Burn Bag: Foreign Affairs Security Training Center (FASTC), a Logistical Nightmare For Students

Grumpy Agent writes:

“The Diplomatic Security Service’s brand new Foreign Affairs Security Training Center (FASTC) on Fort Pickett, near Blackstone, Virginia is a disaster for those attending the academy. Incoming agents and those who have to attend advanced training should buckle up for a very rough ride due to a lack of planning, poor accommodations, and general haywire.

Most incoming students are housed at the Holiday Inn Express in Farmville, Virginia. Due to Covid-19, everyone is forced to remain at this little gem, conveniently located in the middle of an open field, for exactly two weeks. State calls it a “quarantine,” but no restrictions are enforced. So, the two-week lockdown is really just a waste of time and money for all parties involved. Since there is no way to keep anyone in their rooms, there is still the possibility that students could arrive at FASTC infected with Covid-19, begging the question: why bother with a fake isolation period?

Additionally, adults who are cooped up in a hotel for weeks on end with nothing to do seem to revert back to their college years of binge drinking and general debauchery. Class advisors at FASTC have openly complained that they have really gotten to know police officials in the rural one-cop town of Farmville.

Those who choose not to engage in such antics remain in their rooms with little to do but scan the 9 channels on the hotel-provided basic cable system. For an organization that purports to have a renewed focus on mental health and morale, this feels like a crisis in the making, particularly for those RSOs who are arriving from overseas posts and do not have personal transportation readily available. Walking anywhere from the hotel is not ideal unless you’re comfortable going for a stroll on the shoulder of a major highway.

As for food, take-out is really the only option, unless you’re comfortable visiting one of a few bar/restaurants that are no better than Applebees. The hotel provides no meal accommodations. If you’ll be there for a few months, expect to gain a little more than the “quarantine 15.” Also, if you have dietary restrictions, this place is not for you, unless fried chicken fingers are part of your preferred menu items.

Once your two-weeks of faux-quarantine are over, you’ll commute 45 – 60 minutes (one way) to FASTC. Students are required to shuttle themselves in government-issued vans each morning and evening. No more than five to a van (for Covid-19 safety reasons). However, many have reported cramming up to 10 in a van simply for convenience and split training locations.

The Foreign Affairs Security Training Center is a state of the art facility. The technology, instruction, resources, and training quality are unmatched by any agency and the Department should be commended for that. However, the logistical nightmare for the students must be addressed. This is unacceptable for those new to State but is probably tolerated because they don’t know any better. However, for those seasoned employees, this is categorically unsatisfactory. State and more specifically DS needs to get its act together soon and focus more on the employee rather than touting the perks of a brand new facility that may be more trouble than it’s worth.

DS already has retention and quality of life problems. Do we want to make it worse?”

The Bureau of Diplomatic Security is one of the 13 bureaus and offices under the direct oversight and supervision of the Under Secretary for Management Brian Bulatao. 
The Senate-confirmed Assistant Secretary for Diplomatic Security, Michael Evanoff resigned from his post in July 2020. It doesn’t look like a nominee has been announced to succeed Evanoff. According to state.gov, Todd J. Brown, a special agent and a career member of the Senior Foreign Service with the rank of Minister Counselor was appointed to serve as Acting DS Assistant Secretary on August 1, 2020.  
 

FASTC Map

Map of the high-speed driving track at the Foreign Affairs Security Training Center, Blackstone, Va. (Department of State Photo)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Federal Employees’ Compensation Act Due to COVID-19

Via DOL/Office of Workers’ Compensation Programs:

DOL has created new procedures to specifically address COVID-19 claims. Employees filing a claim for workers’ compensation coverage as a result of COVID-19 should file Form CA-1, Notice of Traumatic Injury through your employer using the Employees’ Compensation Operations & Management Portal. The new procedures will also call the adjudicator’s attention to the type of employment held by the employee, rather than burdening the employee with identifying the exact day or time they contracted the novel coronavirus.

    • If a COVID-19 claim is filed by a person in high-risk employment, the Office of Workers’ Compensation Programs (OWCP) DFEC will accept that the exposure to COVID-19 was proximately caused by the nature of the employment. If the employer supports the claim and that the exposure occurred, and the CA-1 is filed within 30 days, the employee is eligible to receive Continuation of Pay for up to 45 days.
    • If a COVID-19 claim is filed by a person whose position is not considered high-risk, OWCP DFEC will require the claimant to provide a factual statement and any available evidence concerning exposure. The employing agency will also be expected to provide OWCP DFEC with any information they have regarding the alleged exposure, and to indicate whether they are supporting or controverting the claim. If the employer supports the claim and that the exposure occurred, and the CA-1 is filed within 30 days, the employee is eligible to receive Continuation of Pay for up to 45 days.

