Pompeo Reads the Data Set Every Morning But Can’t Get @StateDept COVID-19 Casualty Details Right

 

On March 30, the number two official respectively from the Bureau of Consular Affairs and the Bureau of Medical Services held another joint Briefing on Updates On Health Impact and Assistance For American Citizens Abroad. When asked, “Are you aware of any deaths among the State Department staff due to coronavirus?”, MED’s Dr. William Walters responded:

So the department is aware of two locally employed staff – I don’t have locations and wouldn’t be able to provide further details – that have died overseas in their own country related to coronavirus.  I don’t have any further details that I can pass on.  There have been no deaths domestically or with any U.S. direct hires.  

Fast forward March 31, the Secretary Pompeo made remarks to the press, excerpt:

And lastly, you asked a question about disinformation in the moment here with the COVID-19 challenge.  I see it every day.  Every morning I get up and I read the data set from across the world, not only the tragedy that’s taking place here.  We’ve had a State Department official pass away as a result of this virus, one of our team members.  We now have 3,000 Americans who have been killed.  This is tragic.  My prayers go out to every American and every American family impacted by this.

This data set matters.  The ability to trust the data that you’re getting so that our scientists and doctors and experts at the World Health Organization and all across the world who are trying to figure out how to remediate this, how to find therapies, how to find – identify a solution which will ultimately be a vaccine, to determine whether the actions that we’re taking – the social distancing, all the things that we’re doing, limiting transportation, all those things we’re doing –  to figure out if they’re working so that we can save lives depends on the ability to have confidence and information about what has actually transpired.

This is the reason disinformation is dangerous.  It’s not because it’s bad politics.  It is because it puts lives at risk if we don’t have confidence in the information that’s coming from every country.  So I would urge every nation:  Do your best to collect the data.  Do your best to share that information.  We’re doing that.  We’re collecting, we’re sharing, and we’re making sure that we have good, sound basis upon which to make decisions about how to fight this infectious disease.  That’s the risk that comes when countries choose to engage in campaigns of disinformation across the world.

That made news, of course, but subsequently corrected, because as it turned out —  it was not accurate.
By afternoon, the State Department clarified that there were two employees killed by COVID-19, as revealed in the March 30 briefing. Both were local employees, one from Indonesia (on our list but until now unconfirmed), and another from Democratic Republic of Congo (we previously asked post and FSI about one DRC case, but both were mum as a clam in mud at low tide).
So the secretary of state told everyone at the briefing that “data set matters” and that every morning, he reads the data set from across the world.  Then he talked about one State Department official’s death — “one of our team members” — when THERE WASN’T ONE, and failed to mention during the briefing the death of TWO local employees from COVID-19, non-U.S. citizen members of the State Department family.
Uppercase voice used since he could not even get the casualty details right.
At the end of this story, Pompeo in a belated statement, cited the two local staffers from Jakarta and Kinshasa who died from COVID-19 and expressed “deepest sympathies and condolences.”

Advertisements

Post of the Month: In a Time of Pandemic, a U.S. Embassy Launches a Witch Hunt

“Your previous article has really stirred things up …. a lot of retaliation against who people think might have written you…which is now a large group of suspects…”

Related posts:

Is @StateDept Actively Discouraging US Embassies From Requesting Mandatory Evacuations For Staff? #CentralAsia? #Worldwide? March 23, 2020

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

Is @StateDept Actively Discouraging US Embassies From Requesting Mandatory Evacuations For Staff? #CentralAsia? #Worldwide?

Updated: March 24, 12:54 am PDT

Updated: March 24, 2020 10:47 pm PDT

Updated March 26, 12:07 am PDT

SSDO Special Briefing, March 24, 2020

QUESTION:  [… ] And then secondly, I’m sure you’ve seen these reports that there are numerous embassies, or at least several embassies, where people are basically clamoring for order departure status, and that they are being discouraged from that.  Can you address that?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL:  Oh, no.  All help is appreciated.  On the second part of your question, Matt, so our embassies overseas have their emergency teams meet regularly to discuss the situation at post, and they have a process and procedure in place where they can really evaluate the transportation system, the healthcare system, and not just the status of COVID in the country.  And when they reach a certain point where they feel like, okay, maybe time to request authorized ordered departure, they submit a request to the undersecretary of management, and those are coming in regularly, and the undersecretary reviews them and then makes decisions on what to approve.  At this point, I think one of the biggest issues is the travel restrictions that countries are instituting around the world.

