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McCain and Graham lash out at Levin over defense bill

By Foreign Policy's Josh Rogin
Wednesday, September 15, 2010; 8:32 PM

McCain and Graham lash out at Levin over defense bill

The Senate is expected to take up the defense authorization bill next week, but top Republicans on the Senate Armed Services Committee are promising to oppose the legislation because of its language on gays in the military and the possible insertion of an amendment on immigration.

Every year, both parties agree to pass the defense bill, even while large parts of the rest of the legislative agenda go uncompleted. For that reason, it is often viewed by senators as a convenient vehicle for other legislation they want to move through Congress - whether or not it is related to the military.

Last year, Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl M. Levin (D-Mich.), to the chagrin of Republicans, successfully added language expanding protections from hate crimes. This year, Democrats are expected to attempt to tack on the "American Dream Act," a bill that would provide a path to U.S. citizenship for illegal immigrant students.

Committee Republicans are not happy.

"This is an all-time low for me being in the Senate, and that's saying something," committee member Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.) told The Cable. "The one area that has been kept off-limits from partisan politics has been the defense of our nation."

"Obviously it's about politics," Graham continued. "You're trying to check a box with the Hispanic voters on the Dream Act . . . this is using the defense bill in a partisan fashion that hasn't been done before."

Actually, the defense bill has often been the subject of partisan wrangling. What is unprecedented, however, is that the bill could come to the Senate floor without the support of the committee's top Republican, John McCain (Ariz).

McCain adamantly opposes the bill because it contains language that could lead to the repeal of the military's "don't ask, don't tell" policy, which bans gay men and lesbians from serving openly in the U.S. military.

Levin told The Cable that he expects Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.) to file cloture on the defense bill this week, which would mean it would reach the floor early next week.

Report: Baghdad embassy misspent millions on phantom meals

The U.S. Embassy in Baghdad paid millions to a government contractor for meals and snacks that nobody ate, according to a new internal State Department report.

The State Department's office of the inspector general found that the embassy overpaid by more than $2 million, including nearly $1 million in snacks alone. The funds went to contractor KBR, the former subsidiary of Halliburton that runs food service for the 1,500-plus employees of the world's largest embassy complex.

A significant part of the discrepancy was a result of the way in which people are counted when they stop by what's called the "Grab-n-Go" snack stands at the embassy. This resulted in $970,000 dollars paid to KBR it didn't deserve, the report explained.

Partial blame lies with the embassy, according to the OIG. For example, the embassy staff encouraged employees to sign in every time they stopped by the nack areas, even if they were just picking up a cup of coffee or going back for an apple. As a result, "it was not uncommon to see 6-8 scans per individual for the same meal period. One person scanned his card 25 times in two days."

Embassy management even put up signs around the embassy last year that read, "More scans = more goodies."

This practice, among others, resulted in inflated numbers being sent back to the contractor. "OIG calculates the current embassy policy inflates the reported plate cost by 16 percent," the report says.

The embassy said that the OIG's description of how the Grab-n-Go stands work was "not completely accurate" and that the money paid to KBR is based on the amount of food eaten, not the number of scans.

Clinton to State employees: Seek mental health help if you need it

Following calls by the OIG to eliminate the stigma surrounding mental health and stress treatment, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton is urging her employees to seek help without fear of retribution.

"Seeking help is a sign of responsibility and it is not a threat to your security clearance," Clinton wrote in an e-mail this month to all State Department employees. "No one at State has lost a clearance because he or she sought mental health counseling or treatment. In fact, Diplomatic Security has advised that receiving recommended treatment for mental health concerns is a favorable factor during security clearance determinations."

In a July report, the OIG concluded that mental health services for employees returning from high-stress or high-threat postings were improving but that there was still a stigma attached to employees seeking help. The OIG called on State to issue a high-level statement encouraging returning diplomats to use the mental health tools at their disposal.

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