@StateDept Diplomat: Why would any woman in her right mind choose to report harassment? See me? #MeToo

Posted: 1:31 am ET

 

The following came to us from a Foreign Service Officer who said she is in the middle of an Equal Employment Opportunity (EEO) complaint, has already waited 16 months to get her appeal heard, and now, could face firing from the State Department.  We are republishing below the entire text:

#MeToo In the wake of the Weinstein allegations and the blessed floodgates they have opened, many people have asked why more women don’t report sexual harassment and assault, and called upon women to do so in order to out the harassers and protect other women from them. I offer my story fighting harassment and bullying at the U.S. Department of State as an example of the huge cost women can pay when they have the courage to take a stand. It is a story of a system that is designed to silence and indeed, punish those who come forward, while protecting the institution and the abusers at all costs.

I have served as a dedicated and decorated Foreign Service officer in the Department of State since May 2011 when I left my practice as a litigation attorney to serve my country. My first tour was in Port-au-Prince, Haiti where I worked with the Haitian parliament and political parties to improve their electoral system, including supporting women seeking and serving in elected office, as well as strengthening the rule of law, improving democratic processes, and protecting human rights. I was awarded the Department of State’s Meritorious Honor Award for my work advancing women’s rights in Haiti in 2013, called a “rising star” by my supervisors, and recommended for immediate tenure and promotion. On the strength of those recommendations, I was tenured on my first try in the fall of 2014 after only serving one overseas assignment – a rarity in the Foreign Service.

In early 2015 I was sent to a small Consulate in Latin America to serve as a vice consul adjudicating visas for my second tour. I eagerly threw myself into my new work. After less than 120 days, in May 2015 the Department of State medically evacuated me back to the United States and curtailed my assignment. Why? Because I was suffering from severe physical and mental health issues stemming from a months-long concerted campaign to harass, bully, and intimidate me on the basis of my gender. I filed an Equal Employment Opportunity (EEO) complaint with the Department of State, returned to Washington, D.C. and tried to move on with my life professionally and personally.

Little did I know the harassment, bullying, intimidation, and retaliation had only just begun. Over the course of the summer and fall of 2015 the individuals I had filed my EEO complaint against engaged in numerous acts of retaliation against me, including writing and filing a false, defamatory, negative performance review which to this day remains in my official employment file and has led to the complete ruin of my career at the Department of State. They also spread vicious, false, and defamatory rumors about me, stating that I had been forced to leave Post because I was having an affair with a married American working at the Consulate – an absolute falsehood. Finally, they refused to ship home all of my personal belongings that I had had to leave behind when I was quickly evacuated from the Consulate. After months of delay, all of my things arrived in D.C. covered in toxic mold – tens of thousands of dollars of personal property and memories destroyed. I filed an amended EEO complaint alleging that these actions were all taken in retaliation for filing my first EEO complaint and retained an attorney.

The Department assigned my case to an outside investigator in early 2016. I submitted hundreds of pages of affidavits, briefs, and exhibits detailing the harassment and bullying as well as the concerted and ongoing campaign of retaliation against me. The six individuals I accused submitted virtually identical and brief statements categorically denying all of my allegations and offering absolutely zero corroborating evidence. The investigator failed to interview any of the additional witnesses we proffered and issued a brief report denying my claims and failing to include or address much of the evidence I had proffered.

In July of 2016 I filed an appeal with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and was told by my attorney that it would be at least six to nine months before an administrative judge was assigned to my case due to the backlog of EEOC complaints and lack of sufficient resources to timely adjudicate them. After 16 months, an administrative judge was finally assigned to my appeal at the end of October 2017. But it is likely too late for her to help me.

In the intervening time, the State Department has refused to remove the false, negative, defamatory performance review filed in retaliation against me from my official performance file – stating that they could not do so unless and until ordered by a judge. I have been up for promotion two times since that review was placed in my file in November of 2015. Each time the promotion boards have denied me promotion and issued a letter stating that I was “low-ranked” in the bottom two percent of officers in my grade and cone. As explanation, each letter quoted extensively from the 2015 false, negative, defamatory review filed in retaliation for my EEO complaint, citing this review as the reason for my low ranking.

