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@StateDept Targets Umbrella Schools For Homeschooling Foreign Service Families

Posted: 4:18 am ET

 

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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U.S. Diplomacy Center: Baseball Autographed by Russian Human Rights Activists

Posted: 12:41 am ET

 

The U.S. Diplomacy Center was in the news recently with the opening of the Clinton Pavillion. Note that the U.S. Diplomacy Center is actively seeking artifacts that represent American diplomacy and the work of the U.S. Department of State. These artifacts can come from a variety of individuals and sources. Anyone currently or previously working in a diplomatic capacity might have objects that could be a good fit for the center’s collection. If you have items you might be interested in donating, please contact the center for more information.

As an example of a good artifact, here is a clip of Foreign Service Officer Kevin Covert who shares the powerful story behind an artifact he loaned to USDC, a baseball autographed by Russian human rights activists.  Via USDC:

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Request For the Formal Resignations of All Chiefs of U.S. Diplomatic Missions Overseas

Posted: 2:33  am ET

 

On November 15, 1944, Robert M. Scotten, a career Foreign Service Officer serving as U.S. minister to the Dominican Republic, submitted his resignation to President Roosevelt “in accordance with traditional usage” according to The Text Message blog of the National Archives.  Upon receipt, FDR sent a copy of the letter to Under Secretary of State Sumner Welles requesting preparation of a response for the President’s signature.[2]

The Under Secretary sent the draft to the President under cover of a letter that read, in part:

 It had been my understanding that during your Administration you have not expected chiefs of mission who have been promoted by you from the ranks of the Foreign Service to present their resignations before the commencement of your new term of office.  In 1936, and again in recent weeks, I have told certain chiefs of mission who come within this category that that is my understanding.

In that belief I have drafted a reply for you to send to Scotten along these lines.

If I am mistaken in this understanding, will you let me know accordingly?[4]

President Roosevelt responded with the following long memorandum:[5]

Memorandum from President Franklin Roosevelt to Under Secretary of State Sumner Welles, November 22, 1940 via The Text Message blog

Continue reading, “In the Interest of the Efficiency of the Foreign Service”: Changes in US Diplomatic Representation Abroad after the Election of 1940.

According to The Text Message blog, a similar directive went out after the election of 1944. The Under Secretary of State Edward Stettinius asked President Roosevelt if he wanted to follow the same practice and FDR “said he thought it would be wise.” As a result, the Department of State sent the following telegram:[1]

121.4 [11-1944.1] Circular to All Chiefs of Mission, Nov. 14, 1944 Via The Text Message

121.4 [11-1944.1] Circular to All Chiefs of Mission, Nov. 14, 1944 Via The Text Message

Also see “In the Interest of the Efficiency of the Foreign Service”: Changes in U.S. Diplomatic Representation Abroad After the Election of 1944

The  formal resignations by chiefs of mission has been the practice after every presidential election.  We understand that a similar cable goes out even when there is a second presidential term.  We are curious if the language of this cable has changed through the years.  We will update if we are able to locate a copy of the current directive.

 

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Russia Responds: -35 Not Cold Enough, Will Not Expel Anyone; Trump Praises Putin’s “Great Move”

Posted: 5:53 pm PT

 

Yesterday, the United States PNG’d 35 Russian officials and imposed new sanctions (see USG Declares 35 Russian Officials Persona Non Grata, Imposes New Sanctions). There was also a CNN report that the Anglo American School of Moscow was ordered shut down yesterday. The director of the school released a statement on FB today saying senior Russian officials have refuted the story and that the school is planning to open as scheduled following the holiday break.

Yesterday, MFA Russia said “We will certainly response adequately.”

Today, MFA Russia says “-35 is not cold enough.”  Russia has responded to USG actions by saying that although it has “a right to retaliate” it will not “resort to irresponsible kitchen diplomacy” but will plan “further steps to restore Russian-US relations based on the policies of the Trump Administration.”

It also says it will not expel anyone and invites “all children of US diplomats accredited in Russia to the New Year and Christmas children’s parties in the Kremlin.”

