New US Ambassador to Algeria Elizabeth Moore Aubin Presents Credentials in Algiers

 

 

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New US Ambassador to Sweden Erik Ramanathan Presents Credentials in Stockholm

 

 

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Modernizing @StateDept Workforce and Winning Talent – See What’s Glaringly Missing?

 

On January 25, DipNote posted a new piece by Deputy Secretary Brian McKeon on Modernizing Our Workforce and Winning the Competition for Talent. He talked about recruiting the next generation, focusing on retention and building critical skills for the State Department. Excerpt below:

Recruiting the Next Generation

      • Our Recruitment Division conducted more than 3,000 recruiting activities, including over 900 events specifically targeting DEIA prospects. These DEIA-focused recruiting events engaged over 15,000 individual prospects.
      • We established a 500-person Volunteer Recruiter Corps with representation from all affinity groups, which participated in more than 150 events. These groups mirror the makeup of our workforce and help strengthen and support its diversity.
      • We streamlined the security clearance review process, reducing the average time it takes to finalize a clearance for new and transferring employees.
      • Looking ahead, we will continue to urge Congress to authorize and fund paid internships.

A Focus on Retention

      • We are focusing on creating and sustaining workplace flexibilities, to support our people and their families, modernize our performance management system, and promote professional development and career mobility for all our employees. In the last year, we have:
      • Expanded remote work and telework eligibility. The Department needs to keep pace with the private sector in enabling greater flexibility, and we are committed to enhancing and institutionalizing many of the changes we have implemented in response to the pandemic.
      • Expanded student loan repayment eligibility criteria.
      • Established the first Veterans Services Coordinator position, to better support our more than 5,000 veterans at the Department.
      • Created a Retention Team. In addition to reviewing the data and talking with the workforce to understand why people stay and why they leave, the Retention Team will develop the first Department-wide retention strategy.
      • These steps are important and are intended to support positive change across the Department. But we are not finished. In early 2022, in addition to announcing performance management reforms, we expect to roll out new professional development opportunities as well as long overdue initiatives aimed at helping our Civil Service employees build rewarding careers.

Building Critical Skills

      • As we reorient U.S. foreign policy to focus on 21st-century challenges that most directly affect Americans’ lives, we need to build our capacity and expertise in areas critical to our national security. To that end, we have:
      • Established a Talent Sourcing Unit to more effectively identify, reach, and target individuals for recruitment, especially in fields requiring specialized skills.
      • Conducted our first Department-only career fair, focused on STEM-and engaging diverse candidates.
      • Established new Foreign Service climate diplomacy positions in all geographic regions and key overseas missions and embassies.
      • Eliminated degree requirements for Foreign Service IT specialists and hired for several Civil Service data scientist positions.
It is shocking to see that this new modernization plan does not even mention family members anywhere.  Take a look at the following numbers:
Out of 11,840 total adult family members overseas, 75% (8,838) are female and 25% (3,002) are male.
Only 40% (4,761) adult family members are employed, while 60% (7,079) are not employed.  Of the 40% employed, only 24% or 2,900 worked for Uncle Sam inside our embassies and consulates while 16% (1,861) worked outside the US missions performing telework, running home businesses, or working in the education field.
According to BLS, the percentage of dual-income households in the United States was fairly stable between 1998 and 2017, ranging from 52 to 58 percent.
That’s not the case for FS households overseas. 
60% of FS adult family members overseas are unemployed. While unemployed, a good number are most likely not contributing to a retirement system. Sporadic and employment gaps while overseas could translate into a retirement wage gap; the same gap that helps push up the poverty rate for older women in this country.
We think that’s an important point to note since 75% of FS spouses overseas are female.
Something else to note when looking at these numbers.  In 2020, the average life expectancy of women at birth in the US was 80.5 years; 75.1 years for men.
So on average,  female FS spouses with chequered careers and with less retirement security than their regularly employed spouses are expected to live five years longer than their male spouses. According to WISER, the average annual Social Security benefit received by women age 65 and older is approximately $14,000, which is unlikely to cover all retirement expenses.
Would the female spouses in a modern State Department continue to give 20-30 years of their lives to life overseas as accompanying partners, only able to work now and then, and putting their financial future in their old age in great peril? How many employee-spouses would opt to leave mid-careers to give their accompanying spouses opportunities to pursue their own careers and build financial independence?
Also read: WISER: Retirement Planning for Stay-At-Home Moms

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Anne A. Witkowsky Sworn-In as Asst Secretary For Conflict and Stabilization Operations

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Career Diplomat Elizabeth Aubin Sworn-in as U.S. Ambassador to Algeria

