Category Archives: Allowances

US Embassy Kenya: Also “Relocating” Staff to Other Countries #NotAnEvacuationEither

– Domani Spero

 

At the Daily Press Briefing on June 16, 2014, the State Department spox said this about the relocation of Embassy Baghdad personnel to Basra, Erbil and Amman Jordan (US Mission Iraq: Now on Partial “Temporary Relocation” To Basra, Erbil & Amman (Jordan):

QUESTION: Would you call this an evacuation?

MS. PSAKI: No, we would not.

QUESTION: Is it just a chance to have some members of the embassy work remotely?

MS. PSAKI: It is a situation, Lucas, where we evaluate the security and – on the ground. And at our posts and embassies around the world we made a decision that the right step here was to relocate some of our staff to other parts of Iraq and to a supporting neighboring country and so that’s the step we took and that’s why we took it.

QUESTION: And –

QUESTION: (Inaudible.)

QUESTION: — hold on. Just to follow up –

MS. PSAKI: But let me reiterate one thing: Our embassy staff and our embassy is open and operating. Our diplomatic team at the highest levels is engaged closely with the Iraqis and that will continue.

QUESTION: But it just has a fifth of the amount of personnel as it did before.

MS. PSAKI: I’m not going to get into specific numbers, but again, a range of these employees are temporarily relocating – temporarily – to some other areas in Iraq, and again a close neighboring country.

A landing craft air cushioned assigned to Beach Master Unit 1 arrives to offload vehicles supporting a mock embassy evacuation during Rim of the Pacific 2008. RIMPAC is the world's largest multinational exercise and is scheduled biennially by the U.S. Pacific Fleet. Participants include the United States, Australia, Canada, Chile, Japan, the Netherlands, Peru, Republic of Korea, Singapore, and the United Kingdom. Photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Walter Pels

MOCK EMBASSY EVACUATION | A landing craft air cushioned assigned to Beach Master Unit 1 arrives to offload vehicles supporting a mock embassy evacuation during Rim of the Pacific 2008. RIMPAC is the world’s largest multinational exercise and is scheduled biennially by the U.S. Pacific Fleet. Participants include the United States, Australia, Canada, Chile, Japan, the Netherlands, Peru, Republic of Korea, Singapore, and the United Kingdom.
Photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Walter Pels

 

Today, the State Department issued a new Travel Warning for Kenya. It further announced that the Embassy is “relocating some staff to other countries” but that “the Embassy will remain open for normal operations.”  The relocation is not specifically called “authorized” or “ordered” departure.  The announcement only says “some staff”and it is not clear whether these are family members or non-essential personnel they are evacuating relocating.  We take it this is not considered an evacuation either?  Is this a new trend? When can we see this in the DSSR? (Also see US Embassy Kenya: Isn’t That Travel Warning Odd or What?).

The U.S. Department of State warns U.S. citizens of the risks of travel to Kenya.  The U.S. Department of State warns U.S. citizens of the risks of travel to Kenya.  U.S. citizens in Kenya, and those considering travel to Kenya, should evaluate their personal security situation in light of continuing and recently heightened threats from terrorism and the high rate of violent crime in some areas.  Due to the terrorist attack on June 15 in Mpeketoni, in Lamu County, the U.S. Embassy instituted restrictions on U.S. government personnel travel to all coastal counties – Mombasa, Kwale, Kilifi, Lamu, and the coastal portion only of Tana River County.

Based on the recent changes in Kenya’s security situation, the Embassy is also relocating some staff to other countries.  However, the Embassy will remain open for normal operations.  This replaces the Travel Warning of May 17, 2014, to update information about embassy staffing and current travel recommendations.

The U.S. government continues to receive information about potential terrorist threats aimed at U.S., Western, and Kenyan interests in Kenya, including the Nairobi area and the coastal cities of Mombasa and Diani. Terrorist acts can include suicide operations, bombings – to include car bombings – kidnappings, attacks on civil aviation, and attacks on maritime vessels in or near Kenyan ports.  Although the pursuit of those responsible for previous terrorist activities continues, many of those involved remain at large and still operate in the region.  Travelers should consult the Worldwide Caution for further information and details.

