Category Archives: Iraq

Confirmations: Stuart Jones (Iraq), Robert Beecroft (Egypt), Thomas P. Kelly III (Djibouti

– Domani Spero

 

 

That did not take long.  On June 25, the SFRC cleared President Obama’s nominees for Iraq and Egypt.  Today, the U.S. Senate confirmed the nominees for those two posts:

Stuart E. Jones, of Virginia, to be Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the United States of America to the Republic of Iraq; Confirmed: 93-0

Robert Stephen Beecroft, of California, to be Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the United States of America to the Arab Republic of Egypt (voice vote)

Yesterday, the Senate also confirmed the nomination of our next ambassador to Djibouti:

Thomas P. Kelly III, of California, a Career Member of the Senior Foreign Service, Class of Minister-Counselor, to be Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the United States of America to the Republic of Djibouti.

 

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Filed under Ambassadors, Confirmed, Congress, FSOs, Iraq, Staffing the FS, U.S. Missions, US Embassy Baghdad, US Embassy Egypt

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

– Domani Spero

 

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

QUESTION: Would you call this an evacuation?

MS. PSAKI: No, we would not.

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

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

QUESTION: And –

QUESTION: (Inaudible.)

QUESTION: — hold on. Just to follow up –

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

Read in full here.

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

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

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

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

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

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

U.S. Embassy Iraq: By The Numbers — Still The Post With the Mostest

– Domani Spero

The New Embassy Compound (NEC) in Baghdad was the most expensive construction in the world in 2009.  Although a fixed amount is hard to come by, it is estimated that the construction cost amounted to approximately $700 million.  In 2012, WaPo reported a $115 million embassy upgrade.  If we add that and all other State Department capital projects in Iraq from FY2011, we would have to add approximately $411 million to the cost of the USG footprint in Iraq. Despite the recent rightsizing exercise, it remains the largest, and the most expensive diplomatic mission in the world.

The 104-acre U.S. Embassy in Iraq is the largest embassy in the world not just in terms of size at 420,873 square meters, but also personnel at 5,500 (estimated Jan 2014 headcount) and operational cost at $3.23 billion in FY2012. (Note: It is not the largest site in terms of  diplomatic properties as the Baghdad Diplomatic Support Center (BDSC) compound is located on a 350-acre facility adjacent to Baghdad International Airport).  A quick comparison — one of our smallest embassies, the US Embassy in Malabo, Equatorial Guinea is 1,208 square meters, so 348 US Embassy Malabo NECs would fit into Embassy Baghdad. As well, the New Embassy London is 54,000 square meters, so about 7 1/2 of them would fit into Embassy Baghdad.

It may be that in a couple of years, with the ongoing construction of the New Embassy London and New Embassy Islamabad (each may hit the $1 billion mark), Embassy Baghdad will no longer be the most expensive embassy in the world, but for now, it is still the post with the mostest.

In 2009, the OIG inspectors identified the number of factors that have contributed to the size of this Embassy:

(1) implementation of a civilian assistance program of over $24 billion;
(2) a wide-ranging capacity-building program covering most key ministries in the Iraqi National Government and, through the PRTs, all provincial governments;
(3) the legacy of running the country and then working hand-in-glove with the Iraqis as they assumed more responsibility for funding their own development;
(4) the need to coordinate with the U.S. military in practically all aspects of the Embassy’s responsibilities; and
(5) the inability to have host-country LE staff provide the support and services that they do in almost all other embassies in the world. Also, the fact that employees can take three separate 22-day long rest and recuperation trips (R&Rs) means that staffing has to be larger to ensure full coverage.

One could argue that a combination of the above reasons are also driving the size and growth of our embassies in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

According to the OIG, Embassy Baghdad’s security budget in 2012 was $698 million. It notes that “As long as the staff cannot move safely and independently outside compound walls, maintaining a robust security apparatus and meeting the life support needs of the mission staff will require significantly more financial and personnel resources than at other U.S. missions.”

In 2013, the OIG inspectors warned that the large Iraq footprints, expensive to guard and maintain even after the rightsizing exercise, will strain support for diplomatic facilities worldwide when special appropriations that fund them end.

