Maximum Pressure Season 3 Gets a Dual-Hatted Special Rep Elliot Abrams For Venezuela AND Iran

Pompeo’s remarks on the departure of Brian Hooks says that “he has achieved historic results countering the Iranian regime.” Historic results  does not mean successful, does it? Why else would they need Elliot Abrams to be the new Special Representative for Iran?  Or the former Iran Rep has done such a historic job his replacement only needs to do the job at half time, as Abrams spend the other half exerting maximum pressure on Venezuela?
What the bananas is even happening?
State Department bench these days must be really thin, why else would these senior diplomats be doing two-three jobs at any given time? But perhaps it’s not State that has a thin bench but Pompeo’s in group that has a thin bench. And with folks bailing out these days (Akard, Hook, who else?), how soon before Foggy Bottom’s upper echelon starts looking like a ghost town?
Pardon me? Not soon enough? Well, okay, let’s keep our ears to the ground.
It’s that time of year when burrowing feds come into fashion. In 2016, Republicans on the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee were excited to ferret out political appointees who slip into career positions in the federal government. They must be just as excited now.
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Acting @StateOIG Stephen Akard Quits After Less Than 3 Months

 

Well, now, what do we make of this?  The Acting State OIG Stephen Akard has reportedly quit after less than three months in office. WaPo is reporting that Akard was taking a position with a law firm in Indiana, his home state. “It’s unclear whether there were other factors in his decision.”
The guy who caused the firing of Akard’s predecessor dismissed a question about Akard’s departure during a news conference on Wednesday. “He left to go back home,” Pompeo said. “This happens. I don’t have anything more to add to that.”
How long before Mr. Akard gets called “a bad actor?
CNN reported that Akard previously told State/OIG officials and at the State Department that “he would be recusing himself from the ongoing investigations into Pompeo and his wife due to the fact that he was maintaining his State Department post.” Apparently, in early June, he also “told Democratic lawmakers investigating the circumstances of Linick’s ouster that he had stepped away from his role as Director of the Office of Foreign Missions, but had not resigned.”
A day prior to his reported resignation, Politico reported about an IG investigation into the  Office of the Chief of Protocol. The report cited by Politico “asserts that two senior officials in the protocol office, Cam Henderson and Mary-Kate Fisher, saw or learned of allegedly abusive behavior by Sean Lawler, the former chief of protocol, but failed to report it to human resources officials.”
Via Politico:
Its report cites “numerous” employees, as well as other probes by the Bureau of Diplomatic Security and the Office of Civil Rights, in laying out its findings. But it also states that “all employees” interviewed “expressed a fear of retaliation” for speaking out. To protect their confidentiality, the report notes that it “discusses its findings in general terms.”
A top Pompeo deputy zeroed in on the resulting lack of specificity in his response, issued on behalf of the department’s 7th-floor leadership.
The response, dated June 30 and marked “unclassified,” is from Ulrich Brechbuhl, the State Department counselor and Pompeo’s de facto chief of staff. It is addressed to Stephen Akard, the acting inspector general, and his deputy Diana Shaw, and it is largely defensive of Henderson and Fisher while questioning the motives of the investigators.
[…]
“Leadership considers this matter closed,” Brechbuhl concludes. “We expect future reports from the OIG to be objective, comprehensive, professional and appropriate.”
The next thing we’re going to hear is that Pompeo’s other BFF Brechbuhl did not inform his boss before blasting the agency’s own “watchdog” of  “systemic pattern of selective inclusion and exclusion of facts.”
But State OIG is warned, very clearly, that future reports from that office is “expected”  to be “objective, comprehensive, professional ….”  Oh, and also “appropriate.”
Got that?

 

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Memo Justifies Susan Pompeo’s Presence in Middle East Trip During Shutdown

 

