is fluent in Vietnamese and has a deep understanding of the host country’s culture and norms. However, he only infrequently writes cables regarding his meetings outside the consulate general. It is important that he include other officers in all meetings related to political and economic affairs, human rights, the environment, energy, adoption concerns, treatment of minorities, and other matters relevant to their respective portfolios. The expertise of these officers should be called upon, even if it means relying on interpreters in some situations. (The Vietnamese language is notoriously difficult; even language-qualified officers sometimes require assistance from native speakers in unscripted situations.) The officers could act as note takers, and write cables or provide other information coming out of these meetings. In a closely controlled political environment such as Vietnam, no post official, including the consul general himself, should meet with Vietnamese officials unaccompanied. As an added benefit, in a culture that venerates seniority and status, including officers in meetings would enhance their ability to develop contacts and follow up independently on important issues.
  • The consulate general has produced some valuable and insightful reporting, but generally there is far less reporting than would be expected of a post of its size. Material provided by a consulate general often ends up in cables from the embassy, and there is a vibrant, informal exchange between the respective political and economic sections. More telling, however, is the lack of emphasis upon reporting by the consul general, who does not routinely report on his own activities nor provide comprehensive readouts. For example, a single cable reported on his visits to 6 provinces over the course of 7 months. This disinclination both eliminated a major source of reporting, as compared to previous years, and undercut the ability of other officers to follow up on his meetings. The inspection team counseled the consul general and his deputy to follow standard reporting practices.

iPads with no wi-fi, because folks will, of course pay for 4G in Vietnam – wait, what?!

  • For security reasons, there is no wireless Internet access at the embassy’s American Center, which limits the usefulness of the its new iPads. The OIG team discussed this situation with the embassy’s information management (IM) section, but due to the technical complexity of the issues, no decisions had been made by the end of the inspection. It is important that the mission continue to research ways to resolve these issues and still comply with Department regulations in 5 FAM 790-792.

VietNamNet has a pretty straightforward explanation – the new iPad has the advantage of having a 4G connection. However, that advantage has no use in Vietnam, where no mobile network has provided 4G services. So if you can’t use the new iPads at the American Center because there is no wireless access and there is no 4G service in Vietnam, the embassy clearly bought itself some pretty expensive mousepads.

The OIG inspectors, blessed their hearts recommends “that Embassy Hanoi explore the feasibility of establishing wireless Internet access or otherwise maximizing the usability of the Hanoi American Center’s iPads.”

Visa Referral System for national interests and who else?

  • The consulate general executive office, including both American and local staff, frequently contact the consular section to pass on information about specific visa applicants. For instance, they might ask the section to review a case; tell why they believe an applicant is qualified; or ask the consular chief or another manager to conduct a second interview. These practices violate the Department’s worldwide referral policy, which mandates that no information on specific cases be passed to the section outside of formal referrals. It is appropriate for the executive office to forward relevant correspondence to the consular section, but it should not ask for special treatment of visa applicants or advocate on their behalf outside the referral system. Shortly before this inspection, the deputy principal officer told local staff to stop sending cases directly to the consular section.
  • There are several issues regarding the way the referral system is handled at the consulate general. Not all referrals indicate how that referral directly supports U.S. national interests; they also do not specify the nature and degree of contact the person making the referral has had with the applicant, as is required by 9 FAM Appendix K.
  • The inspectors counseled the consul general and the deputy principal officer on the Department’s referral policy. They suggested having cards printed, explaining that visa eligibility is determined by strict legal requirements and that the consulate general’s leaders cannot influence the decision. This card, which could be given to anyone inquiring about visas, also could refer applicants to the consulate general’s Web site for additional information. The consul general accepted this suggestion.
  • The mission’s referral policy is out-of-date. As stated above, the referral practices conflict with Department policy on what constitutes a legitimate referral. The consular officers at the consulate general have not been trained on the Department’s policy. Because compliance has been an issue, it will be important for the Ambassador to review a monthly report on all referral cases, including information on any email or other contacts that circumvent the policy.

Wait, wait, our memory may be foggy but at some point in 2009 or 2010, we understand that there was a notice that went out to all missions requiring that the chief of the consular section provide a copy of the Worldwide Visa Referral Policy to mission staff and conduct a referral briefing to each officer who is authorized to utilize the mission referral system, before that officer submits and/or approves any visa referrals.  Actually it is in  9 FAM APPENDIX K, 102 WORLDWIDE VISA REFERRAL POLICY.  Now, this is not optional; the regs even say that “If an officer has not attended a referral briefing and signed the Worldwide NIV Referral Policy Compliance Agreement, he or she may not authorize or approve a referral, regardless of his or her position.”

That includes everyone, including Chiefs of Missions and Consul Generals, no doubt.

If there’s one thing that the State Department is really good at, it is writing and sending cables.  So if these senior officers had to be counseled by the OIG on the Department’s worldwide referral policy what are we to think? That they don’t read their incoming cables? Or were folks aware of the referral policy but were too scared to rock the boat?

We don’t know this for sure but we imagine that Vietnam as a communist country is considered a critical threat post for human intelligence. So, if those visa referrals did not indicate how each directly supports U.S. national interest, how come no one is asked to review all of them?

Consular managers missing on the visa line

  • The mission has a policy called “self clearing” that permits experienced, entry-level officers to send, without a manager’s review, memoranda requesting revocation of a petition. Given the sensitivity of these memoranda and the need for consistency, a manager should review all of them before they are sent to the National Visa Center for transmission to the Department of Homeland Security.
  • Some officers indicated that managers spend little time on the visa line. The inspectors emphasized the importance of managers spending some time adjudicating on the line, both to understand any systemic problems and to regularly see the types of cases that officers encounter.

Ugh!  And where’s the lead by example and all that feel good stuff about holding self accountable and modeling the leadership tenets? This is the kind of thing that makes newbies get jaded rather quickly. “Lead by example” but what if they’re learning the bad example?

FSI language training fail or who the heck talks nuclear proliferation with visa applicants?

  • Consular officers also indicated the language training at the Foreign Service Institute did not help them conduct consular interviews; many were more comfortable talking about nuclear nonproliferation than about family relationships.
  • The criteria for designating language study for a particular position (per 13 FAM 221 b.(l)) is that “only those positions where language proficiency is essential, rather than merely helpful or convenient, should be designated…” Language training, although useful, is expensive and time consuming. As such, it should provide officers with the particular language skills needed to adequately perform their job.

Oh dear, like how difficult is this really – you ask, Bạn có bao nhiêu trẻ em? or Urani bao nhiêu bạn có trong căn nhà của bạn? You can just ask the visa applicant how many kids do you have or how much Uranium do you have in your house? Or what kind of heavy water do you use in your laundry? Or are you or anyone in your family ever employed by A.Q Khan? The possibilities are endless, so really there’s no need to have a consular-centric vocabulary to adequately perform a consular job.

Follow the leader, it works

  • The consul general in Ho Chi Minh City circumvented host government importation restrictions by bringing in a vehicle that was more than 5 years old. There have been no reported repercussions. The stated reason behind the importation was to encourage the host government to relax this importation requirement, but the matter has not gained any momentum. It has not been followed up with a diplomatic note, nor was the issue raised with the Office of Foreign Missions. No other exceptions to the rule have been attempted, though some officers were encouraged to also import vehicles older than 5 years.

And so there you have it …. and life goes on….

The names of the accountable, responsible principal officers are all in the OIG reports and a matter of public record.  We hope to save our reading folks time from having to dig them up.

Domani Spero

Related item:

Inspection of Embassy Hanoi and Consulate General Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam Report Number ISP-I-12-11A, February 2012