Category Archives: Congress

United States Senate of Disaster. Confirmed.

– Domani Spero

 

So last night, the Senate did a few more selective confirmation, then ran out the door for the real fun stuff (see Sorry FSOs: Senate Confirms Lippert, O’Malley, Nell Crocker, Scheinman, Holleyman and Lenhardt).  There are more than 30 ambassadorial nominations pending in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee plus nominations and promotions of career employees awaiting Senate approval.  About three dozens nominees for State/USAID/BBG are stuck on the Senate’s Executive Calendar.

No career diplomat made the confirmation cut during the Senate’s last day in session. Which means, a good number of them will have to wait for confirmation during the lame duck session. Because things will definitely change then. Or not. Failing that, they all presumably will be renominated at the start of the new Congress in 2015, and things will definitely work better then. Or not.

Perplexing thing, though … just the other day, during the Benghazi Select Committee hearing, the Republicans and Democrats in Congress exchanged so many thank-yous “it could have been the Oscars” according to WaPo’s Dana Milbank. At the end of the hearing, Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-S.C.) recalled the four dead Americans, “I want to adjourn in memory of Chris Stevens, Sean Smith, Ty Woods and Glen Doherty,” he said. We missed this but according to WaPo, Rep. Elijah Cummings (D- Md.) reportedly also “embraced the theme” saying, “We are Americans … everybody trying to do the best they can to protect our people.”

We missed the group hug but see, they really do care about the career people we send out overseas. Except when they don’t.

In fairness, we must note that the Senate did a full plate of legislative business during its last session including the following:

Adopted S.Res.574: National Estuaries Week

Adopted S.Res.575: Prostate Cancer Awareness

Adopted S.Res.566: South Dakota 125th Anniversary

Adopted S.Res.420 – Naturopathic Medicine Week

Passed S.2040 – Blackfoot River Land Exchange

Passed S.2061 by voice vote – Preventing Conflicts of Interest with Contractors Act

Passed S.2583 – E-Label Act

Passed S.2778 – Secretary of State Reward for Information

 

Clearly, “everybody trying to do the best they can to protect our people “… does not include protecting our people from the Congress.  One might start to think that our elected representatives do not really care about our embassies and career diplomats, they just like saying so when they want to hear themselves talk.

So what if career diplomats are stuck in the Oakwood apartments in waiting mode for a year going on two years?

So what if an embassy has not had an ambassador for over 400 days?

You think the Senate might care more if its a place they want to visit for their next CODEL like Seoul or Paris?  Maybe, but holy guacamole, who’s been on a CODEL to Albania or Timor-Leste in the last 12 months? Anyone?

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Sorry FSOs: Senate Confirms Lippert, O’Malley, Nell Crocker, Scheinman, Holleyman and Lenhardt

– Domani Spero

 

On September 18, the Senate confirmed the following State Department nominations. Also confirmed were the nominees for USTR and USAID.

South Korea: Mark William Lippert, to be Ambassador to the Republic of Korea

Ireland: Kevin F. O’Malley, to be Ambassador to Ireland

State/IO: Bathsheba Nell Crocker, to be an Assistant Secretary of State (International Organization Affairs)

State/NPT: Adam M. Scheinman, to be Special Representative of the President for Nuclear Nonproliferation, with the rank of Ambassador

USTR: Robert W. Holleyman II, to be Deputy United States Trade Representative, with the rank of Ambassador

USAID: Alfonso E. Lenhardt, to be Deputy Administrator of the United States Agency for International Development

 

Looking at the names of these lucky ones who made it out of the Senate, one simply feels bad for career diplomats who typically do not have BFFs in high places to lobby for their confirmation. Nominees for Palau and Timor-Leste who both have waited over 400 days may be forced to wait many more days unless the Senate act on those nominations in the next couple of days. Or perhaps after the November election? Perhaps next year?  Nominees for Paraguay, Vietnam, Bangladesh, and Cabo Verde, all career diplomats are also stuck in the Senate. Confirmation by crisis works as we have seen clearly this year, though not all the time.  But if a coup or a civil strife breaks out in any of these places in the next 48 hours, the nominees might, just might get moved up the Senate’s “we haven’t forgotten you” list before the clock runs out.

