Rabbit Hole News: State Dept’s Private Email Usage Policy, Plus Attn: State/OIG – Firecracker Coming Your Way

Posted: 01:47 EST

 

Shortly after the NYT broke the story about the former secretary of state’s exclusive used of a personal email account to conduct government business, we sent an inquiry to the State Department’s Office of Inspector General. We don’t know if they could comment about it but we wanted to ask anyway.  We’ve looked at the regs but the FAM is silent on the use of private email, or at least we thought it was. It almost seem as if the rule makers presumed that all employees will be using official email, thus, the rules only spell out the requirement for the preservation of records.

If Secretary Clinton was using a private email account and if her close advisers were also using private email accounts, we wanted to know how is this reconciled with the ability of individuals to FOIA government documents. We were also interested how this would keep other senior or even regular employees from using Yahoo or Gmail to conduct official business.

State/OIG’s response was, “we are not in a position to comment at this time.”

Actually, we asked the wrong questions.

In 2012, we blogged about the OIG inspection report of the U.S. Embassy in Kenya. (See State/OIG Releases Ambassador Scott Gration’s Embassy Report Card – And Look, No Redactions!). We mentioned in passing the ambassador’s use of commercial email for official government business. In light of these news reports that Secretary Clinton exclusively used nongovernment email during her four year tenure as secretary of state, the old 2012 report is getting some legs again.

 

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Below is an excerpt from that 2012 report specifically addressing the ambassador’s use of commercial email for daily communication of official government business. The ambassador was also slammed for using “a government-owned laptop that is not physically or electronically connected to the Department’s OpenNet network.”  

Mission Leadership Challenge 

Very soon after the Ambassador’s arrival in May 2011, he broadcast his lack of confidence in the information management staff. Because the information management office could not change the Department’s policy for handling Sensitive But Unclassified material, he assumed charge of the mission’s information management operations. He ordered a commercial Internet connection installed in his embassy office bathroom so he could work there on a laptop not connected to the Department email system. He drafted and distributed a mission policy authorizing himself and other mission personnel to use commercial email for daily communication of official government business. During the inspection, the Ambassador continued to use commercial email for official government business. The Department email system provides automatic security, record-keeping, and backup functions as required. The Ambassador’s requirements for use of commercial email in the office and his flouting of direct instructions to adhere to Department policy have placed the information management staff in a conundrum: balancing the desire to be responsive to their mission leader and the need to adhere to Department regulations and government information security standards. The Ambassador compounded the problem on several occasions by publicly berating members of the staff, attacking them personally, loudly questioning their competence, and threatening career-ending disciplinary actions. These actions have sapped the resources and morale of a busy and understaffed information management staff as it supports the largest embassy in sub-Saharan Africa.

Authorized Automated Information Systems 

The Ambassador uses a government-owned laptop that is not physically or electronically connected to the Department’s OpenNet network. Authorized Department OpenNet email systems are available on the Ambassador’s office desktop. According to 12 FAM 544.3 and 11 State 73417 (from the Assistant Secretary for Diplomatic Security to the Ambassador), it is the Department’s general policy that normal day-to-day operations be conducted on an authorized information system, which has the proper level of security controls. The use of unauthorized information systems increases the risk for data loss, phishing, and spoofing of email accounts, as well as inadequate protections for personally identifiable information. The use of unauthorized information systems can also result in the loss of official public records as these systems do not have approved record preservation or backup functions. Conducting official business on non-Department automated information systems must be limited to only maintaining communications during emergencies.

Recommendation 57: Embassy Nairobi should cease using commercial email to process Department information and use authorized Department automated information systems for conducting official business. (Action: Embassy Nairobi)

Source:  Inspection of Embassy Nairobi, Kenya | Report Number ISP-I-12-38A, August 2012 | pdf

 

We should point out that the 2012 report was issued prior to the tenure of IG Steve Linick and Secretary Clinton tenure at the State Department ended in February 2013.  But with 2016 just around the corner, this email debacle will not die a quiet death.

The unclassified cable  STATE 065111 on securing email accounts sent to all overseas posts on June 28, 2011 only says “avoid conducting official Department business from your personal email accounts.”

See the magic word there? It did not say you can’t, only that you shouldn’t.

So for the second day in a row, the subject of the Clinton emails was featured in the Daily Press Briefing. The State Department’s deputy spox, Marie Harf was impressive when she said that “There was no prohibition” on the use of personal email.  She emphasized that “There was not then and there is not now a prohibition on using a personal email for official business, and at the time she was in office, there was no time requirement for when those needed to be preserved as records.”

Entertainment value? High.

In any case, the question that we probably should have asked the OIG is this — if an ambassador was “hammered” for his use of nongovernment, private email, can we presume that ordinary bureaucrats would get a similar treatment? And if this is so  — don’t we then have a set of rules that applied to everyone but the head of the agency?   We originally cited 5 FAM 440 (pdf) as the rules governing  Electronic Records, Facsimile Records, and Electronic Mail Records in the State Department.  But wait —  the 2012 OIG report on Kenya cited 12 FAM 544.3 Electronic Transmission Via the Internet (pdf), a section of the FAM that has been in the rules books since 2005. It says in part:

It is the Department’s general policy that normal day-to-day operations be conducted on an authorized AIS [automated information system], which has the proper level of security control to provide nonrepudiation, authentication and encryption, to ensure confidentiality, integrity, and availability of the resident information. The Department’s authorized telework solution(s) are designed in a manner that meet these requirements and are not considered end points outside of the Department’s management control.
[…]
c. Employees should be aware that transmissions from the Department’s OpenNet to and from non-U.S. Government Internet addresses, and other .gov or .mil addresses, unless specifically directed through an approved secure means, traverse the Internet unencrypted. Therefore, employees must be cognizant of the sensitivity of the information and mandated security controls, and evaluate the possible security risks and then decide whether a more secure means of transmission is warranted (i.e., secure fax, mail or network, etc.)

d. In the absence of a Department-provided secure method, employees with a valid business need may transmit SBU information over the Internet unencrypted after carefully considering that:

(1) SBU information within the category in 12 FAM 541b(7)(a) and (b) must never be sent unencrypted via the Internet;

(2) Unencrypted information transmitted via the Internet is susceptible to access by unauthorized personnel;

(3) Email transmissions via the Internet generally consist of multipoint communications that are routed to their destination through the path of least resistance, which may include multiple foreign and U.S. controlled Internet service providers (ISP);

(4) Once resident on an ISP server, the SBU information remains until it is overwritten;

(5) Unencrypted email transmissions are subject to a risk of compromise of information confidentiality or integrity;

(6) SBU information resident on personally owned computers connected to the Internet is generally more susceptible to cyber attacks and/or compromise than information on government owned computers connected to the Internet;

(7) The Internet is globally accessed (i.e., there are no physical or traditional territorial boundaries). Transmissions through foreign ISPs or servers can magnify these risks; and

(8) Current technology can target specific email addresses or suffixes and content of unencrypted messages.

