Wednesday, January 7, 2015

What's Wrong With The SFRC Picture?

At the end of 2014, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee (SFRC) returned to the President over 1200 Foreign Service nominations which had not been acted upon by that Committee, continuing an unprecedented two-year trend of failure to place nominations on the agenda for consideration by the entire committee of elected Senators.  

Most were not nominations of ambassadors and other officials. The vast majority were "routine" nominations of ordinary Foreign Service employees nominated for hiring, tenure, or promotion. 

Most of the nominations had been retained (kept off the SFRC agenda) by a single unelected staffer working for a single Senator, for "further study" which dragged on, in some cases for up to two years, until the nominations were returned, without review by the Committee as a whole, to the White House. 

Committee leadership has stated that this is the "new normal," and is the predictable result of Committee members getting tougher on reviewing the qualifications of nominees, allegedly in compliance with their constitutional mandate, and in the interest of the American taxpayer.

CFSO disagrees. We consider that the SFRC practice of keeping names off the SFRC agenda and preventing their consideration by the entirety of elected Senators who are members of the committee is unconstitutional, illegal, damaging to American foreign policy, and detrimental to the American taxpayer. 

Here is what's wrong with the picture of normalcy painted by SFRC proponents of current practices:

Constitutional Mandate: The Constitution of the United States accords the right to appoint senior government officials to the President of the United States. Under Article 2 which describes the authorities incumbent to the President, it states "he shall nominate, and by and with the Advice and Consent of the Senate, shall appoint Ambassadors, other public Ministers and Consuls." 

While this implies a role for the Senate, Constitutional scholars will tell you that the placement of this clause in the section describing the role of the President, and not in the section describing the role of the Legislature, means that the founders intended for the President, not the Senate, to have ultimate decision-making authority. This is born out in numerous accounts of the discussions of the founders during the period that our constitution was written. 

The idea of the founders was that the Senate (the American people writ large) should have visibility into the process, and the ability to object to egregious cases of abuse, but not that the Senate could simply halt the process of nominations for whatever reasons it saw fit.

But the Senate has a role to play. The elected Senators are the eyes and ears, and proxy expressers of the opinion of the American people. Senators are our "elder statesmen," and in theory represent both the people and our values. Senate review is a key component of the process and appointments normally cannot occur without it.     

Moreover, regardless of who has the mandate to appoint officials, the Constitution accords the mandate to "advise and consent" to the Senate - to the totality of the elected Senators. Not to one single Senator. Or to a small group. And certainly not to the unelected staff. In order for the Senate to comply with its mandate, a significant unit of elected Senators must have at least the opportunity to consider the nomination. If someone prevents this from happening, they are preventing the Senate from carrying out its mandate. 

Transparency: To repeat, numerous accounts of the discussions surrounding the writing of our constitution are clear that the primary purpose of the Senate's role is to give the American people, through their elected Senators, a view into the process. 

Alexander Hamilton, Thomas Jefferson and others wrote that this was in order to prevent a "secret cabal" which would result in "the bartering of votes for places," in other words, that it would provide the transparency necessary to prevent the secret bartering of votes for jobs or positions of influence in the government. 

What has been happening in the SFRC is the exact opposite of what the founders intended. Names are being kept off the agenda of the committee by a single, or handful of, Senate staffers in order to prevent the majority of elected Senators in the Committee (much less a majority of the elected Senators in the Senate) from being able to consider them at all. 

Far from the transparency intended by the founders, the SFRC itself has been indulging in secret meetings, in which names of nominees are kept off the table in order to satisfy secret agendas - be they efforts to twist the arms of the State Department, or be they private vendettas.

Service to the Taxpayer: The Taxpayer pays the salary of every government employee, and has a right to know four things: that the service provided by the employee is necessary to the interests of the Nation, that the employee is qualified to perform the job, that the employee was hired in compliance with law, and that the employee is providing the best service that the employee can provide. 

