HAVANA Act of 2021 Passes Congress, Heads to President Biden’s Desk

 

We blogged about the Havana Act in August 2021 (see Helping American Victims Afflicted by Neurological Attacks Act of 2021 Awaits Passage in the House, You Can Help). On September 21, the House unanimously passed legislation in a 427-0 vote to compensate USG employees who experienced traumatic brain injuries while serving in Cuba, China and other locations, also known as the Havana Syndrome. The U.S. Senate passed the HAVANA Act in June. The bill now heads to the White House for President Biden’s signature.

What’s up at OPM — why the immediate changes to login access to Employee Express?

 

The message reportedly went out from the Bureau of the Comptroller and Global Financial Services (CGFS) Global Compensation Communications Team on Wednesday, September 22, 2021, 08:50:00 AM PDT.The subject line says: “Immediate Changes to Login Access to Employee Express.”
Last Friday, September 17, 2021, the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) informed the Bureau of the Comptroller and Global Financial Services (CGFS) that the Employee Express (EEX) and Annuitant Employee Express (AEEX) user accounts will no longer be accessible by logging in with a username and password.
OPM is the agency that manages both the EEX and AEEX systems and suspended non-Personal Identification Card (PIV) and Common Access Card (CAC) access to EEX and AEEX as of 7:00 PM EST Friday, September 17.
OPM suspended it on Friday, and folks were notified the following Wednesday?
— Users will only be able to access their accounts using their agency-issued PIV Smartcard. This modification impacts both employee and annuitant customers.
— Customers who do not currently have a PIV Smartcard and need immediate assistance to access or modify payroll or benefits information that would typically be performed by EEX, should contact the following offices:
— For assistance with modifying Federal Employees Health Benefits (FEHB) information, contact Employee and Annuitant Services (EAS) at HRSC@state.gov or 1-866-300-7419.
— For PIV issues, please contact your bureau Information Technology department.
— For all other inquiries, please contact Payroll Customer Support by emailing Payhelp@state.gov.
OPM apparently has notified the State Department that they are working on an alternative solution for individuals who do not have a PIV Smartcard and plan to have this in place by November 1, 2021.
Oh, goody! That’s some five weeks away.
Now we want to know why the immediate urgency on these changes? Worth a question. Given it’s not too long ago when this happened — OPM Hack Compromises Federal Employee Records, Not Just PII But Security Clearance Info.

###

 

Blinken’s #HavanaSyndrome Meeting, Also Spratlen is Out as Task Force Advisor

 

On September 3, we blogged about the Havana Syndrome again: Blinken Talks the Talk on Unexplained Health Incidents, Where’s the Walk? #HavanaSyndrome.
On September 21, NBC News reported that Secretary Blinken finally did meet with diplomats who were afflicted with the  Havana Syndrome mystery illness. It did not go very well, did it?
Via NBC News:

“It’s just incredibly sad. It’s the worst part of bureaucracy,” one of the diplomats said, describing the call as “identical to so many other phone calls” where they’re told about protocols in place to ensure proper treatment. “It’s so maddening because those protocols aren’t in place — not the way they think they are.”
[…]
A senior State Department official, responding to questions about Blinken’s call with the diplomats, acknowledged that there’s “frustration” among the group about a perceived stigma or lack of empathy by their colleagues, but said it did not extend to those at the top.

“That’s certainly not the case with the secretary and the senior leadership,” the official said in an interview. “Everyone is taking it seriously as a real issue that is affecting people who are experiencing real symptoms.”

Which members of the senior leadership is the SDO official talking about?

Diplomats told NBC News they were dismayed that Ambassador Pamela Spratlen, tapped by the Biden administration to oversee the State Department’s response, declined to conclusively rule out the mass hysteria theory.
[…]
One diplomat on the call described that response as “invalidating and inconsiderate.” Another said that Spratlen was “very clearly saying that she has not ruled out that we’re crazy.”  “In the end, we were interrupting Spratlen to try to get people in” to speak, a third diplomat on the call said. “It was ugly.”

Folks, if they’re talking about protocols in place that aren’t in place almost seven months after Blinken took office, then one can’t help but agree that Secretary Blinken is treating this “as an afterthought” as per former Senior CIA official Marc Polymeropoulos.
Another reason why we agree? Ambassador Spratlen who was appointed as Senior Advisor to the Havana Syndrome Task Force back in March is reportedly leaving after six months on the job. “The State Department says she’d reached her threshold of allowed labor hours under her status as a retiree.
Well, dammit! So Foggy Bottom did not know that she’s going to max out on her allowed labor hours? Excuse me, did they think this job is going to be done after 950 hours on the job? (Also see Havana Syndrome Questions @StateDept Refuses to Answer). Note that State Department’s re-employed annuitant employees can work no more than 1,040 hours during their appointment year.
McClatchy says that Blinken “considers choosing her [Spratlen’s] replacement an important decision, a senior State Department official said.
“The secretary has been seized with this issue even before he became secretary,” the official said. “One of the meetings he proactively requested before the transition was on this issue.”
Oh holymoly guacamole, give it a rest PR people! This is an old, old tired trick, even an old dog would not pick up this stick!
Frankly, this is  getting to be so exhausting! Look. The fact of the matter is it doesn’t matter if Secretary Blinken requested “proactively” a meeting on the Havana Syndrome issue BEFORE the transition.
In fact, the next State Department official to bring up Blinken’s request for a Havana Syndrome briefing before the transition should be promptly fired for persistently living in the past.
What matters is — what Blinken is doing about this issue NOW.

Brett M. Holmgren Assumes Charge as Asst Secretary For Intelligence and Research (State/INR)