 

General policies, of course, can have exceptions and if that’s what happened here, wouldn’t it be nice to know who were granted exceptions to use private email accounts besides the secretary of state and why? And did the Legal Advisor or somebody else signed off on those exceptions? Was the clintonemail.com server an authorized AIS [automated information system] of the State Department, and if so, who authorized it?

We cannot predict where this email controversy is going to end, but some Internet sleuth is digging up Dubai, Denmark, Luxembourg in what seems to be an already convoluted matter.  If you read the link below there is an interesting question whether the Clinton e-mail server was hosted for some period of time by an outside hosting firm.  If the hosting firm was based overseas, wouldn’t this be an added headache for cybersecurity and something the OIG’s new Office of Evaluations and Special Projects (ESP) might be interested in?

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While the Inspector General of the State Department might not be in a position to comment about this issue publicly at this time, or might not want to wade into the rabbit hole with this political firecracker, it may not have much of a choice.  Even our apolitical neighbors were dismayed by this.  The perception that the rules may have been applied selectively, based on rank undermines the Service.  That in itself is an excellent excuse to review the entire practice and determine whether exceptions were made.  The Republican National Committee has reportedly already asked the Office of Inspector General to look into whether Clinton’s practices led her or the department to violate the Federal Records Act.

It’s only a matter of time before there is a formal congressional request. Heads up State/OIG, this firecracker is heading your way.

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Related post:
So wait — Hillary Clinton never got a state.gov email? What does the FAM say?

Related items:

NARA Bulletin 2013-03 | Guidance for agency employees on the management of Federal records, including email accounts, and the protection of Federal records from unauthorized removal

State Department June 28, 2011 Unclassified Cable 065111 on Securing Email Accounts via (foxnews)

 

 

Former Iran Hostage John Limbert on Bibi’s Bizarre Piece of Diplomacy

Posted: 12:39 EST

 

In 1979, John Limbert was a new FSO posted to the U.S. Embassy in Tehran when it was overrun by Iranian students. He was one of the fifty-two U.S. personnel who spent 444 days as Iran hostages from 1979-81. Later in his career, he was appointed Ambassador to the Islamic Republic of Mauritania. He currently serves as Professor of International Affairs at the U.S. Naval Academy.  In yesterday’s issue of the Guardian, Ambassador Limbert writes that “there is a remarkable parallel between denunciations of Binyamin Netanyahu’s March 3 speech to Congress and of a possible nuclear agreement between Iran and the P5+1. Those who condemn the former haven’t heard it; and those who condemn the latter haven’t seen it.”  Excerpt:

[H]is words will not matter. What will matter is the obvious symbolism of his presence in a partisan and political event. Netanyahu will denounce Iran and its evil ways, but behind these denunciations his real target lies elsewhere. The speech will be a divisive event, in which, for his own reasons, Netanyahu has entered the American political arena and thrown in his lot with President Obama’s opponents. In this political mêlée, Iran becomes the means to weaken him.

Such a bizarre piece of diplomacy may play well with the far right in the United States and with Netanyahu’s own constituency in the coming Israeli elections. In the process he does not seem to care how many dishes he breaks or how much he damages Israel’s relations with the president of its most important ally.
[…]
If Netanyahu dislikes and distrusts the Islamic Republic, fair enough. In his negative views he has lots of company. But does Iran’s being difficult mean that there should be no deal to limit its nuclear program? Shouldn’t the P5+1 negotiate the best possible, but perhaps imperfect, agreement? In 1981, the Iranians and Americans reached a deal that brought me and 51 of my embassy colleagues home after 14 months’ captivity in Iran. The deal stuck, although the United States neither liked the Iranians, nor trusted them. At times it is necessary to talk to unattractive regimes and to negotiate agreements that deliver outcomes less than ideal. Rejecting a nuclear deal with Iran – before such a deal has been reached – will do nothing to bring about a better outcome.

Continue reading, Netanyahu’s supporters (and critics) don’t really care what he says to Congress.

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Venezuela: Nicolas Maduro’s Theory of Everything — Blame The Yanquis!

Posted: 19:07 EST

 

Saturday was going swell and all until I saw the news out of Venezuela. Apparently, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro is not handling the TP for oil offer from Trinidad and Tobago very well.  The Caracas Chronicles calls it Revolutionary TPlomacy or quite simply “toilet paper diplomacy.”  It’s not  just toilet paper, of course,  but …

“The concept of commodity sharing is simple -– the Government of Trinidad and Tobago will purchase goods identified by the Government of Venezuela from T&T’s manufacturers, such as tissue paper, gasoline, and parts for machinery,” Persad-Bissessar said.

 

 

Running out of TP.  A TP-oil swap.  While you’re digesting that, take time to read Daniel Lansberg-Rodríguez’s New Yorker piece, Comedians Waiting for Cars and Coffee.

Bloomberg Business reported that due to the plunging oil prices, “Venezuela’s economy will contract 7 percent this year, according to the International Monetary Fund, while inflation, which accelerated to 69 percent in December, is already the fastest in the world.”

In 2013,  Venezuela Kicked Out Top US Diplomat, Two Other Officials For … Wait For It ….Blackouts!

In 2014, Venezuela (Where Almost No One Has Toilet Paper) Kicked Out Three U.S. Diplomats for “Flaming” Student Protests

It’s that time of year again.  One wonders when is President Maduro going to declare “Blame the Yanquis for Everything” as the national motto? Of course, sometimes, it just has to be somebody closer.

On February 19, the twice elected mayor or Caracas, Antonio Ledezma was arrested reportedly by some 80 men on charges that he was part of a conspiracy to mount a coup against the Maduro regime.

According to The Economists, this is just the latest of a dozen alleged plots against the president whose government has approval ratings below 20%.

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Here’s something shocking; I’ll never look at a box of cereal the same way again:

 

The NYT also reported that four American missionaries were detained on Wednesday in Ocumare de la Costa, a small coastal town west of Caracas.  The missionaries from the Evangelical Free Church in Devil’s Lake in North Dakota were reportedly providing medical aid to the coastal town’s residents and support to a local church. I don’t know about you but this is not hopeful news for American tourists or for approximately 36,000 Americans living in Venezuela.

 

And there were dueling protests.

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Because what do you do when queues for food are getting longer?  Hold a  major rally “for sovereignty and against U.S. interventionism,” claro que sí!  TeleSUR reported  that during the rally, Maduro announced that he would “reduce the number of U.S. diplomats working in Venezuela.”  The report includes the following actions directed against the United States:

  • Maduro to cheering crowd: “I have ordered the foreign minister, Delcy Rodriguez, to immediately, in compliance with article 11 of the Vienna Convention, to reduce and minimize the number of U.S. embassy officials in Venezuela. They have over 100 officials, while in the U.S. we have no more than 17.”
  • Rodriguez stated that current United States diplomats in Venezuela will have to re-apply for their visas.
  • The U.S. embassy will be required to inform his government of meetings that it has with different sectors of Venezuelan society.
  • United States citizens will have to pay the same price – in dollars –  “for obtaining a visa to travel to Venezuela as the U.S. currently charges Venezuelans to travel to the U.S.” (see the Visa Reciprocity Schedule note that fees are for visa processing and not for visa issuance).
  • Lists Americans who will not be allowed to travel to Venezuela “because of their involvement in human rights violations.” For starters, the list includes George W. Bush, Dick Cheney, George Tenet, Robert Menendez, Marco Rubio, Ileana Ross-Lethinen, and Mario Díaz Balart.

 

 

It’s worth noting that the U.S. Embassy in Caracas is one of the top 10 nonimmigrant processing posts in the world.  In FY2013, the embassy issued 204,758 visitor’s visas and 6,184 student visas (pdf).  The wait time to get an appointment for a visitor’s visa in Caracas is currently 59 days.  Although the reported reduction of the US Embassy Caracas staff has not been confirmed by the State Department, it is highly likely that if it proceeds, the US Embassy Caracas will soon return to the 2011 wait time for appointments for visitors visas which hovered at 264 days. Or depending on how many consular officers will be left at post after this reduction of staff, we could see a much longer wait than that for Venezuelan applicants.

Here’s something else: in FY2013,  124 diplomatic visas (A-1, A-2) were issued to Venezuelan officials assigned to the United States.  That’s a lot more than “we have no more than 17” that the Venezuelan president announced at his blusterous rally.

In any case, the last Senate-confirmed Ambassador to Caracas was Patrick Duddy who served from August 6, 2007 to September 11, 2008, during the Bush Administration. He was later expelled by Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez. Eight months after that he was returned as Ambassador to Caracas by the Obama Administration. He left the mission on July 2010. That same month, Larry Palmer was nominated by President Obama.  By December 2010, the Venezuelan Government had withdrawn its agrément on the appointment of Larry Palmer to Caracas.

On October 1, 2013, the Venezuelan Government declared the U.S. charge d’affaires persona non grata and ordered her expulsion.  The United States Government reciprocated by declaring the Venezuelan charge d’affaires persona non grata. The U.S. Embassy in Caracas is currently headed by career diplomat Lee McClenny who assumed post as Chargé d’Affaires in July 2014. The Venezuelan Embassy in Washington, D.C. is currently headed by the former Venezuelan ambassador to Brazil, Maximilien Sanchez Arvelaiz.

Despite the difficult bilateral relations, we anticipate that Venezuela and the United States will continue to maintain diplomatic relations and embassies in one another’s capitals. Why? Below via the Congressional Research Service:

Venezuela remains a major oil supplier to the United States, even though the amounts and share of U.S. oil imports from the country have been declining because of Venezuela’s decreasing production and the overall decline in U.S. oil imports worldwide. In 2013, Venezuela provided the United States with about 806,000 barrels of total crude oil and products per day, about 8.2 % of total such U.S. imports, making Venezuela the fourth-largest foreign supplier of crude oil and products to the United States in 2012 (after Canada, Saudi Arabia, and Mexico). This is down from 2005, when the United States imported 1.53 million bbl/d of total crude oil and products from Venezuela, accounting for 11% of total U.S. imports.129 According to U.S. trade statistics, Venezuela’s oil exports to the United States were valued at almost $31 billion in 2013, accounting for 97% of Venezuela’s exports to the United States.

The CRS report also notes that Venezuela is scheduled to have legislative elections in September 2015, and that a recall referendum for President Maduro is not possible until 2016. The country’s next presidential election is not due until December 2018.

So what’s in the fopo fortune cookie? “The next 3-4 years will continue to be loud and noisy. The Yanquis will be trotted out at fault at every opportunity.”

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Snapshot: U.S.-Funded Democracy/Governance Activities Over Egyptian Govt Objections

– Domani Spero

 

Imagine if a country, say China, sends some of its foreign aid funds to foreign non-government groups in the United States to help us repair our roads and bridges or learn about their people’s congress. What if its National People’s Congress dictates that its embassy in Washington, D.C. does not have to take into account the wishes of the U.S. Government as to where or how that money is spent; that the specific nature of Beijing’s assistance need not be subject to the prior approval by the United States Government. What do you think will happen? If we were up in arms (looking at you Texas) over the UN election monitors, imagine what it would be like if a foreign government starts something crazy like this.

