Halloween Around the Foreign Service, and OMG! Folks Dress Up as State Dept Spoxes!

— Domani Spero
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Below is a round-up of Halloween tweets around the Foreign Service.  The Embassy Canberra tweet is of Ambassador Berry dressed up as a dinosaur and his spouse, Curtis Yee dressed up as a skeleton. They’re rather cute, aren’t they?  Also, something new and disconcerting this year, at least we don’t recall this in previous years, but potential arrest exists in Jordan for wearing Halloween costumes in public.  According to Embassy Amman, the Government of Jordan recently announced that public celebrations of Halloween and public appearances in Halloween costume are prohibited.  “U.S. citizens should expect police reaction, including arrests, at any public Halloween-themed event.”  Embassy Amman advises that U.S. citizens traveling from their home to a Halloween party, or vice versa, cover up their costumes while in public or in a car. Whoa!

Also, for the first time in memory, there, apparently, are folks in Foggy Bottom who are dressing up as the State Department spokespersons this Halloween. We don’t mind adults wearing dinosaur costumes, but we draw the line on going anywhere this Halloween on ISIS/ebola get-up, and Anything reminding us that the world is falling apart.

 

U.S. Embassy Cairo, Egypt

U.S. Embassy Bridgetown, Barbados

U.S. Embassy Valletta, Malta

U.S. Embassy Singapore

U.S. Embassy France (@USEmbassyFrance)

 

U.S. Embassy Prague, Czech Republic

 

 

U.S. Embassy Canberra, Australia

U.S. Embassy Amman, Jordan

 

The State Department, people!

You very special, naughty snowflakes, real life is not disquieting enough in Foggy Bottom you had to add a gingered @statedeptspox with a mustache?  And there are now four spoxes? Four?  Waaaaaa! What the heck are we going to do with them?

Predictably, the tweeples threw spitballs on Twitter and no one added any more Happy to Halloween.

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Office of Inspector General Adds Evaluations and Special Projects Office, Launches New Website

— Domani Spero
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The State Department Office of Inspector General has been recruiting and hiring new staffers the last several months. The latest change is the addition of a new directorate and the relaunching of its website.  The snazzy, new website includes a video with IG Steve Linick.  The new site also includes a better search function to locate reports by category, topic, location or bureau/office.

Screen Shot 2014-10-30 at 9.18.21 PM
New org chart below. Note that Emilia DiSanto is no longer in an acting capacity but has been formally appointed as IG Linick’s deputy.

Screen Shot 2014-10-20

 

Perhaps the most notable addition is that of Evaluation and Special Projects:

The Office of Evaluations and Special Projects (ESP) was established in 2014 to strengthen OIG’s oversight of the Department and BBG, and to improve OIG’s capabilities to meet statutory requirements of the Whistleblower Protection Enhancement Act of 2012. ESP will fulfill OIG’s whistleblower protection duties by educating Department and BBG employees and contractors on the protections from retaliation for disclosing fraud, waste, or abuse. ESP is also responsible for reviewing allegations of administrative misconduct by senior officials, and issuing management alerts to highlight urgent need for corrective actions and capping reports on thematic areas of concern. Additionally, ESP is responsible for special evaluations and reviews, including responses to congressional inquiries. The work of this new office complements the work of OIG’s audits, investigations, and inspections by developing a capacity to focus on broader, systemic issues.

ESP has issued a Management Alert on Grant Management Deficiencies (MA-14-03), which highlights significant deficiencies in Department grants management oversight. It also produced a Review of Selected Internal Investigations Conducted by the Bureau of Diplomatic Security (ESP-14-01), which examined allegations of undue influence and favoritism in eight high-profile internal investigations conducted by the Bureau of Diplomatic Security (DS).