Politico’s Nahal Toosi has a new piece about that January 2019 Middle East trip the Pompeos took during the government shutdown (35-day shutdown started on December 22, 2018, until January 25, 2019, a total of 35 days).  She has the receipts — the 6-page action memo sent by M-William Todd, S/ES-Lisa Kenna, NEA-David Satterfield, and L-Jennifer Newstead to the Deputy Secretary of State John Sullivan.
Note that two signatories of this memo have moved on from Foggy Bottom, while the other two are awaiting confirmation to be U.S. ambassador. M-William Todd is a pending nominee to be Ambassador to Pakistan, S/ES-Lisa Kenna is a pending nominee to be Ambassador to Peru, NEA-David Satterfield is the current Ambassador to Turkey, and L-Jennifer Newstead had since left State to join Facebook. The memo was sent to then Deputy Secretary of State John Sullivan who is now the U.S. Ambassador to the Russian Federation.
In this action memo, S/ES “believes that accepting the invitations extended in both Cairo and Abu Dhabi advances foreign policy objectives because the invitations were extended from the highest levels of those governments reflecting the importance the concerned ministers places on the events.”
S/ES also “advises that the Pompeos’ dual representation at representational events in Cairo and the Abu Dhabi also meet the requirements of the current shutdown guidance. S/ES believes that dual representation at the events at issue is necessary because the invitations were extended directly by the ministers, reflecting the importance they place on the event to strengthen bilateral ties.”
NEA “can only note that the invitation to Mrs. Pompeo having been extended and accepted, to decline now could be taken as a lack of courtesy, and that in NEA’s view there is no significant foreign policy interest here save the issue of courtesy.” NEA further states, “Again, NEA notes that to decline the invitation now could be seen as lack of courtesy, but there is no significant foreign policy interest here save the issue of courtesy. We also note that such determinations may be scrutinized, and that there is a risk that Mrs. Pompeo’s travel during a shutdown could attract media attention and potential criticism in the Congress and elsewhere.”
Well, what do you know? Experienced NEA guy’s take turned out to be true.
The memo’s justification cited 14 FAM 532 and says “a family member may participate in a representational event where a clear need for dual representation exists, and should such a determination be made the Department may cover travel and other costs associated with the family member’s participation.”
So we went and looked up 14 FAM 532, and you can read it below or read it in full here.
14 FAM 532.1-1 says that “The authorizing officer is expected to make sparing and judicious use of this authorization.  In all cases, the justification must demonstrate a clear advantage to the United States.” 
The authorizing officer is this case is the Deputy Secretary of State (D), who at that time was John Sullivan. While the Action Memo was cleared by D’s office, the name of the clearing officer was redacted. As all the names were spelled out on the memo, except the signoff for D’s office, we are guessing that this was cleared by a staffer in the deputy secretary’s office, thus the redaction. This is not, of course, uncommon in the State bureaucracy. But we’re wondering just how much judiciousness by an aide went into this exercise?
14 FAM 532.1-1(B)  Outside Country of Assignment
Representational travel outside the country of assignment is restricted to family members of high-level officers and will be authorized only when a clear need for dual representation exists.  Normally, travel will be restricted to eligible family members of chiefs of mission, deputy chiefs of mission, country public affairs officers, and USAID mission directors or USAID representatives.  However, in exceptional circumstances, the eligible family members of a subordinate officer may be authorized such travel.  Typical of the circumstances warranting representational travel outside the country are the following:
(1)  When an ambassador or USAID mission director accompanies a foreign dignitary to the United States on a state visit or as a presidential guest and the dignitary is accompanied by a spouse or other members of the household;
(2)  When a State, or USAID officer attends an international conference or meeting sponsored by a group or organization of nations, such as the United Nations, and the spouses of participants have also been invited to attend; and
(3)  When the President sends U.S. delegations abroad or congressional or other high-level delegations proceed abroad, accompanied by their spouses.
Right.  They’re going to say the FAM is not exhaustive, and this is just guidance. Not  (1), and not (3) but they got it done with typical circumstance (2) because this was a meeting, and a spouse was invited, though the invitation was not by a group or by an international organization. But why quibble with something minor, hey? They made it worked and she got on a trip, as well as other trips, and they could all say, this was blessed by legal and ethics folks. Because why not?  She’s a … what’s that … “a force multiplier.” No more talk of her writing a report, is there?

Diplomacy in Crisis Report, Also Pompeo Says He “Fought on the Border of East Germany”

The Senate Foreign Relations Committee Democratic Staff issued a report ‘Diplomacy in Crisis: The Trump Administration’s Decimation of the State Department’ on July 28. If you’ve been following the goings on at State, there’s not a lot of surprises in this report.  Never mind the swagger by the WSOS in modern times, but one has to be living in a parallel universe not to see the sad and distressing state of the Department of State.
Quick excerpts below:
    Key Findings:
    • Vacancies and acting officials at the Department have persisted through two Secretaries of State, despite numerous commitments to fill key positions.
    • Three and a half years into the Administration, 11 Assistant Secretary or Under Secretary posts—more than one-third—are vacant or filled by acting officials.
    • As of July 2020, more than half of Senate-confirmed Department positions have been filled at least once by someone who had not been confirmed.
    • Career public servants report that senior leadership exhibits a sense of disrespect and disdain for their work, prompting many to leave and contributing to a loss of expertise at the Department.
    • Senior leadership’s lack of accountability and refusal to defend career employees against attacks has contributed to declining morale and a drop in confidence in leadership.
    • From 2016 to 2019, employees in key bureaus reported steep increases in fear of reprisal for reporting suspected violations of law and declining confidence in senior Department leadership.
    Key Recommendations:

This report makes 10 recommendations aimed at reversing the downward trends in morale, strengthening protections for employees, and ensuring that the individuals leading our foreign policy are of the caliber that the American people deserve in their diplomats.

