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Former Senior Diplomats Urge Tillerson to Make Public @StateDept’s Reorganization Plan

Posted: 2:14 pm PT

 

On September 18, the American Academy of Diplomacy released a letter from Ambassadors Thomas Pickering and Ronald Neumann asking that Secretary Tillerson make to the State Department’s reorganization plan public.  Below is the text of the letter, the full letter is posted at www.academyofdiplomacy.org.

We understand that the State Department reorganization plan forwarded to OMB has been deemed “pre-decisional” and will therefore not be made public.

On behalf of the Board of the American Academy of Diplomacy, a non-partisan and non-governmental organization comprising senior former career and non-career diplomatic practitioners, we ask that you reconsider this decision and make your recommendations available for public comment.  The Academy, whose only interest is in strengthening American diplomacy, is already on record supporting many needed changes in the State Department’s structure and staffing.  Indeed, we would hope to make the Academy’s extensive experience available and relevant to any conversations about the future of the Department so that we might be able to support the outcome of this process, just as we supported your decision on reducing special envoys.  We cannot do so if your vision and plans remain publicly unavailable.

As the recent report prepared by your consultants very properly highlighted, the Civil Service and Foreign Service employees who work for you are patriotic, dedicated, public servants.  Many have gone in harm’s way and more will do so.  For nearly eight months these employees, and many of their families, have lived in a state of suspended animation, not knowing how reorganization will affect their lives and careers.  In light of their sacrifices for our Country, it strikes us as unfair to ask them to remain in this limbo for additional months while the Administration considers in private your recommendations for change.

Keeping your decisions from public view will only fuel the suspicion and low morale which now affects so many in the Department.  We ask that you be transparent with those most affected by your efforts to build efficiency and expertise.  Not doing so prejudices their future support.  Your leadership and America’s diplomacy would be better served by allowing public comment.  It is on that basis that we respectfully ask that you reconsider this decision.

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Related to this, Politico reported last week that “as part of his plan to restructure the State Department, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson is pledging not to concentrate more power in his own hands — for now.” See Tillerson vows State Dept. redesign won’t concentrate power in his hands. Click here or image below to see the State Department-USAID Redesign Overview Capitol Hill Brief via Politico’s Nahal Toosi. Note the slide titled “What Redesign is Not.” There is no intention at this time to dismantle State or USAID at this time. Whewww! That’s a relief, hey?

Click on image to view the document.

Click on image to view the document: Redesign Overview Capitol Hill Brief, September 2017 via Politico

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Tillerson Gives Another Pep Talk at Another Embassy – Tells Joke, But Takes No Questions Again?

Posted: 4:20 am ET

 

In addition to his Welcome Remarks to Employees (02/02/17)  and his Remarks to U.S. Department of State Employee last May (05/03/17), Tillerson has made exactly four remarks to State Department staffers during his trips overseas.  These pep talks were made at the U.S. Embassies in Kuala Lumpur, Wellington, Ankara and now London.  
Excerpt from his remarks to the staff and family members at US Embassy London, September 14, 2017:

So safety and security, accountability, and respect for one another. I really want you to think about that every day and try to practice that. If you do those things, you’ll have a performing organization. That’s what I know. I know that to be true.

And as you know, we’re going through a redesign at the State Department. Part of this was in response to an executive order from the President, but it was also something that I wanted to do from day one. The most important thing I want to do during the time I have – I hope we get peace in North Korea; I hope we can settle the conflicts in Syria; I hope we can settle the conflict in Libya; I hope we can develop a better relationship with Russia. But those won’t be the most important things that I’ll do. The most important thing I can do is to enable this organization to be more effective, more efficient, and for all of you to take greater satisfaction in what you do day in and day out. Because if I accomplish that, that will go on forever and you will create the State Department of the future.

That’s why we started this with a listening tour. We got 35,000 of you responded. If you responded, thank you. Thank you, thank you, thank you. And we interviewed over 300 people face to face, and since we started the redesign, which is led by you and your colleagues, we’ve had over 200 people working in redesign teams while they’ve been doing their day jobs at the same time. I’ve had the opportunity to meet with them from time to time and see the work as it’s progressing, and I just can’t tell you how excited I am. You know – you know what needs to be fixed. I don’t, but you do. You know where you’re having problems, where you’re struggling, where things get in the way of you being effective. That’s what we want to get at. And that’s why we call it a process redesign. A reorganization is taking boxes on a chart and cramming them together and moving them around, but nothing really changes. We want to get down to how do you get your work done and how can we help you get your work done more efficiently, more effectively.

So I tell people I’m in the blocking and tackling business. You tell me what you need to run downfield, and let me go do some blocking for you to do it. If we need Congress to change a – make a statutory change, we’ll go after it. If they need to make a change in things that require appropriations, we’ll go after it. And I’m already in conversations with them about that. So with your involvement in this through the portal, a lot of ideas – we’re getting great ideas through the portal. Please, keep those coming. And those things that we can fix on our own right away, I have entire teams to get after it and let’s start fixing some of these things.
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So again, thank all of you for what you do for us. Thank you, Ambassador, for being here. Now, we have an Ambassador Johnson and we have a Foreign Secretary Johnson. What I’ve concluded is, on any given day, a Johnson is going to be to blame. (Laughter.) We’ll let them figure out who. (Laughter.)

