Inbox: Feast-or-Famine Games Being Played With State Staffing Levels

Posted: 1:33 am ET
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From our inbox this week:

I agree with AFSA that the house is on fire, but the question is what to do about it?  To use the fire analogy, you have to remove the fuel, the oxygen, or the heat to put out a fire.  So, what should be done to extinguish the current situation?  I certainly appreciate Ambassador Stephenson’s pointing out that there is indeed a fire, and I hope she will promote some constructive ways it can be put out.

From my perspective as an 02 generalist who has been in the Department for 10 years, staffing has never been constant.  I came in after Secretary Powell’s Diplomatic Readiness Initiative, which was needed because of the hiring freeze under Secretary Albright.  Colleagues hired under the DRI saw accelerated promotions to fill the ranks out where too many vacancies existed.  After I joined State, Secretary Clinton started the Diplomacy 3.0 accelerated hiring, which resulted in the much-discussed Pig in the Python.  Now, we are seeing a strategy to reduce jobs at the top, limit hiring of new employees, and encourage early retirement through a $25k incentive.  This is no way to run any kind of organization, public or private!  The feast-or-famine games being played with State staffing levels over the years distort careers and upturn lives.  Because of the DRI, employees with too little experience were placed in positions they were ill prepared for.  Because of the current situation, I know of some good, experienced officers who opened their windows to join the Senior Foreign Service (before Trump’s election), who are now facing an early exit from State with the reduced promotion numbers.  How in the world can people plan their careers?   How can State train and develop the next set of leaders?  How can we recruit the best and brightest to public service that is not related to the military or homeland security?  Again, this is no way to run a professional organization.

Although I certainly agree that reforms at State are needed, I strongly disagree with the approach that the supposed employee-led redesign has been enacted.  Reducing staffing levels to meet some arbitrary goal only serves to weaken the organization and create unintentional distortions.  (Side note: And the EFM hiring freeze, I mean EFM managed hiring process, is literally tearing apart families.)  Perhaps the solution is to have more Congressional oversight, at least as far as staffing levels are concerned.  I know of no one who welcomes more Congressional oversight, but I am frustrated with the yo-yo like nature that staffing at State has been treated.

The State Department will get through this latest challenge, I have no doubt.  The question is just how long it will take to recover, and how many good people will be sacrificed along the way.

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AAFSW Secretary of State’s Award for Outstanding Volunteerism Abroad

Posted: 1:25 am ET
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The annual Associates of the American Foreign Service Worldwide AAFSW/Secretary of State’s Award for Outstanding Volunteerism Abroad (SOSA) recognizes the outstanding volunteer activities of U.S. Government employees, spouses, family members over the age of 18, EFM domestic partners, and members of household who are living and working overseas.  The winners of the Secretary of State’s Award for Outstanding Volunteerism Abroad (SOSA) are selected by a panel of representatives from AAFSW, FLO and the Executive Director or representative from each State Department geographic bureau.

The awards will be given on Tuesday, November 7, 2017 at 11:00 a.m. at the Department of State. Deputy Secretary John J. Sullivan will deliver the remarks. The awardees are as follows:

AF – Grace Anne Turner, Dakar, Senegal

Upon arriving in Dakar and viewing the severe poverty and inadequate medical care around her, Grace Anne Turner looked for opportunities to work as a clinician. She joined the staff of the House of Hope, a large primary care clinic that sees 35,000 patients per year. Impressed by her dedication and commitment to quality of care, the clinic asked her to oversee a staff of physicians, nurses, and auxiliary staff that provided care to 50 children a day.

Grace Anne focused on two areas for immediate improvement: patient intake and treatment of dehydration. Dr. Grace formed a cadre of expat volunteers and designed a screening and training program for them to administer; with the help of these volunteers, the previous slow patient processing sped up dramatically. Regarding dehydration, a common and serious ailment among Senegalese children, Grace Anne devised an ingenious way to train mothers to rehydrate their ill children at home.

She also trained House of Hope staff to use a version of the World Health Organization triage system, designed to prioritize those at greatest risk of death or disease transmission. In its first operating 18 days, the new system identified 45 critically ill patients (26 of them children). The new procedures were instrumental in identifying and stopping a potentially dangerous outbreak of measles throughout urban Dakar. Noticing several patients who met the definition of suspected measles, Grace Anne immediately contacted the health ministry. An intervention team (including Grace Anne) found a large number of cases in a marginalized (and unvaccinated) community. That same team conducted an intensive education and vaccination campaign that stopped the outbreak in its tracks.

”Dr. Grace” raised the profile of the clinic in the local community and internationally, drawing in thousands of dollars in donations, medicines, and materials. During her time at House of Hope, Dr. Grace improved its training programs, its material and human resources, its treatment algorithms, and its strategic planning for the future.

EAP – Craig Houston, Chiang Mai, Thailand

Working entirely without compensation, staff, or a budget, Craig Houston created a multi-faceted website (http://www.chiangmaiair.org/) to promote air quality awareness during northern Thailand’s annual agricultural burning seasons, provide sustainable solutions to the problem, and support information sharing. He partnered with local government air quality experts, NGOs, schools and film directors to tackle this issue.

