Former Ambassador John Feeley’s Parting Shot: Why I could no longer serve this president

Posted: 4:25 am ET

 

Via WaPo:

I never meant for my decision to resign to be a public political statement. Sadly, it became one.

The details of how that happened are less important than the demoralizing take-away: When career public servants take an oath to communicate dissent only in protected channels, Trump administration officials do not protect that promise of privacy.

Leaking is not new in Washington. But leaking a sitting ambassador’s personal resignation letter to the president, as mine was, is something else. This was a painful indication that the current administration has little respect for those who have served the nation apolitically for decades. […] A part of my resignation letter that has not been quoted publicly reads: “I now return home, with no rank or title other than citizen, to continue my American journey.” What this means for me is still evolving.

As the grandson of migrant stock from New York City, an Eagle Scout, a Marine Corps veteran and someone who has spent his diplomatic career in Latin America, I am convinced that the president’s policies regarding migration are not only foolish and delusional but also anti-American.

Read in full below:

Here are a couple of goodbye videos from Panama:

 

Related posts:

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@StateDept Ex-Employees Get Comedy Central’s The Opposition Treatment

Posted: 2:08 am ET

 

We’re late on this but a couple weeks back, Comedy Central’s Jordan Klepper sat down with former members of the State Department to discuss President Trump’s proposed budget cuts and his approach to diplomacy. Well, this is supposed to be funny but we’re crying, and not from laughing our heads off.

The former employees include two former press officers (Meaghan Monfort and Sri Kulkarni who is running for Congress in Texas and just advanced to the runoffs), David Rank (most recently CDA in Beijing), Gina Abercrombie-Winstanley (f0rmer U.S. Ambassador to Malta), Tom Countryman (former U/Secretary of State), and Michele Bond (former A/S for Consular Affairs).

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U.S. Ambassador to Mexico Roberta Jacobson to Retire After 31 Years of Service

Posted: 3:53 am ET

 

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Special Rep for North Korea Policy Joseph Yun to Retire This Week

Posted: 2:55 am ET

 

Another senior FSO, a member of the shrinking minister-counselor ranks of the Foreign Service is heading for the exit. Special Representative for North Korea Policy Joseph Yun is stepping down later this week, a decision that he told reporters, “is really my decision.” NBC News says that Yun has “decided to retire for personal reasons,” according to a State Department spokesperson.

Ambassador Yun who was previously U.S. Ambassador to Malaysia (2013-2016) was appointed Special Representative for North Korea Policy and Deputy Assistant Secretary for Korea and Japan in the Bureau of East Asian and Pacific Affairs (State/EAO) in October 2016.

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Watch Out For the 90-Day Rule: Mandatory Retirement For Former Presidential Appointees

Posted: 12:54 am ET

 

Yo!

3 FAM 6215
MANDATORY RETIREMENT OF FORMER PRESIDENTIAL APPOINTEES
(CT:PER-594;   03-06-2007)
(State only)
(Applies to Foreign Service Employees)

a. Career members of the Service who have completed Presidential assignments under section 302(b) of the Act, and who have not been reassigned within 90 days after the termination of such assignment, plus any period of authorized leave, shall be retired as provided in section 813 of the Act.  For purposes of this section, a reassignment includes the following:

(1)  An assignment to an established position for a period of at least six months pursuant to the established assignments process (including an assignment that has been approved in principle by the appropriate assignments panel);

(2)  Any assignment pursuant to section 503 of the Foreign Service Act of 1980, as amended;

(3)  A detail (reimbursable or nonreimbursable) to another U.S. Government agency or to an international organization;

(4)  A transfer to an international organization pursuant to 5 U.S.C. sections 3581 through 3584; or

(5)  A pending recommendation to the President that the former appointee be nominated for a subsequent Presidential appointment to a specific position.

b. Except as provided for in paragraph c of this section, a reassignment does not include an assignment to a Department bureau in “overcomplement” status or to a designated “Y” tour position.

c.  The Director General may determine that appointees who have medical conditions that require assignment to “medical overcomplement” status are reassigned for purposes of Section 813 of the Foreign Service Act.

d. To the maximum extent possible, former appointees who appear not likely to be reassigned and thus subject to mandatory retirement under section 813 of the Act will be so notified in writing by the Director General not later than 30 days prior to the expiration of the 90-day reassignment period.

