Senators Perdue and Kaine Sponsor Improving Department of State Oversight Act of 2015

Posted: 12:27 am  EDT

 

Last month, Sen. Perdue, David [R-GA] and Sen. Kaine, Tim [D-VA] introduced S.1527 – Improving Department of State Oversight Act of 2015.  Read the full text of the bill here.  Here is a summary via CRS:

This bill grants competitive status for appointment to a position in the competitive service for which the employee is qualified to any employee of the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction (SIGIR) who was not terminated for cause, and who completes at least 12 months of service at any time before the termination of the SIGIR on October 5, 2013.

The Secretary of State shall certify to Congress that the Department of State has made reasonable efforts to ensure the integrity and independence of the Office of the Inspector General Information Technology systems.

Each Department entity under the Foreign Service Act of 1980 shall report within five business days to the Inspector General (IG) any allegations of:

  • program waste, fraud, or abuse;
  • criminal or serious misconduct on the part of a Department employee at the FS-1, GS-15, GM-15 level or higher;
  • criminal misconduct on the part of any Department employee; and
  • serious, noncriminal misconduct on the part of any individual who is authorized to carry a weapon, make arrests, or conduct searches (such as conduct that would constitute perjury or material dishonesty, warrant suspension as discipline for a first offense, or result in loss of law enforcement authority).

The IG may investigate such matters.

No Department entity with concurrent jurisdiction over such matters, including the Bureau of Diplomatic Security, may initiate an investigation without first reporting the allegations to the IG.

A Department entity that initiates an investigation of such a matter must fully cooperate with the IG, unless the IG authorizes an exception.

Temporary relaxation of such restrictions may occur in exigent circumstances.

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This bill was referred to the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations which will consider it before sending it to the Senate floor for consideration.  According to govtrack.us, there are 5,343 bills and resolutions currently before the United States Congress. Of those, only about 5% will become law. They must be enacted before the end of the 2015-2017 session (the “114th Congress”).

 

OPM Announces Temporary Suspension of the E-QIP System For Background Investigation

Posted: 12:19 am EDT

 

On June 29, OPM announced the temporary suspension of the online system used to submit background investigation forms.  The system could be offline from 4-6 weeks.  Below via opm.gov:

WASHINGTON, D.C. – The U.S. Office of Personnel Management today announced the temporary suspension of the E-QIP system, a web-based platform used to complete and submit background investigation forms.

Director Katherine Archuleta recently ordered a comprehensive review of the security of OPM’s IT systems. During this ongoing review, OPM and its interagency partners identified a vulnerability in the e-QIP system. As a result, OPM has temporarily taken the E-QIP system offline for security enhancements. The actions OPM has taken are not the direct result of malicious activity on this network, and there is no evidence that the vulnerability in question has been exploited. Rather, OPM is taking this step proactively, as a result of its comprehensive security assessment, to ensure the ongoing security of its network.

OPM expects e-QIP could be offline for four to six weeks while these security enhancements are implemented. OPM recognizes and regrets the impact on both users and agencies and is committed to resuming this service as soon as it is safe to do so.  In the interim, OPM remains committed to working with its interagency partners on alternative approaches to address agencies’ requirements.

“The security of OPM’s networks remains my top priority as we continue the work outlined in my IT Strategic Plan, including the continuing implementation of modern security controls,” said OPM Director Archuleta. “This proactive, temporary suspension of the e-QIP system will ensure our network is as secure as possible for the sensitive data with which OPM is entrusted.”

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Meanwhile, on June 22, AFSA sent a letter to OPM Director Katherine Archuleta with the following requests:

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via afsa.org (click for larger view)

 

On June 25, AFSA is one of the 27 federal-postal employee coalition groups who urge President Obama to “immediately appoint a task force of leading agency, defense/intelligence, and private-sector IT experts, with a short deadline, to assist in the ongoing investigation, apply more forceful measures to protect federal personnel IT systems, and assure adequate notice to the federal workforce and the American public.”  (read letter here: AFSA Letter sent in conjunction with the Federal-Postal Coalition |June 25, 2015 | pdf)

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June Is PTSD Awareness Month — Let’s Talk Mental Health, Join Us at the Forum

Posted: 11:13 pm  EDT

Join us at the forum today at http://forums.diplopundit.net, noon – 2pm, EST

I’ve blogged about mental health in the State Department for years now (see links below). I know that a mental health issue affecting one person is not a story of just one person.  It affects parents, spouses, children, siblings, friends; it affects the home and the workplace. It is a story of families and communities. While there is extensive support in the military community, that’s not always the case when it comes to members of the Foreign Service.

