Tillerson’s Hiring/Lateral Transfer Freeze: What Priorities Shape Staffing Freeze Exceptions?

Posted: 1:40 am ET
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So Secretary Tillerson has apparently lifted the hiring freeze for WAEs to work the FOIA shop (FS retirees from any agency and CS retirees from DOS are eligible), but Diplomatic Security could not get one position established for its Mobile Security Deployments Office because there is still a freeze on hiring and lateral transfers for the rest of the Foggy Bottom universe?

Diplomatic Security’s Office of Mobile Security Deployments (MSD) is the agency’s emergency security support, crisis response, and special mission component. MSD was originally established in 1985 under the Bureau of Diplomatic Security’s (DS) Directorate for Training to provide training and security support to overseas posts. As a result of the 9/11 attacks, the Department in 2002 expanded MSD’s mission to include:

  • Security Support Teams, which deploy to embassies or consulates during periods of immediate threat of terrorist or criminal activity, crisis, natural disaster, or other unusual event.
  • Tactical Support Teams, which provide protection for the Secretary of State and other high-risk VIPs, both domestically and as required when the Secretary is traveling abroad.
  • Integrated Mobile Training Teams, which provide specialized security training at overseas posts for U.S. Government employees and to foreign partners.

According to State/OIG, MSD is authorized 104 Foreign Service, 24 Civil Service, and 26 contractor positions. At the time of the inspection, 25 percent of the Foreign Service positions were unfilled.

DS leadership acknowledged that MSD is critical to the security and safety of the Secretary and the Department’s embassies and consulates. Nonetheless, the office faced, on average, a 13.7 percent shortfall in staffing in the three years prior to 2017. This staffing shortfall resulted in 14 agent positions, or two and a half teams, being unstaffed. The staffing shortfall increased in 2017 to 38 percent; a shortfall of 38 agent positions or staffing for six and a half teams. In addition to reducing the number of teams it deployed, the staffing shortfall also required MSD to prioritize Security Support Team and Tactical Support Team missions over Integrated Mobile Training Team missions. As a result, MSD frequently had to reschedule training missions to address more urgent priorities.

In FY 2016, MSD teams deployed 70 times, often on short notice for periods up to 2 months or more, to locales where U.S. embassies and consulates faced serious security threats. Additionally, from July 2014 through April 2017, MSD dedicated 6 of its 10 teams to continuous missions in South Sudan and Somalia, leaving only 4 teams to address other crises or provide needed training. In December 2016, when every available team was deployed on priority missions, MSD trained senior agents, not normally deployed, to create an additional team in case another crisis arose. DS senior leadership acknowledged the need for additional MSD agents but also recognized DS’ bureau-wide shortage of agents. […] MSD met the standards in 1 FAM 262.5-3(1), which require the office to provide Security Support Teams for emergency support to overseas posts during periods of high threats, crises, or natural disasters. The office also met Department standards in 12 FAH-1 H-024.1-2b, which state that Security Support Teams should provide time-sensitive protective security for ambassadors, post personnel, or facility protection, to generally counter a direct or imminent threat of attack. MSD deployed 25 Security Support Teams in FY 2015, 18 in FY 2016, and 10 through the first 7 months of FY 2017. Among the missions conducted from September 2016 through April 2017, MSD provided protective support during the ordered departure of Embassy Kinshasa personnel due to political protests. During the same period, MSD also provided a protective detail for the Ambassador and a tactical operations center at Embassy Juba in the face of civil unrest. Other Security Support Team missions included support to U.S. embassies in the Gambia, Mauritania, the Republic of the Congo, and Somalia. While at a post, Security Support Teams also provided training to regional security officers, Marine Security Guards, the local guard force and American family members in an effort to strengthen their capability to meet future crises.

The State/OIG report notes that MSD did not have anyone permanently assigned to provide high-level oversight for its administrative operations and procedures per GAO suggestion. So last year, MSD apparently established a temporary position for an employee to exercise high-level, unified oversight of the MSD administrative functions.

