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.
The National Federation of Federal Employees says federal passport specialists are overworked and often don’t have time to thoroughly review passport applications.
This burden may be responsible for the State Department’s failure to identify five of seven fraudulent passport applications the Government Accountability Office submitted in a covert operation, the union argued in a press release today.
Passport agency workers have to meet productivity quotas and “failing to meet these numbers in the interest of carefully reviewing citizenship documents could lead to termination,” according to the NFFE.
Passport specialists were unable to provide input when higher-ups were formulating the quotas, the union says.
Also, reforms instituted after a 2009 GAO report that revealed a similar failure to detect passport fraud may have ironically hindered passport workers’ ability to recognize fake documents. NFFE said passport specialists “are now distracted by additional and stricter requirements for how they notate applications” and “that extra attention comes at the expense of reviewing the overall case and its citizenship evidence.”
The Washington Post just posted a fun article that peeks inside the State Department’s high-pressure, round-the-clock operations center. In an office that coordinates phone calls to the most powerful people in the world, even things as mundane as bathroom breaks have their own protocol:
“I’m going blue!” duty desk officers call out when they stand up to go to the bathroom. They flip a switch, triggering a blue glow from the [Barbie-sized, light bulb-equipped wooden] outhouse. As on an airplane, the light signals: Bathroom occupied; remain in your seats. Work stations must be staffed in case of an emergency.
Six suicide bombers stormed a US Agency for International Development compound in Northern Afghanistan this morning, the Associated Press reports. The bombers killed at least four other people, including at least two non-Afghans, and wounded several other people.The Taliban claimed responsibility for the attack.
There’s no indication yet that any of the dead are federal employees, but the attack is another reminder of the extraordinary challenges and dangers deployed civilians face.
Six people, including at least two Pakistani security guards employed by the State Department, were killed in a suicide bomb and rocket attack against the U.S. consulate in Peshawar this morning. No Americans were killed. The Pakistani Taliban claimed responsibility for the assault and compared it to December’s suicide bombing of a CIA base in Khost, Afghanistan.
State has been trying to increase the security of its embassies and consulates since 1998, when al Qaida destroyed American embassies in Kenya and Tanzania. Despite the loss of life this morning, the Peshawar consulate’s beefed up security measures appear to have helped repel the brunt of the attack:
Militants managed to damage barracks that formed part of the outer layer of security for the heavily fortified consulate area, but did not penetrate inside, the Pakistani intelligence officer said.
The company formerly known as Blackwater — now known as Xe (pronounced Zee) — allegedly billed the government for the X-rated services of a prostitute by marking the charge a “Morale Welfare Recreation” expense, according to this Washington Post report published today.
Here is the paragraph if interest, as penned by the Post’s Carol D. Leonnig:
The [plaintiffs] assert that Blackwater officials kept a Filipino prostitute on the company payroll for a State Department contract in Afghanistan, and billed the government for her time working for Blackwater male employees in Kabul. The alleged prostitute’s salary was categorized as part of the company’s “Morale Welfare Recreation” expenses, they said.”
Newly unsealed court records from a False Claims Act law suit filed by former employees also allege the company faked invoices to hide charges for other expenses not allowed under the contracts, such as alcohol or spa services, the Post reported.
The plaintiffs, husband and wife Brad and Melan Davis, said the private security contractor also charged the government twice for services, according to the Post. The Justice Department has not joined the lawsuit against the company, the Post said.
The General Services Administration is building on the Obama administration’s efforts to improve the health of federal employees and to green cafeterias by offering healthier options through its dining facilities contracts.
The State Department headquarters in Washington, D.C. will be the first to benefit from what GSA calls “a new national template for food service requirements to provide healthier and more sustainable food options in federal dining facilities across the country.”
The contract creates a healthier and more sustainable cafeteria by using “locally grown produce and market baskets, menu options that are prepared using healthy cooking techniques, and a nutrition education program that will help federal employees to make better food choices,” according to a Feb. 10 GSA news release.
I.L. Creations of Maryland, Inc. won the contract and will serve approximately 6,500 employees and more than 1,000 visitors each day, GSA said in the news release.
GSA and the administration have clearly picked up the lesson learned by Cookie Monster.
I wanted to pass along the links the State Department posted instructing the public on how to provide assistance to the victims of yesterday’s devastating 7.0 earthquake in Haiti.
State says the fastest way to give financially is to text HAITI to “90999.” A $10 donation will automatically go to the Red Cross to help with relief efforts. The charge will show up on your cell phone bill.
State also set up a number to call if you need information about loved ones affected by the disaster. The number is 1-888-407-4747.
Relief from USAID is already on the way. The agency mobilized disaster response teams to assist with search and rescue and to help assess the damage the quake caused. The teams include 72 personnel from local, state and federal agencies; 6 search and rescue dogs; and 48 tons of rescue equipment.
The U.S. Geological Survey posted information about the magnitude and location of the earthquake here.
The State Department “got what it paid for” when it hired embattled contractor ArmorGroup North America to provide security to the U.S. Embassy in Kabul, Afghanistan, a new report from the Wartime Contracting Commission found.
Unfortunately, the commission also found State had little choice because federal law prohibits the department from choosing security contractors based on performance rather than cost. According to the report:
Unlike other federal agencies, the U.S. Department of State is forbidden by law to select anything but the lowest price and ‘technically acceptable’ offer when awarding contracts to protect its overseas buildings — even if this means passing up offers from firms offering higher quality and better experience. In contingency operations like those in Iraq and Afghanistan, this prohibition can have negative consequences for security, wartime mission objectives, and America’s image.”
The report comes on the heels of revelations by the Project on Government Oversight that employees of ArmorGroup threw alcohol-fueled parties and forced subordinates to engage in lewd behavior that resulted in high staff turnover and placed embassy officials at risk.
The commission recommended removing the low-price requirement to allow State to select the contractor that will provide the best value.
The congressionally chartered commission called a hearing for Sept. 14 in the wake of a Sept. 1 Project on Government Oversight letter to the department alleging employees of the private security contractor Armour Group North America engaged in lewd acts and hazed junior employees, compromising the security of U.S. diplomats at the embassy in Kabul.
The hearing will focus on “the underlying questions of what the State Department contract require[s] of contract-employee conduct, how thorough its contractor-selection process is, how contract performance is monitored, and how shortcomings are addressed,” Commission Co-chair Michael Thibault said.
Co-Chair Christopher Shays said federal departments need to ensure “contractors are doing thorough vetting, ensuring training and compliance with codes of conduct, and enforcing contract terms that represent the high ideals of America.”