American Firefighters Killed in Air Tanker Crash in Australia Bushfire

 

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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

 

 

UK Charges USG Spouse Anne Sacoolas in Harry Dunn’s Car Crash Death

 

We previously posted in early October that an American diplomat’s wife suspected of involvement in a fatal crash that killed 19-year old Harry Dunn in Croughton, in central England has left the UK under diplomatic immunity (see U.S. Diplomatic Spouse Suspect in Fatal Traffic Collision Departs UK Under Diplomatic Immunity).
The spouse previously identified in media reports as Anne Sacoolas was charged on December 20 with “causing death by dangerous driving.”
UK Chief Crown Prosecutor Janine Smith, said: “Following the death of Harry Dunn in Northamptonshire, the Crown Prosecution Service has today authorised Northamptonshire Police to charge Anne Sacoolas with causing death by dangerous driving.”  She also announced that “Now that the CPS has authorised Northamptonshire Police to charge Anne Sacoolas we have started extradition proceedings.”
    • Anne Sacoolas (28/08/1977) has been charged with causing death by dangerous driving in relation to the death of Harry Dunn outside RAF Croughton on 27 August 2019. Extradition proceedings are now underway
    • Our guidance on extradition proceedings can be found here: https://www.cps.gov.uk/legal-guidance/extradition
The Daily Mail reports that Sacoolas, 42, the wife of a US intelligence officer (assigned to RAF Croughton) was twice interviewed by Northamptonshire Police – once on the day after the crash, and on another occasion by officers who travelled to the US.
The Dunn family’s lawyer says that their “case in the judicial review is that Anne Sacoolas never has immunity as the secret UK-US agreement for RAF Croughton did not grant it and in any case under international law/prerogative powers it is not possible to grant family members more immunities than the actual diplomat.”
The State Department and Sacoolas’ lawyer have both issued statements to the press (see below).

 

 

@StateDept Plans 28% Staff Reduction For US Mission Iraq By May 2020

 

Via CNN:

The State Department plans to dramatically downsize the number of American personnel in Iraq, according to a memo sent to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and obtained by CNN.

The document, dated December 6 and sent by Bureau of Legislative Affairs Assistant Secretary Mary Elizabeth Taylor to committee Chairman Jim Risch, an Idaho Republican, outlines plans to reduce staffing levels at US Mission Iraq by 28% by the end of May 2020.

The reduction would mean 114 fewer people at the US Embassy in Baghdad, 15 fewer people at the Baghdad Diplomatic Support Center and eight fewer people at Consulate General Erbil. In addition to the reduction in State Department personnel, the cuts would include Defense Department and US Agency for International Development personnel.
[…]
A senior State Department official told CNN that the decision was driven by leadership at State collectively and added that they think people at US Mission Iraq could be targeted. The official said they are already more cautious about deploying US officials into the field. The official said the Trump administration is seeking to reduce potential security concerns and increase military force with the deployment of more troops to the region.
FP has the following:

The U.S. Mission in Iraq will reduce the number of staff at its embassy, diplomatic support center, and consulate in Erbil in Northern Iraq from 486 to 349, a 28 percent decrease, by the end of May 2020. The majority of the staff leave will come from the State Department, but other government agencies, including the Defense Department and U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), will also cut the size of their staff at the embassy, as the document shows.

Foreign Policy posted the Iraq drawdown document sent to SFRC Chair Jim Risch here. The number in the notification includes direct hire personnel, personal services contractors, and third country nationals. What it does not include is life support staff.
Back in 2010, we posted US Embassy Baghdad: The “civilianization” of the U.S. presence in Iraq and its peskiest details.  At that time, State/OIG notes:

The number of security and life support personnel required to maintain this limited substantive staff is huge: 82 management, 2,008 security, 157 aviation, and 1,085 life support personnel. In other words, depending on the definition of support staff, it takes a minimum of 15 and possibly up to 60 security and life support staff to support one substantive direct-hire position. To put this into perspective, a quick calculation of similar support ratios at three major embassies (Beijing, Cairo, and New Delhi) shows an average of four substantive officers to every three support staff (4:3) in contrast to 1:15 to 1:60 in Iraq.

