Post in Search of a Mission: “Now, I found, that the world is round and of course, it rains everyday ….”

13 GoingOn 14: Help Keep the Blog Going For 2021 — GFM: https://gofund.me/32671a27

1) If there are fewer than two dozen staff members. 
2) If they live in austere conditions even without COVID, but particularly during COVID they are limited to their homes and the embassy. Nothing else. 
3) If there are no flights servicing pouch needs coming to post. This means the staff cannot procure needed items with regularity, including food and medicine. 
4) If there are no relationships with the host government. This means the embassy remains open simply to support itself. 
5) If staff is top heavy with multiple FS-01 positions and few FS-02 and below officers. 
6) If staff lives together due to health concerns. 
7)  If there are no option to telework even amidst COVID. Security requirements preclude remote access. 
8) If a staff member gets COVID, they will likely put the entire embassy at risk. Flight clearance to get an OPMED evacuation flight is difficult to obtain from host nation and would likely necessitate evacuating all who had been exposed (thus shuttering the embassy) because of the OPMED cost, and the delayed timeline of clearance to land and cost of repeated flights. 
9) If local staff continue to be paid even though most never come to work, and have been forced to stay home since COVID. 
10) If COVID vaccination efforts will be hamstrung by the aforementioned issues with host nation further putting staff at risk. 

 

Now, I found that the world is round
And of course it rains everyday

Living tomorrow, where in the world will I be tomorrow?
How far am I able to see?
Or am I needed here?

Now, I found that the world is round
And of course it rains everyday

If I remember all of the things I have done
I’d remember all of the times I’ve gone wrong
Why do they keep me here?

Courtesy: Bee Gees – World (From the 1968 Album, Horizontal)


 

 

@StateDept Convenes Accountability Review Board to Investigate the Murder of Local Employee Edgar Flores Santos in Tijuana, Mexico

13 GoingOn 14: Help Keep the Blog Going For 2021 — GFM: https://gofund.me/32671a27

 


In October last year, we blogged about Edgar Flores Santos, a local employee who worked on animal and plant inspection for the Department of Agriculture’s APHIS office at the US Consulate General in Tijuana. He was reported missing on September 30 and found dead in a field southeast of the city on October 2, 2020 (also see Mexico: US Consulate Tijuana Local Employee Edgar Flores Santos Found Dead in a Field).

On March 9, 2021, the State Department published a notice via regulations.gov on the convening of an Accountability Review Board (ARB) to investigate the murder of Edgar Flores Santos. Former Ambassador and former DGHR George Staples has been appointed as Chair of the Board for ARB-Tijuana:
Convening of an Accountability Review Board To Investigate the Murder of an Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) Locally Employed (LE) Staff Member in Tijuana, Mexico Pursuant to Section 301 of the Omnibus Diplomatic Security and Antiterrorism Act of 1986, as amended (22 U.S.C. 4831), the Department of State convened an Accountability Review Board (ARB) to review the October 2020 murder of an APHIS LE Staff member in Tijuana, Mexico. The ARB will examine the facts and circumstances surrounding the incident and submit its findings to the Secretary of State, together with any recommendations as appropriate. The Department has appointed George Staples, a retired U.S. ambassador, as Chair of the Board. The other Board members are retired U.S. Ambassador Janice Jacobs, Mr. Dirk Dijkerman, Mr. John Eustace, and Mr. Kimber Davidson. They bring to their deliberations distinguished backgrounds in government service.
The Board will submit its findings and recommendations to the Secretary of State. The Department will report to Congress on any recommendations made by the Board and actions taken with respect to those recommendations.
Anyone with information relevant to the Board’s examination of these incidents should contact the Board via email promptly at ARBTijuana2021@ state.gov.
Zachary A. Parker, Director, Office of Directives Management.

 


 

 

 

FSN Recognition Day: Gratefulness and Celebration, So Now They’ll Finally Get an Ombudsman?

