TOPIC: Dept. of State

EPA scolds State Department on oil pipeline

It’s one thing for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to be mad at an oil company, but, in the case of a proposed oil pipeline that will start in Alberta, Canada and snake through the Midwest, EPA is directing their ire at the State Department. The State Department must approve a pipeline built by TransCanada that will start in Alberta, because it crosses the American border. Elizabeth McGowan at Solve Climate reports that the State Dept. seems unconcerned about the numerous environmental problems — for greenhouse gas emissions, for migratory birds, for wetlands — that such an enormous pipeline might cause. (more…)

U.S.-Canadian oil pipeline shut down

The U.S. Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (part of the Dept. of Transportation) announced that is temporarily shutting down an oil pipeline that runs from Alberta, Canada into Montana and then the Great Plains and Midwest. Matthew Daley of the Associated Press reports that federal inspectors want to check safety on the pipeline run by the TransCanada company after a recent leak of 400 oil barrels in North Dakota.

The news comes as TransCanada wants a 2nd pipeline — one that would run from Alberta down into Texas. This pipeline needs approval not just from the Transportation Dept. but the State Department, since it crosses national borders.

Foreign aid’s uncertain future

Sharon Schmickle of MinnPost has a really interesting article about how the federal focus on fiscal austerity impacts local contributions to foreign aid. “Federal funding has underwritten Minnesota’s many efforts to help people around the world cope with poverty and disaster,” Schmickle writes. “Minnesota’s church groups, medical missions and farmers with surplus food to share all have leveraged federal foreign aid to do global good deeds.” (more…)

The Recess Appointment That Wasn’t

Dawn Johnsen

On Saturday, Barack Obama used his power to make administration appointments with the Senate in recess, placing fifteen previously nominated appointees into executive branch positions. Coverage of Obama’s appointments focused on whether Republicans are angry (They are!) and if recess appointments (which both George W. Bush and Bill Clinton liberally employed) signaled further erosion of bipartisanship. Less commented on is how vacant positions impact the workings of government. One example is a post that Obama decided not to fill with a recess appointment — the head of the Justice Dept’s Office of Legal Counsel, a position that Obama nominated Indiana law professor Dawn Johnsen to fill sixteen months ago. (more…)

The Lucrative Potential of Nation-Building

The strain of two wars on Pentagon and State Dept personnel has opened up novel opportunities for government contractors. (more…)

You Can’t Get Rid of Blackwater

The Washington Post’s Joby Warrick reports that the Government Accountability Office has decided that the State Dept. improperly rewarded Xe Services — the company formerly known as Blackwater and I’m going to call them Blackwater — a $1 billion contract to train police officers in Afghanistan. Blackwater rival contractor DynCorp successfully argued to GAO that the contract should have been competitively bid on. DynCorp is the current holder of the State Dept. contract to train Afghanistan police officers.

GAO and the State Dept. now will review how to reward the police training contract. Even if Blackwater ends up without the contract, they still have a State Dept. contract to fight narcotics in Afghanistan. The company’s success in winning Afghanistan contracts is a stark contrast to the Iraq government’s ban of Blackwater. Iraq political leaders feel Blackwater personnel murdered innocent Iraqis, including 17 in a public square shooting in 2007. The U.S. State Dept. — with cooperation from the Afghanistan government — evidently think that Blackwater’s notorious history as a government contractor is not a disqualification.

Iraq Police Academy, Year 7 And Counting

Here’s an oldie but goodie — State Dept. contracts to rebuild Iraq are vulnerable to billions in waste, fraud and abuse. The Wall Street Journal’s August Cole relays an Iraq special inspector general report that police training by Virginia-based company DynCorp is not being adequately monitored by State Dept. personnel and that sloppy invoices mean that over $2.5 billion is vulnerable to waste.

DynCorp has won State Dept. contracts since 2004 to train Iraq police forces. And while the end might be in sight for military combat in Iraq (2011), there is no withdrawal deadline for State Dept. contractors. In fact, the IG report says security costs could quadruple in 2011.

Robert Gates’ Radical Idea To Get The Pentagon and Foggy Bottom To Cooperate

The Washington Post’s Mary Beth Sheridan and Greg Jaffe reports that Defense Sec. Robert Gates wants to merge together the Pentagon and State Departments responsibilities for nation-building in failing states like Somalia and Yemen:

The proposal would concentrate existing and new money in three long-term funds totaling as much as $2 billion. They would be dedicated to training security forces, preventing conflicts and stabilizing violence-torn societies around the world. The funds would exist separately from the war budgets, and allow for quicker and better-coordinated response to looming or actual conflicts, officials said.

In a memo to Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, Gates noted that the huge increase in Pentagon funding for stabilization efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan has prompted complaints about the militarization of U.S. foreign policy.

The proposal “sets forth a new approach that could transcend these debates. It argues for a new model of shared responsibility and pooled resources for cross-cutting security challenges,” Gates wrote in the unclassified Dec. 15 memo, which was obtained by The Washington Post.

It is hard to see, though, how a $2 billion program can transcend any national security debate. (more…)

What Works (in human rights policy)

Secretary of State Clinton’s recent speech on America’s human rights agenda at Georgetown University may deserve a place in history, if the Obama Administration sticks to its own program.

The language was definitely Clintonian (Hillarian?) – straightforward, mostly unambiguous, and inspiring in a grounded sort of way.  It included the following insights:

  • “Democracy has proven the best political system for making human rights a human reality over the long term.”
  • “In democracies, respecting rights isn’t a choice leaders make day by day; it is the reason they govern.”
  • “We may call rights inalienable, but making them so has always been hard work.”
  • “Believing in human rights means committing ourselves to action, and when we sign up for the promise of rights that apply everywhere, to everyone, that rights will be able to protect and enable human dignity, we also sign up for the hard work of making that promise a reality.”

This was “the” Obama administration human rights speech for the next few years at least, since it laid out four key ingredients for human rights  in U.S. foreign policy. (more…)

Blackwater, the Afghanistan War, and the Revolving Door

The New York Times’ James Risen and Mark Mazetti broke the news last night that the company formerly known as Blackwater actively participated in CIA raids against insurgents in Iraq and Afghanistan. Blackwater also transported detainees for the CIA. This is despite the fact that that Blackwater’s CIA contract stipulated that the private security contractor should only participate in defensive operations. And also that government contracting law and common sense dictate that private companies shouldn’t be fighting wars.

After the Jack Abramoff scandal in 2006, there was a lot of talk about the “revolving door” in Washington between lobbyists and lawmakers. It became a familiar narrative that members of Congress or former Congressional staffers would leave Capitol Hill and take a lucrative job in the private sector where they proceeded to influence their former Hill colleagues. What the history of Blackwater has demonstrated is the “revolving door” between the Pentagon, intelligence agencies and the coterie of private security contracting companies. (more…)