So if the staff reduction is approximately 135, what does that mean in reduction of life support staffing level? CNN reports that the staff reductions was “driven by leadership at State collectively …. they think people at US Mission Iraq could be targeted”.  See OSAC – 2019 Crime and Safety Report – Iraq – Baghdad.pdf 
Related posts:

Turkish Court Rules to Keep USG Employee Metin Topuz in Jail

 

Reuters reported on December 11, that a Turkish court ruled that U.S. Consulate General Istanbul employee, Metin Topuz remain jail “as his trial on espionage charges continues.”
Reuters previously reported in September that the lawyers for Metin Topuz applied in January to the European Court of Human Rights and that  the ECHR has accepted the application.
The AP previously reported that Topuz began working at the consulate in 1982 as a switchboard operator and was promoted to work as an assistant and translator to the DEA’s American personnel in Turkey a decade later.
Topuz was first arrested in October 2017 and has now been incarcerated for over two years. He is still an employee of the U.S. Government. We’ve been wondering what’s going to happen to him. There’ll be another hearing in March. And on and on it goes? Until when?
The State Department has previously updated its Foreign Affairs Manual in 2017 which provides the terms and conditions for authorizing compensation payments for current and former locally employed (LE) staff who are/were imprisoned by foreign governments as a result of their employment by the United States Government.
So for “amount of benefit” which applies to locally employed staff at State and All Agencies under Chief of Mission Authority (includes DEA):

a. State:  Compensation may not exceed an amount that the State Deputy Assistant Secretary for HR determines to approximate the salary and benefits to which an employee or former employee would have been entitled had the individual remained working during the period of such imprisonment.

b. All other agencies:  Compensation may not exceed an amount that the agency head determines to approximate the salary and benefits to which an employee or former employee would have been entitled had the individual remained working during the period of such imprisonment.

c.  Once the compensation amount has been set, each agency will deny or reduce this compensation by the amount of any other relief received by the employee or other claimant, such as through private legislation enacted by the Congress.

Under the section of “other benefits”:

Any period of imprisonment for which an employee is compensated under this section shall be considered for purposes of any other employee benefit to be a period of employment by the U.S. Government, with the following exceptions:

(1)  A period of imprisonment shall not be creditable toward Civil Service retirement unless the employee was covered by the U.S. Civil Service Retirement and Disability System during the period of U.S. Government employment last preceding the imprisonment, or the employee qualifies for annuity benefits by reason of other services; and/or

(2)  A period of imprisonment shall not be considered for purposes of workers’ compensation under Subchapter I of Chapter 81 of Title 5, U.S.C., unless the individual was employed by the U.S. Government at the time of imprisonment.

Just pause and think about this for a moment.  Local employees are typically are not paid in U.S. dollars but paid in local compensation plans/currencies. The United States Government will only pay the amount that the employee would have been entitled to if she were at work (and not in prison). Were Congress to allocate any compensation, USG will deny or reduce the amount claimed beyond the approximate salary.
So compensated for eight hours a day considered a workweek but none for weekends and 16 hours a day spent incarcerated and away from families or being slammed around by prison hosts? (A former Turkish official assigned to NATO arrested and accused as a “Feto” member spoke of tortures and show trials).
Wow!  This is breathtaking and full of heart, we wanna scream.
Also with very few exceptions, most locally employed staff are not covered by U.S. Civil Service retirement. But former USG local employees who gets in the cross-hairs of their governments and imprisoned due to their employment with the U.S. Government, their imprisonment “shall not be considered for purposes of workers’ compensation”. That only applies if they are employed by the USG at the time of imprisonment.
State/HR’s Overseas Employment should be proud of that ‘taking care of local employees’ award.

 

Related posts:

 

Hatch Act With AFSA, December 3, 2019

 

Via afsa.org:

We are now one year away from the 2020 Presidential election – the perfect time to review the provisions of the Hatch Act. If you are uncertain about how the Hatch Act applies to Foreign Service members in Washington and overseas you are probably not alone.

On December 3, come to AFSA headquarters (across Virginia Avenue from the 21st Street entrance to the State Department) to have pizza and drinks and a frank discussion on the Hatch Act. Our presenters will be Ana Galindo-Marrone from the Office of Special Counsel (OSC), Kathleen Murphy from State’s Legal Advisor, and Deputy General Counsel Raeka Safai from AFSA’s Labor Management office. All AFSA members from all Foreign Service agencies are welcome.

For this event to be as useful as possible to our members, we are inviting questions in advance so the speakers can address them in their presentations. There will also be a live question and answer session after the presentations. The presentation will cover traditional area of political activity covered by the Hatch Act and will focus on the Hatch Act and social media as well.

Click here to register for the event. To send in a question you would like addressed in the presentations, please send the question to Sam Miglani at afsaintern@afsa.org with the email title “Hatch Act Topic.” We will try to incorporate as many of your questions into the presentation material as we can.

This event will be recorded and made available for online viewing at www.afsa.org/video. For those who prefer gluten-free refreshments, we will have gluten-free pizza available. See you there!

#

 

Career SES Donald Wright – From HHS to US Embassy Tanzania

 

On Sept 30, 2019, the WH announced the president’s intent to nominate Donald Wright of Virginia, to be Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the United States of America to the United Republic of Tanzania.

Don J. Wright, M.D., MPH, a career member of the Senior Executive Service, is Deputy Assistant Secretary for Health and Director of the Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion at the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS).  His career at HHS includes service as Acting Assistant Secretary for Health and Acting Executive Director of the President’s Council on Sports, Fitness, and Nutrition.  Dr. Wright developed and implemented the National Action Plan to Reduce Healthcare Associated Infections and Healthy People 2020, the Nation’s framework for disease prevention and health promotion initiatives.  Before joining the government as Director of the Office of Occupational Medicine at the Department of Labor, he was a clinician in Texas for 17 years.  Dr. Wright received his B.A. at Texas Tech University in Lubbock, Texas, and his M.D. at the University of Texas Medical Branch, Galveston, Texas.  He received an MPH at the Medical College of Wisconsin in Wauwatosa.  He was honored by the American College of Preventive Medicine in 2019.

If confirmed, Mr. Wright would succeed Mark Bradley Childress (1959–), a non-career appointee who served as Ambassador to Tanzania from May 22, 2014–October 25, 2016.   Senior FSO Inmi Patterson has been Chargé d’Affaires since June 2017.

Office of Special Counsel Announces Suspensions of Two Federal Employees Over Hatch Act Violations

 

On October 18, the Office of Special Counsel announced disciplinary actions imposed on two federal employees working for the Defense Logistics Agency (DLA) for Hatch Act violations.

​The U.S. Office of Special Counsel (OSC) today announced significant discipline imposed on two federal employees working for the Defense Logistics Agency (DLA) who engaged in prohibited political activity in violation of the Hatch Act.

One DLA employee violated the Hatch Act on numerous occasions by sending partisan political emails and making political Facebook posts while at work.  The employee also used Facebook to solicit political contributions nearly two dozen times in violation of the Act.  During OSC’s investigation, the employee admitted he was aware of the Hatch Act and that his supervisor had counseled him about the Act prior to engaging in the prohibited activity.  In a settlement agreement, the employee agreed to a 90-day suspension without pay.

Another DLA employee violated the Hatch Act by displaying the words “Vote Republican” on a PowerPoint presentation that he gave while on duty and in the federal workplace.  The employee had received extensive Hatch Act training and was explicitly told prior to giving the presentation that certain images he planned to use, including the “Vote Republican” image, would be problematic.  In a settlement agreement, the employee agreed to a 30-day suspension without pay for his violation.

“With election season drawing near, it is critical that federal employees understand and abide by their Hatch Act obligations,” said Special Counsel Henry J. Kerner. “As demonstrated in these two cases, there are significant repercussions for federal employees who violate the Hatch Act.”

Note that last June, the U.S. Office of Special Counsel (OSC) sent a report to President Donald J. Trump finding that Counselor to the President Kellyanne Conway violated the Hatch Act on numerous occasions by disparaging Democratic presidential candidates while speaking in her official capacity during television interviews and on social media. “Given that Ms. Conway is a repeat offender and has shown disregard for the law, OSC recommends that she be removed from federal service.”
On June 13, the U.S. Office of Special Counsel (OSC) said it “respects the Office of White House Counsel but respectfully disagrees with its position, and will not withdraw its Report​ sent to the President today finding numerous Hatch Act violations made by Counselor to the President Kellyanne Conway (OSC File Nos. HA-19-0631 and HA-19-3395).”

SFRC Ranking Member Menendez Calls For OSC Hatch Act Review Into Pompeo’s Kansas Travel

 

 

On October 29, the Ranking Member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Senator Bob Menendez (D-N.J.), sent a letter to the U.S. Office of Special Counsel (OSC), requesting a review to determine whether Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has violated the Hatch Act, a federal law passed in 1939, which limits certain political activities of federal employees. According to OSC, the law’s purposes are “to ensure that federal programs are administered in a nonpartisan fashion, to protect federal employees from political coercion in the workplace, and to ensure that federal employees are advanced based on merit and not based on political affiliation.”​​​​ ​​

I write to request an immediate review and assessment of the Secretary of State’s compliance with the Hatch Act, 5 U.S.C. §§ 7321-7326.
[..]
Since March 2019, the Secretary has taken three official trips to Kansas, apparently at the expense of the Department of State. During the latest trip, from October 24 to 25, 2019, the Secretary visited the Wichita State University Tech National Center for Aviation Training, participated in a workforce development roundtable, visited Textron Aviation Longitude and Latitude Production, and met with students from Wichita State University.  

In an interview, he refused to discuss matters related to Ukraine, insisting he was “here today to talk about workforce development. I came here today to talk about the great things that are going on here in Kansas.” The events in Kansas were aimed largely at promoting the President’s “Pledge to American Workers,” which has no discernible relation to the Department of State. According to The Wall Street Journal, he also “discussed the U.S. Senate race in Kansas” with Charles Koch, the head of Koch Industries, and former top contributor to his political campaigns, as well as backer of Pompeo’s prior business.  Textron Inc., the parent company of Textron Aviation, was also a major contributor to then-Congressman Pompeo’s political campaigns. 

For months, public reports have persisted that the Secretary was considering running for U.S. Senate in Kansas.  Many in Kansas perceive his appearances in the state to be a de facto campaign effort.  Indeed, an October 25, 2019 Kansas City Star editorial titled “Mike Pompeo, either quit and run for U.S. Senate in Kansas or focus on your day job,” seems to indicate his actions are already being construed as evidence of a possible candidacy by members of the press and the public in Kansas.  And following his trip, the Department of State’s official twitter handle posted a workforce and Kansas-centric video montage of the Secretary’s visit, which appears to have no nexus to the Department’s official work.    

Secretary Pompeo is not any federal employee. Rather, he is one of the most prominent members of the President’s cabinet. He appears frequently on TV and for interviews, and, as is true for many Secretaries of State, is known and recognized by the American public. Thus, it is even more crucial that he and the Department maintain a clear line between his actions as a federal employee and steward of the U.S. government, and any efforts that could be perceived as political in nature or laying the groundwork for potential campaign activity. I therefore ask that you review his travel and his interactions in Kansas closely, and determine whether any violations have occurred or additional guidance to the Department or the Secretary may be warranted.

The full letter is available to read here.