Read in full here.

We should note that the State Department’s Family Liaison Office does not have any current guidance for employees on temporary relocation due to an official non-evacuation.

Makes one wonder how these employees on temporary relocation are assisted by the government. Were they all issued TDY orders to other countries? Were they sent on early R&Rs?  How about their family members?

See — an evacuation status is authorized by the Under Secretary of State for Management in 30-day increments, up to a maximum of 180 days, per DSSR 623f.  When an evacuation is declared, a Subsistence Expense Allowance (SEA) is given to official evacuees.  “Transitional separate maintenance allowance” TSMA is also granted to assist employees with additional costs they incur when their family members are required to occupy temporary commercial housing while establishing permanent housing in the U.S. following an evacuation and the conversion of the post to an unaccompanied status.

If this is in fact a “temporary relocation” with staffers sent on TDYs,there would be no evacuation orders, and there would be no evacuation allowances paid to staffers or family members relocated to other countries. The 180-day clock will not starting running.

If this is called a “temporary relocation” but staffers and/or family members are issued evac orders, granted evacuation allowances and the 180 day clock is on, then this is in fact an evacuation even if it’s not called that; and we’ll need a new State Department dictionary.

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Filed under Allowances, Americans Abroad, Evacuations, Foreign Service, Govt Reports/Documents, Huh? News, Iraq, Realities of the FS, Regulations, Security, State Department, U.S. Missions, US Embassy Baghdad

US Embassy Bangui: 15% Danger Post With Terrifically Bad Trimmings, It’s Not Alone –Wassup Cairo?

State/OIG recently posted its inspection report of the US Embassy in Bangui, a 15% danger pay post, as well as a 35% COLA and 35% hardship differential pay assignment.  The inspection took place in Washington, DC, between September 10 and 28, 2012, and in Bangui, the Central African Republic, between November 5 and 12, 2012.

The diplomatic mission is headed by Ambassador Laurence D. Wohlers, a career diplomat.  The deputy chief of mission is Brennan M. Gilmore. The embassy temporarily suspended operations on December 28, 2012, as a result of the security situation in the country.  We’ve blogged about it here.

Here are the key findings from the OIG report:

  • The Department of State’s (Department) inability to staff Embassy Bangui adequately has prevented it from functioning as an effective mission.
  • Embassy Bangui, a 15-percent danger pay post, faces numerous threats
  • If the Department cannot adequately staff and protect the embassy, it needs to consider whether the risks to personnel in Bangui are justified or find another way to maintain diplomatic representation in the Central African Republic, such as regional accreditation from a nearby embassy.
  • Post leadership has not developed a sense of team and unity of purpose.
  • Embassy reporting is excellent and appreciated by Washington consumers.
  • Embassy Bangui is unable to provide sufficient administrative support in house and would benefit from more support from larger embassies in the region.
  • Information systems security and management is inadequate. There is no U.S. direct-hire information management employee at the embassy, and temporary support does not provide sufficient oversight.

Quick background of US Embassy Bangui via the OIG report:

The United States has had diplomatic relations with the Central African Republic since its independence from France in 1960. The U.S. embassy in Bangui was closed in 1997 and again in 2002 in response to political and physical insecurity. The embassy reopened in 2005, and a resident U.S. Ambassador was appointed in 2007.

Embassy Bangui is staffed by 7 U.S. direct hires, 2 local-hire Americans, and 35 locally employed (LE) staff members. One temporary liaison officer from the U.S. Army’s Africa Command represents the only other agency at the mission. The embassy’s total funding is $3.6 million. OIG conducted a management assessment review in 2004. At that time the American staff had been evacuated and only the LE staff was present.

