@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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House GOP Brings Back Holman Rule to “Retrench” Agency Spending, Cut Pay of Any Federal Employee

Posted: 2:59 pm PT

 

Via WaPo:

House Republicans this week reinstated an arcane procedural rule that enables lawmakers to reach deep into the budget and slash the pay of an individual federal worker — down to a $1 — a move that threatens to upend the 130-year-old civil service.

The Holman Rule, named after an Indiana congressman who devised it in 1876, empowers any member of Congress to offer an amendment to an appropriations bill that targets a specific government employee or program.

A majority of the House and the Senate would still have to approve any such amendment, but opponents and supporters agree that it puts agencies and the public on notice that their work is now vulnerable to the whims of elected officials.

Via Federal News Radio:

The House of Representatives voted on party lines and approved the rules package for the 115th Congress. It reinstates the “Holman Rule,” a little-known provision that allows lawmakers to bring an amendment on an appropriations bill to the House floor that may “retrench” agency spending, reduce the number of federal employees in a particular agency or cut the salary or “compensation of any person paid out of the Treasury of the United States.”

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Excerpt from the GOP Rules Package from January 3, 2017:

Holman Rule – A new standing order for the first session of the 115th Congress reinstates the “Holman Rule”, most of which was removed from the standing rules in 1983.  The standing order functions as an exception to clause 2 of rule XXI to allow provisions changing law in certain limited circumstances.  Under this order, a provision in a general appropriation bill or an amendment thereto may contain legislation to retrench expenditures by (1) reducing amounts of money in the bill, (2) reducing the number of salaries of Federal employees, or (3) reducing the compensation of any person paid by the Treasury. To qualify for treatment under this order, an amendment must be offered after the reading of the bill and must comply with all applicable rules of the House, such as germaneness.  The purpose of this provision is to see if the reinstatement of the Holman rule will provide Members with additional tools to reduce spending during consideration of the regular general appropriation bill.

FreedomWorks which praised the inclusion of the “Holman Rule” in the rules package that passed the House of Representatives by a vote of 234 to 193 says:

The provision, which is effective only for the first session of the 115th Congress, allows Members to introduce amendments to appropriations bills on the floor of the lower chamber to reduce the size of a federal agency’s workforce or adjust compensation for certain federal employees, who, according to a 2015 study by the Cato Institute, earn an average of 78 percent more than workers in the private sector.

The group also puts out a backgrounder for the Holman Rule, which we are not acquainted of, until today:

Named after Rep. William Holman (D-Ind.), the “Holman Rule” was first adopted by the House in 1876. Holman, a member of the House Appropriations Committee and a fierce opponent of federal spending, introduced the amendment to reduce extraneous spending. The Holman Rule was part of the House rules from 1876 until 1895. It was adopted again as part of the rules in 1911 and survived intact until 1983, when Democrats, who had the majority in the House, nixed it.

Some House Democrats complained about the reinstatement of the Holman Rule prior to the vote on the rules package, foolishly suggesting that it is an attack on federal workers. “Reinstating the so-called ‘Holman Rule’ would allow any Member of Congress to simply offer an amendment that could reduce the salary of any federal employee, or eliminate a federal employee’s position without hearings, testimony, or due process,” Reps. Don Beyer (D-Va.), Steny Hoyer (D-Md.), Gerry Connolly (D-Va.), John Delaney (D-Md.), and Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.) said in a press release. “[W]ith this rule House Republicans would instead treat these civil servants like political pawns and scapegoats.”

FreedomWorks notes that “the reinstatement of the Holman Rule is temporary, lasting only for the first session of the 115th Congress, or the 2017 legislative year. But its revival is a trial run that could lead to spending cuts for federal agencies that often run roughshod over congressional authority in Article I of the Constitution, as well as achieve the goal of reducing federal spending as the national debt approaches $20 trillion.”

So a “trial run” for this legislative year, but could become normal in the years ahead.  The reinstatement of the Holman Rule was lost in the uproar over the proposed gutting of the Office of Congressional Ethics (OCE). The WaPo report says that as “a concession to Republicans who oppose this rule, leaders designed it to expire in one year unless lawmakers vote to keep it in place.” But the same report quotes House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) saying that “insofar as voters elected Trump with the hope of fundamentally changing the way government works, the Holman Rule gives Congress a chance to do just that.”  

“This is a big rule change inside there that allows people to get at places they hadn’t before,”  McCarthy told reporters.

Note that WaPo says a majority of the House and the Senate would still have to approve any such amendment to an appropriations bill that targets a specific government employee or program, but that this puts agencies and the public on notice that their work is now vulnerable to the whims of elected officials.

