Kathleen McGrade was a contract specialist inside the State Department, but prosecutors say she didn’t live like one.
Steering tens of millions of dollars in work to a company controlled by her husband, McGrade bought a yacht, penthouse condo and lots of jewelry, according to charges unsealed Thursday in U.S. District Court in Virginia.
McGrade, 64, and her husband, Brian C. Collinsworth, 46, both of Fredericksburg, Va., face up to 20 years in prison on charges stemming from what authorities called a “secret scheme” by the couple to steer more than $60 million to a company they controlled.
Authorities said McGrade was a private contract employee assigned to work as a contract specialist inside the State Department. Though she kept the relationship with her husband a secret from colleagues, she signed off on payments to her husband’s company, authorities said.
In forfeiture papers filed in U.S. District Court in Alexandria on April 2, prosecutors also said McGrade was “involved in nearly every stage” of the contracting process. They say the scheme lasted from December to 2007 until August 2011.
Prosecutors are seeking three properties tied to the scheme along with a Steinway piano, a yacht, artwork and jewelry that includes a matching sapphire and diamond necklace and bracelet set that cost $136,500.
A phone number listed for McGrade in Virginia was disconnected, and attempts to reach her were unsuccessful.
The union that represents Foreign Service Officers naturally does its best to be diplomatic, but the strain is evident in a standoff with United Airlines over a recently adopted pet transportation policy.
The new policy, which follows United’s merger with Continental Airlines, requires most pets to be shipped as cargo, instead of permitting them to travel with their owners as baggage.
The fur, at least, has been flying ever since.
“Many of our members are greatly distressed by this development because of the sharply increased costs involved,” Susan Johnson, president of the American Foreign Service Association, wrote in a letter last month to United CEO Jeff Smisek. In addition, Johnson said, some countries are “simply not equipped to deal with pets as cargo.”
The change could increase the cost of shipping a 14-pound cat from $250 to $1,200, Johnson added in a follow-up interview. United has already exempted military service members traveling on “change of station” orders from the pet policy. Now, AFSA is seeking the same waiver for federal civilian employees flying to and from permanent assignments abroad, Johnson said. An AFSA “call to action” generated almost 3,000 emailed letters to United; some past and current Foreign Service Officers have also set up a Facebook page titled “Fabulous Foreign Service Pets.”
So far, however, United isn’t budging. While the airline respects the work that Foreign Service Officers do, it has no plans to make other exceptions for them, spokeswoman Mary Ryan said. On its web site, United touts the new policy’s benefits, such as confirmed booking before departure and a 24-hour live animal help desk.
As one of the world’s largest carriers, United can be hard to avoid, although the State Department last month sought to give employees more options for discretion when pet transportation comes into play.
For Rachel Schneller, a Foreign Service Officer now stationed in Washington, the thought of heading to a posting in France this summer without her two cats is, well, unthinkable.
“They’re irreplaceable, they’re priceless,” Schneller said of Oscar and Tivka, rescued from a garbage can in Macedonia a decade ago. “In theory, I could try to find homes for them, but it would break my heart.”
For Sadie Dworak, a Foreign Service Officer currently stationed in Saudi Arabia, the perils were poignantly illustrated two years ago when she shipped her shih tzu, Hattie, as cargo from Frankfurt, Germany to Jeddah, Saudi Arabia.
After 20 hours in a stifling terminal, Dworak said in a phone interview, Hattie was dead.
Dworak has since gotten two cats. When her Saudi assignment ends this summer, she said the United policy could mean shipping cost of more than $2,500, compared to about $600 under the old policy. While the State Department provides some help with“miscellaneous” moving costs, that assistance probably won’t cover even half the bill, Dworak said.
“Should we have to pay those costs every single time when we’re serving our country?,” she asked.
Hard to believe, but the State Department’s Office of Inspector General has been without a permanent head for more than four years.
That fact, highlighted this week by the Project on Government Oversight, puts the office in an unlucky class of four IG agencies that have had vacancies at the top for at least 1,000 days.
The others are the Interior and Labor departments and the Corporation for National and Community Service. While the Obama administration last fall nominated attorney Deborah Jeffrey for the inspector general’s job at the national service corporation, the Senate has yet to confirm her.
