US State Department Inspector General Refers Complaint Against USA Pavilion at Expo 2010 to Secretary of State’s Executive Director.

Shanghai Scrap has viewed documents revealing that last week the US Department of State’s Office of Inspector General [OIG] forwarded a request for investigation into the Department’s stewardship of the USA Pavilion at Expo 2010 to the US Secretary of State’s Executive Director. The complaint requests a “full and fair recounting of the events that transpired … in the US Pavilion process over the last three years.” As reported on Shanghai Scrap, both the State Department and the private organization managing the US pavilion, have refused repeated requests to produce documents related to the pavilion selection process, pavilion fund-raising, and the basic rules governing operation of the pavilion (the “action plan”), among other essential details relating to the oft-troubled US pavilion at Expo 2010. The complaint calls for a transparent review of those documents for the purpose of preventing a repeat of the mistakes made in selecting and managing the 2010 pavilion.

Last year, a concerned US citizen filed a Freedom of Information Act [FOIA] request to obtain these documents (including the “action plan” which governs the US pavilion effort). As of January 4, 2010, it has not yet been fulfilled.

Additional documents reviewed by Shanghai Scrap reveal that a reviewing investigator within the OIG’s office has reservations about whether, in fact, criminal acts were committed by parties involved in the US pavilion effort. However, the investigator concedes that an investigation could have utility in improving possible future US participation in World Expos. Such an investigation would not be unprecedented, and neither would findings of potentially illegal behavior: during the 1990’s, OIG investigated US management and participation in both the 1992 Seville Expo, and the 1998 Lisbon Expo. In both cases, OIG found the management of the US pavilion to be “problematic,” and in its 1999 audit of the 1998 Lisbon pavilion, went so far as to suggest that the (now defunct) United States Information Agency [USIA]  “may have violated the spirit, if not the letter” of a statute governing US participation in Expos.

The allegations against the current US pavilion effort are as serious, if not more so, than those determined against the troubled US effort in 1998, in large part because – unlike 1998 – problems with the 2010 US pavilion, and the group managing it, stoked diplomatic tensions between the United States and China. The complaint, which Shanghai Scrap has reviewed, asks for “recommendations to the Secretary and President how such problems can be avoided in the future via a well thought-through, fair, and open process for managing the US Pavilion at future World Expos. More serious findings may require legal action.”

The “more serious findings” may relate to questions raised at Shanghai Scrap, and in other venues, about about how and why USA Pavilion, Inc, was authorized to design, fund-raise, and manage the US pavilion at Expo 2010 (the selection took place after the failed conclusion of a federal Request for Proposal [RFP]; potentially, this is a criminal violation of federal contracting statutes); whether the State Department revised or ignored its “black list” of companies found – for various reasons – to be unacceptable as donors to a US pavilion (on the basis, say, of violations of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act); whether Ellen Eliasoph, a co-Chair of USA Pavilion Inc., has violated conflict of interest rules and/or statutes by raising money from US and Chinese individuals while her husband, Ira Kasoff, Deputy Assistant Secretary of Commerce for Asia, oversees important trade access issues between the US and China (and whether or not State issued or revised such rules for the pavilion and Eliasoph). Kasoff and Eliasoph, pictured below.

Secretary of State Clinton has taken a keen, personal interest in the US Pavilion since at least mid-2008, including a personal appeal  from the Chinese Foreign Ministry to do something about the troubled effort led by Ms. Eliasoph and her colleagues in the USA Pavilion. Whether or not she’d like to see an investigation into the enterprise in advance of the Expo itself is a political question as much as a governance question. At a minimum, it would seem reasonable to expect that State – now under a mandate to improve the conduct of public diplomacy – would want to know what it did wrong as contemplates US participation at Expo 2015 in Milan.

It is undeniably the case that the attention of the US media is beginning to turn toward the US pavilion. In the last several weeks, Shanghai Scrap has learned that at least two US media organizations have looked into improprieties related to the USA pavilion, including the relationship between Mr. Kasoff and his wife’s role with USA Pavilion, Inc. Many, if not all of these questions, could be resolved if USA Pavilion and the State Department would consent to the immediate release of the “action plan” and any notes and correspondence relating to the selection of USA Pavilion, Inc to design, fund-raise, and manage the USA Pavilion (rather than force interested parties to wait for the FOIA process to produce the documents). No doubt, as the Expo draws nearer, the requests will grow more frequent, with more reporters asking why – if there’s nothing embarrassing, unethical, or illegal in the documents – the individuals who control them won’t let them go. What’s being hidden, and why?

