SFRC Clears Blinken Nomination, Full Senate Vote on Tuesday, Jan 26

In a 15-3 vote, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee cleared the nomination of Tony Blinken on January 25 to be the next secretary of state. It looks like Senators John Barrasso (R-WY) and Rand Paul (R-KY) voted no on this nomination. Insurrectionist Senator Ted Cruz of Texas also voted no.
The full Senate is expected to vote on the Blinken nomination mid-day tomorrow, January 26. Foggy Bottom may see the 71st Secretary of State in Foggy Bottom by afternoon.

Deputy Secretary of State Antony Blinken meets with Sesame Street’s “Grover” to talk about refugees at the United Nations in New York City, New York on September 19, 2016. [State Department Photo/Public Domain]


 

 

Ambassador Daniel B. Smith to be Acting Secretary of State Pending Tony Blinken’s Confirmation

–Update below on State/M

The 70th Secretary of State left Foggy Bottom for good before the presidential swearing-in of January 20. Finally. A short clip here from CNN correspondent Kylie Atwood shows the now former secretary of state leaving through the empty halls of HST, apparently  “to a small round of applause from political appointees.” Whatever. We could see Foggy Bottom’s smoke of relief from our house.
We should note that Rex Tillerson got a polite goodbye when he left in 2018 (see Foggy Bottom Bids Goodbye to Secretary of State Rex Tillerson).
Soon after the now former secretary’s exit, the ‘ethos for some but not for others’ wall decors also came tumbling down.  The new State Department spokesperson Ned Price told the AP’s Matt Lee, “We are confident that our colleagues do not need a reminder of the values we share.
Excuse me, who inherited the swagger swags?
Also on January 20, President Biden announced the acting agency leadership across the Biden-Harris administration pending confirmation of permanent leadership by the U.S. Senate. For the State Department, the Acting Secretary of State is Ambassador Daniel Smith, one of the few senior career officials at the agency with the personal rank of Career Ambassador. Until his appointment to the acting position, he was the Director of the Foreign Service Institute. Prior to that, he was Assistant Secretary of State for Intelligence and Research from 2013 to 2018 and was Ambassador to the Hellenic Republic from 2010 to 2013.
Traditionally, the highest ranking career official, the Under Secretary for Political Affairs (P) is appointed as Acting Secretary of State pending confirmation of the new secretary of state.  This would have been David Hale, a career FSO (also with personal rank of Career Ambassador) who has been on that job since September 2018. That’s not the case this time. It is, of course, the administration’s prerogative who to appoint in an acting capacity.
We’ve seen one reporting that attributes the Hale skip over to the statements he made in December following the reported COVID-19 diagnosis of Pompeo’s wife. At that time, the State Department also “slammed the leak of Susan Pompeo’s diagnosis” according to Fox News. The person who spoke for the State Department and blamed his colleagues for “the persistent culture of leaks” was not the spokesperson.  Should be interesting to read the oral history related to this at some point.
Given that all but two of the under secretary and assistant secretary positions in the State Department were filled with political appointees, January 20 also came with the departure of the top functional and bureau officials in Foggy Bottom. The only two positions encumbered by Senate-confirmed career officials were U/Secretary for Political Affairs (David Hale) and the Director General of the Foreign Service (Carol Perez). As best we could tell, Hale is still U/Secretary for Political Affairs. DGHR, however, is now encumbered by Ambassador Kenneth Merten as the bureau’s senior official according to state.gov.  Update 1/21 11:32 am: Carol Perez is listed as senior official for the U/Secretary for Management (this also skips the Deputy M).
All regional bureaus under the U/Secretary for Political Affairs are currently headed by career officials designated as “senior official” or “senior bureau official.” The same goes for all functional bureaus. Overseas, it looks like all political ambassadors have stepped down, except for a few who are non-FS but are in the Civil Service. The US Ambassador to Moscow John Sullivan, a former Deputy Secretary of State appears to have remained at post as of this writing. When this happens during the transition, it is typically with the approval of the new administration.
President Biden has previously announced the nomination of the following senior officials:
Ambassador Wendy R. Sherman as Deputy Secretary of State
Brian P. McKeon as Deputy Secretary for Management and Resources
Dr. Bonnie Jenkins as Under Secretary for Arms Control and International Security Affairs
Ambassador Victoria Nuland as Under Secretary for Political Affairs
Uzra Zeya as Under Secretary for Civilian Security, Democracy, and Human Rights
Unless we’ve missed the announcement, the nominees for the following positions are still forthcoming:
Under Secretary of State for Economic Growth, Energy, and the Environment
Under Secretary of State for Management
Under Secretary for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs

 


 

