How a Small Post in Africa Gets Lost in the Shuffle

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This is a story about a small post in Africa forgotten by the time lords of Foggy Bottom. Not too long ago, this post quietly lost its top two officials at the same time. The State Department made no official announcement of their  departures from post. A retired ambassador was eventually sent down to take care of the far away shop.  Embassy life continued. The retired ambassador’s temporary assignment eventually ended.
An Acting Chargé d´Affaires (A/CDA) soon assumed charge, we were told. Shortly after the death of RBG in September 2020, the A/CDA complained that the flag at the official residence was not flown at half staff in her memory.  It turned out the domestic help who would have been tasked to do this had been fired and there was no replacement hired.
Dangit!
The newly designated Acting Charge d’affaires did not remember that he previously fired the live-in house manager of the ambassador’s official residence? The employee who had been in that residence for almost three decades was given a two-weeks warning. The local employee reportedly claimed no reason was given for his/her dismissal nor did said employee received any counseling.
There was also reportedly no financial settlement after the firing but this small post did have a small farewell ceremony.
“It’s not every day the head of an ancient African tribe comes to the Embassy to rebuke the acting Chargé d ́Affaires,” we learned.

The house manager’s pastor spoke, echoing the same themes, then praying for everyone present to get their hearts’ desire. Then, turning to the official responsible for the house managers’ predicament, the pastor prayed that the A/CDA would receive extra wisdom.

The chief of the ancient African tribe to which the embassy house manager belonged to, also came to gave a speech. He said it was unusual for him to speak at an event like this, but he had to come to stand with his brother, such a good and well-respected man who has been so unfairly treated.  

At the conclusion of the ceremony, the A/CDA was reportedly pleased with the ceremony not recognizing the rebuke from the visitors.
We understand that the top two senior officials at the embassy then subsequently went on R&R at the same time for a month plus two weeks of quarantine. Post was left with no trained management official except for the embassy’s computer support specialists working at the Management section. The incoming Regional Security Officer’s residence could not be  ready for occupancy and MED was reportedly acting as part Facilities Manager!
Then there were the vacant positions:
  • HRO/FMO — vacant. Incumbent transferred in summer, no replacement identified
  • GSO — vacant. Incumbent transferred summer, replacement due fall + 2 weeks quarantine
  • FMO — vacant Incumbent transferred summer, replacement due fall + 2 weeks quarantine
  • IMO — dual-hatted as Acting Management Officer
  • IMO Deputy — dual-hatted as Acting GSO
  • MED — partially acting as Facilities Manager
  • CONS — vacant. No replacement identified.
One of two consular officers transferred from post in 2020. The identified successor was discouraged by post from coming because of likely issues with accreditation with the host country. Consular Affairs reportedly had no officer identified to fill the vacant Consular officer position at post.
Second consular position was previously removed from post staffing in 2019. The incumbent officer did not only leave post but also left the Foreign Service.
The howler we heard says “There are other elements to this shit show, but mainly this Embassy is perhaps the worst managed place I have ever worked.”
How many more posts like this get lost in the shuffle?

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Amb Arnie Chacon Heads to U.S. Mission Canada as Chargé d’Affaires (a.i)

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So late Friday, the State Department announced the designation of Ambassador Arnie Chacon to be Chargé d’Affaires ad interim at U.S. Embassy Ottawa:

Today, Secretary Blinken designated Ambassador Arnold Chacon to serve as Chargé d’Affaires ad interim at U.S. Embassy Ottawa. A career diplomat with the rank of Career Minister, Ambassador Chacon is currently detailed from the Department of State to the National Defense University as Senior Vice President. Ambassador Chacon previously served as the Director General of the Foreign Service and Director of Human Resources and U.S. Ambassador to Guatemala.

Ambassador Chacon’s appointment underscores the United States’ strong commitment to Canada and the Canadian people. He will lead the U.S. government’s diplomatic engagement in Canada by advancing the Roadmap for a Renewed U.S.-Canada Partnership, including trade, climate change, COVID-19 response and recovery, and global and regional security issues.

The United States highly values its close partnership with Canada, and Ambassador Chacon is dedicated to advancing the bilateral relationship.

We’ve previously asked What’s going on at U.S. Mission Canada?
The State Department is just now sending out to Ottawa a former Ambassador (Guatemala) but also the former Director General of the Foreign Service to be CDA. He will be responsible for the embassy and its seven constituent posts as well.
👀
A top executive at the cable company Comcast has been rumored to be in the running to be Biden’s top diplomat for Canada. The announcement for the first slew of political ambassadorships is reportedly expected shortly.

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FS family members 14 and up are forcibly quarantined separately from their families in China?

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Below from Sender A:
State is forcing teenage EFMs 14 and up to forcibly quarantine separately from their families in China. Imagine PCS’ing to a new post and being told the 14 year old child had to quarantine for two weeks alone in a hotel room separated from their parents. How did L sign off on this? This is a legal nightmare waiting to unfold. What 14 year old should be locked alone in a room for two weeks and have all their food brought to them…. no food delivery allowed. What if the child struggles from 14 days of isolation?

We’ve learned previously from a separate source that the Department is requiring employees to fulfill local quarantine rules on arrival in a country, as they apply to diplomats. That’s expected. It would not want the perception of skirting local rules amidst a global pandemic. Back in March, when Mainland China news alleged that the US staffers claimed diplomatic immunity to avoid quarantine in Hong Kong, the State Department pushed back and called it “absolutely false.”
A former ambassador pointed out that Article 41 of the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations states that “Without prejudice to their privileges and immunities, it is the duty of all persons enjoying such privileges and immunities to respect the laws and regulations of the receiving State.” The former official noted that under the normal course of events, an undertaking to quarantine within the embassy premises would normally be agreeable to the local authorities.
We understand that some countries have even waived them for diplomats or allowed diplomats to do it at their embassy quarters. We’re talking about quarantine at entry as opposed to an isolation required due to illness.  But not China. One source called its entry requirements, the “most onerous.” The quarantine is reportedly for all “regardless of test status.”  We were informed that this involves “something like 14 days in a hotel in the arrival city and then a stay at home for another 7 days in your destination city, with multiple tests along the way.”
The EAP bureau and Mission China were supposedly communicating to FS people relocating to China what the requirements are and what they should expect. The rules are “rigid and exacting” we were told.  We understand that a particularly egregious requirement is that couples have to quarantine separately. We were, however, told that the United States had supposedly “received earlier assurances” from the Chinese that in situation where kids are involved, at least one parent would be able to stay with the children.
So, if teens are now being quarantined alone, and separate from the parent/parents — what happened?
  • 1) Is this a case of arbitrary enforcement of local laws?
  • 2) If they’re separating 14 year olds from their parents for the quarantine, why is 14 the magic number?
  • 3) So the host country just now decided not to follow through with its prior assurances, why?
  • 4) Was this so unexpected EAP and Mission China did not get a chance to forewarn incoming FS families?
  • 5) Did State/L sign off on this? If yes, why?If not, what is it going to do about it – just let families bear it?
  • 6) USG and China must have exchanged Diplomatic Notes, what’s in it?
Excerpt from US Mission China’s COVID-19 Information updated on April 20, 2021:

All travelers, including U.S. citizens who enter China, are screened upon arrival and subject to a minimum 14-day quarantine. While restrictions around domestic travel within China have eased, local quarantine requirements can vary significantly between cities, and regulations can change very quickly. All international arrivals should be prepared to complete quarantine at a government-selected facility or hotel at their own expense, with no control over the amenities, even if they maintain a residence in China. Cities and provinces within China may also require quarantine for domestic travelers, regardless of nationality.

The US Consulate General in Hong Kong has an update dated May 10:

Starting May 12, 2012, fully vaccinated individuals will be able to reduce their quarantine by 7 days. Fully vaccinated travelers from the United States will complete 14 days in a designated quarantine hotel and then self-monitor the remaining 7 days. For full information about reduced quarantine, please see the Hong Kong government’s press release.

When we previously blogged about quarantine, the former ambassador also pointed out that our relations with the Chinese “have involved scapegoating them for their failure instantly to recognize and act to control the outbreak of COVID-19 in Wuhan, coupled with all sorts of conspiracy theories and uncouth accusations by our former secretary of state and others.  So, it would not be surprising that they would not cut us much slack.”
What else is going on between US and China the last couple of months?
On April 8, 2021, the Department of Commerce’s Bureau of Industry and Security (BIS) added seven Chinese supercomputing entities to the Entity List for conducting activities that are contrary to the national security or foreign policy interests of the United States.
On May 10, the SFRC approved S. 1169 Strategic Competition Act of 2021 signaling bipartisan support in “laying out a strategic approach towards Beijing – and assuring that the United States is positioned to compete with China across all dimensions of national and international power for decades to come”.

