Pompeo Reads the Data Set Every Morning But Can’t Get @StateDept COVID-19 Casualty Details Right

 

On March 30, the number two official respectively from the Bureau of Consular Affairs and the Bureau of Medical Services held another joint Briefing on Updates On Health Impact and Assistance For American Citizens Abroad. When asked, “Are you aware of any deaths among the State Department staff due to coronavirus?”, MED’s Dr. William Walters responded:

So the department is aware of two locally employed staff – I don’t have locations and wouldn’t be able to provide further details – that have died overseas in their own country related to coronavirus.  I don’t have any further details that I can pass on.  There have been no deaths domestically or with any U.S. direct hires.  

Fast forward March 31, the Secretary Pompeo made remarks to the press, excerpt:

And lastly, you asked a question about disinformation in the moment here with the COVID-19 challenge.  I see it every day.  Every morning I get up and I read the data set from across the world, not only the tragedy that’s taking place here.  We’ve had a State Department official pass away as a result of this virus, one of our team members.  We now have 3,000 Americans who have been killed.  This is tragic.  My prayers go out to every American and every American family impacted by this.

This data set matters.  The ability to trust the data that you’re getting so that our scientists and doctors and experts at the World Health Organization and all across the world who are trying to figure out how to remediate this, how to find therapies, how to find – identify a solution which will ultimately be a vaccine, to determine whether the actions that we’re taking – the social distancing, all the things that we’re doing, limiting transportation, all those things we’re doing –  to figure out if they’re working so that we can save lives depends on the ability to have confidence and information about what has actually transpired.

This is the reason disinformation is dangerous.  It’s not because it’s bad politics.  It is because it puts lives at risk if we don’t have confidence in the information that’s coming from every country.  So I would urge every nation:  Do your best to collect the data.  Do your best to share that information.  We’re doing that.  We’re collecting, we’re sharing, and we’re making sure that we have good, sound basis upon which to make decisions about how to fight this infectious disease.  That’s the risk that comes when countries choose to engage in campaigns of disinformation across the world.

That made news, of course, but subsequently corrected, because as it turned out —  it was not accurate.
By afternoon, the State Department clarified that there were two employees killed by COVID-19, as revealed in the March 30 briefing. Both were local employees, one from Indonesia (on our list but until now unconfirmed), and another from Democratic Republic of Congo (we previously asked post and FSI about one DRC case, but both were mum as a clam in mud at low tide).
So the secretary of state told everyone at the briefing that “data set matters” and that every morning, he reads the data set from across the world.  Then he talked about one State Department official’s death — “one of our team members” — when THERE WASN’T ONE, and failed to mention during the briefing the death of TWO local employees from COVID-19, non-U.S. citizen members of the State Department family.
Uppercase voice used since he could not even get the casualty details right.
At the end of this story, Pompeo in a belated statement, cited the two local staffers from Jakarta and Kinshasa who died from COVID-19 and expressed “deepest sympathies and condolences.”

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COVID-19 Tracker: State Department and Foreign Service Posts (March 25 Update)

 

We originally created a tracker for COVID-19 cases for the State Department and our Foreign Service posts on March 21. We updated that post on March 22. (See Tracking COVID-19 Cases at State Department and Foreign Service Posts (Updated)).
Since Pompeo’s quip at a presser on March 17  that “We’ve had a couple of employees – count them on one hand – who have positive tests” we still don’t have official breakdown of numbers as to how many employees and family members have actually been infected, how many have recovered from the virus, or even how many were tested, or how many have been medically evacuated for COVID-19.
The last couple of days even with Senior State Department officials doing their “Special Briefing”, we still don’t have a good official count on numbers and places where there are positive, suspected, or quarantined staffers/family members due to COVID-19 cases.
On March 23, SSDO said:

“So the domestic numbers are easier to quantify just based on communications with posts abroad.  Obviously, this is a rapidly evolving situation, especially in the overseas environment. I can tell you we’re still at single digits here in the United States with cases – one each, two each, three each in Washington; Houston; Boston; New York; Quantico, Virginia; and Seattle.  So the numbers themselves are – overseas are still double-digit.  We’re looking at less than 30 scattered over 220 posts around the world, and it remains a challenge. Obviously, the – this type of outbreak, had we known earlier what the epidemiology was and had some of that data, perhaps we would have a better feel for how this was going to move across our overseas posts.  But we are keeping pace with it.  And again, the number at this point is less than 30.” 