In 2015 Milan will hold the next World Expo, and nobody – except, perhaps, the individuals awarded the USA pavilion authorization for Expo 2010 – would want the US to repeat the mistakes that forced the Chinese Foreign Ministry to address the US Pavilion directly with Hillary Clinton, herself. But until a proper accounting of what went wrong, and why, is made available to concerned parties, it’s all but guaranteed that something of the sort will happen again in the future. Here’s hoping that the Secretary’s office will take the complaint seriously.


  1. It will come out that the heads of USA Pavilion Inc were trying to cut as many corners as possible while funneling donated money into their pockets and bribing low level Chinese officials in far flung places to advance the business interests of the individual members of US Pavilion Inc.

  2. The China expat community continues to show its truly ugly, twisted, bridge troll nature.

  3. I hope Nanheyangrouchuan isn’t referring to all China expats! In fact, many expats opposed the current situation but were ignored by US officialdom. A dissident faction of US expats were brow-beaten by US consular officials and the AmCham (US Chamber of Commerce in Shanghai) to get with the program. When they did not, they were excluded from activities. Many feel threatened still.

  4. Congratulations on scooping Barboza. That pretty much guarantees that he’ll and the Times will never cover the story.

  5. I am referring to the entire China expat community. So dodgy their skin burns upon contact with holy water and they are struck down with plague upon entering a church.

  6. You know the worst part of this thing? People of integrity who should know better are turning their eyes the other way and hopping on board. I’m talking about you Ken Jarrett and you Jose Villarreal. Shame, shame, shame, shame, shame.

  7. Adults who should know better remain dumb, either for expediency of the project or misplaced loyalty to the administration and Hillary Clinton.

  8. I linked to your site from the US pavilion discussion happening over at archinect. I don’t know much about diplomacy but I know something about building good architecture and you need to have a good selection process to ensure that you get a good building. Thanks to you I know understand why the US will have one of the most bland pavilions that I’ve ever seen at an Expo. Compared to some of the other pavilions like the creative and witty Dutch pavilion it looks like a shopping mall. The amazing thing is that it cost $61 million! Do you realize how many great young American architects could have done something really special for tha kind of money? if you’re interested in seeing what the architecture community thinks about this abortion of a pavilion, go to the archinect discussion at

    When the world’s architects start visiting Shanghai they’re going to crucify us for this POS.

  9. The fact that a Freedom of Information Act had to be filled just to get the action plan of the USA Pavilion team. No, it hasn’t been fulfilled yet. Why so secretive about a frickin’ pavilion, guys?

    It would be made from the bodies of Tibetan and Uyghur freedom fighters and using FLG slave labor. It would be staffed by Dick from Peking Duck would be handing out blueprints to the F22 and metallurgical samples while lesser panda lickers would organize CCP recruitment drives and convince visitors from the US west coast and Hawaii that their lives would be so much better with the blood flag of the PRC flying over their homes.

  10. I don’t get the comments about Uyghers above. But I second the comment about Kenneth Jarrett. He should know better than anybody the rules for federal contracting and it’s really sad that he’s decided to ignore them and go along for the ride with Eliasoph. Same goes for the career folks in ECA. If they think they did everyone a favor by expediting the choice of a pavilion team even though they did it in a way that’s possibly illegal well then they might all be in for a surprise when OIG starts digging into this. Agree too with the architects saying the building is garbage. It looks like a fancy Burger King to me.

  11. I’m not sure what your problem is with the Kasoffs but I hope that if and when this whole sideshow concludes that they did nothing wrong you will apologize to them for claiming (not alleged) improper behavior by them.

    You’re missing the big story here. You are completely ignoring the story about how the US corporations were directly recruited by the Chinese Expo marketers to become sponsors of the Expo at large instead of supporting the US Pavilion. And the fact that the US corporations prefer to position themselves as multinational corporations rather than tying themselves specifically to their homeland. By the time the US fund-raising effort got underway most of the US money had already been committed to the Expo at large. What does that say about Corporate America? What does that say about the US expat community in Shanghai?

  12. Say, Jay, I’m not sure what your problem is with Adam Minter but I hope that if and when the results conclude that he did nothing wrong you will apologize to him for claiming (not alleged) inaccurate reporting and unethical behavior by him.

