OSC’s Hatch Act Guidance: No Advocacy For/Against Impeachment, No #Resist, #ResistTrump Use

 

On November 27, the U.S. Office of Special Counsel (OSC) — not Robert Mueller’s but the federal agency with authorities to investigate cases related to the Civil Service Reform Act, the Whistleblower Protection Act, the Hatch Act, and the Uniformed Services Employment & Reemployment Rights Act (USERRA) — issued a new guidance regarding political activity. It says that  its Hatch Act Unit has received several questions regarding whether the following constitute “political activity” for purposes of the Hatch Act:

1. Is strong criticism or praise of an administration’s policies and actions considered political activity?

Criticism or praise that is directed toward the success or failure of a political party, candidate for partisan political office, or partisan political group is political activity. Absent evidence that the criticism or praise is so directed, criticism or praise of an administration’s policies and actions is not considered political activity. Whether a particular statement constitutes political activity depends upon the facts and circumstances.

Consider, for example, the administration’s recent decision to move the U.S. embassy in Israel to Jerusalem. An employee who strongly criticizes or praises that decision during a workplace discussion with a colleague in the days immediately following the decision is less likely to be engaging in political activity than one making those same statements in the run-up to the next presidential election—when the decision will likely have been out of the news for several years—to a colleague that the employee knows has strong feelings about
the subject.

Read more here.

2. Is advocating for or against impeachment of a candidate for federal office considered political activity?

Yes. Read more here.

3. Is activity related to “the Resistance” considered political activity?

To the extent that the statement relates to resistance to President Donald J. Trump, usage of the terms “resistance,” “#resist,” and derivatives thereof is political activity. We understand that the “resistance” and “#resist” originally gained prominence shortly after President Trump’s election in 2016 and generally related to efforts to oppose administration policies. However, “resistance,” “#resist,” and similar terms have become inextricably linked with the electoral success (or failure) of the president. During the period when President Trump was not considered by OSC to be a candidate for reelection the terms did not raise any Hatch Act concerns. Now that President Trump is a candidate for reelection, we must presume that the use or display of “resistance,” “#resist,” “#resistTrump,” and similar statements is political activity unless the facts and circumstances indicate otherwise.

Note that this presumption is only relevant to employee conduct that takes place on duty, in the workplace, while wearing an agency uniform or insignia, or while invoking any official authority or influence. Provided that they comply with the Hatch Act’s restrictions, employees are free to engage in political activity while off-duty and away from the federal workplace.

In OSC’s example, if you tweet “I must #resist the temptation to eat another donut from the break room” – you would not/not be engaging in political activity but OSC would presume that “the use or display of the hashtags #resist and #resistTrump, in isolation, is political activity under the Hatch Act.”  Read in full here.

The thing is, Foreign Service folks are considered on duty 24/7, so what does this guidance means in the real world? We’ve asked the OSC; will update if we hear anything back.

You may also call the Hatch Act Unit at 202-804-7002 or send an e-mail to Hatchact@osc.gov  for your Hatch Act-related questions.

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Reviews For Pompeo’s WSJ Op-Ed: “God-Awful”, “Risible”, “Mendacious”, “Bananas”, and More #PAPressClips

Related item: Saudi Arabia: Background and U.S. Relations (PDF) | September, 2018 (Congressional Research Service).

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Pompeo Talks Up Saudi “Investment” in Yemen, and USG’s “Additional” $131M Assistance #ExcludingArms

 

On November 28, the Secretary of State told the world that “Saudi Arabia has invested billions to relive suffering in Yemen.” Pretty soon,  Saudi Arabia’s spokesman would not have a job anymore.

The Guardian reported that in 2017, the Yemen appeal for $2.5bn was only 73% funded, but that the needs have intensified in a country battered since 2015 by a Saudi-led military offensive aimed at repelling Iran-backed Houthi rebels who control the capital. In April this year, during a UN donor conference for people affected by war in Yemen – labelled as the “world’s worst humanitarian crisis” – has received pledges of more than $2bn, close to half of which is promised by Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, two key protagonists in the conflict, according to the same report. Click here for the OCHA page for pledges and paid contributions for Yemen.

On October 24, 2017, U.S. Ambassador Matthew H. Tueller re-issued a disaster declaration for the ongoing complex emergency in Yemen for FY 2018 due to “continued humanitarian needs resulting from the complex emergency and the impact of the country’s political and economic crises on vulnerable populations.”  USAID’s November 9, 2018 Factsheet on Yemen Disaster Assistance indicates that the United States humanitarian funding for the Yemen response in FY2018 is $566,273,269 (includes funding through the Office of U.S. Foreign Disaster Assistance (USAID/OFDA), the Office of Food for Peace (USAID/FFP), and the Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration (State/PRM)).  Secretary Pompeo’s tweet on November 28 says that the United States is providing an “additional” $131 million in food assistance to Yemen.