In our updated COVID-19 tracker we are noting this info as “fuzzy math.”
On March 24, the SSDO was asked “out of the approximately 40 or so cases of COVID-positive people that you’ve got at State, how many are FSOs and how many are local staff?”.  SSDO responded:

“In terms of the cases that we’re following from the State Department’s perspective, I don’t have the precise breakdown in front of me of how many of our direct-hire employees versus local staff.  I certainly can get that information.  But again, it changes so rapidly that it’s – we just want to focus on the fact that we’re doing everything we can to take care of our people overseas, and for our local staff who are so important to our operations do what we can to facilitate their getting care in the local economy. ” 

On March 25, Dr. William Walters, Deputy Chief Medical Officer for Operations was one of the briefers and said:

So it’s important to remember that the State Department is about 75,000 – a 75,000-person workforce overseas. We’re tracking 58 current cases in our overseas workforce, spread across the – each – one to 11 cases – I’m sorry, 33 cases is the largest number in any particular regional bureau. But at 58 cases, that’s less than one in 1,000, and that’s a direct result of aggressive actions through the Bureau of Medical Services, through the chiefs of mission at post, and implementing social distancing and telework and all the things that the department has been working so hard at over the past several weeks. Domestically, we’re tracking 16 cases in five cities, the largest at just eight. So that’s 16 cases across thousands of employees. Again, the department has taken this very seriously, has implemented just the right non-pharmaceutical interventions to keep that workforce safe.

Tracker is not embeddable right now, so the links do not work; however, we have links as reference and can post separately, as needed.  The newest addition in the update below includes the cases in Madrid, which we were originally informed were 6 positive cases, and now are at reportedly 16 positive cases. Also includes the fuzzy accounting from the March 24 briefing on domestic cases, and the presumptive positive case at SA-1 per internal email on the night of March 24. After we updated the tracker, we saw the March 25 briefing with MED”s Walters and CA’s Brownlee. Walter mentions “tracking 58 current cases” with 33 cases as the highest in one unnamed regional bureau, plus 16 cases in five unidentified cities domestically (3/23 briefing notes six cities).
We think that the fuzziness is intentional. It is very likely that MED (perhaps even Ops) has detailed trackers internal to those offices and could provide a straight-forward breakdown like DOD, if they want to. We’re hearing complaints of “no central info on cases department wide”. As of March 25, based on official briefers, domestic cases went from single digits on 3/23 to 16 domestically; and less than 30 on 3/23 to 58 overseas.

 

@StateDept Official Touts “Robust Health Care System”, Talks BioFire FilmArray For COVID19 Testing at FS Posts

 

Via SSDO Special Briefing, March 24, 2020

QUESTION:  Hi, guys.  Following up a little bit about what Matt was talking about, when it comes to these embassies overseas, I want to clarify something we talked about yesterday.  It sounds to me like, for the moment, these staff members are completely reliant on local healthcare infrastructure for testing and treatment should they get ill.  Is that correct?  And are you planning to stand up any kind of medical capacity at these embassies or is the plan to just try to bring them home and treat them here if we need to?  Thank you.

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL:  Okay.  Well, working overseas for the State Department or for any government agency in a country that may have poor medical resources has been challenging all along.  We have a process in place that generally we try and make sure that people with underlying medical conditions would only go to places where they have local resources that could take care of them.  Obviously COVID presents new challenges.

We do have, like I said earlier, a robust health care system, a medical program.  We have doctors, nurse practitioners, physician assistants, and nurses deployed at almost every mission around the world.  We rely also heavily on local staff that we employ in our health units.  And they’re the frontline.  I mean, they’ll see the patients first, whether it’s COVID, whether it’s anything else, and either provide care directly or to find the best local care available.

