Detained Ex-Campaign Staffer and Diplomatic Spouse Vitali Shkliarov Leaves Belarus

 

Travels With the Pompeos and the Espers: Who Invited the Spouses?

 

How @StateDept Handles Domestic Violence Overseas: One Example and Some Questions

 

In the many years that we’ve watched the State Department, or asked questions about assaults, harassment, or domestic violence, we seldom see a public accounting of how the agency handles these cases, particularly overseas.  State had such a case in 2018. And we’re only seeing it now because the case landed in the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.  The EEOC case came from a complainant who was previously assigned to an overseas post in the Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs (NEA).
On November 7, 2018, Complainant filed an EEO complaint alleging that the Agency [State Department] subjected him to discrimination and a hostile work environment/harassment on the basis of sex (male), status as a parent, and in retaliation for “whistleblower activity”. The EEOC notes that “With respect to Complainant’s allegations on appeal of violations of the U.S. Constitution, whistleblower protection laws, criminal laws, and tortious laws not addressed by EEO laws, these laws are not within the purview of the EEO complaint process.”.
The State Department concluded that Complainant failed to prove that the Agency subjected him to discrimination as alleged. On March 13, 2020, the EEOC issued a decision which affirmed the Agency’s final decision. Excerpt from Appeal No. 2019005790:
The Agency accepted the complaint as to the alleged basis of sex and conducted an investigation, which produced the following pertinent facts:
Complainant was assigned to the Agency’s facility [/], accompanied by his spouse (“Spouse”) (female) and children. He and his family resided in U.S. government-supplied housing.
On September 21, 2018, Spouse reported an incident of domestic violence to the Deputy Regional Security Officer (Deputy RSO), alleging Complainant assaulted her. The alleged assault occurred on September 9, 2018, while they were on vacation in Poland. Deputy RSO attested that, based on Spouse’s report, it was reasonable to believe that domestic violence had occurred, and he reported the situation to the front office and the Office of Special Investigations (OSI), as required by Agency policy.
The Agency’s Family Advisory Team (FAT) was advised of Spouse’s report of domestic violence and they recommended that, in the best interest of the family, Complainant and Spouse be separated for a cooling down period. One factor in the decision was Spouse’s comment that she was afraid of Complainant’s finding out that she made the report. Members of the FAT recommended the separation out of concern for further violence, without a determination as to the veracity of Spouse’s allegations, until a decision could be made as to the next steps. The Deputy Chief of Mission instructed that Complainant be removed from the residence, pending further deliberations by the FAT.
On September 21, 2018, Deputy RSO and two other Agency employees went to the residence Complainant shared with his Spouse and their children and informed Complaint that he was being relocated to a hotel. Complainant and Spouse were instructed not to contact each other until a decision was made about the alleged domestic violence incident. Complainant cooperated and was escorted to a hotel.
On September 25, 2018, Complainant reported to Deputy RSO that Spouse was the aggressor in the domestic violence incident. Deputy RSO instructed Complainant to communicate with OSI, as they had jurisdiction.
In the instant complaint, Complainant alleged sex was a factor because he was required to leave the residence, while Spouse remained in the home with their children.
On September 26, 2018, Complainant met with a Human Resources Officer (HRO) and Agency security personnel and was informed that he must immediately leave the post and return to the United States. He was given the choice of voluntary or involuntary curtailment. He was informed that the issues facing his family could not be addressed locally and resources were not available to manage his family situation. Complainant agreed to a voluntary curtailment because the official reason would be classified as personal and there would be no discipline. He also attested that he selected voluntary curtailment because, even though he was the victim of Spouse’s assault, he did not believe he would have any support at the post.
HRO explained that when there is a conflict between two members of a household and one or more of the individuals are direct hires, the Agency policy is to curtail the direct hire. She further explained that this approach is preferred as there is an unwillingness to involve the local police in a potential domestic violence situation. She explained that the post cannot adjudicate claims and make a determination, as that authority rests with OSI. She explained that the post has no authority to require a family member of a direct hire to leave the country and the only viable option is to require the direct hire to curtail, which then will require the spouse or other family member to vacate the government-supplied housing.
The Deputy Chief of Mission attested that she made the decision to curtail Complainant, as this was the third occasion of serious behavioral incidents involving Complainant since he arrived, less than a year ago and, based on the advice from FAT, she instructed that he be given a choice of voluntary or involuntary.
On September 28, 2018, Complainant returned to the United States. Spouse and their children remained behind to pack their belongings and arrived in the United States on October 17, 2018.
Upon his arrival in the United States, Complainant was informed by Diplomatic Security that an update for approval of his security clearance had been initiated “for cause.” Complainant’s security clearance was not scheduled to expire until June 2021. Complainant alleged that the review of his security clearance was initiated by the post to support their decision to remove him from [post].
The Office Director of DS/SI/PSS explained that he was, in part, responsible for the investigation and adjudication of security clearances for the Department and Complainant was subject to an “out of cycle” investigation regarding his security clearance because of the reports received from a Diplomatic Security investigation alleging potential misconduct. He explained that the investigation was “for cause,” non-routine, and pursuant to regulations.
With respect to the alleged harassment, Complainant attested that, on November 7, 2018, the Agency notified him that he was the subject of an administrative inquiry into allegations that he was a harasser.
He explained that he learned that, during a social setting, he made a comment about Spouse that might have been considered a distasteful joke but did not rise to the level of harassment. He also alleged that, during a meeting with the American Foreign Service Association and Human Resources, a Human Resources representative asked him when he anticipated retiring.
[…]
The Agency explained that, following Spouse’s report of domestic violence, the Agency felt it in the best interest of the family that Complainant and Spouse be separated for a cooling down period, pending a determination as to what steps were next. The Agency further explained that there is an unwillingness to involve local authorities in such matters and it lacks the authority to adjudicate such matters. The Agency explained that in such situations involving a direct hire employee and an accompanying spouse, it is the Agency’s policy to curtail the direct hire, which would then cause the spouse and family to be required to vacate the government-supplied housing. The Agency also explained that Complainant was subject to an “out of cycle” investigation regarding his security clearance because of the reports of alleged potential misconduct. We note that, although Complainant and Spouse disagree as to who initiated the domestic violence, Complainant does not deny that the domestic violence occurred. We find the Agency’s actions of separating the spouses, sending the employee back to the United States, and subjecting him to another security investigation to be reasonable under these circumstances. Therefore, although Complainant has alleged discrimination, he has not established by a preponderance of the evidence, that the legitimate, non-discriminatory reasons articulated by the Agency were a pretext for unlawful discrimination or motivated by some unlawful discriminatory animus with respect to any of these claims.
The links to the related regs are below. In this case, State told the EEOC that “there is an unwillingness to involve local authorities in such matters and it lacks the authority to adjudicate such matters.” And yet, 3 FAM 1815.2 says:

d. If the initial report is substantiated, action may include one or more of the following: (1)  Post may call upon local authorities or resources in certain cases; […] (5)  Post may be asked to call upon shelter and child protection resources or find alternative shelter within the post community for the victim and any children.

Seriously though, why are these options decorating the FAM if they are never real options? In certain cases? Which cases would there be a willingness for post to call upon local authorities to settle a domestic violence case?
Perhaps the most striking thing here — well, a couple of things. 1) “Complainant agreed to a voluntary curtailment because the official reason would be classified as personal and there would be no discipline”; and 2) the Agency’s point that “the only viable option is to require the direct hire to curtail, which then will require the spouse or other family member to vacate the government-supplied housing.”
And then what?
The spouse and children returns to the United States. To where actually? To get back with the spouse? To a halfway house? To a homeless shelter? What actually happens to the family upon return to the United States following a report of domestic violence overseas? Folks do not always have houses in the DC area, spouses may be foreign born with no families in the DC area. In most cases, the household effects and those on storage are also under the employee’s name only (unless the spouse made prior arrangements).
So what happens next? Could ‘what happens next’ be one of the main reasons why folks do not report these cases?  

Related items:
3 FAM 1810 FAMILY ADVOCACY PROGRAM (CHILD ABUSE, CHILD NEGLECT, AND DOMESTIC VIOLENCE)
3 FAM 1815  DOMESTIC VIOLENCE

EFM Gets Ceremonial Office in Chief of Mission Residence at US Embassy Luxembourg

U.S. Ambassador to Luxembourg James Evans announced the ceremonial office for Newt Gingrich at the ambassador’s residence in Luxembourg. The former Speaker of the House is the eligible family member of the U.S. Ambassador to the Vatican Callista Gingrich.
Why? Because he can. The designated room is the library to the left of the foyer in the ambassador’s residence. The room shall be marked with appropriate signage as “Speaker Newt Gingrich Ceremonial Office” according to the framed designation tweeted by US Embassy Luxembourg.
It looks like Embassy Luxembourg also has a room designated for RBG from when she visited post last.

*EFM – Eligible Family Member
*CMR – for Chief of Mission Residence (the ambassador’s official residence)

 

 

 

Ukraine: US Embassy Kyiv Spouse Micala Siler Killed While Jogging

Obituary: Micala “Mikey” Christie-Hicks Siler (December 19, 1978 – September 30, 2020)

Travels With Mike and Susan: #CzechRepublic, #Slovenia, #Austria, #Poland – August 11-15, 2020

POLAND

AUSTRIA

SLOVENIA

CZECH REPUBLIC

 

Related posts:

US Embassy Dhaka: Persistent Staffing Gaps, Workload Stress, a Triple Stretch

 

In July 2016, the US Embassy in Bangladesh went on voluntary evacuation (U.S. Embassy Dhaka: Now on “Authorized Departure” For Family Members of USG Personnel). State/OIG conducted the inspection of U.S. Embassy Dhaka in Bangladesh from September 3, 2019, to January 28, 2020. The report released in June 2020 notes that “In 2016, following a terrorist attack in Dhaka, the Department decided to allow only adult dependents to accompany employees. Many American staff members told OIG this change made the embassy unattractive to Foreign Service employees with children.”
What OIG Found

The Ambassador and the Deputy Chief of Mission led Embassy Dhaka in a collaborative and professional manner. Staff described both leaders as energetic and approachable.

• The embassy had difficulty filling mid-level positions after the withdrawal of minor dependents following a 2016 terrorist attack. Many managerial positions had long staffing gaps that exacerbated workload pressures on the remaining staff.

• The Ambassador’s active outreach efforts advanced efforts to build political capital and goodwill. However, particularly given the staffing shortages throughout the embassy, the Ambassador contributed to the workload stress of embassy staff by not prioritizing demands he placed on employees to support these efforts.

• The Ambassador engaged extensively with Bangladeshi Government officials and led efforts by the international community to assist 900,000 Rohingya refugees who had fled Burma.

• Consular Section staff routinely worked long hours in an effort to manage a growing backlog of immigrant visa work.

• The embassy’s social media program did not comply with Department of State standards.

• The network cabling infrastructure in Embassy Dhaka’s unclassified server and telephone frame rooms was antiquated and did not comply with Department standards.

• Spotlights on Success: The Information Management Office created a tracking system for employee checks of the emergency and evacuation radio network that increased participation rates dramatically. In addition, the office created a travel request application that saved time for travelers and travel managers

[…]

At the time of the inspection, Embassy Dhaka had 139 authorized U.S direct-hire employees, of whom 66 worked for the Department of State (Department) and 73 worked for other agencies, including the U.S. Agency for International Development and the Departments of Defense, Justice, Health and Human Services, and Agriculture. The embassy also had 511 locally employed (LE) staff and 5 eligible family members. The embassy occupies two compounds, with the chancery having been built in 1988. The Department is planning to construct a new chancery and annexes during the next several years.