I once wrote about a former Foreign Service kid and his dad with severe PTSD. A few of you took the time to write and/or send books to the ex-FS employee incarcerated in Colorado, thank you.

I’ve written about Ron CappsRachel SchnellerCandace Faber, FSOs who came forward to share their brave struggles with all of us. There was also a senior diplomat disciplined for volatile behavior who cited PTSD, I’ve also written about Michael C. Dempsey, USAID’s first war-zone related suicide, and railed about suicide prevention resources.  The 2014 Foreign Service Grievance Board 2014 annual report says that eight of the new cases filed involved a claim that a disability, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), or other medical condition affected the employee performance or conduct that resulted in a separation recommendation.

With very few exceptions, people who write to this blog about mental health and PTSD do so only on background. Here are a few:

  • A State Department employee with PTSD recently told this blog that “Anyone outside of our little insular community would be appalled at the way we treat our mentally ill.”  The individual concludes with clear frustration that it “seems sometimes the only unofficially sanctioned treatment plan encouraged is to keep the commissaries well stocked with the adult beverage of your choice.” 
  • Another one whose PTSD claim from service at a PRT in Iraq languished at OWCP said, “I can assure you that OER and State Med have been nothing but obstructions… as a vet, I have been treated at VA for the past ten months, else I would have killed myself long ago.”
  • Still another one writes: “VA indicates the average time between trauma and treatment-seeking is eight years. The longer it is undiagnosed and treated, the more difficult to ameliorate. I have a formal diagnosis from VA but could not even get the name of a competent psychiatrist from DoS. The bulk of DoS PTSD claims are still a few years away (2008/2009 PLUS 8), with no competent preparation or process.”
  • A friend of a State employee wrote that her DOS friend was “deployed/assigned to a  war-torn country not too long ago for a year. Came back with PTSD and  was forced by superiors to return to very stressful/high pressure work  duties while also seeking medical attention for an undiagnosed then, but eventually diagnosed (took about 6 months) disease  triggered by environmental conditions where s/he was last posted.”
  • Another FSO said, “I actually thought State did a decent job with my PTSD. After I was subject to an attack in Kabul, the social worker at post was readily available and helpful. He indicated I could depart post immediately if I needed to (and many did after the attack). When I departed post I was screened for PTSD and referred to MED here in DC. After a few sessions here with MED, I was referred to a private psychologist who fixed things up in a few months.”
  • One FSO who suffered from PTSD assured us that “State has come a very long way since 2005″ and that it has made remarkable progress for an institution. Her concerns is that PTSD is widespread in the Department in the sense that people develop it in a wide range of posts and assignments. She cited consular officers in particular, who evacuate people from natural disasters and civil wars and deal with death cases on a regular basis, and are particularly at risk.

 

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June is PTSD Awareness Month. We are hosting a forum at http://forums.diplopundit.net for an open discussion on PTSD.

It’s not everyday that we get a chance to ask questions from somebody with post traumatic stress disorder. On Monday, June 29, FSO Rachel Schneller will join the forum and answer readers’ questions  based on her personal experience with PTSD.  She will be at this blog’s forum from noon to 2 pm EST. She will join the forum in her personal capacity, with her own views and not as a representative of the State Department or the U.S. Government.  She’s doing this as a volunteer, and we appreciate her time and effort in obtaining official permission and  joining us to help spread PTSD awareness. Please feel free to post your questions here.

Rachel Schneller joined the Foreign Service in 2001. Following a tour in Iraq 2005-6, she was diagnosed with PTSD. Her efforts to highlight the needs of Foreign Service Officers returning from tours in war zones helped prompt a number of changes in the State Department, for which she was awarded the 2008 Rivkin Award for Constructive Dissent.

Prior to joining the U.S. Department of State, Rachel served as a Peace Corps volunteer in Mali from 1996-98. She earned her MA from the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS) in 2001. We have previously featured Rachel in this blog here, and here.

The forum, specifically created for PTSD discussion is setup as an “open” forum at this time; readers may post questions without registration.  We’re hosting, same Privacy Policy apply.

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Below are some of our previous blog posts on mental health, PTSD, security clearance and the State Department’s programs:

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

USAID’s First War-Zone Related Suicide – Michael C. Dempsey, Rest in Peace

State Dept’s Suicide Prevention Resources — A Topic So Secret No One Wants to Talk About It

Former Foreign Service Kid Writes About Dad With Severe PTSD  (Many thanks to readers who took the time to write and send books to Tony Gooch! We appreciate your kindness).

Ron Capps | Back From The Brink: War, Suicide, And PTSD

Rachel Schneller | PTSD: The Best Thing that Ever Happened to Me

Senior Diplomat Disciplined for Volatile Behavior Cites PTSD in Grievance Case, Fails

Pick the Long or Short Form, But Take the Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) Screening

On the Infamous Q21, PTSD (Again) and High Threat Unaccompanied Assignments

Ambassador Crocker Arrested for Hit and Run and DUI in Spokane

Quickie | Running Amok: Mental Health in the U.S. Foreign Service

Former FSO William Anthony Gooch: No Mercy for Broken Men?

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder: The Ticking Bomb in the Foreign Service

Clinton issues note on mental health; seeking help a sign of maturity and professionalism

EFM shouldn’t have to see three RMOs, do a PPT presentation and wait 352 days for help

Join the Petition: Revised Q21 for the Foreign Service

State Dept’s WarZone Deployment Incentives, Programs, Training and Medical Support

DMW: Mental Health Treatment Still a Security Clearance Issue at State Department

Insider Quote: Returning to the Real World

What’s State Doing with Question 21?

 

Burn Bag: Ding! Ding! Ding! This Is Your ‘More Than Just Stupid’ Warning!

Via Burn Bag:

“A director of a regional diplomatic courier office has openly expressed he does not want to hire “women of childbearing age”. He achieves this by carefully examining candidates’ resumes when hiring to fill an EFM position. BBag, can you stop this stupidity, considering it’s from an FS-1?”

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EFM – eligible family member
FS01 – the highest rank in the regular Foreign Service, last step before the Senior Foreign Service; equivalent to a full Colonel in the military

Why this is more than just stupid? SCOTUS:

The Supreme Court decides International Union, UAW v. Johnson Controls and addresses the issue of fetal hazards. In this case, the employer barred women of childbearing age from certain jobs due to potential harm that could occur to a fetus. The Court rules that the employer’s restriction against fertile women performing “dangerous jobs” constitutes sex discrimination under Title VII. The Court further rules that the employer’s fetal protection policy could be justified only if being able to bear children was a bona fide occupational qualification (BFOQ) for the job. The fact that the job posed risk to fertile women does not justify barring all fertile women from the position.

The Supreme Court in Phillips v. Martin Marietta Corp. holds that Title VII’s prohibition against sex discrimination means that employers cannot discriminate on the basis of sex plus other factors such as having school age children. In practical terms, EEOC’s policy forbids employers from using one hiring policy for women with small children and a different policy for males with children of a similar age.

In Gibson v. West, the Supreme Court endorses EEOC’s position that it has the legal authority to require that federal agencies pay compensatory damages when EEOC has ruled during the administrative process that the federal agency has unlawfully discriminated in violation of Title VII.

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“M” Writes Update to State Department Employees Regarding OPM Breach

Posted: 1:36 pm EDT

 

It took 18 days before I got my OPM notification on the PII breach. Nothing still on the reported background investigation breach. OPM says it will notify those individuals whose BI information may have been compromised “as soon as practicable.”  That might not happen until the end of July! The hub who previously worked for State and another agency has yet to get a single notification from OPM. We have gone ahead and put a fraud alert for everyone in the family. What’s next? At the rate this is going, will we soon need fraud alerts for the pets in our household? They have names and passports, and could be targeted for kidnapping, you guys!!

And yes, I’ve watched the multiple OPM hearings now, and no, I could not generate confidence for the OPM people handling this, no matter how hard I try. Click here for the timeline of the various breaches via nextgov.com, some never disclosed to the public.

Still waiting for the White House to do a Tina Fey:

you're all fired

via giphy.com

On June 25, the Under Secretary for Management, Patrick Kennedy sent a message to State Department employees regarding the OPM breach. There’s nothing new on this latest State update that we have not seen or heard previously except the detail from the National Counterintelligence and Security Center (NCSC) at http://www.ncsc.gov (pdf) on how to protect personal information from exploitation (a tad late for that, but anyways …) because Foreign Intelligence Services and/or cybercriminals could exploit the information and target you.

Wait, what did OPM say about families? “[W]e have no evidence to suggest that family members of employees were affected by the breach of personnel data.” 

Via the NCSC:

Screen Shot 2015-06-26

no kidding!

Screen Shot 2015-06-26

you don’t say!

Here is M’s message from June 25, 2015 to State employees. As far as we know, this is the first notification posted publicly online on this subject, which is  good as these incidents potentially affect not just current employees but prospective employees, former employees, retirees and family members.

Dear Colleagues,

I am writing to provide you an update on the recent cyber incidents at the U.S. Office of Personnel Management (OPM) which has just been received.

As we have recently shared, on June 4th, OPM announced an intrusion impacting personnel information of approximately four million current and former Federal employees. OPM is offering affected individuals credit monitoring services and identity theft insurance with CSID, a company that specializes in identity theft protection and fraud resolution. Additional information is available on the company’s website, https://www.csid.com/opm/ and by calling toll-free 844-777-2743 (international callers: call collect 512-327-0705). More information can also be found on OPM’s website: www.opm.gov.

Notifications to individuals affected by this incident began on June 8th on a rolling basis through June 19th. However, it may take several days beyond June 19 for a notification to arrive by email or mail. If you have any questions about whether you were among those affected by the incident announced on June 4, you may call the toll free number above.

On June 12th, OPM announced a separate cyber intrusion affecting systems that contain information related to background investigations of current, former, and prospective Federal Government employees from across all branches of government, as well as other individuals for whom a Federal background investigation was conducted, including contractors. This incident remains under investigation by OPM, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), and the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI). The investigators are working to determine the exact number and list of potentially affected individuals. We understand that many of you are concerned about this intrusion. As this is an ongoing investigation, please know that OPM is working to notify potentially affected individuals as soon as possible. The Department is working extensively with our interagency colleagues to determine the specific impact on State Department employees.

It is an important reminder that OPM discovered this incident as a result of the agency’s concerted and aggressive efforts to strengthen its cybersecurity capabilities and protect the security and integrity of the information entrusted to the agency. In addition, OPM continues to work with the Office of Management and Budget (OMB), the Department of Homeland Security, the FBI, and other elements of the Federal Government to enhance the security of its systems and to detect and thwart evolving and persistent cyber threats. As a result of the work by the interagency incident response team, we have confidence in the integrity of the OPM systems and continue to use them in the performance of OPM’s mission. OPM continues to process background investigations and carry out other functions on its networks.

Additionally, OMB has instructed Federal agencies to immediately take a number of steps to further protect Federal information and assets and improve the resilience of Federal networks. We are working with OMB to ensure we are enforcing the latest standards and tools to protect the security and interests of the State Department workforce.

We will continue to update you as we learn more about the cyber incidents at OPM. OPM is the definitive source for information on the recent cyber incidents. Please visit OPM’s website for regular updates on both incidents and for answers to frequently asked questions: www.opm.gov/cybersecurity. We are also interested in your feedback and questions on the incident and our communications. You can reach out to us at DG DIRECT (DGDirect@state.gov) with these comments.

State Department employees who want to learn additional information about the measures they can take to ensure the safety of their personal information can find resources at the National Counterintelligence and Security Center (NCSC) at http://www.ncsc.gov. The following are also some key reminders of the seriousness of cyber threats and of the importance of vigilance in protecting our systems and data.

Steps for Monitoring Your Identity and Financial Information

  • Monitor financial account statements and immediately report any suspicious or unusual activity to financial institutions.
  • Request a free credit report at www.AnnualCreditReport.com or by calling 1-877-322-8228. Consumers are entitled by law to one free credit report per year from each of the three major credit bureaus – Equifax®, Experian®, and TransUnion® – for a total of three reports every year. Contact information for the credit bureaus can be found on the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) website, www.ftc.gov.
  • Review resources provided on the FTC identity theft website, www.Identitytheft.gov. The FTC maintains a variety of consumer publications providing comprehensive information on computer intrusions and identity theft.
  • You may place a fraud alert on your credit file to let creditors know to contact you before opening a new account in your name. Simply call TransUnion® at 1-800-680-7289 to place this alert. TransUnion® will then notify the other two credit bureaus on your behalf.

Read in full here.

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Terrorist Attacks Rock France, Tunisia, Kuwait: Three Countries. Three Continents. All Soft Targets.

Posted: 4:41  pm EDT

 

Terrorists attacked sites in France, Tunisia and Kuwait today. At least 37 people including British, Belgian and German nationals were killed by gunmen at a beach resort in Tunisia, one person was reportedly decapitated in France at a US-owned factory, and at least 25 people were killed at a suicide bombing at a mosque in Kuwait. Three countries, three continents and  all soft targets.
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The US Embassy Paris released the following security message on 

The U.S. Embassy in Paris informs U.S. citizens that a terrorist attack took place at approximately 10 AM today at a U.S.-owned factory in Saint-Quentin-Fallavier, Isere, France, southeast of Lyon, at a large industrial park. One person was killed and two others were reported injured. None of the deceased or injured was a U.S. citizen. The motivation for the attack is unknown, and one suspect is in French government custody.   The Government of France maintains a threat rating system, known locally as “Vigipirate,” similar to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security Advisory System. Following the January 2015 terrorist attacks, the Government of France raised the “Vigipirate” level and continues to evaluate its security posture on a regular basis. Up-to-date information is available on the “Vigipirate” website in French.

 

Under this system, the government routinely augments police with armed forces and increases visibility at airports, train and metro stations, and other high-profile locations such as schools, major tourist attractions, and government installations. Over the last few years, there have been arrests of suspected militant extremists allegedly involved in terrorist plots. French authorities have spoken publicly about the heightened threat conditions for terrorist attacks in Europe.

 

U.S. citizens in France are encouraged to remain vigilant. Immediately report unattended packages observed in public places, or any other suspicious activities, to French law enforcement authorities. French authorities are proactive and will respond immediately. If there is a security incident or suspicious package, do not linger in the area to observe.

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The  US Embassy in Tunis released the following  message:

The U.S. Embassy wishes to alert U.S. citizens to a terrorist attack in Tunisia around the Kantaoui area at the Imperial Riu Marhaba and Soviva hotels in Sousse.   The U.S. Embassy urges U.S. citizens to avoid the Kantaoui area and surrounding vicinity. The U.S. Embassy reiterates our standing guidance that U.S. citizens in Tunisia should exercise caution when frequenting public venues that are visited by large numbers of foreigners, such as hotels, shopping centers, and tourist sites and restaurants.

U.S. citizens should also be alert to the possibility of kidnapping.  U.S. citizens are reminded to exercise caution and avoid areas where large gatherings may occur.  Even demonstrations or events intended to be peaceful can turn confrontational and possibly escalate into violence.  U.S. citizens should monitor local events, report suspicious activity to the local police, and take appropriate steps to bolster their own security.

Travelers contemplating trips to the interior of the country should assess local conditions and routes when making travel plans.  In particular, all travel south of the designated military zone in the south must be coordinated in advance with Tunisian authorities.  Also, travel to either border should be avoided if possible given the periodic security incidents along the border regions.

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The US Embassy in Kuwait issued this: Explosion at Mosque in Al-Sawaber neighborhood of Kuwait City – Security Notice for U.S. Citizens 2015

There has been an explosion at a mosque in the Al Sawaber neighborhood of Kuwait.  There have been reports of deaths and injuries.  U.S. citizens should avoid the area.  Please stay current with media coverage of local and regional events. U.S. Mission personnel have been advised to continue to practice personal security awareness and we advise the U.S. citizen community to do the same.

The embassy also released a statement calling the explosion “a senseless terrorist attack on worshipers in the Al-Imam Al-Sadiq Mosque”, condemning the attack and says that “the United States stands ready to assist our friend and ally Kuwait in any way possible.”
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Below is the WH statement on the three attacks:

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SCOTUS Rules Same-Sex Marriage Is a Right, See Round-Up of US Embassies on LGBT Pride Month

Posted: 9:27 am PDT

 

SCOTUS ruled today in a 5-4 decision that the Constitution guarantees a right to same-sex marriage. Justice Kennedy said gay and lesbian couples had a fundamental right to marry. Excerpt from the majority opinion written by Justice Kennedy (via NYT):

“No union is more profound than marriage, for it embodies the highest ideals of love, fidelity, devotion, sacrifice, and family,” he wrote. “In forming a marital union, two people become something greater than once they were.”

“It would misunderstand these men and women to say they disrespect the idea of marriage,” Justice Kennedy said of the couples challenging state bans on same-sex marriage. “Their plea is that they do respect it, respect it so deeply that they seek to find its fulfillment for themselves. Their hope is not to be condemned to live in loneliness, excluded from one of civilization’s oldest institutions. They ask for equal dignity in the eyes of the law. The Constitution grants them that right.”

The case is Obergefell v. Hodges.  Read the SCOTUS opinion here (pdf). Sending hugs to our friends in the LGBT community this beautiful and historic summer day!

Below is a round-up of U.S. embassies marking LGBT Pride Month this year:

Nicosia, Cyprus

Wellington, New Zealand


Manila , Philippines

Ankara, Turkey

Tel Aviv, Israel

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Buenos Aires, Argentina


Luxembourg

 

Tokyo, Japan 

 

London, United Kingdom

Meanwhile, in Amman, Jordan

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US Embassy Burundi: Students Broke Into Embassy Grounds Seeking Refuge (Updated)

Posted: 2:32 am  EDT
Updated: 3:05 PM EDT

 

Update via US Embassy Bujumbura on the students who entered the embassy compound:

After the Burundian National Police broke down the student camp at the construction site yesterday, the university student who sought refuge at the U.S.Embassy were allowed to stay for the afternoon and provided with water. The students remained in the Embassy parking lot until approximately 7:30 pm when they departed of their own free will after speaking with Ambassador Dawn Liberi. There was no effort to forcibly remove them.

The students relocated to a refuge run by a religious entity. The U.S. Embassy continues to work with the Government of Burundi to fully resolve this issue and has also been in contact with humanitarian organizations on behalf of the students.

Last month, the US Embassy in Bujumbura, Burundi went on ordered departure (see New #Burundi Travel Warning, Non-Emergency US Embassy Staff & Family Members Now on Ordered Departure).

On June 25, this happened:

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The US Embassy released the following statement on June 25:

At approximately 1:15 pm Burundian National Police entered a construction site adjacent to the U.S. Embassy where university students set up camp seeking refuge when violence broke out in Bujumbura at the end of April and the national university was closed. The students dispersed from the site in an orderly manner and some entered the Embassy parking lot. Approximately 100 students peacefully remain in the visitor parking lot of the U.S. Embassy.

The police and students had no physical confrontation. The police officers did not resort to violence; no shots were fired and tear gas was not used. Four people suffered minor injuries during the movement. All embassy staff members are safe and accounted for.

The U.S. Embassy has contacted the Government of Burundi and urged them to find a peaceful resolution to the situation.

We understand that the students went into a lot that is outside the real embassy perimeter (as per standard embassy design). We’re also told that the gap below the gate is probably due to ground settling over the years since construction.

We should note that the embassy occupied the new embassy compound in October 2012. According to the OIG report, the embassy occupies a modern compound with an electrical generating capacity equal to that of the entire national grid. The capital cost of the new embassy compound, $137 million, is 25 percent of the national government’s annual budget.

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State Department’s Visa Systems Now Operational at 165 of 220 Posts Worldwide

Posted: 1:56 am  EDT

 

The State Department’s Consular Consolidated Database problems that affected travelers globally is is now back online at 165 of 220 visa issuance posts worldwide.  The latest update does not explain in details the cause of the glitch except to cite the hardware issue.  It also says that service was restored “using a redundant, secondary backup system and other sources.”  It does not explain what “other sources” mean but if it took at least 9 days to get that redundant, secondary back-up system to kick in, that’s not a very good system.

The Consular Affairs-issued FAQ asks how many people were affected by this outage? The answer it provides to this question is neither here nor there.  Folks, if you can’t answer your own question, please don’t include it.

According to travel.state.gov, the average visa applications processed every day worldwide is 50,000 x 9 days (June 9-19)=450,000 + 25,000 (half the average daily applications) x 4 days (June 22-25) = 100,000. Total number potentially affected 550,000.  Is that close enough?

The June 25 update says that if systems had been operating normally, posts would have issued approximately 540,000 visas since the outage started. Whoa! Help us out here. What kind of refusal/approval rates are we looking at here? That 540,000 figure is a little hinky because not all applicants who apply are issued visas. If it would have issued 540,000  visas, what would have been the total number of applicants?  Note that all of them must pay the visa fees. We estimate that the USG loss from this latest glitch is between $72 to $84 million (average daily applications globally x no. of days x $160 visa fee). Is that too low?

Meanwhile, StarrFMonline.com reported that the US Embassy in Accra, has “dismissed reports that it is ripping Ghanaians off by accepting visa fees in spite of the visa issuance imbroglio that has hit US embassies across the world.” The consular section chief  had to explain that “if anybody was refused a visa, that was because of the case and has nothing to do with our technical issues.”

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On June 24, the Bureau of Consular Affairs reports that 50 posts, representing nearly 73 percent of its  nonimmigrant visa demand worldwide, are back online and issuing visas.  It also says that “posts overseas have issued more than 150,000 non-immigrant visas since June 9.” And that for context, if systems had been operating normally, posts would have issued approximately 450,000 visas during the June 9-23 timeframe.

On June 25, the Bureau of Consular Affairs reports that 165 posts, representing more than 85 percent of nonimmigrant visa demand worldwide, are now online and issuing visas.  The update says that if systems had been operating normally, posts would have issued approximately 540,000 visas since the outage started.

Via travel.state.gov, June 25 update:

Visa Systems Issues

  • The Bureau of Consular Affairs reports that 165 posts, representing more than 85 percent of our nonimmigrant visa demand worldwide, are now online and issuing visas. 

  • Posts overseas issued more than 82,000 visas on June 24. 

  • Posts overseas have issued more than 238,000 non-immigrant visas this week. For context, if systems had been operating normally, posts would have issued approximately 540,000 visas since the outage started. 

  • We will continue to bring additional posts online until connectivity with all posts is restored. All posts worldwide are now scheduling interviews with applicants, including with those who applied after the systems problems began on June 9.

  • We deeply regret the inconvenience to travelers who are waiting for visas, as well as their families and U.S. businesses that have been affected.

  • We continue to post updates to our website, travel.state.gov.

 

Q: Reports indicate that your backlog is 700,000 visas. Is this accurate?

No. While there is a large backlog of cases to clear, it never approached that level, and we have already made good progress issuing those visas. Many posts are working overtime this week and during the upcoming weekend, and we expect to eliminate the backlog in a week or less.


Q: How old is this equipment? And does the age of the equipment and the need to have so many repairs to the hardware mean that this equipment should have been replaced? Is this a funding issue at the base of it?

The hardware that impacted the biometrics system is several years old. The Department was working to move the biometrics system off of this hardware.

The operational requirements to keep this database running for domestic and overseas passport and visa issuances caused delays in upgrading the database according to our planned maintenance schedule.

We have been working to upgrade our systems over the past year.

We will move ahead with planned migration and systems upgrades as soon as we fully restore service.

Q: How did you restore service?

We restored service using a redundant, secondary backup system and other sources. That data allowed us to begin to re-connect posts to the affected portion of the system and synchronize biometric data. This system is running on newer hardware, and has a synchronized standby system in a different Department data center.

In parallel, we are continuing to restore data from backups and overseas post databases. This process is ongoing.

Q: Do you know whether this is equipment that was acquired directly by the State Department, or was this acquired through a third-party contractor?

The equipment was acquired by the Department of State.

Q: How many people were affected by this outage?

During the past two weeks, consular sections have continued to interview travelers who applied June 8 or earlier. Those posts reconnected to our system are now issuing visas for those applicants.

Q: How are cases being prioritized?

We continue to facilitate urgent cases for those individuals who need to travel imminently, and will continue to do so until the systems are normal.

We apologize to travelers and recognize that this has caused hardship to some individuals waiting for visas as well as families and employers.

Q: What about the foreign agricultural workers (H2A visa holders?)

More than 2,500 temporary or seasonal workers have been issued new visas in Mexico since last week.

We will continue to prioritize H-2 applicants as our systems return to normal, and issue as many approved cases as possible. However, we will not be able to process these as quickly as we typically do until our systems are functioning normally. We continue to ask that any employers with urgent needs contact the post which is processing their applicants and we will do everything we can to facilitate the cases.

We are no longer asking CBP to provide Port of Entry waivers, as we have now begun issuing visas at border posts.

Visa applicants, including agricultural workers, who have not received a visa should not report to the border. Please contact the nearest embassy or consulate.

Read more here.