In COVID obviously, as health infrastructure overseas breaks down, it’s more of a challenge.  In terms of testing, we have up to now relied on local sources, local – maintain facilities for testing.  I’m not sure if we’ve actually sent back samples to the CDC in Atlanta, but that’s an option as well.  But I heard news today that there’s been approval for a use of a device called BioFire FilmArray, which is an apparatus that we actually have in a number of embassies overseas, so lab testing machines doesn’t require – it requires expertise, but it doesn’t require a special license to use.  And BioFire company just had their approval given for use of – for creation of a cartridge to test for COVID.  So going forward, we anticipate we’ll be able to do a lot more of our own monitoring and testing.  Thank you.

During the briefing, the SSDO said, “ COVID obviously, as health infrastructure overseas breaks down, it’s more of a challenge.”  True, but he did not really answer  the “is the plan to just try to bring them home and treat them here if we need to?” part of the question, did he? 
Also the maker of the BioFire® COVID-19 Test said on its website that it is yet to be submitted for Emergency Use Authorization in the second quarter of 2020, while the BioFire® Respiratory 2.1 Panel us expected to be submitted to the FDA for EUA in the third quarter of 2020:
BioFire® COVID-19 Test

In collaboration with the U.S. Department of Defense, BioFire Defense is developing a fully-automated, sample-to-result assay for the specific detection of SARS-CoV-2, the causative agent of COVID-19. This assay is designed to run on both the BioFire® FilmArray® 2.0 and BioFire® FilmArray® Torch Systems and will deliver results in about an hour. The BioFire COVID-19 Test is being developed on an accelerated timeline, with submission for Emergency Use Authorization (EUA) anticipated in Q2 of 2020.

BioFire® Respiratory 2.1 Panel

In parallel, BioFire Diagnostics is developing new SARS-CoV-2-specific assays for addition to the BioFire® FilmArray® Respiratory 2 (RP2) Panel. This new panel will be named the BioFire® Respiratory 2.1 (RP2.1) Panel and is being developed for both the BioFire® FilmArray 2.0 and BioFire® FilmArray Torch Systems. In addition to the detection of SARS-CoV-2, the BioFire RP2.1 Panel will detect 21 additional respiratory pathogens to help clinicians quickly rule in and rule out other common causes of respiratory illness in about 45 minutes. Development of the BioFire RP2.1 Panel is also occurring on an accelerated timeline, and submission to the FDA for EUA and 510(k) clearance is anticipated in Q3 of 2020.

In the meantime, SSDO also said, “In terms of testing, we have up to now relied on local sources, local – maintain facilities for testing.”
What happens in places where there is no local testing?

Is @StateDept Actively Discouraging US Embassies From Requesting Mandatory Evacuations For Staff? #CentralAsia? #Worldwide?

Updated: March 24, 12:54 am PDT

Updated: March 24, 2020 10:47 pm PDT

Updated March 26, 12:07 am PDT

SSDO Special Briefing, March 24, 2020

QUESTION:  [… ] And then secondly, I’m sure you’ve seen these reports that there are numerous embassies, or at least several embassies, where people are basically clamoring for order departure status, and that they are being discouraged from that.  Can you address that?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL:  Oh, no.  All help is appreciated.  On the second part of your question, Matt, so our embassies overseas have their emergency teams meet regularly to discuss the situation at post, and they have a process and procedure in place where they can really evaluate the transportation system, the healthcare system, and not just the status of COVID in the country.  And when they reach a certain point where they feel like, okay, maybe time to request authorized ordered departure, they submit a request to the undersecretary of management, and those are coming in regularly, and the undersecretary reviews them and then makes decisions on what to approve.  At this point, I think one of the biggest issues is the travel restrictions that countries are instituting around the world.

MODERATOR ONE:  If I could just add on to that, those decisions are made against a robust set of criteria and decisions made based to – based on a consistent set of principles, all which are geared towards maximizing the safety for our employees.

On March 19, we received an email from a post in Central Asia with the subject line: “Abandoned in Central Asia.” We learned that “after weeks of internal debate with Main State” authorized (voluntary) departure was finally approved for their Embassy on March 17. Apparently, last week, the Embassy’s Emergency Action Committee (EAC) also agreed that it was time to go OD”, that is, go on ordered departure, a mandatory evacuation from post except for emergency staffers. Note that the OD was not for suspension of operations.

