Thursday, June 4, 2020

US Embassy slips on intelligence background checks – Report

By Calistus Bosaletswe

There are fears the security intelligence at US Embassy in Gaborone may have been compromised after the embassy failed to conduct intelligence conduct background checks on some personnel it hired.

The alert stems from the Office of the Inspector General audit disclosing that the Peace Corps program under US Embassy failed to obtain intelligence background checks on Personal Services Contracts (PSC) engaged for personal services in Botswana.

According to the report the security background check is mandatory to get rid of individuals who have prior intelligence connections through employment, related work, even family relations may be ineligible for a personal contract.

Inspector General Kathy Buller of the Office of the Inspector General, who compiled the report titled “Final Report on the Audit of Peace Corps Botswana,” revealed that several PSC’s were in possession of expired security certifications while others were missing required intelligence background forms.

The report which came out last year in August was part of the audit conducted at the Peace Corps Headquarters in Washington D.C and here in Gaborone.

In the report Buller pointed out that several personal service contractors had expired security certifications while others were missing required intelligence background forms.

Buller’s report said despite the fact that it is mandatory to conduct background investigations before executing the contract there were no such background checks done is some instances in Gaborone. The report also noted that the country director was unable to request recertification of continuously employed PSC every five years.

Muller further indicated that their review of staff security certifications for long-term personal service contractors disclosed that there were no updated Regional Security Officers memorandums to clear 7 out of 18 long-term post staff.

The Gaborone Embassy safety and security staff have protested a backlog existed and decried worldwide slowdown in granting security clearances hence relying on temporary clearances.

The report noted that even with the temporary solution some staff continued in their positions with expired certifications on file. The report further noted that the embassy could not provide any explanation why they did not regularly pursue temporary clearances.

In one instance one personal service contractor was missing the intelligence background form and was therefore not in compliance with mandatory security checks which states that PSCs must complete an intelligence background form.

According to the report the country director responsible for ensuring completion of the forms at the time was no longer at the post so they could not determine the cause for the issue.

“It is important for the Peace Corps to obtain and maintain intelligence background forms for all PSCs because agency policy dictates that an individual who has prior intelligence connections through employment, related work, or even family relations may be ineligible for a personal services contract. Background checks for staff are one of the major cornerstones to protecting volunteers and maintaining integrity,” the report said.

Buller’s report recommended that the country director should ensure that security re-certifications are properly maintained for long term personal services contractors as per Peace Corps policy.

The report also recommended that the director of management and operations provide intelligence background forms for all personal service contractors to the office of safety and security.

However, the US Embassy has agreed in a report that the director of management and operations and the human resources assistant have completed an audit of files and missing intelligence background forms have been added as of October last year after the report came out .

The Embassy noted that they will provide a letter from Office of Strategic Office confirming all personal services contractors with an intelligence form on file.

According to the report, for country resident PSCs contracted for 260 work days or more, the Contracting Officer must ask the Regional Security Officers (RSO) to conduct a background investigation of the proposed PSC prior to executing the contract.

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