@StateDept Terminates Evacuation Orders For U.S. Mission Turkey

Posted: 1:51 am ET

 

On September 23, the State Department updated its Travel Warning for Turkey urging American citizens to carefully consider the risks of travel in the country. The notice also informs the public of the termination of the evacuation orders for family members of USG employees posted in Turkey:

The U.S. Department of State continues to warn U.S. citizens of increased threats from terrorist groups throughout Turkey. U.S. citizens should avoid travel to southeast Turkey and carefully consider the risks of travel to and throughout the  country. The U.S. Department of State is updating this Travel Warning to reflect the September 23, 2016 decision to end the authorization for the voluntary departure of family members of employees posted to the U.S. Embassy in Ankara and the U.S. Consulate General in Istanbul, which was made following the July 15, 2016 attempted coup. In addition, effective September 24, 2016, the Department of State is ending the ordered departure of family members of U.S. government personnel posted to the Consulate in Adana and family members of U.S. government civilians in Izmir. The Department of State will authorize employed adult dependents (21 year or older) of employees to return to Adana.

U.S. citizens should still carefully consider the need to travel to Turkey at this time. The Department continues to monitor the effects of the ongoing State of Emergency; recent terrorist incidents in Ankara, Istanbul, Gaziantep, and throughout the Southeast; recurring threats; visible increases in police or military activities; and the potential for restrictions on movement as they relate to the safety and well-being of U.S. citizens in Turkey. Delays securing consular access to U.S. citizens detained or arrested by security forces, some of whom also possess Turkish citizenship, continue.

Just a couple of days  prior to the Travel Warning, the US Embassy in Ankara issued a security message saying that there were reports of a police investigation into a terror cell in Gaziantep.  The information suggests the terrorists are possibly targeting shopping centers, Starbucks, Big Chef Restaurants and or other businesses catering to Western customers.   U.S. citizens in Gaziantep are advised to exercise caution when patronizing these sorts of businesses and to avoid them if possible.

 

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The State Dept’s Sexual Assault Reporting Procedure Appears to Be a Black Hole of Grief

Posted: 2:02 am ET
Updated: Sept 24, 4:08 pm PST | This piece was edited to use the more neutral word “report” instead of “allegation.” The guide on reporting sexual violence is teaching us that the use of the word “allegation” reinforces the disbelief that a crime actually occurred.

 

Last month, we received an anonymous allegation report of sexual assaults in the Foreign Service. It is alleged We were told that DS and MED “hide” the assaults “under pretense” that it is “the victim’s wish to keep it a secret.”

No specific case was cited only that there were incidents in Iraq and Afghanistan.  We were also asked if we know what is the reporting process for sexual assault in the Foreign Service.

We told our correspondent that we will look into the reporting process because we actually had no idea. We were then warned: “On the off chance you get a response, it will probably be something along the lines of, “any victim of crime under chief of mission authority should report to their RSO; the Department takes such allegations extremely seriously.” 

 

Looking at public records

We started looking at publicly available records. We found one assault in 2009 which is only publicly available becase the case became an EEOC case (see Sexual Assault at a State Dept-Leased Apartment: If This Isn’t Abysmal Failure, What Is It?). In 2011, there was the case of a former CIA station chief to Algeria who received 65 months in jail for sexual assault on embassy property. In 2012, there was a case of an FS couple accused of slavery and rape of a housekeeper, In 2013, there was an FS specialist who was sentenced to 5 years in prison; the case was about the sex abuse of an adopted child. Also in 2013, CBS News reported on  several allegations including one about a regional security officer (RSO) in Lebanon who “engaged in sexual assaults” of the local guards.  A subsequent OIG investigation indicates that the alleged sexual misconduct of this security official spanned 10 years and 7 posts.

These are cases that we’ve written in this blog after they’ve become public.

We’ve poured over the Foreign Affairs Manual (FAM) and Foreign Affairs Handbook (FAH) and have reached out to the State Department and other contacts within its orbit to help us find the specific guidance for the reporting process on sexual assault. We have not been successful. For the record, it is not/not 3 FAM 1525, not 3 FAM 4428, not 3 FAM 1800 and not 7 FAM 1940.

 

Questions for the State Department

We sent some questions to the State Department, the blue italics below is the response from an agency’s spokesperson.

We asked: How does the State Department/Diplomatic Security handle sexual assault among members of the Foreign Service community overseas? The only thing I can find in the FAM is sexual assault relating to private American citizens, and services via the Consular Section.  

–What is the reporting process if the victim/perpetrator is under chief of mission authority?

–What is the reporting process if the alleged perpetrator is from the Regional Security Office or a senior Foreign Service official who oversees the RSO?

–Where is the FAM/FAH guidance for sexual assault?

The State Department response: “The State Department/Diplomatic Security handles sexual assault among members of the foreign service community overseas by adhering to Department guidelines. These guidelines are made available to all members of the foreign service community in Department cables and in the FAM. The Department guidelines outlined in these documents address the contingencies included in your questions.”

No specific cables were cited.  However, the FAM cited by the State Department in its response above is 1 FAM 260, specifically, 1 FAM 262.4-5 which only notes that the Office of Special Investigation (DS/DO/OSI) within Diplomatic Security is tasked with investigating extraterritorial criminal investigations including assault, sexual assault, domestic violence, etc. Go ahead and read it.  It does not/does not include nor describe the reporting process.