Tillerson Updates @StateDept Employees on Reorganization, He’s Got One Glaring Problem

Posted: 2:07 am ET

 

On Wednesday, Secretary Tillerson sent out a message to State Department employees with an update on the progress of his redesign effort. The message talks about modernizing an outdated IT system, flexible work programs, and increasing “the level of EFMs.”

“This week we are submitting to the Office of Management and Budget an Agency Reform Plan with specific recommendations for improving our respective organizations. For example, we know a priority for us is to modernize an outdated IT system, so we’re taking major steps toward putting our systems on the cloud. We know you have families, so we’re also exploring options for flexible work programs. In addition, Eligible Family Members are an important part of supporting efficient delivery on our mission, so we’re making provisions in some cases to increase the level of EFMs. Our working groups have also identified areas where we can improve our human resource functions, empower leadership at all levels, and improve management support services to reduce redundancies while ensuring you have the tools you need to do your job.”

Wait, does Tillerson  really mean “increase the level of EFMs” … because this should be interesting for single folks?  Or does he mean the level of EFM “jobs” but avoids actually mentioning the magic word?

It’s vague enough, it makes one both perplexed and excited!

His message also talks about “ambitious proposals” with “a minimum deliverable of 10 percent ($5B) in efficiencies relative to current (FY2017) spending over the next five years.” And get this — “an aspirational general interest target of up to 20 percent ($10B).” Wow! What does that look like? We’re definitely interested.

“Our redesign plan seeks to align State and USAID foreign assistance and policy strategies, capabilities, and resources to execute foreign policy priorities more effectively. It includes seven ambitious proposals with investments that will generate a minimum deliverable of 10 percent ($5B) in efficiencies relative to current (FY2017) spending over the next five years, with an aspirational general interest target of up to 20 percent ($10B). These efficiencies enabled by modernized systems and work processes will adjust the current historically high spending level by reducing duplications and unnecessary overhead for State, USAID, and other agencies. Adopting these recommendations that you expressed your hope for in the listening sessions will allow us to better focus on our core policy priorities and programs. It will also lay the groundwork for additional efficiencies and improvements in later years.”

This past week, we’ve seen the Senate Appropriations bill that includes mandatory notifications and consultations with the subcommittee on the proposed changes at the State Department. That same bill also requires the Government Accountability Office and Department of State and USAID Inspectors General (IG) to review the redesign plans (see Senate Appropriations Subcommittee Approves FY2018 State & Foreign Ops Appropriations Bill). On September 12, the House Foreign Affairs Committee wrote to OMB specifically asking OMB Director Mick Mulvaney for a briefing on the role he intend to play in the redesign at the State Department.  We have these in mind when Secretary Tillerson says this in his message to employees:

“In the weeks ahead, we will continue to develop and advance other recommendations. Some will require Congressional approval or a change in law, some will require OMB support, but there are a number of actions we can begin to undertake internally. Some examples that we’ve already started on include integrating certain Special Envoy offices into the bureau structures and efforts to increase diversity in our workforce. You should expect to see results unveiled on a rolling basis. Once a solution is ready to go, we are going to put it to work as soon as we can. We will continue to ask for input and consult with you and other stakeholders – including Congress – as we move forward.”

Also this:

“Your participation is essential to a successful redesign. As the process continues there will be more opportunities to give your input and be a part of the various execution teams as we move toward implementation. We will be asking for volunteers through the portal, and I encourage you to sign up to add your skills and talents to our effort.”

Tillerson has a problem, and it goes to the heart of his redesign efforts.  Since employee participation is “essential” to a successful redesign, it is particularly troubling that he has not directly engaged with his employees during the redesign effort in the most transparent way. He gave a couple of speeches but took no questions.  The Sounding Board, the Secretary’s Employee Forum was shut down in August 31. Employees can still submit ideas reportedly through the “redesign portal” but the secretary of state who is the chief sponsor of this reorganization has not given employees the opportunity to ask him questions.

Folks are talking – in the cafeteria, in water coolers, in rest rooms, in online forums, etc. etc. but they have not had the opportunity for an honest, two-way conversation about this reorganization with Secretary Tillerson . His paid consultants forgot to advise him that “if honest conversation stays private, the public conversation will be unreal, and ultimately discouraging.”

That’s from management consultant, Peter Block which seems appropriate as the State Department prepares for the implementation phase of its redesign. Here’s one more:

“There will be no forward movement until the staff in turn has the opportunity to challenge management. Providing public space for this to happen is the first step in shifting a culture, in implementing a change.”

 

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Tillerson’s @StateDept Conducts First Large Scale Evacuation of U.S. Citizens #StMaarten

Posted: 6:21 am ET

 

The U.S. Embassy in Haiti was initially placed on  authorized voluntary departure for non-emergency staff and family members due to Hurricane Irma on Tuesday, September 5. By the time the Travel Warning went up, the language changed to authorized departure for U.S. government employees and their family members (see U.S. Embassy Haiti Now on ‘Authorized Departure’ For Employees/Family Members #HurricaneIrma (Updated) Embassy Dominican Republic Now on ‘Authorized Departure’ For Employees/Family Members #Irma.  U.S. Embassy Cuba Now on ‘Authorized Departure’ For Employees/Family Members #IrmaU.S. Embassy Bahamas Now on ‘Ordered Departure’ For “Non-Essential” Staff/Family Members #Irma).  We were aware of two chartered flights announced – one from Santo Domingo which departed on 9/6, and one from Nassau which departed on 9/7.

