Despite shutdown, Pompeo to go on with ambassadors conference to meet his 180+ field commanders, to look them in the eye

Also, who’s fast depleting  Diplomatic Security’s residual funds?

 

Secretary Pompeo told reporters at his stop in Abu Dhabi that morale at the State Department is good despite the shutdown (see Pompeo says “morale is good”. C’mon now, it’s swaggeryfuck good!). It’s so good that despite the shutdown, and State Department personnel being furloughed or working with no pay, he will still host the ambassadors’ conference, officially called the Global Chiefs of Mission Conference in D.C. next week. Via AP:

“It’s something that we’ve had teed up for a while,” he said. “It is incredibly important that they hear directly from me. It’s an important opportunity for me to get in front of 180-plus of my commanders in the field to look them in the eye and describe to them what it is we’re doing and how it is I expect them to do that.”
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Almost half of the State Department employees in the United States and about one-quarter abroad have been furloughed during the shutdown. With the exception of certain local employees overseas, the rest are working without pay, including those tasked with supporting Pompeo’s trip, which has thus far taken him to Jordan, Iraq, Egypt and Bahrain.

An excerpt from Secretary Pompeo’s January 11 message to agency employees posted on the state.gov website also says this:

We are also committed to hosting the Global Chiefs of Mission Conference in Washington, D.C. next week. Bringing together the men and women who lead our overseas diplomatic missions is essential to successfully achieving our unified mission of advancing America’s foreign policy.

Even though the Secretary’s people are quite prolific, that’s  the only Miles With Mike update we’ve seen posted online. The message is posted under  the “M” press releases but not even clearly labeled. We are guessing that we’re seeing this in the public website because furloughed employees do not have access to their government email.

In any case, the State Department — despite the poor, no good, terrible optics — will go on with the Global Chiefs of Mission conference come rain or shine, shutdown or not, rapture or not, pay or no pay. Below via FP:

The State Department has decided to move forward with a major conference for all U.S. chiefs of mission and ambassadors abroad—there are 188—who will descend on Washington from Jan. 15 to 18 for a slew of meetings and receptions. Organizing the conference is a massive logistical undertaking, and bureaus at the State Department are pulling in furloughed employees to work overtime, with no pay, to set up the conference.
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The spokesman noted travel for conference was arranged and funded prior to the government shutdown. The spokesperson called the timing of the conference “crucial to the safety, security, and prosperity of the United States” and added: “Given that the Senate has just confirmed 23 ambassadors, this conference is particularly important and timely in helping them get off to the right start as they assume their duties immediately.”

Just because this was funded before the shutdown, doesn’t mean they absolutely must go on with it during the shutdown. Are they afraid that this shutdown will go on for years, and there will not be a 2019 GCOM conference? The spox called the timing of this conference “crucial to the safety, security, and prosperity of the United States”, then my golly, what do we call the timing of the shutdown that’s now entering its fourth week?

Also the latest ambassador confirmations — except for the two going to Australia and Kenya respectively, are all career diplomats who are not going on their first overseas appointments. Using them as an excuse is just lame, yo!

As of January 4, President Trump has made 136 ambassadorial appointments (67 political and 69 career appointees).  The State Department’s new  Furlough Guidance notes the pay status/exception for Presidential Appointees:

According to OPM, individuals appointed by the President, with or without Senate confirmation, who otherwise are not subject to 5 U.S.C. 6301 and attendant regulations governing leave in the Federal service, are not subject to furlough. The salary of such a Presidential appointee is an obligation incurred by the year, without consideration of hours of duty required. Thus, the Presidential appointee cannot be placed in a nonduty, nonpay status. If a Presidential appointee, however, chooses to be in a nonpay status, the appointee may return part of his salary to the employing agency, provided that the agency has authority to accept gifts, or to the Treasury. Regardless of the Presidential appointee’s choice, the appointee’s entire salary is recorded for tax purposes. The following exceptions must be noted: former career Senior Executive Service (SES) appointees who took appointments at level V of the Executive Schedule or higher and elected to retain SES leave benefits under 5 U.S.C. 3392(c), are subject to furlough at the discretion of the agency. Also, Presidential appointees to positions requiring Senate confirmation, for example ambassadors, who choose to retain SFS/SES pay and benefits are subject to furlough at the discretion of the responsible Assistant Secretary, e.g. when absent on leave.

