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Burn Bag: Diplomat Writes About “The Slog of Leadership” and Misses Attack Date By a Year+

Via Burn Bag:

What’s this? The worst day of Gina Abercrombie-Winstanley’s life isn’t the day five of her staff were killed in Saudi Arabia? How did she get the date so wrong in this NYTimes Op-Ed? The attack was December 6, 2004, not/not December 4, 2005.

Like every chief of mission around the world, then and now, I began and ended each day with the question: “What can I do to increase safety for my staff?” I had reason to worry because for several years, the security situation in Saudi Arabia had been perilous, with terrorists attacking and murdering Saudis, other Arabs and Westerners. Diplomatic missions were favorite targets and ours, the Consulate General in Jeddah, made up of approximately 50 Americans and 150 locally-hired employees, was particularly attractive. With the advice of my security team, we raised the height of our walls, topped them with glass shards and barbed wire and imposed travel restrictions on the staff. We armed our guards and, unlike most diplomatic compounds, allowed military patrols inside our walls.
[…]
One proposal, however, threatened to tear our community apart. My security chief wanted to require all non-American staff to pass through metal detectors to enter the compound. I understood the imperative for a careful screening. But for a community under siege, the feeling that “we were all in it together” was critical to getting us through each day. Disparate treatment was sure to corrode our cohesiveness and send a signal to the local staff that we distrusted them despite the fact that they, too, put their lives on the line every day by walking through our gates.
[…]
After it was installed, I made sure that I was the very first staff member to walk through the metal detector. I can’t say that we had a Kumbaya moment or that resentment of my decision ended immediately among my American staff.  I had to lead by example and trust that they respected my integrity even if they didn’t like my position.

Despite all our measures, on December 4, 2005, one of the worst days of my life, terrorists attacked the U.S. Consulate in Jeddah. After a long standoff, 10 of my staff members were injured, some terribly, and five were killed. These were colleagues with whom we worked alongside every day, and socialized with after work. And each and every one of them was a local staff member.

Read: http://nytlive.nytimes.com/womenintheworld/2017/05/15/diplomat-to-saudi-arabia-opens-up-about-what-got-her-through-one-of-the-worst-days-of-my-life/

Related posts:

Related item:

Review of Department of State Implementation of Jeddah Accountability Review Board of Recommendation to Consider Remote Safe Areas at Missions Worldwide (pdf)

 

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@StateDept’s $1,086,250 Organizational Study: Multiple Contractors Interviewed But Only 1 Offer?

Posted: 1:54 am ET
Updated: May 12, 1:02 pm PT

 

Via CBS News:

The State Department will be spending at least $1,086,250 for the “listening tour” that Secretary of State Rex Tillerson launched Wednesday morning.

The department has contracted Insigniam, a private consulting firm, to conduct the review in a project they are calling the “Department of State organizational study.” The State Department has not replied to requests for comment on the review’s price tag and their decision to use Insigniam to carry out this review.

Tillerson and the Insigniam co-founder Nathan Owen Rosenberg served on the Boy Scouts of America board together in 2011. The State Department has not replied to requests for comment on the review’s price tag and their decision to use Insigniam to carry out this review.

After Bloomberg broke the news on April 27 that Secretary Tillerson is seeking a 9% workforce cut and has hired the consulting company Insigniam to conduct a survey, we started looking for the contract awarded. We wanted to see the scope of work and the statement of work requirement included in this contract. We were able to find a $60M Professional Staffing Support Contract awarded on April 5, an Intent to Sole Source $34K Representational Furnishings on April 24  on FedBizOpps where federal business opportunities are typically posted, but not this one.

We understand that Insigniam was elected under a “sole source” contract. On May 1st, we emailed the State Department’s Bureau of Public Affairs for information on how and when this contract was awarded since we have not been able to find  the agency’s sole source justification for the job. As of this writing, the State Department has neither acknowledged nor responded to our inquiry.

Three contracts

We have since learned of three transactions (thanks Z!) issued to Insigniam LLC, a company based in Pennsylvania’s 2nd congressional district (PA02). The first contract SAQMMA17C0157 dated April 25, 2017 is valued at $850,000. The second contract SAQMMA17C0157 dated April 28, 2017 is valued at $236,250.  The third contract SAQMMA17C0157 is dated April 29, 2017 and does not have an obligated value. The third contract’s “Reason for Modification” is listed as “M: Other Administrative Action.”  All three contracts list May 30, 2017 as the “current” and “ultimate” completion date.

click on image to see the contracts via usaspending.gov

The funding for these contracts have been requested through the Bureau of Administration (State/A) but the Contracting Office is the State Department’s Acquisitions office (AQMMA). This is a definitive, firm fixed price contract.  The cost or pricing data is listed as “W: Not Obtained — Waived.”  The contract description says “Department of State Organizational Study.”

Multiple contractors interviewed but only 1 offer?

Under Competition Information, usaspending.gov lists this contract as “not competed”; the reason for the non-competition is listed as “Urgency.” This section also saysNumber of Offers Received: 1.”

The State Department apparently told CBS News that “they interviewed multiple contractors for the project before selecting Insigniam.”

“Of the proposals reviewed, Insigniam’s was the most cost-effective for the expertise, scope, and timeline needed, including its ability to survey and provide analysis of large organizations,” a State Department official told CBS News.  

So the State Department interviewed multiple contractors but those companies did not compete for this contract? And only one offer was received?

The company is listed on usaspending.gov as a partnership with 49 employees and an annual revenue of $12.7M.  The contracting officer determined it as a “small business”, “woman owned” and a “self-certified disadvantage business.” Under competition information, however, these contracts indicate “no set aside used” and “no preference used.”