On November 8, I received notification that because of these consecutive low-rankings I had been referred for “selection out” of the Foreign Service, a polite way of saying I had been referred to a Board for firing. That Board will meet sometime before the end of 2017 and decide whether or not to fire me. The rules state that the Board will not accept any additional evidence or witness testimony and will make its decision instead based solely on my written performance file which includes the false, negative, defamatory, review filed in 2015 in retaliation for my EEO complaint.

By contrast, every individual I accused in my EEO complaint has been promoted and continues to serve at increasingly high ranks in the Foreign Service. They have faced absolutely zero consequences for their unlawful harassment, bullying, and retaliation against me – while I have suffered greatly for coming forward and reporting their unlawful actions and am about to pay the ultimate price: the loss of my job and livelihood.

I followed the rules. I worked within the system to come forward and report the harassment, bullying, and retaliation I have faced and continue to face. I continued to serve my country and work hard to represent the United States throughout this time. In fact, I have continued to receive awards for my work – most recently in September 2017. Yet I have paid and continue to pay dearly for my decision to come forward. So to those who ask why more women don’t come forward, I ask “why would any woman in her right mind choose to report harassment in the workplace when this is the result?”

#

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U.S. Mission Somalia on Ordered Departure of “Non-Essential” U.S. Citizen Employees

Posted: 12:26 am ET
Updated: 1:09 pm ET
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We understand that the State Department did not/did not put US Mission Somalia on ordered departure. This explains the absence of a new Travel Warning. Our understanding is that the post directive was for embassy U.S. citizen employees to depart, and not all American citizens. It looks like the U.S. Ambassador to Somalia is based in Kenya, so we don’t even know how many U.S. and local embassy staffers are actually in Mogadishu. When we asked US Mission Somalia whether there is an updated Travel Warning, we were directed to its security message of November 4 with a link to the January 11, 2017 Travel Warning, which specifically notes that “There is no U.S. embassy presence in Somalia.” The most recent Travel Warning for Somalia is actually dated August 3, 2017 which similarly notes the absence of U.S. embassy presence in Somalia. So who were actually directed to depart? Can post “direct” the departure of just embassy employees without triggering an update in Travel Warning? Wouldn’t that run afoul of the “no double standard” policy? Is this a case of folks just not knowing what they’re doing? Other missions in the past have restricted travels of staff members from various parts of their host countries citing “no-go” or red zones where employees are not allowed to go. But U.S. Mission Somalia uses the words “direct” implying a directive and “non-essential” which is usually used in reference to evacuations.

In May this year, we blogged that the @StateDept Plans to Build a “Somalia Interim Facility” in Mogadishu For $85-$125M. Also see D/SecState Blinken Swears in Stephen Schwartz, First U.S.Ambassador to Somalia in 25 Years.

On November 4, U.S. Mission Somalia announced that it has directed “its non-essential (sic) U.S. citizen employees” to depart Mogadishu until further notice due to specific threat information against U.S. personnel on the Mogadishu International Airport. The order came a day after AFRICOM announced that it conducted air strikes against ISIS in northeastern Somalia.

The directive for personnel  to go on authorized or ordered departure has to come from the State Department. Also U.S. Mission-Somalia’s original tweet says it directs “all non-essential U.S. citizen employees”; note that the corrected one says it directs “its non-essential U.S. citizen employees.” Who does that exclude? Everyone not under Chief of Mission authority? But all agencies fall under COM authority with the exception of those under the authority of combatant commanders, or has that changed?

We don’t know how many State Department U.S. citizen employees are actually in Mogadishu but the solicitation back in May to pre-qualify firms for design-build construction services for the construction of a Somalia Interim Facility in Mogadishu referred to a “20- acre site located on the Mogadishu International Airport (MIA) Compound” with “currently” three firms working on the compound: Bancroft Global Development, RA International, and SKA Group.

As far as we can tell, no updated Travel Warning had been released reflecting the departure of “non-essential” employees from Somalia.  And folks, if you keep calling evacuated employees “non-essential”, we’re going to start wondering what were they doing there in the first place if they were not essential.

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US Embassy #Cuba Now on Ordered Departure Over “Attacks of an Unknown Nature”

Posted: 2:26 pm PT
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On September 29, 2017, the State Department placed the U.S. Embassy in Havana on “ordered departure” status, making the departure of non-emergency personnel and family members from Cuba mandatory. This follows the earlier declaration for an “authorized departure” over Hurricane Irma, and after months of these reported “sonic” attacks. The State Department has also issued a new Travel Warning advising U.S. citizens to avoid travel to Cuba: “Because our personnel’s safety is at risk, and we are unable to identify the source of the attacks, we believe U.S. citizens may also be at risk and warn them not to travel to Cuba.”

