@USAGMgov: Heads of MBN, Radio Free Asia, RFE/RL, and the Open Technology Fund Ousted

On June 16, the top two officials at the Voice of America resigned with the arrival of new Trump appointee Michael  Pack as CEO of the U.S. Agency for Global Media (see Top VOA Officials Resign as Michael Pack Assumes Charge as CEO of @USAGMgov).
On Wednesday evening, the news media reports the dismissal of the remaining heads of the four organizations under USAGM. OCB already has an interim director since 2018, and VOA was just vacated. For those unfamiliar with the agency, this used to be BBG prior to its “larger modernization effort”  in August 2018.

Via CNN:
The heads of four organizations overseen by the US Agency for Global Media (USAGM) were all dismissed Wednesday night — a move likely to heighten concerns that new Trump-appointed CEO Michael Pack means to turn the agency into a political arm of the administration.
In what a former official described as a “Wednesday night massacre,” the heads of Middle East Broadcasting, Radio Free Asia, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, and the Open Technology Fund were all ousted, multiple sources told CNN.
“They let go all of the heads of the networks. It’s unprecedented,” an agency source told CNN.
A source familiar with the situation said at least two of the removals — that of RFE/RL’s Jamie Fly and MBN’s Alberto Fernandez — were unexpected. The head of the Open Technology Fund, Libby Liu, had resigned effective July, but was still fired Wednesday evening, one of the sources said.
[…]
In addition, Jeffrey Shapiro, an ally the ultra-conservative former Trump White House chief strategist Steve Bannon, is expected to be named to lead the Office of Cuba Broadcasting.

 

SFRC Chairman @SenatorRisch Chickens Out From Holding Oversight Hearing With Pompeo

 

Michael Pack’s Nomination to be @USAGMgov Head Hits Double Snag

 

US Embassy Lima: Avianca Airlines May Have Outbound Flights For #StuckinPeru Americans

 

According to the US Embassy in Lima, Peru, on Wednesday, March 18, 2020, the Peruvian Ministry of Health (MINSA) has 145 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Peru, with 13 hospitalized.
For Americans stranded in Peru, the embassy provided a link to Avianca Airlines’ sign up page for travelers interested in departing Lima. It looks like there are flights for March 19 and 23, 2020 from Cusco to Lima, and Lima to Miami, as well as to other non-US destinations. Avianca’s sign-up page says that the airline is trying to program new flights based on the request of embassies with nationals in the country. Travelers are asked to complete a short form to  confirm their interest in purchasing a flight.  “In case there are enough passengers confirming interest in flying, we will notify you so that you can purchase it through the different Avianca channels. In case the flight does not operate, we will also contact you” (rough translation).
As of March 19, one social media account tracking the number of those stranded in country estimates there are over 1,660 U.S. citizens in the country from 48 states plus the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico.
Below via US Embassy Lima:

Avianca Airlines notified the U.S. Embassy it has created an online signup page here for travelers to express interest in flights departing from Lima and Cusco to destinations including the United States.  If you are interested in this offer, please respond immediately through the link.  You are encouraged to keep contacting your airline for reservation and flight updates.  To contact major airlines with flights from Peru to the United States, below are their customer service telephone numbers:

  • The Peruvian government declared a national state of emergency on March 15, 2020, at 8:00 PM Peru local time.  Under the state of emergency, Peru enacted 15 days of mandatory quarantine, starting at 00:00 on March 16, 2020.  At 23:59 PM on March 16, 2020, the Peruvian Government closed all international borders (land, air, and maritime) and suspended all interprovincial travel within Peru (land, air, and river).  American Citizens who remain in Peru should arrange lodging for the duration of the quarantine period and plan to limit their movements.  Limited quarantine exemptions include movement to obtain food and medical care.  Travelers currently in country should consult iPeru for the latest guidance for tourists.  The Embassy will provide a daily update on this page as this situation develops.
  • As of March 17, Jorge Chávez International Airport in Lima is closed to the public.  Please contact your airline carrier for updates on flight information.
  • The Peruvian government issued a decree on March 14 suspending the docking of all cruise ships in Peruvian ports for 30 days.
  • American Airlines announced via its website on March 14 that it will suspend service from Dallas/Fort Worth and Miami to Lima, Peru effective end of day March 16, after flying all legs scheduled through the end of that day.  This suspension will last through May 6.
  • On March 13 the Peruvian government issued a decree to suspend all flights to and from Europe and Asia, beginning on March 16, for 30 days.
  • On March 12 President Martín Vizcarra announced the suspension of classes at university and vocational educational institutions, following his March 11 announcement suspending primary and secondary school classes through March 30.