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@StateDept Chief Information Officer Frontis Wiggins to Retire Effective December 8

Posted: 2:22 am ET

 

Another 30-plus year veteran of the State Department is leaving effective December 8. Frontis Wiggins, the agency’s chief information officer, and a career employee of over thirty years announced his retirement to his IRM colleagues via email on November 20:

“Today, I am announcing that I will retire from the U.S. Department of State, effective Friday, December 8, 2017. I will have more information to share with you in the near future.”

The State Department’s average annual attrition the last five years for Information Technology Managers at the  FE-MC rank like Mr. Wiggins is 1. In 2016, the average annual projected leadership attrition for this skill group and rank the next five years was zero.

Next to security officers and office management specialists, information management specialists in the State Department are projected to have the third highest overall attrition in the next five years (2016-2020).

His official bio via state.gov:

Frontis B. Wiggins, a member of the Senior Foreign Service with the rank of Minister-Counselor, is currently the Chief Information Officer for the U.S. Department of State. In this capacity, he is responsible for the Department’s information resources and technology initiatives which provide core information, knowledge management, and technology (IT) services to the Department of State and its 260 overseas Missions. He is directly responsible for the Information Resource Management (IRM) Bureau’s budget of $569 million, and oversees State’s total IT/ knowledge management budget of approximately one billion dollars.

He joined the Foreign Service in 1985 and has served overseas in Cairo, Budapest, Hong Kong, Paris, Information Management Officer Beijing, and Director of Regional Information Management Center (RIMC) Frankfurt. Senior level assignments in D.C. have included the Principal Deputy CIO, Deputy CIO for Foreign Operations, the Dean of the School of Applied Information Technology (SAIT) at the Foreign Service Institute (FSI), and the Director of Information Resource Management’s Messaging Systems Office.

Mr. Wiggins holds a Bachelor of Arts in History from the College of William and Mary, a Master’s Degree in Information Systems from George Washington University, and is a member of their Honor Society. He is a graduate of the Chief Information Officer’s University class of 2006 and has received numerous Meritorious and Superior Honor awards during his career, as well as being the first recipient of AFSA’s Tex Harris Award for constructive dissent in 2000. He speaks seven foreign languages with varying degrees of fluency.

A colleague of Mr. Wiggins who was at FSI where he was once dean told us that everyone there raved at that time that he would be the next CIO. “There was a lot of excitement in the field when he did become CIO because he worked up through the ranks and was familiar with the work in the trenches. He seemed keen on modernizing our aging IT infrastructure, so there’s been a lot of hope that things *might* actually change for the better in IRM.”

Mr. Wiggins was “leading the charge for much-needed modernization of our IT infrastructure” at the State Department we were told. And that “this is a sad time for IT in the Department.”

One source confirmed for us that Rob Adams, the Principal Deputy CIO will be Acting CIO after Mr. Wiggins’ departure.  Federal News Radio who reported on Wiggins’ departure says that Adams joined the State Department in 1988 after serving in the Marine Corps for four years.  Federal News also note that Wiggins will become the eighth cabinet agency CIO to leave in the past year.

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GOP Tax Plan Includes Major Headaches For Homeowners #CallCongress

Posted: 3:28 am ET
Updated: 2:01 pm PT

 

Update: Tax Reform and the Foreign Service via afsa.org:

Several AFSA members have expressed concern that the House of Representatives version of the pending tax reform bill would impose a capital gains tax that could exceed $35,000 on anyone who sells their primary residence without having physically lived there for five out of the previous eight years. 

The good news is that, after Congress adopted the current two-in-five-year rule in the early 2000s, AFSA joined with groups representing members of the U.S. military in securing passage of a law in 2003 that extended the qualifying period by up to 10 years for a taxpayer who is away from their primary residence on a Foreign Service, military, or intelligence community assignment. The current House bill does not change that special provision. 

If the House provision becomes law, the 10-year extension for Foreign Service members would remain. Thus, the new five-out-of-eight-year rule would be a five-out-of-eighteen-year rule for Foreign Service members serving away from their primary residence.

If you may need to take advantage of this special treatment, please learn more about it in AFSA’s annual Tax Guide which is updated and printed every January in The Foreign Service Journal and on the AFSA website. Additional information is in IRS Publication 523 (page 5 in the current 2016 edition). The actual law is in Section 121 of the IRS code (26 USC 121).

AFSA would like to highlight the role of our then-Director of Congressional Relations Ken Nakamura, who was instrumental in securing the 2003 law affording special treatment for the Foreign Service. Since then, hundreds of AFSA members have each saved tens of thousands of dollars in taxes when they sold their primary residence after an extended period of overseas service. Your AFSA dues make possible victories such as this one.

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Tax lawyer/lobbyist and friend of a friend who is highly engaged on the Hill on both tax bills asked that we pass on this alert for homeowners:

A provision in the House tax bill (H.R. 1) could cost us $100,000 in capital gains taxes when we sell our houses.  Under current law, a homeowner filing jointly is allowed to exclude the first $500,000 of gain on the sale of a principal residence.  The House bill deletes the current law’s $500,000 exclusion of gain from the sale of a principal residence.  The Senate bill only lengthens the holding period from 5 years to 8 years, but retains the $500,000 exclusion.

The two bills will be reconciled in the next two weeks or so. I urge you to contact House and Senate tax writers asking them to adopt the Senate bill’s approach.  The most important person to contact is your home state Senator and your own Representative in the House.  

U.S. Senators – Get contact information for your Senators in the U.S. Senate.

U.S. Representatives – Find the website and contact information for your Representative in the U.S. House of Representatives

In addition, you can call the office and leaving a message or, in some circumstances, sending emails to the following key decision makers:

House Ways and Means Chairman Kevin Brady:  Phone: (202) 225-4901

House Speaker Paul Ryan:  https://paulryan.house.gov/contact/email.htm email him or call his office to leave a message of concern at his Washington office (202) 225-3031.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell:  https://www.mcconnell.senate.gov/public/index.cfm/contactform and fill out the form or call his Washington office at (202) 224-2541

Senate Finance Committee Chairman Orrin Hatch:  (202) 224-5251 or please call (202-224-4515), fax a letter to (202-228-0554).

Here is a Sample Message:  I oppose the repeal of the $500,000 exclusion for gain from the sale of a principal residence in the House Tax bill (H.R.1).  The $100,000 tax imposed by that repeal is important for my retirement, my family, and my ability to move to a new job in another location.  There is no tax reduction in the bill that will offset that tax cost.  The Senate version is better, and should be substituted for the House repeal.

It takes time and effort, but we understand that calls and emails coming from outside Washington, D.C. play an important role in this process.

You may review the text of H.R. 1 here; use the browser’s find function to see details under SEC. 1302. MORTGAGE INTEREST.

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First @StateDept Postpones Annual Retirement Ceremony, Then Postpones Annual Awards Ceremony

Posted: 2:19 am ET

 

Each fall, usually in November, and tentatively scheduled for Friday, November 17, 2017 this year, the Secretary of State hosts the annual retirement ceremony. Invitations usually go out out in the first half of October to State Department Civil Service and Foreign Service employees who retires between September 1 the year before and August 31 of the current year. Employees who retire after August 31, 2017 for instance will be invited to next year’s ceremony (fall of 2018).

