@StateDept’s Vaccination Efforts For Overseas Posts Under Fire, a Test for @SecBlinken

 

Hey, did you see that  DOD is shipping Moderna COVID-19 vaccines overseas for military families?
This is the pandemic of our lifetime. Half a million Americans are dead and many more will die before this is over. DOD has a larger global footprint than the State Department. It has an expansive regional presence around the world.  Why isn’t State working with DOD and HHS to get all overseas USG personnel and family members vaccinated?

Dear Secretary Blinken, Secretary Austin, HHS Acting Secretary Cochran, can you please get this done?

Can we please have Secretary Blinken talked to Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III and HHS Acting Secretary Norris Cochran so we can get this done? If there’s a will, there’s a way. Simple as that. We sent these employees and their family members overseas to do work for the U.S. Government. The least we can do is to ensure that they get vaccinated as they continue to do their work on our country’s behalf. Why is that hard?
Do we really want our diplomats to deliver their démarches to their host countries in the morning and then have them beg for vaccines for themselves and their families in the afternoon?
C’mon!
We understand that the State Department’s COVID-19 vaccination efforts at overseas posts have come under fire. Yes, we’ve heard about the SBU Kosovo cable, and no, we have not seen it. One FSO told us it was a “blistering critique”, another FSO who read it told us it was “whiny”.  It looks like the cable got leaked fairly quickly to NBC News and New York Times. Politico’s Nahal Toosi previously had a thread on Twitter about it. Have you read the cable? What do you think?
News of the Kosovo cable is in addition to the recent reporting from WaPo’s John Hudson – Vaccine shortage prompts U.S. diplomats to request doses from foreign governments, including Russia. That’s the piece that includes an item about “State Department personnel appealed to Moscow for doses of its Russian-made Sputnik V vaccine after Washington could not promise the delivery of U.S.-made vaccine doses in the near future.” Oy! Who did that? A vaccine with no FDA approval? That report also says that in China some U.S. personnel have complained about being subjected to anal swab tests for the coronavirus by Chinese authorities. Double oy! More from WaPo:
The invasive technique has been heralded by Chinese doctors as more effective than a nasal swab despite the unpleasant nature of the procedure. In response to questions about the anal swab testing of U.S. officials, a State Department spokesman said the department was “evaluating all reasonable options” to address the issue with the aim of preserving the “dignity” of U.S. officials “consistent with the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations.”
In a report about anal swabs,  Omai Garner, PhD, an associate clinical professor, clinical microbiology section chief, and point of care testing director in the Department of Pathology and Lab Medicine at UCLA Health said that “it became very apparent, like most other respiratory viruses, the most accurate place to find it is in the upper respiratory tract, so this is why I was a little bit surprised and confused by the reports coming out on large scale anal swab testing.”
What now?
Back in January, two diplomats tested positive of COVID-19 upon arrival in Guangzhou, China. The other passengers from the same flight, some 86 State Department folks apparently were all considered close contacts and placed in “centralized quarantine” for 21 days. The Chinese Government also informed Consulate General Guangzhou that it would “strictly enforce the separation policy” which means one adult/one room.  There was one mention of NAT nasal swab/throat swab but none about anal swabs. Yes, we did ask the State Department and USCG Guangzhou about this at that time but our email got chewed madly bad in an email grinder, never to be seen again. Either that or …
…. holy mother of god and all her wacky nephews please do not/do not make the dog eat our emails!
In any case, we sent a few question to the State Department’s Public Affairs shop asking if they could address the State Department’s vaccine delivery issues at overseas posts. We did say please, too, you guys! But to no avail.
It is our understanding that  State ordered enough vaccine, but HHS is refusing to turn over the entire allotment. Purportedly, the current administration also made a choice not to prioritize government workers (no matter where they serve, etc.) over average Americans in the vaccination. We asked if this is an actual policy on vaccine distribution but got no response.
We also wanted to know if Secretary Blinken is pushing the Biden Administration and HHS to release the remaining supply for DOS so State employees overseas get vaccinated and do not have to beg for those vaccines from their host countries.
We pointed out that given the State Department’s botched response to the Havana Syndrome, some overseas folks were understandably concerned that the health and safety of our people overseas does not matter back in DC.
Perhaps part of these concerns and anxieties also stem from the anecdotal evidence that some minor political appointees reportedly got their second shots just days before they left their jobs on January 20. And weren’t the same folks in charge of vaccinations at State before January 20 the same people in charge of vaccination decisions now?
Anyway, we waited. And we waited. And we waited for a response. We are sorry to report that we have not received a response to-date.
Source A did tell us that communication is spotty, and that there is frustration with Secretary Blinken for not saying anything about the vaccine shortage at State.  “At the moment, the feeling is that it’s not a priority of his.” Apparently, vaccines were originally promised sometime in December, then it became January, then February. This has now been replaced according to this same  source to what amounts to a message of  “we don’t know when you will get it.. maybe this summer.. you should get it locally if you can.”
So folks really just want to hear from their boss saying this is a priority, and that he’ll do something about it.
A second source, Source B,  told us that the leadership at State is communicating much more effectively to explain what the plans and rules are compared to Pompeo’s tenure  and pointed to a recent Zoom call attended by over 1,000 participants.
Source B who is familiar with the developments confirmed to us that State never got all the vaccines that HHS promised and that former Secretary of State Pompeo did call Secretary Azar but got nowhere. We do not know at this time if Secretary Blinken has pushed back or if he is working with HHS to obtain the full allocation for State. It is worth mentioning that the State Department currently does not have a nominee for the position of Under Secretary for Management. The position is currently filled in an acting capacity by the Senate-confirmed DGHR Carol Perez. We should note further that the calamitous response to the Havana Syndrome also occurred during a span of time when the State Department fired its Senate confirmed Under Secretary for Management, and no nominee was confirmed over a lengthy period, leaving only an Acting M. Another lesson not learned, eh?
Our understanding is that “a very small portion of domestic employees” has been vaccinated. One explanation was that for folks working in the buildings in DC, State is able to get almost all of them covered at the same time, whereas at overseas missions, there needs to be enough vaccines for all under Chief of Mission Authority. That is, all American and local employees from all agencies plus all American family members (folks reporting to combatant commands are not considered under COM authority).  A separate issue has to do with getting the vaccines to overseas posts via the cold chain.
If you’re on Twitter, go ahead and tag @SecBlinken, @SecDef, and @HHSGov.
Now we wait and see if anything gets done or if y’all need to start eating nine gin-soaked raisins for your health.

 


 

 

A Lonely Memorial For Former Secretary of State George P. Shultz at HST

George Shultz was named as Secretary of State by President Ronald Reagan on June 25, 1982. He assumed the office of Secretary on July 16, and he remained in that position until January 20, 1989. Under Shultz’s leadership, U.S. diplomacy helped to pave the way for the ending of the Cold War. Read more here.
See the AP’s obituary:Longtime Reagan Secretary of State George Shultz dies at 100. NYT : George P. Shultz, Top Cabinet Official Under Nixon and Reagan, Dies at 100.
Schultz once had an instruction to an ambassador about a foreign minister, “Keep him out of my thinning hair.”
Phyllis Oakley, Deputy Spokesperson at State Department 1986-89 said about Schultz, “When people talk about management of the Department, particularly in the recent awful years, they refer to Shultz as the last great manager.”
Henry Allen Holmes, Assistant Secretary for Political-Military Affairs, 1985-89 said, “he cared about his people, not just those who worked directly for him, but he was one of the few Secretaries of State — in fact, probably, in my lifetime, the only Secretary of State that I can remember — who cared deeply about the institution, about the Foreign Service, about the Civil Service in the institution, about the Foreign Service Institute. I mean his sense of leadership of the institution was broad, very broad.”
Read more here from ADST.

Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken pays his respects to former Secretary of State George P. Shultz at a memorial in the late Secretary’s honor in the lobby of the U.S. Department of State in Washington, D.C., on February 10, 2021. [State Department Photo by Freddie Everett/ Public Domain]

Statement from Secretary Blinken:

George Shultz was a legend.

As Secretary of State, he helped achieve the greatest geopolitical feat of the age: a peaceful end to the Cold War. He negotiated landmark arms control agreements with the Soviet Union and, after leaving office, continued to fight for a world free of nuclear weapons. He also urged serious action on the climate crisis at a time when too few leaders took that position. He was a visionary.

An ardent champion of diplomacy, Secretary Shultz strengthened America’s relationships and advanced our interests with strategic brilliance and great patience. The men and women of the foreign and civil services were devoted to him because he uplifted their work and relied on their judgment. When it came time to name the campus of the Foreign Service Institute, where America’s foreign service officers are trained, they named it for him.

Every Secretary of State who came after George Shultz has studied him – his work, his judgment, his intellect. I know I have. Few people came to the role with as much experience as he. He had also served as Secretary of the Treasury, Secretary of Labor, director of the Office of Management and Budget, and he was a Marine in World War II. It’s as distinguished a record of public service as any in American history.

Perhaps most of all, George Shultz was a patriot. He took pains to remind his fellow diplomats that their first duty was always to the American people. Before he sent new U.S. ambassadors to their overseas posts, he would invite them to his office and direct them to a huge globe in the corner. “Point to your country,” he would say. The ambassador would spin the globe and point to the country where he or she was heading. Then the Secretary would gently place their finger on the United States. “That’s your country.” He never forgot it.

George Shultz was a towering figure in the history of the State Department. The work we do now is shaped by his legacy. Our thoughts today are with Secretary Shultz’s family and all those who loved him. He will be deeply missed.

We heard from an overseas reader about a cable ordering flags at half-staff for Representative Ronald Wright, but apparently not for  Secretary Schulz. So we asked the State Department about it as some overseas folks were looking for the half-staff order to mark the passing of the 60th Secretary of State.  After the briefest of honeymoon under new management, it looks like our emails are once more consigned into the black hole for emails; not  to be answered or acknowledged once again. So did we miss the order or there wasn’t one?

 


 

 

 

Havana Syndrome: @StateDept Says Investigation “Ongoing and Is a High Priority”

We recently posted ARB on Havana Syndrome Response: Pray Tell, Who Was in Charge?.  While reading that report, we requested an update from the State Department on actions the Secretary of State took in response to the ARB report. We were also interested in learning about any outstanding issues from the ARB Havana Report not addressed under the previous administration, and what actions Secretary Blinken intend to do to fully address the recommendations of the ARB Board.  And we were very interested if WHA, EUR, EAP and the Secretariat had been tasked with putting together a full timeline and lessons learned based on the official State Department response to the Havana syndrome incidents in Havana, Guangzhou and Tashkent?
So far, under new management, Foggy Bottom has responded to our inquiry.  The following is a response from a State Department spokesperson:

We have no higher priority than the safety and security of U.S. personnel, their families, and other U.S. citizens.

The U.S. Government is working to determine what happened to our staff and their families and to ensure the well-being and health of our officials going forward. That investigation is ongoing and is a high priority.

Secretary Blinken requested a comprehensive briefing on the issue during the transition, and he has received updates during his time in office. He has made clear that this is a priority for him, and those updates will continue on a regular basis.

The Department established an interagency task force to coordinate the U.S. government’s response to these incidents in May 2018. To reassert the Department’s leadership and responsibility for U.S. government personnel overseas, this week we elevated the coordinator role to a senior level position so that a high-level official will be empowered to advise senior Department leadership, coordinate the Department’s interagency response to the health security incidents, and provide continuing support to affected personnel.  This advisor will be positioned in a senior role and report directly to the Department’s senior leadership to ensure that we continue to make significant strides to address this issue and to ensure our people are receiving the treatment they need.

We will have additional details on this new role in the coming days.

We’ll be in the lookout!

 

 

Secretary Tony Blinken Assumes Charge of @StateDept

 


 

 

 

U.S. Senate Confirms Antony John Blinken as 71st Secretary of State

On January 26, 2021, the U.S. Senate confirmed Antony John Blinken, of New York, in a 78-22 vote to be Secretary of State. He will assume office as the 71st Secretary of State.
The 78 Senators who voted for confirmation includes Cindy Hyde-Smith (R-MS) who voted to overturn the results of the 2020 elections. The 22 Senators who voted against the Blinken confirmation includes seven who voted to overturn the 2020 election results after the mob assaulted the U.S. Capitol on January 6.  This country has a short memory. We think that all reporting that includes these senators should always append an asterisk for the repugnant roles they took before and after that mob attack. 

 

Deputy Secretary Blinken Poses for a Photo With Former Deputy Secretaries Burns, Wharton, and Negroponte
Deputy Secretary of State Antony “Tony” Blinken poses for a photo with former Deputy Secretaries of State Bill Burns, Clifton Wharton, and John Negroponte at a Foreign Service Institute reception highlighting American diplomacy at the U.S. Department of State in Washington, D.C., on February 2, 2016. [State Department photo/ Public Domain]