Swearings-In: Satterfield (Turkey), Landau (Mexico), Blanchard (Slovenia)

 

U.S. Ambassador to Turkey

U.S. Ambassador to Mexico

U.S. Ambassador to Slovenia

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U.S. Embassy Nassau: Aging Facility, Staffing Gaps, Curtailments, Morale Issues, and More in Sunny Bahamas

 

In 2012, State/OIG did an inspection of the US Embassy in Nassau, The Bahamas (see US Embassy Nassau: Where Absence Makes the Heart Not/Not Grow Fonder); State/OIG Nassau Report: What’s taking them so long?
The new inspection dated August 2019 reveals that the aging facility which was supposed to have been replaced in 2016 is still aging. The IG report now says that construction of a new chancery building is scheduled to begin in 2019 and be completed in 2021 on property purchased by the Bureau of Overseas Buildings Operations (OBO).
The State Department announced on February 1, 2019 that it has awarded the Design-Build contract for the new U.S. Embassy in Nassau to Caddell Construction Co., LLC of Montgomery, Alabama. Ennead Architects of New York, New York is the design architect for the project and Integrus Architecture of Spokane, Washington is the architect of record.
The report notes that the embassy had been without a permanent, confirmed ambassador since November 2011, when the incumbent, a political appointee, resigned. Her replacement was never confirmed, and, at the time of the inspection, the current nominee had been awaiting confirmation since 2017.
In May 2017, the WH announced the president’s intent to nominate Doug Manchester to be his ambassador to the Bahamas. His nomination was cleared by the SFRC in the fall of 2017 but failed to make it to the full Senate. His nomination was resubmitted in January 2018 and again in January 2019. The SFRC has held hearings on June 20, 2019. According to congress.gov, this nomination remains pending at the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

 

Below via State/OIG:
  • Embassy Nassau is located in an aging facility originally leased by the Department of State (Department) in 1973 and purchased outright in 1994. Construction of a new chancery building is scheduled to begin in 2019 and be completed in 2021 on property purchased by the Bureau of Overseas Buildings Operations (OBO).
  • A related classified inspection report discusses the embassy’s security program and issues affecting the safety of mission personnel and facilities.
  • At the time of the inspection, the embassy had 143 authorized U.S. staff positions, 2 eligible family members, and 76 locally employed (LE) staff members. The embassy houses 11 different U.S. Government agencies and sub-agencies. Embassy Nassau also provides International Cooperative Administrative Support Services (ICASS)1 administrative and logistical support to U.S. Government agencies on Grand Bahama Island, Great Inagua Island, Andros Island, Great Exuma Island, and in Turks and Caicos.

Yay! Sections

  • The Chargé and, beginning in October 2018, the acting DCM carried out regular reviews of the Consular Section chief’s nonimmigrant visa adjudications, as required by 9 FAM 403.9-2d and 9 FAM 403.10-3d.
  • The Consular Section chief, who arrived in August 2017, demonstrated strong leadership in developing standard operating procedures, mentoring three First- and Second-Tour officers, and preparing for future hurricanes. OIG determined that the embassy’s consular programs generally complied with guidance in 7 FAM, 9 FAM, 7 FAH, applicable statutes, and other Department policies.
  • Embassy Nassau’s American citizen services workload consisted primarily of processing emergency passports. Nassau hosts up to six cruise ships from the United States per day with approximately 3,000 passengers each, the majority of whom are U.S. citizens. Passengers who missed their ships’ return to Florida contributed to the more than 400 emergency passports Embassy Nassau issued in FY 2018.
  • OIG determined that the Chargé and the acting DCM conducted their security responsibilities in accordance with 12 Foreign Affairs Handbook (FAH)-1 H-721[…] Shortly after her arrival, the Chargé reviewed, revised, and reissued all security directives, including one to all personnel under chief of mission authority mandating participation in the weekly checks of the emergency and evacuation radio network. In addition, she emphasized to staff that she expected full participation in the radio checks. Participation rates increased from 20 percent in spring 2018 to almost 90 percent by October of that year.
  • The Chargé successfully oversaw the embassy’s First- and Second-Tour employee development program for five officers and specialists, as directed by 3 FAM 2242.4. Participants commented favorably on the Chargé’s involvement in the program.