 

Related posts:

 

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FSGB: “Service Need Differential” Posts Get a Bad Recruitment Ad

The fundraising campaign is closer to its goal today than yesterday, but it’s not quite there yet. We are grateful to the more than 450 donors who have supported our annual fundraising to-date. We will not run an indefinite campaign, just a few weeks out of the year.  Help us meet our goal so we can get back to our regular blogging programming without plugging our fundraising. If you are able to help, please pitch in at GFM: https://gofund.me/32671a27. Thanks – DS

According to the Foreign Affairs Manual, a ‘Service Need Differential’ [SND] is an allowance of 15 percent of base salary for employees serving in Historically-Difficult-to-Staff (HDS) posts with an at least 20 percent hardship differential and a standard two-year tour of duty, when the employee agrees to serve for a third year.  Some of the “at least 20 percent” hardship differential posts includes Albania, Azerbaijan, Egypt, a couple posts in China, and more. Djibouti, Ghana, Haiti, Afghanistan, CAR, Cuba, DRC, and some posts in India are in the 25 percent category. Afghanistan, Somalia, Bangladesh, Chad, Iraq, Pakistan are some of the 35 percent hardship posts. The hardship considered includes physical and social isolation; political violence, terrorism and harassment; medical and hospital availability; environmental conditions and sanitation; crime; climate; housing and infrastructure to name some. See more here.
The grievance case below concerns SND payments to a DS agent who served at one of these “historically-difficult-to-staff” posts.  Instead of the State Department just acknowledging that a mistake had been made in this case, the State Department made the argument that the grievant, “as a mid-level employee with several years of experience and facing his third overseas assignment” should have known better to ask the right questions. Whoa!  The agency is saying, it’s his fault, hey?
Footnote indicates that “with respect to the AO’s [Assignments Officer] indication of the candidate’s SND election in the assignment panel notes, the record indicates that the assignment panel notes did in fact include a comment that grievant’s SND decision was “pending.” However, grievant denies that he made that (or any) SND-related election, or that he communicated to his AO that he had elected to defer his decision until after arrival at post.”
The FSGB decided that the grievance appeal was sustained. The Department was ordered to reimburse grievant for SND he would have received from the date of his arrival at post, consistent with the provisions of the Back Pay Act. 5 U.S. Code § 5596.
Via FSGB Case No. 2020-050

HELD – The Foreign Service Grievance Board found that grievant met his burden to show that the Department failed to implement its Standard Operating Procedure SOP B-22 in the process of assigning him to a Service Need Differential (SND) post, a procedural error that resulted in harmful denial to him of SND payments for a period of time. The grievance was sustained.

CASE SUMMARY – Grievant accepted a handshake for assignment to an SND-designated post. He argued that in the process of assigning him to post, the Department failed to implement any of the “Assignment Procedures” specified in its relevant Standard Operating Procedure, SOP B-22. These included provisions that the Assignment Officer should contact grievant by email, provide information regarding the SND Program (including a specified “standard disclosure” covering SND options and the consequences of each), request the employee to indicate which SND option he/she elects, and relay that election to the assignment panel. The SOP advises that an assignment to an SND-designated post should not be made unless the foregoing provisions are carried out. The assignment panel, on the basis of notes of unspecified origin to the effect that grievant’s SND decision was “pending,” assigned him for a two-year tour-of-duty which made him ineligible for SND unless he should later request, and be granted, an extension of his tour to three years’ duration.

The agency denied that grievant had carried his burden of proving that his Assignment Officer (AO) failed to implement SOP B-22, but that even if the AO had failed to do so, grievant as an experienced, mid-level bidder, should not be absolved of any and all responsibility to understand the SND assignment procedures as they applied to him and to seek clarification and/or assistance if he were confused or concerned about the process. Further, the Department argued that in the agency-level grievance, it had provided to grievant (albeit on different grounds, which are abandoned in the instant grievance appeal), all relief to which he is entitled.

The Board found factually that the provisions of SOP B-22 had not been implemented by the Department in grievant’s case. The Board found further that the language of the Assignment Procedures of SOP B-22 is particularly directive, going as far as to advise that assignment to an SND post should not be made unless its stipulated provisions have been carried out. On the issue of harm, the Board found that the agency’s failure to implement the SOP constituted a significant procedural error which denied grievant the opportunity to receive information, counseling, and assistance stipulated in the policy before the panel assigned him to a two-year non-SND assignment which record evidence established he did not elect. The Board ordered payment of SND from the date of grievant’s arrival at post.

