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Foggy Bottom Rambles: Remaining resilient in the face of uncertainty

Posted: 1:06 am ET

The following is from the Center of Excellence in Foreign Affairs Resilience posted on the Foggy Bottom Rambles, the blog for unaccompanied tours (UT) employees and family members:

These are uncertain times for foreign affairs professionals. Much of our foreign policy is unclear or changing dramatically. There is a hiring freeze across the federal government impacting family member employment and making it harder to get the job done in understaffed offices and overseas posts. We face potentially severe budget cuts. The more resilient we are, the easier it is to be flexible and adaptable in times of uncertainty and stress. We are more likely to collaborate with others to find innovative solutions to the problems uncertainty brings to the workplace. This is why it is critically important to focus on building or maintaining high resilience during these uncertain times. Here are some tips on how you can enhance your resilience during this challenging period.

The Man and the Expanding Universe Fountain, by Marshall Fredericks, inside the South Court of the Department of State Headquarters (Harry S. Truman Building), Washington, D.C. (Photo by G0T0, Wikimedia Commons)

Take care of yourself: Prioritize taking care of yourself and carve out time on your calendar for recovery, whether it’s taking a 10 minute walk every afternoon, joining friends for lunch, or cooking yourself a healthy meal after work. Resist the temptation to just work longer and harder since this will actually reduce productivity in the long run. Minimize alcohol and ensure you get 7-8 hours of sleep.

Focus on what you can control: Identify what you can control, influence, and not control. Use active problem solving to take more control over important issues. For example, if you feel like you cannot control your work load, practice saying no and setting boundaries to give yourself more control. Develop strategies to influence issues that are important to you and try to stop thinking about concerns outside of your control.

Maintain meaning and purpose: Remind yourself why you work in foreign affairs and explore what you need to stay passionate and committed to the work you do. Look for meaning and purpose outside of work through volunteerism, hobbies, family, and spirituality. Explore your alternatives if you no longer find meaning and purpose at work.

Practice reframing: Look for the positive aspects of challenges you face. If your budget is cut, what are the potential positive outcomes? If you have fewer staff, how can you turn this challenge into an opportunity?

Seek social support: One of the most important ways we enhance our resilience is to spend time with other people. Invite colleagues to lunch and commit to spending more time with family and friends.

Laugh: Watch more funny movies and television shows, listen to funny podcasts, spend more time with friends and colleagues who make you laugh.

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Are #EFM positions literally about to become…extinct under #Tillerson’s watch?

Posted: 3:20 am ET
Updated: April 22, 2:13 pm ET

 

On April 12, 2017, the State Department posted a statement indicating that the current hiring freeze guidance remains in effect particularly as it affects the hiring of Foreign Service family members.

At this time, the Department’s current hiring freeze guidance remains in effect, including with respect to hiring under a Family Member Appointment (FMA) or Temporary Appointment. The Family Liaison Office will continue to distribute any updates on the hiring freeze as soon as it receives them. FLO shares family member concerns regarding the current situation and communicates to Department of State management the many helpful suggestions and insights that it receives from the field. In the meantime, please be assured that FLO continues to actively represent the interests and concerns of family members.

The current guidance says that “hiring activities may resume for positions that are or most recently have been filled by employees on Personal Services Agreements (PSAs).”  This authority to hire apparently does NOT extend to any locally employed staff, Family Member or Temporary Appointments as those are still subject to the hiring freeze. “Positions that are or become vacant that have been most recently filled using a mechanism other than a PSA may not be filled at this time.”  Also that “Circumventing the hiring freeze by using a PSA to employ family members who would normally be hired on an FMA is not permitted.” 

Available now, contract jobs with no USG service credit!

PSAs are typically designed for a non-U.S. citizen spouse on the travel orders of a Foreign Service, Civil Service employee, or uniformed service member assigned to a U.S. embassy or consulate abroad. This is also the hiring mechanism for Members of Household (MOH) overseas who are not on the employee’s travel orders.

Most notable, PSAs are subject to government contracting authorities and do not/do not confer retirement benefits or USG service credit.

Eligible Family Members (EFMs) may apply for jobs, but no job offers 

“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 use of FMA and temporary appointments. Any position where an AEFM would have been selected absent the hiring freeze must be referred to the Office of Overseas Employment (HR/OE) in Washington at  HR-OE-Freeze@state.gov.”

