Workplace Horror Award Goes to the IO Bureau, @StateDept Offers Counseling in Uppercase Voice

 

Where do you even start with this bonkers IO report from the State Department Inspector General? Congrats?
Well, then, felicitations and congratulations to the Bureau of International Organization Affairs and its leadership for getting the Workplace Horror Award!
Given the lack of meaningful action from the 7th Floor following this report, perhaps we should borrow Secretary Pompeo’s “Miles With Mike” signoff and send “Keep crushing it!” wishes to everyone, too.
Bear it, and swagger, there’s an Ethos Award at the end of the rainbow.
But really, Secretary Pompeo should stop talking about his professional ethos initiative because, to put it mildly, this report ruins it loudly, particularly the parts about showing “unstinting respect in word and deed for my colleagues and all who serve alongside me” and taking “ownership of and responsibility” of something, something stuff.
As Nero Wolfe would say, “Pfui!”

Short Take: BAD, ALL CAPS

Update at 10:08 am: Added the DOS swagger seal

 State/OIG began this review in July 2018 by examining whether the Bureau of International Organization Affairs (IO) officials had acted improperly toward career officials on the basis of their perceived political or ideological views.
Just reading the report makes us want to drown our sorrows in vats of grapes, wine, rum, etc.,  Don’t worry, we’re allergic to alcohol but if we could, we would. This is painful to read, but can you imagine the people living through this?
Has anyone heard from AFSA?
Read the full report here.  A few excerpts below:

“OIG found evidence of leadership and management deficiencies and mistreatment of career employees in the Bureau of International Organization Affairs (IO). These inappropriate practices included disrespectful and hostile treatment of employees, accusations against and harassment of career employees premised on claims that they were “disloyal” based on their perceived political views, and retaliation associated with conflicts of interest. OIG also found that numerous employees raised concerns about the IO leadership to Department management officials outside of IO and that Department officials counseled IO leadership; however, the Assistant Secretary for IO, Kevin Moley, did not take significant action to respond to such concerns.

During the course of this review, OIG received allegations that two personnel actions were undertaken by IO leadership for improper motives: the removal of the IO Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary (PDAS), a career senior foreign service officer, and the cancellation of the selection process for a career position in the IO Office of Human Rights and Humanitarian Affairs. OIG found evidence that both actions by IO leadership were likely based on non-merit factors and thus violated Department policy.”

Staff Departures Set a Record in Our Books

Approximately 50 of 300 domestic IO employees have departed IO! Darnit, that’s quite a record that will be in our books for quite a while. Well, actually, maybe in our books until we see the next IG report focused on the Secretary’s office. That could be record-breaking, too, in terms of how many people departed the State Department starting at the dawn of Tillerson’s tenure. Alas, we’d also like to know who did what to whom, to the Senate-confirmed DGHR and others, who thought it was a great idea to double the stress and double the fun at the Ops Center, and other stuff… we can wait.

“In 2018, IO had 239 civil service positions and 71 domestic Foreign Service positions. Assistant Secretary Moley began his tenure in IO in April 2018. The IO Bureau also has four Deputy Assistant Secretary positions, one of which is the Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary (PDAS). In April 2018, all Deputy Assistant Secretary positions were held by career employees. During Assistant Secretary Moley’s tenure, three individuals have served as PDAS: the first, whose reassignment is described on page 14 below, served until June 2018; the second served from August to October 2018; and the third has served since November 2018.
[…]
Approximately 50 of 300 domestic IO employees have departed IO since Assistant Secretary Moley took over its leadership, and nearly all of the former employees who OIG interviewed stated that poor leadership of the bureau contributed to their decision to depart.”

 

When the OIG Rings the Fire Alarm and …

Image via Giphy

The OIG report paints in great details the leadership deficiencies and mistreatment of career employees; the disrespectful and hostile treatment of employees; the unmerited accusations of disloyalty and harassment based on perceived political views; retaliation based upon conflicts of interest; and failure of bureau leadership to respond to concerns expressed by employees, and expressed by Department management.

“OIG found significant evidence of systemic deficiencies in leadership and management relating to the treatment of career employees, as well as evidence that non-merit-based considerations played a role in at least two personnel decisions. Several employees raised concerns relating to disrespectful and hostile treatment of staff, inappropriate accusations of disloyalty and harassment of employees based on perceived political views, and retaliation based on conflicts of interest. Furthermore, despite being counseled by Department management regarding some of these issues, IO leadership has not adequately addressed these concerns. Such conduct conflicts with the Department’s leadership principles, which set expectations that its management will strive for a collaborative, respectful, and inclusive workplace. Moreover, these failures of leadership have led to serious morale problems in IO and to the departure of a significant number of career staff. OIG encourages the Department to take action to address these concerns promptly.”

On the two personnel actions undertaken by Assistant Secretary Moley and Ms. Stull, the OIG report notes the following:

“The circumstances of Assistant Secretary Moley’s removal of the PDAS suggests that he undertook a personnel action based on non-merit factors, namely, her articulation of concerns about Ms. Stull’s conduct. In addition, her removal raises questions regarding compliance with the Department’s non-retaliation policy because the concerns that she brought to Assistant Secretary Moley, Under Secretary Shannon, and Deputy Secretary Sullivan could evidence the violation of a law, rule, or regulation.
[…]
Ms. Stull’s instruction to the human resources officials that future vacancies reflect the President’s agenda and beliefs was inappropriate for career positions and reflects an intent to introduce non-merit factors into the IO hiring process. Based on this evidence, Assistant Secretary Moley and Ms. Stull appear to have violated Department prohibitions on using non-merit factors in personnel assignments.

The State Department Passes the Buck ..er Alarm

The OIG made two recommendations to the Under Secretary for Political Affairs: to develop a corrective action plan to address the leadership and management deficiencies within the Bureau of International Organization Affairs and to consider other appropriate action, including disciplinary action. The Department concurred with both recommendations.
Now for the funny part (but don’t laugh).
The State Department told the OIG that “The Department noted that two IO officials are named in the report, but one of them is no longer employed by the Department and therefore not subject to any disciplinary action. The remaining official has already been counseled regarding his leadership, and the Department will consider additional discipline based on OIG’s “assessment” of the response from Assistant Secretary Moley.”
Oh, dahrlings, the State Department wants the IG to do the Department’s job! Looks like the decision on what to do with IO is beyond OIG, or “P” or “M” or “D” but sits on Secretary Pompeo’s desk.
Also how soon before we’re going to start seeing this case  as a comparator in grievance cases? “I only screamed once and I apologized, and two people curtailed from post during my tenure. The proposal to suspend me for three days is not fair given similar cases at the agency. For example, the IG report on IO …” or something like that…

Yes, Your Concerns Are Pointless: True as the Sky is Blue

(and the State Department Offers More Counseling)