When it comes to confirming the names of nominees before the SFRC, three of those four things are not in question. The SFRC confirmation process does not decide which positions are necessary. That is decided in other processes. It does not decide whether a person was legally hired. Nor does it decide whether the person is providing the best service possible. 

Those decisions  are made by the people most qualified to make them: the hiring authorities of the agency, the employees' supervisors, and the boards and employees involved in the hiring, tenuring and promotion processes.

The question decided by the SFRC is not whether the taxpayer will pay these people. The taxpayer already is paying them.

The question before the SFRC in the case of nominations for promotion is whether promotions will be approved - whether people already on the payroll will be used at the highest level of service for which the agency considers them qualified; and for those awaiting approval of tenure, whether they will be retained - or whether there is some reason agreed upon by the elected Senators considering the nomination that they should be denied tenure - effectively firing them for cause. 

Clearly, the Senate has the right, and the responsibility, to research the nominations. But let us be clear: in neither case does the taxpayer benefit from the act of withholding names from the Senators entrusted to review them, nor from the return, without any action at all, of names to the White House.

In the case of promotees, the "new normal" means that the taxpayer is denied the services at a higher level of those that the agency considers the best and the brightest performers on their staffs, and in the case of employees who should not get tenure, the taxpayer continues to pay employees who should, perhaps, be fired. But in either case, until the elected Senators on the SFRC make a decision, the taxpayer is still paying these employees; just not for the services that the taxpayer deserves.

In the larger picture, other laws apply as well: Consuls not approved by the Senate are technically not Consuls, and therefore are "operating without a licence" in terms of some international laws. That prevents them from being able, in some cases, to fully perform the job the taxpayer hired them to do. 

Similarly, employees filling many positions of trust regarding responsibility for government funds and resources are similarly "unlicensed" when it comes to certain of their duties, and in this as well, indefinitely preventing the discussion of nominations and slowing the process down to the point where hundreds of nominations are returned to the White House unacted upon prevents the taxpayer from being able to fully benefit from the services that the taxpayer is already paying for.

The Agency: Federal Executive Departments like the State Department are among the oldest primary units of the Government of the United States. All  were established by Congress within a few weeks of each other in 1789. The Department of State was the first to be established and indeed, a Department of Foreign Affairs was created by the First Continental Congress in 1781. The mission of the agency has been considered important to the American people for as long as the United States of America has been in existence.  

In 3 USC 301 and 303 and 22 USC in its entirety (with special attention to Chapter 14), Congress expressed the will of the American people to empower the Secretary of State to perform a full range of functions to manage the agency's mission, resources and personnel. While Congress is empowered in a very general sense to exercise oversight (again in order to ensure transparency to the American people) the Secretary is fully entrusted,to hire, fire, promote and staff the agency, to investigate professional infractions, to discipline employees, and to protect the security of the agency.  

The current SFRC practice hinders the agency's mission and illegally impacts the agency's activities in a number of ways:  

The Mission: The public evaluation of the qualifications of ambassadors and key cabinet officials can serve as an example of the transparency of our government and the seriousness with the American people approach qualifications for public service. In a public hearing, opinions can be aired and contrasted, and, where public sentiment disagrees with that of the President, nominees can be turned down; providing an example of a democracy and a constitution that works. 

On the other hand, failure to even consider nominees - keeping names off the agenda indefinitely for spurious or unstated reasons - provides a completely different optic. At best, it gives the impression that the Senate does not value America's relations with other nations, nor the services of those employed in the profession of representing America to foreign governments. At worst, it provides the world with an image of an American Senate that is just as secretive and corrupt as the foreign governments it criticises. 

And between those extremes, it shows the world a range of disdain for and distrust of the Foreign Service and the State Department, and for the foreign policy of the administration. 

All of these optics undermine the credibility of the Foreign Service and its ability to represent the American people to the governments of other nations.

As mentioned above, Consuls not approved by the Senate are technically not Consuls, and therefore are "operating without a licence" in terms of some international laws. The failure to confirm them means they are unable, in some cases, to fully perform the job the taxpayer hired them to do. Similarly, employees filling many positions of trust regarding responsibility for government funds and resources are similarly "unlicensed" when it comes to certain of their duties, and are unable to independently perform certain jobs in embassies. 

The failure to confirm them hampers operations and reduce the ability of the agency to protect Americans oversees and support operations necessary to the mission.

The Authorities of the Agency:  The Foreign Service nominees held off the agenda indefinitely for further study by Senate staffers have all been hired and vetted through a very rigorous and competitive process. They have all passed the requirements for a Top Secret Security Clearance, have all passed suitability evaluations, have all been subjected to name checks and agency checks and every other requirement of hiring into a position of public trust that requires access to classified information. 

They were hired by an agency that has the authority to hire them, promoted by competitive processes that comply with federal laws and had their performances evaluated by standardized procedures that go far beyond the norm for most federal agencies. They are employed in an up or out system which promote people based on demonstrated merit and fires poor performers. 

These processes are not conducted by amateurs. The State Department (read here: the taxpayer) employs thousands of trained and qualified professionals whose sole function it is to evaluate candidates, assess their qualifications for promotion, investigate their backgrounds, suitability and integrity, investigate any infractions or allegations of impropriety, adjudicate the findings, determine whether to discipline and retain them, or fire them, assess their potential for greater responsibility, etc. 

These actions are carried out in compliance with a very broad range of complex federal laws. Compliance with the laws is monitored by an Inspector General, by independent outside auditors, by OPM and OMB, and periodically by the General Accounting Office. The State Department has won both government-wide and national awards for its excellence in conducting some of these functions.

There is no question that the Senate has an obligation to satisfy itself that nominees are qualified, and past Senates relied heavily on input from the agency based on the authorities and resources incumbent to it. Part of the current problem is that, for the first time in memory, Senate staffers are now painstakingly duplicating the efforts of the agency, ignoring agency assertions regarding the qualifications of nominees, and requiring of Foreign Service members things which have not been not required by any other committee, of any other nominee, from any other agency, ever.  

For example, the SFRC now requires Foreign Service nominees to sign a document stating that they have not been convicted of any crime during the past seven years. This has never been required before, and is not required of nominees of other agencies. It is unnecessary, because all Foreign Service members have Top Secret Clearances, which means that by definition, they have not been convicted of any crime in the past seven years, or in any seven year period prior to any renewal of their clearances. 

It seems intended solely as a means to slow down the process and to personally convey to each and every nominee the contempt in which they are held by the Senators who imposed this new procedure in 2014.  

Since every single member of the Foreign Service must pass through the SFRC review process several times during their careers, it also creates additional work for the agency, which must expend resources to ensure compliance with this new, entirely unnecessary, requirement. 

A larger question concerns employees who have committed some infraction at some point in their lives. A SFRC staffer is currently sitting on a number of nominations because, at some point in the past, the employees were investigated or disciplined for minor administrative matters - some over two decades ago. We are not, here, discussing crimes, because crimes would result in the loss of employment, and the employee would not be a nominee. We are talking about investigations which either found an employee innocent, or found that their actions were not criminal and not serious enough to merit dismissal for cause. 

On the one hand, the SFRC requires employees to self-certify only that they have not been convicted of a crime in the past seven years. On the other, they seem to want to go back to infancy to check out those matters which do not rise to the criminal level. 

Putting that discrepancy aside, what does this say about the statutory authority of the agency to make its own personnel decisions? The agency expends resources to investigate, expends resources to adjudicate an outcome that it considers best for the government and the taxpayer, then gets second-guessed twenty years later, and has to expend resources to research and investigate why it did what it did twenty years ago. In what way does that promote efficiency? Is that really the best use of taxpayer resources? 

Considering the fact that experts in the agency have investigated and adjudicated these matters, a reasonable person might assume that the agency's determinations should be relied upon. Or, if doubts remain, that the SFRC would comply with its constitutional mandate to discuss these doubts as part of the consideration of the nominee by the elected Senators who are members of the committee. Clearly the founders intended for that to happen, and more than one Senator has, on more than one occasion, stated that "an up or down vote" is the right of every nominee. 