With the summer transfer season just months away, this means that FS family members who currently have jobs, will be jobless once more when they transfer to their new posts. And because there is a hiring freeze, they will be able to apply for jobs at their next posts, but they won’t be hired into new jobs even if they have current security clearances and even if their new posts need them. Think of mailroom jobs, security escorts, facility escorts, admin assistants, community liaison officers to name a few.

EFMs who work in Civil Service positions (via)

Due to the federal civilian hiring freeze, EFMs who are working in Civil Service (CS) positions and who are planning to accompany their sponsoring employee abroad may not join the Foreign Service Family Reserve Corps (FSFRC) at this time. The processing of a CS employee into the FSFRC requires the issuance of a new Family Member Appointment (FMA). Unless an exemption has been granted, all direct hire appointments (including Family Member Appointments) are currently subject to the federal civilian hiring freeze.

EFMs may request Leave Without Pay (LWOP) status, but Uncle Sam may still say “nooooooo!”  (via)

EFMs who are currently working in Civil Service positions, who are preparing to join their sponsoring employee abroad may want to request consideration of being placed into Leave without Pay (LWOP) status when they finish working in their CS position. LWOP is a temporary non-pay status and approved absence from duty that may be granted at the discretion of the Bureau’s Executive Director. (Please note that a Bureau’s Executive Director may not be able to approve LWOP requests based on a variety of factors.)

Holymoly macaroni! They won’t even let you stay on the rolls even on non-pay status?  The notice did not include the “variety of factors” what would cause the disapproval of a LWOP request.  We should note that 3 FAM3500 is clear that the authorization of LWOP is a matter of “administrative discretion.” Which means that an employee cannot demand leave without pay as a matter of right except as provided by 3 FAM 35303 FAM 35123 FAH-1 H-3513, and 3 FAH-1 H-3514.  Which makes us wonder — if a family member is a Civil Service employee accompanying his/her FS spouse overseas but is not allowed to join the FSFRC and could not be granted LWOP status, what option is there for the employee short of going AWOL or quitting his/her job?

What happens to the Foreign Service Family Reserve Corps (FSFRC)?

Remember in mid-2016 when the State Department launched the Foreign Service Family Reserve Corps (FSFRC) “to more quickly mobilize family members to fill available positions in missions overseas?”  At that time, the State Department notes that the FSFRC will become the exclusive hiring program for Appointment Eligible Family Members (AEFM) into Family Member Appointments (FMA). Its FAQ says that “After open enrollment commences, which we estimate to be 18 to 24 months from now, the Department will announce the initiation of a new hiring preference.” The Department estimated that in excess of 5,000 family members are eligible to apply to join the Reserve Corps (see @StateDept Launches Foreign Service Family Reserve Corps (FSFRC)).

Last year, the State Department said that “at full implementation (by 2018), the FSFRC will improve efficiency in the hiring process for Appointment Eligible Family Members (AEFMs).”

But what happens if/when there are no jobs?

Foreign Service Family Member Employment

Jobs for diplomatic spouses are supposed to enhance quality of life overseas, and is an important part of the agency’s effort to recruit and retain Foreign Service employees who, like the rest of America, have come increasingly from two-profession households.

The creation of the Foreign Service Family Reserve Corps (FSFRC) is part of that effort, as well as various programs and initiatives through the years like EPAP, GEI, SNAP, Professional Associates program, etc. In 2003, there was even a proposed three-year pilot program to establish a Family Member Cost Equalization Fund, which the Office of Overseas Employment was to manage. With funds in place, posts would have been able to make specific requests to fund the salary gap when a qualified EFM was selected to fill a job previously filled by a locally employed staff (LES). The 2006 OIG report says that “Despite the apparent support for the concept, in the course of three successive years the Department has not funded the initiative.” It further states that if no funding is available, that “Department management may need to acknowledge that it cannot give a high enough priority to this particular program.”  The OIG noted then that “Maintaining rhetoric on the program in communications with posts overseas and in briefings of incoming officer classes creates expectations that, when not met, negatively affect morale and retention of entry-level officers.”

11 years on, and the 50% target remains beyond reach

One of the agency’s performance goals in FY 2005 was a 50%  increase in the percentage of family members employed overseas.  The State Department previously noted that the 50% “was not intended to be a one-year goal but rather a multi-year goal.” The target was developed with the expectation that “the Department would steadily work towards the 50 percent spousal employment rate.” Its justification was that this contributes to increased retention rates of Foreign Service and Civil Service employees.

According to state.gov, statistics from an earlier survey from the Family Liaison Office indicate that even though 83 percent of Foreign Service family members have college degrees (29 percent have advanced degrees), the majority of positions they fill while serving abroad are clerical in nature.  These jobs typically pay in the low to mid-$30Ks.