 

US Mission Turkey: @ABDIstanbul Employee Mete Canturk Gets 5-Year Jail Term #WhatAreYouGonnaDo #StateDept

 

Reuters notes that Mete Canturk is the third U.S. consulate worker to be convicted in Turkey. Hamza Ulucay was sentenced to 4-1/2 years in prison on terrorism charges. Metin Topuz, a translator for the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration at the consulate in Istanbul, was sentenced in June to nearly nine years in jail for aiding Gulen’s network.
See more here:

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US Embassy Kabul: As Many as 20 People Infected With COVID-19 (Via AP)

 

Dear @StateDept, What Are You Going to Do About Metin Topuz’s Imprisonment Besides Being “Deeply Troubled?”

 

The United States can do a lot more than simply express being “deeply troubled” or its “deep disappointment.” The question is will it do more? How much is it willing to do when it comes to Metin Topuz, a Turkish citizen employee who worked at the U.S. Consulate General in Istanbul prior to his arrest?
The State Department has 50,059 locally employed staff at 275 posts in 195 countries.
In August 2018, the Treasury Department targeted Turkish Justice Minister Abdulhamit Gul and Interior Minister Suleyman Soylu with financial sanctions over the country’s refusal to release Andrew Brunson, a Christian pastor who had been imprisoned by the Turkish government on charges of terrorism and espionage. In October 2018, Brunson was convicted, by Turkish authorities, on the charge of aiding terrorism, but was released from Turkish custody and returned to the United States.

 

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Snapshot: @StateDept COVID-19 Cases as of April 3, 2020

The State Department updated its COVID-19 cases on Friday, April 3. 2020. From March 31 to April 3, the number of employees and family members overseas who were self-isolating went from 2,288 to 3,528, an increase of 1,240. The number of positive cases decreased from 149 to 108; while those who recovered went from 42 on March 31 to 79 on April 3, a difference of 37 new individuals recovered.
The April 3 update now includes the number of deaths. As of April 3, there were three deaths overseas from COVID-19, all three are noted as Locally Employed (LE) staffers. We learned previously that one LE staffer died in Jakarta, and another in Kinshasa. We do not know as yet, the location of the third casualty. In the April 3 briefing, Dr. Walters declined to identify the country where the third death occurred. Why? We can’t say. Obviously, the next of kin already know about the death. Co-workers at post already know about the death. We’re not sure why they’re refusing the even identify post; reporters are not asking for names. If Walters is going to cite the Privacy Act, deceased individuals and country names do not have Privacy Act rights. If there’s a real rationale for this, we’d like to know.
The April 3 update still do not include information on the number of medical evacuations (MEDEVAC), USG patients or places of origin. We can confirm at least one MEDEVAC from Burkina Faso, and that USG patient is on the road to recovery.
For domestic cases, the number of self-isolating employees went from 44 to 50 in three days, with positive cases going from 33 to 46 cases.  The report indicates that two domestic employees have recovered as of April 3, 2020.
See excerpts from April 3 briefing below.

 

As of April 3, 2020

As of March 31, 2020

 

Dr. Walters on April 3 Briefing:

Now moving on to the latest COVID-19 statistics for the Department of State, as of today, April 3rd, there are 108 confirmed cases overseas. There are 46 confirmed cases domestically, occurring in nine different cities. So far, there are no reported deaths domestically, but unfortunately there are now a total of three deaths overseas amongst our workforce.

QUESTION: Hi, thanks. I just had a question about the number of State Department deaths and a testing question. The first is: Can you give us any more information about the employee, the third person who had died or what country that was in and any other information you can give us?

And second, does State currently have a standard policy on testing? Do – for example, people who think they may be – may have the virus but are not showing symptoms, are they able to get tested? What is the standard guidance on department employees getting tested? Thanks.

MR WALTERS: So as to the first question, I can tell you that it was a locally-employed staff member overseas. I don’t – can’t really go into any further detail because it becomes easier and easier to identify individual people when you do that, so I’m afraid I can’t.

With regard to testing, domestically we all exist within a broad public health architecture. From an occupational health perspective, we have a responsibility to protect the workforce, but we live within and work within the city of Washington, D.C., or in Virginia or Maryland, and ultimately testing and contact tracing is a local and state responsibility and authority. And so we cooperate very closely with the state and local and county public health teams to make sure that we keep the workforce safe and make sure testing is used appropriately.

