Category Archives: Staffing the FS

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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State Dept’s Critical National Security Database Crashes, Melts Global Travelers’ Patience

– Domani Spero

 

The first announcement about the troubled Consular Consolidated Database (CCD) went out on Wednesday, July 23:

The Department of State Bureau of Consular Affairs is currently experiencing technical problems with our passport/visa system.  This issue is worldwide and is not specific to any particular country, citizenship document, or visa category.  We apologize to applicants who are experiencing delays or are unable to obtain a passport, Consular Report of Birth Abroad, or visa at this time. We are working urgently to correct the problem and expect our system to be fully operational again soon.

The AP reported on July 23 that unspecified glitches have resulted in performance issues since Saturday, which would be July 19.

On July 25, CA announced:” Our visa and passport processing systems are now operational, however they are working at limited capacity. We are still working to correct the problem and expect to be fully operational soon.”

A State Department official speaking on background told us the same day that this issue was not/not caused by  hackers. We were told that the CCD crashed shortly after maintenance was performed and that the root cause of the problem is not yet known.

On July 27, CA released an update:

As of July 27, the Department of State has made continued progress on restoring our system to full functionality. As we restore our ability to print visas, we are prioritizing immigrant cases, including adoptions visas. System engineers are performing maintenance to address the problems we encountered. As system performance improves, we will continue to process visas at U.S. Embassies and Consulates worldwide. We are committed to resolving the problem as soon as possible. Additional updates will be posted to travel.state.gov as more information becomes available.

On July 29, CA posted this on FB:

The Department of State Bureau of Consular Affairs continues to make progress restoring our nonimmigrant visa system to full functionality. Over the weekend, the Department of State implemented system changes aimed at optimizing performance and addressing the challenges we have faced. We are now testing our system capacity to ensure stability. Processing of immigrant visas cases, including adoptions, remains a high priority. Some Embassies and Consulates may temporarily limit or reschedule nonimmigrant visa interview appointments until more system resources become available to process these new applications. We sincerely regret the inconvenience to travelers, and are committed to resolving the problem as soon as possible. Additional updates will be posted to travel.state.gov as more information becomes available.

 

The CA Bureau’s Facebook page has been inundated with comments. There were complaints that at one post the visas were printing fine and then they were not. There were complains from people waiting for visas for adopted kids, for fiancees, for family members, for family waiting at the border, for students anxious to get to their schools, people worried about time running out for diversity visas, applicants with flights already booked, and many more.  One FB commenter writes, “I feel that the problem most people have is not that the system broke, but the lack of clear, meaningful information so people can make appropriate plans.

Other than what the CA Bureau chose to tell us, we cannot pry any substantial detail from official sources.  We, however, understand from sources familiar with the system but not authorized to speak for the bureau that the CCD has been having problems for sometime but it got worse in the last couple weeks.   If you’re familiar with the highs and lows of visa operation, this will not be altogether surprising.  Whatever problems already existed in the system prior to this “glitch” could have easily been exacerbated in July, which is the middle of the peak travel season worldwide. A source working in one of our consular posts confirmed to us that the system is back running, but not at the normal level and that the backlogs are building up. Another source told us that Beijing already had a 15k NIV backlog over the weekend.  We haven’t yet heard what are the backlogs like in mega visa-issuing posts like Brazil, Mexico and India.

We understand that everyone is currently doing all they can to get the process moving, but that some cases are getting through the system, while some are not. No one seems to know why this is happening. These machine readable visas are tied to the system and there are no manual back-ups for processing these cases (more of that below).

 

So who owns CCD?

The Consular Systems and Technology (CA/CST) manages the CCD.  We have previously blogged about its troubled past:

CST is currently headed by a new Director, Greg D Ambrose who reports to the CA Bureau’s Assistant Secretary.  It looks like despite the 2011 OIG recommendation, the CST deputy position remains vacant. We should also note that the  Asst Secretary for Consular Affairs Janice Jacobs retired this past April.  No replacement has been nominated to-date and Michele T. Bond has been Acting Assistant Secretary since Ms. Jacobs’ departure.

Last September, Mr. Ambrose was with FedScoopTV and talked about Consular One, the future of consular IT.

 

CST Just Got a New Data Engineering Contract

In Many 2014, ActioNet, Inc., headquartered in Vienna, Virginia,announced a 5-year task order for data engineering, supporting CST.

