@StateDept’s Pompeo Muscle Desperately Throws Kitchen Sink at Ousted IG Steve Linick

Since the U.S. Senate majority doesn’t take anything seriously these days, State/OIG Steve Linick will officially be terminated on June 15, 30 days after Trump sent his congressional notification. And yet, on June 8th, the Undersecretary for Management Brian Bulatao fired two letters – one to Linick’s lawyers, and another to the Council of the Inspectors General on Integrity and Efficiency ( CIGIE) asking for an investigation into the conduct of the soon to be former inspector general. As a CNN reporter pointed out, the State Department could have requested the CIGIE investigation at any point before Pompeo asked Trump to fire Linick. It did not. The State Department is asking for it now, the week that Linick officially leaves his job.
Why?
It looks like the State Department is throwing the kitchen sink full of dirty dishes at IG Linick, hoping one of those dirty dishes would hit him on his way out. We’re just waiting for one of these champions of diplomacy to turn around and say from the podium, “see, that dirt on his shirt? That’s the reason no one should pay attention to whatever he was investigating before he was fired.”
Apparently, faulting Linick for not promoting Pompeo’s professional ethos statement did not quite do the trick. So the 7th floor folks, they’re hoping this one would work, ey? Has somebody there already created a PowerPoint presentation on “How to be an Agile  Champion of Diplomacy Watchdog and Just Cover Your Eyes?”
We’d like to see that, please.
Meanwhile, the U.S. Senate yawns and scratches its bum. During his tenure as State Department watchdog, Linick has probably alienated enough Democrats in Congress during the email mess, and alienated enough Republicans in Congress during the Ukraine mess. So, that’s that.
Unfortunately, in the constant breaking news cycle we are currently living, the world will move on in short order. Media folks will report on other outrages, big and small that occurs on a daily basis.  Our country’s march towards a full blown banana republic continue. Still. We won’t forget that Mr. Linick was fired for doing his job. We’d take his word over any character from this 7th Floor of the Foggiest Bottom.

The Bulatao- CIGIE letter is here: https://www.scribd.com/document/465038049/CIGIELetter-June82020

The Bulatao-Linick’s lawyer letter is here: https://www.scribd.com/document/465025243/Bulatao-Linick

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So That’s Why @StateOIG Steve Linick Was Fired Urgently Under Cover of Darkness

 

State IG Steve Linick appeared before HFAC on June 3rd. You can read his prepared statement in the link below. There is also a summary of his congressional interview today. We understand that a transcript will be made available publicly at some point.
Politico reports:

“Linick also confirmed to lawmakers that he was investigating Pompeo and his wife for “allegations of misuse of government resources.” Linick revealed that he had sought documents from Pompeo’s executive secretary, Lisa Kenna, and discussed the probe with Bulatao and another senior State Department official, Stephen Biegun, to ensure that Pompeo’s inner circle “would not be surprised.” Pompeo later told The Washington Post that he was unaware of the investigation.”

The panel plans to seek interviews with the following current and former State Department officials. Dear HFAC, please have public hearings so we can see them earn points in their professional ethos scorecards.
Related:

 

More related posts:

 

@StateDept Officials Reportedly Wary of Acting IG Akard Who Also Reports to Pompeo BFF Bulatao

 

On May 30, CNN tweeted that “the ousted State Inspector General Steve Linick is expected to sit down for a transcribed interview on Wednesday, June 3rd,  with lawmakers who are probing his firing earlier this month, according to two congressional aides familiar with the inquiry and scheduling.”
Steve Linick’s removal was effective in “30 days.” But Linick has since been told apparently that “he is physically barred from returning to the State Department even to collect his belongings, complicating his ability to finish his work.”
Meanwhile, over in the Foggiest Bottom, the Acting State/IG Stephen Akard (who is reportedly keeping his other day job as @OFM_Ambassador) has assumed charged of the IG office the Monday following Linick’s Friday night firing.
Politico’s Nahal Toosi  is reporting about the reactions from State Department officials, and there are all sorts of worries:
    • “State Department officials are increasingly uneasy with their new acting inspector general, fearing he has conflicts of interest that could lead him to derail ongoing investigations — including ones into Secretary of State Mike Pompeo — while endangering cooperating witnesses.”
    • “Some State Department staffers fear Akard will try to rescind, or otherwise undermine, past investigations conducted by his ousted predecessor, Steve Linick.”
    • “Others worry that the presence of Akard, who also has ties to Vice President Mike Pence, will scare off employees who wish to report waste, fraud and abuse.”
    • “Meanwhile, State Department employees who were interviewed for ongoing and past investigations – often under conditions of anonymity – are worried that Akard will track down their identities and share them with Pompeo and others. They fear they will be targeted for professional retribution as a result.”
    • “Another State Department staffer predicted that colleagues will shy away from reporting future cases of wrongdoing at the department because of Akard.”
Concerns from Capitol Hill:

“There also are concerns on Capitol Hill and beyond that Akard will seek ways to undermine Linick’s past, completed investigations that may have upset Pompeo and some of his top aides.”

Now, this part of Politico’s reporting should be a red flag. If true that this was Akards defense when asked about a potential conflict of interest, this is a bad sign:

“When asked about these potential conflicts of interest, Akard has offered a “head-scratching” take, a person familiar with the situation told POLITICO. Akard has said that, in reality, Bulatao is not his supervisor, but that his actual boss is Trump, because it’s the president who technically nominated him to serve as the head of OFM.”

OFM’s Stephen Akard reports to Under Secretary for Management Brian Bulatao. Period.

“As the head of the Office of Foreign Missions, Akard reports to Bulatao. As the undersecretary of State for management, Bulatao also oversees several other major divisions within the State Department, such as the Bureau of Diplomatic Security and the Bureau of Consular Affairs.

If any of those other units falls under investigation by the inspector general’s office, some State Department officials argue, Akard can’t reasonably expect to play a role in the probe because he also reports to Bulatao. Bulatao is a longtime personal friend and former business partner of Pompeo’s.

His new staff have asked him what he will do if instructed by Pompeo or others not to investigate something. His response was that unless there was a very good reason, he would say that such an instruction was inappropriate. Akard also has acknowledged that he may have to recuse himself from certain matters.”

What does Pompeo want? A pet in his pocket?
    • But the fact that the chief U.S. diplomat has been so public about what he views as the proper role of an inspector general worries staffers who fear Akard will internalize the message.
    • In a Thursday interview with Fox News, Pompeo indirectly made it clear what he would like to see in an inspector general when he hinted that Linick was too independent.
    • “He was acting in a way that was deeply inconsistent with what the State Department was trying to do,” Pompeo said of Linick. “We tried to get him to be part of a team that was going to help protect his own officers from Covid-19; he refused to be an active participant. He was investigating policies he simply didn’t like. That’s not the role of an inspector general … This was about an IG who was attempting to undermine the mission of the United States Department of State. That’s unacceptable.”
Watch Pompeo’s actions not the blah, blah, blahs!
    • “One of the political appointees singled out for criticism by Linick was Kevin Moley, the head of the bureau. Even though some of Pompeo’s top aides acknowledged many of the problems described in Linick’s report, they claimed the secretary of State had no power to fire Moley because he was a presidential appointee. Instead, Moley was allowed to quietly retire several weeks later.
    • “(The State Department has never responded to questions from POLITICO about whether Pompeo had ever asked Trump to fire Moley. He did do so for Linick, who also was a presidential appointee.)”
The fact that Pompeo asked Trump to fire Linick but offered no actions following the IG reports on staff mistreatments says something about his organizational view of Foggy Bottom. There is an in-group and an out-group in Foggy Bottom’s universe, and only the in-group really matters.
You folks notice that Pompeo is really doing a nasty number on Linick? Not just recommending to Trump that Linick be fired, but throwing rocks and mud at Linick on his way out.  It really makes one wonder what kind of issues Linick was digging up as Foggy Bottom’s junkyard dog.
Linick was fired at a carefully selected time, then reportedly barred from returning to his office even if the firing did not become official for 30 more days. Pompeo quipped that he “should have done it some time ago,”  So why was it not done some time ago?
Why did it become so urgent, they had to fire him under cover of darkness on a Friday night on May 15th?
Then they apparently barred him from returning to his office, not even affording  a dedicated public servant the courtesy of allowing him to pack up his personal things, say goodbye to his colleagues, or have an orderly transition.
Then the Acting IG, double hatted as @OFM_Ambassadorshowed up at his new office the following business day to make everyone happy.
State OIG has a Deputy IG Diana R. Shaw.  Why was she not picked as Acting IG?  Questions, so many questions. If you got answers, we’re interested in listening.

 

Foreign Service Posts Evacuation Tracker: Authorized and Ordered Departures, Post Closures (as of 4/15/20)

Updated/1:35 pm PDT

Authorized departure is an evacuation procedure, short of ordered departure, by which post employees and/or eligible family members are permitted to leave post in advance of normal rotation when U.S. national interests or imminent threat to life requires it. Authorized departure is voluntary, requested by the chief of mission (COM) and approved by the Under Secretary for Management (M). The incumbent to this office is Brian Bulatao.
Ordered departure is an evacuation procedure by which the number of U.S. government employees, eligible family members, or both, at a Foreign Service post is reduced. Ordered departure is mandatory and may be initiated by the chief of mission or the Secretary of State
Posts with very few exceptions, report to their regional or geographic bureaus headed respectively by an Assistant Secretary, a Senate confirmed position. Four of the seven regional bureaus at State are headed by officials in their acting capacity (EUR, SCA, WHA, IO).  
We’ve heard from one post in Africa where COM was apparently told by a senior State Department official that non-emergency personnel should leave with the authorized departure flight or be involuntarily curtailed from post.
Can you still  call a voluntary evacuation voluntary if non-emergency personnel are under threat of curtailments if they don’t go? Is this unique to this one post or is the arm twisting more widespread within AF posts or other bureaus.
Another post in Africa told us that its COM has raised the possibility of involuntary curtailment if folks don’t want to depart on AD but that this was COM’s idea not Washington’s. One source explained that  from a post perspective, you do not want to go on OD because  “you lose control.”  This is probably a limited perspective based on the circumstances of specific posts. Or is it?
What about from the mothership’s perspective? To OD post or not to OD? Why, or why not?
We were told that the “challenge” with “ordered departures” is that Washington is “involved in micromanaging” the termination of the OD but also with the staffing/movement of personnel. Every time post permits anyone to return to post for any reason, the mothership has to review it. Our source told us that the amount of time to review every tweak and revision of staffing would probably be considerable even if just half the posts worldwide are on OD.
We note that per 3 FAM 3774 “official travel to a post or country where an authorized or ordered departure is in effect is prohibited without the formal approval of the Under Secretary for Management (M) following approval of a post policy that clearly describes appropriate restrictions and limits exceptions, in accordance with the procedures described under Waivers of Travel Prohibitions (3 FAM 3776).” Excerpt:

b. In limited circumstances, M may delegate to the COM the authority to approve travel to and from a post under authorized departure (including travel related to rest and recuperation (R&R), home leave, annual leave, etc.) for permanently assigned employees, family members, and MOHs who do not elect authorized departure status.  M also may delegate to the COM, in limited circumstances, the authority to approve travel to post for employees who were away from post when ordered departure was approved.

c.  In situations in which the Under Secretary for Management (M) has not delegated authority to the COM, waiver requests will be forwarded to the regional bureau executive director for review and a recommendation for approval or denial.  If approved in principle by the regional bureau, the request will be forwarded to the Bureau of Diplomatic Security (DS) for clearance and returned to the regional bureau executive director for submission to M.  To provide time for the review and approval/denial process, travelers must allow a minimum of 20 working days following submission of requests to the Department for all but the most urgent medical or casualty-related travel.  Given changing conditions in these locations, requests should not be submitted to the Department more than 35 days prior to the proposed departure date.

d. For posts where operations have been suspended or countries where the United States is engaged in contingency operations: Requests for a waiver of the prohibition on official and personal travel to a post or country where operations have been suspended or countries where the United States is engaged in contingency operations must be approved by the Under Secretary for Management, who may waive the prohibition in unusual or compelling circumstances.  The request must be made initially to the regional bureau executive director for review and a recommendation for approval or denial.  If approved in principle by the regional bureau, the request will be forwarded to the Bureau of Diplomatic Security (DS) for clearance and returned to the regional bureau executive director for submission to M.  To provide time for the review and approval/denial process, travelers must allow a minimum of 20 working days following submission of requests to the Department for all but the most urgent medical or casualty-related travel.  Given changing conditions in these locations, requests should not be submitted to the Department more than 35 days prior to the proposed departure date.  Approvals for such travel can be revoked at any time by M and M can impose conditions on the traveler’s length of stay, whereabouts, and/or activities in country.  The traveler must explain in detail where he/she will reside during his/her stay; unless approved by the Under Secretary for Management, no employee, family member, or member of household may reside in State Department leased or owned facilities while operations are suspended.

Anyhow, if you have further thoughts on this, drop us a line. Below is a revised evacuation tracker, no additional AD/OD posts since March 28 but we’ve now added the two post closures, the Consulates General in Wuhan and Vladivostok. Note updated date of post closure for Wuhan.  We could not locate an announcement of post closure except as part of an update on the China Travel Advisory dated February 19, which may not be the actual date when USCG Wuhan was officially closed.
Also, please note that the term “non-essential” personnel has been generally replaced with the term “non-emergency” personnel. However, we still occasionally see this term used in official releases from overseas posts. Also as late as 2018, the Foreign Affairs Manual in its danger pay section still makes references to “non-essential” personnel.

@StateDept Issues Do Not Travel – ‘Immediately Come Home Now’ Advisory – How? By Broomsticks

 

On March 19, the State Department issued a Global Level 4 Do Not Travel Health Advisory. Excerpt below:
The Department of State advises U.S. citizens to avoid all international travel due to the global impact of COVID-19.  In countries where commercial departure options remain available, U.S. citizens who live in the United States should arrange for immediate return to the United States, unless they are prepared to remain abroad for an indefinite period.  U.S. citizens who live abroad should avoid all international travel.  Many countries are experiencing COVID-19 outbreaks and implementing travel restrictions and mandatory quarantines, closing borders, and prohibiting non-citizens from entry with little advance notice.  Airlines have cancelled many international flights and several cruise operators have suspended operations or cancelled trips.  If you choose to travel internationally, your travel plans may be severely disrupted, and you may be forced to remain outside of the United States for an indefinite timeframe.
On March 14, the Department of State authorized the departure of U.S. personnel and family members from any diplomatic or consular post in the world who have determined they are at higher risk of a poor outcome if exposed to COVID-19 or who have requested departure based on a commensurate justification.  These departures may limit the ability of U.S. Embassies and consulates to provide services to U.S. citizens.
Also see our March 15 post, @StateDept Issues Global “Authorized Departure” For Certain USG Personnel and Family Members.
The State Department may not be referencing this event by any specific term, but this is effectively a “remain in country” policy in reality as travel has been severely restricted in many places.
How are people going to get home?
Or is the State Department going to mount a global evacuation for private American citizens from over 270 embassies and consulates?
For USG employees overseas, this technically becomes “shelter in place”. Employees and family members  on voluntary departure orders but caught in border closures may not have flights out. If/When they do get out, they will end up in European hubs with travel restrictions or quarantine policies in place. What happens after they arrive in Paris, or Frankfurt, or London is unknown.  Employees and family members waiting for their posts to get approved for “ordered departures” will be stuck in their host country or some in-between places even if the OD requests are approved. Borders are closed. Flights severely curtailed or suspended.
A week ago, American (AAL), the world’s largest airline and a leader in trans-Atlantic flights, said it would operate many of its European flights through at least March 18 according to a CNN report. Its March 12 announcement, AA says it will “Continue to operate flights to and from Europe for up to seven days to ensure customers and employees can return home.” Seven days later is March 19th.  The State Department’s Level 4 Do Not Travel advisory was announced today, March 19th. Suspended AA flights are not expected to resume until early May.
The COVID-19 outbreak was declared a Public Health Emergency of International Concern on 30 January 2020. It wasn’t until March 11, when the World Health Organization officially declared COVID-19 a pandemic.
Also on March 11, Trump Announces Travel Ban For Travelers From Schengen Area (26 European Countries) Over COVID-19 effective March 13, 2020.
The State Department’s page on “Options During a Pandemic” was reduced to a 2-paragraph snippet in 2018, which indicates the level of priority it assigns to informing Americans what happens to them, and what they can expect from the U.S. Government during a pandemic.

 

State/M Bulatao COVID-19 Updates: 60-Day AD, 60-Day Official Travel Restrictions, Voluntary-No Fault Curtailments

On Monday, March 16, the State Department’s Under Secretary for Management Brian Bulatao released a “Dear Colleagues” memo to employees outlining “several measures that will allow us to improve the safety of our team members – working, traveling, and posted abroad.” 

60-Day Authorized Departure

Bulatao notified employees about guidance published last Saturday authorizing departure from post for employees or EFMs who, after confidential consultation with MED, have determined they are at higher risk of a poor outcome if exposed to COVID-19, or who have requested departure based on a commensurate justification. (See @StateDept Issues Global “Authorized Departure” For Certain USG Personnel and Family Members).
So “all risk factors can be properly considered”, employees and family members are told to “first consult with their medical units at post.” Bulatao’s memo notes that “authorized departure is always a temporary measure. In this case, authorized departure will be limited to 60 days. This 60-day period is intended to give you time to assess your next steps and seek further medical advice as needed in helping inform your decision about whether you will return to post, curtail your assignment, or make other arrangements for your family members.”

Voluntary-No Fault Curtailment For 30 Countries

Bulatao also announced that all State Department employees serving in affected posts are now provided the ability to seek “voluntary, no fault curtailment” ; that is, shorten their tours of duty. Posts include any under CDC Travel Health Notice Warning Level 3 or under State Department Level 4 Travel Advisory for Health, due to COVID-19. Note that 14 out of 15 countries currently on State Department Level 4 Threat Advisory are on that level not for COVID-19 but due to crime, terrorism, civil unrest, kidnapping, or armed conflict. Only exception, as of this writing is China (see China Travel Advisory) which is for COVID-19.  
Italy and South Korea, with large confirmed COVID-19 cases are not Level 4 countries per State Department advisory, however, they are considered Level 3 by the CDC, as well as Iran, UK and Ireland, and all 26 countries in the Schengen Area.  So that’s 30 countries in all where State Department employees may seek “voluntary, no fault curtailment” at this time. Read more about curtailments here: https://fam.state.gov/fam/03fam/03fam2440.html

CDC  countries that have a Level 3 Travel Health Notice (widespread, ongoing transmission):

    • China
    • Iran
    • South Korea
    • Europe (Schengen Area): Austria, Belgium, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Italy, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Monaco, San Marino, Vatican City
    • United Kingdom and Ireland: England, Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland, Republic of Ireland
Per State/M’s guidance “Employees may choose to seek a voluntary curtailment instead of seeking to depart under authorized departure. We’ve done this to allow all employees the ability to depart areas with high rates of community transmission, limited transportation routes, and/or vulnerable medical systems, if those employees deem such departure appropriate for their individual circumstance.”

60-Day Official Travel Prohibition

Bulalato’s memo says that “for a period of 60 days, Department employees and personnel under Chief of Mission authority are prohibited from conducting official travel to countries designated with a Level 3 Warning by the CDC.” The Bulatao memo does not address family members but referenced similar guidelines imposed by DOD for military and civilian personnel and family members.
There are exceptions:  “Exceptions need to be granted by the Under Secretary for Management.   Approval is also necessary before employees or personnel under COM authority engage in official travel to countries with a Department of State Level 4 Travel Advisory for Health. These travel guidelines are designed to help limit exposure to COVID-19 to preserve the health and welfare of our teams, families, and communities. On Saturday, the White House also asked all federal employees to reconsider non-mission critical travel, to all locations, at this time.” 

DOD Comm During Pandemic

DOD says “All DoD uniformed personnel, civilian personnel and family members traveling to, from or through CDC Level 3 locations will stop movement for the next 60 days. As stated in the travel restriction guidance, exceptions may be granted for compelling cases where the travel is: (1) determined to be mission essential; (2) necessary for humanitarian reasons; or (3) warranted due to extreme hardship.”
(see DOD FAQ on Travel Restrictions issued on March 13, 2020) which is an extensive 4-page including relocation, families, hiring freeze).
We have so far, not been able to see anything similar from the State Department.  Can somebody please tell M that these guidance affecting Foreign Service families ought to be posted in a public facing website for accessibility? If DOD can post their guidance on the public Internets, we don’t see why State is not able to do the same. Non-working family members of the Foreign Service, and there’s a whole lot of them, do not have access to the Internets behind the firewall. 

Bulatao cites following bureaus/offices for support and assistance

Bulatao’s memo notes “We know that you are watching the disruptions to commercial flight availability as closely as we are. The Department is working on options to ensure continued mobility. It’s our shared responsibility to ensure the safety of our government representatives and their families. “
Bureau of Medical Services recently sent guidance to post Regional Medical Officers, Medical Providers (MPs), and EFM and LE Staff Providers “to inform their consultations with employees and family members.”
Budget and Planning, Allowances, and Comptroller and Global Financial Services “will ensure” the authorizations needed for departure are ready
Logistics Management and travel services personnel are also “on call to ensure proper travel arrangements can be made” to “get you home as soon as you need to go.”
Family Liaison Office stands “ready to support families with evacuation-related needs – whether that’s help with paperwork or connections to resiliency resources.”
Global Talent Management’s Career Development team will answer questions related to no-fault curtailments.

 

If your routine visa services are still open during this pandemic, please tell us why (Updated)

Update: March 16, 4:58 PDT US Embassy Seoul, South Korea still doing routine visa services (see below)
From a March 14 message from State/M Brian Bulatao:
“We may never have experienced a situation exactly like this before, but the Department has plenty of experience dealing with emergencies. We know that we have to make good decisions for ourselves, for our families, for our colleagues, and are actively taking into account the needs and challenges of individual team members who may be at a higher risk if they contract COVID-19.
This means, if you are sick, please stay home. If a member of your household is sick, please stay home. If you think you may have been exposed, it is best to stay home – you do not have to take annual leave if you are set up to telework. Reducing contact with other people is our best defense against the spread of the virus.”
If your routine visa services are still open during this pandemic, we’d like to know why.
If your post is able to do social distancing for visa applicants while continuing full services, we’d like to know how.
At the US Embassy in Israel, a COVID19-positive individual visited the Embassy Branch Office Non-Immigrant Visa Section waiting room in Tel Aviv on March 5, the Embassy announced that it directed its affected staff to quarantine on March 12.
US Embassy Seoul: We’re told that despite being a Level 3 COVID-19 country with very active community spread for the past few weeks, has continued to do routine NIV visa services and is still doing routine NIV visa services. “Those from epicenter areas are able to walk in like anyone else. No temp checks or additional screenings! Guards are not allowed to turn visibly sick people away. Visa appointments are only down because people aren’t traveling as much. However you can still get an appointment easily for (F, M, J, B) This is also a visa waiver country.”  (Note: South Korea is a CDC Level 3 country, and a State Department Level 3: Reconsider Travel country as of this writing).

Updated: 5:30 PDT, March 18, 2020

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OPM Issues Guidance For Maximum Telework Flexibilities, Employees to Seek Direction From Agency Heads

 

On March 15, Acting OPM Director Russell  T. Bought issued an “Updated Guidance for the National Capital Region on Telework Flexibilities in Response to Coronavirus”:

In light of the evolving situation concerning the corona virus (“COVID-19”) and the National Capitol Region (NCR) experiencing community transmission, the Administration wants to ensure that department and agency leaders assertively safeguard the health and safety of their workforce while remaining open to serve the American people and conduct mission critical functions.

All Federal Executive Branch departments and agencies within the National Capital Region (NCR), consistent with OMB’s recent guidance (0MB M-20-13), are asked to offer maximum telework flexibilities to all current telework eligible employees, consistent with operational needs of the departments and agencies as determined by their heads. In addition, we encourage agencies to use all existing authorities to offer telework to additional employees, to the extent their work could be telework enabled. If employees are not eligible for telework, agency heads have the discretion to offer weather and safety leave, or the agency’s equivalent, including for employees who may not have been considered “at higher risk” under 0MB M-20- 13. Furthermore, agency heads should develop an operational plan that maximizes resources and functional areas to most safely and efficiently deliver these mission-critical functions and other Government services (including but not limited to staggered work schedules and other operational mitigation measures).

See OMB Guidance M-20-15 (https://www.whitehouse.gov/wp-content/uploads/2020/03/M20-15-Telework-Guidance-OMB.pdf)
Over a week ago, we understand that State/M Bulatao asked employees with mobile/remote access to test their remote access capabilities by participating in a worldwide remote log-in exercise.
This OPM guidance is only for the National Capital Region (NCR) but related to this, a concerned source recently told us that many State Department management platforms are “still not cloud based” or “not outsourced to regional centers”, and so for overseas employees, many locally employed staff must come into work.

 

@StateDept Issues Global “Authorized Departure” For Certain USG Personnel and Family Members

Updated: March 15, 8:26 pm PDT:

On March 15, 2020, the State Department issued an updated Global Level 3 Health Advisory: Reconsider Travel. It also announced that the day before it authorized “the departure from any diplomatic or consular post in the world of US personnel and family members who have been medically determined to be at higher risk of a poor outcome if exposed to COVID-19.” So the “authorized departure” or voluntary evacuation depends on the determination of the local MED unit or based on current medical clearance?
Excerpt below:

The Department of State advises U.S. citizens to reconsider travel abroad due to the global impact of COVID-19. Many areas throughout the world are now experiencing COVID-19 outbreaks and taking action that may limit traveler mobility, including quarantines and border restrictions. Even countries, jurisdictions, or areas where cases have not been reported may restrict travel without notice.   

On March 14, the Department of State authorized the departure from any diplomatic or consular post in the world of US personnel and family members who have been medically determined to be at higher risk of a poor outcome if exposed to COVID-19.

For the latest information regarding COVID-19, please visit the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) website.

Keeping workplaces, homes, schools, or commercial establishments safe.

You are encouraged to visit travel.state.gov to view individual Travel Advisories for the most urgent threats to safety and security. Please also visit the website of the relevant U.S. embassy or consulate to see information on entry restrictions, foreign quarantine policies, and urgent health information provided by local governments.

Travelers are urged to enroll in the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP) to receive Alerts and make it easier to locate you in an emergency. The Department uses these Alerts to convey information about terrorist threats, security incidents, planned demonstrations, natural disasters, etc. In an emergency, please contact the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate or call the following numbers: 1(888) 407-4747 (toll-free in the United States and Canada) or 1 (202) 501-4444 from other countries or jurisdictions.

We will update if/when we know more.
Update 8:26 pm PDT: 
The cable released by State/M Brian Bulatao says:  “Effective March 14, 2020, I hereby approve authorized departure (AD) from any diplomatic or consular post of U.S. direct hire employees or eligible family members (EFMs) as listed on employee orders and defined in 14 FAM 511.3 who, after confidential consultation with MED, have determined they are at higher risk of a poor outcome if exposed to COVID-19, or who have requested departure based on a commensurate justification in foreign areas.”
Our source, not from Public Affairs, interpret this to mean that  MED approval is not specifically required but you need to refer to MED when you go tell your boss you want out.
The  last time we had a global authorized/ordered departure order was probably during Y2K, was it? (The State Department at that time also issued an edict stating that all embassies must be prepared to be self-sufficient for 30 days by January 1, 2000). 
Would be interested to hear how this plays out this coming week and how folks are weighing the decision whether to avail of the voluntary evacuation to return to the United States shortly versus staying put at post. Given the slow response and unsettling chaos with the USG’s handling of the pandemic domestically, the decision may depend on post, location, and healthcare system in the host country. Drop us a note if you want to share. 

 

HFAC Seeks @StateDept Documents on Possible Surveillance of Amb Yovanovitch