 

 

 

Trump’s New E.O. Launches Wrecking Ball at the Civil Service

 

On October 21, Trump issued an Executive Order on Creating Schedule F In The Excepted Service:

“Pursuant to my authority under section 3302(1) of title 5, United States Code, I find that conditions of good administration make necessary an exception to the competitive hiring rules and examinations for career positions in the Federal service of a confidential, policy-determining, policy-making, or policy-advocating character. These conditions include the need to provide agency heads with additional flexibility to assess prospective appointees without the limitations imposed by competitive service selection procedures. Placing these positions in the excepted service will mitigate undue limitations on their selection. This action will also give agencies greater ability and discretion to assess critical qualities in applicants to fill these positions, such as work ethic, judgment, and ability to meet the particular needs of the agency. These are all qualities individuals should have before wielding the authority inherent in their prospective positions, and agencies should be able to assess candidates without proceeding through complicated and elaborate competitive service processes or rating procedures that do not necessarily reflect their particular needs.”
[..]
Schedule F. Positions of a confidential, policy-determining, policy-making, or policy-advocating character not normally subject to change as a result of a Presidential transition shall be listed in Schedule F. In appointing an individual to a position in Schedule F, each agency shall follow the principle of veteran preference as far as administratively feasible.”

FedWeek notes that the “estimates of the potential number of employees affected range from the tens of thousands to 100,000 or more.”
The Partnership for Public Service released a statement that says in part ““Our civil service is the envy of the world and must be strengthened and enhanced. Without strong safeguards, the risk of hiring and firing for political reasons is high. The president’s executive order creating a new Schedule F job classification is deeply troubling and has the potential to impact wide swaths of federal employees over the next few months without engagement from Congress, civil servants and other key stakeholders.”
On October 27, 2020, H.R. 8687: To nullify the Executive Order entitled “Executive Order on Creating Schedule F In The Excepted Service”, and for other purposes was introduced in Congress. Of course, this bill must be passed by both the House and Senate in identical form and then signed by the President to become law.
The new E.O. which amends the Civil Service rule, requires a preliminary review of positions covered within 90 days of the issuance of the order, that places the due date on January 19, 2020, a day before the presidential inauguration of 2021. A complete review is due within 210 days, which is August 19, 2021. Agency heads will determine which positions should be placed in Schedule F category:

Sec. 5. Agency Actions. (a) Each head of an executive agency (as defined in section 105 of title 5, United States Code, but excluding the Government Accountability Office) shall conduct, within 90 days of the date of this order, a preliminary review of agency positions covered by subchapter II of chapter 75 of title 5, United States Code, and shall conduct a complete review of such positions within 210 days of the date of this order. Thereafter, each agency head shall conduct a review of agency positions covered by subchapter II of chapter 75 of title 5, United States Code, on at least an annual basis. Following such reviews each agency head shall:

(i) for positions not excepted from the competitive service by statute, petition the Director to place in Schedule F any such competitive service, Schedule A, Schedule B, or Schedule D positions within the agency that the agency head determines to be of a confidential, policy-determining, policy-making, or policy-advocating character and that are not normally subject to change as a result of a Presidential transition. Any such petition shall include a written explanation documenting the basis for the agency head’s determination that such position should be placed in Schedule F; and

(ii) for positions excepted from the competitive service by statute, determine which such positions are of a confidential, policy-determining, policy-making, or policy-advocating character and are not normally subject to change as a result of a Presidential transition. The agency head shall publish this determination in the Federal Register. Such positions shall be considered Schedule F positions for the purposes of agency actions under sections 5(d) and 6 of this order.
[…]
(b) The requirements set forth in subsection (a) of this section shall apply to currently existing positions and newly created positions.

(c) When conducting the review required by subsection (a) of this section, each agency head should give particular consideration to the appropriateness of either petitioning the Director to place in Schedule F or including in the determination published in the Federal Register, as applicable, positions whose duties include the following:

(i) substantive participation in the advocacy for or development or formulation of policy, especially:

(A) substantive participation in the development or drafting of regulations and guidance; or

(B) substantive policy-related work in an agency or agency component that primarily focuses on policy;

(ii) the supervision of attorneys;

(iii) substantial discretion to determine the manner in which the agency exercises functions committed to the agency by law;

(iv) viewing, circulating, or otherwise working with proposed regulations, guidance, executive orders, or other non-public policy proposals or deliberations generally covered by deliberative process privilege and either:

(A) directly reporting to or regularly working with an individual appointed by either the President or an agency head who is paid at a rate not less than that earned by employees at Grade 13 of the General Schedule; or

(B) working in the agency or agency component executive secretariat (or equivalent); or

(v) conducting, on the agency’s behalf, collective bargaining negotiations under chapter 71 of title 5, United States Code.