But apparently, that’s exactly what we did in Egypt, thanks to then Senator Sam Brownback’s amendment.

Via GAO:

In 2004, the U.S. government began discussions with the Egyptian government regarding a program to directly fund NGOs and other organizations to implement democracy and governance activities in Egypt outside of the framework of an implementing assistance agreement. From September to November 2004, the two governments worked to outline a process by which the United States would directly fund such activities. Further information on this process can be found in the sensitive version of our report.

Shortly thereafter, Congress approved an amendment to the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2005 (the Brownback Amendment), which provided further direction regarding assistance for democracy and governance activities in Egypt. The Brownback Amendment stated, “That with respect to the provision of assistance for Egypt for democracy and governance activities, the organizations implementing such assistance and the specific nature of that assistance shall not be subject to the prior approval by the Government of Egypt.” 

In fiscal year 2005, USAID began using some democracy and governance assistance to directly fund NGOs and other types of organizations to implement democracy and governance activities, rather than working with the Egyptian government under the implementing assistance agreement. Soon after USAID started to directly fund NGOs and other types of organizations to implement democracy and governance activities in fiscal year 2005, the Egyptian government raised objections. Among other things, the Egyptian government stated that USAID was violating the terms of the process that the two governments had outlined in a 2004 exchange of letters. However, the U.S. government officials responded that they were interpreting their commitments based upon the conditions applied by the Brownback Amendment and agreement in diplomatic discussions on direct funding to NGOs.

 

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The Egyptian government strongly objected to some of the U.S. government’s planned assistance for democracy and governance after the January 2011 revolution, including the award of funding to unregistered NGOs.9 These concerns led to the Egyptian Ministry of Justice questioning officials from several NGOs about their activities in late 2011. Subsequently, in December 2011, the Egyptian police raided the offices of four U.S. NGOs that were implementing U.S.-funded democracy and governance activities—Freedom House, ICFJ, IRI, and NDI. In February 2012, the Egyptian government charged employees of these four organizations and a German organization, the Konrad Adenauer Foundation, with establishing and operating unauthorized international organizations, according to government documents.10 At the time of the charges, all four U.S. organizations reported that they had submitted registration applications to the Egyptian government.11 In June 2013, an Egyptian court convicted a total of 43 employees from the four U.S. NGOs and the Konrad Adenauer Foundation, of these charges and the NGOs had to close their operations in Egypt. Table 1 provides a summary of the grants the U.S. government awarded after the January 2011 revolution to the four U.S. NGOs that were prosecuted. All of the American staff from the NGOs were allowed to leave Egypt before the convictions.

And we end up with this: USAID Egypt: An Official Lie Comes Back to Bite, Ouchy!

An FSO offers some perspective:

You imply that the United States would never allow assistance of the kind we provide to Egypt in terms of democracy assistance.  This is not the case.  We do restrict the ability of foreign nations to influence our elections, but foreign nations have both the ability and the right to influence policy decisions in the United States.  Two days ago, I was reading a blog on foreignpolicy.com sponsored by the UAE Embassy.  But much more importantly many foreign governments hire lobbyists, engage in informational campaigns, or provide grants to NGOs in the United States and all of these activities are protected by U.S. law.  
 
To return to Egypt, I have worked on many authoritarian countries including Egypt where the government has done everything possible to squeeze organizations and individuals standing up for human rights and individual freedoms.  Just as we allow foreign countries to engage in policy advocacy in the United States, I see no reason why we should engage in unilateral human rights disarmament and allow the objections of the Syrians, Iranians, Egyptians, Russians, Chinese, and Burmese among others about their sovereignty prevent us from aiding individuals and organizations these governments are seeking to crush.  Having said this, I am also acutely aware of the need to ensure that our assistance does not endanger the individuals and organizations we are seeking to support and protect.  It’s a tough line to walk, but I have sought to walk it many times in my Foreign Service career. 

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Revisiting the Mustafa Akarsu Local Guard Force Support Act

– Domani Spero

 

In December last year, we urged your support for a bill in Congress intended to provide Special Immigrant Visas (SIVs) to a surviving spouse or child of an employee of the United States Government killed overseas in the line of duty (see Please Ask Congress to Support the Mustafa Akarsu Local Guard Force Support Act).

This Act may be cited as the “Mustafa Akarsu Local Guard Force Support Act”.

SEC. 2. SPECIAL IMMIGRANT STATUS FOR CERTAIN SURVIVING SPOUSES AND CHILDREN.

In General.–Section 101(a)(27) of the Immigration and Nationality Act (8 U.S.C. 1101(a)(27)) is amended in subparagraph (D)– (1) by inserting “(i)” before “an immigrant who is an employee”; and (2) by inserting the following: “(ii) an immigrant who is the surviving spouse or child of an employee of the United States Government abroad killed in the line of duty, provided that the employee had performed faithful service for a total of fifteen years, or more, and that the principal officer of a Foreign Service establishment (or, in the case of the American Institute of Taiwan, the Director thereof) in his discretion, recommends the granting of special immigrant status to the spouse and children and the Secretary of State approves such recommendation and find that it is in the national interest to grant such status;”. (b) Effective Date.–This Act and the amendments made by this Act shall take effect beginning on January 31, 2013, and shall have retroactive effect.

Check out this page showing support for H.R. 1781. Warning, reading the comments posted against this bill will melt your brain and make you want to throw your shoes at somebody.

A comment from a Maine voter says it all:

Some of the ignorant comments I have seen regarding this case make me ashamed. We have an obligation to the families of these guards who make the ultimate sacrifice, and a few nice words and a flag just don’t cut it. We need to do the right thing here.

So, on June 14, 2013, this bill was referred to the Subcommittee on Immigration and Border Security.  As of 12/13/2014 no related bill information has been received for H.R.1781 – the Mustafa Akarsu Local Guard Force Support Act.  The majority of the bills die in committee, and that apparently happened to this one, too.

The 114th Congress will be seated on January 3, 2015 and will run until January 3, 2017.  The GOP has taken control of both the Senate and the House. It is a worthwhile cause to urge our congressional representatives to revisit this bill again when they return in January, with great hope that it will pass this time.