Related posts:

 

 

 

Tillerson’s @StateDept Conducts First Large Scale Evacuation of U.S. Citizens #StMaarten

Posted: 6:21 am ET
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The U.S. Embassy in Haiti was initially placed on  authorized voluntary departure for non-emergency staff and family members due to Hurricane Irma on Tuesday, September 5. By the time the Travel Warning went up, the language changed to authorized departure for U.S. government employees and their family members (see U.S. Embassy Haiti Now on ‘Authorized Departure’ For Employees/Family Members #HurricaneIrma (Updated) Embassy Dominican Republic Now on ‘Authorized Departure’ For Employees/Family Members #Irma.  U.S. Embassy Cuba Now on ‘Authorized Departure’ For Employees/Family Members #IrmaU.S. Embassy Bahamas Now on ‘Ordered Departure’ For “Non-Essential” Staff/Family Members #Irma).  We were aware of two chartered flights announced – one from Santo Domingo which departed on 9/6, and one from Nassau which departed on 9/7.

As far as we are aware, neither Secretary Tilleron nor his inner circle has done evacuations previously. The office that typically would oversee evacuations, funding, logistics, etc. is the under secretary for management, a position that has remained vacant (the announced nominee will have his confirmation hearing tomorrow, 9/12).

On September 8, CBS News reported on criticisms over the evacuation efforts of the State Department, the first evacuation involving private Americans. As of Saturday evening, 1,200 Americans had reportedly been rescued from St. Maarten but media reports say nearly 5,000 Americans still remain at St. Maarten after Irma.

Four diplomatic posts are currently being evacuated, although progress to help Americans on the ground has been slow. Veterans of the department say that a task force could have helped manage the disaster. A task force was only set up Friday morning, days after Irma hit portions of the Caribbean. While the State Department says that is consistent with previous practice, criticism has still come to the fore.
[…]
As of Saturday afternoon, the State Department had coordinated with the Department of Defense to assist over 500 American citizens with air evacuations from St. Martin, beginning with those needing urgent medical care. As of Saturday evening, 1,200 Americans had been rescued from St. Martin/St. Maarten, according to the U.S. State Department.

The latest from U.S. Consulate General Curacao (Sitrep #6) as follows (note that there is no consular post in St. Maarten, which is under the consular district of Curacao, but located in a separate island, see map here):

The Department of State is working with the Department of Defense to continue evacuation flights on September 11. U.S. citizens desiring to leave should proceed to the airport to arrive by noon on Monday carrying their U.S. passport or other proof of U.S. citizenship and identity. Passengers may be allowed carry on one small bag. Medications and any other essential items should be carried on your person. Note, passengers arriving at St Maarten Airport should expect long wait times. There is no running water at the airport and very limited shelter.

The Department of State has received information that Royal Caribbean Cruise Line ship near the port of Sint Maarten has departed. Contact the cruise line directly with any questions at stormhelp@rccl.com.

U.S. citizens in need of evacuation on Sint Maarten should shelter in place until Monday, listen to 101.1 FM radio for updates.

U.S. citizens in Dutch St. Maarten, Anguilla, Aruba, Bonaire, Curacao, Saba, or St. Eustatius are asked to visit Task Force Alert: https://tfa.state.gov/ and select “2017 Hurricane Irma.”

U.S. Citizens in French St. Martin are asked to contact U.S. Embassy Bridgetown in Barbados: https://bb.usembassy.gov/news-events/  or direct link here: https://bb.usembassy.gov/emergency-message-u-s-citizens-british-virgin-islands-assistance-aftermath-hurricane-irma/.

AND NOW THIS —

U.S. Embassy Bahamas Now on ‘Ordered Departure’ For “Non-Essential” Staff/Family Members #Irma

Posted: 3:36 pm PT
Updated: 8:08 pm PT
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Following the ‘authorized departure’ orders for the U.S. Embassies in Haiti, the Dominican Republic, and Cuba, the State Department has now placed the “non-essential” personnel and family members of the U.S. Embassy in Nassau, The Bahamas on ‘ordered departure.’ That is mandatory evacuation for those considered non-emergency personnel and family members.  We understand that “non-emergency” is the preferred term but it looks like the “non-essential” terminology is still in use by the State Department.

