@StateDept’s Level 4 “Do Not Travel” Countries as of May 6, 2019 (Updated)

Via travel.state.gov:

Updated: May 10, 2019: Note that while Mexico is listed as a “Level 2: Exercised Increased Caution” country, the following five states in Mexico are considered “Level 4: Do Not Travel ” locations:

  • Colima state
  • Guerrero state
  • Michoacán state
  • Sinaloa state
  • Tamaulipas state

We understand that Mexico is the only country that the State Department breaks down this way.

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@StateDept Ups Sri Lanka Travel Advisory After Multiple Easter Sunday Explosions (Updated)

Updated: On April 26, 2019, the Department of State ordered the departure of all school-age family members of U.S. government employees in Kindergarten through 12th grade.  The Department also authorized the voluntary departure of non-emergency U.S. government employees and family members.

On April 21, the State Department increased the Travel Advisory for Sri Lanka to Level 2 (Exercise Increased Caution) after multiple attacks throughout the country. Explosions reportedly occurred at  the Shangri La, Cinnamon Grand and Kingsbury hotels in Colombo and churches in Kochchikade, Katuwapitiya and Batticaloa; the blasts killed 290 people and wounded 500.  Arrests have been made and investigations are ongoing according to media reports.

The Advisory says in part:

Exercise increased caution in Sri Lanka due to terrorism. Terrorist groups continue plotting possible attacks in Sri Lanka. Terrorists may attack with little or no warning, targeting tourist locations, transportation hubs, markets/shopping malls, local government facilities, hotels, clubs, restaurants, places of worship, parks, major sporting and cultural events, educational institutions, airports, and other public areas.

The U.S. Embassy in Colombo also announced that it will be closed to the public on April 22. The American Center in Colombo & all American Spaces will also be closed. Emergency American Citizen Services will be available (see contact number below).  In a statement to the press, the secretary of state confirmed that “several U.S. citizens were among those killed” in Sri Lanka attacks,

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US Embassy Haiti Now on Mandatory Evacuation For All Non-Emergency Staff and Family Members

Posted: 7:06 pm PST
Updated: 8:23 pm PST

 

After about a week of protests in Haiti, the State Department issued a mandatory and voluntary departure orders for some family members of non-emergency staff at the US Embassy in Haiti. See U.S. Embassy Haiti Now on Mandatory Evacuation For Diplomatic Family Members Under the Age of 18, “Authorized Departure” Also On.

On February 14, the US Embassy issued a Security Alert noting about “reports of armed men in the area near U.S. Embassy personnel housing compounds.” Post instructed embassy personnel “to remain indoors.”

We understand that post had requested the full “ordered departure” for non-emergency staff within the last 24 hours.  An official statement on the status of non-emergency personnel in country has now gone out. The mandatory evacuation is for all non-essential staff, and for all family members. As of this writing, the Haiti Travel Advisory is still dated February 12, and has not been updated to reflect the updated “ordered departure” status for non-essential personnel.

Updated: When we look at travel.state.gov again at 8:23 pm PST, the February 14 updated Level 4 Do Not Travel Advisory for Haiti  is up. The Advisory notes the crime and civil unrest in the country, the mandatory evacuation of non-emergency staff and family members, and the U.S. government’s  limited ability to provide emergency services to U.S. citizens in Haiti.

Update: Contact Details For This Blog

Hey folks, we’ve updated our contact info. We’ve deleted the Contactify email for this blog previously but inadvertently left one link on. Apologies for that.  If you’ve sent us anything via Burn Bag and have not seen anything posted, please consider sending it again.

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Many thanks!

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Retired Navy Rear Admiral Edward Masso to be Ambassador to Estonia

Posted: 2:23 am ET
Updated: July 2, 2018
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Update: On May 24, 2018, the White House sent the following withdrawal to the Senate:

WITHDRAWAL SENT TO THE SENATE
Edward Masso, of Virginia, to be Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the United States of America to the Republic of Estonia, which was sent to the Senate on September 5, 2017.

