Happy 240th Birthday @USMC!

Posted: 2:23 am EDT







DOD Builds the World’s Most Expensive Gas Station in Afghanistan For $43M, Oh, Joy!

Posted: 1:01 am EDT


Apparently, we’ve built a compressed natural gas (CNG) automobile filling station in the city of Sheberghan, Afghanistan. The project cost almost $43 million, and the average Afghans can’t even afford to use it.

The Task Force for Business and Stability Operations (TFBSO or Task Force) was originally created by the Department of Defense (DOD) to help revive the post-invasion economy of Iraq. In 2009, TFBSO was redirected to Afghanistan, where its mission was to carry out projects to support economic development. From 2010 through 2014, Congress appropriated approximately $822 million to TFBSO for Afghanistan, of which the task force obligated approximately $766 million.

The contract awarded to Central Asian Engineering to construct the station was for just under $3 million. Yet according to an economic impact assessment performed at the request of TFBSO:

The Task Force spent $42,718,739 between 2011 and 2014 to fund the construction and to supervise the initial operation of the CNG station (approximately $12.3 [million] in direct costs and $30.0 [million] in overhead costs).

SIGAR says that the $43 million total cost of the TFBSO-funded CNG filling station far exceeds the estimated cost of CNG stations elsewhere. According to a 2010 publication of the International Energy Association, “the range of investment for a public [CNG] station serving an economically feasible amount of vehicles varies from $200,000 to $500,000. Costs in non-OECD [Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development] countries are likely to be in the lower end of this range.”

The SIGAR report notes that the total cost of building a CNG station in Pakistan would be approximately $306,000 at current exchange rates.  In short, at $43 million, the TFBSO filling station cost 140 times as much as a CNG station in Pakistan.

$43 million from the American taxpayers.

The SIGAR report also says that its ’s review of this project was hindered by DOD’s lack of cooperation, and when it comes to TFBSO activities, DOD appears determined to restrict or hinder SIGAR access.

It is both surprising and troubling that only a few months following the closure of TFBSO, DOD has not been able to find anyone who knows anything about TFBSO activities, despite the fact that TFBSO reported directly to the Office of the Secretary of Defense, operated in Afghanistan for over five years, and was only shut down in March 2015.

Further, SIGAR says that “If TFBSO had conducted a feasibility study of the project, they might have noted that Afghanistan lacks the natural gas transmission and local distribution infrastructure necessary to support a viable market for CNG vehicles.  Additionally, it appears that the cost of converting a car to run on CNG may be prohibitive for the average Afghan. TFBSO’s contractor, stated that conversion to CNG costs $700 per car in Afghanistan, where the average annual income is $690.”

We meant well in Afghanistan, too. Oh, joy!  What edition are we on?

But serious question. How can we have something happen like this, with DOD hindering/restricting SIGAR’s access and no one is in jail?

The read and weep report is available online here: https://www.sigar.mil/pdf/special%20projects/SIGAR-16-2-SP.pdf 



GAO Lists Titles of Restricted Reports, See @StateDept Report SubList

Posted: 1:57 am EDT


The following reports have been determined to contain either classified information or controlled unclassified information by the audited agencies and cannot be publicly released. As such, they have not been posted to GAO’s website and have product numbers that end in C (classified) or SU (controlled unclassified information).

The list is intended by the GAO to keep Congress, federal agencies, and the public informed of the existence of these products. The list consists of all such classified or controlled products issued since September 30, 2014 and will be updated each time a new report is issued according to gao.gov.

Members of Congress or congressional staff who wish to obtain one or more of these products should call or e-mail the Congressional Relations Office (202) 512-4400 or congrel@gao.gov.

All others who wish to obtain one or more of these products should follow the instructions found on Requesting Restricted Products.

Via FAS/Secrecy News:

A congressional staffer said the move was prompted by concerns expressed by some Members of Congress and staff that they were unaware of the restricted reports, since they had not been indexed or archived by GAO.

Publication of the titles of restricted GAO reports “was not necessarily universally desired by everyone in Congress,” the staffer said, and “it took about a year” to resolve the issue. But “GAO deserves a lot of credit. They decided it was the right thing to do, and they did it.”

Although primarily aimed at congressional consumers, the new webpage also serves to inform the public. GAO is not subject to the Freedom of Information Act, but will usually entertain requests for records anyway. However, GAO is not authorized to release information that has been classified or controlled by an executive branch agency.

The full list of restricted reports is here. Below are the reports relevant to the State Department:

Kabul: Camp Sullivan Mishap Related to HESCO Security Barriers
GAO-15-708RSU: Published: September 28, 2015

Diplomatic Security: State Department Should Better Manage Risks to Residences and Other Soft Targets Overseas

GAO-15-512SU: Published: June 18, 2015

Combating Terrorism: Steps Taken to Mitigate Threats to Locally Hired Staff, but State Department Could Improve Reporting on Terrorist Threats

GAO-15-458SU: Published: June 17, 2015

Combating Terrorism: State Should Review How It Addresses Holds Placed During the Foreign Terrorist Organization Designation Process

GAO-15-439SU: Published: April 21, 2015

Interagency Coordination: DoD and State Need to Clarify DoD roles and Responsibilities to Protect U.S. Personnel and Facilities Overseas in High-Threat Areas

GAO-15-219C: Published: March 4, 2015

Critical Infrastructure Protection: DHS and State Need to Improve Their Process for Identifying Foreign Dependencies

GAO-15-233C: Published: February 26, 2015

Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty: State Informs Congress of Russian Compliance through Reports and Briefings

GAO-15-318RSU: Published: February 25, 2015

US Embassy Yaounde: USG begins deployment of up to 300 troops to Cameroon

Posted: 3:27 am EDT




Map from CIA World Factbook

According to the latest crime and safety report, no areas of Cameroon are off-limits to official U.S. government personnel.

Travel after dark is strongly discouraged anywhere in Cameroon due to the heightened risk for traffic accidents and increased criminality during the night. U.S. citizens should avoid unnecessary travel to areas bordering the C.A.R. and travel only during daylight hours. Official travel to the Far North and North Regions is thoroughly planned and scrutinized for safety and security and may require coordination with local authorities for additional protection. The U.S. Embassy recommends against travel to the Far North region, including Maroua, because of the kidnapping threat posed by the Nigerian extremist group, Boko Haram. Travelers are advised to exercise extreme caution when traveling to the North region. Border areas surrounding and between Amchide and Fotokol are particularly dangerous.
Cameroon faces an emergent regional threat to include frequent violent attacks in Cameroon from the Boko Haram movement (in northern Nigeria) that has undertaken a campaign of violence against the Nigerian government and civilians since 2009. Boko Haram took 21 expatriate hostages in Cameroon in 2013 and 2014 and continues to target expatriates for kidnapping. Boko Haram also assassinated hundreds of security forces and private citizens. In May 2014, the government reorganized security forces to better combat Boko Haram. As a result, Boko Haram has responded with attacks on border villages, ambushes incorporating roadside explosive devices, assassinations of local leaders, intimidation, and stealing goods/livestock – all in the Far North region of Cameroon. The imposition of a “State of Emergency” in Nigeria’s northern states has led to another influx of refugees in the Far North region. Cameroon’s traditional stability accounts for its ability to absorb large numbers of refugees, though persistent pressure from its neighbors could lead to ethnic, religious, and/or regional disputes in the near future.
Throughout 2013 and 2014, the Central African Republic experienced waves of violence, leading to the overthrow of the governing regime and the installation of a transition government aided by an international peacekeeping mission. The U.S. Embassy in Bangui reopened in September 2014 with limited services. Ethnic, religious, and tribal strife and counter-attacks have killed hundreds in C.A.R. and forced thousands to seek refuge inside Cameroon. Border areas around Garoua-Boulai and Kendzou in the east are potential hotspots due to spillover violence from C.A.R. In 2014, Cameroon experienced sporadic incursions by bandits from the C.A.R., and hostage taking by these groups has occurred across the Cameroon border.

Our man in Cameroon is Michael S. Hoza, a career Foreign Service Officer with 29 years of service abroad.  He has served at eleven different Foreign Service posts in Africa, Asia, and Europe; and he also served in the State Department’s Bureau of African Affairs in Washington, D.C.   He assumed his duties as Ambassador to the Republic of Cameroon on August 22, 2014. He was nominated by President Barack Obama on July 31, 2013 and confirmed by the Senate in July 2014.

Below are some photos from Ambassador Hoza’s visit to Rey Bouba in the North Region, where he was welcomed by a representative of Lamido Abdoulaye Aboubakary and members of the community. More photos here.


Lamido of Rey Bouba representative and community welcomes Ambassador Michael S. Hoza on February 12, 2015. (US Embassy Cameroon/FB)


Ambassador Michael S. Hoza with Cameroonian security forces on February 12, 2015. (US Embassy Cameroon/FB)


Ambassador Michael S. Hoza is honored by Rey Bouba community luncheon on February 12, 2015. (US Embassy Cameroon/FB)


Ambassador Michael S. Hoza is honored with traditional leadership attire by Rey Bouba community members. (US Embassy Cameroon/FB)


State Dept’s Conduct and Disciplinary FAM Regulations — Still as Clear as Mud?

Posted: 3:54 pm EDT


On March 17, the American Foreign Service Association (AFSA) wrote to Arnold Chacon, the Director General of the Foreign Service and the State Department’s top HR official requesting clarity on the applicability of 3 FAM to career and political/non-career employees of the oldest executive agency in the union. (see AFSA Politely Asks the State Dept: Is Adherence to the Foreign Affairs Manual Optional For Some?NewsFlash: “The FAM is not a regulation; it’s recommendations.” Hurry, DECLINE button over there!).