As far as we are aware, neither Secretary Tilleron nor his inner circle has done evacuations previously. The office that typically would oversee evacuations, funding, logistics, etc. is the under secretary for management, a position that has remained vacant (the announced nominee will have his confirmation hearing tomorrow, 9/12).

On September 8, CBS News reported on criticisms over the evacuation efforts of the State Department, the first evacuation involving private Americans. As of Saturday evening, 1,200 Americans had reportedly been rescued from St. Maarten but media reports say nearly 5,000 Americans still remain at St. Maarten after Irma.

Four diplomatic posts are currently being evacuated, although progress to help Americans on the ground has been slow. Veterans of the department say that a task force could have helped manage the disaster. A task force was only set up Friday morning, days after Irma hit portions of the Caribbean. While the State Department says that is consistent with previous practice, criticism has still come to the fore.
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As of Saturday afternoon, the State Department had coordinated with the Department of Defense to assist over 500 American citizens with air evacuations from St. Martin, beginning with those needing urgent medical care. As of Saturday evening, 1,200 Americans had been rescued from St. Martin/St. Maarten, according to the U.S. State Department.

The latest from U.S. Consulate General Curacao (Sitrep #6) as follows (note that there is no consular post in St. Maarten, which is under the consular district of Curacao, but located in a separate island, see map here):

The Department of State is working with the Department of Defense to continue evacuation flights on September 11. U.S. citizens desiring to leave should proceed to the airport to arrive by noon on Monday carrying their U.S. passport or other proof of U.S. citizenship and identity. Passengers may be allowed carry on one small bag. Medications and any other essential items should be carried on your person. Note, passengers arriving at St Maarten Airport should expect long wait times. There is no running water at the airport and very limited shelter.

The Department of State has received information that Royal Caribbean Cruise Line ship near the port of Sint Maarten has departed. Contact the cruise line directly with any questions at stormhelp@rccl.com.

U.S. citizens in need of evacuation on Sint Maarten should shelter in place until Monday, listen to 101.1 FM radio for updates.

U.S. citizens in Dutch St. Maarten, Anguilla, Aruba, Bonaire, Curacao, Saba, or St. Eustatius are asked to visit Task Force Alert: https://tfa.state.gov/ and select “2017 Hurricane Irma.”

U.S. Citizens in French St. Martin are asked to contact U.S. Embassy Bridgetown in Barbados: https://bb.usembassy.gov/news-events/  or direct link here: https://bb.usembassy.gov/emergency-message-u-s-citizens-british-virgin-islands-assistance-aftermath-hurricane-irma/.

AND NOW THIS —

Senate Appropriations Subcommittee Approves FY2018 State & Foreign Ops Appropriations Bill

Posted: 1:59 pm PT

 

On September 6, the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on State, Foreign Operations, and Related Programs announced that it 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 when factoring in fiscal year 2017 funding for famine relief but not the Security Assistance Appropriations Act, 2017. The State Department’s reorganization/redesign is huge news; this bill provides for notifications and consultations with the subcommittee on proposed changes. Most notably, it requires the Government Accountability Office and Department of State and USAID Inspectors General (IG) to review the redesign plans.

Senator Patrick Leahy notes that ““The President sent us a budget that was irresponsible and indefensible.  We were provided no credible justification for the cuts that were proposed, which would have severely eroded U.S. global leadership.  This bill repudiates the President’s reckless budget request, and I commend Chairman Graham for reaffirming the primacy of the Congress in appropriating funds.” Also this:

The bill does not endorse the reorganization or redesign of any part of the Department of State, USAID, or any other entity funded in the bill absent consultation with, and the notification and detailed justification of any proposed modifications to, the Committees on Appropriations.  In addition to such consultation and notification requirements, section 7083 of the bill requires any such proposal to first be submitted to GAO for review. The bill further restricts changes to, and provides specific amounts of funding for, certain bureaus, offices, and positions, and removes authority for the administration to deviate from certain operating and assistance funding levels.

Senator Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), chairman of the Senate State and Foreign Operations Appropriations Subcommittee said: “Through the bill and report, the Subcommittee has articulated its vision of an active American role in the world today.  ‘Soft power,’ as it’s commonly called, is an essential ingredient to national security.  This bill recognizes and builds upon the significance of ‘soft power.’”  

Below excerpted from the the Appropriations Subcommittee statement:

The Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on State, Foreign Operations, and Related Programs today approved a $51.35 billion appropriations bill to strengthen federal programs and operations that support national security and American values abroad.

The FY2018 Department of State, Foreign Operations, and Related Programs Appropriations Bill provides $51.2 billion in discretionary funding for the U.S. Department of State, foreign operations, and related programs.  Of this amount, $30.4 billion is for enduring costs and $20.8 billion is for Overseas Contingency Operations (OCO).

Full committee consideration of the bill is scheduled for Thursday (http://bit.ly/2gGCwhL).

Bill Highlights:

Supports Key Allies, Counters Extremism, and Promotes Democracy and Human Rights
•    $3.1 billion for military aid for Israel, $7.5 million for refugees resettling in Israel; and continues restrictions on the United Nations Human Rights Council.
•    $1.5 billion for economic and military assistance for Jordan.
•    $120 million for the Countering Russian Influence Fund.
•    $31 million for the Multinational Force and Observers in the Sinai.
•    $165.4 million for assistance for Tunisia, and requires an assessment of the feasibility of establishing a multi-year Memorandum of Understanding with Tunisia.
•    $500 million for the Relief and Recovery Fund to hold, repopulate, and establish governance in areas liberated from Islamic State of Iraq and Syria and other extremist groups.
•    $19 million for a program to assist women and girls at risk from extremism in predominantly Muslim and other countries.
•    $2.3 billion for democracy programs, and an additional $170 million for the National Endowment for Democracy.
•    $15 million to promote democracy and rule of law in Venezuela.
•    $8 million for programs to promote human rights in North Korea.

Promotes and Protects International Religious Freedom – $25 million for programs to promote international religious freedom, and $5 million for atrocities prevention programs.  In addition, the bill provides $6 million for the Ambassador-at-Large for Religious Freedom, and $2 million for the Special Envoy to Promote Religious Freedom in the Near East and Central Asia.

Strengthens Embassy Security – $5.8 billion to ensure the safety of American diplomats, development professionals and facilities abroad.

Provides Assistance for Refugees – $3.11 billion for Migration and Refugee Assistance, maintaining the long-held United States commitment to protecting and addressing the needs of refugees impacted by conflict and other natural and manmade disasters.

International Disaster Assistance – $3.13 billion for International Disaster Assistance, which is $311.5 million above the FY2017 level, excluding emergency assistance for famine relief.  Funds provided in excess of the FY2017 level are made available for famine prevention, relief, and mitigation.

Does Not Include Funds for the Green Climate Fund – The bill does not include funds for grants, assistance, or contributions to the Green Climate Fund, as none were requested by the President.

Protects Life – The bill expands the Mexico City Policy, which prohibits U.S. assistance for foreign nongovernmental organizations that promote or perform abortions, and caps family planning and reproductive health programs at $461 million.  The bill continues provisions relating to abortion, including the Tiahrt, Helms, and Kemp-Kasten Amendments.

DEPARTMENT OF STATE OPERATIONS AND OTHER FUNDING

Administration of Foreign Affairs – $11.51 billion for the administration of foreign affairs, including funding to maintain staffing and operations levels at the Department of State consistent with prior fiscal years.  Funding is also provided to implement the recommendations of the Benghazi Accountability Review Board report.

Reorganization or Redesign – Maintains funding for Department of State and USAID personnel levels consistent with prior fiscal years; prohibits funds from this and prior acts from being used to close, move, or otherwise incorporate USAID into the Department of State; requires submission of notifications and reports on any proposed reorganization or redesign plans; and requires the Government Accountability Office and Department of State and USAID Inspectors General (IG) to review plans.

USAID Operations – $1.35 billion for USAID operating expenses, including to maintain staffing and operational levels consistent with prior fiscal years.

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Tillerson to Shrink Special Envoys/Reps Ranks — Honk If You Approve! Honk! Honk!

Posted: 3:03 am  ET

 

We’ve previously blogged about the special envoys/reps at the State Department going back to 2014.  In 2015, Senator Bob Corker [R-TN] introduced Senate bill S. 1635: Department of State Operations Authorization and Embassy Security Act, Fiscal Year 2016. We agreed with Senator Corker then that every secretary of state should be asked to account for these 7th Floor denizens/positions, most especially on their necessity to the effective conduct of the foreign affairs of the United States.  The American Academy of Diplomacy in its American Diplomacy at Risk report also recommended that “special envoys, representatives, coordinators, etc. should be appointed only for the highest priority issues and should be integrated into relevant bureaus unless special circumstances dictate otherwise.”

The Corker bill was enacted after it was signed by President Obama on December 16, 2016.  Sec. 418 of the bill requires the Secretary of State to report to appropriate congressional committees a tabulation of the current names, ranks, positions, and responsibilities of all special envoy, representative, advisor, and coordinator positions at the Department, with a separate accounting of all such positions at the level of Assistant Secretary (or equivalent), their appointment authorities, reporting requirements, staffing, and other details.  The draft bill may have originally required a Senate confirmation for these positions but the inacted bill, Public Law 114–323, does not include that requirement.

Secretary Tillerson’s letter to Senator Corker notes that he is providing notification per section 7015(a) and 7034(l) of the Department of State, Foreign Operations, and Related Programs Appropriations Act, 2017 (Div. J, P.L. 115-31) on certain organizational changes related to special envoys and related positions, as well as changes to special envoys and related positions that do not require notification to the Committees. He writes:

I believe that the Department will be able to better execute its mission by integrating certain envoys and special representative offices within the regional and functional bureaus, and eliminating those that have accomplished or outlived their original purpose. In some cases, the State Department would leave in place several positions and offices, while in other cases, positions and offices would be either consolidated or integrated with the most appropriate bureau. If an issue no longer requires a special envoy or representative, then an appropriate bureau will manage any legacy responsibilities.

