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Office of Inspector General Adds Evaluations and Special Projects Office, Launches New Website

– Domani Spero

 

The State Department Office of Inspector General has been recruiting and hiring new staffers the last several months. The latest change is the addition of a new directorate and the relaunching of its website.  The snazzy, new website includes a video with IG Steve Linick.  The new site also includes a better search function to locate reports by category, topic, location or bureau/office.

Screen Shot 2014-10-30 at 9.18.21 PM
New org chart below. Note that Emilia DiSanto is no longer in an acting capacity but has been formally appointed as IG Linick’s deputy.

Screen Shot 2014-10-20

 

Perhaps the most notable addition is that of Evaluation and Special Projects:

The Office of Evaluations and Special Projects (ESP) was established in 2014 to strengthen OIG’s oversight of the Department and BBG, and to improve OIG’s capabilities to meet statutory requirements of the Whistleblower Protection Enhancement Act of 2012. ESP will fulfill OIG’s whistleblower protection duties by educating Department and BBG employees and contractors on the protections from retaliation for disclosing fraud, waste, or abuse. ESP is also responsible for reviewing allegations of administrative misconduct by senior officials, and issuing management alerts to highlight urgent need for corrective actions and capping reports on thematic areas of concern. Additionally, ESP is responsible for special evaluations and reviews, including responses to congressional inquiries. The work of this new office complements the work of OIG’s audits, investigations, and inspections by developing a capacity to focus on broader, systemic issues.

ESP has issued a Management Alert on Grant Management Deficiencies (MA-14-03), which highlights significant deficiencies in Department grants management oversight. It also produced a Review of Selected Internal Investigations Conducted by the Bureau of Diplomatic Security (ESP-14-01), which examined allegations of undue influence and favoritism in eight high-profile internal investigations conducted by the Bureau of Diplomatic Security (DS).

Also, the new website includes the State OIG Winners for 2014 CIGIE Annual Awards including an Award of Excellence in Investigation for an Individual that went to Special Agent Jeff Whitney:

The Office of Investigations received the Award of Excellence in Investigations, Individual awarded to Special Agent (SA) Jeff Whitney for his exceptional performance in the conduct of investigations supporting contingency operations in Southwest Asia and the protection of high-risk Department resources. SA Whitney led two complex investigations in Kabul, Afghanistan, which resulted in a $1.7 million cost savings to the Department and a combined debarment of at least 26 contractor entities. These investigations involved schemes relating to bid rigging, antitrust violations, bribery, conflict of interest, and violations of the Procurement Integrity Act. SA Whitney diligently and effectively worked with prosecutors from the Department of Justice and Special Agents from the Federal Bureau of Investigations, Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction and the Defense Criminal Investigative Service to interview several witnesses and subjects, write and serve multiple search warrants and travel to dangerous environments within Afghanistan in order to accomplish investigative objectives. SA Whitney also met with numerous Department and Embassy Officials to aide them in their efforts to improve their processes to ensure these types of schemes are not replicated in the future.

Check it out!

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Filed under Functional Bureaus, Govt Reports/Documents, State Department

Burkina Faso Says Bye Bye Blaise: Martial Law Lifted, Nationwide Curfew, Shelter in Place Still On

– Domani Spero

 

The U.S. Embassy in Ouagadougou issued the following emergency message to U.S. citizens in Burkina Faso. The messages are dated but typically do not carry a timestamp:

On Thursday, October 30, President Compaore announced in a televised address that he will continue dialogue to form a transitional government after which he will transfer power to a democratically elected president.  He reiterated the message that the government is dissolved and announced that the state of martial law is lifted in all of Burkina Faso.

However, there is currently a 7:00 pm to 6:00 am curfew nationwide.

The city of Ouagadougou currently appears to be calm, however protesters continue to gather at the Place de la Nation in Ouagadougou, and at the Place Tiefo Amoro (Station Square) in Bobo-Dioulasso. Crowds and spontaneous protests may also form elsewhere.

Embassy staff continues to shelter in place until further notice.  We urge U.S. citizens in Ouagadougou to do the same and to make movements for essential purposes only.

At this time we do not know if civilians have access to the Ouagadougou International Airport. We are monitoring the situation but it is unclear whether flights continue to operate.

 

Meanwhile, today, Burkina Faso said bye-bye Blaise:

 

Enter armed forces chief General Honore Traore:

 

The people celebrates:

 

Former-Prez to Ghana?