We think it is important to emphasize that this bill, hopefully reintroduced in the 114th Congress, has a very narrow coverage — only for a spouse or child of a USG employee killed in the line of duty, and only if the employee has performed faithful service for at least fifteen years. It also needs the recommendation of the principal officer at post and the approval of the Secretary of State.

If Congress can allocate 50,000 permanent resident visas annually to persons from countries with low rates of immigration to the United States (see “Lottery” Diversity Visas), we can find no reason why it cannot allocate visas to the next of kin of persons who actually died while protecting United States government officials and properties.

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Contact Congress: http://www.usa.gov/Contact/US-Congress.shtml

We believe this site will also update when the 114th Congress is seated and can be used to contact congressional representatives next year: http://www.contactingthecongress.org

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George J. Tsunis’ nomination as U.S. Ambassador to Norway ends

– Domani Spero

 

This past August, we blogged about the social media campaign opposing the nomination of George Tsunis to be ambassador to Norway (see Opposition to George J. Tsunis Nomination as Norway Ambassador Now a Social Media Campaign). At that time we wrote:

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

It took a while but today, it finally happened.

“It is over,” Tsunis said in a telephone interview with Newsday’s Tom Brune. He did not withdraw his nomination, the Senate clock simply ran out, but he did say he would decline to be nominated again for the 114th Congress. President Obama now has an opportunity to pick a new nominee as ambassador to the Kingdom of Norway.The White House Office of Personnel needs to find a new nominee, and hopefully that will happen fairly quickly and with more thought put into it.

More below:

A Senate aide confirmed Tsunis was out. Senate Democrats had attempted to wrap many unconfirmed nominees into a package for approval, Tsunis said, but the final measure left out his nomination.
[…]
Tsunis said he was grateful to be considered and went through a “tremendous life-learning experience.”
[…]
Tsunis said he would decline to be nominated again in the next Congress.

“I don’t think anybody would think it’s a good idea,” he said. “Norway has been without an ambassador for two years and the overarching thing should be: Let’s get them a first-rate ambassador.”

Read in full here.

Among the three most controversial nominees this cycle, two had already been confirmed. The one difference with the Tsunis nomination is that unlike the Mamet and Bell nominations, there were people who active lobbied Congress not to confirm this nomination. It turned out that the Norwegian-Americans in Minnesota and the Dakotas were pretty hard headed once they got their mind on one thing. And they nagged their elected representatives. Once the entire congressional delegations of Minnesota, North Dakota, and South Dakota went on the record to oppose this nomination,this was on life support.

The most recent ambassador to Norway, Barry White departed post in the fall of 2013. We should note for the record that we haven’t had a career ambassador appointed as US Ambassador to Oslo since President Lyndon Johnson appointed Margaret Joy Tibbetts, a career FSO sent there in 1964 and served until 1969.

There’s a lesson here somewhere, pay attention.

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Related posts:

 

 

 

 

Benghazi Select Committee Invites DS Greg Starr (Again) and IG Steve Linick to Hearing #2

– Domani Spero

 

The House Select Committee on Benghazi had its inaugural hearing on September 17 (see Battle For Benghazi in WashDC:  Vroom Vroom Your Search Engines Now or Just Drink Gin). That hearing’s topic was “Implementation of the Accountability Review Board Recommendations” and the committee had as witnesses, DS Greg Starr, the Assistant Secretary for Diplomatic Security, and Mark J. Sullivan and Todd Keil, chairman and member respectively of the The Independent Panel on Best Practices. The Accountability Review Board Recommendations were issued for the State Department and not a task just for Diplomatic Security. For whatever reason, Mr. Starr, one bureau’s assistant secretary was invited to answer agency implementation questions from the Select Committee. No deputy secretary or under secretary was available to answer questions from the Hill?

On November 21, the House Intel Committee released its final Benghazi Report.

 

The Select Committee on Benghazi issued the following statement on the declassification of the House Intelligence Committee’s Benghazi Report:

“The Select Committee on Benghazi received the Intelligence Committee’s report on the Benghazi terrorist attack months ago, and has reviewed it along with other Committee reports and materials as the investigation proceeds. It will aid the Select Committee’s comprehensive investigation to determine the full facts of what happened in Benghazi, Libya before, during and after the attack and contribute toward our final, definitive accounting of the attack on behalf of Congress.”

 

Some fellow over there said that the report is full of crap.

 

Also, apparently, other GOP lawmakers, and Benghazi survivors were fuming over the House report and were not happy with the Intel Committee’s chairman, Republican Rep. Mike Rogers. Uh-oh.

So crap or not, the Benghazi Select Committee is charging on.  The Committee will have a second hearing on “Reviewing Efforts to Secure U.S. Diplomatic Facilities and Personnel.” This time, the Committee will appropriately hear from Assistant Secretary Starr. By the way, where can we place bets on how many times A/S Starr will be invited to speak to the Committee before this is over in 2017?  Because you know this won’t be over until after the 2016 elections; poor fellow was not even working at the State Department when the Benghazi attack happened.

A/S Starr will be joined by State Department Inspector General Steve Linick for this hearing.  We think this is Mr. Linick’s first appearance before Congress following his confirmation.

Wed, 12/10/2014 – 10:00am
HVC-210

Topic: Reviewing Efforts to Secure U.S. Diplomatic Facilities and Personnel

Witnesses:

  • Greg Starr, Assistant Secretary for Diplomatic Security
  • Steve Linick, Inspector General, Department of State

The hearing page is here.

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Obama Officially Nominates WH Adviser Tony Blinken as State Dept #2

– Domani Spero

 

On November 3, we blogged this: State Dept’s Wendy Sherman Now Dual-Hatted as “P” and New Acting Deputy Secretary. Four days later, and three days after the midterms, President Obama officially announced his intent to nominate Anthony Blinken as Bill Burns’ successor at the State Department.