This integration will address concerns that under the current structure, a special envoy or representative can circumvent the regional and functional bureaus that make up the core of the State Department. In each case, the allocated budget, staff members, and responsibilities would be reallocated to the appropriate bureau. Issues that require high-level interaction with senior foreign officials will be assigned to a senior official to whom authority is delegated to conduct such diplomacy.

Let’s give Secretary Tillerson a thumbs up, okay? This needed doing for some time, and we are pleased to see that some of these responsibilities are reverting to the functional and regional bureaus; that subject matter experts in the bureaus will be put to good use again, and will not be kept in the dark. It’s good to see Tillerson tamping down the proliferation of um … mushrooms. Let’s see if he can keep at it.

In response to Secretary Tillerson’s letter, Senator Corker released a statement here  expressing appreciation for “the work Secretary Tillerson has done to responsibly review the organizational structure of special envoys and look forward to going through these changes in detail.”

The Secretary’s letter includes nine (9) special envoy, special representative, special advisor, coordinator, and related positions that will be removed or retired:

The Special Envoy for the Six-Party Talks position will be removed, as the talks ceased in 2008. One position and $224,000 in support costs will be realigned within the Bureau of East Asia and Pacific Affairs (EAP).

The Transparency Coordinator position will be removed. Legacy or future responsibilities will be addressed by the Under Secretary for Management (M). Three positions and $165,000 in support costs within the D&CP will be reprogrammed from the Office of the Secretary to the Under Secretary for Management (M).

The Special Advisor for Global Youth Issues position will be removed. The portfolio of helping the U.S. Government engage young people internationally falls within the scope of the Under Secretary of Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs (R). There is no support cost for this position.

The Special Envoy for the Colombian Peace Process position will be removed and the functions assumed by the Western Hemisphere Affairs Bureau (WHA). There is no position established for this special envoy, and $5,000 in support costs within D&CP will be reprogrammed from the Office of the Secretary to the Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs (WHA).

The Personal Representative for Northern Ireland Issues position will be retired. The 1998 Good Friday Agreement has been implemented with a devolved national assembly in Belfast now in place. Legacy and future responsibilities will be assigned to the Bureau of European and Eurasian Affairs (EUR). This will involve realigning $50,000 in support costs within the Bureau of European and Eurasian Affairs (EUR).

The Quadrennial Diplomacy and Development Review Special Representative position will be removed. The State Department is undergoing an updated review process under the Presidential Executive Order on reorganizing the executive branch. This will involve realigning 8 positions and $1,247,000 in support costs within D&CP from the Office of the Secretary to the Under Secretary for Management (M).

The U.S. Special Envoy for the Closure of Guantanamo Detention Facility position will be removed. Any legacy and future responsibilities will be assigned to the Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs (WHA). This will involve realigning 9 positions and $637,000 in support costs within D&CP from the Office of the Secretary to Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs (WHA).

The Special Adviser for Secretary Initiatives position will be removed. There is no staff currently authorized for this position. This will involve reprogramming $43,000 in support costs.

The Senior Advisor to the Secretary position will be removed. This will involve reprogramming 4 positions and $350,000 in support costs from the Office of the Secretary to Secretary’s Policy Planning Staff (S/P).

Here are some of the titles that will be removed and the functions performed by the appropriate bureaus:

Special Coordinator for Haiti| The Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs (WHA) will retain the functions and staff of the Special Coordinator for Haiti. The title will be removed and 9 positions and $656,000 in support costs will remain in the Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs (WHA).

U.S. Special Envoy for Climate Change. Functions include engaging partners and allies around the world on climate change issues. This will involve realigning 7 positions and $761,000 in support costs within D&CP from the Office of the Secretary to the Bureau of Oceans and International and Scientific Affairs (OES).

U.S. Special Representative for the Arctic Region. Functions include advancing U.S. interests in the Arctic. This will involve realigning 5 positions and $438,000 in support costs within D&CP from the Office of the Secretary to the Bureau of Oceans and International and Scientific Affairs (OES).

Special Coordinator for Libya and Senior Advisor for MEK Resettlement (SCL) | The Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs (NEA) will assign the functions of the Special Coordinator for Libya and Senior Advisor for MEK Resettlement (SCL) to a deputy assistant secretary. The title will be removed and 2 positions and $379,000 in support costs will remain in the Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs (NEA).

U.S. Special Envoy for Syria | The Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs (NEA) will retain the functions of the U.S. Special Envoy for Syria. The title will be removed and the functions continue to be performed by a deputy assistant secretary in the Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs (NEA). The title will be removed and 2 positions and $379,000 in support costs will remain in the Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs (NEA).

U.S. Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan | The Bureau of South and Central Asian Affairs (SCA) will assume the functions and staff of the U.S. Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan, and coordinate across the government to meet U.S. strategic goals in the region. This will involve removing the title and sustaining the realignment of 9 positions and $1,985,000 in support costs within D&CP from the Office of the Secretary to the Bureau of South and Central Asian Affairs (SCA). Given the Administration’s recent South Asia policy announcement, the Secretary will consider options regarding diplomatic responsibilities in the region as needed.