 

Meet the new boss:

 

Consequences?

 

Except for the Emergency Message from Embassy Ouagadougou, there is no Travel Warning or Alert issued on Burkina Faso as of this writing. The latest State Department statement is dated October 30, and obviously had been overtaken by events.

The United States welcomes President Compaore’s decision to withdraw a National Assembly bill which would have amended the constitution and allowed him to run for an additional term of office. We also welcome his decision to form a government of national unity to prepare for national elections and to transfer power to a democratically elected successor. We look forward to that transition taking place in 2015. We regret the violence and the loss of life today in Burkina Faso, and call on all parties to avoid further violence. We underscore our commitment to peaceful transitions of power through democratic elections and emphasize neither side should attempt to change the situation through extra-constitutional means.

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Filed under Africa, Americans Abroad, Foreign Affairs, Foreign Service, Resignations, Spectacular, State Department, U.S. Missions

Poor MidLevel Official Writes #Ebola Memo That Never Went Anywhere — Oy!

– Domani Spero

 

In September, we blogged that the State Dept Awarded $4.9 Million Contract to Phoenix Air for Air Ambulance Evacuation #Ebola.  Apparently, the last couple of days there was a flap over a State Department memo on a plan to bring non-Americans with Ebola to U.S. soil for treatment. The memo labeled Sensitive But Unclassified – Predesicional is available to read here and notes USG obligation to non-U.S. citizen employees and contractors of U.S. agencies (USAID, CDC, etc.) and programs as well as NGOs and private firms based in the United States.

The  Washington Times identified the memo’s author as Robert Sorenson, deputy director of the Office of International Health and Biodefense (OES/IHB). The Office of International Health and Biodefense is the primary State Department policy office responsible for a variety of international health issues. It takes part in U.S. Government policymaking on infectious disease, environmental health, noncommunicable disease issues, global health security, antimicrobial resistance, and counterfeit and substandard medications.  A clearance sheet attached to the memo reportedly says it was cleared by offices of the deputy secretary, the deputy secretary for management, the office of Central African affairs and the medical services office.

The memo did make it to the Daily Press Briefing at the State Department. Excerpt below:

QUESTION: And then the last one on this is: There was a report last night and again this morning about this memo that was – the State Department memo –

MS. PSAKI: Sure, let me address that.

QUESTION: — about bringing –

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm. One, just factually, the document referenced was drafted by a midlevel official but not cleared by senior leaders. It never came to senior officials for approval. And any assertion that the memo was cleared by decision-makers is inaccurate. There are no plans to medevac non-Americans who become ill with Ebola to the United States. We have discussed allowing other countries to use our medevac capabilities to evacuate their own citizens to their home countries or third countries subject to reimbursement and availability. But we’re not contemplating bringing them back to the United States for treatment.

QUESTION: So the – but essentially, what you’re saying is that one guy somewhere in this building came up with this idea and put it on paper, but it never went anywhere? Is that what you’re saying?

MS. PSAKI: Correct. It’s also weeks old and the memo isn’t current because European – our European partners –

QUESTION: All right. Okay.

MS. PSAKI: — have addressed this matter by providing their own guarantees, but go ahead.

QUESTION: One problem that – I mean, that I see is that a week ago, the Pentagon and the White House was insisting that, no, no, no, there is no overall quarantine order and it’s just this one commander, or these guys who are in Italy. And now all of a sudden, today we have Secretary Hagel saying no, it’s going to be – it’s Pentagon-wide and it’s going to go to all of the troops that are there. What is there to prevent this memo from coming back to life, as it were –

MS. PSAKI: Well, I think with this –

QUESTION: — and becoming policy? Has it been flat out rejected or is it just kind of sitting on a shelf someplace and maybe could be implemented at some point?

MS. PSAKI: It’s sitting on a shelf or on a computer – since we use computers nowadays – by the individual who wrote it, I suppose. I think the important point here is that our European partners, since several weeks ago when that was written, have addressed this by providing a guarantee to international health workers that they would either be flown to Europe or receive high-quality treatment on the spot. So it’s not applicable at this point.

QUESTION: Okay. Well, in general, why was this never approved? I mean, it seems – I mean, you could make the argument that the U.S. has great healthcare facilities, that no one who has contracted the disease in the United States has actually died. So I think there might be some who could make the argument that why not bring people?