On October 23, State/HR sent out an email announcement informing recipients that the Secretary’s Annual Retirement Ceremony has been changed. “Regrettably, the tentative date for the Retirement Ceremony has been preempted by another event.” This year’s ceremony is now reportedly scheduled for Thursday, December 7. The invitations to the honorees were supposedly mailed out the first week of November.

The State Department’s public schedule for November 17 is listed as follows:

9:45 a.m. Secretary Tillerson delivers remarks at the Ministerial on Trade, Security, and Governance in Africa, at the Department of State.

11:30 a.m. Secretary Tillerson participates in a Family Photo, at the Department of State.

4:30 p.m. Secretary Tillerson meets with President Donald Trump, at the White House.

We don’t know which of the above pre-empted the event last week or if somebody else had some private ceremony at the State Department venue. We’re told this has to be done during the day to avoid overtime payment.  In any case, we’ll have to watch out what happens on December 7 and see if they can round up enough people for Tillerson’s first retirement ceremony.

On November 14, a notification also went out from State/HR that the 2017 Department Annual Awards Ceremony has been rescheduled:

The Secretary’s travel demands will make it impossible for him to preside over the Department Awards ceremony scheduled tentatively for November 21, 2017. We expect to reschedule the event for a date in the near future. The Secretary would like very much to present these awards himself and asks that we try to find a date and time that fits with his calendar. We will be in touch as soon as we have any information on the plans for the ceremony.

A howler arrived in our inbox:

The Secretary postponed State’s annual awards ceremony on short notice. Individuals understand the priority of world affairs and how a crisis takes precedence over a ceremony, however, that is precisely when another senior officer conducts the ceremony. That’s great the Secretary himself wants to be there, but the show must go on. Many (if not most) individuals receiving these prestigious awards had family traveling to DC to be present. The awards are a big deal and it is Thanksgiving weekend. Now all the travel plans are wasted, money is lost (who buys non-refundable tickets?) and Thanksgiving reunions are ruined.

It’s almost like the Secretary and his top team seek out every opportunity to destroy morale amongst his staff.

Perhaps Mr. Tillerson isn’t used to thinking about these things. But see, if he has counsel at the top besides the denizens of the “God Pod”, that individual would have anticipated this. The awardees are not just coming from next door, or within driving distance, and their families do not live in Washington, D.C. Anyone with a slight interest in the Foreign Service should know that. It is understandable that the Secretary has lots of responsibilities, but State could have used his deputy, or if he, too, is traveling, they could certainly use “P” to do this on Mr. Tillerson’s behalf. Of course, if advisors at the top are as blind as the secretary, this is what you get, which only alienates the building more.

Should be interesting to see where Secretary Tillerson’s travel take him this Thanksgiving week.

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A Look Back at @StateDept Staffing Efforts: Powell’s Diplomatic Readiness Initiative, Clinton’s Diplomacy 3.0

Posted 12:15 pm PT

 

Apparently, Secretary Tillerson sent a letter to Senator Corker with a chart showing that there are 2K more FSOs today than in 2008. Well, not because of anything special he did after he came into office in February 2017 but due to concerted efforts that started in 2001 and slowed down in 2012.

Lets’ rewind to 1993, two years after the dissolution of the Soviet Union and see what happened at the State Department. Read The Last Time @StateDept Had a 27% Budget Cut, Congress Killed ACDA and USIA.

In 2001, Secretary Colin Powell arrived in Foggy Bottom and made staffing the agency a priority.  He secured funding for his Diplomatic Readiness Initiative (DRI) which added 1,000 new positions to improve the Department’s diplomatic capacity and restore workforce capabilities. According to the State Department, “the DRI blueprint addressed new foreign policy initiatives, emerging priorities, and staffing deficits caused by the downsizing requirements of the mid-1990’s.”

On March 20, 2003, the United States invaded Iraq.

