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

Posted: 12:54 am ET

 

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?!

Related posts:

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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

 

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.

#

 

 

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

Posted: 2:49 am ET

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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.

Notable Details From Tillerson’s Congressional Appearances on FY18 Budget Request

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Posted: 2:55 am ET

 

Secretary Tillerson appeared on the Hill for hearings on the FY2018 State Department Budget Request, the first under the Trump Administration. On June 13, he appeared before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee (see video here), and later that same day, he was before the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on State, Foreign Operations, and Related Programs (see video here). On June 14, Secretary Tillerson also appeared before the full House Foreign Relations Committee (HFAC) to talk about the Trump budget request for the State Department.  During the HFAC hearing, Representative Eliot Engel told Secretary Tillerson that “a member of your staff informed my staff that the reorganization you’re planning  of the State Department will require statutory changes ….”

Should be interesting to find out what kind of changes Tillerson is seeking from Congress in restructuring the agency.  Are we going to see the merging of some functional bureaus? Geographical bureaus realigned to mirror DOD’s combatant commands? Post closures? A new under secretary position swapped for a different one? A brand new mascot to improve morale?

Below are some details from Mr. Tillerson’s testimonies (all in quotation marks) with a few comments of our own.

#1. Reorganization Objective

“I think when this is all said and done, our objective is to enable the people – our Foreign Service officers, our civil servants, our people in our missions, foreign nationals – to deliver on mission with greater efficiency and effectiveness. And in effect, we’re going to get an uplift in effort delivered to the mission.”
— June 13, Senate Appropriations Sub-Committee

#2. Themes and Organizational Boxes

“…Several themes emerged, and I think the overarching theme, obviously though, is the extraordinary dedication and patriotism of the men and women in the State Department and USAID and why they undertake a career like this. And that is a strength that we will build upon. What we heard from a number of people is they are dedicated to this broad mission of representing America’s interests around the world, but from time to time – not just now, but historically as well – there have been mixed messages within the department, between the department and USAID, between the State Department and embassies, missions themselves. So a greater clarity around how the mission is defined and how direction is given.”
–June 13, SFRC

“So most of the themes have to do with – and this was the nature, though, of what we wanted to engage people with – is not, “Is this the right objective or are these the right organizational boxes?” Tell us how you get your work done, and tell us what gets in the way of you getting your work done, and what frustrates you, because that translates to inefficiency and ineffectiveness. As I said, we have no preconceived notions going in. It would have been very easy to approach this, take the organization chart, start collapsing boxes, start making it flatter in an uninformed way. I don’t have any number in mind as to what the efficiency will be, whether it is going to be 10 percent, whether it’s going to be 25, 30; we’re going to let the redesign drive what those efficiencies will be. That’s my experience in doing this in very large organizations both in the private sector and in the nonprofit sector where I’ve taken a similar approach. At the end of it, we capture significant efficiencies, but let’s let the work of the redesign drive that, not go in and say, “I’m looking for 20 percent.” Because those generally are not sustainable changes then.”
–June 13, SFRC

#3. Performance and Accountability

“We also heard a theme that they do not feel that people are held accountable for their work at the State Department, that poor performers are not dealt with. And the people in the State Department know who is getting the work done and who is not getting the work done, and it’s demoralizing to them when they see that we don’t deal with those who are not delivering on their responsibilities. That gets to how we praise performance, how we give people feedback, how we work to improve their performance, so we have a number of human resources processes that we believe can be improved, and a number of leadership areas that need to be addressed.”
–June 13, SFRC

 

#4. Surveys Completed – 35,000 (out of 84,048 overall staffing for State and USAID)

“We have just completed collecting information on our organizational processes and culture through a survey that was made available to every one of our State and USAID colleagues. Over 35,000 surveys were completed, and we also held in-person listening sessions with approximately 300 individuals to obtain their perspective on what we do and how we do it. I met personally with dozens of team members who spoke candidly about their experiences. From this feedback we have been able to get a clearer overall view of our organization. We have no preconceived outcomes, and our discussions of the goals, priorities, and direction of the State Department and USAID are not token exercises.”
–June 13, Senate Appropriations Sub-Committee

NOTE: How do we reconcile Tillerson’s “we have no preconceived outcomes” with #10 “by the end of Fiscal ’18, we think we’ll be down about 8 percent overall” before his reorganization study/listening tour is even done?