MS. PSAKI: Sure, but many countries have decided to make that decision to deal with it themselves, and we’ve certainly been discussing with them how to do that.

QUESTION: So this has been discarded as unnecessary rather that rejected –

MS. PSAKI: It was never discussed at any levels, in any serious level with decision-makers. So I don’t – wouldn’t say it was discarded, but –

QUESTION: Okay.

QUESTION: Along the lines of what Matt was saying, on page 5 of the memo, it says that it was approved by Nancy Powell, the head of the Ebola Coordination Unit. Doesn’t that suggest it was fairly further along in the process?

MS. PSAKI: I’m happy to look at the approval memo. As I understand, and just so you know, sometimes there are people listed. It doesn’t mean they cleared it. It just means there are people who need to clear a memo. So I will check and see if there was anybody who actually cleared it.

“One guy somewhere in this building came up with this idea and put it on paper, but it never went anywhere?” And the official spokesperson, without blinking said, “correct.”

Don’t you just hate it when they say things like that and throw some midlevel official under the medevac plane?

In fact, the justification for the air ambulance evacuation contract awarded to Phoenix Air on August 18, 2014 appears clear enough as to why this was necessary:

The USG is left with only two options in supporting a CDC scientist that has a high risk exposure to an EVD patient — use the PAG capability to fly the person back to the US for observation and optimum care should disease develop, or leave the person in place where no care is available if the disease develops. The question, then, is not how many EVD patients will be moved, but rather how many contacts and EVD patients will be moved across the entire international response population (as many as three per month). Finally, from a pragmatic stand point, given the limited options for movement of even asymptomatic contacts, it has become clear that an international response to this crisis will not proceed if a reliable mechanism for patient movement cannot be established and centrally managed.

That leaked memo is not saying we’re moving Liberia’s entire infected population for treatment in U.S. hospitals, is it?  An argument can be made that the USG has an obligation to assist in the treatment of those infected in the course of their work fighting the ebola outbreak on behalf of the international community.  The State Department is not/not making that argument, of course.  The only official argument it is making is that — that memo, that never went anywhere beyond the midlevel officer’s desk.

Nothing to do with an election coming up? Sure, okay.

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Filed under Africa, Americans Abroad, Foreign Affairs, Leaks|Controversies, MED, Politics, Public Service, Security, Spectacular, Staffing the FS, State Department, U.S. Missions

US Embassy Ouagadougou: Burkina Faso Now on Martial Law; Embassy Staff Shelters in Place

– Domani Spero

 

The US Embassy in Burkina Faso has made several security messages this past week, warning U.S. citizens of a planned day of protest that started out as a “civil disobedience campaign” on Tuesday, October 28 and followed by a demonstration and an  expected sit-down strike the last two days:

On Wednesday, October 29 it is expected that a demonstration (which was originally planned before the referendum announcement) organized by the Coalition Contre la Vie Chère(Coalition Against a High Cost of Living) will be used by the political opposition as an opportunity to hold a march and gathering in downtown Ouagadougou.

On Thursday, October 30 the National Assembly will reportedly vote on the proposed constitutional change.  The opposition has called for a sit-down strike surrounding the National Assembly building to block voting members from casting their vote.

Earlier today, Embassy Ouagadougou sent out an emergency message that at 9:30 am the U.S. Embassy received reports of demonstrators breaking through police barricades at the National Assembly and that warning shots and teargas have been fired.  Embassy staff was instructed to shelter in place until further notice.

via Google

via Google

Later on October 30, the embassy released the following statement on the enactment of martial law in Burkina Faso:

On Thursday, October 30, President Compaore declared that he is dissolving the government, declaring a state of emergency and enacting martial law.  Embassy staff has been instructed to continue to shelter in place until further notice.  We urge U.S. citizens in Ouagadougou to do the same.

There have been widespread reports of looting throughout Ouagadougou and other parts of the country.

The Ouagadougou International Airport is closed and all flights in and out have been canceled until further notice.

U.S. citizens are urged to remain vigilant and to utilize appropriate personal security practices.  The U.S. Embassy urges U.S. citizens to avoid large gatherings, protests, or demonstrations.  The U.S. Embassy urges all U.S. citizens to maintain situational awareness and exercise good judgment.  Be alert and remain aware of your surroundings.  Stay informed and abreast of local media reports.