Instead, the staff of the SFRC simply keep these names off the agenda indefinitely, until they are returned to the White House.  The taxpayer continues to pay them.  The Senate is denied its mandate. For what?  

The new SFRC procedures do not benefit the taxpayer. They prevent the Senate from complying with its mandate by denying Senators the opportunity to discuss nominations in a transparent manner. They hamper the efficiency of the State Department. And they arguably criminally prevent the State Department from being able to carry out the actions required of it by law. 

The American people have a right to a voice in the selection of high level government employees. Candidates nominated by the President of the United States have a right to be reviewed by the Senators elected by their fellow Americans. Senators have a constitutional obligation to perform the duties for which they were elected. We urge the SFRC to allow the Senate to comply with its mandate. 

Friday, December 19, 2014

AFSA Quarterly Update confirms that AFSA did little or nothing in 2013-2014 to support non-Ambassadorial nominations.

With its usual exquisite timing, AFSA sent out a "Quarterly Update" three days after our last post was published, addressing, in part, the issues presented therein. Unfortunately, AFSA's update did more to confirm our concerns than to assuage them. Here's what it said:

"AFSA continued to advocate for Senate confirmation of career members of the Foreign Service as chiefs of missions and to other confirmable positions. AFSA built coalitions with the business community and military associations and sent letters to Senate leadership to help #confirmourambassadors. We met with Democrats and Republicans ranging from Senators to their staffs urging the confirmation of Arnold Chacon as Director General of the Foreign Service. By the end of its legislative session the Senate had confirmed Arnold Chacon and all of our colleagues who had been waiting for confirmation as chiefs of mission.

Our congressional advocacy was not limited to the Senior Foreign Service, as we also focused on Foreign Service Officers awaiting Senate confirmation of initial appointment and tenure. In April, AFSA facilitated a resolution to the inordinate delays in Senate confirmation and in December we re-engaged. On December 15 the Senate confirmed the tenure and appointment of 475 officers by voice vote (Presidential Nomination Lists 1377, 1567, 1568, 1569, and 2137). "

Note: All links provided by AFSA.

Here is the translation with our comments:

1. "AFSA continued to advocate for Senate confirmation of career members of the Foreign Service as chiefs of missions ." 

DMW comment: Certainly true. AFSA's newly rediscovered  "all-ambassadors-all-the-time" focus is not in doubt.   

2) "AFSA built coalitions with the business community and military associations and sent letters to Senate leadership to help confirm ambassadors." 

DMW comment: The letters linked to in AFSA's "Update" mention only Ambassador nominations - the only ones AFSA advocated for.

3) "We met with Democrats and Republicans ranging from Senators to their staffs urging the confirmation of Arnold Chacon as Director General of the Foreign Service." 

DMW comment: Maybe. On the other hand, although Arnie Chacon was indeed confirmed, with or without AFSA support, the nominees for Assistant Secretary for Energy  Resources, Department of State Legal Advisor, Director of the Office of Foreign Missions, Director of the Office of Protocol, six Members of the Advisory Committee on Public Diplomacy, eleven Representatives to the General Assembly of the United Nations, and Foreign Service representatives to the European Development Bank, Inter-American Foundation, African Development Bank, African Development Foundation, Inter-American Development Bank, International Bank for Reconstruction and Development, International Monetary Fund, Overseas Private Investment Corporation and Organization of American States were returned to the President without confirmation on December 17, 2014.  What did AFSA do to advance these important nominations? 

4) "By the end of its legislative session the Senate had confirmed Arnold Chacon and all of our colleagues who had been waiting for confirmation as chiefs of mission." 