Also, the new website includes the State OIG Winners for 2014 CIGIE Annual Awards including an Award of Excellence in Investigation for an Individual that went to Special Agent Jeff Whitney:

The Office of Investigations received the Award of Excellence in Investigations, Individual awarded to Special Agent (SA) Jeff Whitney for his exceptional performance in the conduct of investigations supporting contingency operations in Southwest Asia and the protection of high-risk Department resources. SA Whitney led two complex investigations in Kabul, Afghanistan, which resulted in a $1.7 million cost savings to the Department and a combined debarment of at least 26 contractor entities. These investigations involved schemes relating to bid rigging, antitrust violations, bribery, conflict of interest, and violations of the Procurement Integrity Act. SA Whitney diligently and effectively worked with prosecutors from the Department of Justice and Special Agents from the Federal Bureau of Investigations, Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction and the Defense Criminal Investigative Service to interview several witnesses and subjects, write and serve multiple search warrants and travel to dangerous environments within Afghanistan in order to accomplish investigative objectives. SA Whitney also met with numerous Department and Embassy Officials to aide them in their efforts to improve their processes to ensure these types of schemes are not replicated in the future.

Check it out!

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Burkina Faso Says Bye Bye Blaise: Martial Law Lifted, Nationwide Curfew, Shelter in Place Still On

— Domani Spero
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The U.S. Embassy in Ouagadougou issued the following emergency message to U.S. citizens in Burkina Faso. The messages are dated but typically do not carry a timestamp:

On Thursday, October 30, President Compaore announced in a televised address that he will continue dialogue to form a transitional government after which he will transfer power to a democratically elected president.  He reiterated the message that the government is dissolved and announced that the state of martial law is lifted in all of Burkina Faso.

However, there is currently a 7:00 pm to 6:00 am curfew nationwide.

The city of Ouagadougou currently appears to be calm, however protesters continue to gather at the Place de la Nation in Ouagadougou, and at the Place Tiefo Amoro (Station Square) in Bobo-Dioulasso. Crowds and spontaneous protests may also form elsewhere.

Embassy staff continues to shelter in place until further notice.  We urge U.S. citizens in Ouagadougou to do the same and to make movements for essential purposes only.

At this time we do not know if civilians have access to the Ouagadougou International Airport. We are monitoring the situation but it is unclear whether flights continue to operate.

 

Meanwhile, today, Burkina Faso said bye-bye Blaise:

 

Enter armed forces chief General Honore Traore:

 

The people celebrates:

 

Former-Prez to Ghana?

 

Meet the new boss:

 

Consequences?

 

Except for the Emergency Message from Embassy Ouagadougou, there is no Travel Warning or Alert issued on Burkina Faso as of this writing. The latest State Department statement is dated October 30, and obviously had been overtaken by events.

The United States welcomes President Compaore’s decision to withdraw a National Assembly bill which would have amended the constitution and allowed him to run for an additional term of office. We also welcome his decision to form a government of national unity to prepare for national elections and to transfer power to a democratically elected successor. We look forward to that transition taking place in 2015. We regret the violence and the loss of life today in Burkina Faso, and call on all parties to avoid further violence. We underscore our commitment to peaceful transitions of power through democratic elections and emphasize neither side should attempt to change the situation through extra-constitutional means.

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Poor MidLevel Official Writes #Ebola Memo That Never Went Anywhere — Oy!

— Domani Spero
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In September, we blogged that the State Dept Awarded $4.9 Million Contract to Phoenix Air for Air Ambulance Evacuation #Ebola.  Apparently, the last couple of days there was a flap over a State Department memo on a plan to bring non-Americans with Ebola to U.S. soil for treatment. The memo labeled Sensitive But Unclassified – Predesicional is available to read here and notes USG obligation to non-U.S. citizen employees and contractors of U.S. agencies (USAID, CDC, etc.) and programs as well as NGOs and private firms based in the United States.

The  Washington Times identified the memo’s author as Robert Sorenson, deputy director of the Office of International Health and Biodefense (OES/IHB). The Office of International Health and Biodefense is the primary State Department policy office responsible for a variety of international health issues. It takes part in U.S. Government policymaking on infectious disease, environmental health, noncommunicable disease issues, global health security, antimicrobial resistance, and counterfeit and substandard medications.  A clearance sheet attached to the memo reportedly says it was cleared by offices of the deputy secretary, the deputy secretary for management, the office of Central African affairs and the medical services office.

The memo did make it to the Daily Press Briefing at the State Department. Excerpt below:

QUESTION: And then the last one on this is: There was a report last night and again this morning about this memo that was – the State Department memo —

MS. PSAKI: Sure, let me address that.

QUESTION: — about bringing —

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm. One, just factually, the document referenced was drafted by a midlevel official but not cleared by senior leaders. It never came to senior officials for approval. And any assertion that the memo was cleared by decision-makers is inaccurate. There are no plans to medevac non-Americans who become ill with Ebola to the United States. We have discussed allowing other countries to use our medevac capabilities to evacuate their own citizens to their home countries or third countries subject to reimbursement and availability. But we’re not contemplating bringing them back to the United States for treatment.

QUESTION: So the – but essentially, what you’re saying is that one guy somewhere in this building came up with this idea and put it on paper, but it never went anywhere? Is that what you’re saying?

MS. PSAKI: Correct. It’s also weeks old and the memo isn’t current because European – our European partners —

QUESTION: All right. Okay.

MS. PSAKI: — have addressed this matter by providing their own guarantees, but go ahead.

QUESTION: One problem that – I mean, that I see is that a week ago, the Pentagon and the White House was insisting that, no, no, no, there is no overall quarantine order and it’s just this one commander, or these guys who are in Italy. And now all of a sudden, today we have Secretary Hagel saying no, it’s going to be – it’s Pentagon-wide and it’s going to go to all of the troops that are there. What is there to prevent this memo from coming back to life, as it were —

MS. PSAKI: Well, I think with this —

QUESTION: — and becoming policy? Has it been flat out rejected or is it just kind of sitting on a shelf someplace and maybe could be implemented at some point?

MS. PSAKI: It’s sitting on a shelf or on a computer – since we use computers nowadays – by the individual who wrote it, I suppose. I think the important point here is that our European partners, since several weeks ago when that was written, have addressed this by providing a guarantee to international health workers that they would either be flown to Europe or receive high-quality treatment on the spot. So it’s not applicable at this point.

QUESTION: Okay. Well, in general, why was this never approved? I mean, it seems – I mean, you could make the argument that the U.S. has great healthcare facilities, that no one who has contracted the disease in the United States has actually died. So I think there might be some who could make the argument that why not bring people?

MS. PSAKI: Sure, but many countries have decided to make that decision to deal with it themselves, and we’ve certainly been discussing with them how to do that.

QUESTION: So this has been discarded as unnecessary rather that rejected —

MS. PSAKI: It was never discussed at any levels, in any serious level with decision-makers. So I don’t – wouldn’t say it was discarded, but —

QUESTION: Okay.

QUESTION: Along the lines of what Matt was saying, on page 5 of the memo, it says that it was approved by Nancy Powell, the head of the Ebola Coordination Unit. Doesn’t that suggest it was fairly further along in the process?

MS. PSAKI: I’m happy to look at the approval memo. As I understand, and just so you know, sometimes there are people listed. It doesn’t mean they cleared it. It just means there are people who need to clear a memo. So I will check and see if there was anybody who actually cleared it.

“One guy somewhere in this building came up with this idea and put it on paper, but it never went anywhere?” And the official spokesperson, without blinking said, “correct.”

Don’t you just hate it when they say things like that and throw some midlevel official under the medevac plane?

In fact, the justification for the air ambulance evacuation contract awarded to Phoenix Air on August 18, 2014 appears clear enough as to why this was necessary:

The USG is left with only two options in supporting a CDC scientist that has a high risk exposure to an EVD patient — use the PAG capability to fly the person back to the US for observation and optimum care should disease develop, or leave the person in place where no care is available if the disease develops. The question, then, is not how many EVD patients will be moved, but rather how many contacts and EVD patients will be moved across the entire international response population (as many as three per month). Finally, from a pragmatic stand point, given the limited options for movement of even asymptomatic contacts, it has become clear that an international response to this crisis will not proceed if a reliable mechanism for patient movement cannot be established and centrally managed.

That leaked memo is not saying we’re moving Liberia’s entire infected population for treatment in U.S. hospitals, is it?  An argument can be made that the USG has an obligation to assist in the treatment of those infected in the course of their work fighting the ebola outbreak on behalf of the international community.  The State Department is not/not making that argument, of course.  The only official argument it is making is that — that memo, that never went anywhere beyond the midlevel officer’s desk.

Nothing to do with an election coming up? Sure, okay.

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