The United States established diplomatic relations with Burkina Faso (then called Upper Volta) in 1960, following its independence from France.  Blaise Compaoré has been President of Burkina Faso since 1987. CBS describes President Compaoré as a graduate of Muammar Qaddafi’s World Revolutionary Center (a.k.a. Harvard for tyrants).  His country has an unemployment rate of 77 percent (ranked 197th in the world.) See Some of the World’s ‘Forever’ Rulers Are in Town — Meet Their Fashionable Ladies (Photos).

According to the State Department’s Fact Sheet, U.S. interests in the country are as follows:

U.S. interests in Burkina Faso are to promote continued democratization and greater respect for human rights and to encourage sustainable economic development. Countering terrorism and strengthening border security are of growing importance in Burkina Faso. The United States and Burkina Faso engage in a number of military training and exchange programs, including in counterterrorism and humanitarian assistance. The country is contributing to the support of U.S. efforts in the Sahel. Burkina Faso is a partner in the Africa Contingency Operations Training and Assistance program for peacekeeping and is a member of the Trans-Sahara Counterterrorism Partnership.

This is a fast moving event that the Consular Bureau’s Travel Alert or Travel Warning is possibly running wildly down the corridors to get cleared so it can get posted online.  We’ll try to keep tabs on that.  The airport is also closed so any evacuation will have that to tackle.   The U.S. Ambassador to Burkina Faso is Tulinabo Mushingi, a career diplomat with extensive Africa experience.

Some clips via Twitter:

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Filed under Africa, Ambassadors, Americans Abroad, Foreign Affairs, Foreign Service, FSOs, Protests, Realities of the FS, Security, Social Media, State Department, U.S. Missions

U.S.Embassies Face Host Country Harassment:  From Petty Actions to Poisoning of Family Pets

– Domani Spero

 

ABC News’ Kirit Radia wrote recently about how the US Embassy in Moscow is facing cold war-era harassment:

One American diplomat’s tires were slashed. Another’s personal email was hacked. Still others reported mysterious break-ins.

The incidents are all signs, U.S. officials and experts said, that aggressive, Soviet-era counterintelligence tactics are back in fashion in Russia.

The number of incidents targeting American diplomats in Moscow has increased in recent years to levels not seen since the Cold War, officials said.

Taken together, they paint an escalating pattern of intimidation and harassment that is believed to be led by Russia’s Federal Security Services (FSB), a successor to the Soviet KGB.
[….]
Some of the alleged Russian actions seemed petty. In several instances, U.S. officials returned home to find their belongings had been moved or a window left open in the middle of winter. American diplomats have also been trailed more overtly by Russian security agents.

Others attempted to interfere with diplomatic work, like disrupting public meetings with Russian contacts. Uniformed guards provided by Russia to stand outside the embassy, ostensibly for protection, have harassed visitors and even employees trying to enter the building.
[…]
Ambassador McFaul was followed almost everywhere he went in an aggressive, at times threatening way by both Russian security agents and pro-Kremlin television stations, even while attending private events with his family.

In one notably flagrant episode, according to officials, McFaul was stranded in the Russian Foreign Ministry parking lot after police stopped his driver for a minor infraction and revoked his driver’s license on the spot.

Read in full: US Embassy in Moscow Faces Cold War-Era Harassment.

On October 29, the Russian Foreign Ministry said it believed “the allegations could have been cooked up at the suggestion of the U.S. State Department,” according to TASS and accused the United States of spying on official Russians in the United States, as well as the following:

[T]he United States is making regular attempts to recruit our diplomats by means of gross provocations involving the use of illegally obtained personal data, including information on the health of family members,” the Russian Foreign Ministry stressed.

Perhaps this is in reference to the 49 Russian Diplomats/Spouses Charged With Picking Uncle Sam’s Pocket in Medicaid Scam? That one where the FBI says that of the 63 births to the Russian diplomats and their spouses in New York City between the years 2004 and 2013, 58 of those families, or 92% were allegedly paid for by Medicaid benefits.

In any case, we can tell you that the U.S. Embassy in Moscow is not alone when it comes to host country harassment.

