U.S. Consulate General Hong Kong and Macau on ‘Voluntary Departure’ Over Covid19 Outbreak

 

On February 11, the State Department issued a Level 2 Exercise Increase Caution for the Hong Kong and Macau. The announcement includes public notice of the voluntary evacuation order of February 10 for the consulate general’s non-emergency staff and and their family members due to the novel coronavirus outbreak in Wuhan, China (now officially called covid19).  Excerpt below:

Exercise Increased Caution due to the novel coronavirus first identified in Wuhan, China.  Read the entire Travel Advisory.

A novel (new) coronavirus is causing an outbreak of respiratory illness that began in the city of Wuhan, Hubei Province, China in December 2019. On January 30, 2020, the World Health Organization determined the rapidly spreading outbreak constitutes a Public Health Emergency of International Concern.

The Hong Kong government has reported cases of the novel coronavirus in its special administrative region, has upgraded its response level to emergency, its highest response level, and is taking other steps to manage the novel Coronavirus outbreak. On February 8, the Hong Kong government began enforcing a compulsory 14-day quarantine for anyone, regardless of nationality, arriving in Hong Kong who has visited mainland China within a 14-day period. This quarantine does not apply to individuals transiting Hong Kong International Airport and certain exempted groups such as flight crews. However, health screening measures are in place at all of Hong Kong’s borders and the Hong Kong authorities will quarantine individual travelers, including passengers transiting the Hong Kong International Airport, if the Hong Kong authorities determine the traveler to be a health risk. Please refer to the Hong Kong government’s press release for further details.

On January 30, the Hong Kong government temporarily closed certain transportation links and border checkpoints connecting Hong Kong with mainland China and on February 3 suspended ferry services from Macau.

On February 10, 2020 the Department of State allowed for the voluntary departure of non-emergency U.S. government employees and their family members due to the novel coronavirus and the impact to Mission personnel as schools and some public facilities have been closed until further notice.

The Department of State has raised the Travel Advisory for mainland China to Level 4: Do Not Travel due to the novel coronavirus first identified in Wuhan, China. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has issued a Level 3 Warning:  Avoid all nonessential travel to China.

Full advisory available here.

 

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Trump Ousts Impeachment Witnesses, Amb. Gordon Sondland, Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman, Plus Brother Yevgeny Vindman

 

Ambassador Marie Yovanovitch Retires From the Foreign Service After 34 Years of Service

Updated: 3:54 pm PST with correction on Amb. Yovanovitch’s promotion to Career Minister in 2016.

Ambassador Marie Yovanovitch, the former U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine who was one of the top witnesses in the Trump Impeachment hearings reportedly retired from the State Department.  Ambassador Yovanovitch served 34 years in the U.S. Foreign Service.  She previously served as U.S. Ambassador to the Republic of Armenia (2008-2011) under President Obama and to the Kyrgyz Republic (2005-2008) under President George W. Bush.
Based on her online bio, Ambassador Yovanovitch is 61 years old, which is four years short of the mandatory retirement in the U.S. Foreign Service. (Foreign Service employees are eligible to retire at age 50 with 20 years of service).
Ambassador Yovanovitch was promoted to the Senior Foreign Service Class of Minister-Counselor in 2007. She was ranked Minister-Counselor during her last two appointments as Ambassador to Armenia in 2008 and as Ambassador to Ukraine in 2016. The maximum time-in-class (TIC) limits for Minister-Counselor is “14 years combined TIC with no more than seven years in the class of Counselor.” We don’t have public details beyond what is on congress.gov and the FAM, but it looks like she has not reach her maximum TIC in 2020. It is also likely that she was eligible for promotion to Career Minister prior to her retirement. Correction: Amb. Yovanovitch was promoted to Career Minister in 2016 (thanks B!)
So why would she retire? Perhaps she got exhausted by all the controversy. Or perhaps she simply realized that, given her rank, she could not find a warm home in Pompeo’s State Department nor is she going to get another presidential appointment under this Administration.  Having been yanked out of one assignment without an onward assignment, with a huge WH target on her back, we’ve always suspected that she would not be able to return to Foggy Bottom or get another overseas assignment.
Per 3 FAM 6215 career members of the Foreign Service who have completed Presidential assignments under section 302(b) of the Foreign Service Act, and who have not been reassigned within 90 days after the termination of such assignment, plus any period of authorized leave, shall be retired as provided in section 813 of the Act. 
Ambassador Yovanovitch was detailed to a university for a year. As a career member of the Foreign Service,  she was recalled from an assignment but wasn’t fired after her posting at the US Embassy in Kyiv. In reality, her career ended in Kyiv. Without that university assignment, it’s likely that she would have been subjected to the 90-day rule and be forced into mandatory retirement last summer.
In any case, that university assignment would have ran out this spring but in May 2019, it allowed the State Department to pretend that this was a normal job rotation. For the State Department, it also avoided one spectacle: given that the recall quickly became very high profile and political, they would have had to explain her mandatory retirement in Summer 2019 following the conclusion of her presidential appointment without an onward assignment.
Her case underscores some realities of the Foreign Service that folks will continue to wrestle with for a long time. How breathtakingly easy it was for motivated bad actors to whisper in powerful, receptive ears and ruin a 34-year career. You may have thought that Administration officials could not possibly have believed the whispers, that over three decades of dedicated service meant something, but believed them they did. Since this happened to her, how easily could it happen to anyone, at any post, at any given country around the world? Then to realize how thin the protection afforded career employees, and how easily the system adapts to the political demands of the day.
Note that in the Foreign Service, retirements may be either voluntary or involuntary. According to State, involuntary retirements include those due to reaching the mandatory retirement age of 65 (except DS special agents where the mandatory retirement age is 57), which cannot be waived unless an employee is serving in a Presidential appointment, or if the Director General of the Foreign Service determines that the employee’s retention in active duty is in the “public interest”; and those who trigger the “up-or-out” rules in the FS personnel system (e.g., restrictions in the number of years FS employees can remain in one class or below the Senior Foreign Service threshold).
Voluntary non-retirements include resignations, transfers, and deaths. Involuntary non-retirements consist of terminations, as well as “selection out” of tenured employees and non-tenured decisions for entry level FS employees.
Between FY 2018 and FY 2022, the Department projected that close to 5,900 career CS and FS employees will leave the Department due to various types of attrition.  Most FS attrition reportedly is due to retirements. In FY 2017, 70 percent of all separations from the FS were retirements. For the FY 2018 to FY 2022 period, the attrition mix is expected to be 80 percent retirements and 20 percent non-retirements.

 

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Amb. Marie Yovanovitch Pens WaPo Op-Ed: These are turbulent times. But we will persist and prevail

 

Marie Yovanovitch: These are turbulent times. But we will persist and prevail.
Feb. 6, 2020 at 3:00 a.m. PST
Via WaPo:

After nearly 34 years working for the State Department, I said goodbye to a career that I loved. It is a strange feeling to transition from decades of communicating in the careful words of a diplomat to a person free to speak exclusively for myself.

What I’d like to share with you is an answer to a question so many have asked me: What do the events of the past year mean for our country’s future?

It was an honor for me to represent the United States abroad because, like many immigrants, I have a keen understanding of what our country represents. In a leap of optimism and faith, my parents made their way from the wreckage of post-World War II Europe to America, knowing in their hearts that this country would give me a better life. They rested their hope, not in the possibility of prosperity, but in a strong democracy: a country with resilient institutions, a government that sought to advance the interests of its people, and a society in which freedom was cherished and dissent protected. These are treasures that must be carefully guarded by all who call themselves Americans.

When civil servants in the current administration saw senior officials taking actions they considered deeply wrong in regard to the nation of Ukraine, they refused to take part. When Congress asked us to testify about those activities, my colleagues and I did not hesitate, even in the face of administration efforts to silence us.

We did this because it is the American way to speak up about wrongdoing. I have seen dictatorships around the world, where blind obedience is the norm and truth-tellers are threatened with punishment or death. We must not allow the United States to become a country where standing up to our government is a dangerous act. It has been shocking to experience the storm of criticism, lies and malicious conspiracies that have preceded and followed my public testimony, but I have no regrets. I did — we did — what our conscience called us to do. We did what the gift of U.S. citizenship requires us to do.

Unfortunately, the last year has shown that we need to fight for our democracy. “Freedom is not free” is a pithy phrase that usually refers to the sacrifices of our military against external threats. It turns out that same slogan can be applied to challenges which are closer to home. We need to stand up for our values, defend our institutions, participate in civil society and support a free press. Every citizen doesn’t need to do everything, but each one of us can do one thing. And every day, I see American citizens around me doing just that: reanimating the Constitution and the values it represents. We do this even when the odds seem against us, even when wrongdoers seem to be rewarded, because it is the right thing to do.

I had always thought that our institutions would forever protect us against individual transgressors. But it turns out that our institutions need us as much as we need them; they need the American people to protect them or they will be hollowed out over time, unable to serve and protect our country.

Read in full:

DynCorp Pays $1.5M to Resolve Kickback Allegations in Baghdad, Iraq

 

This is a follow-up to a 2017 case about a former government contractor sentenced to four years in prison for his role in a government contract kickback scheme that caused a loss of more than $3.4 million to the U.S. Department of State.

According to court documents, Wesley Aaron Struble, 49, a U.S. citizen of Batangas, Philippines, engaged in a conspiracy to violate the Anti-Kickback Act in 2011 and 2012 while employed in Iraq as a government contractor. Initially employed by a business identified in court documents as Company B, Struble learned that another business, identified in court documents as Company A, was seeking a lease of real property for use related to a U.S. Department of State contract. Struble knew that Company B was paying approximately $124,000 per month to a third business, identified in court documents as Company C, for a lease of real property. According to court documents, Struble became a manager for Company A, and together with another manager for Company A, engaged in a conspiracy with associates of Company C to make the lease of property available to Company A at an inflated rate of $665,000 per month.

(See That time when a real property lease in Iraq jumped from $124,000/mo to $665,000/mo).
Last month, USDOJ announced that DynCorp Pays $1.5M to Resolve Kickback Allegations:

ALEXANDRIA, Va. – DynCorp International, LLC (DynCorp), located in McLean, has agreed to pay $1.5 million to settle civil fraud allegations involving two former DynCorp officials, Wesley Aaron Struble and Jose Rivera, who solicited and accepted kickbacks from an Iraqi subcontractor in connection with DynCorp’s lease of property for its operations in Baghdad, Iraq on behalf of the U.S. Department of State.

Struble and Rivera previously pleaded guilty in the Eastern District of Virginia to violating the Anti-Kickback Act for their role in soliciting and accepting at least $390,000 in cash kickbacks from the Al-Qarat Company in exchange for influencing DynCorp’s lease of property in Baghdad at a lease amount higher than the previous lease. The lease costs were included with services for international civilian policing that DynCorp billed under a U.S. Department of State contract in 2011 and 2012.

The settlement resolves the alleged liability of DynCorp for violation of civil penalties under the Anti-Kickback Act and the civil False Claims Act arising out of Struble’s and Rivera’s fraudulent conduct while employed by DynCorp.

The resolutions obtained in this matter were the result of a coordinated effort between the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Virginia, the Department of State Office of Inspector General, and the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

The matter was investigated by Assistant U.S. Attorney Christine Roushdy. The civil claims settled by this False Claims Act agreement are allegations only; there has been no determination of civil liability.

The original announcement is available here.

Pompeo Helpfully Highlights Lisa Simpson’s Cesspool on the Potomac

OH. MY.
“The city of Washington was built on a stagnant swamp some 200 years ago, and very little has changed. It stank then, and it stinks now. Only today, it is the fetid stench of corruption that hangs in the air. And who did I see taking a bribe but the “Honorable” Bob Arnold! Don’t worry, Congressman, I’m sure you can buy all the votes you need with your dirty money! And this will be one nation, under the dollar, with liberty and justice for none.” – Lisa Simpson
See the longer snippet here in Mr. Lisa Goes to Washington.

 

BONUS item:

New U.S. Ambassador to Moscow John Sullivan Presents Credentials to President Putin

 

 

New Ambassador David Fischer Assumes Charge at U.S. Embassy Morocco

 

 

Via state.gov/hr

SUBJECT:            Ambassadorial Nomination:  Certificate of Demonstrated Competence — Foreign Service Act, Section 304(a)(4)

POST:                  Kingdom of Morocco

CANDIDATE:       David T. Fischer

David T. Fischer, a prominent businessman and community leader in Michigan, has been involved in his family automotive dealership group and related entities since 1967.  He became President and CEO in 1975, and principal owner in 1978.  In 2017, his title was changed to Chairman & CEO.  Known today as “The Suburban Collection,” Mr. Fischer’s organization has become one of the largest privately held automotive dealership groups in the United States.  It represents most automotive manufacturers, both domestic and foreign, including over 90 active, automotive related entities.  This organization also operates state-of-the-art collision centers, accessories distribution centers, fleet management and retrofitting services throughout the United States and Canada.  Recognized for his leadership, problem solving and fiscal management, Mr. Fischer has forged and managed a large organization of highly talented and loyal personnel, while dedicating time and resources to the welfare of his community, the arts and education through the support of 80 charities in the past 24 months alone.

In addition to leading The Suburban Collection, Mr. Fischer has been Chairman Emeritus, North American International Auto Show, Detroit (1990-Present), Co-Chairman, North American International Auto Show, Detroit, (1988-1989), Board of Directors, GMRC Holdings, Limited, Hastings, Christ Church, Barbados (2008-2013), Director, North Metro Board of Directors, Michigan National Bank, Troy, Michigan (Mid-to-late 1980s), Board of Trustees, Oakland University, including two terms as Vice-Chairman and one term as Chairman (1992-2008), and Director, Regional Board of Directors, Michigan National Bank, Troy, Michigan (Mid-to-late 1980s).  He has held ownership stakes in more than a dozen additional companies.  Serving local government, Mr. Fischer has been a Member of the Judicial Tenure Commission in Detroit (2012-2017).  Highlighting his community service, Mr. Fischer has joined the Boards of numerous academic, cultural and social welfare institutions and foundations.

Mr. Fischer earned a B.A. at Parsons College in Fairfield, Iowa, in 1967 and participated in the CEO President’s Seminar at Harvard College, 2015-2017.

World’s Greatest Debilitative Body Votes Acquittal in Best Show Category