As of November 2016, there are 11,841 total adult family members serving overseas with their FS employees. About 3,500 or 30% works inside an embassy or consulate, about 1,650 or 14% works outside the U.S. mission, while more than half — 6,688 or 56% are not working.

So 11 years on, and that 50% target is still beyond reach. And it looks like things are about to get harder not better.

Rumor #1: EFM Hiring Freeze Till 2018?

Internal State Department circles are ripe with rumors about the future of eligible family member (EFM) positions. There are talks that the EFM hiring freeze may last until 2018. Or beyond. No one is sure. No one is authorized to discuss it. You will find nothing about it anywhere online. Not on a FLO website or anywhere else, for that matter.

The State Department is clear that EFM positions are affected by the Federal hiring freeze.  However, if this becomes a permanent directive, it will have sobering repercussions not only in the operation of over 280 posts overseas, but also in the retention of FS employees.  Note that the last time the State Department had a hiring freeze and the agency was hiring at 50% below attrition, diplomatic spouses ended up getting hired because the Department could not hire direct-hire USG employees. We still don’t know what will happen to the September FS classes, but IF it turns out that State will not be able to hire FSOs and specialists even at attrition, and also won’t be able to hire EFMs, then embassies and consulates overseas will be in a real pickle (also see  @StateDept Gets Exemption From Trump Federal Hiring Freeze, March Classes Are On).

Rumor #2: Locally Employed Staff for EFM Positions?

One of the few times when the State Department was forced to hire family members and US contractors for local jobs was in Moscow back in the 1980’s when 260 Soviet employees were withdrawn from the embassy.

Now, rumors are circulating that locally employed (LE) staff could replace EFM positions at our overseas posts.  While this might be cheaper in some countries, it will be more expensive in others.  For example, at the US Embassy in Japan,  the public affairs section allocated 68 percent of its FY 2014 budget of $8.5 million to LE staff salaries.  And in Germany, LE procurement agent salaries in Frankfurt are among the highest in the world at $74,700.  So hey, you can probably hire two EFMs for the price of one LE staffer in Frankfurt, unless you want to hire local staff in Asia or in Africa. But then, of course, since you want to save money on housing and travel of local nationals working at U.S. embassies, you need to teleport them to the various posts that requires their services. Good luck with that teleportation scheme with Captain Kirk.

So right now, apparently, many are wondering – if Locally Employed Staff members replace EFMs, will this replacement be permanent? Are EFM positions literally about to become…extinct under Secretary Tillerson’s watch?

“Hire American” except at US Embassies?

Somebody should really ask the new State Department management how this would work with Trump’s new “Hire American” policy.

The Foreign Service Act of 1980 (FSA) ties LE staff salaries to prevailing wages and compensation practices for corresponding types of positions in the host country. The OIG review of local compensation back in 2009 notes that the FSA does not require that wage adjustments be associated with inflation and cost of living changes, and the Department does not link LE staff compensation adjustments to variations in inflation or cost of living. This has its own problems and issues due to persistent underfunding. The 2015 OIG report on US Mission Japan indicates that the LE staff there received their last pay increase in 1995. Yup. 1995. (see State Dept on Embassy Workers Unionization: Yo! Could Put U.S. National Security at Risk).

Local compensation plans are, of course, not created equal.  Some plans like the one in Germany authorizes a year of maternity leave and 6 weeks of annual leave a year. Separation costs in Western Europe are also very high, often exceeding 2.5 years of salary for long-term employees. But we also need to add that a 2009 OIG report cited at least 27 U.S. missions which presented “compelling arguments that their lower grade employees fall short of minimal living standards.” (Don’t look now but about 200 local guards working for a security contractor at the U.S. Embassy in Nairobi, Kenya have staged a demonstration over low wages.  The local guards protecting an embassy that had been bombed previously are reportedly paid “peanuts” according to one guard rep).

Oh, leadership in action! 

We’ve asked the State Department for comments on these reports a week ago.  Following the April Fools’ Day take down sent to this blog, it looks like the um … our friends at the Bureau of Public Affairs no longer acknowledge inquiries from this blog, or bother to actually answer their emails.  Milk cartoons, anyone?