MODERATOR ONE:  If I could just add on to that, those decisions are made against a robust set of criteria and decisions made based to – based on a consistent set of principles, all which are geared towards maximizing the safety for our employees.

On March 19, we received an email from a post in Central Asia with the subject line: “Abandoned in Central Asia.” We learned that “after weeks of internal debate with Main State” authorized (voluntary) departure was finally approved for their Embassy on March 17. Apparently, last week, the Embassy’s Emergency Action Committee (EAC) also agreed that it was time to go OD”, that is, go on ordered departure, a mandatory evacuation from post except for emergency staffers. Note that the OD was not for suspension of operations.

Ordered Departures: Talking Ambassadors “out of it”

Sender A said that the Embassy’s EAC recommended “OD on Wednesday (March 18)” and then something happened. The South Central Asia (SCA) top bureau official reportedly “talked the AMB out of it.”  As to the rationale for this development, we were told that embassy employees were not informed. 
“We just know that on Sunday [March 15] EACs at two posts said they wanted OD” and by Monday, March 16, the respective chiefs of mission “had refused based on input” from the top bureau official, according to Sender A. 
So curious minds would like to know if these OD requests have actually been refused or if ambassadors were under pressure not to formally request it so the bureau will not have to refuse it in writing? Anyone know?
The frustrated employee writes: U.S. diplomats are now stuck in countries where U.S. citizens are specifically advised not to use local medical facilities and the Embassies only have small medical units for minor issues. Even if they’re needed, there are zero local hospital beds available. Best case, it sounds like multiple OIG complaints waiting to happen. But when did the administration’s image at home become more important than people’s lives? How much Swagger will SecState have when his people start dying?”

A Snapshot on Medical Facilities

We thought we’d checked the information on medical facilities for several countries in the region. For example, Turkmenistan is a Level 3 Reconsider Travel country. The State Department’s Travel Advisory says:
Medical protocols in Turkmenistan are not consistent with U.S. standards and some travelers have been required to undergo medical testing unrelated to COVID-19 including but not limited to HIV testing.  Consider declining any medical procedures including testing unrelated to COVID-19. Due to the possibility of quarantine of unknown length, carry additional supplies of necessary medication in carry-on luggage.”
According to Diplomatic Security’s 2020 Crime and Safety Report on Uzbekistan:
The country’s “health care system is not adequate to meet the needs of many serious emergencies. There is a lack of basic supplies and limited modern equipment. Emergency medicine is very basic. Some medication sold in local pharmacies may be counterfeit. Elderly travelers and those with pre-existing health problems may be at particular risk due to inadequate medical facilities. Most resident U.S. citizens travel to North America or Western Europe for their medical needs.”
Tajikistan’s “inadequate public healthcare infrastructure has given rise to private medical facilities offering varying degrees of quality care in some specialties. Also:
“Medical first responders (ambulance crews) do not meet Western standards, and are not widely available, likely poorly equipped, and often poorly trained.”
On Kyrgyzstan: Medical care is often inadequate in the country.
 “There is a shortage of basic medical supplies. Health care resources are limited and often below U.S. standards. Doctors and medical industry staff rarely speak English, and prices for treatment are not fixed. Use a translator or Russian/Kyrgyz speaking friend or family member to assist with medical treatment. U.S. citizens often travel outside of Kyrgyzstan for medical treatment, including most routine procedures.”
In Kazakhstan, medical care options are limited and well below U.S. standards.
“U.S. citizens often depart Kazakhstan for medical treatment, including many routine procedures. Serious long-term care is not a viable option in Nur-Sultan.”