Belarus

In Belarus where parliamentary democracy ended with the 1994 presidential election of Alexander Lukashenko, staff members at the U.S. Embassy in Minsk, both American and local nationals have also been subjected to regular harassment by the Belarusian security services.  “To visit Embassy Minsk is to step back in time to an era when American diplomats in Eastern Europe operated in inhospitable environments,” reports the OIG. The following is excerpted from the State/OIG inspection report from September 2013:

American staff residences have been entered surreptitiously [REDACTED]. The embassy and all U.S. and Belarusian staff are under constant physical surveillance.
[…]
Staff members operate on the assumption that everything sent on unclassified systems or spoken on the telephone is monitored by Belarusian security services and other local security agencies. See OIG, Belarus September 2013 (pdf).
[…]
In July 2012 authorities installed police checkpoints at all embassy gates and at the public affairs office. Police take personal information from both U.S. and Belarusian citizens before allowing visitors to enter. Except in rare cases, when U.S. Government officials make temporary visits to Minsk, host-country authorities require that an equivalent number of permanent American staff members leave the country to maintain the five-person limit. This restriction and persistent harassment hamper mission operations and program implementation.

Take a look at this current staffing that has been the norm for a while:

Screen Shot 2014-10-29

Pakistan

In May 2012, State/OIG noted the official harassment of US Mission Pakistan by the Pakistani Government.  We should note that Pakistan is the 3rd largest recipient of U.S. foreign assistance in FY2012 at $1.821B, after Israel and Afghanistan. In the FY 2014 budget request, Pakistan slipped to #4, dislodged by Egypt, but still receiving foreign assistance in the amount of $1.2B.  Below is what the OIG inspector wrote about the harassment of U.S. mission elements in Pakistan; most of the section on this topic, of course, is redacted from the report:

Official Pakistani obstructionism and harassment, an endemic problem in Pakistan, has increased to the point where it is significantly impairing mission operations and program implementation (REDACTED (b) (5).  The issue of harassment must be made an integral part of high-level policy discussions with the Pakistani Government regarding the future of the bilateral relationship.
[...]
Official Harassment:  U.S. official entities operating in Pakistan have long been subjected to unusual, government-initiated obstructionism and harassment. That harassment has reached new levels of intensity, however, after the events of 2011. The embassy describes the harassment as deliberate, willful, and systematic. While other diplomatic missions have experienced similar treatment, the United States is clearly the principal target. The harassment takes many forms: delayed visa issuances; blocked shipments for both assistance programs and construction projects; denials of requests for in-country travel; and surveillance of and interference with mission employees and contractors. (REDACTED).

The scope and impact of official Pakistani harassment and obstructionism is described in the Background section of this report.  (LOOONG REDACTION).

The good news here is that so far, except in Homeland, no ex-CIA director has yet been kidnapped and spirited out of Islamabad while locked in the trunk of a car.

Cuba

Beyond petty harassment like blocked shipments and delayed visa issuance, perhaps the worse ones are reports of harassment out of Havana, Cuba where the OIG in 2007 says that “USINT life in Havana is life with a government that “let’s you know it’s hostile.”

Apparently, retaliations at that time have ranged from the petty to the poisoning of family pets. The regime had also gone to great lengths to harass some employees by holding up household goods and consumable shipments. The apparent goal apparently, had been  “to instigate dissension within USINT ranks. “

C’mon, poisoning the pets?!

Fast forward to 2014 and not much have changed.  Here is what the OIG report says:

  • Mission employees face a difficult working environment. U.S. officers can meet only with certain government officials. They are allowed to travel only a limited distance from Havana without special permission. Shipments of supplies, mail, and personal effects are frequently delayed. Normal banking operations are nonexistent. Consumer goods are scarce and expensive. Communication facilities are substandard.
  • Surveillance of U.S. and local employee staff members by Cuban authorities is pervasive.
  • USINT officers’ travel is limited to within Havana province. Permission to travel outside that area requires sending a diplomatic note a minimum of 5 days before travel begins.
  • Shipments of official procurements take 6 months or more to be cleared even after receiving pre-clearance from the Ministry of External Relations–another lengthy process. Unclassified pouches with personal mail are often rejected and sent back to the United States. Incoming household effects, which take 1 day to sail from Miami to Havana, have sat for months in the port awaiting clearance; the same holds for personal vehicles and consumables.
  • Cuban customs authorities open and x-ray both inbound and outbound shipments before they will clear them.

At least there’s no more poisoning of the family pets of the U.S. Interest Section Havana staffers.  And no one, as far as we know, has been reported to accept the offer of  “*Cigars, señora?” from a handsome young man. (*from an FS spouse short fiction about life in Cuba via American Diplomacy).