DMW Comment: The assertion that all chief of mission nominees were confirmed is simply false. By our count, 13 Ambassadorial nominations, which had been awaiting confirmation as chiefs of mission for, in some cases, nearly two years, were returned to the president unconfirmed. Some made it as far as being placed on the Executive Calendar for final vote, before being sent back. These included ambassador nominees for Sweden, South Sudan, Mali, Mexico, Latvia, Kyrgyzstan, Organization of African Unity, Guyana, Finland, Costa Rica, Bahamas, Trinidad and Tobago, and Norway. 

5) "Our congressional advocacy was not limited to the Senior Foreign Service, as we also focused on Foreign Service Officers awaiting Senate confirmation of initial appointment and tenure." 

DMW: The lack of mention of the several hundred FS members awaiting confirmation of their promotions, some since early 2013, is disturbing.  

 6. "In April, AFSA facilitated a resolution to the inordinate delays in Senate confirmation and in December we re-engaged." 

DMW: Once in April, once in December. Twice in an entire year. And no mention of what this "facilitation" or "engagement" entailed. What was this "resolution?" Why is it not working? Why are nominations still pending for months and years in staffers hands, and still being returned to the White House without any committee action? 

7. "On December 15 the Senate confirmed the tenure and appointment of 475 officers by voice vote (Presidential Nomination Lists 1377156715681569, and 2137)."  

DMW: So if AFSA's Update is to be believed, AFSA's  last-minute December re-engagement after an eight-month hiatus unblocked one USAID list, three Department of Commerce lists, and one of the two longest-pending lists of new State FS appointees. What about the 1178 nominations, some pending for nearly two years, returned to the President on December 17, 2014?   

The questions remain:  

1) What is AFSA doing to expose and address the constitutional issues associated with staffer-initiated delays preventing the elected members of the Senate from performing their constitutionally mandated roles? How is AFSA bringing nominations to the attention of the elected Senators who have a constitutional obligation to advise the President regarding them?  

2) How is AFSA addressing the fact that hundreds of Consular Officers are, technically speaking, unable to be fully accredited to the countries to which they are assigned, because their commissions have not been attested to, and that hundreds of other Foreign Service members responsible for managing and safeguarding government resources are similarly operating without the commissions which technically grant them authority to do so? 

3) Where is the evidence (other than AFSA reports containing demonstrable errors of fact) of AFSA's efforts? 

4)  Why has AFSA been silent on the humiliating document introduced in August 2014, not required of employees of any other agency of government, but now required of all FS members facing Senate confirmation?

5) Where is AFSA's public statement of support, or better yet, public letter to the Senate, for  the One Thousand, One Hundred and Seventy Eight "routine" nominees, and the dozens of senior nominees for non-ambassadorial positions, and the thirteen ambassador nominees, whose names were returned, day before yesterday, to the White House? 

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Where is AFSA?

The separation and division of powers between the three branches of the American government plays an important theoretical role in preventing any branch from abusing its powers.  As part of this division, senior officials of government, including members of the diplomatic service, are nominated and appointed by the president, “by and with the advice and consent of the Senate.”
The responsibility of the Senate to advise the President on these appointments, and, if the Senate finds nominees unqualified, to turn them down, rests with the elected Senators, and assumes that the Senators themselves will review nominations and take timely actions to approve them or return them to the White House. 

In the real world, we all know that Senators, like everyone else, have staff who perform the research and basic analysis, and put together “packages” for the Senators to vote on. But even in a world where “staffers” do most of the work, the ultimate responsibility to advise the president, according to our constitution, lies with the individuals defined in article one, section three, of the Constitution, i.e. the elected Senators. 

That has not been happening in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Not, at least, with regard to the routine nominations of Foreign Service members for non-ambassadorial positions. Not, in other words, with respect to the vast majority of our colleagues.

During the past two years, thousands of Foreign Service nominations have been held up by the unelected staff of a single SFRC member, without being allowed to go forward for a vote by the elected officials empowered by the United States Constitution to review them.   Last year, over a thousand names of our Foreign Service colleagues were returned to the White House without having been considered by elected members of the Senate. This year, again, nearly a thousand Foreign Service nominations will be returned to the White House or retained in committee under similar circumstances.