 

 

 

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Former Obama-Biden Advisor Elizabeth M. Allen Sworn-In as Asst Secretary of State for Global Public Affairs

Elizabeth M. Allen is sworn in as Assistant Secretary of State for Global Public Affairs, at the U.S. Department of State, on September 13, 2021. [State Department Photo by Freddie Everett/ Public Domain]

Elizabeth M. Allen is sworn in as Assistant Secretary of State for Global Public Affairs, at the U.S. Department of State, on September 13, 2021. [State Department Photo by Freddie Everett/ Public Domain]

Elizabeth M. Allen, Appointee for Assistant Secretary of State for Global Public Affairs, Department of State

Liz Allen is a partner at strategic communications and public affairs firm Finsbury Glover Hering (FGH), where she specializes in message and campaign strategy, crisis management, and leadership communications. Prior to FGH, Allen served in the Obama-Biden Administration for eight years, most recently as White House Deputy Communications Director and Deputy Assistant to President Barack Obama. She also served as White House Director of Message Planning and Deputy Director of Communications to then-Vice President Joe Biden. In 2020, Allen took a leave of absence from FGH to serve as Vice President Kamala Harris’s Communications Director on the Biden-Harris presidential campaign. Allen previously served at the U.S. Department of State as Director of Strategic Communications and Public Affairs for the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs, focusing on U.S. public diplomacy efforts, and in positions in the State Department’s Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement and Office of Global Women’s Issues. A native of Buffalo, New York, she graduated Magna Cum Laude and Phi Beta Kappa with a degree in Political Science from the State University of New York (SUNY) College at Geneseo, where she returned to give the commencement address in 2016.
As we have written previously, this position does not require Senate confirmation. Here’s a quick summary of the position according to history.state.gov:
The Department of State created the position of Assistant Secretary of State for Public and Cultural Relations during a general reorganization in Dec 1944, after Congress authorized an increase in the number of Assistant Secretaries in the Department from four to six (Dec 8, 1944; P.L. 78-472; 58 Stat. 798). The reorganization was the first to designate substantive designations for specific Assistant Secretary positions. The Department changed the title to Assistant Secretary of State for Public Affairs in 1946. Initially, incumbents supervised the forerunners of the U.S. Information Agency and the Voice of America. P.L. 112-116, the Presidential Appointment Efficiency and Streamlining Act of 2011 (signed into law August 10, 2012), removed the requirement for Senate confirmation of Assistant Secretaries of State for Public Affairs.
So now we’re wondering if folks have given any thought about filling in the Under Secretary for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs post or is that a case of nah?

 

Related items:

 

Blinken Talks the Talk on Unexplained Health Incidents, Where’s the Walk? #HavanaSyndrome

 

During the August 18 State Department Press Briefing, a reporter asked about the Unexplained Health Incidents  (UHI) also known as the Havana Syndrome that was reported at the US Mission in Germany. Below is the exchange:

QUESTION: Can you – one non-Afghan question, please? I – thank you. I’m seeing reports that there are some cases of Havana – so-called Havana Syndrome in Berlin, at the embassy in Berlin. Can you speak to that? Are you aware of it? What is the State Department doing to protect its staff?

MR PRICE: So, I am – I have seen these reports, of course. This is something that we vigorously investigate, the so-called anomalous health incidents or unexplained health incidents in coordination with our partners across the government. Any employees who have reported a possible unexplained health incident, they have received immediate and appropriate attention and care.

These health incidents I can tell you have been a top priority for Secretary Blinken. I think I mentioned this before, but he proactively requested two sets of briefings during the transition. This was one of them, because even before he was Secretary of State, he wanted to know precisely what we knew, what this department knew at the time, and what we were doing to respond to this.

He has set clear goals for what we call here the Health Incident Response Task Force to – number one, to strengthen the communication with our workforce, of course, to provide care for affected employees and their family members, and to do what we can to protect against these incidents working together with the interagency, and, of course, to find the cause of what has been afflicting these members of our team. He noted to the workforce – I guess it was a couple weeks ago now – that there is nothing that we take more seriously than the health of our workforce.

And that’s why there is a major effort underway in this department, there is a major effort underway across the interagency to determine the cause and to, of course, provide the level of care, the level of communication, the level of feedback that our employees need and deserve. This is a priority. Ambassador Spratlen, as you know, the – Secretary Blinken named her as the head of the task force. She works very closely with the Deputy Secretary for Management and Resources Brian McKeon on this. They are working very closely in turn with Secretary Blinken. We’ll continue to do that. We’ll continue to work with our interagency partners to ensure that our employees, both those who have been affected by this have what they need, and those who are serving around the world, that we’re doing everything we can to ensure their safety.