According to the CRS, since March 2015, the U.S.-trained Saudi military has used U.S.-origin weaponry, U.S. logistical assistance, and shared intelligence in support of military operations in Yemen. Excerpt:

In May 2017, President Trump signaled a continuation and deepening of bilateral defense cooperation, announcing completed and proposed defense sales during his visit to Riyadh with a potential value of more than $110 billion. The sales include cases that the Obama Administration had proposed and notified to Congress, cases developed under the Obama Administration on which Congress had been preliminarily consulted, and new sales that remain under development.
[…]
The United States’ role in supporting the Saudi-led coalition’s military operations in Yemen has evolved over time. 65 At present, it consists of some intelligence sharing, aerial refueling, and the deployment of advisers to Saudi Arabia for border security and anti-ballistic missile purposes.66 In his latest biannual War Powers letters to Congress on the deployment of U.S. forces abroad in combat operations (P.L. 93-148), President Trump informed Congress about ongoing U.S. counterterrorism operations in Yemen and stated that U.S. forces in noncombat roles were providing “military advice and limited information, logistics, and other support to regional forces combatting the Houthi insurgency.”

So, on one hand, we’re supporting the side that’s indiscriminately bombing hospitals, school buses and children, and on the other hand, we’re spending millions of dollars for food and humanitarian assistance to help those who are bombed and starved.  Also, our Secretary of Swagger did not just announced the additional millions in food assistance but also cited “our generous example” in “galvanizing humanitarian assistance.” When is this going up on Instagram, people?

By the way, the most recent USAID/OFDA official said “no amount of aid money can prevent this famine” and that absent massive political pressure on the Saudi, this is just “window dressing.” 

Related item: Saudi Arabia: Background and U.S. Relations (PDF) | Updated September 21, 2018 (Congressional Research Service).

ALSO THIS:

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61st Secretary of State James A. Baker III: A “Staunch Internationalist” Expresses Hope For the Future

The Walter and Leonore Annenberg Award for Excellence in Diplomacy is an annual award given by the American Academy of Diplomacy in recognition of an individual or group who has made exemplary contributions to the field of American diplomacy. It is the Academy’s highest honor and its purpose is to highlight the important contribution of all aspects of diplomacy to the nation’s business. The Award is presented at the Academy’s Annual Awards Luncheon at the State Department in the fall, during which the recipient acts as keynote speaker. Recipients of the Annenberg Award are recommended by the Academy’s Executive Committee and are approved by the Board of Directors.

This year’s Annual Awards Luncheon took place at the Benjamin Franklin Room on Tuesday, November 20, 2018. The event was co-hosted by Deputy Secretary of State John Sullivan. The awardee this year was the 13th and 19th White House Chief of Staff and 61st United States Secretary of State, James A. Baker, III.

James A. Baker, III, has served in senior government positions under three United States presidents. He served as the nation’s 61st secretary of state from January 1989 through August 1992 under President George H.W. Bush. During his tenure at the State Department, Baker traveled to 90 foreign countries as the United States confronted the unprecedented challenges and opportunities of the post–Cold War era. Baker’s reflections on those years of revolution, war and peace — “The Politics of Diplomacy” — was published in 1995.  Read more here.

Below are some previous recipients of the Annenberg Award. The full list is here.

2017: William J. Perry
The 19th United States Secretary of Defense

2016: Robert B. Zoellick
Former World Bank Group President & U.S. Trade Representative

2015: William J. Burns
Under Secretary of State

2014: Carla A. Hills
Secretary of Housing and Urban Development

2013: George P. Shultz
Secretary of State

2012: Richard G. Lugar
Senator

 

2011: Robert Gates
Secretary of Defense

2010: Harold Saunders
Director of international affairs, the Kettering Foundation

2009: William Lacy Swing
Director General, International Organization for Migration (IOM)

2008: Ryan C. Crocker
Ambassador to Iraq

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US Ambassador to Poland Georgette Mosbacher Angers Poles

 

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OBO’s Fire Protection Judgments and @StateDept’s Black Hole of Bureaucratic Shrugger-Swagger

 

We blogged previously about the State/OIG Management Assistance Report sounding the alarm over the fire alarm system at the U.S. Embassy in Kabul (see  U.S. Embassy Kabul: Fire Alarm System Needs Prompt Attention or #MustHaveNoFireBeforeMarch2019

We received a reaction about the OIG report basically saying “hey, I agree with all the violations listed by the OIG”. Our correspondent also thought the “funniest thing” included in the report is that OBO challenged the OIG qualifications. There appears to be serious concerns that sound fire protection engineering judgements are being overridden “on a regular basis.” There are also some questions/allegations about the qualifications of OBO folks making decisions concerning fire protection engineering — that if true, could potentially have serious consequences.