Oh, Yow! Sections

Via reactiongifs.com

Lengthy Gaps in Key Leadership Positions Hampered Operations

Embassy Nassau faced significant operational challenges due to lengthy staffing gaps in three key leadership positions: ambassador, DCM, and management officer. The embassy had been without a permanent, confirmed ambassador since November 2011, when the incumbent, a political appointee, resigned. Her replacement was never confirmed, and, at the time of the inspection, the current nominee had been awaiting confirmation since 2017. As a result, three different long-term Chargés have led the embassy since 2011. The current Chargé arrived in March 2018. Additionally, because the embassy’s DCMs have served as Chargé, it has also had a series of acting DCMs. The current acting DCM arrived in June 2016 as the INL Director and assumed the collateral duties of acting DCM in June 2018. As a result, like previous acting DCMs, she shouldered two sets of responsibilities. Finally, due to a series of curtailments in the management officer position, from 2014 to September 2018, the management section had relied on nine temporary duty officers as well as support from the Florida Regional Center.

OIG found that the lack of consistent leadership in the ambassador, DCM, and management officer positions, combined with a series of section heads covering two positions at once for long periods of time, led to serious internal control deficiencies and morale issues, as detailed later in this report. The newly assigned Management Officer arrived in September 2018 and started addressing the embassy’s internal control deficiencies, lack of procedures, and outdated policies. However, the current Front Office structure continued to place undue burdens on both the Chargé and the acting DCM, making it impossible for them to perform all of their required functions.

Internal control deficiencies

During the inspection, OIG identified numerous internal control deficiencies and vulnerabilities in the Management and Information Management Sections. The lengthy staffing gaps in key leadership positions exacerbated many of these issues, particularly those detailed in the Resource Management section of this report.

Management Section operations and oversight suffered as a result of staffing gaps due to two previous curtailments in the management officer position. Since 2014, the embassy had relied on a succession of nine temporary-duty management officers. Additionally, from 2014 to 2018, both the embassy and the management support structure at the Florida Regional Center experienced high turnover of staff.

Embassy Nassau did not have internal controls in place to ensure maintenance and repair charges for its vehicle fleet were properly recorded and monitored, increasing the risk of fraud. OIG’s review of maintenance logs and procurement orders found that in FY 2017 and FY 2018, the embassy spent $244,533 on maintenance and repairs but did not keep records to document that the work was necessary or was actually completed.

INL’s $17.8 million foreign assistance with no formal evaluation

INL has supported Bahamian law enforcement since 1978, including committing $17.8 million in foreign assistance since 2010. […] INL Nassau lacked appropriate metrics to monitor progress for its four law enforcement and judicial assistance projects. Specifically, OIG found that project metrics had not been updated since at least 2014 and were outdated. Furthermore, INL Nassau did not formally evaluate project progress on a quarterly basis, as required by INL guidance.7 INL Nassau told OIG that it informally reported project progress on a quarterly basis but was unaware of the requirement to formally track and monitor project progress against established metrics. Without current metrics for its projects, the embassy cannot measure progress and performance against the embassy’s ICS goals and INL’s strategic planning objectives.

Intranet woes, and WHA the hey?

Embassy Nassau’s intranet network faced critical processing delays and frequent variations in processing speed due to internal IT infrastructure issues. The May 2017 Bureau of Diplomatic Security CSA report also identified this severe network performance deficiency and recommended that the embassy work with the Department and the Regional Information Management Center in Ft. Lauderdale to resolve the issue. In August 2017, a regional center network technician performed a limited service repair to the network infrastructure but did not complete all needed repairs. Embassy staff told OIG that despite repeated embassy requests, WHA had yet to provide the additional Regional Information Management Center technical support to complete the work.