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NBC News subsequently reported that at least two U.S. diplomats will be medevaced from Vietnam due to UHI which occurred on the weekend ahead of Vice President Kamala Harris’ visit.
The State Department spox has previously mentioned on March 12, and again on July 19, that this is a top priority for Secretary Blinken and that the secretary has requested briefings regarding these incidents even during the transition.
One employee who was injured in these unexplained health incidents recently told this blog: “He has utterly failed in basic leadership 101 on this issue.”
The employee was referring to Secretary Blinken.
On August 2, a CNN headline blares “Havana Syndrome stokes fear and frustration among diplomats over response from State Department.

…frustration is rising among rank-and-file staffers and diplomats over what multiple officials say has been a tepid response by the department. Of particular concern is a lack of information from leadership, including what some say has been a hands-off approach from Secretary of State Tony Blinken who has yet to meet with any of the State Department victims despite saying he would prioritize the incidents.

On August 5, Secretary Blinken sent a memo to State Department employees saying in part “What I can tell you is that this is a top priority for me, the State Department, and leaders across the U.S. government.” CNN’s Natasha Bertrand tweeted that memo the same day.
Obviously, the Blinken memo to the troops was not a coincidence but a reaction to the CNN report three days earlier.
So the top leadership in Foggy Bottom is sensitive to media splashes, who knew? But managing perception can only go so far. How many more times can Secretary Blinken claim this as a “top priority” for him without ever meeting the victims of these incidents? Or addressing his employees directly in a town hall, for that matter? August 26 was the 6-month anniversary of his assumption as secretary of state; he’s no longer in the transition phase.
Folks might ask, but does Secretary Blinken really have to meet these people though? Or does he really need to meet anxious employees shipping out overseas where they and their loves ones could potentially be subjected to similar attacks? Why can’t Deputy Secretary Brian McKeon just talk to these folks? Mr. McKeon, after all, is the Deputy Secretary for Management and Resources.
Yes, Virginia. Secretary Blinken really do need to meet with his people and we’ll tell you why. Because Brian McKeon is not the Secretary of State. That’s why.
It is alleged also that the State Department is “withholding so much unclassified info” related to these attacks that often employees only hear things from the media; they aren’t hearing relevant information directly from State.
But .. but .. there’s Afghanistan, and Haiti, and Russia, and Ukraine, Eswatini, China …. on and on and on …. it never stops.
If Secretary Blinken is waiting for a break from foreign headaches and chaos before dealing with these serious concerns within the ranks, his staff could be waiting forever, y’all.
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More on Operation Allies Refuge With D/MR McKeon, Amb. Jacobson and SSDO #1 On Background

We are grateful for your continued support and well wishes. We did not quite make it to our funding goal but raising funds for a blog that is already open and free for all to read has often been challenging.

Thank you to over 500 tireless champions and guardian angels who made this blog’s continued existence possible. You are a lifesaver.   💗 DS

 


 

On July 21, the State Department held a briefing on Operation Allies Refuge where D/MR Brian McKeon and Afghanistan Task Force Director Ambassador Tracey Jacobson gave remarks to the press and a Senior State Department official did a Q&A on background with reporters.  US Embassy Kabul CDA Ross Wilson noted previously  in a tweet that post is “working hard to process SIV applicants and have interviewed more than 1600 along with their family members since April.” D/MR McKeon has the number for approved visas saying, “Since January, we’ve already approved 2,500 Special Immigrant Visas.”
Some 750 Afghan SIV applicants and families will be “paroled” into the U.S. starting next week. They will be located at Fort Lee, VA where they are expected, at least right now, to stay for processing for 7 to 10 days. What happens to them afterwards?
Per 9 FAM 202.3, parole authority is governed by section 212(d)(5) of the Immigration and Nationality Act. Section 402 of the Homeland Security Act of 2002, Public Law 107-296 transfers authority for immigration matters to the Secretary of Homeland Security (DHS), including authorizing parole for an alien into the United States for urgent humanitarian reasons or for significant public benefit.
Note that neither the State Department nor consular officers have the authority to approve or extend any type of parole under any circumstances.  Parole is a discretionary authority of the Secretary of Homeland Security. The FAM says “It should be seen as a last resort for persons with urgent needs to travel to the United States or for cases with significant public benefit.”
The FAM also notes that “parolees who are paroled pursuant to INA 212(d)(5)(A) for urgent humanitarian reasons or for significant public benefit reasons do not receive the type of resettlement assistance that is provided to refugees.” So, how are they supposed to start new lives in the United States without resettlement assistance?
About 4,000 principal applicants and their families will be taken to an unnamed third-country location while they wait for the completion of their SIV application. The SDO told reporters they are “not in a position to confirm any agreements with any of those third countries at this time” when asked about potential relocations to military bases in  Kuwait and Qatar.
The State Department also told reporters that SIV applicants “would have to get themselves to Kabul” adding that  “we don’t have substantial U.S. military presence. We don’t have an ability to provide transportation for them.” Excerpts below:
Related post: USG to Mount ‘Operation Allies Refuge’ to Relocate Afghans Who Aided United States US Embassy Kabul Interviewed 1,600 Afghan SIV Applicants Since April, Interviewed ≠ Issued Visas July 13, 2021
Deputy Secretary of State for Management and Resources Brian McKeon:

“In February, Embassy Kabul reopened for in-person immigrant visa services following an 11-month suspension due to the COVID-19 pandemic. That backlog has since been cleared out and we’re working as fast possible to interview SIV applicants whose appointments were canceled during a recent COVID outbreak in Kabul. Since January, we’ve already approved 2,500 Special Immigrant Visas.”

Afghanistan Task Force Director Ambassador Tracey Jacobson:

Our first priority is to relocate to the United States some 750 Afghan SIV applicants and their immediate families who have completed the majority of the visa process, including a thorough security background check. We are working to bring them to the United States starting next week. They will be paroled into the United States and have their status adjusted by the Department of Homeland Security. During this processing, they will be located at Fort Lee, Virginia, and when they leave Fort Lee, they will join 70,000 Afghans who have received SIVs and started new lives in the United States since 2008.

We are also working to relocate from Afghanistan those applicants who have received chief of mission approval but have not gone so far in their visa processing, including the full security screen. This group includes about 4,000 principal applicants and their families. We will take them to locations outside the United States where they can safely await the completion of their application processing, and we will provide them accommodation and other support during this period, which we are committed to making as short as possible.

QUESTION:  Thanks, guys, for doing this. I think we all have a bunch of questions. I am wondering how long the administration plans to be doing these relocation efforts. Do you expect this is something that will happen over the course of years given some SIV applicants have just applied recently given the U.S. troop withdrawal?

My second question is about safety for these Afghans. What is the U.S. doing, what can the U.S. do to provide them with any safety when U.S. troops withdraw from the country, and how are they being transported to the airport? Is there any support for them given threats from the Taliban? And last question is: How long are they expected to stay at Fort Lee in this final stage? Thanks.

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE:  So working backward, we don’t expect them to stay at Fort Lee for very often, or very long, excuse me. We’ll try to work them through Fort Lee in 7 to 10 day is our hope and expectation. The applicants need to get themselves to Kabul. We’re not going to talk about how they get in and around Kabul and to the airport for security reasons.

The SIV Program is – has eligibility standards, and we have authorized numbers from the U.S. Congress, and so long as we keep having those numbers provided to us by Congress, we’ll keep processing SIV applicants.

QUESTION:  Can you talk about the others in the program and where else they might be going, and how long it will take to get what was originally estimated as as many as 70,000 people, including families, accommodated because obviously their lives are right now in danger? Thank you.

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE:  So the total number of applicants to the SIV Program number just over 20,000, but about half of those have not yet completed the initial stages of the application process, so we’re not in a position to move forward with their case until they do so. So I’m not sure where the 70,000 number comes from. The 4,000 number and their families, they would be targeted for the next phase of bringing people to third country locations, and that process in the third country would take longer because they’re not as far along in the screening process as those who we will bring to the United States.

QUESTION:  Thanks, guys. Let me follow up on what comes next. Can you confirm that there’s the deal pretty much done to move, I don’t know if it’s the next round or the third round, some of these applicants to military bases in Kuwait and Qatar? And can you talk about whether there’s a push on P-2 refugees, whether the number – sorry, the kind of aperture of the person who can apply, whether there’s a push to expand that aperture and including P-2 refugees. And I know you don’t want to talk about some of the details on transport for security reasons, but can you give us any more details on how exactly they will get to Fort Lee this first round? Thanks.

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE:  I’m sorry, Nick, I was – I didn’t understand the last piece of the question. I’m not sure we have many answers that we can give you. We’re talking to third countries about the possibility of temporary relocation, but we’re not in a position to confirm any agreements with any of those third countries at this time.

On the transportation to Fort Lee, we will fly them into the country and bring them by vehicle to Fort Lee. I assume it will be buses.