The Russian Consulate in San Francisco where some of the PNG’d officials are located tweets that “It’s so difficult to remain diplomatic… but we will.” It also released a statement on FB on its “very different, very undiplomatic feelings” saying “We hate to have to say goodbye to close to a dozen of our colleagues, our friends.”

Meanwhile, President-elect Trump has responded to Mr. Putin’s decision not to go with a ‘tit for tat’ response with a tweet praising the Russian leader’s “great move” and melted down Twitter:

The parody accounts, of course, are having a field day today and presumably, the next four years.

Da end.

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Secretary @JohnKerry Hosts His Last “Diplomacy at Home for the Holidays” For Foreign Service Families

Posted: 3:36 pm PT

 

Secretary John Kerry hosted the annual “Diplomacy at Home for the Holidays” today at 2:00 p.m. at the State Department.

“The holiday reception honors the families of U.S. government employees with assignments on which they cannot bring their families, leaving both sides to endure long periods of separation from their loved ones, even at the holidays.”

In partnership with the Kennedy Center, the cast of the Broadway hit Wicked — the untold true story of the Witches of Oz — was scheduled to perform the popular songs “The Wizard and I” and “For Good” during the reception.  This event is made possible through public-private partnerships according to the State Department.

In 2013, the State Department said that about 1,100 U.S. foreign service officers were at posts abroad where they are unaccompanied or where there are limits on who can accompany them – usually no children/adult only dependents.  Reuters reported at that time that this was a five-fold increase in unaccompanied American diplomats over the past decade, and represents about 14 percent of U.S. foreign service officers serving overseas.  Since 2016 is no doubt a harsher year than 2013, we can only surmise that the unaccompanied posts this year is higher than the previous years.

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A Holiday Wish to the Hundreds of DS Agents Without a “Handshake” This Bidding Season

Posted: 2:09 am ET

 

This Burn Bag was sent to us “as a holiday wish to the hundreds of DS agents still without even an handshake this bidding season and to their families who are also waiting.”  As requested, we’ve considered the following and are publishing the entire post in the sender’s hope that it might bring a little smile to those still waiting for their assignments.  Well, a little smile and as Mr. Google says in his imperfect Italian, maybe “accendere un fuoco sotto il sedere di qualcuno” … 

 

A Visit from the Saint “No Word Yet”

‘Twas just days before Christmas and all through the house,
Frustration was building for the DS spouse.
Bids had been entered in FSBid with great care,
In the hopes that DS would do its fair share;
The DS spouse wonders just what is in store,
for their beloved agent – alone – in Lahore.

October 31st, it came and it went,
But for DS agents few handshakes were sent.
When asks the spouse, oh when will we know?
Will it be Paris, Bangui, or Toronto?
Maybe a Field Office, far from DC.
Or perhaps a year or two with MSD.

Spouses query one another with fear and despair,
It really seams as if DS Does.Not.Care.
On November 4 and December 1, jobs are assigned one-by-one.
In hushed voices agents questions those around,
To what office or mission will I be bound?
Will it be the same as my tandem spouse?

We did all the legwork for the six posts that work,
For a DS spouse needing political work.
My GSO wife or my Management hubby,
Would be extremely happy in Abu Dhabi!
To the top of the list, will my name they call?
Will we know where were going, long before fall?

Uncertainty swirls as the days tick by,
The DS spouse lets out a great cry!
How will we get the kids into school,
If we do not know we’re going to Banjul?
Maybe its time to let this ship go.
Can’t you jump ship to be a U.S. Marshall, too?

The uncertainty for the DS spouse is a constant refrain,
The long hours, TDYs and standing in the rain.
The worry at home when the dear agents abroad,
Protecting our missions, our livelihood, our jobs
But alas, we play this game each and every year,
Just waiting and waiting, and waiting to hear.

By the time all is set and the last chess move is made
Someone will have gone through many a tirade.
That job is gone, and that one, too, what is the DS agent to do?
A now post or the third PSP – isn’t it time for something new?
The powers that be, simply do not see
Just what a drag this process can be.