The Department of State recommends U.S. citizens avoid all travel to The Bahamas and Turks and Caicos Islands due to Hurricane Irma, a category 5 storm. On September 6, the Department ordered the departure of non-essential U.S. government employees and their family members due to Hurricane Irma.

A Hurricane Warning has been issued for Turks and Caicos and southeastern Bahamas. A Hurricane Watch has been issued for the Central Bahamas. Storm conditions are expected to reach the southern Bahamas by September 7 and Nassau by September 8. U.S. citizens residing and traveling in coastal areas in this region should be alert to flooding.

We recommend U.S. citizens depart The Bahamas and Turks and Caicos Islands if possible and work with commercial air carriers to leave prior to the arrival of the hurricane. Airports will close once conditions deteriorate and safe travel will not be possible, expected sometime on September 8. We recommend those citizens who are unable to depart to shelter in place in a secure location.

Travelers should apprise family and friends in the United States of their whereabouts, and keep in close contact with their tour operator, hotel staff, and local officials for evacuation instructions. Travelers should also protect their travel and identity documents against loss or damage, as the need to replace lost documentation could hamper or delay return to the United States.

Read in full here.

Meanwhile, the US Embassy in the Dominican Republic, approved for “authorized departure” yesterday has a charter flight departing Santo Domingo today.

Seats remain available for U.S. citizens wishing to depart from Santo Domingo. A charter flight will depart from Aeropuerto Las Americas in Santo Domingo mid-afternoon on September 6th. American citizens wishing to travel on this flight must contact the embassy at SDOAmericans@state.gov. Seats will be available on a first come, first served basis, but all passengers are required to meet certain conditions.

Read more here.

The US Embassy in Kingston, Jamaica on its Security Message notes that Category 5 Hurricane Irma is affecting the Leeward Islands in the Caribbean but said that while there are currently no coastal watches or warnings in effect for Jamaica or the Cayman Islands, the National Hurricane Center forecasts that Irma will remain a powerful storm throughout the week.

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U.S. Embassy Cuba Now on ‘Authorized Departure’ For Employees/Family Members #Irma

Posted: 9:17 am PT
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On September 6, the State Department issued a Travel Warning for Cuba warning U.S. citizens to “carefully reconsider” travel to Cuba due to Hurricane Irma and announced the authorized departure of USG employees and family members. This follows the declaration of “authorized departure” status for the U.S. embassies in Haiti and the Dominican Republic yesterday. As of this writing, no evacuation has been announced for U.S. Embassy Nassau.

The Department of State warns U.S. citizens to carefully reconsider travel to Cuba due to Hurricane Irma, a Category 5 storm that is projected to impact Cuba.  This storm may bring significant rainfall and wind that may result in life-threatening flooding, flash flooding, mudslides, and storm surge.  Disruptions to travel and services are likely throughout the country.  On September 6, the Department authorized the voluntary departure of U.S. government employees and their family members due to Hurricane Irma.

Read in full here.

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Embassy Dominican Republic Now on ‘Authorized Departure’ For Employees/Family Members #Irma

Posted: 1:14 am ET
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The U.S. Embassy in Santo Domingo is now also on authorized departure status:

The Department of State warns U.S. citizens to carefully reconsider travel to the Dominican Republic due to Hurricane Irma, a category 5 storm projected to impact the Dominican Republic. This storm may bring significant rainfall and wind that may result in life-threating flooding, flash flooding, mudslides, and storm surge.  Disruptions to travel and services are likely throughout the country, particularly in eastern and northern regions.  On September 5, the Department authorized the voluntary departure of U.S. government employees and their family members due to Hurricane Irma. 

Read the full Travel Warning here.

On September 4, the U.S. Embassy in Santo Domingo issued a reminder to U.S. citizens in the Dominican Republic “to remain vigilant during the hurricane season.  At this time, Hurricane Irma is forecast to impact the entirety of the Dominican Republic to varying degrees with eastern and northern areas most heavily impacted, by Wednesday, September 6.”

On September 5, U.S. Embassy Santo Domingo issued an Emergency Message advising U.S. citizens residing and traveling in the Dominican Republic that Hurricane Irma, “currently a category 5 storm, is projected to affect the Dominican Republic.” Also: “This storm may bring significant rainfall and wind that may result in life-threatening flooding, flash flooding, and storm surge, and Hispaniola-wide impacts are likely.  The National Hurricane Center (NHC) and local authorities are monitoring the progress of the storm, and the Embassy will issue updated messages as needed. Travelers and residents wishing to depart before the arrival of the storm should contact their airlines or tour operators and keep their families informed of their welfare and whereabouts.”  No “authorized departure” for employees/family members is noted in the Emergency Message (see U.S. Embassy Haiti Now on ‘Authorized Departure’ For Non-Emergency Staff/Family Members Due to Hurricane Irma).

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U.S. Embassy Haiti Now on ‘Authorized Departure’ For Employees/Family Members #HurricaneIrma (Updated)

Posted: 3:01 pm ET
Updated: 8:58 pm PT
Updated: Sept 6, 1:17 am ET – Original headline: U.S. Embassy Haiti Now on ‘Authorized Departure’ For Non-Emergency Staff/Family Members Due to Hurricane Irma
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On September 5, the State Department warned of non-essential travel to Haiti due to Hurricane Irma. It also announced the authorized voluntary departure of non-emergency personnel and family members from Haiti ahead of Hurricane Irma, now a category 5 hurricane, and apparently larger than the state of Ohio. Excerpt below:

The Department of State warns U.S. citizens of the approach of Hurricane Irma and recommends U.S. citizens avoid all non-essential travel to Haiti. The National Hurricane Center (http://www.nhc.noaa.gov) reports that Hurricane Irma is a strong, dangerous Category 5 storm with high winds and heavy rain. A hurricane watch has been issued for the northern coast of Haiti, and a tropical storm watch has been issued from Le Mole St. Nicholas to Port-au-Prince. Additional information on Hurricane Irma is available (in Creole) from Haiti Civil Protection’s website and Twitter.

U.S. citizens residing and traveling in Haiti should be alert to flooding. Given the approaching hurricane, there is limited time available for a safe departure via air. The Department of State has authorized non-emergency personnel and family members to depart Haiti in advance of Hurricane Irma. We recommend U.S. citizens depart Haiti prior to the arrival of the hurricane. Airports are expected to close if conditions deteriorate.

As mentioned in yesterday’s emergency message, the Embassy has banned all personnel travel north of Port-au-Prince. In addition, the Embassy has cancelled the travel plans of all incoming employees to Haiti until the threat passes.

We recommend those citizens who are unable to depart to shelter in place in a secure location. U.S. citizens should apprise family and friends in the United States of their whereabouts, and keep in close contact with their tour operator, hotel staff, and local officials for any evacuation instructions.

For immigrant or nonimmigrant visa questions, please contact the call center at +509-2812-2929 or email support-Haiti@ustraveldocs.com. If you will not be able travel to an already-scheduled appointment in American Citizen Services from Wednesday, September 6 through Friday, September 8, please call 509-2229-8000 or 2229-8900, or send us an email at acspap@state.gov to reschedule your appointment.

Read in full here.

The Haiti Travel Warning also dated September 5 now notes that “On September 5, the Department authorized the voluntary departure of U.S. government employees and their family members due to Hurricane Irma.” 

The U.S. Consulate General in Curacao issued an alert for U.S. citizens in the Dutch Carribean that the current track of Hurricane Irma brings the eye of the storm directly over Sint Maarten Tuesday evening into Wednesday with sustained winds of 180 mph, gusts over 200 mph, and storm surge in excess of 10 feet and advised U.S. citizens to “take shelter in concrete buildings on higher ground away from the coast.” (Note: In 2010, Curacao and St. Maarten acquired a semi-autonomus status within the Kingdom and Bonaire, St. Eustatious, and Saba (BES-Islands) became municipalities of the Netherlands). No “authorized departure” for employees/family members is noted in the alert.

On September 4, the U.S. Embassy in Santo Domingo issued a reminder to U.S. citizens in the Dominican Republic “to remain vigilant during the hurricane season.  At this time, Hurricane Irma is forecast to impact the entirety of the Dominican Republic to varying degrees with eastern and northern areas most heavily impacted, by Wednesday, September 6.” On September 5, U.S. Embassy Santo Domingo issued an Emergency Message advising U.S. citizens residing and traveling in the Dominican Republic that Hurricane Irma, “currently a category 5 storm, is projected to affect the Dominican Republic.” Also: “This storm may bring significant rainfall and wind that may result in life-threatening flooding, flash flooding, and storm surge, and Hispaniola-wide impacts are likely.  The National Hurricane Center (NHC) and local authorities are monitoring the progress of the storm, and the Embassy will issue updated messages as needed. Travelers and residents wishing to depart before the arrival of the storm should contact their airlines or tour operators and keep their families informed of their welfare and whereabouts.”  No “authorized departure” for employees/family members is noted in the Emergency Message.

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@StateDept Orders Evacuation of US Embassy Venezuela Family Members, Authorizes Departure of Employees

Posted: 5:29 pm  PT
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On July 27, the State Department ordered the departure of family members and authorized the voluntary departure of U.S. government employees from the U.S. Embassy in Caracas.  The State Department also issued a new Travel Warning for Venezuela, warning  U.S. citizens against travel to Venezuela due to social unrest, violent crime, and pervasive food and medicine shortages.  

All U.S. direct-hire personnel and their families assigned to the U.S. Embassy in Caracas are subject to an embassy movement policy that limits their travel within Caracas and many parts of the country.  Inter-city travel by car during hours of darkness (6:00 p.m. to 6:00 a.m.) is strongly discouraged and in some cases may be prohibited.  U.S. government personnel must also request approval for travel outside of Caracas.  These security measures may limit the U.S. Embassy’s ability to provide services.  This replaces the Travel Warning issued December 15, 2016.

The political and security situation in Venezuela is unpredictable and can change quickly.  Since April 2017, political rallies and demonstrations occur daily throughout the country, often with little notice.  Disruptions to traffic and public transportation are common.  Demonstrations typically elicit a strong police and security force response that includes the use of tear gas, pepper spray, water cannons and rubber bullets against participants, and occasionally devolve into looting and vandalism. Armed motorcycle gangs associated with the government frequently use violence to intimidate demonstrators.  Clashes between these groups have resulted in serious injuries and over 70 deaths.  U.S. citizens have reported being arrested, detained, and robbed while in close proximity to protests.

Security forces have arrested individuals, including U.S. citizens, and detained them for long periods with little or no evidence of a crime.  The U.S. Embassy may not be notified of the detention of a U.S. citizen and consular access to detainees may be denied or severely delayed.  The detained citizen may be denied access to proper medical care, clean water, and food.

Read in full here.

GAO Cites Gaps in @StateDept’s Crisis and Evacuation Preparedness for Overseas Posts

Posted: 3:11 am ET
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The GAO recently released its review of the State Department policies and procedures for evacuating overseas posts. The report notes that from October 2012 to September 2016, the State Department evacuated overseas post staff and family members from 23 overseas posts.  The evacuation was in response to various threats, such as terrorism, civil unrest, and natural disasters. Overseas posts undergoing evacuations generally have three types of movement: authorized departure (voluntary), ordered departure (mandatory) of specific post staff or family members, and suspended operations (closure).

The report also note that in fiscal years 2010 through 2016, State’s reported costs associated with evacuating from posts on 53 occasions were roughly $25.5 million.

“According to State officials, costs associated with evacuations varied due to several factors, including the number of post staff and family members evacuated. In fiscal year 2014, costs associated with evacuating Embassy Maseru in Lesotho were roughly $20,000, while in the same year, costs associated with evacuating Embassy Sana’a in Yemen were roughly $1.9 million.”

Certainly, a big chunk of that cost has to come from security and transportation. Below are the significant gaps cited by the GAO in the State Department’s crisis and evac preparedness:

U.S. personnel working at overseas posts, along with the family members who accompany them, face a range of threats to their safety and security—such as terrorism, civil unrest, and natural disasters. To help protect them, State has established processes to prepare overseas posts for crises and to conduct evacuations. However, State has significant gaps in implementation of its preparedness processes for crises and evacuations at overseas posts.

➥Overseas posts are not completing required annual Emergency Action Plans (EAP) updates

➥ Diplomatic Security is not identifying incomplete updates in its Emergency Action Plan (EAP) reviews

➥ The EAPs themselves are not readily usable during emergency situations

➥ Although regular drilling is a critical crisis preparedness task, very few overseas posts have completed all required annual drills

➥ Because overseas posts are not submitting required after-action reports containing lessons learned following evacuations, the State Department is missing important opportunities to identify challenges and best practices and to make changes to prepare for future evacuations from overseas posts.

