Tillerson’s Staff Reduction Plan Threatens Gains in Bridging @StateDept Language Gaps

Posted: 4:03 am ET
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The ability to speak and read foreign languages is a key Foreign Service competency. All FS Officers (Generalists) and some FS Specialists are required to reach general professional (3/3) proficiency in at least one foreign language during their careers. In 2016, the State Department said that its  success in staffing positions with officers with the required language proficiency was due, in great part, to the increased resources received in the Diplomacy 3.0 initiative.

Last year, the agency developed a plan to continue to bridge its language gaps — to “continue to expand the training complement, as resources are made available to enhance foreign language skills.” The Department said that it’s language requirements “are much greater today than before 9/11″ but it also noted that the budget environment threatens to reduce the significant progress the Department has made. Even before Rex Tillerson happened to the State Department, the agency already warned last year that “without funds to hire staff above attrition, the Department is not likely to make significant progress in increasing the number of LDPs [language designated positions] filled with fully qualified officers.”

A good number of our readers already know about language training in the State Department, but we also have readers who are not familiar with it, so this part is an explainer. The State Department’s Foreign Service Institute (FSI) grouped languages into four broad categories based on their difficulty to learn:

Category I Languages include the most English-like or the easiest languages for native speakers of English to learn. Included in this category are the Romance languages, such as Spanish and Portuguese, as well as other Western European languages, such as Swedish and Dutch. On average, these languages require 24 to 30 weeks of full-time study to achieve the 3/3 proficiency level.

Category II Languages generally take 36 weeks of full-time study to achieve the 3/3 proficiency level. Included in this category are Indonesian, Swahili, and German, among others.

Category III Languages generally require 44 weeks of full-time study to achieve a 3/3. These languages are substantially harder to learn because they are less like English. Among the Category III languages are Hindi, Dari, Persian, Russian, and Urdu.

Category IV Languages are the most difficult languages for English speakers to learn. This category includes Arabic, Chinese, Japanese, and Korean, which require training for roughly 88 weeks, including a ten-month language immersion in country, to obtain the general professional (3/3) proficiency level.

The general professional (3/3) proficiency level means being able to use the language with sufficient ability participate in most formal and informal discussion on practical, social, and professional topics. It means being able to conceptualize and hypothesize. An 0/0 in speaking/reading indicates only a cursory level knowledge of the language while a 5/5 proficiency means highly articulate, well-educated, native-speaker proficiency. If you want to send a diplomat to a radio station to better explain U.S. foreign policy to host country nationals, you don’t send somebody with “basic” language skills. If you send a DSS agent to a high threat post without appropriate language training, it can limit not just his/her communication with the local guard force but also situational awareness and his/her ability to protect the mission.

The State Department defines priority languages as languages that are of critical importance to U.S. foreign policy, languages that are experiencing severe shortages or staffing gaps, or present specific challenges in recruiting and training.  So for example, Mandarin Chinese, Dari, Farsi, Pashto, Hindi, Urdu, Korean, and Arabic—all are languages spoken in China, Iran, India, Korea, and throughout the Near East—and are considered priority languages.

It took the State Department 12 years to get from 303 to 475 Chinese Mandarin speakers. Persian-Iranian speakers increased from 14 in FY2003 to 44 in FY2015, an increase of 214.3%. Persian-Afghan speakers went from 12 in 2003 to 85 in 2015, a 608% increase. Hindi speakers went from 12 to 75 or a 525% increase. The State Department’s Arabic speakers increased 47% between 2003-2015, from 232 to 341. Let’s not forget Korean speakers, where State had 76 3/3 speakers in 2003 and 102 in 2015.

In 2013, State/OIG estimated training students to the 3/3 level in easier world languages such as Spanish can cost $105,000 while training students in hard languages such as Russian can cost $180,000. Training in super hard languages such as Chinese and Arabic can cost up to $480,000 per student.  Students learning super hard languages to the 3/3 level generally spend one year domestically at the Foreign Service Institute (FSI) and then a second year at an overseas training facility.  The OIG’s estimates were reportedly developed based on the FSI weekly tuition rate, the standard number of weeks for 3/3 raining, the salary of a midlevel FSO, benefits based on Congressional Budget Office  figures, and per diem based on 14FAM 575.3 and Federal Travel Regulations. Cost estimates for super-hard languages were developed using the above methodology for the  domestic portion of training and data provided byEmbassy Beijing and NEA and data in State’s standard overseas support cost model for the overseas  portion of language training.

Is we use the OIG cost estimate of $480K to train a student in super hard language, it means U.S. taxpayers already spent $48M to train 102 diplomats to speak Korean.  We don’t know who are planning to take the buyouts, but let’s say for the sake of argument that all 102 Korean speakers take Tillerson’s buyouts. That’s $48M down the drain. How about the $163M taxpayers already spent on 341 Arabic speakers? Or the $228M spent to train 475 Chinese Mandarin speakers? Or $84M already expended the last twelve years to train 175 Japanese speakers?

What happens when they leave? Does the State Department then hire contractors on an “as needed” basis to track and report the goings on in the Korean peninsula and everywhere else where the U.S is planning to shrink its presence?

It is important to underscore that these gains in the Foreign Service’s language capacity did not happen overnight. And when people leave, as projected in Mr. Tillerson’s reported plan, replenishing their ranks, skills and experience will not happen overnight. Congress can appropriate new funds in the future, of course, but there is no currency that can buy the U.S. time.

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@StateDept Redesign Briefing Presents Five “Guiding Beliefs” and Five “Key Outcomes” #OMG

Posted: 2:24 am ET
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The State Department is still in the midst of its redesign exercise. We understand that a couple of weeks ago, a State Department top official did a redesign presentation to ranking officials of the agency. This must be part of Phase 3 of the redesign efforts to communicate the plan to the employees and external stakeholders. This phase also includes the implementation of “functional projects” that reportedly supports the “Comprehensive Redesign” (we don’t yet know what are those projects, but we’ve been hearing about purported “quick wins”). Further, this phase reportedly includes the “development of an atmosphere of culture change.” We’re still waiting to learn how they’re gonna do cultural change in Foggy Bottom.

(See Why Tillerson Not Sullivan Needs the Town Hall: Morale Is Bad, “S” is Accountable)

The presentation notes first that “Diplomacy and development will become even more important as global power dynamics continue to change.” (Wait — a newbie at the State Department told diplomats and development professionals with decades of experience that diplomacy and development will become even more important even as the agency is planning to slash its funding and staff?).

Did anyone laugh out loud during the presentation?

The presentation then explains the State Department and USAID’s “Guiding Beliefs” for the Tillerson redesign.  There are reportedly five of these beliefs:

➨ 1. We will each need to communicate directly and continually engage with our domestic and global stakeholders regarding our purposes, missions, ambitions, and achievements.

➨ 2. We will each need the agility to adopt state-of-the-art information technologies and to adapt to rapidly changing technological advancements that are driving broader changes in the world.

➨ 3. We will each need to modernize our workforce systems (including recruitment, training, and performance management to maintain passionate, top-quality, and more agile workforces).

➨ 4. Our respective decision-making will need to take advantage of advancements in knowledge management and in data collection, analytics, and visualization.

➨ 5. We will need to focus on our respective comparative advantages as we address threats and leverage opportunities posed by the growing power and influence of emerging states, non-state actors, civil society, the private sector, and individuals.

All nice words. And 1) they can start communicating with their employees starting with S, the chief sponsor of this change; 2) money, money, money ; 3) uh-oh; 4) darnit, darnit, science! and 5) boo!

The second presentation point notes that “global competition for economic, financial, natural, human, and technological resources, and changes in society and social structures (brought on by migration, climate change, large scale unemployment, social isolation, wealth disparities, and similar shifts) will create opportunities for inter- and intra-state conflict and/or cooperation.”

No. Kidding. Is this Foggy Bottom’s kindergarten class?

And third, that “growing reliance on data and technology will increase vulnerabilities at the micro and macro levels, requiring new approaches to risk mitigation at all levels of government and among all elements of society both in the United States and abroad.”

Who. Knew?

The presentation also talks about the five key outcomes namely:

  • effective and strategic global leadership
  • maximizing the impact of foreign assistance
  • mission-driven, high performing, agile workforce
  • nimble and data informed decision making
  • mission enabling, world-class infrastructure support

Given that the State Department has now communicated the U.S. intent to withdraw from the Paris Agreement, our most favorite part in this list of outcomes gotta be “data informed decision making.”

The presentation also talks about “tranche goals” and “five outcome goals” — oops! Don’t look now! We’ve gone mighty dizzy.

But holy moly guacamole! Which intern should be sent to the Republic of Nambia for this BS?

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@StateDept: Ambassador Friedman’s comment “does not represent a shift in U.S. policy”

Posted: 4:25 am ET
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Via DPB:

QUESTION: And my other question pertaining to Ambassador David Friedman, he gave us an interview to the Jerusalem Post last week, last Friday.

MS NAUERT: Okay.

QUESTION: And he termed the Palestinian territories as allegedly occupied. Has there been any departure from the standard U.S. position that these territories are occupied?