    Apologies for the grammar.

  13. Jay –

    In Spring of 2009 I conducted hour-long interviews with Ellen Eliasoph, Nick Winslow (twice), and Frank Lavin. Each of them offered similar excuses for why they couldn’t raise money – the Olympics, the 2008 election, the recession – but not one of them offered the one that you’ve just raised. Why? Two reasons, I think. First, I think they’d be reluctant to “blame China” for their fund-raising woes, even if China could be blamed (and it can’t). But the second and more compelling reason is that only FOUR US corporations signed on to be Expo sponsors at large. How do I know this? Well, the official Expo site has a page listing those at-large sponsors. Unless I’m missing somebody, they are:

    1. Coca Cola [Global partner]
    2. General Motors [Global partner]
    3. Cisco [Senior sponsor]
    4. IBM [Senior sponsor]

    If there’s somebody I’ve missed, please let me know. But if not, I think it’s safe to say that – contrary to your suggestion – four corporations do not represent most of the money available to be raised for a US pavilion, much less the total membership of the American Chamber of Commerce in Shanghai, of which very few members can be counted as pavilion donors.

  14. Jay, you’re wrong about the Kasoffs — according to the scuttlebutt, they were at the center of the alleged inside dealing (conspiracy?) to award USA Pavilion the job. Plus, you must remember: Ellen’s law firm, Covington & Burling, was the largest corporate donor to Clinton’s Presidential race. C&B is commonly referred to as “the State Department’s HR office.” Do you think that might have had something to do with Clinton jumping on her fundraising horse in their behalf?

    You’re right about US multinationals preferring to throw their weight behind the Expo and not the US Pavilion per se. But US corporations weren’t muscled by the Chinese into making this decision. The US Pavilion as themed by the USA Pavilion team has no appeal for the global community at large. Why shouldn’t American corporations be global in their outreach?

    The corporations were right to support the Expo, however. It will be a global gathering worth noting, whatever the Chinese want to make of it. Too bad the US presence will only be a movie theater with a fast-food court.

    Maybe that’s fitting given the US’ continuing decline in every social aspect except for its ability to self-promote.

    One more thing. Adam, your headline says that the OIG isn’t going to investigate the situation, that it’s tossed this hot potato back to the Secretary of State’s Executive Office — i.e., back to Clinton herself. Isn’t that putting the fox in charge of the hen house? Disappointingly, this is becoming a trademark of the Obama Administration.

  15. Disenchanted Expat – I don’t care what the scuttlebutt says – scuttlebutt is as often wrong as it is right. I’m not here to defend USA Pavilion. Much of this picture I don’t know but one thing I do know is that there were two fund-raising parts of Shanghai Expo that were competing with each other and were not coordinating with each other. One was going after the big sponsors and the other after country pavilions – and while the Americans won’t say so (because they don’t want to offend the Chinese) the Shanghai Expo unnecessarily complicated the US Pavilion fund raising effort. Much of the US CSR money had already been sucked up by one part of Shanghai Expo. And yes, US corporations most certainly were muscled by the Chinese – I was witness. Beijing had to step in to straighten things out within Shanghai Expo.

    As for the Kasoffs, I think you will see that these conspiracy theories are as valid as most conspiracy theories.

    Adam, you are right about why the USA Pavilion reps didn’t blame the Shanghai Expo people – would have been self-defeating as well as unseemly. The date when commitments to sponsor were made were much earlier than when those commitments were actually made public or placed on a website. There are a number of US corporations that have made commitments below the at-large sponsor level and are thus not listed as such. Some US corporations have made stand-alone exhibit or in-kind commitments – all money not available to go into the US Pavilion. Look beyond the website. My point is you are looking for the real story in the wrong place.

    As for Scott, that just doesn’t make any sense. I have said Adam was looking in the wrong place and perhaps didn’t understand the inner-workings of government – I didn’t accuse him of impropriety. I have a lot of respect for Adam’s work on other matters.

  16. 1.Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs bungles the RFP.
    2.Constructive positive diplomacy on the far back burner.
    3.Conflict of Interest(family ties to Government officials).
    4.No-bid Contract Award(for delivery of the USA Pavilion).
    5.Inspector General shirking duties.
    Sounds like a typical day in the Bush Administration. Anyone surprised since that is where/when all this began? It is a good thing that we have a new administration that has taken it seriously. Do you think the pavilion would have made it this far without Clinton? No.

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