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Nomination: Amb. John R. Bass to be U.S. Ambassador to Afghanistan

Posted: 1:26 am ET

 

On July 20, President Trump announced his intent to nominate Ambassador John Bass to be the next U.S. Ambassador to Afghanistan. The Wh released the following brief bio:

John R. Bass of New York to be Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the United States of America to the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan.  Mr. Bass, a career member of the Senior Foreign Service, class of Minister-Counselor, has served as an American diplomat since 1988.  He is currently Ambassador to the Republic of Turkey, a position he has held since 2014.  He also served as Ambassador to the Republic of Georgia from 2009 to 2012.  Mr. Bass has spent much of the past decade supporting Federal Government efforts to mobilize allies and marshal resources to combat terrorism and instability in Iraq, Syria, and Southwest Asia.  He has served at six U.S. Missions overseas and in senior leadership positions at the Department of State.  Mr. Bass earned an A.B., cum laude, from Syracuse University.

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Nomination: Ambassador Michele Jeanne Sison to be U.S. Ambassador to Haiti

Posted: 1:25 am ET

 

On July 20, President Trump announced his intent to nominate Ambassador Michele Sison to be the U.S. Ambassador to Haiti. The WH released a brief bio:

Michele Jeanne Sison of Maryland to be Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the United States of America to the Republic of Haiti.  Ms. Sison, a career member of the Senior Foreign Service, class of Career Minister, has served as an American diplomat since 1982.  She currently serves as Deputy Permanent Representative at the U.S. Mission to the United Nations in New York, a position she has held since 2014.  A three-time Ambassador, Ms. Sison has been a leader, policymaker, and manager of complex programs in South Asia, the Middle East, Africa, and in Washington, D.C.  She has served at eleven U.S. Missions overseas and in senior leadership positions at the Department of State.  Ms. Sison earned a B.A. from Wellesley College.  She speaks fluent French and basic Haitian Creole and Arabic.

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Nomination: Career Diplomat Michael Dodman to be U.S. Ambassador to Mauritania

Posted: 1:22 am ET

 

On July 20, President Trump announced his intent to nominate Michael Dodman to be the U.S. Ambassador to Mauritania.  The WH released a brief bio:

Michael James Dodman of New York to be the Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the United States of America to the Islamic Republic of Mauritania.  Mr. Dodman, a career member of the Senior Foreign Service, class of Minister-Counselor, is currently Executive Assistant in the Office of the Under Secretary for Economic Growth, Energy and the Environment at the Department of State.  A career diplomat since 1987, Mr. Dodman’s previous assignments include Principal Officer at the U.S. Consulate General in Karachi, Pakistan; Economic Counselor at the U.S. Mission to the European Union; and Economic Counselor at the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad, Iraq.  Mr. Dodman received a B.S. from Georgetown University, an M.A. from Boston University, and an M.P.P. from Princeton University.

USCG Michael Dodman, U.S. Consulate General Karachi, Pakistan

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Open Forum Furor: An Attempt to Neuter Retiree Complaints About AFSA?

Posted: 1:44 am ET

 

AFSA’s Open Forum enables Foreign Service retirees to stay in touch with their Foreign Service colleagues on FS issues and maintain their FS legacy. Out of some 16,000 paying members, a sub-group of retiree-members use the online forum, and they are pretty vocal and not always complimentary to AFSA or its leadership. AFSA previously opted-in all members to the forum in 2014 so everyone gets to read the online conversation.

An Open Forum user said that all those who get the Open Forum digest daily benefits from being part of a dynamic discussion/debate of Foreign Service topics of interest, whether or not they chose to post in the forum themselves.

AFSA Director of Communications Asgeir Sigfusson recently told members that “We have heard from members asking us to do our best to stem the flow of emails and help with inbox clutter. In response, we are now opting everyone out of that daily email, which will reduce the number of weekly AFSA emails by up to seven.”

We were informed by our sources that “When asked, AFSA staff indicated they have no knowledge of any complaints about the Forum.”

AFSA’s President and State VP, and their communication shop are notoriously unresponsive to our inquiries, so um … pardon us if we no longer waste our time over there.  

The Open Forum mechanism to opt-in is reportedly not onerous, and we can certainly understand decluttering the inbox but some AFSA members are outrage, especially as the change was announced just a few days before it took effect.  More importantly, there is a strong suspicion that trimming access to the forum (or what members read even passively from the forum) and the requirement to opt-in are just ways to trim the unfavorable views expressed by the retired members.

Former AFSA Vice President for Retirees Larry Cohen who oversaw the creation of the forum did not minced words and said, “This as an attempt of AFSA leadership to neuter retiree complaints about AFSA.”

Ouch! What are they talking about in there, do tell!

A close AFSA observer notes that changes at AFSA that could have lead to this kerfuffle includes communication issues like Governing Board meeting agendas and approved minutes that should be available on the AFSA website for any interested member but are not.

“Overall AFSA leadership seems to want a tight control on information.  They do not share enough or ask enough.  The current communications policy divides up the Service by not sharing communications across all constituencies so that  all interested, whether active or retired, can be better informed.  Boards and staff continue to ignore the bylaw provision for constituency Standing Committees.  Now is a time to enlarge the tent, not restrict it.  Standing committees have an advisory function and allow for a broader range of perspectives.  The results or main themes or take-always from the  “focused conversations” organized by rank cohort are not shared with the membership with the degree of specificity needed to be useful.  It is not clear how focus group conversations are announced or participants selected.  What about retirees – are they included?”

That sounds almost as bad as the information control generated by the 7th Floor.

The AFSA observer also notes that elected representatives are accountable to members and every member deserves a respectful and timely response to any request for information.

Just yesterday, an Open Forum user complained that the three items he/she submitted have not been published nor acknowledged and asked, “What in the name of AFSA openness is going on?”

The AFSA election results for the 2017-2019 AFSA Governing Board had a total of 4,130 valid ballots cast or 25% of the eligible voting membership (note that the new Governing Board was seated last week, so old Prez but new State VP). That’s the same percentage of voters who participated in the 2015-2017 elections. A few years back, we sliced and diced the AFSA voting numbers and at that time, we noted that active-duty employees were the largest voting bloc in AFSA at over 60% of the total membership, but only about 16% of this constituency vote. Foreign Service retirees on the other hand, the second largest constituents of AFSA make up something like 26% of the total membership but almost half the total AFSA retiree members cast their votes (2016 membership is currently 10,792 active employees and 3,710 retired employees). The retirees also bring in about $260K in AFSA dues annually.

As a side note, did you hear about the ruling from the Foreign Service Labor Relations Board (FSLRB) about Foreign Service retirement and witholding of union dues? (Separate post to follow).

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July 19 SFRC Hearing: Krishna R. Urs to be U.S. Ambassador to Peru

Posted: 12:40 am ET

 

Yesterday, the SFRC held a confirmation hearing for three nominees.  The nomination of career diplomat Krishna R. Urs to be the U.S. Ambassador to Peru was a late addition to the panel, so this is a catch-up post.

Date: Wednesday, July 19, 2017
Time: 02:00 PM
Location: SD-419
Presiding: Senator Rubio

The live video and the prepared testimony is available here.

Below is the report submitted to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee:

SUBJECT:  Ambassadorial Nomination:  Certificate o Demonstrated Competence — Foreign Service Act, Section 304(a)(4)

POST: Republic of Peru

CANDIDATE:  Krishna Raj Urs

Krishna Urs, a career member of the Senior Foreign Service, class of Minister-Counselor, is the Charge d’Affaires at the US Embassy, Madrid, Spain (2017) where he was also the Deputy Chief of Mission (2014-2017).  In his three decades of service in the State Department Mr. Urs has specialized in economic issues and has extensive policy experience in the Andean region of South America.  He also has considerable knowledge of the workings of the U.S. government and served as the Acting Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Economic and Business Affairs (2013-2014) and as Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Transportation Affairs (2010-2013).   As a three- time Deputy Chief of Mission, and as Charge d’Affaires at the U.S. Embassy, La Paz, Bolivia (2008).  Mr. Urs honed his well-regarded skills as a leader of diverse interagency teams, as a manager of complex programs, and as a mentor and role model. These skills, coupled with his experience as a policy maker, his considerable expertise on economic and trade issues, and his impressive substantive knowledge of Peru and of the Andean region make him an excellent candidate for U.S. Ambassador to the Republic of Peru.

Among his overseas assignments, Mr. Urs served as Deputy Chief of Mission, U.S. Embassy La Paz, Bolivia (2006-2009,  Acting Deputy Chief of Mission and Counselor for Economic and Political Affairs at the U.S. Embassy Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic (2000-2003) and Counselor for Economic Affairs, U.S. Embassy, Lima Peru.  In the State Department in Washington, D.C., Mr. Urs’ positions included assignments as Director of the Office of Aviation Negotiations, Bureau of Economic and Business Affairs (2009-2010), and Director of the Office of Economic Policy and Summit Coordination, Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs (2003-2006).

Mr. Urs earned a M.S. from the University of Texas in 1984 and a B.S. from Georgetown University in 1980.  He has been the recipient of thirteen notable senior State Department awards, including a Presidential Meritorious Service Award.  Mr. Urs speaks fluent Spanish as well as some Hindi and Telegu.

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Sen. Menendez Asks the Consular Affairs Nominee the Questions Y’All Wanna Ask

Posted: 1:26 pm PT

 

The Trump nominee to be Assistant Secretary of State for Consular Affairs appeared before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee yesterday (see July 18 SFRC Hearing: Carl Risch to be Assistant Secretary for Consular Affairs). There were four nominees during the hour and a half hearing chaired by Senator Ron Johnson, so basically 22.5 minutes for each nominee although the CT and CA nominees got most of the more substantial questions.

(click image to see the video)

Senator Robert Menendez (D-NJ) reminded Mr. Risch of his old congressional testimony advocating for the transfer of visa function to DHS in 2002 (see Ex-FSO Who Once Advocated Moving Visas to DHS May be the Next Asst Secretary For Consular Affairs). The exchange between Menendez and Risch starts at 00:45:50 via C-SPAN video here.

Senator Menendez started by congratulating all the nominees then quoted from Mr. Risch’s old testimony: “Congratulations to all of you. Mr. Risch in 2007 you appeared before the House Subcommittee on Government Reform. In a hearing, you said during my tenure as unit chief I adjudicated approximately 25,000 visa applications. I resigned in May of 2002 even though I received top evaluation and a challenging assignment. While I longed to return to my private practice, I was discouraged by the State Department’s lack of dedication to the enforcement of laws. I took my job very seriously. The State Department did not.”

Senator Menendez then asked: “Do you believe the State Department isn’t  committed to rule of law and national security of the United States?”

Mr. Risch’s response:

“Thank you senator, for the question and for the opportunity to address that testimony. The testimony was in 2002, not in 2007. It was 15 years ago that that testimony took place. It was during the time that the Department of Homeland Security was just being stood up. I believe a lot has changed at the State Department in 15 years. I’m enthusiastic about the future the way the bureau will be fulfilling its function with interagency cooperation, continuous vetting.”

Senator Menendez did not let him off the hook and asked again, “Do you believe the State Department is committed to the rule of law and the national security of the United States?”

Mr. Risch responded, Currently senator, I absolutely do.”

The NJ senator started talking about refugee and migration issues then asked Mr. Risch, “So do you believe that the Department of Homeland Security, which is notoriously bloated with a whole host of dysfunctional components, should be responsible still to have the visa, the very essence of the department you’re being nominated to, to be transferred to the Department of Homeland Security?”

Mr. Risch’s response:

“Well, 15 years ago, senator, I stand behind my testimony. It was a completely different time. And there were a lot of talk about consolidating different things into the Department of Homeland Security. Currently, I watched the Deputy Secretary testify yesterday that it’s currently not the intent of the Department of State —”

This is in reference to Deputy Secretary Sullivan’s testimony from Monday, at the same panel, about State not having an intention to transfer the consular function to DHS.  Senator Menendez cut him off saying “I’m not asking what their intent, I’m asking your view. You’re nominated for this position.”

This is Mr. Risch’s response:

“My view is I would … I follow the leadership of Department of State if confirmed. But as of today, I intend to lead the Bureau of Consular Affairs as it is currently formed. I believe that I will be, if confirmed a strong leader of all functions of the consular bureau including the visa function.” 

 

 

 

There’s something about Mr. Risch’s response that’s not very comforting to our ears. You, too? Maybe it’s the use of the word “currently” as “at the present time,” as in “now.” Maybe, that’s just his favorite word. Maybe it indicates that he does not have a solid view about a U.S. Government agency’s commitment to the rule of law and national security of this country.

To the question about his belief whether the State Department is committed to the rule of law and national security of the United States, Mr. Risch responded with “I absolutely do,” but he prefaced that response with “currently.” He used the same word when talking about the intent of the State Department, and in describing the bureau he is nominated to lead.

The use of the word “currently” implies that things might change. Does he know something we don’t? What he believes now, may not be what he believes next month, or next year. If the White House decides to move the visa function to DHS, and the State Department’s intent changes, Mr. Risch will “follow the leadership” at State. Then he will be back in the Senate to explain, “Currently, the State Department believe it is best to …”

For what it’s worth, we asked somebody who previously worked with Mr. Risch at an overseas post and the one feedback we got though brief was complimentary.

Mr. Risch’s prepared testimony is available here (pdf).

If confirmed, Mr. Risch would succeed career diplomat Michele Thoren Bond who served as Assistant Secretary for Consular Affairs from 2015-2017.

Below is a brief summary of the position and the previous appointees to this office via history.state.gov:

Assistant Secretaries of State for Consular Affairs

The Immigration and Nationality Act of 1952 (Jun 27, 1952; P.L. 82-414; 66 Stat. 174) established within the Department of State a Bureau of Security and Consular Affairs, headed by an Administrator with rank equal to that of an Assistant Secretary. From Mar 1 to Dec 30, 1954, the Bureau was renamed “Inspection, Security, and Consular Affairs.” From 1953 to 1962, the Secretary of State designated incumbents to this position. The Migration and Refugee Assistance Act of 1962 (Jun 28, 1962; P.L. 87-510; 76 Stat. 123) made the Administrator a Presidential appointee subject to the advice and consent of the Senate. In 1962, the Department transferred the security function to the Deputy Under Secretary for Administration, but the title remained unchanged until 1977, when the Foreign Relations Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 1978 (Aug 17, 1977; P.L. 95-105; 91 Stat. 847) changed the Administrator’s title to “Assistant Secretary of State for Consular Affairs.” This title has been given in full in all subsequent commissions to this office.

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July 19 SFRC Hearing: Luis Arreaga to be U.S. Ambassador to Guatemala

Posted: 1:48 am ET

 

Today, the SFRC is holding a confirmation hearing on the nomination of career diplomat Luis Arreaga to be the U.S. Ambassador to Guatemala. Ambassador Arreaga previously served as chief of mission at the U.S. Embassy in Iceland.

Date: Wednesday, July 19, 2017
Time: 02:00 PM
Location: SD-419
Presiding: Senator Rubio

The live video and the prepared testimony will be posted here when available.

Below is the report submitted to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee:

SUBJECT:  Ambassadorial Nomination:  Certificate of Demonstrated Competence — Foreign Service Act, Section 304(a)(4)

POST: Republic of Guatemala

CANDIDATE:  Luis E. Arreaga

Luis E. Arreaga, a career member of the Senior Foreign Service, class of Minister-Counselor, is currently Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary, Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs, Department of State, a position he has held since 2016.  A former Ambassador, Deputy Chief of Mission, Consul General and Office Director, Mr. Arreaga possesses cultural and linguistic fluency in the region as well as extensive leadership and interagency management expertise.   He has led the development of civilian security assistance programs in Mexico, Central America, and Colombia as well as the largest increase in recruitment, assessment, and hiring in the State Department’s history.  He advocated for a $1 billion sale of Boeing aircraft to Icelandair and led a team of 18 agencies that helped conclude a Free Trade Agreement and oversaw a large expansion of U.S. military support to Panama.

Previously, he served as Deputy Assistant Secretary, Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs, Department of State (2013-2016), Ambassador, U.S. Embassy Reykjavik, Iceland (2010-2013), Director, Office of Recruitment, Examination, and Employment, Bureau of Human Resources, Department of State (2008-2010), Deputy Chief of Mission, U.S. Embassy Panama City, Panama (2005-2008), U.S. Consul General in Vancouver, Canada (2002-2005), and Director, Executive Secretariat Staff, Department of State (2001-2002).  He has also served as Deputy Director of the State Department’s Operations Center and as Special Assistant to the Under Secretary for Political Affairs.  Other overseas postings include the U.S. Mission to the United Nations in Geneva, the U.S. Embassy in Spain, and Agency for International Development Missions in Peru, El Salvador and Honduras.

Mr. Arreaga is a graduate of the University of Wisconsin at Milwaukee where he received a Ph.D., M.S. and B.A.  He is the recipient of eleven notable senior State Department awards and a Lifetime Achievement Award from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee Alumni Association.  A heritage speaker of Spanish, he is also fluent in French and speaks basic Icelandic.

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Tillerson Appoints Ex-USNATO Ambassador Kurt Volker as Special Representative For Ukraine Negotiations

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Posted: 12:49 am ET

 

On July 7, the State Department announced Secretary Tillerson’s appointment of Ambassador Kurt Volker to serve as the United States Special Representative for Ukraine Negotiations. Ambassador Volker served at USNATO from July 2, 2008 to May 15, 2009.  He was reported in spring as in the running for the position of Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs (EUR). This is Secretary Tillerson’s first special rep appointee.

Below is the released statement:

Secretary of State Rex W. Tillerson announced today his appointment of Ambassador Kurt Volker to serve as the United States Special Representative for Ukraine Negotiations. Ambassador Volker, who has served previously as the U.S. Permanent Representative to NATO, Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary for European and Eurasian Affairs, and as Director for NATO and Western Europe on the National Security Council, will take responsibility for advancing U.S. efforts to achieve the objectives set out in the Minsk agreements. He will accompany the Secretary to Kyiv on Sunday, July 9, and is expected to continue to hold regular meetings with Ukraine and the other members of the Normandy Format: Russia, Germany, and France.

“Kurt’s wealth of experience makes him uniquely qualified to move this conflict in the direction of peace,” said Secretary Tillerson. “The United States remains fully committed to the objectives of the Minsk agreements, and I have complete confidence in Kurt to continue our efforts to achieve peace in Ukraine.”

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Trump Nominates Career Diplomat Krishna R. Urs to be U.S. Ambassador to Peru

Posted: 2:09 am ET

 

Last week, president Trump announced his intent to nominate Krishna R. Urs, of Connecticut, a Career Member of the Senior Foreign Service, Class of Minister-Counselor, to be Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the United States of America to the Republic of Peru. The nomination was received in the Senate on June 29 and referred to the Committee on Foreign Relations (see PN722)

Mr. Urs is currently the Chargé d’Affaires at the U.S. Embassy in Madrid, Spain. Below is a short bio:

A 31-year veteran of the Foreign Service, Krishna “Kris” R. Urs assumed duties as Deputy Chief of Mission at the U.S. Embassy in Madrid, Spain in June 2014, and Chargé d’Affaires in January 2017.  Previously, he served as the Deputy Assistant Secretary for Transportation Affairs and Chief U.S. Government Aviation Negotiator at the Department of State from November 2010 until June 2014.  He also served as Director in the Office of Aviation Negotiations in the Bureau of Economic, Energy and Business Affairs in the Department of State (September 2009 until October 2010), Charge d’Affaires, a.i. at the U.S. Embassy in La Paz, Bolivia (from September 2008 until June 2009), Deputy Chief of Mission at the same embassy (from July 2006 until September 2008), Director of the Office of Economic Policy and Summit Coordination in the Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs at the Department of State (from 2003 until 2006).   Mr. Urs served overseas as an economic officer in the Dominican Republic (2000-2003), Peru (1996-2000), Nicaragua (1990-1993), Bangladesh (1988-1990) and Mexico (1987-1988).  He served in the Department of State as the senior Pakistan Desk Officer (1994-1996) and on detail to Department of Treasury (1993-1994), working in the Office of Latin American and Caribbean Affairs.

Mr. Urs is a 1980 graduate of Georgetown University, where he studied Latin American politics and economics at the Walsh School of Foreign Service. He earned a Masters Degree at the University of Texas in economics (1985).  He speaks Spanish and Hindi.

 

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Trump to Nominate Career Diplomat Maria E. Brewer to be Ambassador to Sierra Leone

Posted: 3:49 am ET

 

On June 22, President Trump announced his intent to nominate career diplomat Maria Brewer to be the next Ambassador to Sierra Leone. The WH released the following brief bio:

Maria E. Brewer of Indiana to be Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the United States of America to the Republic of Sierra Leone. Ms. Brewer, a career member of the Senior Foreign Service, class of Minister-Counselor, has served as an American diplomat since 1996. She is currently the Deputy Director of the Career Development and Assignments Division of the Bureau of Human Resources at the Department of State. She has served at six United States Missions abroad and in senior leadership positions at the Department of State. Ms. Brewer earned a M.S. from the National Defense University Industrial College of the Armed Forces and a B.A. from Valparaiso University. She speaks Spanish.

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