#5. Eliminating Obstacles

“Well, that’s what the entire redesign exercise is about, is understanding better how the work gets done. What we’ve learned out of this listening exercise is the – our colleagues in the State Department and USAID can already identify a number of obstacles to them getting their work done efficiently and effectively. If we eliminate some of those obstacles, it’s like getting another half a person, because they have their time available now to direct it at delivery on mission, as opposed to managing some internal process that’s not directly delivering on mission. I just use that as an example.”
–June 13, Senate Appropriations Sub-Committee

#6. Redesign Timeframe

“I think we will finalize the listening report here in the next few weeks, and we’re going to make that available so people can see that. Out of that report, though, there are about 13 themes that emerged and these were extremely valuable to begin to help us focus on where are the greatest opportunities to remove obstacles for people, because that’s really what this is about, is how do we allow people to get their work done more effectively and more efficiently? And we will be going after the redesign. Some of this is internal processes, some of it is structural, some of it are constraints that, quite frankly, Congress puts on us through some of the appropriation structures. And I understand all well-intended to ensure accountability and oversight, but it ends up adding a lot of layers. So we’re going to be getting at that. We hope to have the way forward, the next step framed here in the kind of August timeframe, so that we can then begin the redesign process itself September. I’m hoping we can have all of that concluded by the end of the calendar year, and then ’18 will be a year of how do we implement this now? How do we effect the change and begin to get that into place?”
–June 13, Senate Appropriations Sub-Committee


#7. Implementation in 2018

“I’ll get a final report. I’m interviewing a couple of individuals who will come in and help us now with the next stage, which is the redesign effort itself, which will be – which will involve the colleagues in the State Department and USAID. That effort likely we’ll have that framed over the course of the summer. The effort itself will likely get underway sometime in August, September timeframe when we have our pathway for the process, how we want to engage our colleagues, how we want to get at various elements and themes that emerged from the listening session. Now, some of this is work process, some of it is how we handle people, some of it is how decisions are made. It’s a very broad set of issues which were quite informative. So we’ve got to map out how do we want to get at each of those, but the work itself will start towards the end of the year. Hopefully, we will have some clarity around what that looks like by the end of this year; early next year, we’ll begin implementation.”
–June 13, SFRC

 

#8. Who’s coming to Foggy Bottom?

“… Having done this in the private sector once or twice and in a big nonprofit once, there is a process that I know has delivered for me in the past. So we just concluded this listening effort, which will inform us and shape how we feel we need to now attack the redesign and the way forward. Now, I’ve interviewed a couple of individuals to come in and help me lead that effort.”
–June 13, Senate Appropriations Sub-Committee

#9. Institutionalizing Change

“Well, I think that perhaps the difference in how we’re thinking about this, not a – just is what people think about things differently. The effort that we’re undertaking is to institutionalize change so that it stays and we capture, now and forevermore, these efficiencies.”
–June 13, SFRC

#10. State Department Workforce Projected to be ⬇︎8% by End of FY18 — 1:3 Replacement

“We actually are up about 50 Foreign Service officers from the start of the year, about a half a percent. The effect will come later, as what we’re doing is just allowing normal attrition to bring the numbers down. And as we look forward, we know we’ve got to continue to replenish our Foreign Service officer corps, so we are still interviewing people. And as we look ahead, we’ll probably be looking at a one-for-three kind of replacement. But the Foreign Service, if you – if we look further out, and I think we’ve said this publicly – by the end of Fiscal ’18, we think we’ll be down about 8 percent overall on the permanent State Department Foreign Service/Civil Service. Foreign Service is actually only going to be down about 4 percent; civil servants are going to be down about 12. So it’s being managed in a deliberate way, but being very mindful of not diminishing the strength of our Foreign Service officers.”
–June 13, SFRC

NOTE: On May 10, careers.state.gov posted this note in the forum: “The Office of Recruitment, Examination and Employment sent letters to all candidates on the Generalist registers notifying them of the opportunity to join the Consular Fellows Program. This program is a priority initiative for the US Department of State in the coming years and we encourage all of our qualified candidates to consider joining the Foreign Service to fill this important role.”  HR is telling FSO candidates waiting to be called to a class (career tracks) that they can join the Consular Fellow Program (non-career track, 60 months tenure). Why would anyone want to do that?  This tells us that State has hiring authority for the CF program, but may not have one for the career candidates. Also see #14 below.

#11. Staffing the Top Ranks of the State Department

“We’re at about, I would say, the 50 percent mark in terms of undersecretaries/assistant secretaries. In terms of people that have been identified, names are actually being submitted so they can begin to work their way through the White House PPO process, but also, for a lot of people, they have to get this paperwork behind them. And I would tell you that is no small challenge. As I check on the status of various people we have recommended and nominated to the White House, what I’m finding is more o[en than not it’s the paperwork that is slowing them down. In my own case, I had to hire eight people to help me get mine done. Most people can’t afford to hire eight people to help them get their paperwork done, so it takes a very long time. But we’re about 50 percent of the way through, and we have other names that are in process. What we’re doing, we try to get the candidate list of people we think are – would be useful to talk to down to a couple, and then we actually interview them face to face and then make a decision and submit them. So this is a pretty active process. It’s one I sit down with the people that are helping me coordinate it about every 10 days just to see where are we, make decisions on other people. If we’re hearing feedback, we talk to folks, maybe they don’t want to do it after all. So it’s moving, and that’s about where we are within the State Department and the bureaus.”
–June 13, SFRC

RELATED POSTS: 
America’s Cushiest Ambassadorships Will Go Vacant By Inauguration Day;
Who Will Be Acting Secretary of State Pending Rex Tillerson’s Confirmation? (Updated);
Tillerson/Priebus Standoff on Ambassadorships, Plus Rumored Names/Posts (Updated);
Snapshot: @StateDept Presidential Appointee Positions Requiring Senate Confirmation;
Is Foggy Bottom’s T-Rex as Stealthy and Cunning as His Theropod Namesake?;
Rex Tillerson’s Inner Circle Photo Album, Say Cheese Con Quezo!

 

#12. No firing program planned

“We’re not going to have to fire anyone. This is all being done through the hiring freeze, normal attrition, with a very limited, if needed – because we haven’t determined whether we’ll even need it – a very limited buyout program between the end of this year and next. So there is no firing program planned.”
–June 13, Senate Appropriations Sub-Committee

Note: The last time the State Department suffered through a 27% budget cut between 1993-1996, the agency trimmed more than 1,100 jobs at the State Department, 600 jobs at  the U.S. Information Agency (USIA), and shuttered consulates in 26 foreign cities. USAID lost about 2,000 jobs and closed 28 aid missions abroad (see The Last Time @StateDept Had a 27% Budget Cut, Congress Killed ACDA and USIA).  We understand that there are plans to close the U.S. Consulate General in Basrah, Iraq, as well as several smaller posts. If those plans are implemented, how can the State Department avoid a firing program? In the case of Basrah, will American employees simply be relocated to other posts, and will local employees simply be absorbed by Baghdad and other posts in the region? (see U.S. Consulate General #Basrah, Iraq: Six-Year Old Diplomatic Outpost Faces Closure).


#13. EFM Hiring Freeze

“State Department family members that are eligible to be hired in mission – we have a waiver process in place for that, and I have approved a number. The freeze does extend, in answer to your question, to all of those. But where we have critical missions, like in Iraq, Pakistan, Afghanistan, where we really need these positions filled by family members who are willing to go to those tough locations, I have been providing waivers in those circumstances.”
–June 13, SFRC

NOTE: We’ve blogged previously about the hiring freeze and EFM jobs. According to the November 2016 data, there are about 300 EFM positions in SCA (bureau covers AfghanistanPakistanBangladesh), 560 positions in AF, and almost 400 positions in NEA (bureau covers IraqEgyptLebanon). Back in April, we were hearing that some 70+ EFM waivers were requested. At that time, we understand that Tillerson only granted waivers for 6 EFM positions, and all are for priority posts. Since the State Department’s Public Affairs office refuses to answer routine questions from this blog, we’re hoping that congressional reps will ask follow-up Questions For the Record (QFRs).

If the Secretary of State is only issuing EFM waivers to family members accompanying FS employees to critical missions like Iraq, Pakistan, and Afghanistan, he’s basically ignoring the potential fallout of this decision to smaller posts, or posts with high turn-over this transfer season.

