#BurkinaFaso Attack: Gunmen Storms Splendid Hotel in Ouagadougou

Posted: 6:52 pm EDT
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BBC is reporting that two car bombs went off outside the Splendid hotel at around 19:30 local time (same as GMT) in Ouagadougou, the capital of Burkina Faso. Masked men have reportedly stormed the Splendid Hotel, which is used by UN staff and westerners, witnesses said. Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb claims credit for ongoing attack and there are reportedly hostages according to media reports.

The French Embassy in Ouagadougou says that the incidents happened this evening around 20:30 at the Splendid Hotel, frequented by westerners.  The embassy notes on Twitter that the curfew has been extended from 11 pm to 6 am. It also says that an  Air France flight from Paris-Ouagadougou on Friday night was diverted to Niamey, Niger.

The U.S. Embassy in Ouagadougou tweeted that it is aware of what is happening and that it is following closely the ongoing situation in downtown Ouagadougo. It has also instructed embassy personnel to avoid the downtown area.

 

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Last Night’s “I’ll Have Your Back” For Our Diplomats, and OMG! 13 Hours! Benghazi! Now! Boom! Boom! Boom!

Posted: 2:41 pm EDT
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So the first of the Benghazi movies is here with Michael Bay’s “13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi.” It looks like there are three more movies in the works (see You’ve Seen the Boooooks, Now Get Ready For the Benghazi Movies!).

Anyway, today’s the day you’ve all been waiting for, of course.

The New York Times reviewed it:

Here is what The Atlantic says:

No one wanted? Really?

About that CIA chief and the stand down order, the chief finally speaks out:

The Intercept mentions the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles!

The Guardian says it sent its writer-at-large to his local multiplex and he found out that Bay’s Benghazi spectacular is far from the perfect date film but does sum up a particular slice of the American psyche.  @dave_schilling writes about the  American Way.

Regardless, Ted Cruz and his fellow candidates will surely try to use this motion picture for their own personal gain for as long as possible. That’s what we do with tragedy in this country, after all. We build a memorial, complete with a gift shop stocked with all the cheaply made junk imaginable. We crank out corny movies based on the true story in the hope that enough people will drag their significant other to the theater to experience the sadness first-hand, with the explicit goal of making a sorry buck off the misery. And we try to score political points whenever possible. That’s the American Way.

At last night’s GOP debate, Mr. Cruz did talk about Benghazi:

CRUZ: “13 Hours” — tomorrow morning, a new movie will debut about the incredible bravery of the men fighting for their lives in Benghazi and the politicians that abandoned them. I want to speak to all our fighting men and women.

I want to speak to all the moms and dads whose sons and daughters are fighting for this country, and the incredible sense of betrayal when you have a commander-in-chief who will not even speak the name of our enemy, radical Islamic terrorism, when you have a commander-in- chief who sends $150 billion to the Ayatollah Khamenei, who’s responsible for murdering hundreds of our servicemen and women.

I want to speak to all of those maddened by political correctness, where Hillary Clinton apologizes for saying all lives matter. This will end. It will end on January 2017.

CRUZ: And if I am elected president, to every soldier and sailor and airman and marine, and to every police officer and firefighter and first responder who risk their lives to keep us safe, I will have your back.

Dammit… no “I’ll have your back” for our diplomats.

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Burn Bag: Expectant Parents Still Waiting For Foggy Bottom to Deliver 2015 Pregnancy Cable

Via Burn Bag:

“Dear Ms. Higginbottom: It is now 2016. On behalf of all of the working mothers and fathers out there expecting babies or going through the obstetric medevac process, please release the 2015 pregnancy ALDAC.”

 

Ms. Higginbottom called out in this Burn Bag entry is the State Department’s Deputy Secretary for Management and Resources, the agency’s 3rd highest ranking official.  For readers who are not in the FS (Hi, FSOs’ moms!), an ALDAC is an acronym for “All Diplomatic and Consular Posts.” They are cables (electronic telegrams) sent by the Department of State to every U.S. Government outpost around the world. Read more here.

It looks like the State Department last sent a comprehensive guide for Foreign Service employees and family members who have questions about leave, medical evacuation to the United States and to locations abroad, and other pregnancy-related issues in 13 STATE 101508, an ALDAC dated 7/10/2013.

Don’t know why the 2015 ALDAC is reportedly held up at the 7th Floor. The FAM sections have been updated in July last year, and most recently in November 2015. The changes include  a series of updates on the Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993 and a slew of changes on use of leave. But it does not look like there are many changes on medical travel particularly 16 FAM 315.2 which covers Travel for Obstetrical Care which has not been updated since July 2012.

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About Time For That Washington Ritual: Watch Out For Political Appointees “Burrowing In”

Posted: 12:53 am EDT
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Late last year, WaPo wrote about the watchdogs being in the lookout for Obama appointees ‘burrowing in’:

As each administration winds down, some political appointees traditionally seek to continue their government service as career employees beyond the administration they served. Also known as “conversions,” the practice has attracted skepticism from government watchdogs and experts but has become known as something of a Washington ritual.
[…]
In 2010, GAO reviewed 26 federal departments and agencies that converted 139 people from political to career positions from May 2005 through May 2009. While the majority of the conversions followed proper procedures, GAO said at least seven might have violated the merit-based system, including a Department of Veterans Affairs appointee who lacked the required experience and a Justice Department employee who received a career position despite unfavorable recommendations from government interviewers.