So the political appointees attending this big do in D.C. will be on paid status, while career appointees including approximately 50 chargé d’affaires are possibly deemed onduty and on nonpay status. All participants are flying to D.C., staying at DC hotels, and will have meal & incidental expenses paid for. The event will be supported by either employees working with no pay, or furloughed employees recalled “to work overtime, with no pay, to set up the conference.”

Of course, we can imagine that the support staff will be pumping with pride and joy — and who wouldn’t?

Here they are living the life they’ve always wanted, their dysfunctional government without care is in shutdown, they’re working with no pay, and they are supporting the 70th secretary of state meeting his 180-plus commanders in the field so he can look them in the eye, before he send them off to battle.  Or something. There will be talks, and at some “glitzy cocktail receptions at four-star hotels” (reportedly not organized or paid for by the State Department), there will be food, and drinks for the guests and the field commanders. There will be photos, of course, except — wait, are official photographers considered “essential” for this event?

If morale is “good” now, we can imagine it will be fuckityfuck great when this is all over. Now, you don’t need a survey to know that so no need to hire $M-dollar consultants to perform a survey on morale after the GCOM.

Meanwhile, about the Diplomatic Security’s residual funds …

We’ve blogged previously about what accounts are funded at the State Department during the shutdown.  One of those funded is Diplomatic Security which has already urged begged posts for the “prudent use of overtime” to slow down the drawdown of its residual funding. We don’t’ know how much “available balance” is there in this bureau.  But we’ve wondered out loud (others quietly) how long will the State Department be able to pay for its local employees including local security guards at 277 overseas posts without regular funding? See #TrumpShutdown Enters 18th Day, At Least $2.5B in Costs and Counting, With No End in Sight. For potential cascading impact if Diplomatic Security is unable to make payroll for guards, see What happens after pay period #26?

Secretary Pompeo has been on foreign travel from January 8-15. The trip is taking him and his wife to 1) Amman, Jordan; 2) Baghdad, Iraq; 3) Erbil, Iraq; 4) Cairo, Egypt; 5) Manama, Bahrain; 6) Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates; 7) Doha, Qatar; 8) Riyadh, Saudi Arabia; 9) Muscat, Oman; and 10) Kuwait City, Kuwait.

Not only are essential/not paid employees supporting this travel, Diplomatic Security agents from the State Department and at these overseas locations must be racking up their overtime. How much overtime? Somebody please FOIA that.

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It looks like Washington, D.C. is one real hotspot with ever brimming chaos these days. Folks who write those Real Post Reports should do one for the United States of America.

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The President of the United States minus the “Mission Accomplished” banner, announcing the “historic victories against ISIS” and withdrawal of U.S. troops from Syria:

The happy, thumbs-up people:

Yo! The Thing. Still Going on in China?

We understand that there are still “a lot of curtailments” continuing out of China even now because “The Thing” is still going on according to a note in our mailbox.

In January 2018, the SFRC’s had a Subcommittee Hearing Attacks on U.S. Diplomats in Cuba: Response and Oversight. In September 2018, Senator Bob Menendez (D-N.J.), Ranking Member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, sent a letter to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo requesting that the Trump administration provide an unclassified version of the State Department’s recent Accountability Review Board (ARB) report on the incidents affecting the health of U.S. personnel serving in Cuba. We have not been able to locate any congressional oversight hearings on the incident in China.  We don’t know if there is an ARB China. If an ARB was convened on the health attacks in China, there does not appear to be any public notification. 