Posts typically depend on EFMs to provide support in consular sections, facilities management, security, health unit, vetting, grants, etc. When post has only about a dozen Direct Hire (DH) American employees, this support is just as critical to these mission.  So when these EFMs leave their posts during the ongoing transfer season, these positions will not be filled due to the hiring freeze; and they can’t be hired at their next posts because of the same hiring freeze. When posts are unable to hire EFMs, these jobs still need to be done, so DH employees will need to do their jobs and the EFM jobs. And if there are other gaps in staffing, folks could be wearing three-four hats.  Until when? Potentially until Tillerson lifts the freeze. Which won’t happen until the reorganization plan is “fully developed.” Which may not happen until fall or end of the calendar year. Maybe he’ll wait until early 2018 when the plan is implemented?  Oh, who knows? Does he even care?

READ MORE:
Snapshot: Geographic Distribution of Family Member UnEmployment Overseas;
Oy! That Rumor About Foreign Service Family Member Employment as “Corporate Welfare”;
Are #EFM positions literally about to become…extinct under #Tillerson’s watch?;
No thaw in sight for @StateDept hiring freeze until reorganization plan is “fully developed”

 

#14. Rangel and Pickering Fellows

“I don’t think we’ve frozen the Rangel and Pickering programs in terms of people that are in process. We’re continuing and we’re going to continue to take applicants as well. But let me follow up with you because I don’t think there’s a full freeze in place of those.”
–June 13, SFRC

“There is no freeze. The structure of the program Rangle-Pickering which is very important to us, and we have every intention of continuing it. The obligation and the contract that the young people and others engage with us when we fund their tuition and for their graduate studies is that we confirm that we offer them a position in Consular Affairs. That is confirmed and it’s a five-year commitment on their part to serve. We then say, we will put you on the list for consideration for the next A-100 Foreign Service class.  We are holding the next A-100 Foreign Service class because quite frankly right now our Foreign Service officer staffing were actually up about 50 people from the beginning of the year with our expected manning — which we’re looking at an 8% reduction by the end of fiscal 2018 — in order for us to have time to manage how we want that to occur so that we do not diminish the strength of the Foreign Service corps. We are holding the next A-100 class so nothing has been frozen and we want people to continue to apply and they’re all offered a position in Consular Affairs. And that is no change from the past. There’s never been a guarantee that anyone would have a clearer offer or pathway to the Foreign Service that would be considered for Foreign Service based upon the work they completed but they always have an offer to go to work in Consular Affairs.”
–June 14, HFAC in response to Congressman Meeks

Note: The Charles B. Rangel Fellows and the Thomas R. Pickering Fellows are two of the nine fellowship programs under the State Department’s  Diplomacy Fellows Program (DFP) designed to advance eligible candidates to the Foreign Service Oral Assessment for the competitive selection of entry level Foreign Service Officer Candidates.  The careers.state.gov website states  “We are not currently accepting applications for the Diplomacy Fellows Program.”  Also see the DPB of June 15, 2017.  A total of 31 members signed a letter to Tillerson calling on the Secretary of State to exempt the Rangel and Pickering Fellows from the State Department hiring freeze.

The Secretary told Congress that the State Department is holding the next A-100 class but the classes for July and September have not been confirmed. The next FSO/Generalist class is scheduled to start on July 10.  As of June 8, 2017, careers.state.gov is telling applicants “Still no decision has been taken regarding A-100 classes for Foreign Service Specialist and Generalist candidates this year.” There has been no recent update on start dates as far as we could tell.

Tillerson appears to be saying there’s no assurance for the diplomacy fellows to get a spot in A-100 class (career appointment) but that there was always an offer  for them to go work for Consular Affairs. What? That can’t be right. He did not specifically mentioned Consular Fellows but since he also talked about Consular Affairs and a 5-year commitment, we suspect that this is the program he is talking about.

Consular Fellows are hired via limited non-career appointments (LNAs). The Consular Fellow LNA appointment is for 5 years, but may be terminated at any time based on performance and/or needs of the Service. These are paid, non-career positions. The Consular Fellows program, similar to its predecessor, the Consular Adjudicator Limited Non-Career Appointment (CA LNA) program, is not/not an alternate entry method to the Foreign Service or the U.S. Department of State, i.e. this service does not lead to onward employment at the U.S. Department of State or with the U.S. government.  See more here: https://careers.state.gov/work/foreign-service/consular-fellows.

