FSJ: MED’s Focus on Clearances and Restricting Access to SNEA #NotSupportForFamilies

We’ve blogged previously about the problems encountered by Foreign Service families with the State Department’s Bureau of Medical Services (see StateDept’s MED Services Drive Employees with Special Needs #FSKids Nuts; Also @StateDept’s Blackhole of Pain Inside the Bureau of Medical Services (MED). The latest issue of the Foreign Service Journal features a piece by James Brush who previously worked as a child psychologist at the State Department.

Via FSJ: James Brush, Ph.D., is a child and adolescent psychologist in private practice in Washington, D.C. He worked at the State Department as a child psychologist with the Child and Family Program division of MED Mental Health from January 2013 through March 2016. Prior to his work at State, he had a private practice in Cincinnati, Ohio, for 26 years. A past president of the Ohio Psychological Association, he continues to be involved as a committee chair. 

Below is an excerpt from The Demise of MED’s Child and Family Program (FSJ)

The Child and Family Program within the Bureau of Medical Services’ Mental Health program was constituted in 2013, when the full team was finally in place after years of planning. I was brought onto the team as one of two child psychologists. By March, we had on board a child psychiatrist director, two child psychologists and three clinical social workers who had experience in treating and managing the needs of children and adolescents.

I was on the ground floor of this program, and our mission was both exciting and challenging. This was the first extensive effort within the State Department to support the specific mental health and developmental needs of children, adolescents and their families living abroad.
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By 2015, three of the psychiatrists who were opposed to the CFP functioning as a comprehensive support program ended up having leadership roles in MED. Dr. Stephen Young took over as the director of mental health. Dr. Kathy Gallardo took over as deputy director of mental health, and Dr. Aleen Grabow was brought in as a child psychiatric consultant. Together, they worked toward limiting the scope of the CFP, limiting the SNEA program and reducing the opportunities for families with disabled children through more restrictive use of child mental health clearances.

Within a year of their tenure in leadership, we lost our child psychiatrist director, the two child psychologists and one clinical social worker. I and the other providers left because Drs. Young and Gallardo changed the mission and scope of the CFP. It became an unpleasant place in which to work, with the emphasis being on clearances and restricting access to SNEA. Support for families was no longer the focus. Rather, support services were being cut and the clearance process was being used to restrict the opportunities of those with disabled children.

The program is now a skeleton of what it was previously, with only one social worker, one child psychologist and one retired Foreign Service psychiatrist. Telemedicine is forbidden. The program now basically performs an administrative function, processing clearances and SNEA requests.

Read the entire piece here.

We understand that State/OIG is aware of some allegations related to the special needs education allowance (SNEA) and is doing “exploratory work”. Well, Dr. Brush’s account should be instructive.  This is not one of the employees battling the bureaucracy on behalf of their children, this is one of the people who used to work at MED.

While we might be tempted to think that the troubling response could be some form of retaliation for blowing this issue up in the media, it is hard to imagine that MED’s policy and focus on restricting access to SNEA and the medical clearance do not have the full blessings of the State Department leadership all the way to the 7th Floor. After all, if State really wanted to resolve these cases, it would have worked with these FS families to accommodate their needs, avoid forcing people into taking loans to pay/repay for special ed needs expenses, and it would have afforded families an appeals process (IT. DOESN’T).

And they certainly would not/not have threatened people who pursue this issue, right? RIGHT?

Perhaps, this is what they mean when they talk about the new Department of Swagger? Take it or leave?

(Thought bubble: How long before the proponents of this policy get promotions, Superior Honor Awards or Presidential Rank Awards?)

While the State Department has lifted the hiring freeze, and the A-100 classes are no longer on a hit and miss schedule, it is not clear to us what the new secretary of state’s position on the previously planned 8% shrinkage of the agency workforce. If that was a WH imperative as opposed to Tillerson’s, it would be hard to imagine Secretary Pompeo going against it.

The CRS report on the Department of State, Foreign Operations and Related Programs: FY2019 Budget and Appropriations dated April 18, 2018 and updated on August 9, 2018 notes the following:

The Department of State released guidance in May 2018 lifting the hiring freeze and allowing the department to increase staffing to December 31, 2017, levels. Subsequent press reports indicate that the department intends to hire 454 new employees beyond end of year 2017 levels but also suggest that hiring must be circumscribed by previous commitments former Secretary of State Rex Tillerson made to reduce its workforce by 8%.

So this brings us to the “take it or leave” scenario for FS employees with special needs children. Since these kids are given limited medical clearances with no appeals (which precludes most if not all overseas assignments), Foreign Service families will be forced to serve either in domestic assignments in order to stay together; serve separately with employees going overseas, while their families stay in the United States, or employees may opt to pay everything out of pocket and not ask for SNEA to avoid getting snared in MED’s clutches.