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Filed under Americans Abroad, Diplomatic Life, Foreign Affairs, Foreign Service, FSOs, Govt Reports/Documents, Pakistan, Realities of the FS, Security, Staffing the FS, U.S. Missions

Congress Seeks Information on Obamacare Coverage of Foreign Diplomats

– Domani Spero

 

On October 29, 2014,  the House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Ed Royce (R-CA) and Ways and Means Committee Chairman Dave Camp (R-MI) wrote to IRS Commissioner John Koskinen seeking information after learning that foreign diplomats working in the United States are eligible for subsidized health coverage under the Affordable Care Act (ACA). Excerpt from their letter:

The Committees on Foreign Affairs and Ways and Means are investigating the extent to which these diplomats receive taxpayer-subsidized premium tax credits and cost-sharing subsidies under the Affordable Care Act.  We are seeking to determine how many such individuals participate in these programs and the total cost of such benefits.  As the agency principally responsible for administering health coverage tax credits, we request that you provide this information as soon as possible.

According to the Department of Health and Human Services, foreign diplomats holding “A” or “G” visas are eligible to participate in an array of medical programs administered by the federal government, including participation in Health Insurance Marketplaces governed by the Affordable Care Act (ACA). The Secretary of Health and Human Services has informed the Committee on Foreign Affairs that, if they meet basic ACA requirements, “a foreign diplomat could satisfy the statutory criteria to be eligible for a premium tax credit and cost-sharing reductions.”  The State Department has gone so far as to advertise to Foreign Missions, Permanent Missions to the United Nations, and the United Nations Secretariat that health care exchanges and “the benefits of the United States Affordable Care Act are available” to them.

The Foreign Affairs Committee has sought to determine the number of diplomats receiving coverage and subsides under the ACA.  Unfortunately, the State Department has informed the Foreign Affairs Committee that it “is not involved in the process through which foreign diplomats obtain government-funded benefits” and cannot provide that data.  The Department of Health and Human Services is likewise unable to provide this information.  Specifically, it noted that “[t]he Department does not collect data that identify whether individuals receiving services through our medical programs have diplomatic status.”  Similarly, “the Department does not collect data that identifies whether individuals receiving tax credits and/or cost sharing reductions have diplomatic status.”  Copies of these letters are attached for your reference.

We fully support the ability of foreign diplomats to purchase health care coverage in the United States.  We do not, however, believe that American taxpayers should subsidize these services.  To assist with our oversight of this matter, we ask that you please provide the following information as soon as possible, but not later than 5:00 p.m. on November 12, 2014.

  1. The total number, including from which country, of all non-immigrant, non-citizen “A” and “G” visa holders who are eligible for, and who have received, premium tax credits for qualified health plans under the Affordable Care Act;
  1. The total number, including from which country, of all non-immigrant, non-citizen “A” and “G” visa holders who are eligible for, and who have received, cost-sharing reductions for qualified health plans under the Affordable Care Act; and
  1. The total cost, and cost per individual, of all subsidies provided to the individuals above.

The signed letter and referenced attachments are available here.

Did you know about this? Do you know the rationale for this?  International relations is based on reciprocity, are our American diplomats eligible for healthcare subsidies in countries that avail of Obamacare subsidies here? Since the State Department is “is not involved in the process through which foreign diplomats obtain government-funded benefits,” in the United States, how is it supposed to press countries for reciprocal treatment on behalf of our diplomats?

According to a notice circulated (pdf) by the State Department in February 2014, individuals who are lawfully present in the United States, including U.S. citizens, permanent residents (green card holders), and “A” and “G” visa holders (principal or dependent), may purchase coverage through the health insurance marketplace/exchange. Additionally, the notice states that “Those Permanent Missions whose employees do not receive health and medical insurance benefits through the sending state, or Permanent Missions who have not entered into a health and medical insurance plan with a private insurance provider, may find the benefits provided by the ACA a cost effective way to insure their employees against high physician, hospital, and prescription drug costs.”

Note that A-1 – 2 visas are for foreign government diplomats and officials and their immediate family members while G-1 – 4 visas are for international organization officials and employees and their immediate family members.