Well, what are you waiting for? Start something happening somewhere, pronto!

 

Oh, wait! Too late to start a coup.  The Senate’s gone, people!

 

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Battle For Benghazi in WashDC:  Vroom Vroom Your Search Engines Now or Just Drink Gin

– Domani Spero

 

The final (maybe) Battle for Benghazi will officially open in Washington, D.C. on September 17. We’ve counted  five competing Benghazi-related sites to-date.

Benghazi Select Committee

http://benghazi.house.gov

The Benghazi Select Committee will have its hearing carried live. We expect that the prepared statements of witnesses and the live stream of the hearing will be available here at the appropriate time.

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Wed, 09/17/2014 – 10:00am
HVC-210, Capitol Visitor Center
Topic: Implementation of the Accountability Review Board recommendations

Witnesses

Greg Star
Assistant Secretary for Diplomatic Security

Mark J. Sullivan
Chairman, The Independent Panel on Best Practices

Todd Keil
Member, The Independent Panel on Best Practices
Former Assistant Secretary for Infrastructure Protection, U.S. Department of Homeland Security

 

Benghazi on the Record

http://democrats.benghazi.house.gov

The Democrats have put up its own Select Committee on Benghazi Minority site.  Benghazi on the Record was prepared at the request of Rep. Elijah E. Cummings, the Ranking Member of the Select Committee on Benghazi, “to collect—in one place—as much information as possible regarding questions that have already been asked and answered about the attacks in Benghazi.”

 

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Then there are the other Benghazi related sites prep and ready:

House Republicans: Accountability Investigation of Benghazi

http://www.gop.gov/solution_content/benghazi/

House GOP Benghazi site: “For over a year now, House Committees have engaged in serious, deliberate, and exhaustive oversight investigations of what led up to this tragic event, what happened that night, and why the White House still refuses to tell the whole truth. All of the unclassified information and findings from this ongoing investigation can be found on this website.”

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Benghazi Committee

http://benghazicommittee.com

According to thehill.com, the super-PAC American Bridge and Correct the Record, a group that defends former Secretary Clinton, has launched a rapid-response website at benghazicommittee.com aka  Benghazi Research Center.

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Media Matters For America
“All Questions Answered”

Media Matters For America, another pro-Clinton group, launched a guide to the committee called “All Questions Answered.”

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No doubt this is just the beginning. Twitter handle scramble should happen just about now.  Tumblr, Pinterest, Instagram, AMA on Reddit, blogs still up for grabs.

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Senate Confirmations: Hoover, Harrington, Robinson, Hartley, Hachigian

– Domani Spero

 

The Senate confirmed the following nominations:

September 11, 2014

Sierra Leone: John Hoover, of Massachusetts, a Career Member of the Senior Foreign Service, Class of Counselor, to be Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the  United States of America to the Republic of Sierra Leone.

 

September 16, 2014

Lesotho: Matthew T. Harrington, of Virginia, to be Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the United States of America to the Kingdom of Lesotho

Matthew T. Harrington (left), Army South’s political advisor, speaks with Col. Steven Woods, Army South deputy commander for support, Aug. 24, 2011 (DOD photo)

Matthew T. Harrington (left), Army South’s political advisor, speaks with Col. Steven Woods, Army South deputy commander for support, Aug. 24, 2011 (DOD photo)

Guatemala: Todd D. Robinson, of New Jersey, to be Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the United States of America to the Republic of Guatemala

France and Monaco: Jane D. Hartley, of New York, to be Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the United States of America to the French Republic; to serve concurrently and without additional compensation as Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the United States of America to the Principality of Monaco

ASEAN: Nina Hachigian, of California, to be Representative of the United States of America to the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, with the rank and status of Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary

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Former State Dept DAS Raymond Maxwell Alleges Benghazi Document Scrub Pre-ARB Investigation

Domani Spero

 

Today via  Sharyl Attkisson of the Daily Signal:

As the House Select Committee on Benghazi prepares for its first hearing this week, a former State Department diplomat is coming forward with a startling allegation: Hillary Clinton confidants were part of an operation to “separate” damaging documents before they were turned over to the Accountability Review Board investigating security lapses surrounding the Sept. 11, 2012, terrorist attacks on the U.S. mission in Benghazi, Libya.