Below excerpted from the OIG report:
  • [I]n his interview with OIG, Assistant Secretary Moley was dismissive of the counseling he received from senior Department leaders. He cited other senior government positions he held in the past and expressed his opinion that individuals such as Acting Director General Todd were in no position to give him advice.
  • On June 25, 2018, Deputy Secretary John Sullivan met with Assistant Secretary Moley to discuss the comments and the general atmosphere in IO. According to Deputy Secretary Sullivan, Assistant Secretary Moley responded that IO employees were misinterpreting his and Ms. Stull’s actions and were over-reacting. Also, on June 25, Deputy Secretary Sullivan and then-Legal Adviser Jennifer Newstead counseled Ms. Stull on her treatment of employees.
  • Despite these counseling efforts, multiple witnesses told OIG that the hostile treatment and other conduct described above continued into the fall of 2018, and some of the notable examples described above occurred after Assistant Secretary Moley’s June 2018 meeting with the Deputy Secretary.
  • Several employees told OIG that they approached the Assistant Secretary at various times with concerns about treatment of employees and management of the bureau. These employees consistently reported to OIG that Assistant Secretary Moley reacted negatively when employees brought concerns to him and that, rather than addressing the issue directly, he tended to minimize the concern or place blame on others.
  • Similarly, when individuals raised concerns with Ms. Stull about her treatment of employees, she asserted that she was herself the victim of harassment and informed at least one employee that raising such concerns was pointless because the Trump administration “has my back.”
  • Beginning in late April 2018, a succession of increasingly more senior Department officials shared concerns they had received regarding the leadership and management of IO directly with Assistant Secretary Moley. However, OIG found that Assistant Secretary Moley did not undertake any meaningful efforts to address these concerns. Furthermore, in the course of this review, OIG continued to receive accounts of the same type of conduct against which the Assistant Secretary had been counseled, such as hostile treatment of employees, allegations of disloyalty, and conflicts of interest.
  • Then-Under Secretary for Political Affairs Thomas Shannon met with Assistant Secretary Moley to discuss concerns about management of the bureau that Under Secretary Shannon had heard from several IO employees. Under Secretary Shannon told OIG that he reminded Assistant Secretary Moley that his first responsibility is to the Secretary and that he put himself at risk by not exercising leadership and granting Ms. Stull an “unprecedented level of independence” to manage the bureau, especially during the critical period before UNGA. Under Secretary Shannon advised against managing the bureau by intimidating staff and questioning their loyalties.
  • On June 13, 2018, Acting Under Secretary Mull contacted Assistant Secretary Moley and recounted these concerns, including an email exchange that the Assistant Secretary had with a junior desk officer,30 the reported imminent departure of several members of IO’s senior staff, and general reports that he was “targeting” career civil service and Foreign Service officers. Acting Under Secretary Mull advised Assistant Secretary Moley that such reports were “embarrassing” to the Secretary and ran counter to his priority of lifting morale and forging a better sense of teamwork. Acting Under Secretary Mull directed him to take several steps [snip].

Quick Test: Compare and Contrast

Via Imgur

We should note that former S/P Kiron Skinner who was reportedly fired for her “abusive” management style did not oversee close to 300 people but a couple dozens (see @StateDept Policy Planning’s Kiron Skinner Reportedly Out Over “Abusive” Management Style).  Not to minimized the issues at S/P where some staffers reportedly left and five more threatened to quit according to Politico, that’s still less than the approximately 50 departures  cited by OIG from the IO bureau.  Good grief!
Yes, we are pointing out that the State Department is inviting criticism of contrasting treatment between these two offices: one managed by an African-American woman who was reportedly fired amidst allegations of bad management (but no IG investigation), and another managed by a white American male who was given repeated counseling amidst allegations of bad management and mass staff departures (despite an IG investigation). Any “unusually candid” official out there willing to explain this, we’re all ears.

 

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GAO to @StateDept: Psst! Leadership Attention and Focus, Please!

 

The Government Accountability Office (GAO) recently released its report  on Tillerson’s redesign projects (although those projects were no longer called that).  GAO looked into the status of the reform efforts that the State Department reported to Congress in February 2018 and also looked at the extent to which State addressed key practices critical to the successful implementation of agency reform efforts.
GAO has determined that “State leadership has not provided the focus necessary to support the officials responsible for implementing all these reform projects.”
Uh-oh! Some excerpts below.

Remember the Listening Tour?

In response to the March 2017 Executive Order 13781 and the ensuing OMB memo, State launched a “listening tour” intended to gather ideas and feedback from State and USAID employees. As a key component of this outreach effort, State hired a contractor to design and administer a confidential online survey, which was sent to all State and USAID employees in May 2017. According to the contractor’s report, the survey had a 43 percent response rate, with 27,837 State employees and 6,142 USAID employees responding to the survey. The contractor also conducted in-person interviews with a randomly selected cross section of personnel, which included 175 employees from State and 94 from USAID.

17 Reform Projects Plus

The planning teams developed specific reform projects, listed below in table 2 (17 reform projects, see page7-8 of report), which State described in the fiscal year 2019 budget justification it submitted to Congress in February 2018.9  According to implementing officials, all these projects predated the Executive Order and OMB memo issued in the spring of 2017. They also noted, however, that the administration’s reform-related directives helped advance State’s preexisting efforts by focusing management attention and agency resources on these projects.  (9 In addition to these reform projects, State’s Congressional Budget Justification also reported seven changes related to its reform efforts that are complete or underway. State reported that it is (1) expanding employment opportunities for eligible family members; (2) implementing cloud-based email and collaboration; (3) increasing flexibilities for employees on medical evacuations; (4) streamlining the security clearance process; (5) simplifying the permanent change-of-station travel process; (6) improving temporary duty travel options and experience; and (7) integrating USAID and State global address lists.