[…]

The embassy had difficulty in recent years filling mid-level positions. In the year prior to the inspection, several mid-level positions in different sections either had no assigned employee or had long gaps. For example, the embassy experienced a 30-month gap between Facility Managers, a 10-month gap between Public Affairs Officers, a 15-month gap between Information Management Specialists, a 34-month gap between the Management Section’s Office Management Specialists, and 24-month gaps in two of five Regional Security Office positions.

Excerpt from Embassy Dhaka’s response specific to the staffing gaps:

The Embassy appreciates mention of the staffing gaps identified on page three of the OIG Draft Report. However, the paragraph understates Post’s chronic and severe understaffing and its impact. In addition to the page three gaps, during the Ambassador’s tenure:

• The Front Office was short one OMS for seven months and had a four-month gap in the DCM position, filled only part of that time by an REA TDYer also serving as Acting Management Officer;

• Pol/Econ was without a Chief or Deputy for three months and the Acting Chief was also P/E Deputy, Econ Chief, and Labor Officer for three months. The incoming Refugee Coordinator broke his handshake causing gaps in that position;

• The Visa Chief position was vacant for 14 months; a ConOff position was vacant for five months; and the incoming Deputy Consular Chief who will replace her predecessor who departed during the October inspection has not yet arrived.

Additionally, Post was unable to fill numerous EFM positions in the Section due to the paucity of family members who chose to come to our then unaccompanied Post;

• The previous Management Officer curtailed in August 2019; the DCM recruited an REA officer to temporarily fill the position who was formally recalled to service in January 2020. The A/GSO EPAP departed in September 2019; her replacement is scheduled to arrive in summer 2020. The S/GSO left in May 2019; his replacement arrived four months later. The FMO arrived after a three-month gap. The ISO position has been empty since June 2019 and there is no replacement in the pipeline. Post has had no CLO since February 2019; the position was also vacant for 10 months until April 2018;

• The Deputy CAO – a second-tour Officer — filled the PAO position for 10 months; this was a triple stretch. The remaining two American positions were filled by Civil Servants in hard-to-fill positions; neither had served in a PD position or overseas.

With such substantial staffing gaps, during the tense and violent run up to national elections and the tumultuous aftermath, in times of heightened terrorist threat, and to support multiple VIP visits to Cox’s Bazar and the world’s largest refugee camp, some employees did occasionally work seven days a week. Post appreciated the strain on particular offices and officers and worked hard to burden share with our limited personnel resources. As is typical when new Chiefs of Mission arrive, the Ambassador accepted more invitations his first few months in order to promote crucial U.S. foreign policy objectives including the new Indo-Pacific Strategy, conduct high-profile advocacy over concerns for Bangladesh’s shrinking democratic space, press the Government of Bangladesh to address trafficking-in-persons issues, and protect human rights and voices of dissent in the aftermath of the hugely flawed national election. While the Front Office may not have been explicit in tying all outreach and travel to the ICS, the Ambassador was careful to accept engagement opportunities that furthered ICS objectives which are, as the OIG noted, displayed prominently throughout the Embassy. Further, the Embassy had and continues to have a strategic travel working group which develops quarterly travel schedules and plans.

OIG report says that in February the State Department agreed with Embassy Dhaka’s recommendation to return to fully accompanied status “which should help alleviate continuing staffing and related concerns by 2021, including by filling long-vacant EFM positions.”

Belarus’ Lukashenko in Power Since 1994 Claims Landslide Election Victory, Spawns Widespread Protests

 

Memo Justifies Susan Pompeo’s Presence in Middle East Trip During Shutdown

 

Politico’s Nahal Toosi has a new piece about that January 2019 Middle East trip the Pompeos took during the government shutdown (35-day shutdown started on December 22, 2018, until January 25, 2019, a total of 35 days).  She has the receipts — the 6-page action memo sent by M-William Todd, S/ES-Lisa Kenna, NEA-David Satterfield, and L-Jennifer Newstead to the Deputy Secretary of State John Sullivan.
Note that two signatories of this memo have moved on from Foggy Bottom, while the other two are awaiting confirmation to be U.S. ambassador. M-William Todd is a pending nominee to be Ambassador to Pakistan, S/ES-Lisa Kenna is a pending nominee to be Ambassador to Peru, NEA-David Satterfield is the current Ambassador to Turkey, and L-Jennifer Newstead had since left State to join Facebook. The memo was sent to then Deputy Secretary of State John Sullivan who is now the U.S. Ambassador to the Russian Federation.
In this action memo, S/ES “believes that accepting the invitations extended in both Cairo and Abu Dhabi advances foreign policy objectives because the invitations were extended from the highest levels of those governments reflecting the importance the concerned ministers places on the events.”
S/ES also “advises that the Pompeos’ dual representation at representational events in Cairo and the Abu Dhabi also meet the requirements of the current shutdown guidance. S/ES believes that dual representation at the events at issue is necessary because the invitations were extended directly by the ministers, reflecting the importance they place on the event to strengthen bilateral ties.”
NEA “can only note that the invitation to Mrs. Pompeo having been extended and accepted, to decline now could be taken as a lack of courtesy, and that in NEA’s view there is no significant foreign policy interest here save the issue of courtesy.” NEA further states, “Again, NEA notes that to decline the invitation now could be seen as lack of courtesy, but there is no significant foreign policy interest here save the issue of courtesy. We also note that such determinations may be scrutinized, and that there is a risk that Mrs. Pompeo’s travel during a shutdown could attract media attention and potential criticism in the Congress and elsewhere.”
Well, what do you know? Experienced NEA guy’s take turned out to be true.
The memo’s justification cited 14 FAM 532 and says “a family member may participate in a representational event where a clear need for dual representation exists, and should such a determination be made the Department may cover travel and other costs associated with the family member’s participation.”
So we went and looked up 14 FAM 532, and you can read it below or read it in full here.
14 FAM 532.1-1 says that “The authorizing officer is expected to make sparing and judicious use of this authorization.  In all cases, the justification must demonstrate a clear advantage to the United States.” 
The authorizing officer is this case is the Deputy Secretary of State (D), who at that time was John Sullivan. While the Action Memo was cleared by D’s office, the name of the clearing officer was redacted. As all the names were spelled out on the memo, except the signoff for D’s office, we are guessing that this was cleared by a staffer in the deputy secretary’s office, thus the redaction. This is not, of course, uncommon in the State bureaucracy. But we’re wondering just how much judiciousness by an aide went into this exercise?
14 FAM 532.1-1(B)  Outside Country of Assignment
Representational travel outside the country of assignment is restricted to family members of high-level officers and will be authorized only when a clear need for dual representation exists.  Normally, travel will be restricted to eligible family members of chiefs of mission, deputy chiefs of mission, country public affairs officers, and USAID mission directors or USAID representatives.  However, in exceptional circumstances, the eligible family members of a subordinate officer may be authorized such travel.  Typical of the circumstances warranting representational travel outside the country are the following:
(1)  When an ambassador or USAID mission director accompanies a foreign dignitary to the United States on a state visit or as a presidential guest and the dignitary is accompanied by a spouse or other members of the household;
(2)  When a State, or USAID officer attends an international conference or meeting sponsored by a group or organization of nations, such as the United Nations, and the spouses of participants have also been invited to attend; and
(3)  When the President sends U.S. delegations abroad or congressional or other high-level delegations proceed abroad, accompanied by their spouses.
Right.  They’re going to say the FAM is not exhaustive, and this is just guidance. Not  (1), and not (3) but they got it done with typical circumstance (2) because this was a meeting, and a spouse was invited, though the invitation was not by a group or by an international organization. But why quibble with something minor, hey? They made it worked and she got on a trip, as well as other trips, and they could all say, this was blessed by legal and ethics folks. Because why not?  She’s a … what’s that … “a force multiplier.” No more talk of her writing a report, is there?

Mike Defends Susan With Quip From ‘The American President’