Ordered Departures: Talking Ambassadors “out of it”

Sender A said that the Embassy’s EAC recommended “OD on Wednesday (March 18)” and then something happened. The South Central Asia (SCA) top bureau official reportedly “talked the AMB out of it.”  As to the rationale for this development, we were told that embassy employees were not informed. 
“We just know that on Sunday [March 15] EACs at two posts said they wanted OD” and by Monday, March 16, the respective chiefs of mission “had refused based on input” from the top bureau official, according to Sender A. 
So curious minds would like to know if these OD requests have actually been refused or if ambassadors were under pressure not to formally request it so the bureau will not have to refuse it in writing? Anyone know?
The frustrated employee writes: U.S. diplomats are now stuck in countries where U.S. citizens are specifically advised not to use local medical facilities and the Embassies only have small medical units for minor issues. Even if they’re needed, there are zero local hospital beds available. Best case, it sounds like multiple OIG complaints waiting to happen. But when did the administration’s image at home become more important than people’s lives? How much Swagger will SecState have when his people start dying?”

A Snapshot on Medical Facilities

We thought we’d checked the information on medical facilities for several countries in the region. For example, Turkmenistan is a Level 3 Reconsider Travel country. The State Department’s Travel Advisory says:
Medical protocols in Turkmenistan are not consistent with U.S. standards and some travelers have been required to undergo medical testing unrelated to COVID-19 including but not limited to HIV testing.  Consider declining any medical procedures including testing unrelated to COVID-19. Due to the possibility of quarantine of unknown length, carry additional supplies of necessary medication in carry-on luggage.”
According to Diplomatic Security’s 2020 Crime and Safety Report on Uzbekistan:
The country’s “health care system is not adequate to meet the needs of many serious emergencies. There is a lack of basic supplies and limited modern equipment. Emergency medicine is very basic. Some medication sold in local pharmacies may be counterfeit. Elderly travelers and those with pre-existing health problems may be at particular risk due to inadequate medical facilities. Most resident U.S. citizens travel to North America or Western Europe for their medical needs.”
Tajikistan’s “inadequate public healthcare infrastructure has given rise to private medical facilities offering varying degrees of quality care in some specialties. Also:
“Medical first responders (ambulance crews) do not meet Western standards, and are not widely available, likely poorly equipped, and often poorly trained.”
On Kyrgyzstan: Medical care is often inadequate in the country.
 “There is a shortage of basic medical supplies. Health care resources are limited and often below U.S. standards. Doctors and medical industry staff rarely speak English, and prices for treatment are not fixed. Use a translator or Russian/Kyrgyz speaking friend or family member to assist with medical treatment. U.S. citizens often travel outside of Kyrgyzstan for medical treatment, including most routine procedures.”
In Kazakhstan, medical care options are limited and well below U.S. standards.
“U.S. citizens often depart Kazakhstan for medical treatment, including many routine procedures. Serious long-term care is not a viable option in Nur-Sultan.”

An Ambassador’s Town Hall Meeting

Last Friday, a U.S. Ambassador at a post in South Central Asia held a town hall for embassy employees; held outdoors on the steps of the Embassy, we were told. 
The U.S. Ambassador, citing what he was told by the top SCA bureau official, informed embassy employees the following (provided to us in direct quotes by Sender A):
  • “Ambassador, you need to understand the United States is the red zone, it is not the safe haven that you think it is.”
  • “The U.S. has the highest number of COVID-19 cases per capita in the world.”
  • “It has not peaked in the United States, incidents are rising rapidly, it is out of control.”
  • “The ability to get a test for COVID-19 even with symptoms or comorbidities is extremely difficult.”
  • “The healthcare infrastructure of the United States is not capable of helping.”
This ambassador reportedly further told embassy employees that “500,000 Americans are overseas seeking assistance for getting home.” And that “We are taking down the American economy to fight this enemy.”

(March 25 Special Briefing with CA PDAS Ian Brownlee: “Our posts around the world have received requests for assistance with getting back to the United States from over 50,000 U.S. citizens and we’re committed to bring home as many Americans as we possibly can.”  Wowow!

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@StateDept Issues Do Not Travel – ‘Immediately Come Home Now’ Advisory – How? By Broomsticks

 

On March 19, the State Department issued a Global Level 4 Do Not Travel Health Advisory. Excerpt below:
The Department of State advises U.S. citizens to avoid all international travel due to the global impact of COVID-19.  In countries where commercial departure options remain available, U.S. citizens who live in the United States should arrange for immediate return to the United States, unless they are prepared to remain abroad for an indefinite period.  U.S. citizens who live abroad should avoid all international travel.  Many countries are experiencing COVID-19 outbreaks and implementing travel restrictions and mandatory quarantines, closing borders, and prohibiting non-citizens from entry with little advance notice.  Airlines have cancelled many international flights and several cruise operators have suspended operations or cancelled trips.  If you choose to travel internationally, your travel plans may be severely disrupted, and you may be forced to remain outside of the United States for an indefinite timeframe.
On March 14, the Department of State authorized the departure of U.S. personnel and family members from any diplomatic or consular post in the world who 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.  These departures may limit the ability of U.S. Embassies and consulates to provide services to U.S. citizens.
Also see our March 15 post, @StateDept Issues Global “Authorized Departure” For Certain USG Personnel and Family Members.
The State Department may not be referencing this event by any specific term, but this is effectively a “remain in country” policy in reality as travel has been severely restricted in many places.
How are people going to get home?
Or is the State Department going to mount a global evacuation for private American citizens from over 270 embassies and consulates?
For USG employees overseas, this technically becomes “shelter in place”. Employees and family members  on voluntary departure orders but caught in border closures may not have flights out. If/When they do get out, they will end up in European hubs with travel restrictions or quarantine policies in place. What happens after they arrive in Paris, or Frankfurt, or London is unknown.  Employees and family members waiting for their posts to get approved for “ordered departures” will be stuck in their host country or some in-between places even if the OD requests are approved. Borders are closed. Flights severely curtailed or suspended.
A week ago, American (AAL), the world’s largest airline and a leader in trans-Atlantic flights, said it would operate many of its European flights through at least March 18 according to a CNN report. Its March 12 announcement, AA says it will “Continue to operate flights to and from Europe for up to seven days to ensure customers and employees can return home.” Seven days later is March 19th.  The State Department’s Level 4 Do Not Travel advisory was announced today, March 19th. Suspended AA flights are not expected to resume until early May.
The COVID-19 outbreak was declared a Public Health Emergency of International Concern on 30 January 2020. It wasn’t until March 11, when the World Health Organization officially declared COVID-19 a pandemic.
Also on March 11, Trump Announces Travel Ban For Travelers From Schengen Area (26 European Countries) Over COVID-19 effective March 13, 2020.
The State Department’s page on “Options During a Pandemic” was reduced to a 2-paragraph snippet in 2018, which indicates the level of priority it assigns to informing Americans what happens to them, and what they can expect from the U.S. Government during a pandemic.

 

Trump Installs U.S. Ambassador to Germany Richard Grenell as Acting Director of National Intelligence #triplehatted

 

@StateDept’s HR Bureau Rebrands as Bureau of Global Talent Management

 

The Director General of the Foreign Service Carol Perez marked the start of her second year as DGHR by announcing the rebranding of the Bureau of Human Resources into the Bureau of Global Talent Management (GTM).

Somebody notes that the name sounds like “a second-rate modeling agency.”

And how do you pronounce the new acronym … “Get’um”? “Git’um”? “Get’m”?

