Question of the Day: Do you personally agree with the President’s decision?

Posted: 3:27 am ET

 

Via Special Briefing with David M. Satterfield
Acting Assistant Secretary, Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs
December 7, 2017

QUESTION: As a veteran diplomat and representative of NEA, do you personally agree with the President’s decision?

AMBASSADOR SATTERFIELD: Oh, now. I am an employee of the U.S. Government. I am a Foreign Service officer. We all – and I speak of my boss, the Secretary, and the other principals in the U.S. Government – we are all part of this team. This is a decision which we will work our best to execute and advance.

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Tillerson Delivers Performance Management Tip, and EER Drafters Everywhere Cheer

Posted: 12:55 am ET

 

According to ABC News, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson recently told U.S. diplomats in Brussels that the U.S. State Department has yet to achieve foreign policy “wins” since he took over nearly a year ago. “While we don’t have any wins on the board yet, I can tell you we’re in a much better position to advance America’s interests around the world than we were 10 months ago,” Tillerson said.

And EER writers everywhere cheered!

No more wasted paper or wasted printer toner come Spring when employee evaluation reports are due. This may be the shortest EER accomplishment employees ever have to write if they take their cue from a secretary of state whose tenure the New Yorker says “may well be regarded as the most consequential in postwar American history.”

DS-5055 has a box for description of accomplishments: “Rated employees must describe their most significant accomplishments during the rating period. Employees should provide a factual description of outcomes achieved and how these outcomes advanced Mission or Department goals. Employees do not self-appraise their own performance.”  Well, never mind that, it can be short and sweet like:

“As the Secretary has said, not having any accomplishments over 10 months is perfectly acceptable. My work has put the Department in a much better position to advance America’s work around the world.”

You’re welcome!

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@USAmbCanada Kelly Craft Makes Splash Over “Both Sides of the Science” #ClimateChange

Posted: 12:39 am ET
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@USAmbNZ Scott Brown Gets Ahead of Bad News Over “Insensitive” Comments Probe

Posted: 12:31 am ET
Updated: Oct 27 | 12:44 am ET
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Stuff New Zealand reported on October 26 that the US ambassador to New Zealand Scott Brown faced complaints over ‘cultural misunderstanding.’

US Ambassador Scott Brown has fronted over mounting “innuendo and rumour” about a State Department investigation into his behaviour. Speaking to Stuff with wife Gail Huff at his side, Brown confirmed there had been an official “administrative inquiry” into his conduct at a Peace Corps event in Samoa in July.

It is not clear if the inquiry is conducted by HR, EEOC or OIG (we’ve asked but have not received a response) but whatever it is, talking to the local media, bound to be picked up by U.S. news media, is a calculated way to get ahead of the potential fallout from a probe that has not been publicly known until now.

We hope he’s learned his lesson that he’s not just some ex-politician from New Hampshire or Massachusetts anymore. He speaks for the United States at all times now until he steps down; and as with career folks who are considered on duty 24/7, the ambassador no longer has the luxury of personal views, only official ones. For Exhibit A, see @StateDept: Ambassador Friedman’s comment “does not represent a shift in U.S. policy”; for Exhibit B, see @StateDept on Amb. Friedman’s comment (again): “should not be read as a change in U.S. policy”.

Below is the official response from the State Department: 

The State Department takes allegations of misconduct seriously and we investigate them thoroughly. We hold all employees to the highest standard. The Office of Inspector General has conducted an independent review of the allegations and reported its findings to the Department. Senior leadership at the State Department has been in contact with Ambassador Brown and he has been counseled on standards of conduct for government employees, which also includes Ambassadors.

So hey, while we’re on the subject of “insensitive” or “inappropriate” comments, say…we’ve posted about this and more related to Diplomatic Security. Has anyone sent in investigators over there to see about Special Agent Sticky Balls and what he’s up these days?

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U.S. Orders Russia to Close Its Consulate General in San Francisco, Two Annexes By Sept. 2

Posted: 11:17 am ET
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On August 31, the State Department announced that it is requiring the Russian Government to close its Consulate General in San Francisco and two annexes in Washington, D.C. and New York City. Closures need to be done by Saturday, September 2.

The United States has fully implemented the decision by the Government of the Russian Federation to reduce the size of our mission in Russia. We believe this action was unwarranted and detrimental to the overall relationship between our countries.

