Pompeo Appoints Amb. Dan Smith as New Director of the Foreign Service Institute

 

On October 23, Secretary Pompeo appointed Career Ambassador Daniel Smith as the new Director of the Foreign Service Institute. He was recently the Assistant Secretary of State for Intelligence and Research (INR). This past summer, he was one of four career diplomats nominated by Trump and subsequently confirmed by the U.S. Senate for the personal rank of Career Ambassador. This FSI appointment does not require a Senate confirmation.

In the waning days of Tillerson’s Redesign Project, Ambassador Smith was also assigned as the lead of the “Impact Initiative.” He was widely rumored as the next Director General of the Foreign Service but in late July, the WH announced the president’s intent to nominate career diplomat Carol Z. Perez of Virginia, to be the next Director General of the Foreign Service.

Below is a brief bio of Ambassador Smith (via state.gov):

Daniel B. Smith was appointed as Director of the Foreign Service Institute on October 23, 2018. In this capacity, he serves as the Chief Learning Officer for the Department of State and the federal foreign affairs community.

A member of the Senior Foreign Service, Ambassador Smith holds the Department’s highest diplomatic rank of Career Ambassador. Ambassador Smith served most recently as Assistant Secretary of State for Intelligence and Research from 2013 to 2018 and as Ambassador to the Hellenic Republic from 2010 to 2013. Previously, he served as Executive Secretary of the State Department, Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary for Consular Affairs, and Deputy Executive Secretary. In addition to Greece, his overseas service includes tours in Bern, Istanbul, Ottawa, and Stockholm. He also taught Political Science at the U.S. Air Force Academy.

Ambassador Smith is a recipient of the Arnold L. Raphel Memorial Award, the Secretary’s Distinguished Service Award, a Presidential Distinguished Service Award, and several Superior and Meritorious Honor Awards.

Ambassador Smith received his Ph.D. and M.A. from Stanford University, and his B.A. from the University of Colorado at Boulder. His foreign languages are German, Turkish, and Swedish.

As of this writing, the highest ranking officers of the Foreign Service with the exception of David Hale (P) are out of Foggy Bottom (Goldberg in Cuba, Sison in Haiti, and Smith at FSI). With one of only four Foreign Service’s equivalent to a four-star general heading to FSI, one wonders if Pompeo is out to elevate FSI and training to the same level as the U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command (TRADOC) headed by  Army four-star Gen Stephen J. Townsend. If yes, that’s great. If not, then not so great because you know what that means.

For now, nothing in Ambassador’s Smith’s blogpost Up To the Task of Preparing Our Foreign Affairs Professionals indicate forthcoming changes in Foreign Service training.

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Foreign Service Employee Pleads Guilty to Submitting False Claims to @StateDept

 

On October 17, USDOJ announced that a “Foreign Service Officer” Tiffany Thomas  has pleaded guilty  for submitting false claims while employed at the Regional Security Office  in Lome, Togo.

Foreign Service Officer Pleads Guilty to Submitting False Claims to the Department of State

Charleston, South Carolina —- United States Attorney Sherri A. Lydon stated today that Tiffany Thomas, age 34, of Bowie, Maryland, has entered a guilty plea in federal court in Charleston to Submission of False, Fictitious, and Fraudulent Claims, a violation of 18 U.S.C. § 287.  United States District Judge Margaret Seymour, of Charleston, accepted the guilty plea and will impose sentence after she has reviewed the presentence report, which will be prepared by the U.S. Probation Office.

Evidence presented at the change of plea hearing established that Thomas submitted false claims while she was employed in the Department of State’s Regional Security Office in Lome, Togo.  The funds were managed by the Department of State’s Global Financial Services Center in Charleston.   As part of the scheme, Thomas submitted forged receipts for expenses related to official travel in the United States and abroad. The Government alleges the claims exceeded $100,000.

Ms. Lydon stated the maximum penalty for Submission of False, Fictitious, and Fraudulent Claims is imprisonment for 5 years, a fine of $250,000, and up to 3 years of supervised release.

The case was investigated by special agents of the Department of State,  Office of Inspector General, led by Inspector General Steve A. Linick.  Assistant United States Attorney Matt Austin of the Charleston Office is prosecuting the case.

 The slim court documents make no mention of her employment status but she appears to self-described as an FS specialist online (Tiffany Thomas – Foreign Affairs Specialist – U.S. Department of State …).  The DOJ announcement says she worked at the Regional Security Office (RSO) located at the U.S. Embassy in Lome, Togo. Note that Foreign Service officers (sometimes called “generalists”as opposed to specialists) are commissioned officers, nominated by the President and confirmed by the U.S. Senate; they typically do not work at security offices.