Background:

Grievant is an FP-03 Special Agent with the Bureau of Diplomatic Security (“DS”) who has worked for the Department since 2012. He is currently serving as an Assistant Regional Security Officer (“ARSO”) at post, his third assignment. The matters grieved in the instant action concern the manner of grievant’s assignment to, and extension at, post, as they impacted his receipt of SND payments.
[…]
On January 23, 2019, the Department issued cable , captioned “(PII) TMONE – ASSIGNMENT NOTIFICATION – PERSONNEL ASSIGNMENT ([grievant’s name and social security number redacted] FP-03, 2501, Special Agent) (“TM-1,” “the assignment cable”).3 Among other information pertaining to the position, the TM-1 noted that the assignment was for a 24-month tour with an estimated arrival date at post of August 2019. The cable contained the names of grievant’s Assignment/Training Officer [sic], Assignment Technician, and CDO as points of contact. The TM-1 did not identify the post as an SND- designated post, nor did it provide any information on the SND Program or how to participate therein.
[…]
After being informed, in a general manner, of the SND program by colleagues, grievant reached out on November 25, 2019, to post’s human resources officer (“HRO”) by email and requested “procedures to extend for one year and activate SND[.]”5
[…]
After repeated attempts by grievant to obtain a decision on his extension request and SND, on June 11, 2020, the Department finally issued a cable approving his extension for a third year at post. The extension approval cable noted that his election of a 36-month tour made him eligible for SND but did not provide further specifics such as what the effective date of SND eligibility was. Grievant subsequently was informed that the SND payments would commence as of the date of the extension approval cable, i.e., June 11, 2020.

On July 20, 2020, grievant filed an agency-level grievance, arguing that the Department’s failure to follow its pre-assignment SOP procedures for SND posts, compounded by subsequent delays in processing his extension request, improperly deprived him of a financial benefit (i.e., timely commencement of SND payments). As a remedy, he sought retroactive payment of SND (with interest) starting from the date of his arrival at post.

On September 24, 2020, the Department issued an agency-level decision, granting the grievance in part, and denying it in part. The deciding official (“DO”) stated that she was not persuaded that grievant had shown that the Department had failed to follow SOP B-22, finding further that grievant should not be “absolve[d] … of any and all responsibility regarding initiation of the SND process.” Grievance Appeal Submission (“Appeal”), Attachment 2 at 5. She therefore denied that part of the grievance. However, while noting grievant’s delay of over six months in initiating his extension request, the deciding official found that the Department had also let the request sit “idly” for three months. She consequently granted partial relief, directing that SND should be paid effective March 10, 2020, the date on which post issued its extension request cable.

State Department’s Oh, Dear/Even If Argument

The Department argues that record evidence shows that when the panel initially assigned grievant to post, the notes on which it relied stated that grievant’s SND decision was pending. This is consistent with the portion of the SOP “which outlines the employee’s right to delay his/her SND decision until after their [sic] arrival at post . . . .” Response at 5. According to the Department, grievant has failed to offer any evidence that the AO did not discuss the SND program with him or inform him about the elections. The absence of any comments in the “Remarks” section of his TM-1 assignment cable (which grievant advances as evidence that he was not properly advised of SND options before he was assigned to post) is not dispositive of a failure by the AO or CDO to implement the SOP.

The Department also argues that even if the AO and/or CDO had failed to implement the SOP (which the Department denies), “[grievant] should not be absolved of any and all responsibility regarding the initiation of his own SND process, especially if he sought to enjoy the benefit of receiving payments as soon as he arrived at post.”13

Also, if you’re going to a post no one wants to go, you should know more than your Assignments Officer?

The Department further argues that grievant, as a mid-level employee with several years of experience and facing his third overseas assignment, should have recognized that he was bidding on an SND post, and if he had any questions about SND bidding procedures, he knew or should have known to contact his AO and/or CDO for guidance and assistance. However, we find the details of the SND program are sufficiently arcane that the Department felt the need to emphasize the special responsibilities of human resources personnel. The language of SOP B-22, which grievant could not have been expected to know as it is not a familiar Department FAM or FAH provision, is quite particular. It bears repeating that the principal provisions of the Assignment Process fall to the AO and that the language is uniformly directive, not permissive. The SOP directs the AO to contact the employee by email, and one practical consequence of this requirement is to ensure that there be an official record of the communication. The SOP states that the purpose of the email is to explain the SND program, and to ask that he/she make an election among the various SND options (including no-SND and deferral of decision). The AO is further directed to “use the following standard disclosure when contacting the employee.” Half a page of stipulated language explaining the three SND options, the implications of each, and the FAM authority follow. As noted supra, the SOP states in bold typeface that “No assignment for an SND-designated post should be made” unless the AO has advised the employee of the SND options and their implications. The totality of the Assignment Procedures language bespeaks a particular intent that it be implemented to ensure that bidders such as grievant, regardless of experience, be informed uniformly of the program and its details. Accordingly, we find that grievant should not have been expected to be aware of the requirements of the SND program but should have been able to rely on the unique expertise of his AO and the requirements assigned to the AO to provide the information needed to make a choice before his assignment began. Having considered all of the resources to which the Department has pointed, we find that absent the AO’s briefing and support mandated by the SOP, the information in the other Department sources would not necessarily be sufficient, and might even have been meaningless, without the provision of that required context.

The Grievance Board Finds “Harm”

The Department argues that grievant has failed to prove harm resulting from any violation of the SOP, as he has not presented any evidence that he wished to elect, or would have elected, a three-year SND tour. Our considered view is that the language of the Assignment Procedures of SOP B-22 is of a particular character that bespeaks a concern that the procedures be implemented. That is understandable, inasmuch as the SND Program exists to incentivize candidates to bid on historically difficult-to-staff posts, and the SOP seems obviously formulated to ensure that candidates make informed choices among the unique options of the SND Program within a transparent process. In the instant case, the Department’s failure to implement the particularly directive provisions of the SOP denied grievant an opportunity that he would have otherwise had, and which the SOP seems clearly crafted to provide, to be contacted in writing (email), counseled on the basis of prescribed standard language regarding the SND options and implications, and to have his election solicited and transmitted to the panel as the basis for assignment; failing the foregoing, the SOP says that an assignment should not be made. The harm then to grievant was the lost opportunity.

We would like to make an observation about this finding. In finding that failure to implement the SOP deprived grievant of the opportunity to elect a three-year SND tour under the SOP Assignment Procedures, we do not seek to supply an answer to the counterfactual- hypothetical question of whether grievant would have elected a three-year tour if the AO had in fact implemented the SOP. We acknowledge that there is no contemporaneous evidence that he would have made that election prior to his arrival at post. Nonetheless, the harm we find is not that grievant was denied SND payments in accord with an inferred election to be paneled for three years, but rather that he was denied a procedural opportunity pointedly stipulated in the SOP when the AO failed to inform him about the SND Program and solicit his election after he accepted the handshake and prior to paneling him to a two-year non-SND tour. We see no alternative remedy to compensate grievant for this harm other than to order SND to be paid from the date of grievant’s arrival at post.

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@StateDept Adds 71 Historical Names to Memorial Plaque on #ForeignAffairsDay #ExceptSuicide

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On Foreign Affairs Day, the State Department added 71 names to the Memorial Plaque located in the lobby of the State Department. AFSA maintains the plaque. According to AFSA, the plaque’s establishment grew out of AFSA’s efforts in the late 1920s and early 1930s to establish a “Roll of Honor” naming colleagues who had died in the line of duty while serving overseas, including due to violence, natural disasters, tropical diseases, and accidents during official travel. Please click here to view the criteria for inclusion in the plaque. If you wish to submit a name for consideration, please fill out this form. Read more here.
According to WaPo, the honorees fall into two general categories: 58 died overseas before 1933 and had been forgotten, and 13 died overseas between 1938 and 1971 and had been previously overlooked or excluded.
Current AFSA President Ambassador Eric Rubin said that “In honoring them we honor all of the men and women of the U.S. Foreign Service who serve their country in, at times, very difficult circumstances and conditions and give of themselves in the true tradition of public service.”
The WaPo piece also said that “Those who died overseas by suicide, natural causes or while doing something illegal are still not eligible …. and anyone in the Foreign Service who died overseas of the coronavirus would not be eligible since it is a worldwide pandemic.”
We’re wondering how many more names would be added if we count suicide for the Memorial Plaque?
If Foreign Service employees are considered on duty 24/7, shouldn’t deaths that occurred while on official order count on the memorial plaque? The criteria for consideration includes a note that also says “Deaths involving the decedent’s illegal, negligent, reckless, or selfish behavior are not eligible for inclusion.”
Besides the fact that suicide could be “due to disease related to particular circumstances of overseas assignment“, isn’t it time to recognize that suicide is not/not a selfish choice? This view contributes to the misunderstanding of mental illness.” In ‘Don’t Say It’s Selfish: Suicide Is Not a Choice’, a clinical psychologist writes that “suicide is not a personal weakness or someone’s “fault,” …. suicide is often a product of mental health and environmental variables that we don’t fully comprehend.”  It is time to rethink this.

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Foreign Service Grievance Board Annual Report 2020-Statistics (3/1/21) – Updated

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Update 3/30:  A source with insight into the FSGB process informed us that  the new metric starts counting the days when the file is complete and ready for adjudication.  Prior to file completion, processing times depend heavily on how promptly the grievant and agencies provide documentation.  It appears that the FSGB want to focus on the period that is totally under the FSGB’s control.  That’s understandable but that does not give a full picture. The source agreed that it would have been useful to also report the total processing time as previously calculated. There’s no reason why FSGB can’t include the processing time from ROP closure to decision, as well as the total processing time as it has done in the past. We also learned that to keep cases moving forward during the October 2020 to mid-February 2021 staffing gaps, the remaining 11 FSGB members reportedly had to increased their case work hours on average by about 21 percent. Some cases were also reportedly judged by two-member panels instead of the usual three-member panels. 

Last December, AFSA called on then Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to fulfill his statutory responsibility (22 U.S.C. 4135b) to make appointments to the Foreign Service Grievance Board (FSGB). Eight seats on that board have been vacant since October 1 due to inaction on their nominations. “The nomination paperwork was transmitted to Secretary Pompeo’s staff on or before August 28, 2020, giving him at least four weeks to act prior to the September 30 expiration of the terms of office of the eight positions. If Secretary Pompeo had adverse information on any nominees, he could have allowed the Foreign Service agencies and AFSA to submit replacement nominations prior to September 30. Unfortunately, Secretary Pompeo has taken no action over the past three months.”
In the March 2021 issue of the Foreign Service Journal, AFSA Retiree Representative John Naland wrote that  “Secretary Pompeo left office without acting on the nominations, leaving it to his successor to fulfill that responsibility. Secretary Antony Blinken did so within two weeks of taking office. Perhaps by the time a future historian finds this column, Secretary Pompeo will have explained his failure to act. But my impression today as the AFSA Governing Board member charged with overseeing the annual FSGB nomination process is that Secretary Pompeo’s dereliction of duty was of a piece with the arrogance and contempt for the rule of law that he frequently showed to committees of Congress, the media and others. Secretary Pompeo’s passive-aggressive evisceration of the FSGB deserves to be recorded and remembered.”
Lawrence C. Mandel, the Chairperson of the Foreign Service Grievance Board issued the Annual Report for 2020 on March 1, 2021. The report notes that staffing was complicated by delay in the re- appointment of the Board’s Senior Advisor and two annuitant members, and the delay in appointment of five new Board Members, resulting in vacancies of nearly half of their members over the final three months of the year. Members of the Board are appointed for terms of two years by the Secretary of State.
The Annual Report says that despite these staffing challenges, “the Board closed 66 cases – almost as many cases as in 2019 (69). The average time to issue decisions was 66.9 days after closure of the Record of Proceedings (ROP).”
Whoa, whoa, wait, “the average time to issue decisions was 66.9 days after closure of the Record of Proceedings (ROP)?”  That got our attention. Based on the previous annual reports, the disposition of a case was measured from the time of filing to Board decision (or withdrawal/dismissal); not from when decisions are issued after closure of the ROPs.
In 2019, the disposition of cases, as we normally understood it, took 57 weeks, which would have been 399 days. In 2020, the average time is 66.9 days which is just 9.5 weeks. See below:
2020: Average time for disposition of a case, from closure of Record of Proceedings to Board decision was 67 days 
2019: Average time for disposition of a case, from time of filing to Board decision, withdrawal, or dismissal, was 57 weeks. A number of older cases were closed this year, including some that had to await decisions in other fora. Additionally, fewer cases were settled and withdrawn this year, which increased the average time for disposition.
2018: Average time for disposition of a case, from time of filing to Board decision, withdrawal, or dismissal was 41 weeks. Excluding three cases that were significantly delayed by extraordinary circumstances, the average time for disposition was 38 weeks.
2017: Average Time for disposition of a case, from time of filing to Board decision, withdrawal, or dismissal was 41 weeks.
2016: Average Time for disposition of a case, from time of filing to Board decision, withdrawal, or dismissal was 39 weeks.
So we asked the FSGB about this new way of describing the average time of disposition of FSGB cases.  The new way of describing duration of cases is not from time of filing, but rather from when a decision is issued after closure of the ROPs.
We also wanted to know what impact the 3 month delay in appointing/reappointing eight seats to the Board affected the processing of their cases.
We received a brief response that says in part, “We allow the FSGB Annual Report, as submitted to Congress, to speak for itself.”
Help alert! That is, we need help to understand stuff. We still can’t understand the way they calculate the disposition of a case. Counting from closure of ROPs to Board decision does not tell us the actual duration of cases, does it?
Good news though; at least they do not have an email chewing doggo over there!