This is not without meaning. Putting aside the constitutional questions associated with preventing the elected members of the Senate from performing their constitutionally mandated roles, there is a direct consequence to the ability of the affected Foreign Service employees to perform their jobs.

Hundreds of Consular Officers are, technically speaking, unable to be fully accredited to the countries to which they are assigned, because their commissions have not been attested to. Hundreds of other Foreign Service members responsible for managing and safeguarding government resources are similarly operating without the commissions which technically grant them authority to do so. These FS members are doing their jobs without commissions, on the expectation that the Senate will one day confirm them.  The alternative would be to halt overseas operations, including services to American citizens overseas, until the nominations were confirmed. 

This is an astounding assault on our Service. And the American Foreign Service Association (AFSA) has remained silent.

Last year, when efforts by State Department officials unblocked some 1700 nominations that had built up under these circumstances, AFSA suddenly and inexplicably took credit. But where is the evidence of AFSA's efforts? 

Why has AFSA been silent on the humiliating document introduced in August 2014, not required of employees of any other agency of government, but now required of all FS members facing Senate confirmation?  

And more importantly, what is AFSA doing now to address a situation that has continued unchanged since that time?

Yes, AFSA, with its newly rediscovered “all Ambassadors all the time” throwback-to-the-bad-old-days focus, has been vociferously denouncing political Ambassador nominations, and yes, AFSA has been commendably urging its members to write to their Senators in support of well deserving career Ambassador nominees; but what, exactly, has AFSA done to address the hundreds of ordinary FS nominations that have been denied a place on the Senate calendar because a staffer wants to keep them on hold?

Where is AFSA's statement of support, or better yet, letter to the Senate, for  the hundreds of our colleagues who are not ambassadors, but whose services are vital to the Foreign Service mission, and who are, after all, AFSA members? 

Monday, December 24, 2012

NORAD is ready to track Santa's flight

From NORAD's website:

PETERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Colo. -- The North American Aerospace Defense Command is getting ready to track Santa’s yuletide journey! The NORAD Tracks Santa website,, went live today featuring a Countdown Calendar, a Kid’s Countdown Village complete with holiday games and activities that change daily, and video messages from students and troops from around the world. With the addition of Brazilian Portuguese, the website is now available in eight languages: English, French, Spanish, German, Italian, Japanese, Brazilian Portuguese, and Chinese.

Starting at midnight MST on Dec. 24, website visitors can watch Santa as he makes all the preparations for his flight. Then, at 4 a.m. MST (6 a.m. EST), trackers worldwide can talk to a live phone operator to inquire about Santa’s whereabouts by dialing the toll-free number 1-877-Hi-NORAD (1-877-446-6723) or by sending an email to NORAD’s “Santa Cams” will also stream videos as Santa makes his way over various locations worldwide.

NORAD Tracks Santa has truly become a global experience, delighting generations of families everywhere. It is due, in large part, to the efforts and services of numerous contributors. New to this year’s program are Acuity Scheduling, Big Fish Worldwide, Carousel Industries, the Colorado Springs Chamber of Commerce Military Affairs Council, General Electric, the National Tree Lighting Ceremony, RadiantBlue Technologies Inc., thunderbaby studios, the U.S. Coast Guard Band, the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy Band, Visionbox, and the West Point Band. Returning collaborators include the Air Force Academy Band, Analytical Graphics Inc., Air Canada, Avaya, Booz Allen Hamilton, Colorado Springs School District 11, the Defense Video & Imagery Distribution System, the Federal Aviation Administration, First Choice Awards & Gifts, Globelink Foreign Language Center, Google, the Marine Toys for Tots Foundation, Meshbox, the Naden Band of the Maritime Forces Pacific, Naturally Santa’s Inc., the Newseum, OnStar, PCI Broadband, the Space Foundation, tw telecom, Verizon and UGroup Media.