The WH released the following brief bio:

Antony Blinken is Assistant to the President and Deputy National Security Advisor, a position he has held since 2013.  From 2009 to 2013, Mr. Blinken was Deputy Assistant to the President and National Security Advisor in the Office of the Vice President.  Previously, he was Staff Director for the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee from 2002 to 2008.  From 2001 to 2002, he was a Senior Fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.  In the Clinton Administration, he served on the National Security Council staff as Special Assistant to the President and Senior Director for European Affairs and as Special Assistant to the President and Senior Director for Strategic Planning and Speechwriting.  He also served as Special Assistant to the Assistant Secretary of State for European Affairs at the Department of State.  Mr. Blinken received a B.A. from Harvard College and a J.D. from Columbia Law School.

Via Twitter:

 

 

 

 

This announcement came at a Friday afternoon, the reaction appears generally positive at this time.  There does not appear to be any reaction that could portend to how this nomination would fare in the lame duck session. Except for one Fox News contributor who boldly tweeted the following:

A side note, if Mr. Blinken is confirmed, there will be a new power couple at State. Right now, current power couple is Heather Higginbottom (D/MR and State Department #3) and spouse Daniel Sepulveda, Deputy Assistant Secretary of State and U.S. Coordinator for International Communications and Information Policy with a rank of ambassador. If confirmed, Mr. Blinken will be State’s #2.  His spouse, Evan M. Ryan is currently Assistant Secretary of State for Educational and Cultural Affairs (ECA). Prior to becoming Assistant Secretary of State, she served as the assistant for intergovernmental affairs and public liaison for Joe Biden; she also worked for the Kerry campaign and served in various capacities for then First Lady Hillary Clinton.

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GOP Takes Control of the Senate — Keep Calm But Don’t Pack Your Bags!

– Domani Spero

 

This happened last night, and pretty quickly, too.

 

The Nation lists Staffing the Executive Branch as one of the possible problematic area after the GOP take-over of the U.S. Senate:

For much of the Obama presidency, Republicans in the Senate stymied up literally hundreds of presidential appointments to cabinet slots big and small, as well as nominations to the federal bench. Harry Reid implemented filibuster reform one year ago, and nominations have been handled more quickly—but with Republicans in charge, expect them to grind to a halt. Republicans blocked nominees reflexively under the old filibuster rules, many times without offering a single actual objection, and that’s very likely to resume now.

The recent Yahoo article about the State Department being top heavy with political picks, also include the following nugget:

A top GOP aide, asked what would happen to the stalled “ambassadonor” nominations, signaled that those would-be diplomats shouldn’t pack their bags.

When it comes to confirmations of Obama nominees in a Republican Senate, the aide said dryly, “partisan picks and Obama bundlers won’t be at the top of the list.”

So — in real terms, that means no one can pack their bags or schedule any packout. Maybe, we’ll see some confirmation of career diplomats to ambassadorial positions this year.  Or maybe not. What might be more problematic, of course, would be the confirmation of presidential bundlers nominated as ambassadors to some of our overseas posts. If the clock runs out and none of these nominees get confirmation this year, President Obama will have to resubmit these nominations to the next Congress in January 2015. A GOP-controlled Senate may or may not act on these nominations.

keep-calm-but-don-t-pack-your-bags

The following are the ambassadorial nominees currently pending on the Senate’s Executive Calendar. They have all been cleared by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee but could not get voted on in the full Senate:

Ambassadorial Nominees: Career Diplomats

  • Karen Clark Stanton, of Michigan, to be Ambassador to the Democratic Republic of Timor-Leste
  • Donald Lu, of California, to be Ambassador to the Republic of Albania
  • Amy Jane Hyatt, of California, to be Ambassador to the Republic of Palau
  • Arnold A. Chacon, of Virginia, to be Director General of the Foreign Service
  • Luis G. Moreno, of Texas, to be Ambassador to Jamaica
  • Maureen Elizabeth Cormack, of Virginia, to be Ambassador to Bosnia and Herzegovina
  • Theodore G. Osius III, of Maryland, to be Ambassador to the Socialist Republic of Vietnam
  • Leslie Ann Bassett, of California, to be Ambassador to the Republic of Paraguay
  • George Albert Krol, of New Jersey, to be Ambassador to the Republic of Kazakhstan
  • Marcia Stephens Bloom Bernicat, of New Jersey, to be Ambassador to the People’s Republic of Bangladesh
  • James D. Pettit, of Virginia, to be Ambassador to the Republic of Moldova
  • Allan P. Mustard, of Washington, to be Ambassador to Turkmenistan
  • Erica J. Barks Ruggles, of Minnesota, to be Ambassador to the Republic of Rwanda
  • Earl Robert Miller, of Michigan, to be Ambassador to the Republic of Botswana
  • Judith Beth Cefkin, of Colorado, to be Ambassador to the Republic of Fiji, and to serve concurrently and without additional compensation as Ambassador to the Republic of Kiribati, the Republic of Nauru, the Kingdom of Tonga, and Tuvalu
  • James Peter Zumwalt, of California, to be Ambassador to the Republic of Senegal and to serve concurrently and without additional compensation as Ambassador to the Republic of Guinea-Bissau
  • Craig B. Allen, of Virginia, to be Ambassador to Brunei Darussalam
  • Barbara A. Leaf, of Virginia, to be Ambassador to the United Arab Emirates
  • Virginia E. Palmer, of Virginia, to be Ambassador to the Republic of Malawi
  • William V. Roebuck, of North Carolina, to be Ambassador to the Kingdom of Bahrain
  • Pamela Leora Spratlen, of California, to be Ambassador to the Republic of Uzbekistan
  • Donald L. Heflin, of Virginia, to be Ambassador to the Republic of Cabo Verde
  • Robert T. Yamate, of California, to be Ambassador to the Republic of Madagascar, and to serve concurrently and without additional compensation as Ambassador to the Union of the Comoros
  • Gentry O. Smith, of North Carolina, to be Director of the Office of Foreign Missions, and to have the rank of Ambassador during his tenure of service
  • Linda Thomas-Greenfield, an Assistant Secretary of State (African Affairs), to be a Member of the Board of Directors of the African Development Foundation for the remainder of the term expiring September 27, 2015
  • Michele Jeanne Sison, of Maryland, to be the Deputy Representative of the United States of America to the United Nations, with the rank and status of Ambassador, and the Deputy Representative of the United States of America in the Security Council of the United Nations
  • Brent Robert Hartley, of Oregon, to be Ambassador to the Republic of Slovenia