(d) The Director shall promptly determine whether to grant any petition under subsection (a) of this section. Not later than December 31 of each year, the Director shall report to the President, through the Director of the Office of Management and Budget and the Assistant to the President for Domestic Policy, concerning the number of petitions granted and denied for that year for each agency.

It looks like they expect that this would be challenged in court:

(d) If any provision of this order, or the application of any provision to any person or circumstances, is held to be invalid, the remainder of this order and the application of any of its other provisions to any other persons or circumstances shall not be affected thereby.

On October 23, 2020, OPM issued a memo with Instructions on Implementing Schedule F.

This Executive Order excepts from the competitive service positions that are of a confidential, policy-determining, policy-making, or policy-advocating character, typically filled by individuals not normally subject to replacement or change as a result of a Presidential transition. As a result of this Executive Order, such positions will be rescheduled into the newly created Schedule F and exempt from both the competitive hiring rules as well as the adverse action procedures set forth in chapter 75 of title 5 of the United States Code.
[..]
The Executive Order directs each agency head to review positions within his or her agency and identify those positions appropriately categorized as confidential, policy-determining, policy-making, or policy-advocating, and then petition OPM to place those positions in Schedule F. Agencies have 90 days to conduct a preliminary review of positions and submit petitions, with an additional 120 days to finalize that review and submit any remaining petitions.

If Biden wins, how quickly do you think this E.O. gets rescinded?
If there is a Trump second term, we expect that the wrecking ball now directed at the Civil Service will soon extend to all parts of the federal service.
Go VOTE!

Jamaica: A U.S. Ambassador’s Apology and One Convoluted Story About That Twitter Wrestling

 

The Twitter Wrestling news out of Jamaica continue to distract us from our never ending woes, (see Top US Diplomat in Jamaica Wrestles With Random People on Twitter).  The tweets have now been deleted with no explanation.
We have it in good authority that the Jamaicans were plenty upset about this. The Twitter spectacle apparently resulted in a telephone call between the Jamaican Foreign Affairs Minister, Kamina Johnson Smith and Ambassador Tapia.  The Foreign Minister also tweeted “I have spoken with the Ambassador and he is aware that the engagement was not appropriate for a diplomatic representative.”
Ouch!
Ambassador Tapia on the other hand has now given an interview to Cliff Hughes Online where he said “I take full responsibility for what took place”  but that it wasn’t him who did the wrestling on Twitter.  That sounds a lot like “I take full responsibility. It’s not my fault” doesn’t it?   It wasn’t the intern either, thank goodness! The ambassador, a political appointee, also told the interviewer that the individual, (a he) will be “leaving shortly, because it was inappropriate” according to the interview with Cliff Hughes Online posted here.
In that interview, Ambassador Tapia discussed the employee who purportedly sent the offensive tweets under his account and was asked “What do you mean by rotating him out?”
Ambassador Tapia responded with extreme helpfulness (pardon our attempt at transcription, the zigzagged response made us frankly, dizzy):
“Which means that he will be leaving by going back to the U.S.”
Then Ambassador Tapia added, “He just got here, just about 3 or 4 weeks ago …. so he will normally stay …. he’s married … he goes home … we tried to rotate him every two months so that he can go home and be with his family but he will be, I will say he will be leaving sooner than the rotation.”
What the what?
So we are to believe that a Public Affairs officer (typically in charge of media), a career employee trained in media and public relations just decided one day to throw his career to the Caribbean winds, and go on an insult spree directed at his host county nationals?
Seriously? Why would he do that?
And that now this purported rogue officer is to be rotated out? Rotated out after four weeks in country?
If the employee assigned to Embassy Jamaica just got there 3 or 4 weeks ago and is now directed to return to the United States, that’s not called a rotation. That’s a curtailment, a shortening of the assignment, and presumably an involuntary one.  An ambassador can initiate that if he/she declares loss of confidence on any employee.
How it is that this employee just got to post 3 or 4 weeks ago, but that they  also “tried” to rotate him every two months so that he can go home and be with his family? How did that work?  And pray tell, what kind of employment schedule is this?
We’re not liking this story one bit, folks; it’s not hanging well together even at the thin seams.

 

 

Is @StateDept Suppressing the IG Report on Protocol Officials? What’s Happening to the Whatchamacallits @StateOIG?

