Under Secretary Bulatao on Enhancing Support for Employees with Children with Special Needs

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According to State/OIG which is conducting a review of the State Department’s Special Needs Education Allowance (SNEA), “By law, for employees serving in foreign areas, the Department must provide a Special Needs Education Allowance (SNEA) for children who meet the requirements of the Individuals With Disabilities Education Improvement Act.”]

Also from state.gov’s FAQ on SNEA:

Is the State Department required to meet the requirements of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Improvement Act (IDEIA) with regard to the education of special needs children overseas? If so, how does it do that?

No. The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) and its 2004 reauthorization, the Individuals with Disabilities Education Improvement Act (IDEIA), are federal funding laws ensuring a free and appropriate education to children with disabilities in the United States. IDEA/IDEIA governs how states and public agencies provide early intervention, special education and related services to eligible children and youth. While existing law does not require DOS to replicate what a public school would provide to a student in the United States, our goal is to approximate what a child would receive in a good US public school system. Per the Overseas Differentials and Allowances Act and the Department of State Standard Regulations (DSSR), the IDEA/IDEIA framework is the basis for the allowable reimbursable services for the Special Needs Education Allowance (SNEA). DOS is committed to assisting employees in meeting the necessary expenses incurred when deployed overseas in providing adequate education for their school-age children. The education allowances are designed to assist parents in defraying those costs necessary to obtain educational services which are ordinarily provided free of charge by public schools in the United States.

In 2018,  a group representing employees with special needs children warned that the State Department Bureau of Medical Services was taking “deleterious actions” to restrict funding access for benefits the department is required to offer under U.S. disability law according to reporting from FP. Some internal battles with MED made it to the public sphere but there were a lot more stories that stayed under wraps out of fear of retaliation, or in at least one case we are aware of, due to an expressed threat from MED. More recently, there was reportedly a no-confidence letter related to a specific MED official, circulated and signed by Foreign Service employees and family members.

Last Friday. the new Under Secretary For Management Brian Bulatao issued new guidance on SNEA.

I am pleased to announce the Department has begun to implement a series of revisions and clarifications to policies and procedures that improve how we support our families who have children with special educational needs. These reforms are the result of a review by a Department-wide working group convened last fall by Deputy Under Secretary Bill Todd.  

Key Points: 

·         A new FAM section for the Special Needs Education Allowance has just been published. It will be updated over the next few months as we implement additional reforms. 

·         Guidance in this FAM chapter includes revisions to where a service can be provided. 

·         Separately, the Summer 2020 bid cycle will include changes to simplify bidding for employees with children with Class Two medical clearances. 

New FAM Section:  Overseas educational support is governed by DSSR 270 and 5 U.S.C. 5924 (4), which are complex interagency regulations. We have just published a new FAM section – 3 FAM 3280 –  to ensure that these regulations, especially those pertaining to the Special Needs Education Allowance (SNEA), are interpreted consistently and to make clear the intent of SNEA. Additional changes are in interagency clearance, and any resulting changes would be added to the appropriate FAM section(s) and announced via ALDAC and Department Notice. 

The new FAM makes clear the Department’s policy intent regarding SNEA: 

By assisting employees with the fulfillment of the educational needs of their children, SNEA encourages employees who have children with special educational needs to bid on and serve in foreign assignments. It is in the Department’s interest to take care of its employees and maximize their ability to serve in foreign assignments.

International schools vary in their ability to match the support structure, special education environment, or services found in U.S. public schools. For this reason, the Department should authorize SNEA as flexibly as possible in order to accommodate the unique and often challenging circumstances of overseas operating environments and foreign-area assignments.

Implementation guidance for the new FAM section and bidding rules will be sent separately. 

I am excited about these changes. We have an obligation to equip and engage our team to meet mission needs. Providing support to our people so they can get the job done is the best way to ensure we deliver on the Department’s goals.  

AFSA has reportedly reviewed and commented on the new FAM guidance. 

The SNEA issue and problems with MED should have been resolved soonest instead of being allowed to linger this long. We are pleased to see that Under Secretary Bulatao addressed this issue soon after he assumed charge as “M.”