To increase awareness and reporting of seasonal high pollution levels, Craig met with local schools and small businesses to provide training on the use of air quality monitors, and by the end of 2017, he will have assisted eight schools and local businesses to obtain and install air quality monitors.

In addition to his work on air quality awareness, Craig is the Chair of the Consulate’s Green Team. Under Craig’s leadership, the consulate has screened films raising awareness of air quality issues, partnered with local U.S. government grant recipient NGOs who work closely on the issue, and participated in numerous community service endeavors including tree planting and city cleanup projects.

Craig’s selfless dedication to this vitally important issue has helped improved the health and lives of northern Thailand’s residents and visitors.

EUR – Alesia Krupenikava, Kyiv, Ukraine

As the first ever Regional Ambassador of the Technovation Challenge in Ukraine, Alesia was able to recruit more than 150 girls from all over Ukraine to participate in the program, find 50 mentors to coach them, raise over $20,000 to send a team to the finals in San Francisco, sign up partners like Microsoft and the Ministry of Education, and recruit a team to take over and grow the program when she departs post.

This was the first time Technovation, the world’s largest tech and entrepreneurship contest for girls ages 10-18, had been conducted in Ukraine. When the original Regional Ambassador stepped down, Alesia was asked to take her place. Alesia was a tireless recruiter and promoter for Technovation, holding numerous meetings and information sessions and spent countless hours answering calls and emails to explain the program. The most meaningful thing for Alesia was that teams were signing up from all over Ukraine and from all backgrounds, including a team made up of girls with HIV, and others from orphanages and centers for families in crisis. Supporting the teams became an almost full time job by itself, and Alesia was a constant motivator and cheerleader for the girls.

The culmination of the program is a live event where the teams present their projects in demo sessions and give a “pitch” to a panel of judges and the audience. Alesia recruited the top technical university in Ukraine to host the event and another university for housing. She formed partnerships with organizations such as Microsoft to support the program, and was able to raise over $20,000 to pay for travel to Kyiv, prizes for the teams, and for one team to attend the World Pitch Event in San Francisco.

SCA – Lisa A. Hess, Colombo, Sri Lanka

Lisa Hess created and leads the U.S. Embassy Colombo community outreach team that provides great benefits to Sri Lanka while also providing the U.S. mission community an opportunity for service.

Many of Lisa’s actions engaged U.S. Navy sailors visiting Sri Lanka. In 2016, the Captain of the USS Blue Ridge, command ship of the 7th Fleet, requested two days of community relations activities involving 30 U.S. and 10 Sri Lankan sailors. Lisa volunteered for this task and identified a community center in a poor area that provides education, food, medical treatment, and much more. Lisa raised the funds to pay for paint and materials needed for the sailors to conduct a renovation project at the center and make a contribution towards new playground equipment. The American and Sri Lankan sailors, community center patrons, and Embassy staff worked together to paint desks, tables, benches, classrooms, and playground equipment.

Lisa also organized outreach for U.S. and Sri Lankan sailors from the USS Hopper and USS Comstock to, including an activity at dental clinics in which children practiced their tooth-brushing skills on a sailor wearing a giant alligator costume, as well as cleaning debris from children’s playing fields. Other community outreach included repairing a local no-kill animal shelter, and cleaning and painting rooms at a local school for the deaf and blind.

Within the Mission, Lisa coordinated bake sales; helped prepare food for and serve our entire embassy community at our Black History Month breakfast; helped manage the U.S. booth at the overseas School of Colombo fun fair; and led a book drive for the school library. Funds raised in the bake sales and fun fair were used to establish a library for an under-privileged local school.

WHA – Maritza V. Wilson

As a Nicaraguan who practiced medicine in her native country before becoming a U.S. citizen, Maritza Wilson has been uniquely equipped to make a significant contribution as a volunteer in Nicaragua.

Maritza focused her efforts through a non-profit organization called Amos Foundation (Fundación Amos), a group that serves a local community (barrio) in Managua via a walk-in clinic, home visits, and health education. Maritza became one of the regular volunteer doctors at the clinic, participating in home visits and home surveys to better understand the needs of the barrio and train members of the community in basic home health care–ensuring the sustainability of her efforts. Maritza’s work with Amos Foundation also extended to Nicaragua’s rural areas, including a remote village on the opposite side of the country in the impoverished Caribbean Coast. Serving that community for one full week, she instructed villagers in basic community health concepts, such as how to use (and clean) filters to avoid water-borne illness.

Maritza’s work also involved the hosting of training teams, known locally as brigades, from the U.S. Maritza’s knowledge of both cultures and languages has enabled her to integrate many of these teams seamlessly into the local context, maximizing their effectiveness. Maritza has organized and led training sessions for more than 1,000 high school students at four schools, offering instruction that covered reproductive health and prevention of sexually transmitted diseases. She has also worked alongside U.S. neurosurgeons visiting Nicaragua each year to provide training and assistance in neurology treatment at the main public hospital in Managua.

