Category Archives: Regional Bureaus

Photo of the Day: Secretary Kerry in Traditional Scarf Ceremony in India

– Domani Spero

Via state.gov

Secretary Kerry Participates in Traditional Scarf Ceremony Upon Arriving in India For Strategic and Economic Dialogue U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry bows to receive a scarf during a traditional arrival ceremony at his hotel in New Delhi, India, on July 30, 2014, after he traveled for a Strategic Dialogue with Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzer. [State Department photo/ Public Domain]

Secretary Kerry Participates in Traditional Scarf Ceremony Upon Arriving in India For Strategic and Economic Dialogue
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry bows to receive a scarf during a traditional arrival ceremony at his hotel in New Delhi, India, on July 30, 2014, after he traveled for a Strategic Dialogue with Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzer. [State Department photo/ Public Domain]

Secretary Kerry is in New Delhi for the 5th U.S.-India Strategic Dialogue,and is accompanied by U.S. Secretary of Commerce Penny Pritzker. Other members of the interagency trip include Deputy Secretary of Energy Daniel Poneman, Department of Homeland Security Under Secretary Francis Taylor, and NASA Associate Administrator Michael O’Brien. The State Department’s does not have a Senate-confirmed assistant secretary for its Bureau of Energy Resources. Ambassador Carlos Pascual who announced he was stepping down as special envoy and coordinator for energy affairs has been succeeded by Amos Hochstein as acting special envoy and coordinator and Mr. Hochstein is accompanying Secretary Kerry to New Delhi.

Additional details of the trip available here.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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U.S. Embassy Bolivia: A Post Far From Heaven, Read the Fine Details in the Classified OIG Annex!

– Domani Spero

 

Which regional bureau recalled one post’s top two officials prior to the arrival of the OIG inspectors?
Burn Bag, March 23, 2014

 

According to the OIG report on the US Embassy in La Paz, Bolivia released on July 17, just before the OIG inspection conducted in February and March 2014, the State Department “recalled the chargé and the political/economic section chief who served as acting DCM from August 2012 to September 2013 and took steps to mitigate some of the embassy’s leadership problems.”

How do you recall the embassy’s top two officials? Very quietly, presumably.  There were no public announcements or statements.  There have been some pretty awful embassies with leadership problems but we have seldom heard the recall of both the number #1 and #2 at the same time. So, what happened?

This OIG report has a classified annex which includes supplemental narrative and recommendations.  This is not the first time that a report has a classified annex but this is one of the few we can recall since the OIG stopped issuing the Inspector’s Evaluation Reports for senior embassy officials.  So now, all the bad stuff is just dumped in the classified annex of the report where the OIG says that “Portions of context, leadership, resource management, Equal Employment Opportunity, and quality of life in the annex should be read in conjunction with this report.” We have no access to the annex and of course, only State Department insiders who theoretically, have a “need to know” can access the classified material.

via US Embassy La Paz/FB

via US Embassy La Paz/FB

Here is what the publicly available, sanitized report on US Embassy Bolivia says on Leadership:

The former chargé interacted with senior government officials more often and more effectively than the hostile environment might have suggested. He expanded his personal engagement with the local media. He negotiated an unexpected $2.4-million reimbursement of value-added taxes. Also, he initiated development of an updated mission vision that called for expanded outreach to the Bolivian people and greater focus on cultural programs and English-language training.

Despite these and other successes, nearly all American staff members told the OIG team that they did not understand mission priorities or their part in achieving goals. The OIG team frequently heard staff tell of instructions given one day only to have the former front office forget or reverse them the next. Skepticism about public diplomacy programming one month could be replaced by front office enthusiasm for a cultural project the next. Reporting officers, already in a difficult environment for contact development and reporting, stated that the front office did little to direct reporting or provide training and mentoring. Embassy staff members told the OIG team they wanted clear and steady guidance from the front office but did not receive it.

Is that not enough to get two senior officials recalled?

On Resource Management:

Although the 2013 annual chief of mission statement of assurances identified no significant management control deficiencies, many of the vulnerabilities discussed in this report would have been apparent if embassy leadership had conducted a thorough review of management controls prior to submitting the chief of mission statement.

On Equal Employment Opportunity:

Within the past year, the EEO counselors handled more than 10 inquiries, many involving gender bias or sexual harassment.

On Quality of Life:

The Health Unit  ” handled eight medical evacuations of U.S. personnel within the past year and provides ongoing support to mission personnel for altitude-related ailments.”

 

Well, what do you think?  The report’s key judgments, are pretty well, bland; no one ran off to a new job in Tripoli or Sana’a. And man, whose fault was it that La Paz was assigned a cadre of inexperienced officers?

  • Embassy La Paz lacked the strong, consistent leadership and the sustained attention from Washington that it needed to manage a complicated bilateral relationship and had a relatively inexperienced officer cadre and a locally employed staff emerging from a reduction in force.
  • The embassy registered several impressive successes despite a drastic reduction in programs and work force in response to the Bolivian Government’s expulsion of the U.S. Agency for International Development and the Department of State’s decision to end all U.S. counternarcotics programs.
  • The embassy needs a clearly defined mission strategy.
  • The management section has a number of potential management control vulnerabilities related to record keeping and funds control. It is still coping with 2013’s major reduction in force of locally employed staff and an almost 50-percent reduction in the embassy’s services budget.

