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Secretary Tillerson Travels to Germany For G-20, Also @StateDept Counselor Steps Down

Posted: 12:50 am  ET

 

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson’s first official trip as SecState is to Bonn, Germany from February 15-17 to participate in the G-20 Foreign Ministers’ Meeting.

According to a SAO, Secretary Tillerson will have “a couple of key themes from his meetings will be to reassure everyone of our continued commitment to transatlantic relations and to our commitments – transatlantic commitments in NATO and otherwise, and to urge solidarity with Europeans on Ukraine and on Russia, on the Minsk, and to push Russia to honor its commitments, both in Ukraine and elsewhere.”

He will also have a bilateral meeting with the Saudi foreign minister and a second meeting with a gathering of six of the key players (U.S., UK, the Emiratis, the Saudis, the UN, and the Omanis) to discuss Yemen.

More here.

In related news, career ambassador Kristie Kenney, one of the three remaining top senior officials at the State Department was reportedly let go this week.  Ambassador Kenney was appointed Counselor to the Secretary of State in February 2016 (see Secretary Kerry Appoints Kristie Kenney as State Department Counselor).  We do not as yet know if this is a resignation, or a retirement from the Foreign Service.  With her departure, only one Senate-confirmed official remains at the top ranks of the State Department (Tom Shannon (P)). Career diplomat Bruce Wharton who previously served as Ambassador to Zimbabwe also remains as Acting Under Secretary for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs (R).

Seven of the nine senior State Department positions are now vacant. It looks like all under secretary positions, with the exception of “P” and “R” are vacant with no officials designated in an acting capacity. For the Under Secretary for Management, we understand that one John W. Hutchison, a member of the Trump Transition is “Acting M” for 120 days.

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@USUN Ambassador Nikki Haley: Taking Names and Diplomatic Dustup

Posted: 12:44 am  ET

 

On November 23, then President-elect Donald Trump announced his intent to nominate SC Governor Nikki Haley as his Ambassador to the United Nations (see Trump to Nominate SC Governor Nicki Haley as U.N. Ambassador).  She had her confirmation hearing on January 18 and was confirmed by the Senate in a 96-4 vote on January 24.  The following day, she was sworn into office by Vice President Pence. She made her first appearance before the press as USUN ambassador on January 27 prior to presenting her credentials. She made a huge splash with her opening salvo:  “For those who don’t have our back, we’re taking names – we will make points to respond to that accordingly.”  A short while later, a diplomatic dustup.

This  round-up is a bit late, but we want this up for future reference. It’s not even a month yet, stuff could happen here, there, everywhere …  tonight, tomorrow … heck, there’s “breaking news” every 5 minutes!

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@StateDept Gets Exemption From Trump Federal Hiring Freeze, March Classes Are On

Posted: 2:07 am  ET
Updated: 2:27 pm PT

 

The AP’s Matt Lee reports that the State Department was granted an exemption from the Trump administration’s hiring freeze on most federal employees. It will bring on 175 new diplomats: 70 entry-level diplomats, 80 mid-level specialists and 25 consular fellows, non-foreign service officers who assist visa processing at U.S. embassies and consulates abroad.

The report says that the State Department has been granted an exemption from the Trump hiring freeze. The number only includes a fraction of the projected hires this year for the Foreign Service.  The State Department has projected 615 positions for FY16 which includes 97 new positions and 518 projected total attrition (employees lost to retirement, resignation, death). Total hiring for FY17 is projected at 599 with 98 new positions and 501 projected total attrition.

It looks like this exemption affects only the March classes scheduled to start on March 6 for FS officers,  and March 20 for FS specialists (see @StateDept Sends Out Job Offers to Prospective FSOs For March 6 Class But — Will There Be Jobs?).  Beyond these positions, it appears that the hiring freeze is on, including a halt in the hiring of eligible family members. 

