WASHINGTON (Reuters) – In a controversy underscoring continued stresses in U.S.-Russia relations, Obama administration officials are debating how many Russian officials to ban from the United States under a new law meant to penalize Moscow for alleged human rights abuses.
The debate’s outcome, expected in about two weeks, is likely to illustrate how President Barack Obama will handle what critics say is a crackdown on dissent in Russia and set the tone for Washington-Moscow relations in the president’s second term.
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Lawmakers are reconsidering a 1990 law that makes the State Department accept the lowest bids for contracts to provide private security at most U.S. diplomatic posts, a requirement that can lead to the hiring of thousands of guards based on how cheap they are rather than their quality.
Concerns about the policy, which was aimed at cutting costs, were heightened by the assault on the U.S. mission in Benghazi, Libya, last September, in which U.S. Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans were killed. None of the local guards was outside the lightly defended complex when it was overrun by militants, according to the results of a U.S. government inquiry.
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – House Republican leaders proposed on Monday to spend another $2 billion on U.S. diplomatic security this year, using money unspent in Iraq to provide cash the Obama administration said was necessary to help prevent another Benghazi-style attack.
The proposal, an exception amid general budget cutbacks, is part of the House Republican majority’s plan for funding the government for the rest of fiscal 2013, which ends on September 30. Much of the legislation would continue government spending at the same level of last year – minus cuts mandated by the so-called sequestration that took effect last week.
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – More than half the U.S. diplomatic posts overseas may not fully meet security standards, a senior U.S. official told a hearing on Thursday that follows an attack on the mission in Benghazi in which the U.S. ambassador and three other Americans died.
Pat Kennedy, the under secretary of state for management at the State Department, told a House of Representatives appropriations subcommittee that the United States had a diplomatic presence at 283 locations around the world.
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The U.S. government should reconsider whether to spend more on reconstruction aid in Afghanistan, the U.S. watchdog who monitors the funds said on Wednesday, citing Afghanistan’s persistent corruption and inability to manage projects as U.S. troops withdraw.
John Sopko, the special inspector general for Afghan reconstruction, said $20 billion in U.S. assistance for Afghanistan had been appropriated but not yet spent. Nearly $10 billion more in aid may soon be approved by Congress.
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Afghanistan’s government does not appear able to manage the large amounts of direct aid that the United States and other countries have pledged, the U.S. watchdog monitoring funds spent on Afghan reconstruction said.
John Sopko, the Special Inspector General for Afghan Reconstruction, raised a red flag over U.S. plans to give Kabul billions of dollars more in direct aid instead of providing assistance through contractors and non-governmental organizations operating on behalf of the American government.
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Funds to beef up security at U.S. diplomatic posts would be slashed by an estimated $168 million this year under spending cuts due to kick in shortly, congressional Democrats said.
The funds would be axed from the State Department’s budget for embassy and diplomatic security if the across-the-board cuts to the U.S. budget, known as “sequestration,” go ahead on March 1, said Matt Dennis, spokesman for the Democrats on the House Appropriations Committee.
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Some U.S. diplomatic posts are violating security standards for overseas buildings and the State Department is not keeping track of the exemptions to the rules it does grant, the department’s inspector general said in a review released after the attack on the U.S. mission in Benghazi.
“Inspectors … found conditions of noncompliance with security standards for which posts had not sought exceptions or waivers,” the report by Deputy Inspector General Harold Geisel said.
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – An anxious U.S. defense industry has launched a new push to galvanize lawmakers who are doing little to stop the massive federal spending cuts due to kick in on March 1.
Defense contractors started a fresh surge of letter-writing campaigns and meetings with U.S. officials to plead their case about why the billions of dollars in cuts known as sequestration would harm not only the defense sector but the larger economy.
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – From his lonely position as an early Republican critic of the Iraq war, former Nebraska Senator Chuck Hagel sometimes lectured his more timid Senate colleagues. “If you wanted a safe job, go sell shoes,” he told them.
President Barack Obama’s nominee for defense secretary began a Senate confirmation process on Thursday that revived the contentious relations the fiercely independent Vietnam war veteran had with fellow Republicans over his political career.