According to former Deputy Assistant Secretary Raymond Maxwell, the after-hours session took place over a weekend in a basement operations-type center at State Department headquarters in Washington, D.C.
[...]
When he arrived, Maxwell says he observed boxes and stacks of documents. He says a State Department office director, whom Maxwell described as close to Clinton’s top advisers, was there. Though the office director technically worked for him, Maxwell says he wasn’t consulted about her weekend assignment.

“She told me, ‘Ray, we are to go through these stacks and pull out anything that might put anybody in the [Near Eastern Affairs] front office or the seventh floor in a bad light,’” says Maxwell. He says “seventh floor” was State Department shorthand for then-Secretary of State Clinton and her principal advisors.

“I asked her, ‘But isn’t that unethical?’ She responded, ‘Ray, those are our orders.’ ”

Continue reading, Benghazi Bombshell: Clinton State Department Official Reveals Details of Alleged Document Review. 

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A quick note: We’ve previously written about Raymond Maxwell in this blog; the latest was this oneThe Cautionary Tale of Raymond Maxwell: When the Bureaucracy Bites, Who Gets The Blame?  Last year, we also posted, with his permission,  his poem “Invitation“ in this blog.  (see Raymond Maxwell: Former Deputy Asst Secretary Removed Over Benghazi Pens a Poem

In Ms. Attkisson’s report, Mr. Maxwell criticizes the ARB for failing to interview key people at the White House, State Department and the CIA, including Secretary Clinton.  We actually see no point in the ARB interviewing Secretary Clinton, given that she tasked the ARB to do the investigation and that the report is submitted to her. The regs as it exist right now does not even require that the Secretary submits the actual report to Congress, only that the Secretary of State “report to the Congress on any program recommendations and the actions taken on them.”

12 FAM 036.3: The Secretary will, not later than 90 days after the receipt of a Board’s program recommendations, submit a report to the Congress on each such recommendation and the action taken or intended to be taken with respect to that recommendation.

So we’re not hung up on the fact that she was not interviewed  But who gets the actual ARB report is probably one more thing that Congress really do need to fix in the regs.

Mr. Maxwell also named other officials who allegedly were never interviewed by the ARB: 1) Deputy Secretary of State Thomas Nides, who managed department resources in Libya; 2) Assistant Secretary of State for Political Military Affairs Andrew Shapiro; and 3) White House National Security Council Director for Libya Ben Fishman.

ARB Benghazi in its public report never identified all the people it interviewed in the conduct of its investigation. ABB Kenya/Tanzania did that and the list is online.   We still cannot understand why those names in the Benghazi investigation are not public. What kind of accountability is it when we can’t even tell who the ARB investigators talked to? Redact the names of the CIA people if needed, but the names of those interviewed should be public unless there is a compelling security reason not to do so. There is an opportunity here for the State Department to declassify that part of ARB Benghazi’s report.

At the heart of this latest bombshell on Benghazi is that the weekend document session, according to Mr. Maxwell, was reportedly held “in the basement of the State Department’s Foggy Bottom headquarters in a room underneath the “jogger’s entrance.”

This would be the 21st Street entrance; and the room is underneath the jogger’s entrance [insert room number for prospective Foggy Bottom visitors].  We understand that FOIA has had offices there in the past but that most of the FOIA offices moved to SA-2.  Apparently, the only office the A organization chart shows to be in the Harry S. Truman basement are B2A61 the Facilities Managment Office and B258 the Office of General Services Management.  But which office is called the Emergency Management Operations Center?  Some media sites are already calling this the “boiler room operation.”

We have generally been disappointed with the Benghazi investigations.  The fact that it has become a political football to throw back and forth with all the offense and defense attendant of the game makes us cringe; even more so, every “new” book  or revelation gave us a sad.