It all started in 1955 when a local media ad directed kids to call Santa direct – only the number was misprinted. Instead of reaching Santa, the phone rang through to the Crew Commander on duty at the Continental Air Defense Command Operations Center. Thus began the tradition which NORAD has carried on since it was created in 1958.

“NORAD stands the watch protecting the skies of North America 365 days a year, but on Christmas Eve the children of the world look to NORAD, and our trusted partners, to make sure that Santa is able to complete his mission safely,” said General Charles H. Jacoby, Jr., NORAD Commander.

“This mission is a duty to the children of the world and a privilege we've enjoyed for 56 consecutive years, but the effort could not be carried out without the superb assistance of numerous government and non-government contributors. It is the generosity of these contributors, the hard work of the more than 1,200 volunteers who man the NORAD Tracks Santa Operation Center, and vigilance of the Canadian and U.S. forces who work at NORAD that guarantees the program's success each and every year."

BTW: This is based on Google Earth. If you press the plus sign, you can zoom in close enough to see buildings and such, and maybe catch Santa actually going down a chimney

Friday, December 21, 2012

The Fallout Begins

As Diplopundit and the media have noted, four senior State Department employees have lost their jobs over the attacks in Benghazi. We have been silent, for reasons having nothing to do with those events, but feel the need to say the following:

Benghazi was a terrible tragedy. Four good men, patriots, colleagues, family members, lost their lives in service to the American people.  They were killed, in part, because they were not adequately protected. That is hugely sad and unfortunate.

Of the four people punished for that event by being let go, the highest-ranking should have left long ago. Another, the lowest in the DS chain, had made some difficult decisions badly. The other two were, like our colleagues in Benghazi, in the wrong place at the wrong time. One will be sorely missed by DS, which would have benefited greatly from his continued service.

A very large part of the problem has not been addressed. Yes, bad decisions were made. And yes, the results were tragic.

Congress is currently saying, every day, that when there is not enough money, difficult choices have to be made. State, which received less than adequate security funding from that same Congress, made difficult choices.

Security funding is insurance. And like all insurance, you pray you will never need it. It is expensive. And if the security works well, it looks like a lot of money has been spent for nothing. In this climate, government officials who look like they are spending a lot of money for nothing get hammered. Particularly if you have to get waivers for other rules in order to spend that money. So people send their limited resources to the places that look like they need it most, and hope for the best.

The problem is that the enemy looks for weak spots. And the enemy has eyes now all over the world. So they find the spots where the money has not been spent for insurance. Very quickly, a place that looks "safer" in comparison, can become, in retrospect, the place that needed it the most.  Monitoring that takes resources as well. And again, when all goes well, the money spent monitoring that looks wasted.

Bad choices were made, and heads should roll. But if bad choices were made, they were made because the funding to make the best choices was not there. That does not excuse what happened. But there is blame to go around, and a lot of it lies with those high up on a Hill, who, while talking a strong game now, considered the amount State asked for, for insurance, too expensive to fund.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Happy Thanksgiving!

Today is the most American day of the year.

The 4th of July celebrates the independence of our country from the British. Thanksgiving celebrates who we are. It is the closest thing America has to a traditional folk festival - it is our Oktoberfest, our Tomatina, our Highland Games. No matter where you go in the world, even if people don't know why, they know that Americans eat Turkey on Thanksgiving.

It is the only national spiritual holiday to originate in America. And the one which most stuck in my memory of a childhood spent at embassies overseas. Before the civil rights movement brought us non-demoniational prayer in public events, it was the only day when a Jewish American, a Christian American, A Moslem American, and every American, could share what is, in most religions, the most basic of all prayers: a prayer of thanks.

And the one day when nearly every person in America, no matter what their ethnic or national origin, will sit down to nearly exactly the same meal. The same experience.
The same post turkey stupor.

I would write more, but you see where I am going with this. And i am off to the table, to join America in its feast.

Friday, October 12, 2012

An Important Step to Enhance National Security

From the Washington post, by Joe Davidson:

President Obama has done what Congress has not — extend whistleblower protections to national security and intelligence employees.