The State Department notes that “Staffing demands of Department operations in Iraq and Afghanistan diverted human resources and created vacancies at many other posts around the world. The growth of language- designated positions (LDPs) from roughly 3,000 in 2003 to over 4,270 in 2015 increased the Department’s training needs and diverted even more human resources.” 

So despite the DRI gains from 2002 to 2004, those positions were reportedly eroded through 2008.

Secretary Hillary Clinton came into office in January 2009. Early in her tenure, she promoted Diplomacy 3.0:

“Diplomacy 3.0” represents the three essential pillars of U.S. foreign policy: diplomacy, development, and defense. With Diplomacy 3.0, we are building diplomatic readiness, ensuring that diplomacy is again ready and able to address our nation’s growing and increasingly complex foreign policy challenges. To meet our expanding mission, we need Foreign Service personnel prepared to engage on a growing list of complex global issues from stabilization and reconstruction, to terrorism and international crime, to nuclear nonproliferation and the environment. Our diplomats also must be prepared to engage foreign audiences directly in their own languages, languages that may well require two or more years of study. To meet these needs, Secretary Clinton envisions a multi-year hiring plan that increases the Department’s Foreign Service by 25 percent. Meeting an expanding mission and properly staffing overseas posts, many of which are either difficult or dangerous, requires more personnel trained in the various skills demanded of the 21st Century’s smart diplomacy.

The State Department notes that it made significant gains during Diplomacy 3.0 through FY 2012 in addressing known challenges, such as staffing gaps and improving the language proficiency of the Foreign Service corps.  During the first two years of D3.0 hiring (2009 and 2010), the Department made significant progress in enhancing its language capabilities, filling key overseas vacancies, and providing resources for critical new strategic priorities through unprecedented levels of hiring. It further notes the following:

Diplomacy 3.0 (D3.0) increased the Department’s Foreign Service position base by 23 percent and the Civil Service (CS) by ten percent through FY 2013. However, much of this growth was attributable to increases in fee-funded Consular and Security positions. Without these positions, net FS position growth was roughly 13 percent.

D3.0 achieved about half its goal of a 25% leap (fee-funded positions excepted) but FY2011 marked a dramatic shift in the immediate funding environment. Then came the sequestration funding cuts enacted during FY 2013 and with that, the Department’s budget decreased and along with it, the robust hiring from the initial D3.0 years suffered. In 2012, we blogged that D3.0 was expected to conclude in FY2023 (see Foreign Service Staffing Gaps, and Oh, Diplomacy 3.0 Hiring Initiative to Conclude in FY2023).

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@StateDept to Offer Buyouts to First 641 Employees Who Agree to Leave by April 2018 #$25M

Posted: 12:15 am ET
Follow @Diplopundit

 

In case you have not seen this yet, the NYT reported on November 10 that the State Department will soon offer a $25,000 buyout to diplomats and staff members who quit or take early retirements by April. We think the payout number is $40K, see our comment below:

The decision is part of Secretary of State Rex W. Tillerson’s continuing effort to cut the ranks of diplomats and Civil Service officers despite bipartisan resistance in Congress. Mr. Tillerson’s goal is to reduce a department of nearly 25,000 full-time American employees by 8 percent, which amounts to 1,982 people.

To reach that number, he has already frozen hiring, reduced promotions, asked some senior employees to perform clerical duties that are normally relegated to lower-level staff members, refused to fill many ambassadorships and senior leadership jobs, and fired top diplomats from coveted posts while offering low-level assignments in their place. Those efforts have crippled morale worl

Still, State Department accountants have told Mr. Tillerson that only about 1,341 people are expected to retire or quit by the end of September 2018, the date by which Mr. Tillerson has promised to complete the first round of cuts.

Indeed, rumors of a buyout have reduced the number of departures expected this year. So $25,000 will be given to the first 641 employees who agree to leave by April, a representative from the State Department confirmed on Friday.
[…]
Asked about the many vacancies at the State Department, Mr. Trump said in an interview with Laura Ingraham of Fox News: “You know, don’t forget, I’m a businessperson and I tell my people, ‘When you don’t need to fill slots, don’t fill them.’ But we have some people that I’m not happy with there.”

