U.S. Orders Russia to Close Its Consulate General in San Francisco, Two Annexes By Sept. 2

Posted: 11:17 am ET
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On August 31, the State Department announced that it is requiring the Russian Government to close its Consulate General in San Francisco and two annexes in Washington, D.C. and New York City. Closures need to be done by Saturday, September 2.

The United States has fully implemented the decision by the Government of the Russian Federation to reduce the size of our mission in Russia. We believe this action was unwarranted and detrimental to the overall relationship between our countries.

In the spirit of parity invoked by the Russians, we are requiring the Russian Government to close its Consulate General in San Francisco, a chancery annex in Washington, D.C., and a consular annex in New York City. These closures will need to be accomplished by September 2.

With this action both countries will remain with three consulates each. While there will continue to be a disparity in the number of diplomatic and consular annexes, we have chosen to allow the Russian Government to maintain some of its annexes in an effort to arrest the downward spiral in our relationship.

The United States hopes that, having moved toward the Russian Federation’s desire for parity, we can avoid further retaliatory actions by both sides and move forward to achieve the stated goal of both of our presidents: improved relations between our two countries and increased cooperation on areas of mutual concern. The United States is prepared to take further action as necessary and as warranted.

A senior official confirmed to BuzzFeed that that the U.S. presence  is down to 455 in Russia, but apparently would not give a breakdown of who was let go.

A couple weeks ago, the New York Daily News citing Kommersant reported that Russia may be forced to close one of four consulates in the U.S. as part of an ongoing diplomatic tit-for-tat.  Russia has consulates general in New York, Houston, San Francisco, and Seattle.

Three days ago, Russia MFA rep Maria Maria Zakharova reportedly said on television that the reduction of personnel at U.S. Mission Russia was not “absolutely not a Russian demand”, that it was an offer, a suggestion.

The July 27 statement released by the Russian Foreign Ministry said that it “reserves the right to resort to other measures affecting US’ interests on a basis of reciprocity.” In that same statement, it uses the word “suggest” but also “must.” There is no way to interpret that official statement as merely a suggestion for the U.S. Government

– Therefore, we suggest that our American counterparts bring the number of diplomatic and technical staff at the US Embassy in Moscow, the consulates general in St Petersburg, Yekaterinburg and Vladivostok, into strict correspondence with the number of Russian diplomats and technical staff currently working in the United States, until September 1, 2017. This means that the total number of American diplomatic and consular office employees in the Russian Federation must be reduced to 455 people. In the event of further unilateral action on behalf of US officials to reduce the Russian diplomatic staff in the US, we will respond accordingly.

– Starting August 1, the use of all the storage facilities on Dorozhnaya Street in Moscow and the country house in Serebryany Bor will be suspended from use by the US Embassy.

The full statement is here.

Similarly, the Russian readout of the July 28 conversation between Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and Secretary Tillerson said that “Sergey Lavrov emphasised that the decision to even out the number of employees in US and Russian diplomatic missions and to suspend the use of two properties by the US Embassy is the result of a series of hostile steps by Washington.”

 

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@StateDept Alerts Employees on Prioritization of Projected Vacancies, Fewer Promotions

Posted: 4:34 am ET
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One of the State Department’s geographic bureau has recently sent out guidance to its overseas posts asking them to prioritize their projected vacancies.  If this is happening in one bureau, in all likelihood, this is also happening or will soon happen with the rest of the bureaus.

The directive appears to originate from the the Director General of the Foreign Service (DGHR) advising bureaus that a number of 2018 positions will not/will not be advertised. If they are not advertised, it means the positions will not be announced as vacancies available for bidding.  In essence, these unadvertised positions will go unfilled, that is, remain vacant during the 2018 assignment cycle.

We understand that respective bureaus will soon receive the final numbers broken down by position type from DGHR.  Bureaus will then be asked to decide which positions will be advertised on the list/which will go unadvertised.

One bureau is anticipating a fast turn-around on this and is preemptively asking its posts and offices to “rank their positions from highest priority for filling to less urgent.”

Have we not seen this movie before?

Very shortly, posts will be asked to do more with less, once again, as positions will go unfilled in the upcoming assignment cycle. If positions go unfilled for one or two assignment cycles, how soon before the State Department will bridge its overseas staffing gaps by simply eliminating the positions?

At some point, the State Department will not only suffer staffing gaps but experience gaps, as well. Despite advances in technology, no one has yet been able to grow career diplomats overnight; there are no microchips for area knowledge that can be embedded behind the ears; there are no linguists you can simply pick from trees; there are no robots who can do visa interviews or notify Americans of the death of their loved ones overseas. There are no holographic consular officers who can do prison visits. Apparently, you also cannot grow overnight architects and engineers who know the intricacies and security requirements of embassy buildings.  Who knew?

So what happens when the needed expertise is gone and the government is not able to grow that expertise fast enough? Why, it will hire consultants and contractors, of course.

via reactiongifs.com

In related news, a cable reportedly also went out informing employees that HR is on schedule to release the Foreign Service promotion lists before Labor Day.  The cable alerts employees that there will be “fewer promotions this year relative to last year.”  Anticipating a specific reaction, the State Department told employees that they need to understand that promotion rates “normally go through cycles” and that this year’s promotion numbers, while lower than last year’s, are “largely within the historical range.” The cable explains that there are more people competing for fewer promotion opportunities and that the low cycle in promotion is due to 1) large Diplomatic Readiness Initiative  and D3.0 cohorts from the hiring surges in 2001/04, and 2009/12, and 2) a position base that “will contract over the next couple of years.” 

Is there a third shoe waiting to drop?

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Meet Newt, Soon to be @StateDept’s Newest Eligible Family Member

Posted: 12:54 am ET
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Via Politico:  Last week, Newt Gingrich sat in a classroom surrounded by 11 women and one other man, furiously jotting notes. In the weeklong intensive, where classes ran from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. with only a short cafeteria lunch break in between, the former House speaker and onetime presidential candidate received a crash course in a new role: invisible spouse.  When he moves to Rome with his wife, Callista Gingrich, to become husband of the ambassador to the Holy See, the ubiquitous Fox News talking head will have no official diplomatic role abroad, beyond being generally presentable and essentially not heard from.

When Callista Gingrich is confirmed by the U.S. Senate as Ambassador to the Vatican, Newt Gingrich, the 50th Speaker of the United States House of Representatives and Fox News talking head will officially become a diplomatic spouse or an eligible family member (EFM). He has to be listed on Form OF-126, Foreign Service Residence and Dependency Report of the sponsoring employee, and be on Mrs. Gingrich travel orders. If they place their household effects in storage in Hagerstown, we’re fairly sure, it will be in Mrs. Gingrich’s name because she is the employee. Will he need to go to the Community Liaison Office to logon to OpenNet? Will they let him make his own request for house repairs or does the employee have to do that? Who will he need permission from to pursue outside employment?

And for every bureau, post, COM, etc. whoever slapped a diplomatic spouse’s hands or threatened his/her employee-spouse’s career for blogging or writing articles that has nothing to do with policy or privileged information, get ready. This should be interesting, huh?!

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