Senate Panel Clears Rex Tillerson For Secretary of State, Full Vote Likely Next Week

Posted: 3:17 am ET

 

On January 23, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee (SFRC) cleared the nomination of Rex Tillerson to be President Trump’s Secretary of State with members voting along party lines, 11-10.  If the Senate does not hold a full vote on Tuesday, Mr. Tillerson will not get it until next week. According to Roll Call, House and Senate Republicans will hold a joint retreat from January 25 to 27 in Philadelphia to discuss priorities for the 115th Congress.  Citing leadership aides from both parties, CNN reported that the final confirmation vote by the full Senate is expected next week.

Related items:

OGE: Ethics Agreement

OGE: Nominee 278 (01/03/2017)

 

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President Trump Freezes Federal Hiring Regardless of Funding Sources (Read Memo)

Posted: 8:03 pm ET

 

On January 23, President Trump imposed a federal hiring freeze, as promised, with a stroke of a pen.  The memo says that “no vacant positions existing at noon on January 22,2017, may be filled and no new positions may be created, except in limited circumstances.  This order does not include or apply to military personnel.  The head of any executive department or agency may exempt from the hiring freeze any positions that it deems necessary to meet national security or public safety responsibilities.”

For the State Department’s CA-funded positions, here is something to note: “hiring freeze applies to all executive departments and agencies regardless of the sources of their operational and programmatic funding, excepting military personnel.”  For those thinking contracting might be a way forward, the memo says, “Contracting outside the Government to circumvent the intent of this memorandum shall not be permitted.”

Here is what the hiring freeze memo allows:

–> this memorandum does not prohibit making reallocations to meet the highest priority needs and to ensure that essential services are not interrupted and national security is not affected.

–> it does not limit the hiring of personnel where such a limit would conflict with applicable law.  This memorandum does not revoke any appointment to Federal service made prior to January 22, 2017.

–> This memorandum does not abrogate any collective bargaining agreement in effect on the date of this memorandum.

Read in full below:

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@StateDept Sends Out Job Offers to Prospective FSOs For March 6 Class But — Will There Be Jobs?

Posted: 3:47 am ET
Updated: 1:03 am ET
Updated: 7:12 pm ET

 

The most popular topic in the State Department’s career forum right now is Mgt non-authorization of appointment letter?  Candidates for appointment into the Foreign Service are roiled at the possibility that the next classes for new officers and specialists will be postponed or cancelled after they have already prepared to move to DC.  One commenter writes, “We signed attendance letters and received confirmation that we are in the March class. We signed paperwork with Oakwood for housing.”  Another adds,  “Have resigned from my job and given my apartment notice of our leaving. I also turned down another job offer in December.” Still another candidate writes, “[A]m about to go from a good, full-time job to being unemployed because of this lack of transparency and foresight. For my family’s sake, I’m trying not to show how terrified I am that we will potentially be without income and a roof over our heads.”  And yet another says, “I am not sure how future language and caveats helps those who will soon be unemployed and homeless.”

Last week, we asked the State Department about this issue, requesting some clarity on what is going on regarding the offers that went out, the classes scheduled to start, and whether or not cancellation of classes is a possibility/offers rescinded given the change in administration.

We received a four-word response from State/HR:  “We have no comment.”

We tried DGHR Arnold Chacon on Twitter, but it appears he was deaf to our question on this matter.

As best we could tell, in late November-early December, the State Department sent out appointment offers to Foreign Service applicants who have jumped through the hoops to join the incoming 190th A-100 Generalist Class, due to begin March 6. We understand that similar offers went out for the next Specialist Class due to start in March 20.

For the Generalist/FSO class, the job offer recipients were asked to notify the Registrar’s Office of their response to the job offer, via email, no later than noon, Friday, Dec. 2nd.  They were also asked to provide documentation of their annual base salarysubmission of 90 days’ worth of earnings and leave/salary statements, or a signed letter from your Human Resources Division, on the company’s letterhead, verifying the candidate’s current (base) salary.  Candidates who are current federal employees were asked to provide their most recent personnel action (SF-50), in lieu of 90 days’ worth of earnings and leave statements.   Candidates transferring from a federal agency, were asked to provide the Registrar’s Office with the name, email address and telephone number of their Human Resources Officer, so that their “transfer and a release date can be coordinated without a break in service.”

