New Travel Advisories and Voluntary/Mandatory Departures: Micronesia (L3), Tajikistan (L3), Mongolia (L4)

 

On March 18, the State Department issued new Level 3 Reconsider Travel Advisories for Micronesia and Tajikistan, and a Level 4 Travel Advisory for Mongolia. It also announced the voluntary departure order for two posts for non-emergency staffers and family members and a mandatory departure order for one post for  all non-essential personnel. Voluntary or “authorized departure” means employees and family members have the option to remain at post. An “ordered departure” is a mandatory order to leave post (see more below).
On March 11, 2020, the Department of State allowed for the voluntary departure of non-emergency U.S. Government employees and all eligible family members from US Embassy Kolonia, in Micronesia “due to stringent travel restrictions that affect commercial flights.”
On March 12, the Department ordered the departure of all nonessential personnel from U.S. Embassy Ulaanbaatar  “due to travel, transport, and other restrictions related to Mongolia’s response to the ongoing outbreak of COVID-19.”
On March 13, 2020, the State Department allowed for the voluntary departure of non-emergency personnel and family members of U.S. government employees from US Embassy Dushanbe due to “declining commercial flight availability and travel screening procedures implemented by the Government of Tajikistan.”
Micronesia Travel Advisory – Level 3 Reconsider Travel (March 18, 2020)

Reconsider Travel to the Federated States of Micronesia due to the Global Health Advisory and Embassy Kolonia’s limited capacity to provide support to U.S. citizens.

On March 11, 2020, the Department of State allowed for the voluntary departure of non-emergency U.S. Government employees and all eligible family members due to stringent travel restrictions that affect commercial flights.

As of March 18, 2020, there are no confirmed COVID-19 cases in the Federated States of Micronesia (FSM), but the country’s health system has limited capacity for handling an outbreak.  A recent reduction in commercial flights and difficulty in arranging medevac flights may make it difficult or impossible to seek medical evacuation.  Travelers should consider these factors and their health before traveling to the FSM and follow the Centers for Disease Control’s guidelines for the prevention of coronavirus if they decide to travel.

Mongolia Travel Advisory: Level 4: Do Not Travel (March 18, 2020)

Do Not Travel to Mongolia due to the Global Health Advisory and Mongolia’s suspension of all international travel in response to the ongoing outbreak of COVID-19 in neighboring countries.

On March 10, 2020, Mongolia suspended travel to and from foreign locations until at least March 28. Virtually all commercial flights, passenger rail, and auto traffic into and out of Mongolia are suspended during this time period. Domestic air and rail travel will also be suspended from March 10 until at least March 16. For the most up-to-date information regarding COVID-19-related issues affecting travelers in Mongolia please see the U.S Embassy in Mongolia’s COVID-19 Information page.

On February 25, 2020, the Department of State allowed for the voluntary departure of non-emergency U.S. government employees and all family members. On March 12, the Department ordered the departure of all nonessential personnel due to travel, transport, and other restrictions related to Mongolia’s response to the ongoing outbreak of COVID-19.

Tajikistan Travel Advisory – Level 3: Reconsider Travel (March 18, 2020)

Reconsider travel to Tajikistan due to the Global Health Advisory and measures implemented by the Government of Tajikistan in response to COVID-19.

On March 13, 2020, the State Department allowed for the voluntary departure of non-emergency personnel and family members of U.S. government employees due to declining commercial flight availability and travel screening procedures implemented by the Government of Tajikistan.

Travelers should be prepared for travel restrictions to be put into effect with little or no advance notice. Visit the U.S. Embassy Dushanbe website for additional information on these new measures.

Medical protocols in Tajikistan are not consistent with U.S. standards.  Consider declining any medical testing unrelated to COVID-19.

Due to the possibility of quarantine of unknown length, carry additional supplies of necessary medication in carry-on luggage.  Contact the U.S. Embassy if you are subject to quarantine or prior to undergoing any invasive medical testing or procedures.