The black hole of bidding in the hands of a few,
Determine the destiny with nary a clue,
Of what this does to house and home,
When the prices drags on they’re drafting a tome.
Over half of the cohort still waiting to know,
Would there, could there be a miracle?

On Christmas eve with a visit from St. Nick,
Will they let us know they’ve gotten on the stick?

A Christmas dream or a Christmas wish,
Waiting for a handshake, oh the suspense!
The call hasn’t come and the spouse is a fright,
As the DS agent again goes off in the night,
But I heard him exclaim as he drove out of sight,
This systems gotta change, cause it just isn’t right!

katnispeeta

 

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U.S Ambassador to Sweden Azita Raji Gets a #Gripen Ride

Posted: 12:20 am ET

 

In 2010, we blogged about US Ambassador to Finland Bruce Oreck who flew on an F18 with the Finish Air Force.  In 2011, US Ambassador to India Tim Roemer and then Assistant Secretary for Political-Military Affairs Andrew J. Shapiro had their rides of a lifetime in a Lockheed Martin F/16 Super Viper and Boeing F/A-18 Super Hornet respectively during Aero India.

Yesterday, the U.S ambassador to Sweden Azita Raji got a ride in a  with test pilot Marcus Wandt. We missed this but in 2013, her predecessor, Ambassador Brzezinski also got a Gripen ride.

According to Wikipedia, the Saab JAS 39 Gripen is a light single-engine multirole fighter aircraft manufactured by the Swedish aerospace company Saab. It was designed to replace the Saab 35 Draken and 37 Viggen in the Swedish Air Force.

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Consulate General St Petersburg: Two U.S. Diplomats Slipped “Date-Rape” Drug in Russia

Posted: 1:36 am ET

 

The U.S. Consulate General in St. Petersburg is the largest of the three consulates general in Russia. It is the nearest to Moscow and is the site for many high-level bilateral and multilateral meetings. According to the 2013 OIG report on US Mission Russia, employees face intensified pressure by the Russian security services at a level not seen since the days of the Cold War. The mission employs 1,279 staff, including 301 U.S. direct-hire positions and 934 locally employed (LE) staff positions from 35 U.S. Government agencies (2013 OIG report).

Via RFE/RL:

Two U.S. officials traveling with diplomatic passports were drugged while attending a conference in Russia last year, and one of them was hospitalized, in what officials have concluded was part of a wider, escalating pattern of harassment of U.S. diplomats by Russia.

The incident at a hotel bar during a UN anticorruption conference in St. Petersburg in November 2015 caused concern in the U.S. State Department, which quietly protested to Moscow, according to a U.S. government official with direct knowledge of what occurred.

But it wasn’t until a dramatic event in June, when an accredited U.S. diplomat was tackled outside the U.S. Embassy in Moscow, that officials in Washington reexamined the November drugging and concluded they were part of a definite pattern.
[…]

The U.S. government official told RFE/RL that U.S. investigators concluded that the two Americans — a man and a woman — were slipped a so-called date rape drug, most likely at a bar in the St. Petersburg hotel where they were staying.

One of the Americans was incapacitated and brought to a Western medical clinic in the city for treatment, and to have blood and tissue samples taken in order to determine precisely what caused the sudden illness. However, while the person was at the clinic, the electricity suddenly went out and the staff was unable to obtain the necessary tissue samples, the official said.

The individual was then flown out of the country for further medical treatment, but by then it was too late to gather proper samples, the official said.

Because the U.S. officials in attendance at the conference were not top-level State or Justice officials, the State Department decided to take a quiet approach to the incident.A formal note of protest was lodged, the official said, but Russian authorities asked for evidence that the person had been drugged, and the Americans lacked samples.