The GSA confirmed to us that “the agency will dictate whether they are required to use GSA schedules or directly from a vendor. GSA has no say in how a customer orders needed materials or services.”

We are aware of only one previous organizational study conducted at the State Department (if there’s more, let us know!). There was  a study focused on the Foreign Service and was based on three management conferences held by the Department in 1965. It was conducted by Professor Chris Argyris of Yale University.  There were a few others through the years; we’ll try and see if we can find a good list to post here. 

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AFSA Elections 2017: Three of Four Top Elected Posts Are Uncontested. Again.

Posted: 12:10 am ET

 

It’s that time of year again. AFSA is having an election for the 2017 Governing Board.  For the second time in four years, three of the four top elected posts are again, unopposed: President, Secretary, Treasurer.  As in 2013, only the State VP position has two candidates.  Also uncontested slots are: USAID VP, FAS VP, APHIS Rep, BBG Rep, FAS Rep and USAID Rep.  The Foreign Service had seen this movie before in the 2013 elections.

Barbara Stephenson is running unopposed for reelection as AFSA’s president. In her latest FSJ column addressing the 30% funding cut, she writes that she has become over the years, a “cheerleader for making the most of transitions to reexamine priorities.” In hedging off potential criticisms for AFSA’s noticeable silence over these budget cuts, she cites “AFSA’s record-high membership levels and the response and feedback from our “structured conversations” (now in their second year) and other communications tell me that many members are open to a sophisticated approach by AFSA that draws on our core competencies as diplomats.”

Following Secretary Tillerson’s recent address to State Department employees, WaPo’s Joe Davidson writes“Tillerson seems more in touch with the tension reorganization can generate among employees than the union representing them. A statement from American Foreign Service Association President Barbara Stephenson didn’t address worker apprehension as she said “this reorganization effort offers a rare opportunity to make American diplomacy stronger.”

Former Ambassador Tom Boyatt running unopposed for AFSA Secretary says in his campaign message that he “registered the unprecedented uncertainties in the current budget proposal, the reorganization and “streamlining” being considered and the possible RIF flowing therefrom.”

First time candidate for AFSA office, former Ambassador Tony Wayne running in an uncontested seat for the Treasurer slot says that he “cannot recall a period when the misunderstanding was so serious regarding the vital role that American diplomats and American diplomacy play.  AFSA must be as effective as possible in explaining the importance of the non-military tools in America’s international policy. The proposed budget cuts are deeply concerning.” 

Ken Kero-Mentz running for State Vice President under the Stephenson slate writes, “I believe we must forge new alliances, build new bridges, and plan for a stronger future, together. […] I believe AFSA must be a place where everyone can share concerns and ideas, safely. I know how to work with senior management, and I know how to advocate for our Foreign Service and our Department.”

Joe De Maria, an independent running for State Vice President says, “I have served 26 years in the Foreign Service. I’ve served at six posts and in five functional bureaus with many fine generalists and specialists. I’ve served as a consular officer, a Pearson Fellow, HRO, Labor Officer and Congressional Advisor. I know the Department well.[…] I know what works well and what doesn’t, and what motivates us to keep plugging away year after year. Let me put this experience and knowledge to work for you and your families.”

Ann Posner for USAID Vice President in an uncontested seat writes: “As USAID Contingency VP, I want to press onward to assure that the Agency streamlines systems that affect FSOs’ work and careers.”

Daniel Crocker running for FCS Vice President as part of the sole slate: “I’ll help ensure that FCS’s role in promoting U.S. economic security is a core component of your country team at post. I’ll challenge Commerce to support a first-tier Foreign Service. And my communication with you will be transparent and timely.”

Independent Steve Morrison is running for FCS Vice President says that he “Cannot be promoted, SFS “window” not open so ONLY WORKS FOR YOU AND YOUR INTERESTS!”

The contested Retiree VP slot is between Bill Haugh who is running as part of the only slate and John Naland running as an independent. Haugh writes: “I want to strengthen AFSA’s capacity to help you transition to retirement. Every retirement is unique, so I propose to strengthen AFSA casework. I am a career management officer with decades of experience navigating the bureaucracy.”

AFSA President twice and former AFSA VP John Naland writes that he is the “only retiree candidate who has pledged to dedicate 20 hours per week to AFSA, I have the time to apply my experience and knowledge to advancing AFSA’s agenda.  As an independent candidate, if the need arises to urge our AFSA President to speak out more strongly in defense of the Service, I will be freer to do so than her fellow slate candidates whose elections she made possible.”

As an aside — we have not made a habit of endorsing AFSA candidates and we are not about to start now, but we will always remember John Naland as an AFSA president who was willing to address members’ concerns long before we had this blog. He was accommodating and sensitive to the issues of Foreign Service members and their spouses, even those who were not paying members of the organization.  He certainly talked the talk and walked the walk.

Frankly, we are sorry to see that he is not at the top of the ticket.

Former Ambassador Alphonse F. La Porta for Retiree Representative talks about “another and lesser known threat: the gutting of employee rights and the labor-management system for which AFSA is responsible as the exclusive representative of the Foreign Service. The law-based and carefully-negotiated rights of federal unions are under attack on the Hill to limit due process, employee protections, and AFSA advocacy.”

Philip A. Shull for Retiree Representative as part of the sole slate writes that “If elected as your Retiree Representative, I will use my skills and 30+ years of experience in marketing and coalition building to win over even more converts.”

George Colvin is running as an independent for Retiree Representative. In his campaign statement, he writes:

According to prominent legal theorist Jack Goldsmith, the Trump administration is conducting “the greatest presidential onslaught on international law and international institutions in American history,” including “trying to gut State Department capacity across the board.” News stories feature bewildered Department staff fearful of budget cuts that could produce a Foreign Service RIF, as well as a drastic and damaging reorganization. The Secretary is a taciturn recluse and policy bystander.

Faced with conditions that threaten both the national interest and the future of the Foreign Service, Barbara Stephenson and her colleagues have nothing to say.

I am running as an independent candidate for retiree representative because I believe AFSA must engage on these concerns, and must be seen to do so. We are the Foreign Service, not the Silent Service; and it is past time for the “Voice of the Foreign Service” to start speaking.

Oh boy! Mr. Colvin might just stir things up on the Board!

Several folks are also running for State Representatives. Some candidates’ statements do not talk about what they hope to accomplish  as AFSA representatives but about the um… “true appreciation of the work” of AFSA President Ambassador Stephenson or Stephenson’s “leadership.”  

Below is a list of nominees.

 

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Tillerson Responds to North Korean Missile Launch With a 23-Word Statement 👀

Posted: 12:49 am ET

 

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The Last Time @StateDept Had a 27% Budget Cut, Congress Killed ACDA and USIA

Posted: 4:39 am ET

 

Reporting for the Washington Post in 1996, Thomas Lippman wrote that “The total budget for civilian international programs, the so-called 150 account, started to decline in the mid-1980s. It leveled off during the Bush administration, then resumed a downward slide in President Clinton’s first year.” He noted that “the relentless budget pressure that began in the mid-1980s accelerated with the Clinton administration’s deficit-reduction plan, forcing the closing of consulates, aid missions, libraries, cultural centers and even a few entire embassies, from Italy to Indonesia, from Antigua to Thailand” (see U.S. Diplomacy’s Presence Shrinking).

Bill Clinton was elected President of the United States defeating incumbent George H. W. Bush in 1992Warren M. Christopher was nominated Secretary of State by then President-elect Clinton in December 1992.  Christopher was confirmed by the U.S. Senate on January 20, 1993, and sworn in the next day. Two months into the new administration, Secretary Christopher made his first official congressional appearance as Secretary of State before the Subcommittee on Commerce, Justice, State, and Judiciary House Appropriations Committee to talk about redirecting American foreign policy, refocusing the aid budgets, and reforming institutions.

Secretary Christopher at that time said that “American foreign policy in the years ahead will be grounded in what President Clinton has called the three “pillars” of our national interest:  first, revitalizing our economy; second, updating our  security forces for a new era; and, third, protecting democracy as the  best means to protect our own national security while expanding the  reach of freedom, human rights, prosperity, and peace.”  He talked about Saddam Hussein, “If the lawlessness of [Iraqi President] Saddam Hussein has taught us any single lesson, it is that weapons of mass destruction, especially when combined  with missile technology, can transform a petty tyrant into a threat to world peace and stability.” Secretary Christopher talked about the State Department budget, “It will be a tough budget for tough times.  It will be a flexible budget that seeks austerity, not as a hardship to be endured but as a challenge to innovate and do our job  better.  Above all, we hope that this budget will mark a transitional step to a truly focused budget that sets priorities and puts resources behind them.”

Oh, brother where are ya?

In February 1993, Secretary Christopher also sent a  message to State Department employees on the Implementation Directive on Reorganization.  Two months into the Trump Administration, and days after the OMB released Trump’s “skinny budget” we have yet to hear from Secretary Tillerson on where the State Department go from here.  We know that he supports the budget cuts for his department, and he has made no public effort of defending the funding and programs for his agency but the top diplomat of the United States still has not articulated the foreign policy priorities of this administration. If Secretary Tillerson has sent a message to his troops in Foggy Bottom, we have yet to hear about it or its contents.

The proposed FY18 budget slashes the international affairs budget by 28% or 36% with Overseas Contingency Operation (OCO) funding factored in.  If passed by Congress, what happens to That Three-Legged Stool of American Foreign Policy?  As diplomacy and development will be hobbled by cuts, are we going to see an exponential growth in private contractors in support of DOD, diplomacy and development? Or are we going to just see staffing gaps and reduced diplomatic footprints from Algeria to Zimbabwe?

In Tillerson’s recent interview with IJR, he said about the State Department budget that “One can say it’s not going to happen in one year, and it’s not.”

He’s right.  The cuts may happen this year, and next year, and every fiscal year thereafter.  It sounds to us like an “American First” foreign policy does not see much use for diplomacy.  So we expect that the State Department budget will continue to be targeted during the entire Trump term. But if history is any indication, the decisions made today will have repercussions for our country down the road. Back in 1993, Secretary Christopher said, “when the time eventually comes to restore diplomatic relations with Iran, Iraq, Somalia and Libya, the money and personnel for those posts probably will have to come out of existing resources, officials said, thus increasing the pressure to close marginal posts elsewhere.” In 1996, the then Arms Control and Disarmament Agency (ACDA) director John D. Holum warned that the agency “no longer has a U.S. technical expert assigned to the U.N. weapons inspection team in Iraq.”  

With the exception of Iran, we are back in Iraq, and Somalia, and we know what happened in Libya.  We don’t grow diplomats overnight. Expertise and diplomatic muscle grow with time, with every assignment, with every challenge. What happens when the next crisis erupts in Asia? Can we just pluck diplomats and development experts from the OPM growth chamber?  Or are we going to have a civilian surge once more with diplomats lacking experience and language skills thrown into a pit and then expected to do an effective job?

Remember, do you remember?

We should note that the Democrats had control of the House and the Senate after the 1992 elections but the midterm elections in 1994 resulted in a net gain of 54 seats in the House of Representatives for the GOP, and a pickup of eight seats in the Senate. That was the Gingrich Revolution.  By the way, R.C. Hammond who previously served as press secretary to Newt Gingrich (a vocal Trump ally) is now a communications adviser for Secretary Tillerson.

WaPo reported that between 1993-1996 “the State Department has cut more than 2,000 employees and shuttered consulates in 26 foreign cities. The Agency for International Development (AID), which runs foreign aid programs, has been hit especially hard by the Republican-controlled Congress and has closed 23 missions overseas.”

In 1995, according to NYT: The U.S. ambassadors to Italy, France, Britain, Spain, the E.U., Germany, Russia and NATO reportedly got together and sent a secret cable to Secretary Christopher, signed by all of them, telling him that the “delivery system” of U.S. foreign policy was being destroyed by budget cuts. They pleaded with him to mobilize those constituencies in the U.S. that value the work of embassies, and volunteered to come to Washington to testify before Congress in their defense. The ambassadors got a polite note back from Deputy Secretary Strobe Talbott, telling them he understood their concerns but that there was a new mood in Congress. There was no invitation to testify.

The State Department at that time reportedly also promoted the concept of “diplomatic readiness,” similar to military readiness, “in hopes of persuading Congress to divert some money from the defense budget into diplomacy and foreign aid — activities that, in the diplomats’ view, save money over time by reducing the need for military actions.”

More than 100 businesses, trade associations, law firms and volunteer groups did organize a “Campaign to Preserve U.S. Global Leadership” without much success.

And this despite the fact that a 1994 GAO study indicates that only 38 percent of the U.S. government personnel in embassies work for the State Department, while 36 percent work for the Pentagon, 5 percent for Justice and 3 percent for Transportation. The other 18 percent includes representatives of the Treasury, Agriculture and Commerce departments.  We don’t know what is the current breakdown of federal agencies operating overseas under the State Department umbrella but if the Trump Administration starts turning off the lights in Africa, or Asia for instance, that could also prove problematic for the Pentagon.

What a 27% budget cut looked like for the international affairs budget?

By Fall 1995, the State Department released a Q&A on the International Affairs Budget–A Sound Investment in Global Leadership.  It includes the following:

Q. Since most Americans favor reducing government spending to balance the federal budget, have the State Department and other foreign affairs  agencies done anything to cut costs?

A. Yes, the Administration has done a great deal to cut costs. We have already:

— Cut the foreign assistance budget request by 20%;

–Trimmed more than 1,100 jobs at the State Department and 600 jobs at  the U.S. Information Agency (USIA);

–Identified, for elimination by 1997, about 2,000 jobs at the U.S.  Agency for International Development (USAID);

–Decreased administrative and overhead costs by $100 million; and

–Closed, or scheduled for closing, 36 diplomatic or consular posts, 10 USIA posts, and 28 USAID missions abroad.

OVERSEAS POSTS CLOSED, 1993-96 Consulates, consulates general and State Department branch offices: Algeria Austria Australia Brazil Colombia Egypt France Germany Indonesia Italy (2) Kenya Martinique Mexico Nigeria Philippines Poland Somalia Spain Switzerland (2) Turkey Thailand (2) Venezuela Zaire Embassies Antigua and Barbuda Comoros Equatorial Guinea Seychelles Solomon Islands. AID missions Afghanistan Argentina Belize Botswana Burkina Faso Cameroon Cape Verde Caribbean region Chad Chile Costa Rica Estonia Ivory Coast Lesotho Oman Pakistan South Pacific Switzerland Thailand Togo Tunisia Uruguay Zaire (via)

According to WaPo in 1996, USAID’s overall work force “has been reduced from 11,500 to 8,700 and is heading down to 8,000. The number of full “sustainable development missions” — on-site teams promoting long-term diversified economic development — declined from 70 at the start of the administration to 30.”

That’s what a 27% budget cut inflected on the international affairs budget did in the 90’s.

By 1999, with the Foreign Affairs Reform and Restructuring Act of 1998, the United States Arms Control and Disarmament Agency (ACDA) and the United States Information Agency (USIA) were both abolished and folded into the State Department.

Who ya gonna call?

Senate Majority leader Mitch McConnell was recently quoted saying, “America being a force is a lot more than building up the Defense Department. Diplomacy is important, extremely important, and I don’t think these reductions at the State Department are appropriate.”

According to the Washington Examiner, Senate Foreign Relations Chairman Bob Corker, R-Tenn  apparently signaled that President Trump’s initial proposed budget “won’t dictate how the State Department gets funded.” “The president’s budget goes in the waste basket as soon as it gets here,” he said.

We should note that in the 1990s, both houses of Congress (GOP) and a White House under a Democrat worked together to slashed the State Department budget. It was not a question of how much to cut, but where to cut.  This time around, we have a Republican Congress and a Republican White House, but while the WH is gunning for these cuts, the Senate particularly, appears not to be quite on board with the slash and burn cuts.  Still, we are reminded what former Ambassador to the Conference on Disarmament Stephen J. Ledogar (1990-1997) noted in his oral history (PDF) — that “Not very many people will admit this, but the administration bowing to Congress on those consolidations was part of the price that was paid by the Clinton administration to Jesse Helms in exchange for him agreeing to let the Chemical Weapons Convention go through the Senate.” 

So … while there are differences in the circumstances during the budget cuts in the 1990’s and the proposed budget cuts in the current and FY18 fiscal years, we are mindful how things can change with the right carrots.

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Tillerson Visits Turkey, Gets Complaints Here, and There

Posted: 12:48 am ET

 

Below is the transcript of Secretary Tillerson’s ‘meet and greet’ remarks at US Mission Turkey, his first one since his appointment as secretary of state. No photos of the embassy ‘meet and greet’ available so far.

Thank you, thank you. And it is, indeed, a pleasure to be in Ankara and to have the opportunity to visit the embassy here and get a chance to speak to all of you. And what a great way to be greeted, with a great-looking bunch of Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts, and I’m well familiar with both of those organizations and a lifelong scouter myself, and I want to express my appreciation to the adult leadership that it takes to make those opportunities available to these young people. And to the parents that support them as they move down that advancement pathway to earn their way to higher achievement, I’d like to thank all of you as well.

This – and I don’t have to tell you how important this particular mission is to us in terms of its strategic value, its place in the region, but certainly the complexities of what we’re dealing with as a nation and as a world with what’s happening just on the borders here to the south of Turkey. I know it’s a high-stress posting, I know it’s been a difficult couple of years for everyone in terms of status changes in this mission, as well as the other three locations. And so we appreciate your dedication and your commitment throughout all of that, staying the course, keeping up and out in front of you what you know is important, and what’s very important to our nation back home. So I thank all of you for your commitment throughout that period of time.

I also want to talk about three values that I’ve been trying to talk everywhere I go within the State Department. I expressed these on day one when I made my first-day appearance at the Department, and that’s that I have three key values that I think will be useful to all of us as we go about our daily work in terms of how we interact with each other and in terms of how we interact externally as well.

And the first of those is accountability, that I think it’s really important with the work we do, because it is so vital and important that as we produce that work, we’re holding ourselves accountable to the results, and that’s the only way we can hold our partners accountable. We intend to hold other nations accountable in our alliances for commitments they’ve made, but that starts with us holding ourselves accountable, first as individuals, then collectively as an organization. So we ask that everyone really devote themselves to that, recognize that we’re not going to be right all the time. We may make some mistakes and that’s okay. We hold ourselves accountable to those and we’ll learn from those and we’ll move forward, but that it’s important that we always own what we do – that it’s ours and we’re proud to own it.

The second value I’m talking a lot about is honesty. That starts with being honest with each other, first in terms of our concerns, in terms of our differences, and we invite and want to hear about those. That’s how we come to a better decision in all that we do. And only if we do that can we then be honest with all of our partners and allies around the world as well. And still, I mean, we’re going to have our differences, but we’re going to be very honest and open about those, so at least we understand them.

And then lastly is just treating everyone with respect. I know each of us wants to be treated with respect. You earn that by treating others with respect. And again, regardless of someone’s stature in the organization or regardless of what their work assignment may be, or regardless of how they may want to express their view, at all times we’re going to treat each other with respect. And in doing that, you’ll earn the respect of others. So we ask that everyone devote themselves to accountability, honesty, and respect.

And starting with the scout promises and laws, that’s not a bad place either. If you haven’t looked at those, you ought to take a look at them. They’re a pretty good playbook for life, I can tell you that. They’ve been a great playbook in my life throughout all of my professional career prior to coming to this position, and they continue to guide me every day in terms of how I want to hold myself accountable is against those principles.

So again, I appreciate what all of you are doing on behalf of the State Department, in particular what you’re doing on behalf of our country, both those of you that are here on posting as well as those of you who are part of our national workforce as well. So I thank all of you for your dedication and commitment. I appreciate you coming out today. It is a rather nice, beautiful day, so I knew I’d come out too. (Laughter.) But again, thank you all for what you’re doing. It’s just a real delight to see you. Thank you. (Applause.)

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Dear SecState Tillerson: Congrats on 737 Cost Savings, But Don’t Ditch Your Press Corps on #Turkey Trip

Posted: 3:01 am ET

 

On March 23, the State Department reiterated during the Daily Press Briefing Secretary Tillerson’s excuse for ditching his traveling press:

[H]e was clear and he’s spoken about this in his interviews – is that he is committed to a smaller footprint. That’s not to say – let me be clear – that we’re not going to look at taking any press in future trips. I’m not saying that at all. But he is committed to a smaller footprint. And with respect to the trip to Asia, the space constraints on the plane did not allow, frankly, for a press contingent. So we worked with — [snip] So we work with our embassies. I think it is. And I can get into this. I don’t – we don’t need to have this out here, but I’m happily – happy to talk to you about this offline. But there’s a significant cost savings to taking the smaller plane, but that smaller plane requires – or has minimal seating.

Secretary Tillerson cited “cost savings” in using a smaller aircraft ( a 737), which apparently also “flies faster”; presumably in comparison to the 757 previously used by his predecessors?

We don’t know much about airplanes, so you know we’ve got to take a look, right?

Here is the current secstate’s 737 | C-40 B/C via af.mil:

The C-40 B/C is based upon the commercial Boeing 737-700 Business Jet. The body of the C-40 is identical to that of the Boeing 737-700, but has winglets. Both models have state of the art avionics equipment, integrated GPS and flight management system/electronic flight instrument system and a heads up display. Heading the safety equipment list is the traffic collision avoidance system and enhanced weather radar. The aircraft is a variant of the Boeing next generation 737-700, and combines the 737-700 fuselage with the wings and landing gear from the larger and heavier 737-800. The basic aircraft has auxiliary fuel tanks, a specialized interior with self-sustainment features and managed passenger communications. The cabin area is equipped with a crew rest area, distinguished visitor compartment with sleep accommodations, two galleys and business class seating with worktables.

The C-40B is designed to be an “office in the sky” for senior military and government leaders. Communications are paramount aboard the C-40B which provides broadband data/video transmit and receive capability as well as clear and secure voice and data communication. It gives combatant commanders the ability to conduct business anywhere around the world using on-board Internet and local area network connections, improved telephones, satellites, television monitors, and facsimile and copy machines. The C-40B also has a computer-based passenger data system.  The C-40C is not equipped with the advanced communications capability of the C-40B. Unique to the C-40C is the capability to change its configuration to accommodate from 42 to 111 passengers.