MS NAUERT: Our position on that hasn’t changed. The comment does not represent a shift in U.S. policy.

QUESTION: Okay. But he is the ambassador of the United States of America.

MS NAUERT: His comment does not represent a shift in U.S. policy. Okay?

 

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@StateDept Appoints Andrew Schofer as U.S. Co-Chair of the OSCE Minsk Group #NagornoKarabakh

Posted: 12:06 am  ET
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On August 28, the State Department announced the appointment of career diplomat Andrew Schofer to be the next U.S. Co-Chair of the OSCE Minsk Group.

The United States is pleased to announce the appointment of Mr. Andrew Schofer as the next U.S. Co-Chair of the OSCE Minsk Group for Nagorno-Karabakh. Mr. Schofer brings extensive experience in Europe and International Organizations to the position, and most recently served as Chargé d’ Affaires, a.i. for the U.S. Mission to International Organizations in Vienna (UNVIE). From August 2015 until January 2017, he served as the Deputy Chief of Mission at UNVIE. From August 2014 to August 2015, he served as the Counselor for IAEA Affairs at UNVIE. Prior to his assignments in Vienna, Mr. Schofer served as Deputy Chief of Mission at the U.S. Embassy in Nicosia, Cyprus from 2011 to 2014, and has also worked overseas at the U.S. Embassies in Kuwait City, Kuwait; Manama, Bahrain; and Moscow, Russia. Mr. Schofer’s Washington assignments included postings on the Iraq Desk in the Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs, and as Special Assistant to the Under Secretary for Political Affairs, where he was primarily responsible for the Middle East and Counterterrorism portfolios.

The United States remains firmly committed to the Minsk Group Process and helping the sides reach a lasting and peaceful settlement to the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. As expressed in the June 19 and July 6 statements, the United States supports a just settlement that must be based on international law, which includes the Helsinki Final Act; in particular, the principles of non-use of force, territorial integrity, and self-determination. Andrew Schofer looks forward to helping the sides achieve this goal.

We have informed the governments of Armenia and Azerbaijan of Andrew Schofer’s appointment. Andrew Schofer will assume his new position effective immediately.

 

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POTUS Tweets About Wall During #Harvey, Reminds Us of Mexico’s Help During Katrina

Posted: 2:46 am  ET
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U.S. Mission Russia to Suspend Nonimmigrant Visa Operations Starting August 23

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The World Watches Another Trumpster Fire Week #WhatNowPublicDiplomacy?

Posted: 2:38 am ET
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Last June, USC’s Center on Public Diplomacy did a piece on Islamophobia & U.S. Public Diplomacy in the Trump Era. In another post on re-thinking social engagement, CPD writes that “in the age of Trump though, global organizations, especially those with American origins, must do all they can now to shore up their reputational capital and strengthen bonds of trust with the people they engage with and serve – customers, employees, influencers, citizens – around the world.” On Wednesday, USC Annenberg will host P.J. Crawley, former spox and Assistant Secretary of State for Public Affairs for a conversation on U.S. domestic politics and the future of America’s global leadership in the age of Trump.

Former FSO John Brown once wrote that at its best, public diplomacy “provides a truthful, factual exposition and explication of a nation’s foreign policy and way of life to overseas audiences,”  — how do you do that particularly after what happened last week? After a new underground railroad from the United States to Canada is widely reported to “escape a harsh new U.S. regime”?

Also a quick reminder that the State Department’s Under Secretary for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs (R) who leads in America’s public diplomacy outreach is currently vacant. Ambassador Bruce Wharton, the acting “R” retired in late July. There are no announced nominees for the undersecretary or for the assistant secretaries for the Bureau of Public Affairs (PA), Educational and Cultural Affairs (ECA), or for Special Envoy and Coordinator of the Global Engagement Center (GEC).

Some cartoonists below looking at the United States.

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Three Reasons For Sullivan’s Town Hall, Plus Feedback, and Some Re-Design Concerns

Posted: 4:30 am ET
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We recently blogged Why Tillerson Not Sullivan Needs the Town Hall: Morale Is Bad, “S” is Accountable.  We also posted our comments on Deputy Secretary Sullivan’s on-the-record briefing with the State Department Press Corps (see Deputy Secretary Sullivan’s Town Hall With @StateDept Employees Now in Gifs).

We now understand that Deputy Secretary Sullivan had three reasons for holding a town hall with State Department employees.  It appears like he missed some marks.

State/USAID full merger no longer in the planning?