We asked: If a sexual assault occurs overseas to an employee/family member of USG employees, who are the officials informed about the incident?

–How is the information transmitted? Telegram, telephone, email?

–Is the communication done via secure or encrypted channels?

In response to the above question, a State Department’s spokesman said: “The reporting process calls for the regional security officer to contact the State Department’s Office of Special Investigations. This office is outside the regional security officer’s chain of command.”

The response is only partly responsive and only names the RSO and DS/OSI.  Even if DS/OSI is outside the RSO’s chain of command, this tells us that an alleged victim overseas has to go through post’s Regional Security Office; the RSO in that office must then contact DS/OSI located in Washington, D.C. for an investigation to be initiated.

You probably can already guess our next question.

What if the perpetrator is from the security office or the Front Office who oversees the RSO? How would that work? Also both the RSO overseas and DS/OSI back in DC are part of the Bureau of Diplomatic Security. When we made these follow-up questions, the State Department simply repeated its original response:  “The reporting process calls for the regional security officer to contact the State Department’s Office of Special Investigations (OSI). This office is outside the regional security officer’s chain of command.  On your question on the Fam (sic): Sexual assault is a crime investigated by the Office of Special Investigations as outlined in 1 FAM 262.4-5.”

This is a disturbing response particularly in light of a previous CBS News report alleging that a regional security officer sexually assaulted local guards under his supervision and was accused of similar assaults in Baghdad, Khartoum and Monrovia. Okay, never mind CBS News, but the OIG investigation indicates that the same security officer’s alleged sexual misconduct spanned 10 years and 7 posts.  How many local guards were assaulted within those 10 years and in those 7 posts?  Perhaps it doesn’t or didn’t matter because it happened so long ago. Or it is because the alleged victims were non-U.S. citizens?

The other part of the question on how reports are transmitted is equally important. Are they sent via unclassified email? The perpetrator could be easily tipped off, and that potentially places the safety of the victim in jeopardy.

The third question we asked is a twofer. We wanted to know the statistics on sexual assault in the Foreign Service, specifically in Afghanistan and Iraq since 2003. The second part of our question is overall statistics on sexual assault in the Foreign Service worldwide, during the last 10 years. Note that we are not asking for names. We’re asking for numbers. We’re only asking for an accounting of sexual assault reports reported allegations since the invasion of Iraq in 2003 to the present, and the worldwide number of allegations reports spanning over 280 overseas posts in the last 10 years. Surely those are available?

This is the State Department’s official response:

“The Office of Special Investigations receives and catalogues allegations and complaints. Allegations are neither categorized by location nor by alleged offense.”

Wh–aat? We actually fell off the darn chair when we read the above response.  If the allegations and complaints are not catalogued by location or alleged offense, how would the State Department  know if there is a trend, or a red flag they should be aware of?

Wouldn’t this constitute willful ignorance?

In our follow-up question, we asked who is responsible for the care and support of a Foreign Service victim? This is the response from a State Department spokesperson:

“The Department takes seriously the safety and well-being of its employees and their family members. The post health unit, Employee Consultation Services and the Regional psychiatrist are all available to assist a victim of sexual assault. MED would also assist if, for example, a medical evacuation to a third country or the United States is required. 

Generally MED does not provide direct clinical services in the States but has extensive resources to provide referrals for ongoing treatment.

Additionally, the Victim’s Resource Advocacy Program (VRAP) is available to provide advocacy services so the individual understands the judicial process and has support lines, plus resources applicable to the person’s goals to rebuild and heal.”

 

In a follow-on response, the State Department cites the Victim’s Resource Advocacy Program (VRAP). We had to dig around the net to see what is VRAP.  According to the State Department’s outline on divorce:

VRAP was created in November 2010 by the Bureau of Diplomatic Security (DS) “to empower those who have been victimized by crimes that are under DS investigation. A representative of this office also sits on the Department’s Family Advocacy Committee (chaired by the Director of MED/MHS), based in Washington DC. The VRAP is committed to assisting aggrieved individuals in overcoming difficulties that result from victimization by providing resources to deal with the realities that follow traumatic experiences and an understanding of the judicial processes surrounding criminal offenses. Contact VRAP at vrap@state.gov.”

Okay, but.  All that still does not give us a clear idea on the procedure for reporting sexual assault in the Foreign Service, does it? And most of the info is not even codified in the FAM or the FAH.

What happens in the space between “calling the RSO” and VRAP “empowering” those victimized by crimes — remains a black hole. It is not clear what kind of support or advocacy services and resources are provided to victims of sexual assault. We’ve asked; we haven’t heard anything back.

Since we could not find any guidance from the State Department, we went and look at what the reporting procedure is like at USAID, the Department of Defense, and Peace Corps.  As of this writing, we’ve received an acknowledgment from USAID but have not received an answer to our inquiry. Below is a quick summary for DOD and the Peace Corps:

 

DOD Sexual Assault Reporting Guidance

You may or may not know this but the Department of Defense actually has a separate website for sexual assault which makes it clear that sexual assault is a crime. Defined “as intentional sexual contact,” sexual assault is characterized by “use of force, threats, intimidation or abuse of authority, or when the victim does not or cannot consent.” It explains that sexual assault includes rape, forcible sodomy (oral or anal sex), and other unwanted sexual contact that is aggravated, abusive, or wrongful (including unwanted and inappropriate sexual contact) or attempts to commits these acts. It also notes the difference between sexual assault and sexual harassment. Its website is not just an explainer, it also provides information for assault victims:

If I am sexually assaulted, what should I do?
First, get to a safe place. If you are in need of urgent medical attention, call 911. If you are not injured, you still need medical assistance to protect your health. The medical treatment facility (MTF) offers you a safe and caring environment. To protect evidence, it is important that you do not shower, brush your teeth, put on make-up, eat, drink, or change your clothes until advised to do so. You or the MTF may report the crime to law enforcement, criminal investigation agencies, or to your chain of command. If you feel uncomfortable reporting the crime, consider calling a confidential counseling resource available to you.

Reporting Options: 
Restricted | Sexual assault victims who want to confidentially disclose a sexual assault without triggering an official investigation can contact a SARC/SHARP Specialist, VA/SHARP Specialist, or a healthcare provider. By filing a restricted report with a SARC/SHARP Specialist, VA/SHARP Specialist, or a healthcare provider, a victim can disclose the sexual assault without triggering an official investigation AND receive medical treatment, advocacy services, legal assistance, and counseling.

Unrestricted | This option is for victims of sexual assault who desire medical treatment, counseling, legal assistance, SARC/SHARP Specialist and VA/SHARP Specialist assistance, and an official investigation of the crime. When selecting unrestricted reporting, you may report the incident to the SARC/SHARP Specialist or VA/SHARP Specialist, request healthcare providers to notify law enforcement, contact law enforcement yourself, or use current reporting channels, e.g., chain of command. Upon notification of a reported sexual assault, the SARC/SHARP Specialist will immediately assign a VA/SHARP Specialist. You will also be advised of your right to access to legal assistance that is separate from prosecution resources. At the victim’s discretion/request, the healthcare provider shall conduct a sexual assault forensic examination (SAFE), which may include the collection of evidence. Details regarding the incident will be limited to only those personnel who have a legitimate need to know.


Peace Corps Sexual Assault Reporting Guidance

The Peace Corps says it provides “sexual assault risk-reduction and response training to both Volunteers and staff. Volunteers worldwide learn risk-reduction strategies such as bystander intervention training, and each post has two sexual assault response liaisons trained to directly assist Volunteers who are victims of sexual assault throughout the in-country response process.” It also provides around the clock, anonymous sexual assault hotline accessible to Volunteers by phone, text, or online chat that is staffed by external crisis counselors at pcsaveshelpline.org.

In addition, it provides volunteers who experience sexual assault the option to report the incident as restricted or as standard reporting. This is similar to DOD’s:

Restricted reporting limits the number of staff members with access to information about an assault to only those involved in providing support services requested by the Volunteer. This gives Volunteers access to critical support services while protecting their privacy and confidentiality, and allows the Peace Corps to provide support services to Volunteers who otherwise may not seek support.

Standard reporting provides Volunteers with the same support services along with the opportunity to initiate an official investigation, while maintaining confidentiality.

There’s no 911 in the Foreign Service

For Foreign Service employees and family members assigned overseas, there is no 911 to call. You get in trouble overseas, you call the security office of the embassy. If you are in a small post, you may have to deal with another officer who is assigned collateral duty as post security officer.  Post may or may not have a health unit or a regional medical officer. If there is a health unit, it may or may not be equipped or trained with gathering forensic evidence.  Above all, if you’re overseas as part of the Foreign Service, you are under chief of mission authority. What you do, what you say, where you live — basically, your life 24/7 is governed by federal regulations and the decision of the Front Office.

 

So to the question — if I am sexually assaulted, what should I do?

The State Department says that the Foreign Affairs Manual (FAM) and associated Foreign Affairs Handbooks (FAHs) are a single, comprehensive, and authoritative source for the Department’s organization structures, policies, and procedures that govern the operations of the State Department, the Foreign Service and, when applicable, other federal agencies. The FAM (generally policy) and the FAHs (generally procedures) together convey codified information to Department staff and contractors so they can carry out their responsibilities in accordance with statutory, executive and Department mandates.

Every time the FAM is updated, a Change Transmittal documents it.  All transmittals includes the following reminder: Officers are reminded that Department-issued materials not codified in the Foreign Affairs Manual or its supplemental Foreign Affairs Handbook series generally have no regulatory validity (see 2 FAM 1115.2).

Since there is no FAM or FAH specifically addressing sexual assault, we end up with a pretty uncomfortable question: Is the State Department saying that sexual assault does not happen in the Foreign Service — that’s why there’s no regs covering it?

If it’s not that, then — what is the reason sexual assault procedure is absent from its single, comprehensive, and authoritative source of policies, and procedures?

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Sexual Assault Related posts:

Sexual Harassment related posts:

 

 

FSO Morgan O’Brien Launches DiploSport Podcast on Sports Diplomacy

Posted: 1:03 am ET

 

If you’re taking a road trip, and are looking for something to listen to in the car, check out the DiploSport Podcast. FSO Morgan O’Brien spent the past year studying sports diplomacy as part of a fellowship sponsored by the Council of Foreign Relations and the NBA. For his research, he interviewed journalists, policy makers and athletes to discuss the interplay of sports and government.

The first episode features former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice as his inaugural guest (full transcript here). Others featured in the podcast include Norwegian speedskating legend and Olympic champion, Dr. Johann Olav Koss, founder of Right to Play (bit.ly/JOKossRtP) an organization which uses sport to connect with youth around the globe who face some of the most challenging circumstances imaginable; 3x American skeleton Olympian Katie Uhlaender who is preparing for the next Winter Games in Pyeongchang 2018; Ruth Riley who served as a State Department Sports Envoy, and an NBA Cares Ambassador; and two-time Olympic medalist Michelle Kwan who also did a stint as a State Department Sports Envoy. He told us that he started interviewing earlier this year and have about 20 podcasts in the can.

The podcast host is a Public Diplomacy officer who joined the Foreign Service in 2009 (146th A-100). He was  Ambassador Holbrooke’s assistant for his first tour, and he did a consular tour in Brazzaville.  When he came back to the State Department, he worked at the Sports Diplomacy Division of the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs (ECA). For the past 12 months, he was attached to the National Basketball Association’s International Operations team and had the opportunity to study sports diplomacy.  He is currently in language training in preparation for his next assignment to an East Asia post. We asked him a few questions about this project:

Q: How were you able to get a fun fellowship like this?

MO: This past year, I was on the International Affairs Fellowship through the Council on Foreign Relations, so this wasn’t a formalized “sports diplomacy/NBA Fellowship,” per se. I first pitched the idea to the NBA, with whom I had worked the previous two years when I was in ECA. When they agreed to the concept, I put together a written proposal for the CFR, which was then followed by a panel interview before ultimately being accepted. Since I applied, two things I think have changed: one of the stipulations was that applicants needed to be under 35, I think that’s no longer the case; and I think there is an extra level of State vetting now. Whereas I sent my proposal directly to the CFR, I think this year’s applicants need to be approved by HR before submitting to the CFR.

If one gets creative in canvassing the bid list, they’ll find that the Department can be fantastic about enabling/empowering officers to pursue opportunities outside State, including awesome fellowships (the Una Chapman Cox Fellowship is another incredible, self-paced opportunity). And while I don’t know how it was done, there are officers actually working on international affairs for a few mayor’s offices in a handful of major cities in the US.

Q: What was it like working with the NBA team?

MO: I was a fully-integrated member of the NBA team for the year, fulfilling a childhood dream of working in pro sports. I supported the All Star Game (held in Toronto) and the “Basketball Without Borders” elite youth camps held around the world this past summer. I learned a ton about the decision-making process of a multi-billion dollar organization, and was pretty blown away by their sincere commitment to social responsibility programming. At State, we should also be proud to know that the NBA really relies on us around the world as subject matter experts and partners. There are dozens of Posts with whom we worked throughout the year—whether it be for women/girls-centered programming in Latvia and Ethiopia or to help demystify the visa process for the families of our players in Serbia or Congo.

Q: What did you learn from this private sector experience?

MO: The private sector exposure was fantastic. I’m bringing back to State a wealth of knowledge in monitoring and evaluation and emphasizing efficiency. I do have to admit that the time away also reinforced my love for the Foreign Service, our mission and our wonderful colleagues. My private sector teammates always found it fascinating that we get to travel the world on behalf of the country, and were every bit as interested in what we do day-to-day as I was of their work.

Morgan O’Brien’s views/opinions expressed on the blog/podcasts are not necessarily those of the State Department.

Check out the diplosport links below and while you’re at it, you might also check @SportsDiplomacy, the official Twitter account of exchanges.state.gov/sports

Sound Cloud: https://soundcloud.com/diplosport

iTunes: http://bit.ly/DiploSport

Google Play: http://bit.ly/2bUgvdI

Blog: http://www.diplosport.com/blog/

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US Embassy Belize: Three DCMs+Two Senior Manager Curtailments Since 2014, and More

Posted: 2:53 am ET

 

State/OIG inspected the US Embassy in Belmopan, Belize from February 29 to March 11, 2016. According to the report, Embassy Belmopan’s authorized staffing includes 40 U.S. direct hires, 10 U.S. local hires, and 106 locally employed (LE) staff. The embassy’s FY 2015 budget, including all agencies, was approximately $35 million, which included $6.5 million in Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement (INL)-managed foreign assistance and $19 million in Bureau of Overseas Buildings Operations funds. Belize’s capital, Belmopan, is approximately 90 minutes away from the much larger Belize City, the country’s economic, political, and cultural hub. This distance affects access to professional contacts, medical services, and cultural and entertainment activities. See the full report here (PDF), or read the quick summary below:

bh-map

Report summary:

  • Despite logistical difficulties inherent in the distance between the capital and the much larger Belize City where most government officials reside, the Ambassador had cultivated relationships with the highest levels of the Belizean Government. This enabled the mission to promote U.S. Government interests.
  • The lack of internal controls over non-official use of government resources weakened safeguards against waste, loss, unauthorized use, or misappropriation of funds, property and other assets.
  • The Bureau of Human Resources, Office of Overseas Employment, had not responded to three long-standing embassy requests submitted as part of the requirement to change the local compensation plan. Premium rates and use of compensatory time were inconsistent with local law and prevailing practice.
  • Embassy Belmopan’s ClassNet equipment and architecture were significantly outdated compared to that deployed worldwide. A planned Global Information Technology Modernization upgrade was cancelled without warning as part of a worldwide suspension of installation activities.

US Embassy Belmopan is headed by non-career appointee, Carlos R. Moreno who assumed charge as Ambassador to Belize  on June 21, 2014. His deputy is DCM Adrienne Galanek who arrived in September 2015. According to the OIG report, there had been three DCMs and two senior manager curtailments “due to personal and performance issues since June 2014.”  

Excerpt below:

Embassy Belmopan was striving to manage mission resources and personnel more effectively. Most country team members were serving in leadership positions for the first time, and some section chiefs were also working outside of their areas of expertise. Embassy leadership was focused on advancing U.S. interests, developing a more collegial atmosphere, and improving internal controls.

Embassy Belmopan was striving to manage mission resources and personnel more effectively. Most country team members were serving in leadership positions for the first time, and some section chiefs were also working outside of their areas of expertise. Embassy leadership was focused on advancing U.S. interests, developing a more collegial atmosphere, and improving internal controls.

OIG conducted 49 documented interviews of U.S. staff, 26 of which elicited comments on the Ambassador and Deputy Chief of Mission (DCM). Confirming the results of OIG’s pre-inspection survey, interviewees consistently expressed the opinion that both the Ambassador and DCM were approachable, concerned for the welfare of their staff, and had strong interpersonal skills, all of which are leadership attributes emphasized in 3 Foreign Affairs Manual (FAM) 1214. For example, the Ambassador and DCM demonstrated their commitment to embassy safety and morale when deciding how to allocate the sole U.S. direct-hire position received through the Mission Resource Request process. Compelled to choose between an additional political reporting position and a Foreign Service nurse practitioner position, they opted for the latter to mitigate Belize’s limited health care facilities and improve employee access to skilled medical care. The interagency community, which consisted of the Peace Corps, the Military Liaison Office, and the Drug Enforcement Administration, all gave the Ambassador and DCM high marks for their efforts to foster cooperation throughout the mission.

Nonetheless, the Ambassador’s scores in OIG’s inspection survey, which evaluates ambassadors on more than a dozen leadership attributes, were lower in several categories than the average range seen in embassy inspections over the past 5 years. These leadership categories included communication, engagement, and feedback—all crucial factors in ensuring a well-managed embassy. Employees referred to the Ambassador and DCM as a good team that worked hard to cultivate a collaborative atmosphere, but employees also stated that the Ambassador and DCM had only partially succeeded in attaining this goal. Staff consistently described the DCM as overworked and struggling to resolve intersectional squabbles. OIG found that lengthy staffing gaps and the inexperience of several country team members had strained work interactions and contributed to low morale. Since June 2014, three DCMs and two senior managers had curtailed due to personal and performance issues, departures that hampered team building efforts.

OIG observations and employee interviews indicated a mission working to accomplish U.S. objectives. However, the front office often took weeks to clear and approve cables, memoranda, and embassy notices.

Yay!

  • An OIG review of the Ambassador’s and DCM’s claims for official residence and representational expenses and gift records determined that they both adhered to applicable regulations and to the 3 FAM 1214 principle that all employees model integrity.
  • The DCM performed nonimmigrant visa adjudication reviews, a required element of consular internal controls, as prescribed by 9 FAM 403.9-2(D).
  • The Department rated Belize high for crime. All embassy personnel who completed OIG surveys stated that the Ambassador and DCM supported the embassy security program as required by the President’s Letter of Instruction and 2 FAM 113.1(c)(5). The embassy was up-to-date on all emergency drills.
  • Props for Consular Section chief, Yomaris Macdonald: “Consular management and operations, including management controls, met Department standards. OIG reviewed emergency preparedness, visa adjudication standards, fee and controlled item reconciliation, and Regional Consular Officer reports and found no deficiencies. The Ambassador, DCM, consular officers, LE staff, Regional Consular Officer, and Bureau of Consular Affairs managers uniformly cited the Consular Section chief for her leadership skills.”


Yo, Tsk! Tsk!

  • Inspection surveys and interviews indicated that more front office attention to management operations was warranted.
  • The First-and Second-Tour (FAST) officer and specialist program had been dormant for several years.
  • The Bureau of Human Resources, Office of Overseas Employment, had not responded to three long-standing embassy requests submitted as part of the requirement to change the local compensation plan.
  • The ClassNet local area network was old and unreliable. The last equipment refresh or upgrade was in July 2010, making Embassy Belmopan’s ClassNet equipment and architecture significantly outdated compared to that deployed worldwide.
  • The Information Management Office was not conducting Information Systems Security Officer duties as required by 12 FAM 613.4 and 12 FAH-10 H-112.9-2. The person assigned these responsibilities was unaware of his assignment, nor had he completed the training requirement for the position.
  • Record Keeping Did Not Comply with Archiving Requirements
  • Lack of Management Controls Risked Inappropriate Use of Staff and Resources

The OIG Inspection Team was composed of Amb. Joseph A. Mussomeli, the team leader, John Philibin, the deputy team leader and the following members: William Booth, John Bush, Ronda Capeles, Darren Felsburg, Leslie Gerson, Michael Greenwald, Edward Messmer, Matthew Ragnetti, and Colwell Whitney.

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Aparecium! Why do plum jobs suddenly appear just days before bids are due?

Posted: 12:57 am ET

 

So hey, we’re hearing that three posts “snuck” onto the 2017 Details/ Training list last week – London, Wellington, and Rome. These are all MFA exchanges where you spend a year in that country’s MFA followed by a three year posting at the Embassy, so essentially a four year posting to a nice place.  Bids on these plum jobs are due on September 28 and involve getting reference letters, statements of interest, resumes — all uploaded online.

What we understand is unusual about this is that all the other training opportunities have been on the list since May. (Another source told us that Brussels, Berlin, and Ankara were the only ones on the regular bid cycle for details in June).  Which gives bidders without fore knowledge about these new opportunities approximately two weeks to get their act together if they want to make the 9/28 cut.

The other interesting aspect here is that early “handshakes” to people going to priority staffing posts (PSP) were apparently already offered a couple of weeks ago or so.  “All the people who would have had priority and would have surely loved to have bid on one of these posts simply could not” because these were not posted until a few days ago.

Via reactiongifs.com

Via reactiongifs.com

A Foggy Bottom nightingale believed that a lot more people would bid on these jobs if they knew they’re on the list. But the 2017 Details/ Training list has been out since late spring. So who’s paying attention?  Particularly at this time — just days before bids are due — when most people’s attention is on the big list. That is, the summer 2017 bid list that’s going to drop this week.

“Maybe if these plum jobs were publicized, more qualified bidders would act on them,” said by nobody at all.

So the clock’s ticking, there’s still 10 days to make the case for a post in London, Wellington, or Rome. Good luck, y’all!

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Related posts:

 

 

 

 

Decision Window For Federal Long Term Care Insurance With Shocking Premium Hike Closes 9/30/16

Posted: 3:01 am ET

 

Excerpted from CRS Insight (PDF), September 2016 via Secrecy News:

On July 16, 2016, the U.S. Office of Personnel Management (OPM) announced a premium rate increase for long-term care insurance policies purchased through the Federal Long Term Care Insurance Program (FLTCIP). The new rates were established following an open competitive bidding process. That process awarded a new seven-year contract to the prior insurer and sole bidder, John Hancock Life & Health Insurance Company, to continue providing coverage. According to OPM, the higher premiums are based on an analysis that used updated assumptions of industry trends and claims experience. The analysis determined that current FLTCIP premiums were not sufficient to meet projected costs and benefits. Most federal workers enrolled in FLTCIP are affected by the premium increase (an estimated 264,000 of the 274,000 enrollees).

During OPM’s 2016 Enrollee Decision Period, enrollees affected by the rate increase have until September 30, 2016, to decide whether to:

(1) keep their current coverage and pay the increase;
(2) reduce coverage in order to maintain their current premium; or
(3) allow their policies to lapse (i.e., drop coverage in the program).

Rate increases are scheduled to take effect November 1, 2016.
[…]
According to news sources, premiums are expected to increase by 83%, on average. Some Members of Congress have expressed their concerns to OPM leadership and John Hancock about such dramatic increases, calling for more time for enrollees to assess options as well as for congressional hearings on the issue.

Rate Stability and Long-Term Care Insurance

Federal workers are not the only policyholders to face LTCI premium increases. Over the past two decades, annual LTCI premiums have increased significantly overall for both current and new policyholders. Higher average premiums reflect increased demand for more comprehensive benefit packages (including inflation protection) and higher daily benefit amounts. Premium increases have also been driven by inadequate medical underwriting, premiums that were initially set too low, and insufficient growth in reserves to cover future claims. Thus, premium or rate stability depends largely on the ability of insurers to adequately predict future claims. Most policies issued before the mid-2000s have incorrectly predicted claims, necessitating changes to key pricing assumptions. For example, rising claims, lower mortality rates, lower-than-predicted voluntary termination (lapse) rates, and lower-than-predicted rates of return on investments have been cited as key reasons for LTCI premium increases. Nevertheless, large rate increases, such as those proposed by the FLTCIP, are likely to have a continued effect on consumer confidence in these products, possibly leading to further reductions in consumer demand.

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Funding IRAs When One Spouse Is Unemployed #ForeignServiceSpouses

Posted: 2:28 am ET

 

There are over 11,000 Foreign Service adult family members overseas. As of April 2016, 57% are not employed (29% works inside the mission, 14% works outside the mission).  Funding an IRA when one spouse is unemployed is something that some FS spouses already do but if you’re not doing it, this is something you may want to talk about with your working spouse.

Via The Street:

Funding an IRA when one spouse is unemployed or taking a sabbatical can occur if the working spouse makes the contribution. The spouse who is earning income can support the contribution of the non-working spouse’s account, said John Bowen, a retail sales supervisor for Equity Institutional, a financial planning firm in Westlake, Ohio. Whether the spouse contributes to a company 401(k) is not relevant. The contribution can be up to $5,500 for people up to the age of 50 and $6,500 if you are 50 or older in 2016.

Read more about Roth IRA here.

 

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Ambassador Klemm Holds Banned #Szekler Flag in Romania, Reportedly Just Want to Be Polite

Posted: 3:35 pm ET

 

A couple of years ago, the Hungarian Spectrum posted about The War of the Flags: Diplomatic Spat Over Szekler Territorial Autonomy. A diplomatic spat over a flag. Today, the AP reports on the controversy involving the U.S. Ambassador to Romania Hans Klemm and the same flag, the Szekler flag.

On September 14, the US Embassy in Bucharest (@AmbasadaSUA) tweeted a photo of the visit to Sfântu Gheorghe by the U.S. Ambassador to Romania Hans Klemm and his wife.  They did not post the controversial photo of the ambassador with the flag but it was posted on Facebook by the mayor of Sfântu Gheorghe, Antal Arpad according to social media coverage. The media has not been friendly. This one says that “It is time to get over an alleged ignorance of the American ambassador vis-a-vis historical realities in Transylvania. The gesture should be seen rather as a premeditated one.” Read more about the Székely land  here.

The Romani Journal citing realitatea.net says that US Ambassador Hans Klemm said that the only flags that matter to him are the US’s and Romania’s.  He reportedly added that the photo was taken within a context when he only wanted to be polite.

Well, now… imagine if we have the Russian, Chinese, German or Indian Ambassador in Washington show up in Texas holding the flag of Texit or Texas Secede! advocates then telling the press he/she was just being polite.

We’ll have back to back hearings in Congress, our elected folks would refused to go home to campaign during the election season. Right.

The Romania Journal also notes the FB post: Antal Arpad wrote on Facebook: “I offered the US Ambassador as gift the flag of the Szekler community, which has become the symbol of authorities’ disrespect towards the Szekler community. I mention that this flag was first used in 1599, when the Szeklers fought alongside Mihai Viteazul (Michael the Brave – ruler of Wallachia 1593-1601, the first ruler to unite the three historical provinces of Romania – our note).”

Below is the embassy’s response to Romanian media roiled by the photograph.  Via The Romania Journal as it is not available on the embassy page:

In a release as reply to the information in the media, the US Embassy says that Ambassador Hans Klemm is the US Ambassador for entire Romania. He is periodically travelling through the country, he meets various groups from all the areas of Romanian society. As ally and strategic partner of Romania, the United States support and greet the democracy in Romania and Romania’s efforts to consolidate the democratic institutions with the full and balanced participation of all segments of society, the embassy said.

The 2015 Human Right Report says that the ethnic Hungarian population is approximately 1.2 million.  Also the following:

Ethnic Hungarians also complained of obstructions and bans against the use of the regional Szekler flag and symbols. In March local authorities in Targu Mures rejected the National Szekler Council’s request to hold a march to celebrate the Szeklers’ Freedom Day on March 10 and commemorate five Szekler martyrs.

Ethnic Hungarians continued to report discrimination related to their ability to use the Hungarian language. In August the political umbrella group Democratic Union of Hungarians in Romania released a report on the government’s implementation of the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages. The report asserted that ethnic Hungarians were not permitted to use Hungarian in courts or administrative matters and that many municipalities did not use bilingual signs. The report claimed that courts obstructed the financing of Hungarian-language newspapers by local authorities and that the government continued to refuse to establish a public Hungarian-language university. The report also noted there were insufficient Hungarian-language cultural institutions and translations of Hungarian-language literature in the country.

In the region of Moldavia, the Roman Catholic, Hungarian-speaking Csango minority continued to operate government-funded Hungarian language classes. In some other localities, authorities denied requests for Hungarian language classes.

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

Posted: 12:12 am ET

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Related items:

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

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

 

 

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Chien v. Kerry: DS Agent Files Suit For Race/Sex Discrimination, Hostile Work Environment, and Retaliation

Posted: 2:41 am ET

 

According to court filings, Josephine Chien is currently assigned as an Assistant Regional Security Officer (ARSO) overseas. In early August, she filed a lawsuit against the U.S Department of State alleging race and sex discrimination under Title VII, hostile work environment & harassment, and retaliation.  The court filing says that Ms. Chien has been an employee of the U.S. Department of State since 1999. Since the case talks about her being denied tenure in 2012  and eventually obtaining tenure in 2013, we suspect that 1999 is an incorrect year.

Excerpts below from the court filing:

Josephine Chien by and through her undersigned counsel bring this action for race discrimination under Section 1981 and Title VII; a hostile work environment under Title VII and retaliation under Section 1981 and Title VII against the Defendant John F. Kerry, Secretary of State, for the U.S Department of State. Chien has been an employee of the State Department since 1999. She is an Asian female of Taiwanese-American descent. In 2011, during her assignment in Libya, her supervisors assigned tasks to her in a discriminatory manner, whereby certain tasks were given to males as opposed to females. This again occurred in 2012 during her tour in Pakistan. In late 2012 and mid 2013, when after again complaining about discriminatory behavior, she was again retaliated against when she was not selected for foreign assignments.

March 2010-January 2011 deployment in Los Angeles

In March 2010, she was employed at the Los Angeles (L.A) satellite office in West L.A. Her supervisor was Michael Lodi. Lodi would frequently communicate with her disparagingly shouting and screaming at her. Chien found this demoralizing as Lodi would not communicate in this manner with other non-Asian members of the staff or male members of the staff. Her colleague and special agent Bret Newton (Caucasian male) told her that he was aware of the prejudice from Lodi and encouraged her to file a complaint against Lodi. Her colleague and special agent John Ming Chen, also observed Lodi’s demeaning treatment of Chien and that Lodi was unprofessional towards Chien.

Lodi also refused all training requests and overseas assignments to Chien. Chien had asked Lodi for hardship assignments to Yemen, Iraq and Afghanistan, only to be told that because she was the duty agent, she could not be assigned overseas.