But we think this one is a most serious allegation and cannot be swatted away by a  State Department spokesman simply calling the implication that documents were withheld “totally without merit.”  A State Department spokesman also told Ms. Attkisson that “it would have been impossible for anybody outside the Accountability Review Board (ARB) to control the flow of information because the board cultivated so many sources.” So, hypothetically, if folks scrubbed through the documents as alleged, then an instruction went down to IT to removed those docs from the system — that could not really happen, could it?

If this is not true, if no document scrub happened in the basement of the State Department as alleged by a former Deputy Assistant Secretary of State, then we’d like the agency spokesman to say so clearly and call out Mr. Maxwell on this.   Security access records should also indicate if these five individuals were at the State Department that weekend, when this alleged “review” took place.

So, let’s hear it people. But. Without the word salad, please.

In any case, now that this allegation is out in the open, the individuals named or positions cited in the Attkisson report are presumably candidates for an appearance before the Benghazi Select Committee:

1)  two officials, close confidants of Secretary Clinton (Congressman Chaffetz said that he was told then-Clinton Chief of Staff Cheryl Mills and Deputy Chief of Staff Jake Sullivan were there and overseeing the operation)

2) one office director (??? from NEA bureau)

3) one intern (??? about to become the second most famous intern in Wash, D.C.)

4) State Department ombudsman (Office of the Ombudsman – Ombudsman Shireen Dodson)

One entity not included in the report but potentially a candidate for an appearance in the Select Committee is the Office of the Inspector General. In September 2013, State/OIG under the then acting OIG issued a report on the “process by which Accountability Review Boards (ARB/Board) are established, staffed, supported, and conducted as well as the measures to track implementation of ARB recommendations.”

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Dear Senators, Do You Really Want President Obama to Appoint 65 Special Presidential Envoys?

Domani Spero

 

So, Congress has been back in session for a week but not for long.  We’re now counting the days when our representatives will run off to full campaign mode for the November election.

Meanwhile, we have not seen any significant movement in the confirmation of the State Department nominees, particularly the ambassadorial appointments stuck in the Senate since forever.  Apparently,  the world’s greatest deliberative body is now unable to deliberate with sense and harmony. Who best should pay the price than the ambassadorial nominees, because why not? It’s not like anyone of the nominees can appeal to a higher order.

Last September 11, the Senate did confirm John Hoover as our ambassador to the Republic of Sierra  Leone. That’s the country with a serious outbreak in Ebola.  He only waited 428 days.  And he was not even the longest wait on the calendar.  Mr. Daughton, a career diplomat nominated for our embassy in Namibia has been waiting the longest at 443 days as of this writing.  Mr. Harrington, another career diplomat nominated for Lesotho has been waiting 411 days and recently saw his post go on ordered departure (for family members) due to a coup; he presumably watched it all unfold from over 8,000 miles at his temporary desk in the District of Columbia!

Here are some of the other nominees stuck longest, to-date, in confirmation purgatory:

image via afsa.org with diplopundit notation

image via afsa.org with diplopundit annotation

The State Department “T” family also has two nominees awaiting confirmation for over 400 days. Here’s their boss, the Under Secretary of State for Arms Control and International Security tweeting on the day Congress returned to work, and again, a few days later:

 

There are currently 153 nomination pending on the Senate’s Executive Calendar.  According to FP, some 65 State Department nominations are pending in the Senate, 39 of which have made it out of SFRC and onto the Senate floor. Of the 65, 26 are stuck in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.  The names are listed here.

If the Senate refuses to confirm these nominees, we think President Obama should just appoint them as his Special Presidential Envoys to their respective countries and send them off packing the next day. Never mind Congress.

Yup, that sounds craaazzy!

But … but… no more crazy than the Senate holding on to these nominations for over a year or months on end and leaving our diplomatic missions without the selected representatives of the President. So maybe a tad more crazy is what Congress seriously needs.