John Naland, the President of the Foreign Service Youth Foundation said that These are important reforms towards creating a transparent program that rests on a solid interpretation and consistent application of law and regulations to allow Foreign Service parents of children with special educational needs to take care of their families while simultaneously fulfilling their overseas service obligations as Foreign Service members.”

Now, we’ll have to watch and see what MED is going to do about this.

Below is an excerpt from 3 FAM 3285  which spells out in ints entirety the Department policy

(CT:PER-949;   06-27-2019)
(State)
(Applies to Foreign Service & Civil Service Employees)

a. The purpose of SNEA is to assist employees serving at posts abroad with obtaining for their children with special educational needs special early intervention, kindergarten, elementary, and secondary educational services, including such educational services as are provided in the United States under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Improvement Act, that public schools in the United States ordinarily provide without charge.

b. By assisting employees with the fulfillment of the educational needs of their children, SNEA encourages employees who have children with special educational needs to bid on and serve in foreign assignments.  It is in the Department’s interest to maximize employees’ ability to serve in foreign assignments. 

c.  International schools vary in their ability to match the support structure, special education environment, or services found in U.S. public schools.  For this reason, the Department should authorize SNEA as flexibly as possible in order to accommodate the unique and often challenging circumstances of overseas operating environments and foreign-area assignments.

d.  Ideally, special education services should be provided in a school setting as part of a child’s educational curriculum.  However, recognizing that educating children with disabilities in overseas settings often involves unique challenges, in circumstances when special education services cannot be provided directly in a school setting but are available as services offered outside school or school hours, or via the internet (e.g., online speech therapy), SNEA will cover special educational services required by the child’s IEP or equivalent which are provided outside of school and/or outside normal school hours, when consistent with the DSSR.  SNEA reimbursements may be made directly to employees who have used their personal funds for these services.  Parents may not be reimbursed for special therapeutic services that they personally provide, although, in accordance with DSSR regulations, they may be reimbursed for eligible Home Schooling expenses.

e.  Because most children of Department of State employees would be enrolled in one of the school districts of Washington, DC, Virginia, or Maryland if their employee parent were assigned domestically, school districts in these areas will generally be the point of reference when determining what special educational services are “ordinarily provided without charge by public schools in the United States.” Within this context, services named in a child’s IEP, or equivalent document, may be eligible to be covered by SNEA.

f.  SNEA is an education allowance. It is subject to other applicable legal authorities and policies that govern education allowances in general.

Read the whole thing here.

 

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So @StateDept’s guidance is do whatever you want. EXCEPT fly the Pride Flag on the pole #PrideMonth

Help Fund the Blog Diplopundit 2019 — 60-Day Campaign from June 5, 2019 – August 5, 2019

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On May 17, 2018, Secretary Pompeo just three weeks into his tenure as secretary of state issued a statement on the International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia, and Biphobia.  This year, the State Department statement marking IDAHOT was noticeably missing.

We understand from a source on background that there was guidance circulated within the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor (DRL) this past May saying that there will be no IDAHOT/Pride cable this year. The directive reportedly came from the 7th floor although it apparently also said, there is no change in policy, including on display of the Pride flag. “The best we can do is rely on last year’s cable and the statement that policy has not changed.”

The directive last year would have been sent by an Acting Under Secretary for Management as there was no confirmed “M” at the State Department since U/S Kennedy departed his position in January 2017.

On June 7, NBC News reported that the U.S. embassies in Israel, Germany, Brazil and Latvia have requested permission from the State Department to fly the rainbow pride flag on their flagpoles and have been denied, citing three unnamed U.S. diplomats.

On June 10, State Department spokeswoman Morgan Ortagus told NBCNews that Secretary of State Mike Pompeo “respects the dignity of every individual” but did not believe other flags should fly alongside the American flag at U.S. embassies.

In an interview with NBC News, VPOTUS said that the Trump administration had “put no restrictions” on the pride flag or other flags flying elsewhere at U.S. embassies. When pressed, he also said, “We both feel that way very passionately, but when it comes to the American flagpole, and American embassies, and capitals around the world, one American flag flies.”