Read in full below:

 

Related posts:

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@StateDept Updates Policy Guidance on Special Rest and Recuperation (SR&R) Travel

Posted: 12:12 am ET

 

On August 10, 2016, the State Department updated its policy guidance on Special Rest and Recuperation (SR&R) for the Foreign Service at State, USAID, Commerce, Agriculture and BBG.  SR&R is discretionary R&R travel authorized by the Under Secretary for Management.  These are additional R&R trips for posts already designated for R&R trips as specified in 3 FAM 3725.2, or for a post that does not normally qualify for an R&R but experiences extraordinary circumstances that warrant a one-time R&R.  Note that due to their immediate proximity to the United States, Mexico border posts are not eligible for SR&R (or R&R) according to the Foreign Affairs Manual.

3 FAM 3727.1 Special Rest and Recuperation (SR&R)
(CT:PER-828; 08-10-2016)
(Uniform State/USAID/Commerce/Agriculture/BBG)
(Applies to Foreign Service Employees only)

a. In extraordinary circumstances, the Under Secretary for Management (M), acting on behalf of the Secretary, may authorize additional R&R trips for posts already designated for R&R trips as specified in 3 FAM 3725.2, or for a post that does not normally qualify for an R&R but experiences extraordinary circumstances that warrant a one-time R&R. This discretionary R&R travel authorized by M is known as Special R&R travel (SR&R).

(1) With the exception of Mexico border posts, any post that is in unaccompanied status or has a combined Post Differential and Danger Pay rate of 35 percent will automatically qualify for one SR&R.

(2) If a post does not automatically qualify for one SR&R or the post automatically qualifies for one SR&R but would like to request additional SR&Rs, that post must seek authorization by having the appropriate regional bureau executive director send a memorandum to the Director of the Office of Allowances (A/OPR/ALS). The memorandum must include a clear justification (in 250 words or less) for any requested SR&R including specific extraordinary conditions of hardship which exist at post. The Director of A/OPR/ALS will convene a nine-member committeewhich shall include one representative from each regional bureau, HR, M/PRI, and Allowancesto review all SR&R requests and send recommendations to M for final approval. In order to recommend an SR&R to M, seven of the nine committee members must vote in favor of the SR&R. A/OPR/ALS will notify all requesting offices of Ms determination and update Special R&R information in the annual bidding tool. One-year Priority Staffing Posts (PSP) and posts with Service Recognition Packages (SRP) fall outside the purview of this process.

(3) Authorization for Special R&R expires annually. Requests for new, multiple, or continuation of Special R&R travel must be resubmitted to regional bureaus by memorandum no later than May 15 each year.

(4) The SR&R qualification process was changed in August 2016. For posts that will lose one or more SR&Rs under the new process, personnel who were serving at or paneled to those posts during the 2016-2017 winter cycle will be grandfathered in under the old system for the length of their tour. This means that those individuals will be awarded the SR&Rs that they would have been given under the system immediately prior to the change in August 2016.

c. The Under Secretary for Management may designate in writing a post for a SR&R where the tour of duty is not traditional. A Special R&R may be warranted because of extreme danger, unaccompanied post status, severely substandard living conditions, extreme isolation, or other unusual conditions. Because of their immediate proximity to the United States, Mexico border posts are not eligible for SR&R (or R&R).

d. Clearances for initiating and terminating a SR&R must be obtained by the requesting regional bureau from other foreign affairs agencies when such agencies have personnel at post. (For USAID, contact the regional bureau AMS staff.)

e. When approval for a SR&R is requested from M, the regional bureau executive director shall recommend whether all employees currently at post or employees arriving at post will be eligible for it. For example, employees on TDY; employees whose departure from post is imminent; or new employees who will not experience the same degree of hardship that current employees have experienced, might be excluded. If M approves the SR&R, the post shall be notified of any such limitations by the regional bureau.

3 FAM 3727.2 Eligibility and Tour of Duty
(CT:PER-828; 08-10-2016)
(Uniform State/USAID/Commerce/Agriculture/BBG)
(Applies to Foreign Service Employees only)

a. The Departments policy for time spent at post for Special R&Rs differs from that of regular R&Rs discussed in 3 FAM 3722, paragraph a. For example, SR&Rs may be authorized for posts with a tour of duty of less than 2 years. In addition, the employee is not required to complete the requirements for the regular R&R in order to be eligible for the Special R&R. For:

Tour of duty of less than 2 years: An employee must be able to complete a minimum of 12 months at post to be eligible for the Special R&R. Generally, a post with a tour of duty of less than 2 years will not be authorized more than one Special R&R.

