Peace Corps Suspends Global Operations, Evacuates All Volunteers #COVID19

 

Advertisements

OPM Issues Guidance For Maximum Telework Flexibilities, Employees to Seek Direction From Agency Heads

 

On March 15, Acting OPM Director Russell  T. Bought issued an “Updated Guidance for the National Capital Region on Telework Flexibilities in Response to Coronavirus”:

In light of the evolving situation concerning the corona virus (“COVID-19”) and the National Capitol Region (NCR) experiencing community transmission, the Administration wants to ensure that department and agency leaders assertively safeguard the health and safety of their workforce while remaining open to serve the American people and conduct mission critical functions.

All Federal Executive Branch departments and agencies within the National Capital Region (NCR), consistent with OMB’s recent guidance (0MB M-20-13), are asked to offer maximum telework flexibilities to all current telework eligible employees, consistent with operational needs of the departments and agencies as determined by their heads. In addition, we encourage agencies to use all existing authorities to offer telework to additional employees, to the extent their work could be telework enabled. If employees are not eligible for telework, agency heads have the discretion to offer weather and safety leave, or the agency’s equivalent, including for employees who may not have been considered “at higher risk” under 0MB M-20- 13. Furthermore, agency heads should develop an operational plan that maximizes resources and functional areas to most safely and efficiently deliver these mission-critical functions and other Government services (including but not limited to staggered work schedules and other operational mitigation measures).

See OMB Guidance M-20-15 (https://www.whitehouse.gov/wp-content/uploads/2020/03/M20-15-Telework-Guidance-OMB.pdf)
Over a week ago, we understand that State/M Bulatao asked employees with mobile/remote access to test their remote access capabilities by participating in a worldwide remote log-in exercise.
This OPM guidance is only for the National Capital Region (NCR) but related to this, a concerned source recently told us that many State Department management platforms are “still not cloud based” or “not outsourced to regional centers”, and so for overseas employees, many locally employed staff must come into work.

 

Report: Covid19-Infected Amcits From #DiamondPrincess Flown Home Against CDC Advice

 

Via WaPo, February 20, 2020:

In Washington, where it was still Sunday afternoon, a fierce debate broke out: The State Department and a top Trump administration health official wanted to forge ahead. The infected passengers had no symptoms and could be segregated on the plane in a plastic-lined enclosure. But officials at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention disagreed, contending they could still spread the virus. The CDC believed the 14 should not be flown back with uninfected passengers.
[…]
The State Department won the argument. But unhappy CDC officials demanded to be left out of the news release that explained that infected people were being flown back to the United States — a move that would nearly double the number of known coronavirus cases in this country.
[…]

During one call, the CDC’s principal deputy director, Anne Schuchat, argued against taking the infected Americans on the plane, according to two participants. She noted the U.S. government had already told passengers they would not be evacuated with anyone who was infected or who showed symptoms. She was also concerned about infection control.

Anthony Fauci, head of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, who was also on the calls, recalled saying her points were valid and should be considered.

But Robert Kadlec, assistant secretary for preparedness and response for the Department of Health and Human Services and a member of the coronavirus task force, pushed back: Officials had already prepared the plane to handle passengers who might develop symptoms on the long flight, he argued. The two Boeing 747s had 18 seats cordoned off with 10-foot-high plastic on all four sides. Infectious disease doctors would also be onboard.

“We felt like we had very experienced hands in evaluating and caring for these patients,” Kadlec said at a news briefing Monday.

The State Department made the call. The 14 people were already in the evacuation pipeline and protocol dictated they be brought home, said William Walters, director of operational medicine for the State Department.

As the State Department drafted its news release, the CDC’s top officials insisted that any mention of the agency be removed.

