Former Senior Diplomat Uzra Zeya Blasts @StateDept’s Diversity Slide, and More

Career diplomat Uzra Zeya previously served as the Deputy Chief of Mission at the US Embassy in Paris. Previous to that, she was the Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor (DRL).  She has over two decades of policy experience in the Department, where she has focused on the Near East and South Asia regions and multilateral affairs. Since joining the Foreign Service in 1990, Ms. Zeya’s overseas assignments have included Paris, Muscat, Damascus, Cairo, and Kingston. Ms. Zeya also served as Chief of Staff to Deputy Secretary of State Bill Burns, where she supported a range of policy initiatives, ranging from the U.S. response to transitions in the Middle East to deepening engagement with emerging global powers. Other assignments include serving as Minister Counselor for Political Affairs at the U.S. Embassy in New Delhi, Deputy Executive Secretary to Secretaries Rice and Clinton, Director of the Executive Secretariat Staff, and as UNGA coordinator for the International Organizations bureau.  Below is an except from the piece she wrote for Politico.

Via Politico: Trump Is Making American Diplomacy White Again

I worked at the State Department for 27 years and was proud to watch it become more diverse. Until President Trump

In 2017, as the media ran out of synonyms for “implosion” in describing Rex Tillerson’s tenure as secretary of state, a quieter trend unfolded in parallel: the exclusion of minorities from top leadership positions in the State Department and embassies abroad.

This shift quickly became apparent in the department’s upper ranks. In the first five months of the Trump administration, the department’s three most senior African-American career officials and the top-ranking Latino career officer were removed or resigned abruptly from their positions, with white successors named in their places. In the months that followed, I observed top-performing minority diplomats be disinvited from the secretary’s senior staff meeting, relegated to FOIA duty (well below their abilities), and passed over for bureau leadership roles and key ambassadorships.
[…]
Although the department did not dispute the decline in minority and female ambassador nominees, an official said the percentage of African Americans, Hispanics and women hired as Foreign Service officers had increased from 2016 to 2017. That’s an encouraging sign at the entry level, but it does not address reduced minority representation at the senior level. With dozens of ambassadorial and other senior positions vacant, there is still time for Secretary Pompeo to reverse the slide in diversity among the department’s leadership; it’s worth noting that the Trump administration is not even two years in, while Obama and Bush each had eight years to shape the department’s top ranks. But up to now, Foggy Bottom’s upper echelons are looking whiter, more male and less like America.
[…]
In my own case, I hit the buzz saw that Team Trump wielded against career professionals after leading the U.S. Embassy in Paris through three major terrorist attacks over three years and after planning President Trump’s Bastille Day visit. Upon returning to Washington, as accolades for the president’s visit poured in, I was blocked from a series of senior-level jobs, with no explanation. In two separate incidents, however, colleagues told me that a senior State official opposed candidates for leadership positions—myself and an African-American female officer—on the basis that we would not pass the “Breitbart test.” One year into an administration that repudiated the very notion of America I had defended abroad for 27 years, I knew I could no longer be a part of it, and I left government earlier this year.
[…]
[I]t is difficult to leverage diversity with a Senior Foreign Service that remains 88.8 percent white and more than two-thirds male. If the State Department is not going to acknowledge this problem, Congress should insist on a serious commitment to diversity in American diplomacy from Secretary Pompeo—by demanding answers for the slide in minority and female senior representation at State, accountability if any officials have violated equal opportunity laws, prohibitions on political retaliation and protections for employees who report wrongdoing.

 

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State/OIG and OSC Reportedly Looking Into Political Reprisals @StateDept

Via FP:

The U.S. State Department’s Office of the Inspector General has widened an investigation into alleged political retaliation by Trump administration officials against America’s diplomatic corps. It is probing claims that a political appointee in the Bureau of International Organization Affairs has taken action against career officials deemed insufficiently loyal to President Donald Trump, according to at least 10 current and former State Department officials.

The Office of Special Counsel, an independent watchdog that oversees the federal government, is also investigating whether Trump’s political appointees—including Mari Stull, the aforementioned senior advisor in the international organization bureau—are carrying out political reprisals against career officials, according to two State Department officials familiar with the matter. The inspector general is also investigating allegations that Stull hurled homophobic slurs at a State Department staffer.

“The inspector general is looking into an allegation that Stull blocked the promotion of one career official to a top human rights post because the official had previously been involved in overseeing humanitarian assistance to Palestinian refugees. The nominee had the backing of the department’s top career officials. But when Stull caught wind of the pending promotion, she convened a meeting with Moley and accused the candidate of having sympathy for Palestinian terrorists. Moley froze the appointment.”