Begs the questions: 1) How many career employees would stay on when their employer talk the talk about supporting FS families but know it’s just a gum chewing exercise? And 2)  Is this what a slow walk to 8% looks like??

By the way, if there’s an alternate reasonable explanation for all this that does not require our relocation to the parallel universe, Earth, Too, send us an email, we’d love a good chat.

 

Related items:

 

 

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Swagger talk about POTUS (in a parallel universe) makes regular folks react with feelings

 

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@StateDept Requests $246.2M For Tillerson’s “Redesign” Project Implementation #FY2019

Via CRS: Department of State, Foreign Operations and Related Programs: FY2019 Budget and Appropriations | April 18, 2018 – August 9, 2018:

The State Department is requesting $246.2 million for FY2019 to implement the Leadership and Modernization Impact Initiative (hereinafter, the Impact Initiative). The Impact Initiative constitutes the implementation phase of the State Department’s “Redesign” project. Former Secretary Tillerson initiated the redesign in 2017 to implement Executive Order 13781 and Office of Management and Budget (OMB) Memorandum M-17-22, which aim to “improve the efficiency, effectiveness, and accountability of the executive branch.”53

The Impact Initiative constitutes 16 keystone modernization projects in three focus areas: Modernizing Information Technology and Human Resources Operations; Modernizing Global Presence, and Creating and Implementing Policy; and Improving Operational Efficiencies (see Table 5). According to the State Department, these focus areas and modernization projects are derived from the results of the listening tour that former Secretary Tillerson launched in May 2017, which included interviews conducted with approximately 300 individuals that the department said comprised a representative cross-section of its broader workforce, and a survey completed by 35,000 department personnel that asked them to discuss the means they use to help complete the department’s mission and obstacles they encounter in the process.

Of the $246.2 million requested, $150.0 million is requested from the IT Central Fund (which is funded through funds appropriated by Congress to the Capital Investment Fund account and, separately, expedited passport fees) and $96.2 million from the D&CP account to implement modernization projects. Proceeds from the IT Central Fund are intended to implement projects focused on IT, including modernizing existing IT infrastructure, systems, and applications based on a roadmap to be created in FY2018 and centralizing management of all WiFi networks. Funds from the D&CP account are intended to implement modernization projects focusing on Human Resources issues, including leadership development, management services consolidation, data analytics, and workforce readiness initiatives. Given the multiyear timeframe of some of the Impact Initiative modernization projects, the Administration is likely to request additional funds for implementation in forthcoming fiscal years.

Neither the House nor the Senate committee bills or reports specifically mention the Impact Initiative by name. However, both the House and Senate committee bills include provisions that, if enacted, would prohibit the Department of State from using appropriated funds to implement a reorganization without prior consultation, notification, and reporting to Congress.54 The Senate committee bill explicitly provides that no funds appropriated for SFOPs may be used to “downsize, downgrade, consolidate, close, move, or relocate” the State Department’s Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration.55

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Pompeo Swears In Retired SFSO Tibor Nagy as Asst Secretary For African Affairs

 

Via state.gov:

Ambassador Nagy, a retired career Foreign Service Officer, spent 32 years in government service, including over 20 years in assignments across Africa. He served as the United States Ambassador to Ethiopia (1999-2002), United States Ambassador to Guinea (1996-1999) as well as the Deputy Chief of Mission in Nigeria (1993-1995), Cameroon (1990-1993), and Togo (1987-1990). Previous assignments include Zambia, the Seychelles, Ethiopia, and Washington, DC.

Ambassador Nagy has received numerous awards from the U.S. Department of State in recognition of his service, including commendations for helping prevent famine in Ethiopia; supporting the evacuation of Americans from Sierra Leone during a violent insurrection; supporting efforts to end the Ethiopian-Eritrean War; and managing the United States Embassy in Lagos, Nigeria during political and economic crises.

Following his retirement from the Foreign Service, Ambassador Nagy served as Vice Provost for International Affairs at Texas Tech University from 2003 – 2018. During that time he lectured nationally on Africa, foreign policy, international development, and U.S. diplomacy, in addition to serving as a regular op-ed contributor to the Lubbock Avalanche-Journal newspaper on global events. He co-authored “Kiss Your Latte Goodbye: Managing Overseas Operations,” nonfiction winner of the 2014 Paris Book Festival.

Ambassador Nagy arrived in the United States in 1957 as a political refugee from Hungary; he received his B.A. from Texas Tech University and M.S.A. from George Washington University.