According to the OIG report, as of January 2014, the embassy had a total staff of 310, slightly more than one-third of 2008 numbers. The U.S. Embassy in La Paz has not been a typical embassy operation since 2008. In September that year, Bolivia expelled Ambassador Philip S. Goldberg (now ambassador to the Philippines). Shortly thereafter, the Drug Enforcement Administration and the Peace Corps suspended their operations in the country. In May 2013, Bolivia expelled USAID and the USG subsequently also shut down all International Narcotics and Law Enforcement (INL) programs in the country.   The OIG inspectors conclude that the US-Bolivia relationship is “unlikely to normalize soon.” Below are some additional details extracted from the publicly available report:

La Paz, A Post Far From Heaven

  • The Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs (WHA) paid sporadic attention to embassy operations.
  • Since 2008, WHA used a series of deputy chiefs of mission (DCM) as chargé d’affaires and after July 2012 detailed section heads (first from the political/economic section, then from public affairs, and just before the inspection from the management section) to serve as acting DCM for extended periods. The Department also decided not to assign a permanent office management specialist for the chief of mission, and the front office relied on office management specialists from other sections for months at a time. [...] The effects of these stopgap measures were threefold. First, they required officers to serve as acting DCM for extended periods without appropriate training. Second, they took seasoned leaders out of embassy sections, leaving those sections in the hands of usually capable—but inexperienced—deputies. The deputies rose to the challenge, but they did not receive adequate guidance or leadership from their former supervisors. Productivity and morale suffered.

Love Letters Written, Never Sent

  • The political/economic section staff is frustrated and discouraged, primarily because of lack of front office policy direction, as well as poor communication, organization, and training within the section. Given the deteriorating political environment and unclear policy guidance from both the front office and the Department, the section had an opportunity to devise and drive a revised policy and action agenda, but did not do so. [...] The OIG team reviewed a number of substantive and useful report drafts prepared by officers and local employees that were never sent, usually because the former section chief dismissed them without working with the drafter to improve the texts. This wasted effort caused significant staff frustration.

Tearing Your Hair, Learning on the Job

  • The public affairs section does not have enough experienced grants officers. Only one person in the section, a FAST officer, had a grants warrant as of February 2014. From June through August 2013, in the absence of any public affairs section grants officer, two political/economic FAST officers signed about 100 public diplomacy grants, about which they knew little.

Not Leading By Example – Managing From Desk Via Email

  • The consular section is a small operation, processing fewer than 20,000 nonimmigrant visas, approximately 800 immigrant visas, and about 1,600 passport applications in 2013. The section chief manages from her desk and via email. This remote management style is not appropriate for the size of the operation and has a negative impact on section morale and operations.
  • The consular section chief only adjudicates high-profile or referral visa cases. Recent guidance in 13 STATE 153746 reminded consular managers that they are expected to do some interviewing themselves. The section chief’s lack of hands-on participation contributes to longer hours that the more junior employees have to spend interviewing, and remoteness from actual processing undermines her credibility as an expert. It also reduces the opportunities for management to train new personnel and to identify potential interview technique and workflow efficiencies.
  • Neither the former chargé d’affaires nor the former acting DCM reviewed the 65 cases that the consular chief handled in the past year. Failure to review the required 10 percent of visa approvals and 20 percent of refusals, per 9 FAM 41.113 PN 17 and 9 FAM 41.121 N2.3-7, leads to lack of consistency in visa issuance and refusal. Adjudication reviews are also a vital management control to prevent malfeasance.

FSN Evaluations and Health Plans

  • The human resources office memo also listed 11 locally employed staff whose performance evaluations were between 21 and 242 days late. Locally employed staff members cannot qualify for in-grade salary increases if their performance reviews are not current.
  • Although the embassy participates in the local social security retirement plan, it does not participate in the local social security health program. Instead, the embassy provides a private health plan for locally employed staff. When locally employed staff members retire, most of the social security health plans are unwilling to accept them because they have not been longstanding contributors. The retirees are left with diminished health insurance coverage for their retirement years.

Allowances Paid on Outdated Info

  • The Department of State Standardized Regulation 072.12 requires that the hardship differential report, consumables allowance report, and cost-of-living survey be submitted every 2 years. All these reports are late. The embassy is paying allowances based on outdated information.

Power Outages with No Fully Functional UPS. For 3 Years!

  • The embassy’s centralized uninterruptible power system is in disrepair and has not been fully functional for the past 3 years. As a result, the chancery building experiences frequent power outages caused by the instability of the local power infrastructure. The power outages have caused permanent damage to the server room and disrupted the network infrastructure.

 

Just before the inspection, the WHA bureau and the Bureau of Human Resources apparently agreed that, because a permanent ambassador is not likely in the foreseeable future, the Department would assign a permanent chargé d’affaires and a permanent DCM in La Paz. It only took them about five years to make up their minds.