 

US Embassy Morocco: Chartered Flights Available For Stranded Americans on March 20

 

World’s Greatest Debilitative Body Votes Acquittal in Best Show Category

 

 

Spending Bill Includes Benefits For USG Employees & Dependents Injured While Serving in China and Cuba

 

On December 16, 2019, U.S. Senator Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) announced that she has secured long-term, emergency care for U.S. Government employees & dependents who were injured while serving in China & Cuba: 

Long-term Emergency Care for U.S. Government Employees & Dependents Injured while Serving in China and Cuba

Shaheen successfully secured language to provide long-term, emergency care benefits for injured U.S. Government employees—and their dependents—who served overseas. Currently, a group of over 40 employees have been designated by the U.S. Government as suffering injuries as a result of a hostile action or health incident while serving in China and Cuba. This provision would provide for their prescribed care, as well as the care of their injured dependents, if their insurance or worker’s compensation benefits fall short.

In March, CBS 60 Minutes reported on the first-hand accounts of the diplomats serving in China who have experienced these alarming health conditions and the disturbing lack of care and support from the U.S. government, despite the fact that their symptoms appear to match those of U.S. diplomats who were working in Havana, Cuba. The 60 Minutes report featured a letter from Senator Shaheen to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo requesting that the State Department “re-examine the cases from China … and provide all injured personnel with equal access to treatment, leave and benefits.”

Senator Shaheen’s provision would authorize the State Department to provide the following:

    • Long-term, emergency care benefits to federal employees that were injured as a part of their duties in China and Cuba;
    • Allow dependents of these employees to receive benefits if their primary insurance denies their claims; and
    • Would also allow USG employees to receive compensation if their injuries preclude them from working a full work schedule.
Per Further Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2020
Under TITLE IX—OTHER MATTERS | SEC. 901. SPECIAL RULES FOR CERTAIN MONTHLY WORKERS’ COMPENSATION PAYMENTS AND OTHER PAYMENTS FOR DEPARTMENT OF STATE PERSONNEL UNDER CHIEF OF MISSION AUTHORITY:
Under ADJUSTMENT OF COMPENSATION FOR CERTAIN 21 INJURIES.— 

The Secretary of State may pay an additional monthly monetary benefit, provided that the covered employee is receiving benefits under section 8105 or 8106 of title 5, United States Code, and may determine the amount of each monthly monetary benefit amount by taking into account— (A) the severity of the qualifying injury; (B) the circumstances by which the covered employee became injured; and (C) the seniority of the covered employee, particularly for purposes of compensating for lost career growth.

Under COSTS FOR TREATING QUALIFYING INJURIES.—

The Secretary of State may pay the costs of or reimburse for diagnosing and treating— (1) a qualifying injury of a covered employee for such costs, that are not otherwise covered by chapter 81 of title 5, United States Code, or other provision of Federal law; or (2) a covered individual, or a covered dependent, for such costs that are not otherwise covered by Federal law.

Under QUALIFYING INJURY.—

The term ‘‘qualifying injury’’ means the following: (A) With respect to a covered dependent, an injury incurred—  (i) during a period in which the covered dependent is accompanying an employee to an assigned duty station in the Republic of Cuba, the People’s Republic of China, or another foreign country designated by the Secretary of State pursuant to subsection (f); (ii) in connection with war, insurgency, hostile act, terrorist activity, or other incident designated by the Secretary of State …

(B) With respect to a covered employee or a covered individual, an injury incurred—  (i) during a period of assignment to a duty station in the Republic of Cuba, the People’s Republic of China, or another country designated by the Secretary of State pursuant to subsection (f);  (ii) in connection with war, insurgency, hostile act, terrorist activity, or other incident designated by the Secretary of State; and…

Under APPLICATION.—

(1) IN GENERAL.—This section shall apply with respect to— (A) payments made to covered employees (as defined in such section) under section 8105 or 8106 of title 5, United States Code, beginning on or after January 1, 2016; and (B) diagnosis or treatment described in subsection (b) occurring on or after January 1, 23 2016.

Under REGULATIONS.—

Not later than 120 days after the date of the enactment of this Act, the Secretary of State shall— (1) prescribe regulations ensuring the fair and equitable implementation of this section; and (2) submit to the Committee on Foreign Relations of the Senate and the Committee on Foreign Affairs of the House of Representatives such regulations.

Under this bill, the Secretary of State may also designate another foreign country for the purposes of this section, provided that the Secretary reports such designation to the Committee on Foreign Relations of the Senate and the Committee on Foreign Affairs of the House of Representatives, and includes in such report a rationale for each such designation.

 

 

U.S. Senate Joins House, Passes Resolution Recognizing the Armenian Genocide

 

On October 29, the U.S. House of Representatives voted 405-11 agreeing to H.Res. 296 “Affirming the United States record on the Armenian Genocide”. October 29 is also Turkey’s Republic Day, the 96th anniversary commemorating the proclamation of the Republic of Turkey in 1923.
On December 12, the U.S. Senate also passed S.Res.150 “Expressing the sense of the Senate that it is the policy of the United States to commemorate the Armenian Genocide through official recognition and remembrance.” The Resolution was agreed to in Senate without amendment and passed by unanimous consent.