Pressed about critical positions like the assistant secretary of state, Mr. Trump responded in a statement that has since reverberated around the State Department. “The one that matters is me,” he said. “I’m the only one that matters because, when it comes to it, that’s what the policy is going to be.”

See the link to the full article below.

As far as we know, this POTUS has never been anywhere near Foggy Bottom since his election. Based on the archive of his tweets, he also tweeted only nine times about the State Department between 2014-2016. So when he said in that Ingraham interview that But we have some people that I’m not happy with there” — we have to wonder who are the “some people” he was referring to, and why was he “not happy.”

Given his lack of direct interactions with the employees of the State Department, we can only point to one incident that happened very early in his administration that may account for this “unhappiness.”  Back in February, we blogged about our concern related to the leaked dissent memo over Trump’s travel ban (see Dissent Channel: Draft Memo Over #MuslimBan Leaks – Now What?).  We wrote then that the leak will probably cause the greatest crisis of confidence between the new President and the Foreign Service since 1971 (see Dissent Channel Leak: Who Gains the Most From Flogging the Laundry Like This?).  In that 1971 case, President Nixon apparently instructed Secretary Rogers to fire all 50 FSOs who signed a letter protesting an anticipated invasion of Cambodia. We are not aware of similar known instruction from this president but watching the news coming out of Foggy Bottom this past several months, one cannot help but wonder what function that leaked dissent memo had in the decision not to staff the agency at its upper ranks, and the reorganization that the new secretary of state has now embarked on (FOIA ninjas, here’s a case for you!).

Trump’s 2018 Budget requested $25.6 billion in base funding for the Department of State and USAID, a $10.1 billion or 28 percent reduction from the 2017 annualized CR level. The Budget also requested $12.0 billion as Overseas Contingency Operations funding for extraordinary costs, primarily in war areas like Syria, Iraq, and Afghanistan, for an agency total of $37.6 billion. Note that the FY18 request under “Voluntary Separation Incentive Payments” include “Section 3523 of Title 5, U.S. Code shall be applied with respect to funds made available by this Act by substituting “$40,000” for “$25,000″ in subsection (b)(3)(B) of such section.”  (Read 5 U.S. Code 3523).

In September this year, the Senate Appropriations Committee approved “a $51.35 billion appropriations bill to strengthen federal programs and operations that support national security and American values abroad.”  The minority announcement notes that the allocation is $10.7 billion above the President’s request as scored by CBO, but it is $1.9 billion below the fiscal year 2017 enacted level. We expect this will pass due to bipartisan support.  Despite the reduced request by the Trump Administration, Congress reaffirmed its primary role in appropriating funds and gave the State Department more money than was requested.

And yet, the State Department is going forward with shrinking its American workforce by 8 percent. NYT put the reduction in number at 1,982 employees. The NYT report also says the first 641 employees who agree to leave by April will get $25K. The budget request actually increases the buyout amount to $40K. If our math is right, that means a total payout of about $25.6 million.

See: @StateDept/USAID Staffing Cut and Attrition: A Look at Real Numbers and Projected Attrition, our calculations at 600 missed by 41 employees for the buyout.

We remember reading, in the aftermath of the dissent memo leak that the Democratic Members of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs reminded the Trump Administration that State Department personnel who dissent from policy are protected by law and sought assurances that State Department personnel would not be subject to harassment or retribution for offering dissenting viewpoints.

But who’s going to protect an entire agency in what now looks glaringly like collective punishment?

A career ambassador who left the Service the last couple of years told us recently, “Until now, I’ve kept an open mind and a stiff upper lip. But now I’m ready to conclude that they really are working incrementally [to] fuck the traditional Foreign Service.”

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