If the Consular Fellows Program will be the hiring priority initiative this year and in the coming years, before long the Foreign Service will be encumbered by career Foreign Service officers/specialists (1:3 hiring to attrition) and non-career Consular Fellows on a 60 month limited appointment who can only do consular tours.  At some point, unless there is a correction, the Foreign Service will again be divided into career diplomatic employees, and a consular corps with a limited career track that does not go beyond 5 years. That’s the future we’re reading.

HIRING: We’ve blogged previously about this here:
@StateDept Gets Exemption From Trump Federal Hiring Freeze, March Classes Are On;
Snapshot: Historical and Projected Foreign Service Attrition;
With Zero Information From @StateDept, Foreign Service Candidates Remain in Limbo;
OMB Issues Initial Guidance For Federal Civilian Hiring Freeze (Read Memo);
President Trump Freezes Federal Hiring Regardless of Funding Sources (Read Memo);
@StateDept Sends Out Job Offers to Prospective FSOs For March 6 Class But — Will There Be Jobs?

 

#15. Safety as the Highest Priority

“We’ve made the safety of not just our State Department employees but Americans broadly our highest priority, certainly as it relates to our embassy presence, our consular office presence, and our missions around the world. If you examine the security elements of the budget, our budget for Diplomatic Security is actually up 11 percent, year on year. Where we have reductions has to do with some of the construction, the buildings, part of the budget for embassies and other facilities. Part of that we’ll manage with some multiyear commitments across ’17 to ’18, and some of this has to do with just our ability to move projects along promptly. We are clearly committed to the Benghazi ARB recommendations, and I’m monitoring those carefully. We have some gaps we need to close. The OIG has helped us identify some of those. We’re going to stay on top of those. If there were more funds there, we would simply try to step up more activity on some of the building and maintenance issues. So most of the reduction is in building and maintenance efforts, which we believe are manageable, at least through Fiscal Year ’18.”
–June 13, SFRC

#16. Security and Embassy Construction – Back to Standard Design

“The current budget around security, both security services as well as embassy construction will allow us to maintain our program pretty much through 2018. We will begin to have planning difficulties in 19 at this level and we’re in discussions with OMB about that. And I think to your points about the execution against embassy construction, it really is an execution issue and I agree we need to get back to standard designs, fear scope changes, we don’t need to be unique every place. Plus I’m a fit for purpose guy and we ned to build what’s needed first to deliver the mission.”
— June 14, HFAC

#17. Money Spent Not/Not Indicator of U.S. Commitment 

“I am listening to what my people tell me are the challenges facing them and how we can produce a more efficient and effective State Department and USAID. And we will work as a team and with the Congress to improve both organizations. Throughout my career, I have never believed, nor have I experienced, that the level of funding devoted to a goal is the most important factor in achieving it. Our budget will never be determined – will never determine our ability to be effective; our people will.”
–June 13, Appropriations Sub-Committee

“….That long list of challenges on that board over there have been around for a while. The level of spending we’ve been carrying out hasn’t solved them. I go back to my view that I don’t think the money we spend is necessarily an indicator of our commitment. I think how we go about it – and we’ve got to take some new approaches to begin to address some of these very daunting challenges. The aid and the support and what we can bring to the issue is important. I’m not in any way diminishing that. But I don’t – I think if we equate the budget level to somehow some level of commitment or some level of expected success, I think we’re really undercutting and selling short people’s intellectual capacity to bring different approaches to these problems.”
–June 13, Senate Appropriations Sub-Committee

 

#18. Refugees

“I would take exception to the comment that we’re walking away from our responsibilities in that region with all of the men and women in uniform we have fighting and the State Department diplomatic resources we have to get at the reason the refugees are in Jordan. And I would tell you in working with the region, they all understand – Turkey, Jordan, others understand – we’d like the refugees to stay close to their homes so they can go back. Having them come all the way to the United States doesn’t – may not achieve that. So our approach on the significant problem of refugee migration locally is to solve the problem that allows people to go home. We have already seen some success in the liberation of Mosul and other cities. We hope to replicate that kind of success in Syria where we have come behind the military quickly when they liberate an area, create a secure zone, restore power and water, restore hospitals, restore schools. We have close to 40,000 children back in school in East Mosul already. People will come back if we create the conditions. So we really want refugees to return; it’s not the objective to have Jordan have to house those refugees now and forevermore.”
–June 13, SFRC

#19. Russia Sanctions

“I think it is important that we be given sufficient flexibility to achieve the Minsk objectives. It is very possible that the Government of Ukraine and the Government of Russia could to come to a satisfactory resolution through some structure other than Minsk that would achieve the objectives  of Minsk which we’re committed to. So my caution is I would not want ourselves handcuffed to Minsk if it turns out the parties decides to settle this through a different agreement.”
— June 14, HFAC

#20. Russian Dachas and Irritants 

“So we segmented the big issues from this list of what I call the irritants. The dachas are on that list. We have things on the list, such as trying to get the permits for our consular office in St. Petersburg. We’ve got issues with harassment of our embassy employees in Moscow. We have a list of things; they have a list of things. I don’t want to suggest to you this is some kind of a bartering deal. It’s more, let’s start working on some of the smalls and see if we can solve them. As to the dachas, these two properties have been in ownership of the Russians dating back to the Soviet Union – 1971. They’ve owned these properties and have used these properties for a very long time. They were transferred to the Russian Federation Government for $1 at the breakup of the Soviet Union. We have continued to allow them to use these properties, and they have used these properties continuously for all that time. President Obama, in response to the interference with the election, expelled the 35 Russian diplomats and seized these two properties. What we’re working through with them in this conversation is: Under what terms and conditions would we be, would we allow them to access the properties again for recreational purpose? We’ve not taken the properties from them; they still belong to them. So we’re not going to seize properties that are theirs and remove their — but we are talking about under what conditions would we allow you to use them for recreational purposes, which is what they have asked.”
–June 13, SFRC

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@StateDept Targets Umbrella Schools For Homeschooling Foreign Service Families

Posted: 4:18 am ET

 

An umbrella school is an alternative education school which serves to oversee the homeschooling of children to fulfill government educational requirements.  Umbrella or cover schools can provide options that homeschoolers might not have on their own, including field trips, resources, team sports opportunities, and tutoring. They also have widely different requirements regarding curricula, record-keeping, and even religious affiliation.

On May 15, the State Department issued an “Educational Allowance Home Study Payment Guidance” which says “indirect or third party service provider fees, such as umbrella school/cover schools not providing direct instruction, course, or accredited virtual education, are not reimbursable fees or recognized as advisory fees.” Any supplementary or gifted and talented instruction fees are included in this restriction.

The new guidance further states:

An educational provider receiving payment as a result of an education allowance must be providing the course teaching and evaluations directly to the student. The course of study provided by the educational provider may be online, by correspondence, or through other appropriate materials. Indirect or third party service provider fees, such as umbrella school/cover schools not providing direct instruction, course, or accredited virtual education, are not reimbursable fees or recognized as advisory fees (this also applies for any supplementary or gifted and talented instruction). However, a parent can elect to pay them as a personal expense. Third party service providers billing for the direct educational providers’ fees may only be paid directly by the FMO or reimbursed to the officer as described below. Agreements, rules, procedures, or contracts (if completed) between the officer, third party service providers, and/or the school must be made available to Post as part of any claim for reimbursement or request for direct payment.

Prior to this guidance, the State Department pays the homeschooling allowance for the Foreign Service child to the umbrella school. The school can then use it for school items for the child or reimburse parents for the school items they purchased. By restricting the use of umbrella schools, post’s Financial Management Officer (FMO) now becomes the “decider” for the FS child’s homeschool allowance. Foreign Service families can still homeschool but the FMO at post has to okay each and every purchase expenditure. Parents have to take their receipts to the FMO and hope that he/she will reimburse them for that specific math curriculum.

We don’t know how much the State Department is saving by going after umbrella schools. At some posts, homeschooling may be the family’s only educational option. And at other posts, there may not be an FMO and this could become one more collateral duty for the Management Officer.

We should note that Foreign Service families can only choose from three educational methods for their kids: 1) school at post, 2) school away from post, and 3) home study/private instruction. Guess which one is the cheapest.

So a hiring freeze for family members with very few exceptions, and now, we’re asked why the State Department is picking on homeschoolers?  What should we make of this? They’re absolutely not saying parents can’t homeschool their kids.  They’ll just make the process burdensome enough, as a way to rein in the cost?

In late April, Bloomberg reported that “Tillerson was taken aback when he arrived on the job to see how much money the State Department was spending on housing and schooling for the families of diplomats living overseas.”

When we look back at that reporting and then look at this new guidance, we get a sense that this is just the opening salvo in a one sided fight projected to inflict deep cuts at the State Department. This is just the first cut but the axe is out.

 

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MSPB Precedential Case: The Statutory Definition of a “Widow”

Posted: 2:14 am ET

 

This is a precedential case worth noting via the U.S. Merit Service Protection Board:

Petitioner: Amanda E. Becker
Respondent: Office of Personnel Management Tribunal: U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit Case Number: 2016-1365
MSPB Docket No. CH-0831-15-0280-I-1
Issuance Date: April 7, 2017

Case Report – April 14, 2017

The appellant filed an application with the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) seeking survivor benefits under the Federal Employees’ Retirement System (FERS) based on the Federal service of her late husband. OPM denied her application on the basis of its finding that she did not meet the statutory definition of a “widow” who may receive such benefits, which is defined at 5 U.S.C. § 8441(1) as the surviving wife of an employee who was married to the employee for at least 9 months immediately before his death, or who is the mother of children by that marriage. The appellant appealed OPM’s decision, and the administrative judge affirmed. During the proceedings, the administrative judge denied the appellant’s request for discovery regarding instances in which OPM may have waived the 9-month requirement and regarding whether OPM provided her late husband notice regarding the 9-month requirement. The appellant appealed the decision to the court, arguing that 5 U.S.C. § 8441(1) was unconstitutional and that the administrative judge improperly denied her discovery requests.

Holdings:

(1) The court found that 5 U.S.C. § 8441(1) does not violate the Constitution because there is a rational basis for Congress to use an imprecise set of criteria as a proxy to ensure that the marriage was entered into for reasons other than the desire to shortly acquire benefits.

(2) The court found that the administrative judge did not abuse her discretion in denying the appellant’s discovery requests because: (a) she had no reasonable belief that OPM has previously waived the 9-month requirement and, even if OPM had previously done so, it would still be required to follow the statutory requirements when reviewing the appellant’s application; and (b) there was no dispute that the appellant’s late husband submitted all of the election forms to ensure that she received survivor benefits and, even if he was unfamiliar with the statutory requirements contained in the election forms he signed, such fact would not provide a basis for waiving the requirements.

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Yes or No: EFMs Are Making Their Maximum Contribution 😱 A Picture Book 😭

Posted: 12:38 am ET

 

Part I:  “EFMs are making their maximum contribution!”

Yes, Sir. Yes.

Via giphy.com

Great! Word cloud your maximum contribution.

Note: Eligible Family Members (EFMs) washing their vegetables in Clorox or donating one collapsed lung due to host country pollution are considered normal condition of the service, and do not/not count as contribution.

How many receptions did you host? Did you cook all the meals? Did you massage your diplomat’s tired feet? How do you rate yourself in the perfection scale of a diplomatic hostess?

via reactiongifs.com

See, a perfectly painless exercise!

*

Part II: “EFMs are making their maximum contribution.”

No, Sir. No… I mean …

via professionalfangirls.com

So, EFMs are not working as hard as they should in support of the mission.

Via Imgur

No, sir, that’s not what I mean, see … it’s like …

You have an MBA from Wharton and you take any job you can to support the mission, keep your brain from turning into a rusty nail, and keep the bag lady “I’ll live to be 86 with no retirement” nightmare away.

Certainly underpaid, and underemployed but 30.0001% of EFMs are LUCKY if they can get any job. Any  job maybe except as a cheesy hottie in Minsk.

 

But 56.01234% of EFMs do not even have jobs. And see, the 14.0016% who works in the local economy (if there is a bilateral work agreement), may have to give up some of their immunity.

Also if you have to start a business or stick your tongue out, you need permission from the Chief of Mission, who may/may not give it to you.

Then there’s … well, the delicate part.

If your spouse finds a younger model, well, damn, you could be back in the USA looking for a paid job at age 52 with a resume that’s more spotty than, oh lord, a Spotted Trunkfish!

Do you know that …. wait …

 

Too much information? You mean, wouldn’t a “yes” or “no” and a word cloud work just as well?

 

The end? The END!? But … but …. there’s more!

Via reactiongifs.com

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