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Is Foggy Bottom’s T-Rex as Stealthy and Cunning as His Theropod Namesake?

Posted: 1:42 pm  ET
Updated 5:18 pm ET

 

On February 16, we reported that State Department Counselor Kristie Kenney was let go by the new Trump Administration (see Secretary Tillerson Travels to Germany For G-20, Also @StateDept Counselor Steps Down).  On February 17, CBS News reported that “Much of seventh-floor staff, who work for the Deputy Secretary of State for Management and Resources and the Counselor offices, were told today that their services were no longer needed.”

Since 2009, the State Department has been authorized a Deputy Secretary of State for Management and Resources (D/MR), the third highest ranking position at the agency.   Jack L. Lew stayed from January 28, 2009 – November 18, 2010, before moving on to better jobs. Thomas R. Nides was in from January 3, 2011 – February, 2013, then rejoined Morgan Stanley as vice chairman. After a stint at OMB, Heather Anne Higginbottom served the State Department from 2013-2017.  This is an eight year old position, and while it may be worrisome for some if this position is not filled, the State Department managed for a long time without this position, and it can do so again. We are more concerned on who will be appointed as Under Secretary for Management and that he/she has a depth in experience  not only in management but in the many challenges of overseas assignments.

Regarding the position of Counselor, according to history.state.gov, the Secretary of State created the position for the Department of State in 1909 as part of a general Department reorganization. In 1912, the position became a Presidential appointment (37 Stat. 372). Between 1913 and 1919, the Counselor served as the Department’s second-ranking officer, assuming the role previously exercised by the Assistant Secretary of State. In 1919, the newly-created position of Under Secretary of State subsumed the duties of the Counselor. An Act of Congress, May 18, 1937, re-established the position of Counselor of the Department of State (50 Stat. 169). Between 1961 and 1965, the Counselor also served as the Chairman of the Policy Planning Council. The Counselor, who currently under law holds rank equivalent to an Under Secretary of State (P.L. 98-164; 97 Stat. 1017), serves as an adviser to the Secretary of State. The Counselor’s specific responsibilities have varied over time.  The Counselor position is one of the top nine senior positions at the State Department, and the only one that does not require Senate confirmation.

Reports of “layoffs” and particularly “bloodbath” in the 7th Floor are a tad hyperbolic. If the Trump administration has decided not to fill the D/MR and C offices, we imagine that the top positions would remain vacant and the supporting jobs could be eliminated.  All political appointees were gone by January 20, so the remaining staffers who were reportedly laid off are career employees. We expect that Civil Service employees have to find other positions within the organization, while Foreign Service employees have to “bid” for other available positions domestically or overseas.

We’ll have to watch and see how many offices will now remain unfilled, and how many positions will be eliminated. The results may give us a rough look on what the State Department and the Foreign Service will look like in the years to come. With less positions available to fill, we may be looking at a possibility of hiring at less than attrition, with no new positions; something that old timers are familiar with.  We’ll have to revisit this topic at some future time, but for now, just filling in vacant positions within the State Department appears to be a clear challenge with no immediate end in sight.

Back in December, we wondered in this blog if Secretary Tillerson will be able to pick his own deputies (see Will Rex #Tillerson Gets to Pick His Deputies For the State Department? Now we know. On February 10, NYT reported that President Trump overruled Secretary Tillerson and rejected Elliott Abrams for deputy secretary of state.  Apparently, Abrams could not get past White House’s vetting not over his record of withholding information from Congress in the Iran-Contra Scandal but  over Abram’s past criticisms of then candidate Trump. On February 15, we also wrote about the dust-up between Secretary Tillerson and WH chief of staff Rience Priebus on ambassadorships (see Tillerson/Priebus Standoff on Ambassadorships, Plus Rumored Names/Posts (Updated). On February 16, Politico reported that the White House interviewed Fox’s Heather Nauert to be Secretary Tillerson’s spokesperson while he was out of the country.

A recent CNN report notes that after Tillerson took the helm at the State Department, “there has been little in the way of communication about Foggy Bottom’s priorities, schedules or policies.” A former State Department official told CNN, “It’s possible Tillerson is keeping his powder dry so he doesn’t make enemies prematurely.” Also below:

The official said Cabinet members can try to sway an undecided president by speaking publicly — a path Defense Secretary James Mattis has taken in stating his support for NATO and opposition to torture — or they can keep quiet to see which way the wind blows. They can also try to get the President’s ear and confidence by taking a lower profile.
But the official warned, “If you’re not clearly drawing your line on an issue, no one is going to respect it.”

If Secretary Tillerson does not even get a say on who will be his deputies, his spokesperson, or who will be appointed ambassadors (who by the way, report to the State Department and not the White House), folks will soon start wondering what kind of influence does he actually have? Should foreign governments bother with America’s diplomatic service or should they just tweet at the White House or at America’s tweeter-in-chief?  Of course, Secretary Tillerson has only been on the job less than a month. We’ll have to wait and see if Foggy Bottom’s T-Rex is as stealthy and cunning as his theropod namesake given that Trump’s chaotic White House is as fine tuned machine as CEO John Hammond’s Jurassic Park.

Note that Secretary Tillerson recently picked Margaret Peterlin as his chief of staff.  Peterlin had Hill and federal government experience.  She was previously National Security Advisor for the Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives, J. Dennis Hastert, and served as Deputy Under Secretary of Commerce for Intellectual Property and Deputy Director of the Commerce Department’s United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) under Bush43.

The following is not an exhaustive list of all offices at the State Department. We did not come up with this list which appears on state.gov here under Alphabetical List of Bureaus and Offices, and includes positions that require/do not require Senate confirmation. With the exception of IRM, CIO, CoS, and  S/ES (do not require senate confirmations), all offices/names in blue, bold font have been confirmed by the U.S. Senate (regular blue font indicates appointment without Senate confirmation). R, PM and CT (red, bold font) have been designated acting officials prior to the change of administration. Regular red font are offices/names of officials serving in their acting capacity or delegated authority as one January 20.  The bottom part of the list is based on Alphabetical List of Bureaus and Offices from state.gov where we have only the organization directory to refer to, and are not sure if the office holders are current.

