USCG Dhahran Consular Team Wins 2015 President’s Award for Customer Service

Posted: 3:51 am EDT
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Via state.gov:

A State Department consular team has won the prestigious 2015 President’s Award for Customer Service. The team was honored at an awards ceremony at the Eisenhower Executive Office Building on December 15.

Administered through the Federal Customer Service Awards Program, the President’s Award for Customer Service is designed to recognize, promote, and reward service excellence, professionalism, and outstanding achievement by federal employees, including teams working on initiatives with a direct impact on customers. The Award also seeks to help agencies identify practices that can be reproduced across the government.

This year, the Department of State was cited for the work performed by Foreign Service and Locally Employed Staff members of the consular section in Dhahran, Saudi Arabia, who overcame security and technical hurdles to offer on-site consular customer service to the hundreds of U.S. citizens building the world’s largest petrochemical facility in Jubail. By setting up regularly scheduled visits to academic, corporate, and residential sites, the Dhahran team reduced U.S. citizens’ risks faced during road travel in Saudi Arabia.

Further information about the 2015 President’s Award for Customer Service can be found here.

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Our consular section is sporting their college gear in support of Back to School Week. August 2015 (Photo from U.S. Consulate General Dhahran/FB)

USCG Dhahran is headed by Consul General Mike Hankey who arrived at post on July 8, 2014. According to the Key Officers List, the consular section chief is Kelly Landry.  The Dow-Aramco petrochemical complex in Jubail, Saudi Arabia, is said to be the world’s largest. Once complete it will reportedly be home to 30 production plants and provide approximately 4,000 jobs.

The Travel Warning for Saudi Arabia dated September 21, 2015 notes that there have been attacks on U.S. citizens and other Western expatriates within the past year and there continue to be reports of threats against U.S. citizens and other Westerners, as well as sites frequented by them.  On January 30, 2015, two U.S. citizens were fired upon and injured in Hofuf in Al Hasa Governorate (Eastern Province). On October 14, 2014, two U.S. citizens were shot at a gas station in Riyadh. One was killed and the other wounded.

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@StateDept Spox Talks About K-Visas Again … C’mon Folks, This Is Not Fun to Watch

Posted: 2:57 am EDT
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This is a follow-up to our post Dear @StateDept, You Need Bond. Michele Bond at the Daily Press Briefing. On December 14, State Department spokesman John Kirby got his turn to answer questions about K-visas at the podium.  Prior to the exchange below, Mr. Kirby told the press that “Again, I’m not an expert on process… we can get somebody who’s much better at this than me to walk you through how that’s done, okay?”

Folks, you need your expert there last week!  C’mon, this is not fun to watch.

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QUESTION: John, another visa question. The Wall Street Journal has just put out an alert saying that the United States is working on a plan to scrutinize social media in visa reviews. And in the text of their story, they say that the Department of Homeland Security is working on such a plan. I have myself never fully understood the different responsibilities between the State Department, which issues the visas and conducts the interviews, and DHS, which performs some kind of a review prior to the issuance of a visa. So, I guess, two questions: One, can you explain to me the difference between those roles? And two, given that the State Department already has the option to scrutinize social media, why DHS is just kind of cottoning onto this?

MR KIRBY: Well, I won’t speak for DHS and decisions that they might be making. I think – I have not seen that report, but it’s very much consistent with what I think I’ve been saying here, that we are also looking at the use of social media in the visa application process.

Again, with my vast experience here at the State Department, I’ll do the best I can to try to summarize this, and I’ll ask Elizabeth, who’s been a consular officer, to jump if she thinks I get this wrong. And I mean that, you should. As I understand it, we are the overseas arm here. DHS is the homeland arm of the process of an individual who wants to come the United States for whatever legal reason – marriage, want to cover a story, whatever. So somebody applies for a visa over there, and our embassy or consuls will examine that application and make certain decisions about whether it’s going to be permitted or not – approved or not. And again, that process can take any – a different, variant amount of time based on the individual. And again, it’s all done by case – case by case.

The simple act of a consular officer saying, “Okay, it’s approved; you can travel to the United States,” doesn’t actually mean that the individual is going to be able to complete that travel, because there’s – DHS does help in this process. But where they really are important is at port of entry here in the United States. So when an individual – and all of us have traveled overseas. You go up to the customs desk and then they are the – they’re the final point at which an individual is allowed to enter or not, and that’s where DHS is most critical is at the port of entry and doing yet another validation of the permission, the – which is what a visa is. It’s basically us saying you are permitted to travel, where they get that sort of final vote in validating that permission.

So it’s got to be – and as I understand it, it’s not a simple, clean handoff either. I mean, there’s constant coordination and communication between State and DHS throughout the process of one’s application. But ultimately DHS gets the final say when an individual gets to the United States.

Did I cover that well enough? Okay, thanks.

QUESTION: DHS must get involved before they simply show up on American shores?

MR KIRBY: Yeah, as I said, it’s not a clean handoff. It’s not like the State Department says okay, here’s —

QUESTION: Okay.

MR KIRBY: I mean we work with DHS throughout the application process and approval.

QUESTION: And are you saying that the DHS and the State Department may have different standards and policies as it applies to, for instance, scrubbing social media?

MR KIRBY: I don’t – I don’t know what DHS’s policies are, so I can’t speak for that.

QUESTION: Okay.

MR KIRBY: But it is a factor in our process.

QUESTION: Mm-hmm.

MR KIRBY: And in light of what happened in San Bernardino, I can assure you that we’re going to continue to look at social media practices and platforms going forward. And we’re going to do this – we’re doing this review in concert with DHS, and I think it’s safe to assume that as we conduct the review, when we learn things – if there’s things that we can do better, we’ll do it better as a team, not individually.

QUESTION: Right. I just wonder if people are pointing fingers right now saying, “No, you were supposed to check that; that was your deal.” Whose deal is it?

MR KIRBY: I’m not aware of any finger pointing that’s going on inside the interagency right now. What we want to do is cooperate with investigators, learn as much as we can about how this happened, and do whatever we can to try to prevent it from happening again. And I can tell you – again, I don’t like speaking for another agency, but I think I’m on safe ground saying that Secretary Johnson shares Secretary Kerry’s concern that we work in concert and as a team as we both cooperate with the investigation and conduct this review.

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Snapshot: SIV-Related Resignations in Afghanistan, State Dept and USAID, 2010 to 2015

Posted: 2:01 am EDT
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Via GAO:

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Two Ambassadors Ride an Armorless Autorickshaw in India

Posted: 2:01 am EDT
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Via US Ambassador to India Richard Verma/Twitter:

“Showing @AmbassadorPower a true Delhi experience – powered by natural gas!”

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