Front Office Report Card:

The OIG report also details some of the Front Office shortcomings, primarily on leadership, morale and communication issues. No mention on how well or how badly the senior leadership did in their OIG questionnaires. Excerpt below from the IG report:

  • The Ambassador arrived in September 2010 and the deputy chief of mission (DCM) in July 2011. They constitute a team that is particularly strong in outreach and reporting and have successfully weathered a series of management challenges. They are not as successful when it comes to leadership and morale.
  • Despite the embassy’s small size, executive direction is more hierarchical than collegial. A weekly country team meeting provides the Ambassador an opportunity to inform the team on his recent contacts with senior government officials. The communication from the country team to the Ambassador is not as effective. Notwithstanding weekly, topical staff meetings and monthly town hall gatherings with LE staff, some of the American and LE staff members feel distanced from the front office.
  • The DCM has broad executive responsibilities. He supervises the reporting agenda assigned to the first-tour political/economic/consular officer. The officer meets weekly with the DCM and usually the Ambassador as well. The DCM is responsible primarily for military affairs, which include the U.S. Special Forces deployment to the eastern Central African Republic and a rotational U.S. Africa Command liaison officer position.
  • The Ambassador has been effective in his dealings outside the chancery but less so in leading and inspiring his team. In addition, the DCM is overextended. At a mission where security-imposed restrictions on mobility, a tropical climate, daunting health challenges, and a dearth of entertainment test morale in the best of circumstances, the front office has attempted to build better morale. Despite the planning activities discussed earlier, the staff has a poor sense of Embassy Bangui’s place in the larger U.S. diplomatic agenda in Africa and asserts that it is inadequately supported. The OIG team counseled post management to look for more ways to better connect with their employees.

16 TDYs in 20 Months and Other Management Challenges, Holy Smokes!

  • The embassy’s management challenges, however, are not being fully met. The embassy struggled to overhaul its operations after reopening, including doubling its U.S. direct-hire staff, and a major restructuring of LE staffing—all in the absence of a permanent management officer. Excessive dependence on temporary duty support (about 10 temporary duty personnel a month in the past year) has compromised effective use of embassy resources and increased the cost of operating the embassy. Another issue is the Department’s increasing dependence on automated management systems that impose a bureaucratic overhead on small posts with inexperienced staff.
  • Embassy Bangui is too small to have functional depth or to benefit from economies of scale. There are too few people trying to do too much. The U.S. direct-hire staff consists of one management officer and one entry-level general services officer. Because the embassy has been chronically unable to recruit an at-grade, in-cone management officer, there is no permanent U.S. direct-hire management experience at the embassy. The current entry-level general services officer worked under 16 temporary duty management officers in 20 months.

Post was shuttered  in 1997, again in 2002 and once more in 2012. Not sure how many times it had been evacuated, but presumably at least three times as the evacuations typically precedes post closure.  If history is a predictor, the embassy will potentially reopen in 1-3 years and after a brief interval, closes again. We agree with the IG that if the State Dept cannot adequately staff and protect the embassy, it needs to consider whether the risks to personnel in Bangui are justified.  And if it decides that the risks are justified despite post’s many shortcomings, then you want that in writing from the accountable officials.  So if something bad happens, we’d know that a lowly deputy assistant secretary did not go rogue and we won’t need to pick up the flattened DASes thrown under the buses after multiple congressional hearings.

In any case, we noticed that the IG inspectors seem to massaged its  report with phrases such as ” not as successful” or “less [effective] … in leading and inspiring his team” or  is “more hierarchical than collegial.”   That’s sorta like giving you a tall glass of juice to take with an almost bitter pill.

Look, this is a tiny mission with 7 direct hire American employees (an ideal team composition by the way), and a total staff of no more than 50.  Sometimes working at a small post can really pull people together. At other times,  it can make it seem like a 24/7, 365 days a year root canal – you just want to be numb with Novacaine and get out of there.  For now, they’re all out of there except for the local employees. But — can you imagine if you were an entry level officer working for 16 management officers on TDY in a span of 20 months?

While this OIG report highlighted US Embassy Bangui’s Front Office’s less than ideal leadership, morale and communication at post, we should note that the embassy is not alone.