In the spirit of parity invoked by the Russians, we are requiring the Russian Government to close its Consulate General in San Francisco, a chancery annex in Washington, D.C., and a consular annex in New York City. These closures will need to be accomplished by September 2.

With this action both countries will remain with three consulates each. While there will continue to be a disparity in the number of diplomatic and consular annexes, we have chosen to allow the Russian Government to maintain some of its annexes in an effort to arrest the downward spiral in our relationship.

The United States hopes that, having moved toward the Russian Federation’s desire for parity, we can avoid further retaliatory actions by both sides and move forward to achieve the stated goal of both of our presidents: improved relations between our two countries and increased cooperation on areas of mutual concern. The United States is prepared to take further action as necessary and as warranted.

A senior official confirmed to BuzzFeed that that the U.S. presence  is down to 455 in Russia, but apparently would not give a breakdown of who was let go.

A couple weeks ago, the New York Daily News citing Kommersant reported that Russia may be forced to close one of four consulates in the U.S. as part of an ongoing diplomatic tit-for-tat.  Russia has consulates general in New York, Houston, San Francisco, and Seattle.

Three days ago, Russia MFA rep Maria Maria Zakharova reportedly said on television that the reduction of personnel at U.S. Mission Russia was not “absolutely not a Russian demand”, that it was an offer, a suggestion.

The July 27 statement released by the Russian Foreign Ministry said that it “reserves the right to resort to other measures affecting US’ interests on a basis of reciprocity.” In that same statement, it uses the word “suggest” but also “must.” There is no way to interpret that official statement as merely a suggestion for the U.S. Government

– Therefore, we suggest that our American counterparts bring the number of diplomatic and technical staff at the US Embassy in Moscow, the consulates general in St Petersburg, Yekaterinburg and Vladivostok, into strict correspondence with the number of Russian diplomats and technical staff currently working in the United States, until September 1, 2017. This means that the total number of American diplomatic and consular office employees in the Russian Federation must be reduced to 455 people. In the event of further unilateral action on behalf of US officials to reduce the Russian diplomatic staff in the US, we will respond accordingly.

– Starting August 1, the use of all the storage facilities on Dorozhnaya Street in Moscow and the country house in Serebryany Bor will be suspended from use by the US Embassy.

The full statement is here.

Similarly, the Russian readout of the July 28 conversation between Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and Secretary Tillerson said that “Sergey Lavrov emphasised that the decision to even out the number of employees in US and Russian diplomatic missions and to suspend the use of two properties by the US Embassy is the result of a series of hostile steps by Washington.”

 

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Meet Newt, Soon to be @StateDept’s Newest Eligible Family Member

Posted: 12:54 am ET
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Via Politico:  Last week, Newt Gingrich sat in a classroom surrounded by 11 women and one other man, furiously jotting notes. In the weeklong intensive, where classes ran from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. with only a short cafeteria lunch break in between, the former House speaker and onetime presidential candidate received a crash course in a new role: invisible spouse.  When he moves to Rome with his wife, Callista Gingrich, to become husband of the ambassador to the Holy See, the ubiquitous Fox News talking head will have no official diplomatic role abroad, beyond being generally presentable and essentially not heard from.

When Callista Gingrich is confirmed by the U.S. Senate as Ambassador to the Vatican, Newt Gingrich, the 50th Speaker of the United States House of Representatives and Fox News talking head will officially become a diplomatic spouse or an eligible family member (EFM). He has to be listed on Form OF-126, Foreign Service Residence and Dependency Report of the sponsoring employee, and be on Mrs. Gingrich travel orders. If they place their household effects in storage in Hagerstown, we’re fairly sure, it will be in Mrs. Gingrich’s name because she is the employee. Will he need to go to the Community Liaison Office to logon to OpenNet? Will they let him make his own request for house repairs or does the employee have to do that? Who will he need permission from to pursue outside employment?

And for every bureau, post, COM, etc. whoever slapped a diplomatic spouse’s hands or threatened his/her employee-spouse’s career for blogging or writing articles that has nothing to do with policy or privileged information, get ready. This should be interesting, huh?!

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Significant Attacks Against U.S. Diplomatic Facilities and Personnel (2016)

Posted: 1:21 am ET
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Via Diplomatic Security:

January 4, 2016 – Kabul, Afghanistan (1): A vehicle-borne improvised explosive device detonated between Camp Sullivan and Camp Camelot, causing extensive structural damage to nearby buildings. Final casualty counts remain unclear; however, available reporting indicates at least three people were killed and 60 U.S. Embassy contractors injured, 11 of whom were U.S. citizens. The Taliban claimed responsibility for the attack.