Meanwhile we got a question in our inbox about Lebanon (a Level 3 Reconsider Travel country per Lebanon Travel Advisory issued on October 21, 2019):
“Beirut airport just closed and that means no way out due to geography.  Why are they not on OD? Who is in charge at State?”
Per 3 FAM 3770, “authorized departure” is an evacuation procedure, short of ordered departure, by which post employees and/or eligible family members are permitted to leave post in advance of normal rotation when U.S. national interests or imminent threat to life requires it. Departure is requested by the chief of mission (COM) and approved by the Under Secretary for Management (M).
An “ordered departure” is  an evacuation procedure by which the number of U.S. government employees, eligible family members, or both, at a Foreign Service post is reduced. Ordered departure is mandatory and may be initiated by the chief of mission or the Secretary of State.

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@StateDept Issues Global “Authorized Departure” For Certain USG Personnel and Family Members

Updated: March 15, 8:26 pm PDT:

On March 15, 2020, the State Department issued an updated Global Level 3 Health Advisory: Reconsider Travel. It also announced that the day before it authorized “the departure from any diplomatic or consular post in the world of US personnel and family members who have been medically determined to be at higher risk of a poor outcome if exposed to COVID-19.” So the “authorized departure” or voluntary evacuation depends on the determination of the local MED unit or based on current medical clearance?
Excerpt below:

The Department of State advises U.S. citizens to reconsider travel abroad due to the global impact of COVID-19. Many areas throughout the world are now experiencing COVID-19 outbreaks and taking action that may limit traveler mobility, including quarantines and border restrictions. Even countries, jurisdictions, or areas where cases have not been reported may restrict travel without notice.   

On March 14, the Department of State authorized the departure from any diplomatic or consular post in the world of US personnel and family members who have been medically determined to be at higher risk of a poor outcome if exposed to COVID-19.

For the latest information regarding COVID-19, please visit the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) website.

Keeping workplaces, homes, schools, or commercial establishments safe.

You are encouraged to visit travel.state.gov to view individual Travel Advisories for the most urgent threats to safety and security. Please also visit the website of the relevant U.S. embassy or consulate to see information on entry restrictions, foreign quarantine policies, and urgent health information provided by local governments.

Travelers are urged to enroll in the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP) to receive Alerts and make it easier to locate you in an emergency. The Department uses these Alerts to convey information about terrorist threats, security incidents, planned demonstrations, natural disasters, etc. In an emergency, please contact the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate or call the following numbers: 1(888) 407-4747 (toll-free in the United States and Canada) or 1 (202) 501-4444 from other countries or jurisdictions.

We will update if/when we know more.
Update 8:26 pm PDT: 
The cable released by State/M Brian Bulatao says:  “Effective March 14, 2020, I hereby approve authorized departure (AD) from any diplomatic or consular post of U.S. direct hire employees or eligible family members (EFMs) as listed on employee orders and defined in 14 FAM 511.3 who, after confidential consultation with MED, have determined they are at higher risk of a poor outcome if exposed to COVID-19, or who have requested departure based on a commensurate justification in foreign areas.”
Our source, not from Public Affairs, interpret this to mean that  MED approval is not specifically required but you need to refer to MED when you go tell your boss you want out.
The  last time we had a global authorized/ordered departure order was probably during Y2K, was it? (The State Department at that time also issued an edict stating that all embassies must be prepared to be self-sufficient for 30 days by January 1, 2000). 
Would be interested to hear how this plays out this coming week and how folks are weighing the decision whether to avail of the voluntary evacuation to return to the United States shortly versus staying put at post. Given the slow response and unsettling chaos with the USG’s handling of the pandemic domestically, the decision may depend on post, location, and healthcare system in the host country. Drop us a note if you want to share. 