A Presidential Policy Directive issued Wednesday says employees “who are eligible for access to classified information can effectively report waste, fraud, and abuse while protecting classified national security information. It prohibits retaliation against employees for reporting waste, fraud, and abuse.”

With this directive, Obama hands national security and intelligence community whistleblowers and their advocates an important victory in their frequently frustrating efforts to expand protection against retaliation for federal employees who expose agency misconduct.

Protection for intelligence and national security workers was not included, as advocates had hoped, in the Whistleblower Protection Enhancement Act that passed the House last month and now awaits action in the Senate. Retaliation can come in different forms, including dismissals, assignments or revocation of security clearances.

Obama instructed agencies, including the CIA, to establish a review process, within 270 days, that allows employees to appeal actions in conflict with the directive that affect their access to classified information.

Angela Canterbury, director of public policy for the Project on Government Oversight , an advocacy group, said in an e-mail that “this unprecedented Presidential Policy Directive is leveled at the endemic culture of secrecy in the intelligence community (IC) and the dearth of accountability it fosters. The directive prohibits retaliation for protected disclosures by IC employees; prohibits retaliatory actions related to security clearances and eligibility for access to classified information and directs agencies to create a review process for related reprisal claims; mandates that each intelligence agency create a review process for claims of retaliation consistent with the policies and procedures in the Whistleblower Protection Act (WPA); provides significant remedies where retaliation is substantiated, including reinstatement and compensatory damages; and creates a review board of Inspectors General (IGs) where IC whistleblowers can appeal agency decisions.”

Advocates say these measures not only protect free-speech rights but also make unauthorized leaks of sensitive information less likely by creating a proper avenue for whistleblowers.

But for all it does, the directive “only is a landmark breakthrough in principle,” according to another organization, the Government Accountability Project (GAP).

“Until agencies adopt implementing regulations, no one whose new rights are violated will have any due process to enforce them,” said Tom Devine, GAP’s legal director. “Further, there are only false due process teeth on the horizon.” Regulations to enforce whistleblower rights will be written by the same agencies that routinely are the defendants in whistleblower retaliation lawsuits, according to GAP.

Both Canterbury and Devine praised Obama’s action, while calling on Congress to make his order the law.

“President Obama has kept his promise to national security whistleblowers . . . ,” Devine said in an e-mail. “This law is no substitute for congressional action to make the rights permanent, comprehensive and enforceable through due process teeth.”

Obama’s promise was in the administration’s September 2011 “National Action Plan” for transparency and open government. It said “if Congress remains deadlocked, the Administration will explore options for utilizing executive branch authority to strengthen and expand whistleblower protections.”

National security whistleblower protections are not in the legislation now before Congress because the Republican leadership of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence (HPSCI) opposed them.

Committee Chairman Mike Rogers (R-Mich.) “dragged his feet, never held a hearing, and never fully explained his concerns,” Canterbury said. “This put the House co-sponsors in a tough spot. They ultimately removed all of the intelligence-related provisions so that Rogers would relinquish his hold and they could move the bill.”

Under Rogers, according to Devine, “for two years HPSCI has refused to engage in serious discussions on national security whistleblower rights, either with the public or even Republican offices seeking a consensus.”

Rogers’s committee staff did not respond to requests for comment.

Though happy about Obama’s directive, whistleblower advocates are not totally pleased with the way the administration has, in some cases, treated whistleblowers. Canterbury said she is “truly gratified and grateful” for the directive, but noted “we also have been critical of this Administration’s prosecutions of so-called leakers under the Espionage Act. We have raised concerns about the possible infringement of rights and the chilling effect on would-be whistleblowers of the aggressive prosecutions and certain post-WikiLeaks policies.”

Obama’s directive does a lot to balance those concerns. At the same time, Canterbury, Devine and other advocates will continue to push Congress to follow the president’s lead by approving legislation with national security whistleblower protections.

“The President has done his share with this landmark breakthrough,” Devine said. “Congress needs to finish what he started.”