The least surprising thing about this report is that a State Department spokesperson strongly defended Henderson and attacked the inspector general. Have you heard the Acting State/OIG Matthew Klimow offer any defense for his people or their work product? We have not. Is A/IG going to say he does not comment on leaked reports? But since there is no plan to release this report apparently, there is also no reason to offer a defense? Is that it? But wait, the State Department has commented on the leaked report and has attacked the inspector general office. Is that how this works?
The State Department spokesperson also shared testimonials purportedly from three unnamed State Department officials (they all have nice things to say!). Also, the spokesperson shared a lengthy comment from one of Pompeo’s two BFFs in Foggy Bottom, Counselor Ulrich Brechbühl.
HuffPost notes that “No part of the State Department’s response directly refuted the idea that Henderson regularly drank to excess on the job.”
If you remember, in November 2019, State/OIG also released a report on the Review of Allegations of Politicized and Other Improper Personnel Practices Involving the Office of the Secretary.  The State Department’s response includes Brian Hook’s 8-page response as well as an official response by  you guess it — Counselor Ulrich Brechbühl who wrote: “The Department disagrees with the finding in the report that improper considerations played a role in the early termination oof Employee One’s detail. The report ignores the compelling evidence provided by Brian Hook that his personnel decision in this matter was actually made prior to any of the non-merit factors being brought to his attention, and that the decision was mad for entirely professional and lawful reasons.”
Hey, isn’t this the same office that stayed quiet as mouse when career professionals were attacked by political characters, particularly last year?
Wondering why parts of this report kept getting leaked. Some questions though.
Is the State Department suppressing this IG report?
On what grounds? Hurt feelings?
Is the Acting State/OIG Matthew Klimow now allowing the State Department to decide which of the IG reports can be made public?

So what’s happening to the whatchamacallit …. the Linick-era investigations of you know who? Shhhhhh!  Shhhh!!! Keep it low. Top aides knew about it, but they were so bad they never bothered to tell their boss they knew the name of the fella in the IG’s crosshairs and then surprise, the former IG got fired and prevented from returning to his office. And they could not keep their excuses for the IG firing  in a straight line, the excuses kept toppling over like drunken sailors on liberty call. Then you know some staffers left or got fired. Then, the replacement guy quit. And then a career person stepped in, but then got replaced. Again.  So what’s happening to the whatchamacallits …. go ahead, tell us, just whisper….

Hey @StateDept Send Congrats, Your New Special Envoy to Northern Ireland Has a New Gig

 

We ❤️ you, Canada! Some folks you hear are not our best people!

 

Hatch Act Complaints Filed Against Most Partisan Secretary of State in Memory #WSOS

 

So and So Wandering Around Jerusalem to Address Republican Convention in Private Capacity #whodis

 

Secretary of Trump Mike Pompeo to Address Republican Convention From Jerusalem #politicalprops

 

5 U.S. Code § 7321.Political participation
Memorandum of President of the United States, Oct. 24, 199459 F.R. 54121, provided:
Memorandum for the Secretary of State: Pursuant to authority vested in me as the Chief Executive Officer of the United States, and consistent with the provisions of the Hatch Act Reform Amendment regulations, 5 CFR 734.104, and section 301 of title 3, United States Code, I delegate to you the authority to limit the political activities of political appointees of the Department of State, including Presidential appointees, Presidential appointees with Senate confirmation, noncareer SES appointees, and Schedule C appointees.
Under 3 FAM 4546  LIST OF DISCIPLINARY OFFENSES AND PENALTIES, the  penalty for  #12. improper political activity (5 U.S.C. 7321, et seq.) is suspension or removal.
Oh. But … but see, this only apply to some people, not all people.
Apparently, four sets of lawyers are saying no rules apply to Mike Pompeo because he will be speaking in his private capacity and because no DOS resources will be used? Where is he going to deliver his address, in a tent? Oh, a rooftop. They better have the seal of Embassy Jerusalem or we won’t know where he is. Are they’re allowed to borrow it? Hey, we all know this is not really a question of resources. Also the secretary of state is secretary of state 24/7. There is no such thing as personal capacity in that job whether he likes it or not. That’s just the reality of it.
Although if you were writing Pompeo’s EER since he got to Foggy Bottom, and you did not expect this, you were not paying attention.
Now, wouldn’t it be nice to see those legal opinions by the best people? We’re guessing they’re going to tell us it’s not/not expressly prohibited so it must be A-okay …. or the presidential memo doesn’t specifically mention cabinet secretaries … or it’s old, that presidential memo oh, so old …. or the memo was issued by a president who had been impeached, imagine that?! Oh, wait, maybe not that. Ah, we get it, the memo doesn’t spell out that Michael R. Pompeo, the 70th secretary of state is not/not allowed to deliver a speech at the Republican National convention from Jerusalem. Their bad for not anticipating this. Yes, of course. That must be it.