Apparently, DGHR Perez has previously  mentioned during a bureau town hall that the Global Talent Management “better captures the scope and strategic nature” of the  Bureau’s work.  Always great, great when you add the word “strategic” into the fray, makes everything so strategic.  It supposedly also makes two essential features clear — that the bureau is  a global operation, with over 270 posts in over 190 countries around the world, and that the bureau is in “the talent business”, that is, “recruiting, hiring, retaining and cultivating the best people for the mission.”
We were hoping to hear what happens after “cultivating the best people for the mission” but we were disappointed, of course.
She tells her folks: “I know change is never easy, and I don’t expect it to take place overnight. All of the logistics that go into a name change are being executed in-house. This not only saves resources, but also ensures that the effort is led by those who know the bureau best—our own employees. However, it also means that the full roll-out will be gradual. An ALDAC and Department Notice announcing the name change to the wider workforce will go out later this week, but the full transition will be ongoing. I ask for your patience as signage and digital platforms are updated.”
Why is the HR bureau rebranding? The purported reason being “human resources is a critical bureau function, but not the Bureau’s sole function.”  The DGHR says that “the name “Bureau of Human Resources” no longer represents the full scope of our work, and it lags behind current industry standards. This is one small yet symbolic piece of the Department’s larger efforts to modernize.”
Don’t worry, while HR is not the Bureau’s sole function, it remains an integral part of the bureaus work so there will be no/no change in job titles with one exception. Human Resources Officers (HROs) will not/not become Global Talent Officers  (GTOs) and HR Specialists will not/not become Global Talent Specialists. The one exception is the DGHR. Her full title will be Director General of the Foreign Service (DGHR) and now also Director of Global Talent (DGT). 
The full rollout apparently will be gradual and will include updating signage, updating the digital platforms, e-mail signature blocks, and vocabularies.  Folks should be in the lookout for the Strategic (MY.THAT.WORD. AGAIN) Communications Unit (SCU); it will be sending around a checklist, style guide, and templates so everyone can start living loudly under the new brand.
A few bureau offices will also change their names:
HR/REE (Office of Recruitment, Examination, and Employment) will now be known as Talent Acquisition (GTM/TAC).
HR/RMA (Office of Resource Management and Organization Analysis) should now be called  Organization and Talent Analytics (GTM/OTA).
HR/SS  (Office of Shared Services)  will now be known as Talent Services (GTM/TS).
The announcement makes clear that this is not/not a reorganization and there will also be no/no change in core functions!
So they’re changing the bureau’s name and a few offices names, but everything else stays the same. Yay!
The new name is a “symbolic piece” that will make folks think of the department’s “modernization.”
Yay!Yay!
Makes a lot of sense, really. Of all the problems facing the Foreign Service these days, a bureau’s rebranding  should be on top of it. Change is never easy, so go slow, people, make sure the logos, signage and new paint job are done right.

 

Related posts:

Deputy Secretary Stephen E. Biegun’s Ceremonial Swearing-In Ceremony

Secretary of State Michael R. Pompeo officiates the ceremonial swearing-in ceremony for Deputy Secretary of State Stephen E. Biegun, at the U.S. Department of State in Washington, D.C., on January 17, 2020. [State Department photo by Freddie Everett/ Public Domain]

Secretary of State Michael R. Pompeo poses for a photo with Deputy Secretary of State Stephen E. Biegun and his family, at the U.S. Department of State in Washington, D.C., on January 17, 2020. [State Department photo by Freddie Everett/ Public Domain]

hope on the wings of butterflies in the path of a windstorm

 

 

Ex-@StateDept DAS and NSC’s Russia Expert Andrew Peek on Admin Leave Pending Investigation

 

Andrew Peek was part of the Trump Landing Team at the State Department in December 2016 (see Trump Transition: Additional Agency Landing Team Members For @StateDept).
On  December 8, 2017, Foreign Policy reported that Peek, a former U.S. military intelligence officer  and former captain in the U.S. Army Reserve was to become the deputy assistant secretary of state covering Iran and Iraq.
Peek officially became the NEA Deputy Assistant Secretary for Iran and Iraq on December 11, 2017.  He replaced Chris Backemeyer who was deputy assistant secretary for Iran in 2017. Chris Backemeyer currently serves as Deputy Assistant Secretary for Assistance Coordination and Press and Public Diplomacy in the State Department’s Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs. Peek also replaced Joseph Pennington, a career foreign service officer who was deputy assistant secretary for Iraq (2015-18). Joe Pennington is currently the Acting Deputy Chief of Mission at the U.S. Embassy in Ukraine.
Click here for Peek’s official bio per state.gov.
On January 18, Axios and other media outlets report that Peek who had Fiona Hill and Tim Morrison’s job at the NSC since November 2019 has “been placed on administrative leave pending a security-related investigation.” Bloomberg reporter notes that “the top Russia expert on Trump’s National Security Council has left his post, escorted out of the White House on Friday.”