Read the full report below.
Anyone know if the State Department has a Task Force for Covid-19 already? It looks like U.S. citizens in Hubei Province or those with information about U.S. citizens in Hubei are advised to contact the U.S. Embassy or the State Department at the same email address: CoronaVirusEmergencyUSC@state.gov.
Excerpt from State Dept Special Briefing on Repatriation ofo U.S. Citizens from the Diamond Princess Cruise Ship, February 17, 2020:

OPERATOR: The line of Alex Horton from Washington Post has been opened. Please, go ahead.

QUESTION: Yeah, thanks, everyone, for jumping on this call on a holiday. So I was curious about when discussion with the CDC was executed to make this call. Based on their press release a few days ago, they said there would be screening to prevent symptomatic travelers from departing Japan. The press release you guys issued is very carefully worded when you said, “After consulting HHS, the State Department made the decision to allow those individuals to go on,” those 14.

So is there daylight with CDC and HHS in this decision by you guys to send them forward, and what were some of their objections that you – that you seem to have overturned?

DR WALTERS: This is Dr. Walters. What I’d say is that the chief of mission, right, through the U.S. embassy, is ultimately the head of all executive branch activities. So when we are very careful about taking responsibility for the decision, the State Department is – that is the embassy. The State Department was running the aviation mission, and the decision to put the people into that isolation area initially to provide some time for discussion and for onward, afterwards, is a State Department decision.

There is a – I think where you might see the appearance of a discrepancy is in the definition of symptomatic. Symptomatic – when we use the word “symptomatic,” we’re talking about coughing and sneezing and fever and body aches. Those are symptoms, all right? And as Dr. Kadlec laid out and I reinforced, each one of these 338 [4] people was evaluated by an experienced medical provider, and none of them had symptoms.

Once they were on the bus, we received information about a lab test that had been done two or three days earlier. But it is, in fact – it is a fact that no symptomatic patients – no one with a fever or a cough or lower respiratory tract infection or body aches, or anything that would lead one to believe this person is infected with the virus was – none of that was in place before – at the time a decision was made to evacuate these folks.

 

Trump Installs U.S. Ambassador to Germany Richard Grenell as Acting Director of National Intelligence #triplehatted

 

DynCorp Pays $1.5M to Resolve Kickback Allegations in Baghdad, Iraq

 

This is a follow-up to a 2017 case about a former government contractor sentenced to four years in prison for his role in a government contract kickback scheme that caused a loss of more than $3.4 million to the U.S. Department of State.

According to court documents, Wesley Aaron Struble, 49, a U.S. citizen of Batangas, Philippines, engaged in a conspiracy to violate the Anti-Kickback Act in 2011 and 2012 while employed in Iraq as a government contractor. Initially employed by a business identified in court documents as Company B, Struble learned that another business, identified in court documents as Company A, was seeking a lease of real property for use related to a U.S. Department of State contract. Struble knew that Company B was paying approximately $124,000 per month to a third business, identified in court documents as Company C, for a lease of real property. According to court documents, Struble became a manager for Company A, and together with another manager for Company A, engaged in a conspiracy with associates of Company C to make the lease of property available to Company A at an inflated rate of $665,000 per month.

(See That time when a real property lease in Iraq jumped from $124,000/mo to $665,000/mo).
Last month, USDOJ announced that DynCorp Pays $1.5M to Resolve Kickback Allegations:

ALEXANDRIA, Va. – DynCorp International, LLC (DynCorp), located in McLean, has agreed to pay $1.5 million to settle civil fraud allegations involving two former DynCorp officials, Wesley Aaron Struble and Jose Rivera, who solicited and accepted kickbacks from an Iraqi subcontractor in connection with DynCorp’s lease of property for its operations in Baghdad, Iraq on behalf of the U.S. Department of State.

Struble and Rivera previously pleaded guilty in the Eastern District of Virginia to violating the Anti-Kickback Act for their role in soliciting and accepting at least $390,000 in cash kickbacks from the Al-Qarat Company in exchange for influencing DynCorp’s lease of property in Baghdad at a lease amount higher than the previous lease. The lease costs were included with services for international civilian policing that DynCorp billed under a U.S. Department of State contract in 2011 and 2012.

The settlement resolves the alleged liability of DynCorp for violation of civil penalties under the Anti-Kickback Act and the civil False Claims Act arising out of Struble’s and Rivera’s fraudulent conduct while employed by DynCorp.

The resolutions obtained in this matter were the result of a coordinated effort between the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Virginia, the Department of State Office of Inspector General, and the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

The matter was investigated by Assistant U.S. Attorney Christine Roushdy. The civil claims settled by this False Claims Act agreement are allegations only; there has been no determination of civil liability.

The original announcement is available here.

@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.

 

@StateDept Prepares to Evacuate USCG Wuhan Personnel on 1/28, Limited Seats Available to Private U.S. Citizens

 

On January 23, the State Department issued a “Level 2: Exercise Increased Caution” Travel Advisory for China, which includes a “Level 4: Do not travel to Hubei province, China due to novel coronavirus first identified in Wuhan, China.” The Travel Advisory also notes that “on January 23, 2020, the Department of State ordered the departure of all non-emergency U.S. personnel and their family members. The U.S. government has limited ability to provide emergency services to U.S. citizens in Hubei province.”
On January 26, the State Department announced that it is making arrangements to evacuate personnel from the US Consulate General in Wuhan to San Francisco, CA on Tuesday, January 28. There will be a single flight with limited seating capacity on a reimbursable basis for U.S. citizens. U.S. citizens interested are advised to contact BeijingACS@state.gov with passport details. The announcement also states that “… if there is insufficient ability to transport everyone who expresses interest, priority will be given to individuals at greater risk from coronavirus.”
U.S. Mission China is one of the largest operations in the world. It includes the embassy in Beijing and consulates general in Chengdu, Guangzhou, Shanghai, Shenyang, and Wuhan. We understand that Consulate General Wuhan was expected to open for American citizen services and nonimmigrant visa services in 2018 but its website currently says:

The U.S. Consulate General in Wuhan is not yet open for consular services.  Our new office is currently under construction.  Construction is scheduled for completion in 2020.

OIG inspection of US Mission China notes that as of May 2017, the mission had representatives from 33 U.S. Government agencies and an authorized staff of 729 U.S. direct-hire employees and 168 American locally hired employees and 1,807 non-American locally employed (LE) staff members.
We’re not sure at this time how many direct-hire U.S. employee and family members are located in Wuhan or how many emergency staffers would be left at post. USCG Wuhan website notes that there is a consul general and his wife, a public affairs officer (family?) and a Department of Commerce’s commercial service office (officer?) at post. We will update this when we know more.
The travel advisory issued last Thursday indicate that there was an “ordered departure” issued for non-emergency personnel and their family members. The Health Alert issued by Consular Affairs on Sunday says that the State Department is evacuating its personnel stationed in Wuhan; we’re not sure if that means all its personnel or just the non-emergency personnel and family members. There is no notice at this time that USCG Wuhan is suspending operation or on temporary closure.

 

Related items:

American Firefighters Killed in Air Tanker Crash in Australia Bushfire

 

GAO Report Cites @StateDept’s Obstruction in Ukraine Security Funds Review

 

Via GAO:

We also question actions regarding funds appropriated to State for security assistance to Ukraine. In a series of apportionments in August of 2019, OMB withheld from obligation some foreign military financing (FMF) funds for a period of six days. These actions may have delayed the obligation of $26.5 million in FMF funds. See OMB Response, at 3. An additional $141.5 million in FMF funds may have been withheld while a congressional notification was considered by OMB
[…]
Letter from General Counsel, GAO, to Secretary of State and Acting Legal Adviser, State (Nov. 25, 2019). State provided us with limited information.
[…]
As a result, we will renew our request for specific information from State and OMB regarding the potential impoundment of FMF funds in order to determine whether the Administration’s actions amount to a withholding subject to the ICA, and if so, whether that withholding was proper. We will continue to pursue this matter.

Congressional #Iran Briefing: Who Got Shushed, Who Got Mad