Another official who is LGBT speaking on background told this blog that flying the Pride flag on the flag pole with the U.S. flag has always been controversial.  This same official told us that while he/she personally does not believe that they should fly the Pride flag on the flag pole, there are others who have cited the Flag Act to justify flying the pride flag:

4 U.S. Code § 7 – Position and manner of display
(f) When flags of States, cities, or localities, or pennants of societies are flown on the same halyard with the flag of the United States, the latter should always be at the peak. When the flags are flown from adjacent staffs, the flag of the United States should be hoisted first and lowered last. No such flag or pennant may be placed above the flag of the United States or to the United States flag’s right.

This same source indicated to us that his/her understanding was that the Under Secretary for Management Brian Bulatao has not approved flying the Pride Flag on the same staff as the U.S. flag at State Department federal buildings within the United States and overseas (Mr. Bulatao was officially sworn into office in late May). We were told that this process is usually done via a decision memo and that this year, there was no cable in or out;  which confirmed the circulated guidance reportedly from DRL in May. This official also told us that his/her understanding is that posts are free to display the pride flag everywhere and anywhere, or to light up embassies in the pride colors, or do anything else they want to mark Pride month.  EXCEPT fly the Pride Flag on the pole.

We should note that in previous years, some posts, not all, have marked Pride Month with a rainbow flag on the flagpole or hanging the rainbow flag on the side of the embassy building. Others participated in local pride parades, or lighting up the embassy in rainbow colors. Social media indicates that our overseas posts are marking Pride month in a similar manner (poles excepted) this year, but they have not/not been prevented from marking or celebrating the event (if post is preventing you from marking Pride Month, holler, please).

Also typically, on June 1st or within the first week of June, the Secretary of State also releases a statement marking LGBTI Pride Month. Pompeo did that last year on June 1st.  The year before that, his predecessor Rex Tillerson released a similar statement on June 7, 2018. This year, we’re still waiting for a similar statement from Secretary Pompeo; 18 days to go before the days of June runs out. Write faster, folks!

Here is the official spox addressing the “except on the pole” issue:

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Secretary Pompeo Swears-In Brian Bulatao as Foggy Bottom’s New “M”

 

U.S. Secretary of State Michael R. Pompeo swears in Brian Bulatao as the new Under Secretary of State for Management with T. Ulrich Brechbühl, State Department Counselor in attendance at the U.S. Department of State in Washington, D.C., on May 17, 2019. [State Department photo by Michael Gross/ Public Domain]

Now that the new under secretary for management has been confirmed, it’s a good time to revisit Mr. Bulatao’s testimony before the U.S. Senate (see excerpt below).

The culture of empowerment created greater organizational agility and a workforce that was unleashed to take on problem sets in new ways. I certainly didn’t come up with every idea, instead I empowered our team to consider how we could do it better, fail faster, and take smarter risks. Across the board, we embraced a spirit of innovation in order to boost the speed and precision of a large organization operating in a dangerous and competitive environment.

If confirmed as the Under Secretary for Management, this is the same approach I intend to bring to the U.S. Department of State. The Department’s hard-working, patriotic, and dedicated teams deserve to have an organization that optimally utilizes their talents. And the American people must have confidence that the State Department makes the best use of their resources and provides the best practical support for our diplomatic initiatives that rely on the strength of our alliances, partnerships, and engagement.

If confirmed, I appreciate the broad management responsibility I will have for the Department’s more than 76,000 personnel – Civil Service, Foreign Service, and Locally Employed Staff – and my direct supervision over 12 bureaus and offices. These women and men serve our country in some of the most challenging places around the world, and risk their lives daily, whether serving in war zones, amidst criminal violence and disease outbreaks, and with the threat of terrorist attack. They work long hours, often separated from their families, to advance our nation’s foreign policy and support the work of diplomacy.

There is no question that the safety and security of our personnel and their families must be the highest priority. I know Secretary Pompeo cares deeply about and works hard to protect his people.