The key evidence needed for a COVID-19 FECA CLAIM as required by the law are the following:

Exposure – Federal employees who are required to interact with the public or front-line medical and public health personnel are considered to be in high-risk employment, thus triggering the application of Chapter 2-0805-6 of the FECA Procedure Manual. In such cases, there is an implicit recognition of a higher likelihood of infection; OWCP will confirm the nature of your employment based on your position title and after confirming with your employer that your position is indeed considered high risk. If your position has not been identified as a high-risk position, you will be asked to provide any evidence of the duration and length of your occupational exposure. This evidence may include information such as a description of job duties, which federal agency you worked for, and the location of the work. OWCP will ask your employing agency to provide information about occupational exposure including relevant agency records.

Medical – You will need to provide medical evidence establishing a diagnosis of COVID-19. You will also need to provide medical evidence establishing that the diagnosed COVID-19 was aggravated, accelerated, precipitated, or directly caused by your work-related activities. Please submit the results of any COVID-19 testing, if available. If you have encountered difficulty in obtaining such testing, OWCP will authorize such testing if you are working in high-risk employment or otherwise have a confirmed COVID-19 employment exposure.

Establishing causal relationship generally requires a qualified physician’s opinion, based on a reasonable degree of medical certainty, that the diagnosed condition is causally related to your employment conditions. This opinion must be based on a complete factual and medical background.

For your health and safety as well as the health of those around you, consider an appointment with your physician by videoconference or teleconference. A medical report generated as the result of such an appointment is compensable as long as it is signed by a physician.

OWCP will also assist by asking your employing agency for any pertinent medical information in their records.

Source:
DOL: Division of Federal Employees’ Compensation (DFEC)

 

Burn Bag: Sharing COVID-Positive Employees’ Information May be Prohibited Under ADA and EEO Regulations

Via Burn Bag:
“The Department has numerous required trainings for supervisors.  Yet, some continue to disregard them.  This behavior can create costly lessons for the Department, especially when it touches upon ADA and EEO regulations.
A supervisor recently emailed several individuals the full name of an employee – from a different team/office – who tested positive for COVID.  Our understanding is that the supervisor should have omitted the employee’s name per federal ADA/EEO regulations.  We do not know if the employee is aware of this supervisor’s actions, but based on previous experiences, this supervisor will retaliate if we inform the employee, EX, or S/OCR.
 Since we do not have an anonymous EEO reporting process, we ask the Department institute a mandatory training for all Bureau and posts for all supervisors, FSOs, FSSs, CSs, EFMs, contractors, detailees, and others to learn about federal EEO/ADA regulations for COVID-related matters.
 Returning to this supervisor, s/he has averaged approximately one EEO violation per month towards various individuals (with his/her leadership’s knowledge).  Yet the Department allows this supervisor to remain.  We’d like to remind the Department that it has the authority to proactively manage supervisors without waiting for numerous costly and time-consuming ADA/EEO complaints.  Employees (on their personal time) are also allowed to inform their Senators and Congressmen of the Department’s compliance with ADA/EEO regulations.”

Addendum:

“We understand that S/OCR will soon be drafting the 2020 MD-715, an annual status report of the Department’s EEO/ADA programs, which should include COVID-related actions.  We are curious to learn how it may acknowledge that 1) supervisor(s) may be in ongoing non-compliance with EEO/ADA regulations, 2) the Department appears to maintain supervisors in their same roles and 3) this continued non-compliance directly hurts retention and advancement of employees with disabilities.”

 

White Cat on Grass Field by Pixabay

OPM: Protect Employee Privacy Interests During COVID-19

Via OPM:

Under what circumstances should an agency communicate to its employees that there is a confirmed case among one or more of its employees (without identifying the person/specific office)?

The infected employee’s privacy should be protected to the greatest extent possible; therefore, his or her identity should not be disclosed. In an outbreak of quarantinable communicable disease or COVID-19, management should share only that information determined to be necessary to protect the health of the employees in the workplace but maintain confidentiality as required by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).
Supervisors should consult with their agency general counsel to determine what information is releasable. Employees exposed to a co-worker with confirmed COVID-19 should refer to CDC guidance for how to conduct a risk assessment of their potential exposure at https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/hcp/assess-manage-risk.html.
If social distancing, information sharing, or other precautions to assist employees in recognizing symptoms or reducing the spread of the illness can be taken without disclosing information related to a specific employee, that is the preferred approach. Managers should work with their workplace safety contacts and local health officials to stay apprised of information regarding transmission of the illness and precautions that should be taken to reduce the spread of influenza or any other contagious disease in the workplace. Managers should treat this as they would any other illness in the workplace and continue to protect employee privacy interests while providing sufficient information to all employees related to protecting themselves against the spread of illness.
Source: (PDF)

WHO’s Dr. Tedros Responds to Pompeo’s Reported Claim to UK MPs

Notable via Reuters:
“Infections in the United States have rapidly accelerated since the first COVID-19 case was detected on Jan. 21. It took the country 98 days to reach 1 million cases. It took another 43 days to reach 2 million and then 27 days to reach 3 million.”

 

Guatemala Gets a New Health Alert System, Movement Restrictions, Suspension of Services, Mandatory Masks, Curfew

 

The US Embassy in Guatemala issued a new Message for U.S. Citizens Regarding New Restrictions and Updates by Government of Guatemala in Response to COVID-19 on 14 July, 2020.

On Sunday, July 12, Guatemalan President Alejandro Giammattei announced the following updates to restrictions in place in response to the COVID-19 pandemic:

New health alert system: Guatemala will launch a tiered system of health alerts on July 27, providing updated information on levels of health risk in the country based on locality and time.  The threat ranking will be as follows:

TYPE OF ALERT   THREAT LEVEL
Green                     Normal
Yellow                    Moderate
Orange                   High
Red                         Maximum

The Embassy advises U.S. citizens in Guatemala to familiarize themselves with changes to the threat level in their areas.  For the next two weeks before the official launch, these alerts are meant to be informational only.  Following the official launch, Guatemalan authorities may impose specific restrictions to travel or activities in a given area based on its threat level.  Current health alerts and additional information can be found on the Ministry of Health’s website, via the following link: https://mspas.gob.gt.

Restrictions on Vehicular Mobility: In the departments of Guatemala, Escuintla, Sacatepequez, Suchitepequez, Izabal, El Progreso, Zacapa, Santa Rosa and Quetzaltenango, all personal vehicles with license plates that end in an odd number (for example P001AAA) are permitted to circulate Monday, July 13; Wednesday, July 15, Friday, July 17; Tuesday, July 21; Thursday, July 23, and Saturday, July 25.  All personal vehicles with license plates that end in an even number (for example P002AAA) are permitted to circulate on Tuesday, July 14; Thursday, July 16; Saturday, July 18; Monday, July 20; Wednesday, July 22; and Friday, July 24.  Motorcycles, pedestrians, and other modes of non-vehicular transportation are exempt from these restrictions.  All private vehicular mobility will be restricted on Sunday, July 19 and Sunday, July 26. 

Curfew Hours: Guatemala’s national mandatory curfew remains in place, running from 6:00 p.m. each evening through 5:00 a.m. the following day.  In addition, an extended curfew will be in place on weekends, beginning Saturday, July 18 and Saturday, July 25 at 2 p.m., and extending through 5:00 a.m. the following Monday.  This means that a full 24-hour curfew will be in place on Sunday, July 19 and Sunday, July 26.  Every individual in Guatemala — including U.S. citizens — is required to remain inside their domicile during curfew hours (with exceptions for health and security, restaurant delivery services, certain media and legal personnel in pursuit of their duties, and patients receiving urgent treatment for chronic conditions). 

Guidance on Inter-Department Travel: The suspension on inter-departmental travel has been lifted, but government of Guatemala the urges individuals to avoid travel into, out of, or between the departments of Guatemala, Escuintla, Sacatepequez, Suchitepequez, Izabal, El Progreso, Zacapa, Santa Rosa and Quetzaltenango.

Operating Hours for Essential Businesses: Supermarkets, grocers, other markets, and essential businesses are permitted to operate from 6:00 a.m. through 4:00 p.m.  Shopping malls and large commercial centers remain closed.

Mandatory Use of Masks in Public: All individuals must wear masks in public spaces, including in grocery stores and on the street, to prevent the further spread of the COVID-19 virus.  Failure to comply with this requirement will result in fines of up to 150,000 quetzales.

Closing of Borders: The Guatemalan government is currently barring entry to most non-Guatemalans (with specific exceptions for accredited diplomatic personnel, health and security personnel, and exceptional cases as designated by the Guatemalan government) – by its land, sea, and air borders.  Airport operations and routine commercial flights out of Guatemala have been suspended.  The U.S. Embassy continues to work with Guatemalan authorities to allow passengers manifested on outgoing commercial flights to travel to the airport in Guatemala City.  These passengers will receive letters requesting safe passage from their commercial carrier. 

Suspension of Public Transportation: Public transportation within Guatemala is suspended. 

Suspension of Public and Private Sector Labor Activities: Public and private sector labor is suspended, with the exceptions for certain essential government and health personnel, and for specific industries and utilities whose activities are essential to Guatemala’s security, food production, sanitation or infrastructure.  

Prohibitions on Alcohol: The sale and purchase of alcohol is permitted only during limited hours.   Consumption of alcohol in public areas is prohibited. 

Other Restricted Activities:  All beaches, lakes, rivers, and other tourist sites in Guatemala remain closed.  Public religious gatherings and celebrations of any size are prohibited.  Visits to individuals in hospitals or prisons are prohibited.  Academic activities at all levels are suspended until further notice.  

Additional Department and Municipality-Level Restrictions: Beyond the national-level restrictions mentioned above, different municipalities within the country may adopt additional restrictive measures on travel and outdoor activities.  Please monitor local news reports to receive the latest information. 

State of Prevention: The government of Guatemala has announced an extension of the State of Prevention, until July 30, 2020, for the municipalities of Nahualá, Santa Lucía Utatlán, and Santa Catarina Ixtahuacán, of the Department of Sololá. The State of Prevention is due to the ongoing security situation in the area caused by territorial disputes. Increased military and police presence can be expected in the area throughout the State of Prevention period.

We missed this, but the US Embassy in Guatemala previously suspended its routine consular services for U.S. citizens on June 22, 2020 until further notice  “due to COVID-19-related health and safety measures.”

While this suspension is in effect, the Embassy will provide passport services on an emergency basis only.  U.S. citizens with expired or soon-to-expire passports who have imminent travel plans to the United States may request an emergency appointment at the Embassy through the following email address: amcitsguatemala@state.gov.  The Embassy urges U.S. citizens to communicate all requests and confirm all appointment times through this e-mail; for health and safety reasons, the Embassy may not be able to accommodate walk-in requests.

The Embassy continues to accept adult passport renewal applications by mail. For more information on this process, please click here.  

Due to reduced operations at U.S. domestic facilities, U.S. citizens who have previously applied for routine passport or Consular Report of Birth Abroad (CRBA) services may expect delays in receiving their documents.  Applicants with documents in transit who have imminent travel plans to the United States may apply for emergency passports by scheduling an emergency appointment through the email address listed below.  As a reminder, U.S. citizen children do not require a CRBA to qualify for an emergency passport.

Also these:

CNBC: Trump ambassadors sold stocks as president downplayed pandemic and virus was spreading

Via CNBC:
Several U.S. ambassadors actively shed their stock holdings as President Donald Trump tried to downplay the coronavirus outbreak in its early stages.
Ambassadors to Uruguay, France, Morocco and Italy sold shares in transactions that could have made them millions of dollars, according to financial disclosure filings reviewed by CNBC. Much of their sales were in January and continued throughout February, the records show. Their transactions line up with a timeline of federal and congressional announcements as the virus started sweeping across the globe earlier this year.
[…]
A State Department spokesman said that ambassadors were briefed in late February at the Global Chiefs of Mission Conference on the possible impacts the coronavirus could have on their operations but never were part of any other briefings this year. The spokesman also said the stock sales and purchases were often based on guidance from financial advisors.
“U.S. ambassadors were briefed on potential impacts of the Covid pandemic on State Department operations at the Global Chiefs of Mission Conference February 25-26, 2020,” the spokesman said on Thursday. “Otherwise, Ambassadors received no briefing on Covid from any U.S. government officials. These financial decisions were among a wide range of purchases and sales to adjust portfolios, often based on advice of financial advisors.”
Read more:

US Mission Iraq Gets One COVID-19 Case From DOS Chartered Flight Out of Dulles

 

We recently learned that an individual who arrived at US Mission Iraq on a charter flight from Dulles, VA on July 1st has tested positive of COVID-19 and has been in quarantine since arrival.
We understand that the chartered aircraft was a 767 with 2-2-2 seating in business class and 2-3-2 seating in economy. The middle seat in economy was left open but the remaining seats were filled. The flight included over a hundred passengers who were either US direct-hire or contractors supporting Mission Iraq. We understand that some passengers purposefully did not wear their masks correctly during the flight.
Passengers were notified about the case on July 9th when all Mission personnel received an email from the Front Office. Passengers reportedly also received a call from post management to confirm they’d seen the email. The mission notification indicates that post is “in the process of contact tracing” to include at various points since the flight’s departure on June 30th. 
We also learned that post has no idea if the individual was COVID positive at the time of the flight. The CDC is advising people to “stay home for 14 days from the time you returned home from international travel” but what do you do with travel within the United States?
The passengers are subject to a 14-day quarantine upon arrival (apparently now standard procedure). However, there were understandably concerns that MED and post management did not provide details about when the infected person was tested or why there was over a week’s delay in post notification. It is also understood that post has  alerted those who were in close proximity to the infected individual but people have no idea on how wide an area of the plane was notified.    
We were wondering if employees can get a COVID-19 test if they ask for it or if tests are only available to those manifesting COVID-19 symptoms.
We learned today that those on the flight received a reminder today to check in with the MED unit before rejoining the general population on July 14. They were advised to discuss any symptoms they had during quarantine with MED and, “if we [MED Unit] feel it is necessary, we will perform a COVID-19 test”.
Does MED Iraq have the ability to process COVID-19 tests at post; and if not, where are these tests sent and what is the turn around for results? What about other posts without Embassy Baghdad’s resources?
Given that the U.S. is now a hotspot, are State Department employees and contractors tested prior to their departure to Iraq or elsewhere?
We should note that the United States is currently #1 in confirmed COVID-19 cases in the world, and with over 137,000 deaths, it is also #1 in COVID-19 deaths in the world. For detailed situation update worldwide, see the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control.

Kazakhstan Reinstates Quarantine Restrictions Throughout the Country For At Least 14 Days

 

On July 8, the US Mission in Kazakhstan  issued a Health Alert noting that the Kazakhstani Government has announced the reinstatement of quarantine restrictions throughout the country effective July 5.  Also that the Kazakhstani Ministry of Health has confirmed 51,059 cases of COVID-19 in the country as of July 8, 2020

New Quarantine Measures: The Kazakhstani Government has announced that quarantine restrictions will be reinstated throughout the country starting July 5. These restrictions will be in effect for at least 14 days, and may be extended or strengthened. Other municipalities may introduce restrictions beyond the below and with little or no notice; for the latest information, see your respective city’s website. Links are provided on our COVID-19 page.  

·         Transportation: Regional bus service will be suspended, and municipal transportation will be limited. Rail travel will be limited. Domestic and international air travel will remain at current levels.  

·         Businesses Shuttered: Most business will be closed, including beauty salons, gyms and fitness centers, pools, closed markets, beaches, cultural facilities, museums, exhibits, entertainment centers, religious facilities, movie theaters, food courts, and recreational facilities.  

·         Essential Businesses Exempt: Some essential business will continue to operate, including grocery stores, open-air markets, and pharmacies. Health centers will offer services by appointment. Limited enterprises, such as companies in construction, agriculture, auto service, and commercial banks will remain open. Restaurants will be open for delivery or take-out; summer patios will remain open.  

·         Personal Movement Limited: All large events and family gatherings are prohibited. Individual outdoor fitness activities are permitted, and people may walk in parks and other public spaces in groups of three or less. Individuals older than 65 years old are limited from leaving their residence.  

For U.S citizens who need to travel by vehicle from areas with restricted movement in order to reach an airport with international flights, the only assistance we can provide is to request passage through the checkpoints from the Government of Kazakhstan (GoK).  Based on the GoK’s requirements, you must provide us the below information at least four business days before your scheduled flight. Address this information to the following addresses: AlmatyUSCitizen@state.gov or Nur-SultanUSCitizen@state.gov. This information will be shared with the Kazakhstani Ministry of Foreign Affairs. 

[…]

On March 14, 2020, the Department of State authorized the departure from any diplomatic or consular post in the world of US personnel and family members who have been medically determined to be at higher risk of a poor outcome if exposed to COVID-19.

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ICE Says Student Visa Holders May Be Deported, @StateDept Whips Outs a Lipstick, Er … a Welcome Statement