So, we’re now all just waiting to see which congressional representative will be the first to throw a tantrum and attempt to get a federal employee’s salary down to $1.00?

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Advice to the Next Secretary of State: Stay Home #Tillerson

Posted: 1:13 am ET

 

Back in 2013, when Secretary Kerry was on his first trip overseas, D.B. Des Roches, an associate professor at the Near East South Asia Institute for Strategic Studies published a commentary about Secretary Kerry’s trip and the current ‘success’ metric.

Most recent secretaries have considered travel to be the measure of their terms. When Hillary Clinton returned to work from hospitalization, her staff gave her a football jersey with “112” on it – reflecting the number of countries she had visited. Republicans retorted that Condoleezza Rice still held the record for most miles logged.
[….]
This focus on secretary of state travel as a measure of dedication, efficiency and competence is dysfunctional. We should decide, as Mr. Kerry’s first trip (to Europe and the Middle East) gets underway, to abandon this harmful metric and evaluate diplomacy in a way that acknowledges its complexity.

Read more: Secretary of State Scorecard: Work Done Not Miles Flown, Please.

The writer made some excellent points, of course, and everybody paid attention.

Secretary Kerry has now traveled to 91 countries, logging in 1,395,606 miles, 588 travel days and 2,995.94 hours of total flight time as of this writing. It’s only a matter of time before somebody will have a compare/contrast infographic of the secretaries of state’s travel records from Kissinger to Kerry.

Recently, Gerald M. Fierstein — who was President Obama’s Ambassador to Yemen from 2010 to 2013 and who worked under Secretary Kerry until his retirement in 2016 — penned a similar piece urging the next secretary of state to well, “stay home.” Ambassador Fierstein also points to a most consequential cost when the secretary of state is often on the road.  Excerpt via Reuters:

As President Barack Obama’s tenure draws to a close, Washington is turning its attention to one of its silliest traditions: toting up the travel statistics of the outgoing secretary of state, as if miles traveled correlated to diplomatic achievement.

In his four years as secretary of state, John Kerry has thus far (he still has six weeks left) traveled over 1.3 million miles and spent 564 days – nearly one-third of his time as Secretary – on the road.  Although this easily surpasses Hillary Clinton’s 956,733 miles and 401 days, Kerry will not be able to match Mrs. Clinton’s record of 112 countries visited.  Alas, Mr. Kerry will only make it to 90 countries during his tenure.
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If this were simply a matter of the secretary undertaking quixotic missions with little to show for them, it would probably not be an issue worthy of much attention.  But there are costs to U.S. foreign policy interests that are imposed by the secretary’s frequent absences from Washington.

When the secretary is on the road, he is not at the table when the president makes decisions that directly affect foreign policy.  Equally, since other senior diplomats are frequently on the road, the State Department often does not have an equal voice with the other Cabinet departments in the National Security Council meetings. The net result is an imbalance between diplomatic options and military or intelligence community preferences.

Read in full below:

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Trump’s Twittersation: Will FSI Soon Teach The Art of the Walk Back?

Posted: 1:10 am ET
Updated: Jan 15, 11:27 am PT

 

If the President-elect continues to tweet after January 20, and every indication says that he will, how does that affect the work of diplomats? How does that impact bilateral and multilateral relationships? This is a whole new different ball game.  Will foreign governments and foreign publics learn to take Trump’s tweets “seriously, but not literally?” And how is the Foreign Service Institute now preparing public affairs officials for overseas assignments? Our officials will soon be tasked with explaining the Trump policies and pronouncements at over 275 missions abroad. Is the school now or will soon be teaching the Art of the Walk Back?  What does the Magic 8 ball look like from your desktop?  We are entertaining predictions in our comment section or contact us here.

Here’s inspiration all the way from Asia —

 

 

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Russia Responds: -35 Not Cold Enough, Will Not Expel Anyone; Trump Praises Putin’s “Great Move”

Posted: 5:53 pm PT

 

Yesterday, the United States PNG’d 35 Russian officials and imposed new sanctions (see USG Declares 35 Russian Officials Persona Non Grata, Imposes New Sanctions). There was also a CNN report that the Anglo American School of Moscow was ordered shut down yesterday. The director of the school released a statement on FB today saying senior Russian officials have refuted the story and that the school is planning to open as scheduled following the holiday break.

Yesterday, MFA Russia said “We will certainly response adequately.”

Today, MFA Russia says “-35 is not cold enough.”  Russia has responded to USG actions by saying that although it has “a right to retaliate” it will not “resort to irresponsible kitchen diplomacy” but will plan “further steps to restore Russian-US relations based on the policies of the Trump Administration.”

It also says it will not expel anyone and invites “all children of US diplomats accredited in Russia to the New Year and Christmas children’s parties in the Kremlin.”

