SFRC Bullies Diplomats Up For Promotion to Self-Certify They Have Not Been Convicted of Any Crime

Posted: 12:45 pm EDT

 

The question is why? Why is the Senate Foreign Relations Committee (SFRC) demanding that our diplomats self-certify that they have not committed a felony within the last seven years? The form says “disclosure of this information is voluntary.” But also that “failure to provide the information requested may result in delay or exclusion of your name on a Foreign Service nomination list.”

Career members of the Foreign Service must be promoted into the Senior Foreign Service by appointment of the President, by and with the advice and consent of the Senate. This self-certification is reportedly also required for employees who are up for commissioning and tenuring at the Foreign Relations committee.

So basically in bullying our diplomats into signing this witless self-certification, the SFRC will be able to provide better advice to President Obama?

How?


All Diplomats Must Hold and Keep Top Secret Clearances

The American diplomatic profession requires the issuance of a security clearance. All Foreign Service officers must hold and keep an active Top Secret security clearance.

The personnel security background investigation begins after an individual has been given a conditional offer of employment and has completed the appropriate security questionnaire, usually a Standard Form 86, Questionnaire for National Security Positions, and other required forms.  Once the security package is received by the Office of Personnel Security and Suitability, it is reviewed for completeness. National agency record checks and scanned fingerprint checks are then conducted. A case manager will direct the background investigation to cover key events and contacts from the individual’s past and present history.   Once the investigators have completed a report, highly trained security clearance adjudicators will weigh the results against existing adjudicative guidelines for security clearances. A critical step in the background investigation is the face-to-face interview the individual will have with a DS investigator. This interview usually occurs within a few weeks of an individual submitting a complete security clearance package. Security clearances are subject to periodic reinvestigation every 5 years for TS clearance, and every 10 years for a Secret clearance.

When there is derogatory information, even based on preliminary facts from a DS criminal investigation, Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) counterintelligence or other law enforcement investigation, or an Inspector General investigation, the security clearance is suspended.  Personnel whose security clearances have been suspended may not be placed on temporary duty status at diplomatic facilities abroad and may not be retained in positions requiring a security clearance until the investigation is resolved.

The names of those with pending investigations are automatically removed from the promotion list.  It goes without saying …. oops, maybe it does need saying — diplomats who have pled guilty or convicted of a crime will not be able to hold a security clearance, much less have his/her name included in the promotion list.

Let’s give you an example — Michael Sestak, an FSO who pled guilty in a visa fraud-bribery case. He is currently sitting in jail. He’ll be sentenced in April.  When he comes out of prison, he will not/not have a job to return to at the State Department. Does anyone at the SFRC really think that somebody like Mr. Sestak can slip through federal employment again, get on the promotion list and somehow make it through the most deliberative body in Congress. No? So why would anyone in the Senate think that this self-certification is anything but idiotic?

 

8,042 Diplomats Targeted

On March 2012, fcw.com cited 2,102,269 as the total number of executive branch employees.  Of those, however, only 1,877,990 are full-time, permanent employees. These numbers reportedly do not include uniformed military personnel, or data on the Postal Service and excludes legislative and judicial branch employees.

Out of the 2.1 million employees, the State Department has  a total of 71,782 employees which includes 47,110 Foreign Service National (FSN) employees; 10,871 Civil Service (CS) employees and 13,801 (FS) Foreign Service employees as of December 2014 (see stats here-pdf.)

Of the total 13,801 Foreign Service employees, 8,042 are considered “Generalists” and 5,759 are “Specialists.”  The “Specialists which include DS agents, and HR, IT professionals are not subject to Senate confirmation.  The “Generalists” are the Foreign Service Officers  whose tenure and promotion are subject to confirmation by the United States Senate.

The Senate majority in the Foreign Relations Committee appears to be targeting only Foreign Service officers.  FSOs, and FSOs alone have been asked to self-certify that they have not been “convicted of or pled guilty of any crime” in the last seven years. As far as we are aware, this requirement does not extend to nominees who are political appointees.

What makes career diplomats special, pray tell?


The White House Knows About This? You Gotta be Kidding.

This self-certification form which is not available at OPM.gov and does not include an official form number says that “The information collected and maintained in this form will be used as part of the vetting process for Foreign Service Lists submitted to the White House for eventual nomination to the Senate.”

An informed source told us that this self-certification had been negotiated between a representative of AFSA, a staffer at the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and the State Department.

No, there were no photos.