The first reason for the town hall was reportedly to make clear to employees that for planning purposes there will not be a full merger between the State Department and USAID. All Working Groups (now known as “Workstreams”) involved in the redesign were previously instructed to assume that State and USAID will “remain separate” but be “mutually dependent” entities. That is, USAID will not be fully subsumed but it will also not be further separated from State. Our understanding it that the Working Groups would consider consolidation at the management and program levels if it is best or moving things from USAID or State depending on who has the expertise. The important point that folks expected Mr. Sullivan to clarify was to make clear that the full merger is no longer in the planning. Apparently, this he did not do.

Based on the on-the-record briefing with D/Secretary Sullivan, he only mentioned USAID once when he said, “Nothing’s off the table, everything is going to be evaluated by them, the Secretary has not given – other than a mandate to make a better State Department and USAID more efficient and effective for the 21st century, he’s not directed that any outcome result from this redesign.” During the town hall, he reportedly told attendees that “The redesign is not the dismantling of State and USAID.”  Expectant folks were  disappointed, and were perplexed why Mr. Sullivan did not mention that the full merger is no longer in the planning.

Preparation, Organization, Skepticism

The other two reasons were more challenging. One, he was supposed to impressed upon employees that the re-design process is “truly employee-led” and two, he was supposed to provide some motivation to the staff.

On the re-design, we understand that there are two issues. First, the issue with trust is reportedly a huge concern.  In addition, employees also believe that the contracted firm has more access to Secretary Tillerson than all of the current leadership.  The State Department leadership reportedly doesn’t understand why no one believes that the process isn’t rigged.  So, they do all these things to try and convince folks that is not the case but without much success. Latest examples are the town hall with inadequate answers, and a stakeholder meeting last week with NGOs who do business with State/USAID. Both did not go very well.  In the latter, the State Department representatives apparently tried to take a poll on foreign aid priorities. Sources told a reporter that the poll questions were dumb and the answer choices were often irrelevant. NGO representatives told the reporter that they felt like they were being talked down to and offered BS responses.

The second concern has to do with preparation and organization. Apparently USAID is seen as seeming more prepared and organized in these meetings and in the Workstreams. State reportedly appears seemingly scattered and State folks more likely to disagree with other State people.  At this time, we only know that career employees are in these working groups. We don’t know if there are political appointees working with them and what roles are played by the consulting firms.

Below are the short and the long bits on D’s town hall.

via tenor.com

 

Town Hall Feedback

One blog feedback we received: I was there and DS Sullivan might as well have not showed up. 80 percent of the questions seemed out of his league. Huge disappointment!”

One State Department employee told us he/she gave Deputy Secretary Sullivan a “B” for effort and style, and a “D” for substance, as there were too many questions that he could not answer. If the questions were collected from the Secretary’s Sounding Board, he should have been prepped better.

LGBT

We were informed that Mr. Sullivan did give a pretty good answer on diversity when he was asked if the Department was doing anything to help LGBT employees with the family member accreditation issue (now that State/HR has changed the Fair Share rule to 20% posts or greater, we’ve also learned that only 33% of posts are places where LGBT FSOs can serve accompanied by their families).

The Q&A from the town hall and a few comments in [brackets] below are provided anonymously through one of our contacts:

Re-design

Q: When will the redesign be complete? “There are a couple of steps in that process…when will we get to the point where the redesign is implemented that requires steps from Congress and OMB…as soon as we get clearance from OMB we will start…”

“The redesign is not the dismantling of State and USAID” [he really felt he had to say that out loud]. “Despite what you might read in the newspaper”[….fake news!!]

Future hiring

Q: AFSA: …We found the same thing Insigniam did – we love our jobs but are driven to distraction by onerous process…but as to the hiring freeze and the FS…because it’s an up or out system, we have a built-in RIF…so we are RIFing right now unless we are hiring…what can you tell us about hiring ELOs next year so we don’t repeat the mistakes of the past? “The issues you raise are important” [oh boy…] “that’s why we have ambassadors and career FSOs working on this in the working groups…it’s an important issue we’re working on.”

CA to DHS

Q: One recommendation from the listening tour report was to move CA to DHS? “Nothing is off the table – because this is a bottom up employee-led process, but I have told S how important CA is, it’s not his intent nor mine to move CA. But nothing is off the table.”

Lateral transfers

Q: Why are you preventing lateral moves for civil servants? He’s explaining the hiring freeze... “it’s not a sign of disrespect”. [OMG he just said] “I’ll give you two examples of great civil servants I know.”