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@StateDept Lifts Evacuation Order For Istanbul, Travel Restrictions Remain For SE Turkey

Posted: 2:55 am ET

 

In October 2016, the State Department updated its Travel Warning for Turkey to announce the mandatory departure of family members of employees assigned to the Consulate General in Istanbul (see U.S. Consulate General Istanbul: Post On Evacuation Status With a “No Curtailment” Policy?). On March 28, 2017, the State Department issued a new Travel Warning concerning the increased threats from terrorist groups in the country.  The updated warning also states that the evacuation order for USCG Istanbul family members issued in October had been lifted. That means family members on evacuation status may now return to join the FS employees assigned to Istanbul although there are now restrictions on personal and official travel by USG employees and family members traveling and residing in Istanbul.

Below is an excerpt from the updated Travel Warning:

U.S. citizens are warned of increased threats from terrorist groups in Turkey. Carefully consider the need to travel to Turkey at this time, and avoid travel to southeast Turkey due to the persistent threat of terrorism. On March 27, the Department of State terminated its October 29, 2016, decision to direct family members of employees posted to the U.S. Consulate General in Istanbul to depart Turkey temporarily. However, there are restrictions on personal and official travel by U.S. government personnel and their family members travelling to and residing in Istanbul. Restrictions on travel by U.S. government personnel to certain areas in southeast Turkey, including Adana, remain. This replaces the travel warning dated January 25, 2017.

In 2016, numerous terrorist attacks involving shootings, suicide bombings, and vehicle-borne bombings in tourist areas, public spaces, private celebrations, sporting events, and government, police, and military facilities throughout Turkey resulted in hundreds of deaths. The most recent attacks include a mass shooting at the Istanbul Reina nightclub on January 1, 2017, and simultaneous suicide bombings near Istanbul’s Besiktas/Vodafone Soccer Stadium on December 10, 2016. In addition, an increase in anti-American rhetoric has the potential to inspire independent actors to carry out acts of violence against U.S. citizens.

Additional attacks in Turkey could occur at major events, tourist sites, restaurants, nightclubs, commercial centers, places of worship, and transportation hubs, including aviation services, metros, buses, bridges, bus terminals, and sea transport. Foreign and U.S. tourists and expatriates have been explicitly targeted by terrorist organizations in Turkey for kidnapping and assassination. We remind U.S. citizens to review their personal security plans including communications preparedness/connectivity, monitor local news for breaking events, remain vigilant at all times, and check in with loved ones after an attack or security incident.

On January 4, the Turkish government extended the state of emergency through April 18, 2017.  The Turkish government will decide in April whether to extend the state of emergency for another 90 days.  Under the state of emergency, security forces have expanded powers and the government has, at times, restricted internet access and media content.  U.S. citizens have been deported and/or detained and held without access to lawyers or family members under the state of emergency.  Delays or denial of consular access to U.S. citizens detained or arrested by security forces, some of whom also possess Turkish citizenship, have become more common.  U.S. citizen employees of some non-governmental organizations in Turkey have also recently experienced increased scrutiny and denials related to residence permit applications.  The Department continues to monitor the security environment for potential impact on the safety and well-being of U.S. citizens in Turkey and urges U.S. citizens to register in the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP) on http://www.travel.state.gov to stay informed.

U.S. government personnel and their family members residing in or visiting Istanbul are restricted from congregating or traveling in large groups and are not permitted to visit these Istanbul locations without prior approval from the Consulate:

  • Large, crowded areas such as shopping malls and houses of worship frequented by expatriates, entertainment complexes, nightclubs, public sporting/cultural performance venues, and crowded pedestrian thoroughfares
  • Tourist destinations throughout Istanbul, to include historical sites, monuments, large bazaar markets, and museums.

U.S. government personnel living in or visiting Turkey continue to require approval from the U.S. Embassy  to visit the  southeastern provinces of Hatay, Kilis, Gaziantep, Sanliurfa, Sirnak, Diyarbakir, Van, Siirt, Mus, Mardin, Batman, Bingol, Tunceli, Hakkari, Bitlis, and Elazig.  Travel within Adana by U.S. government personnel may also be subject to restriction.  Furthermore, the U.S. Embassy may prohibit movements by its personnel and those of its subordinate Consulates to these areas on short notice for security reasons.  Due to recent acts of violence and the potential for reprisal attacks by terrorist groups due to continued Turkish military activity in Syria, we urge U.S. citizens to defer travel to large urban centers near the Turkish/Syrian border.  U.S. citizens should also be aware that the Government of Turkey has closed its border with Syria.  The Government of Turkey prohibits border crossings from Syria into Turkey, even if the traveler entered Syria from Turkey.  Turkish authorities will consider permitting the passage of individuals seeking emergency medical treatment or safety from immediate danger on a case by case basis.

