State/M Bulatao COVID-19 Updates: 60-Day AD, 60-Day Official Travel Restrictions, Voluntary-No Fault Curtailments

On Monday, March 16, the State Department’s Under Secretary for Management Brian Bulatao released a “Dear Colleagues” memo to employees outlining “several measures that will allow us to improve the safety of our team members – working, traveling, and posted abroad.” 

60-Day Authorized Departure

Bulatao notified employees about guidance published last Saturday authorizing departure from post for employees or EFMs who, after confidential consultation with MED, have determined they are at higher risk of a poor outcome if exposed to COVID-19, or who have requested departure based on a commensurate justification. (See @StateDept Issues Global “Authorized Departure” For Certain USG Personnel and Family Members).
So “all risk factors can be properly considered”, employees and family members are told to “first consult with their medical units at post.” Bulatao’s memo notes that “authorized departure is always a temporary measure. In this case, authorized departure will be limited to 60 days. This 60-day period is intended to give you time to assess your next steps and seek further medical advice as needed in helping inform your decision about whether you will return to post, curtail your assignment, or make other arrangements for your family members.”

Voluntary-No Fault Curtailment For 30 Countries

Bulatao also announced that all State Department employees serving in affected posts are now provided the ability to seek “voluntary, no fault curtailment” ; that is, shorten their tours of duty. Posts include any under CDC Travel Health Notice Warning Level 3 or under State Department Level 4 Travel Advisory for Health, due to COVID-19. Note that 14 out of 15 countries currently on State Department Level 4 Threat Advisory are on that level not for COVID-19 but due to crime, terrorism, civil unrest, kidnapping, or armed conflict. Only exception, as of this writing is China (see China Travel Advisory) which is for COVID-19.  
Italy and South Korea, with large confirmed COVID-19 cases are not Level 4 countries per State Department advisory, however, they are considered Level 3 by the CDC, as well as Iran, UK and Ireland, and all 26 countries in the Schengen Area.  So that’s 30 countries in all where State Department employees may seek “voluntary, no fault curtailment” at this time. Read more about curtailments here: https://fam.state.gov/fam/03fam/03fam2440.html

CDC  countries that have a Level 3 Travel Health Notice (widespread, ongoing transmission):

    • China
    • Iran
    • South Korea
    • Europe (Schengen Area): Austria, Belgium, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Italy, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Monaco, San Marino, Vatican City
    • United Kingdom and Ireland: England, Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland, Republic of Ireland
Per State/M’s guidance “Employees may choose to seek a voluntary curtailment instead of seeking to depart under authorized departure. We’ve done this to allow all employees the ability to depart areas with high rates of community transmission, limited transportation routes, and/or vulnerable medical systems, if those employees deem such departure appropriate for their individual circumstance.”

60-Day Official Travel Prohibition

Bulalato’s memo says that “for a period of 60 days, Department employees and personnel under Chief of Mission authority are prohibited from conducting official travel to countries designated with a Level 3 Warning by the CDC.” The Bulatao memo does not address family members but referenced similar guidelines imposed by DOD for military and civilian personnel and family members.
There are exceptions:  “Exceptions need to be granted by the Under Secretary for Management.   Approval is also necessary before employees or personnel under COM authority engage in official travel to countries with a Department of State Level 4 Travel Advisory for Health. These travel guidelines are designed to help limit exposure to COVID-19 to preserve the health and welfare of our teams, families, and communities. On Saturday, the White House also asked all federal employees to reconsider non-mission critical travel, to all locations, at this time.” 

DOD Comm During Pandemic

DOD says “All DoD uniformed personnel, civilian personnel and family members traveling to, from or through CDC Level 3 locations will stop movement for the next 60 days. As stated in the travel restriction guidance, exceptions may be granted for compelling cases where the travel is: (1) determined to be mission essential; (2) necessary for humanitarian reasons; or (3) warranted due to extreme hardship.”
(see DOD FAQ on Travel Restrictions issued on March 13, 2020) which is an extensive 4-page including relocation, families, hiring freeze).
We have so far, not been able to see anything similar from the State Department.  Can somebody please tell M that these guidance affecting Foreign Service families ought to be posted in a public facing website for accessibility? If DOD can post their guidance on the public Internets, we don’t see why State is not able to do the same. Non-working family members of the Foreign Service, and there’s a whole lot of them, do not have access to the Internets behind the firewall. 