QUESTION: Hi, there. Thanks. Sorry, I was – I missed part of the answer to Nick’s question because of Elmo, but – (laughter) – did you, Doc Walters, say that the third death was a locally employed staffer? And is it correct that there are still no American staffers overseas who have been —who have succumbed?

And then secondly, the – how many of the more than 400 flights that Ian is talking about were commercial flights that – for which the U.S. Government did not have to pay anything? Thank you.

MR WALTERS: Thanks, Matt. I can answer the first part and then I’ll hand over to Ian and DAS Yon for the last part.

Yeah, so locally employed staff member overseas – we are not aware of any chief of mission personnel overseas who have succumbed to the illness.

Folks, we hate to do this but this is a real pet peeve for us because. Very basic.  “We are not aware of any chief of mission personnel overseas who have succumbed to the illness?” The three Locally Employed (LE) staff members who died of COVID-19 are not chief of mission personnel? Good grief!
2 FAH-2 H-112.1 talks about Chief of Mission authority to direct, supervise, and coordinate all U.S. Government executive branch employees in the COM’s country or area of responsibility.  This includes U.S. Direct Hire (USDH) employees and Personal Service Contractors (PSCs), whether assigned permanently or on temporary duty or an official visit, and; all Locally Employed (LE) Staff regardless of hiring mechanism (whether a direct hire or hired on a PSA, PSC or other mechanism by the Department of State or another U.S. government agency – see 3 FAM 7121).

If your routine visa services are still open during this pandemic, please tell us why (Updated)

Update: March 16, 4:58 PDT US Embassy Seoul, South Korea still doing routine visa services (see below)
From a March 14 message from State/M Brian Bulatao:
“We may never have experienced a situation exactly like this before, but the Department has plenty of experience dealing with emergencies. We know that we have to make good decisions for ourselves, for our families, for our colleagues, and are actively taking into account the needs and challenges of individual team members who may be at a higher risk if they contract COVID-19.
This means, if you are sick, please stay home. If a member of your household is sick, please stay home. If you think you may have been exposed, it is best to stay home – you do not have to take annual leave if you are set up to telework. Reducing contact with other people is our best defense against the spread of the virus.”
If your routine visa services are still open during this pandemic, we’d like to know why.
If your post is able to do social distancing for visa applicants while continuing full services, we’d like to know how.
At the US Embassy in Israel, a COVID19-positive individual visited the Embassy Branch Office Non-Immigrant Visa Section waiting room in Tel Aviv on March 5, the Embassy announced that it directed its affected staff to quarantine on March 12.
US Embassy Seoul: We’re told that despite being a Level 3 COVID-19 country with very active community spread for the past few weeks, has continued to do routine NIV visa services and is still doing routine NIV visa services. “Those from epicenter areas are able to walk in like anyone else. No temp checks or additional screenings! Guards are not allowed to turn visibly sick people away. Visa appointments are only down because people aren’t traveling as much. However you can still get an appointment easily for (F, M, J, B) This is also a visa waiver country.”  (Note: South Korea is a CDC Level 3 country, and a State Department Level 3: Reconsider Travel country as of this writing).

Updated: 5:30 PDT, March 18, 2020

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OPM Issues Guidance For Maximum Telework Flexibilities, Employees to Seek Direction From Agency Heads

 

On March 15, Acting OPM Director Russell  T. Bought issued an “Updated Guidance for the National Capital Region on Telework Flexibilities in Response to Coronavirus”:

In light of the evolving situation concerning the corona virus (“COVID-19”) and the National Capitol Region (NCR) experiencing community transmission, the Administration wants to ensure that department and agency leaders assertively safeguard the health and safety of their workforce while remaining open to serve the American people and conduct mission critical functions.

All Federal Executive Branch departments and agencies within the National Capital Region (NCR), consistent with OMB’s recent guidance (0MB M-20-13), are asked to offer maximum telework flexibilities to all current telework eligible employees, consistent with operational needs of the departments and agencies as determined by their heads. In addition, we encourage agencies to use all existing authorities to offer telework to additional employees, to the extent their work could be telework enabled. If employees are not eligible for telework, agency heads have the discretion to offer weather and safety leave, or the agency’s equivalent, including for employees who may not have been considered “at higher risk” under 0MB M-20- 13. Furthermore, agency heads should develop an operational plan that maximizes resources and functional areas to most safely and efficiently deliver these mission-critical functions and other Government services (including but not limited to staggered work schedules and other operational mitigation measures).