Peter Brennan was appointed chargé d’affaires of the U.S. Embassy in La Paz in June 2014. Prior to his appointment in Bolivia, he was Minister-Counselor for Communications and Public Affairs at the U.S. Embassy in Islamabad, Pakistan.  It does not look like post now has a permanent DCM as Public Affairs Officer, Aruna Amirthanayagam, who was acting chargé is now Acting DCM.

The inspection took place in Washington, DC, between January 6 and February 4, 2014, and in La Paz, Bolivia, between March 5 and 20, 2014. Ambassador Gene Christy (team leader), Thomas Allsbury, Laurent Charbonnet, Eric Chavera, Leo Hession, Tracey Keiter, Keith Powell, Ashea Riley, Richard Sypher, Alexandra Vega, Roman Zawada, and Barbara Zigli conducted the inspection.

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Related item:

-07/31/14   Inspection of Embassy La Paz, Bolivia (ISP-I-14-16A)  [595 Kb]  Posted on July 17, 2014

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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U.S. Interests Section Cuba (USINT) — 12 Plus Things We Learned About Assignment Havana

– Domani Spero  

State/OIG recently posted its inspection report of the U.S. Interests Section (USINT) in Havana, Cuba.   Post which is headed by career diplomats, John P. Caulfield, the Chief of Mission and Conrad R. Tribble, the Deputy Chief of Mission received a good overall review with a few exceptions. “U.S. Interests Section Havana advances U.S. objectives in a challenging environment. The Chief of Mission and his deputy provide strong leadership.”

Among the main judgments: 1) The consular section has reduced waiting times for Cuban visa applicants and deftly handled the increase in American citizens cases; 2) The political/economic section meets high standards in its reporting, despite limited information and host government restrictions that limit opportunities to make representations to the Cuban Government, and 3) The management section performs well under difficult conditions that hamper its ability to provide seamless administrative support.

An important point, USINT is not in regular communication with the Bureau of Diplomatic Security’s Office of Foreign Missions on issues of reciprocity. Since the movement of diplomatic pouches, cargo, and personal shipments is covered under the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations, OIG recommends that USINT should inform the Office of Foreign Missions (OFM) and the Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs (WHA) on a regular basis of delayed shipments and other reciprocity issues.  On May 1, President Obama announced his nomination of Gentry O. Smith as Director of the Office of Foreign Missions, with the rank of Ambassador during his tenure of service.  He will, of course, be stuck in the Senate for the next several months.   (Note: We understand that OFM no longer reports to DS but now reports directly to U/S Management).  Also, the report describes low morale among First and Second Tour (FAST) officers.  However, the final report does not include the curtailments of ELOs/FAST officers from post.

The inspection took place in Washington, DC, between September 3 and October 17, 2013, and in Havana, Cuba, from November 5 through 21, 2013. The overseas portion of the inspection was truncated because of the partial Federal Government shutdown. Ambassador Pamela Smith (team leader), Lavon Sajona (deputy team leader), Paul Cantrell, Eric Chavera, Mark Jacobs, John Moran, John Philibin, Iris Rosenfeld, and Steven White conducted the inspection.

Below we’ve listicled the twelve things we learned about the assignment in Havana that we did not know before, plus a couple of other things that apparently did not make it to the final report.

 

#1.  The mission had 51 U.S. direct-hire employees, a cap jointly agreed to by the United States and Cuba.  USINT cannot sustain the elevated pace of nonimmigrant visa adjudications without increasing the number of consular officer positions.  However, because of the cap, it is unlikely that new permanent officer positions can be established in the short term.

500px-Australian_State_Route_51

 

 #2. Sixteen employees work in the Office of the Coordinator for Cuban Affairs, one of the Department’s largest country desks.  [...] Not all the coordination office’s operations are transparent to USINT or to working-level office staff …Compounding these difficulties, the coordinator has not visited USINT since his previous assignment in Havana more than a decade ago.

500px-Korea_Expressway_No.16

#3.  USINT officers’ travel is limited to within Havana province. Permission to travel outside the area requires sending a diplomatic note a minimum of 5 days before travel begins.

 

#4. Materials and supplies sourced in the United States can take 6 months or longer to procure, ship, and clear into Cuba; that is if the Cuban Government doesn’t reject them.

 

#5. Unclassified pouches with personal mail are often rejected and sent back to the United States. Incoming household effects, which take 1 day to sail from Miami to Havana, have sat for months in the port awaiting clearance; the same holds for personal vehicles and consumables.

 

#6.   The mission makes effective use of eligible family members to fill gaps and augment its workforce to meet critical needs.  All family members who wish to work have jobs.

 

#7.  Offices go without equipment and supplies, the maintenance section lacks materials to repair buildings and residences, and employees and their families go without familiar foods, medicines, clothes, children’s toys, transportation, computers, and books.

 

#8.  USINT pays the Cuban Government a monthly fee for each employee’s services. The Cuban Government withholds a large portion of the fee, ostensibly as the employee’s contribution to the social welfare system, and pays employees a salary that can be as little as the equivalent of $10 per month.

 

#9.  In addition to the clearance delays, staff report that the Havana port authority has only one crane and one forklift (not always operable) to move containers, adding to delays.

 

# 10.  On a more positive note, employees state that Cuban packers are some of the best they have experienced in their careers. Unfortunately, Cuban customs authorities open and x-ray both inbound and outbound shipments before they will clear them.

 

#11. Productivity increased by a factor of four, as the consular section went from interviewing 120 to 150 applicants per day to an average of more than 500.[...] Consular managers schedule appointments assuming that each officer will interview at least 110 applicants per day. In reality, some officers interview as many as 140 applicants a day, but others interview as few as 80. The rate at which the top producing officers are expected to interview is not reasonable or sustainable for the long term.

 

#12. [M]ission employees operate vehicles that are damaged, unsightly, and possibly unsafe. One vehicle is missing interior door panels and its gear shift knob. In Cuba, diplomatic vehicles can be sold only to other diplomatic missions. No mission has expressed interest in purchasing USINT’s unserviceable vehicles.

PLUS

 

#13. What’s that?   Just couple or so sections accounted for the loss of multiple officers at post? Miserable.  So as a consequence, 3 out of 8 permanently assigned Entry Level Officer (ELO)/First and Second Tour (FAST) officers curtailed? You wouldn’t know it from reading the IG report. Blame it on this ‘swallow da bad stuff’ contraption:

Image via Imgur

Image via Imgur

 

#14.  Pardon me?  One officer curtailed Havana to go to Pakistan?  Yo, Pakistan! Then one officer … what?  A West Point grad, quit post and the Foreign Service in mid-tour? And then there’s one that did not work out … when we heard these, we’re like ….

Image via Imgur

Image via Imgur

 

That’s it, until the next listicle.

 

Related item: Inspection of U.S. Interests Section Havana, Cuba (ISP-I-14-10A)  [729 Kb]  05/31/14   | Posted on May 8, 2014

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GIF of the Day: Just checking the Lessons Learned box?

– Domani Spero

Via Burn Bag:

“Wouldn’t the bureau with the most evacuations benefit from listening to evacuees instead of being so defensive and bristling at suggestions for improvement? Instead of checking the Lessons Learned box – try to actually DO something right after that colossal mistake called ordered departure!”

Image via Giphy

Image via Giphy

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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A Blast From the Past: How to Purge a Bureau? Quickly.

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– Domani Spero

Via the National Security Archive (NSA):

“Reflecting a perpetual annoyance with unauthorized disclosures, Kissinger purged several senior staffers from the State Department’s Bureau of African Affairs in December 1975, after U.S. aid to opposition groups in Angola leaked to the press. Kissinger told Scowcroft that “It will be at least a new cast of characters that leaks on Angola” [See document 7].

Below is the telcon between Scowcroft and Kissinger recently released by the Archive. For additional background on how these docs are able to get out of the lockbox, see here.

Via National Security Archive

Via National Security Archive
(click image for larger view)

Here Kissinger and Scowcroft discuss the purge of the State Department’s Africa Bureau.  At a departmental meeting that day Kissinger said that the leaking of information about Angola policy was a “disgrace” and that he wanted people who had worked on Angola “transferred out within two months.”  Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Nathaniel Davis, whom Kissinger associated with the leaks, had already resigned under protest (Davis was slated to be ambassador to Switzerland).[4]  The reference to the man who is a “hog” is obscure.

That meeting on Angola occurred on December 18, 1975 attended by Henry Kissinger, then the Secretary of State, Deputy Secretary Ingersoll, Under Secretary Maw, Deputy Under Secretary Eagleburger, Ambassador Schaufele, Mr. Saunders, INR, General Scowcroft, NSC, Mr. Hyland, NSC, Mr. Strand, AF and Mr. Bremer, Notetaker.  The 56th Secretary of State who purged the Bureau of African Affairs had some memorable quotes:

The Secretary: The Department’s behavior on Angola is a disgrace. The Department is leaking and showing a stupidity unfit for the Foreign Service. No one can think that our interest there is because of the Soviet base or the “untold riches” of Angola. This is not a whorehouse; we are conducting national policy.

[...]

The Secretary: I want people transferred out within two months who have worked on Angola. Did I cut off cables at that time?

Bremer: They were restricted.

The Secretary: Even more repulsive is the fact that AF was quiet until Davis was confirmed and then it all leaked. If I were a Foreign Service Officer I’d ask myself what kind of an organization I was in. I’ll be gone eventually but you are people whose loyalty is only to the promotion system and not to the US interest.

[...]

The Secretary: The DOD guy then says it’s between Henry and his Moscow friends.

First I want discipline. Someone has to get the FSO’s under control. If they don’t like it, let them resign.

Eagleburger: I have some ideas on that, Bill.

The Secretary: I want action today. I am not terrified by junior officers. I want to discuss Angola. I’ve got papers on the UN and on the Security Council. I had a foretaste from Moynihan who had been brought into the discussions.

[...]

The Secretary: Who will shape up the Department? I’m serious. It must be a disciplined organization.

Eagleburger: The focus now must be on AF.

Schaufele: I’m bringing the new director of AF/C back soon.

The Secretary: Good.

Schaufele: Yes, he’s good and tough. He’s due out at the end of the month.

The Secretary: Well get him back sooner and get Nat Davis’ heroes out fast.

Schaufele: As soon as we can find replacements.

The Secretary: No, I’d rather have no one. I want some of them moved by the end of the week. I want to see a list. I want progressive movement. Should I swear you in?

The exchange above is from the Memorandum of Conversation (memcon) of that meeting, published by history.state.gov. Imagine if you can read these memcons a year or so after the top honcho’s departure from office and not after four decades?

Below is the Wikipedia entry on Ambassador Nathaniel Davis’ resignation:

Operation IA Feature, a covert Central Intelligence Agency operation, authorized U.S. government support for Jonas Savimbi‘s UNITA and Holden Roberto‘s National Liberation Front of Angola (FNLA) militants in AngolaPresident Gerald Ford approved the program on July 18, 1975 despite strong opposition from officials in the State Department, most notably Davis, and the CIA. Two days prior to the program’s approval Davis told Henry Kissinger, the Secretary of State, that he believed maintaining the secrecy of IA Feature would be impossible. Davis correctly predicted the Soviet Union would respond by increasing its involvement in Angola, leading to more violence and negative publicity for the United States. When Ford approved the program Davis resigned.[4] John Stockwell, the CIA’s station chief in Angola, echoed Davis’ criticism saying the program needed to be expanded to be successful, but the program was already too large to be kept out of the public eye. Davis’ deputy and former U.S. ambassador to ChileEdward Mulcahy, also opposed direct involvement. Mulcahy presented three options for U.S. policy towards Angola on May 13, 1975. Mulcahy believed the Ford administration could use diplomacy to campaign against foreign aid to the Communist MPLA, refuse to take sides in factional fighting, or increase support for the FNLA and UNITA. He warned however that supporting UNITA would not sit well with Mobutu Sese Seko, the ruler of Zaire.[5][6][7]

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Senate Report on Benghazi: Nothing Surprising, Spreading the Blame, Notable Details

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– Domani Spero

Yesterday, the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence (SSCI) released its Review of the Terrorist Attacks on U.S. Facilities in Benghazi, Libya, September11-12, 2012 together with Additional Views.  You may read it here. The Armed Services Committee also released six files from the declassified transcripts of the Benghazi briefings here.

The report notes that between 1998 (the year of the terrorist attacks against the U.S. Embassies in Kenya and Tanzania) and 2012, 273 significant attacks were carried out against U.S. diplomatic facilities and personnel. In the course of its investigation, SSCI conducted on-the record Member and staff meetings with officials already named previously in news reports and with  the unnamed former CIA Chief of Base in Benghazi who was at the Annex on the night of the attacks and U.S. Government security personnel on the ground in Benghazi the night of the attacks.

Nothing in the findings or recommendations of the Committee was particularly surprising.  The report spreads the blame around not just on the State Department, Defense, the intel community, but also the late Ambassador Stevens for declining twice additional security offered by AFRCOM’s General Carter Ham.   But there are some notable details that we have not seen before:

More specificity about the team that flew to Benghazi:

A seven-person security team (consisting of two DoD personnel, four CIA personnel, and a linguist) flew from the U.S. Embassy in Tripoli to Benghazi and successfully helped evacuate the Americans from the Annex to the airport. It is important to clarify that, at the time of the attacks in Benghazi, there were six DoD personnel assigned to Embassy Tripoli. Four employees were under Special Operations Command Africa (SOC-AFRICA) and reported through a similar, but separate, chain of command within AFRICOM. The other two individuals from that team were DoD personnel working (based on a memorandum of understanding) under a separate special operations task force. According to the DoD, the four staff under SOC.,.AFRICA were told by their command to stay to protect Embassy Tripoli due to concerns of a similar attack in Tripoli.

What about State’s Intel Bureau?

Based on the Committee’s review, the State Department’s INR disseminated no intelligence products related to the Benghazi attacks in the year following the attacks. Considering the attacks began on a State Department facility, involved the deaths of two State Department personnel, and were an important indication of escalating threats against U.S. facilities and personnel in the region, the Committee fmds it unsettling that INR chose not to, or was unable to, disseminate any analysis related to the attacks or the implications of the attacks.
[…]
Yet, INR officials have access to State Department information and perspectives that many in the Intelligence Community do not; therefore, INR should play a more active–not just a coordinating-role in analysis for the IC and not just the State Department. The State Department’s Inspector General went even further and found that INR should be the office to produce a comprehensive security assessment for each post based on all available diplomatic and intelligence sources.

Individuals Supporting the Investigation, Killed?

The Libyan Government has not shown the political incentive or will within its own country to seek out, arrest, and prosecute individuals believed to be associated with the attacks. Furthermore, the security environment in Benghazi remains extremely dangerous for individuals wishing to work with the U.S. Government on its investigation into the attacks. In testimony before the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Commerce, Justice, Science, and Related Agencies, then-FBI Director Robert Mueller noted that as many as 15 individuals supporting the investigation or otherwise helpful to the United States have been killed in Benghazi since the attacks, underscoring the lawless and chaotic circumstances in eastern Libya. It is unclear whether their killings were related to the Benghazi investigation.

Interesting Footnotes!

#18| SSCI Transcript, Hearing on Security Issues at Benghazi and Threats to U.S. Intelligence and Diplomatic Personne/.and Facilities Worldwide Since the Attacks, December 4; 2012, p. 67. However, on page 47 of its classified report, the ARB concluded: “While none of the five DS agents discharged their weapons, the Board concluded that this was a sound tactical decision, given the overwhelming degree to which they were outgunned and outnumbered: A decision to discharge their weapons may well have resulted in more American deaths that night, without saving lives. The multiple trips that DS agents and Annex security team members made into a burning, smoke-filled building showed readiness to risk life and limb to save.“

#65 | The Committee recognizes that there were communications between State Department employees in Libya regarding security during this time period, including an August 22, 2012, document entitled, “Security Requests for U.S. Mission Benghazi” that was sent from OS agents in Benghazi to the RSO in Tripoli that included specific requests for (I) physical security, (2) equipment, and (3) manpower. There is no indication those requests were passed on to State Department Headquarters in the form of a cable.

#68 | An August 28, 2012, memo entitled, “Regional Security Officer Turnover” from the outgoing RSO stated: “U.S.Mission Benghazi has an uncertain future; Post is scheduled to close December 31,2012. Various alternatives are being proposed, including colocating with the Annex. The RSO should be aware that requests for expensive security upgrades may be difficult to obtain as headquarters is hesitant to allocate money to a post that may be closing in a few months.” Classified Report of the ARB, December 18,2012, Appendix 6, p. I.

Wondering why it was necessary to classify #18 and #68 from the publicly available ARB Report? Do you know?

The Senate report in 85 pages long.  The report itself is 42 pages long with its findings and recommendations. The report includes three appendices; as well, there are “Additional Views” attached to the report:  a 5-page one from the Democrats on the SSIC (Senators Feinstein, Rockefeller IV, Wyden, Mikulski, Udall, Warner, Heinrich and Maine Senator Angus King);  a 16-page one from the GOP members of the Committee namely, Vice-Chairman Chambliss and Senators Burr, Risch, Coats, Rubio and Coburn and a 4-page statement by Maine Senator Susan Collins who co-authored with then Senator Joe Lieberman the HSGAC 2012 report, “Flashing Red: A Special Report on the Terrorist Attack at Benghazi.

So, basically, what they could not agree to put in the body of the report, the SSIC members placed as attachments to their bipartisan work. We expect that the morning shows on Sunday will be populated with politicians talking about their “additional views” on the report.

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2014 Expanded Professional Associates Prog. Open Season Starts This Month For Eligible Family Members

– Domani Spero

The State Department’s 2014 Open Season of the Expanded Professional Associates Program (EPAP) will begin this month. It is open to any Appointment Eligible Family Member (AEFM) of a career (direct hire, not contract) government employee of any federal agency currently serving (or will be serving) in a full-time position overseas under Chief of Mission Authority. For the exact language on who qualifies as an AEFM, see 3 FAM 8212.

A quick summary of the program:

EPAP provides 186 professional level Foreign Service full-time positions, funded centrally, primarily by the Department of State and some through ICASS, to appointment eligible family members (AEFMs) serving overseas. Each Regional Bureau is authorized a number of these positions, as determined by the Under Secretary for Management.

EPAP positions are available in Political, Economic, Public Affairs, Management, Financial Management, General Services, Human Resources, Information Management, Office Management or Medical (physician or nurse) areas. Grades range from FP-07 to FP-04.

Posts identify which positions they would like filled via EPAP and the respective Regional Bureau evaluates and creates a list of positions that HR/FLO will advertise during the open season.The announcement notes that more positions than can be filled are advertised because there is no guarantee that there will be a qualified family member available at post at the right time to apply for every position. The Regional Bureaus make all hiring decisions based on a range of factors. The bureaus may also choose not to fill an advertised position even if there are candidates who are qualified. There can only be 186 filled EPAP positions in total.

The pay grades for the EPAP positions run from  FP-07 which pays about $34,324— $50,406 to FP-04 which has an annual salary of 53,003— $77,837.  According to the announcement published by state.gov  the number of EPAP positions authorized for each Regional Bureau are as follows:

  • Africa/AF 23
  • East Asia Pacific/EAP 35
  • European Affairs/EUR 42
  • International Org/IO 5
  • Near Eastern Affairs/NEA 25
  • South Central Asia/SCA 25
  • Western Hemisphere Affairs/WHA 31

Each Regional Bureau has identified a primary and alternate point of contact who can answer candidates’ questions on specific positions advertised by region.  Click here for contact emails (see item #7).

For those interested in EPAP positions, the process is a two-parter.  Interested applicants must first complete and pass an online Business Writing Test administered by ACT, Inc. (Registration will take place January 27–February 21, 2014 and the testing will take place February 1–28, 2014). Note: The Business Writing Test must be completed by February 28, 2014. Only those applicants who pass the Business Writing Test are eligible to submit an application. The second part of the process is for prospective candidates to submit a completed application package, via USAJobs.gov when the announcement is issued in late February/early March

For additional information on the program, please review the Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) published by state.gov.  For general questions regarding EPAP, e-mail: FLOaskEPAP@state.gov.   Prospective candidates preparing for the open season, are encouraged to read the official information available here.

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U.S. Senate Confirms Nisha Desai Biswal for South Asian Affairs Bureau

– By Domani Spero

On October 16, the U.S. Senate confirmed the nomination of Nisha Desai Biswal – to be Assistant Secretary of State for South Asian Affairs.

The WH released the following brief bio when President Obama announced his nomination on July 18, 2013:

Nisha Desai Biswal is Assistant Administrator for Asia at the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), a position she has held since September 2010.  From 2005 to 2010, Ms. Biswal was the Majority Clerk for the State Department and Foreign Operations Subcommittee on the Committee on Appropriations in the U.S. House of Representatives.  From 2002 to 2005, she served as the Policy and Advocacy Director at InterAction.  Previously, she served on the professional staff of the U.S. House of Representatives International Relations Committee from 1999 to 2002.  She served at USAID from 1995 to 1999 in a number of capacities including: Special Assistant to the Administrator, Chief of Staff in the Management Bureau, and in the Office of U.S. Foreign Disaster Assistance and the Office of Transition Initiatives.  Ms. Biswal worked at the American Red Cross from 1993 to 1995 in the Washington D.C. headquarters and as an overseas delegate in Armenia, Georgia, and Azerbaijan.  She is also a member of the Congressional-Executive Commission on the People’s Republic of China since March 2011. Ms. Biswal received a B.A. from the University of Virginia.

Bureau of South and Central Asian Affairs (State/SCA) deals with U.S. foreign policy and U.S. relations with the countries of Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan.  Ms. Biswal succeeds Ambassador Robert O. Blake, Jr. who was recently nominated to be ambassador to the Republic of Indonesia.

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Dear Congress: You Are Not Allowed to Make Fun of Secretary Kerry’s Asia Pivot Shirts

– By Domani Spero

The cancellation of President Obama’s trip to Asia lent to hyperventilating descriptions about the president’s “Asia Pivot” — “falters,” “in shambles,” “goes pffft,” “in jeopardy” and such.

Well, frankly, not sure where that is going. But we could certainly imagine the political hay that would have been expended over POTUS trip to Asia during a government shutdown.

In any case, Secretary Kerry took the trip instead.

Dear Congress, this is what happened to America in Bali, Indonesia.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry poses for a photo before the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) Leaders' Official Dinner in Bali, Indonesia, on October 7, 2013. [State Department photo by William Ng/ Public Domain]

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry poses for a photo before the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) Leaders’ Official Dinner in Bali, Indonesia, on October 7, 2013. [State Department photo by William Ng/ Public Domain]

So you’re not allowed to make fun of that shirt or any other shirts, kapish?

We actually think that purple batik suits him well.  Had they asked him to put on a gray one, he would have worn it too, even if he would have looked wash out in it.  Because he’s our top diplomat. Yes, diplomats are known to wear (and eat) things that their compatriots often find strange or weird. (See Round-Up: Headgears in the Foreign Service).

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, dressed in a traditional batik shirt, speaks with Russian President Vladimir Putin before the two join other heads of delegation for a family photo before the APEC Leaders Dinner on October 7, 2013. in Bali, Indonesia. [State Department photo / Public Domain]

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, dressed in a traditional batik shirt, speaks with Russian President Vladimir Putin before the two join other heads of delegation for a family photo before the APEC Leaders Dinner on October 7, 2013. in Bali, Indonesia. [State Department photo / Public Domain]

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and fellow foreign ministers, all clad in batik shirts favored in Brunei, enter a gala dinner at the ASEAN ministerial meeting in Bandar Seri Begawan on July 1, 2013. [State Department photo/ Public Domain]

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and fellow foreign ministers, all clad in batik shirts favored in Brunei, enter a gala dinner at the ASEAN ministerial meeting in Bandar Seri Begawan on July 1, 2013. [State Department photo/ Public Domain]

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry poses with other regional heads of state and leaders of delegation before the start of a dinner and cultural program at the ASEAN Summit meeting in Bandar Seri Begawan, Brunei, on October 9, 2013. [State Department photo/ Public Domain]

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry poses with other regional heads of state and leaders of delegation before the start of a dinner and cultural program at the ASEAN Summit meeting in Bandar Seri Begawan, Brunei, on October 9, 2013. [State Department photo/ Public Domain]

These are way tamer in comparison to what President Bush had to wear during his tenure.

Unfortunately, Tropical Storm Nari caused the cancellation of Secretary Kerry’s trip to the Philippines, so we are missing Secretary Kerry wearing the country’s famous Barong Tagalog.

Anyhow, we understand that Australia continues to host annual six-month training deployments of US Marines to its base in the Northern Territory. Australia’s Courier News reports today that Prime Minister Tony Abbott has promised the necessary infrastructure will be put in place to accommodate the expected presence of a 1000 U.S. Marines set to train there next year. The government is preparing to construct additional accommodations at two bases in Darwin.

So there’s that.

Then we heard that we are helping the Philippines develop Oyster Bay, a postcard-perfect cove on Palawan Island into a port for naval frigates and eventually for American warships?  All, of course, overlooking the disputed South China Sea.  But given all that’s happening in Washington, D.C….

No wonder Chinese President Xi Jinping and Russian President Vladimir Putin celebrated the later’s 61st birthday “quaffing vodka and wolfing down cake”:

“It was 11:00 pm. I offered our Chinese friends to raise a shot of vodka,” Mr Putin said, according to Russian state news agency ITAR-TASS.

“They did not refuse, so we did just that.” As for the cake: “We wolfed it down successfully”. Needless to say, Mr Putin described his meeting with Mr Xi as “very warm” and “friendly”.

We can’t say if Secretary Kerry was in attendance for that “quaffing” and “wolfing” event.

Meanwhile, back in Foggy Bottom:  The East Asia Pacific bureau has six deputy assistant secretaries, twice as many as in 2004, and a deputy assistant secretary-level U.S. senior official for Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation. State/OIG reports that “the bureau needs to streamline front office staffing” — top heavy structure for the second smallest regional bureau in the house needs fixing.  Why? Because as in other bureaus, “the proliferation of DASes has diminished the role of office directors and reduced responsibility at every level.” Also this:

The administration’s rebalance toward Asia has not been matched by additional financial or human resources. A Congressional Research Service memorandum notes that “[new] initiatives have not, however, been accompanied by a significant increase in the State Department or USAID’s programmatic resources devoted to East Asia.” Foreign assistance to the region in FY 2013 is 19 percent below the FY 2010 peak. U.S. military resources for the region have increased, but sequestration may impact future plans.

Folks, somewhere, some heads of state are laughing their heads off.

👀

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Shutdown News: State Department Stays Open and Operational. For Now.

– By Domani Spero

Shortly before midnight, OPM released a statement ordering federal agencies to execute plans for an orderly shutdown due to the absence of appropriations. During the DPB the day before the shutdown, the State Department spokesperson Jen Psaki stated that State/USAID operation can be “sustained” for a limited duration in the event of a shutdown:

[R]egardless of the challenges a shutdown would create, we will continue to operate to advance national interests and to protect health and safety of American citizens and those living abroad. 

If appropriations are not continued, so if the government shuts down, initially Department of State and USAID activities can be sustained on a limited basis for a short period of time. I don’t have the specific number of days because it’s dependent on our programs and spending, so I can’t give you the prediction of the number of days.

Ms. Psaki asked specifically about “any immediate kind of furloughs” said: “I will have to double-check and make sure that the answer is zero. But I can convey definitively that the vast, vast majority of staff will not be…”

So it looks like, at least, for now, the State Department will remain open and operational and no employees will be put on furloughs. (If you are with State/USAID and have received a furlough letter, give us a shout here).

How is this possible?

If there is no continuing resolution or new FY 2014 appropriations bill by October 1, 2013, certain Department of State and USAID operations can continue on a limited basis for a short period of time.  At least, that’s what will happen initially.  According to State, its FY 2013 appropriations were not enacted by Congress until late March causing uncertainty about the agency’s funding levels. The result was a reduction of agency spending for the first part of FY 2013.  So certain multi-year State Department and USAID accounts have residual funds that will be available after September 30, 2013.  These funds will allow the Department and USAID to continue to meet most payroll obligations for a short period of time.

How short a period of time, the spokesperson is unable to say.

In the 1995 shutdown, non-essential government workers were put on furlough and the government suspended non-essential services from November 14 through November 19, 1995 and from December 16, 1995 to January 6, 1996, for a total of 28 days. During that shutdown, 20,000-30,000 visa applications went unprocessed each day, as did 200,000 U.S. passport applications for the period.  There were no numbers but this reportedly deeply impacted the tourism and travel sectors of the economy.”

That’s not happening this time around.

The State Department spokesman said yesterday that “activities carry out by our – by the Bureau of Consular Affairs will continue domestically and abroad. So that means they will continue visa issuance as well as our passport operations.”

There’s another reason why State may be able to sustain its operation even in a shutdown, at least for a limited time. Its public services like visa and passport issuances are now fee-based.  When you apply for a passport or a visa, or obtain other consular services overseas, you pay a fee and that helps fund the programs. Processing fee for regular tourist and student visa is currently $160.00. Passport books and cards range in fee from $30 – $165.

In FY 2012, the State Department processed 10.3 million non-immigrant visa applications and issued 8.9 million visas, including 497,044 student and 313,424 exchange visitor visas.  These international students reportedly contributed over $22.7 billion to the U.S. economy in 2011. In FY 2012, the State Department also issued 13.1 million passports and passport cards.

The State Department’s passport and visa operations generated approximately $3.14 billion in consular fee revenue in FY2012.  It retained 78% or $2.45 billion of the total revenue.  The retained fees were shared among its regional and functional bureaus. See breakdown below.

Screen Shot 2013-08-12

Prior to 1994, the Department did not retain any of the consular fees collected. Subsequently, Congress authorized the Department to retain Machine Readable Visa (MRV) fees to help fund consular operations related to border security (I think the roll out of machine readable visas was not completed until the summer of 1996).

The Department is also authorized to collect and retain other fees to fund consular-related activities. It now retains a portion of the consular fees that it collects and remits the remaining portion to the U.S. Department of the Treasury.  In FY 2010, the Department collected approximately $2.62 billion in fee revenue and was allowed to retain about 70 percent of the fees (or approximately $1.8 billion).

Various embassies and consulates have been tweeting that they are open for business and that applicants should keep their interview appointments.

The State Department’s guidance on operations during a lapse in appropriation is available here.

(O_O)

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