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Pompeo’s #Swagger Got Jimmy Kimmel’s Attention, Plus Mocking All Around #GetSwaggerOrElse

AND NOW THIS FROM A SMART TERRIER —

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@AtomicBell to @SecPompeo on Swagger Nonsense: Stop Trying to Make #Swagger Happen

Via Inkstick:

Few things in the world are certain, but make no mistake, Secretary Mike Pompeo does not have swagger. Neither does the State Department.

In simple, definitional terms, “swagger” is described as confidence bordering on arrogance and self-importance. While confidence is a key to diplomatic work, the latter two qualities are anathema to it. Despite the poor associations, Secretary Pompeo is desperately trying to make #swagger happen.

Hey, here’s some swagger from 90s WWE. You’re welcome!

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Department of Swagger? Where All Things Are Happening, My Sweetness!

Excuse me, is this the same department responsible for an updated September 7 guidance regarding the correct use of commas in paper for the Secretary and other agency principals? An update to guidance on the same topic (comma inclusion and omission) issued in June? Who knows? The folks who did the comma guidance … are they the same ones who did the updated department seal? Are there plans for updating all embassy and consulate seals with Embassy of Swagger? How about business cards? Should we roll out new t-shirts and uh, swags?

We really do think they should tone down on that swaggering bit but um … not a trick question, the swagger guy vs. the cold guy?

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Steve Mull, Last Career Ambassador in Active Service Departs Foggy Bottom

Posted: 1:56 pm PT

 

On July 11, we posted about the nomination of Ambassador David Hale to be the next Under Secretary for Political Affairs (P); also that a second hand source informed us that Ambassador Steve Mull, the acting “P” and the last remaining Career Ambassador in the active Foreign Service is on his way to retirement (see Ambassador David Hale to be @StateDept’s Under Secretary for Political Affairs).

On July 27, Secretary Pompeo held a ceremony for Ambassador Mull. The secretary of state’s schedule only indicated that he was hosting the flag ceremony for Ambassador Stephen D. Mull, at the Department of State at 10:30 a.m. and that the event was “closed press coverage”.

After 36 years in the Foreign Service, Ambassador Mull concluded his diplomatic career this past week with what appears to be a nice official send off from the secretary of state. This is a change from the most recent redesigned practice of pushing senior career diplomats out the airlock of Starship Foggy Bottom.

Secretary Michael R. Pompeo poses with Ambassador Stephen D. Mull and his wife during the flag ceremony, at the Department of State in Washington, D.C., on July 27, 2018. [State Department photo/ Public Domain]

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Here’s a video from US Embassy Warsaw With Ambassador Mull for our send off:

 

Related posts

 

Senate Passes 98-0 Resolution Against Making Available Current/Ex-Diplomats For Russia Questioning

 

A follow-up to Trump-Putin Summit Fallout: POTUS Entertains Proposal For Russia to Question Ex-US Amb Mike McFaul. The Senate has just passed a 98-0 resolution against making available for Russian questioning  current or former diplomats as well as other officials of the United States Government. The White House has now released a statement about Putin’s proposal that the President of the United States purportedly disagreed with but had previously called “an incredible offer.”

See July 19 update below via VOA with Secretary Pompeo saying “It’s not going to happen,” then added that “”President Trump was very clear – we’re not gonna force Americans to go to Russia to be interrogated by the Russians.”  

The notion that this proposal was made in “sincerity” by President Putin, and that President Trump disagreed with it is actually laughable. Were that true, the Press Secretary could have said immediately that the president pushed back hard against that proposal. This White House must really think we’re all dumb as rocks.

This was a no brainer. Ambassador McFaul, and the other officials that Russia wanted to question may not have been employees of this president, but they were employees and representatives of the United States of America, not of the Democratic Party (despite what this president might think or believe). The fact that this was even offered as a proposal tells us just what Putin think of this President. And the fact this President Trump did not push back and even appeared to consider it is horrifying.

So instead, the Press Secretary announced from the podium that the president “would work with his team” — excuse me, to do what exactly? And now the Press Secretary is saying that while President Trump disagreed with Putin’s proposal, “hopefully President Putin will have the 12 identified Russians come to the United States to prove their innocence or guilt.”  That proposal was supposedly in exchange for the questioning of USG individuals. And now all they have left is “hoping” that Putin will go ahead with the proposal anyway?

Holy caramba! No wonder Putin is laughing his head off; he’s playing chess against our White House playing find the shortest toothpick.

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UPDATE:

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Trump Arrives in Helsinki For “Meeting” With Putin, Not Summit

 

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