 

Secretary of State (S) Rex Tillerson
Chief of Staff (CoS)  Margaret J Peterlin
Deputy Secretary (D) Thomas A. Shannon, Jr. (Acting Deputy)
Deputy Secretary for Management and Resources (DMR)  may not be filled (see)
Counselor of the Department (C)  may not be filled (see)

UNDER SECRETARY FOR:

Arms Control and International Security (T)
Civilian Security, Democracy, and Human Rights (J)
Economic Growth, Energy, and Environment (E)
Management (M) John W. Hutchison (Acting 120 days)
Political Affairs (P) Thomas A. Shannon, Jr.
Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs (R) Bruce Wharton (Acting U/S)

 

GEOGRAPHIC BUREAUS:

African Affairs (AF)  Assistant Secretary Linda Thomas-Greenfield
European and Eurasian Affairs (EUR) John A. Heffern (Acting Asst Secretary)
East Asian and Pacific Affairs (EAP) Assistant Secretary Daniel R. Russel
International Organization Affairs (IO) Tracey Ann Jacobson (Acting Asst Secretary)
Near Eastern Affairs (NEA) Stuart E. Jones (Acting Asst Secretary)
South and Central Asian Affairs (SCA) William E. Todd (Acting Asst Secretary)
Western Hemisphere Affairs (WHA) Francisco Palmieri (Acting Asst Secretary)

FUNCTIONAL BUREAUS AND OFFICES:

Administration (A) Harry Mahar (Acting Asst Secretary)
Arms Control, Verification and Compliance (AVC) Anita E. Friedt (Acting Asst Secretary)
Chief Information Officer (CIO) Frontis B. Wiggins, III
Conflict and Stabilization Operations (CSO) Tom Hushek (Acting Asst Secretary)
Consular Affairs (CA) David T. Donahue (Acting Asst Secretary)
Counterterrorism (CT) Justin Siberell (Acting Coordinator)
Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor (DRL) Virginia L. Bennett (Acting Asst Secretary)
Department Spokesperson Mark Toner (Acting)
Diplomatic Security (DS) Bill A. Miller (Acting Asst Secretary)
Director General of the Foreign Service and Director of Human Resources (DGHR) Arnold Chacon
Economic and Business Affairs (EB) Patricia Haslach (Acting Asst Secretary)
Educational and Cultural Affairs (ECA) Mark Taplin (Acting Asst Secretary)
Energy Resources (ENR) Mary B Warlick (Acting Coordinator)
Executive Secretariat (S/ES)  Ambassador Joseph E. Macmanus

Foreign Missions (OFM) Cliff Seagroves (Acting Director)
Human Resources (DGHR) Arnold Chacon
Information Resource Management (IRM) CIO Frontis B. Wiggins, III
Inspector General (OIG) Steve Linick
International Information Programs (IIP)  Jonathan Henick
International Security and Nonproliferation (ISN) Eliot Kang (Acting Asst Secretary)
Legal Adviser (L) Richard Visek (Acting)
Legislative Affairs (H) Ambassador Joseph E. Macmanus (Acting Asst Secretary)
Mission to the United Nations (USUN) Ambassador Nikki Haley
Oceans and International Environmental and Scientific Affairs(OES) Judith G. Garber (Acting Asst Secretary)
Overseas Buildings Operations (OBO) William H. Moser (Acting Director)

Political-Military Affairs (PM) Tina S. Kaidanow (Acting Asst Secretary)
Population, Refugees, and Migration (PRM) Simon Henshaw (Acting Asst Secretary)
Public Affairs (PA) Susan Stevenson (Acting Asst Secretary)
White House Liaison (M/WHL) Robert Wasinger

The following remaining offices are from the full state.gov list here and individuals encumbering these positions are listed in the current official phone directory. Note that this is not 100% reliable.  The directory dated 2/17/2017 still lists David McKean as S/P director. McKean was appointed US Ambassador to Luxembourg  in March 2016, he departed from that position on January 20, 2017 so this specific entry for S/P is twice outdated.

Allowances (A/OPR/ALS) Cheryl N. Johnson
Budget and Planning (BP) Douglas A. Pitkin
Center for Strategic Counterterrorism Communications (CSCC) Michael D Lumpkin
Chief Economist, of the Department –??
Civil Rights, Office of – John M. Robinson
Comptroller and Global Financial Services (CGFS) Christopher H. Flaggs
Diplomatic Reception Rooms (M/FA) Marcee F. Craighill
Foreign Assistance (F)
Foreign Service Institute (FSI) Director Nancy McEldowney
Global AIDS Coordinator (S/GAC)
Global Criminal Justice (GCJ)
Global Food Security (S/GFS)
Global Women’s Issues (S/GWI)
Global Youth Issues (GYI)
Intelligence and Research (INR) Assistant Secretary Daniel B. Smith
International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs (INL) Assistant Secretary William R. Brownfield
Management Policy, Rightsizing and Innovation (PRI) Director Paul A Wedderien
Medical Services (MED) Medical Director Charles H. Rosenfarb, M.D.
Office of Terrorism Finance and Economic Sanctions Policy –  Sandra Oudkirk?
Ombudsman, Office of – Shireen Dodson
Policy, Planning, and Resources for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs (PPR) Roxanne J Cabral
Policy Planning Staff (S/P) David McKean ???
Protocol (S/CPR)  Rosemarie Pauli (Acting Chief)
Quadrennial Diplomacy and Development Review (QDDR) Kathryn Schalow
Science & Technology Adviser (STAS)
Trafficking in Persons (TIP) Ambassador Susan Coppedge

 

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With Zero Information From @StateDept, Foreign Service Candidates Remain in Limbo

Posted: 2:42 am  ET
Updated: 12:08 pm PT
Updated: Feb 14, 2:18 pm PT: Notification reportedly went out o/a 9 pm on Feb 13 that the FSO/FSS March classes are on.

 

On January 23, we blogged about the State Department sending out job offers for an incoming class of foreign service officers and specialists (see @StateDept Sends Out Job Offers to Prospective FSOs For March 6 Class But — Will There Be Jobs?. On February 1, OPM and OMB issued a joint guidance on the Trump EO on the hiring freeze (see OMB/OPM Issues  Additional Guidance for Federal Civilian Hiring Freeze, Jan 31.2017 (Read).

