SFRC Clears @StateDept, @USAID Nominees; Two Senate Holds

USAID

Mr. John Barsaof Florida, to be an Assistant Administrator of the United States Agency for International Development 

Ms. Bonnie Glickof Maryland, to be Deputy Administrator of the United States Agency for International Development

AMBASSADORSHIPS

Mr. Christopher Paul Henzelof Virginia, a Career Member of the Senior Foreign Service, Class of Minister-Counselor, to be Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the United States of America to the Republic of Yemen

Mr. Michael S. Klecheskiof New York, a Career Member of the Senior Foreign Service, Class of Minister-Counselor, to be Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the United States of America to the Republic of Mongolia

Ms. Sarah-Ann Lynch, of Maryland, a Career Member of the Senior Foreign Service, Class of Minister-Counselor, to be Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the United States of America to the Co-operative Republic of Guyana

The Honorable Matthew John Matthewsof Virginia, a Career Member of the Senior Foreign Service, Class of Minister-Counselor, to be Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the United States of America to Brunei Darussalam

Ms. Lynne M. Tracyof Ohio, a Career Member of the Senior Foreign Service, Class of Minister-Counselor, to be Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the United States of America to the Republic of Armenia

Mr. Earle D. Litzenbergerof California, a Career Member of the Senior Foreign Service, Class of Minister-Counselor, to be Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenitpotentiary of the United States of America to the Republic of Azerbaijan

The Honorable Kyle McCarterof Illinois, to be Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the United States to the Republic of Kenya

Mr. Arthur B. Culvahouse, Jr.of Tennessee, to be Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the United States of America to the Commonwealth of Australia

FSO LIST: 

Kelly E. Adams-Smith, et al., dated November 13, 2018 (PN 2622), as modified

STATE DEPARTMENT

The Honorable Carol Z. Perezof Virginia, a Career Member of the Senior Foreign Service, Class of Minister-Counselor, to be Director General of the Foreign Service

The following nominations were included in the SFRC’s Business Meeting of December 13 but did not make it out of Committee. News report says the following nominees are subject to two separate Senate hold.  

Mr. R. Clarke Cooper, of Florida, to be an Assistant Secretary of State (Political-Military Affairs) – Senate hold by Sen. Ed Markey, D-Mass

Mr. David Schenker, of New Jersey, to be an Assistant Secretary of State (Near Eastern Affairs) – Senate hold by Senator Tim Kaine, D-Va.

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US Formally Returns #BalangigaBells to the Philippines

State Department’s Robert Palladino who “serves as the @StateDept Deputy Spokesperson under the leadership of the 70th Secretary of State @SecPompeo announced at the Daily Press Briefing, December 11, 2018 the formal return of the Balangiga Bells to the Philippines:

I am pleased to announce that on December 11th, the United States formally returned the bells of Balangiga to the Philippines in a handover ceremony in Manila attended by Philippine Secretary of National Defense Delfin Lorenzana and U.S. Ambassador to the Philippines Sung Kim. The decision follows an extensive consultative process with associated United States veterans organizations and state government officials in accordance with legislative – American legislative requirements to ensure appropriate steps are taken to preserve the history of American service members associated with the bells. Philippine Government officials will transport the bells to the church from which they were removed over 100 years ago, where they will be treated with respect and honor they deserve.

The return of the bells of Balangiga demonstrates the enduring strength of the United States-Philippines alliance and the deep bonds of friendship between the peoples of our nations as we work together to advance a free and open Indo-Pacific. From World War II to today’s struggle to defeat ISIS and the scourge of terrorism, our nations have stood side by side. As we close the painful chapter in our shared history, our relationship has withstood the test of time and flourishes today. As an ally and friend of the Philippines, we will forever honor and respect this shared history.

See our previous post: U.S. to Return the #BalangigaBells to the Philippines After 117 Years

Yo! The Thing. Still Going on in China

We understand that there are still “a lot of curtailments” continuing out of China even now because “The Thing” is still going on according to a note in our mailbox.

In January 2018, the SFRC’s had a Subcommittee Hearing Attacks on U.S. Diplomats in Cuba: Response and Oversight. In September 2018, Senator Bob Menendez (D-N.J.), Ranking Member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, sent a letter to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo requesting that the Trump administration provide an unclassified version of the State Department’s recent Accountability Review Board (ARB) report on the incidents affecting the health of U.S. personnel serving in Cuba. We have not been able to locate any congressional oversight hearings on the incident in China.  We don’t know if there is an ARB China. If an ARB was convened on the health attacks in China, there does not appear to be any public notification. 