Look, there are special envoys and there are special envoys. True that they are the “personal representatives of the President.” For most of them, this is a technical credential accorded their status.  The State Department currently has about 40 special envoys, reps and senior advisors.  For others, like Edward House, also known as Colonel House,  and President Wilson’s chief advisor on European politics and diplomacy during World War I (1914-18), they really do represent the President personally.  You may remember that Colonel House did not even go through a Senate confirmation process; he just went about his work per instruction from the President. So it’s not like this had never been done before.

Certainly, a mass appointment of Special Presidential Envoys would be a bad precedent.  We are also pretty sure our U.S. Senate would be terribly unhappy and offended if President Obama simply announce the appointments of five dozen Special Presidential Envoys in place of his ambassadors. And without the advice and consent of the Senate. Of course, they would!

(Gosh! If this happens,we would missed a whole lot of informative and entertaining performances on C-Span).

That said, if our senators cannot do kumbaya work for the sake of the United States, if they continue trading blame on why the nominees are stuck in the Senate, and if they kept on putting party before country, why then should we mind if they are offended and get ulcers?

Go ahead, President Obama … make our day!

 

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Renunciation of U.S. Citizenship About to Get More Expensive: From $450 to $2,350

– Domani Spero

 

Updated 8:36 am PST, Aug 28, 2014:  The Federal Register has now published  this interim final rule online. This interim final rule becomes effective September 6, 2014. Written comments must be received on or before October 21, 2014. A note on “interim final rule” from the Federal Register: “When an agency finds that it has good cause to issue a final rule without first publishing a proposed rule, it often characterizes the rule as an “interim final rule,” or “interim rule.” This type of rule becomes effective immediately upon publication. In most cases, the agency stipulates that it will alter the interim rule if warranted by public comments. If the agency decides not to make changes to the interim rule, it generally will publish a brief final rule in the Federal Register confirming that decision.” See more here (pdf).

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Yesterday, we got the following via the Burn Bag:

“CA [Consular Affairs] will publish a proposed rule on Thursday in the Federal Register raising the fee for renunciation of citizenship from $450 to $2,350. This will not be popular. Fee based on annual fee study and lack of common sense.”

Today, the Federal register posted online the pre-publication interim final rule for the changes in the Schedule of Fees for consular services (see full interim rule embedded below).  The percentage  increase in the renunciation fee is 422%. With an estimated 2,378 annual renunciation of citizenship cases, this increase would net the USG an estimated $4,518,200.  Using the projected FY 2014 workload, Consular Afffairs’ estimated change in annual fees collected for affected consular services is $64,003,862. Below is an extract from the interim final rule which will be published on August 28:

The interim final rule makes changes to the Schedule of Fees for Consular Services of the Department of State’s Bureau of Consular Affairs. The Department sets and collects its fees based on the concept of full cost recovery. The Department completed its most recent review of current consular fees and will implement several changes to the Schedule of Fees based on the new fees calculated by the Cost of Service Model (CoSM).
[...]
The CoSM demonstrated that documenting a U.S. citizen’s renunciation of citizenship is extremely costly, requiring American consular officers overseas to spend substantial amounts of time to accept, process, and adjudicate cases. For example, consular officers must confirm that the potential renunciant fully understands the consequences of renunciation, including losing the right to reside in the United States without documentation as an alien. Other steps include verifying that the renunciant is a U.S. citizen, conducting a minimum of two intensive interviews with the potential renunciant, and reviewing at least three consular systems before administering the oath of renunciation. The final approval of the loss of nationality must be done by law within the Directorate of Overseas Citizens Services in Washington, D.C., after which the case is returned to the consular officer overseas for final delivery of the Certificate of Loss of Nationality to the renunciant. These steps further add to the time and labor that must be involved in the process. Accordingly, the Department is increasing the fee for processing such requests from $450 to $2,350. As noted in the interim final rule dated June 28, 2010 (77 FR 36522), the fee of $450 was set substantially below the cost to the U.S. government of providing this service (less than one quarter of the cost). Since that time, demand for the service has increased dramatically, consuming far more consular officer time and resources, as reflected in the 2012 Overseas Time Survey and increased workload data. Because the Department believes there is no public benefit or other reason for setting this fee below cost, the Department is increasing this fee to reflect the full cost of providing the service. Therefore the increased fee reflects both the increased cost of the provision of service as well as the determination to now charge the full cost.