On June 16, 2014, the President transmitted a report notifying the Congress that up to approximately 275 U.S. military personnel are deploying to Iraq to provide support and security for U.S. personnel and the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad. Today, AFPS reports that President Obama announced plans to send up to 300 military advisers to Iraq to help the government in Baghdad combat a rapid advance by Sunni-led insurgents.

Here is Embassy Iraq, by the numbers:

Screen Shot 2014-06-19

#a. Audit 2009: http://oig.state.gov/documents/organization/131069.pdf

#b. US Mission Iraq: Twelve Things You Might Not Know About the Largest Embassy in the World
#c. fedbiz.gov
#d. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Embassy_of_the_United_States,_Baghdad
#e. Malabo:  http://overseasbuildings.state.gov/sites/admin-overseasbuildings.state.gov/files/pdfs/malabo_508.pdf
#f. London: http://overseasbuildings.state.gov/sites/admin-overseasbuildings.state.gov/files/pdfs/london_508.pdf
#g. http://www.spiegel.de/international/world/baghdad-s-fortress-america-us-builds-bunker-of-an-embassy-in-iraq-a-511579.html
#h. OBO Inspection 2008: http://oig.state.gov/documents/organization/109074.pdf
#i.  Embassy Baghdad Inspection 2013: http://oig.state.gov/documents/organization/210403.pdf

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Filed under Af/Pak, Construction, Diplomatic Security, Foreign Service, Govt Reports/Documents, Iraq, New Embassy Compound, Pakistan, Real Post of the Month, Realities of the FS, Security, Staffing the FS, State Department, U.S. Missions, US Embassy Baghdad, War

US Mission Iraq: Now on Partial “Temporary Relocation” To Basra, Erbil & Amman (Jordan)

– Domani Spero

On June 15, the State Department issued a statement that Embassy Baghdad “remains open and will continue to engage daily with Iraqis and their elected leaders.” Also that the embassy is reviewing its staffing requirement as it anticipates additional U.S. government security personnel in light of ongoing instability and violence in the country. It also announced that some Embassy Baghdad staff will be “temporarily relocated – both to our Consulate Generals in Basra and Erbil and to the Iraq Support Unit in Amman.”

Map via CIA World Fact Book

Map via CIA World Fact Book

CNN is now reporting that between 50 and 100 U.S. Marines and U.S. Army personnel have arrived at the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad.

The Pentagon statement on June 15 says that “The temporary relocation of some embassy personnel is being facilitated aboard commercial, charter and State Department aircraft, as appropriate.”

The official statements use “temporary relocation” to describe this movement of personnel, which includes relocation to Amman, Jordan. Is this an attempt to avoid the negative connotation associated with the  term “evacuation.” Similarly, in early June, US Embassy Tripoli went on drawdown of personnel without ever announcing whether it went on evac status (See Did US Embassy Tripoli Go on “Sort of a Drawdown” Without Going on Evacuation Status?).

The official statement on Embassy Baghdad also says that “a substantial majority of the U.S. Embassy presence in Iraq will remain in place and the Embassy will be fully equipped to carry out its national security mission.” The mission was expected to reduce its headcount to 5,500 in January 2014.  If that in fact happened earlier this year, we can still expect a remaining staff of at least 2,750 plus whatever number you consider amounts to a “substantial majority.”
Below is the State Department statement:

The United States strongly supports Iraq and its people as they face security challenges from violent extremists.  The people of Iraq have repeatedly rejected violent extremism and expressed their desire to build a better society for themselves and for their children.

The Embassy of the United States in Baghdad remains open and will continue to engage daily with Iraqis and their elected leaders – supporting them as they strengthen Iraq’s constitutional processes and defend themselves from imminent threats.

As a result of ongoing instability and violence in certain areas of Iraq, Embassy Baghdad is reviewing its staffing requirements in consultation with the State Department.  Some additional U.S. government security personnel will be added to the staff in Baghdad; other staff will be temporarily relocated – both to our Consulate Generals in Basra and Erbil and to the Iraq Support Unit in Amman.  Overall, a substantial majority of the U.S. Embassy presence in Iraq will remain in place and the Embassy will be fully equipped to carry out its national security mission.