ActioNet, Inc. announced today the award of a five (5)-year task order entitled Data Engineering (DE) in support of Department of State (DOS). This task order will provide data engineering and database infrastructure support services necessary for planning, analysis, design, and implementation services for the Bureau of Consular Affairs.  These service also include contract and program management support to ensure that innovation, efficiency, and cost control practices are built into the program. [...] The Office of Consular Systems and Technology (CST) within the Bureau develops, deploys and maintains the unclassified and classified IT infrastructures that help execute these missions. The Bureau currently manages over 800 servers worldwide, in order to comply with the fast paced changes inherent to data processing and telecommunications, CST requires that contractor services provide for rapid provisioning of highly experienced and trained individuals with the IT (information technology) backgrounds and the security clearances required of CA’s environment of workstation-based local and wide-area network infrastructures.

Due to limited information available, we don’t know if the new Consular One and/or the new DE contract are related to ongoing issues or if there are hardware issues, given the multiple legacy systems, but we do know that CST has both an impressive and troubled history. Let’s take a look.


Records Growing by the Day

The 2010 Consular Consolidated Database (CCD) Privacy Impact Assessment (PIA) describes (pdf) the CCD as “one of the largest Oracle based data warehouses in the world that holds current and archived data from the Consular Affairs (CA) domestic and post databases around the world.”  According to the PIA, in December 2009, the CCD contained over 100 million visa cases and 75 million photographs, utilizing billions of rows of data, and has a current growth rate of approximately 35 thousand visa cases every day. The 2011 OIG report says that in 2010, the CCD contained over 137 million American and foreign case records and over 130 million photographs and is growing at approximately 40,000 visa and passport cases every day.

That was almost four years ago.


A Critical Operational and National Security Database with No Back-Up System?

According to publicly available information, the CCD’s chief functions are 1) to support data delivery to approved applications via industry-standard Web Service queries, 2) provide users with easy-to-use data entry interfaces to CCD, and 3) allow emergency recovery of post databases.  The CCD also serves as a gateway to IDENT and IAFIS fingerprint checking databases, the Department of State Facial Recognition system, and the NameCheck system. It  provides access to passport data in Travel Document Issuance System (TDIS), Passport Lookout Tracking System (PLOTS), and Passport Information Electronic Records System (PIERS).  The OIG says that the CCD serves 11,000 users in the Department and more than 19,000 users in other agencies, primarily the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and various law enforcement elements, and is accessed more than 120 million times every month.

Given that the CCD is considered “a critical operational and national security database,” there is surprisingly no redundancies or any back-up system.


Resurrect the Standard Register protectograph aka: `Burroughs visas’?

No one is actually suggesting that but when the CCD system is down, there is no manual way to issue a visa. No post can  handprint visas  because security measures prevent consular officers from printing a visa unless it is approved through the database system. Here is a quick history of the handprinted ‘Burroughs visas’ and the machine readable visas via the GPO:

November 18, 1988, mandated the development of a machine-readable travel and identity document to improve border entry and departure control using an automated data-capture system. As a result, the Department developed the Machine Readable Visa, a durable, long-lasting adhesive foil made out of Teslin.

Before MRVs, nonimmigrant visas were issued using a device called a Standard Register protectograph, otherwise known as a Burroughs certifier machine. It produced what was colloquially known as a “Burroughs visa,” an indelible ink impression mechanically stamped directly onto a page in the alien’s passport. Over time, Burroughs machines were gradually replaced by MRV technology, which is now used exclusively by all nonimmigrant visa issuing posts throughout the world.

Burroughs visas contained a space in which a consular employee was required to write the name of the alien to whom the visa was being issued. An alien’s passport might also include family members, such as a spouse, or children, who also had to be listed on the visa. In March 1983, in order to expedite the issuance of nonimmigrant visas and to improve operational efficiency, the Department authorized the use of a “bearer(s)” stamp for certain countries so that consular officers would not have to spend time writing in the applicant’s name (and those of accompanying family members). MRVs, however, must be issued individually to qualified aliens. Consequently, the “bearer”annotation has become obsolete.

The problem with the old Burroughs machine, besides the obvious, was maybe — you run out of ink, the plates are ruined/broken or you need it oiled. We could not remember those breaking down. With the MRV technology, all posts are connected to a central database, and the new machines by themselves cannot issue visas.  Which brings us to the security of that system.

 

Management Alert on Information System Security Program

The State Department PIA says that “To appropriately safeguard the information, numerous management, operational, and technical security controls are in place in accordance with the Federal Information Security Management Act (FISMA) of 2002 and information assurance standards published by the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST).” Must be why in November 2013, the Office of the Inspector General issued a Management Alert  for significant and recurring weaknesses found in the State Department’s Information System Security Program over the past three fiscal years (FY 2011-2013).

In 2011, State/OIG also issued a report on CA’s CST division and has, what appears to be a lengthy discussion of the CCD, but almost all of it but a paragraph had been redacted:

Screen Shot 2014-07-30 at 8.40.37 AM

That OIG report also includes a discussion of the Systems Development Life Cycle Process and notes that decision control gates within CST’s SDLC process are weak. It cites a couple of examples where this manifested: 1) the development of the Consular report of Birth Abroad (CRBA) system. “The ownership of development and deployment shifted throughout the process, and the business unit’s requirements were not clearly communicated to the development team. As a result, CST designed and tested the CRBA for a printer that did not match the printer model identified and procured by the business unit;” 2)  the Crisis Task Force application, for which CST was tasked to enhance its Web-facing interaction. “The deployment of this application has been challenged by the lack of project ownership and decision controls, as well as by the incomplete requirements definition. The use of incorrect scripts that were provided by the CM group has further delayed the Crisis Task Force application’s deployment.”

 

If there’s somethin’ strange in your CCD, who ya gonna call? (Glitchbusters!)

The Consular Consolidated Database (CCD) is central to all consular operations. It is run by CST where according to the OIG, “the smooth functioning of every part of the office depends on its contractors.” And because it runs such an important element of U.S. national security systems, if all CST’s contractors, all 850 of them quit, this critical consular data delivery to the State Department and other Federal agencies would screech to a a halt.

To carry out its mandate, CST must provide uninterrupted support to 233 overseas posts, 21 passport agencies, 2 passport processing centers, and other domestic facilities, for a total of 30,000 end users across 16 Federal agencies and in nearly every country. CST faces 24/7/365 service requirements, as any disruption in automated support brings operations to an immediate halt, with very serious implications for travelers and the U.S. image.
[...]
CST is led by a director and is staffed by 68 full-time equivalent (FTE) employees (62 Civil Service and 6 Foreign Service). There are 12 positions (3 Foreign Service and 9 Civil Service) currently vacant. CA recently authorized CST 19 additional FTE positions. There are also more than 850 contractors operating under nearly 30 different contracts. In FY 2010, CST’s annual operating budget was approximately $266 million.

If CCD is compromised for a lengthy period such as the last couple of weeks, what is the back up plan to keep the operation going?  Obviously, none. It’s either down or running under limited or full capacity.  No one we know remember CCD problems persist this long.  Right now, we know from a reliable source that the system is not down, and some cases and going through but — what if the CCD is completely down for two weeks … four weeks … wouldn’t international travel come to a slow stop?

What if CCD goes down indefinitely whether by hardware or software glitch or through malicious penetration by foreign hackers, what happens then?

Currently, it appears nothing can be done but for folks to be patient and wait until the fixes are in.  We know they’re working hard at it but there’s got to be a better way.   Perhaps we can also agree that this has very serious national security implications on top of disgruntled travelers and a grave impact on the U.S. image overseas.

 

 Related items:

May 2011 |  Inspection of The Bureau of Consular Affairs, Office of Consular Systems and Technology (CST) Report Number ISP-I-11-51

-11/30/13   Audit of Department of State Information Security Program (FISMA) (AUD-IT-14-03)  [3610 Kb]  Posted January 29th, 2014

-01/13/14   Management Alert on OIG Findings of Significant, Recurring Weaknesses in Dept of State Info System Security Program (MA-A-0001)  [6298 Kb]  Posted on January 16, 2014

 

 Related articles

 

 

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SFRC Clears 13 More State Dept Nominees — Will They Get Confirmation Before August Recess?

– Domani Spero

 

On July 29, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee cleared thirteen ambassadorial nominations making way for their full vote in the U.S. Senate before the August recess in Congress. These newly endorsed nominees will, of course, join over three dozen other State Department nominees who have been waiting for a full Senate vote for many months (see the names of nominees here: The Fault in Our Skies: Senator to Deploy Blanket Senate Hold Over DOS Nominees Cuz FAA). That’s a lot of people waiting for the Senate’s nod before the August recess.

In case you missed it, yesterday, Senator Cruz announced that he lifted his hold on State Department nominees following what his press release says was “an extensive briefing” with senior Federal Aviation Authority officials.  WaPo also noted today that Secretary Kerry suggested to Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) in late June that nominations of career Foreign Service ambassadors be confirmed “en bloc,” like military promotions. The report seems to think that there is little prospect of this happening given the couple of days remaining until Congress recesses.

Note that Ambassadors Tefft and Sison, nominated respectively for the Russian Federation  and the United Nations had their confirmation hearing today, but were quickly endorse by the SFRC for the full Senate vote.  The nominees cleared by the SFRC on July 29 are as follows:

 

  • GUATEMALA | Todd D. Robinson, of New Jersey, to be Ambassador of the United States of America to the Republic of Guatemala
  • MONACO | Jane D. Hartley, of New York, to be Ambassador of the United States of America to the French Republic and to serve concurrently as Ambassador of the United States of America to the Principality of Monaco
  • FRANCE |  Jane D. Hartley, of New York, to be Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the United States of America to the French Republic.
  • IRELAND | Kevin F. O’Malley, of Missouri, to be Ambassador of the United States of America to Ireland
  • MOLDOVA | James D. Pettit, of Virginia, to be Ambassador of the United States of America to the Republic of Moldova
  • SLOVENIA | Brent Robert Hartley, of Oregon, to be Ambassador of the United States of America to the Republic of Slovenia
  • BANGLADESH | Marcia Stephens Bloom Bernicat, of New Jersey, to be Ambassador of the United States of America to the People’s Republic of Bangladesh
  • USUN | David Pressman, of New York, to be Alternate Representative of the United States of America for Special Political Affairs in the United Nations, with the rank of Ambassador; Alternate Representative of the United States of America to the Sessions of the General Assembly of the United Nations, during his tenure of service as Alternate Representative of the United States of America for Special Political Affairs in the United Nations
  • KAZAKHSTAN | George Albert Krol, of New Jersey, to be Ambassador of the United States of America to the Republic of Kazakhstan
  • TURKMENISTAN | Allan P. Mustard, of Washington, to be Ambassador of the United States of America to Turkmenistan
  • RWANDA | Erica J. Barks Ruggles, of Minnesota, to be Ambassador of the United States of America to the Republic of Rwanda
  • TURKEY | John R. Bass, of New York, to be Ambassador of the United States of America to the Republic of Turkey
  • USUN | Michele Jeanne Sison, of Maryland, a Career Member of the Senior Foreign Service, Class of Career Minister, to be the Deputy Representative of the United States of America to the United Nations, with the rank and status of Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary, and the Deputy Representative of the United States of America in the Security Council of the United Nations.
  • UNGA |  Michele Jeanne Sison, of Maryland, a Career Member of the Senior Foreign Service, Class of Career Minister, to be Representative of the United States of America to the Sessions of the General Assembly of the United Nations, during her tenure of service as Deputy Representative of the United States of America to the United Nations.
  • RUSSIAN FEDERATION | John Francis Tefft, of Virginia, a Career Member of the Senior Foreign Service, Class of Minister-Counselor, to be Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the United States of America to the Russian Federation.

 

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Senate Confirmation by Crisis Continues: Hoza (Cameroon), Polaschik (Algeria), Andre (Mauritania),

– Domani Spero

 

The U.S. Senate appears to continue its trend of headline-triggered confirmations. Today, the Senate confirmed by voice votes the following ambassador to three African posts.

If you missed it, on July 27, WaPo reported that Nigerian Boko Haram militants kidnapped the wife of Cameroon’s vice prime minister. Premium Times citing BBC Hausa reported today that Security Forces in the Cameroun Republic have rescued the wife of the country’s Deputy Prime Minister, Amadou Ali, who was abducted on Sunday by suspected members of the extremist Boko Haram sect.  If that’s not enough bad news, VOA also reported that an outbreak of Cholera has killed 200 in Northern Cameroon and that there are fears that this may be a repeat of the 2010 epidemic, when the country had to deal with 10,000 cases.

Ambassador-Designate Hoza also made the news recently when he was featured and quoted in WaPo’s piece, At Falls Church apartments, would-be ambassadors and families live in limbo. The three other nominees cited in that article, Donald Lu (Albania), Eric Schultz (Zambia), and Amy Hyatt (Palau) are not currently scheduled for a Senate vote.

We have previously blogged about Ambassador-Designate Polaschik when she was the deputy chief of mission who ran the Embassy Libya after Ambassador Cretz left the country due to Wikileaks.  She also led the evacuation of personnel/American citizens in February 2011 and lead the team back into Tripoli when it reopened in September 2011. A few days ago, Algeria was in the news.  Its national airline Air Algerie on a flight from Burkina Faso’s capital of Ouagadougou to Algiers had crashed in Mali. Did that prompt the confirmation?

What about Mauritania, what’s going on there?  Issues of interest include al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb and Mali refugees. Mauritania just had its presidential election last June. The United States “looks forward to continuing to work with President-elect Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz and the Government of Mauritania to promote prosperity and regional security” but that’s going to be difficult without an ambassador there.  Oops! The U.S.-Africa Leaders Summit is coming up next week, perhaps the U.S. Senate did note Mauritania’s Chairmanship of the African Union, and so we’ve got Ambassador-Designate Larry Andre ready to beam over to Nouakchott, so he could beam back to D.C. for the Summit next week.

Three days to go before Congress breaks for the summer!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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New Travel Warning for Yemen — Don’t Come; If In Country, Leave! But Some Can’t Leave

– Domani Spero

 

On July 21, the State Department updated its Travel Warning for Yemen urging Americans to defer travel to Yemen and for those living there to depart the country:

The U.S. Department of State warns U.S. citizens of the high security threat level in Yemen due to terrorist activities and civil unrest.  The Department urges U.S. citizens to defer travel to Yemen and those U.S. citizens currently living in Yemen to depart. This supersedes the Travel Warning for Yemen issued on January 29, 2014.

The U.S. Embassy in Sana’a remains a restricted staffing post.  This limits the Embassy’s ability to assist U.S. citizens in an emergency and provide routine consular services. Embassy Officers are restricted in their movements and cannot travel outside of Sana’a. In addition, movements within Sana’a are severely constrained and may be further constrained by the fluid security situation.

The security threat level in Yemen is extremely high. The Embassy is subject to frequent unannounced closures.  In May 2014, the Embassy was closed for almost five weeks because of heightened security threats.

Demonstrations continue to take place in various parts of the country and may quickly escalate and turn violent. U.S. citizens are urged to avoid areas of demonstrations, and to exercise extreme caution if within the vicinity of a demonstration.

Terrorist organizations, including Al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), continue to be active throughout Yemen. The U.S. government remains highly concerned about possible attacks on U.S. citizens (whether visiting or residing in Yemen), and U.S. facilities, businesses, and perceived U.S. and Western interests.

Read the full release here.

The very next day, Yemeni Americans were on the news.  US citizens in Yemen accused the  American embassy of confiscating their passports.  The State Department reportedly is withholding fraudulent passports, but rights groups say Yemeni Americans are being unfairly targeted.

 

Leaving the country without a regular passport would be difficult but perhaps not impossible.

Back in January, we blogged about this. (See US Embassy Yemen: Revocation of U.S. Passports, a Growing Trend?  At that time,a State Department official who spoke on background told us that citizens with revoked passports “may be provided with a limited validity passport for a direct return to the United States.” That is, based on the circumstances of the case. Earlier, we’ve prodded that CA/Embassy Sana’a provide guidance on how to file an appeal in revocation cases on its website.  To-date, there is nothing online in terms of guidance on appealing these cases.

Passport revocations are not the only thing that seem to be surging in Yemen.

Last month, Embassy Sana’a announced that U.S. Ambassador to Yemen Matthew H. Tueller, along with Embassy Sana’a Consular staff, hosted a “Super Saturday” event to register the births of children born in Yemen who are eligible for American citizenship.  Consular staff volunteers reportedly assisted more than 120 Americans and Yemeni-American dual nationals residing in Yemen complete Consular Report of Birth Abroad (CRBA) forms to document the U.S. citizenship of their children.

U.S. Ambassador to Yemen Matthew H. Tueller, along with Embassy Sana’a Consular staff, hosted a special weekend event to register the births of children born in Yemen who are eligible for American citizenship

U.S. Ambassador to Yemen Matthew H. Tueller, along with Embassy Sana’a Consular staff, hosted a special weekend event to register the births of children born in Yemen who are eligible for American citizenship. (photo via US Embassy Sana’a/FB)

In 2010, the State Department estimated the number of U.S. citizens in Yemen at  over 55,000. This past June, the US Embassy in Sana’a says that it serves more than 73,000 American citizens residing in Yemen. The embassy also expects to process  7,000 Consular Report of Birth Abroad (CRBA) for this year alone.  This at a high fraud post with limited staffing.

This is not the first time that the U.S. has told its nationals to leave Yemen.  And so far, there has been no talk of an evacuation.  The embassy is already on restricted staffing but should the embassy shutdown, the evacuation of Yemen’s American citizen population would be a logistical nightmare and could potentially dwarf the evacuation of nearly 15,000 American citizens from Lebanon in 2006.

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US Embassy Norway: Emergency Message on Foreign Fighters Returned From Syria Threat

– Domani Spero

 

The U.S. Embassy in Oslo has just issued an emergency message to Americans in Norway based on the Norwegian Government’s announcement of a threat from foreign fighters returning to Norway from Syria:

United States Embassy Oslo, Norway | 24 July 2014
This morning, 24 July 2014, the Norwegian government announced that foreign fighters returned from Syria may be planning an attack in Norway over the coming days. The Norwegian police are not aware of where, when, or in what method this attack could take place. However, public gatherings, government facilities, businesses, and public transportation systems tend to be the targets of choice for terrorists and extremist groups.

The Embassy recommends the U.S. citizen community in Norway remain extra alert during this period. Please err on the side of caution over the coming days. Especially now, if you see anything threatening, dangerous, or concerning, please call the Norwegian Police at 112.

Read the full announcement here.

U.S. Embassy, Oslo, Norway.

U.S. Embassy, Oslo, Norway. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

U.S. Embassy Oslo is currently headed by Chargé d’affaires  Julie Furuta-Toy.  The controversial nominee for U.S. ambassador to Norway, George Tsunis was announced on September 10, 2013 and has been stuck in the Senate awaiting for the full vote since February 4, 2014.

 

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US Embassy Libya: “…almost nothing more important than the safety and security of our staff”

– Domani Spero

 

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry uncorks a bottle of champagne en route from Andrews Air Force Base to Stockholm, Sweden as he celebrates the first press briefing at the U.S. Department of State Department by his new Spokesperson, Jen Psaki, on May 13, 2013. [State Department photo / Public Domain]

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry uncorks a bottle of champagne en route from Andrews Air Force Base to Stockholm, Sweden as he celebrates the first press briefing at the U.S. Department of State Department by his new Spokesperson, Jen Psaki, on May 13, 2013. [State Department photo / Public Domain]

Via state/gov/DPB/July 15, 2014:

QUESTION: Can I ask one about Libya?

MS. PSAKI: Sure.

QUESTION: It does seem as if – well, that the airport is – continue to be shelled, most of the planes even are damaged, I don’t – and the Embassy is near the airport, I mean, and it doesn’t seem as if there’s been any movement on any type of evacuation. So I’m just wondering what’s going on.

MS. PSAKI: Well, we’re obviously deeply concerned about the level of violence in Libya and some of the incidents you referred to. Every day, we make assessments about the level of violence and the impact on our personnel there, but I don’t have anything to predict for you or outline in terms of any changes to our security posture or level of staffing on the ground.

QUESTION: I mean, it seems as if there wouldn’t be any way for those employees to get out unless you had some kind of airlift because the airport is inoperable right now.

MS. PSAKI: Well, again, Elise, I think it’s safe to say that we evaluate every single factor when we’re making determinations about our staff. There’s nothing more important than the safety, almost nothing more important than the safety and security of our staff, but we do that in private and I have nothing to outline for you here from – publicly.

QUESTION: Is Ambassador Satterfield in Libya now or here?

MS. PSAKI: I know – I’m not sure, actually, where he is. We can check and see if we can get that information to you.

Meanwhile in the “why are we still in Tripoli edition?”our ambassador tweets this:

 

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Headline Triggered-Senate Confirmations: Michael Lawson (Plane Down), Eunice Reddick (Drones)

– Domani Spero

 

On July 21, the Senate confirmed the following nominations by voice votes:

 

Maybe there’s a bored Hollywood film producer willing to construct multiple fake events and get this Senate moving?

It seems like this is the trend in the Senate these days.  The chance for confirmation in the “world’s greatest deliberative body” seems to jump by quite a bit, and speeds up in a hurry  when a particular country hits breaking news.   The nominations for Iraq, Egypt, Honduras, Kuwait, Qatar … were all walked relatively quickly.  Those going to the islands may have a longer wait.

Last week, a Malaysia Airlines passenger plane was shot down over Ukraine.  This week, we finally have our ambassador to Council of the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), freshly confirmed after a 10-month wait.

Ambassador Reddick was confirmed for the US Embassy in Niger after almost a year of wait. Excuse me, Niger, what the heck is going on there?  What —  drones in Niger?

Don’t worry if we’re now going on five months with no ambassador to Moscow.  That Russian bear has been growling rather badly, so by next week, it looks like we’ll finally get a newly confirmed ambassador for Moscow.  That is, if the Senate has been reading the news with eyes wide open.  

We expect all these officials will have chips implanted in their brains and will have no need for time to transition to their new responsibilities. They’ll just know it and do it. They may not even need to do pack out or make travel arrangements for family and pets either.   A heck of a time to move house when things are falling apart almost everywhere.  No matter.  We’ll just beam them all up to their next posts. And just like that, with a push of a button, we’ll erase all those wasted months of waiting.

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Tick Tock: Multiple State Dept Nominees Still Pending in Foreign Relations Committee

– Domani Spero

 

The Senate’s tentative schedule (pdf) has August 1st as its last day in session, with a return to work scheduled on September 8, 2014.  With the August recess only a few days away, we should note that multiple State Department nominees are still pending in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee (SFRC). As of this writing, only Ambassador John Tefft’s nomination as ambassador to the Russian Federation has been scheduled for a confirmation hearing on July 29. That leaves the Tefft nomination barely 36 hours to get confirmation from  the full Senate before Congress runs out into the sun for its obviously well-deserved summer break.

Dear SFRC — wouldn’t it be embarrassing to go off for some fun and sun when so many people are stuck in town and cannot do the jobs they’re supposed to do because you did not do yours?

By the way, Ambassador Carlos Pascual (listed below) was appointed the State Department’s Special Envoy and Coordinator for International Energy Affairs in May 2011 and announced as the first Assistant Secretary for Energy Resources in 2012. His nomination remains pending in the SFRC.  Last month, the WSJ reported that Ambassador Pascual will leave his position in July and will join the Center on Global Energy Policy, a research organization at Columbia University founded last year by Jason Bordoff, a former top adviser to President Obama.

Besides the pending ambassadorial nominees, the pending names in the Committee also include regular Foreign Service officers awaiting the Senate’s confirmation for their promotions to the next class.

 

Jul 21, 14     PN1920    Bahrain

William V. Roebuck, of North Carolina, a Career Member of the Senior Foreign Service, Class of Counselor, to be Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the United States of America to the Kingdom of  Bahrain.

Jul 21, 14     PN1919    Malawi

Virginia E. Palmer, of Virginia, a Career Member of the Senior Foreign Service, Class of Minister-Counselor, to be Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the United States of America to the Republic of Malawi.

Jul 21, 14     PN1918    United Arab Emirates

Barbara A. Leaf, of Virginia, a Career Member of the Senior Foreign Service, Class of Minister-Counselor, to be Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the United States of America to the United Arab Emirates.

Jul 17, 14     PN1869    Finland

Charles C. Adams, Jr., of Maryland, to be Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the United States of America to the Republic of Finland.

Jul 14, 14     PN1853    Russian Federation

John Francis Tefft, of Virginia, a Career Member of the Senior Foreign Service, Class of Minister-Counselor, to be Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the United States of America to the Russian Federation.

Jul 14, 14     PN1852    Armenia

Richard M. Mills, Jr., of Texas, a Career Member of the Senior Foreign Service, Class of Counselor, to be Ambassador Extraordinary and  Plenipotentiary of the United States of America to the Republic of Armenia.

Jul 14, 14     PN1851    Monaco

Jane D. Hartley, of New York, to serve concurrently and without additional compensation as Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the United States of America to the Principality of Monaco.

Jul 14, 14     PN1850    Brunei Darussalam

Craig B. Allen, of Virginia, a Career Member of the Senior Foreign Service, Class of Minister-Counselor, to be Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the United States of America to Brunei Darussalam.

Jul 09, 14     PN1848    Senegal and Guinea-Bissau

James Peter Zumwalt, of California, a Career Member of the Senior Foreign Service, Class of Minister-Counselor, to be Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the United States of America to the Republic of Senegal and to serve concurrently and without additional compensation as Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the United States of America to the Republic of Guinea-Bissau.

Jul 09, 14     PN1847    Montenegro

Margaret Ann Uyehara, of Ohio, a Career Member of the Senior Foreign Service, Class of Minister-Counselor, to be Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the United States of America to Montenegro.

Jul 09, 14     PN1846    UNGA/UN

Michele Jeanne Sison, of Maryland, a Career Member of the Senior Foreign Service, Class of Career Minister, to be Representative of the United States of America to the Sessions of the General Assembly of the United Nations, during her tenure of service as Deputy Representative of the United States of America to the United Nations.

Jul 09, 14     PN1845    UNSC/UN

Michele Jeanne Sison, of Maryland, a Career Member of the Senior Foreign Service, Class of Career Minister, to be the Deputy Representative of the United States of America to the United Nations, with the rank and status of Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary, and the Deputy Representative of the United States of America in the Security Council of the United Nations.

Jul 09, 14     PN1843    Costa Rica

Stafford Fitzgerald Haney, of New Jersey, to be Ambassador Extraordinary  the Republic of Costa Rica.

Jul 09, 14     PN1842    Azerbaijan

Robert Francis Cekuta, of New York, a Career Member of the Senior Foreign Service, Class of Minister-Counselor, to be Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the United States of America to the Republic of Azerbaijan.

Jul 09, 14     PN1841    Fiji/Kiribati, Nauru, Tonga, and Tuvalu

Judith Beth Cefkin, of Colorado, a Career Member of the Senior Foreign Service, Class of Minister-Counselor, to be Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the United States of America to the Republic of Fiji, and to serve concurrently and without additional compensation as Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the United States of America to the Republic of Kiribati, the Republic of Nauru, the Kingdom of Tonga, and Tuvalu.

Jul 09, 14     PN1840    Macedonia

Jess Lippincott Baily, of Ohio, a Career Member of the Senior Foreign Service, Class of Minister-Counselor, to be Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the United States of America to the Republic of Macedonia.