Screen Shot 2014-08-27 at 10.45.00 AM

The Department intends to implement this interim final rule, and initiate collection of the fees set forth herein, effective 15 days after publication of this rule in the Federal Register.
[...]
Administrative Procedure Act |  The Department is publishing this rule as an interim final rule, with a 60-day provision for post promulgation comments and with an effective date less than 30 days from the date of publication, based on the “good cause” exceptions set forth at 5 U.S.C. 553(b)(3)(B) and 553(d)(3). Delaying implementation of this rule would be contrary to the public interest because the fees in this rule fund consular services that are critical to national security, including screening visa applicants.

Anybody know where we can find a copy of CA’s Cost of Service Model (CoSM) study?

Apparently, dual citizens in Canada trying to shed their U.S. citizenship have created a  backlog at the U.S. consulate in Toronto that stretches into the third week of January 2015.

In any case, Americans who will be upset by this change in renunciation of citizenship fee can  contact Congress to complain about this. Their elected representatives, presumably will be super-helpful to the soon-to-be non-voters.

We should note that interim final rule also lowers the consular time fee of $231 to $135 per hour, per employee:

The Department previously charged a consular time fee of $231 per hour, per employee. This fee is charged when indicated on the Schedule of Fees or when services are performed away from the office or outside regular business hours. The CoSM estimated that the hourly consular time charge is now lower. Accordingly, the Department is lowering this fee to $135 per hour.

See the full interim final rule below. The document posted below is a pre-publication copy. It is scheduled to be published in the Federal Register on 08/28/2014 and available online at http://federalregister.gov/a/2014-20516, and on FDsys.gov

 

 

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Opposition to George J. Tsunis Nomination as Norway Ambassador Now a Social Media Campaign

– Domani Spero

 

On September 10, 2013, President Obama announced a slew of executive nominations including that of George J. Tsunis as his nominee for Ambassador to the Kingdom of Norway.  In January 2014, Mr. Tsunis made an appearance at the Senate Foreign Relations Committee (see  Senator John McCain’s “No More Questions” at the Senate Confirmation Hearing Gets a GIF and US Embassy Oslo: Clueless on Norway, Murder Boards Next?).

In February, a group of Norwegian-Americans made their opposition to the nomination known (see Norwegian-Americans Petition For Withdrawal of Tsunis Nomination as Ambassador to Norway).  The same day we wrote about their opposition, the SFRC panel cleared the Tsunis nomination (seeSFRC Clears Barber, Bell, Tsunis, Harper, Talwar, Rose, Gottemoeller, Chacon, Carroll).

In April, murder boards became real (see State Department Seeks Contractor For Simulated Congressional Hearing Sessions). On August 7, the Washington Times reported that Orlando, Florida-based AMTIS, Inc. was awarded a $545,000 contract by the State Department for simulated congressional hearings and communicating with Congress classes.

Last week, opponents of the Tsunis nomination rolled out a new social media campaign to sink his nomination.  We did not see it until we got poked on Twitter today.   Tom Lundquist who started the original petition asking President Obama to withdraw the nomination posted the following on change.org:

Today looks to have been the first full day of starting out with a never-before-tried social media campaign in this effort to have George Tsunis withdrawn or defeated. An integrated Twitter, Facebook, and Web campaign have been launched!

http://citizensvstsunisdems4compdips.weebly.com/

https://twitter.com/CitizensvTsunis

https://www.facebook.com/citizens.vs.tsunis.dems.competent.diplomats/info

 

Screen Shot 2014-08-26

Twitter profile of Citizens v. Tsunis

 

On its website, the group listed several reasons why they opposed the Tsunis nomination including the following:

Perception of American Incompetence and Arrogance Abroad:

America’s foreign image hasn’t been the best over the last decade or so. Let’s not make it worse. George Tsunis’ wildly inaccurate statements of fact, diplomatic outrages, and lack of qualifications offended a number of Norwegian officials and Members of Parliament, including the mayor of Norway’s capitol city who made it clear that President Obama should send a far more knowledgeable and qualified person. To send Tsunis to Norway would be a fist in the face of a key ally – and an arrogant message to the world. Norway is a vital member of NATO, a key supplier of energy to the EU, an important player in peace efforts in the Middle East, and a strong U.S. ally everywhere. With rising tensions in Eastern Europe and the Middle East the U.S. has to take its diplomacy seriously and treat key allies with respect.

The website also listed the names of four Senators who already made their opposition to the Tsunis nomination known, calling them, Senate Heroes. As well, under the section “Money Bound,” the group listed the names of 9 Senators who were recipients of donations from Mr. Tsunis, urging supporters to email/call the senators and their aides. Check out the Senators Living Dangerously, the Silent Senators, and Our Party’s (Apparent) Worst Enemies. The website also includes the well-circulated clips from Anderson Cooper and the Daily Show.

The group suggests a series of questions constituents should ask their congressional representatives noting that “Until a Senator comes out publicly against the absolute most inane, unqualified nomination the Senate has perhaps yet ever seen, tacit support of Tsunis – and the damage it is doing to our Party and democracy – must be challenged.”

It also adds a carrot for the rabbits in the Senate, “By the Senator making a public commitment to vote against the Tsunis nomination, the Senator’s page here will be removed from this website and the Senator will be promptly added to The Principled Heroes list for all constituents to see.”

Over on Twitter, a new hashtag battle could be brewing — @CitizensvTsunis‘  and what appears to be a parody account by Not George J. Tsunis using the @ambGeorgeTsunis handle with the  hashtag. This could get nasty.

Given the many challenges facing our country these days, we don’t think the White House appreciates this new kind of headache. I mean, who would?  But we also suspect that it would not withdraw the nomination on its own. Once it nominated Mr. Tsunis, the WH is bound to stand by its nominee. The only way we think the WH would withdraw this nomination is if Mr. Tsunis , himself, withdraws his name from consideration.  That might be the most prudent action for Mr. Tsunis to do here. That would give President Obama a fresh start.

Of course, if the Democrats lose the Senate in November, well … maybe none of the nominees will be going anywhere.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Consular Affairs Bureau Seeks to Expand Visa Waiver and Interview Waiver Programs

– Domani Spero

 

The State Department’s Assistant Secretary of State for Consular Affairs Janice Jacobs retired last April (see Asst Secretary for Consular Affairs Janice Jacobs to Retire Effective April 3).  As far as we know, no successor has been nominated to date.  Pardon me? You want ……..? And you want Overseas Citizens Services DAS Jim Pettit?  Excuse me, Mr. Pettit was already nominated as Ambassador to the Republic of Moldova.  Who else?  You want ……. ? Well, maybe State should have a list of nominees and have all CA employees vote for their next boss per the bureau’s Leadership Tenets. Because wouldn’t that be a screamingly fantastic experiment?

In any case, CA’s Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary Michele Bond has been the Acting A/S since April 2014.  This past June, at a hearing at the Senate Subcommittee on Tourism, Competitiveness and Innovation on  The State of U.S. Travel and Tourism Industry, Ms. Bond discussed how the bureau is meeting increasing demand for visas worldwide, particularly in  Brazil, India, Mexico and China (see prepared statement). Stressing that the State Department’s  “top priority in visa adjudication is always national security,” the prepared statement provides a look at where the bureau is seeking to expand.   Specifically, it seeks legislative authority to expand the Interview Waiver Program and wanted to see an expanded  Visa Waiver Program to include additional countries to the 37 current participants.  The  Interview Waiver Program (visa applications without personal appearances) is potentially controversial given its history, and probably the reason the bureau is seeking legislative authority from Congress.