 

Ambassadorial Nominees: Non-Career Political Appointees

  • George James Tsunis, of New York, to be Ambassador to the Kingdom of Norway
  • Colleen Bradley Bell, of California, to be Ambassador to Hungary
  • Robert C. Barber, of Massachusetts, to be Ambassador to the Republic of Iceland
  • Mark Gilbert, of Florida, to be Ambassador to New Zealand, and to serve concurrently and without additional compensation as Ambassador to the Independent State of Samoa
  • John L. Estrada, of Florida, to be Ambassador to the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago
  • Brent Robert Hartley, of Oregon, to be Ambassador to the Republic of Slovenia
  • Cassandra Q. Butts, of the District of Columbia, to be Ambassador to the Commonwealth of The Bahamas
  • Noah Bryson Mamet, of California, to be Ambassador to the Argentine Republic
  • Stafford Fitzgerald Haney, of New Jersey, to be Ambassador to the Republic of Costa Rica
  • Charles C. Adams, Jr., of Maryland, to be Ambassador to the Republic of Finland
  • Frank A. Rose, of Massachusetts, to be an Assistant Secretary of State (Verification and Compliance)
  • Catherine Ann Novelli, of Virginia, to be United States Alternate Governor of the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (currently Under Secretary for State/E)
  • David Nathan Saperstein, of the District of Columbia, to be Ambassador at Large for International Religious Freedom
  • Paige Eve Alexander, of Virginia, to be an Assistant Administrator of the United States Agency for International Development (USAID)
  • Jonathan Nicholas Stivers, of the District of Columbia, to be an Assistant Administrator of the United States Agency for International Development (USAID)

 

We’ll have to see what happens next.

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Political Appointee Rejects Criticisms of Too Many Political Picks at the State Department

– Domani Spero

 

The retirement of Deputy Secretary Bill Burns and the attendant task of finding his replacement as the State Department’s No.2 official highlighted the career versus political appointments in the upper ranks of the oldest executive agency in our country. Below via Yahoo News:

Obama has overseen an expansion of political appointments at the State Department. He has chosen fewer career diplomats for ambassadorial postings than his recent predecessors. And his administration has tripled the number of noncareer appointments under so-called “Schedule B authority,” which have soared from 26 to 89 employees between 2008 and 2012 at the senior levels.

The report notes that “just one of the top nine jobs in American diplomacy is held by a career diplomat: Undersecretary for Management Patrick Kennedy.” It further notes that this number rises to 2 out of 10 if State Department Counselor Tom Shannon is included.

The report also quotes AFSA saying, “We’re not rabble-rousers. We’re not going to be burning down the building. [snip] But we are concerned about the growing politicization throughout the State Department.”

For comparison, see this chart to see how the breakdown between career versus non-career appointees have progressively trended towards non-career appointees in the past decades.

Screen Shot 2014-11-01

infographic via afsa.org

Last Friday, the State Department officially rejected criticisms that too many top diplomatic jobs have gone to political appointees rather than to career foreign service officers.  As a sign of the times, the official who rebutted the criticism is the spokesperson of the State Department, a former political operative and herself, a political appointee:

“There’s never been a secretary of state more personally connected to the Foreign Service than Secretary (John) Kerry. It’s in his blood. It’s stamped in his DNA. He’s the son of a foreign service officer,” spokeswoman Jen Psaki told Yahoo News by email.

“It’s no accident that he has worked with President (Barack) Obama to build a senior team with more foreign service officers in leading assistant secretary positions than at any time in recent memory, and no accident that he chose a foreign service officer to serve as the State Department’s Counselor for the first time in thirty years,” she added.

For understandable reason, AFSA wants to see another FSO appointed as a Deputy Secretary.  Congress created the position of Deputy Secretary of State in the Foreign Relations Authorization Act of 1972, approved Jul 13, 1972 (Public Law 92-352; 86 Stat 490), to replace the Under Secretary of State as the second ranking officer in the Department. The Deputy Secretary serves as the principal deputy, adviser, and alter ego to the Secretary of State; serves as Acting Secretary of State in the Secretary’s absence; and assists the Secretary in the formulation and conduct of U.S. foreign policy and in giving general supervision and direction to all elements of the Department. Specific duties and supervisory responsibilities have varied over time.

 

The candidates currently rumored to replace Bill Burns are not career diplomats. That is not at all surprising. According to history.state.gov, of the 17 deputy secretary appointments since the position was created in 1972 only four had been career Foreign Service officers:

 

In this blog’s last two months online, this might actually be an interesting project to look into — and see just how imbalanced are these appointments.  As we have blogged here previously, we readily recognize that the President and the Secretary of State should have some leeway to pick the people they need to support them in doing their jobs. That said, we think that this practice can be done to such an extreme that it can negatively impact the morale and functioning of the organization and the professional service, in this case the State Department and the institution of the Foreign Service.  Not only that, following an election year, it basically decapitates the upper ranks of an agency pending the arrival of new political appointees. In the case of the State Department, 4/5 of the top appointees are political. It will almost be a wholesale turnover in 2017 whether a Democrat or a Republican wins the White House.

So let’s take a look, for a start, at the top organizational component of the State Department.

1. Secretary of State (S): John F. Kerry, Political Appointee 

2. Deputy Secretary (D) – VACANT

3. Deputy Secretary for Management and Resources (DMR): Heather Higginbottom, Political Appointee
She was the Policy Director for the Kerry-Edwards Presidential Campaign in 2004, Policy Director for then Senator Obama’s Presidential Campaign in 2007, and came to the State Department after stints in the White House and OMB. We expect that she’ll tender her resignation on/or about January 2017 unless she leaves earlier or is asked to stay on by the next Secretary of State from her party.

4. Counselor of the Department (C): Thomas A. Shannon, Jr., Career Foreign Service Officer
Former U.S. Ambassador to Brazil and former Assistant Secretary for Western Hemisphere Affairs.  He is only the seventh Foreign Service Officer to hold the position of Counselor since World War II, and the first in 32 years. Not quite mandatory retirement age in 2017, we expect he would  rotate out of this position for another upper level assignment, unless, he takes early retirement and goes on to a leadership position at some think tank.