The report concludes that “while State has taken initial actions— including some actions in response to our ongoing work—to improve implementation of its preparedness processes for crises and evacuations, significant shortcomings exist.” It also says that “while each of these gaps is of concern, taken together, they increase the risk that post staff are not sufficiently prepared to handle crisis and emergency situations.”

 Other details excerpted from the report:

Late Annual Updates:

In fiscal year 2016, about 1 in 12 overseas posts were late in completing required annual updates. On average, these posts were about 6 months late in completing their EAP updates. For fiscal year 2016, the list of posts that were late in completing their annual EAP updates included 7 posts rated high or critical in political violence or terrorism.

DS Does Not Fully Review Key Sections of EAPs Submitted by Overseas Posts

The FAH directs DS to review each EAP submitted by an overseas post during the annual EAP review cycle to ensure that EAPs include updated information needed by State headquarters and other agencies to monitor or assist in responding to emergency situations at posts.22 To conduct these annual reviews, DS Emergency Plans Review Officers in Washington use a list of 27 key EAP sections that the Emergency Plans Review Office has determined should be updated each year.23 According to DS officials, Emergency Plans Review Officers spot check these 27 key EAP sections to review and approve each EAP. In addition, DS officials told us that Review Officers consider forms included in key EAP sections that they spot check to meet the annual update requirement if the forms were updated up to 3 years prior to the check.24

DS does not document its annual EAP review process. We requested the results of the Emergency Plans Review Officer reviews, including data on who conducted them and what deficiencies, if any, were found. Federal internal control standards call for agency management to evaluate performance and hold individuals accountable for their internal control responsibilities.25 However, DS was unable to provide copies of the reviews completed because the Emergency Plans Review Officers do not document these results.

Emergency Action Plans Are Viewed As Lengthy and Cumbersome Documents That Are Not Readily Usable in Emergency Situations

While officials from State headquarters and all six posts we met with told us that EAPs are not readily usable in emergency situations, officials at five of the six posts we met with also said there is value for post staff to participate in the process of updating EAPs to prepare for emergencies. The process of updating the EAP, they noted, includes reviewing applicable checklists and contact lists before an emergency occurs, which can help post staff be better prepared in the event of an emergency. Officials at two of the six posts we met with also observed that EAPs contain large amounts of guidance because it is easier for responsible staff at post to complete required updates to their specific sections if all the guidance they need is directly written into each EAP.

The GAO reviewers were told that EAPs are often more than 800 pages long. “Our review of a nongeneralizable sample of 20 EAPs confirmed this; the 20 EAPs in our sample ranged from 913 to 1,356 pages long,” the report said.

One other footnote says that “while each major section, annex, and appendix of an EAP had its own table of contents, the full EAP lacked a single, comprehensive table of contents or index.”

A new system sometime this year?

The State Department is reportedly in the process of developing a new electronic system for overseas posts to draft and update their EAPs to address issues with the current system, according to State headquarters officials. According to the report, the State Department plans to launch the new system in the second half of 2017.

Absent a functioning lessons learned process …

The GAO reviewers talk about lessons not learned:

We learned of several challenges that posts faced in different evacuations in discussions with officials from the six posts with whom we met. Different posts mentioned various challenges, including disorganized evacuation logistics and transportation, unclear communication with local staff, confusion surrounding the policy for evacuating pets, problems with shipment and delivery of personal effects, difficulty tracking the destination of staff who were relocated, poor communication with senior State leadership regarding the post’s evacuation status, difficulties getting reimbursement for lodging or personal expenses related to the evacuation, and other similar challenges.

Absent a functioning lessons learned process, State’s ability to identify lessons learned and to share best practices from staff that have experienced evacuations may be constrained.

Back in 2009, Rep Howard Berman sponsored H.R. 2410 during the 111th Congress to provide for the establishment of a Lessons Learned Center for the State Department and USAID under the Under Secretary for Management.  That bill made no specific provision as to staff composition of the Center or its funding, and it also died in committee (H.R. 2410: Lessons Learned Center, Coming Soon?).

In 2016, the State Department and the Foreign Service Institute marked the opening (reportedly after two years of preparation) of its Center for the Study of the Conduct of Diplomacy. Then D/Secretary Tony Blinken said that the Center ensures “that we apply the lessons of the past to our conduct and actions in the future.” Some media outlet called it a ‘lessons learned’ center but its aim is on the study and analysis of diplomatic best practices to study how to effectively apply policy.

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