But the White House has named no one for the top positions at the other three offices. Although there are undoubtedly plenty of competent career folks to carry on in the meantime, ‘”a permanent IG has the ability to set a long-term strategic plan, . . . including setting investigative and audit priorities,” POGO said on its web site, adding that the administration has “no good excuse” for failing to nominate someone for a post that has been vacant for years.
The White House press office did not respond to a request for comment today.
The State Department’s top security chief is leaving his post to oversee a newly created cybersecurity division at the Department of Homeland Security.
John Streufert will replace Nicole Dean as director of DHS’ National Cyber Security Division on Jan. 17, where he will be tasked to build and maintain an “effective cyberspace response system” and implement a program for protecting critical infrastructure, DHS’ Roberta Stempfley said in an email Friday to employees within the Office of Cybersecurity and Communications. Streufert will also work to strengthen DHS’ partnerships with the private sector and international organizations.
“Although Nicole is leaving rather large shoes to fill, there is no doubt that John’s range of experience will also bring vast knowledge and innovation to the NCSD organization,” Stempfley said in the email.
The move comes as the administration works to strengthen DHS’ role in cybersecurity. Under the White House cybersecurity proposal, DHS would have the lead in protecting dot-gov domains and be a key liaison with the private sector. The proposal would also require critical infrastructure firms to adhere to cybersecurity guidelines created by industry and approved by DHS.
DHS will also play a major role in the administration’s Federal Risk and Authorization Management Program (FedRAMP) by coordinating automated continuous monitoring of industry cloud solutions.
Streufert’s success in improving cybersecurity at State makes him an ideal candidate for the director position. He has served as the department’s chief information security officer and deputy chief information officer for information assurance since 2006. He reduced security vulnerabilities on the department’s personal computers and servers by about 90 percent between 2008 and 2009 by using continuous monitoring software.
Republican presidential candidate Rick Perry on Monday accused the State Department’s Foreign Service officers of not acting “in America’s best interest.” CNN reported that Perry said:
“I’m not sure our State Department serves us well,” the Texas governor said on a radio program with Fox News host Bill O’Reilly. “I’m not talking about the Secretary of State here. I’m talking about the career diplomats and the Secretary of State who, all too often, may not be making decisions, or giving advice to the administration that’s in this country’s best interest.”
Perry said Congressional action might be required to ensure the nation’s diplomatic corps is taking actions that benefit America.
“We need to have a discussion with Congress to make sure that the decisions that are being made are in America’s best interest,” Perry said.
Perry’s problem with the Foreign Service seems to be that they’re not making it clear to Pakistan that they need to get their intelligence service — which is widely suspected to be aiding terrorists and militants in Afghanistan — under control.
The American Foreign Service Association today basically said (in appropriately diplomatic terms) that Perry doesn’t know what he’s talking about. AFSA, which represents Foreign Service officers around the world, issued a statement that said Perry’s comments “reflect a serious misunderstanding of [diplomats'] role in promoting American interests overseas.” AFSA cited the hundreds of diplomats that have been killed in the line of duty in places like Iraq, Pakistan, Afghanistan and Beirut, before delivering this line:
[Diplomats] serve at the pleasure of the president, are confirmed by Congress and need the informed support of both branches of government to be effective.
[...] To keep America strong and secure, we need more diplomacy, not less. And we need more, not less, support from our political leaders and citizens for their work to defend and advance our interests abroad.
House Small Business Committee Chairman Sam Graves today issued subpoenas to four federal agencies seeking answers for why they refuse to put senior leadership in charge of small business contracting activities, a committee spokesman said.
The Treasury, State, Justice and Agriculture departments have said they believe they are in compliance with the spirit of a law that requires agencies to put their Office of Small and Disadvantaged Business Utilization in direct contact with the agency’s secretary or deputy secretary.
Each agency is required to have an Office of Small and Disadvantaged Business Utilization (OSDBU) under the Small Business Act to ensure contracts are written with small business participation in mind.
The Government Accountability Office reported in June that the seven departments did not comply with the requirements. Some agencies name top level officials as OSDBU directors but have less senior administrators do day-to-day activities. Others have the OSDBU director report to officials other than the secretary or deputy secretary.
Rep. Mick Mulvaney, chairman of the House Small Business Subcommittee on Contracting and Workforce, sent letters to the noncompliant agencies in August asking them to reorganize their OSDBU offices so that the offices reported to senior leadership. The Interior Department and Social Security Administration responded by reorganizing their small business offices.