Read the entire Turkey Travel Warning here.

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Tales From a Small Planet: A Cup of Culture and a Pinch of Crisis, The Food Edition

Posted: 5:56 pm ET

 

If you’ve ever searched for Real Post Reports or Real School Reports when planning your relocation overseas, you might be familiar with Tales From a Small Planet.   Tales from a Small Planet (www.talesmag.com) was created a while back by a group of U.S. Foreign Service community members who had previously collaborated on the “Spouses’ Underground Newsletter” (SUN).  Its candid, and anonymous “real post and school reports” span over 325 cities around the world.

A few months ago, a group supporting Tales  put together a book of essays about expats and their food adventures, A Cup of Culture and a Pinch of Crisis: Tales from a Small Planet: The Food.  The book was edited by Patricia Linderman (former AAFSW President and current Literary Editor at Talesmag),  Nicole Schaefer-McDaniel (AAFSW volunteer and Talesmag volunteer), Katie Jagelski (EFM), and Leah Evans(EFM). Contributors include Foreign Service family members, an FSO and other expats not associated with the Foreign Service.

Below is an excerpt courtesy of Amazon Kindle/Preview:

 

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U.S. Consulate General Istanbul: Post On Evacuation Status With a “No Curtailment” Policy?

Posted: 1:49 am ET

 

In October 2016, the State Department updated its Travel Warning for Turkey to announce the mandatory departure of family members of employees assigned to the Consulate General in Istanbul. The announcement says that the Department of State made this decision “based on security information indicating extremist groups are continuing aggressive efforts to attack U.S. citizens in areas of Istanbul where they reside or frequent” but adds that “the Consulate General remains open and fully staffed.”

The mandatory evacuation order issued in October meant that family members departed Turkey for temporary housing typically in the Washington, D.C. area without their household effects or personal vehicles. And like all posts on mandatory evacuation, the children had to be pulled out from their schools and temporarily enrolled in local schools in the DC area. We are not sure how many family members were evacuated from post but the last data we’ve seen indicates that USCG Istanbul has approximately 80 direct-hire US employees.

By law, an evacuation cannot last longer than 180 days so after the Under Secretary of State for Management (“M”) approves the evacuation status for post (authorized or ordered), the 180-day clock “begins ticking”. The order can be lifted at any time but if family members are not allowed to return to post, and no reassignment decision has been reached, the post status could change to “unaccompanied”.  For those not in the FS, that means, family members will not be allowed to return to post and incoming employees will no longer be allowed to bring their family members to their diplomatic assignment.

The latest evacuation order for USCG Istanbul could potentially last until April 2017 unless terminated earlier, or could be extended with a new order. Note that a previous evacuation order for US Mission Turkey was terminated in September 2016 and about five weeks later, the current evacuation order was issued. Who would have thought that Istanbul would become more restrictive than say, Beirut, where employees can still bring adult family members to post?

In any case, we understand that US Mission Turkey’s DCM had a meeting recently with the staff to let them know that post and HR/EX had agreed to halt all curtailments. Apparently, employees were told they cannot leave post until they have incoming replacements. But see — if they’re not allowed to send in their requests, or if the jobs of the curtailing employees are not listed anywhere, how will folks know about these job vacancies?  How will incoming replacements come about?  We understand that the hold placed on all curtailments apparently has “no stated expiration.”

We asked the State Department about this “no curtailment” decree specific to USCG Istanbul. Below is the full official response we received:

We cannot comment on the status of individual requests, but we can confirm that it is incorrect that a “no curtailments” policy is in effect in Mission Turkey. The Department adjudicates curtailment requests on a case by case basis, in line with established regulations and procedures. In doing so, we take into account the well-being and the individual circumstances of our employees and their family members, as well as the need to ensure sufficient staffing to undertake the important work of our diplomatic posts.

We should note that we did not inquire about individual curtailments; and our question was specific to Istanbul, and did not include Ankara or Adana. You are welcome to interpret “Mission Turkey” in the most convenient way, of course.

We’ve learned that this is not the first instance of a decree issued on specific posts. In one NEA post, the Front Office reportedly made it known that it “would not accept” curtailment requests until further down the “ordered departure” road.  During the Ebola outbreak in West Africa, the Director General was also reportedly asked to implement a policy that no curtailment requests from those affected posts would be allowed until senior management decided it was “appropriate.”