 

Burn Bag: State Department/MED – Heads in the Sand

From sickdips via Burn Bag:
“Members of the Embassy community at one post have fallen seriously ill with COVID-19 symptoms, but the State Department will not test them for COVID-19 or *MEDEVAC them. There is already limited medical capacity at many posts, which will be completely overwhelmed as the pandemic spreads. What is MED waiting for? Protecting our people should be our NUMBER ONE PRIORITY.”
*MEDEVAC – medical evacuation
** MED – State Department’s Bureau of Medical Services

Via Imgur

 

Ambassador Marie Yovanovitch Retires From the Foreign Service After 34 Years of Service

Updated: 3:54 pm PST with correction on Amb. Yovanovitch’s promotion to Career Minister in 2016.

Ambassador Marie Yovanovitch, the former U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine who was one of the top witnesses in the Trump Impeachment hearings reportedly retired from the State Department.  Ambassador Yovanovitch served 34 years in the U.S. Foreign Service.  She previously served as U.S. Ambassador to the Republic of Armenia (2008-2011) under President Obama and to the Kyrgyz Republic (2005-2008) under President George W. Bush.
Based on her online bio, Ambassador Yovanovitch is 61 years old, which is four years short of the mandatory retirement in the U.S. Foreign Service. (Foreign Service employees are eligible to retire at age 50 with 20 years of service).
Ambassador Yovanovitch was promoted to the Senior Foreign Service Class of Minister-Counselor in 2007. She was ranked Minister-Counselor during her last two appointments as Ambassador to Armenia in 2008 and as Ambassador to Ukraine in 2016. The maximum time-in-class (TIC) limits for Minister-Counselor is “14 years combined TIC with no more than seven years in the class of Counselor.” We don’t have public details beyond what is on congress.gov and the FAM, but it looks like she has not reach her maximum TIC in 2020. It is also likely that she was eligible for promotion to Career Minister prior to her retirement. Correction: Amb. Yovanovitch was promoted to Career Minister in 2016 (thanks B!)
So why would she retire? Perhaps she got exhausted by all the controversy. Or perhaps she simply realized that, given her rank, she could not find a warm home in Pompeo’s State Department nor is she going to get another presidential appointment under this Administration.  Having been yanked out of one assignment without an onward assignment, with a huge WH target on her back, we’ve always suspected that she would not be able to return to Foggy Bottom or get another overseas assignment.
Per 3 FAM 6215 career members of the Foreign Service who have completed Presidential assignments under section 302(b) of the Foreign Service Act, and who have not been reassigned within 90 days after the termination of such assignment, plus any period of authorized leave, shall be retired as provided in section 813 of the Act. 
Ambassador Yovanovitch was detailed to a university for a year. As a career member of the Foreign Service,  she was recalled from an assignment but wasn’t fired after her posting at the US Embassy in Kyiv. In reality, her career ended in Kyiv. Without that university assignment, it’s likely that she would have been subjected to the 90-day rule and be forced into mandatory retirement last summer.
In any case, that university assignment would have ran out this spring but in May 2019, it allowed the State Department to pretend that this was a normal job rotation. For the State Department, it also avoided one spectacle: given that the recall quickly became very high profile and political, they would have had to explain her mandatory retirement in Summer 2019 following the conclusion of her presidential appointment without an onward assignment.
Her case underscores some realities of the Foreign Service that folks will continue to wrestle with for a long time. How breathtakingly easy it was for motivated bad actors to whisper in powerful, receptive ears and ruin a 34-year career. You may have thought that Administration officials could not possibly have believed the whispers, that over three decades of dedicated service meant something, but believed them they did. Since this happened to her, how easily could it happen to anyone, at any post, at any given country around the world? Then to realize how thin the protection afforded career employees, and how easily the system adapts to the political demands of the day.
Note that in the Foreign Service, retirements may be either voluntary or involuntary. According to State, involuntary retirements include those due to reaching the mandatory retirement age of 65 (except DS special agents where the mandatory retirement age is 57), which cannot be waived unless an employee is serving in a Presidential appointment, or if the Director General of the Foreign Service determines that the employee’s retention in active duty is in the “public interest”; and those who trigger the “up-or-out” rules in the FS personnel system (e.g., restrictions in the number of years FS employees can remain in one class or below the Senior Foreign Service threshold).
Voluntary non-retirements include resignations, transfers, and deaths. Involuntary non-retirements consist of terminations, as well as “selection out” of tenured employees and non-tenured decisions for entry level FS employees.
Between FY 2018 and FY 2022, the Department projected that close to 5,900 career CS and FS employees will leave the Department due to various types of attrition.  Most FS attrition reportedly is due to retirements. In FY 2017, 70 percent of all separations from the FS were retirements. For the FY 2018 to FY 2022 period, the attrition mix is expected to be 80 percent retirements and 20 percent non-retirements.

