@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.

 


 

 

Travels With the Pompeos and the Espers: Who Invited the Spouses?

 

Ukraine: US Embassy Kyiv Spouse Micala Siler Killed While Jogging

Obituary: Micala “Mikey” Christie-Hicks Siler (December 19, 1978 – September 30, 2020)

Remember When an Ex-Army Captain/SecState Displaced a General/Flag Officer For Military Housing?

Via Politico

In his early months on the job, Mike Pompeo sought an unusual perk for a secretary of State: permission to rent a Washington, D.C.-area house that was controlled by the U.S. military.

Pompeo and his aides initially tried to arrange for the chief U.S. diplomat and his family to live close to the State Department in the Potomac Hill campus, where the Navy maintained some homes. But ultimately the Pompeos moved into U.S. Army housing at the Fort Myer base in Virginia, according to people familiar with the issue.

Along the way, the request set off legal and logistical alarms, raising questions about whether Pompeo is eligible for any sort of military housing.

According to a memo obtained by the watchdog group American Oversight and shared this week with POLITICO, a top Navy lawyer warned that the Pompeos’ initial request for housing was “problematic” and raised “factual, legal, fiscal and ethical” issues, not the least of which was whether he’d be displacing military officers already in line for the limited housing.

[…]

The memo even questioned whether State Department officials should be trying to secure housing for the secretary of State seeing as it’s arguably not their job. The department could be violating the “Antideficiency Act” by devoting time and resources to the issue, the memo warned.

“Given that obtaining and paying for housing is a personal responsibility of civilian employees of the Government, [Department of State] Office of Counsel may need to consider whether the agency has been authorized by law and provided appropriations by Congress to expend time and agency resources to locate and secure personal housing for the Secretary of State,” the Navy memo states.

Excerpt from memo discussing Ethical Considerations:

(1) Use of Government Resources.

DOS Office of Counsel will need to determine whether the effort to obtain GFOQ housing for the Secretary of State constitutes an official agency act within the scope of their authority and funding, or whether the search for housing is more properly characterized as a personal matter of the Secretary. Subject to this determination, the Office of Counsel will then be able to determine, based upon their agency’s rules of ethics, together with the U.S. Government Standards of Ethical Conduct For Employees of the Executive Branch, 5 C.F.R. § 2635.702 & 705, whether it is proper to permit the use of employee time and agency resources to locate and obtain housing for the Secretary of State.

(2) Appearance of Impropriety.

The DOS Office of Counsel will require an opportunity to consider to what extent there might be a negative public perception relating to a civilian Secretary of State displacing a uniformed member of the military in a tight housing market. In accordance with CNICINST 11103.3B, Enclosure 3, Paragraph 5, Flag Officers are referred to Privatized GFOQs within each Navy Region. As mentioned earlier, there is a housing waiting list of Navy Flag personnel. DOS Office of Counsel may wish to consider whether placing the Secretary of State in Navy Flag quarters, while actual Navy Flag Officers—who are unquestionably entitled to such housing—continue to wait for assigned quarters, would raise the specter of the appearance of impropriety proscribed by the Standards of Ethical Conduct, 5 C.F.R. § 2635.101(b)(14).

So the Pompeos have occupied this military housing for a while now, and yet, their rental, which State Department folks say is “fair market value” for the residence still does not include a dollar amount?
The report also says that State Department spokespersons “defended Pompeo’s current arrangement by saying it made sense security-wise as well as financially, and that the department’s lawyers had fully vetted the topic.”
Are these the same legal folks who signed off on the nonemergency weapons sale to Saudi Arabia and UAE as emergencies? Or these folks: @StateDept Skirts Thresholds in Arms Transfers to Saudi Arabia and UAE, Avoids Congressional Notifications?

Who Knew What When: Reports on Russian Bounties on U.S. Troops in Afghanistan #SpeakUp

 

@StateDept’s Pompeo Muscle Desperately Throws Kitchen Sink at Ousted IG Steve Linick

Since the U.S. Senate majority doesn’t take anything seriously these days, State/OIG Steve Linick will officially be terminated on June 15, 30 days after Trump sent his congressional notification. And yet, on June 8th, the Undersecretary for Management Brian Bulatao fired two letters – one to Linick’s lawyers, and another to the Council of the Inspectors General on Integrity and Efficiency ( CIGIE) asking for an investigation into the conduct of the soon to be former inspector general. As a CNN reporter pointed out, the State Department could have requested the CIGIE investigation at any point before Pompeo asked Trump to fire Linick. It did not. The State Department is asking for it now, the week that Linick officially leaves his job.
Why?
It looks like the State Department is throwing the kitchen sink full of dirty dishes at IG Linick, hoping one of those dirty dishes would hit him on his way out. We’re just waiting for one of these champions of diplomacy to turn around and say from the podium, “see, that dirt on his shirt? That’s the reason no one should pay attention to whatever he was investigating before he was fired.”
Apparently, faulting Linick for not promoting Pompeo’s professional ethos statement did not quite do the trick. So the 7th floor folks, they’re hoping this one would work, ey? Has somebody there already created a PowerPoint presentation on “How to be an Agile  Champion of Diplomacy Watchdog and Just Cover Your Eyes?”
We’d like to see that, please.
Meanwhile, the U.S. Senate yawns and scratches its bum. During his tenure as State Department watchdog, Linick has probably alienated enough Democrats in Congress during the email mess, and alienated enough Republicans in Congress during the Ukraine mess. So, that’s that.
Unfortunately, in the constant breaking news cycle we are currently living, the world will move on in short order. Media folks will report on other outrages, big and small that occurs on a daily basis.  Our country’s march towards a full blown banana republic continue. Still. We won’t forget that Mr. Linick was fired for doing his job. We’d take his word over any character from this 7th Floor of the Foggiest Bottom.

The Bulatao- CIGIE letter is here: https://www.scribd.com/document/465038049/CIGIELetter-June82020

The Bulatao-Linick’s lawyer letter is here: https://www.scribd.com/document/465025243/Bulatao-Linick

US-Taliban Inks Deal, Afghanistan Bolts Over Prisoners Release, Taliban Attacks Resume #72Hours

 

 

NOTE: Right hand photo below is posted on state.gov’s Flickr account here but Taliban negotiator Stanikzai was not identified. Caption only says “Secretary of State Michael R. Pompeo participates in a signing ceremony in Doha, Qatar, on February 29, 2020. [State Department photo by Ron Przysucha/ Public Domain]”.

 

The Philippines Sends USG Notice of Military-Pact Termination #VFA #180days

 

Via Rappler (Philippines):

On Monday night, February 10, Duterte launched a fresh round of verbal tirades against the US saying while top officials, including President Donald Trump, were trying to salvage the VFA, he was bent on having it terminated. (EXPLAINER: Visiting Forces Agreement)

Duterte first broached his plan to terminate the VFA on January 23, after the US canceled the visa of Senator Ronald dela Rosa. Dela Rosa is Duterte’s first Philippine National Police chief known as the architect behind the government’s bloody anti-drug campaign.

The President later said he was serious about his decision, adding his choice to do so was anchored on US lawmakers’ moves to impose travel and financial restrictions on Philippine officials linked to the detention of opposition Senator Leila de Lima and alleged extrajudicial killings (EJKs) under the Duterte administration. (READ: Why the Global Magnitsky Act matters to the Philippines)

 

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

 

@StateDept Evacuation Flights From China Heads to Military Bases in CA, CO, TX For 14-Day Quarantine

 

The State Department issued a health alert on February 4 indicating that it “may be staging additional evacuation flights with capacity for private U.S. citizens on a reimbursable basis, leaving Wuhan Tianhe International Airport on February 6, 2020. The alert notes that evacuees from Hubei Province will be subject to up to 14 days of mandatory quarantine.

“In accordance with the Proclamation on Suspension of Entry as Immigrants and Nonimmigrants of Persons who Pose a Risk of Transmitting 2019 Novel Coronavirus, beginning at 5:00 p.m., Eastern Standard Time, Sunday, February 2, the United States government will implement temporary measures to increase our abilities to detect and contain the coronavirus proactively and aggressively.  Any U.S. citizen returning to the United States who has been in Hubei Province in the previous 14 days will be subject to up to 14 days of mandatory quarantine to ensure they are provided proper medical care and health screening.” 

Military bases in California, Colorado and Texas are currently preparing to accommodate up to 1,000 people who will be quarantined upon arrival. U.S. Northern Command announced that it is expecting 350 inbound passengers in the “initial flights” destined for Travis Air Force Base and Miramar Marine Corps Air Station, both in California.
Also see Proclamation on Suspension of Entry as Immigrants and Nonimmigrants of Persons who Pose a Risk of Transmitting 2019 Novel Coronavirus.