Status: Completed-1, Continuing-13, Stalled-2, Discontinued-1

As of April 2019, according to State officials and status reports, State had completed one of its 17 reform projects; 13 projects were continuing; two projects were stalled pending future decisions or actions; and one project was discontinued.
[…]
According to State officials, as of April 2019, although 13 of the reform projects described in the fiscal year 2019 Congressional Budget Justification were considered by State to be continuing, some had been scaled back, slowed down, or both as a result of senior leadership’s shifting priorities and attention.

Leadership Focus and Attention

In February 2018, State reported to  Congress in its fiscal year 2019 budget justification that it was pursuing the reform projects we described above. In March 2018, the first transition affecting the implementation of those projects occurred when the President removed the then Secretary of State and nominated the then CIA director to replace him; in April 2018, the Senate confirmed the current Secretary. According to senior State officials, when the new Secretary took office, his top priority was ending the hiring freeze and restarting a concerted recruitment effort because vacancies in key positions and a general staffing shortfall would otherwise have led to what one senior official described as a “cataclysmic failure” at State. These senior officials noted that the new Secretary decided some of the existing reform projects were not well designed and that he wanted greater emphasis on cybersecurity and data analytics. They said he also wanted to pursue other initiatives, including a new proposal to create a Global Public Affairs Bureau by merging two existing bureaus. The senior officials told us that the Secretary authorized responsible bureaus and offices to determine whether to continue, revise, or terminate existing reform efforts or launch new initiatives. However, State did not formally communicate other changes in its reform priorities to Congress, such as its plan to no longer combine State and USAID’s real property offices.
[…]
State initiated another transition in leadership of the reform efforts in April 2018 when it disbanded the dedicated planning teams overseeing the reform efforts and delegated responsibility for implementing the reform projects to relevant bureaus and offices. As the planning teams finished working on their particular reform efforts and prepared to transfer these projects to the bureaus, some planning teams provided memos and reports on the status of their efforts and offered recommendations for the bureaus to consider when determining next steps in implementing the projects. Some implementing officials, however, reported that they received little or no direction regarding their projects or any other indication of continued interest in their project from department or bureau leadership aside from the initial notification that the project had been assigned to them.
[…]
Various State officials noted that the prolonged absence of Senate confirmed leadership in key positions posed additional challenges. We have previously testified that it is more difficult to obtain buy-in on longterm plans and efforts that are underway when an agency has leaders in acting positions because federal employees are historically skeptical of whether the latest efforts to make improvements are going to be sustained over a period of time

Leadership Transition Effects:

Taken together, the leadership transitions at State had two significant effects on State’s reform efforts. First, the transition of departmental leadership and lack of direction and communication about subsequent changes in leadership’s priorities contributed to uncertainty among implementing officials about the future of individual reform projects. Second, according to implementing officials, the transition of project responsibility from dedicated teams to bureau-level implementing officials resulted in fewer resources and a lack of senior leadership involvement and attention for some projects. Absent leadership decisions, implementing officials will continue to struggle with understanding leadership priorities with regard to State’s reform efforts. Similarly, for any projects that are determined to be leadership priorities, day-to-day implementation activities will continue to be hampered by the lack of a dedicated team to guide and manage the agency’s overall reform effort.