Recipients of the offers were informed that they need to provide via fax or email an updated resume with eight specific details including address, telephone number, email address, eligible family members and confirmation that this is the address from which you are traveling to attend Generalist training; please include your confirmed address, telephone number and current email address on your resume” to the Registrar’s Office. 
The candidates were reminded that if they are appointed from 50 miles outside of the Washington, D.C. metropolitan area, they are eligible to receive per diem to assist in offsetting living expenses incurred while attending training. They were given the per diem rates from March-September 2017. The letter informed the candidates that during the first week of orientation, they will have an opportunity to apply for a Government Travel Card via Citibank. Also that candidates must submit a travel voucher every 30 calendar days to receive reimbursement for their lodging and meals and incidental expenses (M&IE).   They were informed that lodging receipts are required.  The candidates were further reminded not to purchase their own tickets as they will be issued travel authorizations approximately 30 days prior to the class date.
 

They were provided information about lodging and information on specific needs such as lactation services:

The Department entered into a contract with housing vendors to provide apartments at various locations in the Washington, D.C. area for eligible employees receiving a travel authorization to attend Generalist training at FSI. Participating employees will not be responsible for paying for housing costs which can result in savings of many thousands of dollars over the course of the training period. Participants will still receive the meals and incidental expense portion of the per diem allowance on the sliding scale listed above. We strongly encourage all new employees to take advantage of this program not only because of the cost savings, but because of the convenience of making reservations, free transportation to and from FSI, and to avoid the many legal and contractual pitfalls encountered when finding your own housing. 

 If you are a candidate that will require lactation services during the orientation period, please advise as soon as possible so that arrangements can be made.

They were directed what to do/where to go on their first day of processing: 

Please note that the first day of Generalist In-Processing will be held in the Harry S. Truman (Main State), 2201 C Street, N.W, Washington, D.C. (Loy Henderson Auditorium, 23rd Street entrance only) and the remainder of the Generalist Orientation, will be held at the George Shultz National Foreign Affairs Training Center, 4000 Arlington Boulevard, Arlington, Virginia, Room F-2328.   (Please enter via the 23rd Street entrance only.   Please do not enter via the Department’s 22nd  and C Street, N.W., Washington, D.C., Main Entrance. )

They were informed that the priority of the Registrar’s Office is the processing of the January 9th Generalist Class.   And that their “patience and understanding are greatly appreciated.”

The appointment offer we reviewed includes links and contact info. It does not include a contingency language about not making “lifestyle changes.”  If you receive one of these letters, you probably would also start making arrangements to terminate current employment, leases, etc, in preparation for a new start as an entry level U.S. diplomat in Washington, D.C.

The original forum thread was posted in January 13. After the forum section lit up and multiple inquiries from candidates, HR/REE apparently sent out an email on January 17, as follows:

Dear Candidate:

The Office of Recruitment, Examination and Employment (HR/REE) would like to provide further information concerning your appointment to both the March 6th Generalist and March 20th Specialist hiring classes.

At this time, pending guidance from the incoming administration, the Registrar’s Office is not releasing any official appointment documentation related to the March 2017 hiring classes. This would include the official appointment salary letter and the Enter On-Duty employment forms. Once the Registrar’s Office has received further guidance from Management concerning your appointment, you will be informed immediately.

We recommend that you make no lifestyle changes contingent on employment with the Department until you receive further guidance from us.”