We’ve been away; has AFSA said anything about this? Also if these allegations were true (we should note that allegations of political reprisals and loyalty questions are not limited to IO), we gotta ask – what kind of leadership is there in Foggy Bottom that considers this acceptable behavior? You and I, and all of IO, and Foggy Bottom are looking forward to the results of these investigations. Perhaps, it would also be useful for the oversight committees to look into the turn over and curtailments of career employees specific to IO.

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FSO Andrew Veprek Reportedly Appointed to be Deputy Asst Secretary For State/PRM

Posted: 3:29 am ET
Updated: 2:51 pm PT

 

Politico’s Nahal Toosi reported recently on the appointment of FSO Andrew Veprek as a deputy assistant secretary in the Bureau of Population, Refugees and Migration (PRM) and how this is “alarming pro-immigration activists who fear that President Donald Trump is trying to effectively end the U.S. refugee resettlement program.”

A White House aide close to senior policy adviser Stephen Miller who has advocated strict limits on immigration into the U.S. has been selected for a top State Department post overseeing refugee admissions….
[…]
Veprek’s appointment as a deputy assistant secretary is unusual given his relatively low Foreign Service rank, the former and current State officials said, and raises questions about his qualifications. Such a position typically does not require Senate confirmation.
[…]
A State Department spokesperson confirmed Veprek’s new role and, while not describing his rank, stressed that Veprek comes to PRM “with more than 16 years in the Foreign Service and experience working on refugee and migration issues.”
[…]
“He was Stephen Miller’s vehicle,” the former State official said. The current official predicted that some PRM officials could resign in protest over Veprek’s appointment. “My experience is that he strongly believes that fewer refugees should admitted into the United States and that international migration is something to be stopped, not managed,” the former U.S. official said, adding that Veprek’s views about refugees and migrants were impassioned to the point of seeming “vindictive.”

PRM currently has no Senate-confirmed assistant secretary. The leadership of the Bureau of Population, Refugees and Migration as of this writing includes the Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary and two Deputy Assistant Secretaries, all Senior Executive Service, and Senior Foreign Service members.

According to congress.gov, Mr. Verdek was originally appointed/confirmed as a Consular Officer and Secretary in the Diplomatic Service of the United States in October 2002.

His name appears again in congress.gov in August 2006 with 129 nominees confirmed as Foreign Service Officers Class Four, Consular Officers and Secretaries in the Diplomatic Service of the United States of America.

We have not been able to find anything beyond that at congress.gov but in April 2010, he was identified here as Andrew Veprek, Consular Chief of the U.S Consulate in Chiang Mai during a Q&A at the Chiang Mai Expats Club in Thailand.

Emails from 2012 released under FOIA request related to Benghazi indicates that in September 2012, Veprek was a Senior Watch Officer at the Ops Center. Those assignments used to be 12 months, so there are gaps in what we know about his career in the State Department.

However, in Sept 2017, he was identified in a WSJ article about the review of the J-1 program as  Andrew Veprek, immigration adviser to Trump. A govexec database of White House staff also indicates the same title and a salary of $127,489 for Veprek. That’s a salary closest to an FS01/8 rank in the 2017 payscale (PDF). (Or he could be also be an FSO2 in DC with a salary still close to what’s listed on the database as White House detailees apparently receive a parking stipend that’s counted as income).

But how did he become an anti-refugee diplomat or a refugee hardliner in the retelling of this story? Or even “a low-ranking protegé of nativist Stephen Miller?”

Unlike Interior’s “independent scientist” who WaPo points out “highlights a regular bureaucratic ritual that has attracted little notice under this administration: When a new president comes to power, civil servants aligned with the administration can suddenly gain prominence,” we have so far been unable to find papers, write ups or speeches that indicate Verdek’s politics.

We don’t know him from Adam, and we have no idea about his political leanings are but we know that he is a career FSO who has worked for the USG since 2002. It seems to perplex people online that somebody who worked in a Clinton State Department, could also end up working at the Trump White House.  That’s what the career service is; career FS employees working for the administration of the day whether or not they personally agree with that administration’s policies. And when they can no longer do that, they are honor-bound to put in their resignation.  It is likely that Veprek came in during Powell’s Diplomatic Readiness Initiative, under George W. Bush. In some quarters who call career employees “holdovers”, he would be a George W. Bush holdover who went on to work for Barack Obama, and now an Obama holdover who end up working for Donald Trump’s White House.

This appointee appears to be on a consular career track and the State Department spox, of course, wants to highlight his experience  in “refugee and migration issues.” Is he the best one for this job? Maybe, or maybe not but that’s a question that is obviously immaterial. He may be Miller’s pick, but that also makes him this Administration’s pick, a prerogative exercised. And since these appointments do not require Senate confirmation, DAS appointments are mostly done deals.

It is also worth noting that the State Department, a pretty old organization is a highly hierarchical entity with a regular Foreign/Civil Service and a Senior Foreign Service and Senior Executive Service corps. Would career people leave because an FSO-01 is appointed to a position traditionally filled by a SES/SFSO? We can’t say. Did career people leave when GWB appointed a midlevel FSO-02 as Assistant Secretary for Public Affairs?

We would suggest that the proper functioning of the service does require an organization that respects order in ranks, traditions, and practices (What’s the use of playing the Jenga game if you don’t follow the rules, hey?) But we understand from long-time State Department watchers that the politicization of the senior ranks and appointments have been slow burning for years. This Administration with its deep aversion to career diplomats and its propensity for chaos may just blow it up and make us all pay attention for a change.

We are convinced that while this one appointment may not trigger senior officials to leave — given the lack of appointments of senior employees to appropriate career slots, the limited promotions numbers made available, the rumored 90-day rule and mandatory retirements — a combination of these factors may nudged retirement eligible employees to hang up their hats and walk off into the sunset.

It is highly likely that the departures from senior members of the Foreign Service will continue this year, with the number hitting three digit numbers by summer per some unofficial estimates.

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What We Found in Trump’s Drained Swamp: Hundreds of Ex-Lobbyists and D.C. Insiders

–by Derek Kravitz, Al Shaw and Isaac Arnsdorf, ProPublica

When the Trump administration took office early last year, hundreds of staffers from lobbying firms, conservative think tanks and Trump campaign groups began pouring into the very agencies they once lobbied or whose work they once opposed.

Today we’re making available, for the first time, an authoritative searchable database of 2,475 political appointees, including Trump’s Cabinet, staffers in the White House and senior officials within the government, along with their federal lobbying and financial records. Trump Town is the result of a year spent filing hundreds of Freedom of Information Act requests; collecting and organizing staffing lists; and compiling, sifting through and publishing thousands of financial disclosure reports.

Here’s what we found: At least 187 Trump political appointees have been federal lobbyists, and despite President Trump’s campaign pledge to “drain the swamp,” many are now overseeing the industries they once lobbied on behalf of. We’ve also discovered ethics waivers that allow Trump staffers to work on subjects in which they have financial conflicts of interest. In addition, at least 254 appointees affiliated with Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign and at least 125 staffers from prominent conservative think tanks are now working in the federal government, many of whom are on teams to repeal Obama-era regulations.

Drilling down even further, at least 35 Trump political appointees worked for or consulted with groups affiliated with the the billionaire libertarian brothers Charles and David Koch, who also have a network of advocacy groups, nonprofits, private companies and political action committees. At least 25 Trump appointees came from the influential Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank founded in 1973, and at least two came from Heritage Action, its related political nonprofit. Heritage says the Trump administration, in just its first year, has enacted nearly two-thirds of its 334 policy recommendations.

We also found — for the first time — dozens of special-government employees, or SGEs, who work as paid consultants or experts for federal agencies while keeping their day jobs in the private sector. This rare government gig allows them to legally work for both industry and the Trump administration at the same time. Under the Obama administration, Huma Abedin, the longtime aide to former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, benefited from this policy while simultaneously working at the State Department, the Clinton Foundation and a corporate consulting firm, drawing scrutiny from the Senate Judiciary Committee and the Government Accountability Office.

Roughly 60 percent of the Trump administration officials included in our analysis have financial disclosure reports. We have requested these reports for the rest. Since our last update of financial disclosure records in August, we have added 660 such reports from across the government.

We also did a more limited version of this project in 2009, at the start of the Obama administration. As part of this year’s analysis, we compared the number of appointees in the first year of both the Obama and Trump administrations who had been active lobbyists in the two years prior to their nomination for Senate-confirmed government jobs. Even though the Trump administration has lagged significantly behind previous administrations in appointing people for such positions, more Trump appointees were recent lobbyists than Obama appointees: Trump had 18 in his first year, while Obama had 14.

“Focusing on novel scandals alone can distract from the enormous scale of the Trump administration’s embrace of revolving-door hiring,” said Jeff Hauser, executive director of the Revolving Door Project at the nonpartisan Center for Economic and Policy Research.

The pipelines between conservative policy think tanks — namely the Heritage Foundation and the Koch Brothers’ Freedom Partners Chamber of Commerce — and the Trump administration are clear, as is their effect on federal policy.