Maritza has also worked to develop economic opportunities for families in her home village of San Juan de Oriente, a community famous for a unique type of pottery. Maritza started a non-profit venture to expand marketing opportunities for local artisans’ pieces and to create new ceramics products. Maritza plans to leave the business in the hands of the families she is serving—ensuring her volunteer efforts will have an enduring impact on this community.

For more information about the award, please visit: http://www.aafsw.org/services/sosa

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Tillerson Delivers to @StateDept’s Africa Bureau Its “Most Significant Management Challenge”

Posted: 12:25 am ET
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All Foreign Service posts in Africa receive post hardship differential, that is, an allowance meant to provide “additional compensation of up to 35 percent over basic compensation for the majority of employees officially stationed or detailed to a mission with extraordinarily difficult living conditions, excessive physical hardship, or notably unhealthful conditions.” More than half of all AF posts have been designated “Historically Difficult to Staff” meaning fewer than three at- grade/in-skill-code bids were received in three of the last four summer bidding cycles. Of all AF posts, 47 percent (24 posts) have also been designated ” Service Need Differential” that is, 20 percent hardship differential/standard 2 year tour of duty gets a 15 percent  bump in pay if employees agree to serve a third year.

According to State/OIG, the AF Bureau’s FY2017 staffing includes 1,147 American Direct Hire overseas, 572 local staff, 140 reemployed annuitants (retired Civil Service or Foreign Service employee rehired on an intermittent basis for no more than 1,040 hours during the year), and 14 rover-employees based overseas who go where they are needed. State/OIG also says that the AF bureau relies on 399 eligible family member employees for its overseas staffing. The 399 EFM employees are not specifically excluded from the State/OIG 1,147 count; we calculate that family member employees encumbering direct-hire positions constitute 34 percent, or a third of the bureau’s overseas workforce. If the 399 employes are in addition to the 1,147 count,  the number would be 25 percent, or a quarter of the bureau’s overseas workforce.

To be sure, staffing the AF Bureau’s posts has suffered from longstanding difficulties. Unfortunately for everyone with few exceptions,  the 69th Secretary of State sure made it worse.

On January 23, 2017, President Trump ordered a freeze on the hiring of Federal civilian employees to be applied across the board in the executive branch (see OMB Issues Initial Guidance For Federal Civilian Hiring Freeze (Read Memo); President Trump Freezes Federal Hiring Regardless of Funding Sources (Read Memo).

In April, while the OMB lifted the hiring freeze, the State Department with very few exceptions continued with its self-imposed freeze (see No thaw in sight for @StateDept hiring freeze until reorganization plan is “fully developed”).  On April 12, 2017, the State Department posted a statement indicating that the current hiring freeze guidance remained in effect particularly as it affected the hiring of Foreign Service family members (see Are #EFM positions literally about to become…extinct under #Tillerson’s watch?).

During the first week of August, amidst cascading bad press of his stewardship of the State Department, Secretary Tillerson quietly “approved an exemption to the hiring freeze that will allow the Department to fill a number of priority EFM positions that are currently vacant. This exemption gives posts authority to fill critical vacancies supporting security, safety and health responsibilities.”

The hiring freeze snared folks who transferred between January and July (FLO April data says 743 jobs were pending due to security clearance or hiring freeze). Deputy Secretary Sullivan told members of the press on August 8 that “almost 800 EFMs [that] have been approved since this – the hiring freeze was imposed.” So, that’s like everyone who’s been waiting since January. And we were all so happy to see folks granted the exemptions that we forgot to ask who’s the “bright” bulb who started this mess. And if these EFM jobs were finally filled in August (a month before the end of the fiscal year), these employees could not all show up to work the following week, given all the paperwork needed and security investigations required.

Freezing EFM jobs never made sense. We’re still floored that it lasted that long and no one told S “But that’s nuts!” Despite Mr. Tillerson slip of the tongue (“we’re styling as the redesign of the State Department”), we can’t imagine the “redesign” resulting in zero jobs for diplomatic spouses overseas, not only because EFM jobs  makes sense and help post morale, but also because it is the cheaper option.  Unless, of course, 1) the “employee-led” redesign teams are proposing that embassies hire third country nationals for mailroom, escort, fingerprinting, and all support services for post overseas, too (yes, we heard North Korean labor imports are way cheaper). Or 2) this is part of the strategery to reduce the FS workforce without going through a reduction-in-force, while maintaining a goal of a 3 for 1 in attrition.

In any case, as we’ve pointed out in May, when the EFMs leave posts during the transfer season, their positions would not have been filled (with very few exceptions) due to the hiring freeze; and they could not be hired at their next posts because of the same hiring freeze. And that’s exactly what happened. In the oral history of the State Department, this will be remembered as that time when the Secretary of State created/produced/delivered one bureau its “most significant management challenge.” We don’t think this is limited to just the AF Bureau but it’s the only one reported on by State/OIG at this time.