See OMB Guidance M-20-15 (https://www.whitehouse.gov/wp-content/uploads/2020/03/M20-15-Telework-Guidance-OMB.pdf)
Over a week ago, we understand that State/M Bulatao asked employees with mobile/remote access to test their remote access capabilities by participating in a worldwide remote log-in exercise.
This OPM guidance is only for the National Capital Region (NCR) but related to this, a concerned source recently told us that many State Department management platforms are “still not cloud based” or “not outsourced to regional centers”, and so for overseas employees, many locally employed staff must come into work.

 

Turkish Court Rules to Keep USG Employee Metin Topuz in Jail

 

Reuters reported on December 11, that a Turkish court ruled that U.S. Consulate General Istanbul employee, Metin Topuz remain jail “as his trial on espionage charges continues.”
Reuters previously reported in September that the lawyers for Metin Topuz applied in January to the European Court of Human Rights and that  the ECHR has accepted the application.
The AP previously reported that Topuz began working at the consulate in 1982 as a switchboard operator and was promoted to work as an assistant and translator to the DEA’s American personnel in Turkey a decade later.
Topuz was first arrested in October 2017 and has now been incarcerated for over two years. He is still an employee of the U.S. Government. We’ve been wondering what’s going to happen to him. There’ll be another hearing in March. And on and on it goes? Until when?
The State Department has previously updated its Foreign Affairs Manual in 2017 which provides the terms and conditions for authorizing compensation payments for current and former locally employed (LE) staff who are/were imprisoned by foreign governments as a result of their employment by the United States Government.
So for “amount of benefit” which applies to locally employed staff at State and All Agencies under Chief of Mission Authority (includes DEA):

a. State:  Compensation may not exceed an amount that the State Deputy Assistant Secretary for HR determines to approximate the salary and benefits to which an employee or former employee would have been entitled had the individual remained working during the period of such imprisonment.

b. All other agencies:  Compensation may not exceed an amount that the agency head determines to approximate the salary and benefits to which an employee or former employee would have been entitled had the individual remained working during the period of such imprisonment.

c.  Once the compensation amount has been set, each agency will deny or reduce this compensation by the amount of any other relief received by the employee or other claimant, such as through private legislation enacted by the Congress.

Under the section of “other benefits”:

Any period of imprisonment for which an employee is compensated under this section shall be considered for purposes of any other employee benefit to be a period of employment by the U.S. Government, with the following exceptions:

(1)  A period of imprisonment shall not be creditable toward Civil Service retirement unless the employee was covered by the U.S. Civil Service Retirement and Disability System during the period of U.S. Government employment last preceding the imprisonment, or the employee qualifies for annuity benefits by reason of other services; and/or

(2)  A period of imprisonment shall not be considered for purposes of workers’ compensation under Subchapter I of Chapter 81 of Title 5, U.S.C., unless the individual was employed by the U.S. Government at the time of imprisonment.

Just pause and think about this for a moment.  Local employees are typically are not paid in U.S. dollars but paid in local compensation plans/currencies. The United States Government will only pay the amount that the employee would have been entitled to if she were at work (and not in prison). Were Congress to allocate any compensation, USG will deny or reduce the amount claimed beyond the approximate salary.
So compensated for eight hours a day considered a workweek but none for weekends and 16 hours a day spent incarcerated and away from families or being slammed around by prison hosts? (A former Turkish official assigned to NATO arrested and accused as a “Feto” member spoke of tortures and show trials).
Wow!  This is breathtaking and full of heart, we wanna scream.
Also with very few exceptions, most locally employed staff are not covered by U.S. Civil Service retirement. But former USG local employees who gets in the cross-hairs of their governments and imprisoned due to their employment with the U.S. Government, their imprisonment “shall not be considered for purposes of workers’ compensation”. That only applies if they are employed by the USG at the time of imprisonment.
State/HR’s Overseas Employment should be proud of that ‘taking care of local employees’ award.

 

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