Snapshot: State/CA’s Revenue Drop, Staffing , Backlogs

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Excerpt from Department of State/AILA Liaison Committee Meeting May 27, 2021:
11.DOS’ decision last year to suspend most of its visa operations overseas, while understandable given the COVID-19 global pandemic, has resulted in enormous frustration for applicants, who face a sizeable backlog of pending immigrant visa cases and limited availability of appointment slots for nonimmigrant travel. Please describe steps now being taken or that are under consideration to staff-up overseas consular operations and increase the numbers of visa appointments? Specifically, are there plans to surge overseas staffing with new officers or temporary assignment or detail (TDY) personnel, as was done a few years ago with domestic passport agencies to reduce their backlogs?
While the Department did suspend operations in March 2020, Presidential Proclamation 10014 (effective April 23, 2020 –Feb 24, 2021) and the geographic proclamations (up until April 8, 2021) also played a major role in limiting our ability to process immigrant visas. The Bureau of Consular Affairs (CA) is under enormous financial pressure as a result of an almost 50 percent drop in revenue due to the COVID-19 pandemic.We decreased staffing at some posts based upon demand, though those changes are not irreversible. We constantly monitor staffing and demand and redistribute resources as necessary. We examine all options available as we balance resource constraints and workload. The provision of services to U.S. citizens remains our top priority, but we are directing many resources to address the IV backlog. We are employing a number of innovative solutions to assist IV processing posts, including having other missions provide remote help on everything from correspondence to document review. We are utilizing TDY staffing as resources and conditions allow. Local country conditions can affect our ability to send TDY personnel to process these cases as the safety and welfare of our staff is paramount.
12.Since consular operations are fee-based, is DOS considering an increase in certain consular fees as part of a strategy to properly staff and tackle the backlog?
Possibly, if additional resources are being requested through the formulation process, as those requirements are part of the update on unit costs. Recommendations to adjust fees are made after reviewing annual updates of the cost of service model. It is then that the Comptroller’s office initiates discussions with CA leadership for decisions on fee recommendations for consular services based on full cost recovery to adequately and appropriately fund the Consular and Border Security Program. Once additional resources or in this case, staff, are in place or have been formally requested in the formulation process, the Comptroller’s office would capture them in the annual review to ensure that those additional resources are accounted for and then make the appropriate fee recommendations.

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FSGB: “Automatism” Defense Against Notoriously Disgraceful Conduct Charge Fails

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Via FSGB Case No. 2020031 February 19, 2021
HeldThe Department proved by preponderant evidence that the charged employee committed notoriously disgraceful conduct by engaging in non consensual sexual contact with a colleague in a public Embassy space; the misconduct was not caused by a neurological condition (automatism); there was a nexus between the charged misconduct and the efficiency of the Service; and that the penalty of separation is reasonable.Case
SummaryThe Department charged an unaccompanied married employee with notoriously disgraceful conduct after he went to a pool party at an overseas post, had a few alcoholic drinks, and, after some physical contact with a married colleague who was intoxicated, touched her near her genital area without her consent. The incident was videotaped by security cameras and was observed by employees who were at the pool. The Department argued that intent is not an element of the charged misconduct but should be considered as a mitigating or aggravating factor when the penalty is determined. The agency presented the testimony of an expert witness who opined that the charged employee did not suffer from an automatism at the time of the misconduct. The agency contended that the undisputed evidence proves notoriously disgraceful conduct. The Department argued that separation was the only appropriate penalty for the egregious misconduct, given a fair consideration of the mitigating and aggravating factors and a review of comparator cases.
The charged employee presented a report from an expert witness who opined that at the time of the misconduct, the employee was experiencing a neurological event, called an automatism,which prevented him from having any awareness of, or control over, his actions. The charged employee contended that he is not culpable for the charged misconduct because intent to commit the conduct is a necessary element of the charge.The employee also argued that the Deciding Official did not properly consider mitigating circumstances and the penalty was unreasonable after a review of comparator cases.
The Grievance Board considered the undisputed evidence of the incident that was recorded on the videotape and not contested by the charged employee. The Board further reviewed the testimony of the competing experts and concluded that the opinion of the charged employee’s expert witness was not sound because it was not consistent with the accounts of the witnesses, including the charged employee, and it did not derive from a persuasive differential diagnosis. The Board concluded that the charged employee’s expert witness speculated repeatedly on the possible causes for an automatism,which undermined the plausibility of his ultimate opinion. The Board further found that because intent was clearly established, the issue of whether intent is an element of the charge did not need to be decided. The Board concluded that there was a nexus between the misconduct and the efficiency of the Service because the incident was videotaped, witnessed by several employees, resulted in an almost immediate curtailment and a suspension of the charged employee’s security clearance. Lastly, the Board found that the penalty was within the zone of reasonableness after an appropriate review of mitigating factors and case comparators.
The Board finds that Department “has established by preponderant evidence that the charged employee committed the specified charge of notoriously disgraceful conduct, the misconduct was not the product of an automatism; there is a nexus between the misconduct and the efficiency of the Service; and the penalty of separation is reasonable.”
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ConGen Lagos’ Claire A. Pierangelo to be U.S. Ambassador to Madagascar and to Comoros

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On June 24, President Biden announced his intent to nominate Claire A. Pierangelo to be the next U.S. Ambassador to Madagascar and to Comoros. The WH released the following brief bio:

Claire A. Pierangelo, Nominee for Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary to the Republic of Madagascar and to the Union of the Comoros

Claire A. Pierangelo, a career member of the Senior Foreign Service, class of Minister-Counselor, currently serves as the Principal Officer at the U.S. Consulate General, Lagos Nigeria. Previously, Pierangelo was an Assistant Professor at the National Defense University and prior to that, the Director of the Office of Performance Evaluation in the State Department’s Bureau of Human Resources. Earlier, she was the Deputy Chief of Mission of the U.S. Embassy in Hanoi, Vietnam in addition to other positions, including multiple assignments in the Bureau of European and Eurasian Affairs in the State Department and service as Principal Officer at the U.S. Consulate General, Surabaya, Indonesia. Pierangelo earned an M.S. degree in National Security and Resource Strategy from the Industrial College of the Armed Forces, National Defense University, an M.A. degree from the Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies and a B.A. degree from the University of California, Santa Cruz.  She speaks Italian, Indonesian, Vietnamese and French.

If confirmed, Ms. Pierangelo would succeed Ambassador Michael Pelletier who served at the US Embassy in Antananarivo from March 2019 – June 2021. Madagascar is one of those countries where the ambassadorial appointees were mostly career diplomats; an 11 career/4 noncareer split since 1960.

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