Via State/OIG (PDF):

Four previous OIG reports over the past 20 years have highlighted challenges in staffing AF’s overseas posts. OIG found that these challenges persist, despite reforms to Foreign Service bidding and career development processes intended to promote service in hardship posts and bolster bureau efforts to improve recruitment. Hardships at AF’s overseas posts include ethnic violence, deteriorating local infrastructure, evacuations, health risks, high crime, limited recreation opportunities, physical isolation, political instability, pollution, poor medical facilities, severe climates, and substandard schools. All 51 AF posts receive post hardship differential, 27 posts were included in the Historically Difficult to Staff program, and 24 were Service Need Differential posts.

AF’s difficulties in filling its overseas positions were profound. For the 2017 summer bidding season, AF attracted, at most, only one Foreign Service bidder on 37 percent of its positions, leaving 143 of 385 total positions potentially unfilled. The bureau used a broad range of alternative and sometimes costly personnel mechanisms to fill vacancies and short-term gaps. It relied on 399 eligible family member employees, a roster of 140 reemployed annuitants, 14 rovers based overseas, and approximately 50 senior locally employed staff members to fill staffing gaps and support essential services. AF also filled about 25 percent of its 2017 positions with entry-level employees. AF overseas management officers who responded to an OIG survey cited concerns about eligible family member employment as their most significant management challenge. Because of the Department-wide hiring freeze, these positions could not be filled as they became vacant. These vacancies are of concern because, as explained by the Government Accountability Office in 2009, staffing and experience gaps place at risk diplomatic readiness, particularly for high-threat environments such as those in which AF operates.

For readers who are not familiar with the Foreign Service and spouse employment — say you and your spouse arrived at a 2-year assignment at a post in Africa in late October 2016. You found an embassy job in December 2016 but was not officially hired prior to January 22, 2017, so you would have been included in the hiring freeze. When the EFM exemptions were granted on August 4, you would have already waited some eight months to start on that embassy job. Wait, but you needed a security clearance or an interim security clearance which could also take a few weeks to 90 days (or longer). By the time you officially start work, you have some 12-14 months to do the job (maybe less). And then you move on to your next  post and do this process all over again. Now, imagine doing this every 2-3 years, that’s the arc of the working life of a diplomatic spouse.

Senate Confirms Callista Gingrich as U.S. Ambassador to the Holy See

Posted: 1:53 am ET
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For a short while on Monday, Callista Gingrich was trending on Twitter. It turned out that the U.S. Senate finally voted on her nomination as U.S. Ambassador to the Vatican. She got the nod in a 70-23 vote. Was there ever any doubt that the U.S. Senate would not confirm the spouse of the former Speaker of the House?

Of course, Twitter blew up when news of her nomination came out, also when she was actually nominated, and when she had her confirmation hearing, and Monday was no different when the Senate finally confirmed her. Given the notoriety of these lovebirds, we suspect that news will follow wherever Ambassador Gingrich and Newt, her husband and former Speaker of the House go. Except now, the Klieg lights will be more intense as she speaks for the United States Government in the Holy See, and as Newt tags along.

Instead of a search result returning “spouse of a U.S. politician”, her Wikipedia page has been updated on the date of her Senate confirmation to indicate that she is the United States Ambassador to the Holy See (Designate), with taking office still marked “TBD.” We can totally understand a woman reinventing herself. She could have asked for any other job in this administration, but she picked a diplomatic post. From now on, she will be known as Ambassador Gingrich, and not just Newt’s third wife. 

Of course, her nomination will be accepted there. Diplomatic courtesy requires that before the United States appoints a new chief of diplomatic mission to represent it in another state, it must be first ascertained whether the proposed appointee –in this case, Mrs. Gingrich — is acceptable to the receiving state, the Holy See. The acquiescence of the Vatican is signified by its granting agrément to the appointment. Her nomination would not have been made public had the Vatican did not find her nomination acceptable. It is unusual for an agrément to be refused, but it occasionally happens, as in the case of the French Ambassador nominee who was reportedly rejected because he was gay.

YOU KNOW WHO ELSE IS BACK? The sharp tongued- Princess Sparkle Pony is on Twitter.

Related posts:

 

Meet Newt, Soon to be @StateDept’s Newest Eligible Family Member

Posted: 12:54 am ET
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Via Politico:  Last week, Newt Gingrich sat in a classroom surrounded by 11 women and one other man, furiously jotting notes. In the weeklong intensive, where classes ran from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. with only a short cafeteria lunch break in between, the former House speaker and onetime presidential candidate received a crash course in a new role: invisible spouse.  When he moves to Rome with his wife, Callista Gingrich, to become husband of the ambassador to the Holy See, the ubiquitous Fox News talking head will have no official diplomatic role abroad, beyond being generally presentable and essentially not heard from.

When Callista Gingrich is confirmed by the U.S. Senate as Ambassador to the Vatican, Newt Gingrich, the 50th Speaker of the United States House of Representatives and Fox News talking head will officially become a diplomatic spouse or an eligible family member (EFM). He has to be listed on Form OF-126, Foreign Service Residence and Dependency Report of the sponsoring employee, and be on Mrs. Gingrich travel orders. If they place their household effects in storage in Hagerstown, we’re fairly sure, it will be in Mrs. Gingrich’s name because she is the employee. Will he need to go to the Community Liaison Office to logon to OpenNet? Will they let him make his own request for house repairs or does the employee have to do that? Who will he need permission from to pursue outside employment?

And for every bureau, post, COM, etc. whoever slapped a diplomatic spouse’s hands or threatened his/her employee-spouse’s career for blogging or writing articles that has nothing to do with policy or privileged information, get ready. This should be interesting, huh?!

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16 USG Employees in “Sonic Attack” and More on The Secret History of Diplomats and Invisible Weapons

Posted: 3:33 am  ET
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On August 24, during the Daily Press Briefing, the State Department Spokesperson Heather Nauert confirmed that 16 USG employees were affected by the “sonic attack.”

We only now have the confirmation of the number of Americans who have been affected by this. We can confirm that at least 16 U.S. Government employees, members of our embassy community, have experienced some kind of symptoms. They have been provided medical treatment in the United States as well as in Cuba. We take this situation extremely seriously. We are trying to provide them the help, the medical care, the treatment, and the support that they need and the support that they deserve.

It is not clear at this time if this number includes family members. We are aware of at least one spouse who was reportedly affected by this attack, was medevaced with the employee-spouse, and both were reassigned elsewhere.

The spox also said that “The incidents are no longer occurring.”  A reporter asked “so if we haven’t found a device and we don’t know who did it, and we’re talking about symptoms that are not, like, “Ow,” no longer ow; we’re talking about things that have – that developed over time, how do we – how do we know that this isn’t ongoing?”

The spox gave a very unsatisfying answer as follows: “How do we know that it’s not – because we talk with our staff and we talk with the medical professionals.”

Below is a piece by Sharon Weinberger from her book, The Imagineers of War: The Untold Story of DARPA, the Pentagon Agency that Changed the World via FP:

In 1965, medical workers began showing up at the American embassy in Moscow, drawing blood from the employees inside. The American diplomats were told that doctors were looking for possible exposure to a new type of virus, something not unexpected in a country known for its frigid winters.

It was all a lie. The Moscow Viral Study, as it was called, was the cover story for the American government’s top secret investigation into the effects of microwave radiation on humans.
[…]
A State Department doctor in charge of the blood tests, Cecil Jacobson, asserted that there had been some chromosomal changes, but none of the scientific reviews of his work seemed to back his view. Jacobson achieved infamy in later years, not for the Moscow Signal, but for fraud related to his fertility work. Among other misdeeds, he was sent to prison for impregnating possibly dozens of unsuspecting patients with his own sperm, rather than that of screened anonymous donors as they were expecting.

Richard Cesaro never attained that level of personal notoriety, but he asserted, even after he retired, that the Moscow Signal remained an open question. “I look at it as still a major, serious, unsettled threat to the security of the United States,” he said, when interviewed about it nearly two decades later. “If you really make the breakthrough, you’ve got something better than any bomb ever built, because when you finally come down the line you’re talking about controlling people’s minds.”

Perhaps, but Pandora resonated for years as the secrecy surrounding the project generated public paranoia and distrust of government research on radiation safety. Project Pandora was often cited as proof that the government knew more about the health effects of electro- magnetic radiation than it was letting on. The government did finally inform embassy personnel in the 1970s about the microwave radiation, prompting, not surprisingly, a slew of lawsuits.

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U.S. Diplomats in Cuba Sonic Attacks: As Serious as Mild TBI/Central Nervous System Damage?

Posted: 2:49 am ET
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CBS News updated its reporting on the “sonic attacks” on U.S. and Canadian diplomats in Havana, Cuba. CBS News said that a U.S. doctor who evaluated American and Canadian diplomats working in Havana diagnosed them with conditions as serious as mild traumatic brain injury, and with likely damage to the central nervous system.  “The diplomats complained about symptoms ranging from hearing loss and nausea to headaches and balance disorders after the State Department said “incidents” began affecting them beginning in late 2016. A source familiar with these incidents says officials are investigating whether the diplomats were targets of a type of sonic attack directed at their homes, which were provided by the Cuban government. The source says reports of more attacks affecting U.S. embassy workers on the island continue.”  The report says that the University of Miami Health System confirmed that their physicians were “consulted” by State on its diplomats in Cuba.

Question about these affected diplomats were asked during the State Department’s Daily Press Briefing on August 23, but there were no good answers as to how many embassy employees were affected.  If the attacks were directed at their homes, how many family members were similarly affected? Are these attacks continuing to this day? What happens if these attacks result in permanent disability like hearing loss for family members who are not employed?  Most notably, when the health of employees and family members are damaged by these attacks, are they extended medical expense assistance even when they are not hospitalized?

Per 16 FAM 520, the individual employee is responsible for all medical expenses related to outpatient care, except when associated with a hospitalization as defined by the insurance company’s Explanation of Benefits (EOB), i.e., the insurance company makes the determination.  Also note the following:

  • U.S. Government agencies that participate in the Department of State Medical and Health Program serve as secondary payers (with the exception of deductibles and other limitations as noted in 16 FAM 531) for inpatient hospital and related outpatient medical expenses of employees and eligible family members who are covered by medical insurance where certain conditions are met.
  • An individual without medical insurance or whose insurer refuses to act as a primary payer is responsible for all medical expenses.
  • The same regs say that “in the event of a medical emergency, the Office of Medical Services or a Foreign Service medical provider may authorize issuance of Form DS-3067, Authorization for Medical Services for Employees and/or Dependents, to secure admission to a hospital located abroad or in the United States while on medical travel provided the employee signs a repayment agreement.   Reimbursement may be made directly or through payroll deductions from the employee’s salary.”

Via DPB | August 23, 2016:

QUESTION: Listen, how concerned is the State Department about these diplomats, who medical records show have brain damage? Are there any that are still in Cuba that have been affected by this who have asked the State Department to leave?

MS NAUERT: So some have – some we have – some we asked to leave because their condition necessitated that, and they left – wanted to – mutually agreed upon – left that country because of the situation, because of the symptoms that they were experiencing. There were others that have chosen to stay there and some of them are still there. Does that answer your question?

QUESTION: It does, but I want to ask you: Does the U.S. embassy have a current medical officer permanently based in Havana to address these incidents?

MS NAUERT: I know that we have had our U.S. Government employees go to Miami, Florida where they had – some of them had been medically evacuated in order to receive medical treatment and testing. I know —

QUESTION: But is there a medical officer at the embassy?

MS NAUERT: May I – look, could I – could I finish what I’m saying? I also know that we have brought medical professionals to our staff in Cuba to be able to treat them, to be able to test them. The best equipment is not going to necessarily be on the ground in Cuba. We are bringing people to the best medical experts on the mainland in the United States. Is there an actual medical officer? I don’t know the answer to that. I can look into that and see if I can get you an answer. Okay?
[…]
QUESTION: Well, there were some reports as well that this started in December of 2016. Two questions actually: Can you confirm whether or not these attacks are continuing to this day? And can you confirm whether or not there were any actions that were being – that the U.S. Government took – let me rephrase – did the U.S. Government not respond until February of this year?

MS NAUERT: The first reported activity took place in late December of 2016. That is correct. I’ve confirmed that here before. When these things started to come in – and I’ve talked about this before – people reported a variety of symptoms. Not everyone has experienced the same type of – the same type of symptoms. So after the initial reports came in, then we started to get some other reports. And it took some time for people to be able to determine that yes, there is a pattern taking place here; yes, there is something going on. It’s much like – I would liken it to if you have an illness and you kind of maybe – you mention it to a colleague, you mention it to a doctor, but you don’t think anything of it. The doctor hears about somebody else who has maybe a different kind of symptom. It may not all be put together at the same time and say, “Aha. This must be it.” It takes some time for that information to come in.  But since that information started coming in, we take this very seriously – safety and security of Americans, which obviously includes U.S. Government officials and employees who are there on business. It is a huge priority for us and we’re trying to get them all the care that they need. Okay?

 

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Unemployment Status of @StateDept Family Members Overseas (4/2017) #ThanksTillerson

Posted: 2:01 am ET
Updated: 1:51 pm PT for clarity and a new hashtag
Updated: August 5, 10:17 am PT
Updated: 12:07 pm PT
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Update: August 5, 10:17 am PT: The FLO website now has a new August 4 update that says: “The Secretary approved an exemption to the hiring freeze that will allow the Department to fill a number of priority EFM positions that are currently vacant. This exemption gives posts authority to fill critical vacancies supporting security, safety and health responsibilities.” This update has no time stamp but must have come out late on August 4.  

We understand that this change relates to CLO coordinator positions at Community Liaison Offices. Embassies (USG has 170 of them) and some Consulates General have one CLO, or have two individuals sharing the position as co-CLOs. We believed that a certain number of CLO positions, not all, were made vacant in the winter and the current rotation cycle of personnel. What we don’t know yet is if Tillerson’s exemption is specific to CLO vacancies only, and if that’s the case, how many positions are actually affected.” End update.

Update: 12:07 pm PT: We’re hearing some other EFM exemptions including consular positions are also being approved but we don’t have clarity on all exempted positions or how many.  End Update.

 

According to the FLO website, the Department of State’s current hiring freeze guidance “remains in effect, including with respect to hiring under a Family Member Appointment (FMA) or Temporary Appointment.”