Don’t Forget USAID: Continuing Projects? Where? What?
GAO has not made any recommendations to USAID and yet, the agency has submitted a written response to highlight the State Department’s unwillingness to coordinate with them. What’s this about? (see Appendix III-Comments from the U.S. Agency for International Development – PDF/page25-26):

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Trump Threatens Retaliation Against Countries That Issue Travel Warnings For USA #GetReady

 

 

On August 10, USA Today reported that the president has threatened retaliation Friday against countries and organizations that issue travel warnings on the United States because of gun violence (see Amnesty International Issues Travel Advisory For the United States of America).
The president said during the gaggle “We are a very reciprocal nation with me as the head. When somebody does something negative to us in terms of a country, we do it to them.”
Oh, Lordy, that’s going to be the end of the State Department’s Travel Advisories, wouldn’t it? Better not show him the other countries’ color coded map of the United States where these gun violence is happening, or that’s going to blow up the State Department’s travel advisory travel map, too.

But seriously, per Foreign Affairs Manual, the travel advisories are part of the Consular Affairs’ Consular Information Program (CIP). It is a public outreach program through which the Department of State, through the Bureau of Consular Affairs (CA), and U.S. embassies and consulates, “inform U.S. citizens and nationals of potential threats to their health or safety abroad and provide information about consular services.” Also this:
“All information provided to the public through the CIP represents the Department’s objective assessment of conditions in a given country based on reliable information available at the time of publishing, as reported by posts, various Department bureaus, other U.S. government agencies and departments, foreign governments, and credible open sources.”
Most importantly is this:
“Information provided through the CIP, including Travel Advisories and Alerts for U.S. citizens, is based on the overall assessment of the situation in country.  By necessity, this analysis is undertaken without regard to political or economic considerations.”
The Travel Advisory Review Committee (TARC) brings Department stakeholders together to discuss security information and how it is relayed via Travel Advisories.  TARC includes representatives from the Bureau of Diplomatic Security, (DS/TIA/ITA); Post’s regional bureau; the Office of the Under Secretary for Political Affairs; the Office of the Under Secretary for Management; Representatives from other bureaus as appropriate based on the threat, to include: 1) Coordinator for Counter Terrorism (CT), when the threat is terrorism related; 2) Medical Services, when the threat is health related; 3) Bureau of Economic and Business Affairs (EB/TRA/OP), if there are aviation issues; 4) Legal offices (OCS/L/CA), when there are legal issues; 5) The Office of the Under Secretary for Arms Control and International Security (T), when there is a nuclear issue; 6) Bureau of Oceans and International Environmental and Scientific Affairs (OES), when the threat is environmental; and 7) Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor (DRL), if threat presents human rights concerns, such as LGBTI issues.
The TARC is chaired by CA’s Overseas Citizen Services, an office that reports to the Assistant Secretary for Consular Affairs Carl Risch. Mr. Risch, however, has overall responsibility for the Consular Information Program (CIP), to include supervising and managing the program, and is authorized to determine the final wording of all products. CA’s Carl Risch reports to the Under Secretary for Management Brian Bulatao. U/Secretary Bulatao in turn reports to the Deputy Secretary John Sullivan and Secretary Mike Pompeo.
So, if this president starts retaliating against countries that issue Travel Warnings for the United States, who’s going to tell him “no”?  We’re ready to borrow the rules from the World Rock Paper Scissors Society, if needed.

 

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Amnesty International Issues Travel Advisory For the United States of America

 

Here’s something we don’t see everyday but we may soon start seeing more and more. Amnesty International has issued a Travel Advisory for the United States of America. Uruguay has also issued a Travel Alert for the United States.
Below via:
The Amnesty International travel advisory for the country of the United States of America calls on people worldwide to exercise caution and have an emergency contingency plan when traveling throughout the USA. This Travel Advisory is being issued in light of ongoing high levels of gun violence in the country.

Report: @StateDept Puts On Leave Staffer Who Allegedly Oversees Local Chapter of a White Nationalist Group

 

 