Consequently sometime in November 2010, Chien approached assistant special agent in charge Whitney Savageau seeking a transfer to the L.A Field Office1. Around December 1, 2010, Chien also had a meeting with Savageau whereby she stated her concerns about Lodi, in that he was treating her differently and discriminating against her. Chien also informed Savageau that Lodi had denied her training and assignments. Chien told Savageau to keep the matter private and also told her specifically to not inform Lodi of her discussions with her (Savageau). Savageau told Chien to discuss her concerns with Chief Jeff Lefter. Chien did so on the same day or on December 1, 2010. She again reiterated her conversations with Savageau with Lefter

Barely 24 hours later or on December 2, 2010, Lodi had a meeting with Chien. Lodi informed Chien that Savageau had a conversation with him about her complaint. Lodi told Chien that “it was not a smart move as I am still writing your evaluation.” He then proceeded to engage in a monologue whereby Lodi informed Chien that she “should know how the system works” and that her transfer sought to the L.A. Field office would “poison the office.”

Upon the conclusion of the conversation, Chien immediately contacted Lefter by email. She again asked for a transfer, and told Lefter that she felt that Lodi had threatened her by saying that “I am still writing your evaluation.” Lefter contacted Chien by telephone and told her that he will speak with Savageau about Lodi.

Chien then contacted the “Human Resources Career Development and Assignments” and sought advise and transfer. She was finally transferred in January 2011.

In the interim, and true to form, post December 2, 2010, or sometime on June 3, 20112, Lodi gave Chien a negative performance evaluation, accusing her of lacking in communication and interpersonal skills. There were no facts to corroborate these allegations. This negative evaluation prevented Chien from being granted tenure within the Agency.

The tenure board in turn, denied her tenure in 2012, citing to Lodi’s comments regarding her lack of interpersonal and communication skills.

In March 2013, Chien challenged/appealed this evaluation by Lodi. Her challenge was successful and in July 2013, Lodi’s 2011 evaluation of Chien was overturned. She was granted tenure soon after. (Note: we’re trying to locate the FSGB case).

Libya Assignment March – May 2011

Around May 2011, Chien was now assigned to the U.S Embassy in Libya. She was part of the protective detail to the Special Envoy to Libya, Chris Stevens. She was employed at the Tactical Operations Center (TOC) answering telephones, monitoring traffic and issuing equipment to other TOC agents on the ground.

Upon her arrival, Chien was told that all agents initially served at TOC, and after a few weeks, they would be sent to the field. All the other TOC agents in Libya were male.

After two (2) weeks of her arrival in March 2011, she asked her shift leader if she could be sent to the field, as part of the security detail for a motorcade. She was told by her supervisor, that she would remain as a TOC agent, and that there were no plans to rotate her.

Consequently sometime in March/April 2011, Chien asks the Agent in Charge, Scott Moretti that she be assigned to a field position. Moretti says, “We don’t do rotations.” Barely an hour later, Agent Joel Ortez asked Moretti, if he can be rotated from a limousine driver to another position, because Ortez had been a limousine driver for weeks and needed a new rotation/assignment. Moretti’s immediate reply to Ortez was, “Sure Buddy!”

Soonafter, Chein also learned from Mr. Khamprasong Bounkong, that when management had learned a female agent was being assigned to Libya, one of the bosses said, “Why would they send a female from headquarters to a Muslim country?”

Chien was deeply displeased by the Agency’s discriminatory assignments of tasks to male agents, as she had undergone similar firearms training, emergency and critical thinking training. She felt that the only reason she was being denied rotation to the field, was because she was a female. This was made all the more concerning to her, when as part of her single “protective detail” she was awarded a “Group Meritorious Award” for a bombing occurring on June 1, 2011.
[…]
Finally on or about August 12, 2013, after bidding on 18 overseas NOW positions and being denied for all of them, her supervisor Mr. Ollie Ellison informed Chien that he was informed by Mr. Kearns, Chien was being denied for foreign assignments because “it has to do with something out of L.A.”

February 2012-March 2013: Pakistan Assignment

As the ARSO and under the direction of Krajicek she oversaw the Surveillance Detection Program3, the Local Guard Force (LGF) Residential Program, the Residential Security Program (RSP), the Logistics / Procurement Program, and the Information / Cyber Security Program.

Chien alleges that the removal of her programs was motivated by racial or sexual animus, as the programs of other Caucasian males were not removed by either Krajicke or Thiede.

Upon her return from Pakistan to the United States, or sometime in March/April 2013, Chien learned from her colleagues George Terterian & Alexa Landreville, that the security investigators had asked them if Chien had ever complained about work place harassment, a hostile work environment, discrimination or retaliation. Chien believes that this extra scrutiny during her January 2013 clearance interview was a result of her prior EEO activities and therefore in retaliation to her protected activities.

Under Count II, the complaint says that “Defendant created a hostile work environment and/or harassed Plaintiff because of her race and sex; the offending conduct was unwelcome, was based on race and/or sex and was sufficiently severe or pervasive when it altered the conditions of her employment and created an abusive work environment and was imputable to her employer the U.S. Department of State.”

Under Count III, the complaint alleged that “As a result of her protected activity and opposition to practices made unlawful under Title VII, Plaintiff was subjected to multiple adverse employment actions, up to and including a negative performance evaluation, denial of tenure, over-scrutinization of her security clearance and/or denial of foreign assignments.”

Ms. Chien demands a jury trial and requests that the Court award economic damages.

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