Just before Trump took office last January, Freedom Partners Chamber of Commerce, one of the main conservative advocacy groups funded by the Koch Brothers, unveiled a deregulatory wish list. The action plan highlighted 19 Obama-era policies affecting the environment, labor and technology that Freedom Partners wanted gone. “This strategy can help to unravel eight years of regulatory overreach starting immediately,” the organization’s vice president, Andy Koenig, wrote in an accompanying press release.

A few weeks later, Koenig joined the White House as a policy assistant, putting him in a position to implement his former employer’s agenda. Sure enough, just over a year later, the administration has acted on 16 of the 19 suggestions that Freedom Partners listed.

The moratorium on federal coal leases? Lifted. The Paris climate agreement? Withdrawn. The Clean Power Plan? Repealed. The FCC’s net neutrality policy, the EPA’s Waters of the United States rule, and the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau’s arbitration rules? All reversed.

Freedom Partners and the White House didn’t respond to requests for comment.

The Trump campaign had a small staff and was light on policy chops, so it leaned heavily on personnel from the Koch network and the Heritage Foundation during the transition. “When you have a president committed to strong deregulatory policy, there’s no better place to figure out what regulations put a stranglehold on the economy than to go to the Koch network and the Heritage Foundation,” said Marc Lampkin, the co-chair of Brownstein Hyatt Farber Schreck’s lobbying practice and a former aide to House Speaker John Boehner. “It makes perfect sense that they would be part of the intellectual breeding ground for the administration.”

The Heritage Foundation has touted its influence over Trump’s agenda. On Jan. 23, the organization said the Trump administration embraced two-thirds of the 334 policy recommendations in its “Mandate for Leadership,” such as shrinking national monuments in Utah, preventing taxpayer funding for international groups involved in abortion (known as the Mexico City Policy), raising military spending, and withdrawing from UNESCO.

Heritage cited the efforts of about 70 of its former employees working throughout the transition and administration. Our analysis found 28 officials who used to work at the Heritage Foundation and its advocacy arm, Heritage Action.

Not all political appointments are announced. In digging through lists of special-government employees, we found several in key positions in the Trump administration, including Wendy Teramoto, Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross’s chief of staff and a longtime aide at his private equity firm; James D. Ray, a George W. Bush-era staffer who worked as an unpaid consultant at the Department of Transportation while keeping his job as a principal in KPMG’s infrastructure consulting practice; and Leonard Wolfson, who was lobbying on behalf of the Mortgage Bankers Association on Capitol Hill one week before getting paid $64 per hour as an expert at the Department of Housing and Urban Development the next week.

Wolfson’s case is a prime example of the inherent business conflicts in such arrangements: Wolfson is a well-known housing lobbyist among House Republicans and served in the Bush administration at HUD from 2005 to 2008. Senate records show Wolfson was actively lobbying on banking legislation and regulatory issues in April and May.

By mid-May, Wolfson had taken a relatively rare position as an outside “expert” at HUD while he was still employed at the 2,200-member lobbying group. To take the HUD gig, Wolfson took an unpaid leave from the Mortgage Bankers Association. He didn’t fully resign from the group until July 31.

At HUD, Wolfson worked on getting nominees for senior positions at the agency through the backlogged and slow Senate confirmation process, according to HUD officials.

Reached for comment, a HUD spokesman denied there was any conflict. “There was absolutely no overlap,” said Brian Sullivan. “He took one hat off and put another one on.”

His paid government consulting work this past summer was not previously disclosed. And in December, Wolfson himself was appointed and confirmed as HUD’s assistant secretary for congressional and intergovernmental relations.

We’re releasing Trump Town as a resource for journalists, researchers and the public. Its goal: to increase understanding of who the current administration’s taxpayer-funded decision-makers are and how their work histories and financial holdings might influence public policy.

ProPublica is a Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative newsroom. Sign up for their newsletter.

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WH Dobby Devin Nunes Eyes @StateDept For Phase II of His Passion Project

Posted: 3:15 am ET

 

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State/OIG “Looking Into” Reported Political Targeting of @StateDept Career Employees

Posted: 3:02 am ET

 

Representative Eliot L. Engel, Ranking Member of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, and Rep. Elijah E. Cummings, Ranking Member of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, have called on State OIG Steve Linick to look into reports of violations of personnel policies and political retribution against State Department employees.

Our staffs have been in touch with whistleblowers alleging that the Department is engaging in prohibited personnel practices that appear to conflict with agency regulations and policies.  The information we have received corroborates recent reporting by CNN on the same matter.  We ask that you look into allegations that the Department has unlawfully targeted employees for political reasons due to their work under the last Administration.