Look, the job offer letters went out after the elections. Unless folks were under a rock, State/HR knew that there will be a new GOP Administration who may have different priorities. In fact, in October 22, 2016, President Trump’s Contract With the American Voters lists “a hiring freeze on all federal employees to reduce federal workforce through attrition (exempting military, public safety, and public health)” as part of his plan.  Perhaps the folks who sent out the job offers made presumptions they shouldn’t have, or perhaps there were transition issues?  The thing is we don’t know because HR and DGHR are both non-responsive to inquiries. It is worth noting, however, that the scheduled  189th Class proceeded as planned on January 17.  If there were doubts, even slim ones about the next training classes, the State Department could have included a contingency language in the job offer letters it sent out; it did not.  Wait, we’ll take that back. Even in the absence of doubts, given that a presidential transition was anticipated after the election, it is malpractice not to include contingency language in these job offers.

We understand that the agency has no control over the priorities or the interest of the incoming administration. However, it has control over how it communicates with its prospective personnel. The State Department demands that its future diplomats demonstrate high qualities of leadership, decisiveness, and communication skills among other things.  And yet, it poorly communicates with its incoming career candidates and refuses to account for its action when politely asked for clarity.

CBS News reported on January 20 that White House chief of staff Reince Priebus sent a memo to federal agencies instructing the bureaucracy to cease issuing new regulations and to enact a federal hiring freeze. We were able to locate the regulatory freeze memo but not the memo on the hiring freeze. Government Executive has now reported about the hiring freeze here. Below is the text of the order freezing federal hiring.  Or see the more readable version here: President Trump Freezes Federal Hiring Regardless of Funding Sources (Read Memo).

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The Voice of America Deals With White House’s False Claim of ‘Largest Audience to Ever Witness an Inauguration’

Posted: 1:26 am ET

 

The VOA Charter signed into law by President Gerald Ford in 1976 provides that VOA serves “as a consistently reliable and authoritative source of news.” The Charter says that VOA news “will be accurate, objective, and comprehensive.”  VOA broadcasts about 1,800 hours of radio and television programming each week to an estimated global audience of 236.6 million people. It is broadcasts in 47 languages.

On the White House Press Secretary’s first briefing of January 21, The Voice of America initially repeated Mr. Spicer’s false claim about the inauguration crowd but took down the tweet after being called out in public for it. A couple of hours later, The Voice of America posted and tweeted its AP-written Factcheck: Trump and Spicer’s Statements on Inaugural Crowd Size.

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#TrumpInauguration: Protests and Reactions From Around the World

Posted: 2:34 pm PT

 

U.S. Consulate General Istanbul: Post On Evacuation Status With a “No Curtailment” Policy?

Posted: 1:49 am ET

 

In October 2016, the State Department updated its Travel Warning for Turkey to announce the mandatory departure of family members of employees assigned to the Consulate General in Istanbul. The announcement says that the Department of State made this decision “based on security information indicating extremist groups are continuing aggressive efforts to attack U.S. citizens in areas of Istanbul where they reside or frequent” but adds that “the Consulate General remains open and fully staffed.”

The mandatory evacuation order issued in October meant that family members departed Turkey for temporary housing typically in the Washington, D.C. area without their household effects or personal vehicles. And like all posts on mandatory evacuation, the children had to be pulled out from their schools and temporarily enrolled in local schools in the DC area. We are not sure how many family members were evacuated from post but the last data we’ve seen indicates that USCG Istanbul has approximately 80 direct-hire US employees.

By law, an evacuation cannot last longer than 180 days so after the Under Secretary of State for Management (“M”) approves the evacuation status for post (authorized or ordered), the 180-day clock “begins ticking”. The order can be lifted at any time but if family members are not allowed to return to post, and no reassignment decision has been reached, the post status could change to “unaccompanied”.  For those not in the FS, that means, family members will not be allowed to return to post and incoming employees will no longer be allowed to bring their family members to their diplomatic assignment.

The latest evacuation order for USCG Istanbul could potentially last until April 2017 unless terminated earlier, or could be extended with a new order. Note that a previous evacuation order for US Mission Turkey was terminated in September 2016 and about five weeks later, the current evacuation order was issued. Who would have thought that Istanbul would become more restrictive than say, Beirut, where employees can still bring adult family members to post?