Apparently, there also was no White House representative involved, although you might missed that when reading the unclassified State Department 14 STATE 98420 cable dated Aug 12, 2014, which says in part:

The Senate Foreign Relations Committee (SFRC) now requires additional vetting before it considers nominees for confirmation in all of the above-mentioned categories. Effective immediately all employees in those categories who have been nominated on or after April 1, 2014 must file a self-certification form certifying that they have not been convicted of a crime or pled guilty in any court over the past seven years, regardless of whether the record in the case has been sealed, expunged, or otherwise stricken from the court record. HR will notify those employees who are up for commissioning, tenure and SFS promotion that they must submit the form, available at:  [Note: we redacted sbu link] and which must be submitted to HR-PasSelfCertificat@state.gov.
Please note: failure to submit the form will mean that HR will not/not forward your name to the White House for nomination to the Senate. There is no waiver of the SFRC requirement. For those individuals who are unable to make the certification, and wish to provide information relevant to any conviction or guilty plea in the last seven years, they may report the information in the space provided on the form. Further investigation may be made on the basis of any additional information provided. The Department may then be required to provide this information to the SFRC.

 

AFSA and the State Department must realized that this is a meaningless and coersive made-up document, but both rolled over and played dead.  No other nominees of any agency of the U.S. government are obliged to sign such a certificate, which is essentially, again, meaningless in the context of a profession in which an active security clearance is a prerequisite to the performance of a job.

This is spectacular and unprecedented.

Well, not unprecedented if you count Senator McCarthy’s witch hunt and lavender scare in the 1950s.


Why roll over and play dead?

The SFRC can hold up ambassadorial nominations, senior State Dept level nominations (undersecretaries/assistant secretaries), and decide who to put first on the hearings list and who to put last (see Happy Easter Greeting: SFRC Left Town With 19 Ambassadorial Nominations Still Stuck on Glue!).  The simple act of holding up large numbers of nominees rather than passing them through at a reasonable pace wreaks havoc on State’s budget, assignments process, and people’s lives. (see Is the U.S. Senate Gonna Wreck, Wreck, Wreck, the Upcoming Bidding Season in the Foreign Service?)  Salaries, promotions, transfers, offices, authorities are money. Ambassadors who do not go to posts on time have big time resource implications in addition to political implications. People who do not have the legal authority to do their jobs (is a consular officer’s notarial legal if he/she did not receive Senate confirmation?) operate in a legal limbo presumably implying risks of all kinds.

So —

Self_certification

click image for larger view

 

Why not ‘just do it’ like Nike? It’s already done but it’s a horrible precedent, what’s next?

This is already being done. Folks have already signed this self-certifying documents and have submitted them as a requirement to their nominations.  They don’t really have a choice, do they? But where does it end?

It doesn’t.

We’ve learned that the SFRC gets information  on names recommended for promotion from the State Department “following vetting” and also directly from the OIG, including information that reportedly goes back decades.

That’s right, going back decades.

If an FSO or any employee is charged with a crime, the employee defends himself/herself in court, and if charged with an administrative matter, the employee defends himself/herself in an HR process. That’s how it works.

One SFRC staffer is now reportedly “negotiating” to gain access to OIG investigative data under the guise of allowing the Senate panel to better advise President Obama concerning the qualifications of Foreign Service Officer candidates. But what the SFRC is now “negotiating” with State and AFSA would be access to raw OIG and Diplomatic Security reports containing derogatory information without any of an employee’s mitigating, exculpatory or defensive evidence information. You okay with that?

What is Senator Corker’s SFRC going to ask for next, your diplomatic liver?

The White House seems asleep at the wheel on this. Today, it’s the State Department, tomorrow, it could be any agency in the Federal Government.

Hey, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee is doing it, what’s the rest of the Senate going to ask for next?

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IT Consultant Using Identity Of Deceased Infant Snagged During Passport Application

Posted: 2:08  am EDT

 

Via USDOJ:

Computer Industry Consultant Convicted For Using Identify Of Deceased Infant

BOSTON – A former Boston computer industry consultant was found guilty following a five-day jury trial on March 6, 2015, of assuming the identity of an infant who died in 1966 and using that identity to obtain a Social Security number.

Steven Nolte, 51, was convicted of passport fraud, aggravated identity theft, and use of a falsely-obtained Social Security number.  U.S. District Court Judge Denise J. Casper scheduled sentencing for May 28, 2015.  He remains detained pending sentencing.

Nolte was born in Arizona in 1963 as Steven Nolte, but in 1997, he assumed the identity of a four-day-old infant who died in 1966.  At the time Nolte adopted this identity, he was in the process of stealing over $571,000 from a real estate company for which he had provided computer consulting services.  Nolte then obtained a passport in the assumed identity and traveled to Costa Rica, where proceeds of the theft had been wire-transferred.  Nolte thereafter traveled extensively in the South Pacific and ultimately settled in the Boston area, where he worked in the computer industry for many years under his assumed identity.  In 1999, he applied for a Social Security number by using the same false identity.  Nolte’s true identity was discovered in May 2012 when he submitted an application for a replacement passport in Boston under his assumed name.  State Department officials realized that the Social Security number Nolte was using had not been issued to Nolte in the assumed name until he supposedly was 33 years old.  Upon further investigation, agents learned of the infant’s death in 1966, and ultimately uncovered Nolte’s true identity.