We advise U.S. citizens in Iraq to exercise caution and limit travel to Anbar, Ninawa, Salah ad-Din, Diyala, and Kirkuk provinces; make their own contingency emergency plans; and maintain security awareness at all times.  

Below is the DOD statement via the American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, June 15, 2014 – At the State Department’s request, the U.S. military is providing security assistance for U.S. diplomatic facilities in Baghdad, Pentagon Press Secretary Navy Rear Adm. John Kirby said today.

In a statement, Kirby said a small number of Defense Department personnel are augmenting State Department security assets in Baghdad to help ensure the safety of U.S. facilities.

“The temporary relocation of some embassy personnel is being facilitated aboard commercial, charter and State Department aircraft, as appropriate,” Kirby added. “The U.S. military has airlift assets at the ready should State Department request them, as per normal interagency support arrangements.”

 

Our military airlift asset is at the ready.  Depending on what happens next, we might be hearing more about a noncombatant evacuation operation (NEO). This gave us an excuse to revisit DOD’s  joint publication on NEOs:

The State Department (DOS), acting on the advice of the ambassador, will determine when US noncombatants and foreign nationals are to be evacuated. When unexpected violence flares up or appears imminent and communications with the DOS are cut off, the ambassador may invoke such elements of the plan and initiate such actions as the situation warrants.

During NEOs the US ambassador, not the combatant commander (CCDR) or subordinate joint force commander (JFC), is the senior United States Government (USG) authority for the evacuation and, as such, is ultimately responsible for the successful completion of the NEO and the safety of the evacuees. The decision to evacuate a US embassy and the order to execute a NEO is political.

And —  we don’t even have an ambassador in Baghdad. On June 11, Ambassador Robert S. Beecroft,  still listed as our U.S.ambassador to Iraq went before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee (SFRC) for his confirmation hearing as our next ambassador to Egypt.  The nominee for Embassy Baghdad, Ambassador Stuart E. Jones (previously of US Embassy Jordan) also went before the committee on the same day. Read his testimony here (pdf).

The Beecroft and Jones nominations as far as we could tell have yet to make it out of the SFRC.  The State Department’s Key Officers list published this month includes John P. Desrocher as DCM for Embassy Baghdad.  Mr. Desrocher previously served as the U.S. Consul General in Auckland, New Zealand.  In 2010, he was the Director of the Office of Iraq Affairs at the State Department.

The Deputy Assistant Secretary for Iraq and Iran Brett McGurk tweeted on June 13: “In , have been meeting intensively with leaders across the political spectrum and conferring with our national security team in DC.”

Embassy Baghdad has not listed a chargé d’affaires on its website; we don’t know who is in charge of the mission. Post has not responded to our inquiry as of this writing.

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US Mission Iraq Issues Security Message, Mosul Falls, Militants Seize Turkish Consulate

– Domani Spero

Embassy Baghdad issued this security message yesterday:

The U.S. Embassy advises U.S. citizens resident in Iraq of ongoing large-scale military action between insurgent and terrorist groups and Iraqi military forces in Mosul, the capital of Ninewah province.  Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) forces have reportedly taken control of the city, including the airport.  There have been recent large-scale actions taken in cities in Salahadin province as well and fighting continues in Anbar province.  We strongly encourage all U.S. citizens to avoid these areas, to review the existing Travel Warning for Iraq, and take appropriate measures to ensure their safety if travel to Iraq is necessary.

The State Department also released a statement:

The United States is deeply concerned about the events that have transpired in Mosul over the last 48 hours where elements of the Islamic State of Iraq (ISIL) have taken over significant parts of the city. The situation remains extremely serious. Senior U.S. officials in both Washington and Baghdad are tracking events closely in coordination with the Government of Iraq, as well as Iraqi leaders from across the political spectrum including the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG), and support a strong, coordinated response to push back against this aggression. We also commend efforts by the KRG to respond to the ongoing humanitarian crisis. The United States will provide all appropriate assistance to the Government of Iraq under the Strategic Framework Agreement to help ensure that these efforts succeed.

State Department DAS Brett McGurk @brett_mcgurk also tweeted:

Map via CIA World Fact Book

Map via CIA World Fact Book

US Mission Iraq includes our posts in Erbil, Kirkuk and Basrah.