I will ensure that the Bureau of Diplomatic Security has the resources, tools, and technology and is fully integrated into Department decision-making, to most effectively perform this critical task.

I will work hard to ensure our people have secure new buildings where required, that are completed on time, on budget, and incorporate cutting-edge IT infrastructure to support the critical missions they execute globally.

If confirmed, I will seek more creative ways to staff the Department to meet today’s mission and be well positioned to meet the challenges of the future. This will include hiring the full range of expertise, from our diplomats and subject-matter experts, to our specialists in the field like medical services and facilities management, to our security personnel. Hiring the best of the best with diverse backgrounds and experiences is critical to our global mission and will be a top priority for me.

I am committed to advocating for a budget that fully funds the Department’s requirements and putting in place the appropriate oversight and metrics to ensure the Department meets its obligation to use taxpayer dollars wisely and effectively. I will support Secretary Pompeo in requesting funding that serves the national interest and will implement the appropriations law as passed by Congress.

Finally, if confirmed, I will help bring Department operations into the 21st century by modernizing its systems and programs. With so many challenges facing the United States around the world, our diplomacy demands every logistical, technological, and informational advantage we can muster. We must be aggressive in protecting our security, generating prosperity, and advancing our values. Having a State Department team that is empowered and equipped with the right tools to achieve the mission is an integral part of making that happen.

The full testimony is available to read in PDF here.

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Senate Confirms Brian Bulatao as Under Secretary of State For Management

 

 

 

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@StateDept Gets Closer to Getting an Under Secretary for Management, Vacant Since January 2017

@StateDept Gets Closer to Getting an Under Secretary for Management, Vacant Since January 2017

 

Trump Shutdown Day#27: @StateDept, Also a National Security Agency, Now Says, We Just Found Some Money, Come Back to Work

Posted: 4:19 am EST

On January 17, on the 27th day of the Trump Shutdown, the State Department released an  Urgent Message from the Deputy Under Secretary for Management William Todd instructing employees to return to work on their first work day in Pay Period 2, which is either January 20, or January 22 depending on their  location and start of their work week.  Apparently, he has found some money to pay employees, and this would allow the agency to resume most personnel operations.  Which should be a relief to agency employees here and in over 275 overseas locations where people are worried not only about paying their bills, but also something as basic as obtaining heating oil during the winter months. We’re not sure if this would save those who are already considering curtailments, even resignations, and seeking work elsewhere.

Mr. Todd’s message did not explain where he found the money, why it took four weeks to find it, and why we’re just seeing “national security agency” and “imperative” to describe the State Department and its mission on the 4th week of the shutdown.

Given the poor track record here, we’re concerned that people are asked to go back to work while the State Department is “taking steps to make additional funds available to pay employee salaries.”

What does that even mean? Where is the State Department getting those additional funds? Is it planning to break into Fort Knox?

Also we’re not sure who were actually told about this in the “M” family bureaus. Apparently, people are calling FSI to see what this means. Can they go back to language training even if many of the instructors are contractors?

Reported FSI’s response, “We don’t know. We found out when you did.”

Holy guacamole, so Deputy M’s message is just like a presidential tweet but longer than 280!

ABC News has this nugget from an unnamed spox:

While the department could have taken this step to pay employees as soon as the shutdown started, it didn’t largely because no one anticipated the shutdown to last this long.

“It has become clear as the lapse has continued to historic lengths that we need our full team to address the myriad critical issues requiring U.S. leadership around the globe and to fulfill our commitments to the American people,” a State Department spokesperson told ABC News. “We are also deeply concerned about growing financial hardship and uncertainty affecting Department employees whose salaries and well-being are affected by the unprecedented length of the lapse.”

Whaaaat? Also U.S. leadership yabayabado frak!

The United States has become the subject of alarm and jokes from all continents except perhaps from the sober penguins of Antarctica. In these abnormal times, the Emperor penguins, by the way, boldly  want to know how many more bananas do we want?

Politico’s Nahal Toosi also has a comment from longest serving M, Patrick Kennedy:

Pat Kennedy, a former senior State Department official who oversaw management issues at the agency for years, said Thursday that diplomats should have been exempted from the shutdown from the start.