OIG found that the two DS Special Agents, each of whom held the position for only a few months, were instrumental in implementing significant improvements in MSD personal property internal controls, including the examples described above. These Special Agents also prepared, drafted or updated 50 standard operating procedures on all areas of MSD operations. Based on these accomplishments, OIG concluded that there is a compelling justification to establish a permanent position to maintain the improvements and to provide long-term stability in the direct oversight of contracts, budget, and property management. Without permanent senior oversight, the office risks reverting to its former practices, including an inability to effectively manage SPE.

SPE stands for Sensitive Protective Equipment which refers to equipment, such as weapons and optical equipment like night-vision goggles, issued to agents in support of their law enforcement, security, and protective missions. State/OIG recommended that the Bureau of Diplomatic Security “should make the Office of Mobile Security Deployments’ temporary administrative chief a permanent position.”

Management Response: In its October 13, 2017, response, the Bureau of Diplomatic Security concurred with the recommendation. The bureau noted that it had updated the internal organizational structure of the office to depict the new position. The bureau further stated that once the Department’s restrictions on hiring and lateral transfers are lifted, it would attempt to establish the position in the General Schedule to ensure permanence and continuity.

Read the full report here.

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@StateDept Dedicates New $225M U.S. Embassy in N’Djamena, Chad

Posted: 3:25 am ET
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On October 16, the State Department announced that “In an important symbol of our enduring partnership with the people of the Republic of Chad, U.S. Ambassador Geeta Pasi, Acting Director of the Bureau of Overseas Buildings Operations Ambassador William Moser, and Chadian Government officials dedicated the new U.S. Embassy in N’Djamena.”  We don’t know how many local officials attended as there appears to be no official photographs released of the embassy dedication (also see Trump Announces New Visa Restrictions For Chad, Iran, Libya, North Korea, Syria, Venezuela, Yemen, Somalia).

According to State/OBO the new U.S. Embassy compound in Chad’s capital city of N’Djamena is situated on a 12-acre site in the Chagoua neighborhood, several kilometers southeast of downtown. The multi-building complex includes a chancery office building, a Marine Security Guard residence, support buildings and facilities for the Embassy community.

Via state.gov/OBO

The following details via the State Department’s Bureau of Overseas Buildings Operations (State/OBO):

      • The facilities meet all Department standards for security and life safety, and provide functional office space for Embassy staff.
      • The building’s scale, massing, and materials anchor the compound in this prominent, developing location within the city, and foster a sense of community and place.
      • The project was awarded in early 2014 and construction completed in spring 2017.
      • The site and building design provide shelter and relief from heat and sand storms, and seasonal rains.
      • A regionally-relevant color palette carried throughout the compound structures gives the Embassy a visual and cultural connection to the host nation.
      • An exterior space provides sufficient space to accommodate representational events.
      • The high performance interior offers an open-plan office, allowing delineation of work groups while providing continuous support for the workplace.
      • New and expanded civil infrastructure within and outside the complex includes new roads, sidewalks, lighting, landscaping, and storm water management.
      • A sculpted perimeter wall provides a secure perimeter and a well-lit public gathering space outside the complex, adjacent to the main entry.
      • An estimated 800 workers from the region—largely from Chad—are involved in the construction of the new Embassy

As with NEC Nouakchott, NEC N’Djamena is built for sustainability according to State/OBO:

  • The project is registered with the U.S. Green Building Council for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED®) certification, and has met LEED® Gold certification.
  • The energy-efficient building design uses passive strategies, energy-efficient lighting, building controls, renewable energy systems, and HVAC systems projected to decrease energy use by 51%.
  • A pierced sunscreen shades the building, reducing heat gain, while water features collect and channel storm water in a way that celebrates the rainy season.
  • A multi-colored fiber-cement paneling system provides a cost-effective, thermally-efficient, and durable exterior.
  • Photovoltaic solar power arrays on-site are designed to offset 15% of the Chancery’s energy costs.
  • The compound is designed to minimize use of the local domestic water through efficient plumbing fixtures and equipment. All of the facility’s wastewater will be treated on-site and used to meet all of the site’s irrigation demand.
  • The facility is designed to provide a healthy indoor working environment through the use of low-emitting materials, air monitoring and comfort controls, as well as chemical and pollutant source controls.

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U.S. Embassy Haiti Now on ‘Authorized Departure’ For Employees/Family Members #HurricaneIrma (Updated)

Posted: 3:01 pm ET
Updated: 8:58 pm PT
Updated: Sept 6, 1:17 am ET – Original headline: U.S. Embassy Haiti Now on ‘Authorized Departure’ For Non-Emergency Staff/Family Members Due to Hurricane Irma
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On September 5, the State Department warned of non-essential travel to Haiti due to Hurricane Irma. It also announced the authorized voluntary departure of non-emergency personnel and family members from Haiti ahead of Hurricane Irma, now a category 5 hurricane, and apparently larger than the state of Ohio. Excerpt below:

The Department of State warns U.S. citizens of the approach of Hurricane Irma and recommends U.S. citizens avoid all non-essential travel to Haiti. The National Hurricane Center (http://www.nhc.noaa.gov) reports that Hurricane Irma is a strong, dangerous Category 5 storm with high winds and heavy rain. A hurricane watch has been issued for the northern coast of Haiti, and a tropical storm watch has been issued from Le Mole St. Nicholas to Port-au-Prince. Additional information on Hurricane Irma is available (in Creole) from Haiti Civil Protection’s website and Twitter.

U.S. citizens residing and traveling in Haiti should be alert to flooding. Given the approaching hurricane, there is limited time available for a safe departure via air. The Department of State has authorized non-emergency personnel and family members to depart Haiti in advance of Hurricane Irma. We recommend U.S. citizens depart Haiti prior to the arrival of the hurricane. Airports are expected to close if conditions deteriorate.

As mentioned in yesterday’s emergency message, the Embassy has banned all personnel travel north of Port-au-Prince. In addition, the Embassy has cancelled the travel plans of all incoming employees to Haiti until the threat passes.

We recommend those citizens who are unable to depart to shelter in place in a secure location. U.S. citizens should apprise family and friends in the United States of their whereabouts, and keep in close contact with their tour operator, hotel staff, and local officials for any evacuation instructions.

For immigrant or nonimmigrant visa questions, please contact the call center at +509-2812-2929 or email support-Haiti@ustraveldocs.com. If you will not be able travel to an already-scheduled appointment in American Citizen Services from Wednesday, September 6 through Friday, September 8, please call 509-2229-8000 or 2229-8900, or send us an email at acspap@state.gov to reschedule your appointment.

Read in full here.

The Haiti Travel Warning also dated September 5 now notes that “On September 5, the Department authorized the voluntary departure of U.S. government employees and their family members due to Hurricane Irma.” 

The U.S. Consulate General in Curacao issued an alert for U.S. citizens in the Dutch Carribean that the current track of Hurricane Irma brings the eye of the storm directly over Sint Maarten Tuesday evening into Wednesday with sustained winds of 180 mph, gusts over 200 mph, and storm surge in excess of 10 feet and advised U.S. citizens to “take shelter in concrete buildings on higher ground away from the coast.” (Note: In 2010, Curacao and St. Maarten acquired a semi-autonomus status within the Kingdom and Bonaire, St. Eustatious, and Saba (BES-Islands) became municipalities of the Netherlands). No “authorized departure” for employees/family members is noted in the alert.

On September 4, the U.S. Embassy in Santo Domingo issued a reminder to U.S. citizens in the Dominican Republic “to remain vigilant during the hurricane season.  At this time, Hurricane Irma is forecast to impact the entirety of the Dominican Republic to varying degrees with eastern and northern areas most heavily impacted, by Wednesday, September 6.” On September 5, U.S. Embassy Santo Domingo issued an Emergency Message advising U.S. citizens residing and traveling in the Dominican Republic that Hurricane Irma, “currently a category 5 storm, is projected to affect the Dominican Republic.” Also: “This storm may bring significant rainfall and wind that may result in life-threatening flooding, flash flooding, and storm surge, and Hispaniola-wide impacts are likely.  The National Hurricane Center (NHC) and local authorities are monitoring the progress of the storm, and the Embassy will issue updated messages as needed. Travelers and residents wishing to depart before the arrival of the storm should contact their airlines or tour operators and keep their families informed of their welfare and whereabouts.”  No “authorized departure” for employees/family members is noted in the Emergency Message.

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

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

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

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

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

 

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