5. Under Secreatry for Arms Control and International Security (T): Rose E. Gottemoeller, Political Appointee
She was the chief U.S. negotiator of the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START) with the Russian Federation, which entered into force on February 5, 2011. Prior to the Department of State, she was senior associate with the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. In 1998-2000, she was the Deputy Undersecretary of Energy for Defense Nuclear Nonproliferation and before that, Assistant Secretary and Director for Nonproliferation and National Security. We expect that she’ll tender her resignation on/or about January 2017 unless she leaves earlier or is asked to stay on by the next Secretary of State.

6. Under Secretary for Civilian Security, Democracy, and Human Rights (J):  Sarah Sewall, Political Apppointee
Prior to this position, she served as a Senior Lecturer in Public Policy at the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University. In 2012, Dr. Sewall was Minerva Chair at the Naval War College and from 2006 to 2009 she served as the Director of Harvard’s Carr Center for Human Rights Policy. She was also Deputy Assistant Secretary for Peacekeeping and Humanitarian Assistance at the Department of Defense from 1993 to 1996. From 1987 to 1996, she served as the Senior Foreign Policy Advisor to U.S. Senate Majority Leader George J. Mitchell. We expect that she’ll tender her resignation on/or about January 2017 unless she leaves earlier or is asked to stay on by the next Secretary of State.

7. Under Secretary for Economic Growth, Energy, and Environment (E): Catherine Novelli, Political Appointee
Prior to the State Department, she was Vice President for Worldwide Government Affairs at Apple, Inc.; Prior to her tenure at Apple, Ms. Novelli was a partner in the Washington office of Mayer, Brown, Rowe & Maw LLP where she assisted Fortune 100 clients on issues involving international trade and investment. She was also a former Assistant U.S. Trade Representative for Europe & the Mediterranean. We expect that she’ll tender her resignation on/or about January 2017 unless she leaves earlier or is asked to stay on by the next Secretary of State.

8. Management (M): Patrick F. Kennedy, Career Foreign Service Officer
He has been the Under Secretary of State for Management since 2007. From February 2005 to April 2005, he headed the Transition Team that set up the newly created Office of the Director of National Intelligence. In 2001, he was appointed  U.S. Representative to the United Nations for Management and Reform with the Rank of Ambassador. During this period he also served from May 2003 to the end of November 2003 as Chief of Staff of the Coalition Provisional Authority in Iraq, and from May 2004 to late August 2004 as the Chief of Staff of the Transition Unit in Iraq. He joined the Foreign Service in 1973, so he’s been in federal service for at least 40 years.

His Wikipedia page indicates that he is 65 years old, the mandatory retirement age for the Foreign Service. Except that the regs also make exceptions for presidential appointees under  3 FAM 6216.2-2. (With regard to a member of the Service who would be retired under 3 FAM 6213 who is occupying a position to which the member was appointed by the President, by and with the advice and consent of the Senate, the effective date of retirement will not take effect until the end of the month in which such appointment is terminated and may be further postponed in accordance with 3 FAM 6216.2-1 if the Director General determines it to be in the public interest). If he serves out the rest of the Obama term as “M,” he’ll be the under secretary for management for almost a decade (2007-2016), probably the longest serving incumbent in this position.

9. Political Affairs (P): Wendy Sherman, Political Appointee
She is the Department’s current fourth-ranking official. Prior to this position, Under Secretary Sherman served as Vice Chair of Albright Stonebridge Group, a global strategy firm. Yes, that Albright.  Ambassador Sherman served as Counselor for the State Department from 1997 to 2001, as well as Special Advisor to President Clinton and Policy Coordinator on North Korea. From 1993 to 1996, under Secretary of State Warren Christopher, she was Assistant Secretary for Legislative Affairs. On November 3, 2014, she became dual-hatted as the Acting Deputy Secretary of State.  The Cable says that she has been informed that she is not the permanent pick for the job. We expect that she’ll tender her resignation on/or about January 2017 unless she leaves earlier or is asked to stay on by the next Secretary of State after the 2016 elections.

10. Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs (R): Richard StengelPolitical Appointee
Mr. Stengel was sworn in as Under Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs on February 14, 2014. As of October 31, 2014, the official directory for the State Department still lists that position as vacant, by the way. Prior to assuming this position, Mr. Stengel was the Managing Editor of TIME from 2006 to 2013. From 2004 to 2006, he was the President and Chief Executive Officer of the National Constitution Center in Philadelphia. We expect that he’ll tender his resignation on/or about January 2017 unless he leaves earlier or is asked to stay on by the next Secretary of State. The average tenure, by the way, for the incumbent of this position is 512 days.

So, as of this writing, a total of ten positions occupy the top ranks of the State Department: one vacant position, two positions encumbered by career diplomats, and seven encumbered by political appointees.

Is that the right balance?

The State Department spox is indeed right; Tom Shannon is the first career FSO in 32 years to serve as counselor of the State Department, and Secretary Kerry deserves credit for that pick. We must also note that Secretary Clinton picked one FSO (Burns) and that Secretaries Clinton and Kerry both inherited a third FSO from Secretary Rice’s tenure (Kennedy).(We’ll look at the assistant secretaries in a separate post).

But.

What message are you sending to a 24,000 career workforce if you cannot find a single one among them to appoint as deputy of their own agency? The political appointees have impressive resumes.  That said, why should any of the career employees aspire for an under secretary position when despite their work experience and  years of sacrifices (and their families’) in all the hellholes in the world, all but one (sometimes all), inevitably go to well-connected political appointees?

Any career advice about picking political horses or how to get on the state-of-the-art bullet elevator to the Seventh Floor?

Maybe  somebody will be brave enough to ask these questions during Secretary Kerry’s next town hall meeting? Yes, even if folks get instructions to ask policy-related questions only. In the next few weeks we will also peek into some of these upper offices within State and go on a journey of institutional discovery. We understand that it’s pretty interesting out there.

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