The Russian Consulate in San Francisco where some of the PNG’d officials are located tweets that “It’s so difficult to remain diplomatic… but we will.” It also released a statement on FB on its “very different, very undiplomatic feelings” saying “We hate to have to say goodbye to close to a dozen of our colleagues, our friends.”

Meanwhile, President-elect Trump has responded to Mr. Putin’s decision not to go with a ‘tit for tat’ response with a tweet praising the Russian leader’s “great move” and melted down Twitter:

The parody accounts, of course, are having a field day today and presumably, the next four years.

Da end.

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23 Days to Inauguration: Kerry Delivers Middle East Peace Speech, Netanyahu Looks to Trump

Posted: 5:13 pm PT

 

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Peace Corps OIG: 53% of Rapes Perpetrated on Volunteers Not Reported, See Why

Posted: 2:18 am ET

 

The Inspector General for the Peace Corps released its final evaluation report of the Peace Corps’ Sexual Assault Risk Reduction and Response Program.  The report notes that there were 513 sexual assaults entered into the Peace Corps’ Consolidated Incident Reporting System between September 3, 2013 and September 29, 2015.

In 2014, Volunteers reported 251 sexual assaults and there were 241 sexual assaults in 2015. The assaults in 2015 included 52 rapes, 35 aggravated sexual assaults, and 154 non-aggravated sexual assaults.

The main findings are:

  • The Peace Corps largely complied with the requirements in the Kate Puzey Act.
  • Compared to our SARRR evaluation in 2013, the Peace Corps markedly improved how it supported Volunteers who had reported a sexual assault. However we found individual cases where the Peace Corps did not meet its standard to respond effectively and compassionately to victims of sexual assault, including a few instances of victim blaming and improperly sharing confidential details with staff.
  • Some applicants were either not aware of the crime and risks previous Volunteers had faced in their country of service or they did not understand the information that was provided to them.
  • The SARRR program did not fully utilize some staff with SARRR expertise. The SARRR program would also benefit from a risk reduction strategy that tailors training to the country of service, addresses the risks of sexual harassment, and identifies factors that make sites unsafe.
  • Finally, the SARRR training’s design and delivery may have detracted from Volunteer comprehension and learning.

The Kate Puzey Peace Corps Volunteer Protection Act of 2011 (the Kate Puzey Act) required the Peace Corps to undertake a number of reforms, including providing sexual assault risk reduction and response (SARRR) training for Volunteers, developing a comprehensive SARRR policy, and training overseas staff on that policy. The Act directed the Peace Corps OIG to evaluate the effectiveness and implementation of the training and policy, and to review a statistically significant number of sexual assault cases.

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Stats on Rapes and Sexual Assaults

Peace Corps Volunteers and trainees reported 251 sexual assaults in 2014 and 241 sexual assaults in 2015. The assaults in 2015 included 52 rapes, 35 aggravated sexual assaults, and 154 non-aggravated sexual assaults.  Female Volunteers reported the majority of these sexual assaults (228 cases). Male Volunteers reported 13 sexual assaults including 1 rape, 6 aggravated sexual assaults, and 6 non-aggravated sexual assaults.

Starting in 2014, the Peace Corps began surveying Volunteers at the close of their service regarding crimes they had experienced and not reported to the agency. Survey results indicated that the proportion of Peace Corps victims who did not report one or more rapes or aggravated sexual assaults was similar to the proportion of Peace Corps victims who did not report other crimes: roughly 50 percent of crimes against Volunteers were not reported. This Peace Corps analysis indicated that 53 percent of rapes and 49 percent of aggravated sexual assaults were not reported. It also showed that 85 percent of surveyed respondents who experienced at least one non-aggravated sexual assault had not reported one or more of them to the Peace Corps.

Available Help and Agency Reporting

The evaluation found that the agency had provided contact information for: the Peace Corps Inspector General, a 24-hour sexual assault hotline for Volunteers, the Peace Corps Office of Victim Advocacy, and the Sexual Assault Response Liaison in the Volunteer’s country of service as required by the Act.
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The Kate Puzey Act required the Peace Corps to create a system “for restricted and unrestricted reporting of sexual assault.” Volunteers may file either a “restricted” or a “standard” report, depending on which response services they would like the agency to provide. According to MS 243 Procedures, the restricted reporting option “allows Volunteers to request certain specific services without dissemination of personally identifying information about the Volunteer or the details of the sexual assault beyond those who are directly providing the services, and without automatically triggering an official investigative process.” The agency treats all reports as restricted until the Volunteer decides to choose a standard report, and a Volunteer may elect to convert his or her restricted report to standard at any time.

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Some Volunteers had not learned important information in the sexual assault risk reduction and response sessions, including the difference between restricted and standard reporting, the services available to a victim of a sexual assault, how to report a sexual assault incident, and the identity and role of Sexual Assault Response Liaisons at post. The training was insufficiently tailored to the country of service (as required by the Act), was not responsive to the needs of diverse Volunteers, and did not address the problem of sexual harassment. In addition, some staff delivered the training inconsistently due to poor training skills. Furthermore, the Peace Corps’ approach to assessing the Volunteer training was incomplete and did not provide a useful measure of training effectiveness.
[…]
[T]he agency often accommodated Volunteers’ requests to change sites for safety and security reasons, in some cases Volunteers were separated from the Peace Corps rather than relocated to another site. Volunteers we interviewed felt disenfranchised from the discussions regarding their safety and continued service.[…]We found that staff and Volunteers had a mistaken belief that they were limited to six or fewer counseling sessions after a sexual assault. As a result, some Peace Corps Medical Officers provided incorrect information about the availability of counseling. We concluded that some Volunteer sexual assault survivors could have been deterred from reporting their need for counseling.

Non-Reporting Analysis

The analysis summarized the primary reasons Volunteers had not reported their sexual assaults, which included: embarrassment, self-blame, not perceiving the sexual assault as a crime or serious event, and believing that there was nothing the Peace Corps could do about the assault. For non-aggravated sexual assaults—which were both the most frequently reported type of assault, as well as the most under reported—surveyed Volunteers had not reported them for three main reasons: they did not think the incidents were serious or threatening; they perceived the incident as commonplace in the environment where they served; and they did not believe there was anything the Peace Corps could do to address it.

Other reasons that surveyed Volunteers said they had not reported their sexual assaults included concerns about how Peace Corps staff might respond, such as blaming the victim for their assault, failing to respect the victim’s privacy and confidentiality, or simply not responding to the victim in a timely and supportive manner. Volunteers also indicated in their survey responses that they had not reported a sexual assault because they anticipated adverse consequences, such as being required to change their site, sent home, or punished for having violated a Peace Corps policy. These concerns were significantly more pronounced for rape victims and aggravated sexual assault victims than for non-aggravated sexual assault victims.

Among surveyed Volunteers who had not reported their assaults to the Peace Corps because they were concerned about how staff would respond to them or the potential adverse consequences of reporting, a relatively high percentage had served at a small number of posts. Two of the 54 posts in the survey constituted almost 25 percent of the Volunteers who did not report their assaults because of these concerns. Nine posts represented nearly 50 percent of the Volunteers who had not reported an assault for similar reasons.

 

The PC/OIG review includes interviews with 127 staff, 72 Volunteers, visits to 6 countries, and review of 138 sexual assault cases.  The report also includes 36 recommendations for the Peace Corps.

The report is a crucial reference as the State Department task force works on FAM guidance for sexual assault in the Foreign Service. NSVRC also notes that supporting survivors means assisting them with financial burdens as well as physical & emotional ones. Read here: 

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The Case For [INSERT NAME] as the Next Secretary of State #helpwithdazzleandwow

Posted: 1:38  pm ET

 

Alright, alright, alright. Here is a bonus clip of Mr. Rohrabacher who potentially could end up in Foggy Bottom in one shape or form, calling human rights abuses in Russia “baloney” and “absolutely” comparing Gorbachev to Putin. Vlad is smiling, you guys.

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More on Trump’s Taiwan Call Plus Video Clips From Secretary of State Candidates #suspense

Posted: 2:07 am ET

 

A view from Taiwan, a Trump-Tsai Ing-wen tag team, watch:

Now for the auditions, with some exciting clips below:

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69th Secretary of State Race: New Names Include Stavridis, Huntsman, Tillerson, Manchin #dazzle&wow

Posted: 12:58 ET

 

In addition to the new names floated today, Politico is reporting that “whoever ultimately gets the top job at the State Department, multiple Trump transition sources said former United Nations ambassador John Bolton is widely expected to be offered a chance to be slotted in as one of the secretary’s top deputies, if not as the No. 2.”  Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, R-Calif., is reportedly also likely to be offered a lower post in the State Department, according to unnamed Politico sources.  Also as has been reported previously, Giuliani has told the Trump team directly that he isn’t interested in any other job than secretary of state.  As of this writing, Predictit still has Romney leading the pack, followed by Huntsman, Giuliani, Corker, Bolton, Petraeus, Rohrabacher, Tillerson and Manchin.

Howaboutthisguy? He razzle dazzle, hey? This is pretty doable for the 8th Floor, right?

The Funnies, not funnies over on Twitter: