DGHR Notifies HR Employees of Measures to Manage COVID-19 in SA-1  

 

We learned from two sources that State Department DGHR Carol Perez sent out an email notice to HR Employees on “Measures to Manage COVID-19 in SA-1 ” on the evening of March 24.  SA-1 is a State Department annex office located on E Street in Columbia Plaza A & B that includes multiple agency tenants like the HR (now GTM) bureau and the Bureau of Administration.

“GTM was notified today of a presumptive positive case of COVID-19 in SA-1.  The person has been out of the office since the close of business Thursday, March 19.”

The email went on to describe the measures the State Department has undertaken including the A bureau cordoning off “space on the floor where the person works for disinfection.” The DGHR’s email notified HR employees that MED and the Bureau of Administration supervised a vendor conducting “a deliberate and professional disinfection of those spaces.”
“The disinfected spaces will be safe for re-occupation tomorrow, March 25,” the DGHR writes. Her email also told employees that “Areas contiguous to those spaces (hallways, elevators) continue to be safe for use” and that  GTM (HR) “remains operational, and the rest of SA-1 remains open as a worksite. ”
The notice ends with a reminder that employees should be aware of CDC guidelines to limit the spread of COVID-19 and says that “ Employees should stay home and not come to work if they feel sick or have symptoms of illness.” Employees are also reminded if they are at work to “wash their hands frequently and employ social distancing” and that “Directorates and Offices should not engage in group events of 10 or more individuals at this time.”
DGHR’s closing line said “The health and safety of our employees remains our top priority.  Please take care of yourselves and each other.”
One source told us that the DGHR message was apparently sent only to those in the HR (GTM) bureau. Sender A asks:

“If someone working in HR was exposed, then, ostensibly, does that not mean that anyone else working in that same building (SA-1) might also have been exposed irrespective of whether or not they work for HR? Or that customers of that HR officer who visited SA-1 might’ve been? I mean, really? Are we REALLY stove piping info like this?!”

A second source told us that this was the approach the Consular Affairs bureau took in communicating about the positive case of COVID-19 in SA-17
We don’t know if the presumptive positive case is with HR or the A bureau, but if it’s the latter, it would be weird for HR employees to be notified but not the A bureau, hey?
The top official who says “The health and safety of our employees remains our top priority” can do better communicating information about COVID-19 cases within the State Department. We were informed that there is still “no central info on cases department-wide or measures individual embassies are taking to share best practices or information on gravity of situation.” Note that MED said it is tracking cases. See COVID-19 Tracker: State Department and Foreign Service Posts (March 25 Update).
We’re having a hard time understanding that. This is an agency that takes notes about everything but is unable to track this virus in domestic offices and overseas posts?
These are scary times, no doubt but remember the human. I often do yard work these days to keep my anxiety down or I won’t get anything done.  Different folks deal with anxieties, uncertainties and fears differently, except that it gets more difficult to do absent relevant needed information. Do folks really want to see rumors flying around the annexes? As often said, rumors express and gratify the emotional needs of the community. It occupies the space where that need is not meet, and particularly when there is deficient communication.
Valued employees deserve more.

 

Advertisements

Snapshot: ShareAmerica’s “Debt-trap Diplomacy” Narrative Via Facebook/Twitter Campaigns

 

Via @StateDept’s FY 2018 Annual Performance Report | FY 2020 Annual Performance Plan (PDF/p149)

Key Indicator: Number of engagements generated by ShareAmerica content delivered to impact targeted narratives

Indicator Analysis. The Department is moving to align its content production more closely with trending social media narratives in target countries on Administration priority issues. Achieving this will require reallocation of internal resources and development of new editorial procedures. Because significant changes to IIP’s organization/mission are in the process of being implemented, IIP is unsure of the future of this particular indicator, and are not able to provide out-year targets at this time. While ShareAmerica will continue to operate, the direction and methods of evaluation for the program may be impacted.

A recent content team effort illustrates how this new editorial model can work. More specifically, the team:

• Employed analytics tools to monitor African conversations on the subject of Chinese aid. More specifically IIP sought to determine whether/how Africans drew distinctions between Chinese and American efforts;

• Identified key narratives and even phrases (“Debt-trap Diplomacy”) gaining traction in selected English, French, and Portuguese-speaking African nations and audience segments most likely to engage in those narratives;

• Developed content specifically tailored − down to the headline (“How U.S. aid avoids ‘debt-trap diplomacy’”) − to impact those narratives by contrasting development aid best practices with those that enmesh recipients in debt. IIP did not specifically address Chinese aid, but knew from our research that the target audiences could connect the dots; and

• Created Facebook and Twitter advertising campaigns (total expenditure: $1,000 total, or $8 per day/platform in each country) specifically targeting the audience segments identified during research phase.

Results:

• Digital analytics measure “post momentum” (engagement rate over previous 24 hours) at 76 times above average;

• 74 percent of respondents clicked-through to read the article;

• Fully 10 percent of respondents shared the article to their own social feeds, shares being the highest level of engagement and clearest indicator of success; and

• Facebook campaign (reach: two million) netted useful benchmarking data, allowing more precise, and inexpensive, future targeting for message reinforcement.

Indicator Methodology :

ShareAmerica content is meant to be distributed primarily on social media. IIP will assess whether social media audiences are finding the content engaging and interesting on those platforms. As a proxy for link clicks and for an engagement metric usable for a large set of articles, IIP will look at the total number of social media engagements (retweets, shares, likes, and comments) on Department ShareAmerica social media posts.

Clips:

Newly Gilded Bureau of Super Talent Talks About Self, Super Heroes on Earth 2

We received a question of which we have no answer:
Sender A asks, “how much time can they dither while the place collapses?”
What are you talking about?
Oops, folks, you were supposed to change your signature blocks as soon as possible, but preferably no later than last Monday!  Yes, yes, this is terribly very serious. You can’t be a bureau of super talent if you don’t have the approved signature block!
Meanwhile on Earth 2:

On the other hand, things are not as peachy on Earth 1:

Also on Earth 1, also not peachy:

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

 

Via WaPo, February 20, 2020:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Report: Fringe Conspiracy Guy/Trump Official Joins @StateDept ‘One Team’ as Arms Control Senior Advisor

 

USEU Gordon Sondland’s Home Renovation in Brussels: Much Higher Than First Reported

 

WaPo and Vanity Fair both reported about the renovation at the Chief of Mission Residence in Brussels, the official residence of the US Ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland. Excerpt via Vanity Fair:

A sampling of State Department contracts reveals that since September 2018—just a few months after Sondland’s Senate confirmation—the embassy in Brussels has been awarded $95,109 for a pergola, $13,301 for a pool-Jacuzzi heating system, $33,625 on wooden household furniture, $208,683 on a professional kitchen remodel, and two bathroom renovations, one costing $53,809 and the other $82,354. Additionally, the State Department spent $103,748 on a hotel, to ostensibly serve as an alternate residence to the embassy while the building undergoes renovations for months of September and October of this year. (In a statement, a spokesperson for the State Department confirmed that updates to the residence had been funded in 2019 “as part of its regular 17-year cycle of reviewing and refreshing furnishings and interior décor in representational residences.”)

WaPo’s reporting estimates the renovations at nearly $1 million including a $209,000 professional kitchen, and a $223,000 family kitchen. The actual obligation may  actually be higher than first reported.
A sourced familiar with the matter told us that the Chief of Mission Residence (CMR) was built in 1990 so one’s guesstimate is that the residence is  due for renovation as one of those “representational spaces.” The first contracts were awarded in September 2018, just two months after Sondland got to Brussels. (Sondland was confirmed via voice vote on June 28, 2018). Folks who understand how funding in government works can see that this “wasn’t all his initiative.” But .. because there’s always a but,  we understand from our source that the great bulk of the project items were added “more recently.” The Bureau of Overseas Building Operations  (OBO) reportedly approved all of it and the Office of Acquisition Management (State/AQM) awarded the contracts.
So a fairly modest renovation project was amped up until the contract award to an 8A firm reached $2.5 million?  More? Our source also told us, “Whether that much renovation was needed, or exactly how lavish is too lavish for a representational residence, I can’t say.”
Definitive Contract 19AQMM19C0088 is a Fixed Price Federal Contract Award. It was awarded to Pono Aina Management LLC of Oklahoma on Jun 12, 2019. The definitive contract is funded by the Bureau of Overseas Building Operations (DOS). The potential value of the award is $2,504,000 with potential end date of June 11, 2020. The solicitation procedure is marked “simplified acquisition” and  the set-aside type is marked “8(A) Sole Source.”

Why State/OIG Should Look Into Diplomatic Security’s Mina Chang Headache

 

NBC News did a follow up report on the Mina Change story it broke that lead to the resignation of the deputy assistant secretary of state at the Bureau of Conflict and Stabilization Operations. Excerpt:

To secure her job at the State Department in April, Chang leveraged social connections to senior officials who could help open the doors to the administration, including Brian Bulatao, a close friend and deputy to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo; a State Department official and former defense contractor who she succeeded as deputy assistant secretary, Pete Marocco; and a congressional staffer for key GOP lawmaker Rep. Michael McCaul of Texas, multiple sources said. Marocco endorsed her for the job and McCaul wrote her a recommendation letter.
[…]
By the time Rep. McCaul issued the recommendation letter, Chang’s nomination was moving ahead thanks to her own contacts in the administration, said a spokesperson for the congressman, Kaylin Minton.
[..]
Chang lists just $12,000 in income before she took the State Department job and listed no salary from her charity. According to papers from her divorce case in 2011, she was due to receive nearly $1,400 a month in child support and $500 in alimony per month for a year from her ex-husband, a real estate developer. She lived in an affluent neighborhood in Dallas in a high-end apartment building, former colleagues and acquaintances said.

The updated NBC News piece also notes that “The State Department and its Diplomatic Security Service, which helps vet appointees, did not respond to requests for comment.”
Oh, dang!
State and DSS are probably hoping that this story will just go away now that she had submitted her resignation. But there is something in this story that is troubling.  If it was this easy for her to get this position despite the now revealed holes in her resume,  how many more are there in Foggy Bottom who were hired under similar circumstances? And how exactly did Diplomatic Security “missed” um …  a few things that reporters were able to easily dig up? Is this a case of Diplomatic Security “missing” a few things or a case of the security bureau being “responsive” to the 7th Floor?
Perhaps more importantly, if it was this easy to get around these “holes” and get a deputy assistant secretary position (which typically requires years and years of experience for career appointees), just how hard could it be for foreign intel services to do the same?
Now, we’re not suggesting that Diplomatic Security investigates itself on how this individual got through its security clearance process,  or see if the bureau has systemic holes in that process. We think State/OIG or a congressional panel with oversight authority should look into it.

 

Related posts:
State/CSO DAS Mina Chang Resigns After NBC News Asked About Newly Discovered False Claims;
Dear @StateDept, How Many More Mina Changs Do You Have?

@StateDept Releases First Ukraine-Related Documents Under FOIA

 

The State Department is about to get inundated once more with FOIA requests.  Anyone anticipating an “FOIA surge” this time around? You may download the documents here, the first set in a court-ordered document production via American Oversight.
The November 1 court order from the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia ruled that the State Department must search for and produce by November 22, 2019 records from Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and counselor Ulrich Brechbuhl containing any readouts or summaries of President Trump’s July call with the President of Ukraine.
We’ve looked through a hundred pages of these newly released documents, and while the most notable are the telephone calls between Mr. Giuliani and the secretary of state (two calls referred to in the Hale deposition), there does not appear to be any documents specific to readouts and summaries of the July 25 call.
So, how soon do you think before we’ll see those documents?

 

Foreign Affairs Security Training Center (FASTC) Opens in Blackstone, Virginia

 

On November 14, 2019, Diplomatic Security tweeted a video of the formal opening of the Foreign Affairs Security Training Center (FASTC) located in Blackstone, Virginia.
According to state.gov, the Department of State, working with the U.S. General Services Administration (GSA), conducted environmental studies at Fort Pickett, which showed that the site was suitable for FASTC. In 2015, GSA purchased property and secured land use agreements for approximately 1,400 acres of publicly held land. On February 25, 2016, construction began for the FASTC project.
The final FASTC construction update notes that Hensel Phelps is the general contractor responsible for building the third and final construction phase of FASTC. The venues for this phase include the High Speed Anti-Terrorism Driving Course (West), Explosive Simulation Alley, Venue Classroom buildings, Indoor/Outdoor Firing Range, Central Warehouse, Armory, Parking Area for Training Vehicles, and a Fitness Center. Turnover of the Contract 03 venues to the State Department reportedly began in summer 2019. The Armory, Warehouse, Mock Urban Driving Track and a Parking Area have already been turned over to State for their use according to the FASTC September newsletter.
According to Diplomatic Security, DSS will train roughly 10,000 students at FASTC, including DSS special agents, other Foreign Service personnel, other U.S. government employees assigned to U.S. embassies and consulates, and some foreign nationals.  The Foreign Affairs Counter Threat (FACT) course, required by Department of State personnel assigned to overseas posts was scheduled move to FASTC this year.
For more information about FASTC, visit https://www.state.gov/FASTC

Related posts:

State/CSO DAS Mina Chang Resigns After NBC News Asked About Newly Discovered False Claims

 

We recently posted about State/CSO DAS Mina Chang following an NBC News investigation (see Dear @StateDept, How Many More Mina Changs Do You Have?). NBC News reported on November 18 that Ms. Change has resigned from the State Department “two and a half hours after NBC News went to her spokesperson to ask about newly discovered false claims she had made about her charity work.”

Senior Trump administration official Mina Chang resigned from her job at the State Department two and a half hours after NBC News went to her spokesperson to ask about newly discovered false claims she had made about her charity work.

NBC News had previously reported that Chang, the deputy assistant secretary in the State Department’s Bureau of Conflict and Stability Operations, had embellished her resume with misleading claims about her educational achievements and the scope of her non-profit’s work — even posting a fake cover of Time magazine with her face on it.

“It is essential that my resignation be seen as a protest and not as surrender because I will not surrender my commitment to serve, my fidelity to the truth, or my love of country,” Chang wrote in her resignation letter to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. “Indeed, I intend to fight for those things as a citizen in the days and years to come.”

Chang said she had been “unfairly maligned, unprotected by my superiors, and exposed to a media with an insatiable desire for gossip and scandal, genuine or otherwise.”
[…[
The newly discovered false claims include misrepresenting a trip to Afghanistan as a humanitarian mission, listing an academic who says he never worked for her nonprofit as an employee, claiming a nonexistent degree from the University of Hawaii, inflating an award and claiming to be an “ambassador” for the United Nations’ cultural agency UNESCO.

Her bio page at state.gov now display a “We apologize for the inconvenience…” page.
We still want to know how she got to Foggy Bottom. That has implications not just with the vetting process but also Diplomatic Security’s security clearance process.