Photo of the Day: Have you tested your gas masks yet?

Posted: 3:01 am EDT


Via US Embassy Oslo/FB, October 15, 2015:

“Embassy behind the scenes: We just had a Weapon of Mass Destruction exercise at the Embassy, where everyone got to test their gas masks. Security is something we take seriously, but there’s no reason not to smile while practicing our routines.”

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NEA/SPP Language Divisions: From FSI to Wilson Blvd Rosslyn Until 2020

Posted: 3:01 am EDT


Last week we blogged about the rumored move of two language divisions from FSI (see NEA and SPP Language Divisions Moving Out of the Foreign Service Institute?).  We understand that Ambassador Nancy McEldowney, the director of the Foreign Service Institute has announced — through a reply to the post on the Sounding Board — that the contract has now been signed.  Starting in the fall of 2016, NEA and SPP languages will hold classes at the former Boeing building on Wilson Boulevard in Rosslyn, Virginia.  This arrangement will reportedly last only until 2020, when these departments will move back to the FSI campus. New comments received:

Some of us took handshakes on jobs with language training expecting to drive from locations that aren’t metro accessible, and some parents will now have to drop kids off at FSI (or other) daycare; FSI’s solution is, right now, to “encourage students to consider the metro” and a promise to provide information on the Transit Subsidy.

This will be enormously convenient for people on TDY language orders who can live at one of the many direct bill properties in Rosslyn within a few blocks walk — but many of us are on DC assignments, not on per diem, and cannot rearrange our lives based on a change that wasn’t announced until we’d accepted handshakes.

Screen Shot 2015-11-22 at 9.51.47 PM

Building on Wilson Boulevard, Rosslyn (photo via the Arlington Economic Development)

One source told us that the building will also have a fitness center and that parents will still be permitted to use the FSI daycare center.  However, the lease apparently does not include a provision for parking for staff and students, although it looks like the newly leased building has 259 parking spaces.  Monthly parking in the area ranges from $135 to $150 a month.  The published solicitation only requires 24 parking spaces.

According to public records, the building has 12 stories. We were informed that the language school will occupy floors 1-8, but that other State entities are considering moving into the rest of the building. Which entities, we have no idea at this time.

FSI will now reportedly form “working groups” to address a number of the issues associated with the temporary facility, including transportation.  Most of the the anxieties we’ve heard related to this move could have been avoided if the “working groups” were created before the plans became final. But it looks like this is now a done deal.  If you’re one of the students who will be affected by this move, you may contact FSI and get yourself into one of these working groups. We hope that these groups will be able to come up with plans to help mitigate the disruptions to some FSI students and staff the next five years.

We were able to find the first notice of an FSI expansion space dated December 8, 2014.  The solicitation was posted on FedBiz this past July and modified on September 30, 2015.

Here are the requirement published via FedBiz (partial list from the announcement):

The Department has a requirement for a single building/facility to increase classroom space to support expanded training program requirements and increased enrollments in the coming years . The base requirement is approximately 75,000 usf; lobby space for security access control will be provided in addition if required by the specific building. Options for 20,000 usf are additionally included, exercisable within any contract period.

Time Frame: Fully finished training space, ready for occupancy, including services to support facility operations, must be delivered within six months of contract award and in no event later than six months after contract award. This contract will be for one five-year base period with five additional one-year options, and includes options for an additional 20,000 usf, exercisable within any contract year.

Training Facility Requirements: The facility must be housed in a single location, and may be comprised of one large area on a single floor, or be collocated on consecutive stacked floors in a single building. These floors must be kept secured and not accessible by occupants of other floors in the building. If warranted, additional building and /or lobby space may be required to screen and control access for the training facility. The Department may install perimeter security or intrusion detection systems as deemed necessary.

The training facility will have complete telecommunications, voice/data/video, with Wi-Fi and internet connectivity throughout the facility (see Requirements).

The training facility will have a minimum of 24 parking spaces on site or within immediate proximity to the site.  To accommodate staff/students who may use bicycles for transportation, the contractor should provide sixteen covered bicycle racks near or close to the 24 parking spaces.

Contractor will provide an additional requirement for 20,000 usf of classroom/training program space within six to twelve months of occupancy of this space if required by the Government pursuant to the option provisions of the contract. Anticipated hours of operation will be from 6:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m.

Facility and Services|  The contractor will provide the following:

158 Language Classrooms (180 usf each classroom) Each classroom shall have a smart board (TV), white board, bulletin/tack board and adequate lighting, modular tables with 5 chairs, 5 open cubbies for storage of student backpacks, purses, etc. and associated cabling for telecommunication capability. Must have adequate sound attenuation for classroom use. Paint, carpet, adequate HV/AC, and a locking door.

77 Language Instructor collaboration spaces. Each shared by 3 instructors (180 usf each space) Each instructor space shall have modular furniture with double  row overhead storage bins and task lighting, pull-out keyboard tray, rolling lockable under desk file cabinet, acceptable ceiling lighting, a locking door, and associated cabling for telecommunication capability. Paint, carpet, adequate HVAC.

Suite with 20 student consultation rooms at 50 usf each and 200 circulation space/hallway. Each consultation room shall have a small table and 2 chairs. Paint, carpet, adequate lighting, adequate HV/AC, and a locking suite door(s). Interior consultation room doors should not have locks, and should be windowed to permit visibility into room.

One (1) Distance Learning classroom/delivery classroom with DVC capability with associated cabling for telecommunication/video capability; modular tables and chairs. Paint, carpet, adequate HV/AC, and a locking door.

Four (4) gaming/simulation rooms at 350 usf each, with modular tables and chairs; with one (1) control room at 200 usf; both with associated cabling for telecommunication/video capability.

One (1) DVC classroom and control room with associated cabling for telecommunication/video capability; modular tables and chairs.

Two (2) Active Learning classrooms at 1,000 usf each. Shall have a smart board, computer projection with drop down screen, adequate lighting, modular tables with 40 chairs, podium, and associated cabling for telecommunication capability.

Two (2) Quiet Study Rooms for students each about 300 usf, with tables/chairs.Paint, carpet, good lighting, adequate HV/AC.

Lactation Room – Sink with running water, garbage disposal, refrigerator, modular furniture with partitions and shelving, electrical outlets for pumping equipment and ten chairs. Paint, carpet, acceptable lighting, adequate HV/AC, and a locking door.

Ten (10) pantries (about 230 usf each with refrigerators, Microwaves, sinks with garbage disposals, vending machines with hot/cold drinks and healthy snacks). Located in an open central place. Paint, carpet, good lighting, adequate HV/AC.

Note that USF refers to useable square footage. [When a tenant occupies a full-floor, the usable square feet amount extends to everything inside the boundaries of the building floor, minus stairwells and elevator shafts. This can include non-usable areas like janitorial closets, or mechanical and electrical rooms. It also encompasses private bathrooms and floor common areas, like kitchenettes, hallways, and reception areas that are specific to that floor’s use (via].

The requirements include a Language Program Management Suite, a Training Computer Server Area, a Registration/IT Support Area,  a DS Processing Area, and an SLS Senior Dean Consultation Suite, among those listed. We have not been able to locate a requirement for a language lab in the solicitation.

The contract requirement also includes a “Facility Manager, who shall have primary responsibility for the operation and maintenance of the facility on a day–to–day basis and who shall be the primary point of contact for the government on all matters relating to the use of the facility by the government during the period of performance of the contract, and eight full time administrative staff to support the daily classroom functions during operating hours.


Top Five/Bottom Five For Performance Awards in FY2014

Posted: 2:48 am EDT


Via GovExec:

The number of career senior executives receiving a bonus based on their job performance increased by 12.2 percentage points between fiscal years 2013 and 2014 across government, and the average amount of individual performance awards increased $347 during that time.
Here are the top five most generous agencies when it came to individual performance awards in fiscal 2014. We’ve defined “most generous” as those agencies that provided bonuses that were more than the average individual award of $10,560 governmentwide. Again, these are averages; some senior executives might have received more money, and others less than the amount listed in parentheses.

  1. National Science Foundation ($15,333)
  2. Justice ($14,600)
  3. Small Business Administration ($13,894)
  4. Education ($12,800)
  5. Commerce ($12,177)

The agencies that doled out the smallest individual SES performance (less than $10,560) awards in fiscal 2014 were:

  1. State Department ($8,434)
  2. General Services Administration ($8,509)
  3. Nuclear Regulatory Commission ($9,013)
  4. Transportation Department ($9,063)
  5. Veterans Affairs Department ($9,450)


US Embassy Moscow Wields Wicked Red Pen of Doom on Fake State Dept Letter

Posted: 2:38 am EDT



The Kremlin-friendly Izvestia newspaper claimed that Washington was attempting to discredit politicians loyal to President Vladimir Putin.  It published what it claimed were emails hacked from the US State Department’s computer system.  However, the US Embassy in Moscow dismissed the accusation and provided a commentary on the letter and all its inaccuracies.  The Embassy even helpfully tweeted the newspaper: ‘Next time you are going to use fake letters — send them to us. We’ll help you correct the errors.’


Stock up on red pens @WBStevens!


#BrusselsLockdown Response: Keep Calm and Tweet a Cat; Also No Consular Services on 11/23

Posted: 3:32 pm PDT


During an ongoing police operations in Belgium on Sunday, Brussels Police requested the public to observe radio silence on social media.  Crisis Center Belgium also asked the people to remain calm and to strictly follow all the instructions of the security forces.



The Belgians and Twitter responded by tweeting cat photos.  We recently lost our cat companion of 18 years, so don’t blame us too much if we get enamored with these cats.












Also on November 22, the U.S. Embassy in Brussels announced the closure of the Consular Section on Monday, November 23 as well as the continued elevated threat in the capital city and the rest of Belgium:

The U.S. Embassy in Brussels informs U.S. citizens that the current threat level remains at Level 4 (serious threat of imminent attack) for Brussels, and Level 3 (high) for the rest of the country.

All public schools in Brussels will be closed on Monday, November 23. The International School of Brussels, Brussels American School, and St. John’s International School will also be closed. For other schools please consult their administrations.

All Metro stations will be closed on Monday. Other public transportation options, like trams, are operating on a limited basis. Regional trains and airports are operating but authorities urge vigilance.

The Belgian government continues to caution citizens to avoid public places such as major pedestrian walkways and shopping centers. The Belgian government will again reassess the threat level on Monday. We will provide further information as available.

The U.S. Embassy Consular Section will be offering emergency services only. All scheduled appointments are cancelled. Information on rescheduling these appointments will be available on our website.

In this time of elevated threat, the U.S. Embassy in Brussels reminds U.S. citizens to exercise caution in public transportation systems, sporting events, residential areas, business offices, hotels, clubs, restaurants, places of worship, schools, public areas, shopping malls, and other tourist destinations. U.S. citizens are encouraged to monitor media and local information sources and factor updated information into personal travel plans and activities.

Read in full here.





US Embassy Bamako Lifts Shelter in Place Advisory After Radisson Blu Hotel Attack in Mali

Posted: 2:40 pm EDT


The AP reports that armed men  stormed into the Radisson Blu Hotel in Mali’s capital Friday morning and seized 170 hostages.  The U.S. Embassy in Mali asked citizens to shelter in place amid reports of an “ongoing active shooter operation” at the hotel in Bamako.  Reports indicate that the hostages have been released but over two dozens people have reportedly been killed.

Mali Map from CIA World Fact Book

Mali Map from CIA World Fact Book

Just now, Embassy Bamako released the following update:

Malian authorities report the security incident at the Radisson Hotel has concluded.  The U.S. Embassy is lifting its recommendation for U.S. citizens to shelter in place.  However, the Embassy urges all U.S. citizens to minimize movement around Bamako and be vigilant of their surroundings.  Continue monitoring local media for updates and adhere to the instructions of local authorities.

Here’s what happened earlier:



Here’s some tricky part:


Meet John Doe, an Iraqi Refugee Who Works For Uncle Sam, and Still Waiting For Resettlement in the Home of the Brave

Posted: 3:01 am EDT


In the aftermath of the Paris attacks, opposition is growing in the U.S. to the Obama administration’s plans to admit up to 10,000 refugees from Syria’s civil war. Below via the Pew Research’s Fact Tank:

A new Bloomberg Politics poll found that 53% of Americans don’t want to accept any Syrian refugees at all; 11% more would accept only Christian refugees from Syria. More than two dozen governors, most of them Republicans, have said they’ll oppose Syrian refugees being resettled in their states. And on Thursday the House of Representatives passed a bill blocking the admission of Syrian and Iraqi refugees unless they pass strict background checks.

According to the Washing Examiner, under the legislation, no Syrian or Iraqi refugee would be admitted into the United States until the nation’s top federal law enforcement officials certify that they do not pose a safety or terrorism threat.

Now this …


The GOP candidates appear to be in a parallel race on who can put out the most dehumanizing idea when talking about refugees: spoiled milk, rabid dogs, Muslim database, special IDs, ending housing assistance, etc. What’s next?

We will remember this week as that time when the 2016 presidential campaigns have gone heartless for the win.

Here’s one story that might give folks a glimpse of how lengthy, and how convoluted is the USG refugee process.

On November 3, 2015, Judge Richard W. Roberts allowed John Doe, an Iraqi refugee to file his complaint under a pseudonym in the District Court of the District of Columbia:

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According to court documents, John Doe voluntarily assisted with the U.S.-led reconstruction efforts following the withdrawal of U.S. troops in Iraq, and has received numerous recommendations for his work in connection with those efforts.  But this assistance has come at a significant cost to John Doe and his loved ones. Because of his work, John Doe is a target for those who seek to intimidate, harm, and kill those who have assisted the U.S. in its reconstruction efforts.

Court documents also say that John Doe served as a Provincial Model Clinic Support Coordinator in a USAID funded program. As part of his service, John Doe reportedly worked to improve access to primary health care in and around Kirkuk, Iraq by coordinating health clinics, training clinic staff, and conducting health surveys. Since October 2014, John Doe has served as a Senior Medical Officer at another USAID-funded projects. As part of his service, John Doe’s reported responsibilities include planning, development, implementation, oversight, monitoring, and reporting for two projects: static, camp-based medical clinics and mobile medical units that move throughout displaced populations in and around Erbil.

John Doe is an Iraqi citizen currently residing in Erbil, Iraq. For over two years, since fleeing to Erbil, John Doe has worked for programs funded by USAID in furtherance of the U.S.-led reconstruction efforts following the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq. During this time, John Doe has risked his life alongside U.S. personnel to rebuild Iraq’s infrastructure. By helping with the U.S. reconstruction efforts, John Doe has knowingly placed himself, his wife, and his small child in danger. If John Doe’s service to the United States were to become fully known in Iraq, he would likely be killed by persons opposed to the United States and to the Iraqis who have assisted the United States.

He applied as a refugee in 2010:

John Doe first sought protection from the U.S. Government through his application for emigration to the United States with the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program (USRAP).

On April 8, 2010, John Doe requested to be added to his sister’s USRAP application out of fear for his own safety after members of his family were threatened and physically assaulted because of their work for the U.S. Government. John Doe provided all necessary documentation and took all steps necessary for his USRAP application, including attending his Department of Homeland Security (DHS) interview. On September 22, 2010, he was notified that his case was deferred and would continue to be processed. Despite continued assurances that his case is being processed, John Doe has yet to receive a decision on his USRAP application. As of the filing of this complaint, it has been over five years and four months since John Doe first submitted his USRAP application. Over five years have elapsed since John Doe attended his DHS interview. In addition, it has now been over four years and eleven months since John Doe was notified that his application was deferred for further processing.

He also applied under the Special Immigrant Visa (SIV) program in 2012:

Finding himself with a deferred USRAP application and with no indication that he would receive a timely response to the application, John Doe sought to avail himself of the protections offered by the SIV program. On August 11, 2012, John Doe’s wife submitted on behalf of herself and John Doe all documents needed to obtain Chief of Mission Approval (COM Approval). COM Approval was granted on June 17, 2013, and John Doe submitted all necessary documentation for the SIV application (the SIV Application) on August 15, 2013. On November 19, 2013, John Doe attended his visa interview at the U.S. Embassy.

As of the filing of this Complaint, it has been over three years since John Doe first filed his papers for COM Approval. Over two years have elapsed since John Doe submitted his SIV Application materials. In addition, it has now been over one year and nine months since John Doe completed his interview, the final step in his application process.

John Doe has exhausted efforts to work with Defendants to receive a timely decision on his SIV Application. Following repeated requests for information concerning his application, John Doe has been told by the U.S. Embassy on several occasions that his case remains in “additional administrative processing” and that no estimate of how long it will take to complete such processing can be provided.

Defendants’ substantial delay in processing John Doe’s SIV Application is not only unreasonable, but egregious-particularly given the dangerous situation faced by John Doe. Each day that John Doe remains in Iraq leaves him in mortal danger. This danger increases by the day as the security situation in Iraq deteriorates. Additionally, John Doe’s wife and child who have been issued SIVs-plan to travel to the United States on October 5, 2015 in advance of the November 4, 2015 expiration of their visas. By failing to make a decision on John Doe’s SIV application, Defendants have created another hardship for John Doe in forcing him to be left behind and separated from his wife and young child.

The court filing says that given the urgency of John Doe’s situation, and because Defendants have been unresponsive to John Doe’s repeated requests that his SIV Application be decided, John Doe has no choice but to seek relief from this Court compelling Defendants to adjudicate his SIV application.

If this is what happened to an Iraqi refugee who helped with USG reconstruction efforts in Iraq, what can other Iraqi and Syrian refugees expect with their resettlement hope in the United States?

And since you’ve read this far, do read Phil Klay’s response to the refugee crisis.  He  served with the U.S. Marines in Iraq during the 2007 and 2008 surge. He is the author of Redeployment, which won the National Book Award for fiction in 2014. He tweeted his powerful reaction to the congressional news today. In one of them Klay wrote, “It’s only during frightening times when you get to find out if your country really deserves to call itself the ‘home of the brave.'”


USAID Finally Gets an Inspector General 1,496 Days After Job Went Vacant

Posted: 12:17 am EDT


The U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) has been without a Senate-confirmed inspector general for four years.  The position became vacant in October 2011 following Donald Gambatesa’s resignation (he was confirmed by the U.S. Senate in December 2005).

On June 20, 2013, President Obama announced his intent to nominate Michael G. Carroll as the next Inspector General.  According to WaPo, Michael G. Carroll, who was USAID’s acting inspector general, withdrew his name from consideration to be President Obama’s permanent inspector general after it has been pending for 16 months. This came amidst WaPo’s report that negative findings in USAID OIG’s reports were allegedly being stricken from audits between 2011 and 2013.   On November 12, 2014, the White House officially withdrew the Carroll nomination.  WaPo reported Mr. Carroll’s retirement on December 8, 2014 (see USAID watchdog Michael Carroll retires in wake of whistleblower claims).

In May this year, President Obama announced his intent to nominate Ann Calvaresi Barr, as the next Inspector General for USAID.

On May 11, the Senate received and referred Ms. Barr’s nomination  to the Committee on Foreign Relations; it was  also sequentially referred to the Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs for 20 calendar days.

Ms. Barr did not get her confirmation hearing until August 4. Two months later, the Barr nomination was cleared by the SFCR on October 1, and by the Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs on October 22.  On November 19, the full Senate confirmed Ms. Barr by voice vote, 1,496 days after the job went vacant and 192 days after President Obama announced her nomination.

Ms. Barr should have a lengthy junkyard dog list. Just look at this:

Stricter definition?  Help, where’s my smelling salt …



Related posts:

Senate Confirmations: Bodde, Millard, Sievers, Malac, Peterson, Pittman, Barr

Posted: 7:48 pm EDT


The Senate has now adjourned until 3:00pm on Monday, November 30, 2015.    There will be no more roll call votes. Prior to adjournment, the Senate confirmed a short list of nominees for ambassadors. It also confirmed Ann Calvaresi Barr as USAID Inspector General.


Confirmation of Executive Calendar #366, Peter William Bodde, to be Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the United States of America to Libya; confirmed: 95-0.

Bodde, Peter W. – Libya – August 2015


The Senate also confirmed the following nominations by voice vote:

Executive Calendar #367, Elisabeth I. Millard, to be Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the United States of America to the Republic of Tajikistan.

Millard Elisabeth I. – Republic of Tajikistan – Jul7 2015

Executive Calendar #368, Marc Jonathan Sievers, to be Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the United States of America to the Sultanate of Oman.

Sievers, Marc Jonathan – Sultanate of Oman – July 2015

Executive Calendar #369, Deborah R. Malac, to be Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the United States of America to the Republic of Uganda.

Malac Deborah R. – Republic of Uganda – September 2015

Executive Calendar #370, Lisa J. Peterson, to be Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the United States of America to the Kingdom of Swaziland.

(no Certificate of Competency posted at

Executive Calendar #371, H. Dean Pittman, to be Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the United States of America to the Republic of Mozambique.

Pittman H. Dean – Republic of Mozambique – October 2015



Executive Calendar #344, Ann Calvaresi Barr, of Maryland, to be Inspector General, United States Agency for International Development.



Senator Grassley Lifts Hold on 20 Foreign Service Nominations, Places New Hold on “P”

Posted: 4:10  am EDT


The nominations were received in the Senate and referred to the Committee on Foreign Relations in June 2015.  On August 5, the SFRC cleared a short Foreign Service list (PN573-4) containing 20 nominees for “appointment as Foreign Service Officer of Class Two, Consular Officer and Secretary in the Diplomatic Service of the United States of America.” The nominations went nowhere due to a Senate hold exercised by Senator Chuck Grassley.

According to The Hill, the Senator has now lifted his hold on nearly two dozen nominations, but has moved his hold on to a bigger fish. There goes “P.”

Grassley’s office confirmed that the Judiciary Committee chairman had lifted his hold on 20 foreign service officer nominations.

But the Iowa Republican also added a hold on a top State Department nominee, telling leadership that he intends to block Thomas Shannon’s nomination to be the under secretary of political affairs.

Grassley is also continuing his hold on Brian James Egan’s nomination to be a legal adviser for the department, as well as David Malcolm Robinson’s nomination to be assistant secretary for conflict and stabilization operations and coordinator for reconstruction and stabilization.




Related posts:

Senators Grassley and Cotton Now Have 25 @StateDept Nominations Glued Down, and Going Nowhere

Senator Grassley Places Hold on 20 FSO Nominations Over Clinton Inquiry