Lead Coordinator for Iran Nuclear Implementation | The Bureau of International Security and Nonproliferation (ISN) will assume functions and staff of the Lead Coordinator for Iran Nuclear Implementation, including ensuring that the nuclear steps to which Iran committed in the JCPOA are fully implemented and verified. This will involve removing the title and realigning 5 positions and $1,208,000 in support costs from the Office of the Secretary to the Bureau of International Security and Nonproliferation (ISN).

Coordinator for Cyber Issues (CCI). Functions encompass advancing the full range of U.S. interests in cyberspace including security, economic issues, freedom of expression, and free flow of information on the internet. This will involve realigning 23 positions and $5,497,000 in support costs from the Office of the Secretary to the Bureau of Economic & Business Affairs (EB).

Read the full list here: Tillerson-Corker-Letter via Politico.

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Microwaving U.S. Embassy Moscow: Oral History From FSOs James Schumaker and William A. Brown

Posted: 12:40 am  ET

 

We recently blogged about the attacks on American diplomats in Havana (see U.S. Diplomats in Cuba Sonic Attacks: As Serious as Mild TBI/Central Nervous System Damage? 16 USG Employees in “Sonic Attack” and More on The Secret History of Diplomats and Invisible Weapons 

Via the Association for Diplomatic Studies and Training (ADST) Oral History:

U.S. relations with Moscow through the decades have been problematic at best while the embassy itself has been the subject of spy scandals, eavesdropping and other Cold War intrigue. One of the strangest episodes was revealed in the 1970s, when the U.S. confirmed that the USSR had been beaming microwaves at the embassy for the past 15 years. One concern was that the Soviets were trying to inflict physical harm on the Americans working there.

Moscow, US Embassy and Chalyapin house

Old U.S. Embassy Moscow — By NVO (Own work by the original uploader) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0) or GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

Microwaving Embassy Moscow brought back a flood of memories to James Schumaker, who served most of his career in the USSR and later Russia and Ukraine. In this account, he describes how U.S. Ambassador to the USSR Walter Stoessel threatened to resign, the widespread concern many Americans posted at the embassy had regarding potential health problems, especially when two ambassadors died of cancer, and his own experience with Chronic Lymphocytic Leukemia.

James Schumaker:  The existence of the microwave problem had been kept under wraps for years, first because no one knew that there might be health consequences, and later, according to unconfirmed reports, because Henry Kissinger wanted to avoid damaging chances for détente.  When Ambassador Stoessel (seen at left) learned about the problem, he threatened to resign unless the Embassy community was told.  As a result, the microwave story was finally made public in a press conference called by the Ambassador.

In the wake of Ambassador Stoessel’s announcement, many in the Embassy community felt betrayed about being kept in the dark for so long, and still more were anxious about the effect the microwaves might be having.  Some thought that the microwaves were used by the Soviets to activate the numerous listening devices they had emplaced in the building prior to American occupancy.

Others believed that they were a jamming signal designed to foil our own electronic snooping devices (a highly classified report that came out in the 1970s leaned to this interpretation, and this is what the Soviets told us as well).  Still others thought that the Soviets, who apparently knew a lot more about microwaves than we did, were using them to affect the mental states of Embassy employees.
[…]
For the most part, I was blissfully unconcerned about the microwave controversy.  At the time, it seemed to me that it was an issue taken more seriously by Embassy spouses, who were afraid for their children, than by the Embassy leadership, which in fact was in the crosshairs of whatever the microwaves might be doing.

Periodically, I would see Soviet technicians standing side by side with American techs on the upper floors of the Chancery.  They were measuring ambient levels of microwave radiation.  Naturally, the Soviet equipment didn’t find anything, while ours did.  I thought it was funny at the time.  Screens were put up on the Chancery windows, which were said to diminish the amount of microwave emanations getting into the Embassy.  I didn’t think much about that, either.  I just continued to do my work and not think about the possible consequences.

Microwaves continued to be beamed at the Embassy throughout my tour, and, though the levels went up and down over the years, emanating first from one, and then two locations, the microwaving of the Embassy continued until at least 1988.  Over the years, thousands of Americans were exposed.

Shortly after my tour was over, I found out that my cavalier attitude toward the microwave issue was not at all justified, at least in my own personal case.  Med informed me in late 1979 that my own white cell count was much higher than normal, and advised me to continue testing.  In 1985, my white cell count got high enough for MED to recommend that I see a hematologist, so I went to a local doctor in San Clemente, Dr. Tsang P. Fong.

He did a bone marrow test (the one where they hammer a spike into the pelvic bone – very uncomfortable).  The test confirmed that I had Chronic Lymphocytic Leukemia (CLL) stage zero, but that chemotherapy was not advisable, since I had no symptoms and the cure would be worse than the disease.
[…]
I determined to fight the disease as best I could by leading a healthy lifestyle, although, paradoxically, I then volunteered for a high-risk assignment to Kabul in 1988.  Perhaps in the back of my mind I had this feeling that I could take more risks, since I didn’t have very long to live anyway — a kind of “who cares?” illogical approach that has gotten me through many crises in life.  State Medical knew about the CLL diagnosis and downgraded me to a “2” Medical clearance, but didn’t stop me from going overseas, mainly because the jobs I was volunteering for often had no takers.