A long time Foreign Service hand told us that the practice has usually been that if a politically appointed State Department official or ambassador violates the Foreign Affairs Manual conduct and disciplinary regulation, that matter is generally raised with the sponsor of the non-career appointee.  Which typically means, the White House.  The infraction is then reportedly handled outside of the State Department system.  In rare cases, the Office of Inspector General is called in with the approval of the secretary of state. This is, apparently not the practice at DOD where political appointees are warned that DOD regulations and enforcement system apply to them equally.

We know that DGHR did respond to AFSA’s inquiry towards the end of Bob Silverman’s tenure but we were told to wait for the incoming elected officials to release the response. Last month, we sent a follow-up email to new AFSA president Barbara Stephenson asking if AFSA can share the DGHR’s clarification on the applicability of the FAM to non-career appointees.  To-date we have received only radio silence from AFSA’s Barbara Stephenson and her VP. We can appreciate why some official correspondence between AFSA and DGHR under special circumstances should be under wraps but what good reason is there not to respond to a solicitation for information on this matter?

A source on background did provide us what DGHR sent to AFSA in response to its March 17 inquiry.

AFSA was seeking clarity as to the provisions in 3 FAM.  In his response, the Director General of the Foreign Service (DGHR) specifically mentions 3 FAM 4300 and 3 FAM 4500 regarding conduct and disciplinary standards and how they might be applied to non-career appointees as opposed to career employees.

DGHR Arnold Chacon writes with an assurance, “From the outset let me assure you that 3 FAM regulations are much more than “guidelines.” They are derived from law and for govemment-wide regulation and are directives to State Department personnel. As you are aware, 3 FAM governs all pertinent personnel policies, practices and matters affecting conditions of employment, most if not all of which as it pertains to Foreign Service is negotiated as appropriate with AFSA.”

DGHR Chacon further writes, “Regarding conduct and discipline of non-career appointees, I can say with confidence that all forms of misconduct are taken seriously by the Department and will be dealt with accordingly. The FAM, by its terms, applies to Schedule A and B appointees. lf a Schedule C or other political appointee were to allegedly commit misconduct, then the State Department and the White House would work in concert to review the situation, take action to prevent abuses, and, if appropriate,  remove the employee. You can be assured that misconduct will always be addressed and dealt with in a fair, thorough and responsive manner, while respecting the right of due process and adherence to the tenet of like penalties for similar offenses.”

Last month, the question of the applicability of the FAM, related to the secretary of state also surfaced during a Daily Press Briefing (see Question of the Day: Is the Secretary of State bound by the rules of the Foreign Affairs Manual or not?). We note the following in a blog post:

The January 2015 OIG report, Review of Selected Internal Investigations Conducted by the Bureau of Diplomatic Security (pdf) includes the following:

[The] Office of the Legal Adviser staff told OIG that the FAM’s disciplinary provisions do not apply to Ambassadors who, as in this instance, are political appointees and are not members of the Foreign Service or the Civil Service.

According to the OIG report, the Under Secretary for Management disagrees with this interpretation:

[T]he Under Secretary of State for Management advised OIG that he disagrees with the Office of the Legal Adviser interpretation, citing the provisions in the Foreign Service Act of 1980 which designate Chiefs of Mission appointed by the President as members of the Foreign Service. See Foreign Service Act of 1980, §§ 103(1) & 302(a)(1) (22 USC §§ 3903(1) & 3942(a)(1)).

So to sum up, the Office of the Legal Adviser has the opinion that the FAM’s disciplinary provisions do not apply to Ambassadors and other political appointees because they are not members of the Foreign Service or the Civil Service. “M” disagreed with that interpretation.  DGHR, an office reporting to “M” has the opinion that the FAM’s disciplinary provisions do/do apply to Schedule A and B appointees.  But note the careful wording in the DGHR’s response as he makes a distinction about Schedule C/political  appointees. He could have said straight up that the FAM applies to Schedule A, B, and C appointees, he did not.

So, there you have it, still as clear as mud?



State Dept Updates 3 FAM 4140 Guidelines For USG Personnel Taken Hostage

Posted: 1:49 pm EDT


We’ve previously blogged about the Iran hostages here (see Supremes Say No to Appeal from US Embassy Iran HostagesJanuary 20, 1981: The Iran Hostages – 30 Years LaterNovember 4, 1979: Iranian Mob Attacks US Embassy Tehran; Hostages Compensated $50/DayThe Iran Hostages: Long History of Efforts to Obtain Compensation).

