U.S. embassy in Baghdad needs transition plan for staffing, vehicles

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As U.S. troops prepare to withdraw from Iraq by the end of 2011, the American embassy in Baghdad must make its own transition plans to protect staff, hire more Iraqi civilians, and manage its fleet of more than 1,000 mostly armored vehicles, a report by the inspector general of the State Department found.

The current state of the embassy reflects war-time needs, with few cultural affairs officers and little contact with Iraqi civilians, according to the report. The Baghdad embassy submitted a transition plan in April to the State Department, but it was “obviously derived” from a planning document for the U.S. embassy in Islamabad because several pages discussed staffing, funding, and programs in Pakistan, not Iraq, the inspector general said.

The embassy should hand over to the Iraqi government sensitive documents detailing the dissolution of the Iraqi Army and restrictions on senior members of the Baath Party. Returning the documents would “remove a potential bilateral irritant, demonstrate respect for Iraqi sovereignty, and promote rule of law in Iraq,” according to the watchdog report.

On the plus-side, the embassy has been hiring more local staff to build a base of skilled, experienced Iraqi employees. However, many work only one year at the embassy because they can obtain permanent U.S. residency with refugee status after 12 months of service – rather than the customary 15 to 20 years of required embassy service required in other countries to qualify for residency status, the report said.

Another issue: The embassy must better manage its fleet of 1,007 mostly armored vehicles, which are valued at nearly $117 million. It should not acquire any more vehicles until the embassy has assessed the existing ones and figured out staff needs, the inspector general said.

FAST FACT: Maintaining an American employee at the embassy in Baghdad's "Green Zone" costs an estimated $1.5 million to $2.3 million per year, largely due to security to protect workers.

Following are other new watchdog reports released by the Government Accountability Office (GAO), various federal Offices of Inspector General (OIG), and other government entities. Congressional Research Service reports, which prepared for lawmakers but not made public, were provided by the Center for Democracy and Technology.

FINANCE

* IRS must improve its coordination with U.S. Attorney offices for housing foreclosures to ensure proceeds from foreclosure sales can be applied by a taxpayer toward a federal tax lien, which could reduce their overall taxes. (OIG)

DEFENSE

* Navy officials may have wrongly paid up to $4.1 million in fees to Northrop Grumman, the primary contractor on the Broad Area Maritime Surveillance drone aircraft program valued at a total of $1.8 billion (OIG).

ENVIRONMENT

* With scientists’ projecting the Arctic will be ice-free in the summer by 2030, Canada, Russia, Norway, Denmark, and the United States are preparing territorial claims for the region. (Congressional Research Service)

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