Read in full James Schumaker’s account here.

William Andreas Brown discusses the widespread concern among Americans working at the embassy at the time and their anger at the State Department for its lack of transparency on the issue. Excerpted from his Oral History interview conducted by Charles Stuart Kennedy beginning in November 1998.

William Andreas Brown: I have to tell you what a shock it was in about 1972 or 1973 to wake up to the great, microwave scandal and to find that Secretary of State Henry Kissinger and his associates had kept from us the fact that for years we had been bombarded by microwave apparatuses, directed straight at the embassy in Moscow. I remember being one of a small group of officers in 1972 or 1973 when news of this development broke. We raised our voices in despair, dissent, and so forth.

We were finally ushered into a room where Larry Eagleburger, Kissinger’s Special Assistant at the time, briefed us and made some sort of presentation, assuring us that steps would be taken, and so forth. He said that medical studies were under way, and the evidence thus far was that these microwaves had not been deleterious to our health.

This was somewhat reassuring until, at the end of the meeting, Larry Eagleburger said, “Now, rip up all of your notes and give them to me. Nobody can leave with notes on this discussion.” One said to oneself: “What in the hell is going on here?”

It turned out that the Soviets had been bombarding us with microwaves, beginning in about 1964 or 1965. Why they had done this remained a mystery. How they had bombarded our embassy remained somewhat of a mystery, as well as why they had done so. Also a mystery was what was the response. We were furious. We felt betrayed by the leadership of the Department of State and by the Secretary of State himself…I’m speaking now of the microwave radiation scandal, as I would call it, of the early 1970s, which harked back to the early 1960s.

Many of us who had served in the embassy felt betrayed as people who had put so much into our efforts and who had volunteered to serve in Moscow. We probably would have volunteered anyway to serve in Moscow, even if we had known about this. However, we learned only years later that this had happened and that information on it had been kept from us. Foreign Service physical examinations routinely include a blood test.

Unbeknownst to us, the Department of State was testing our blood to see what, if anything had happened to us as a result of the microwave radiation. This was a pretty jolting realization.

Q: Before we leave that matter, was consideration ever given to our saying to the Soviets: “If you keep up this nonsense, we will close our embassy in Moscow?” 

BROWN: Or, we could say, if the Soviets kept up this nonsense, we would do exactly the same thing to the Soviet Embassy in Washington. But, oh, no, that would have been nasty, and nothing like that was done. We felt pretty strongly about this. It affected morale and assignments to positions in the embassy.

Q: What was the purpose of what has to be regarded as this campaign by Soviet authorities against the health of members of the staff of the American embassy in Moscow

BROWN: This takes you into realms that I’m really not qualified to discuss. I was aware of various theories and of measures and countermeasures that might be taken. However, the point is that microwave emissions were being beamed at us. This point came home to me particularly one day when a visiting technician from the State Department came with equipment and said, “Do you mind if I set this up in your office?”

I said, “Okay, but why here? Why in my office?” He said, “Because actually there are at least two beams being directed at the embassy. One comes in from the front of the embassy building, and one comes in from that great, white building over there, which is called the ‘White House.’  You know, where the Russian Parliament meets.”…

“One beam comes this way, and the two beams intersect right here at your desk. So I’d like to set this up.” I thought: “My God! It makes you think.” But the Soviets weren’t turning these beams off. This was a disturbing development. As I said, it affected assignments to positions in the embassy in Moscow, as well as other things.

Read in full William Andreas Brown’s interview here.

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American values? Tillerson: “The president speaks for himself.” Uh-oh!

Posted: 4:51 am  ET

 

Axios writes: “We’ve been hearing for weeks, from sources who’ve spoken to the president, that Trump is getting more and more fed up with Tillerson, who has still yet to staff his agency.” The report enumerates multiple criticisms directed at Tillerson:
1) why he still doesn’t have political appointees in the top roles at the State Department;
2) Tillerson hasn’t put in the time to build goodwill with Washington’s foreign policy community or with the media;
3) reports that Tillerson has destroyed morale at State, empowering only the tiniest inner circle;
4) Qatar;
5) Venezuela and Tom Shannon;
6) Iran;
7) Tillerson’s Chief of Staff Margaret Peterlin

AND NOW THIS —

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More Departures: John Heffern (EUR), Tracey Ann Jacobson (IO), Bill Brownfield (INL)

Posted: 4:16 am  ET

 

Last week, FP reported that Tracey Ann Jacobson, 52, a career foreign service officer who served as Acting Assistant Secretary of the Bureau for International Organization Affairs (IO), announced her plans to take early retirement to her staff.  The current Assistant Secretary of State of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs William R. Brownfield who was appointed to post in January 10, 2011, reportedly also told his bureau that he would step down by the end of September.  Just a few weeks ago, Ambassador Brownfirled was still rumored as in the running for the WHA post. The two departures in addition to the Acting Assistant Secretary of the European Affairs Ambassador John Heffern who also stepped down from post before the confirmation of the EUR nominee.