In light of the significant shift in hostage taking by terrorists organizations (media reports say that there are roughly 30 Americans held hostage overseas), President Obama directed a comprehensive review of U.S. policy toward overseas hostage-takings last year.  On June 24, 2015, President Obama approved Presidential Policy Directive (PPD) 30, U.S. Nationals Taken Hostage Abroad and Personnel Recovery Efforts and issued an Executive Order on the recovery of U.S. hostages taken abroad, which directs key organizational changes “to ensure that the U.S. Government is doing all that it can to safely recover Americans taken hostage overseas and is being responsive to the needs of their families.”  According to the Fact Sheet, PPD-30 “reaffirms” the U.S. Government’s dedication to achieving the safe recovery of U.S. nationals taken hostage abroad

On August 28, 2015, President Obama announced the appointment of James O’Brien as Special Presidential Envoy for Hostage Affairs (see President Obama Appoints James O’Brien as First Special Presidential Envoy for Hostage Affairs).

This past June, the State Department also updated its Foreign Affairs Manual related to U.S. Government personnel taken hostage. That affirmation for safe recovery is item one on the updated FAM, a language that had been absent from the rules books for at least 20 years.

Note that per 2 FAH-1 H-115.3, the new version does not comply with the standard FAM colors, which requires that new or revised material be shown in both darkmagenta™ (R139,G0,B139) and in italic. We’ve marked the changes below for easier identification.


(CT:PER-770; 06-02-2015)
(State/USAID/BBG/Commerce/Foreign Service Corps-USDA) (Applies to Foreign Service and Civil Service Employees) 

a. The U.S. Government will make every effort to recover U.S. Government personnel who are victims of a hostage taking incident while serving abroad.

b. Individuals who are taken hostage should be aware that their captors may seek to exploit their knowledge of sensitive information to the detriment of the United States or their fellow hostages. Individuals should be mindful that whatever they say may be used to mislead or punish their colleagues, and that information obtained from one captive may be used when interrogating another. Captured individuals should not divulge classified or sensitive information and should not discuss sensitive aspects of the work of any fellow hostages.

c. Individuals should be aware that active members of the U.S. Armed Services who are taken captive are subject to different legal authorities and organizational policies when they are captured, due to their possible status as Prisoners of War. For additional information please reference Executive Order 10631.

d. If detained with other captives, it is essential to avoid internal conflicts within the group and maintain a unified approach to the captors (e.g., group agrees not to discuss religion, politics or the economy with the captors).

e. While awaiting rescue, individuals taken hostage should make an effort to:

(1) Eat and drink to preserve their health and seek opportunities to remain mentally active;

(2) Circumstances permitting, build rapport with their captors by humanizing themselves;

(3) Leave evidence of their presence in each location (such as strands of hair, fingerprints, blood, bits of fingernails, etc.); and

(4) Maintain faith in their individual beliefs and have confidence in the efforts of their family and the U.S. Government to obtain their release.

f. If asked to produce evidence of proof of life, such as a photo or a video, it is advisable to do so as it confirms the individual’s continued survival to family and possibly the U.S. Government entities working on your release, and aids in the negotiation process.

g. The decision to attempt escape rests with the individuals concerned based on their judgment, environment, and level of threat. However, the decision should be consistent with the considerations set forth above.

h. In the event of a recovery operation, individuals awaiting rescue should drop to the ground, ensure their hands and face are visible, and identify themselves as American citizens.

i. For more information, Department personnel can follow this link to the High Threat Security Overseas Seminar: Abduction: Prevention, Preparation and Response for Individuals.

j. Hard and fast rules are not always helpful and the U.S. Government recognizes that the ability of individuals to resist extreme pressure differs. But, to the extent possible, one must help one’s colleagues and avoid exploitation. Sound judgment is essential.

Below is the old 3 FAM 4143 guidelines that took effect on November 8, 1995; we have not been able to find a version in effect after 1995 and before it was superseded by the June 2, 2015 version (pdf via the Internet Archive):

(TL:PER-303; 11-08-1995)
(Uniform State/USAID/USIA/Commerce/Foreign Service Corps-USDA) (Applies to Foreign Service and Civil Service Employees)

a. U.S. Government personnel serving abroad are expected to be mature, responsible, and patriotic individuals for whom the concept of service has a real and personal meaning.

b. Individuals who are taken hostage should be aware that their captors may seek to exploit them. Their captors may be seeking information to be used to the detriment of the United States or of their fellow hostages, and are likely to use information obtained from one captive when interrogating another. Individuals should consequently be guided by the knowledge that whatever they say may be used to mislead or punish their colleagues and that their actions may result in reprisals.

c. Captured individuals should not discuss sensitive aspects of the work of their fellow hostages. They should not divulge classified or sensitive information. They should not sign or make statements or take action which they believe might bring discredit to the United States.

d. The decision to attempt escape rests with the individual concerned. However, the decision should be consistent with the considerations set forth above.

e. Hard and fast rules are not always helpful and the U.S. Government recognizes that the ability of individuals to resist extreme pressure differs. But, to the extent possible, one must help one’s colleagues and avoid exploitation. Sound judgment is essential.

Here is also quick guidance per 2 FAH-1 H-112.3 on how to tell if employees have discretion to deviate from the instructions in the Foreign Affairs  Manual. The Foreign Affairs Handbook instructs FAM drafters that “information must be clear, and the discretion of the reader to deviate from instructions must be clear.” Level of discretion is to be described by the use of three auxiliary verbs: “must,” “should,” and “may.”