There are classes scheduled for July and September but it appears no invitations have gone out for those classes.  The State Department’s careers.gov says, “We do not yet have information regarding hiring authority for future classes. This is not unusual.”  We anticipate that the OPM plan required after 90 days under the federal hiring freeze executive order will be available by then.

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Tillerson/Priebus Standoff on Ambassadorships, Plus Rumored Names/Posts (Updated)

Posted: 2:03 am  ET
Updated: 2:31 pm PT

 

The following report may explain the slow announcement of ambassador picks under the Trump administration. To-date, only two ambassador’s postings have been announced, China and Israel. The nominee for Israel, David Friedman has a scheduled confirmation hearing this week.   Terry Branstad’s nomination as Ambassador to the People’s Republic of China was sent to the Senate on January 20 but so far, no schedule has been announced by the SFRC. Note that Nikki Haley was previously announced as Trump’s pick for the UN and was confirmed by the Senate on January 24. Her official title is United States Permanent Representative to the United Nations, an ambassador-rank position; it is also a cabinet level position. 

For a list of ambassadorships that may be the cause of the reported standoff between Secretary Tillerson and WH Chief of Staff Priebus, see America’s Cushiest Ambassadorships Will Go Vacant By Inauguration Day.

Via the WSJ:

Senior White House advisers have suggested to cabinet secretaries or nominees that they need to be consulted on all personnel and policy decisions, creating friction between the agencies and the White House officials who have been permanently stationed inside their buildings.

Many of the U.S. ambassadorships remain unfilled, a result of a standoff between Mr. Tillerson and Mr. Priebus, the chief of staff, said people familiar with the process.

Below is a round-up of names floated around as possible picks for ambassadorships to Canada, Austria, Dominican Republic, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Czech Republic, and the UK.

Ex-Senator Scott Brown to New Zealand

Sarah Palin to Canada, to Canada. Or not.

Patrick Park, Sound of Music Fan to Austria?

From Palm Beach — Robin Bernstein to the Dominican Republic? Brian Burns to Ireland?

Major Campaign Donors Lewis Eisenberg to Italy, William Hagerty to Japan?

Woody Johnson to the United Kingdom, but role not official?

Ivana to the Czech Republic, and she’ll get agrément?

Ted Malloch, potential European Union pick attacks the EU?

Miami Marlins owner Jeff Loria to head to France?

GOP activist Georgette Mosbacher to Luxembourg?

Hedge funder Duke Buchan to Spain?

Edwin Feulner, Heritage Foundation founder to South Korea?

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Snapshot: Historical and Projected Foreign Service Attrition

Posted: 3:39 am  ET
Updated: Feb 14, 2:18 pm PT: Notification reportedly went out o/a 9 pm on Feb 13 that the FSO/FSS March classes are on.

 

According to the State Department, Foreign Service (FS) and Civil Service (CS) attrition is categorized as either non-retirements or retirements and as voluntary or involuntary.  Nearly all retirements in the CS are voluntary; however, in the FS, retirements may be either voluntary or involuntary.  Between FY 2016 and FY 2020, the Department projects that close to 5,400 career CS and FS employees will leave the Department due to various types of attrition.

Via state.gov:

Involuntary retirements include those due to reaching the mandatory retirement age of 65, which cannot be waived unless an employee is serving in a Presidential appointment, and those who trigger the “up-or-out” rules in the FS personnel system (e.g., restrictions in the number of years FS employees can remain in one class or below the Senior Foreign Service threshold).

Voluntary non-retirements include resignations, transfers, and deaths.

Involuntary non-retirements consist of terminations, as well as “selection out” of tenured employees and non-tenured decisions for entry level FS employees.

Overall attrition in the FS increased from 485 in FY 2014 to 539 in FY 2015. Most FS attrition is due to retirements. In FY2015, over two thirds of all separations in the FS were retirements. For the FY 2016 to FY 2020 period, the attrition mix is expected to be 81 percent retirements and 19 percent non-retirements.

