AFSA Foreign Service Furlough Stories: 10 Days to Get to a Plane for a Medical Evacuation!

Help Fund the Blog Diplopundit 2019 — 60-Day Campaign from June 5, 2019 – August 5, 2019

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Excerpt via AFSA/StateVP Kenneth Kero-Mentz:

For many of us, the shutdown caused real financial trouble, and even with careful planning, paying bills became a stretch. Some members had already tapped into their “rainy day fund” after being forced to leave Mission Russia last year. Others had to juggle funds to pay tuition expenses or mortgages due in January. Unemployment benefits were not available to many members serving overseas. Single parents and tandem couples were hit particularly hard with the delay of first one paycheck, and then two.

We heard stories of how the shutdown affected our members’ work. For instance, at the National Defense University and other war colleges, Department of State students were locked out of lectures and prohibited from participating in seminars during the shutdown. USAID war college students were designated “excepted,” so they could continue attending class. Students from State should have been “excepted” as well. There’s no reason why the U.S. government’s investment in a yearlong master’s degree program for its future senior leadership cadre should be torn apart midstream.

A mid-level officer at a small post in Africa reported that she was busier than ever, covering for her furloughed colleagues, planning events only to cancel later as the shutdown dragged on. As days turned into weeks, and then surpassed a month, morale plummeted. After all, as she said, who wants to work for an organization that consistently understaffs and overworks its team? She wonders if her enthusiasm for what is increasingly becoming a thankless job will ever rebound.
[…]
At one large mission in Asia, all State Department employees were required to report to work regardless of pay status. These people could not do any public-facing work and could not contact their counterparts at other posts or the department (since they were all furloughed), but were required to report to work in a non-pay status. It did not make sense. As many members noted, furlough decisions should be made in a central and transparent manner. Though none of us expected the shutdown to last so long, better contingency planning could have helped.
[…]
The hardships went well beyond juggling work requirements and paying bills. One second-tour specialist was hospitalized and needed to medevac to the United States immediately. The shutdown delayed the processing of the medevac funding request; due to the shutdown and short staffing, it took 10 days to get the person on a plane.

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Snapshot: 3 FAM 1217 Participation of Spouse (in Representational, Charitable, or Social Activities)

 

“Unless working as an employee or contractor, participation of a spouse in the work of a post is a voluntary act of a private person, not a legal obligation which can be imposed by any Foreign Service officer (FSO) or spouse. Nonparticipation of a spouse in representational, charitable, or social activities in no way reflects on the employees effectiveness on the job.”

Cite: 3 FAM 1217
(CT:PER-924;   09-21-2018)
(Uniform State/USAID/USAGM/Commerce/Foreign Service Corps-USDA)
(Applies to Foreign Service Employees Only)

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U.S. Civil Rights Commission Examines Sexual Harassment in Federal Govt (State, NASA) #FedMeToo

 

On May 9, 2019, the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights held a public hearing in Washington, D.C. to examine the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission’s (EEOC) enforcement efforts to combat workplace sexual harassment across the federal government, including the frequency of such claims and findings of harassment, the resources dedicated to preventing and redressing harassment, and the impact and efficacy of these enforcement efforts. The briefing also examined agency-level practices to address sexual harassment at the U.S. Department of State and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA). Commissioners heard from current and former government officials, academic and legal experts, advocates, and individuals who have experienced harassment.

Below is the video of the event. The State Department portion starts at the 2 hour mark. After listening to the State Department representative OCR’s Gregory Smith presentation in this hearing, we’re now actually curious about the kind of training he is talking about. It almost sound as if he’s waving the State Department training as a magic wand.  And after everything he said during the hearing, we are no closer in understanding what specifically is involved in their sexual harassment training.

Also, apparently, according to the State Department rep, they “strongly enforced” steps against people taking any type of retaliation but … admitted under questioning by the USCCR that “no one has been  fired” for retaliation (3:07 mark). Well, now …

Jenna Ben-Yehuda, the President and CEO of the Truman National Security Project and a former State Department employee also spoke at this hearing as well as Stephen T. Shih, NASA’s Associate Administrator for Diversity and Equal Opportunity.  Both were impressive.  This is worth your time, and don’t miss the Q&A at the end.

Morning Session: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=K0GjPYRAsHQ . (includes State, NASA Reps)
Afternoon Session: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OOZqWFIimoQ (includes CRS rep, NSF)
Public Comments: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KgEFjUr3gHE . (includes USDOJ, State FSO)

The Commission says it routinely seeks public comments on the substance of its briefings. The public comment period is 30 days following the date of the hearing or briefing, unless provided otherwise.  Since the public briefing: “Federal Me Too: Examining Sexual Harassment in Government Workplaces” occurred on May 9, the  Commission will accept written materials until June 10 for consideration as they prepare their report on the subject. Please submit no later than June 10, 2019 to sexualharassment@usccr.gov or by mail to: Staff Director/Public Comments, U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, 1331 Pennsylvania Ave. NW, Suite 1150, Washington, DC 20425.

We understand that the USCCR has asked employees (and the public) for information about:

  • the culture surrounding the reporting of harassment in State and other agencies
  • the reporting process, and
  • new tools that can be used to address the issue
  • prevention of harassment
  • suggestions how to increase enforcement of existing regulations against harassment
USCCR said during the public comment portion that interested parties may submit materials for the Commission’s consideration, including anonymous submission (mark 13.14). Those who are submitting comments with their names attached may want to inquire about privacy/confidentiality for the reporting individual and material as the USCCR will be releasing a public report at some point. An employee  speaking on background notes that individuals who signed NDAs with State may also wish to consult with  a lawyer before writing to the USCCR. We’re not equipped to give legal advice and we think it’s prudent to consult with a lawyer on the limitations on what is shareable to USCCR given the uniqueness of each sexual harassment case.