We can see where the State Department is coming from; it certainly would not like to see mass curtailments from staffers but  — there is no authority in the books that prohibit curtailment requests. And as somebody familiar with the bureau puts it, “HR knows this damn well.”  

Curtailment is the shortening of an employee’s tour of duty from his or her assignment.  It may include the employee’s immediate departure from a bureau or post.  The statutory authority for curtailment is found in the Foreign Service Act of 1980.

In the Foreign Affairs Manual, 3 FAM 2443.1 allows an employee assigned abroad to request curtailment of his or her tour of duty for any reason.  The regs say that the employee should submit a written request for curtailment that explains the reasons for the request to the appropriate assignment panel through his or her counseling and assignment officer. Post management must state its support for or opposition to the employee’s request.  The Foreign Affairs Manual makes clear that a curtailment is an assignment action, not a disciplinary one.

The FAM provides any employee the right to request a curtailment for any reason at any time, regardless of where the employees are serving.  It’s been pointed out to us that this does not/not mean that the assignment panel will approve the request. We understand that the panel’s decision typically depends on the argument made by the CDO (Career Development Office) at panel and whether ECS (Employee Consultation Service) strongly supports the “compassionate curtailment.”

A source familiar with the workings of the bureau observed that if post is refusing to send out the curtailment request via cable, the employee needs to connect with his/her CDO and go the DGDirect route. If necessary, employees can also go to AFSA, as there are precedence for this in prior attempts to declare no curtailment decrees at other posts under “ordered departure” or where there were outbreaks of diseases (Ebola, Zika).

Note that 3 FAM 2446 provides the Director General of the Foreign Service the authority to propose curtailment from any assignment sua sponteAccording to the FAM, the Director General may overrule the assignment panel decision to curtail or not to curtail if the Director General determines that to do so is in the best interests of the Foreign Service or the post.

Related posts:

 

 

@StateDept Orders Evacuation of US Embassy Banjul Family Members From The #Gambia

Posted: 5:56 pm PT

 

On Saturday, January 7, the State Department ordered the departure of family members of USG employees assigned to the US Embassy Banjul, in The Gambia. It also authorized the departure of all employees who need to accompany those individuals from the country. The evacuation order comes with the new Travel Warning urging U.S. citizens against travel to The Gambia because of the potential for civil unrest and violence in the near future.

The U.S. Department of State warns U.S. citizens against travel to The Gambia because of the potential for civil unrest and violence in the near future.  On January 7, 2017, the Department of State ordered the departure of family members and authorized the departure of all employees who need to accompany those individuals from the country.

The security situation in The Gambia remains uncertain following December 1, 2016 presidential elections.  On January 10, the Supreme Court is scheduled to hear the current president’s petition contesting the election results, which is a potential flashpoint that could lead to civil unrest.  The sitting government has begun taking restrictive measures, which include shutting down and restricting radio stations, and making politically motivated arrests.  The Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) has stated it may intervene if the president does not step down by January 18.

U.S. citizens should consider departing on commercial flights and other transportation options now, as airports and ferry terminals may close unexpectedly in the event of unrest.  All U.S. citizens should have evacuation plans that do not rely on U.S. government assistance.  U.S. citizens should ensure that travel documents (passports and visas) are valid and up-to-date.  Consular services, already limited throughout the country due to very poor transportation infrastructure and security conditions, may be further limited, including in Banjul itself.

U.S. citizens who decide to remain in The Gambia should prepare for the possible deterioration of security:

  • Exercise caution and remain abreast of the security situation.
  • Follow the instructions of local authorities.
  • Stay home or at another safe location.
  • Have emergency supplies of food, water, and medications.
  • Let friends and family know that there might be communication disruptions.

Additional recommendations on emergency preparedness are available on the Travel.State.gov web page “What Can You Do in a Crisis Abroad?

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Related items:

 

 

 

Former DCM’s Spouse Labib Chammas Gets 30 Months in Prison For Sexual Abuse of Household Staff Member

Posted: 12:41 pm ET

 

Last October, we posted about the Justice Department’s case against Labib Chammasthe husband of the former DCM at the US Embassy in Rabat, Morocco who pleaded guilty to abusing a member of the household staff who had worked at the embassy residence for 16 years (see Anonymous Letter Outs Sexual Abuse of Household Staff, Former DCM’s Husband Pleads Guilty).

Today, the Justice Department announced that Labib Chammas was sentenced to 30 months in prison for sexually abusing a household staff member

The husband of the former Deputy Chief of Mission in Rabat, Morocco, was sentenced today to 30 months in prison for sexually abusing a former household staff member from 2010 to 2013.

Assistant Attorney General Leslie R. Caldwell of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division, U.S. Attorney Channing D. Phillips of the District of Columbia and Director Bill A. Miller of the U.S. Department of State’s Diplomatic Security Service (DSS) made the announcement.

Labib Chammas, 65, of McLean, Virginia, pleaded guilty on Oct. 12, 2016, to one count of abusive sexual conduct before U.S. District Judge Christopher R. Cooper of the District of Columbia.  Judge Cooper also sentenced Chammas to a five-year term of supervised release and ordered him to pay a $15,000 fine.  Chammas is required to register as a sex offender for a period of 15 years.

In pleading guilty, Chammas admitted that between August 2010 and February 2013, while living in State Department-owned housing in Rabat, he sexually abused a woman who had worked at the residence for 16 years.  According to the plea agreement, Chammas supervised the staff at the residence and repeatedly threatened to fire staff members.  Out of fear that she would lose her job, the victim complied with Chammas’s requests that she massage his legs, hip and back, and then with his subsequent demands that she “massage” his genitalia.  On at least five occasions, Chammas took the victim by her head or hair and attempted to force her to perform oral sex.

DSS’s Office of Special Investigations investigated the case.  Assistant U.S. Attorney Andrea Hertzfeld of the District of Columbia and Special Counsel Stacey Luck of the Criminal Division’s Human Rights and Special Prosecutions Section prosecuted the case.

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This case was investigated on February 13. 2013 by DS/OSI agents in Morocco but the individual was not charged and no arrest warrant was issued until May 13, 2016. We’ve previously asked USDOJ about the 3-year gap between the investigation and the filing of charges. At that time, DOJ declined to comment because the case was ongoing. So, we’ll try one more time to request information about the gap in the investigation/filing of charges and will update this when info is available.

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Secretary @JohnKerry Hosts His Last “Diplomacy at Home for the Holidays” For Foreign Service Families

Posted: 3:36 pm PT

 

Secretary John Kerry hosted the annual “Diplomacy at Home for the Holidays” today at 2:00 p.m. at the State Department.

“The holiday reception honors the families of U.S. government employees with assignments on which they cannot bring their families, leaving both sides to endure long periods of separation from their loved ones, even at the holidays.”

In partnership with the Kennedy Center, the cast of the Broadway hit Wicked — the untold true story of the Witches of Oz — was scheduled to perform the popular songs “The Wizard and I” and “For Good” during the reception.  This event is made possible through public-private partnerships according to the State Department.

In 2013, the State Department said that about 1,100 U.S. foreign service officers were at posts abroad where they are unaccompanied or where there are limits on who can accompany them – usually no children/adult only dependents.  Reuters reported at that time that this was a five-fold increase in unaccompanied American diplomats over the past decade, and represents about 14 percent of U.S. foreign service officers serving overseas.  Since 2016 is no doubt a harsher year than 2013, we can only surmise that the unaccompanied posts this year is higher than the previous years.

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A Holiday Wish to the Hundreds of DS Agents Without a “Handshake” This Bidding Season

Posted: 2:09 am ET

 

This Burn Bag was sent to us “as a holiday wish to the hundreds of DS agents still without even an handshake this bidding season and to their families who are also waiting.”  As requested, we’ve considered the following and are publishing the entire post in the sender’s hope that it might bring a little smile to those still waiting for their assignments.  Well, a little smile and as Mr. Google says in his imperfect Italian, maybe “accendere un fuoco sotto il sedere di qualcuno” … 

 

A Visit from the Saint “No Word Yet”

‘Twas just days before Christmas and all through the house,
Frustration was building for the DS spouse.
Bids had been entered in FSBid with great care,
In the hopes that DS would do its fair share;
The DS spouse wonders just what is in store,
for their beloved agent – alone – in Lahore.

October 31st, it came and it went,
But for DS agents few handshakes were sent.
When asks the spouse, oh when will we know?
Will it be Paris, Bangui, or Toronto?
Maybe a Field Office, far from DC.
Or perhaps a year or two with MSD.

Spouses query one another with fear and despair,
It really seams as if DS Does.Not.Care.
On November 4 and December 1, jobs are assigned one-by-one.
In hushed voices agents questions those around,
To what office or mission will I be bound?
Will it be the same as my tandem spouse?

We did all the legwork for the six posts that work,
For a DS spouse needing political work.
My GSO wife or my Management hubby,
Would be extremely happy in Abu Dhabi!
To the top of the list, will my name they call?
Will we know where were going, long before fall?

Uncertainty swirls as the days tick by,
The DS spouse lets out a great cry!
How will we get the kids into school,
If we do not know we’re going to Banjul?
Maybe its time to let this ship go.
Can’t you jump ship to be a U.S. Marshall, too?

The uncertainty for the DS spouse is a constant refrain,
The long hours, TDYs and standing in the rain.
The worry at home when the dear agents abroad,
Protecting our missions, our livelihood, our jobs
But alas, we play this game each and every year,
Just waiting and waiting, and waiting to hear.

By the time all is set and the last chess move is made
Someone will have gone through many a tirade.
That job is gone, and that one, too, what is the DS agent to do?
A now post or the third PSP – isn’t it time for something new?
The powers that be, simply do not see
Just what a drag this process can be.

The black hole of bidding in the hands of a few,
Determine the destiny with nary a clue,
Of what this does to house and home,
When the prices drags on they’re drafting a tome.
Over half of the cohort still waiting to know,
Would there, could there be a miracle?

On Christmas eve with a visit from St. Nick,
Will they let us know they’ve gotten on the stick?

A Christmas dream or a Christmas wish,
Waiting for a handshake, oh the suspense!
The call hasn’t come and the spouse is a fright,
As the DS agent again goes off in the night,
But I heard him exclaim as he drove out of sight,
This systems gotta change, cause it just isn’t right!

katnispeeta

 

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US Embassy Kinshasa Now on ‘Authorized Departure’ For Non-Emergency Personnel in the DRC

Posted: 6:13  pm PT

 

On September 30, 2016, the State Department placed family members of USG employees in the Democratic Republic of Congo on mandatory evacuation (see US Embassy Kinshasa Now on ‘Ordered Departure’ For Family Members of USG Employees). On December 2, the State Department issued a new Travel Warning and announced the “authorized departure” or voluntary departure of non-emergency personnel by December 10 due to the deteriorating security situation in the country. The Travel Warning also urged U.S. citizens to depart the country before December 19.  Excerpt Below:

The U.S. Embassy in Kinshasa warns U.S. citizens of the potential for large-scale demonstrations and civil unrest on/around December 19, the date on which President Kabila’s term in office was due to end before elections were delayed.

U.S. citizens in the DRC should seriously consider leaving the country in advance of this date. As a result of the deteriorating security situation, the Department of State has ordered family members of U.S. government personnel and authorized non-emergency personnel to depart the country as of December 10, 2016. This replaces the Travel Warning dated October 7, 2016.
U.S. citizens should consider taking advantage of departing commercial flights and other transportation options now.  All U.S. citizens should have evacuation plans that do not rely solely on U.S. government assistance.  U.S. citizens should ensure that travel documents (passports and visas) are valid and up-to-date.  Consular services, already limited throughout the country due to very poor transportation infrastructure and security conditions, may be further limited even in Kinshasa.

U.S. citizens who decide to remain in DRC through December 19 should prepare for the possible deterioration of security:

  • Exercise caution and remain abreast of the security situation.
  • Follow the instructions of local authorities.
  • Stay home or at another safe location.
  • Have emergency supplies of food, water, and medications.
  • Let friends and family know that there might be communication disruptions.

Additional recommendations on emergency preparedness are available on the Travel.State.gov web page “What Can You Do in a Crisis Abroad?

In addition, ongoing instability and sporadic violence continue in parts of the DRC. Armed groups, bandits, and some elements of the Congolese armed forces operate in:

  • North Kivu
  • South Kivu
  • Bas-Uele
  • Haut-Uele
  • Ituri
  • Tanganyika
  • Haut-Lomami.

These groups kill, rape, kidnap, pillage, steal vehicles, and carry out military or paramilitary operations in which civilians can be indiscriminately targeted.  Kidnapping for ransom is common, particularly in areas north and west of Goma, North Kivu.  Congolese military and United Nations forces continue to operate throughout North and South Kivu and near the DRC’s borders with the Central African Republic and the Republic of South Sudan, particularly in and around Garamba National Park. Travelers in the region may encounter troop movements, armored vehicles and attack helicopters.

Travelers are frequently detained and questioned by poorly trained security forces at official and unofficial roadblocks and border crossings throughout the country, especially near government buildings and installations in Kinshasa.  Be cautious when stopped by security forces.  Requests for bribes are extremely common, and security forces have occasionally injured or killed people who refuse to pay.  In the past year, several U.S. citizens have been illegally detained by government forces or robbed of their valuables while being searched.

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