 

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US Ambassador to Afghanistan John Bass Steps Down After a 2-Year Tenure

 

ABC News reported ton January 6, 2020 that the U.S. Ambassador to Afghanistan John R. Bass (1964–) was stepping down from his position “after serving in the war-weary country’s capital since December 2017.”  An official reportedly said that his departure was “long-planned and part of the normal rotation cycle, with American ambassadors typically serving in Kabul for only two years.” Also:
The State Department has named Ross Wilson as chargé d’affaires ad interim at the U.S. Embassy in Kabul until a new ambassador is confirmed. Wilson is expected to arrive in Kabul soon, according to the official.
Karen Decker, deputy chief of mission of the U.S. Embassy in Kabul, will serve as chargé d’affaires until Wilson’s arrival, the official said.
Ambassador Bass’ immediate predecessor in Kabul was Ambassador Peter Michael McKinley (1954–) who served  from January 6, 2015–December 18, 2016. Previous to Ambassador McKinley was Ambassador James B. Cunningham (1952–) who served from August 13, 2012–December 7, 2014. Ambassador Ryan Clark Crocker (1949–) who was briefly chargé d’affaires ad interim in 2002 returned to served for one year from  July 25, 2011–July 23, 2012. President Obama’s first ambassador to Afghanistan, Karl Winfrid Eikenberry (1951–), served from May 21, 2009–July 19, 2011. President George W. Bush’s last ambassador to Afghanistan, William Braucher Wood (1950–) also served a two-year tenure from  April 16, 2007–April 3, 2009.

US Embassy Finland: Thinnest OIG Report Reveals Dysfunctional Relationship b/w Political Ambassador and DCM

 

The previous State/OIG Inspection Report of the US Embassy in Helsinki (PDF) is dated September 2011, 40 pages long, includes 22 recommendations and 38 informal recommendations. The newly released OIG Inspection Report of Embassy Helsinki at nine pages, including a list of four recommendations is probably the thinnest report we’ve ever read (PDF). The report notes that “The Ambassador and the DCM used their access to the senior levels of the Finnish Government to the benefit of the embassy’s foreign policy goals and objectives.” The report’s discussion on fopo goals and objectives occupied a third of a single page and we must admit, we’re not any wiser after reading it.
The Embassy Helsinki report dated December 2019 found four things:
    • Embassy leadership used their ready access to the senior-most levels of the Government of Finland to the benefit of U.S. foreign policy goals and objectives.
    • The Ambassador and the Deputy Chief of Mission did not manage conflict between them in an appropriate manner, which resulted in a breakdown of trust and communication that complicated the chain of command and contributed to a stressful work environment for Embassy Helsinki staff.
    • Lack of teamwork and communication between Consular Section leadership and staff had a negative effect on productivity and morale.
    • The embassy lacked policies for some information management support services.
The chief of mission is Ambassador Robert Pence , a political ambassador who arrived in May 2018, the DCM is identified as senior FSO Donna Welton who arrived in August 2016. Post’s new DCM is listed as Deputy Chief of Mission Ian Campbell.
The “longest” part of the report is on Executive Direction.

