From Oslo: Norwegians may now face the scary scenario of Donald Trump sending an ambassador

Posted: 3:37 am EDT

 

Agenda Magasin, an online magazine for political analysis and commentary based in Oslo recently published, “Congress, send Norway an ambassador” by Thor Steinhovden. Below is an excerpt:

Norway has never gone this long without an American ambassador at the U.S. Embassy in Oslo. Norwegians may now face the scary scenario of Donald Trump sending a representative, three years too late.
[…]
In September 2013 the American Ambassador to Norway, Barry White, completed his posting and left the country. 840 days later the United States has yet to send a replacement. That’s more than 120 weeks, or over two years and three months. Now, Norway risks having to wait until spring 2017. In other words, our closest ally will then have neglected to send a presidential representative for over three years.

The story behind this failure is complicated, but illustrates a political situation in the U.S. that is crippling the president’s ability to effectively carry out foreign policy. The story includes a failed nomination, “The Nuclear Option”, the P5+1 Iran deal, and not at least, the race for 2016.
[…]
For many Norwegians it probably seems both odd and incomprehensible that one of the world’s superpowers cannot manage such a simple task as to deploy an ambassador to a close ally like Norway. It becomes more incomprehensible when one considers the fact that the hold-up is not related to neither the candidate, nor the bilateral relationship.

If Donald Trump or Ted Cruz then occupy the White House, Norway may find itself welcoming a completely different character than Sam Heins. I believe most Norwegians agree with me that it is probably best for all of us if we avoid that scenario. It is time: Congress, send Norway an ambassador!

Read in full here.  A Norwegian-language version of this commentary is also available.

The article is a pretty good account of what happened to the nominations dating back to 2013 when the initial nominee melted down on C-SPAN.

We don’t know if the Heins nomination will  make it through the Senate, but even if it does get a full vote, and Mr. Heins gets to Oslo, this is an election year. There will be a new occupant in the White House come January 2017. All ambassadors –including Mr. Heins if he gets confirmed this year — resign their positions following a change in Administration. The resignations of career ambassadors are typically almost always refused, while those of political appointees are almost always accepted.  Which means, unless the nominations of political ambassadorships get confirmed soon, the window of opportunity is winding down. At some point, it becomes a waste of resources to pack and ship an ambassador designate’s household effects if he/she gets to serve as chief of mission for only a few months; that is, only to pack out again after the November 2016 elections.  Of course, it can be done, we just can’t recall an example, but would folks really subject themselves to such a relocation for a short-term ambassadorship? We’ll have to wait and see.

 

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What happens when you contravene the worldwide nonimmigrant visa referral policy? It depends.

Posted: 4:08  am EDT
Updated: 2:29 pm EDT

 

Our State Department friends have a favorite response to most questions. “It depends.”

About 10 years ago, State/OIG conducted a review of the Visa Referral Process in Nonimmigrant Visa Adjudication.

By law neither an ambassador nor a DCM can direct a consular officer to issue a particular visa. Even the Secretary of State has no authority to override a consular officer’s deci­ sion, pursuant to the Immigration and Nationality Act, 8 USC 1104. Recognizing the importance of the visa process both as a bilateral diplomatic issue and as a legitimate diplomatic tool for achieving U.S. aims, and considering the importance of providing as much information as possible to consular officers, the Department has long understood the need for a policy and system to allow all elements of the mission to benefit from the visa system and to protect consular officers from inappropriate pressure. After September 11, 2001, this system has been signifi­ cantly strengthened.
[…]
Based on the results of the survey, observations in the field, and discussions in Washington, OIG concluded that most ambassadors and DCMs appear to under­ stand the importance of their personal oversight of the referral system and that there are serious repercussions, including removal from post, in the most egregious cases of abuse. While Department oversight of referral systems is important, entrusting chiefs of mission with local supervision and responsibility is still appro­ priate and necessary, just as the Department entrusts chiefs of mission with the lives of all employees and dependents in their missions, the management of top secret information, and the conduct of key bilateral relations with the host country.
[…]
Clearly most missions’ front offices are overseeing the referral system as intended by the Department, sometimes after a little persuasion. For example, an officer at a post that was having problems said, “Our recent OIG inspection was helpful in making the front office realize the impact of their interventions with us and the appearance of undue influence. Despite our education of the front office, they have been incredulous that their good causes may pose us problems under the law.” One of the areas of emphasis for OIG inspection teams is border security readiness, which includes oversight of the referral program.