      • Rebuild and retain expertise in the State Department’s ranks.
      • Reduce barriers to restoring lost expertise and for former diplomats and civil servants to return to the Department.
      • Promote more career employees to senior positions.
      • Increase diversity at senior ranks and throughout the Department.
      • Formalize the State Department exit survey process.
      • Initiate a review of how the “corridor reputation” system at the Department enables or exacerbates the challenges outlined in the report.
      • Restore and commit to minimum vetting standards for nominees.
      • Prioritize and fill senior leadership slots.
      • Maintain an independent Inspector General.
      • Enforce accountability for improper personnel practices and management.
Chapter 4 presents “some of the more concerning trends reported by the Department’s employees—results that are not evident in the aggregated Department-wide data that the State Department has released—which provide critical and troubling insights into the consequences of corrosive and negligent leadership on our diplomatic corps.231”
Some of the trends highlighted by the report are as follows:
  • Office of the Legal Adviser (L):
    A 34 point increase among those reporting that the Department’s senior leaders did not maintain high levels of honesty and integrity, rising from 0 percent in 2016 to 34 percent in 2019.
  • Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration (PRM):
    An almost ten-fold increase in the percentage of respondents reporting that senior leaders did not maintain high standards of honesty and integrity, rising from 3 percent in 2016 to 29 percent in 2019.
  • Bureau of Counterterrorism and Countering Violent Extremism (CT): 
    A nearly two-fold increase in the percentage of respondents who reported that their senior leaders did not generate high levels of motivation and commitment, increasing from 28 percent in 2016 to 55 percent in 2019.
  • Bureau of Intelligence and Research (INR):
    An eight-fold increase in the percentage of respondents reporting that the Department’s senior leadership did not maintain high standards of honesty and integrity, rising from 3 percent in 2016 to 24 percent in 2019.
  • Bureau of International Organization Affairs (IO):
    A nearly tripling in the percentage of respondents reporting that senior leaders at the State Department did not maintain high standards of honesty and integrity, increasing from 12 percent in 2016 to 35 percent in 2019.
Note: Indeed the aggregated report publicly available does not include any of that. Click here (PDF) for what the State Department released to the public.  Like, what concerning trends, hey?
The DGHR notes that “the results show satisfaction with supervisors and with the work itself remains strong. The results indicate that the Department’s challenge areas relate to performance management, fairness, and perceptions of leadership.” Yay!
Note: Click here (PDF) for the nice Message from Director General Carol Z. Perez Regarding the 2019 Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey Results and Next Steps.
The report has a section on Measurable Damage to Integrity, Leadership, and Workplace Culture

The mass exodus of senior and mid-level leadership, and a drop in interest of joining the Foreign Service coincides with a large drop in the Department’s ranking of workplace culture and sinking morale levels. After consistently ranking as one of the top five large federal government agencies to work at since 2012, the State Department fell from a ranking of 4 in 2016 to 8 in 2017 after the Trump presidential transition.266 After a year of Trump administration leadership, the Department’s ranking dropped even more in 2018, from 8 to 14.

The Partnership for Public Service’s Best Place to Work historical rankings from 2003 to 2019 is available to download here (see Scores and Rankings) with the State Department ranking as follows for large agencies:
#3 (2012)
#4 (2013)
#3 (2014)
#3 (2015)
#4 (2016)
#8 (2017) worse than 2010 at #7 and 2011 at #7
#14 (2018) worse than 2005 at #10 but hey, not as bad 2003 at #19, right?
#13 (2019) one step up the hole, but still worse than 2005 at #10 and not as bad 2003 at #19. 

BONUS PIECE:

@StateDept Did Not Comply With Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) Requirements

 

Via FSGB: FSGB Case No. 2018-003
HELD – The Board granted grievant’s appeal, finding that the U.S. Department of State (Department) did not comply with the requirements of the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) when it failed to provide grievant with a reasonable accommodation for her disability. The Board directed, among other things, that the parties engage in the interactive process required under the ADA to determine a reasonable accommodation.
SUMMARY – Due to a lengthy illness with cancer grievant, while serving on a limited noncareer appointment in the consular skill code, did not receive an Employee Evaluation Report (EER) from an overseas posting. A Commissioning and Tenure Board (CTB) deferred a decision on tenure until she was able to be appraised on her performance at an overseas posting. The Department assigned grievant to an overseas posting to enable her to receive such an EER. However, as a consequence of her chemotherapy, grievant experienced neuropathy in her hands, and she developed an allergy to nickel. Accordingly, she requested that she be permanently reassigned assigned to the economic skill code, which she said would require handling a smaller volume of materials. The Department denied that accommodation request but did provide her with special office equipment that it said would address her nickel allergy. Grievant continued to experience neuropathy during her overseas assignment and was medically curtailed from post without receiving an EER. As a result, her next CTB recommended that she not receive tenure, and the Department terminated her appointment. The Board held that the Department failed to meet the requirement under the ADA and Department regulations to engage with an employee with a qualifying disability, such as grievant, in an “interactive process” to determine a reasonable accommodation. Although grievant’s request to be permanently reassigned to another skill code would be a “last resort” under Department regulations, that did not relieve the Department of the duty to consider other options such as assigning grievant to positions in the consular skill code that did not involve processing large numbers of passport and visa applications. Further, the Department had an ongoing duty to find a reasonable accommodation when it became clear that the accommodation it did provide was not effective. Accordingly, the Board directed that when grievant was cleared medically to serve in an overseas posting, the parties engage in the interactive process to identify an effective accommodation for grievant’s disability.