The Chief of Mission was a first-time, non-career Ambassador who arrived in May 2018. The Ambassador was the founder and Chairman of the Board of a commercial real estate development company. The Deputy Chief of Mission (DCM) was a career Senior Foreign Service officer who arrived in August 2016. A first-time DCM, she served as Chargé d’Affaires (Chargé) from January 2017 until the arrival of the current Ambassador in May 2018. She previously was detailed to the Department of Defense as the acting Director for Southeast Asia in the Office of the Secretary of Defense (Policy). During the inspection, the DCM was in the process of transferring to her onward assignment and was scheduled to depart Helsinki on June 1, 2019.

OIG found that neither the Ambassador nor the DCM fully modeled the Department of State’s (Department) leadership and management principles outlined in 3 Foreign Affairs Manual (FAM) 1214. Embassy staff told OIG that, initially, the two leaders worked reasonably well together. However, about 9 months into the Ambassador’s tenure, their working relationship deteriorated. In separate discussions with the Ambassador and the DCM, OIG noted that there was profound disagreement between the two about what led to the breakdown. OIG received information about various issues that contributed to the poor relationship, but ultimately concluded that neither the Ambassador nor the DCM managed the conflict in an appropriate manner, as called for in 3 FAM 1214b(9). According to embassy staff interviewed by OIG, the conflict led to a breakdown of trust and communication between the Ambassador and DCM that complicated the chain of command and decision-making. The conflict also contributed to creating a stressful work environment for embassy staff. For example, because of the dysfunctional relationship between the Ambassador and DCM, staff stated that it was not always apparent to whom they should report and who was making decisions on particular issues. Senior staff members described themselves as “caught in the middle.”

OIG discussed with the DCM her role in the conflict and, related to one particular issue, advised her that, even though she had been serving as the Chargé and was in command at the embassy in the Ambassador’s absence, it would have been prudent for her to have consulted with the Ambassador before signing off on what she acknowledged to be an important and potentially controversial action. At the time of the inspection, she agreed. OIG concluded that the DCM’s approach on this issue contributed to the troubled working relationship.

In discussions with the Ambassador about the conflict, he told OIG that, with the DCM departing in a few weeks and a new DCM scheduled to arrive at the end of June 2019, he was confident that employee morale would improve. However, based on OIG’s interviews with U.S. direct hire employees and LE staff, OIG advised the Ambassador that elements of his leadership and management style also contributed to the stressful workplace environment. OIG encouraged the Ambassador to:

      • Meet regularly, substantively, and face-to-face with individual Department section and other agency heads to provide performance feedback and to determine how the Front Office could assist each section and agency to achieve the embassy’s goals.
      • Document his general instructions to all staff regarding the issues he expected to come to him for approval and how he wanted the information formatted and provided to him.
      • “Walk the halls” to observe and interact with the various sections so that he could better understand the embassy’s functions and operations. • Meet regularly with the leaders of the LE Staff Committee to understand and address the unique concerns of the LE staff.
      • Solicit formal feedback on embassy-wide performance and morale to obtain information to formulate specific actions to address employee concerns.

OIG also provided the Ambassador with Department tools to help chiefs of mission lead their embassies. These tools included the Department’s morale survey that is used to solicit feedback from staff and identify issues that are negatively affecting morale.4

 

@StateDept Recalls Ambassador Daniel Foote From Zambia in Lame Response #TitNoTat

 

This is a follow-up to our post in early December (see US Embassy Zambia: Threats Against Amb. Daniel Foote For Comments on Harsh Sentencing of Gay Couple). The recall of Ambassador Daniel Foote from the U.S. Embassy in Zambia occurred late last month.
The State Department released a brief statement (see below) and the Assistant Secretary for African Affairs Tibor Nagy issued a tweet saying, “Dismayed by the Zambian government’s decision requiring our Ambassador Daniel Foote’s departure from the country.” Martin “Marty” Dale, a career member of the Foreign Service, is currently listed as Deputy Chief of Mission at the U.S. Embassy in Lusaka on its website; no CDA is identified as of this writing.
So they’re all dismayed, huh? If the State Department considered the Zambian Government’s statement on Ambassador Foote as equivalent of a declaration of “persona non grata” why have they not asked the Zambian Ambassador in Washington D.C. to leave in the spirit of reciprocity?
The State Department’s action so loud, we could barely hear what they’re saying. Perhaps the State Department should have a new recruitment flyer:
See the world, join the State Department
And watch your back!