In late October, an NBC News investigation indicates that US diplomats are concerned that the State Department is down-playing a pattern of what’s been called “health attacks” on diplomatic staff in Cuba and China. (see Is @StateDept Working to Minimize the Health Attacks in China? #Cuba #MissingARBs). If curtailments are still going on, that indicates that USG employees and family members in one of our largest overseas missions remain in harm’s way, so who’s talking about it?  Somebody please ask your friendly senior administration official what are they doing about it. Three years ago, we would have had back to back congressional hearings not just on the Havana Syndrome, but also on the China Syndrome, and on the State Department’s response to these attacks. Can we please have some oversight hearings in January, pretty please?   

Via Giphy

MORE:

This one about Canadian diplomats and their families. G&M reports that  nine Canadian adults and four children have been diagnosed with the brain injuries. “The Canadians who were affected in 2017 are all in Canada and still employed by Global Affairs, although several are unable to work because of their symptoms.”

State/OIG: Sustained Failure of Leadership at the National Passport Center

The National Passport Center is located in Portsmouth, New Hampshire. NPC opened in 1992 and this past November, it processed its 100 millionth passport application. Below excerpted from State/OIG’s report,  Targeted Review of Leadership and Management at the National Passport Center:

Backgrounder: NPC, the largest of 29 passport-processing agencies and twice the size of the next largest, issued 7.4 million passports in FY 2017, or 38 percent of all passports issued by the U.S. Government from October 2016 to September 2017. Located in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, the center was created in 1992, and it grew from 60 employees at its founding to approximately 900 following a 2007 surge in passport demand.

At the time of the inspection, NPC’s staff consisted of a GS-15 Director, 6 GS-14 Assistant Directors, 16 GS-13 Adjudication Managers, and 57 GS-12 Supervisory Passport Specialists who supervised approximately 350 Passport Specialists. Additional staff included Customer Service and Fraud
Prevention employees, Passport Operations Officers, and over 400 contractors who were responsible for passport production and other support services. NPC operates two flexible shifts, which together cover 22 hours per day Monday through Friday. In addition, depending on workload, NPC scheduled overtime shifts on Saturday and Sunday.

Work Environment and CA/PPT Leadership: Senior leaders in CA’s Office of Passport Services (CA/PPT) were aware of concerns regarding NPC’s work environment since at least 2013, when several NPC employees made allegations against NPC leadership. The employees alleged harassment, “bullying,” a lack of trust in leadership, favoritism, abusive behavior to employees, improper hiring procedures, and an overall lack of transparency in the operations of the organization. In response to the allegations, CA/PPT instructed the Director of the Northeast Regional Office, who oversees NPC and other passport agencies, to conduct an internal review of NPC, which he did in January and February 2014. […] To address the internal review’s findings, CA/PPT ordered extensive executive coaching and training for NPC’s Director and senior leaders. The training lasted approximately 2 years and ended in 2016.

How not to solve the problem: OIG also determined that CA/PPT and NPC senior leaders were disengaged and, based on OIG interviews, generally aware of concerns regarding harassment, abuse, and misconduct. During OIG’s review, CA/PPT senior leaders told OIG that they blamed some of the issues at NPC on the fact that employees have known each other for a long time, dismissing the allegations as grudges held from high school and referring to employees as “crusty New Englanders.” CA/PPT’s senior leaders moreover acknowledged inappropriate behavior at NPC, but hoped that “being really busy would solve the problem.”

Being really busy is their hopeful solution? Good lord, who are these people? Are they available to work their magic wand as WH chiefs of staff?

It works! OIG Hotline Complaints: Between February and May 2018, OIG received a series of hotline complaints alleging misconduct, harassment, retaliation, and unfair hiring practices at NPC. […] Hundreds of NPC employees reported to OIG that retaliation, harassment, and “bullying” pervaded the work environment at NPC. OIG found that the reported behavior was widespread and was either condoned or perpetrated by nearly all levels of NPC leadership. Seventeen percent (91) of NPC employees who responded to OIG’s survey reported that they had experienced or observed discrimination and harassment. Of the 156 NPC employees OIG interviewed, 54 (35 percent) stated that they had experienced or observed retaliation, 80 (51 percent) stated that they had experienced or observed harassment, and 61 (39 percent) stated that they had experienced or observed discrimination.

Employees reported to OIG multiple instances of perceived or possible retaliation by Assistant Directors, Adjudication Managers, and other Supervisory Passport Specialists in denying awards, promotions, and special assignments.

Multiple employees reported incidents of sexual and gender-based harassment to OIG, which in some cases, had been ongoing, widely known, and accepted as part of the center’s culture.

Holy Guacamole Alert! NPC’s already problematic workplace environment was exacerbated by the fact that communication was ineffective at all levels within NPC. […] One example of poor communication was the lack of a formal and effective process for explaining and interpreting new guidance with Passport Specialists. When CA/PPT Office of Adjudication (CA/PPT/A) issued new or updated adjudication-specific guidance, its implementation instructions to passport agencies stated that Adjudication Managers must meet with Passport Specialists to discuss the guidance, answer questions, and ensure everyone understands how to implement the new guidance.10 However, NPC’s Adjudication Managers consistently and affirmatively refused to meet with Passport Specialists. 

You read that part above and you think that’s just bonkers. If they’re not meeting regularly to discuss new passport guidance, how would they know if the guidance they have is already outdated?

Security Procedures: In the course of examining the leadership and communication issues described previously, OIG also learned that NPC did not comply with all required Department security procedures. Specifically […] NPC did not follow facility access control measures that govern employee entry and exit, creating an opportunity for individuals without approved access to enter the building.

Admonishment from CA/PPT senior leader and NPC managers: OIG also notes that, after its site visit, a CA/PPT senior leader visited NPC. According to an information memo CA prepared for the Deputy Secretary following the visit, the CA/PPT senior leader communicated  to NPC employees that the Department does not tolerate retaliation. However, OIG subsequently received complaints that CA/PPT senior leaders and NPC managers admonished staff for complaining to and speaking with OIG.

We should note that the OIG report does not include the names of the senior leaders at CA/PPT or the managers at NPC but they’re on LinkedIn, is that right? Please don’t make them lead the Consular Leadership Day festivities next year, hookay?

Pompeo Convenes ARB Guadalajara For Jan 2017 Attack on USG Employee

On November 8, the Federal Register published a notice that an Accountability Review Board (ARB) for a security incident where a U.S. national attempted to murder a U.S. diplomat in Guadalajara, Mexico had been convened:

On June 1, 2018, Secretary Pompeo authorized the convening of an Accountability Review Board (ARB) to review a January 2017 attack on a U.S. government employee in Guadalajara, Mexico. Pursuant to Section 304 of the Omnibus Diplomatic Security and Antiterrorism Act of 1986, as amended (22 U.S.C. 4834), the ARB will examine the facts and circumstances, and report findings and recommendations as it deems appropriate, in keeping with its mandate. (see American Diplomat Wounded in Targeted Attack in #Guadalajara, Mexico). Last month, the assailant was sentenced to 22 years (see U.S. National Sentenced to 22 Years For Attempted Murder of U.S. Diplomat in Mexico).

The notice includes the composition of the ARB:

Secretary has appointed Lisa Kubiske, a retired U.S. Ambassador, as Chair of the Board. The other Board members are retired Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield, retired Ambassador Joan Plaisted, Ms. Carol Gallo, and Mr. John DeSalvio. They bring to their deliberations distinguished backgrounds in government service.

According to the notice, the Board “will submit its conclusions and recommendations to Secretary Pompeo within 60 days of its first meeting, unless the Chair determines a need for additional time. Within the timeframes required by statute following receipt of the report, the Department will report to Congress on recommendations made by the Board and action taken with respect to those recommendations.”

12 FAM 030 on the ARB provides that “The Secretary must convene a Board not later than 60 days after the occurrence of an incident, except that such 60-day period may be extended for one additional 60-day period if the Secretary determines that the additional period is necessary for the convening of the Board.”  The attack occurred in January 2017; we have not been able to locate a notice of an ARB for this incident authorized by Tillerson. Pompeo assumed office in Foggy Bottom on April 26, 2018. ARB Guadalajara was authorized on June 1, 2018, some 17 months after the incident, but less than 60 days from Pompeo’s taking office. 