A one-page court document labeled “Felony Information” contains the following:

Beginning in or about May 2015 and continuing up until in or about November 2017, in the District of South Carolina, and elsewhere, the Defendant, TIFFANY THOMAS, made and presented to the United States Department of State claims upon and against the United States Treasury worth more than $100,000, that is, the Defendant submitted vouchers claiming lodging reimbursement, knowing that the claims were false, fictitious, and fraudulent in that she fabricated lodging receipts for non-existent properties; she failed to lodge at the addresses listed on the vouchers during the relevant times; and she improperly claimed lodging reimbursement for residences owned by family members; All in violation of Title 18, United States Code, Section 287.

The case is USA v. Thomas 2:2018cr00739.

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Senate Confirmation Fight in the Horizon Once Again? Tick-Tock

 

The 70th Secretary of State is now publicly pushing to have his senior officials confirmed by the Senate. When the Senators returns from their election break, they have less than 20 working days left for the year.  And it looks like judicial nominees are taking precedence. Tick-Tock.

Hey, just a few years ago, the 69th Secretary of State was looking to have his senior officials confirmed, too. And that was months before the mid-terms. One of the nominees, Cassandra Q. Butts even spent 835 days after she was nominated waiting for Senate confirmation; she died waiting. GOP Senators put a hold on the nomination unrelated to her qualification.

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Foreign Service Labor Relations Board Rules For @StateDept in 2014 MSI Case

AFSA has recently informed its members that the Foreign Service Labor Relations Board (FSLRB) has ruled for the State Department in the 2014 Meritorious Service Increase (MSI) dispute. The ruling affects approximately 270 Foreign Service employees: 

AFSA regrets to inform our members that on September 21, 2018, the Foreign Service Labor Relations Board (FSLRB) granted the Department of State’s exceptions (i.e., appeal) and set aside the Foreign Service Grievance Board’s (FSGB) December 8, 2017 Decision, which had found that the Department violated the procedural precepts by not paying Meritorious Service Increases (MSI) to approximately 277 Foreign Service employees who were recommended but not reached for promotion by the 2014 Selection Boards.  AFSA argued that the Department was required to confer MSIs on all eligible employees (up to the 10% limit set forth in the precepts) who were recommended but not reached for promotion.  The Department argued that it had the unilateral discretion to give MSIs to only 5% of employees ranked but not reached for promotion, since 5% was below the 10% limit.

Rather than give substantial deference, as is normally the case, to the FSGB’s interpretation of the parties’ agreement (i.e., the promotion precepts), two of the three FSLRB members (including the Administration’s appointee to the FSLRB) agreed with the Department’s arguments and found that the FSGB had misinterpreted the precepts.  The third member, Retired Ambassador Herman Cohen, dissented from the majority decision.  When a party seeks to establish that an arbitrator (in this case, the Grievance Board) misinterpreted an agreement, the party must provide that the decision “fails to draw its essence from the agreement.”  This is an extremely high burden to meet.  According to the case law, “great deference” is given to the arbitrator’s interpretation of the agreement “because it is the arbitrator’s construction of the agreement for which the parties have bargained.”   In this case, however, the FSLRB chose not to defer to the Grievance Board, ignoring the “great deference” practice.  Unfortunately, the FSLRB’s decision is not subject to judicial review.

AFSA says that it is “extremely disappointed by this decision.” Its notice to members notes that it prevailed in two earlier cases, the 2013 and 2014 MSI disputes. It also informed members that despite this ruling, it plans to proceed with the 2015 and 2016 MSI cases before the Grievance Board.

Excerpt from FSLRB ruling says:

The Grievance Board stated that it was “indisputably true” that, by its plain terms, the phrase “no more than [10%]” in the agreement means that the Agency may award MSIs to “10% or less” of eligible employees.29 As discussed above, the Grievance Board should have ended its analysis there, with the agreement’s plain wording. Instead, the Grievance Board found that, because the parties had different interpretations, the wording was ambiguous.30 But wording that is clear on its face does not become ambiguous simply because the parties disagree as to its meaning.31 Rather, a contract is ambiguous if it is susceptible to two different and plausible interpretations, each of which is consistent with the contract wording. 32 The interpretation adopted by the Grievance Board – that “no more than [10%]” means the Agency must award MSIs to no less than 10% of eligible employees33 – is not consistent with the plain meaning of the agreement’s wording. Consequently, it is not a plausible interpretation of the agreement.

FLRA Chairman Colleen Duffy Kiko who was confirmed by the Senate in November 2017 serves as the Chairperson of the FSLRB. The two other members of the FSLRB are Stephen Ledford, who previously served as the Director of Labor and Employee Relations at the U.S. Information Agency (USIA) and was sworn on his third term with FSLRB in 2015, and Ambassador (ret.) Herman J. Cohen, a career diplomat and specialist in African and European affairs who was appointed to his first term with the FSLRB in October 2015.

In his dissent, Ambassador Cohen writes:

For five years prior to 2014, the year covered by this case, the promotion precepts, negotiated between management and the union, were always the same: MSIs will be awarded to those recommended for promotion at a maximum of ten percent of those on the list, in rank order. With this practice having been followed year after year, it is quite normal that the union had the right to believe that the number would never be less than ten percent pursuant to the negotiated precepts. Ten percent was not part of a sliding scale. It was an agreed amount.

If management had changed that number from year to year, the situation for 2014 would have been totally different. The union would have demanded the right to negotiate that number.

For this reason, management’s decision to unilaterally change the number of MSIs was contrary to the precepts, despite the ambiguous language. Historical practice said that ten percent of those recommended, but not promoted, would receive MSIs. Secondly, management gave a reason for awarding only five percent MSIs in 2014. Management said it was “exercising its budgetary authority” to make the reduction. In other words, the funds were needed elsewhere.
[…]
In the specific year 2014, it appears that the need to save money by reducing MSIs had no relationship to overall budgetary needs. In short, management was saving money on MSIs, and using that “salary money” to pay for 35 sets of ambassadorial furniture, as one possible example. In 2014, management provided no reason to justify this reduction in this highest priority “salary” by higher priority needs elsewhere. Neither, to my knowledge, was there an overall government-wide freeze in MSIs that year.

The case is U.S. State Department v. AFSA. The FSLRB decision is available to read here or see this link: FS-AR-0007Dec 9-21-18

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U.S. Diplomats at Embassy Manila Eat the Most Terrifying Food in the World #fooddiplomacy

 

So cracked.com has a list of the 6 Most Terrifying Food in the World and the U.S. diplomatic mission in the Philippines has a surprise for all of us!

6) Mexico’s Escamoles  – the eggs of the giant black Liometopum ant, which makes its home in the root systems of maguey and agave plants

5) Italy’s Cazu Marzu — this is a sheep’ milk cheese that has been deliberately infested by a Piophila casei, the “cheese fly” which results in “a maggot-ridden, weeping stink bomb in an advanced state of decomposition”

4) Norway’s Lutefisk – this is “a traditional Norwegian dish featuring cod that has been steeped for many days in a solution of lye, until its flesh is caustic enough to dissolve silver cutlery”

3) Korea’s Baby Mice Wine “a traditional Chinese and Korean “health tonic,” which apparently tastes like raw gasoline”

2) Iraq’s Pacha or to put it simply, boiled sheep’ head, and as the cracked writers put it, “Burp while ye may,” the sockets say, “for the same fate will happen to you–and all too soon.”

1) Philippines’ Balut – “duck eggs that have been incubated until the fetus is all feathery and beaky, and then boiled alive. The bones give the eggs a uniquely crunchy texture.”

Below is a video clip of our diplomats in the Philippines eating not #6 or #2; they had to show us how to eat #1, those “crunchy” baby duck eggs!!!

NOTE: We have no/no plans of trying any of them anytime soon, thank you very much but let us know if your post has a video to share.

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Present at the Creation Also (Our Years of Wrecking Ball Diplomacy and Swagger) #grabthisbooktitlenow

 

On October 3, the International Court of Justice, the principal judicial organ of the United Nations issued a ruling on the Alleged Violations of the 1955 Treaty of Amity, Economic Relations, and Consular Rights (Islamic Republic of Iran v. United States of America).  Excerpt via:

(1) unanimously, that the United States of America, in accordance with its obligations under the 1955 Treaty of Amity, Economic Relations, and Consular Rights, must remove, by means of its choosing, any impediments arising from the measures announced on 8 May 2018 to the free exportation to the territory of the Islamic Republic of Iran of (i) medicines and medical devices; (ii) foodstuffs and agricultural commodities; and (iii) spare parts, equipment and associated services (including warranty, maintenance, repair services and inspections) necessary for the safety of civil aviation;

(2) unanimously, that the United States of America must ensure that licences and necessary authorizations are granted and that payments and other transfers of funds are not subject to any restriction in so far as they relate to the goods and services referred to in point (1);

(3) unanimously, that both Parties must refrain from any action which might aggravate or extend the dispute before the Court or make it more difficult to resolve.

The Trump Administration responded by pulling out the United States from the 1955 Treaty of Amity with Iran  (PDF) and from the 1961 Optional Protocol on Dispute Resolution to the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations (PDF). The latter in connection with a case that challenges the USG’s move of the U.S. Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, according to NSA John Bolton. Per transcript of the WH Briefing, Mr. Bolton said that “The United States remains a party to the underlying Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations and we expect all other parties to abide by their international obligations under the Convention.”

ICYMI, read the following from Chimène Keitner who previously served as Counselor on International Law in the State Department:

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Ex-Amb. to Estonia James D. Melville Writes Why He Quit

 

On June 29, U.S. Ambassador to Estonia James Melville announced on Facebook his intent to retire from the Foreign Service after 33 years of public service. See US Ambassador to Estonia James Melville Pens Resignation on FB Over Trump Policies.  On October 3, WaPo published his op-ed explaining his departure.

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Amb. Prudence Bushnell: Terrorism, Betrayal and Resilience (Book Preview)

 

 

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Mandatory Evacuation On For US Consulate General Basrah in Southern Iraq

In June last year, we blogged about the Tillerson State Department’s plan to close down the U.S. Consulate General in Basrah (see U.S. Consulate General #Basrah, Iraq: Six-Year Old Diplomatic Outpost Faces Closure).

On September 28, the State Department announced Secretary Pompeo’s determination to place the U.S. Consulate General in Basrah on “ordered departure” status. That means post is now under mandatory evacuation. Media reports elsewhere notes post’s “temporary” closure but we could not find a formal announcement for temporary closure, post closure, or suspension of operation.

Per 2 FAM 410, the final decision to open, close, or change the status of a diplomatic mission is made by the President.  The final decision to open, close, or change the status of a consular post, consular agency, branch, or special office is made by the Under Secretary for Management, a position that remains vacant.

A statement from Secretary Pompeo talks about the “temporary relocation of diplomatic personnel“, blames Iran, and cites “increasing and specific threats and incitements to attack our personnel and facilities in Iraq.”

Basrah is located in the southern-most province of Iraq, near the border with Kuwait and Iran and serves the four provinces of the region: Basrah, Muthanna, Dhi Qar, and Maysan.  The U.S Consulate General is adjacent to the Basrah International Airport and the facility, an interim project cost at least $150 million (this includes security and facility upgrades).  Post did not provide visa services or non-emergency American citizen services, both of which are provided by the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad.  Its consular services were limited to emergency American citizen issues.

CIA map

An updated Iraq Travel Advisory says:

The U.S. government’s ability to provide routine and emergency services to U.S. citizens in Iraq is extremely limited.  On September 28, 2018, the Department of State ordered the departure of U.S. government personnel from the U.S. Consulate General in Basrah.  The American Citizens Services (ACS) Section at the U.S. Embassy Baghdad will continue to provide consular services to U.S. citizens in Basrah.

A 2013 State/OG report notes the following about Basrah:

The Government of Iraq would like to reclaim the 108-acre compound that houses the U.S. consulate general—a former British forward operating base 12 miles from Basrah on an Iraqi military compound adjacent to the international airport. The embassy is committed to maintain a presence in the south of Iraq, not least because it is the largest source of new oil to market in the world, and many U.S. companies are pursuing commercial opportunities there. The local government supports a U.S. presence, and the Government of Iraq committed in a 2004 bilateral agreement to provide a permanent site for consulate operations. To date, however, there has been no progress identifying a future site. The U.S. Government does not have a land use agreement for the current compound. The consulate general’s hold on the property remains tenuous.

At the time of the inspection, the Department was completing a $150 million interim construction project to provide basic security and infrastructure upgrades, but the facility and its isolated location are not suitable for a diplomatic mission on more than a temporary basis. Employees live in deteriorating containerized housing units; the compound has no central generator grid or access to city power; all supplies, including food, have to be trucked to the compound; and the security support needed to interact with contacts in Basrah City is costly. Operating costs to maintain the current, oversized facility and its hundreds of guards and life support staff are approximately $100 million per year. The Department has not given priority to or identified funding for a purpose-built facility.

Basrah’s ability to sustain operations is fragile under the best of circumstances because of its location at the end of a supply chain beset by shipping delays, security concerns, and the difficulty in recruiting and retaining U.S. direct-hire staff. As long as the consulate general occupies a sprawling compound that requires nearly 1,200 support staff, efforts to reduce costs and develop a long-term diplomatic presence commensurate with U.S. interests will remain on hold. If the Department cannot decide soon on Basrah’s future, it will at the very least have to fund interim upgrades to make facilities livable.

Related posts:

 

Secretary Pompeo Saves $2Billion Weapons Sales From Jeopardy

 

AND NOW THIS, the English version though the original one requires no translation:

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