QUESTION:  Hi there. Thank you for doing this. Let’s see. Is the – because the Afghan SIVs will fly out through the Kabul airport, has there been an agreement finalized to keep that operating under Turkey? I don’t know if their relocations are all supposed to be completed by the time the U.S. withdraws or not. And then you say you’re – do you not yet have any agreement from any other country to temporarily host the Afghan SIVs?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE:  On the second question, we don’t have agreement with any countries that we’re ready to announce here.

On the airport, obviously, we’ve said the airport needs to be open and functioning as part of a normal country, and we’re grateful for our conversations with our colleagues in Turkey. The DOD is leading those conversations. We’re optimistic that we’ll have the security package that we need at the airport in Kabul.

QUESTION:  Thank you for having this call. A couple of follow-ups as well. Can you say how many there are in total with this group of 4,000 principal applicants who will be moved to third countries? If you include their families, what is that total number?

You said applicants will have to get themselves to Kabul. For many of them, that journey would be dangerous if not impossible. What would you say to the – to security concerns of folks trying to get to Kabul? Thank you.

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE:  So we don’t know for certain how many family members will be brought. The principal applicant can choose to bring the ones that are eligible. We’ve just been doing these rough extrapolations based on an average of three to five per principal applicant based on past practice. In order to come on an evacuation flight, they would have to get themselves to Kabul. Obviously, we don’t have substantial U.S. military presence. We don’t have an ability to provide transportation for them. If they’re, say, in the north of the country and they don’t feel safe staying in Afghanistan, they could go to a neighboring country and finish their SIV application process there.

QUESTION:  Good afternoon. Thank you so much for the call. Just a follow-up question on the Afghanistan fixers who have helped the U.S. press organizations. Would you support the creation of a visa program for those Afghans, Afghans who helped with the U.S. media organizations and who are now seeking safety in the U.S.? I’m asking this because a coalition of U.S. media organizations has sent a letter to the Congress requesting to create such visa program. Would you like to weigh in? Thank you.

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE:   Yes, thank you. We’ve seen the letter from the news organizations and we’ll be responding in due course to them. As I think I’ve responded previously to this question, in terms of other people in Afghanistan who have helped the United States or helped U.S. organizations, whether it’s NGOs or media organizations, we are looking at other options for providing safe options for them outside of Afghanistan.

 

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@NewYorker: Vienna Is the New Havana Syndrome Hotspot

Thank you to over 500 readers and supporters who made our continued operation possible this year. Raising funds for a small outlet that is already open and free for all to read has often been the most challenging part of running  this blog. We are grateful for your continued support and well wishes. Gracias — DS

 

Via New Yorker:
Since Joe Biden took office about two dozen U.S. intelligence officers, diplomats, and other government officials in Vienna have reported experiencing mysterious afflictions similar to the Havana Syndrome. U.S. officials say the number of possible new cases in the Austrian capital—long a nexus of U.S. and Russian espionage—is now greater than the number reported by officials in any city except for Havana itself, where the first cases were reported.
[…]
The first possible syndrome case in Vienna was reported a couple of months after Biden’s Inauguration. That case and subsequent ones were reported to officials in Washington soon after they occurred. But the Biden Administration decided not to announce the Vienna outbreak—officials were concerned that any public disclosure about the cases would hamper ongoing U.S. intelligence and law-enforcement investigations, which are still under way in Vienna. The Austrian Embassy in Washington declined to comment on the cluster of cases.
CNN quotes a State Department spox:
“In coordination with our partners across the U.S. Government, we are vigorously investigating reports of possible unexplained health incidents (UHI) among the U.S. Embassy Vienna community or wherever they are reported,” a State Department spokesperson said. “Any employees who reported a possible UHI received immediate and appropriate attention and care.”
On May 25, 2021 U.S. government workers and their spouses who say they were injured by Havana Syndrome sent a letter to Deputy Secretary of State Brian McKeon (via NBC)

 

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@StateDept Officially Gets a Deputy Secretary For Management and Resources Again

13 GoingOn 14: Help Keep the Blog Going For 2021 — GFM: https://gofund.me/32671a27

On March 19, Brian McKeon was sworn-in as Deputy Secretary of State for Management and Resources (D/MR) at the State Department. He would only be the fourth person to encumber that position since its creation in 2009. This position, the third highest ranking office in Foggy Bottom was not filled during the previous Administration. The Department’s website does not list Mr. McKeon’s office or has his official bio as of this writing, but his public schedule includes meetings and briefings in Foggy Bottom on March 22. We’re sure the website will catch up soon.