Meanwhile Al Jazeera is reporting that an estimated half a million people are fleeing Iraq’s second largest city, Mosul, after fighters from the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), an al-Qaeda splinter group, seized the city.

The Guardian reports that jihadists have seized the Turkish consulate in Mosul and kidnapped the Turkish Consul along with 24 staff members as residents fled the city. Yesterday, Isis fighters have reportedly also abducted 28 Turkish truck drivers.

Hurriyet Daily News says that Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu who cut short his U.S. visit has defended Ankara’s decision to keep its consulate in the northern Iraqi city of Mosul open despite the approach of Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) militants.

“The risk of leaving was higher than the risk of staying in. Clashes were happening street by street. Taking such a sensitive convoy [the consulate staff and their families] out was a risk,” Davutoğlu told Turkish journalists at New York John F. Kennedy Airport before leaving for Turkey.
[...]
“All parties around the world should know that if something bad happens to our citizens, the perpetrators will be responded to strongly. Nobody should test Turkey,” Davutoğlu added.

According to Hurriyet, the Foreign Ministry also confirmed that at the time of the raid, 49 members of the consulate, including the consul general, and an unknown number of their family members were in the compound. Separately, 31Turkish truck drivers, not 28 as previously reported, are being kept by the same group at a power plant in Mosul.

In Kirkuk, Kurdish military leaders vow to defend the province’s Kurdish areas “with the last drop of our blood.”

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Filed under Consul Generals, Foreign Service, FSOs, Iraq, Realities of the FS, State Department, U.S. Missions, US Embassy Baghdad

Monday Inbox: US Embassy Baghdad’s Conrad Turner Recites a Russian Poem, And ….

– Domani Spero

Updated on 3/24 at 11:24 pm PST: The YouTube description now indicates that this is “One of four videos celebrating international poetry during the visit to Iraq of poets from the University of Iowa’s Writers’ Workshop.”

The video below was published by U.S. Embassy Baghdad on March 4, 2014 on YouTube. The video includes the English and Arabic text translation of a Russian poem.  The speaker is the embassy’s Public Affairs Counselor in Baghdad reciting a poem by Russian poet Alexander Sergeyevich Pushkin in Baghdad. The embassy’s AIO also recited a poem last February; can’t say whose work he is reciting here, can you?

Oh, please don’t get us wrong, we love poetry.  We love Mary Oliver’s “Wild Geese and  Lawrence Ferlinghetti’s “Underwear“and Keats, and Yeats, and Billy Collins, too.  But somebody from that building sent us an email asking if this is “really clever use of PD time and money?” So we went and look.  The YouTube post is 1:40 min in length, has 256 views, and does not include any context as to why our U.S. diplomat in Baghdad is reciting a Russian poem. What’s the purpose why this video is up, anyways? Was this part of a larger event? Nothing on the embassy’s website indicate that it is.  Was he just feeling it?  We can’t say, no explainer with the vid.  This could, of course, be part of celebrating poetry month, but the National Poetry Month in the U.S. has been celebrated in April since 1996.

In related news, according to iraqbodycount.org, the March civilian casualties in Iraq is currently at 749; the year-to-date count is 2,755 deaths.

Well, what do you think –  is this “really clever use of PD time and money?” or is this Reality Detachment, a chapter in Peter Van Buren’s future novel?

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Filed under Digital Diplomacy, Foreign Service, FSOs, Iraq, Peter Van Buren, Public Diplomacy, Social Media, U.S. Missions, US Embassy Baghdad

No Publicity Zone — 2012 Judicial Actions Involving Foreign Service Grievance Board Rulings

– Domani Spero

We’ve  heard from the FS grapevine about an agreement that there will be no publicity of grievance results.  If that’s true, well, that’s a terribly bad agreement, right?

So if you want to keep up with Foreign Service grievance cases that went to court, you can check FSGB’s annual report to Congress which details judicial actions related to Board cases during the year.   We have listed them below from the 2012 report and have included the links to PDF files for all the court rulings but one.  In he future, most of the cases should be available via the GPO but if not available there, you can also try looking them up using pacer.gov (requires registration and payment for document view/download).

Karl Hampton v. Tom Vilsack | PDF

Karl Hampton is a former Foreign Service Officer with the Department of Agriculture who was terminated for cause after a hearing before the Board in 2007. He subsequently filed a Title VII suit against USDA, claiming discrimination on the basis of race, retaliation for engaging in protected activity, and a hostile work environment. Last year the District Court for D.C. granted USDA’s motion for summary judgment on nine of the ten counts alleged, and later dismissed the tenth count. Karl Hampton v. Tom Vilsack, 760 F. Supp. 2d 38 (D. D.C. 2011). Hampton appealed that decision. In a de novo review, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit affirmed the District Court’s ruling. Karl Hampton, Appellant v. Tom Vilsack, Secretary, United States Department Of Agriculture, Appellee, 685 F.3d 1096; (U.S. App. D.C. 2012).

Richard Lubow, et al., v. United States Department of State, et al., | PDF

The plaintiffs in Richard Lubow, et al., v. United States Department of State, et al., 2013 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 10780, (D.D.C. 2013) were five Diplomatic Security Agents who had served in Iraq in 2004. They grieved the Department’s application of a cap on their premium pay and its decision not to grant them a waiver of repayment of the amounts that the Department had paid them in excess of that cap. The FSGB concluded that, contrary to the Department’s findings, the grievants were not at fault in incurring the overpayments and thus were eligible for a waiver of their debts. However, the Board also found that it was within the Department’s discretion to decline to grant the waivers, and that the Department had appropriately considered the relevant factors and had not abused its discretion in denying the waivers. The District Court affirmed those findings and granted summary judgment in favor of the Department.

Jeffrey Glassman v. the U.S. Department of State (unable to locate this case. See this article from WaPo: Disabled but determined, U.S. diplomat Jeffrey Glassman sues over forced retirement)

In an order dated September 25, 2012, Judge Rosemary Collyer of the District Court of D.C. dismissed three counts of the plaintiff’s claims in Jeffrey Glassman v. the U.S. Department of State, et. al., Civil Action No. 10-1729, as well as both the Department of State and the Foreign Service Grievance Board as defendants, on procedural grounds. Glassman is a former officer of the Department of State who grieved his involuntary retirement, claiming it was a result of his disability and therefore illegal. The Board denied Glassman’s claim. Glassman appealed that decision to the district court, while also independently claiming a violation of the Rehabilitation Act. While dismissing three counts and two defendants, the court ordered the case to proceed on Glassman’s remaining claim, that the Foreign Service precepts have a disparate impact on him and others with disabilities because of their emphasis on unusually difficult or dangerous assignments, in violation of the Rehabilitation Act. The Secretary of State, as head of the agency, remained as the sole defendant.

Richard Baltimore, III v. Hillary Clinton | PDF

In Richard Baltimore, III v. Hillary Clinton, 2012 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 153253 (D.D.C. 2012), former Ambassador Baltimore appealed a decision by the FSGB sustaining charges by the Department of State involving misuse of an official vehicle and failure to report the gift of a rug, that resulted in a 45-day suspension without pay. Baltimore challenged the Board’s decision as arbitrary and capricious. The D.C. District Court upheld the Board’s reasoning and decision.

Yamin v. United States Department of State | PDF

On November 19, 2012, Jeremy Yamin petitioned the D.C. District Court to review the FSGB’s May 23, 2012 order denying in part his request for attorney fees incurred in a grievance appeal. Yamin is a Department of State officer who had received a one-day suspension in a disciplinary action. In his appeal to the FSGB, the Board upheld the charge, but found the one-day suspension to be excessive and reduced the penalty to an admonishment. Yamin requested attorney fees and expenses in the amount of $71,645.48. The Board approved $12,385.03, denying the rest. Yamin requested a review of this decision.

 

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Filed under AFSA, Ambassadors, Court Cases, Foreign Service, FSOs, Grievance, Iraq, Realities of the FS, Secretary of State, State Department

Iraqi Special Immigrant Visa (SIV) Program To End on December 31, 2013

– Domani Spero

We previously posted about Iraqi SIVs in September. (See Special Immigrant Visa (SIV) Program for Iraqi Nationals to End Sept 30, Or How to Save One Interpreter At a Time).  The Department of State’s authority to issue Special Immigrant Visas (SIVs) to Iraqi nationals under the National Defense Authorization Act of 2008 has now been extended until December 31, 2013.  The US Embassy in Iraq cautions that “No matter what stage of the process you are in, all selected and eligible applicants must obtain their visa by December 31, 2013. There is no guarantee that the SIV program authority will be extended; therefore, you are strongly encouraged to act quickly to ensure you have the best possible chance to complete your case by December 31, 2013.” US Mission Iraq has updated its information on the Iraqi Special Immigrant Visa (SIV) Program with the following details:

  • Our authority to issue SIVs to principal applicants ends on December 31, 2013. We cannot issue SIVs to any principal applicants after this date.
  • Derivative family members (i.e., spouses, children) of principal applicants who were issued SIVs can still be issued SIVs after December 31, 2013.
  • Applicants are advised to check their email accounts and consult our website regularly for the most recent information regarding the SIV program.
  • Applicants whose cases are pending for additional documents are advised to send the required documents to our office immediately to the address listed in the instructions we provided to you.  Failure to do so may result in your visa not being issued before the December 31, 2013 deadline (principal applicants).
  • Applicants who have been scheduled for an interview are strongly encouraged to attend their appointment as scheduled.  Given the extremely high demand of appointments, we will be unable to reschedule your appointment, should you be unable to attend your interview.
  • The separate U.S. Refugee Admissions Program (USRAP) for U.S.-affiliated Iraqis remains in place and will continue to be available after December 31, 2013 regardless of whether the Iraqi SIV program ends at that time.  The Embassy encourages SIV applicants to seek out information about the USRAP as the eligibility criteria are very similar to those of the SIV program.  For more information on USRAP, please visit:http://iraq.usembassy.gov/refugeesidpaffairs.html.

Click here for more details including frequently asked questions.

Unless extended by Congress, the State Department’s authority to issue Special Immigrant Visas (SIVs) to Afghan nationals will also expire in September 2014.

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Special Immigrant Visa (SIV) Program for Iraqi Nationals to End Sept 30, Or How to Save One Interpreter At a Time

– By Domani Spero

In June this year, we blogged about the potential termination of the SIV program for Iraqis who have worked for or on behalf of the U.S. Government in Iraq (See Iraqi Special Immigrant Visa Program: Potential Termination on September 30, 2013). The recent OIG inspection report on the US Embassy in Baghdad and it constituent posts indicate that the impending termination of Iraqi SIVs at the end of September this year has not been publicized because US Embassy Baghdad, and the Bureaus of Consular Affairs (CA), and Population, Refugees and Migration (PRM) expect the program to be extended.

On September 12, USCIS sent a reminder and issued a statement that authorization for the Special Immigrant Visa (SIV) program for Iraqi nationals who worked for or on behalf of the United States government will expire on Sept. 30, 2013. Individuals applying under this program, including family members, must be admitted to the United States or adjust their statuses before Oct. 1, 2013.

The program was created by Section 1244 of Public Law 110-181, as amended by Public Law 110-242. It covers Iraqi nationals who—during the period between March 20, 2003, and the present—have been employed by or on behalf of the United States government in Iraq for a period of not less than one year. The expiration date also applies to spouses and unmarried child(ren) accompanying or following to join the principal applicant.

As announced at its inception, the Iraqi SIV program will expire on Sept. 30, 2013, at 11:59 p.m. EDT unless Congress extends the program. After Sept. 30, 2013, USCIS will reject any petitions or applications filed based on the Iraqi SIV program. Beginning Oct. 1, 2013, USCIS will suspend processing of any pending Form I-360, Petition for Amerasian, Widow(er), or Special Immigrant, or Form I-485, Application to Register Permanent Residence or Adjust Status, filed based on the Iraqi SIV program.

For updates, please check our website at www.uscis.gov or call the National Customer Service Center at 1-800-375-5283. You can also find useful information on the U.S Embassy in Iraq’s website at http://iraq.usembassy.gov/siv-special.html.

If the program will expire in three weeks, and the individual has to be admitted to the United States before October 1, 2013, the door is left with just a crack.  Who can get an SIV in three weeks and slip into that crack?

Matt Zeller,  a United States Army veteran of the Afghan War and a Fellow with the Truman National Security Project writes about a specific visa case, under a similar program in Afghanistan:

From 2011 until July 2013, Janis waited for word that the State Department had approved his visa. Several times the US embassy in Kabul asked him to file additional paperwork and even appear for medical and personal interviews. At every appointment Janis would ask how much longer the process would take, but no one could ever give him a more specific answer other than “months to years.”[...] Going through this complicated process educated me beyond imagination. I’m convinced that the current visa program, while well intentioned, cannot succeed as designed. [...] for Janis to receive his visa, organizations such as the FBI, Homeland Security, and State Department all had to individually approve his visa application during their security background investigation, using their own individual opaque databases.

Read One Veteran’s Battle to Bring His Afghan Interpreter to the United States.

Something else Mr. Zeller did.  He started a Change.org petition and he and Janis did media interviews (by phone from Kabul). Yahoo! News reportedly published the first story about Janis on Sept. 6, and within hours the petition had thousands of signatures.  Here is the HuffPo Live video interview.

Mr. Zeller, a forceful advocate for the person who saved his life also asked supporters to contact their members of Congress and get these elected officials to write and call the U.S. Embassy in Kabul, the State Department, and anyone else they thought could help expedite Janis’ visa for approval. Note that visa petitions are approved by DHS, once approved, only then can visas be issued by State.  By the time it was over, and 104,588 signatures later, Mr. Zeller won his campaign to secure a visa for Janis Shinwari, his interpreter while he was in Afghanistan.  Now he is on a mission to save his other interpreter, Ehsan.

We admire what Mr. Zeller is doing for his interpreters.   But we worry about applicants who qualify for SIVs both in Afghanistan and Iraq but do not have vocal advocates for their cases.   In a perfect world, we don’t need a Matt Zeller or a change.org for the US Embassy in Kabul or Baghdad to issue these visas.  But the fact that Janis received a visa after a change.org petition and after a lot of press noise, tells us something folks already know — the system is not working as it should but one person can make a difference.   If Mr. Zeller can  replicate this campaign with Ehsan’s case, we suspect that in short order, the State Department will be swamped with similar campaigns.

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Filed under Afghanistan, Contractors, Defense Department, Iraq, Learning, Security, State Department, U.S. Missions, Visas, War

What to do when different voices start delivering multiple démarches in your head?

-- By Domani Spero

 

Below is the State Department’s High Stress Assignment Outbrief Implementation Guide – the FSI/MED Model.

Background of the High Stress Outbrief Program via fbo.gov

The High Stress Assignment Outbrief program was developed after the first groups of employees began coming back from assignments to Iraq and Afghanistan in 2002 and 2003 – posts that would have beenin evacuation status in more normal times. Returnees asserted that coming back from those posts wasn’t at all like coming back from a regular foreign affairs community assignment – that theDepartment needed to help with this particular transition in some way. Med’s Office of Mental Health Services asked the Foreign Service Institute’s Transition Center to assist in the development of a prototype training event, which was piloted in 2003. MED/Mental Health convened an Iraq Out-briefing Conference on July 29 & 30, 2004 at the Foreign Service Institute. The Outbrief program was reviewedand discussed by the full cadre of RMO/Ps, Dr. Robert Ursano and Dr. James McCarroll, from theUniformed Services University for Health Sciences, Dr. Carol North, Washington University (St. Louis),with guest presentations by (then) Director General of the Foreign Service Amb. Robert Pearson and others.

The program was endorsed by MED leadership and has run as a partnership between the FSI’sTransition Center and MED/Mental Health Services since then. All subsequent Directors General of the Foreign Service have mandated that all returnees from Iraq (and later Afghanistan) who have served for 90 days or longer be required to attend either a group or individual Outbrief upon return to CONUS.The realities of the Foreign Service assignment system brought complications – many officers had TDY-ed to Iraq or Afghanistan and were returning directly to their former posts. Others PCS-ed directly to follow-on assignments around the world. Clearly, a purely Washington-based program would not be effective in providing the service to all of our employees. Furthermore, many participants did not fit traditional Foreign Service employee profiles – special hiring authority hires (3161s), civil service employees, and third country nationals all stepped up to serve in those war zones. RMO/Ps were instructed to deliver Outbriefs at posts or during post visits, and to communicate the name of the Outbrief participant, date, and place back to the Transition Center for entry into the Department’sofficial training registration database to certify compliance.