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Asst Secretary For Western Hemisphere Kimberly Breier Quits; Second Loss For Regional Bureaus in 2019

 

 

The Assistant Secretary of State for the Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs (WHA) Kimberly Breier who assumed charge of the bureau on October 15,  2018 has resigned. She was barely 10 months into her tenure (she was with S/P prior to her WHA appointment). The AP reports that she “stepped down earlier this week, although they offered differing reasons for her departure.” Two AP sources say that Breier cited personal reasons for her decision, but that “the two officials suggested it was prompted by differences over a recent migration accord with Guatemala.” A congressional aide told the AP that her departure was “mainly driven by family responsibilities.” The WaPo report includes an item about a clash with White House darling Stephen Miller over Trump’s Guatemala asylum accord.
Secretary Pompeo tweeted that Ms. Breier is “stepping down to spend more time with her family.” [Sorry, gotta LOL here. He really did tweet that]. Ms. Breier also tweeted her “profound thanks” to the president and the secretary of state, and for the “friendship and support” of the president’s daughter and son-in-law.
This resignation follows the departure of EUR’s Assistant Secretary Wess Mitchell who left his post after some 16 months on the job. A/S Mitchell took office in October 2017 and left Foggy Bottom in February 2019 (see EUR’s Wess Mitchell Quits, New Acting EUR A/S Millard Reportedly to Retire 2/22).  That position is currently filled by career diplomat Philip T. Reeker who has been appointed Acting Assistant Secretary of European and Eurasian Affairs since March 18, 2019. As far as we are aware, no nominee for EUR has been announced.
The latest departure means that three of the seven  geographic bureaus within the State Department will have officials appointed in an acting capacity (SCA, EUR, WHA).  Assistant secretaries appointed to EAP and NEA were just confirmed this past June.
So now the next question becomes, who will be the new assistant secretary at WHA? If State follows its normal ladder, career diplomat Julie Chung who assumed position as WHA’s Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary in November 2018 would be the Acting Assistant Secretary until a new nominee is announced and confirmed.  But these days, under the chaos strategy intended to confuse friends and enemies alike, we just don’t really know anymore.

 

Assistant Secretary Breier and Special Representative Abrams Meets With With Fabiana Rosales, Wife of Interim President Guaido
Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs Kimberly Breier and Special Representative for Venezuela Elliott Abrams meet with Fabiana Rosales, wife of Interim President Juan Guaido of Venezuela, and Venezuelan Ambassador to the U.S. Carlos Vecchio at the U.S. Department of State in Washington, D.C., on March 27, 2019. [State Department photo/ Public Domain]


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State/OIG Nassau Report: What’s taking them so long?

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We did ask State/OIG about this because well, somebody was too shy to ask. Below is the response we got that we’re passing on as there were other posts also inspected in 2018:

“The report addressing our inspection of Embassy Nassau is in progress. [W]e anticipate that it will be published this summer. For background, all of our Fall 2018 inspection reports were delayed due to the shutdown.”

 

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U.S. Embassy Honduras Cancels Routine Services For June 3-7 After Protesters Torch Access Gate

 

Protesters in Honduras set the access gate to the U.S. Embassy in Tegucigalpa on fire with tires doused with fuel according to Reuters. The report says that “the protesters chanted “American trash, American trash” outside the embassy, which was not being guarded at the time.”

CNN notes that “the fire was extinguished by mid-afternoon, and a State Department spokesperson later said no embassy personnel were injured in the incident.”

The U.S. Embassy was not being guarded at the time of the protest?

As of 1 am EST, we have not been able to find an official statement from Foggy Bottom. US Embassy Honduras CDA Heide Fulton did release a statement (see below) and announced the suspension of routine consular services for next week due to the fire damage.