In any case, we understand that US Mission Turkey’s DCM had a meeting recently with the staff to let them know that post and HR/EX had agreed to halt all curtailments. Apparently, employees were told they cannot leave post until they have incoming replacements. But see — if they’re not allowed to send in their requests, or if the jobs of the curtailing employees are not listed anywhere, how will folks know about these job vacancies?  How will incoming replacements come about?  We understand that the hold placed on all curtailments apparently has “no stated expiration.”

We asked the State Department about this “no curtailment” decree specific to USCG Istanbul. Below is the full official response we received:

We cannot comment on the status of individual requests, but we can confirm that it is incorrect that a “no curtailments” policy is in effect in Mission Turkey. The Department adjudicates curtailment requests on a case by case basis, in line with established regulations and procedures. In doing so, we take into account the well-being and the individual circumstances of our employees and their family members, as well as the need to ensure sufficient staffing to undertake the important work of our diplomatic posts.

We should note that we did not inquire about individual curtailments; and our question was specific to Istanbul, and did not include Ankara or Adana. You are welcome to interpret “Mission Turkey” in the most convenient way, of course.

We’ve learned that this is not the first instance of a decree issued on specific posts. In one NEA post, the Front Office reportedly made it known that it “would not accept” curtailment requests until further down the “ordered departure” road.  During the Ebola outbreak in West Africa, the Director General was also reportedly asked to implement a policy that no curtailment requests from those affected posts would be allowed until senior management decided it was “appropriate.”

We can see where the State Department is coming from; it certainly would not like to see mass curtailments from staffers but  — there is no authority in the books that prohibit curtailment requests. And as somebody familiar with the bureau puts it, “HR knows this damn well.”  

Curtailment is the shortening of an employee’s tour of duty from his or her assignment.  It may include the employee’s immediate departure from a bureau or post.  The statutory authority for curtailment is found in the Foreign Service Act of 1980.

In the Foreign Affairs Manual, 3 FAM 2443.1 allows an employee assigned abroad to request curtailment of his or her tour of duty for any reason.  The regs say that the employee should submit a written request for curtailment that explains the reasons for the request to the appropriate assignment panel through his or her counseling and assignment officer. Post management must state its support for or opposition to the employee’s request.  The Foreign Affairs Manual makes clear that a curtailment is an assignment action, not a disciplinary one.

The FAM provides any employee the right to request a curtailment for any reason at any time, regardless of where the employees are serving.  It’s been pointed out to us that this does not/not mean that the assignment panel will approve the request. We understand that the panel’s decision typically depends on the argument made by the CDO (Career Development Office) at panel and whether ECS (Employee Consultation Service) strongly supports the “compassionate curtailment.”

A source familiar with the workings of the bureau observed that if post is refusing to send out the curtailment request via cable, the employee needs to connect with his/her CDO and go the DGDirect route. If necessary, employees can also go to AFSA, as there are precedence for this in prior attempts to declare no curtailment decrees at other posts under “ordered departure” or where there were outbreaks of diseases (Ebola, Zika).

Note that 3 FAM 2446 provides the Director General of the Foreign Service the authority to propose curtailment from any assignment sua sponteAccording to the FAM, the Director General may overrule the assignment panel decision to curtail or not to curtail if the Director General determines that to do so is in the best interests of the Foreign Service or the post.

Related posts:

 

 

Burn Bag: A DCM Gets Kicked Out For Sexual Harassment

Via Burn Bag:

The DCM at a large post was kicked out for sexual harassment.  This was a long time coming so big props to whoever caused powers that be to take the problem seriously.  But the bigger question remains – how does someone who has existed on a diet of inappropriate and abuse (sic) behavior for years get selected to lead this mission?  Shouldn’t a couple EEO complaints trigger some more expansive 360s?

srene

 

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Related posts:

 

 

 

Goodbye Benjamin F. Kerry, a/k/a @Diplomutt — We Hardly Knew Ye!

Posted: 4:40 pm PT
[twitter-follow screen_name=’Diplopundit’

 

In November 2013, Secretary Kerry flew to Maine to pick up his new yellow Labrador puppy, Ben from Frances Plessner of Puddleduck Boarding Kennel who spent two months training the dog. According to the Boston Globe, Ben is named in honor of Ben Franklin, also known as the “Father of the American Foreign Service.” (Also see Secretary Kerry Gets a New Dog, Now a State Dept. Dog is Tweeting, Who Needs the NSA?) Ben, whose Twitter handle says @Diplomutt has 3,131 followers but is not terribly social online. He has only tweeted four six times, and followed only six accounts, all State Department-connected.

Now, he’s off to the beach to watch the sunset. And no goodbye tweets. Sad.

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68 Delivers Farewell and Thanks to Foggy Bottom, See More Goodbyes and Parting Thoughts

Posted: 3:33 pm PT

 

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On Invocation of Visa Sanctions For Countries Unwilling to Accept Their Deported Nationals

Posted: 3:27 am ET

 

On January 3, the State Department published 9 FAM 602.2 on the Discontinuation of Visa Issuance Under INA 243 (D) which provides that “upon being notified by the Secretary of Homeland Security that a government of a foreign country denies or unreasonably delays accepting an alien who is a citizen, subject, national, or resident of that country, the Secretary of State shall order consular officers in that foreign country to discontinue granting immigrant visas or nonimmigrant visas, or both, to citizens, subjects, nationals, and residents of that country until the Secretary of Homeland Security notifies the Secretary of State that the country has accepted the alien.”

–> A discontinuation of visa issuance under INA 243(d) is based on an order issued by the Secretary of State to consular officers in a particular country to stop issuing visas pursuant to INA 243(d).  The Secretary may decide to order consular officers to discontinue issuing all visas in the country or a subset of visas.

–> Affected posts generally will be informed by cable which visa classifications or categories of visa applicants are subject to a discontinuation under INA 243(d) and when visa issuance must be discontinued.  When the Secretary orders discontinuation of visa issuance, the Visa Office will work with the relevant regional bureau and the affected post to provide specific guidance via cable.

Only one country, The Gambia, is currently subject to discontinuation of visa issuance under INA 243(d) though this might just be the start. There are potentially 85 countries that could be subject to a visa sanction based on their refusal in accepting their own nationals deported from the United States.  The FAM, at this time, does not include any guidance pertaining to immigrant visas.

In October last year, the State Department spokesperson said this about the visa sanction for The Gambia in the DPB:

As of October 1st, 2016, the United States and Banjul, The Gambia, has discontinued visa issuance to employees of the Gambian government, employees of certain entities associated with the government, and their spouses and children, with limited exceptions. Under Section 243(d) of the Immigration and Nationality Act, when so requested by the Secretary of Homeland Security due to a particular country’s refusal to accept or unreasonably delay the return of its nationals, the Secretary of State must order consular officers to suspend issuing visas until informed by the Secretary of Homeland Security that the offending country has accepted those individuals.
[…] The Gambia is unique in that we have applied numerous tools on how to engage, but without any result. Some other countries have responded in some way or made partial efforts to address the deficiency; The Gambia has not. We have been seeking cooperation with the Government of The Gambia on the return of Gambian nationals for some time, from the working level up to the highest level, and we have exhausted diplomatic means to resolve this matter.

Last year, ICE Deputy Director Daniel Ragsdale also went before the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform for a hearing on “Recalcitrant Countries: Denying Visas to Countries that Refuse to Take Back Their Deported Nationals”. Below is an excerpt from his prepared testimony which provides additional background for this issue:

The removal process is impacted by the level of cooperation offered by our foreign partners. As the Committee is aware, in order for ICE to effectuate a removal, two things are generally required: (1) an administratively final order of removal and (2) a travel document issued by a foreign government. Although the majority of countries adhere to their international obligation to accept the return of their citizens who are not eligible to remain in the United States, ICE faces unique challenges with those countries that systematically refuse or delay the repatriation of their nationals. Such countries are considered to be uncooperative or recalcitrant, and they significantly exacerbate the challenges ICE faces in light of the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Zadvydas v. Davis, 533 U.S. 678 (2001).

In Zadvydas, the Court effectively held that aliens subject to final orders of removal may generally not be detained beyond a presumptively reasonable period of 180 days, unless there is a significant likelihood of removal in the reasonably foreseeable future. Regulations were issued in the wake of Zadvydas to allow for detention beyond that period in a narrow category of cases involving special circumstances, including certain terrorist and dangerous individuals with violent criminal histories. Those regulations have faced significant legal challenges in federal court. Consequently, ICE has been compelled to release thousands of individuals, including many with criminal convictions, some of whom have gone on to commit additional crimes.

23 countries considered “recalcitrant”, 62 countries with “strained cooperation”

Countries are assessed based on a series of tailored criteria to determine their level of cooperativeness with ICE’s repatriation efforts. Some of the criteria used to determine cooperativeness include: hindering ICE’s removal efforts by refusing to allow charter flights into the country; country conditions and/or the political environment, such as civil unrest; and denials or delays in issuing travel documents. This process remains fluid as countries become more or less cooperative. ICE’s assessment of a country’s cooperativeness can be revisited at any time as conditions in that country or relations with that country evolve; however, ICE’s current standard protocol is to reassess bi-annually. As of May 2, 2016, ICE has found that there were 23 countries considered recalcitrant, including: Afghanistan, Algeria, the People’s Republic of China, Cuba, Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, and Zimbabwe. As a result of their lack of cooperation, ICE has experienced a significant hindrance in our ability to remove aliens from these countries. In addition, ICE is also closely monitoring an additional 62 countries with strained cooperation, but which are not deemed recalcitrant at this time.

DHS/ICE and State/CA: measures for dealing with uncooperative countries

Responses to a country’s recalcitrance are, in part, guided by a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) between ICE and DOS Consular Affairs, signed in April 2011. Pursuant to this MOU, ICE continues to work through U.S. diplomatic channels to ensure that other countries accept the timely return of their nationals in accordance with international law by pursuing a graduated series of steps to gain compliance with the Departments’ shared expectations. The measures that may be taken when dealing with countries that refuse to accept the return of their nationals, as outlined in the 2011 MOU, include:

♦ issue a demarche or series of demarches;

♦ hold a joint meeting with the Ambassador to the United States, Assistant Secretary for Consular Affairs, and Director of ICE;

♦ consider whether to provide notice of the U.S. Government’s intent to formally determine that the subject country is not accepting the return of its nationals and that the U.S. Government intends to exercise authority under section 243(d) of the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA) to encourage compliance;

♦ consider visa sanctions under section 243(d) of the INA; and

♦ call for an interagency meeting to pursue withholding of aid or other funding.

A State Department official on background told us today that “facilitating the removal of aliens who are subject to a final order of removal, particularly those who pose a danger to national security or public safety, is a top priority for the Department of State.”  Also that the Department’s discontinuation of visa issuance this past October was “in response to the Gambia’s failure to issue travel documents for any individuals under final order for removal.” More:

When approaching a specific country, we consider all options at our disposal, taking into account the totality of national security and foreign policy equities that could be impacted.  In many cases, significant progress has been possible through intensive diplomatic engagement.  Taking into consideration each country’s specific situation and other important U.S. interests, we work with ICE to determine the course of action best suited to securing compliance from each government.

Since visa issuance is on reciprocal basis we wanted to know how this might affect America citizens in countries subjected to visa sanctions. Here is the official response:

Our goal is to achieve success without inciting retaliation that could hurt the U.S. in other ways.   Imposition of visa sanctions on a given country is one potentially powerful tool.  However, it is important to note that what works in one country may not be effective in another.  Some governments would prefer to have their citizens stay home rather than spend their money on U.S. hotels, airlines, and tourist attractions.  Others could retaliate in ways that could be detrimental to wider U.S. security concerns, such as law enforcement, military, or counter-terrorism cooperation.

 

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