On August 7, the Southern Poverty Law Center‘s Hatewatch program linked a staffer at the Bureau of Energy Resources (State/ENR) to a white nationalist organization in the Washington, D.C. area.  Hatewatch alleged in its report that this individual “oversaw the Washington, D.C.-area chapter of a white nationalist organization, hosted white nationalists at his home and published white nationalist propaganda online.”
We asked the State Department for a comment beyond what was already reported (that the agency is an “inclusive organization”). An agency spokesperson did confirm that this individual is employed by the agency as a foreign affairs officer assigned to the Bureau of Energy Resources. The Department further stated that it cannot comment on personnel issues but “is committed to providing an inclusive workplace.”
Reports indicate that the individual is a “foreign affairs officer“, a Civil Service position in the 0130 Foreign Affairs series. These positions are typically located in the DC area, and though may involved occasional travel, it is not a rotational position. Incumbents to these positions are normally required to “obtain and maintain a Top Secret security clearance” among other federal service requirements.
Barely 24 hours after the Hatewatch report broke, Politico, citing “two sources familiar with the situation” reported that the State Department has put the employee on leave following reports that “he has been an active member of a white supremacist group for more than five years.”
We’re waiting to see what the State Department will do with this case following the reported leave.  A 2017 article on federal employees’ rights notes that “At a minimum, before taking an adverse action like termination, an agency must issue a notice to the employee identifying the charge(s) against them. The employee has the right to see the evidence against them and the right to reply to the charge(s), as well as the right to have counsel represent them.”
Unlike political appointees who can be fired at anytime, career federal employees are generally afforded workplace protection. Recent media reports also show the fallout from recent high profile terminations. In one case, former Special Agent Peter Strzok firing resulted in a complaint alleging violations of Strzok’s First Amendment and due process rights, as well as a violation of the Privacy Act concerning the release of the text messages. Similarly, on August 8, former FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe also filed a complaint in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia over his demotion and dismissal from the FBI. The complaint alleges that the Attorney General William Barr and FBI Director Christopher Wray’s actions violated both McCabe’s First Amendment and due process rights.  See the common thread there? We expect both court cases will be lengthy and instructive.
As an aside, Mick “it’s nearly impossible to fire a federal worker” Mulvaney has a grand new idea on how to get rid of federal employees; which should give people some pause whether they’re with Agriculture or anywhere else in the federal government.

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The reason for “Domestic Only” medical clearance determination is bing, bong, bing #HelpMED

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Via howler from A:

“The reason for the Domestic Only medical clearance determination is clearance determination is based upon the review of submitted medical documentation and recommendations made by the MED Mental Health team.
[…]
…. In your request for a review please advise that you understand that you were given a Domestic Only Assignment (Class 5) clearance for the above stated reasons, but that you disagree with that decision and would like to have the adjudication reviewed.”

                 White Goat on Grass Field  Seeks Plain Writing Act for 2019                                    (Photo by Pixabay)

Consular Affairs Asst Secretary Carl Risch Visits A$AP Rocky in Sweden, Who Else Wanna Visit?

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Update: ASAP Rocky and Co-Defendants Allowed to Leave Sweden While Awaiting Verdict (set for August 14).
Sweden’a national public television broadcaster SVT reported on July 19 that the Assistant Secretary for Consular Affairs Carl Risch was in country to meet with A$AP Rocky and the other two detained US citizens.  He reportedly also meet staff from the Swedish Ministry of Foreign Affairs. (Also see U.S. Sends Special Envoy for Hostage Affairs Robert O’Brien to A$AP Rocky’s Assault Trial in Sweden).

The report cites a statement from Sweden’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs saying that “Risch will, among other things, meet with representatives of the Foreign Office’s consular unit and the Justice Department, as well as in the role of consular officer in attendance at one of the US embassy’s previously scheduled visits to the three detained US citizens.” (via online translation).
The Foreign Ministry further writes according to SVT that “The US embassy has confirmed that the conditions in the Swedish detention comply with both the Vienna Convention and the international standard.” This in reference to a report by TMZ that A$AP was being held in “shockingly inhumane condition”.
A$AP Rocky was arrested in Sweden on July 3. The State Department previously announced on July 17 that CA’s Assistant Secretary Risch was traveling to Sweden from July 18-20 apparently to “observe U.S. consular operations and meet with foreign government counterparts to underscore the enduring commitment to the safety and welfare of U.S. citizens overseas and the facilitation of legitimate travel to the United States.”
The State Department’s own 2018 Country Report on Human Rights Practices on Sweden  under Prison and Detention Center Conditions notes:
There were no significant reports regarding prison, detention center, or migrant detention facility conditions that raised human rights concerns.
Physical Conditions: There were no major concerns in prisons and detention centers regarding physical conditions or inmate abuse.
Administration: Authorities conducted proper investigations of credible allegations of mistreatment.
Independent Monitoring: The government permitted monitoring by independent, nongovernmental observers, including the Council of Europe’s Committee for the Prevention of Torture (CPT).
In any case, the top gun at Consular Affairs already visited A$AP Rocky on July 19th. (Prior to Asst Secretary Risch’s visit, do you know when was the last time the assistant secretary of Consular Affairs made a prison visit overseas?).
When @StateSPEHA Robert O’Brien (the Special Envoy for Hostage Affairs)  showed up in the Swedish courtroom on July 30 along with journalists, teenage rap fans and curious onlookers, the highest official in charge of Consular Affairs appeared to have already seen the three detained Americans.   One specific embassy official also has a clear role and reporting duties in the arrest and detention of American citizens. We would be surprised if U.S. Embassy Sweden’s Charge d’affaires ad interim Pamela Tremont, or post’s Consular Chief have not already visited the detainees.
Since neither the Consular Affairs Assistant Secretary nor the Special Envoy for Hostage Affairs could sprung A$AP Rocky from jail, how useful are their presence in Sweden beyond appearances that they are doing something to get these individuals released?
Do we have senior officials actually thinking through the potential consequences of these actions — with senior officials descending into Sweden, and presidential tweets pressuring for the release of those in detention, plus the Special Envoy for Hostage Affairs tweeting about “expedited paperworks “?
Does anyone enjoy the appearance of giving in because of some very public arm-twisting? No?
It may interest you to know that Sweden is also the “protecting power” for the United States in North Korea and has been so since September 1995. These folks know hostages. Do you think Sweden appreciates the United States decision to send a Special Envoy for Hostage Affairs to a non-hostage situation there? Even if this case were to get resolved next week, do you think the Swedes will simply forget this?

U.S. Sends Special Envoy for Hostage Affairs Robert O’Brien to A$AP Rocky’s Assault Trial in Sweden

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According to the State Department, when an American is arrested or detained abroad, the State Department—through its Embassies and Consulates—ensures that U.S. consular officers are there to assist. They help see that Americans are treated humanely and in accordance with local law, are given the opportunity for a lawyer, and can correspond with family back home.
Per its Foreign Affairs Manual, the Department expects consular officers to be “particularly active in, and to fully engage in” the protection of the welfare of the arrestee; ensure that the arrestee is being treated fairly and is afforded all due process under local law, provide needed consular services such as EMDA or administer a trust fund in a timely and efficient manner; track the process of the case through the host country’s legal system; and to keep the Department, family members, congressional representatives and others full informed on all aspects of the case, consistent with Privacy Act.

 

Consular assistance to Americans arrested or detained overseas includes the following:
State Department/U.S. Embassies Can:
  • Provide a list of local attorneys who speak English
  • Contact family, friends, or employers of the detained U.S. citizen (with their written permission)
  • Visit the detained U.S. citizen regularly and provide reading materials and vitamin supplements, where appropriate
  • Ensure that prison officials are providing appropriate medical care
  • Provide a general overview of the local criminal justice process
  • Upon request, ensure that prison officials permit visits with a member of the clergy of the religion of the detainee’s choice
  • Establish an OCS Trust, if necessary, so friends and family can transfer funds to imprisoned U.S. citizens
State Department, U.S. Embassies Cannot:
  • Get U.S. citizens out of jail
  • State to a court that anyone is guilty or innocent
  • Provide legal advice or represent U.S. citizens in court
  • Serve as official interpreters or translators
  • Pay legal, medical, or other fees
Reports note that POTUS sent the Special Envoy for Hostage Affairs Robert O’Brien to Sweden for the A$AP Rocky trial.  “The president asked me to come here and support these American citizens,” O’Brien told the New York Times. “I’ll be here until they come home.” (via). How often is he going to do this for other American citizens?
Nowhere in the Foreign Affairs Manual is there any mention of the role the Special Envoy for Hostage Affairs play in cases of U.S. citizens incarcerated abroad or while they are on trial. In most of the normal world, it is understood that American citizens are subject to the local laws and regulations while visiting or living in the particular countries they are in. In this particular case, Time says that “Sweden does not have a bail system, which is why the rapper was detained with no way to get out even before he was formally charged.” Also see our old post below about the non-portability of American rights.

Non-Portability of American Rights

In any case, we don’t understand why the Special Envoy for Hostage Affairs is involved with this case.  Does the U.S. Government considers A$AP Rocky on trial for assault in Sweden, a hostage? Are we to understand that Americans incarcerated and detained overseas are now considered hostages to bring back as soon as possible? And if that’s not the case, and if this is an exception, what are the grounds for the Trump Administration to make this type of exception?
Is the Special Envoy’s role now includes affecting the release of all American citizens from foreign incarceration/detention?
How does a regular American citizen’s family petition for the Special Envoy for Hostage Affairs to be involved in their cases overseas?
Any guidance sent to consular officers doing ACS work? When is the State Department updating the Foreign Affairs Manual?
Also the next time U.S. diplomats overseas talk to their local counterparts about judicial independence and the rule of law, should they expect a push back with this case as Exhibit A?

 

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Susan Pompeo wants you to know she’s making happiness, security of diplomatic families her mission

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On July 6, 2019, just days after the July 1st CNN report  on a whistleblower claiming Secretary Pompeo’s security picks up Chinese food, and the dog, Sherman, apparently from the groomer, the Washington Times has a rollicking coverage of Susan Pompeo.
‘Do you feel safe?’ Susan Pompeo makes happiness, security of diplomatic families her mission” blares the headline. She’s not a government employee, so the  chances of getting her on the podium to speak about this mission is not high, but the next time reporters get a chance to er … grill her, please ask her where she was when State Department employees were terrified while trying to find an accommodation for their special needs children and their education while overseas.
Where was Mrs. Pompeo when the medical provider at State was deemed to lack a “fundamental lack of compassion”  and lack of understanding and empathy for Foreign Service personnel and families?
Where was Mrs. Pompeo when a senior official of her husband’s agency appears to believe that individuals and families with any sort of special need should not serve overseas, should curtail or break assignments, should stay indefinitely in the United States, or even leave the Foreign Service altogether?
Employees and family members already facing physical, mental and educational challenges, also had to face fear of retribution given the reported hostile and adversarial relationship fostered by a bureau tasked with taking care of employees and families.
Despite reported mistreatment, Foreign Service families have not publicly pushed back, and anything reported are only on background, for fear that their actions could result in the denial of financial support for needed services for special needs children  or fear that it would put in jeopardy clearances for themselves and their dependents. Without appropriate clearances, employees would not be able to work overseas or may have to contend with family separation for members with limited clearances.
If taking care of diplomatic families has become her mission, we’re curious where was Mrs. Pompeo when this issue was causing so much pain, fear, and distractions among FS families? (Also see Under Secretary Bulatao on Enhancing Support for Employees with Children with Special Needs 
As an aside – we should note that following the furor over her travel with Secretary Pompeo during the January 2019 government shutdown, CNN reported that the secretary described his wife’s trip as a “working trip”  — apparently telling reporters she joined him to try to help the department “be better.” “So she meets with the medical officers. She’ll tour housing. She will write up her thoughts and comments after that. And I wish I had time to do each of those things myself, but she is a force multiplier,” Secretary Pompeo said according to CNN.
If she did a trip report for that January trip, it has so far remained a secret.  By March 2019, as she became increasingly visible flying around with Secretary Pompeo, the official word coming out of Foggy Bottom is that the secretary “reimburses the United States government for all appropriate expenses, including Mrs. Pompeo’s travel, in accordance with the law.”
Oh, by the way, we think employees at a small post — with leaks in a new embassy compound building roofs in Paramaribo and suffering from exposure to mold — needs help. The health hazard was identified in March 2017!  And the problem still had not been resolved.  Imagine that. We’re guessing that they are not terribly happy nor feeling heath-safe over there.

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