The charge of making false statements in a passport application provides for no greater than 10 years in prison and three years of supervised release; the charge of using a falsely-obtained Social Security number provides for no greater than five years in prison and three years of supervised release; and the charge of aggravated identity theft provides for a mandatory two years in prison, and one year of supervised release.  All three charges provide for fines of up to $250,000.  Actual sentences for federal crimes are typically less than the maximum penalties.  Sentenced are imposed by a federal district court judge based on the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines and statutory sentencing factors.

United States Attorney Carmen M. Ortiz; David W. Hall, Special Agent in Charge of the U.S. Department of State, Bureau of Diplomatic Security, Boston Field Office; and Scott Antolik, Special Agent in Charge of the Social Security Administration, Office of Inspector General, Office of Investigations, Boston Field Division, made the announcement today.  The case is being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorneys Brian Pérez-Daple and Robert E. Richardson of Ortiz’s Major Crimes Unit.

Original announcement is here.

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A chilly year up north? How Canada left U.S. Ambassador Bruce Heyman out in the cold

Posted: 12:57  am EDT

 

On March 16, the United States and Canada signed  a new agreement reaffirming the United States and Canada’s commitment to enhancing security while facilitating lawful travel and trade, and supersedes the existing U.S.-Canada Air Preclearance agreement signed in 2001.  The new preclearance agreement – allowing for the immigration, customs and agriculture inspections required for entry into either country to occur on foreign soil – will reportedly reduce congestion and delays at the border and increase efficiency and predictability in cross-border travel, tourism and transportation.

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All smiles there, and why not?

Then yesterday, the Globe and Mail’s Campbell Clark has a long piece on what is reportedly Bruce Heyman’s “rough year” as America’s ambassador to Ottawa.

For Mr. Heyman, it’s telling that since the day he presented his credentials nearly a year ago, when he and his wife Vicki had a 15-minute meet-and-greet with Mr. Harper and his wife Laureen, the U.S. ambassador has never had a one-on-one with the PM.
[…]
“There was no edict,” one senior Canadian government figure insisted. But several sources said there was at least a common narrative, from the Prime Minister’s Office to ministers, that Mr. Heyman wasn’t welcome.

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Today, there’s also this Vanderbilt Mag piece noting that “Our northern neighbor is the United States’ largest goods trading partner, with $632 billion in total goods trade in 2013.”

“Bruce and I are really tackling this job as a team,” says Vicki. “We’ve been traveling the country like road warriors. Top to bottom, right to left.”

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A related note — right there is an example of unpaid labor by a chief of mission spouse, a tradition deeply valued by the State Department until 1972 when the directive on diplomatic wives was issued and thereby ruined the much-beloved twofer system. That’s when participation by a Foreign Service wife in the work of a post was deemed “a voluntary act of a private person” and when the diplomatic spouse’s performance memorandum stopped being placed in the FSO’s performance dossier. We presumed, by the language of the directive, that up to 1972 there were no accompanying male diplomatic spouses in the service.

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H.R. 1368: No Healthcare Subsidies for Foreign Diplomats Act of 2015

Posted: 12:12 am EDT

 

Following the 2013 report that Russian diplomats were charged with alleged widespread Medicaid fraud between 2004 to 2013 at an approximate cost of $1,500,000 in fraudulently received benefits (see 49 Russian Diplomats/Spouses Charged With Picking Uncle Sam’s Pocket in Medicaid Scam), Congress investigated (Congress Seeks Information on Obamacare Coverage of Foreign Diplomats).

On March 17, the House Committee on Foreign Affairs announced  that U.S. Rep. Ed Royce (R-CA), Chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, and U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI), Chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, introduced H.R. 1368, the No Healthcare Subsidies for Foreign Diplomats Act of 2015, legislation to prevent foreign diplomats from receiving subsidized health coverage under the Affordable Care Act (ACA).  According to the Department of Health and Human Services, foreign diplomats and United Nations employees in the United States are currently eligible to obtain American taxpayer-funded subsidies under the ACA, such as premium tax credits and cost-sharing reductions, just like American citizens and lawful permanent residents.  By contrast, U.S. diplomats overseas do not depend on foreign taxpayers for health care coverage, relying instead on domestic health insurance plans that provide overseas coverage.

Chairman Royce said: “After a year-long investigation, the Obama Administration finally came clean about the fact that foreign diplomats are eligible for taxpayer-funded health care subsidies.  This is unacceptable.   Americans’ tax dollars should not be used to foot the bill for foreign diplomats’ health care coverage.  I am pleased to reintroduce this legislation and look forward to working with Chairman Ryan to pass this commonsense reform.”

