@StateDept’s Interagency Group to Coordinate Repatriation – Not Convened Since April 2019

 

In November 2021, the GAO released its review of the State Department’s repatriation efforts at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. (see State Carried Out Historic Repatriation Effort but Should Strengthen Its Preparedness for Future Crises).
GAO’s report concludes in part that:

State carried out a historic effort in helping to repatriate more than 100,000 individuals during the first 6 months of the COVID-19 pandemic. Most of the passengers who responded to our survey gave State high marks for its communication and information related to repatriation. In addition, State’s application of lessons learned from its COVID-19 repatriation effort will help it address future crises effectively.

However, although State took steps to prepare for a global crisis such as the pandemic, addressing several gaps could improve State’s
preparedness to carry out future repatriations. Reconvening quarterly meetings of the WLG, which has not met since April 2019, would ensure better communication among the agencies involved in planning emergency evacuations.

The publicly available 1998 MOU between the State Department and DOD on the protection and evacuation of US citizens and nationals and designated other persons from threatened areas overseas explains the role of the WLG:

The Washington Liaison Group (WLG) is an organization consisting of members of the Departments of State and Defense, chaired by a representative of the Department of State, which has basic responsibility for the coordination and implementation of plans for the protection and evacuation in emergencies of persons abroad for whom the Secretaries of State and/or Defense are responsible. The representatives on the WLG are the points of contact for their departments on all matters pertaining to emergency evacuation planning, implementation of plans, and coordination of repatriation activities with the Department of Health and Human Services.

Regional liaison groups are established overseas and activated upon the recommendation of the WLG to assist in the coordination of emergency and evacuation planning between the Departments of State and Defense for areas outside the United States.

GAO notes that WLG members include DOD, DHS, and HHS, among other agencies, as well as a number of State bureaus. Specifically, State WLG members include CA, DS, the Bureau of Administration, the Bureau of Legislative Affairs, the Office of the Legal Advisor, and regional bureaus.
More from the GAO report:

Although State established an interagency group—the WLG—to ensure coordination for the protection and evacuation of U.S. citizens abroad, State did not sustain the regular quarterly WLG meetings, which may have contributed to gaps in interagency communication during the global repatriation effort. State and DOD established the WLG in 1998, with State as the lead agency, to coordinate and implement plans for the evacuation of persons abroad during emergencies, and according to State officials, State formalized WLG’s charter in 2018.39 The charter states that the WLG is expected to meet quarterly. CMS—which is responsible for department-wide crisis preparedness and response activities—manages the WLG’s day-to-day operations, including scheduling meetings.40 However, as of May 2021, CMS officials told us that they had not convened the group since April 2019.

According to CMS officials, after the WLG last met in April 2019 and before the pandemic began, members of the group questioned the
purpose of further meetings. CMS officials told us that, in response, they offered to schedule future meetings on request or if the need arose.
According to the officials, in February 2021, interagency WLG members expressed interest in CMS reconvening the WLG to discuss information sharing about repatriation across and among the task forces. However, CMS delayed reconvening the WLG in part because of limited capacity within CMS to manage the group while also playing an active role in managing State’s international response to the COVID-19 pandemic, according to CMS officials.

State documents and comments by CMS officials suggest that the lack of WLG meetings before and during the pandemic may have contributed to gaps related to interagency communication. In internal documents, State identified a number of gaps related to interagency communication during the pandemic, such as a lack of knowledge of how to communicate with other agencies, lack of guidance about points of contact at other agencies, and lack of clarity about U.S. government policy on repatriation. Comments by State officials indicated that such gaps led to challenges in communicating with the correct offices at interagency partners and coordinating repatriation efforts with interagency partners in the absence of clear, established policy. For example, CMS officials told us that regular meetings of the WLG would have facilitated interagency communication at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, because such communication would have reduced the effort required to identify the correct contacts in other agencies.

In part because CMS did not convene quarterly WLG meetings in accordance with the group’s charter, State’s ability to coordinate with other agencies to respond to the pandemic and carry out repatriation activities was diminished. In addition to the requirement for the WLG to meet quarterly, leading practices for interagency coordination based on our prior work call for agencies to consider how to sustain leadership of interagency groups over the long term—such as by meeting regularly—in order to maintain the group’s effectiveness.41 CMS officials told us in May 2021 that they planned to reconvene the WLG in the future but did not know when that would occur. Convening quarterly meetings of the WLG would enhance State’s ability to coordinate repatriation activities with other agencies in any future global crisis.

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Snapshot: Geographic Distribution of @StateDept Family Member Employment (Fall 2021)

Via State/FLO (FAMER)

 

Related posts:

A New Trend? Posts’ Requests to @StateDept For Authorized Departures Go Public

 

 

In a span of a couple of weeks, we’ve seen two reports of diplomatic posts requesting the State Department to go on evacuation status leaked to the press. This has occasionally happened in the past, of course, but only in isolated cases.  The most notable happened at some posts in one region in March 2020 where the missions’ Emergency Action Committees (EAC) recommended an “ordered departure” for their posts and a top bureau official reportedly talked the ambassadors out of requesting it.
Were these requests from Kyiv and Beijing leaked because the EACs/ACOMs were dissuaded from making formal requests in the first place, which then avoided a formal response from the bureaus/DOS, or were these leaked to ensure that the requests are now public record, ramping up the pressure on State to agree to the requests? The EACs typically make recommendations in these cases and the departures are then requested by the chief of mission (COM). Final approval is by the Under Secretary for Management (M).
In the case of US Embassy Kyiv, the request made the news on January 21, and the State Department made it official on January 23. In Mission China’s case, the request made the news on January 26. As of this writing, the China travel advisory remains at Level 3, and no authorized departure has been announced as of this writing. The new US Ambassador to China was sworn-in on January 27.

Related posts:

Is @StateDept Actively Discouraging US Embassies From Requesting Mandatory Evacuations For Staff? #CentralAsia? #Worldwide?March 23, 2020

COVID-19 Pandemic Howler: “No one in DC, to include S, gives AF about AF” March 20, 2020

Snapshot: Workforce Diversity at the Bureau of East Asian and Pacific Affairs (2020)

 

Via State/OIG:

(U) EAP acknowledged the challenge of creating a diverse workforce, citing impediments such as languages that require 2 years of study and the expectation for officers to spend much of their career in the bureau and region. To address the underrepresentation in some categories, EAP established a Diversity and Inclusion Council in January 2020 and created a Senior Advisor for Diversity and Inclusion to recruit both Foreign Service bidders and Civil Service employees. In addition, the PDAS encouraged participation in the Diversity and Inclusion Council and sought to find diverse candidates to fill vacancies. The bureau also issued newsletters and cables to the field on its diversity efforts, provided diversity statistics including gender on bidding and assignments to the Department,15 and conducted outreach to Department affinity groups. EAP officials stated they would continue their efforts to increase diversity in the bureau.

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State/P Swears-In Karen Donfried as Asst Secretary For @StateEUR

 

 

U.S. Senate Makes Minor Dent in Logjam, Confirms Lewis (PM), Robinson (INL), Phee (AF), Medina (OES), Donfried (EUR)

Updated: 9/29/21

Senate Confirms Amb. Daniel Kritenbrink as Asst Secretary For East Asian and Pacific Affairs (EAP)

 

 

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Amb. Donald Lu to be Asst Secretary for South and Central Asian Affairs (State/SCA)

Once a year, we ask for your support to keep this blog and your dedicated blogger going. So here we are on Week #7 of our eight-week annual fundraising. Our previous funding ran out in August 2020. We recognize that blogging life has no certainty, and this year is no exception.  If you care what we do here, please see GFM: https://gofund.me/32671a27.  We could use your help. Grazie!  Merci! Gracias!

 

On April 23, 2021 President Biden announced his intent to nominate Ambassador Donald Lu  to be the next Assistant Secretary for the Bureau of South and Central Asian Affairs. The WH released the following brief bio:

Donald Lu, Nominee for Assistant Secretary, Bureau of South and Central Asian Affairs, Department of State

Donald Lu, a career member of the Senior Foreign Service, Class of Minister-Counselor, has been U.S. Ambassador to the Kyrgyz Republic since 2018. Previously, Lu was U.S. Ambassador to Albania. He has also served as Deputy Chief of Mission, U.S. Embassy New Delhi, India, Deputy Chief of Mission and the Chargé d’affaires, U.S. Embassy Baku, Azerbaijan and Deputy Chief of Mission, U.S. Embassy Bishkek, Kyrgyz Republic. Earlier, Lu was the Deputy Director, Office of Central Asian and South Caucasus Affairs, for the Department of State and, before that, the Special Assistant to the Ambassador for the Newly Independent States. He also held postings in India, Georgia, and Pakistan. Lu earned M.A. and B.A. degrees from Princeton University. He is the recipient of the Rockwell Anthony Schnabel Award for advancing U.S.-European Union relations. Ambassador Lu speaks and reads Albanian, Russian, Azerbaijani, Georgian, West African Krio, Hindi and Urdu.

According to history.state.gov, the Foreign Relations Authorization Act for Fiscal Years 1992 and 1993 (P.L. 102-138; 105 Stat. 658) authorized the appointment of an Assistant Secretary of State for South Asian Affairs on October 28, 1991. Previous appointees to this position are as follows:
SES William Todd served as Acting A/S for SCA in 2017. On January 3, 2019, Trump nominated Robert Williams, a former Defense Intelligence Agency official for the SCA bureau. The nomination was withdrawn by the president on April 11, 2019.
SFSO Alice G. Wells served as Acting A/S from 2017-June 2020. After Ambassador Wells’ departure, DAS Thomas L. Vajda served as the South and Central Asian Bureau’s “senior bureau official on an interim basis.” SFSO Dean Thompson has been Acting A/S since January 20, 2021.
If confirmed, Ambassador Lu would be the first Senate-confirmed assistant secretary to lead the bureau since 2017.  Also with Ambassador Lu’s nomination, Foggy Bottom now has  one non-career appointee (EUR), one retired FS (NEA), and five active career Foreign Service officers  (WHA, EAP, AF, IO, SCA) expected to lead the State Department’s geographic bureaus.

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Career Diplomat Brian A. Nichols to be Asst. Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs (WHA)

13 GoingOn 14: Help Keep the Blog Going For 2021 — GFM: https://gofund.me/32671a27

 

On March 26, 2021, President Biden announced his intent to nominate senior career diplomat Brian A. Nichols to be Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs (WHA). The WH released the following brief bio:

Brian A. Nichols, a career member of the Senior Foreign Service with the rank of Career Minister, currently serves as U.S. Ambassador to Zimbabwe.  He was U.S. Ambassador to Perú from 2014 to 2017.  Previously, Nichols served as Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs (INL).  Prior to that he was a Deputy Assistant Secretary in INL.  He also served as the Deputy Chief of Mission at the U.S. Embassy in Bogotá, Colombia, Director of the Office of Caribbean Affairs, and Counselor for Political Affairs at the American Embassy in Indonesia.  Earlier in his career, Nichols served as Deputy Political Counselor in Mexico.  He also worked in the Office of UN Political Affairs, the Office of Central American Affairs, and the Executive Secretariat. Nichols began his Foreign Service career as a Consular Officer in Perú and then as a Political Officer in El Salvador.  He received the 2016 Charles E. Cobb, Jr. Award for Initiative and Success in Trade Development, two Presidential Meritorious Service Awards, and 13 Senior Performance Awards.  He speaks Spanish.  A native of Rhode Island, he is a graduate of Tufts University.

According to history.state.gov, the Department had first established a Division of Latin American Affairs in 1909. The Department of State created the position of Assistant Secretary of State for American Republic Affairs during the general reorganization of Dec 20, 1944, after Congress had authorized an increase in the number of Assistant Secretaries of State from four to six (Dec 8, 1944; P.L. 78-472; 58 Stat. 798). On January 12, 1999, the Bureau assumed responsibility for Canada and was renamed the Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs. More here.
The most recent career diplomat confirmed by the U.S. Senate to lead the Western Hemisphere bureau was Thomas Alfred Shannon Jr. who served from 2005–2009. He was succeeded by political appointees: Arturo Valenzuela (2009–2011), Roberta S. Jacobson (2012–2016) under the Obama Administration and Kimberly Breier (2018-2019) under the Trump Administration. At least four designates have also served in an acting capacity: political appointee Mari Carmen Aponte; SES Michael Kozak, career diplomats Francisco “Paco” Palmieri and Julie J. Chung .
According to AFSA’s appointment tracker going back to 1975, the Western Hemisphere bureau has a 50 percent split between career and political/other appointees.
The AP notes that Ambassador Nichols would be the first Black assistant secretary of state for Western Hemisphere affairs since Terence Todman in the late 1970s (see Terence Alphonso Todman ).

Related posts:

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