OPM says  that all Professional Engineering positions require a basic degree in engineering or a combination of education and experience — college-level education, training, and/or technical experience that furnished (1) a thorough knowledge of the physical and mathematical sciences underlying engineering, and (2) a good understanding, both theoretical and practical, of the engineering sciences and techniques and their applications to one of the branches of engineering. Also that the adequacy of such background must be demonstrated by one of the following: 1) Professional registration or licensure — Current registration as an Engineer Intern (EI), Engineer in Training (EIT)1, or licensure as a Professional Engineer (PE) by any State, the District of Columbia, Guam, or Puerto Rico. 2) Written Test — Evidence of having successfully passed the Fundamentals of Engineering (FE)2 examination or any other written test required for professional registration by an engineering licensure board in the various States, the District of Columbia, Guam, and Puerto Rico. Read more here.

In any case, you know that State/PA refused to respond to us during Tillerson’s watch but with Pompeo’s new guards in, we thought we should try asking questions again from its media professionals, coz, why not, hey?

We did receive a PA response months ago that says “we’ll look into it but may not have anything over the weekend”.  Lordy, short weekends and long weekends have come and gone and we have not heard anything back via email, fax, sign language, or telephatic signal.  Our follow-up email appeared to have also ended up in a black hole of bureaucratic shrugger-swagger.

In any case, we’ve addressed the same questions to State/OIG, and those folks reliably read and respond to email inquiries, and we received the following:

Ensuring the safety and security of Department personnel is paramount for the OIG. We give careful consideration to allegations relating to safety and security issues, including the one involving the Office of Fire Protection. Additionally, if anyone becomes aware of something that jeopardizes the safety and security of Department employees, they should report it immediately to the OIG hotline at OIG.state.gov/HOTLINE or at 1-800-409-9926.

About that report, here are a couple of examples that we understand, requires some folks to wear brown paper bags over their heads when reading:

OBO’s Technical Comment 10 | OBO disagreed with OIG’s statement: “According to PAE, a secondary loop was installed. However, rather than being routed separately, the existing fiber optic cables run in a parallel path. Because the fiber optic cables run in the same direction (as opposed to opposite directions representing a redundant circuit), damage to one part of the network can render sections of the network inoperable.” OBO stated that “it is perfectly acceptable for cables to run in the same direction. They cannot run in the same conduit. Additionally, the secondary loop is, in fact, a redundant circuit since there are two paths of travel one from the original loop and one from the secondary loop.”

OIG’s Reply | OIG agrees that cables can run in the same direction but cannot run in the same conduit. OIG found, however, that a number of the runs currently installed at Embassy Kabul did, in fact, have fiber optic cables bundled together in the same conduit. The photo below shows the current configuration at Embassy Kabul in which fiber optic cables are bundled together in the same conduit. This is contrary to NFPA standards for a redundant path. OIG made no changes to the report on the basis of this comment.

TA-DAA! Somebody stop these wild cables from running in the same conduit!

 

OBO’s Technical Comment 13 | OBO disagreed with OIG’s conclusion that “the improper installation of key components of Embassy Kabul’s fire alarm system needs immediate attention because of the potential safety risk to personnel and property.” OBO stated that it disagreed with OIG’s underlying assumptions and that OIG’s scope contained flaws.

OIG’s Reply | As set forth in this report, OBO is not in compliance with NFPA 72 regarding the requirement for a redundant path. In addition, a number of the runs currently installed at Embassy Kabul have fiber optic cables bundled together in the same conduit, which similarly fails to comply with NFPA 72. The NFPA codes and standards are designed to minimize the risk and effects of fire by establishing criteria for building, processing, design, service, and installation around the world. Failure to adhere to these requirements thus presents potential risk to embassy personnel and property. Therefore, the improper installation of key components of Embassy Kabul’s fire alarm system requires immediate attention. OIG made no changes to the report on the basis of this comment.