(1) Mandatory:  “Must” is used to advise the reader that he or she has no discretion to deviate from the instructions. In some cases, the reader will have no discretion, but another person or entity can grant authority to deviate from the instruction. If that’s the case, the person with authority and the circumstances under which the authority may be exercised is identified (by title) or office (by name/symbol);

(2) Recommended: “Should” is used to advise the reader that the instruction is the Department’s preferred approach. However, the word “should” permits the reader to deviate if the reader can accomplish the objective in another way. FAM drafters are told to “clearly specify how much discretion the reader has, and advise the reader if he or she must justify any deviations. Use the term “recommended” if you believe the word “should” will not convey these points adequately in the context of the sentence. Either define the word “should” or hyperlink to this definition at the beginning of subchapters in which the word appears.”

(3) Advisory:  “May” is used to advise the reader that he or she has the option to pursue alternative courses of action. “May” is used when neither law, regulation, nor management policy dictates which of several options to follow.


Be On The Lookout Alert: State/OIG’s Inspection Reports FY2015 (Corrected)

Posted: 12:43  am EDT
Corrected: 1:19 pm EDT


The Office of Evaluations and Special Projects (ESP) in the Office of Inspector General (OIG) was established in 2014 “to strengthen OIG’s oversight of the Department and BBG, and to improve OIG’s capabilities to meet statutory requirements of the Whistleblower Protection Enhancement Act of 2012.”  ESP is also responsible for special evaluations and reviews, including responses to congressional inquiries. The work of this new office reportedly complements the work of OIG’s audits, investigations, and inspections by developing a capacity to focus on broader, systemic issues.

Note: We are correcting this post to indicate that the following reports are done by OIG’s Office of Inspection (ISP). That directorate is focused on three broad areas set forth in the Foreign Service Act of 1980: policy implementation, resource management and management controls. The following reports fall under OIG/ISP’s Special Projects and Areas of Emphasis. 

With the end of the fiscal year just two weeks away, here is a recap of the scheduled evaluations by OIG’s Office of Inspection for FY2015 (pdf). The start date of these evaluations was this fiscal year but the final reports may not necessarily be released this month.   We don’t know when these reports will be available and if all will be available publicly, but we’re on the lookout for them. State/OIG says that “our folks are committed to posting them and making them public as soon as we can.”

Cross-Functional: Program Evaluation | Inspectors will determine whether Department bureaus and missions have conducted program evaluations of foreign assistance programs, consistent with OMB Memorandum M-11-29 and the Foreign Affairs Manual (FAM), 18 FAM 300.

Executive: Annual Statement of Assurance on Management Controls | Inspectors will determine whether Chiefs of Mission and Assistant Secretaries understand statement-of-assurance guidance; conduct reviews consistent with guidance; and demonstrate their support for controls verbally and through other means, communicating the importance of ethical behavior and management controls.

Political/Economic: Foreign Assistance Oversight  | Inspectors will determine whether oversight responsibilities are clearly reflected in the position descriptions, work requirement statements, and evaluations of grant officer representatives or contracting officer representatives that spend more than 25 percent of their time overseeing foreign assistance programs.

Public Diplomacy: Social Media Guidance and Clearances | Inspectors will determine whether missions have a strategic plan to guide missions’ use of various types of social media and the level of policy content in that media with respect to target audiences.

Consular: Eligible Family Member Employment in Consular Sections  | Inspectors will examine the effectiveness of eligible family member employment in consular sections and its impact on mission morale.

Information Technology: Key-Loggers  | Inspectors will determine if missions and bureaus have controls in place to detect the existence of key-loggers on mobile computing devices used with the fob.

Security: Regional Security Officer Access to Threat Information  | Inspectors will determine whether Regional Security Officers have access to all required sources of threat information, as recommended in the classified Benghazi Accountability Review Board report.

Security: Department of Defense Support for Embassy Personnel Emergencies  | Inspectors will determine whether DoD is complying with Benghazi Accountability Review Board recommendations related to supporting mission personnel in emergencies.


New Danger Pay Differential Posts: See Gainers, Plus Losers Include One Post on Evacuation Status

Posted: 3:11 pm EDT
Updated: 811:33 pm PDT


In February 2015, we blogged about the proposed changes to the State Department’s danger pay incentives (see Danger Danger, Bang Bang — State Department Eyes Changes in Danger Pay). In February, a total of 26 countries with 45 posts/locations were eligible to receive danger pay allowance according to the publicly available data from the State Department’s Office of Allowances. As of September 6, 2015, employees in a total of 28 countries with 47 named post and locations, plus 20 undesignated posts labeled as “other” are eligible to receive danger pay differential.  Note that “other” is a place which is not listed individually in Section 920 of the Department of State Standardized Regulations (DSSR) but which is located in a country or area which has been so designated by the Secretary of State, e.g. Herat and Mazar-e-Sharif in Afghanistan.

Danger Pay allowance provides additional compensation for employees serving at designated danger pay posts. It is paid as a percentage of basic compensation in 5, 10, 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.

According to the State Department,  the danger pay allowance is in lieu of that part of the hardship post  differential rate (Chapter 500) at a post which is attributable to  political violence.  Consequently, the rate of post differential may be reduced while danger pay allowance is in effect to avoid dual crediting  for political violence.

Under circumstances defined by the Secretary of State, a danger pay  allowance may also be granted to civilian employees who accompany U.S. military forces designated by the Secretary of Defense as eligible for imminent danger pay.  The Secretary of State will define the area of  application for civilian employees and the amount of danger pay shall  be the same flat rate amount paid to uniformed military personnel  as imminent danger pay.  Danger pay authorized under this subparagraph  will not be paid for periods of time that the employee either receives  danger pay authorized under subparagraph “f” or post differential that would duplicate political violence credit.

Danger Pay authorized under DSSR 652(g), unofficially referred to as “hazardous duty” or “imminent danger pay,” is paid at a flat monthly rate (currently $225). Employees cannot receive Post Hardship Differential and Danger Pay under DSSR 652(g) for the same periods of time, nor can employees receive Danger Pay under DSSR 652(f) and 652(g) at the same time. Imminent Danger Pay under DSSR 652(g) is established for designated areas for U.S.G. civilian employees accompanying uniformed military for whom the Secretary of Defense has established a similar benefit. No review of the Post Hardship Differential is conducted when establishing Imminent Danger Pay under DSSR 652(g) so employees cannot receive both allowances since they are being provided for duplicate conditions.

Plus Posts

The total number of countries (26 to 28) and locations (45 to 47) under the changed designations do not tell the details. Let’s start with countries which gained danger pay differentials under the new designations.

  • Kenya: The capital city of Nairobi retained its 15% danger pay differential and nine new locations are now designated at 15% as well (Kihara, Wangige, Kahawa, Kikuyu, Kiambu, Ruiru, Kibichiku, Thogoto, Other). We’d appreciate it if  somebody can help us understand why we have this nine new entries? Who or what do we have in these places? Contact us here.  Embassy Nairobi is the largest U.S. embassy in Africa with a staff of more than 1,300 (including local employees and more than 400 U.S. direct hires) among 19 federal agency offices.  The President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) in Kenya includes four U.S. Government agencies as implementers of the program: USAID, CDC, the U.S. Army Walter Reed Medical Research Unit, and the Peace Corps. In terms of staffing, USAID is the second largest component in the mission next to the State Department, with DOD and CDC as the third and fourth largest components respectively. (Thanks J.) 
  • Colombia: The capital city of Bogota lost its 15% pay differential but seven new locations, namely, Baranquilla, Buenaventura, Cali, Medellin, San Andres, San Marta, Other are now designated at 15% danger pay. DEA has the second largest representation (next to the State Department) among agencies at U.S. Mission Colombia, so we conclude that this new designation covers DEA employees and contractors, as well as military personnel operating outside the capital city.
  • Haiti: The capital city of Port-au-Prince, as well as Petitionville and all Other locations are newly designated at 15%.
  • Turkey: Gaziantep is newly designated at 25%.  The city is located in the southeastern Anatolia, some 185 kilometres east of Adana and 97 kilometres north of Aleppo, Syria.
  • In Tunisia, Carthage has been added at 25%.

All posts in Afghanistan, CAR, Iraq, Libya, Pakistan (except Quetta), Somalia, South Sudan, Syria and Yemen are  now at the top bracket at 35%.

Back in February, we’ve asked why Erbil and the Erbil Diplomatic Support Center in Iraq did not have the same danger pay rates.  Under the new designation, the Erbil Diplomatic Support Center (EDSC) and Basrah have both been bumped up to 35% (they were previously at 25% and 30% respectively). The State Department has not totally ditched the seven danger pay brackets but with very few exceptions, it has narrowed the danger pay posts into tighter bundles at the 15%, 25% and 35% pay brackets.

Screen Shot 2015-09-14

click image to view the full list

Minus Posts

There are also losers under the new designation. All the locations are diplomatic/consular posts where we have permanently stationed employees.

  • Mexico: Back in February, Nogales was at 10%, Ciudad Juarez, Matamoros and Tijuana were at 15%, and Monterrey and Nuevo Laredo were both at 20%. As of September 6, the only post in Mexico with danger pay is Ciudad Juarez at 15%.
  • Saudi Arabia:  Riyadh, Jeddah and Dharan were all at the 15% danger pay bracket in February 2015. Under the new designation, all these posts no longer have danger pay differential. The only location in Saudi Arabia currently designated at 15% is “Other.”
  • Algeria lost its 15% for Algiers but retains 25% for Other.
  • Burundi lost its 5% for Bujumbura but retains 5% for Other.  We should note that US Embassy Bujumbura went on “ordered departure” for non-emergency personnel and family members on May 15, 2015. There is a Travel Warning against all travel to Burundi and recommends that U.S. citizens currently in Burundi depart as soon as it is feasible to do so.”  The evacuation status for post—either authorized or ordered—has a 180-day clock  (by law, an evacuation cannot last longer than 180 days). Has that evacuation lifted? If not, isn’t it odd that post currently on evacuation status does not have “danger pay” for the emergency personnel remaining at post? Does that make sense? Yes, there are hardship and COLA differentials, but the embassy was not evacuated due to hardship, was it?
  • Israel and Jerusalem both lost their 15%.
  • Nigeria lost its 10% danger pay designation for Lagos.

We understand that at U.S. Mission Saudi Arabia where Riyadh, Jeddah and Dhahran have lost their 15% danger pay, “M” had increased the hardship differential at all three posts from 15% to 25%. So the net loss of pay to officers/specialists is at 5%. But as we’ve also previously noted here, Eligible Family Members (EFMs) receive danger pay while working in embassies but do not receive any other differentials. All EFMs in posts that lost their danger pay designation will suffer a pay cut and will not receive any hardship pay in lieu of the danger pay lost. The few dual-income families in Mexico and Saudi Arabia, will actually have a pay cut of at least 20%.

We’ve posted potential fallouts to these changes back in February. We understand that these are among the questions that still remained unanswered from Foggy Bottom.

One source says that his/her post “have asked AFSA for updates on what they are doing and recommending” but that post  is only “getting radio silence so no kudos to AFSA either.”

Danger Pay, like Post Hardship Differential, and Difficult-to-Staff Incentive Differential (also known as Service-Needs Differential) are all considered recruitment and retention incentives. These allowances are designed to recruit employees to posts where living conditions may be difficult or dangerous. The State Department has been criticized for its inability to evaluate and measure the effectiveness of its incentive program, specifically its danger and hardship programs. The GAO had also previously complained that State did not comply with a congressional mandate to evaluate its increases in hardship and danger pay.   We don’t know if these new changes now include an evaluation of the effectiveness of these incentives.


Danger Pay- September 2015 Diplopundit




@StateDept hasn’t been authorized in 13 years, DOD has been authorized 53 years in a row

Posted: 5:53 pm EDT



“For State-watchers, it’s just another example of a long and humbling truth: Washington cares more about the military than statecraft. While State hasn’t been reauthorized in 13 years, the Department of Defense has been authorized every year for 53 years in a row.

“I chalk it up number one to the American public and Congress cares, as a whole, less about funding the State Department and more about the Pentagon,” said Goldenberg.”

We understand from an excellent source that this year’s authorization act is reportedly not going anywhere. Nope. Not going anywhere at all, so we’re told not to worry about its contents.  Remains to be seen if Senator Corker can pull a rabbit out this hat. There’s a small window left in the congressional term.


The State Dept’s 360 Degree Feedback as Placement Tool, and Probably, a Lawsuit Waiting to Happen

Posted: 2:05 am EDT

We have originally written about the 360 degree feedback in 2008 as it started gaining popularity within the State Department. (see Sexing up the 360-Degree Feedback, Revisited). We thought then, and we still think now, that using the 360° feedback for evaluative purposes, (instead of using it primarily for development), especially when a candidate’s next job is on the line can easily transform this useful learning tool into an inflated, useless material with real consequences for operational effectiveness. We understand from comments received this past July, that this is being used as a developmental tool by Consular Affairs and the Leadership and Management School at FSI (see a couple of feedback), but those are, in all likelihood, the two exceptions. The 360 degree feedback is primarily used as an assignments or placement tool.

In 2013, the Marine Corps Times reported that the Pentagon was expanding its use of “360-degree” reviews for senior officers, but legal concerns may limit their inclusion in any formal promotion or command screening process:

Even if there is interest among the brass to formalize the process, there may be big legal hurdles to expanding the 360-review process beyond a strictly confidential tool for self-awareness.

Officers have valid concerns about anonymous and unverified criticisms seeping into the official process for doling out promotions, command assignments or seats at prestigious schools.

If officers feel their career was damaged by a harsh 360-degree review, they might insist on knowing precisely who lodged the criticisms in order to rebut them. And if the confidentiality is questioned, then the whole endeavor ceases to have much value.
From a legal standpoint, that officer might have a right to file a Freedom of Information Act request to find out who submitted that confidential review.

“The more that’s at stake … the more difficult it will be to maintain the anonymity,” the senior official said. “And, of course, if you don’t maintain the confidentiality, then you have a very different product,” because peers and subordinates will be far less likely to offer candid criticism.

In April 2015, an official Pentagon study concludes that the “360-degree reviews” probably should not be used as a part of the formal military evaluation and promotion process. Below via the Military Times:

[T]he new report cites a long list of legal, cultural and practical concerns that would prevent this type of review’s widespread use in determining who gets selected for promotions, command assignments or slots at prestigious schools.