H.R. 1368:

  • Expresses the sense of Congress that foreign diplomats should be allowed to purchase health insurance coverage in the U.S., but the cost of that coverage should be borne by their sending States;
  • Expresses the sense of Congress that U.S. taxpayers should not subsidize the health insurance expenses of foreign diplomats;
  • Amends the Internal Revenue Code to make foreign diplomats ineligible for health insurance premium tax credits and cost-sharing reductions under the ACA;
  • Requires the Secretary of HHS to certify to Congress that no foreign diplomats are receiving such benefits under the ACA; and
  • Requires the Secretary of State to notify all foreign missions in the U.S. that their personnel are ineligible for these benefits under the ACA.

The Committee says that initially, it sent a letter to Secretary Kerry requesting information on the arrest and the eligibility of foreign diplomats receiving government-funded medical benefits.  In January and April of 2014, the Committee also sent letters to the Secretary of Health and Human Services regarding foreign diplomats’ eligibility to receive Obamacare.  In a response on September 30, 2014, HHS confirmed foreign diplomats’ eligibility for government subsidized healthcare.  In October of 2014, Chairman Royce and former Chairman Camp wrote to IRS Commissioner John Koskinen seeking information about how many foreign diplomats have enrolled in the Affordable Care Act and have received subsidies.

The HHS response to the eligibility of foreign diplomats under Obamacare notes the following:

[F]oreign diplomats’ eligibility to participate in the Health Insurance Marketplaces is governed by the Affordable Care Act, which specifies that, in order to enroll in a qualified health plan (QHP) through the Marketplace, an individual must: (I) reside in the state that established the Marketplace; (2) not be incarcerated, other than pending the disposition of charges; and (3) be a United States’ citizen or national, or a non-citizen who is lawfully present and reasonably expected to remain so for the entire period for which enrollment is sought. Non-immigrant, non-citizens in the “A” and “G” visa classifications are lawfully present for this purpose, if they have not violated the terms of the status under which they were admitted or to which they have changed after admission. Accordingly, to the extent that a foreign diplomat who is a non-immigrant under an “A” or “G” visa classification and who has not violated the terms of the status under which he or she was admitted or to which he or she has changed after admission resides in the state that established the Marketplace and is not incarcerated other than pending the disposition of charges, he or she would be eligible for enrollment in a QHP through the Marketplace. The Department does not collect data on the number of foreign diplomats who participate in the Marketplace.

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Related posts:

 

 

Congressional Research Service Reports and Briefs – October 2014

via state.gov

-10/31/14   Border Security: Immigration Inspections at Port of Entry  [502 Kb]
-10/29/14   Iraq: Politics, Governance, and Human Rights  [497 Kb]
-10/29/14   U.S. and International Health Responses to the Ebola Outbreak in West Africa  [633 Kb]
-10/28/14   The Ebola Outbreak: Quarantine and Isolation Authority – Legal Sidebar  [55 Kb]
-10/27/14   Proposed Train and Equip Authorities for Syria: In Brief  [340 Kb]
-10/23/14   Iran Sanctions  [709 Kb]
-10/22/14   Political Transition in Tunisia  [437 Kb]
-10/22/14   The “Islamic State” Crisis and U.S. Policy  [594 Kb]
-10/21/14   A New Authorization for Use of Military Force Against the Islamic State: Comparison of Current Proposals in Brief  [302 Kb]
-10/21/14   Turkey-U.S. Cooperation Against the “Islamic State”: A Unique Dynamic? – CRS Insights  [170 Kb]
-10/20/14   Palestinian Authority: U.S. Payments to Creditors as Alternative to Direct Budgetary Assistance? – CRS Insights  [58 Kb]
-10/17/14   U.S. Citizens Kidnapped by the Islamic State  [60 Kb]
-10/10/14   Al Qaeda-Affiliated Groups: Middle East and Africa  [1119 Kb]
-10/10/14   Increased Department of Defense Role in U.S. Ebola Response – CRS Insights  [48 Kb]
-10/07/14   As Midterm Election Approaches, State Election Laws Challenged – Legal Sidebar  [53 Kb]

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Robin Raphel, Presumption of Innocence and Tin Can Phones for Pak Officials

– Domani Spero

 

Late on November 6, WaPo published the following Robin Raphel story:

Here is a link to the NYT story:

 

On November 7, an unnamed official cited by the Associated Press said the FBI investigation was related to access to classified materials:

 

NYT did a follow-up report over two weeks later reporting that an eavesdropping on a Pakistani official led to the Raphel inquiry:

 

A follow-up report from WaPo includes a statement from Amy Jeffress, Ambassador Raphel’s attorney (she is also the former chief of the National Security Section in the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Columbia).

“Ambassador Raphel is a highly respected career diplomat who has dedicated her life to serving the United States and its interests,” said Amy Jeffress, Raphel’s attorney and the former chief of the National Security Section in the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Columbia. “She would never intentionally do anything to compromise those interests. She, and we as her counsel, are cooperating with the investigation, and we are confident that she will be cleared of any suspicion.”

What do we know about this case?  Below is a list of “known” items out there according to media reports:

  • The federal investigation reportedly is part of a counterintelligence probe.
  • Ambassador Raphel’s security clearances reportedly was withdrawn.
  • She reportedly was placed on administrative leave last month, and her contract with the State Department was allowed to expire.
  • The FBI reportedly searched her Northwest Washington home, and her State Department office  also was examined and sealed.
  • Agents reportedly “discovered classified information” during a raid at her home.
  • In an intercepted conversation this year “a Pakistani official suggested that his government was receiving American secrets from a prominent former State Department diplomat,” reportedly setting off the espionage investigation.
  • Apparently,Ambassador Raphel has not been told she is the target of an investigation, and she has not been questioned according to her spokesman.
  • Ambassador Raphel now has a lawyer.
  • Over two weeks after the original report surfaced, she has not been formally accused or charged with a crime. Since she has not been formally charged, she has no way to defend herself from allegations.

The Indian media has had a field day with this investigation, throwing in a bunch of name calling, and well, it looks like she is considered a national nemesis over there. The view from Pakistan (read this) is thoughtful and more wait and see.  We’re also now starting to see Raphel’s name being linked to Hillary Clinton; she has been described as a “close Clinton family friend,” a  “Hillary donor” and a “powerful Clinton ally.”

In any case, we understand from a source inside the building that the FBI would “never investigate” a State employee without coordinating with Diplomatic Security’s Office of Investigations and Counterintelligence. Apparently, there is an FBI liaison in DS/IC to assist with the sharing of case information but whatever role Diplomatic Security played in this case, the bureau is not advertising it.

We’ve compiled a list of the things we don’t know about this case and the questions we have:

  • According to WaPo, two U.S. officials described the investigation as a counterintelligence matter, which typically involves allegations of spying on behalf of foreign governments. Who are these officials and what are their motive for leaking a counter-intel probe to the news media?
  • The investigation reportedly is ongoing; does the media spotlight not jeopardize the investigation?
  • According to NYT, it is unclear exactly what the Pakistani official said in the intercepted conversation that led to this investigation. Apparently, it is also not/not clear “whether the conversation was by telephone, email or some other form of communication.” Does this mean all discrete discreet Pakistani officials in the U.S. now are limited to discussing their lunch menu and tourist opportunities in their host country to using tin can telephones for official subjects?
  • Who is the  Pakistani official? Was he/she aware that USG agents were eavesdropping? If he/she/they were not aware before of the eavesdropping, are they aware now?  We’re seriously perplexed, how is this helpful?
  • We understand that by the time a case like this goes overt, the government has  all the information it needs.  It is not not apparent if that is the case here. If we presume that the USG went overt because it has all the evidence it needs, how come there are no charges to-date?

One of our most sacred principles in the United States is the presumption of innocence until proven guilty.   The government not only must charge an individual suspected of a crime, it also must prove,beyond a reasonable doubt, each essential element of the crime charged. That has not happened here.

Despite what the Indian media says, and even if Pakistani officials in the U.S. now are using tin-can telephones to communicate, the current status of the Raphel case amount to allegations from unnamed officials, and an ongoing investigation.  That is far from clear evidence of guilt.

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Updated on 11/25/14 at 1546 PST to correct grammatical errors and for clarity. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Former Ambassador and Pakistan Expert Under Federal Investigation as Part of CounterIntel Probe

– Domani Spero

 

Late breaking news today concerns Robin Raphel, a retired Foreign Service officer, former ambassador, and most recently, a senior coordinator at the State Department’s  Af/Pak shop as being under federal investigation as part of a counterintelligence probe.

Via WaPo:

A veteran State Department diplomat and longtime Pakistan expert is under federal investigation as part of a counterintelligence probe and has had her security clearances withdrawn, according to U.S. officials.

The FBI searched the Northwest Washington home of Robin L. Raphel last month, and her State Department office was also examined and sealed, officials said. Raphel, a fixture in Washington’s diplomatic and think-tank circles, was placed on administrative leave last month, and her contract with the State Department was allowed to expire this week.
[…]
Details of federal counterintelligence investigations are typically closely held and the cases can span years. Although Raphel has spent much of her career on Pakistan issues, it was unknown whether the investigation, being run by the FBI’s Washington Field Office, was related to her work with that country.
[…]
“We are aware of this law enforcement matter,” State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said. “The State Department has been cooperating with our law enforcement colleagues.”
[…]
“She is no longer employed by the State Department,” Psaki said.

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Her appointment at the S/RAP office did not come without some controversy. Here is an article from 2009:

 

We were able to locate two previous posts here from 2009 (see A Strategy for that $7.5 billion Pakistan Aid) and 2010 (see BLT on Former Ambassador Robin Raphel). In 2010, the Blog of Legal Times was tracking the news on lobbying disclosures concerning Ambassador Raphel.  She was at the time, already a member of Richard Holbrooke‘s team as the Special Representative to the Af/Pak region.  Her formal title was Senior Coordinator for Economic and Development Assistance.  Ambassador Raphel is a career diplomat who served as Ambassador to Tunisia (1997-2000).  In August 1993, during the Clinton Administration she was named the first Assistant Secretary of State for South Asian Affairs (1993-1997). Her Wikipedia entry says she retired from the State Department in 2005 after 30 years of service. Below is her outdated bio from her tenure as A/S for South Asian Affairs from the 1990s:

Ms. Raphel was sworn in as the first Assistant Secretary of State for South Asian Affairs on August 6,1993.

Ms. Raphel was born in Vancouver, Washington, and spent all of her childhood on the West Coast. Graduating from high school in Longview, Washington in 1965, she went on to the University of Washington to study history and economics. She spent her junior year at the University of London studying history. She returned to England after graduating for a year at Cambridge University before taking a teaching job at a woman’s college in Tehran, Iran. After leaving Iran in 1972, Ms. Raphel returned to the U.S. to study economics at the University of Maryland. After finishing her Masters of Arts degree, she first went to work for the federal government as an economic analyst at the CIA. From there she went to Islamabad, Pakistan, where she joined the Foreign Service and worked on detail to USAID as an economic/financial analyst.

Upon returning to Washington in 1978, Ms. Raphel worked in the State Department in several capacities — Economist in the Office of Investment Affairs, Economic Officer on the Israel Desk, Staff Aide for the Assistant Secretary for the Near East and South Asian Affairs, and Special Assistant to the Under Secretary for Political Affairs. In 1984 she was posted to London where she served in the U.S. Embassy as a Political Officer covering Middle East, South Asia, African and East Asian issues. She moved to South Africa in 1988 as Counselor for Political-Affairs at the U.S. Embassy. From August 1991 until August 1993, Ms. Raphel was the Counselor for Political Affairs at the U.S. Embassy in New Delhi, India.

Ms. Raphel is married to Leonard Ashton. They have two young daughters.

 

The WaPo report cites the FBI’s Washington Field Office as the entity running the investigation. Makes one wonder what is Diplomatic Security’s Office of Investigations and Counterintelligence role in this investigation. It is the State Department office tasks with conducting “a robust counterintelligence program designed to deter, detect, and neutralize the efforts of foreign intelligence services targeting Department of State personnel, facilities, and diplomatic missions worldwide.”

We should also note that two U.S. officials described the federal investigation to WaPo as a counterintelligence matter, which typically involves allegations of spying on behalf of foreign governments. The report, however, also  says that “the exact nature of the investigation involving Raphel remains unclear” and that “she has not been charged.”

We’ll have to wait and see how this investigation ends.

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Congress Seeks Information on Obamacare Coverage of Foreign Diplomats

– Domani Spero

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

The signed letter and referenced attachments are available here.

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

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

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

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

USAID “Poor” Morale Goes From 37% to 47%, Administrator Approval Rating Plummets From 78% to 58%

– Domani Spero

 

The June 2014 Foreign Service Journal includes an item on the AFSA USAID survey.  The 23-question, electronic survey focused on concerns, commendations and assessments related to the USAID FSO experience in calendar year 2013.

The USAID VP writes that the survey results will be discussed with USAID Administrator Rajiv Shah and Special Representative for the Quadrennial Diplomacy and Development Review Tom Perriello to help in the formulation of USAID priorities.

Excerpt below:

Staff Morale 

The agency morale rating has dropped significantly. Thirty-seven percent of respondents rated agency morale “poor” in 2012; in 2013, 47 percent of respondents rated morale “poor.” The “good/fair” rating shows a corresponding drop, from 61 percent in 2012 to 51 percent for 2013.

A wide range of concerns were shared by respondents, such as: tension between more seasoned USAID employees and those who have entered within the last five years; an overburdened system with too many “initiatives;” lack of transparency and support from HR; and slow encroachment by State.

In a cross-comparison between questions on the new HR leadership and agency morale, a similarly high percentage of employees (61) rated the new HR leadership “poor” and also determined that morale had dropped.

USAID Administrator 

The “poor” rating for the Administrator (question 20) increased from 23 percent in 2012 to 41 percent in the 2013 survey. His overall approval rating (“fair, good, excellent”) for 2013 stands at 58 percent, also a significant drop from 2012 (78 percent). This decline is disturbing and will be pointed out to his office.

Many FSOs originally liked the new initiatives. However, the prevailing sentiment now is that they are too numerous to coordinate and accurately report on, and many do not come with funding. The comments also reflect a recurring theme that work outside of Africa appears to be a lower priority for the Administrator.

Working Conditions 

The survey indicates a significant perception that overall conditions at work are worsening (42 percent). This is not as bad as it was in 2011 (46 percent) or 2010 (55 percent); nevertheless, it is a setback since 2012, when only 36 percent thought conditions at work were deteriorating. Pay and bonus freezes, work space concerns due to consolidation and micromanagement of the field by Washington were some of the concerns highlighted this year, and are possible explanations for the increased rating.

AFSA reports that several important issues have been illuminated in this survey, including the following:

  • First is the tendency for more recent employees in the workforce to have different views than their colleagues from previous generations. The different characteristics of this new generation of workers are increasingly being discussed in the media. In terms of numbers, the millennials are the largest generation in American history and, with USAID’s recent mass hiring, the majority of our workforce now fall into this category.
  • A bonus of the Development Leadership Initiative program is that USAID has a unique opportunity to be a leader in this regard, simply by virtue of its large population of millennials. If we focus on their primary concerns—such as corporate culture, work-life balance, workplace flexibility, making a difference and being appreciated—we realize that they value the same things that are important to everyone!  The difference is that millennials are more likely to voice their thoughts and to change jobs if their needs are not fulfilled. How the agency handles this will determine whether USAID emerges as a government leader in such issues as work-life balance, as well as how it fares in employee retention.
  • After a brief upturn, morale has taken a slide back down. Comments suggest that this is related to various factors, including the sense of a disconnect with significant guidance related to HR processes, and a feeling that Washington does not understand the challenges that FSOs face daily.  Inequalities in benefits  between USAID and State further exacerbate the problem.

The AFSA USAID VP Sharon Wayne writes that “AFSA will continue to engage management on these issues. It is my hope that current leadership will choose to accept these results for what they are: valuable feedback on which to act to make this agency better.”

 

Related posts:

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State Dept Awards $4.9 Million Contract to Phoenix Air for Air Ambulance Evacuation #Ebola

Domani Spero

 

Yahoo News reported on September 9 that “an undisclosed number of people who’ve been exposed to the Ebola virus — not just the four patients publicly identified with diagnosed cases — have been evacuated to the U.S. by an air ambulance company contracted by the State Department.”  The report identified Phoenix Air Group as the provider of the air ambulance services. The VP of the company said medical privacy laws and his company’s contract with the State Department prevented him from revealing how many exposed patients have been flown from West Africa to the U.S.  He did tell the reported that Phoenix Air has flown 10 Ebola-related missions in the past six weeks. The report also says that the State Department confirmed the four known Ebola patient transports but couldn’t provide details on any exposure evacuations to the United States.  An unnamed State Department official told Yahoo News that “every precaution is taken to move the patient safely and securely, to provide critical care en route, and to maintain strict isolation upon arrival in the United States.”(See Ebola evacuations to US greater than previously known).

Public records indicate that the State Department awarded the air ambulance contract on August 18, 2014.  The sole source contract was awarded to Phoenix Air for a period of six (6) months at an estimated cost of $4,900,000.00 under FAR 6.302-2  for “unusual and compelling urgency.” The services include among others, air ambulance evacuation, a dedicated on-call aircraft and flight crew, an aero-biological containment system, and emergency recall and mission preparedness:

This requirement is in response to Department of State’s diplomatic mission overseas to provide movement of emergency response personnel into and out of hazardous/non-permissive environments and medical evacuation of critically ill/injured patients, including those infected with unique and high contagious pathogens. This is an immediate response to the Ebola Virus Crisis.

The contract justification says that the movement of patients infected with highly contagious pathogens, as with the current Ebola Virus epidemic, requires the use of an air-transportable biocontainment unit. A unit was designed and built by the Center for Disease Control in 2006 in collaboration with the Phoenix Air Group in Cartersville, GA. The Aeromedical Biological Containment Shelter (ABCS) is the only contagious patient airborne transportation system in the world which allows attending medical personnel to enter the containment vessel in-flight to attend to the patient, thus allowing emergency medical intervention such as new IV lines, intubation, etc.

Yes, the Pentagon has a transport tube but —

“The U.S. Department of Defense has a transport “tube” which a patient is placed into, but once sealed inside the patient is isolated from medical care. It is admittedly (by the DOD) more designed for battlefield causalities than live human transport, especially over long distances. It is also only certified for DOD aircraft and not by the FAA for commercial aircraft which makes this capability not feasible in meeting the Department’s urgent need for the capability to transport contagious patients world-wide.”

Why is this a sole-sourced contract?