Related posts:

 

 

CBS News on Possible ‘Pay-to-Play’ Scheme in Withdrawn Doug Manchester Nomination

 

On November 13, the White House formally withdrew its nomination of San Diego Developer “Papa” Doug Manchester to be Ambassador to The Bahamaas.  As we have posted previously, the Nassau Guardian reported in late October that Mr. Manchester  “has stepped back from his bid to become the United States ambassador for The Bahamas.” The report said that when reached for comment, Manchester Financial Group wrote in a statement, “He has withdrawn due to the threats on his and his family’s lives including three infant children under four years old.”  The report also said: “It also noted that Manchester had received “severe” threats on his life.” (see WH Withdraws Doug Manchester’s Nomination to be U.S. Ambassador to The Bahamas).
The report does not include details on who made these threats against the nominee and if there is an ongoing investigation concerning these threats.
LAT article notes that the U.S. attorney’s office in San Diego issued a news release on Nov. 5 announcing that Daniel Hector Mackinnon had been sentenced to seven years in prison for politically motivated attacks against Manchester and a Raytheon building.  This was an April incident where a man reportedly attempted to set fire to Manchester’s La Jolla home.
On November 18, CBS New broke the news of a “possible pay-to-play scheme for ambassador role in Trump administration.”

A CBS News investigation has uncovered a possible pay-for-play scheme involving the Republican National Committee and President Trump’s nominee for ambassador to the Bahamas. Emails obtained by CBS News show the nominee, San Diego billionaire Doug Manchester, was asked by the RNC to donate half a million dollars as his confirmation in the Senate hung in the balance, chief investigative correspondent Jim Axelrod reports.
[…]
The Senate confirmation process is exactly what Manchester quickly addressed. He wrote back to McDaniel’s request for $500,000, “As you know I am not supposed to do any, but my wife is sending a contribution for $100,000. Assuming I get voted out of the [Foreign Relations Committee] on Wednesday to the floor we need you to have the majority leader bring it to a majority vote … Once confirmed, I our [sic] family will respond!”

SFRC’s Risch reportedly “alerted the White House, which then asked Manchester to withdraw.”

SFRC Ranking Member Menendez Calls For OSC Hatch Act Review Into Pompeo’s Kansas Travel

 

 

On October 29, the Ranking Member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Senator Bob Menendez (D-N.J.), sent a letter to the U.S. Office of Special Counsel (OSC), requesting a review to determine whether Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has violated the Hatch Act, a federal law passed in 1939, which limits certain political activities of federal employees. According to OSC, the law’s purposes are “to ensure that federal programs are administered in a nonpartisan fashion, to protect federal employees from political coercion in the workplace, and to ensure that federal employees are advanced based on merit and not based on political affiliation.”​​​​ ​​

I write to request an immediate review and assessment of the Secretary of State’s compliance with the Hatch Act, 5 U.S.C. §§ 7321-7326.
[..]
Since March 2019, the Secretary has taken three official trips to Kansas, apparently at the expense of the Department of State. During the latest trip, from October 24 to 25, 2019, the Secretary visited the Wichita State University Tech National Center for Aviation Training, participated in a workforce development roundtable, visited Textron Aviation Longitude and Latitude Production, and met with students from Wichita State University.  

In an interview, he refused to discuss matters related to Ukraine, insisting he was “here today to talk about workforce development. I came here today to talk about the great things that are going on here in Kansas.” The events in Kansas were aimed largely at promoting the President’s “Pledge to American Workers,” which has no discernible relation to the Department of State. According to The Wall Street Journal, he also “discussed the U.S. Senate race in Kansas” with Charles Koch, the head of Koch Industries, and former top contributor to his political campaigns, as well as backer of Pompeo’s prior business.  Textron Inc., the parent company of Textron Aviation, was also a major contributor to then-Congressman Pompeo’s political campaigns. 

For months, public reports have persisted that the Secretary was considering running for U.S. Senate in Kansas.  Many in Kansas perceive his appearances in the state to be a de facto campaign effort.  Indeed, an October 25, 2019 Kansas City Star editorial titled “Mike Pompeo, either quit and run for U.S. Senate in Kansas or focus on your day job,” seems to indicate his actions are already being construed as evidence of a possible candidacy by members of the press and the public in Kansas.  And following his trip, the Department of State’s official twitter handle posted a workforce and Kansas-centric video montage of the Secretary’s visit, which appears to have no nexus to the Department’s official work.    

Secretary Pompeo is not any federal employee. Rather, he is one of the most prominent members of the President’s cabinet. He appears frequently on TV and for interviews, and, as is true for many Secretaries of State, is known and recognized by the American public. Thus, it is even more crucial that he and the Department maintain a clear line between his actions as a federal employee and steward of the U.S. government, and any efforts that could be perceived as political in nature or laying the groundwork for potential campaign activity. I therefore ask that you review his travel and his interactions in Kansas closely, and determine whether any violations have occurred or additional guidance to the Department or the Secretary may be warranted.

The full letter is available to read here.