Our staffs have been made aware of credible allegations that the State Department has required high-level career civil servants, with distinguished records serving administrations of both parties, to move to performing tasks outside of their area of substantive expertise.  At the very least, this is a waste of taxpayer dollars.  At worst, it may constitute impermissible abuse and retaliation.

The two Ranking Members requested that the State OIG “investigate the State Department’s FOIA surge.” They want to know if 1) “these personnel assignments made according to U.S. law and Department regulations?”   2) “Were the rights of the Department’s employees violated?”and 3) “Did political retaliation play any role?”

On January 30, govexec reported that State/OIG is “looking into” allegations that the agency is engaged in political targeting and other prohibited personnel practices.

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Trump’s Year 2: Government Shutdown Starts and Ends With Bang Your Head on the Wall

Posted: 2:09 am ET

 

A follow-up to our post,@StateDept Tells Employees There’s “Enough Time” and It’s Updating Contingency Plans For “Orderly Shutdown”, the Senate voted to end the government shutdown by midday on January 22 and sent the bill to the House. After COB on January 22, President Trump signed the Extension of Continuing Appropriations Act 2018. The government is now funded until February 8th, but who knows what happens after that …. will there be another stopgap funding bill then or are going to see another shutdown in time for Valentine’s Day? Some countries somewhere are laughing at this, our great spectacle.

The following memo was sent out by SecDef Mattis the day before the shutdown.

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Amb. Hoekstra Apologizes For Netherlands Comment: “It Was Wrong”

Posted: 4:42 am ET

 

We previously blogged about the new U.S. Ambassador to the Netherlands here:

On January 12, two weeks after he first issued his ‘non-apology’ apology, Ambassador Hoekstra finally admitted during an interview with De Telegraaf that what he said about the Netherlands “was wrong.” The apology came after headlines calling the top American representative in the Netherlands “Lying Pete Hoekstra” and the lying Dutchman, and after the State Department “made clear to the ambassador that – that he must move to get this behind him.”

On January 11, U/S Goldstein told members of the press that they “should turn into that interview tomorrow” in reference to the long-form interview that turned out to be one with De Telegraaf.  As of this writing, we have searched but have not been able to locate a transcript of Ambassador Hoekstra’s interview where he offered his apology.  There also is no mention of this interview nor the transcript of the interview on the website of U.S. Embassy The Hague.

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With Trump Assist, Michael Wolff’s Fire and Fury Book Becomes Overnight Sensation (Updated w/ Preview)

Posted: 4:18  am ET

 

President Trump’s law firm issued a cease-and-desist letter over the publication of Michael Wolff’s book Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House In response, the publisher, Henry Holt moved the sale of the book by four days. The book was listed available for sale (originally January 9) starting today, January 5 at 9 am EST on Amazon but as of this writing the book is already marked “Temporarily Out of Stock.”  The Kindle edition may not be available until next week, but we’ll be in the lookout in case it pops up earlier. The book is available again and the Kindle edition is also available. See below for preview.

At Kramer Books in DC where they started selling at midnight, the book was sold out in 20 minutes! EW reports that the book moved 48,448 positions up on Amazon’s best-seller list to reach the no. 1 spot in just one day. Wow! That’s gotta be a record.

Michael Wolff should send a fruit basket to the White House. Can we please get Mr. Wolff to visit Foggy Bottom next?

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Preview courtesy of Amazon Kindle:

USUN Ambassador Haley Hosts Reception For “Friends” With US Against UN Jerusalem Resolution

Posted: 3:11  am ET

 

The eight countries who voted with the United States include Guatemala and Honduras, countries with significant interest in migration policies and have large number of nationals on DACA status. Guatemala has already announced that it will follow the United States in moving its embassy to Jerusalem. We’re watching how soon Honduras will follow this move. Last November, DHS extended the Temporary Protected Status (TPS) designation for Honduras until July 5, 2018. We’ll have to see what happens next; state actions are in the country’s national interest, intentional, and never coincidental.

USUN Ambassador Niki Haley’s shit list includes the top recipients of American foreign aid for years like Afghanistan, Egypt, Jordan, Pakistan and a host of other countries. How this will end? (see Snapshot: @StateDept Aid Allocation by Region and Top Recipients, FY2016 RequestSnapshot: Top 10 Recipients of US Foreign Aid in FY2012 and FY2013 RequestSnapshot: Top 10 Recipients of US Foreign Aid in FY2010, FY 2011 RQSnapshot: Top 10 Recipients of US Foreign Aid).

On January 4, the United States announced that it is suspending at least $900 million in security assistance to Pakistan according to Reuters “until it takes action against the Afghan Taliban and the Haqqani network militant groups.”

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