Below is part of the justification statement extracted from publicly available documents:

As a matter of standard business practice, Phoenix Air Group does not provide chartered transport of highly contagious patients outside of a standing government contract. As the only vendor with this unique capability, Phoenix Air Group has never offered this service on a one-off basis to private of government entities. The capability was developed on a multi-year contract with the CDC (2006-2011). When the CDC could no longer to afford to maintain the stand-by capability, the equipment was warehoused. While it is technically true that the movement of two American citizens in late July, 2014, was a private transaction, those missions were conducted after the Department requested that PAG consider a break in their standard business practice on a humanitarian basis, with the assurance that the USG would make all necessary arrangements for landing clearances, public health integration, decontamination, and provide press guidance. Simply put, the transportation of this type of patient requires too much international and inter-agency coordination, and incurs too much corporate risk, for PAG to provide the service outside the protection of a federal contract to do so.

The U.S. Department of State has always been responsible for the medical evacuation of official Americans overseas, regardless of their USG agency affiliation. Because of the unique severity and scope of the current Ebola outbreak, and the complete lack of host nation infrastructure to support victims of EVD infection, the international community is finding recruitment of professional staff very difficult without being able to articulate a sound medical evacuation plan. To that end, the Governments of Mexico, Japan, the United Kingdom, Canada, and the United Arab Emirates, as well as the World Health Organization and the United Nations, have separately approached PAG to establish exclusive contracts for this limited resource. Had the Department not moved very quickly to establish its own exclusive use contract, our negotiating position would have shifted, placing USG personnel and private citizens at significant risk.

The availability of the PAG resource is thus a foreign policy issue, placing the U.S. Department of State as the logical arbiter of international agreements to assure equitable coverage while protecting U.S. national interests. The Department is moving to establish Title 607 agreements with these and other eligible entities, allowing coordinated sharing of the resource on a cost-reimbursable basis under 22 U SC 2357 authorities.

Private American citizens responding to this crisis would lack the resources to privately contract for this service, even if it were available on the open market. By establishing the contract through the Department, additional options are provided to American Citizen Services, allowing them to structure the funding as a form of repatriation loan. This would be very difficult to do if not for a Department-level contract; by bringing the resource in-house, the money flow remains within the Department, spreading the financial risk across a much larger budgeting pool. Foreign governments are being encouraged to take similar steps with their own private citizens through high level dialogue that is only possible when the Department is in the lead on this issue.

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

The “special missions” G-111 aircraft, what is it?

 The ABCS was certified by the Federal Air Administration (FAA) under a Supplemental Type Certification (STC) for use in an aircraft. The STC further lists only two (2) air- craft by serial number as approved for the installation and operation of the ABCS. Both aircraft are owned and operated by Phoenix Air.

The two aircraft listed by serial number in the STC are “special missions” Gulfstream G-III jets owned and operated by Phoenix Air. There are only three “special missions” G-111 aircraft in the world and Phoenix Air owns and operates all three. These are unique aircraft converted in the Gulfstream Aerospace factory during the original manufacturing assembly line from standard “executive” aircraft to “special missions” aircraft which includes a large cargo door forward of the wing measuring 81.5” wide X 61” high thus allowing the large components of the ABCS to be installed in the aircraft and post-flight decontamination to be performed, each aircraft has a heavy duty cargo floor allowing the ABCS floor attachment system to be installed, and each aircraft is certified at the factory for passenger, cargo or air ambulance operations.

Phoenix Air holds various DOD Civil Aircraft Landing Permits (CALP’s) from all U.S DOD service branches allowing its aircraft to land at all U.S. military bases and facilities worldwide. For security reasons, all medical evacuations of patients with highly contagious pathogens must land at military airfields. Recent experience reinforces the importance of using military airfields, especially OCONUS where the host nation governments have refused to allow the aircraft access to civil airports in the Azores, but have conceded to allow the aircraft to refuel on USMIL airfields in their country.

All Phoenix Air flight and medical personnel have the Commission on Accreditation of Medical Transport Systems (CAMTS) required accreditation and CDC recommended inoculations for air ambulance missions as well as missions into disease~prone areas around the world providing DOS a unique capability that may not be available with other aviation vendors.

 

Unlike the outbreak of the highly pathogenic avian influenza (H5N1) virus and fears of a pandemic in 2007, one thing we haven’t heard this time is  “shelter-in-place.” Back then, Americans abroad were advised to identify local sources of healthcare and prepare to “shelter-in-place” if necessary. “In those areas with potentially limited water and food availability, Americans living abroad are encouraged to maintain supplies of food and water to last at least two and as long as 12 weeks.” We remember thinking then about the embassy swimming pool and wondering how long it would last if city water runs out. Or what happens if a mob comes into the compound in search of food and water.

That does not seem to be the case here. At least, this time, there will be an air ambulance equipped to evacuate  Americans back home should it come to that. Note that the  justification statement does not include details of how much of the cost will be accounted for as part of the repatriation loan program (pdf) for private Americans.

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