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

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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)


 

 

Inbox: Are there treatments that work? #HavanaSyndrome

Note: We received the note below from a Foreign Service employee who asked not to be identified. The sender gave us permission to publish this note as long as we remove potential identifying information related to specific posts and dates. We are wondering how many more out there similarly had to deal with a non-responsive  Bureau of Medical Services whose mission is “to promote and safeguard the health and well-being of America’s diplomatic community.” How many are in limbo about their condition? How many never heard from anyone about what the next steps should be?
–DS
I brought up my symptoms to the Health Unit (HU) where I was posted, and asked to receive an assessment for those symptoms even though my “attack” did not happen within the time frame specified in the Management Notice that went out via all HUs around the world. I was given the assessment, and several of my symptoms were identified as being similar to the Havana syndrome symptoms that began after my 26 months in Post Z (2008 – 2010): sudden onset of chronic insomnia, loss of smell, difficulty concentrating, and tinnitus/loss of hearing. The results of my assessment were sent to State/MED over a year ago, and I requested the HU at Post to indicate I would like a follow up. Since then I have had no communications from MED on this, despite having sent emails to various different persons in MED asking what the next steps were.  
I continue to have these symptoms. I was medevac’d from one post whose HU thought it was PTSD from Baghdad; I tried to explain I had been taking OTC sleep aids since 2009 in Post Z and that slowly but surely their efficacy had diminished. I thought I had just spontaneously developed the condition because of stress or pollution in Country Z. Unfortunately, the various symptoms have had a significant quality of life impact, both professionally and personally, and at this point I am very frustrated with State and MED for the lack of follow up. At the very least I would like to have additional assessments to see if my brain shows the patterns that our colleagues in Moscow, Havana, and Guangzhou also exhibit. I would also like to have available to me whatever resources are available from State to help work through some of these symptoms. Are there treatments that work? It would be great to get some relief.

 

 


 

 

Snapshot: Qualifying Injury Under 3 FAM 3660 – Compensation For Certain Injuries

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

 

A section in the Foreign Affairs Manual was added on May 28, 2020 (see 3 FAM 3660 Compensation for Certain Injuries). It is based on Public Law 116-94, Division J, Title IX, section 901, where:
“Congress allows the Secretary of State to pay benefits to certain Department of State personnel under chief of mission authority who incurred a qualifying injury and are receiving benefits under section 8105 or 8106 of Title 5, United States Code.  It further authorizes the Secretary of State to pay for the costs of diagnosing and treating a qualifying injury of a covered employee, as defined in 3 FAM 3662, that are not otherwise covered by chapter 81 of Title 5, United States Code (the Federal Employees Compensation Act (FECA)) or other provision of Federal law; and to pay the costs of diagnosing and treating a qualifying injury of a covered individual or covered dependent, as defined in 3 FAM 3662, that are not otherwise covered by Federal law.”
3 FAM 3660 also includes definitions on who are covered employees, or covered individuals, what’s a “qualifying injury”, and the description of recognized and eligible qualifying injuries as of June 26, 2018.

3 FAM 3662  DEFINITIONS
(CT:PER-994;   05-28-2020)
(Uniform State/USAID/USAGM/Commerce/Foreign Service Corps-USDA)
(Applies to Foreign Service and Civil Service Employees)

Qualifying injury:  The term “qualifying injury” means the following:

(1)  With respect to a covered dependent, an injury listed in (3) below incurred

(a)  during a period in which a covered dependent is accompanying an employee to an assigned duty station in the Republic of Cuba, the People’s Republic of China, or another foreign country designated by the Secretary of State under 3 FAM 3666;

(b)  in connection with war, insurgency, hostile act, terrorist activity, or other incident designated by the Secretary of State; and

(c)  that was not the result of the willful misconduct of the covered dependent.

(2)  With respect to a covered employee or a covered individual, an injury listed in (3) below incurred

(a)  during a period of assignment to a duty station in the Republic of Cuba, the People’s Republic of China, or another foreign country designated by the Secretary of State under 3 FAM 3666;

(b)  in connection with war, insurgency, hostile act, terrorist activity, or other incident designated by the Secretary of State; and

(c)  that was not the result of the willful misconduct of the covered employee or covered individual.

(3)  Recognized and eligible qualifying injuries, as of 26 June 2018, based on the University of Pennsylvania-identified criteria, include the following:

        • sharp localized ear pain;
        • dull unilateral headache;
        • tinnitus in one ear;
        • vertigo,
        • visual focusing issues;
        • disorientation;
        • nausea;
        • extreme fatigue;
        • cognitive problems, including difficulty with concentration, working memory, and attention;
        • recurrent headache;
        • high-frequency unilateral hearing loss;
        • sleep disturbance;
        • and imbalance walking.