We’ve been hearing for a while now that US Embassy Cairo is suffering from “abysmal morale.” A recent posting on the Secretary’s Sounding Board regarding its 15% hardship diffential is just one part of it. (Apparently it has been at 15% for 15 years  and State sat on Cairo’s differential update request for six months.  Despite  changing conditions in Egypt, State reportedly refused the request with no explanation).  But see – folks normally do not refer to their morale as “abysmal” also known as “appalling” or “extremely bad” if it only has to do with the differential.  Don’t forget the human. Plenty of unhappy people there, the differential is one reason; there are reportedly many more. 

The thing that should give State’s Seventh Floors some pause is — Embassy Bangui has 7 U.S.direct hire. Embassy Cairo’s staffing is 68X that of Bangui’s, with 476 U.S. direct hire and a total staff of 1,874 (at least according to the 2009 OIG staffing numbers).

Perhaps it’s time for the OIG to pay another visit to the land of pharaohs?  The last OIG inspection was in 2009. With upheaval in the host country in the last two years and significantly changing conditions at post, we think Cairo deserves a visit, don’t you?  Oh, and please do keep a close eye on USCG Alexandria.
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Filed under Africa, Allowances, Ambassadors, DCM, Foreign Service, Govt Reports/Documents, Leadership and Management, State Department, U.S. Missions

US Embassy Sudan and Those Critical Pool and Picnic Resources

Every now and then we get tips for blog post ideas, sometimes offline, via email or sometimes via social media as was the case a few days ago:

@tradeaidmonitor
Hope @Diplopundit catches “U.S. State Dept. Sending Critical [Pool & Picnicking] Resources to Sudan” http://www.tradeaidmonitor.com/2012/08/state-dept-resources-sudan.html

Sometimes we catch the toss, sometimes we don’t, primarily because we have some time constraints.  But this one, we thought we’d catch because in a place like our US Embassy in Khartoum, pool and picnic resources are critical resources in our view.  And we’ll tell you why.

Let’s start off with Sudan as the third largest country in Africa.  Slightly less than a quarter the size of the continental United States. It achieved independence on January 1, 1956 from the British, and has been at war with itself for more than three-quarters of its existence.

The USG designated Sudan as a state sponsor of terrorism in 1993 and the U.S. Embassy operation in Khartoum was suspended in 1996. According to the no longer updated Background Notes in October 1997, the U.S. imposed comprehensive economic, trade, and financial sanctions against the Sudan. In August 1998, in the wake of the East Africa embassy bombings, the U.S. launched cruise missile strikes against Khartoum. The last U.S. Ambassador to the Sudan, Ambassador Tim Carney, departed post prior to this event and no new ambassador has been designated since.

We do have a Special Envoy to Sudan –Ambassador Lyman since 2011; he succeeded Ambassador Gration who was appointed to office in 2009.

The U.S. Embassy is headed by a series of Charge d’Affaires. Joseph D. Stafford, III, a career Foreign Service Officer has been Charge’ d’ affaires in Khartoum since June 2012. The US Embassy reportedly continues to re-evaluate its posture in Sudan, particularly in the wake of the January 1, 2008, killings of a U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) officer John Granville and local USAID employee, Abdel Rahman Abbas.

(see How much does a US diplomat’s life worth? About $1,800 US dollars, and look there’s no raging mob…)

The U.S. Mission in Sudan has declared disasters due to the complex emergency on an annual basis since 1987. On October 1, 2009, President Obama renewed the Sudan complex emergency disaster declaration for FY 2010.

Sandstorm Over the Nile
(Photo by US Embassy Khartoum/Picasa)

So let’s just agree that it’s not a very nice, cushy place when its dry. And it’s not a very nice place when it’s wet.

In fact, it’s one of those places where family members of embassy personnel under age 21 are not allowed to reside.  State Department employees in Sudan also get a 30% cost of living allowance, a 25% hardship differential and a 25% danger pay differential, and for good reasons.

Cost-of-living allowance (COLA) is granted to an employee officially stationed at a post in a foreign area where the cost of living, exclusive of quarters costs, is substantially higher than in Washington, D.C.