FS Generalist Attrition in FY2014 is 242; in FY2015 the humber is 279. The number of retirements increased from 169 in FY 2014 to 186 in FY 2015 and the number of non-retirements increased from 73 in FY 2014 to 93 in FY 2015. FS Generalist attrition rates increased only slightly from 3.3 percent in FY 2014 to 3.8 percent in FY 2015. Most of the non-retirements were at the entry-level.

FS Specialist Attrition in FY2014 is 243;  and in FY 2015 the number is 260. The number of retirements decreased from 179 in FY 2014 to 178 in FY 2015 and the number of non- retirements grew from 64 in FY 2014 to 82 in FY 2015. FS Specialist attrition rates increased slightly from 4.7 percent in FY 2014 to 4.8 percent in FY 2015. (Counts exclude conversions within the FS and into the CS. Rates include conversions.)

attrition

|>> Attrition in the FS workforce is projected to average 491 employees per year between FY 2016 and FY 2020, nearly nine percent lower than last year’s projected average annual attrition of 541. This projection represents a two percent decrease per year when compared to the annual average attrition of 500 for the past five years.

|>>As detailed in Tables 11 and 12, the projected average annual attrition over the next five years for FS Generalists is expected to essentially mirror the average annual attrition of the previous five years, 261 vs. 257, and the average for the FS Specialist workforce is expected to decrease by five percent, 230 vs. 243.

|>>The two largest FS Specialist groups – Security Officers and Office Management Specialists – account for over 40 percent of the average annual Specialist attrition. As the attrition trends change, attrition projections will be revised next year to further reflect the changes in separations.

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SFRC Hearing 2/16/17: David Friedman to be U.S. Ambassador to Israel

Posted: 2:51 am  ET

 

We’ve previously posted about the Trump nominee to be the U.S. Ambassador to Israel (see Trump Names David Friedman, Two-State Solution Critic as Next Ambassador to Israel. On Thursday, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee (SFRC) will hold its confirmation hearing on Mr. Friedman’s nomination.

Date: Thursday, February 16, 2017
Time: 10:00 AM
Location: SD-419
Presiding: Senator Corker

Nominee: Mr. David Friedman
Of New York, To Be Ambassador Extraordinary And Plenipotentiary Of The United States Of America To Israel

The prepared testimony and live video will be posted here when available.

The following Certificate of Demonstrated Competence per Foreign Service Act, Section 304(a)(4) requirement was submitted to the SFRC and made available publicly by the State Department:

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POST: State of Israel
CANDIDATE: David M. Friedman

David M. Friedman, a nationally top-ranked attorney, is a founding partner of Kasowitz, Benson, Torres & Friedman of New York, New York, where, since 1994, he has chaired Kasowitz’s Creditors’ Rights and Bankruptcy Practice Group. He frequently represents high-profile clients in large and significant cases, and has published articles and lectured on novel and complex areas of bankruptcy law. Mr. Friedman has played a lead role in negotiating multilateral disputes in some of the nation’s most complex business and financial restructurings. Well known for his excellent public speaking, negotiating and interpersonal skills, Mr. Friedman has been active for decades in U.S. policy as it relates to Israel and the Middle East. He speaks and reads Hebrew and travels to Israel frequently. His skills, knowledge of Israel and the Middle East, language capability and extensive contacts in the region make him well qualified to serve as U.S. Ambassador to Israel.

Previously, Mr. Friedman was a Partner in Mudge Rose Guthrie Alexander & Ferdon, New York, New York (1990-1994), a Partner in Gordon Hurwitz Butowsky, New York, New York (1987-1990), an Associate in Finley Kumble, New York, New York (1986-1997), an Associate in O’Sullivan Graev & Karabell, New York, New York (1985-1986) and an Associate in Finley Kumble, New York, New York (1981-1985).

Mr. Friedman earned a B.A from Columbia University in New York, New York in 1978 and a J.D. from New York University School of Law, in New York, New York in 1981. He is the recipient of the Sir Harold Acton Medal from New York University for endowing the David Friedman Fellowship at the Straus Institute for the Advanced Study of Law & Justice and has received numerous recognitions from Chambers, Lawdragon, Law 360, and other publications for excellence in the legal field.