“As a national security agency, no one should have ever been furloughed” at the State Department, he wrote in an email. “And the available funds balances should have been utilized from the beginning so that all employees were paid all along.”

What that State Department spox forgot to add to ABC News is — “M” shoes are too big to fill for some people. Who knew?  (see Wait – @StateDept Has a Deputy “M” Again, a Position Discontinued by Congress in 1978). We should note that the State Department had a Senate- confirmed M, and a Senate-confirmed DGHR when Rex Tillerson took office but both were gone fairly quickly under T-Rex’s watch.

Also two years on in this administration, the State Department still does not have a Senate-confirmed Under Secretary for Management. The first Trump nominee for M during Tillerson’s time had an SFRC hearing but was then withdrawn. The second Trump nominee for M, Brian Bulatao, this time under Pompeo, had his nomination returned to the president at the end of last Congress. That nomination was resubmitted to the U.S. Senate on January 16. Since the GOP has an expanded majority in the U.S. Senate, we expect that this nomination will get through the confirmation process at some point, unless a GOP senator finds some issue with it.

Below is the Deputy M message, original statement posted here:

As a national security agency, it is imperative that the Department of State carries out its mission. We are best positioned to do so with fully staffed embassies, consulates, and domestic offices.

Recognizing the increasing hardship to employees caused by the ongoing lapse in appropriations, the Department is taking steps to make additional funds available to pay employee salaries. By taking these steps, the Department expects to be able to resume most personnel operations and fund most salaries beginning with Pay Period 2. As a result, all State Department direct-hire employees and State Department locally employed staff are expected to report to work on their first work day in Pay Period 2. For most employees, that will be January 22. For some overseas posts, where Sunday is the first day of the work week, that will be January 20. Contractors should contact their COR for reporting instructions.

Employees will be paid for work performed beginning on or after January 20 and will receive paychecks for Pay Period 2 on time on February 14. Beyond Pay Period 2, we will review balances and available legal authorities to try to cover future pay periods.

Employees, including those who have performed excepted functions, will not be paid for Pay Period 26 and Pay Period 1(the time period between December 22, 2018, and January 19, 2019) until FY 2019 appropriations are enacted.

Although most personnel operations can resume, bureaus and posts are expected to adhere to strict budget constraints with regard to new spending for contracts, travel, and other needs, consistent with Section B of the Department’s guidance on lapse in appropriations.

Thank you for your continued cooperation.

Very Best Regards,
Bill Todd
Deputy Under Secretary for Management

Please note that even if State Department employees start getting paid again, there are thousands more federal employees who are forced to work without pay, and many more sent home without pay. Here are some upcoming dates in the next couple of weeks. See more at CNBC:

Jan. 20: Deadline to make early food stamp payments

Jan. 25: Workers start missing next paychecks

Jan. 28: IRS expected to start accepting tax filings

Jan. 29: State of the Union

Feb. 8: Third missed paycheck

This is no way to run a country, but this is how our country is run these days. No wonder the Emperor penguins in Moscow are also laughing their heads off.

Pompeo Appoints West Point Pal, Ulrich Brechbuhl as @StateDept Counselor

Posted: 4:28 am PT

 

A day after the 70th Secretary of State is formally sworn into office in Foggy Bottom, the State Department announced the appointment of Secretary Pompeo’s old friend from West Point, Ulrich Brechbuhl (Class 1986) as State Department Counselor. Another old buddy from West Point, Brian Bulatao, joined then Director Pompeo at the CIA as chief operating officer following his appointment there in 2017.

This position does not require Senate confirmation.  Given the existing relationship between the new secretary of state and the new counselor, it is highly likely that this appointment would last more than the three- month tenure of his predecessor, Maliz Beams who was appointed Counselor to Rex Tillerson  back when the State Department was drowning in bad Redesign juju (history.state.gov has not even bothered to update its list of counselors).

History.state.gov notes that the Counselor, who currently under law holds rank equivalent to an Under Secretary of State (P.L. 98-164; 97 Stat. 1017), serves as an adviser to the Secretary of State. The Counselor’s specific responsibilities have also varied over time. After career diplomat Kristie Kenney stepped down following Tillerson’s arrival at State, there were loud signals that the Counselor position would not be filled; only for it to be filled months later by a non-career appointee who was tasked with managing the redesign efforts that eventually fizzled.

Recent appointees to the Counselor position includes the following:

The Waldorf School of Garden City has a detailed undated bio of its alumnus, Ulrich Brechbuhl who the website says currently serves as the President of Appenseller Point, LLC a family investing and consulting business.

From 1994-1998, Ulrich was a consultant and manager with Bain & Company, a strategic management consulting firm. During his time at Bain, he led teams in a variety of industries (including high tech, aerospace and defense, construction etc.) that developed business unit as well as corporate level growth strategies, valued new business opportunities, designed and implemented reorganizations, and led cost cutting and profit enhancement projects.

Having been born in Switzerland, Ulrich hails from Garden City, New York and is fluent in four languages. He attended the Waldorf School of Garden City from Nursery through Grade 12. Upon reflecting on his years at Waldorf, he writes, “The variety of people I met and experiences I had during my formative years at Waldorf helped prepare me for the extremely disparate situations I have found myself in, both in the military as well as in civilian life.” He then attended the United States Military Academy at West Point, earning a Bachelor of Science degree with distinction in 1986. During his six and one-half years of active duty service as a cavalry officer, Ulrich experienced a myriad of assignments from leading troops patrolling the Iron Curtain with the Second Calvary, to serving as a general’s aide, to working as an operations officer during the Persian Gulf War with 1-7 Cavalry, First Cavalry Division. Ulrich’s service culminated with the successful command of an armored cavalry troop at Fort Hood, Texas.

Ulrich left the military in 1992 to attend Harvard Business School, from which he received his MBA in 1994. He currently serves on the Board of Alcentra Capital Corporation, a publicly traded business development company, and is an active member of the Rotary Club of Atlanta, the West Point Society of Atlanta, of which he is a past president, and the HBS Club of Atlanta.   He and his wife, Michelle, have three sons, Hans (17), Jacob (16) and Pirmin (14) and are very active in their church, the North Atlanta Church of Christ. He is also involved in a number of other civic organizations including serving on the Greater Atlanta Christian School Foundation Board, serving as an assistant scoutmaster with Boy Scout Troop 379, Atlanta Area Council, and as a member of the Board of Directors of the Atlanta Area Council, BSA.

Read more below:

Ulrich Brechbuhl

Wichita Business Journal’s profile of Thayer Aerospace in December 1998 highlights the relationship of the new secretary of state and the new counselor, and the origin/capital of their company.

Pompeo is the chief executive officer of Thayer Aerospace, a new player in Wichita’s rapidly changing machine shop industry.

Only 21 months old, Thayer is using the powerful force of new capital to buy established companies and consolidate them under one umbrella. […] The company’s capital base is drawn in part from Wichita’s Koch Venture Capital, a division of Koch Industries Inc., the nation’s second largest private company. Thayer also has capital flowing from two Dallas-based private equity groups: Cardinal Investment Co. and Bain & Co. […] Pompeo’s team is basically a reunion of a quartet of West Point buddies from the United States Military Academy class of 1986.

Also included are Brian Bulatao, chief operating officer; Ulrich Brechbuhl, chief financial officer; and Michael Stradinger, who is in charge of mergers and acquisitions. At West Point, the quartet’s members were no academic sloths. Pompeo graduated first in his class, Brechbuhl was fourth in the class and Bulatao was in the top 5 percent.

Like Pompeo, most enjoyed their time in the military after graduation, but were looking for new challenges. And they feared endless assignments to a series of desk jobs, a standard requirement to ascend in the military chain of command.

With backgrounds in engineering as well as management, they got together and discussed a possible future in a business entity. Out of that discussion came the birth of Thayer Aerospace (named after Col. Sylvanus Thayer, the founder of the U.S. Military Academy).

Read more here.

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