Bulatao cites following bureaus/offices for support and assistance

Bulatao’s memo notes “We know that you are watching the disruptions to commercial flight availability as closely as we are. The Department is working on options to ensure continued mobility. It’s our shared responsibility to ensure the safety of our government representatives and their families. “
Bureau of Medical Services recently sent guidance to post Regional Medical Officers, Medical Providers (MPs), and EFM and LE Staff Providers “to inform their consultations with employees and family members.”
Budget and Planning, Allowances, and Comptroller and Global Financial Services “will ensure” the authorizations needed for departure are ready
Logistics Management and travel services personnel are also “on call to ensure proper travel arrangements can be made” to “get you home as soon as you need to go.”
Family Liaison Office stands “ready to support families with evacuation-related needs – whether that’s help with paperwork or connections to resiliency resources.”
Global Talent Management’s Career Development team will answer questions related to no-fault curtailments.

 

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If your routine visa services are still open during this pandemic, please tell us why (Updated)

Update: March 16, 4:58 PDT US Embassy Seoul, South Korea still doing routine visa services (see below)
From a March 14 message from State/M Brian Bulatao:
“We may never have experienced a situation exactly like this before, but the Department has plenty of experience dealing with emergencies. We know that we have to make good decisions for ourselves, for our families, for our colleagues, and are actively taking into account the needs and challenges of individual team members who may be at a higher risk if they contract COVID-19.
This means, if you are sick, please stay home. If a member of your household is sick, please stay home. If you think you may have been exposed, it is best to stay home – you do not have to take annual leave if you are set up to telework. Reducing contact with other people is our best defense against the spread of the virus.”
If your routine visa services are still open during this pandemic, we’d like to know why.
If your post is able to do social distancing for visa applicants while continuing full services, we’d like to know how.
At the US Embassy in Israel, a COVID19-positive individual visited the Embassy Branch Office Non-Immigrant Visa Section waiting room in Tel Aviv on March 5, the Embassy announced that it directed its affected staff to quarantine on March 12.
US Embassy Seoul: We’re told that despite being a Level 3 COVID-19 country with very active community spread for the past few weeks, has continued to do routine NIV visa services and is still doing routine NIV visa services. “Those from epicenter areas are able to walk in like anyone else. No temp checks or additional screenings! Guards are not allowed to turn visibly sick people away. Visa appointments are only down because people aren’t traveling as much. However you can still get an appointment easily for (F, M, J, B) This is also a visa waiver country.”  (Note: South Korea is a CDC Level 3 country, and a State Department Level 3: Reconsider Travel country as of this writing).

Updated: 5:30 PDT, March 18, 2020

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OPM Issues Guidance For Maximum Telework Flexibilities, Employees to Seek Direction From Agency Heads

 

On March 15, Acting OPM Director Russell  T. Bought issued an “Updated Guidance for the National Capital Region on Telework Flexibilities in Response to Coronavirus”:

In light of the evolving situation concerning the corona virus (“COVID-19”) and the National Capitol Region (NCR) experiencing community transmission, the Administration wants to ensure that department and agency leaders assertively safeguard the health and safety of their workforce while remaining open to serve the American people and conduct mission critical functions.

All Federal Executive Branch departments and agencies within the National Capital Region (NCR), consistent with OMB’s recent guidance (0MB M-20-13), are asked to offer maximum telework flexibilities to all current telework eligible employees, consistent with operational needs of the departments and agencies as determined by their heads. In addition, we encourage agencies to use all existing authorities to offer telework to additional employees, to the extent their work could be telework enabled. If employees are not eligible for telework, agency heads have the discretion to offer weather and safety leave, or the agency’s equivalent, including for employees who may not have been considered “at higher risk” under 0MB M-20- 13. Furthermore, agency heads should develop an operational plan that maximizes resources and functional areas to most safely and efficiently deliver these mission-critical functions and other Government services (including but not limited to staggered work schedules and other operational mitigation measures).

See OMB Guidance M-20-15 (https://www.whitehouse.gov/wp-content/uploads/2020/03/M20-15-Telework-Guidance-OMB.pdf)
Over a week ago, we understand that State/M Bulatao asked employees with mobile/remote access to test their remote access capabilities by participating in a worldwide remote log-in exercise.
This OPM guidance is only for the National Capital Region (NCR) but related to this, a concerned source recently told us that many State Department management platforms are “still not cloud based” or “not outsourced to regional centers”, and so for overseas employees, many locally employed staff must come into work.