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If confirmed, Mr. Friedman would succeed Daniel B. Shapiro who was appointed by President Obama and served at the US Embassy in Tel Aviv from  July 2011 to January 2017. Previous appointees to Tel Aviv include Ambassadors Thomas R. Pickering, Bill Harrop, and Martin Indyk.

According to Open Secrets, Mr. Friedman made political contributions to both Democrats and Republicans going back to 1998, with the latter receiving 70% of his donations. The largest contributions occurred in the 2004 cycle (almost split between Democrats and Republicans) and in the 2016 cycle (100% went to Republicans).  He has made modest contributions to five senators, four of whom will be voting on his confirmation (Schumer, Menendez, McCain, McConnell; Reid, retired). To see more, click on the Trump Appointee Giving – David Friedman page by Open Secrets.

Some clips to read:

 

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With Zero Information From @StateDept, Foreign Service Candidates Remain in Limbo

Posted: 2:42 am  ET
Updated: 12:08 pm PT
Updated: Feb 14, 2:18 pm PT: Notification reportedly went out o/a 9 pm on Feb 13 that the FSO/FSS March classes are on.

 

On January 23, we blogged about the State Department sending out job offers for an incoming class of foreign service officers and specialists (see @StateDept Sends Out Job Offers to Prospective FSOs For March 6 Class But — Will There Be Jobs?. On February 1, OPM and OMB issued a joint guidance on the Trump EO on the hiring freeze (see OMB/OPM Issues  Additional Guidance for Federal Civilian Hiring Freeze, Jan 31.2017 (Read).

As of February 9, 2017, the same information provided to applicants on February 2 remains the same:

greencheck

The “greencheck” at the state.gov forum also told the prospective employees:

We have not received updated guidance on how the hiring freeze will impact both the Generalist or Specialist March classes at this time. HR is exploring all options regarding the hiring registers and the March classes. Once a decision is finalized, all candidates affected by the freeze will be notified immediately.

We understand that “State still has provided the hundreds of effected candidates and their families with zero information on whether or not the class will take place or when. At this point, a number of candidates have lost their previous jobs and have had to move out of their homes.” Our correspondent, clearly frustrated, has some very strong words:

“The Department needs to start meeting the expectation of accountability that SECSTATE set on his first day on the job, and SECSTATE and senior leadership need to start enforcing those standards. This story of State’s inability/unwillingness to make decision, adjust to fluid circumstances, and communicate to what it purports to be its most valuable resource–it’s people–needs to be told …The careers forum on the state.gov site have plenty of anaecdotal examples of state’s lack of communication and the human impact this is having on people.”

So, we went and look at the forum once more.

One asked, “I haven’t seen anything definitive yet. It’s sure getting late here. Should I let the movers come box up my stuff?”

Another wrote, “I was scheduled for the March FSS class that is pending. I have already given my notice to my command to leave active duty effective Feb 17th. If this hiring freeze affects new DSS SA candidates then I am out of a job.”

Still another, “If I were sitting on the register right now, life would be great … I could extend my orders for another year and defer, but I already have orders to detach from active duty in 2 weeks thinking I was going to finally get my dream job.”

One wrote, “To think that State would just ignore us is completely negligible on their part, especially spending thousands of dollars on clearances….that would be a complete waste of tax payers dollars!  I am military so I know the routine of hurry up and wait, however it easy when one is getting paid to wait while a descion is made vs no income because you quit your job based on an offer from State … those of us who are “in limbo” any news is better than no news.”

Somebody “annoyed” wrote, “Take your time guys. Seriously don’t rush this decision. It’s not like you’ve had weeks let alone months to sort this out. And it’s not like the class is supposed to start in about three weeks. So really, take your time. All the uncertainty and waiting has been really great. Not stressful at all. A few of us are going to be unemployed, and several without housing in a few days, but hey, it’s cool, we can deal with it. It’ll be like camping. In fact, why don’t you make the decision on March 5, so we can really draw this out and enjoy this experience for as long as possible. “

Forum user using “Current FSO” as handle posted: “Whoever is in charge of making this decision owed the March class an answer weeks ago. That person is derelict in his/her duty to provide correct information. People have to uproot entire lives to go to A-100. Disgraceful.”

Here is a post that should be required reading for the State Department leadership:

If State needs more time to ‘explore options’ at least make the decision to delay the classes and let those who received appointment letters know. The Generalist class should have travel authorizations by now. Hundreds of candidates and their family members made the decision to accept appointment offers based on State’s identification of a 6 March start date. It is time for State to show similar decisiveness and commitment. 

Presidential transition, turnover in Management, etc doesn’t absolve State leadership of this responsibility. If the organization takes this long to make a decision on routine hiring, I shudder to think how it handles something like a medical evacuation or ordered departure. 

Of note, this response is not intended to lambast the ‘green check’ who is pasting State’s pro forma response to these queries. I understand they are only passing the limited information they’ve been told to release. This broader forum is oriented to those interested in seeking employment with the Department of State. A quick review of the threads the last two months paints an unimpressive picture of State’s handling of hiring actions, its ability to make decisions in fluid environments, and its interest in communicating substantive information with those effected by State’s indecision.

This could have been avoided had the State Department thought to include a contingency language in the job offer letters it sent out, it did not.

We learned that the State Department in FY2015 hired 290 foreign service officers, and 259 foreign service specialists. The number  of hires reportedly were “at or near” attrition. There is no publicly released number available for FY2016 (email us) but folks are talking about “hundreds” who received invitations to start training next month.

Update: Regarding the “hundreds” above, we understand that the largest Generalist (FSO) classes have never exceeded 100 as the room only fits about 85. The Specialist (FSS) classes are reportedly almost always much smaller. March classes are also typically the smallest of the year.  A State/HR document we’ve seen projected 615 positions for FY16 which includes 97 new positions and 518 projected total attrition (employees lost to retirement, resignation, death). Total hiring for FY17 is projected at 599 with 98 new positions and 501 projected total attrition. 

According to Federal News Radio, the Defense Department already announced “a sweeping set of exceptions to the governmentwide civilian hiring freeze President Donald Trump imposed on Jan. 23, allowing hiring to resume across broad categories of the workforce ranging from cybersecurity specialists to depot maintenance and shipyard personnel.”   The OMB/OPM guidance appears to carve out an exception for positions necessary to “meet national security (including foreign relations) responsibilities” but so far, the State Department has not made any announcement.

In 2009, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) reported on the challenges that the State Department faced in filling its increasing overseas staffing needs with sufficiently experienced personnel. It also noted that “persistent Foreign Service staffing and experience gaps put diplomatic readiness at risk.”

In the 1990’s, the Foreign Service suffered through a period of hiring below attrition levels. According to Government Executive, from 1994 to 1997, the State Department hired “only enough people to replace half the number it lost to retirement, resignation or death.” That contributed to the staffing and experience gaps in our diplomatic service.  It typically takes about 4 to 5 years for an officer to move through the entry-level grades to a midlevel grade.  To address these gaps, the State Department implemented the “Diplomatic Readiness Initiative,” during Colin Powell’s tenure which resulted in hiring over 1,000 new employees above attrition from 2002 to 2004. However, most of this increase was absorbed by the demand for personnel in Afghanistan and Iraq. In 2009, the State Department started Diplomacy 3.0,  under Hillary Clinton’s tenure, another hiring effort to increase its Foreign Service workforce by 25 percent by 2013. Due to emerging budgetary constraints, State anticipated this goal would not be met until 2023 (see Foreign Service Staffing Gaps, and Oh, Diplomacy 3.0 Hiring Initiative to Conclude in FY2023).

How soon before the State Department will be back in the same pickle?

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Related item:

Presidential Memorandum entitled “Hiring Freeze” January 23, 2017

Related posts:

IRS to Start Certifying Unpaid Taxes of $50K+ in Early 2017 For Revocation/Denial of US Passports

Posted: 1:16 am  ET

 

In December 2015, we reported in this blog  about the “Fixing America’s Surface Transportation Act,” or “FAST Act.” One item included in the FAST Act, which had been signed into law, affects the State Department and the traveling American public. Section 7345 provides for the revocation or denial of U.S. passports to applicants with certain tax delinquencies considered ‘seriously delinquent tax debt’ –that is, a tax liability that has been assessed, which is greater than $50,000 and a notice of lien has been filed. (see New Law Authorizes Revocation or Denial of U.S. Passports to Certain Tax Delinquents).

A recent IRS notice says that the agency has not yet started certifying tax debt to the State Department but that such certifications will begin in early 2017. The website here currently provides information “for informational purposes only” but will be updated to indicate when the process has been implemented. Excerpt:

If you have seriously delinquent tax debt, IRC § 7345 authorizes the IRS to certify that to the State Department. The department generally will not issue or renew a passport to you after receiving certification from the IRS.

Upon receiving certification, the State Department may revoke your passport. If the department decides to revoke it, prior to revocation, the department may limit your passport to return travel to the U.S.

Certification Of Individuals With Seriously Delinquent Tax Debt

Seriously delinquent tax debt is an individual’s unpaid, legally enforceable federal tax debt totaling more than $50,000* (including interest and penalties) for which a:

–Notice of federal tax lien has been filed and all administrative remedies under IRC § 6320 have lapsed or been exhausted or

–Levy has been issued

Some tax debt is not included in determining seriously delinquent tax debt even if it meets the above criteria. It includes tax debt:

–Being paid in a timely manner under  an installment agreement entered into with the IRS

–Being paid in a timely manner under an offer in compromise accepted by the IRS or a settlement agreement entered into with the Justice Department

–For which a collection due process hearing is timely requested in connection with a levy to collect the debt

–For which collection has been suspended because a request for innocent spouse relief under IRC § 6015 has been made

Before denying a passport, the State Department will hold your application for 90 days to allow you to:

–Resolve any erroneous certification issues

–Make full payment of the tax debt

–Enter into a satisfactory payment alternative with the IRS

There is no grace period for resolving the debt before the State Department revokes a passport.

Read more here: https://www.irs.gov/businesses/small-businesses-self-employed/revocation-or-denial-of-passport-in-case-of-certain-unpaid-taxes.

Note that the passport denial for individuals who owe more than $2500 in past-due child support, based on a certification by the responsible State child-support agency to the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) has been challenged and upheld in two cases before Federal courts: Eunique v. Powell, 281 F.3d 940, 2002 (9th Cir. Cal. 2002 – statute does not violate Fifth Amendment freedom to travel internationally); Weinstein v. Albright, 261 F.3d 127; 2001 (2nd Cir. 2001 – statutory and regulatory scheme comports with due process and equal protection).

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Inbox: Another example of top-notch FSI communications strategy?

Posted: 12:57 am  ET

 

We received the following in our inbox on Friday, February 4, 2017:

“Rumor is spreading like wildfire that on Friday afternoon at an administrative staff meeting FSI language school management announced that all language immersion trips planned for this spring would be cancelled. No one has yet bothered to tell the students or teachers who have already purchased non-refundable airline tickets for trips that have been planned and approved by language division supervisors since last year. The cancellations seems to be based on lack of FSI funds to pay per diem to accompanying teachers, but it is not clear whether students will still be permitted to travel on self-directed immersion trips. Some students are frantically trying to get flights and hotels refunded under travel insurance policies, but this is not likely to be a covered circumstance.

Another example of top-notch FSI communications strategy. No one has bothered to tell the affected parties, but half the administrative staff at FSI heard about it.”

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