The C-40 B/C is based upon the commercial Boeing 737-700 Business Jet. The C-40 B/C provides safe, comfortable and reliable transportation for U.S. leaders to locations around the world. The C-40B’s primary customers are the combatant commanders and C-40C customers include members of the Cabinet and Congress.  (Courtesy photo)

Previously, the secretary of state’s airplane was a C-32, a specially configured version of the Boeing 757-200 commercial intercontinental airliner.  This is the aircraft used by Secretary Kerry.  757 | C-32  via af.mil:

The C-32 provides safe, comfortable and reliable transportation for our nation’s leaders to locations around the world. The primary customers are the vice president, using the distinctive call sign “Air Force Two,” the first lady, and members of the Cabinet and Congress. The C-32 body is identical to that of the Boeing 757-200, but has different interior furnishings and 21st century avionics. The passenger cabin is divided into four sections: A) The forward area has a communications center, galley, lavatory and 10 business class seats; B) The second section is a fully-enclosed stateroom for the use of the primary passenger. It includes a changing area, private lavatory, separate entertainment system, two first-class swivel seats and a convertible divan that seats three and folds out to a bed. C) The third section contains the conference and staff facility with eight business class seats. D) The rear section of the cabin contains general seating with 32 business-class seats, galley, two lavatories and closets.

The USAF C-32 fact sheet also says that this aircraft is more fuel efficient and has improved capabilities over its C-137 predecessor. “It can travel twice the distance on the same amount of fuel, and operate on shorter runways down to 5,000 feet (1,524 meters) in length. Its 92,000-pound (41,731 kilogram) fuel capacity allows the aircraft to travel 5,500 nautical miles unrefueled.”

Here is the side-by-side comparison of the two planes, the 757 that former Secretary Kerry used and the 737 that Secretary Tillerson is currently using.

Cost savings? Yes, but …

There are fixed costs associated with operating an aircraft that do not vary according to aircraft usage (crew, maintenance, labor, parts, operations overhead, administrative overhead, etc) so we requested from the State Department the cost savings identified with the Tillerson trip to Asia. Its official response was to direct us to the DOD comptroller for the travel per hour cost. According to the DOD Comptroller’s FY2017 hourly rates for fixed wing aircraft effective October 1, 2016 (used when the applicable aircraft are provided on a reimbursable basis), Secretary Tillerson’s 737/C-40C aircraft costs about a third of the previous secretary’s 757 cost per hour.

But, because there’s always a but …the 737/C-40C model used by members of the Cabinet and Congress can change its configuration to accommodate from 42 to 111 passengers. Let’s just say that Secretary Tillerson is using the 737/C-40B model primary used by combatant commanders; this model still has seats for 26-32 passengers.

Secretary Tillerson traveling party to Asia was small, so he basically flew with a half empty plane but the State Department officially cited “space constraints” as the reason for not having a traveling press.  In any case, if Secretary Tillerson is saving money by using a smaller but mostly empty plane, he surely can save more money by using a smaller plane with paying passengers (press pay for their rides in USG planes) instead of empty seats, won’t he?  He does not have to take the whole village, but he has to take more than one, and they ought not be preselected for obvious reasons.

To Turkey, to Turkey

On Friday, the State Department announced that Secretary Tillerson will travel to Ankara, Turkey, on March 30, to meet with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and other senior Turkish government officials, then travel to Brussels, Belgium on March 31 to visit NATO.

The Freedom House, an independent watchdog organization dedicated to the expansion of freedom and democracy around the world, rates Turkey’s press freedom status as “not free.” Its report on Turkey states: “Media outlets are sometimes denied access to events and information for political reasons. Critical outlets are regularly denied access to the AKP’s party congress and meetings, and the government prevents certain journalists from attending press conferences or accompanying officials on foreign visits.”

The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) notes that Turkey jails more journalists than any other country in 2016 and closes some 178 news outlets and publishing houses by decree in the space of five months.

This is one trip where the Secretary of State absolutely cannot afford to ditch his traveling press.

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Tillerson of #NotBigMediaAccess Planet: NK ‘Imminent’ Threat, Fatigue News, Chinese Praise

Posted: 2:31 am ET

 

Secretary Tillerson traveled to Tokyo, Seoul, and Beijing from March 15-18 —  without his full traveling press, but with one pre-selected journalist (see Lonesome Rex to Make Inaugural Trip to Asia Without His Traveling Press?). It sounds like this won’t be the last time he’s going to try to ditch his traveling press. Secretary Tillerson said that “we’re saving a lot of money by using this aircraft.”  Since cost savings has now been repeatedly cited as an excuse, let’s see the cost saved from this trip, please.

The controversy about press access to the 69th secretary of state continues.  Secretary Tillerson gave an interview to his sole traveling press, and once more cited saving money as one of the reasons for not taking a full traveling press:

Primarily it’s driven — believe it or not, you won’t believe it — we’re trying to save money. I mean, quite frankly, we’re saving a lot of money by using this aircraft, which also flies faster, allows me to be more efficient, and we’re going to destinations that, by and large, the media outlets have significant presence already, so we’re not hiding from any coverage of what we’re doing. The fact that the press corps is not traveling on the plane with me, I understand that there are two aspects of that. One, there’s a convenience aspect. I get it. The other is, I guess, what I’m told is that there’s this long tradition that the Secretary spends time on the plane with the press. I don’t know that I’ll do a lot of that. I’m just not … that’s not the way I tend to work. That’s not the way I tend to spend my time. I spend my time working on this airplane. The entire time we’re in the air, I’m working. Because there is a lot of work to do in the early stages. Maybe things will change and evolve in the future. But I hope people don’t misunderstand … there’s nothing else behind it than those simple objectives.

Apparently, Secretary Tillerson is not a “big media access person” and personally doesn’t need it. Holymolyguacamole! Can somebody in Foggy Bottom, please explain to him that this is not about what he needs.

“I’m not a big media press access person. I personally don’t need it. I understand it’s important to get the message of what we’re doing out, but I also think there’s only a purpose in getting the message out when there’s something to be done. And so we have a lot of work to do, and when we’re ready to talk about what we’re trying to do, I will be available to talk to people. But doing daily availability, I don’t have this appetite or hunger to be that, have a lot of things, have a lot of quotes in the paper or be more visible with the media. I view that the relationship that I want to have with the media, is the media is very important to help me communicate not just to the American people, but to others in the world that are listening. And when I have something important and useful to say, I know where everybody is and I know how to go out there and say it. But if I don’t because we’re still formulating and we’re still deciding what we’re going to do, there is not going to be a lot to say. And I know that you’ve asked me a lot of questions here that I didn’t answer, and I’m not answering them because we have some very, very complex strategic issues to make our way through with important countries around the world, and we’re not going to get through them by just messaging through the media. We get through them in face-to-face meetings behind closed doors. We can be very frank, open, and honest with one another and then we’ll go out and we’ll have something to share about that, but the truth of the matter is, all of the tactics and all of the things were going to do you will know them after they’ve happened.”

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“The Secretary” Writes FY18 Budget Love Letter to Foggy Bottom, But What’s This About Post Closures?

Posted: 2:21 pm ET

 

Earlier, we posted about Trump’s “skinny budget” which guts the State Department and USAID funding by 28%. (see WH/OMB Releases FY2018 Budget Blueprint – @StateDept/@USAID Hit With 28% Funding Cuts).  We understand that the actual cut is closer to 36% once the Overseas Contingency Operation (OCO) is factored in. In early March, media reports indicate that the proposed cuts for the international affairs budget would be 37% (see In Disaster News, Trump Budget Seeks 37% Funding Cut For @StateDept and @USAID). If there was push back from the Tillerson State Department in the weeks before OMB released the “America First” budget blueprint, T-Rex’s diplomatic nudge appears to result in a 36% funding reduction instead of the first reported 37% funding cut.

Yesterday morning, as folks were waking up to the OMB release, a letter sent from Secretary Tillerson’s office arrived in the inboxes of State Department employees:

THE SECRETARY OF STATE
WASHINGTON

Today the Office of Management and Budget released a preview of the President’s budget request for 2018.  It is an unmistakable restatement of the needs the country faces and the priorities we must establish.  The State Department’s budget request addresses the challenges to American leadership abroad and the importance of defending American interests and the American people.  It acknowledges that U.S. engagement must be more efficient, that our aid be more effective, and that advocating the national interests of our country always be our primary mission. Additionally, the budget is an acknowledgment that development needs are a global challenge to be met not just by contributions from the United States, but through greater partnership with and contributions from our allies and others.

Over the coming weeks, we will work together to draw a new budget blueprint that will allow us to shape a Department ready to meet the challenges that we will face in the coming decades.  We will do this by reviewing and selecting our priorities, using the available resources, and putting our people in a position to succeed.

We have a genuine opportunity to set a new course.  Together, we are going to advance America’s national security and its economic security.  I am motivated to tackle this challenge and am eager to realize what we will achieve together.

We understand that this letter did not get very good reviews in Foggy Bottom. We really do think that Secretary Tillerson needs to have a town hall meeting with his employees as soon as he gets back from his travel. Before perceptions become realities.  We already know the why, now folks need to understand the where and how.  And it doesn’t help to just tell one bureau it’s zeroed out in funds, and then come back another day and say how about a 50% cut? As if the 7th floor taskmasters got off the wrong side of bed one morning and on the right side the next day.

During his stop in Japan, Secretary Tillerson finally took a few questions during press availability with Japanese Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida. The State Department budget was one of the questions asked during the presser. Below is a transcript from state.gov:

QUESTION: Secretary Tillerson, today the White House is revealing its blueprint for the federal budget that will include deep cuts to your department. Do you support efforts to make such drastic cuts to diplomacy and development funding at this time? And are you confident that you will be able to continue to represent U.S. interests with such reduced room to maneuver?

MODERATOR: (Via interpreter) Secretary Tillerson, please.

SECRETARY TILLERSON: Well, I think in terms of the proposed budget that has been put forth by President Trump, it’s important from the State Department perspective, I think, a little context, to recognize that the State Department is coming off of an historically high level of budgetary resources in the 2017 budget, and this is reflective of a number of decisions that have been taken over the past few years, in part driven by the level of conflicts that the U.S. has been engaged in around the world as well as disaster assistance that’s been needed.

I think clearly, the level of spending that the State Department has been undertaking in the past – and particularly in this past year – is simply not sustainable. So on a go-forward basis, what the President is asking the State Department to do is, I think, reflective of a couple of expectations. One is that as time goes by, there will be fewer military conflicts that the U.S. will be directly engaged in; and second, that as we become more effective in our aid programs, that we will also be attracting resources from other countries, allies, and other sources as well to contribute in our development aid and our disaster assistance.

I think as I look at our ability to meet the mission of the State Department, I am quite confident. The men and women in the State Department are there for one reason. They’re not there for the glory. They’re not there for the money, obviously. They’re there because they’re extraordinarily dedicated to the mission and dedicated to ensuring America’s national security, economic security. We are going to be undertaking a very comprehensive examination of how programs are executed, a very comprehensive examination of how we are structured, and I’m confident that with the input of the men and women of the State Department, we are going to construct a way forward that allows us to be much more effective, much more efficient, and be able to do a lot with fewer dollars.

So it’s challenging. We understand the challenge. I take the challenge that the President has given us on willingly and with great expectation that with everyone in the State Department’s assistance, we’re going to deliver a much better result for the American people in the future.

Secretary Tillerson talking about “historically high level of budgetary resources in the 2017 budget” for the State Department made us look up the budget request for the last five fiscal years. The largest funding request was five years ago for FY2013 at $51.6 billion.

FY2017:  $50.1 billion.  The State Department $50.1 billion request includes a base of $35.2 billion and $14.9 billion for Overseas Contingency Operations (OCO) request. (SAO: For FY16 and ’17, we will be using OCO to support countries and programs that require assistance to prevent, address, or recover from human-caused crises and natural disasters, as well as to secure State and USAID’s operations from hostile acts and potential terrorism. OCO will be providing about 50 to 100 percent of the funding for some countries and programs, including a range of ongoing assistance operations and treaty commitments).

FY2016:  $50.3 billion. The State and USAID budget request totals $50.3 billion.  The base budget request is $43.2 billion plus $7 billion in Overseas Contingency Operations funds  — to respond to immediate and extraordinary national security requirements. OCO funds supports critical programs and operations in Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Iraq, as well as exceptional costs related to efforts to fight ISIL, respond to the conflict in Syria, and support Ukraine.

FY2015: $46.2 billion. The overall State and USAID Budget Request is $46.2 billion, plus $5.9 billion request for Overseas Contingency Operations (OCO) which funds key programs in — Iraq and Pakistan helps sustain hard-fought gains in Afghanistan through the 2014 transition.

FY2014: $47.8 billion. The overall request is $47.8 billion, includes $44 billion as part of base budget or enduring budget, and $3.8 billion for Overseas Contingency Operations, (OCO)  which — largely covers the extraordinary costs of Iraq, Afghanistan, and Pakistan.

FY2013: $51.6 billion. The Department of State/USAID budget totals $51.6 billion which includes $43.4 billion for the core budget,  which funds the long-term national security mission of the Department and USAID and $8.2 billion for Overseas Contingency Operations (OCO) to support the extraordinary and temporary costs of civilian-led programs and missions in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Pakistan.

The second thing we’d like to note is Secretary Tillerson’s assertion that “there will be fewer military conflicts that the U.S. will be directly engaged in.” If that’s really the expectation, why is Trump’s budget giving DOD $54billion more in funds as it guts the State Department and USAID? As we write this, we are mindful that the United States is still in Afghanistan and Iraq, in Syria, in Yemen, and a host of other places that are not front page news.

By the way, what’s this we’re hearing about the transition folks looking to close some US embassies in Africa?  Apparently there are now people at State who think we should close our embassy in country X for instance because — hey, AFRICOM is already there so why do we need an embassy?  Argh!  These folks realize that 3/4 of AFRICOM actually works at the command’s headquarters in Stuttgart, Germany, right?  AFRICOM’s HQ is not the point, of course, but if there are transition folks thinking about AFRICOM (just one of the six geographic combatant commands) as an excuse for post closures overseas, where else might they be thinking of playing their game of disengagement?

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Lonesome Rex to Make Inaugural Trip to Asia Without His Traveling Press?

Posted: 2:37 am ET

 

Secretary Tillerson knew when he took this job that he would be the face and the voice of America to the world. That includes talking to the press, and more importantly answering questions from the press corps. We get that he’s new at this but he better get it together fast; he’s now one of our most prominent public servants, and he cannot continue to evade the press and avoid answering questions without running afoul of one of his three core principles.

NBC’s Andrea Mitchell  has now been escorted twice out of a State Department presser. Reporters were also previously escorted out during the Lavrov-Tillerson meeting in Germany. We betcha when Secretary Tillerson starts talking to the press, reporters would not have to shout their questions during every 30-second photo-op. And now, we’re hearing that Secretary Tillerson is making his inaugural trip to Asia next week. He will be traveling with the new Acting Assistant Secretary of State for the EAP Bureau Susan Thornton who assumed post after Danny Russel’s recent departure.  According to the State Department, Secretary Tillerson will arrive in Tokyo on March 15, continue on to Seoul on March 17, and travel to Beijing on March 18 —  apparently without his traveling press.

Here is the official word on this according to the acting @StateDept spox, Mark Toner:

[W]ith respect to the trip to Asia, we’re still working out the logistics, so I really can’t say specifically or speak definitively, I guess, as to whether we will be able to accommodate any press on the Secretary’s plane. I think we’re all aware that it is a smaller plane for this particular trip. There will, as you know, going to – there will be some U.S. media who will be traveling to the destinations, each destination, and of course, we will do our utmost to support them at those destinations and provide whatever access we can.  And I think going forward, the State Department is doing everything it can to – and will do everything it can to accommodate a contingent of traveling media on board the Secretary’s plane.

Wait, Secretary Tillerson’s minders did not purposely select a smaller plane, did they?  The smaller plane excuse would only really work had Secretary Tillerson traveled with the full press during his trips to Mexico and Germany, then say, hey, can’t this time because we’re forced to use a smaller plane. But in Mexico, Secretary Tillerson reportedly only traveled with press pools, took a small plane and had one writer and one photographer. So this is starting to look like this could be the new normal.  If he can get away with not taking his traveling press this time, are we looking at our top diplomat ditching the press for good in the future?  This is, of course, worrisome coz how are we going to Make America Great Again if we can’t even provide a good size plane for our chief diplomat and his traveling press?

Folks, this doesn’t look good. You need to make this right. And hey, about the milkbox, does he have a favorite color?

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