Read more below:

 

I’ve requested help in understanding the usefulness of the Outbrief session and received a few responses below:

Comment #1: (from a twice-deployed employee)

“I have taken that half-day course twice in 2009 and 2013.  The class was almost the exact same.  They basically tell you to get sleep and try to adjust back and if needed, see someone.  The class I took in 2013 was 8 months after I returned because HR would not pay to send me to DC before home leave then I was in language training for six months.  If it was really important, HR would allow people to take it as early as possible otherwise, it must not be that important.”

Comment #2 (a State Department employee who served in Iraq and Pakistan)

“The description of the outbrief program seems reasonably accurate – although it’s been a while since I attended (in 2008 after Iraq, but not subsequently after Pakistan).  There’s a certain value to spending a bit of time (three hours?) with people that have been through similar experiences – probably including someone that you knew or at least shared acquaintances with.  It gives you a chance to talk with people who better understand your experiences.   It’s possible that some of our feedback made it back to decision makers in aggregated form.  For example, one of the themes of our discussion was that the Department (USG?) was doing itself no favors by sending warm bodies that lacked core qualifications (e.g. basic competence and a desire to be there.)  I think that the Department is now requesting 360s [360 degree feedback] for everyone that they send – although that may just be part of the general trend towards requesting 360s.  My memory is a bit hazy, but I think a key element was describing what other resources (e.g. clinical/therapeutic) might be available for those that needed them.”

Comment #3 (somebody once posted in Iraq— added at 6:48 am PST)
The high stress outbrief  is, as you noted, just an example of CYA– look, we have a program! A couple of voluntary hours with some contractor at cozy FSI with no follow-up, and especially no mandatory individual session is worthless. Many symptoms of PTSD evolve over time, and many returning-to-DC-stresses only become apparent after you have in fact returned to work and gotten the lay of the land in a new office. Speaking out in front of a group is not a core FS trait, and not something any person with real problems does easily. Imperfect as it is, the military does require formal screening and a brief one-on-one session with a counselor. Follow up care (imperfect) is available. At State, you’re told to “get help” without much help in getting it. After all, MED is not responsible for healthcare in the U.S.
 
Still not sure? Check with officers who were MEDEVACed for anything, not necessarily PTSD, and see if any of them got any follow-on from MED other than a new, career-crushing clearance status.

One of our readers commenting on mental health support suggested the following:

“While I know it wouldn’t solve everything, I think that anyone coming out of a post with danger pay should have some sort of mandatory sessions with some sort of licensed therapist. That would take away the stigma of the therapy and maybe get some people some help before they take out their PTSD on themselves or someone else.”

 

Remember the US Embassy Malta road rage meltdown that made the news? (US Embassy Malta Gets a Viral Video But — Not the Kind You Want).  We don’t know this individual nor his story, or which post he previously came from. But assignments to European posts like Malta have typically gone to employees who did tours in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan.   We don’t know if this individual came from an AIP posts. Even if he did, it’s not an excuse for such a behavior, but it might help us understand his demeanor.  American diplomats normally do not go around looking for a fight.

Our concern is simple. We are sending people out to the war/danger zones.  The State Department touts its mandatory High Stress Outbrief, an educational program that only requires presentation/delivery skills from whoever delivers the program.  Less than 60 percent of returnees attend the program, and there are no consequences for non-compliance.  Who does the follow-up? Anybody?

Is it fair to say that the State Department does no follow-up beyond the Outbrief session and expects employees to simply self-report any mental health issue? And because no one fears the social stigma of seeking mental health help and nobody suffers from the fear of losing one’s security clearance over a mental health issue, everyone in the Service can be counted on to self-report if/when different voices start delivering multiple démarches in one’s head?

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Filed under Afghanistan, Diplomatic Life, Foreign Service, FSOs, Functional Bureaus, Govt Reports/Documents, Huh? News, Iraq, Leadership and Management, MED, Mental Health, Org Culture, Pakistan, State Department, War