 

Mike Defends Susan With Quip From ‘The American President’

 

WHO’s Dr. Tedros Responds to Pompeo’s Reported Claim to UK MPs

Notable via Reuters:
“Infections in the United States have rapidly accelerated since the first COVID-19 case was detected on Jan. 21. It took the country 98 days to reach 1 million cases. It took another 43 days to reach 2 million and then 27 days to reach 3 million.”

 

China Orders US Consulate Chengdu Closed in Response to Chinese Consulate Houston Closure

 

On July 23, 2020, the Chinese Foreign Ministry announced that it has informed the United States that it withdrew “its consent for the establishment and operation of the U.S. Consulate General in Chengdu.” The announcement only says that “The Ministry also made specific requirements on the ceasing of all operations and events by the Consulate General” but did not indicate a time window. Reports on the ordered closure of the Chinese Consulate in Houston notes that the US asked that the consulate stop events and move employees out by Friday, July 24. (see China Says US Ordered Closure of Its Houston Consulate By July 24).
Update 1:25 am PDT: WSJ is reporting that China is giving the U.S. 72 hours to close the Chengdu consulate. American diplomats in Chengdu have 30 days to leave China.
The US Consulate General Chengdu’s consular district is made up of the Provinces of Sichuan, Yunnan, and Guizhou, as well as the Tibet Autonomous Region and Chongqing City Municipality.
Via US Mission China:

Photo from US Mission China website

The U.S. Consulate General in Chengdu was established in 1985 and was originally located on the first floor of the west wing of the Jinjiang Hotel.  The Consulate started with only six American officers and approximately 20 local employees.  It was made up of an Executive Office (a Consul General and administrative assistant); a small office handling political, economic and commercial issues; a Consular Section; a Management Section and what was then known as the U.S. Information Service.

In 1985, each of the offices was covered by one American officer. The Consulate today has grown tremendously by comparison, with almost 200 total staff. Approximately 150 of these are locally hired professional Chinese staff who are the heart of our daily operations and many of whom have served for many years.

 

American Oversight Publishes Heavily Redacted State/OIG Hotline Complaint Regarding Pompeo Conduct

 

In May this year, American Oversight filed an FOIA request to the Department of State seeking “records sufficient to identify any whistleblower complaints containing allegations that concern the conduct of Secretary Mike Pompeo.” It also asked that the request be processed on an expedited basis. “The request was made in light of news on May 15 that President Donald Trump would be ousting State Department Inspector General Steve Linick, the independent watchdog tasked with overseeing the State Department headed by Secretary Mike Pompeo.”
On July 17, 2020, American Oversight published the State/OIG Hotline Complaint, a 4-page heavily redacted document of a whistleblower complaint.
The complaint was not/not submitted anonymously, but the sender marked “no” on the section for willingness to waive confidentiality.
The whistleblower said that they witnessed “concerning activities” in Washington, D.C. , other locations in the U.S. including New York and Florida, and overseas.
A heavily redacted Summary of Incident notes whistleblower “directly witness and/or heard numerous firsthand accounts” followed by two paragraphs of blackened entry.
Under “False or misleading statements” were two paragraphs that were ruthlessly Sharpied.
Under “Direction by” two paragraphs were also under cover of darkness.
The complaint states, “tried on several occasions to obtain clarifications and guidance from senior leadership in S/ES and from the Office of Legal Advisors, but were blocked from doing so.”
Redacted names “were made aware of these concerns on repeated occasions.” “To my knowledge, none of them ever took action to resolve the issues, and several of them specifically directed subordinate staff to continue facilitating questionable activities after the concerns were raised.”
At some point the names of these alleged enablers will be known to the public. Please be alert on what happens to this whistleblower whose identity is known to State/OIG.
S/ES is the Executive Secretariat of the State Department.  The Office of Legal Adviser is currently encumbered by an Acting Legal Adviser since the departure of the Legal Adviser in May 2019.

Pompeo “Thrilled” to be Back in the Republic of Iowa (With Wife) #RealPostoftheMonth