Jun 16, 14     PN1773    UNGA/UN

David Pressman, of New York, to be an Alternate Representative of the United States of America to the Sessions of the General Assembly of the United Nations, during his tenure of service as Alternate Representative of the United States of America for Special Political Affairs in the United Nations.

Jun 16, 14     PN1772    USUN

David Pressman, of New York, to be Alternate Representative of the United States of America for Special Political Affairs in the United Nations, with the rank of Ambassador.

Jun 16, 14     PN1771    Botswana

Earl Robert Miller, of Michigan, a Career Member of the Senior Foreign Service, Class of Counselor, to be Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the United States of America to the Republic of Botswana.

Jun 16, 14     PN1770    Cabo Verde

Donald L. Heflin, of Virginia, a Career Member of the Senior Foreign Service, Class of Minister-Counselor, to be Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the United States of America to the Republic of Cabo Verde.

Jun 16, 14     PN1769    Slovenia

Brent Robert Hartley, of Oregon, a Career Member of the Senior Foreign Service, Class of Counselor, to be Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the United States of America to the Republic of Slovenia.

Jun 16, 14     PN1768    Rwanda

Erica J. Barks Ruggles, of Minnesota, a Career Member of the Senior Foreign Service, Class of Minister-Counselor, to be Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the United States of America to the Republic of Rwanda.

Jun 09, 14     PN1762    France

Jane D. Hartley, of New York, to be Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the United States of America to the French Republic.

Jun 05, 14     PN1754    Ireland

Kevin F. O’Malley, of Missouri, to be Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the United States of America to Ireland.

Jun 04, 14     PN1741    Guatemala

Todd D. Robinson, of New Jersey, a Career Member of the Senior Foreign Service, Class of Minister-Counselor, to be Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the United States of America to the Republic of Guatemala.

Jun 04, 14     PN1740    Turkmenistan

Allan P. Mustard, of Washington, a Career Member of the Senior Foreign Service, Class of Career Minister, to be Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the United States of America to Turkmenistan.

Jun 04, 14     PN1738    Turkey

John R. Bass, of New York, a Career Member of the Senior Foreign Service, Class of Minister-Counselor, to be Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the United States of America to the Republic of Turkey.

May 22, 14     PN1734    Moldova

James D. Pettit, of Virginia, a Career Member of the Senior Foreign Service, Class of Minister-Counselor, to be Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the United States of America to the Republic of Moldova.

May 22, 14     PN1733    Bangladesh

Marcia Stephens Bloom Bernicat, of New Jersey, a Career Member of the Senior Foreign Service, Class of Minister-Counselor, to be Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the United States of America to  the People’s Republic of Bangladesh.

May 05, 14     PN1644    Kazakhstan

George Albert Krol, of New Jersey, a Career Member of the Senior Foreign Service, Class of Minister-Counselor, to be Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the United States of America to the Republic of Kazakhstan.

Apr 10, 14     PN1569    Foreign Service

Nominations beginning Melinda Masonis, and ending Jeffrey R. Zihlman, Congressional Record on April 10, 2014.

Apr 10, 14     PN1568    Foreign Service

Nominations beginning Andrew J. Billard, and ending Brenda Vanhorn, which 11 nominations were received by the Senate and appeared in the Congressional Record on April 10, 2014.

Apr 10, 14     PN1567    Foreign Service

Nominations beginning Michael A. Lally, and ending John E. Simmons, which 4 nominations were received by the Senate and appeared in the Congressional Record on April 10, 2014.

Jan 30, 14     PN1384-2  Foreign Service

The following named Career Member of the Foreign Service of the Department of State for promotion into the Senior Foreign Service to the class indicated, effective January 1, 2012: Career Member of the Senior Foreign Service of the United States of America, Class of Counselor: Daniel Menco Hirsch

Jan 30, 14     PN1381-2  Foreign Service

Nominations beginning Douglas A. Koneff, and ending Lon C. Fairchild, which 3 nominations were received by the Senate and appeared in the Congressional Record on January 30, 2014.

Jan 30, 14     PN1378-2  Foreign Service

For appointment as Foreign Service Officer of Class Three, Consular Officer and Secretary in the Diplomatic Service of the United States of America: Aaron Schubert

Jan 30, 14     PN1377-2  Foreign Service

Nominations beginning Susan K. Brems, and ending R. Douglass Arbuckle, which 3 nominations were received by the Senate and appeared in the Congressional Record on January 30, 2014.

Jan 06, 14     PN1101    State/ENR

Carlos Pascual, of the District of Columbia, to be an Assistant Secretary of State (Energy Resources).

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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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