Under Budget Cut Clouds, Tillerson Visits Memorial For @USEmbassyKenya Bombing Victims

Posted: 2:21 am ET


On March 11, Secretary Tillerson delivered the following remarks at the Wreath-Laying Ceremony at the August 7th Memorial Park;  in Nairobi, Kenya.

As all of you well know, 1998 terrorists thought they could demoralize and destroy the Kenyan and American people by attacking the U.S. embassy here in Nairobi. Of course, they were wrong. Nearly 20 years later, we meet here to honor those who we lost and those who were injured. Hundreds of lives were taken and hundreds if not a thousand more were changed forever. Some of our current embassy colleagues who survived this tragedy, including Ambassador Godec and his wife Lori and our current locally employed staff at the embassy that day of the bombing, are with us as well. And it’s an honor to meet all of you, and I appreciate you being here.

To the survivors present, please know that the American people remember your service and your sacrifice as well as those who are not with us today and have been forever lost. Our hearts are with the many who lost family, friends, and colleagues on that tragic day.

Today we remember them and their bravery, the compassion, and the sacrifice, as well as many who without hesitation that day and at risk to themselves rushed into action to save lives and help others. We honor those heroes and the courage they displayed as well. They are all examples to us.

As our work continues to end terrorism, those who sought to divide us here have failed. Our commitment to work together as Americans and Kenyans is steadfast, it is enduring, and we will build on the shared values and our shared future, which remains very strong. We will never forget the names on this wall. Thank you.

The FBI says that the investigation continues, with the following fugitives still wanted for their alleged roles in the attacks:

January 1999: Report of the Accountability Review Boards on the Embassy Bombings in Nairobi and Dar es Salaam on August 7, 1998.

As the NYT notes, the Africa Embassy bombings “may have done more to transform the State Department than any other event of the past 50 years.”

It also points a fact that’s not lost on anyone — “Mr. Tillerson has twice proposed slashing the department’s budget to about $35 billion from about $50 billion, saying that doing so would return spending levels to those before the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.”

And just watch, he won’t stop at his second try.



Senate Confirms Joel Danies (Gabon) and Peter Vrooman (Rwanda)

Posted: 1:03 am ET


On February 15, the U.S. Senate confirmed the following career nominees to be U.S. Ambassadors to Gabon and to Rwanda:

Executive Calendar #617 – Joel Danies, of Maryland, a Career Member of the Senior Foreign Service, Class of Counselor, to be Ambassador of the United States of America to the Gabonese Republic, and to serve concurrently as Ambassador to the Democratic Republic of Sao Tome and Principe.

Executive Calendar #667 – Peter Hendrick Vrooman, of New York, a Career Member of the Senior Foreign Service, Class of Counselor, to be Ambassador of the United States of America to the Republic of Rwanda.



Nambia Bites Back: Come Visit “Sh*thole Namibia” With Over 300 Days of Sunshine

Posted: 2:49 am ET


VPOTUS is on overseas travel, and during his interview with The Associated Press, the poor man defended President Trump over his recent comments “disparaging immigration from Africa and Haiti, telling the AP that the president’s “heart” is aimed at a merit-based system that is blind to immigrants’ “race or creed.”

In Haiti, Reuters reported that about a couple thousand people took to the streets of Port-Au-Prince, the capital and most populous city in the country to protest comments attributed to the U.S. President about the nation being a “shithole” country. Early Monday morning, the US Embassy in Haiti announced that it was expecting a large protests outside the embassy. “Please limit your coming and going to/from the Embassy during this time. If the protest is large and/or violent, U.S. Embassy employees will be expected to shelter in place. No one will be able to enter or depart during this time and anyone outside of the Embassy will be directed to shelter in place at an offsite location.”

Meanwhile, a tour agency in Namibia has turned Donald Trump’s slur into a sales pitch.


U/S Shannon Swears-In New U.S. Ambassador to Zambia Daniel Foote

Posted: 1:33 am ET


Via state.gov:

Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs Thomas Shannon officiates the swearing-in ceremony of U.S. Ambassador-designate to Zambia Daniel Foote at the U.S. Department of State in Washington, D.C. on December 20, 2017. [State Department Photo/Public Domain]



U.S. Mission Somalia on Ordered Departure of “Non-Essential” U.S. Citizen Employees

Posted: 12:26 am ET
Updated: 1:09 pm ET
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We understand that the State Department did not/did not put US Mission Somalia on ordered departure. This explains the absence of a new Travel Warning. Our understanding is that the post directive was for embassy U.S. citizen employees to depart, and not all American citizens. It looks like the U.S. Ambassador to Somalia is based in Kenya, so we don’t even know how many U.S. and local embassy staffers are actually in Mogadishu. When we asked US Mission Somalia whether there is an updated Travel Warning, we were directed to its security message of November 4 with a link to the January 11, 2017 Travel Warning, which specifically notes that “There is no U.S. embassy presence in Somalia.” The most recent Travel Warning for Somalia is actually dated August 3, 2017 which similarly notes the absence of U.S. embassy presence in Somalia. So who were actually directed to depart? Can post “direct” the departure of just embassy employees without triggering an update in Travel Warning? Wouldn’t that run afoul of the “no double standard” policy? Is this a case of folks just not knowing what they’re doing? Other missions in the past have restricted travels of staff members from various parts of their host countries citing “no-go” or red zones where employees are not allowed to go. But U.S. Mission Somalia uses the words “direct” implying a directive and “non-essential” which is usually used in reference to evacuations.

In May this year, we blogged that the @StateDept Plans to Build a “Somalia Interim Facility” in Mogadishu For $85-$125M. Also see D/SecState Blinken Swears in Stephen Schwartz, First U.S.Ambassador to Somalia in 25 Years.

On November 4, U.S. Mission Somalia announced that it has directed “its non-essential (sic) U.S. citizen employees” to depart Mogadishu until further notice due to specific threat information against U.S. personnel on the Mogadishu International Airport. The order came a day after AFRICOM announced that it conducted air strikes against ISIS in northeastern Somalia.

The directive for personnel  to go on authorized or ordered departure has to come from the State Department. Also U.S. Mission-Somalia’s original tweet says it directs “all non-essential U.S. citizen employees”; note that the corrected one says it directs “its non-essential U.S. citizen employees.” Who does that exclude? Everyone not under Chief of Mission authority? But all agencies fall under COM authority with the exception of those under the authority of combatant commanders, or has that changed?

We don’t know how many State Department U.S. citizen employees are actually in Mogadishu but the solicitation back in May to pre-qualify firms for design-build construction services for the construction of a Somalia Interim Facility in Mogadishu referred to a “20- acre site located on the Mogadishu International Airport (MIA) Compound” with “currently” three firms working on the compound: Bancroft Global Development, RA International, and SKA Group.

As far as we can tell, no updated Travel Warning had been released reflecting the departure of “non-essential” employees from Somalia.  And folks, if you keep calling evacuated employees “non-essential”, we’re going to start wondering what were they doing there in the first place if they were not essential.


U.S.Embassy Bamako: Army Green Beret Logan J. Melgar’s Death in Mali Under Investigation as Homicide

Posted: 12:33 am ET
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Media reports say that Army Staff Sgt. Logan J. Melgar was found dead in his room in embassy housing in Bamako, Mali on June 4, 2017 and that two members of the Navy’s elite SEAL Team Six are reportedly under investigation in his death. One official told ABC News that the death is being investigated by the Navy’s Criminal Investigative Service (NCIS) as a homicide and that investigators are looking into Melgar’s suspected asphyxiation.

Sgt. Melgar died in Bamako far from battlefield, in an “odd event” that  requires an investigation. But the death occurred in June and even if there is an ongoing investigation, why is the public hearing about this death almost five months after the incident?  The death also reportedly occurred in an embassy housing. Since NCIS (and not Diplomatic Security) is investigating, we suspect but that these DOD members are not/not under Chief of Mission Authority (pdf) while at post but under AFRICOM.

To the inevitable next question as to what our troops are doing in Mali,  we understand that France is in the lead to counter Al Qaida/ISIS affiliates and the US military works in support of French operations in that country. It is also our understanding that there are six western hostages being held in Mali including one US citizen.


Tillerson Delivers to @StateDept’s Africa Bureau Its “Most Significant Management Challenge”

Posted: 12:25 am ET
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All Foreign Service posts in Africa receive post hardship differential, that is, an allowance meant to provide “additional compensation of up to 35 percent over basic compensation for the majority of employees officially stationed or detailed to a mission with extraordinarily difficult living conditions, excessive physical hardship, or notably unhealthful conditions.” More than half of all AF posts have been designated “Historically Difficult to Staff” meaning fewer than three at- grade/in-skill-code bids were received in three of the last four summer bidding cycles. Of all AF posts, 47 percent (24 posts) have also been designated ” Service Need Differential” that is, 20 percent hardship differential/standard 2 year tour of duty gets a 15 percent  bump in pay if employees agree to serve a third year.

According to State/OIG, the AF Bureau’s FY2017 staffing includes 1,147 American Direct Hire overseas, 572 local staff, 140 reemployed annuitants (retired Civil Service or Foreign Service employee rehired on an intermittent basis for no more than 1,040 hours during the year), and 14 rover-employees based overseas who go where they are needed. State/OIG also says that the AF bureau relies on 399 eligible family member employees for its overseas staffing. The 399 EFM employees are not specifically excluded from the State/OIG 1,147 count; we calculate that family member employees encumbering direct-hire positions constitute 34 percent, or a third of the bureau’s overseas workforce. If the 399 employes are in addition to the 1,147 count,  the number would be 25 percent, or a quarter of the bureau’s overseas workforce.

To be sure, staffing the AF Bureau’s posts has suffered from longstanding difficulties. Unfortunately for everyone with few exceptions,  the 69th Secretary of State sure made it worse.

On January 23, 2017, President Trump ordered a freeze on the hiring of Federal civilian employees to be applied across the board in the executive branch (see OMB Issues Initial Guidance For Federal Civilian Hiring Freeze (Read Memo); President Trump Freezes Federal Hiring Regardless of Funding Sources (Read Memo).

In April, while the OMB lifted the hiring freeze, the State Department with very few exceptions continued with its self-imposed freeze (see No thaw in sight for @StateDept hiring freeze until reorganization plan is “fully developed”).  On April 12, 2017, the State Department posted a statement indicating that the current hiring freeze guidance remained in effect particularly as it affected the hiring of Foreign Service family members (see Are #EFM positions literally about to become…extinct under #Tillerson’s watch?).

During the first week of August, amidst cascading bad press of his stewardship of the State Department, Secretary Tillerson quietly “approved an exemption to the hiring freeze that will allow the Department to fill a number of priority EFM positions that are currently vacant. This exemption gives posts authority to fill critical vacancies supporting security, safety and health responsibilities.”

The hiring freeze snared folks who transferred between January and July (FLO April data says 743 jobs were pending due to security clearance or hiring freeze). Deputy Secretary Sullivan told members of the press on August 8 that “almost 800 EFMs [that] have been approved since this – the hiring freeze was imposed.” So, that’s like everyone who’s been waiting since January. And we were all so happy to see folks granted the exemptions that we forgot to ask who’s the “bright” bulb who started this mess. And if these EFM jobs were finally filled in August (a month before the end of the fiscal year), these employees could not all show up to work the following week, given all the paperwork needed and security investigations required.

Freezing EFM jobs never made sense. We’re still floored that it lasted that long and no one told S “But that’s nuts!” Despite Mr. Tillerson slip of the tongue (“we’re styling as the redesign of the State Department”), we can’t imagine the “redesign” resulting in zero jobs for diplomatic spouses overseas, not only because EFM jobs  makes sense and help post morale, but also because it is the cheaper option.  Unless, of course, 1) the “employee-led” redesign teams are proposing that embassies hire third country nationals for mailroom, escort, fingerprinting, and all support services for post overseas, too (yes, we heard North Korean labor imports are way cheaper). Or 2) this is part of the strategery to reduce the FS workforce without going through a reduction-in-force, while maintaining a goal of a 3 for 1 in attrition.

In any case, as we’ve pointed out in May, when the EFMs leave posts during the transfer season, their positions would not have been filled (with very few exceptions) due to the hiring freeze; and they could not be hired at their next posts because of the same hiring freeze. And that’s exactly what happened. In the oral history of the State Department, this will be remembered as that time when the Secretary of State created/produced/delivered one bureau its “most significant management challenge.” We don’t think this is limited to just the AF Bureau but it’s the only one reported on by State/OIG at this time.

Via State/OIG (PDF):

Four previous OIG reports over the past 20 years have highlighted challenges in staffing AF’s overseas posts. OIG found that these challenges persist, despite reforms to Foreign Service bidding and career development processes intended to promote service in hardship posts and bolster bureau efforts to improve recruitment. Hardships at AF’s overseas posts include ethnic violence, deteriorating local infrastructure, evacuations, health risks, high crime, limited recreation opportunities, physical isolation, political instability, pollution, poor medical facilities, severe climates, and substandard schools. All 51 AF posts receive post hardship differential, 27 posts were included in the Historically Difficult to Staff program, and 24 were Service Need Differential posts.

AF’s difficulties in filling its overseas positions were profound. For the 2017 summer bidding season, AF attracted, at most, only one Foreign Service bidder on 37 percent of its positions, leaving 143 of 385 total positions potentially unfilled. The bureau used a broad range of alternative and sometimes costly personnel mechanisms to fill vacancies and short-term gaps. It relied on 399 eligible family member employees, a roster of 140 reemployed annuitants, 14 rovers based overseas, and approximately 50 senior locally employed staff members to fill staffing gaps and support essential services. AF also filled about 25 percent of its 2017 positions with entry-level employees. AF overseas management officers who responded to an OIG survey cited concerns about eligible family member employment as their most significant management challenge. Because of the Department-wide hiring freeze, these positions could not be filled as they became vacant. These vacancies are of concern because, as explained by the Government Accountability Office in 2009, staffing and experience gaps place at risk diplomatic readiness, particularly for high-threat environments such as those in which AF operates.

For readers who are not familiar with the Foreign Service and spouse employment — say you and your spouse arrived at a 2-year assignment at a post in Africa in late October 2016. You found an embassy job in December 2016 but was not officially hired prior to January 22, 2017, so you would have been included in the hiring freeze. When the EFM exemptions were granted on August 4, you would have already waited some eight months to start on that embassy job. Wait, but you needed a security clearance or an interim security clearance which could also take a few weeks to 90 days (or longer). By the time you officially start work, you have some 12-14 months to do the job (maybe less). And then you move on to your next  post and do this process all over again. Now, imagine doing this every 2-3 years, that’s the arc of the working life of a diplomatic spouse.

Avoidable Mess: U.S. to Help Chad After “Important Partner” Withdraws Troops From Niger Following Visa Sanctions

Posted: 3:33 am ET
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On September 24, President Trump announced new security measures that establish minimum requirements for international cooperation to support U.S. visa and immigration vetting and new visa restrictions for eight countries, including Chad. See Trump Announces New Visa Restrictions For Chad, Iran, Libya, North Korea, Syria, Venezuela, Yemen, Somalia:.

Chad – Although it is an important partner, especially in the fight against terrorists, the government in Chad does not adequately share public-safety and terrorism-related information, and several terrorist groups are active within Chad or in the surrounding region, including elements of Boko Haram, ISIS-West Africa, and al-Qa’ida in the Islamic Maghreb. Accordingly, the entry into the United States of nationals of Chad, as immigrants, and as nonimmigrants on business (B-1), tourist (B-2), and business/tourist (B-1/B-2) visas, is suspended.

Via BuzzFeed: Experts from the State Department to humanitarian organizations were stunned when the Chad was added to the travel ban in late September. The country is home to a US military facility and just hosted an annual 20-nation military exercise with the US military’s Africa Command to strengthen local forces to fight extremist insurgents. Chad’s capital, N’Djamena, is the headquarters of the five-country Multinational Joint Task Force battling Boko Haram.

What kind of visa numbers do we have for Chad? For temporary nonimmigrant visas the last five fiscal years, see below via travel.state.gov:

FY2016: 1,355 | FY2015: 1,352 | FY2014: 1,294 |  FY2013: 731 |  FY2012: 624

So given Chad’s counterterrorism cooperation, and the carved out already given to Iraq in the September 24 order, why was Chad included in the visa restrictions?  FP proposes this:

One possible explanation for this discrepancy, which would be preposterous in any administration except this one, is that the architects of the ban, having repeatedly heard the phrases “Boko Haram” and “Lake Chad” in the same sentence, assumed that Chad must be the epicenter of Boko Haram. (Lake Chad in fact lies on the border of Chad and three other countries, and Boko Haram is mostly confined to northern Nigeria, northern Cameroon, and southeastern Niger.)
In the wake of the new travel ban announcement on Sept. 24, Chad has withdrawn hundreds of troops from neighboring Niger, where up to 2,000 of its soldiers were part of a coalition battling Boko Haram. The Chadian government has not yet offered an official explanation for the pullout, but Communications Minister Madeleine Alingué condemned Chad’s inclusion on the travel ban, saying that it “seriously undermines” the “good relations between the two countries, notably in the fight against terrorism.”
The Chadian president is likely betting that with his forces withdrawn from Niger, the Trump administration will quickly come to appreciate his country’s security contributions and remove it from the list.

But it turns out — Chad had simply run out of passport paper!

AP’s Josh Lederman writes that Chad lacked the passport paper and offered to furnish the U.S. with a pre-existing sample of the same type of passport, but it was not enough to persuade DHS.  A congressional official told the AP that DHS working with the White House “pushed Chad onto the list without significant input from the State Department or the Defense Department.” 

Without significant input from agencies with people on the ground in Chad. If we were in Chad’s shoes, wouldn’t we do exactly the same? Obviously, being called an “important partner” does not make up for having your citizens banned from traveling to the other country. The action telegraphed careless disregard of the relationship, and Chad most likely, will not forget this easily. “Remember that time when the U.S. put Chad on the visa sanctions list while we have 2,000 soldiers fighting in Niger?” Yep, they’ll remember. We actually would like to know who among the local contacts showed up for the new embassy dedication, by the way (see @StateDept Dedicates New $225M U.S. Embassy in N’Djamena, Chad).

The DHS/WH architects of these visa bans/sanctions really are the best people with the best brains, hey?

Federal court has now issued a TRO for the latest travel restrictions that includes Chad. So basically, a carefully constructed bilateral relationship ends up in a mess, and it was all for nothing.


@StateDept Dedicates New $225M U.S. Embassy in N’Djamena, Chad

Posted: 3:25 am ET
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On October 16, the State Department announced that “In an important symbol of our enduring partnership with the people of the Republic of Chad, U.S. Ambassador Geeta Pasi, Acting Director of the Bureau of Overseas Buildings Operations Ambassador William Moser, and Chadian Government officials dedicated the new U.S. Embassy in N’Djamena.”  We don’t know how many local officials attended as there appears to be no official photographs released of the embassy dedication (also see Trump Announces New Visa Restrictions For Chad, Iran, Libya, North Korea, Syria, Venezuela, Yemen, Somalia).

According to State/OBO the new U.S. Embassy compound in Chad’s capital city of N’Djamena is situated on a 12-acre site in the Chagoua neighborhood, several kilometers southeast of downtown. The multi-building complex includes a chancery office building, a Marine Security Guard residence, support buildings and facilities for the Embassy community.

Via state.gov/OBO

The following details via the State Department’s Bureau of Overseas Buildings Operations (State/OBO):

      • The facilities meet all Department standards for security and life safety, and provide functional office space for Embassy staff.
      • The building’s scale, massing, and materials anchor the compound in this prominent, developing location within the city, and foster a sense of community and place.
      • The project was awarded in early 2014 and construction completed in spring 2017.
      • The site and building design provide shelter and relief from heat and sand storms, and seasonal rains.
      • A regionally-relevant color palette carried throughout the compound structures gives the Embassy a visual and cultural connection to the host nation.
      • An exterior space provides sufficient space to accommodate representational events.
      • The high performance interior offers an open-plan office, allowing delineation of work groups while providing continuous support for the workplace.
      • New and expanded civil infrastructure within and outside the complex includes new roads, sidewalks, lighting, landscaping, and storm water management.
      • A sculpted perimeter wall provides a secure perimeter and a well-lit public gathering space outside the complex, adjacent to the main entry.
      • An estimated 800 workers from the region—largely from Chad—are involved in the construction of the new Embassy

As with NEC Nouakchott, NEC N’Djamena is built for sustainability according to State/OBO:

  • The project is registered with the U.S. Green Building Council for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED®) certification, and has met LEED® Gold certification.
  • The energy-efficient building design uses passive strategies, energy-efficient lighting, building controls, renewable energy systems, and HVAC systems projected to decrease energy use by 51%.
  • A pierced sunscreen shades the building, reducing heat gain, while water features collect and channel storm water in a way that celebrates the rainy season.
  • A multi-colored fiber-cement paneling system provides a cost-effective, thermally-efficient, and durable exterior.
  • Photovoltaic solar power arrays on-site are designed to offset 15% of the Chancery’s energy costs.
  • The compound is designed to minimize use of the local domestic water through efficient plumbing fixtures and equipment. All of the facility’s wastewater will be treated on-site and used to meet all of the site’s irrigation demand.
  • The facility is designed to provide a healthy indoor working environment through the use of low-emitting materials, air monitoring and comfort controls, as well as chemical and pollutant source controls.


@StateDept Dedicates New $181M U.S. Embassy Mauritania in the “Place of the Winds

Posted: 2:58 am ET
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According to the State Department’s Bureau of Overseas Buildings Operations (State/OBO), the new U.S. Embassy compound in Nouakchott, Mauritania is situated on a 10.5-acre site in the Tevragh Zeina district of the capital city.  The new embassy compound includes a chancery, support buildings and facilities for the embassy community.

  • Known as the “Place of the Winds,” the capital city of Nouakchott is located on the west coast of Mauritania where the Sahara Desert meets the Atlantic Ocean. With its unique location, the city is susceptible to seasonal winds from the Harmattan – battering it with harsh Sahara sand – and winds from the Atlantic Ocean – bringing in salty and humid air.
  • The design for the new Embassy draws inspiration from Islamic architecture, including Chinguetti, a UNESCO World Heritage Site located in central Mauritania. More than half of the entire façade of the new Chancery features a perforated latticework copper, resembling a modern interpretation of a traditional mashrabiya – an element of Arabic architecture dating back to the Middle Ages that provides screening and shading from the harsh desert sun.
  • Copper represents a natural choice as it is one of Mauritania’s leading exports and it is a proven material that can withstand Noukachott’s environmental challenges.
  • A gallery space provides a place for large gatherings, events, lounge areas, and cafeteria seating.
  • Visitors to the Embassy will be invited through a gateway plaza with integrated site lighting, artwork,and plantings. Walkway patterns and stones are based on local textile methods and materials.
  • Construction began in June 2014 and was completed in early 2017.
  • An estimated 600 workers were involved in the construction of the new Embassy.

According to OBO, the new embassy is built for sustainability, and this is well and good, but we often wonder what kind of problems does post get in locating service personnel/contractors for maintenance of these buildings, the wind-powered turbine or even a wastewater treatment plant in country?

  • The new Embassy design is targeting Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design (LEED®) Silver Certification by the U.S. Green Building Council.
  • Emissions-free power is produced from a 185 kilowatt (kW) photovoltaic array, as well as a 50 kW wind turbine – the Department’s first major wind-powered turbine for an American Embassy.
  • The new embassy is projected to reduce energy costs by 30% through light-emitting diode (LED) site lighting; dedicated heat recovery chillers; electric traction elevators; and variable frequency drives from pumps, fans, and motors.
  • Water from an on-site wastewater treatment plant will be reused to irrigate site plantings, which are carefully selected to reduce the required amount of irrigation.