Pompeo Announces Departure of All Remaining U.S. Embassy Caracas Diplomats From Venezuela

 

On March 14, Secretary Pompeo announced the “temporary” departure of all remaining US Embassy Caracas diplomats from Venezuela. He also said that “We look forward to resuming our presence once the transition to democracy begins. ”

Two days ago, the State Department reissued its Level 4 Do Not Travel Advisory after the March 11, 2019 announcement of temporary suspension of operations of the U.S. Embassy in Caracas and withdrawal of diplomatic personnel in Venezuela. The advisory cautions American travelers to  “not travel to Venezuela due to crime, civil unrest, poor health infrastructure, and arbitrary arrest and detention.”

Keep the local staffers in your thoughts, personnel withdrawal does not include the local employees. See CDA James Story video here with a message to the people of Venezuela.

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@SecPompeo Announces Withdrawal of All US Personnel From Venezuela, Also Who Needs the Next Curveball?

 

In a most worrisome development, Secretary Pompeo announced the withdrawal of all remaining  personnel from US Embassy Caracas in Venezuela. The announcement cites  the “deteriorating situation” and the staff’s presence becoming “a constraint on U.S. policy” as the reasons for the withdrawal.

When the secretary of state calls his own diplomats’ presence “a constraint” — as in a limitation, a hindrance, an impediment — on U.S. policy specific to a particular country, what does that tell you? That the talking is done? What comes after all talks are done, or in this case, after all tweets were sent?

And when the secretary of state announces the evacuation of all remaining personnel from the embassy, what signal is he sending Maduro? How will Maduro respond? We don’t know about you, but we’re worried; why announce this evacuation prior to it actually happening? What arrangements are being made for private Americans still in Venezuela?

Then there’s this, of course, which shows a willingness to assign blame because it was convenient and easy. This was also the week when #miltaryintervention was briefly trending on Twitter. It looks like that’s about to get loud again.

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Venezuela Special Envoy Elliot Abrams Gets a Protest, and a Grilling in Congress

Posted: 2:45 am EST

 

After thirty or so years, Elliot Abrams is back at the State Department. This time as the Trump Administration’s Special Envoy for Venezuela (see @SecPompeo Appoints Elliott Abrams, Iran-Contra Figure to “Help” Restore Democracy in Venezuela).

On February 13, together with Sandra Oudkirk, the Deputy Assistant Secretary for the Bureau of Energy Resources at the State Department and USAID’s Steve Olive, the Acting Assistant Administrator for the Bureau for Latin America and the Caribbean, Mr. Abrams appeared before the House Foreign Affairs Committee (HFAC) to talk about Venezuela at a Crossroads.

Note that the State Department’s WHA’s Deputy Assistant Secretary in charge of Venezuela did not testify at this hearing.

Protesters interrupted Mr. Abrams testimony, and the grilling he received from Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn) received much commentary. For those too young to remember the old times, see Brown University’s Understanding the Iran-Contra Affairs,  a project developed from its applied ethics and public policy course on Good Government.

It is likely that this is not an isolated incident; that every time Mr. Abrams appear before a committee in Congress, or before the media that his past will never be too far away; he may have been pardoned but he has not been forgotten. Even when he is there to talk about Venezuela, people will ask him questions about Iran-Contra, El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua, human rights, El Mozoteetc. etc. etc.

Which makes one wonder why he was appointed to this job in the first place. Whatever message there is will pale in the presence of the messenger.

On February 14, Cuba accused the U.S. of moving special forces in preparation for a Venezuelan intervention under the pretext of a humanitarian crisis. Reuters reported that that Special Envoy Elliott Abrams was asked about the Cuban statement at an event in Washington, and he said “it is a new lie.”

A side note, with the Senate’s confirmation of William Barr as the next attorney general of the United States — it’s like we’re back to the 80’s.  On December 25, 1992, this was the NYT headline: Bush Pardons 6 in Iran Affair, Aborting a Weinberger Trial; Prosecutor Assails ‘Cover-Up’:

[…]

Besides Mr. Weinberger, the President pardoned Robert C. McFarlane, the former national security adviser, and Elliott Abrams, the former assistant Secretary of State for Central America. Both officials had pleaded guilty to misdemeanor charges of withholding information from Congress about support for the contras.
[…]
But not since President Gerald R. Ford granted clemency to former President Richard M. Nixon for possible crimes in Watergate has a Presidential pardon so pointedly raised the issue of whether the President was trying to shield officials for political purposes. Mr. Walsh invoked Watergate tonight in an interview on the ABC News program “Nightline,” likening today’s pardons to President Richard M. Nixon’s dismissal of the Watergate special prosecutor, Archibald Cox, in 1973. Mr. Walsh said Mr. Bush had “succeeded in a sort of Saturday Night Massacre.”

Democratic lawmakers assailed the decision. Senator George J. Mitchell of Maine, the Democratic leader, called the action a mistake. “It is not as the President stated today a matter of criminalizing policy differences,” he said. “If members of the executive branch lie to the Congress, obstruct justice and otherwise break the law, how can policy differences be fairly and legally resolved in a democracy.”

The main supporters of the pardon were Vice President Quayle, the Senate Republican leader, Bob Dole, and Mr. Gray, one senior Administration official said today. The decision, discussed in private, seemed to coalesce in the last three weeks although Mr. Bush was said to believe that Mr. Weinberger had been unfairly charged ever since the former Reagan Cabinet officer was first indicted in June.

Throughout the deliberations, Mr. Bush consulted with Attorney General William P. Barr and Brent Scowcroft, the national security adviser, who had sat on a Presidential review panel that examined the affair in early 1987.

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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.

U.S. Embassy Haiti Now on Mandatory Evacuation For Diplomatic Family Members Under the Age of 18, “Authorized Departure” Also On

Posted: 1:45 am, EST

 

On February 12, the State Department issued a Level 3: Reconsider Travel for Haiti and announced the mandatory evacuation of family members under the age of 18 of U.S. personnel posted to the U.S. Embassy in Haiti. It also approved the “authorized departure” (voluntary evacuation) of adult family members and non-emergency U.S. personnel.

Travel Advisory: U.S. Embassy Port-au-Prince (February 12, 2019)
Haiti – Level 3: Reconsider Travel

Reconsider travel to Haiti due to crime and civil unrest.

There are currently unpredictable and sporadic demonstrations in Port-au-Prince and elsewhere in Haiti. Due to these demonstrations, on February 12, 2019, the Department of State ordered the departure of family members under the age of 18 of U.S. personnel posted to the U.S. Embassy in Haiti, and approved the authorized departure of adult family members and non-emergency U.S. personnel.

Protests, tire burning, and road blockages are frequent and unpredictable. Violent crime, such as armed robbery, is common. Local police may lack the resources to respond effectively to serious criminal incidents, and emergency response, including ambulance service, is limited or non-existent.

Travelers are sometimes targeted, followed, and violently attacked and robbed shortly after leaving the Port-au-Prince international airport. The U.S. Embassy requires its personnel to use official transportation to and from the airport, and it takes steps to detect surveillance and deter criminal attacks during these transports.

The U.S. government has limited ability to provide emergency services to U.S. citizens in some areas of Haiti. The Embassy discourages its personnel from walking in most neighborhoods. The Embassy prohibits its personnel from:

  • Visiting establishments after dark without secure, on-site parking;
  • Using any kind of public transportation or taxis;
  • Visiting banks and using ATMs;
  • Driving outside of Port-au-Prince at night;
  • Traveling anywhere between 1:00 a.m. and 5:00 a.m.; and
  • Visiting certain parts of the city at any time without prior approval and special security measures in place.

See the full advisory and contact info here.

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