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-02/20/14   OAS Note No. 07-B: OAS Affordable Care Act Guidance  [98 Kb]
-02/18/14   Notice: Town Hall Meeting – Health Insurance and the Affordable Care Act [280 Kb]
-11/26/13   USUN Diplomatic Note HC-115-(S)-13: UN Secretariat Affordable Care Act Guidance  [43 Kb]
-11/26/13   USUN Diplomatic Note HC-115-13: USUN Affordable Care Act Guidance  [42 Kb]
-11/21/13   Diplomatic Note 13-1117: Affordable Care Act Guidance  [33 Kb]

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Filed under Congress, Counting Beans, Federal Agencies, State Department, U.S. Missions, Visas

Dear White House, About That John Kerry as Sandra Bullock in Space — Just. Stop. It.

– Domani Spero

 

Following the “chickenshit”flap, Mark Lander’s WH piece on October 29 via the NYT also includes the following:

Mr. Kerry is vocal and forceful in internal debates, officials said, but he frequently gets out of sync with the White House in his public statements. White House officials joke that he is like the astronaut played by Sandra Bullock in the movie “Gravity,” somersaulting through space, untethered to the White House.

Aides to Mr. Kerry reject that portrait, saying he dials into White House meetings from the road and is heavily involved in the policy process.

So then the Business Insider made this:

 

We can’t help but wonder what’s going on over at the White House.

 

Yup, you’re careening wildly all over the place, and undermining very publicly this administration’s Secretary of State, and you think there will be no consequences because it’s just a joke?  Didn’t you stop to consider that foreign ministries around the world may start questioning just how “untethered” the Secretary  is to the White House and that it could impact how they deal with him or his agency?

For Baracksakes, adult supervisors need to please step on the brakes here!

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Oops, what did the WH say?

 

Right.

 

Today, Secreatry Kerry was at the Sixth Annual Washington Ideas Forum.

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Filed under Diplomatic Life, Foreign Affairs, Huh? News, John F. Kerry, Leaks|Controversies, Obama, Rants, Secretary of State, Social Media, Spectacular, State Department

Secondments to international organizations and promotions? Here comes the boo!

– Domani Spero

 

Eligible U.S. government employees may be detailed or transferred to certain international organizations in which the United States participates.  Authority and procedures for such details and transfers are found in:  5 U.S.C. §§ 3343, 358l-3584 and 5 C.F.R. and §§ 352.301 through 352.314. via

 

This past summer, we learned that for the past several years, the Department and AFSA have agreed to a “procedural precept” for the Foreign Service Selection Boards that explicitly excludes from promotion consideration Foreign Service Officers who have been transferred to some international organizations. We could not find hard numbers on how many officers have been impacted or which IO assignments are excluded.

We did hear that this particular issue (separation to work in an international organization, with re-employment rights) apparently affects “a very small number of people,” and that in the past, officers, typically not willing to rock the boat, have made themselves content with simply accepting a time-in-class (TIC) extension (pdf).

Screen Shot 2014-10-28

That’s weird, right? This appears to disincentivize U.S. citizen employment in international organizations, something that is apparently a congressional mandate; so much so that an office in the Bureau of International Organization Affairs (State/IO) is actually tasks with promoting such employment. Well, actually the policy for agencies to take affirmative steps in having U.S. citizens work in international organization dates back to President Lyndon B. Johnson’s tenure. Seriously.

We understand that the justification for the exclusion in the Precepts was articulated over five years ago and is contained in a June 23, 2008 AFSA letter:

“The rule prohibiting Selection Board competition of members on  certain secondments became effective in June 2004 on issuance of the  Procedural Precepts for the 2004 Foreign Service Selection Boards   and has been in effect for the past five years [sic]. It was  introduced to prevent employees from using secondments to extend   their time-in-class and the length of their tours of duty in  Missions such as Vienna, Brussels and Geneva while continuing to  compete for promotion, performance pay, etc.”

An FSO who is familiar with the process and the exclusion told us that this explanation is “nonsense.”  Apparently, this exclusion also applies  to personnel transferred to UN agencies in Afghanistan, Darfur,  Southern Sudan, Kenya, East Timor, etc. We were also told that the Precept (see (I(B)(6)(j) of the Procedural Precepts), is a “Bush-era ham-fisted attempt” to   punish any service outside of Iraq and Afghanistan, with “scant  attention paid to broader policy implications or legal norms.”