As of February 9, 2017, the same information provided to applicants on February 2 remains the same:

greencheck

The “greencheck” at the state.gov forum also told the prospective employees:

We have not received updated guidance on how the hiring freeze will impact both the Generalist or Specialist March classes at this time. HR is exploring all options regarding the hiring registers and the March classes. Once a decision is finalized, all candidates affected by the freeze will be notified immediately.

We understand that “State still has provided the hundreds of effected candidates and their families with zero information on whether or not the class will take place or when. At this point, a number of candidates have lost their previous jobs and have had to move out of their homes.” Our correspondent, clearly frustrated, has some very strong words:

“The Department needs to start meeting the expectation of accountability that SECSTATE set on his first day on the job, and SECSTATE and senior leadership need to start enforcing those standards. This story of State’s inability/unwillingness to make decision, adjust to fluid circumstances, and communicate to what it purports to be its most valuable resource–it’s people–needs to be told …The careers forum on the state.gov site have plenty of anaecdotal examples of state’s lack of communication and the human impact this is having on people.”

So, we went and look at the forum once more.

One asked, “I haven’t seen anything definitive yet. It’s sure getting late here. Should I let the movers come box up my stuff?”

Another wrote, “I was scheduled for the March FSS class that is pending. I have already given my notice to my command to leave active duty effective Feb 17th. If this hiring freeze affects new DSS SA candidates then I am out of a job.”

Still another, “If I were sitting on the register right now, life would be great … I could extend my orders for another year and defer, but I already have orders to detach from active duty in 2 weeks thinking I was going to finally get my dream job.”

One wrote, “To think that State would just ignore us is completely negligible on their part, especially spending thousands of dollars on clearances….that would be a complete waste of tax payers dollars!  I am military so I know the routine of hurry up and wait, however it easy when one is getting paid to wait while a descion is made vs no income because you quit your job based on an offer from State … those of us who are “in limbo” any news is better than no news.”

Somebody “annoyed” wrote, “Take your time guys. Seriously don’t rush this decision. It’s not like you’ve had weeks let alone months to sort this out. And it’s not like the class is supposed to start in about three weeks. So really, take your time. All the uncertainty and waiting has been really great. Not stressful at all. A few of us are going to be unemployed, and several without housing in a few days, but hey, it’s cool, we can deal with it. It’ll be like camping. In fact, why don’t you make the decision on March 5, so we can really draw this out and enjoy this experience for as long as possible. “

Forum user using “Current FSO” as handle posted: “Whoever is in charge of making this decision owed the March class an answer weeks ago. That person is derelict in his/her duty to provide correct information. People have to uproot entire lives to go to A-100. Disgraceful.”

Here is a post that should be required reading for the State Department leadership:

If State needs more time to ‘explore options’ at least make the decision to delay the classes and let those who received appointment letters know. The Generalist class should have travel authorizations by now. Hundreds of candidates and their family members made the decision to accept appointment offers based on State’s identification of a 6 March start date. It is time for State to show similar decisiveness and commitment. 

Presidential transition, turnover in Management, etc doesn’t absolve State leadership of this responsibility. If the organization takes this long to make a decision on routine hiring, I shudder to think how it handles something like a medical evacuation or ordered departure. 

Of note, this response is not intended to lambast the ‘green check’ who is pasting State’s pro forma response to these queries. I understand they are only passing the limited information they’ve been told to release. This broader forum is oriented to those interested in seeking employment with the Department of State. A quick review of the threads the last two months paints an unimpressive picture of State’s handling of hiring actions, its ability to make decisions in fluid environments, and its interest in communicating substantive information with those effected by State’s indecision.

This could have been avoided had the State Department thought to include a contingency language in the job offer letters it sent out, it did not.

We learned that the State Department in FY2015 hired 290 foreign service officers, and 259 foreign service specialists. The number  of hires reportedly were “at or near” attrition. There is no publicly released number available for FY2016 (email us) but folks are talking about “hundreds” who received invitations to start training next month.

Update: Regarding the “hundreds” above, we understand that the largest Generalist (FSO) classes have never exceeded 100 as the room only fits about 85. The Specialist (FSS) classes are reportedly almost always much smaller. March classes are also typically the smallest of the year.  A State/HR document we’ve seen projected 615 positions for FY16 which includes 97 new positions and 518 projected total attrition (employees lost to retirement, resignation, death). Total hiring for FY17 is projected at 599 with 98 new positions and 501 projected total attrition. 

According to Federal News Radio, the Defense Department already announced “a sweeping set of exceptions to the governmentwide civilian hiring freeze President Donald Trump imposed on Jan. 23, allowing hiring to resume across broad categories of the workforce ranging from cybersecurity specialists to depot maintenance and shipyard personnel.”   The OMB/OPM guidance appears to carve out an exception for positions necessary to “meet national security (including foreign relations) responsibilities” but so far, the State Department has not made any announcement.

In 2009, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) reported on the challenges that the State Department faced in filling its increasing overseas staffing needs with sufficiently experienced personnel. It also noted that “persistent Foreign Service staffing and experience gaps put diplomatic readiness at risk.”

In the 1990’s, the Foreign Service suffered through a period of hiring below attrition levels. According to Government Executive, from 1994 to 1997, the State Department hired “only enough people to replace half the number it lost to retirement, resignation or death.” That contributed to the staffing and experience gaps in our diplomatic service.  It typically takes about 4 to 5 years for an officer to move through the entry-level grades to a midlevel grade.  To address these gaps, the State Department implemented the “Diplomatic Readiness Initiative,” during Colin Powell’s tenure which resulted in hiring over 1,000 new employees above attrition from 2002 to 2004. However, most of this increase was absorbed by the demand for personnel in Afghanistan and Iraq. In 2009, the State Department started Diplomacy 3.0,  under Hillary Clinton’s tenure, another hiring effort to increase its Foreign Service workforce by 25 percent by 2013. Due to emerging budgetary constraints, State anticipated this goal would not be met until 2023 (see Foreign Service Staffing Gaps, and Oh, Diplomacy 3.0 Hiring Initiative to Conclude in FY2023).

How soon before the State Department will be back in the same pickle?

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Related item:

Presidential Memorandum entitled “Hiring Freeze” January 23, 2017

Related posts:

Inbox: Another example of top-notch FSI communications strategy?

Posted: 12:57 am  ET

 

We received the following in our inbox on Friday, February 4, 2017:

“Rumor is spreading like wildfire that on Friday afternoon at an administrative staff meeting FSI language school management announced that all language immersion trips planned for this spring would be cancelled. No one has yet bothered to tell the students or teachers who have already purchased non-refundable airline tickets for trips that have been planned and approved by language division supervisors since last year. The cancellations seems to be based on lack of FSI funds to pay per diem to accompanying teachers, but it is not clear whether students will still be permitted to travel on self-directed immersion trips. Some students are frantically trying to get flights and hotels refunded under travel insurance policies, but this is not likely to be a covered circumstance.

Another example of top-notch FSI communications strategy. No one has bothered to tell the affected parties, but half the administrative staff at FSI heard about it.”

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Trump EO Also Suspends Visa Interview Waivers – Expect Long Visa Wait Times, Again

Posted: 10:28 am  PT

 

In 2012, then President Obama issued an Executive Order on Establishing Visa and Foreign Visitor Processing Goals and the Task Force on Travel and Competitiveness, which among other things, “ensure that 80 percent of nonimmigrant visa applicants are interviewed within 3 weeks of receipt of application, recognizing that resource and security considerations and the need to ensure provision of consular services to U.S. citizens may dictate specific exceptions”.  The Obama EO directed a plan that “should also identify other appropriate measures that will enhance and expedite travel to and arrival in the United States by foreign nationals, consistent with national security requirements.” In 2012, an Interview Waiver Pilot Program (IWPP) was introduced for for low-risk visa applicants. It became was made permanent in 2014, and became the Visa Interview Waiver Program (VIWP).

According to congressional testimonies, there are 222 visa-issuing embassies and consulates where “highly-trained corps of consular officers and support staff process millions of visa applications each year, facilitating legitimate travel while protecting our borders.”  In FY2015, overseas posts issued over 10.8 million nonimmigrant visas. That number is only a partial picture of the workload as it does not include visa refusals, a number that is significantly higher than visa issuances.

Section 8 of President Trump’s Executive Order: Protecting the Nation From Foreign Terrorist Entry into the United States refers to the immediate suspension of visa interview waivers specifically, the VIWP, and imposes a requirement that all nonimmigrant visa applicants, with exceptions, undergo in-person interviews.

Sec . 8 . Visa Interview Security

(a) The Secretary of State shall immediately suspend the Visa Interview Waiver Program and ensure compliance with section 222 of the INA, 8 U.S.C. 1222, which requires that all individuals seeking a nonimmigrant visa undergo an in-person interview, subject to specific statutory exceptions.

(b)  To the extent permitted by law and subject to the availability of appropriations, the Secretary of State shall immediately expand the Consular Fellows Program, including by substantially increasing the number of Fellows, lengthening or making permanent the period of service, and making language training at the Foreign Service Institute available to Fellows for assignment to posts outside of their area of core linguistic ability, to ensure that non-immigrant visa-interview wait times are not unduly affected.

We understand that the current Visa Interview Waiver Program (VIWP) was “carefully crafted”, and rolled out in consultation with the Congress. It was designed not/not to go back to pre-911 situation but to facilitate travel in cases of no discernable risk.

Here is what the Consular Affairs bureau told Congress:

Since 9/11, a risk-based approach grounded on greater and more effective domestic and international information sharing has become a key principle of visa processing policy.  This approach enables the United States to channel more resources toward the prevention of high-risk travel while simultaneously increasing the number of legitimate visitors arriving by land, air, and sea.  The Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA) prescreening process for Visa Waiver Program (VWP) travelers, international information sharing arrangements, Global Entry, which expedites the movement of low-risk, frequent travelers who proceed directly to automated kiosks upon arrival in the United States, and interagency counterterrorism and eligibility checks are examples of how U.S. agencies can use information collected from visitors and/or governments in advance of travel to accomplish complimentary and mutually re-enforcing goals of preventing terrorists and serious criminals from traveling to the United States while facilitating the entry of legitimate visitors.

We asked the State Department about the suspension of the VIWP and its impact on visa operations. We were interested in the number of applicants who used the Visa Interview Visa Program for the last fiscal year.  In trying to get a sense of the impact of the new EO on visa operations, we also were interested on number of consular officers in visa sections worldwide.

Our question is in general staffing terms not specific to any posts, nonetheless, a State Department official on background declined to discuss staffing levels or the number of officers working at any embassy or consulate.  However, the SDO  did provided the following information:

The Executive Order suspends previously authorized portions of the Interview Waiver Program. The Interview Waiver Program will continue for certain diplomatic and official visa applicants from foreign governments and international organizations (categories: A-1, A-2, G-1, G-2, G-3, G-4, NATO-1 through -6, C-2 and C-3) applicants under the age of 14, or over the age of 79; and applicants who previously held a visa in the same category that expired less than 12 months prior to the new application. As always, a consular officer must require that any applicant appear for an in-person interview in any situation where information provided on the application or during the screening process indicates any reason for further questioning. All visa applications, including those cases above, for which the visa interview is waived, are subject to the same rigorous security screening.

Previously, applicants renewing their visas in the same category within 48 months of expiration were eligible for their interview to be waived, as were first-time Brazilian and Argentine applicants ages 14-15 and 66-79.

We don’t know what is the current number but in 2013, Brazilian visitors contributed $10.5 billion to the U.S. economy, a 13 percent increase from the prior year.

Background of the Visa Interview Waiver Program (VIWP)

In January 2012, the Department and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) initiated the two-year Interview Waiver Pilot Program (IWPP) to streamline processing for low-risk visa applicants.  The worldwide pilot program allows consular officers to waive in-person interviews for certain nonimmigrant visa applicants who were previously interviewed and thoroughly screened in conjunction with a prior visa application, and who are renewing a previous visa within four years of its expiration.  The pilot program also allows consular officers to waive interviews for qualified Brazilian applicants falling into specific age ranges, even when applying for visas for the first time.

All IWPP applications are thoroughly reviewed by a commissioned consular officer, with the applicant’s fingerprints, photograph, and biodata undergoing extensive database checks.  Consular officers have been directed to require an interview for any applicant who might otherwise qualify for the IWPP, if the application is not immediately approvable upon paper review, including if database checks reveal potential grounds of inadmissibility or other possible concerns.  State concluded an August 2013 validation study of the IWPP, which showed that B1/B2 visa issuances under the IWPP present no greater risk of overstay than interview-based B1/B2 visa issuances.

In 2013, State/CA’s congressional testimony indicates that “more than 90 percent of applicants worldwide were interviewed within three weeks of submitting their applications.”  This includes key markets such as China where consular officers were able to keep interview wait times to an average of five days while managing an average annual workload increase of 23 percent over the past three years.  In Brazil, consular officers were able to bring down wait times by 98 percent, from a high of 140 days in São Paulo, to just two days in September 2013, while also managing an eleven percent jump in annual workload between 2011 and 2013. These results were partially attributed to the VIWP:

The Department’s success is partially attributable to the introduction of secure, streamlined processes such as the Interview Waiver Pilot Program (IWPP), which allows consular officers to waive in-person interviews for certain nonimmigrant visa applicants who are renewing their visas, and whose biometric data we have on file.  IWPP is operational at more than 90 visa processing posts in more than 50 countries, and consular officers have already waived interviews for more than 500,000 of these low-risk visa applicants.  The pilot has been particularly successful in China, where it constitutes 30 percent of Mission China’s visa renewal workload.  Of course, these applicants are subject to all of the security checks conducted for any interviewed applicant.  State also concluded an August 2013 validation study of the IWPP, which showed that B1/B2 visa issuances under the IWPP present no greater risk of overstay than interview-based B1/B2 visa issuances.

One of the most effective ways we have to improve the efficiency of visa operations is to eliminate in-person interviews for low-risk travelers, while retaining all of the security checks that apply to every visa applicant.  Although the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA) requires our consular officers to interview in-person all visa applicants aged 14 through 79, it also provides limited authority to waive interviews, including authority to waive for diplomatic and official applicants from foreign governments and for some repeat applicants.  We are utilizing technology and advanced fraud detection techniques to help us expand the pool of applicants for whom interviews can be waived under the Interview Waiver Program.  This allows us to focus resources on higher-risk visa applicants while facilitating travel for low-risk applicants.

We are working with our colleagues across the government to expand this successful program, which became permanent in January 2014.  In fiscal year 2013, we waived over 380,000 interviews, and a recent study showed that tourist and business visitor visa holders whose interviews were waived, all of whom were subject to the full scope of security checks, posed no greater risk for an overstay than those who were interviewed.  We are interested in explicit legislative authority to supplement the existing Interview Waiver Program by adding additional low-risk applicant groups such as citizens of Visa Waiver Program members applying for other types of visas such as student or work visas; continuing students moving to a higher level of education; non-U.S. citizen Global Entry and NEXUS trusted traveler program members; and holders of visas in other categories, such as students and workers, who wish to travel for tourism or business.  The Department is interested in working with Congress on legislation specifically authorizing the Secretaries of State and Homeland Security to enhance our interview waiver programs.

Since the VIWP is available in China and India, and many other countries with high visa demand, and includes visitor/business (B1-B2) visas, student (F) visas, and temporary worker’s (H1-B) visas, the workload impact on consular sections will be significant.  As more applicants require interviews, more interview windows will be needed, more consular officers will be needed, and larger facilities would become necessary.

By shutting down the IVWP, the Trump EO immediately expands the number of applicants that require in-person interviews. Section 8 (b) of the Trump EO also “immediately expand” the Consular Fellows Program, while a separate EO imposed a federal hiring freeze. Even if hiring is allowed under the Consular Fellows program, training new limited noncareer employees cannot occur overnight.

According to CA official’s congressional testimony, in 2014, 75 million international visitors traveled to the United States, a seven percent increase over 2013; they spent over $220 billion.  “Tourism is America’s largest services export and one that can’t be outsourced.” See current key numbers on US tourism in infographic below.

In FY 2014, Consular Affairs also generated $3.6 billion in revenue, which supports all consular operations in the Department and provides border security-related funding to some interagency partners. The CA bureau is probably the only fully fee-funded operation in the State Department.  It collects and retains fees for certain visa and passport services pursuant to specific statutory authority.  According to congressional testimony, the current fee statutes allow the bureau to retain approximately 80 percent of the fees it collects, with the balance going to the Treasury, which then help fund 12 other arms of the USG supporting border protection/national security.

 

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Trump Travel Ban: Rudy Tells the “Whole Story”, Plus Reactions and Fall Out

Posted: 2:09 am ET

 

On January 27, 2017, President Trump signed an executive order suspending the entry of refugees to the United States for FY2017 for 120 days. The E.O also proclaimed the entry of certain aliens as “detrimental to the interests of the United States” and declared the suspension of their entry into the United States for 90 days.  The aliens referred to are from countries cited under Section 217(a)(12) of the INA, 8 U.S.C.1187(a)(12) according to the executive order.  These are the same countries cited under the Visa Waiver Program Improvement and Terrorist Travel Prevention Act of 2015: Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, or Yemen.

We’ve seen folks on social media get confused about this. So let’s try this.  There are 38 countries designated as Visa Waiver Program (VWP) countries; citizens or nationals of these 38 countries are currently eligible to travel to the United States without a visa. However, if either of the following is true, travelers will no longer be eligible to travel to the U.S. without a visa. Instead, individuals in the following categories will have to apply for a visa using the regular appointment process at a U.S. Embassy or Consulate.

  • Nationals of VWP countries who have traveled to or been present in Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, or Yemen on or after March 1, 2011 (with limited exceptions for travel for diplomatic or military purposes in the service of a VWP country).
  • Nationals of VWP countries who are also nationals of Iran, Iraq, Sudan, or Syria.

The Trump EO banning entry and issuance of immigrant and nonimmigrant visas for 90 days uses these same seven countries.  Note that citizens from these seven countries have not been banned from visa applications or entry to the United States previously. Citizens from 38 visa waiver countries who previously traveled to these seven Muslim-majority countries were not allowed to use the waiver and must submit for an interview with a consular officer at an embassy or consulate overseas.

Since it appears that DOD Secretary Mattis and DHS Secretary Kelly were out of the loop on this, would it be totally shocking if no input was asked from the State Department? No?  Interagency cooperation is just the White House now? On the day President Trump was preparing to sign this EO, our embassies and consular posts worldwide were still issuing visas;  all official, and valid but no longer acceptable at ports of entry as soon as the executive order took effect.

Here’s Rudddddddy with a backgrounder.

Reaction round-up below:

 

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Recipe For Disaster Transition @StateDept: Situation AltNormal, All Fucked Up

Posted: 12:12 pm PT
Updated: 1:15 pm PT

 

We just posted about the reported mass resignations of senior management officials at the State Department (see Patrick Kennedy, Other Officials Step Down – Yo! That’s Not the “Entire” Senior Management).

The State Department spox released the following statement:

“As is standard with every transition, the outgoing administration, in coordination with the incoming one, requested all politically appointed officers submit letters of resignation. The Department encourages and advocates for senior officers to compete for high level offices in the Department. These positions are political appointments, and require the President to nominate and the Senate to confirm them in these roles. They are not career appointments but of limited term. Of the officers whose resignations were accepted, some will continue in the Foreign Service in other positions, and others will retire by choice or because they have exceeded the time limits of their grade in service. No officer accepts a political appointment with the expectation that it is unlimited. And all officers understand that the President may choose to replace them at any time. These officers have served admirably and well. Their departure offers a moment to consider their accomplishments and thank them for their service.”

The senior management officials reported to be stepping down today are not exactly quitting because U/S Kennedy resigned.  Our understanding is that they are leaving because they, too, got letters telling them to go.

What we know right now is that a good number of senior career official received letters yesterday morning essentially saying, “Thank you for your service.  You’re done as of Friday.”  The letters went to U/S Pat Kennedy, A/S Michelle Bond (CA), Joyce Barr (A), and Gentry Smith (DS M/OFM).  We noted previously that there are 13 offices under the “M” group which includes among other things, housing, medical, logistics, personnel, training, security.  We understand that the only person left in the “M” family in a Senate-confirmed position is DGHR Arnold Chacon.

We can confirm that one career under secretary serving in an acting capacity did not receive a letter or notification to leave.  But letters reportedly also went to others, including an assistant secretary in a geographic  bureau overseeing a most challenging region saying “you’re done, once we nominate your successor.”

Here’s the problem, with the exception of the announced nominations for ambassadors to China and Israel, there are no announced nominees for the State Department in the under secretary or assistant secretary level.  How soon will the replacements come onboard? As soon as the nominees are announced, vetted, and confirmed by the U.S. Senate.

Just to be clear, this is not the case of career employees refusing to continue working with a new administration or quitting public service, or quitting in protest — they were told to leave.

People who got these letters are “resigning.”  A good number of them are also retiring as of the 31st because they can no longer be in the Foreign Service due to mandatory retirement (they’re over 65) or they are subject to time-in-class/time-in-service restrictions.  For those who are not retirement-eligible or subject to TIC/TIS, they’re still in the Senior Foreign Service and could theoretically move into different jobs.

With the exception of the DGHR position, we understand that all Senate-confirmed positions in the “M” family are “unemcumbered” or will soon go vacant. The Trump Transition may not know this, but these positions are the most critical to keeping the Department going.  We understand that these firings cause all sorts of problems because “there are certain authorities that can only be vested in someone who is in a confirmable position.”  For example, whenever “M” is on travel, the role of “Acting M” always defaulted to the Senate confirmed senior official at Diplomatic Security, Administration, or Consular Affairs.

For real life consequences, “M” approves authorized and ordered evacuation requests and authorizes the use of K funds. So better not have an evacuation or embassy shutdown right now because without an “M” successor, even one in an acting capacity, no one has any frakking idea who is responsible.  We are presuming that the Legal Affairs bureau is trying to figure this out right now. That is, if the Legal Advisor is still in place and had not been asked to leave, too.

This need not have to happen this way. The Landing Team get to an agency, and it goes about the job of filling in positions with their selected appointees in an orderly manner. This is not the first transition that the agency has gone through.  We understand from the AP’s Matt Lee that there was only one under secretary position left at State during the Clinton to Bush transition.  But giving career employees, some with 30-40 years of dedicated service to our country a two-day notice to pack-up is not just disgraceful, it is also a recipe for disaster.

Unless somebody with authority steps in now, by Monday, the only person possibly left standing in the 7ht Floor is Ambassador Tom Shannon who is the Acting Secretary of State pending Rex Tillerson’s confirmation.  And when Rex Tillerson, who has never worked for the federal government shows up for his first day at work next week, with very few exception, he may be surrounded with people, who like him will be lost in Foggy Bottom.

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Patrick Kennedy, Other Officials Step Down – Yo! That’s Not the “Entire” Senior Management

Posted: 10:09 am PT
Updated: 10:29 am PT

 

Yesterday, Mark Toner, the State Department’s Acting Spokesperson said that “Patrick Kennedy will resign as Under Secretary for Management on January 27, and retire from the Department of State on January 31. A career Foreign Service Officer, Under Secretary Kennedy joined the Department in 1973.”  To read more about him, see The State Department’s Mr. Fix-It of Last Resort Gets the Spotlight.

Today, WaPo reports that the “entire senior management team just resigned.” In addition to U/S Kennedy stepping down, others named includes A/Barr, CA/Bond, DS/Gentry Smith, all career diplomats, and presumably are retiring from the Foreign Service. Previous departures include OBO’s non-career appointee, Lydia Muniz o/a January 20, and Diplomatic Security’s Greg Starr who retired a week before inauguration.

As we have noted before in this blog, U/S Kennedy has been the Under Secretary for Management since 2007. He is the longest serving “M in the history of the State Department, and only the second career diplomat to encumber this position. U/S Kennedy’s departure is a major change, however, it is not unexpected.

The “M” family of offices is the train that runs the State Department, it also affects every part of employees lives in the agency. But there are 13 offices under the “M” group.  Four departures this week including Kennedy, plus two previous ones do not make the “entire” senior management.  If there are other retirements we are not hearing, let us know.  But as one former senior State Department official told us  too much hyperventilation at the moment “is distracting from things that really are problematic.”  

The challenge now for Mr. Tillerson who we expect will be confirmed as the 69th Secretary of State next week, is to find the right successor to lead the “M” group.  We hope he picks one who knows the levers and switches in Foggy Bottom and not one who will get lost in the corridors.

Update: Via CCN “Any implication that that these four people quit is wrong,” one senior State Department official said. “These people are loyal to the secretary, the President and to the State Department. There is just not any attempt here to dis the President. People are not quitting and running away in disgust. This is the White House cleaning house.”

Update: Statement from Mark Toner, Acting Spokesperson:

“As is standard with every transition, the outgoing administration, in coordination with the incoming one, requested all politically appointed officers submit letters of resignation. The Department encourages and advocates for senior officers to compete for high level offices in the Department. These positions are political appointments, and require the President to nominate and the Senate to confirm them in these roles. They are not career appointments but of limited term. Of the officers whose resignations were accepted, some will continue in the Foreign Service in other positions, and others will retire by choice or because they have exceeded the time limits of their grade in service. No officer accepts a political appointment with the expectation that it is unlimited. And all officers understand that the President may choose to replace them at any time. These officers have served admirably and well. Their departure offers a moment to consider their accomplishments and thank them for their service.”

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@StateDept Sends Out Job Offers to Prospective FSOs For March 6 Class But — Will There Be Jobs?

Posted: 3:47 am ET
Updated: 1:03 am ET
Updated: 7:12 pm ET

 

The most popular topic in the State Department’s career forum right now is Mgt non-authorization of appointment letter?  Candidates for appointment into the Foreign Service are roiled at the possibility that the next classes for new officers and specialists will be postponed or cancelled after they have already prepared to move to DC.  One commenter writes, “We signed attendance letters and received confirmation that we are in the March class. We signed paperwork with Oakwood for housing.”  Another adds,  “Have resigned from my job and given my apartment notice of our leaving. I also turned down another job offer in December.” Still another candidate writes, “[A]m about to go from a good, full-time job to being unemployed because of this lack of transparency and foresight. For my family’s sake, I’m trying not to show how terrified I am that we will potentially be without income and a roof over our heads.”  And yet another says, “I am not sure how future language and caveats helps those who will soon be unemployed and homeless.”

Last week, we asked the State Department about this issue, requesting some clarity on what is going on regarding the offers that went out, the classes scheduled to start, and whether or not cancellation of classes is a possibility/offers rescinded given the change in administration.

We received a four-word response from State/HR:  “We have no comment.”

We tried DGHR Arnold Chacon on Twitter, but it appears he was deaf to our question on this matter.

As best we could tell, in late November-early December, the State Department sent out appointment offers to Foreign Service applicants who have jumped through the hoops to join the incoming 190th A-100 Generalist Class, due to begin March 6. We understand that similar offers went out for the next Specialist Class due to start in March 20.

For the Generalist/FSO class, the job offer recipients were asked to notify the Registrar’s Office of their response to the job offer, via email, no later than noon, Friday, Dec. 2nd.  They were also asked to provide documentation of their annual base salarysubmission of 90 days’ worth of earnings and leave/salary statements, or a signed letter from your Human Resources Division, on the company’s letterhead, verifying the candidate’s current (base) salary.  Candidates who are current federal employees were asked to provide their most recent personnel action (SF-50), in lieu of 90 days’ worth of earnings and leave statements.   Candidates transferring from a federal agency, were asked to provide the Registrar’s Office with the name, email address and telephone number of their Human Resources Officer, so that their “transfer and a release date can be coordinated without a break in service.”

Recipients of the offers were informed that they need to provide via fax or email an updated resume with eight specific details including address, telephone number, email address, eligible family members and confirmation that this is the address from which you are traveling to attend Generalist training; please include your confirmed address, telephone number and current email address on your resume” to the Registrar’s Office. 
The candidates were reminded that if they are appointed from 50 miles outside of the Washington, D.C. metropolitan area, they are eligible to receive per diem to assist in offsetting living expenses incurred while attending training. They were given the per diem rates from March-September 2017. The letter informed the candidates that during the first week of orientation, they will have an opportunity to apply for a Government Travel Card via Citibank. Also that candidates must submit a travel voucher every 30 calendar days to receive reimbursement for their lodging and meals and incidental expenses (M&IE).   They were informed that lodging receipts are required.  The candidates were further reminded not to purchase their own tickets as they will be issued travel authorizations approximately 30 days prior to the class date.
 

They were provided information about lodging and information on specific needs such as lactation services:

The Department entered into a contract with housing vendors to provide apartments at various locations in the Washington, D.C. area for eligible employees receiving a travel authorization to attend Generalist training at FSI. Participating employees will not be responsible for paying for housing costs which can result in savings of many thousands of dollars over the course of the training period. Participants will still receive the meals and incidental expense portion of the per diem allowance on the sliding scale listed above. We strongly encourage all new employees to take advantage of this program not only because of the cost savings, but because of the convenience of making reservations, free transportation to and from FSI, and to avoid the many legal and contractual pitfalls encountered when finding your own housing. 

 If you are a candidate that will require lactation services during the orientation period, please advise as soon as possible so that arrangements can be made.

They were directed what to do/where to go on their first day of processing: 

Please note that the first day of Generalist In-Processing will be held in the Harry S. Truman (Main State), 2201 C Street, N.W, Washington, D.C. (Loy Henderson Auditorium, 23rd Street entrance only) and the remainder of the Generalist Orientation, will be held at the George Shultz National Foreign Affairs Training Center, 4000 Arlington Boulevard, Arlington, Virginia, Room F-2328.   (Please enter via the 23rd Street entrance only.   Please do not enter via the Department’s 22nd  and C Street, N.W., Washington, D.C., Main Entrance. )

They were informed that the priority of the Registrar’s Office is the processing of the January 9th Generalist Class.   And that their “patience and understanding are greatly appreciated.”

The appointment offer we reviewed includes links and contact info. It does not include a contingency language about not making “lifestyle changes.”  If you receive one of these letters, you probably would also start making arrangements to terminate current employment, leases, etc, in preparation for a new start as an entry level U.S. diplomat in Washington, D.C.

The original forum thread was posted in January 13. After the forum section lit up and multiple inquiries from candidates, HR/REE apparently sent out an email on January 17, as follows:

Dear Candidate:

The Office of Recruitment, Examination and Employment (HR/REE) would like to provide further information concerning your appointment to both the March 6th Generalist and March 20th Specialist hiring classes.

At this time, pending guidance from the incoming administration, the Registrar’s Office is not releasing any official appointment documentation related to the March 2017 hiring classes. This would include the official appointment salary letter and the Enter On-Duty employment forms. Once the Registrar’s Office has received further guidance from Management concerning your appointment, you will be informed immediately.

We recommend that you make no lifestyle changes contingent on employment with the Department until you receive further guidance from us.”

Look, the job offer letters went out after the elections. Unless folks were under a rock, State/HR knew that there will be a new GOP Administration who may have different priorities. In fact, in October 22, 2016, President Trump’s Contract With the American Voters lists “a hiring freeze on all federal employees to reduce federal workforce through attrition (exempting military, public safety, and public health)” as part of his plan.  Perhaps the folks who sent out the job offers made presumptions they shouldn’t have, or perhaps there were transition issues?  The thing is we don’t know because HR and DGHR are both non-responsive to inquiries. It is worth noting, however, that the scheduled  189th Class proceeded as planned on January 17.  If there were doubts, even slim ones about the next training classes, the State Department could have included a contingency language in the job offer letters it sent out; it did not.  Wait, we’ll take that back. Even in the absence of doubts, given that a presidential transition was anticipated after the election, it is malpractice not to include contingency language in these job offers.

We understand that the agency has no control over the priorities or the interest of the incoming administration. However, it has control over how it communicates with its prospective personnel. The State Department demands that its future diplomats demonstrate high qualities of leadership, decisiveness, and communication skills among other things.  And yet, it poorly communicates with its incoming career candidates and refuses to account for its action when politely asked for clarity.

CBS News reported on January 20 that White House chief of staff Reince Priebus sent a memo to federal agencies instructing the bureaucracy to cease issuing new regulations and to enact a federal hiring freeze. We were able to locate the regulatory freeze memo but not the memo on the hiring freeze. Government Executive has now reported about the hiring freeze here. Below is the text of the order freezing federal hiring.  Or see the more readable version here: President Trump Freezes Federal Hiring Regardless of Funding Sources (Read Memo).

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Burn Bag: A DCM Gets Kicked Out For Sexual Harassment

Via Burn Bag:

The DCM at a large post was kicked out for sexual harassment.  This was a long time coming so big props to whoever caused powers that be to take the problem seriously.  But the bigger question remains – how does someone who has existed on a diet of inappropriate and abuse (sic) behavior for years get selected to lead this mission?  Shouldn’t a couple EEO complaints trigger some more expansive 360s?

srene

 

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Advice to the Next Secretary of State: Stay Home #Tillerson

Posted: 1:13 am ET

 

Back in 2013, when Secretary Kerry was on his first trip overseas, D.B. Des Roches, an associate professor at the Near East South Asia Institute for Strategic Studies published a commentary about Secretary Kerry’s trip and the current ‘success’ metric.

Most recent secretaries have considered travel to be the measure of their terms. When Hillary Clinton returned to work from hospitalization, her staff gave her a football jersey with “112” on it – reflecting the number of countries she had visited. Republicans retorted that Condoleezza Rice still held the record for most miles logged.
[….]
This focus on secretary of state travel as a measure of dedication, efficiency and competence is dysfunctional. We should decide, as Mr. Kerry’s first trip (to Europe and the Middle East) gets underway, to abandon this harmful metric and evaluate diplomacy in a way that acknowledges its complexity.

Read more: Secretary of State Scorecard: Work Done Not Miles Flown, Please.

The writer made some excellent points, of course, and everybody paid attention.

Secretary Kerry has now traveled to 91 countries, logging in 1,395,606 miles, 588 travel days and 2,995.94 hours of total flight time as of this writing. It’s only a matter of time before somebody will have a compare/contrast infographic of the secretaries of state’s travel records from Kissinger to Kerry.

Recently, Gerald M. Fierstein — who was President Obama’s Ambassador to Yemen from 2010 to 2013 and who worked under Secretary Kerry until his retirement in 2016 — penned a similar piece urging the next secretary of state to well, “stay home.” Ambassador Fierstein also points to a most consequential cost when the secretary of state is often on the road.  Excerpt via Reuters:

As President Barack Obama’s tenure draws to a close, Washington is turning its attention to one of its silliest traditions: toting up the travel statistics of the outgoing secretary of state, as if miles traveled correlated to diplomatic achievement.

In his four years as secretary of state, John Kerry has thus far (he still has six weeks left) traveled over 1.3 million miles and spent 564 days – nearly one-third of his time as Secretary – on the road.  Although this easily surpasses Hillary Clinton’s 956,733 miles and 401 days, Kerry will not be able to match Mrs. Clinton’s record of 112 countries visited.  Alas, Mr. Kerry will only make it to 90 countries during his tenure.
[…]
If this were simply a matter of the secretary undertaking quixotic missions with little to show for them, it would probably not be an issue worthy of much attention.  But there are costs to U.S. foreign policy interests that are imposed by the secretary’s frequent absences from Washington.

When the secretary is on the road, he is not at the table when the president makes decisions that directly affect foreign policy.  Equally, since other senior diplomats are frequently on the road, the State Department often does not have an equal voice with the other Cabinet departments in the National Security Council meetings. The net result is an imbalance between diplomatic options and military or intelligence community preferences.

Read in full below:

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