January 11, 2016 – Tangier, Morocco: A man broke a small sign situated on the wall of the Tangier American Legation Institute for Moroccan Studies. He also punched a sign warning of the building’s security camera before running away.

January 16, 2016 – Baghdad, Iraq: Unidentified militia members kidnapped three American contractors in the Dora neighborhood of Baghdad. The motive for the kidnapping remains unknown. The three U.S. citizens were subsequently freed.

January 25, 2016 – Sana’a, Yemen (1): Two men on a motorcycle fired several shots at Yemeni security forces protecting the U.S. Embassy. No one was injured in the attack, and the motive for the incident is unclear.

February 6, 2016 Port au Prince, Haiti (1): A group of armed men fired at a vehicle carrying five U.S. Embassy personnel during a period of ongoing political unrest. None of the passengers were injured, though the vehicle sustained minor damage.

February 17, 2016Ankara, Turkey (1): A vehicle-borne improvised explosive device targeting three Turkish military shuttle buses killed 28 people and injured 61 others. The explosion shattered several windows at the nearby U.S. Office of Defense Cooperation (ODC) and slightly injured one American ODC member.

February 20, 2016Hong Kong, China: A Chinese citizen struck the main entry doors of the U.S. Consulate General with a brick, causing minor damage, and was detained by local police. The individual claimed he wanted to join the U.S. military.

March 1, 2016 – Mohmand Agency, Federally Administered Tribal Areas, Pakistan: Two U.S. Consulate General Peshawar (1) locally employed staff members were killed when an improvised explosive device detonated next to the convoy in which they were traveling. Jamaat ul-Ahrar claimed responsibility for the attack.

June 24, 2016Port au Prince, Haiti (2): Six men on motorcycles opened fire on the Marriott Hotel. Several rounds impacted rooms occupied by U.S. citizens, including one occupied by a U.S. Embassy employee. No one was injured in the attack.

June 29, 2016 – Karachi, Pakistan (2): A U.S. Embassy locally employed staff member was temporarily detained and assaulted by unidentified assailants. The staff member, who sustained minor injuries, was able to flee when the group was approached by a local police vehicle.

July 4, 2016 Jeddah, Saudi Arabia: A suicide bomber detonated his explosives in the parking lot of a hospital across the street from the U.S. Consulate General, injuring one member of the Saudi Diplomatic Police. No U.S. personnel were injured in the incident, and no Consulate facilities were damaged.

July 7, 2016 – Juba, South Sudan: Sudan People’s Liberation Army soldiers attempted to stop two U.S. Embassy vehicles at a checkpoint and opened fire on them when the passengers refused to open their doors. The vehicles were damaged by bullets, and one vehicle was disabled following a collision with another car while leaving the area. No personnel were injured.

July 14, 2016 – Shanghai, China: A Chinese citizen threw bottles at a guard at the U.S. Consulate General and threatened to kill him. Local police took the individual into custody; no one was injured in the incident.

September 12, 2016 – Kabul, Afghanistan (2): A projectile, believed to be a 107 mm rocket, struck an apartment building on the grounds of the U.S. Embassy, causing minor damage. The building was under construction and unoccupied at the time; there were no reported injuries.

September 30, 2016 – Kyiv, Ukraine: Two women illegally attempting to enter the U.S. Embassy’s vehicle entrance assaulted an Embassy guard when he attempted to stop them from impeding the exit of an Embassy vehicle. One of the women later assaulted an assistant regional security officer (ARSO) when the ARSO restrained her as she attempted to enter the Embassy’s main entrance.

October 3, 2016Srebrenica, Bosnia- Herzegovina: Protesters threw bottles and other objects at a U.S. Embassy vehicle carrying election monitors. No one was injured in the incident, and the vehicle safely left the area of the demonstration.

October 19, 2016 – Manila, Philippines (1): Protesters outside the U.S. Embassy clashed with police and defaced the Embassy seal with red paint. Police attempted to disperse the crowd using batons and tear gas, but ultimately drove through the protest with a police truck. Four police officers and up to 10 protesters were injured.

October 24, 2016 – Buenos Aires, Argentina: A U.S. citizen threw a small incendiary device over the perimeter fence of the U.S. Embassy. The object did minor damage to Embassy facilities, but no one was injured. The same individual threw a similar device over the perimeter wall in April 2015.