A separate WaPo report notes that in May 2006, investigators found that 23 agencies hired 144 political appointees from the G.W.Bush administration into career positions from May 2001 to April 2005. “In at least 18 cases the agencies did not follow proper procedures, the GAO found, citing problems such as hiring appointees with limited qualifications, creating positions for specific individuals and disregarding veterans’ preference laws.”

It also cites a report from 2002 where apparently between October 1998 and April 2001, 111 political appointees and congressional aides from the Clinton administration landed career jobs in 45 executive-branch agencies.

On January 11, 2015, OPM also issued guidelines for processing certain appointments during the 2016 presidential election period.

I.  Appointment of Current or Former Political Appointees to Career Civil Service Positions

Agencies must seek prior approval from OPM before appointing a current or recent political appointee to a competitive or non-political excepted service position at any level under the provisions of title 5, United States Code.  A former or recent political appointee is someone who held a political appointment covered by OPM’s policy within the previous five-year period.  OPM reviews these proposed appointments to ensure they comply with merit system principles and applicable civil service laws.  OPM’s memo and instructions regarding political appointees and career civil service positions is available at https://www.chcoc.gov/content/political-appointees-and-career-civil-service-positions.  The memo includes pre-appointment review checklists to assist agencies in preparing their submissions for review.

Note:  Schedule C employees may not be detailed to competitive service positions without prior OPM approval [see 5 CFR 300.301(c)], and no competitive service vacancy should be created for the sole purpose of selecting a Schedule C or Noncareer SES employee. 

OPM prepared a series of questions and answers (Q&As) to respond to agency inquiries about its policy for pre-appointment reviews and to provide additional details that will help agencies meet the policy’s requirements.  These Q&As, which follow, are also available at http://www.opm.gov/FAQs/topic/ppa/index.aspx?page=1

II.  Appointing Employees to the Senior Executive Service

OPM will continue to conduct merit staffing reviews of proposed career SES selections that involve a current or former political, Schedule C, or Noncareer SES appointee before such cases are formally presented to a Qualifications Review Board (QRB).  Agencies should carefully review all actions that would result in the career SES appointment of a political, Schedule C, or Noncareer SES before forwarding such cases to OPM.

Note:  All SES vacancies to be filled by initial career appointment must be publicly announced (5 CFR 317.501).  Only a career SES or career-type non‑SES appointee may be detailed to a Career-Reserved position (5 CFR 317.903(c)).  

In addition, OPM will suspend the processing of QRB cases when an agency head leaves office or announces his or her intention to leave office, or if the President has nominated a new agency head.  OPM imposes a moratorium on QRB cases as a courtesy to a new agency head when it learns of an agency head’s planned departure.  However, OPM will consider requests for exceptions to such a moratorium on a case-by-case basis.  When a presidential transition occurs, OPM will determine the disposition of QRB cases based upon the policy of the new administration.

In the same announcement, OPM released its Do’s and Don’t’s with burrowing employees:

Effective January 1, 2010, OPM conducts on-going pre-appointment reviews of current or former political appointee, Schedule C employee, and Noncareer SES member appointments to the competitive or exceptive service.  OPM seeks to ensure that the merit system principle of fair and open competition is protected.  With this in mind, these are the two most common reasons for OPM not to approve an appointment or a conversion:

  1. the new position appears to have been designed solely for the individual who is being converted, and/or
  2. competition has been limited inappropriately.

Below are “Do’s” that will help agencies with the conversion approval process:

  • Do make a public announcement through OPM’s USAJOBS when filling competitive or excepted service vacancies from candidates outside your own agency’s workforce.
  • Do carefully consider the Interagency Career Transition Assistance Plan for Displaced Employees regulations (5 CFR 330, Subpart G) before making selections.
  • Do ensure the Chief Human Capital Officer and Human Resources Director closely review all such proposed actions to determine if they meet the test of merit.
  • Do ensure the Chief Human Capital Officer and Human Resources Director gather all necessary internal agency approvals before presenting a case to OPM for review.

And “Don’ts”:

  • Don’t create or announce a competitive or excepted service vacancy for the sole purpose of selecting a current or former political appointee, Schedule C employee, or Noncareer SES member.
  • Don’t remove the Schedule C or Noncareer SES elements of a position solely to appoint the incumbent into the competitive or excepted service.

Read more here.

 

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Secretary Kerry Swears-In U.S. Ambassador to Malta Kathleen Hill

Posted: 12:45 am EDT
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Via state.gov/Flickr:

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Secretary Kerry Swears-In U.S. Ambassador to Malta Kathleen Hill U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry swears-in U.S. Ambassador to Malta Kathleen Hill, at the U.S. Department of State, in Washington, D.C. on January 13, 2015. [State Department Photo/Public Domain]

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