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$100,000 for diplomat lawn chairs in surprising place

Sample of Janus et Cie lawn furniture

The Trump administration has wasted no time reversing Obama policies, but actions such as the State Department’s purchase of nearly $100,000 in luxury lawn furniture – solely for the U.S. Embassy in Islamabad, Pakistan – are proceeding untouched.

State Department officials after the New Year revealed they would not open their acquisition of extravagant outdoor pieces to competitive bidding. Then on Jan. 24 they awarded a sole-source contract for $95,376.56 to Janus et Cie, a California-based company whose client list includes hotels, resorts and corporations worldwide.

The company’s “specific product was chosen for its aesthetics and no other product will meet the unique color and style needed,” the State Department said in its explanation for the non-competitive contract.

“The specific design features coordinate with the unique architectural details, the environment, and the existing conditions of the U.S. Embassy in Islamabad,” they added.

The department conducted “extensive market research” on other luxury furniture providers, none of which could entirely satisfy the Islamabad compound’s needs, it said in a Sole Source Justification for Simplified Acquisition document.

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Indeed, if the Office of Acquisition Management had instead awarded multiple, competitive contracts to meet the specific design and durability requirements, the cost would have been greater, it claimed in the document, which was devoid of signatures or approvals from officials.

In a separate contracting-action of comparable opulence, State awarded a $164,000 annual contract to a company to perform maintenance on four pools and a hot tub at U.S. diplomatic residences affiliated with the U.S. Mission to Israel.

“Proper maintenance of swimming pools is health safety issue and is therefore an important element of the quality of life of the U.S. Mission,” State said in Contract No. SIS70017D0001, which was competitively awarded to Man Zigi Company.

The contractor five days per week (three days in winter) will check the temperature, the PH balance and conduct other tasks such as inspecting “the condition of the pool tiles for accumulation of dirt and bacteria” at the pool and hot tub of the ambassador’s residence in Herzliya Pituach. Maintenance also will be carried out on the pool of the deputy chief of mission’s residence in Herzliya Pituach and the adult and children’s pools at the recreation center at Kfar Shmaryahu.

Aid programs continue

Speculation continues about potential proposals by Trump to reform foreign aid. But as the president prioritizes executive actions – to back out of, for instance, Obama trade deals and to ensure pro-abortion foreign-aid organizations do not receive government funding – various congressionally approved foreign-assistance initiatives are proceeding as was planned under Obama.

Among actions that the U.S. Agency for International Development, or USAID, launched immediately prior to, during and after President Trump’s inauguration were endeavors to re-train incompetent teachers in Africa and keep juvenile gang members out of Honduran prisons.

USAID on Inauguration Day alerted contractors to new opportunities in Africa, where the Read Liberia! project would encourage the government of Liberia to commit to supporting evidence-based reading instruction, among other targeted goals.

The agency acknowledged that existing USAID-funded Liberian schools and unsupported schools alike are failing to improve student reading skills in first and second grade classrooms.

Possible reasons for the shortcomings are poor teacher-training programs and the failure of the Liberian government and its partners to adequately invest in early grade reading initiatives, the agency said in Solicitation No. SOL-669-17-000004.

In the first year of Read Liberia!, USAID will focus assistance to 2,700 kindergarten students in 60 schools and 57,600 first and second grade students in 640 schools. It did not disclose an estimated cost.

“However, the issues of educational quality and efficiency at all levels of the system remain a major challenge,” the agency said in a request for bids.

Drop-out is high, repetition is frequent and student outcomes on system exams remain far from satisfactory.”

USAID/Honduras’s proposed “Improving Tertiary Violence Prevention,” or ITVP, activity seeks to reduce the rate by which high-risk juveniles return to jail or prison in this Central American nation.

The agency said it recognizes that a “small number” of state and non-governmental organizations provide help to this targeted population segment. As a result, USAID over five years wishes to improve the ability of these groups to provide services to prevent recidivism, centering on “the themes of rehabilitation, reintegration and the reduction of stigma.”

USAID is seeking comments on a draft statement outlining the tentative endeavor. If approved, the initiative would complement several other existing, U.S.-funded crime-prevention and gang-intervention projects in Honduras, which the agency says is one of the most violent nations in the world.

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