On September 2, President Trump announced his intent to nominate retired Admiral Edward Masso to be Ambassador to Estonia. The WH released the following brief bio:

Admiral Edward Masso to be Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the United States of America to the Republic of Estonia. Mr. Masso is a highly decorated Naval Officer who is the founder and president of Flagship Connection, a consulting company focused on business development, strategic planning, and operations analysis in the areas of missile defense, cyber security, and data analytics. During his distinguished 32-year career in the U.S. Navy, he held nine command assignments, including Commander, Navy Personnel Command/Deputy Chief of Naval Personnel. He has served in NATO and the United States European Command. Mr. Masso is a Senior Fellow at the Potomac Institute for Policy Studies in Cyber Security. He graduated from the University of Mississippi in 1977.

JINSA has a detailed bio of Admiral Masso here.

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D/Secretary Sullivan Touts 500 Additional Comments Submitted to Redesign Portal

Posted: 3:40 am ET
Updated: 3:12 pm PT
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Deputy Secretary John Sullivan held a town hall for State Department employees on August 8, 2017 (see Three Reasons For Sullivan’s Town Hall, Plus Feedback, and Some Re-Design Concerns;  Deputy Secretary Sullivan’s Town Hall With @StateDept Employees Now in Gifs), and  Why Tillerson Not Sullivan Needs the Town Hall: Morale Is Bad, “S” is Accountable.  He recently updated employees with several questions he promised to answer during the town hall.

In a brief message to employees, D/S Sullivan said that “the redesign process is moving ahead on schedule” and that they appreciate the employees participation.  Apparently, before the town hall, the State Department received approximately 300 suggestions/ comments submitted to the online portal dedicated for the redesign. Mr. Sullivan told employees that in the week after the town hall, they had received more than 500 additional submissions to the portal. “Each of those contributions has been reviewed and considered by the teams working on the redesign effort.” He urge employees to “remain engaged” as “we work together to improve this wonderful institution to which you and so many others have given so much over our nation’s history.”

On the Department’s Pathways Programs

D/S Sullivan announced that on August 17, Secretary Tillerson approved conversions to one-year term, part-time Civil Service appointments for Pathways interns who have successfully completed the program, who are within their 120-day conversion period, and have been recommended for conversion by their hiring bureaus.

On LGBT employees/assignments

D/S Sullivan told employees that the Department is “dedicated to ensuring equal treatment for all employees.” He informed employees that the State Department “pro-actively maintain a matrix to assist LGBT colleagues planning assignments overseas.” He also told employees that as of 2017, 97 governments have granted accreditation. “This is 58 percent of reported countries, which is a substantial increase since we started monitoring accreditation in 2011. We have also made significant progress in moving countries off the “No” list into another category that may be short of accreditation but provides employees with additional options.”  

On the Travel Approval Process

He informed employees that “there has been no change to the process for routine international travel and a clarification has already been sent to bureau front offices.” We’ve previously learned that the guidance was issued Monday evening, August 7, that ALL overseas travel “to participate in events” must be approved via action memo to the Secretary himself. It also requested a detailed budget breakdown of the trip and information on other participants. The same guidance was rescinded by Tuesday evening, August 8.

Mandatory Retirement Age to 66

D/S Sullivan notes that the mandatory retirement age is a component of the Foreign Service’s up-or-out system, which was modeled after a similar system in the military. “It is also a recognition of the rigors and stresses of a Foreign Service career, largely spent overseas in often difficult and dangerous places.” He notes further that any change to the mandatory retirement age would require a change to the Foreign Service Act of 1980.  His response also cites the exception to the mandatory retirement at age 65  – if the Secretary of State “determines it to be in the public interest to retain someone for a period not to exceed 5 years beyond the mandatory retirement age.” 

That’s in the books, but we’ve never heard of the secretary of state invoke that exception. In one case we are aware of where an FSO was subject to mandatory retirement and asked how he/she can request that exception, HR reportedly told him/her not to bother.

A reader feedback notes that there were mandatory retirement exceptions granted to some FS specialists, specific to Financial Management Officers.  We were informed that extensions for FMOs seem to happen with regularity although “not everyone asks, and some that ask are politely told ‘don’t bother’.”  Those who were granted limited extensions were given 1-2 years and appears to be “high performers who for one reason or another were FS-1s who did not make SFS and were vital members of the regional bureau budget team.”  