An Ambassador’s Town Hall Meeting

Last Friday, a U.S. Ambassador at a post in South Central Asia held a town hall for embassy employees; held outdoors on the steps of the Embassy, we were told. 
The U.S. Ambassador, citing what he was told by the top SCA bureau official, informed embassy employees the following (provided to us in direct quotes by Sender A):
  • “Ambassador, you need to understand the United States is the red zone, it is not the safe haven that you think it is.”
  • “The U.S. has the highest number of COVID-19 cases per capita in the world.”
  • “It has not peaked in the United States, incidents are rising rapidly, it is out of control.”
  • “The ability to get a test for COVID-19 even with symptoms or comorbidities is extremely difficult.”
  • “The healthcare infrastructure of the United States is not capable of helping.”
This ambassador reportedly further told embassy employees that “500,000 Americans are overseas seeking assistance for getting home.” And that “We are taking down the American economy to fight this enemy.”

(March 25 Special Briefing with CA PDAS Ian Brownlee: “Our posts around the world have received requests for assistance with getting back to the United States from over 50,000 U.S. citizens and we’re committed to bring home as many Americans as we possibly can.”  Wowow!

Continue reading

Secretary of “Deep State Department” Michael R. Pompeo Performs During COVID-19 WH Briefing. Please Clap.

 

 

Pompeo’s COVID-19 Response in the News, Plus March 17 Remarks in Word Cloud

 

Via Pompeo’s Remarks to the Media in the Press Briefing Room, March 17, 2020, where he took three questions, and did not really address COVID-19 related questions:
— If anyone in this building or in the diplomatic corps overseas has tested positive for the virus, what you’re doing for those employees.  And then at our embassies overseas, are we ramping up medical facilities?  What is the plan to treat Americans in those countries since a lot of the flights have been canceled, the borders are closed?  Are they getting sent testing kits?  How is any of that working? —
Except to say “So I don’t want to spend too much time talking about the intricacies of what the State Department’s doing.  It is a rapidly evolving situation” and “We’ve had a couple of employees – count them on one hand – who have positive tests.” and that’s pretty much it; a remark by a public official missing in details, given he’s the head of over 75,000 people across the globe.

D/SecState Biegun Alerts @StateDept Employees to Updated Guidance For Political Activities Restrictions

State Department employees on February 19 woke up to a love letter in their inbox from their new Deputy Secretary of State Steve Biegun. The Deputy Secretary says that he is looking forward to highlighting his priorities relating to people, policy and process but the new email was aimed at tackling “the first issue”, that is, how they can  “work together to ensure we do not improperly engage the Department of State in the political process.”
He writes  that “One of the great strengths of our country is its democratic process, which we proudly showcase in our global engagements.”
(Uhm…okay).
He talks about the political debate going on and the agency’s far-reaching restrictions “designed to ensure our representation overseas is not perceived as partisan.”

It is not lost on any of us that there is a national political debate going on around us that manifests itself daily in news feeds, questions and comments from our foreign contacts, and communications from friends via emails and social media. I have spent my career at the intersection of foreign policy and politics, so I recognize that it can be personally challenging to keep politics outside of daily engagements. This, however, is what our laws and policies require. State Department employees, like all federal employees, are subject to restrictions on engaging in partisan political activity while at work and outside of work. We often talk of Hatch Act requirements, but in truth the Department has more far-reaching restrictions designed to ensure our representation overseas is not perceived as partisan.

Apparently, Mr. Pompeo recently approved “updated guidance  for political activities restrictions that apply to all Department employees.” Further, Mr. Biegun notes that “Department legal requirements and policies, which have been in place for decades, are broad and bear careful review.”
He tells employees that “obligations differ based on your employment status” and reveals that “as a Senate confirmed Department official, I will be sitting on the sidelines of the political process this year and will not be attending any political events, to include the national conventions.”
His message does not say if all Senate-confirmed Department officials will also sit on the sidelines.
He writes that while he is not active on social media, he encourage employees “to think about your own practices and how the guidelines provided by the Office of the Legal Adviser might apply to your social media activity.” Further, he also shared that he intends “to be thoughtful in how I respond to emails from friends that have even the appearance of partisan political content.”
Apparently, there are three new Department memoranda which summarize political activity guidance for each of three categories of Department employees—
(1) All Presidential Appointees and All Political Appointees
(2) Career SES Employees
(3) All Department of State Employees (Other than Career SES, Presidential Appointees, and Political Appointees)
(—as well as special guidance for employees and their families abroad).
The Office of the Legal Adviser has issued three political activities memoranda but they are behind the firewall, so we do not, as yet, know what they say.  He is asking employees “to review the guidelines carefully so that together we can ensure that our Department work is above reproach.”
(Can somebody please FOIA these updated guidance?)
Mr. Biegun also cited 3 FAM 4123.3 (Employee Responsibilities Abroad/Political Activities): https://fam.state.gov/fam/03fam/03fam4120.html — see 3 FAM 4123.3  for Political Activities
He ends his message with:

“I am impressed by the discipline and unfailing professionalism that I see across our Department team on a daily basis, exemplifying the Secretary’s Ethos statement. I hope you will join me in carefully adhering to these restrictions designed to support our nonpartisan foreign policy.”

Oops! We read “Secretary’s Ethos statement” and we nearly fell off our chair like a drunken master.
Ay, caramba!
Bonus report below about the deputy secretary’s boss’ recent 17-minute speech at a city of 3,100 people in Florida and then you all can have a town hall meeting about how to ensure that the Department’s work is beyond reproach.
In any case, it sounds like employees who want to learn more  may attend a special training session by the Office of the Special Counsel scheduled for March 13 in Foggy Bottom. It doesn’t sound like senior State Department officials and advisers who are active and partisan on social media are required to attend the training session. State/D’s message only notes that he is attending the OSC’s session, and it is “a regularly scheduled session available to all employees.”

@StateDept’s HR Bureau Rebrands as Bureau of Global Talent Management

 

The Director General of the Foreign Service Carol Perez marked the start of her second year as DGHR by announcing the rebranding of the Bureau of Human Resources into the Bureau of Global Talent Management (GTM).

Somebody notes that the name sounds like “a second-rate modeling agency.”

And how do you pronounce the new acronym … “Get’um”? “Git’um”? “Get’m”?

Apparently, DGHR Perez has previously  mentioned during a bureau town hall that the Global Talent Management “better captures the scope and strategic nature” of the  Bureau’s work.  Always great, great when you add the word “strategic” into the fray, makes everything so strategic.  It supposedly also makes two essential features clear — that the bureau is  a global operation, with over 270 posts in over 190 countries around the world, and that the bureau is in “the talent business”, that is, “recruiting, hiring, retaining and cultivating the best people for the mission.”
We were hoping to hear what happens after “cultivating the best people for the mission” but we were disappointed, of course.
She tells her folks: “I know change is never easy, and I don’t expect it to take place overnight. All of the logistics that go into a name change are being executed in-house. This not only saves resources, but also ensures that the effort is led by those who know the bureau best—our own employees. However, it also means that the full roll-out will be gradual. An ALDAC and Department Notice announcing the name change to the wider workforce will go out later this week, but the full transition will be ongoing. I ask for your patience as signage and digital platforms are updated.”
Why is the HR bureau rebranding? The purported reason being “human resources is a critical bureau function, but not the Bureau’s sole function.”  The DGHR says that “the name “Bureau of Human Resources” no longer represents the full scope of our work, and it lags behind current industry standards. This is one small yet symbolic piece of the Department’s larger efforts to modernize.”
Don’t worry, while HR is not the Bureau’s sole function, it remains an integral part of the bureaus work so there will be no/no change in job titles with one exception. Human Resources Officers (HROs) will not/not become Global Talent Officers  (GTOs) and HR Specialists will not/not become Global Talent Specialists. The one exception is the DGHR. Her full title will be Director General of the Foreign Service (DGHR) and now also Director of Global Talent (DGT). 
The full rollout apparently will be gradual and will include updating signage, updating the digital platforms, e-mail signature blocks, and vocabularies.  Folks should be in the lookout for the Strategic (MY.THAT.WORD. AGAIN) Communications Unit (SCU); it will be sending around a checklist, style guide, and templates so everyone can start living loudly under the new brand.
A few bureau offices will also change their names:
HR/REE (Office of Recruitment, Examination, and Employment) will now be known as Talent Acquisition (GTM/TAC).
HR/RMA (Office of Resource Management and Organization Analysis) should now be called  Organization and Talent Analytics (GTM/OTA).
HR/SS  (Office of Shared Services)  will now be known as Talent Services (GTM/TS).
The announcement makes clear that this is not/not a reorganization and there will also be no/no change in core functions!
So they’re changing the bureau’s name and a few offices names, but everything else stays the same. Yay!
The new name is a “symbolic piece” that will make folks think of the department’s “modernization.”
Yay!Yay!
Makes a lot of sense, really. Of all the problems facing the Foreign Service these days, a bureau’s rebranding  should be on top of it. Change is never easy, so go slow, people, make sure the logos, signage and new paint job are done right.