Hardship differential is established for any place when, and only when, the place involves extraordinarily difficult living conditions, excessive physical hardship, or notably unhealthful conditions affecting the majority of employees officially stationed or detailed at that place.  Living costs are not considered in differential determination

Danger pay allowance is designed to provide additional compensation above basic compensation to all U.S. Government civilian employees, including Chiefs of Mission, for service at places in foreign areas where there exist conditions of civil insurrection, civil war, terrorism or wartime conditions which threaten physical harm or imminent danger to the health or well-being of an employee.

So in a country where Al Qaeda has a long history, what do people do to entertain and de-stress themselves?  You can go to a fitness club where the monthly fee for adults is $192.50 (or 352.94 % more than what you’d pay in WashDC) according to numbeo.com. Or you can eat out where the combo meal similar to McDonald’s is $11.14 (except that you’re a real moving target).  Or you can go to the movies for $5.00, certainly cheaper than DC but do you want to be in the dark with people with guns? Probably not.

You can stay home and surf online; 6 Mbps Internet is at $67.50 a month whether it works or not. Or have a roaring pool party. Maybe. And invite even people you can’t stand. In which case you need to shop for party food.  You can shop for chicken breasts which at $8.00/kilogram is actually cheaper in Khartoum than in DC. You can also buy 12 pack eggs at $2.93, and a kilogram of fresh cheese at $16.33. Beer, the 0.5 liter bottle is reportedly $5.00. And there goes your COLA.

Then there’s the haboob, a small one or a big one, it doesn’t matter, it gets into everything. And they don’t have haboob days like snow days back in WashDC, which frankly, isn’t fair.   We terribly missed our undiplomatic diplomat from Facts Are Strictly Optional; you betcha she would have had insightful things to say about these critical resources.

The patio furniture below is similar to those required under the solicitation mentioned above and posted by US Embassy Khartoum at fedbiz. The complete solicitation is here: https://www.fbo.gov/notices/b8deabb7df3866417121ac528cf8a837.

Wave Square 4 Seater Set”Weatherproof, Rust-Free Guaranteed, 5 Year Warranty, Durable, UV Resistant, Powder Coating, Door to Door Free Delivery, All prices include VAT.
Manufactured by Golden Barley Garden Furniture Trading as HomeGarden.co.za, South Africa
(Photo from Golden Barley Garden Furniture Trading) 

Rust-fee, weatherproof, five year warranty – what’s not to like? More to the point, and this is important — you can hose them down after a dust storm, they’re too heavy to fly away in a sandstorm and they are deliverable from South Africa, just 2900 miles from the Sudan instead of some 6,000 miles from the United States.

So frankly, we cannot find it in our hearts to quarrel with these pool and patio furniture. All that dust and sand would probably drive us nuts ala The Shining if we live down there.  And anyways — what use is a pool if you cannot sit down or lounge or have a picnic with people you see every single day at work and at play?

Dear US Embassy Khartoum – we hope you folks enjoy your new pool and patio furniture. The bronze ones look really lovely.

The end.

Domani Spero

 

 

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Filed under Africa, Allowances, Counting Beans, Foreign Service, FS Funding, Govt Reports/Documents, Mental Health, Real Post of the Month, Realities of the FS, State Department, U.S. Missions, USAID

Quickie: Ding Dongs and Danger Pay in Kosovo

Via Gadling.com, another piece from David Seminara, former FSO, now photojournalist based in N. Virginia who contributes to The New York Times, The Chicago Tribune, ESPN, and other publications and sites.

Once the war in Iraq broke out, I would sometimes feel a tinge of guilt over the fact that we could collect the same level of danger pay in Kosovo that our intrepid colleagues in Iraq were getting. But in the Foreign Service, compensation is often based more on the ability of an embassy’s management officers, who compile the reports that result in adjustments to things like hardship, danger and cost of living allowances.

For example, when I arrived in Skopje, we were receiving hardship pay of 15% above our salaries and no one complained about this until we discovered that Sofia, our neighbor to the East, had just been bumped up to 20%.

“Sofia?” we cried. “They have Dunkin Donuts for Christ’s sake!”