So in essence, we really want more Americans to serve in international organizations, but if FS employees do serve in those capacities, it is likely that some of them will not be considered for promotion. And since international org assignments can run longer than foreign service tours, that basically puts a career in deep ice; surely a concerning detail in an up or out system like the Foreign Service.  And you wonder why there’s not a single stampede for these jobs.

What do the Federal regulations say?

Title 5 (see CFR § 352.314 Consideration for promotion and pay increases) has this:

(a) The employing agency must consider an employee who is detailed or transferred to an international organization for all promotions for  which the employee would be considered if not absent. A promotion based on this consideration is effective on the date it would have been effective if the employee were not absent. (pdf)

We were told that the State Department’s Legal Adviser’s (State/L) position is that…   “The Precepts are authorized under Title 22, and the Secretary has the authority to prescribe what they say”.

And what exactly does Title 22 says?

22 USC § 3982 (2011) §3982. Assignments to Foreign Service positions
(a) Positions assignable; basis for assignment
(1) The Secretary (with the concurrence of the agency concerned) may assign a member of the Service to any position classified under section 3981 of this title in which that member is eligible to serve (other than as chief of mission or ambassador at large), and may assign a member from one such position to another such position as the needs of the Service may require.

So basically since “L” had apparently ruled that FS Assignments are made under Title 22 (which does not address promotions), and Title 5 (the part of the regs that actually addresses promotion), does not apply — there is no desire to reconcile the conflict between the promotion eligibility of detailed/transferred employees to an international organization contained in Title 5 with the exclusion contained in the Precepts?

Wow! We’re having an ouchy, ouchy headache.

If this interpretation stands, does it mean that the Secretary of State is free to disregard any legal norm, standard or entitlement that is not spelled out specifically in Title 22?

And we’re curious — where does HR/CDA/SL/CDT obtain its legal authority to pick and choose among transferred members on who should and should not be considered for promotion? It appears that 5 CFR 352.314 spells out a clear entitlement to promotion consideration for ALL transferred officers but for the “L” interpretation.

We understand that there is now a Foreign Service Grievance case based exactly on this exclusion in the Precept. If not resolved by FSGB, this could potentially move to federal court as it involves not only adjustment in rank, and withheld benefits but also TSP coverage which has retirement implications. Will State Department lawyers go to court citing “FS Assignments outside DOS” booklet, issued by HR/CDA/CDT over the federal regulations under Title 5?

Perhaps, the main story here is not even about a specific precept, but the fact that Department management is disregarding Federal law and from what we’ve seen — AFSA, the professional representative and bargaining unit of the Foreign Service has been  aware of this for years but has no interest in pressing the issue.

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Photo of the Day: Ambassador Power Visits Monrovia Medical Unit, Liberia

via state.gov

U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Samantha Power, second from right, receives a briefing from Rear Admiral Scott Giberson, far right, who is the Acting Deputy Surgeon General and Director of the Commissioned Corps of the U.S. Public Health Service, about the Monrovia Medical Unit (MMU), a 25-bed field hospital that will be used to treat Ebola-infected health care workers, on October 28, 2014. The MMU is expected to open soon, and will be staffed by members of the U.S. Public Health Service Commissioned Corps. Also pictured, from left to right, are: Liberia’s Foreign Minister Augustine Ngafuan, USAID/OFDA Director Jeremy Konyndyk, U.S. Ambassador to Liberia Deborah Malac, and Disaster Assistance Response Team (DART) Leader Bill Berger. USUN Ambassador Power is in Liberia to see firsthand the impact of the Ebola epidemic and to press for a more robust response from the international community. [State Department photo/ Public Domain]

U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Samantha Power, second from right, receives a briefing from Rear Admiral Scott Giberson, far right, who is the Acting Deputy Surgeon General and Director of the Commissioned Corps of the U.S. Public Health Service, about the Monrovia Medical Unit (MMU), a 25-bed field hospital that will be used to treat Ebola-infected health care workers, on October 28, 2014. The MMU is expected to open soon, and will be staffed by members of the U.S. Public Health Service Commissioned Corps. Also pictured, from left to right, are: Liberia’s Foreign Minister Augustine Ngafuan, USAID/OFDA Director Jeremy Konyndyk, U.S. Ambassador to Liberia Deborah Malac, and Disaster Assistance Response Team (DART) Leader Bill Berger. USUN Ambassador Power is in Liberia to see firsthand the impact of the Ebola epidemic and to press for a more robust response from the international community. [State Department photo/ Public Domain]

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