 

Related posts:

Mike Pompeo Arrives in Munich Security Conference With Very Special Assistant to SecState #MSC2020

 

Oy! NPR Host’s Questions About Amb. Yavonovitch Triggers Pompeo Meltdown

 

Remember when Pompeo chided USA TODAY’s Deirdre Shesgreen during an interview with “No, not O.K., but. Deirdre, Deirdre, Deirdre, Deirdre, Deirdre, Deirdre, Deirdre, Deirdre, Deirdre. Not O.K., but.”?
Or accused PBS’s Judy Woodruff of working for the DNC during an interview (see the 12:01 mark).
Remember the same accusation he leveled against News4’s Nancy Amons on Oct. 11, 2019 in Nashville, TN (see the 6:04 mark) when he did not like the question?
Because, of course, the secretary of state should only be asked questions that he love to answer! No hard questions, questions about the weather, his dog or his next “recruitment” event are presumably okay.
Over the weekend, the 70th secretary of state got into a very public spat with the NPR host who he accused of lying twice. One, supposedly that the questions were limited to Iran. There was no such agreement; Pompeo’s aide Katie Martin was reportedly told by NPR host Mary Louise Kelly (they’ve got the emails!)  “I never agree to take anything off the table.” Two, on NPR host purportedly agreeing to have their post-interview conversation be off the record. Yep, the one where he was accused of shouting at the reporter for about the same length as the interview itself. Since the reporter says she did not agree to the off the record stipulation, it was not off the record. Had Pompeo understood the basic rules of journalism, he would not have expected that the reporter would not publicly talk about their post-interview encounter. Or he could have just behaved per the new professional ethos he unveiled for the State Department in April 2019.
The Department website explains what “off the record” means and says “Ground rules must be agreed upon at the beginning of a conversation or an interview with State Department officials. The discussion should proceed only after you and the officials are clear on exactly how the information can be used or attributed.”
Martin, a deputy assistant secretary at the Bureau of Global Public Affairs has been on the job since May 28, 2019. Her bio page still says “Deputy Assistant Secretary Martin’s biography will be posted soon.” Prior to joining Foggy Bottom, she was with the National Republican Senatorial Committee.
So what caused the meltdown, this time? Not cheese. Apparently Mary Louise Kelly’s questions and follow-up questions on Ukraine but specifically on Ambassador Yovanovitch hit a sore spot:

MLK: Change of subject. Ukraine. Do you owe Ambassador Marie Yovanovitch an apology?

Pompeo: You know, I agreed to come on your show today to talk about Iran. That’s what I intend to do. I know what our Ukraine policy has been now for the three years of this administration. I’m proud of the work we’ve done. This administration delivered the capability for the Ukrainians to defend themselves. President Obama showed up with MREs (meals ready to eat.) We showed up with Javelin missiles. The previous administration did nothing to take down corruption in Ukraine. We’re working hard on that. We’re going to continue to do it.

MLK: I confirmed with your staff [crosstalk] last night that I would talk about Iran and Ukraine.

Pompeo: I just don’t have anything else to say about that this morning.

MLK: I just want to give you another opportunity to answer this, because as you know, people who work for you in your department, people who have resigned from this department under your leadership, saying you should stand up for the diplomats who work here. [crosstalk]

Pompeo: I don’t know who these unnamed sources are you’re referring to. I can tell you this, when I talked to my team here —

Continue reading