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Whoa! What happened to these Foreign Service Grievance Board (FSGB) files? (Updated)

Posted: 3:26 am ET
Updated: 2:53 pm PT (see below)
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An interesting excerpt from an FSGB case:

Grievant “contends that she should not be held to a higher stand (sic) than senior Department officials and a DCM. In two of those cases, very high-ranking officials were found to have been less than candid with the Deputy Secretary of State about their relationships and not to have followed his instructions to “knock it off.””
[…]
FSGB: “However, we find it difficult to conclude that she should be held to a standard higher than that imposed on two of the Department’s most senior managers (Employees 2005-103 and 2005-104), who were both charged, unlike grievant, with lack of candor; who failed to heed direct instructions from the Deputy Secretary of State; and whose conduct led to several complaints being lodged with the Director General of the Foreign Service, as well as curtailments from the office in which they worked. Likewise, we do not agree that grievant, an FS-02, should be punished more harshly than the employee charged in FSGB Case No. 2003- 045, who was, at least during part of the conduct at issue, a Deputy Chief of Mission and thus presumably senior to grievant in the instant case, in both rank and responsibility.”

That perked our interest. So we went looking for FSGB cases 2005-103, 2005-104 and FSGB Case No.2003- 045 using the search and browse function at fsgb.gov.  And lo, and behold, all these files (Record of Proceeding) are missing from the FSGB website (the FSGB case is online, but search function failed to locate it, see explanation below).  We’ve asked the FSGB what happened to these files and why they are not online. We will update this post if/when we get a response.

The Deputy Secretary of State in 2005 is either Richard Armitage who served from March 26, 2001 to February 22, 2005 or Robert Zoellick who served from February 22, 2005 to July 7, 2006, both under President George W. Bush. The Director General of the Foreign Service at that time is W. Robert Pearson who served from October 7, 2003 – February 27, 2006.

Update 2:53 pm PT

In response to our query, FSGB said that the first two numbers we cited (Employees 2005-103 and 2005-104) are not FSGB numbers but numbers assigned by the State Department to employees who faced some sort of discipline; these discipline cases were later presented to the Foreign Service Grievance Board as comparators.  The FSGB website only includes decisions and orders from the Board. It adds:

“We try to post all our decisions and orders online. Sometimes we learn something was missed due to an administrative error, and then we post it as soon as possible when the problem is brought to our attention. We also are reviewing each year’s cases systematically to ensure there are no gaps. We welcome your bringing to our attention any gaps you identify. Please note, however, that a skipped number does not necessarily mean there is something that we are not posting; it could mean that an appeal was withdrawn very early or consolidated with another appeal and given the other appeal’s number before issuance of a decision.”

As to FSGB Case No. 2003-045, it is online and the Board provided us the link here

 

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Related item:
State-13: Foreign Service Grievance Board Records

 

 

 

@StateDept Updates Policy Guidance on Special Rest and Recuperation (SR&R) Travel

Posted: 12:12 am ET
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On August 10, 2016, the State Department updated its policy guidance on Special Rest and Recuperation (SR&R) for the Foreign Service at State, USAID, Commerce, Agriculture and BBG.  SR&R is discretionary R&R travel authorized by the Under Secretary for Management.  These are additional R&R trips for posts already designated for R&R trips as specified in 3 FAM 3725.2, or for a post that does not normally qualify for an R&R but experiences extraordinary circumstances that warrant a one-time R&R.  Note that due to their immediate proximity to the United States, Mexico border posts are not eligible for SR&R (or R&R) according to the Foreign Affairs Manual.

3 FAM 3727.1 Special Rest and Recuperation (SR&R)
(CT:PER-828; 08-10-2016)
(Uniform State/USAID/Commerce/Agriculture/BBG)
(Applies to Foreign Service Employees only)

a. In extraordinary circumstances, the Under Secretary for Management (M), acting on behalf of the Secretary, may authorize additional R&R trips for posts already designated for R&R trips as specified in 3 FAM 3725.2, or for a post that does not normally qualify for an R&R but experiences extraordinary circumstances that warrant a one-time R&R. This discretionary R&R travel authorized by M is known as Special R&R travel (SR&R).

(1) With the exception of Mexico border posts, any post that is in unaccompanied status or has a combined Post Differential and Danger Pay rate of 35 percent will automatically qualify for one SR&R.

(2) If a post does not automatically qualify for one SR&R or the post automatically qualifies for one SR&R but would like to request additional SR&Rs, that post must seek authorization by having the appropriate regional bureau executive director send a memorandum to the Director of the Office of Allowances (A/OPR/ALS). The memorandum must include a clear justification (in 250 words or less) for any requested SR&R including specific extraordinary conditions of hardship which exist at post. The Director of A/OPR/ALS will convene a nine-member committeewhich shall include one representative from each regional bureau, HR, M/PRI, and Allowancesto review all SR&R requests and send recommendations to M for final approval. In order to recommend an SR&R to M, seven of the nine committee members must vote in favor of the SR&R. A/OPR/ALS will notify all requesting offices of Ms determination and update Special R&R information in the annual bidding tool. One-year Priority Staffing Posts (PSP) and posts with Service Recognition Packages (SRP) fall outside the purview of this process.

(3) Authorization for Special R&R expires annually. Requests for new, multiple, or continuation of Special R&R travel must be resubmitted to regional bureaus by memorandum no later than May 15 each year.

(4) The SR&R qualification process was changed in August 2016. For posts that will lose one or more SR&Rs under the new process, personnel who were serving at or paneled to those posts during the 2016-2017 winter cycle will be grandfathered in under the old system for the length of their tour. This means that those individuals will be awarded the SR&Rs that they would have been given under the system immediately prior to the change in August 2016.

c. The Under Secretary for Management may designate in writing a post for a SR&R where the tour of duty is not traditional. A Special R&R may be warranted because of extreme danger, unaccompanied post status, severely substandard living conditions, extreme isolation, or other unusual conditions. Because of their immediate proximity to the United States, Mexico border posts are not eligible for SR&R (or R&R).

d. Clearances for initiating and terminating a SR&R must be obtained by the requesting regional bureau from other foreign affairs agencies when such agencies have personnel at post. (For USAID, contact the regional bureau AMS staff.)

e. When approval for a SR&R is requested from M, the regional bureau executive director shall recommend whether all employees currently at post or employees arriving at post will be eligible for it. For example, employees on TDY; employees whose departure from post is imminent; or new employees who will not experience the same degree of hardship that current employees have experienced, might be excluded. If M approves the SR&R, the post shall be notified of any such limitations by the regional bureau.

3 FAM 3727.2 Eligibility and Tour of Duty
(CT:PER-828; 08-10-2016)
(Uniform State/USAID/Commerce/Agriculture/BBG)
(Applies to Foreign Service Employees only)

a. The Departments policy for time spent at post for Special R&Rs differs from that of regular R&Rs discussed in 3 FAM 3722, paragraph a. For example, SR&Rs may be authorized for posts with a tour of duty of less than 2 years. In addition, the employee is not required to complete the requirements for the regular R&R in order to be eligible for the Special R&R. For:

Tour of duty of less than 2 years: An employee must be able to complete a minimum of 12 months at post to be eligible for the Special R&R. Generally, a post with a tour of duty of less than 2 years will not be authorized more than one Special R&R.

Tour of duty of 2 years: Employees at posts with 2-year tours of duty (including a split 4-year tour of duty) must be able to complete a minimum of 12 months at post to be eligible for a Special R&R. Generally, no more than two R&R trips (Special and/or regular) will be authorized for posts with a tour of duty of 2 years.

Tour of duty of 3 years: Employees, whose assignments are extended to 3 years at posts that have been granted both Special and regular R&Rs, may receive an additional R&R trip for the extra year of service. Generally, no more than three R&R (Special and regular) trips will be authorized for posts with a tour of duty of 3 years.

b. The Department policy for time spent at post for Special R&Rs differs further in the case of employees serving at certain posts specifically designated by the Director General for home leave after completion of 12 months of continuous service abroad. Employees in such a category should consult applicable service recognition packages and post policies to determine eligibility for R&R travel.

c. The Bureau of Human Resources, Office of Employee Relations, Employee Programs Division, is available for policy guidance.

Read in full:  3 FAM 3720 REST AND RECUPERATION (R&R) TRAVEL (changes are in magenta).

 

Related items:

3 FAH-1 H-3720  | REST AND RECUPERATION (R&R) TRAVEL

3 FAH-1 Exhibit H-3722(1)  Posts and Designated Relief Areas For R&R Travel

 

 

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Email of the Day: The Ultimate Benghazi Conspiracy Theory, Iran-Contra/Watergate Rolled Into One

Posted: 12:25 am EDT
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According to Sid:

“Here’s the ultimate Bengahzi (sic) conspiracy theory that wingers believe: John Brennan, without a presidential finding, at the behest of the Saudis, created a covert CIA operation at the Benghazi consulate to run arms secretly to the Syrian rebels. And the administration covered it up to protect Obama in the election. In other words, a projection of Iran-contra and Watergate rolled into one.”

Click here (PDF) for the email from foia.state.gov.

 

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Twitter Is a Cocktail Party, Not a Press Conference – But What Happened to 3 FAM 4170?

— Domani Spero
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 Updated 12/16/14 at 9:45 pm: We understand from the “R” shop that 3 FAM 4170 is in clearance now and something about “third time’s a charm!” What’s that about?

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The December issue of the Foreign Service Journal includes a Speaking Out piece by FSO Wren Elhai, Twitter Is a Cocktail Party, Not a Press Conference (or, Social Media for Reporting Officers). The author is currently serving in the political-economic section of Consulate General Karachi. Prior to joining the State Department, he worked at the Center for Global Development, a D.C.-based think-tank, as a policy analyst where he also ran the Center’s Twitter and Facebook pages. Excerpt below:

Current Foreign Affairs Manual regulations require any State Department employee posting anything to a social media site that relates to a matter “of official concern” to go through the same clearance process that would govern a media appearance or a published op-ed.

This is a shockingly vague rule, one that I have been told in training covers even posting quotes from official State Department statements or links to articles that support U.S. policy. It is a rule so vague that any diplomat with a Facebook account will confirm that nearly every one of us violates it on a daily basis.

If you think of Twitter as the digital equivalent of a newspaper, then it makes sense to try to maintain control over what diplomats say there. However, if Twitter is a digital cocktail party, that’s an untenable position. No one would even consider asking diplomats to pre-clear everything they say to people they meet at public events—let alone to seek press office clearance before starting a conversation with a potential contact.

We are paid to know U.S. foreign policy, to present and defend our positions, and to not embarrass ourselves when we open our mouths in public. We are trusted to speak tactfully and to know what topics are best discussed in other settings.

Our policy should treat our interactions online and in the real world on an even footing. Yes, there will be rare occasions when diplomats speak undiplomatically and, just as when this happens in the real world, those diplomats should face consequences.

But just as we don’t limit ourselves to talking about the weather at receptions, we should be able to present U.S. policy and engage with contacts online. To meet people, we need to show up for the party.

Read in full via FSJ here.

On the topic of consequences, Sir James Bevan KCMG, UK High Commissioner to India recently gave a speech to a group of journalists that’s related to this, particularly on how one might be a bit boring on Twitter, and for good reasons:

And we diplomats sometimes have to behave a bit differently from you journalists, or at least have to pretend that we do. There are things which you can do and say which we diplomats cannot, lest we provide you with copy that is good for you but bad for us. 

Some of you have said that my Twitter account @HCJamesBevan is a little bit boring. There’s a reason for that: I like my job and I want to keep it. For a diplomat, being too interesting on Twitter is the quickest way to get sacked. I like India and I want to stay here.

 

Back to the article, the author of the FSJ piece has cited 5 FAM 790 Using Social Media (pdf) on his article, the guidance first issued in June 2010. You might, however, want to check out 3 FAM 4172.1-3 (pdf) Review of Materials Prepared in an Employee’s Private Capacity, which includes matters of “official concern.”  It does look like 3 FAM 4170, the regs for Official Clearance of Speaking, Writing, and Teaching (pdf) has not been updated since 2009, but right now, that’s the official rules.

This past June, AFSA told its members that for more than a year it has been negotiating a revision to the current Foreign Affairs Manual regulations governing public speaking and writing (3 FAM 4170).

“As mentioned in our 2013 Annual Report, our focus has been to accommodate the rise of social media and protect the employee’s ability to publish. We have emphasized the importance of a State Department response to clearance requests within a defined period of time (30 days or less). For those items requiring interagency review, our goal is to increase transparency, communication and oversight.  We look forward to finalizing the negotiations on the FAM chapter soon—stay tuned for its release.”

This long awaited update to 3 FAM 4170 has been in draft mode since 2012 (see State Dept to Rewrite Media Engagement Rules for Employees in Wake of Van Buren Affair. Also check out a related piece we did in February 2013 (see Social Media Schizophrenia Continues on Background, and Oh, Stuff That Loophole, Ey?).

Hey, is it true that 3 FAM 4172.1-7  also known as the Peter Van Buren clause is nowhere to be found in the new version?

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Related post: