USG #HurricaneDorian Response in The Bahamas

 

 

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US Embassy Nassau: #HurricaneDorian 🌀 Aftermath, @USAID/OFDA, @USCGSoutheast

 

This is a follow-up to our post on August 31, US Embassy Bahamas on ‘Ordered Departure’ For Non-Emergency Staff/Family Members #HurricaneDorian.  The NOAA Hurricane Update of 1100 PM EDT Mon Sep 02 2019 notes that devastating hurricane conditions continue on Grand Bahama Island and that a life-threatening storm surge will raise water levels by as much as 12 to 18 feet above normal tide levels in areas of onshore winds on Grand Bahama Island.

USAID/OFDA announced on Twitter that a team of Caribbean-based disaster experts is in the Bahamas to work w/ national authorities & humanitarian partners to help assess impacts & humanitarian needs.

The US Coast Guard Southeast said that its Coast Guard Air Station Clearwater MH-60 Jayhawk helicopter crews, forward deployed to Andros Island, medevaced 19 people from the Marsh Harbour Clinic to Nassau International Airport on Monday, September 2. 

US Embassy Bahamas on ‘Ordered Departure’ For Non-Emergency Staff/Family Members #HurricaneDorian

 

On August 30, 2019, the State Department issued a Travel Advisory for The Bahamas urging caution due to Hurricane Dorian. It also announced the “ordered departure” of non-emergency personnel and family members from the island on August 29. Embassy Nassau announced on Twitter that the mandatory departure of affected personnel and family members are done via commercial flights and ferries.

Freeport, Grand Bahama – Level 3: Reconsider Travel

Exercise increased caution in Freeport, Grand Bahama due to Hurricane Dorian.

On August 29, The Department of State ordered non-emergency personnel and family members of U.S. government employees to depart Freeport, Grand Bahama in The Bahamas in advance of Hurricane Dorian.

If you decide to travel to The Bahamas:

      • Exercise caution in the area known as “Over the Hill” (south of Shirley Street) and the Fish Fry at Arawak Cay in Nassau, especially at night.
      • Do not answer your door at your hotel/residence unless you know who it is.
      • Do not physically resist any robbery attempt.
      • Enroll in the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP) to receive Alerts and make it easier to locate you in an emergency.
      • Follow the Department of State on Facebook and Twitter.
      • Review the Crime and Safety Report for The Bahamas.
      • U.S. citizens who travel abroad should always have a contingency plan for emergency and medical situations. Review the Traveler’s Checklist.

The Bahamas – Level 2: Exercise Increased Caution

Exercise increased caution in the Bahamas due to crime. Some areas have increased risk. Read the entire Travel Advisory.

Violent crime, such as burglaries, armed robberies, and sexual assault, occurs even during the day and in tourist areas. Although the family islands are not crime-free, the vast majority of crime occurs on New Providence and Grand Bahama islands. U.S. government personnel are not permitted to visit the area known by many visitors as the Sand Trap area in Nassau due to crime. Activities involving commercial recreational watercraft, including water tours, are not consistently regulated. Watercrafts are often not maintained, and many companies do not have safety certifications to operate in The Bahamas. Jet-ski operators have been known to commit sexual assaults against tourists. As a result, U.S. government personnel are not permitted to use jet-ski rentals on New Providence and Paradise Islands.

Read the Safety and Security section on the country information page.

NOAA’s Public Advisory issued at 5PM EDT Sat Aug 31 2019 notes that hurricane conditions are expected in the hurricane warning area across the northwestern Bahamas by Sunday, with tropical storm winds beginning tonight. It also warns of life-threatening storm surge that will raise water levels by as much as 10 to 15 feet above normal tide levels in areas of onshore winds the Abaco Islands and Grand Bahama Island. Near the coast, the surge will be accompanied by large and destructive waves. Further, rainfall may cause life-threatening flash floods.

 

 

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

 

U.S. Ambassador to Turkey

U.S. Ambassador to Mexico

U.S. Ambassador to Slovenia

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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