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Confirmations: Biegun as Deputy Secretary, 11 Ambassadors, 3 Foreign Service Lists

 

On Thursday, December 19, the U.S. Senate adjourned for the 116th Congress, First Session. Senate Leader Mitch McConnell announced that the Senate will reconvene for the 116th Congress, 2nd Session, at 12:00 pm on Friday, January 3rd, 2020.
Prior to leaving town, the Senate confirmed the nomination of Stephen Biegun as the State Department’s Deputy Secretary. It also confirmed the nomination of 11 ambassadors, one USAID Assistant Administrator, and three Foreign Service lists.
STATE DEPARTMENT
PN1266 Confirmed, 90-3: Executive Calendar #550 Stephen E. Biegun to be Deputy Secretary of State

PN834 Executive Calendar #521 Kelley Eckels Currie to be Ambassador at Large for Global Women’s Issues
PN617 Executive Calendar #519 Morse H. Tan to be Ambassador at Large for Global Criminal Justice

 

AMBASSADORS
PN1047 Executive Calendar #529 Peter M. Haymond, a Career Member of the Senior Foreign Service, Class of Minister-Counselor, to be Ambassador of the U.S. to the Lao People’s Democratic Republic
PN1046 Executive Calendar #528 Kelly C. Degnan, a Career Member of the Senior Foreign Service, Class of Minister-Counselor, to be Ambassador of the U.S. to Georgia
PN1038 Executive Calendar #527 Alina L. Romanowski, a Career Member of the Senior Executive Service, to be Ambassador of the U.S. to the State of Kuwait
PN1036 Executive Calendar #526 Robert S. Gilchrist, a Career Member of the Senior Foreign Service, Class of Minister-Counselor, to be Ambassador of the U.S. to the Republic of Lithuania
PN965 Executive Calendar #524 Carmen G. Cantor, of Puerto Rico, a Career Member of the Senior Executive Service, to be Ambassador of the U.S. to the Federated States of Micronesia
PN902 Executive Calendar #523 Yuri Kim, a Career Member of the Senior Foreign Service, Class of Counselor, to be Ambassador of the U.S. to the Republic of Albania
PN891 Executive Calendar #522 Leslie Meredith Tsou, a Career Member of the Senior Foreign Service, Class of Minister-Counselor, to be Ambassador of the U.S. to the Sultanate of Oman
PN703 Executive Calendar #520 Roxanne Cabral a Career Member of the Senior Foreign Service, Class of Minister-Counselor, to be Ambassador of the U.S. to the Republic of the Marshall Islands
PN121 Executive Calendar #518 David T. Fischer to be Ambassador of the U.S. to the Kingdom of Morocco
USAID
PN614 Executive Calendar #411 Michelle A. Bekkering to be an Assistant Administrator of the United States Agency for International Development.
FOREIGN SERVICE LISTS
2019-12-02 PN1318 Foreign Service | Nominations beginning Shon Stephen Belcher, and ending David Mango, which 41 nominations were received by the Senate and appeared in the Congressional Record on December 2, 2019.
2019-12-02 PN1319 Foreign Service | Nominations beginning Kara Miriam Abramson, and ending Megan Elizabeth Zurowski, which 154 nominations were received by the Senate and appeared in the Congressional Record on December 2, 2019.
2019-12-02 PN1321 Foreign Service | Nominations beginning Jenny U. Abamu, and ending Hamda A. Yusuf, which 119 nominations were received by the Senate and appeared in the Congressional Record on December 2, 2019.

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US Embassy Ukraine Chargé d’Affaires Bill Taylor to Leave Kyiv at End of Year

 

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