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The Havana Syndrome in the News, and Some Questions For Foggy Bottom’s New “M”

 

The Havana Syndrome remains a mystery and a subject of interest. But the latest report via Buzzfeed suggests that “much of the early research into the mystery may have been botched or biased.”

The initial investigation was confined to two competing sets of researchers, both eager to publish studies on their own work, and whose findings have been at odds with each other. In one case, researchers were also seeking to promote their own newly approved medical device as a diagnostic tool. And until now, the effort has lacked broader oversight by an institution capable of cross-disciplinary research.

“The fundamental problem is you can’t trust anybody here,” said medical ethicist Sergio Litewka of the University of Miami, who has written about the political cloud of secrecy and distrust surrounding the diplomats’ injuries. “Not the US State Department and not the Cuban government.” (BuzzFeed has filed a lawsuit with the State Department requesting its communications related to the medical research into the injuries, after the agency denied a request for them on medical privacy and ongoing investigation grounds.)

Can somebody please ask the new “M” Brian Bulatao what’s his plan about this matter going forward?  Can an “America First” policy over everything afford to have this medical mystery just go unsolved? What happened to the Accountability Review Board reportedly convened by the former Secretary of State Rex Tillerson. The ARB process doesn’t stop when the secretary of state is fired via tweet, does it?  What happens to those affected? What happens to those affected who were not employed by the U.S. government (spouses and children)? What happens if those affected leave their jobs voluntarily or involuntarily?  What arrangements are made in terms of medical care? What’s the plan if a similar incident were to happen at another part of the globe?

We missed this 4-part report from Canada:

The Havana Syndrome, Part 3: Insiders say ordeal has ‘struck a nerve’ in Canada’s diplomatic community

The Havana Syndrome, Part 4: What it could be and how experts will try to crack the case

Diplomatic Security Memorial: Ten U.S. Embassy Kabul Guards Killed in Truck Bomb #OTD #2017

 

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U.S. Embassy Honduras Cancels Routine Services For June 3-7 After Protesters Torch Access Gate

 

Protesters in Honduras set the access gate to the U.S. Embassy in Tegucigalpa on fire with tires doused with fuel according to Reuters. The report says that “the protesters chanted “American trash, American trash” outside the embassy, which was not being guarded at the time.”

CNN notes that “the fire was extinguished by mid-afternoon, and a State Department spokesperson later said no embassy personnel were injured in the incident.”

The U.S. Embassy was not being guarded at the time of the protest?

As of 1 am EST, we have not been able to find an official statement from Foggy Bottom. US Embassy Honduras CDA Heide Fulton did release a statement (see below) and announced the suspension of routine consular services for next week due to the fire damage.

U.S. Mission Iraq Gets a New Ambassador After Mandatory Evacuation of Non-Emergency Personnel

 

 

On May 16, the day after the State Department ordered the departure of non-emergency U.S. Government employees from Iraq, both at the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad and the U.S. Consulate in Erbil, the U.S. Senate confirmed the nomination of Ambassador Matthew Tueller as the next Ambassador to Iraq. State  also issued a new Level 4 Do Not Travel advisory for Iraq due to “due to terrorism, kidnapping, and armed conflict.”

We could not recall Mission Iraq  ever going on “ordered departure” (mandatory evacuation).  On June 15, 2014, the State Department went on partial “temporary relocation” of USG personnel from Embassy Baghdad to Basrah, Erbil and Amman, Jordan (see US Mission Iraq: Now on Partial “Temporary Relocation” To Basra, Erbil & Amman (Jordan).  In August 2014, it relocated additional Baghdad/Erbil Staff to Basrah and Amman (Jordan). Note that these “temporary relocations” occurred around the targeted airstrikes against Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) terrorists. The State Department went out of its way to avoid the use of the words “authorized departure”, “ordered departure” or for that matter “mandatory evacuation” in describing the movement of its staff that summer.  In September 2018, there was a Mandatory Evacuation For US Consulate General Basrah but limited to Southern Iraq.

As recently as March 31, 2019, in the LEAD IG REPORT TO THE U.S. CONGRESS says:

USCENTCOM reported to the DoD OIG that Iranian activity in Iraq has not changed from last quarter.404 Iranian-backed groups continue to monitor Coalition operations, personnel, and facilities, publish false or misleading stories about Coalition activity in the media, and, through allies within the Iraqi Council of Representatives, support legislation to compel the withdrawal of U.S. forces from Iraq.405 CJTF-OIR reported that Iran and Iran-backed groups prefer to try to diminish U.S. and Coalition presence in Iraq through soft power means rather than through direct military confrontation.406

404. USCENTCOM, response to DoD OIG request for information, 3/26/2019.
405. CJTF-OIR, response to DoD OIG request for information, 3/26/2019.
406. USCENTCOM, response to DoD OIG request for information, 3/25/2019

 

Dept of Commerce’s Chelsea Decaminada Injured in Sri Lanka Bombing Has Died

 

A  U.S.  Government employee seriously injured in the terror attacks in Sri Lanka on Easter Sunday died on May 4 as a result of injuries she suffered during the attacks.  Chelsea Decaminada worked as an international program specialist with the U.S. Department of Commerce and was on assignment in Sri Lanka. She previously served as a Peace Corps volunteer in  in Tanzania. She graduated from Duke University in 2015. RIP Chelsea Decaminada.

Snapshot: Comparative Look at @StateDept Staffing 2008 – 2018

Via state.gov:

(click image above for larger view)