With the exception of EUR, no nominees have been announced for IO or INL, which means, the musical chairs will continue in Foggy Bottom. In the case of Ambassador Heffern, he is stepping down prior to the confirmation of the EUR nominee Wess Mitchell (2017-07-25 PN816 Department of State | A. Wess Mitchell, of Virginia, to be an Assistant Secretary of State (European and Eurasian Affairs)).  Presumably, the nominee will be confirmed but we won’t really know until it happens or when. As of this writing, Mr. Mitchell’s nomination is pending in the SFRC and no hearing schedule has been announced.  This has now become a trend in Foggy Bottom — acting assistant secretaries replaced with other acting assistant secretaries absent the nomination of actual nominees. Which doesn’t make sense, folks adjusting to these new bosses who will be gone when later new bosses will be appointed to take their places.

It could always get worse, of course. Maybe you’ll show up for work on Monday reporting to a two-eyed new boss, and by Friday, you get a three-eyed new boss.

We don’t know who will be in acting capacities for IO and INL but we were informed that Ambassador Elisabeth I. Millard, a career diplomat who was sworn in as the United States Ambassador to Tajikistan on December 14, 2015 is coming in a Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of State (PDAS) and presumably will be acting EUR pending the Mitchell confirmation.  Under normal times, she would be on a typical 3-year tour so she would not be expected to rotate out of Tajikistan until next year. But these are abnormal times.  Abnormal times in more ways than one. Would anyone actually be surprised if it turns out that a top official is pushed out in all likelihood because of a tweet?

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D/Secretary Sullivan Touts 500 Additional Comments Submitted to Redesign Portal

Posted: 3:40 am ET
Updated: 3:12 pm PT

 

Deputy Secretary John Sullivan held a town hall for State Department employees on August 8, 2017 (see Three Reasons For Sullivan’s Town Hall, Plus Feedback, and Some Re-Design Concerns;  Deputy Secretary Sullivan’s Town Hall With @StateDept Employees Now in Gifs), and  Why Tillerson Not Sullivan Needs the Town Hall: Morale Is Bad, “S” is Accountable.  He recently updated employees with several questions he promised to answer during the town hall.

In a brief message to employees, D/S Sullivan said that “the redesign process is moving ahead on schedule” and that they appreciate the employees participation.  Apparently, before the town hall, the State Department received approximately 300 suggestions/ comments submitted to the online portal dedicated for the redesign. Mr. Sullivan told employees that in the week after the town hall, they had received more than 500 additional submissions to the portal. “Each of those contributions has been reviewed and considered by the teams working on the redesign effort.” He urge employees to “remain engaged” as “we work together to improve this wonderful institution to which you and so many others have given so much over our nation’s history.”

On the Department’s Pathways Programs

D/S Sullivan announced that on August 17, Secretary Tillerson approved conversions to one-year term, part-time Civil Service appointments for Pathways interns who have successfully completed the program, who are within their 120-day conversion period, and have been recommended for conversion by their hiring bureaus.

On LGBT employees/assignments

D/S Sullivan told employees that the Department is “dedicated to ensuring equal treatment for all employees.” He informed employees that the State Department “pro-actively maintain a matrix to assist LGBT colleagues planning assignments overseas.” He also told employees that as of 2017, 97 governments have granted accreditation. “This is 58 percent of reported countries, which is a substantial increase since we started monitoring accreditation in 2011. We have also made significant progress in moving countries off the “No” list into another category that may be short of accreditation but provides employees with additional options.”  

On the Travel Approval Process

He informed employees that “there has been no change to the process for routine international travel and a clarification has already been sent to bureau front offices.” We’ve previously learned that the guidance was issued Monday evening, August 7, that ALL overseas travel “to participate in events” must be approved via action memo to the Secretary himself. It also requested a detailed budget breakdown of the trip and information on other participants. The same guidance was rescinded by Tuesday evening, August 8.

Mandatory Retirement Age to 66

D/S Sullivan notes that the mandatory retirement age is a component of the Foreign Service’s up-or-out system, which was modeled after a similar system in the military. “It is also a recognition of the rigors and stresses of a Foreign Service career, largely spent overseas in often difficult and dangerous places.” He notes further that any change to the mandatory retirement age would require a change to the Foreign Service Act of 1980.  His response also cites the exception to the mandatory retirement at age 65  – if the Secretary of State “determines it to be in the public interest to retain someone for a period not to exceed 5 years beyond the mandatory retirement age.” 

That’s in the books, but we’ve never heard of the secretary of state invoke that exception. In one case we are aware of where an FSO was subject to mandatory retirement and asked how he/she can request that exception, HR reportedly told him/her not to bother.

A reader feedback notes that there were mandatory retirement exceptions granted to some FS specialists, specific to Financial Management Officers.  We were informed that extensions for FMOs seem to happen with regularity although “not everyone asks, and some that ask are politely told ‘don’t bother’.”  Those who were granted limited extensions were given 1-2 years and appears to be “high performers who for one reason or another were FS-1s who did not make SFS and were vital members of the regional bureau budget team.”  

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