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27 Hours Later, Pompeo Says “The United States Condemns This Aggressive Russian Action” #Ukraine

A follow-up to Russia-Ukraine Tensions Escalate in Sea of Azov, U.S. Issues Forceful Response: ZZZzzz, late November 26, the State Department finally released a statement from Secretary Pompeo condemning the “aggressive Russian action” in the Kerch Strait. Earlier, he had an opportunity to address the incident during his joint press appearance with Kosovo’s president but declined to do so.

Russia-Ukraine Tensions Escalate in Azov Sea, U.S. Issues Forceful Response: ZZZzzz

 

Still nothing from the State Department, Secretary Pompeo or US Embassy Ukraine  as of this writing, but the U.S. Special Representative for Ukraine did tweet a comment with three question marks. Note that the tweet isn’t ALL CAPS.

Also here’s the chief diplomat of the United States tweeting about military protection pay but no tweets, ALL CAPS or otherwise about the incident that Ukrainian Navy said has wounded six Ukrainian servicemen when Russian forces shot at and seized three Ukrainian naval vessels off the coast of Crimea.

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U.S. to Return the #BalangigaBells to the Philippines After 117 Years

 

Via history.state.gov:

After its defeat in the Spanish-American War of 1898Spain ceded its longstanding colony of the Philippines to the United States in the Treaty of Paris. On February 4, 1899, just two days before the U.S. Senate ratified the treaty, fighting broke out between American forces and Filipino nationalists led by Emilio Aguinaldo who sought independence rather than a change in colonial rulers. The ensuing Philippine-American War lasted three years and resulted in the death of over 4,200 American and over 20,000 Filipino combatants. As many as 200,000 Filipino civilians died from violence, famine, and disease.
[…]
The war was brutal on both sides. U.S. forces at times burned villages, implemented civilian reconcentration policies, and employed torture on suspected guerrillas, while Filipino fighters also tortured captured soldiers and terrorized civilians who cooperated with American forces. Many civilians died during the conflict as a result of the fighting, cholera and malaria epidemics, and food shortages caused by several agricultural catastrophes.
[…]
In 1907, the Philippines convened its first elected assembly, and in 1916, the Jones Act promised the nation eventual independence. The archipelago became an autonomous commonwealth in 1935, and the U.S. granted independence in 1946.

The State Department’s historical site does not have an entry on the Balangiga Massacre. The U.S. History Scene has a piece on Remembering Balangiga and The War in the Philippines. It notes that the Philippine-American War lasted from 1899-1902 and that of the 126,468 American soldiers deployed to the Philippines—4,234 did not survive. An estimated 16,000 to 20,000 Filipino soldiers died, along with 200,000 civilians. Excerpt:

The American people were horrified when they heard that almost an entire company of men had been cut down by savage Filipino attackers. The Evening World claimed, “The slaughter is the most overwhelming defeat that American arms have encountered in the Orient.” They painted a gruesome picture: “so sudden and unexpected was the onslaught and so well hemmed in were they by the barbarians that the spot became a slaughter-pen for the little band of Americans.” It reignited support for war in the Philippines. The idea that Filipinos would hack a harmless company of men to death during breakfast reinforced the idea in the American consciousness that Filipinos were brutal, savage people. It reinforced the idea that Filipinos needed American colonialism in order to become civilized.
[…]
The Balangiga massacre gave officers the justification to pursue harsher methods.  General Jacob H. Smith led the charge in Samar. He gave the following instructions: “I want no prisoners. I wish you to kill and burn, the more you kill and burn the better you will please me. I want all persons killed who are capable of bearing arms in actual hostilities against the United States.” Major Littleton Waller asked to know the age limit, and Smith replied “Ten years.” These orders were immortalized in a cartoonin the New York Journal whose caption read: “Kill Every One Over Ten: Criminals because they were born ten years before we took the Philippines.” Smith asked his men to turn Samar into a “howling wilderness,” and they obliged.

Over the next year, the US Army practiced a scorched earth policy on Samar. They trudged through dangerous jungles, burning towns, taking food, and either killing the people or taking them to coastal villages for internment.  Thousands of Filipinos, mostly noncombatants, were killed during the Samar campaign. It became the most gruesome campaign of the entire Philippine-American War.

For the people who lived there, it was not the events of September 28, 1901, but what came after that was the true Balangiga “massacre.” Before leaving the island, American troops revisited Balangiga, where it all began. They took the church bells that signaled the attack on that day and sent them back to the United States as war trophies, where they still reside to this day.

Read in full here.

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