October 25, 2016 – Moscow, Russia: Demonstrators gathered at the U.S. Ambassador’s residence to protest against the U.S. military presence in Europe. Ten protesters launched fireworks and dropped leaflets, while one individual handcuffed himself to the gate and had to be freed with bolt cutters. Local police detained three individuals in conjunction with the incident, which they believe was an attempt by the group to gain national attention.

October 27, 2016 – Nairobi, Kenya: An individual armed with a knife and yelling “Allahu Akbar” attacked a Kenyan General Services Unit police officer stationed on the perimeter of the U.S. Embassy. The officer shot and killed the assailant.

November 5, 2016Amsterdam, Netherlands: During a “flash” demonstration outside the U.S. Consulate General, “Anonymous Masks” members spray-painted a Consular bulletin board and the facility’s windows.

November 7, 2016 – Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic: Two university students scuffled with local police when asked to move away from the U.S. Embassy during a protest over the U.S. Ambassador’s support of same-sex marriage. One protester attempted to strike a police officer with a large wooden cross and was subsequently arrested.

November 15, 2016 – Melbourne, Australia: Four individuals protesting the Dakota Access Pipeline wrote on the entry doors, blocked the entrance, and poured an unidentified substance resembling cooking oil in the public lobby of the commercial building housing the U.S. Consulate General.

November 18, 2016 – Strasbourg, France: An unidentified individual spray-painted the pillars connecting the gates of the U.S. Consulate General with anti-U.S. graffiti and an anarchy symbol. Based on a review of the slogans used, the perpetrator was likely a member of the leftist anarchist movement in France.

November 28, 2016 – Manila, Philippines (2): Philippine National Police rendered safe an improvised explosive device found in a trash can approximately 250 meters from the U.S. Embassy. The intentions and motivations of the perpetrators remain unclear.

November 30, 2016 – N’Djamena, Chad: A man armed with a pistol and shouting “Allahu Akbar” opened fire at the local police guard stationed outside the U.S. Embassy’s main entrance. The police took the shooter into custody. No one was injured during the incident.

December 2, 2016 Yaoundé, Cameroon: An individual brandishing a knife and claiming to be an Islamic State soldier approached the U.S. Embassy and asked to speak with the ambassador. Local gendarmes subdued the individual after he rushed toward them.

December 19, 2016 – Ankara, Turkey (2): An individual fired one shotgun round at the U.S. Embassy’s vehicle gate and then fired multiple shots into the air before being arrested by Turkish National Police. No U.S. Embassy personnel were injured in the incident, though the vehicle gate sustained minor damage. The incident occurred hours after the Russian Ambassador to Turkey was assassinated at an arts center across the street from the Embassy.

December 21, 2016 – Kabul, Afghanistan (3): A 40 mm grenade exploded at Camp Duskin, a U.S. military camp, while a U.S. Embassy protective security team was conducting a site review in advance of a visit by the U.S. chargé d’affaires. No one was injured in the incident, and it is unclear whether the explosion was the result of a negligent discharge or a deliberate action.

December 24, 2016 – Sana’a, Yemen (2) A Houthi-affiliated group detained a U.S. Embassy guard at a checkpoint in Taiz. There are conflicting reports as to the reason for the detention. The guard remains detained.

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U.S. Mission Russia to Suspend Nonimmigrant Visa Operations Starting August 23

Posted: 2:06 am ET
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On August 21, U.S. Mission Russia announced that it is suspending nonimmigrant visa operations across Russia effective Wednesday, August 23.

As a result of the Russian government’s personnel cap imposed on the U.S. Mission, all nonimmigrant visa (NIV) operations across Russia will be suspended beginning August 23, 2017.  Visa operations will resume on a greatly reduced scale.  Beginning September 1, nonimmigrant visa interviews will be conducted only at the U.S. Embassy in Moscow.  NIV interviews at the U.S. Consulates in St. Petersburg, Yekaterinburg, and Vladivostok are suspended until further notice.  As of 0900 Moscow time Monday, August 21, the U.S. Mission will begin canceling current nonimmigrant visa appointments countrywide.  The NIV applicants who have their interviews canceled should call the number below to reschedule their interview at the U.S. Embassy in Moscow for a later date.  NIV applicants originally scheduled for an interview at the U.S. consulates in St. Petersburg, Yekaterinburg, and Vladivostok should call the number below if they wish to reschedule their interviews at the U.S. Embassy in Moscow.

The staffing changes will also affect the scheduling of some immigrant visa applicants.  Affected applicants will be contacted if there is a change as to the time and date of their interview.

The U.S. Embassy in Moscow and three consulates will continue to provide emergency and routine services to American citizens, although hours may change.  (For American Citizen Services hours, please check the U.S. Mission to Russia website at https://ru.usembassy.gov/u-s-citizen-services/acs-hours.)

US Mission Russia released a Fact Sheet also noting that the cancellation of visa interviews prior to September 1 is due to “planning for departures and staff reductions” that has already begun “in order to meet the Russian government’s September 1 deadline for the reduction of personnel.” It further notes that operation at reduced capacity will continue as long as its mission staffing levels are reduced.

As of August 21, the appointment visa wait times for U.S. Mission Russia for visitor visas are as follows: Moscow (85 calendar days), St. Pete (44 days), Vladivostok (2 days) and Yekaterinburg (59 days). When visa interviews resume at the US Embassy in Moscow on September 1, all visa interviews at the three constituents posts will remain suspended.

Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov (via TASS) said that “the US authors of these decisions have plotted another attempt at stirring up resentment among Russian citizens regarding decisions by the Russian authorities.”

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4th of July 2017 – Scenes and Themes Around the Foreign Service

Posted: 3:35 am ET
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@StateDept Targets Umbrella Schools For Homeschooling Foreign Service Families

Posted: 4:18 am ET
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An umbrella school is an alternative education school which serves to oversee the homeschooling of children to fulfill government educational requirements.  Umbrella or cover schools can provide options that homeschoolers might not have on their own, including field trips, resources, team sports opportunities, and tutoring. They also have widely different requirements regarding curricula, record-keeping, and even religious affiliation.

On May 15, the State Department issued an “Educational Allowance Home Study Payment Guidance” which says “indirect or third party service provider fees, such as umbrella school/cover schools not providing direct instruction, course, or accredited virtual education, are not reimbursable fees or recognized as advisory fees.” Any supplementary or gifted and talented instruction fees are included in this restriction.

The new guidance further states:

An educational provider receiving payment as a result of an education allowance must be providing the course teaching and evaluations directly to the student. The course of study provided by the educational provider may be online, by correspondence, or through other appropriate materials. Indirect or third party service provider fees, such as umbrella school/cover schools not providing direct instruction, course, or accredited virtual education, are not reimbursable fees or recognized as advisory fees (this also applies for any supplementary or gifted and talented instruction). However, a parent can elect to pay them as a personal expense. Third party service providers billing for the direct educational providers’ fees may only be paid directly by the FMO or reimbursed to the officer as described below. Agreements, rules, procedures, or contracts (if completed) between the officer, third party service providers, and/or the school must be made available to Post as part of any claim for reimbursement or request for direct payment.

Prior to this guidance, the State Department pays the homeschooling allowance for the Foreign Service child to the umbrella school. The school can then use it for school items for the child or reimburse parents for the school items they purchased. By restricting the use of umbrella schools, post’s Financial Management Officer (FMO) now becomes the “decider” for the FS child’s homeschool allowance. Foreign Service families can still homeschool but the FMO at post has to okay each and every purchase expenditure. Parents have to take their receipts to the FMO and hope that he/she will reimburse them for that specific math curriculum.

We don’t know how much the State Department is saving by going after umbrella schools. At some posts, homeschooling may be the family’s only educational option. And at other posts, there may not be an FMO and this could become one more collateral duty for the Management Officer.

We should note that Foreign Service families can only choose from three educational methods for their kids: 1) school at post, 2) school away from post, and 3) home study/private instruction. Guess which one is the cheapest.

So a hiring freeze for family members with very few exceptions, and now, we’re asked why the State Department is picking on homeschoolers?  What should we make of this? They’re absolutely not saying parents can’t homeschool their kids.  They’ll just make the process burdensome enough, as a way to rein in the cost?

In late April, Bloomberg reported that “Tillerson was taken aback when he arrived on the job to see how much money the State Department was spending on housing and schooling for the families of diplomats living overseas.”

When we look back at that reporting and then look at this new guidance, we get a sense that this is just the opening salvo in a one sided fight projected to inflict deep cuts at the State Department. This is just the first cut but the axe is out.

 

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