In 2013, Congress ordered the Defense Department to do a thorough assessment of whether and how 360-degree reviews should be used in the military personnel system.

Rand researchers concluded that the tools should be limited to personnel development programs, which means some troops are subject to 360-degree reviews but the results are provided only to the individual for his or her own benefit, and are not included in any official personnel file.

In the September issue of the Foreign Service Journal, consular-coned officer, William Bent, currently serving at the US Embassy in Barbados pens a Speaking Out piece on the need for the State Department to reevaluate its use of the 360-degree reviews.

Mr. Bent spells out the following concerns as the 360 feedback continue to be used as a placement tool by “assignment decision-makers”:

♨︎ || The reviews are seldom transparent. In current practice, the assessed employee usually has no idea what feedback the deciding official has received, and an employee receiving any negative feedback is rarely, if ever, contacted to discuss the issues raised. This creates the potential for unsubstantiated criticism that can unfairly undermine an employee’s chance for advancement. One does not have to assume deliberate career sabotage here: as a manager, one sometimes has to make unpopular decisions that years later still rankle former subordinates who, because of inexperience, may not have had the full picture.

The Bureau of Consular Affair’s recent development of the Consular Bidder Assessment Tool addresses the issue of transparency by allowing the assessed employee to see the anonymous feedback statements. But the employee is denied the opportunity for a timely discussion of the results (bidders are instructed not to attempt to discuss results until after bidding season is over). This is a surprising approach from the bureau that brought us the innovative CLI.

The DCM/principal officer 360-degree reviews are neither transparent, nor do they provide any opportunity for assessed employees to obtain feedback.

♨︎ || The reviews have little value because the assessed employee chooses the assessor. On the whole, most peers and subordinates resist being frank and candid in their reviews. Having the assessed employee pick his or her own assessors emphasizes this tendency, skewing the results.

It also replicates the EER problem: when everyone walks on water, the decision-makers try to read between the lines, looking for any chinks in an individual’s armor. Paradoxically, this feeds into the concerns discussed above, since any negative review raises bells and whistles and is given extra weight.

♨︎ || Use of 360-degree reviews for purposes other than development remains controversial among human resource experts. Using them to determine assignments is akin to using them as performance appraisals, which some human resource experts see as detrimental to an organization because of its negative effect on personal growth. When the results are not shared in a transparent way, trust is undermined.
♨︎ || The State Department’s use of 360s in determining assignments was not adequately studied prior to implementation. This practice appears to have been implemented on an ad hoc basis several years ago, with a few bureaus using email as a platform to receive input. The use of 360s has now proliferated, with all bureaus involved in the assignment process utilizing them to make decisions.

Yet there seems to have been no prior centralized review of the ramifications of broad use of the tool on the Foreign Service workforce. The use of SharePoint and other technologies to gather the results also raises confidentiality questions (some 360s have been posted—I assume accidentally—on the State Department’s intranet site).

♨︎ || Some recipients of the results may lack the training and expertise to interpret them effectively. There is a reason there are books and articles written by human resource academics and specialists on how to effectively implement and utilize the 360-degree review process. Has the State Department trained officials using the results in human resource management or the 360-degree review process? Do these officials have goals beyond filling the position in question (e.g., the further career development of an employee)?

Moreover, what role has the Bureau of Human Resources—the one bureau theoretically best placed to manage this process—played in implementing the 360 review requirements? Are career development officers discussing the results of 360s with clients to improve the employee’s chances of strengthening skills?

♨︎ || The annual deluge of 360s creates significant time and resource issues. Let’s face it, the 360 process has become a major time suck for everyone involved, with email inboxes inundated each summer with requests for 360-degree reviews. Although we all have a responsibility to assist our colleagues and the organization as a whole by diligently filling out the reviews, the sheer volume of requests can be overwhelming. This could result in less comprehensive responses that don’t give a full portrait of the assessed employee.

Mr. Bent provides four recommendations including, the immediate suspension of “the use of 360s in the Foreign Service assignment process pending the completion of a study, conducted by an outside consultant, on the effectiveness of their use.”

If the Pentagon’s decision not to jump into the 360 degree bandwagon is not enough to give the State Department pause in its use of the 360 as part of the employes’ assignment process, then perhaps what should give them pause is the potential for privacy and FOIA litigation.  360 results posted online, hello?

We’ve located the Pentagon 360 study conducted by the Rand Corporation. In one part, it quotes a participant of its study saying, “Conventional wisdom in regards to 360-degree assessments from experts and researchers is that the most effective use of 360 assessments is to enhance professional, individual development. Once you change the purpose or intent of a 360 from development to evaluation, you affect the willingness of raters to provide candid or unfettered feedback.” That’s probably the most apt comment when it comes to the 360 degree feedback.

Read Rand’s 360-Degree Assessments: Are They the Right Tool for the U.S. Military? (pdf).



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