The survey, however, did reveal some disillusionment with the available recourses in those instances when the front office was itself exerting undue influ­ence. One officer at a post in the Near East said, “In general the consular section feels pressure to act simply as a rubber stamp to visa referrals by chiefs of section and above.” Another stated,“The front office is the only section that has ever tried to influence decisions in referral cases. If I were to refuse the case, then I would be hurt in the employee evaluation report (EER) process as my rater is the DCM and the Ambassador is the reviewing officer.”

It’s an instructive read from 2005, see in full here (PDF).

Let’s fast forward to two cases in 2015 specifically mentioned by State/OIG. The following is from the State/OIG inspection report of the U.S. Embassy in Tajikistan (PDF). The IG report lists Susan M. Elliott as COM, and Robert G. Burgess as DCM.

The Offices of Visa Services and Fraud Prevention Programs, the Consular Integrity Division, and the front office of the Bureau of Consular Affairs all expressed concern about the embassy’s contravention of the worldwide visa referral policy. In the latter half of 2013, the Ambassador in seven cases and the DCM in two cases contravened the worldwide nonimmigrant visa referral policy by submitting noncompliant referrals and improperly advocating for issuance.

Complications arising from noncompliance with the policy led to deteriorating relations between the consular officer and other embassy offices, perceptions of intimidation and isolation, and increased involvement of and intervention by various offices in the Bureau of Consular Affairs. In response to revised guidance from the Bureau of Consular Affairs on referral policy, dated January 13, 2014, Embassy Dushanbe issued a management notice on January 17, 2014. On October 15 and 17, 2014, the embassy conducted briefings for referring officers and obtained current compliance agreements reflecting the revised policy guidance. The OIG team met with the front office and the consular officer, and they confirm that they understand and are committed to continuing to comply with the policy going forward.

How is it that this consular officer did not get the Barbara Watson Award for demonstrating courage?

C’mon!

The “Worldwide Visa Referral Policy Problems” below is from the State/OIG report of the U.S. Embassy in Armenia (see PDF). According to the IG report, the ambassador at that time was John Heffern:

In at least 15 documented cases, the Ambassador contravened the worldwide nonimmigrant visa referral policy (9 FAM Appendix K, Exhibit I) by contacting the consular chief to communicate information about visa applicants instead of providing referral forms for the applicants. The referral policy states, “Referrals are the only allowed mechanism to advocate for or assist visa applicants prior to visa adjudication.” Some of the cases involved previously refused applicants. Referral policy permits requesting assistance via referral on behalf of previously refused applicants only in extremely limited circumstances. Few, if any, of the violations involved applicants who would have been eligible for visa referrals. The consular chief did not take adequate steps to stop the Ambassador’s inappropriate communications or to report them to the Department, as required by Department referral polices.
[…]
The embassy provides no formal, detailed briefing (“referral school”) as recommended in the worldwide policy. The consular chief gives informal referral briefings on an individual basis to new arrivals at the embassy. Lack of a formal understanding of the referral policy and process can cause misunderstanding or abuse.

Wow! And the consular section chief got harshly treated by the … the um alphabet, which did not quite line up to say he/she was at fault but you get the idea.

It is not clear what kind of repercussions are suffered by chiefs of mission who contraven the worldwide nonimmigrant visa referral policy.   According to a FAM update last November 2015, Consular Affairs has now added a NIV Referral Program Ombudsman (see 9 FAM 601.8-8(C).

Oh, wait, there’s more.

There’s an FSGB case where an FP-03 Diplomatic Security (DS) Special Agent (SA) with the Department of State (Department) was warned that there were strict prohibitions against anyone attempting to influence the visa process. The State Department later proposed to suspend him for four days on a charge of Misuse of Position. The proposal was sustained by the Grievance Board on March 3, 2015.

On October 5, 2010, a family friend of his (REDACTED), a (REDACTED) national, applied for a B1/B2 non-immigrant visa at the U.S. Embassy in REDACTED. His stated purpose for the visa request was to visit with grievant in the U.S.  When the application was denied, grievant sent an email on that same date from his State Department account to REDACTED, the Deputy Consular Section Chief in REDACTED voicing his disappointment that his friend’s visa application had been turned down. In the email, grievant asked for assistance, provided additional information on behalf of his friend and cited his own experience as a DS officer who had collaborated with consular officials investigating fraud cases. All of grievant’s emails contained his electronic signature and identified him as “Special Agent, REDACTED, U.S. Department of State, Bureau of Diplomatic Security.” In response to this email, re-interviewed and approved his visa application. REDACTED subsequently visited grievant in the US.

To make the long story short, grievant was investigated (PDF) by DS for his efforts to procure visa approvals for his friend.

The Department reviewed the DS report of investigation (ROI) and determined that between 2010 and 2012, grievant used official communication channels to contact consular officials in the U.S. Embassy in and identified himself as a DS Special Agent in order to influence favorable decisions on visa applications submitted by his friend. On December 2, 2014, grievant received notice of the Department’s proposal to suspend him for four days on a charge of Misuse of Position. The proposal was sustained on March 3, 2015.

So. Right.

It depends.

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Senator on Cruz hold over Norway nominee: 836 days since there was last a confirmed Ambassador to Norway

Posted: 1:01 am EDT

 

The Hill reports:

Sen. Ted Cruz blocked a Democratic push to approve a handful of State Department nominees on Wednesday, even though the Texas Republican is far from D.C., campaigning in New Hampshire. […]  Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah), however, objected to each of the nominations, noting that he was doing so on behalf of Cruz. The presidential candidate has pledged to block State Department nominees over the Iran nuclear deal. Cardin called Cruz’s objections a “master class in needless partisan obstruction.”

Last month, Democratic Sen. Amy Klobuchar (Minn.) took to the floor to urge for the confirmation of the nominees for Sweden and Norway, but spoke at length on behalf of Sam Heins, the nominee to be the U.S. Ambassador to Norway who hails from her state.

Ms. KLOBUCHAR. Madam President, I rise today to call on the Senate and all of my colleagues to allow us to move forward on the nomination of Sam Heins of Minnesota to be the U.S. Ambassador to Norway. The U.S. Ambassador for Sweden has also been held up. Coming from the State of Iowa, which I believe is over 10 percent Scandinavian–over 300,000 people–I think the Presiding Officer understands the importance of our country actually having Ambassadors to these incredibly important allies and nations.

It has now been 836 days since there was last a confirmed Ambassador to Norway, one of our most important European allies. Part of this situation was caused by a different nominee who has some issues with the committee and with other Senators. That person has now been replaced, and it has been 166 days since a new nominee went through the Foreign Relations Committee. Mr. Heins was approved by a voice vote, without any controversy, as was the Ambassador to Sweden. I thank Senators Corker and Cardin and Senators McConnell and Reid for their help in trying to get this through.

Unfortunately, these nominations are now being held up by Senator Cruz. Based on my discussions with him, it is not because of the qualifications of these nominees; it is related to, I suppose, other issues. Yet, I note for those Scandinavians out there, Senator Cruz has allowed votes on Ambassadors to other countries. We have Ambassadors in France, in England, in nearly every European nation, but not these two Scandinavian countries.

Perhaps people don’t understand the importance of these nations because they just think these people wear sweaters all the time. I don’t know what they think of Norway and Sweden, but, in fact, Senator Cruz should understand that they are two of our best allies. Norway is one of our country’s strongest and most dependable allies.
[…]
I am focusing today on Norway. I will focus on Sweden in the future as I continue to give these speeches. I don’t think we can take these countries lightly just because it is cold there and darker in the winter. These are incredibly important allies and trading partners. They deserve to be treated like other European nations. They deserve to have an ambassador from the United States of America.

It is time to end this delay and do the work the Senate is supposed to do. Let’s move ahead and work to confirm these qualified nominees to represent us abroad. One is a country in Europe that just bought 22 fighter planes from Lockheed Martin. If they had bought 22 fighter planes from the Presiding Officer’s State, I believe the Presiding Officer would have looked at the fact that if it is a noncontroversial nominee to a country that invests in the United States of America, that is an ambassador we need to get confirmed, and we would get this done.

Read in full here (PDF) from the Congressional Record.

 

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Pentagon to Offer Voluntary Relocation to DOD’s Pregnant Family Members in Areas With Zika Virus

Posted: 1:25 am EDT
Updated Feb 3 3:03 pm EDT

 

According to Military Times, pregnant family members of active-duty personnel and civilian Defense Department employees assigned to areas affected by the Zika virus will be offered voluntary relocation.

The State Department issued a Zika virus information for travelers based on CDC information. We have yet to hear any update on what happens to pregnant family members of Foreign Service personnel in affected areas and whether the State Department will offer them voluntary relocation.  The Centers for Disease Control on January 15 issued an interim travel guidance related to Zika virus for 14 countries and territories in Central and South America and the Caribbean.  There is apparently an ALDAC that was sent out on January 21st, that says ALL pregnant USG employees or family members covered under the Department of State Medical Program are authorized voluntary medevac from posts affected by Zika, we don’t have the ALDAC number but check with MGT or MED at post, if you are overseas and have not seen it.

The CDC has confirmed active Zika virus transmission in the following 26 foreign countries and territories:

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Email of the Day: Rejection Letter For Chief of Mission Aspirant

Posted: 12:05 am EDT

 

An individual whose name is redacted wrote an April 2012 email to State Department Chief of Staff Cheryl Mills saying “Disappointingly EAP was unable to nominate me for a COM position ….” and that he was “running out of option.”   Mills forward the email to HRC saying she advised the individual “given his interest in Slovenia and Iceland to meet w/ Phil.” Phil is most probably Philip Gordon who served as Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs (EUR) from 2009-13.

The rejection letter/email that the aspiring ambassador received came from Joseph Yun who was then Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs (EAP) and currently U.S. Ambassador to Malaysia. The email is part of the latest Clinton email dump.

 

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There are over 24,000 diplomats working for @StateDept?

Posted: 5:24 pm EDT

 

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“There are over 24,000 diplomats working for the State Department in the U.S. and around the world. Of that number some are diplomats and some are civil servants serving mostly domestically.”

— Ambassador Nancy McEldowney, director of the Foreign Service Institute. As the Chief Learning Officer for the U.S. government’s foreign affairs community, she is focused on preparing America’s diplomats for the challenges of tomorrow. Born and raised in Clearwater Florida, her State Department career has taken her to Egypt, Germany, Azerbaijan, Turkey and Bulgaria. (Via Parade).

Note: The Parade article was updated sometime after January 24 to say, “There are over 24,000 Americans working for the State Department in the U.S. and around the world.”  The Wayback Machine dated January 24 has the original line that says, “There are over 24,000 diplomats working for the State Department in the U.S. and around the world.”

 

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US Embassy London: First and Second Tour (FAST) Officers Get Face Time With Secretary Kerry

Posted: 2:03 am EDT

Via state.gov:

Secretary Kerry Meets With First- and Second-Tour State Department Employees During Visit to Embassy London U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, joined by U.S. Ambassador to the United Kingdom Matthew Barzun, meets with State Department employees on their first and second tours abroad during a visit to the U.S. Embassy in London, U.K., on December 14, 2015. [State Department Photo/Public Domain]

Secretary Kerry Meets With First- and Second-Tour State Department Employees During Visit to Embassy London
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, joined by U.S. Ambassador to the United Kingdom Matthew Barzun, meets with State Department employees on their first and second tours abroad during a visit to the U.S. Embassy in London, U.K., on December 14, 2015. [State Department Photo/Public Domain]

Presidential Appointees With Senate Confirmation (PAS) and the Hatch Act

Posted: 12:52 am EDT

 

Via U.S. Office of Special Counsel (OSC) | Hatch Act:

 

 

The Hatch Act, a federal law passed in 1939, limits certain political activities of federal employees, as well as some state, D.C., and local government employees who work in connection with federally funded programs. ​The law’s purposes are to ensure that federal programs are administered in a nonpartisan fashion, to protect federal employees from political coercion in the workplace, and to ensure that federal employees are advanced based on merit and not based on political affiliation.​ Below is an excerpt from its FAQ on Presidential Appointee With Senate Confirmation (PAS):

I am an employee who was appointed by the President, by and with the advice and consent of the Senate (PAS). Am I covered by the Hatch Act?

Yes. An employee appointed by the President, by and with the advice and consent of the Senate (PAS), is subject to the provisions of the Hatch Act. However, certain PAS’s are not subject to the Act’s prohibition against engaging in political activity while on duty, in a federal room or building, wearing an official uniform or insignia, or using a government vehicle. To be exempt from this prohibition, a PAS must meet all of the following criteria:

1) the duties and responsibilities of his position must continue outside normal duty hours and while away from the normal duty post;

2) his position must be located within the United States; and

3) he must determine policies to be pursued by the United States in relations with foreign powers or in the nationwide administration of federal laws.

If a PAS meets all these criteria, he is not prohibited from engaging in political activity while on duty, in a federal room or building, wearing an official uniform or insignia, or using a government vehicle, provided the costs associated with the political activity are not paid for by money derived from the Treasury of the United States. However, the PAS remains subject to all the other prohibitions of the Hatch Act, and thus, may not: use his official authority or influence for the purpose of interfering with or affecting the result of an election; knowingly solicit, accept, or receive a political contribution from any person; be a candidate for public office in a partisan election; or knowingly solicit or discourage the political activity of any person who has business before the employee’s employing office.​​​

I am an employee who was appointed by the President, by and with the advice and consent of the Senate (PAS). Does the exemption from the Hatch Act’s prohibition against engaging in political activity while on duty, which applies to me, also apply to my staff?

No. Assuming a Presidential appointee with Senate confirmation (PAS) meets the criteria outlined in the answer to the previous question, he—but only he—may engage in political activity while on duty, in a government room or building, wearing an official uniform or insignia, or using a government vehicle, so long as, the costs associated with the political activity are not paid for by money derived from the Treasury of the United States. The appointee’s staff, however, is not subject to this exemption. Therefore, the appointee’s staff members are still prohibited from engaging in political activity while on duty, in a federal room or building, wearing an official uniform or insignia, or using a government vehicle.​​

May an Presidential appointee with Senate confirmation (PAS), ask his chief of staff (or any other subordinate employee) to contact and/or liaise with a political party to find out where, or if, the party needs the PAS’s help?

No. The Hatch Act prohibits federal employees, including PAS’s, from soliciting or accepting uncompensated volunteer services for any political purpose from an individual who is a subordinate. 5 C.F.R. §§ 734.302(b)(3)​734.303(d)​​. Thus, the Act prohibits a supervisor from asking subordinate employees to contact a political party to inquire about opportunities for the PAS to assist the party.​​​

Click here for the printable FAQ (PDF). OSC also issues advisory opinions to persons seeking advice about their political activity under the Hatch Act. Individuals or their legal representatives may request an opinion about their own political activity. E-mail: hatchact@osc.gov.

 

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Related post:

Eight days till election day – do you know your Hatch Act Rules?

Last Night’s “I’ll Have Your Back” For Our Diplomats, and OMG! 13 Hours! Benghazi! Now! Boom! Boom! Boom!

Posted: 2:41 pm EDT

 

So the first of the Benghazi movies is here with Michael Bay’s “13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi.” It looks like there are three more movies in the works (see You’ve Seen the Boooooks, Now Get Ready For the Benghazi Movies!).

Anyway, today’s the day you’ve all been waiting for, of course.

The New York Times reviewed it:

Here is what The Atlantic says:

No one wanted? Really?

About that CIA chief and the stand down order, the chief finally speaks out:

The Intercept mentions the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles!

The Guardian says it sent its writer-at-large to his local multiplex and he found out that Bay’s Benghazi spectacular is far from the perfect date film but does sum up a particular slice of the American psyche.  @dave_schilling writes about the  American Way.

Regardless, Ted Cruz and his fellow candidates will surely try to use this motion picture for their own personal gain for as long as possible. That’s what we do with tragedy in this country, after all. We build a memorial, complete with a gift shop stocked with all the cheaply made junk imaginable. We crank out corny movies based on the true story in the hope that enough people will drag their significant other to the theater to experience the sadness first-hand, with the explicit goal of making a sorry buck off the misery. And we try to score political points whenever possible. That’s the American Way.

At last night’s GOP debate, Mr. Cruz did talk about Benghazi:

CRUZ: “13 Hours” — tomorrow morning, a new movie will debut about the incredible bravery of the men fighting for their lives in Benghazi and the politicians that abandoned them. I want to speak to all our fighting men and women.

I want to speak to all the moms and dads whose sons and daughters are fighting for this country, and the incredible sense of betrayal when you have a commander-in-chief who will not even speak the name of our enemy, radical Islamic terrorism, when you have a commander-in- chief who sends $150 billion to the Ayatollah Khamenei, who’s responsible for murdering hundreds of our servicemen and women.

I want to speak to all of those maddened by political correctness, where Hillary Clinton apologizes for saying all lives matter. This will end. It will end on January 2017.

CRUZ: And if I am elected president, to every soldier and sailor and airman and marine, and to every police officer and firefighter and first responder who risk their lives to keep us safe, I will have your back.

Dammit… no “I’ll have your back” for our diplomats.

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Secretary Kerry Swears-In U.S. Ambassador to Malta Kathleen Hill

Posted: 12:45 am EDT

 

Via state.gov/Flickr:

24335534496_cafd998f95_z

Secretary Kerry Swears-In U.S. Ambassador to Malta Kathleen Hill U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry swears-in U.S. Ambassador to Malta Kathleen Hill, at the U.S. Department of State, in Washington, D.C. on January 13, 2015. [State Department Photo/Public Domain]

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