In late October, an NBC News investigation indicates that US diplomats are concerned that the State Department is down-playing a pattern of what’s been called “health attacks” on diplomatic staff in Cuba and China. (see Is @StateDept Working to Minimize the Health Attacks in China? #Cuba #MissingARBs). If curtailments are still going on, that indicates that USG employees and family members in one of our largest overseas missions remain in harm’s way, so who’s talking about it?  Somebody please ask your friendly senior administration official what are they doing about it. Three years ago, we would have had back to back congressional hearings not just on the Havana Syndrome, but also on the China Syndrome, and on the State Department’s response to these attacks. Can we please have some oversight hearings in January, pretty please?   

Via Giphy

MORE:

This one about Canadian diplomats and their families. G&M reports that  nine Canadian adults and four children have been diagnosed with the brain injuries. “The Canadians who were affected in 2017 are all in Canada and still employed by Global Affairs, although several are unable to work because of their symptoms.”

Reviews For Pompeo’s WSJ Op-Ed: “God-Awful”, “Risible”, “Mendacious”, “Bananas”, and More #PAPressClips

Related item: Saudi Arabia: Background and U.S. Relations (PDF) | September, 2018 (Congressional Research Service).

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27 Hours Later, Pompeo Says “The United States Condemns This Aggressive Russian Action” #Ukraine

A follow-up to Russia-Ukraine Tensions Escalate in Sea of Azov, U.S. Issues Forceful Response: ZZZzzz, late November 26, the State Department finally released a statement from Secretary Pompeo condemning the “aggressive Russian action” in the Kerch Strait. Earlier, he had an opportunity to address the incident during his joint press appearance with Kosovo’s president but declined to do so.

Finns and Friends #RakeTheForest For Trump’s California Fire Prevention Moment

 

After you’re done laughing out loud, please consider (if you can) helping the displaced people in California who lost loved ones and homes in the wildfires.  Below are links to a few groups. Thank you!

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Halloween 2018: A Great Day For Scaring Kids, Also a Frightful Time For All Else

 

ALSO IN FRIGHTFUL NEWS: The United States could deploy 7,000 armed troops to the US-Mexican border a week before Election Day. It could go up to 15,000, roughly what we have in Afghanistan and three times what the United States deployed to Iraq. Since Mexico refused to fund that wall, the President of the United States now says “”We have to have a wall of people”. Presumably, our friends to the south are not going to pay for this “wall of people” either, so U.S. taxpayers are already saddled with this tab. And since the deployment to the border number will likely kept growing the next few days, the Pentagon probably should ask how deep is this “wall of people” the Commander-in-Chief is talking about.

Meanwhile in Yemen, people have been dying the last three years. Now 14 million people face starvation as the U.S. government continue its military support of Saudi Arabia’s war (see Secretary Pompeo Saves $2Billion Weapons Sales From Jeopardy). USG is now seeking a cease-fire over there. Why now? Is it because half of Yemen’s population is on the brink of famine? Or is it because the world is finally paying attention to US-support of the war in Yemen after the Khashoggi murder?  Former USNATO Ambassador Robert Hunter writes that “blanket U.S. support for the Saudi air campaign means that it cannot escape its own share of responsibility.”

Also back in 2010, a State/OIG report estimated that the Yemeni-American community in that country was about 55,000. There were no USG-organized evacuations when war broke out. For those covering Yemen, please ask the Secretary of State his department’s estimate on how many Yemeni-Americans were killed in this war.

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Snapshot: The Tillerson Effect on Foreign Service Family Member Employment (2017-2018)

Via State/FLO:

Rex Tillerson was confirmed and assumed charged of the State Department on February 1, 2017 as the 69th Secretary of State. He was fired on March 13, 2018 and left Foggy Bottom for the last time on March 22, 2018. Below is the comparative look of Foreign Service family member employment numbers inside overseas missions from Spring 2014 to Spring 2018. Overseas missions include over 275 diplomatic and consular posts overseas located in 191 countries.

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