Delegations of Authority

Q: On delegations to P – ability to act for S and D in their place – how do we do legal necessary things if you aren’t available? “This process is ongoing…we will ensure decision making is launched at the right level…” [whaaaaaaT?! In the meantime we are f*****g drowning!]
(DS NOTE: Oops! On July 31, Secretary Tillerson issued DA-245-2 from S to the Deputy Secretary (Sullivan); we have yet to see the DA from the Secretary to the Under Secretary for Political Affairs (Shannon). 
“S” Clearance for International Travel
Q: We have just been notified we need S’ clearance on all international travel…as you just said the survey mentioned so many of us mentioned the clearance process as onerous. “The means by which we authorize employees to travel is one of these issues that has been raised to me many times…I’m not completely familiar with the issue you raise…but what I can address is, delegations of authority, and the NYT said my authorities were removed because of something I did, but that’s not factually true…we found there are hundreds of delegations of authority and there’s no central way to keep track…but as to travel, I’ll have to get back to you…”
(DS NOTE: Guidance was issued Monday evening, August 7, that ALL overseas travel “to participate in events” must now be approved via action memo to the Secretary himself. It also requested a detailed budget breakdown of the trip and information on other participants. The same guidance was rescinded by Tuesday evening. On delegations of authority, the notion that there’s no way to track delegations of authority – that’s just incorrect. A/GIS/DIR maintains an electronic listing and database of all current and rescinded Department delegations on the A/GIS/DIR website). 
EFMs and hiring freeze

Q: Hiring freeze especially hard for EFMs. Will the freeze be reconsidered? “We will endeavor to lift the freeze as quickly as possible. In the interim there are waivers” [yeah but S insists on reading each waiver personally!!]

Vacancies

Q: You began your speech with how important Tom Shannon is, but there are a number of other people who could be helping you and poor Tom – the empty AS and under secretaries – why aren’t these being filled? (Applause) “There is no delay or freeze on nominating political appointees though many think there should be...[silence]...that’s a joke!” [Ugh.] “The process is underway, hasn’t gone as quickly as we’ve hoped but it’s underway…I think it’s gaining steam…”

 

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#TrumpChicken Thanks Putin For Kicking Out U.S.Mission Russia Staffers

Posted: 4:19 pm PT
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On August 10, 2017, Donald J. Trump, the 45th President of the United States announced for all the world to hear that he wanted to thank Russian leader Vladimir Putin for slashing the United States own diplomatic staff at U.S. Mission Russia.  He was under the impression that this would result in a smaller payroll.  If he were a little bit more curious about our diplomatic missions, he would know that our career diplomats and their families would be reassigned to other posts. And he would realize that when our diplomats are kicked out from a certain country, it would impact the United States ability to analyze, report, negotiate, and improve bilateral relation with that country.

If he were a little bit more informed, he would know that the reduction in staff — beyond the upheavals it would bring to the lives of mission staffers and their families — would hinder the embassy’s ability to investigate allegations of mistreatment of or discrimination against U.S. investors in Russia. If the U.S. does not have sufficient staff, it would jeopardize cooperation with Russia in addressing pressing global challenges where U.S. core national security interests align:

  • nonproliferation
  • nuclear and other weapons of mass destruction (WMD) security
  • preventing atrocities and humanitarian crises
  • combatting violent extremism and terrorism

But Mr. Trump is not curious, and he is ill informed, and he has not shown signs that he will improve with age. Unfortunately, this also shows us as clear as day that he sees no usefulness for diplomacy nor appreciation for the people who labors in it.

Frankly, the only way we are actually able to process this latest edition in bonkers news is if we imagine that Trump Chicken delivered this message and the real President of the United States is somehow working, not golfing, with the dedicated personnel at Area 51.

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USG Seeks Jerusalem Hotel Room Services For Estimated 2,704 Room Nights For a Year

Posted: 3:06 am ET
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On July 20, the US Embassy in Tel Aviv issued a solicitation for Jerusalem Hotel Room Services.

The Embassy intends to conduct a pre-proposal conference, and all prospective offerors are invited to attend. The pre-proposal conference will take place at 10:00 AM local Israel time, on August 1, 2017, at the US Embassy Annex Facility located at 11 Galgalai Haplada St., Entrance B, 3rd floor, Herzelia Pituach, Israel.

The requirement is for the providing of lodging rooms for Official US Government visits to the City of Jerusalem.  The estimated number of hotel rooms for one year is 1,202 rooms and 2,704 room nights.  The anticipated performance is for a base period of twelve months and two one -year periods at the option of the Government.

The scope of services requires the contractor to provide a minimum of 40 (forty) and a maximum of 6,500 (six thousand five hudred) single hotel rooms in Jerusalem. According to FedBiz, the contract type will be indefinite quantity.

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