Tour of duty of 2 years: Employees at posts with 2-year tours of duty (including a split 4-year tour of duty) must be able to complete a minimum of 12 months at post to be eligible for a Special R&R. Generally, no more than two R&R trips (Special and/or regular) will be authorized for posts with a tour of duty of 2 years.

Tour of duty of 3 years: Employees, whose assignments are extended to 3 years at posts that have been granted both Special and regular R&Rs, may receive an additional R&R trip for the extra year of service. Generally, no more than three R&R (Special and regular) trips will be authorized for posts with a tour of duty of 3 years.

b. The Department policy for time spent at post for Special R&Rs differs further in the case of employees serving at certain posts specifically designated by the Director General for home leave after completion of 12 months of continuous service abroad. Employees in such a category should consult applicable service recognition packages and post policies to determine eligibility for R&R travel.

c. The Bureau of Human Resources, Office of Employee Relations, Employee Programs Division, is available for policy guidance.

Read in full:  3 FAM 3720 REST AND RECUPERATION (R&R) TRAVEL (changes are in magenta).

 

Related items:

3 FAH-1 H-3720  | REST AND RECUPERATION (R&R) TRAVEL

3 FAH-1 Exhibit H-3722(1)  Posts and Designated Relief Areas For R&R Travel

 

 

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FSJ: Tandem Couples — Till Reassignment Do Us Part, the 30th Annual Edition

Posted: 4:02 am ET

The current issue of the Foreign Service Journal includes a piece on tandem couples in the State Department. The article is written by  FSO Fred Odisho who joined the Foreign Service as a political-coned officer in January 2014. He has been separated from his tandem spouse for their first four years in the Foreign Service, and he is looking forward to reuniting with her in the summer of 2017 for their second assignment.  His co-author is USAID FSO Whitney Dubinsky who joined the Foreign Service in 2010 through USAID’s Development Leadership Initiative. Her spouse joined the Foreign Service “after two years of being unable to find meaningful employment at post.”

Excerpt:

Representative of the larger society, Foreign Service families come in all forms, each with its own unique challenges. The dynamic of the modern family has changed dramatically over the past 30 years. The percentage of family members working outside the home has steadily increased. More and more possess professional degrees and experience in a variety of fields. Not surprisingly, they possess traits similar to those of their Foreign Service spouses. In the face of these changes, have Foreign Service policies supporting the modern family kept pace?

For tandem couples—the term for families in which both spouses are members of the Foreign Service—the answer to this question is a resounding no. Little has changed since The New York Times published an article in 1986 titled “State Department; Till Reassignment Do Us Part?” describing the challenges facing tandem couples of that era. Being able to be assigned together was and still is the greatest challenge plaguing the members of any tandem couple. The threat of having to split up their family and children remains ever-present.
[…]
Tandem couples are not trying to circumvent the worldwide availability requirement. They acknowledge that directed assignments are not limited to entry-level employees but are also possible for mid-level and senior-level employees, as witnessed during the wars of the past decade. They understand and accept that they, like all their peers, may have to shoulder one of these directed assignments that may necessitate serving in an unaccompanied capacity.

In fact, one could argue that the unofficial motto of most tandems is, “It’s not a matter of where we serve … so long as we can serve together.” Just like everyone else, we signed up for worldwide availability, not worldwide separation—especially separation that is not directed and is based solely on the luck of the bidding draw.
[…]

The Quadrennial Diplomacy and Development Review says that the federal government takes “work-life balance seriously and will continue to support our employees as they balance their commitment to service with personal wellness and family life. Work-life balance is critical to retaining the best talent.” It is time for senior management to not only say these words but to take substantive action.

Read in full: Tandem Couples: Serving Together, Apart via the Foreign Service Journal’s July/August 2016 issue.

 

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