If our Munchkin’ eating colleagues in Sofia were getting 20, we thought we deserved 25. An informal task force was developed to try to document why we too deserved more money. The key was to make the place sound as dreadful as possible, and as the resident amateur photographer, I was asked to do my part by taking photos of stray dogs, litter and peeling Communist apartment blocks. The uglier, the better. A good management officer can make Paris sound like Mogadishu and thanks to the efforts of our task force, we were soon bumped up to 20%.

The flip side is that some dysfunctional posts had no clue how to document hardship- real or imagined. After Skopje, I was posted to Port of Spain, which, by my account, was much more of a hardship than Skopje, but was classified as a 5% post, largely because we had Roy Austin, a political appointee and friend of George W. Bush as ambassador. Mr. Austin believed that everything was just fine in Trinidad, much to our chagrin.

Read in full here.

You remember Port of Spain, right? We even wrote a tanka about it.  Why?  Well, because it’s an exceptionally good study on why the appointments of political ambassadors should be handled with extra care. (Read That Did Not Work Out Very Well, Did It? US Embassy Port of Spain Sets Record/s)

Port of Spain, by the way, is stuck at 5% as a hardship differential post.  It is  pure coincidence, of course, that no management officer in Port of Spain has fully completed a tour in 19 years and that our Bush ambassador there during Mr. Seminara’s time was replaced by an Obama political ambassador in 2010.

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Mexican Border Consular Posts Get 15% Danger Pay

Information posted in the State Department’s Office of Allowances indicates that the six border posts in Mexico were granted a 15% danger pay as of March 14, 2010. As I posted previously here, none of the Mexican posts had danger pay differential except for Reynosa (where we have a Consular Agency) prior to the Cd. Juarez murders of March 13. Now Reynosa has 0 differential but all six border posts have a 15% danger pay allowance.

Screen capture from state.gov
Allowances as of March 14, 2010

The danger pay allowance is designed to provide additional compensation above basic compensation to all U.S. Government civilian employees, including Chiefs of Mission, for service at places in foreign areas where there exist conditions of civil insurrection, civil war, terrorism or wartime conditions which threaten physical harm or imminent danger to the health or well-being of an employee.  These conditions do not include acts characterized chiefly as economic crime.

It is established by the Secretary of State when, and only when, civil insurrection, civil war, terrorism or wartime conditions threaten physical harm or imminent danger to the health or well being of a majority of employees officially stationed or detailed at a post or country/area in a foreign area.  To determine whether the situation meets the danger pay criteria, a post usually must submit the Danger Pay Factors Form (FS-578) along with pertinent supporting information to the Department of State (Office of Allowances) for review.  The Director of the Office of Allowances will chair a working group which will make a recommendation to the Assistant Secretary of State for Administration concerning a danger pay designation.

Read more here.

Danger Pay posts are reviewed periodically to ensure that the Danger Pay continues only during the existence of conditions justifying such payment, it is possible for the Danger Pay designation to be removed or modified at any time.

It is paid as a percentage of basic compensation in 15, 20, 25, 30 and 35% increments. In addition to being paid to permanently-assigned personnel, danger pay may also be paid to employees on temporary duty or detail to the post.

Danger Pay is, however, considered an “incentive” rather than a “reimbursement” and therefore is taxable according to DSSR 054.2.

The authority under the DSSR is also limited to U.S. citizens:

“DSSR 032 “Non-Citizen Employees,” states, “The allowances, post differential, danger pay, compensatory time off, advances of pay and difficult to staff incentive differential, may be paid to non-citizen employees to the extent that the payment of such allowances and differential to the non-citizen employee is authorized by any provision of law other than 5 U.S.C. 5921-5928.” This means no payment of those allowances, including Danger Pay, may be made to LES or other non-U.S. citizens absent separate legislation. For example, under a different set of laws/regulations, an agency can make a determination that “unique conditions of work” justify payment to LES of a benefit similar to Danger Pay.”

See more here.
Danger Pay Factors Form DS-578 (Formerly FS-578) is here.

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