There is a provision in the regs for a delay in convening an ARB; we can’t tell if the delay here was under this provision or simply because Tillerson’s tenure was beset by chaos: With respect to breaches of security involving intelligence activities, the Secretary may delay the convening of a Board, if, after consultation with the chair of the Select Committee on Intelligence of the Senate and the chair of the Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence of the House of Representatives, the Secretary determines that the establishment of a Board would compromise intelligence sources or methods.  The Secretary must promptly advise the chairs of such committees of each determination to delay the establishment of a Board. 

In any case, we’re still interested in learning more about what happened to ARB Guadalajara. If it’s been concluded, has it been forwarded to Congress? 

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Miles With Mike: Ouchy Road This Week

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USAID Prepares to Shrink #WestBank/Gaza Presence, Pompeo Visits @USAID HQ

 

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OSC’s Hatch Act Guidance: No Advocacy For/Against Impeachment, No #Resist, #ResistTrump Use

 

On November 27, the U.S. Office of Special Counsel (OSC) — not Robert Mueller’s but the federal agency with authorities to investigate cases related to the Civil Service Reform Act, the Whistleblower Protection Act, the Hatch Act, and the Uniformed Services Employment & Reemployment Rights Act (USERRA) — issued a new guidance regarding political activity. It says that  its Hatch Act Unit has received several questions regarding whether the following constitute “political activity” for purposes of the Hatch Act:

1. Is strong criticism or praise of an administration’s policies and actions considered political activity?

Criticism or praise that is directed toward the success or failure of a political party, candidate for partisan political office, or partisan political group is political activity. Absent evidence that the criticism or praise is so directed, criticism or praise of an administration’s policies and actions is not considered political activity. Whether a particular statement constitutes political activity depends upon the facts and circumstances.

Consider, for example, the administration’s recent decision to move the U.S. embassy in Israel to Jerusalem. An employee who strongly criticizes or praises that decision during a workplace discussion with a colleague in the days immediately following the decision is less likely to be engaging in political activity than one making those same statements in the run-up to the next presidential election—when the decision will likely have been out of the news for several years—to a colleague that the employee knows has strong feelings about
the subject.

Read more here.

2. Is advocating for or against impeachment of a candidate for federal office considered political activity?

Yes. Read more here.

3. Is activity related to “the Resistance” considered political activity?

To the extent that the statement relates to resistance to President Donald J. Trump, usage of the terms “resistance,” “#resist,” and derivatives thereof is political activity. We understand that the “resistance” and “#resist” originally gained prominence shortly after President Trump’s election in 2016 and generally related to efforts to oppose administration policies. However, “resistance,” “#resist,” and similar terms have become inextricably linked with the electoral success (or failure) of the president. During the period when President Trump was not considered by OSC to be a candidate for reelection the terms did not raise any Hatch Act concerns. Now that President Trump is a candidate for reelection, we must presume that the use or display of “resistance,” “#resist,” “#resistTrump,” and similar statements is political activity unless the facts and circumstances indicate otherwise.

Note that this presumption is only relevant to employee conduct that takes place on duty, in the workplace, while wearing an agency uniform or insignia, or while invoking any official authority or influence. Provided that they comply with the Hatch Act’s restrictions, employees are free to engage in political activity while off-duty and away from the federal workplace.

In OSC’s example, if you tweet “I must #resist the temptation to eat another donut from the break room” – you would not/not be engaging in political activity but OSC would presume that “the use or display of the hashtags #resist and #resistTrump, in isolation, is political activity under the Hatch Act.”  Read in full here.

The thing is, Foreign Service folks are considered on duty 24/7, so what does this guidance means in the real world? We’ve asked the OSC; will update if we hear anything back.

You may also call the Hatch Act Unit at 202-804-7002 or send an e-mail to Hatchact@osc.gov  for your Hatch Act-related questions.

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Reviews For Pompeo’s WSJ Op-Ed: “God-Awful”, “Risible”, “Mendacious”, “Bananas”, and More #PAPressClips

Related item: Saudi Arabia: Background and U.S. Relations (PDF) | September, 2018 (Congressional Research Service).

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