But the Treasury, State, Justice and Agriculture departments told Mulvaney they believe they are in compliance with the spirit of the law and will not change.
The subpoenas issued today require the deputy secretaries of those four unchanged agencies to explain their reasons at a full House Small Business Committee hearing on Nov. 1.
Poor oversight of federal counternarcotics contracts calls to question how billions of tax dollars were spent, a congressional report shows.
Neither the State or Defense departments, which award most counternarcotics contracts, have adequate systems to track and evaluate contract data, the June 7 report states.
The report was prepared for Sen. Claire McCaskill, chairwoman of the Senate subcommittee on contracting oversight, after a May 2010 hearing revealed neither the State nor Defense departments could provide information about the contracts awarded for fighting drug production in eight countries south of the U.S. border.
“Without adequate oversight and management we are wasting tax dollars and throwing money at a problem without even knowing what we’re getting in return,” McCaskill said in a news release. “As we increase our counternarcotics contracting in Afghanistan, we can’t make these same mistakes again.”
The lack of oversight has led to inadequate competition, poor recordkeeping, and deficient transparency, the report states.
Annual spending on counternarcotics contracts in Latin America rose 32 percent over the five years reviewed in the report, from $482 million in 2005 to $636 million in 2009.
All hell is breaking loose in Libya, and the State Department this afternoon ordered non-essential employees and employees’ family members to evacuate the country.
In a travel warning posted online, State also advised any U.S. citizens staying in the country to avoid demonstrations and leave an area immediately if a demonstration begins.
State issued a similar warning for Egypt Feb. 1, as the protests that culminated in Hosni Mubarak’s resignation started to grow and some were concerned about the potential for violence. But the situation in Libya already is much uglier than Cairo ever was.
Hundreds of protesters may have already been killed, and there are reports that helicopters are firing into crowds and the Libyan navy is shelling Tripoli. Al Jazeera reports that two pilots — reportedly “senior colonels” — defected to Malta after refusing orders to bomb protesters. And Moammar Gaddafi may already have fled.
The bizarre case of Raymond Allen Davis — a US consulate employee in Lahore, Pakistan, who shot and killed two Pakistanis Jan. 27 who he said were trying to rob him — is quickly becoming a diplomatic SNAFU. The US is citing diplomatic immunity and demanding Davis be freed, but the Pakistani government is refusing to release him. The Washington Post reports that the two governments have suspended high-level diplomatic ties over the incident, and it could scuttle plans for President Obama and Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari to visit each others’ countries this year.
The government’s squishy explanations about exactly what Davis was doing for them — not to mention reports that he was carrying a disguise — aren’t exactly quelling rumors that he’s CIA. Disputed reports that the two men he shot were Pakistani intelligence agents are fueling local speculation that the shooting was a spy standoff gone wrong. But the two dead Pakistanis had five cell phones on them, and two other Pakistanis have come forward to say the dead men had robbed them of their phones earlier that day.
Anti-American protests were held in Pakistan last week with signs saying “Hang Raymond now” and calling Davis a “CIA hitman.” With the situation in Afghanistan and Pakistan’s tribal regions already tenuous at best, this is one more headache the government doesn’t need.
Protests in Egypt demanding the ouster of President Hosni Mubarak are growing by the day, and many are becoming concerned about the potential for violence and lack of security. The State Department today ordered all non-emergency U.S. government employees, and all employees’ families, to leave Egypt. State spokesman Philip Crowley’s statement is below:
On February 1, the Department of State ordered the departure of all non-emergency U.S. Government personnel and their families from Egypt in light of recent events. The Department of State will continue to facilitate the evacuation of U.S. citizens who require assistance. Cairo airport is open and operating, but flights may be disrupted and transport to the airport may be disrupted due to the protests. U.S. citizens in Egypt who require assistance, or those who are concerned that their U.S. citizen loved one in Egypt may require assistance, should contact the U.S. Department of State and the U.S. Embassy in Cairo at: EgyptEmergencyUSC@state.gov, or at 1-202-501-4444. Please follow the directions on the Embassy website for all other consular inquiries.
State’s Twitter feed is being updated regularly with advisories and information for Americans in Egypt.