Below are excerpts from the prepared statement:

Consular Adjudicators

In 2013, Brazilian visitors contributed $10.5 billion to the U.S. economy, a 13 percent increase from the prior year.  During the same period, Chinese visitors contributed $9.8 billion, an 11 percent increase from the prior year, or $5,400 per visitor.  To address this important opportunity to contribute to our country’s economy, 167 officers perform consular work in Mission China.  Consular Affairs created over 50 new officer positions in China in fiscal year 2012 alone.  In the same year, we increased consular staffing in Mission Brazil by 40 percent within six months, and eventually increased staffing by more than 100 percent.  We met the President’s Executive Order target of 40 percent capacity increase in Brazil in June 2012 and in China in November 2012, both ahead of schedule.
[...]

In 2011, we realized our traditional hiring mechanisms wouldn’t allow us to deploy officers quickly enough to meet exploding visa demand in Brazil and China. We weren’t recruiting enough Portuguese- and Mandarin-speaking officers and could not wait for new entry-level officers to learn these essential languages.  In response, the Department created a rapid hiring pilot program to ramp up staffing at critical needs posts.  These adjudicators met a high bar for qualifications and underwent a rigorous screening process to assess their skills and background for these positions.  The first class of these adjudicators, appointed for one-year periods and limited to a maximum of five consecutive years, began in January 2012.  That year, we brought on a total of 24 Mandarin-speakers and 19 Portuguese-speakers, all of whom arrived at posts by mid-July.  In fiscal year 2013, we expanded the program to recruit Spanish-speakers.  To date, we have hired and deployed 59 adjudicators under this program to China, Brazil, Mexico, Colombia, and the Dominican Republic, representing an added capacity of 900,000 visa adjudications per year.

Interview Waiver Program

We are utilizing technology and advanced fraud detection techniques to help us expand the pool of applicants for whom interviews can be waived under the Interview Waiver Program.  This allows us to focus resources on higher-risk visa applicants while facilitating travel for low-risk applicants.

We are working with our colleagues across the government to expand this successful program, which became permanent in January 2014.  In fiscal year 2013, we waived over 380,000 interviews, and a recent study showed that tourist and business visitor visa holders whose interviews were waived, all of whom were subject to the full scope of security checks, posed no greater risk for an overstay than those who were interviewed.  We are interested in explicit legislative authority to supplement the existing Interview Waiver Program by adding additional low-risk applicant groups such as citizens of Visa Waiver Program members applying for other types of visas such as student or work visas; continuing students moving to a higher level of education; non-U.S. citizen Global Entry and NEXUS trusted traveler program members; and holders of visas in other categories, such as students and workers, who wish to travel for tourism or business.  The Department is interested in working with Congress on legislation specifically authorizing the Secretaries of State and Homeland Security to enhance our interview waiver programs.

Visa Waiver Program

[W]e are working with our U.S. government colleagues to expand the Visa Waiver Program, consistent with U.S. law, as was recently done with the addition of Chile to the program earlier this year.  With this designation, Chile now joins 37 other participants and is currently the only participant from Latin America.  The Department supports the proposed amendments contained in the Senate-passed Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act, because we believe they would restructure the Visa Waiver Program in a manner that would strengthen law enforcement cooperation, while maintaining the program’s robust counterterrorism and criminal information sharing initiatives and promoting commerce and tourism in the United States.

No to Premium Visa Processing

However, we do not recommend offering premium visa processing.  We believe many visa applicants would be willing to pay any “premium processing fee” in the false belief that payment of a higher fee will ensure visa issuance, thus making any such program less efficient and compromising the integrity of the visa process.  The best approach to achieve greater efficiencies is the continued prioritization of student, medical, and urgent business travel applications, which is already in effect at consular posts worldwide.  We will also pursue increased visa validity where reciprocal agreement can be obtained with interagency support.

The full statement is available here.

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Tweet of the Day: Secretary Kerry’s Plane Finally Got Exhausted

The plane had almost 20 years of service and this is not the first break down. Via the AP’s Matt Lee, traveling with Secretary Kerry:

 

 

 

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Filed under Congress, John F. Kerry, Secretary of State, State Department