3 FAM 3666  SECRETARY OF STATE COUNTRY DESIGNATION
(CT:PER-994;   05-28-2020)
(Uniform State/USAID/USAGM/Commerce/Foreign Service Corps-USDA)
(Applies to Foreign Service and Civil Service Employees)

a. Under Public Law 116-94, Division J, Title IX, section 901, the Secretary of State may designate another foreign country for the purposes of this section, provided that the Secretary reports such designation to the Committee on Foreign Relations of the Senate and the Committee on Foreign Affairs of the House of Representatives, and includes in such report a rationale for each such designation.

b. The Secretary of State may not designate an added foreign country or duty station for the purposes of providing additional monetary benefit pursuant to 3 FAM 3663 or 3 FAM 3664 for a qualifying injury to covered employees, covered dependents, or covered individuals under this section unless the Secretary of State

(1)  provides to the Committees on Foreign Relations of the Senate and the Committee on Foreign Affairs of the House of Representatives 30 days’ notice of the designation of a particular additional country or duty station and the rationale for such an addition; and

(2)  provides no such additional monetary benefit pursuant to 3 FAM 3663 or 3 FAM 3664  to covered employees, covered dependents, or covered individuals for a qualifying injury until the 30-day notice period expires, unless there is written agreement by both the Chair and Ranking Members of both the Committee on Foreign Relations of the Senate and the Committee on Foreign Affairs of the House of Representatives that there is no objection to proceeding with provision of such monetary benefit compensation in less than 30 days.


 

 

EEOC: @StateDept Improperly Dismissed Complaint Over EEO Counseling Process

Via EEOC:
Complaint Improperly Dismissed for Raising Matter Not Brought to Attention of EEO Counselor. The Commission reversed the Agency’s dismissal of Complainant’s complaint on grounds that it raised a matter that was not brought to the attention of an EEO Counselor. In dismissing the complaint, the Agency relied on Complainant’s failure to participate in the EEO counseling process, stating that the assigned Counselor attempted to engage Complainant multiple times by email and telephone, but was unable to do so. Complainant stated, however, that he did not receive an initial or final interview or counseling to attempt to informally resolve the matter. The assigned Counselor stated that she could not engage Complainant to conduct counseling, so she issued Complainant a notice of right to file a formal complaint, which he timely did. The Commission found that, contrary to the Agency’s assertions, Complainant raised the instant issues with an EEO Counselor even though no actual counseling sessions occurred, and timely filed a formal complaint when given the opportunity to do so. The Commission noted that it is the Agency’s burden to provide evidence to support its final decisions.

Ian G. v. Dep’t of State, EEOC Appeal No. 2019005132 (Jan. 8, 2020).

At the time of events giving rise to this complaint, Complainant worked at the U.S. Agency for International Development. On May 17, 2019, Complainant filed a formal EEO complaint alleging that the Department of State (hereinafter referred to as “the Agency”)2 discriminated against him on the bases of race (Asian), sex (male), national origin (Kashmir), religion (Islam), disability (Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) and Fibromyalgia), and reprisal for prior protected EEO activity when:

1. in March and April 2019, the Agency denied Complainant reasonable accommodation for the FACT course, and

2. in April 2019, the Bureau of Diplomatic Security (BDS) and the Agency subjected Complainant to hostile work environment harassment during the FACT course. Complainant alleged that he was repeatedly subjected to inappropriate “epithets and derogatory stereotypes.”

In his EEO complaint, Complainant stated “Counseling requested but not conducted.”

In a July 9, 2019 final decision, the Agency dismissed Complainant’s complaint pursuant to 29 C.F.R. § 1614.107(a)(2). The Agency reasoned that, “[Complainant d]id not go through EEO Counseling” because his allegations of discrimination were not first discussed with an EEO Counselor. The Agency stated that the assigned Counselor attempted to engage Complainant multiple times (via email and telephone) but was unable to do so. The Agency noted that the Counselor issued the Notice of Right to File (NORF) on May 15, 2019.

The instant appeal from Complainant followed. On appeal, Complainant stated that although he initiated contact with the Agency’s EEO office on April 10, 2019, no counseling or initial/final interview took place and he informed the EEO Counselor that he would be overseas for an extended period. Also, Complainant stated that he learned that the Counselor issued a counseling report on May 17 and June 12, 2019, and the Agency only provided him the second report initially. Further, Complainant stated that the Agency misapplied the standard for dismissal under 29 C.F.R. § 1614.107(a)(2), and failed to conduct EEO counseling as required under federal regulations. Complainant stated that he raised his issues with an EEO Counselor in a timely manner.

The EEOC reversed the Department of State’s final decision dismissing the instant complaint and remanded the matter to the Agency for further processing consistent with the decision it issued. Read more here.