It also says that Eligible Family Members may continue to apply for any advertised position for which they feel they are qualified and the hiring preference will be applied during the process. However, Appointment Eligible Family Members (AEFM) cannot be offered a position at this time due to the freeze on FMA and temporary appointments.

The stats below is from April 2017. It indicates that 6% or 743 EFMs are pending due the clearance process or the hiring freeze.  Even if the security clearance process is done, now that the hiring freeze remains in place, is anyone going anywhere? Of EFMs in South Central Asia, 10% are pending, the highest percentage in the geographic bureaus (SCA includes posts like Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Kazakhstan, Pakistan, Sri Lanka and India). In terms of actual numbers, EUR and WHA have much larger family member population, and they are at 6% and 5% respectively.

Since the 6% will not be able to work unless the freeze is lifted by Secretary Tillerson or the EFMs are issued waivers, the “Not Employed” Foreign Service family members below is not 56% (6,695) but actually 62% (7,438).

Via State/FLO:

#

@StateDept Suspends Its Visa Interview Waiver Program (IWP) Under E.O. 13780 #Brazil #Argentina

Posted: 4:24 am ET
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On July 27, the State Department issued a redacted guidance citing changes from ALDAC 17 State 77174 on Interview Waivers. The new guidance reflects the suspension of the Interview Waiver Program (IWP) under Executive Order 13780 (E.O.). The suspension of the Interview Waiver Program (IWP) means that more visa applicants will require personal interviews.

Note that the State Department’s current hiring freeze remains in effect and includes Family Member Appointment (FMA) or Temporary Appointment jobs (also see Out in the Cold: How the Hiring Freeze Hiring Freeze is Affecting Family Member Employment). We are not quite at the end of the summer travel season so we can expect that that the visa wait time will start creeping up again.  Visa wait times for USCG Guangzhou is 13 days, US Embassy New Delhi is now 15 days, USCG Chengdu is 6-11 days, US Embassy Manila is 10-19 days, and US Embassy Havana is 21 days.  Appointment wait time for visitor visas at US Embassy Caracas is 999 days. Wait times can potentially get even worse next year with State projected to shrink by 2300 personnel, and if the hiring freeze is not lifted until the reorganization is concluded.

9 FAM 403.5 says that “Every alien seeking an NIV must apply in person and be interviewed by a consular officer unless a specific exception allows for waiver of the interview requirement.”

FAM 403.5-2  (U) INTERVIEW REQUIREMENT
(CT:VISA-415;   07-27-2017)

a. Unavailable   

b. (U) Every alien seeking an NIV must apply in person and be interviewed by a consular officer unless a specific exception allows for waiver of the interview requirement.

c.  Unavailable  

(1)  (U) Generally, all applicants who are at least 14 years of age and not more than 79 must be interviewed in person.

(2)  (U) The circumstances in which the consular officer may waive an interview for a nonimmigrant applicant are limited to the categories set out in section 222(h)(1)(A) and (B) of the INA.  See 9 FAM 403.5-4(A).  

(3)  (U) If you receive a compelling case that does not qualify for an interview waiver under one of these categories, but where an interview waiver appears warranted, you may forward a recommendation for waiver through your VO/F post liaison.

(4)  (U) If admissibility issues or national security concerns arise in the visa application process for applicants for whom the interview requirement has been waived, or for applicants under 14 and over 79, you must conduct a personal interview of the applicant.

d. (U) If none of the grounds in 9 FAM 403.5-4(B) below that mandate an in-person interview apply, any applicant (first-time or renewal) who is:

(1)  (U) Under 14 years of age; or

(2)  (U) Over 79 years of age

    is exempt from the requirement of a visa interview.

The “grounds” and “interview waiver criteria” under 9 FAM 403.5-4(B) only contains the following passage:

Eligibility for interview waiver does not automatically entitle any applicant to a waiver of the interview requirement.  You must interview any and all interview waiver-eligible applicants who you believe should be interviewed to more fully assess their eligibility or intentions, or those whom you are concerned may be from high-threat or high-fraud areas.  Review all source information and liaise with other agencies at post to remain aware of changing threat information. 

9 FAM 403.5-4(A)(1)  (U) Interview Waiver Categories
(CT:VISA-415;   07-27-2017)

a. (U) Waiver by Consular Officers:  

(U) You may waive the interview of any visa applicant who falls under one or more of the following categories  in (1)-(3) below and who satisfies the requirements of 9 FAM 403.5-4(B):

(1)  (U) Is within a class of nonimmigrants classifiable under the visa symbols A-1, A-2, C-2, C-3 (except attendants, servants, or personal employees of accredited officials), G-1, G-2, G-3, G-4, NATO-1, NATO-2, NATO-3, NATO-4, NATO-5, NATO-6, or TECRO E-1 and who is seeking a visa in such classification;

(2)  (U) Is an applicant for a diplomatic or official visa as described in 22 CFR 41.26 or 22 CFR 41.27, respectively.

(3)  (U) Renewals in the same category within 12 months:

(a)  (U) Is applying for the same nonimmigrant visa classification not more than 12 months after the date on which the prior visa expired  (i.e., same visa class and same category (principal or derivative)); and

(b)  (U) Is applying in the consular district of his or her normal residence, unless otherwise prescribed in regulations that require an applicant to apply for a visa in the country of which such applicant is a national.

(i)      (U) For example, a B1/B2, L, or R visa holder who is seeking to renew his/her visa in the same category within 12 months of his/her last visa’s expiration date within the consular district of his/her normal residence qualifies for interview waiver for Renewals;

(ii)    (U) On the other hand, an H-1B visa holder applying for an L-1 visa, an E-2 spouse applying for a visa as an E-2 principal, or an F-2 visa holder applying for an F-1 visa all would need to appear for an interview.

(iii)    (U) The  adjudication may take place outside the 12-month window, as long as the application is made within12 months of the previous visa’s expiration date. The criteria for making an application are defined in 9 FAM 403.2

(c)   Special considerations for applications to renew Student and Exchange Visitor visas:

(i)     (U) Students (F and M applicants) are eligible for interview waiver , provided the applicant is re-applying to renew the same visa classification not more than 12 months after the date on which the prior visa expired and provided the applicant is renewing his or her visa either to: (a) continue participation in the same major course of study even if at a different institution; or (b) attend the same institution even if in a different major course of study.

(ii)    (U) Exchange visitor visas (i.e., J visas) may only be renewed  without an interview if the exchange visitor will continue participation in the same exchange visitor program, with the same Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS) number from the previously issued visa.

(iii)    (U) You must verify that the applicant’s SEVIS record indicates a SEVIS status of “initial” or “active,” and should request an interview if you identify any discrepancies between the current and previous visa applications, or wish to interview the applicant for any other reason.

b.  (U) Waiver by Deputy Assistant Secretary for Visa Services  In unusual or emergent circumstances the Deputy Assistant Secretary for Visa Services may waive the interview requirement in individual cases after determining that such a waiver is necessary as a result of unusual or emergent circumstances.  If you believe waiver of the interview is necessary due to unusual or emergent circumstances, contact your VO/F post liaison

c.  (U) Waiver by the Secretary in individual cases when in the national interest: The Secretary of State may waive the interview requirement in individual cases after determining that such a waiver is in the national interest of the United States.  If you believe waiver of the interview would be in the national interest of the United States, but that applicant does not qualify for any other aforementioned waiver categories, contact your VO/F post liaison.

The new guidance also removed the IWP for Brazilian and Argentine applicants.

9 FAM 403.5-4(A)(3)  (U) Discontinued Interview Waiver Program Categories
(CT:VISA-415;   07-27-2017)

Effective immediately, posts must require an interview for the following categories of individuals that had previously been covered by the IWP (unless the applicant also falls in an interview waiver category described in 9 FAM 403.5-4(A)(1)):

  • (1)  (U) Any applicant whose visa expired more than 12 months, and not more than 48 months, prior to the date of application;
  • (2)  (U) Any first-time Brazilian applicant aged 14 or 15 or between 66 and 79;
  • (3)  (U) Any first-time Argentine applicant aged 14 or 15 or between 66 and 79.

 

#

@StateDept Orders Evacuation of US Embassy Venezuela Family Members, Authorizes Departure of Employees

Posted: 5:29 pm  PT
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On July 27, the State Department ordered the departure of family members and authorized the voluntary departure of U.S. government employees from the U.S. Embassy in Caracas.  The State Department also issued a new Travel Warning for Venezuela, warning  U.S. citizens against travel to Venezuela due to social unrest, violent crime, and pervasive food and medicine shortages.  

All U.S. direct-hire personnel and their families assigned to the U.S. Embassy in Caracas are subject to an embassy movement policy that limits their travel within Caracas and many parts of the country.  Inter-city travel by car during hours of darkness (6:00 p.m. to 6:00 a.m.) is strongly discouraged and in some cases may be prohibited.  U.S. government personnel must also request approval for travel outside of Caracas.  These security measures may limit the U.S. Embassy’s ability to provide services.  This replaces the Travel Warning issued December 15, 2016.

The political and security situation in Venezuela is unpredictable and can change quickly.  Since April 2017, political rallies and demonstrations occur daily throughout the country, often with little notice.  Disruptions to traffic and public transportation are common.  Demonstrations typically elicit a strong police and security force response that includes the use of tear gas, pepper spray, water cannons and rubber bullets against participants, and occasionally devolve into looting and vandalism. Armed motorcycle gangs associated with the government frequently use violence to intimidate demonstrators.  Clashes between these groups have resulted in serious injuries and over 70 deaths.  U.S. citizens have reported being arrested, detained, and robbed while in close proximity to protests.

Security forces have arrested individuals, including U.S. citizens, and detained them for long periods with little or no evidence of a crime.  The U.S. Embassy may not be notified of the detention of a U.S. citizen and consular access to detainees may be denied or severely delayed.  The detained citizen may be denied access to proper medical care, clean water, and food.

Read in full here.