@StateDept Survey Report Recommends Moving Issuance of Visas, Passports, Travel Docs to DHS

Posted: 3:01 am ET
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The State Department spent at least $1,086,250 for the “listening tour” that Secretary of State Rex Tillerson ordered in late April. On Wednesday, the report was made available internally to State and USAID employees. As of this writing, the State Department has not made the report publicly available. A State Department spokesperson told one media outlet that “Unfortunately, the results of the survey will not be available.”  

The 110-page report is copyrighted by Insigniam and marked “confidential and proprietary” (see more about that here: @StateDept Says It’s “Unfortunate” That It Withholds Employee Survey Results From Public 😢 Hu-Hu!).

The report which includes seven recommendations has a chapter on methodology, and a chapter on what employees want to tell Secretary Tillerson. There were 27,837 respondents from State, and 6,142 respondents from USAID. Some 17,600 overseas employees from the two agencies participated.

The largest category of respondents from State is Locally Employed Staff numbering at 6,735  (followed by 6,331 Generalists/FSOs, and 6,009 Civil Service employees). Mid-level rank employees across FS, CS and LE staff occupy the largest count of responders. The largest survey respondents in terms of tenure have served the State Department 6 to 10 years.

The highest number of respondents by regional bureau came from Bureau of European and Eurasian Affairs (EUR) at 3,131. The highest number of respondents by functional bureau came from the Bureau of Diplomatic Security (DS) with 2,524 respondents, followed by the Bureau of Consular Affairs (CA) with 2,142.

The “listening tour” report has multiple parts but we’d like to go straight to the recommendations it provides, which includes crafting a mission; alignment of purpose and mission; serving the frontline first; treasuring the talent; build a shared services model; duration of assignments and overlap transition time; and the removal of the uncertainty of cuts as soon as possible.

Of special note is Recommendation #5 which is “Build a Shared Services Model” which includes 1) security clearances, 2) human resources, 3) IT, 4) planning, budgeting, finance, procurement, and administrative functions, and  5), Move issuance of passports,visas,and other travel documents to Homeland Security.

Folks, ever heard of ICASS? There are already 13 agencies, in addition to State and USAID who are ICASS shared services participating agencies.  State doesn’t have to build a shared services model, it already has one; and that it can expand. Agencies pay their share of post administrative costs based on usage. “Department of State management personnel currently provide most ICASS services, the post ICASS Council can select other U.S. Government agencies or commercial firms to provide services if it can be demonstrated that they have a competitive advantage in improving services or cutting costs.”  As of August 1, 2016 update, participation in services offered through ICASS is voluntary for agencies except for Basic Package, Community Liaison Office Services, Health Services, and Security Services which are mandatory.

The International Cooperative Administrative Support Services (ICASS) system is the principal means that the U.S. Government provides and shares the cost of common administrative support needed to ensure effective operations at its more than 200 diplomatic and consular posts abroad.  In the spirit of the Government Performance and Results Act, the ICASS system seeks to provide quality services at the lowest cost, while attempting to ensure that each agency bears the cost of its presence abroad.  ICASS, through which over 300 Government entities receive bills for shared services, is a break-even system; the charge to the customer agencies equals the cost of services.

The ICASS program provides a full range of administrative services.  These include motor pool operations and vehicle maintenance, travel services, reproduction services, mail and messenger services, information systems management, reception and telephone system services, purchasing and contracting, human resources management, cashiering, vouchering, accounting, budget preparation, residential and nonresidential security guard services, and building operations.  In addition to the services delivered at the post level, the ICASS system also provides service at the regional level.  An example of regional service delivery is the regional finance centers.  ICASS also delivers services at the headquarters level.  Examples of headquarters level services are the shared expenses of the overseas medical program and the grant program managed by Office of Overseas Schools (A/OPR/OS).  The cost of regional and headquarters level programs are added to the cost of post administrative support and distributed to customer agencies as part of the headquarters-level bill.

The recommendation talks about “creating, at minimum a DOS/USAID and optimally, a federal shared services model that includes these functions:”

Item 1: “Security clearances: eliminate the need to apply for a new security clearance for each new federal agency someone is hired by.”

That sounds awkward. Anyway, right now every agency has its own security clearance process. For instance, if an EFM (diplomatic spouse) were hired by DEA at post, his/her security clearance would be done by the DEA. We understand that whichever agency is doing the hiring also does the security clearance. The smart folks who explained this to us said that having a clearance from one agency might speed up your ability to get a clearance from another agency, but the clearances are not reciprocal from one agency to another. For example, if a Secret Service agent is hired by Diplomatic Security, his/her security clearance from the Secret Service doesn’t transfer to the State Department.

So if you’re talking about “eliminating” the need to apply for a new clearance once hired into a new federal agency — well, that’s not at all within the control of the State Department or USAID. Every agency has its own rules.  You want to make those security clearance rules reciprocal across agencies, you want employees to be able to carry their security clearance across agencies, neither the State Department nor USAID have authorities to do that.

A law enforcement pal told us that the only way this recommendation would work is if ALL background investigations were done by a national agency and all executive agencies are required to accept the security clearance issued by that national agency.  There is the National Background Investigations Bureau (NBIB), housed at OPM (oh, dear), responsible for conducting background investigations for over 100 Federal agencies – reportedly approximately 95 percent of the total background investigations government-wide.  As of October 1, 2016, the NBIB was established as the primary service provider of government-wide background investigations for the Federal Government with the mission of “delivering efficient and effective background investigations to ensure the integrity and trustworthiness of the Federal workforce.” On paper, Executive Order 13764 of January 17, 2017 already provides for the reciprocity of background investigations and adjudications conducted by other authorized agencies. But we don’t know how NBIB works in real life.

So —  if you really want to make the process more efficient and effective, you want not just the portability of a security clearance across agencies, you also want the revalidation process for security clearance to move faster. For that to happen, you need people to process and approve the revalidation. You can’t do that if people are rotating out of positions, and/or if you can’t hire even temporary help because of a self-imposed hiring freeze. So …

Item 4: Other planning, budgeting, finance, procurement, and administrative functions: “…one of the initial areas of focus must also be a comprehensive audit of all reports. This will be followed by an aggressive initiative to streamline and consolidate the cacophony reports and the large amount of people-hours invested in writing them.”

Back in 2010, State/OIG determined that the Bureau of Legislative Affairs (State/H) tracked 310 congressionally mandated reports that needed to be submitted in FY 2010. The Bureau of Administration (State/A) on the other hand separately tracked 108 recurring reports required by the Department. If you want to streamline or consolidate those reports, the State Department could start with the A bureau, but would obviously require congressional approval for those 310 reports. The Bureau of Legislative Affairs (State/H) could certainly tackle that, except wait, we don’t have a Senate confirmed Assistant Secretary for Legislative Affairs, or a Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary. My gosh, that bureau is like a ghost town!

Finally item 5 under the report’s “Build Shared Services Model” may prove to be the most controversial:

Item 5: “Move issuance of passports, visas, and other travel documents to Homeland Security: we heard enough comments (combined with our own expertise in organization design and patterns to conclude) that there may be an opportunity to elevate efficiency and reduce cost by this change. Indications are that doing so would elevate security at our borders and remove a source of dissatisfaction and frustration.”

Folks, the entire report contains three references to visas …

#1 –  an acknowledgement of the men and women behind the scenes who helped the contractors obtained visas during the listening tour;

#2 – a comment from one of the respondents who said, “Focus the Department’s mission and rein in the mission creep. Too much goobly-gook has crept in. We should protect American citizens and businesses, vet visas, and encourage democratic rule of law and good governance. Full stop;”

#3 – Under Recommendation 5 “Move issuance of passports,visas,and other travel documents to Homeland Security.

The report does NOT/NOT  include any discussion or justification presented on how moving the issuance of passports, visas and other travel documents may elevate efficiency, and reduce cost, or how it would elevate security at our borders. The contractors heard “enough comments” but those comments do not appear to be in the report.

By the way, what’s the upside of cost reduction if you actually lose $2.45 billion of annual revenue in the process?

We should note that Consular Affairs (CA), the bureau responsible for the issuance of passports and visas has over 12,000 employees at 28 domestic passport facilities, 2 domestic visa centers, 8 headquarters offices, and more than 240 consular sections at embassies and consulates around the world.  In FY2012, the Bureau also generated approximately $3.14 billion in consular fee revenue, of which 78% ($2.45 billion) was retained by the State Department and shared among its regional and functional bureaus.

We will write a separate post about this recommendation because it deserves a longer post. It is also worth noting that the Trump Administration’s nominee to lead Consular Affairs is publicly on record in support of moving the visa function to DHS (see Ex-FSO Who Once Advocated Moving Visas to DHS May be the Next Asst Secretary For Consular Affairs).

 

Related posts:

 

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Consular Affairs Specifically Responds to ‘Move CA to DHS’ News, Spectacularly Omits It in Message to Troops

Posted: 1:50 pm ET
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So we blogged about Carl Risch who was recently nominated to be the next Assistant Secretary for the Bureau of Consular Affairs (State/CA).  See Ex-FSO Who Once Advocated Moving Visas to DHS May be the Next Asst Secretary For Consular Affairs. Yesterday, CNN reported that the Trump White House is reportedly considering a proposal to move both CA and PRM to the Department of Homeland Security. See Trump White House Reportedly Considering Folding CA and PRM to Homeland Security.

Today, Acting Assistant Secretary for Consular Affairs David T. Donahue sent a message of “reassurance” to CA employees, without ever mentioning that CNN report. AAS Donahue must think CA folks all live under huge rocks with no cable teevee, or the Internets. Here is the short form:


Below is the long, not funny form where the AAS says he is “committed to keeping you informed as information is available” in the same message that specifically respond to and spectacularly omits the news report that there is a proposal to move CA to DHS:

You may have seen news reports about a draft proposal to the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) regarding Consular Affairs. Executive Order 13781<https://www.whitehouse.gov/the-press-office/2017/03/13/presidential-executive-order-comprehensive-plan-reorganizing-executive> tasked OMB with a broad collection of proposals from the public and from agencies on how to improve the efficiency, effectiveness, and accountability of the government. This is one of many proposals that resulted from those conversations and brainstorming sessions.

I know we are all proud of the work we do to protect the lives and serve the interests of U.S. citizens abroad and to strengthen the U.S. border with every visa and passport decision we make. We share the President’s desire to do that work as efficiently and effectively as possible. Input from the field has resulted in a number of innovations in recent years, and I encourage all of you to continue to share your thoughts and ideas as to how we can improve our processes.

I am committed to keeping you informed as information is available. Please feel free to forward this message to your consular colleagues. Thank you for the work you do every day to execute our mission with excellence, professionalism, and the highest commitment to public service.

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Trump White House Reportedly Considering Folding CA and PRM to Homeland Security

Posted: 3:43 am ET
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Last week, we blogged about Carl Risch who was recently nominated to be the next Assistant Secretary for the Bureau of Consular Affairs (State/CA).  See Ex-FSO Who Once Advocated Moving Visas to DHS May be the Next Asst Secretary For Consular Affairs. On Wednesday, CNN came out with a report about the Trump White House is reportedly considering a proposal to move both CA and PRM to the Department of Homeland Security. The report says the memo came from the WH Domestic Policy Council.  Trump’s DPC page currently says “Domestic Policy Council – Check back soon for more information.”

According to the Obama White House, Executive Order in 1993, established the Domestic Policy Council (DPC) to coordinate the domestic policy-making process in the White House, to ensure that domestic policy decisions and programs are consistent with the President’s stated goals, and to monitor implementation of the President’s domestic policy agenda.

The DPC is chaired by the President and comprised of the following Council members (see if you can spot who’s missing):

  • Vice President;
  • Secretary of Health and Human Services;
  • Attorney General; Secretary of Labor;
  • Secretary of Veterans Affairs;
  • Secretary of the Interior;
  • Secretary of Education;
  • Secretary of Housing and Urban Development;
  • Secretary of Agriculture;
  • Secretary of Transportation;
  • Secretary of Commerce;
  • Secretary of Energy;
  • Secretary of the Treasury;
  • Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency;
  • Chair of the Council of Economic Advisers;
  • Director of the Office of Management and Budget;
  • Assistant to the President for Economic Policy;
  • Assistant to the President for Domestic Policy;
  • Assistant to the President and Director of the Office of National Service;
  • Senior Advisor to the President for Policy Development;
  • Director, Office of National Drug Control Policy;
  • AIDS Policy Coordinator; and
  • such other officials of Executive departments and agencies as the President may, from time to time designate.

You can read the full Executive Order here.

A January 5 Transition announcement includes the following appointments to the DPC; director and council report to the Senior Advisor to the President for Policy, Stephen Miller.

Director of the White House Domestic Policy Council - Andrew Bromberg -worked at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services from 2001 to 2009, including serving as the Chief of Staff for the Office of Public Health and Science. He later served as Policy Advisor and Counsel on Nominations for Senator Mitch McConnell. He worked as the Policy Director for the 2016 Republican Party Platform. He now works in a lead policy and administrative role on the Presidential Transition Team.

Deputy Director of the Domestic Policy Council and Director of Budget Policy  – Paul Winfree – Director of the Thomas A. Roe Institute for Economic Policy Studies, the Center for Data Analysis and the Richard F. Aster Research Fellow, all at The Heritage Foundation. Prior to joining Heritage, Mr. Winfree was the Director of Income Security on the U.S. Senate Committee on the Budget.

Via CNN:

The White House is considering a proposal to move both the State Department bureau of Consular Affairs and its bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration to the Department of Homeland Security, a senior White House official tells CNN.

The move, which the White House official cautioned was far from becoming official policy, would likely be controversial among diplomats and experts in State Department matters.
[…]
The proposals were written in a memo submitted to the White House Office of Management and Budget from the White House Domestic Policy Council as part of President Trump’s March executive order pushing for ideas for Government Reorganization.
[…]
A senior White House official cautioned that the proposal was far from becoming policy, telling CNN that the idea of moving the longstanding State Department bureaus to the Department of Homeland Security is “one among many in a document resulting from a brainstorming session focused on improving efficiencies across government. None has been reviewed in great depth, let alone formally approved.”
More ….

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Ex-FSO Who Once Advocated Moving Visas to DHS May be the Next Asst Secretary For Consular Affairs

Posted: 10:08 am PT
Updated: 1:14 pm ET
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On June 21, President Trump announced his intent to nominate Carl C. Risch to be the next Assistant Secretary for Consular Affairs. The WH released the following brief bio:

Carl C. Risch of Pennsylvania, to be an Assistant Secretary of State for Consular Affairs. Carl C. Risch is the Acting Chief of Staff in the U.S. Citizen and Immigration Services. He was previously the Field Office Director, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, at the American Embassy in Seoul, South Korea. He is a highly regarded Pennsylvania attorney. A senior immigration official abroad and in Washington, D.C. for over a decade, and a former Foreign Service Officer (Consular) with the Department of State, Mr. Risch is expert in the responsibilities and challenges of managing Consular Affairs worldwide. He earned a BA from Bloomsburg University of Pennsylvania and a JD from Dickinson School of Law in Carlisle, Pennsylvania.

A quick background: The Consular Affairs (CA) Bureau has over 12,000 employees at 28 domestic passport facilities, 2 domestic visa centers, 8 headquarters offices, and more than 240 consular sections at embassies and consulates around the world.  In FY 2015, it adjudicated 13.2 million visa applications. A 2014 OIG report notes that “international tourism supports more than $180 billion of economic activity and more than 8 million U.S. jobs. A total of 819,644 international students in the United States contribute as much as $24 billion to the U.S. economy.”  We don’t have updated numbers but in FY2012, the Bureau also generated approximately $3.14 billion in consular fee revenue, of which 78% ($2.45 billion) was retained by the Department of State and shared among its regional and functional bureaus.

The State Department’s staffing models include potential developments such as an expected Consular workload increase of approximately 50 percent from FY 2013 to FY2021; and a projected deficit of more than 900 Entry Level Generalists for EL Consular positions by the end of FY 2020 under current Consular workload forecasts. That’s just for starters.  A 2014 report notes that the U.S. mission in China processed more than 1 million visa applications in 2011; the mission also believed that within 10 years, annual demand for visas in China alone could jump to 10 million.

U.S. Consular Flag: For use of consular officers in charge of consular posts

So, folks might recall that in the aftermath of 9/11, there was a big fight to move the visa function from the State Department to the newly proposed agency department, the Department of Homeland Security.  Congress eventually established the Department of Homeland Security in November 2002 and tasked the new agency entity with setting visa policy, leaving responsibility for adjudicating visa applications with the State Department. In July 15, 2002, about four months prior to the creation of DHS, the Sub-Committee on the Civil Service, Census and Agency Organization of the Committee on Government Reform held a hearing called “Strengthening America: Should the Issuing of Visas be Viewed as a Diplomatic Tool or Security Measure?”

Among the many witnesses in that hearing was Carl C. Risch who was introduced as an attorney who practiced law in Pennsylvania and a former Foreign Service officer in the State Department who also “has some firsthand experience of Consular Affairs.”

The official WH announcement did not mention this, but Mr. Risch who served one tour as a junior officer in Europe in 1999, once advocated before Congress that the visa function be moved from the State Department to Homeland Security. Perry-Pruitt familiar? That was 15 years ago, and we don’t know what is his thoughts on this issue from his current cubicle at DHS/CIS, but this is part of the nominee’s history with the bureau that he is now nominated to lead. We expect that there would be questions related to this during his confirmation hearing.

The GPO record of the 2002 hearing includes a biographic data for Mr. Risch as follows:

Carl C. Risch is an attorney and former foreign service officer now living in Carlisle, Pennsylvania. Bom March 10, 1970, in Bloomsburg, Pennsylvania, he was graduated from Bloomsburg University  summa cum laude in 1992 and the Dickinson School of Law magna cum laude in 1995. He worked as a litigation associate at Kirkpatrick & Lockhart LLP from 1995 until 1997. In 1997, Mr. Risch joined his  present law firm, Martson Deardorff Williams & Otto in Carlisle, Pennsylvania, as an associate  specializing in corporate law, business transactions, and land use and development. From 1998 until 1999, he served as an assistant adjunct professor of business law at Franklin & Marshall College in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, where he taught contracts and business organizations.

In 1999, Mr. Risch took a leave of absence from his law practice to accept an appointment to the United States Foreign Service. Following a year of training in Washington, D.C., Mr. Risch and his wife, Wendy, were assigned to the U.S. Consulate General in Amsterdam, the Netherlands. While in Holland, Mr. Risch managed the Nonimmigrant Visa Unit for 15 months, worked for 3 months at the U.S. Embassy in The Hague, and managed the American Citizen Services Unit in Amsterdam for 7 months.  In May 2002, Mr. Risch resigned from federal service and rejoined his law firm in Carlisle.

The GPO record also includes Mr. Risch statement to the Sub-Committee.

-> STATEMENT OF CARL C. RISCH, ATTORNEY

Mr. Risch. Thank you, Mr. Chairman, for allowing me to come
and testify on such an important issue. My name is Carl Risch and
I’m a former Foreign Service officer of the U.S. Department of
State having served from 1999 until 2002. From 2000 until 2002,
I served as Vice Consul at the Consulate General in Amsterdam,
the Netherlands, where I managed the Nonimmigrant Visa Unit
for 15 months, including on September 11, 2001.

During my tenure as Unit Chief, I adjudicated approximately
25,000 visa applications. I resigned in May 2002 even though I re-
ceived top evaluations and a challenging onward assignment. While
I longed to return to my private law practice, I was also discour-
aged by the State Department’s lack of dedication to the effective
enforcement of the immigration laws of the United States. I took
my job very seriously. The State Department did not.

Unlike other witnesses you’ve seen, I never served in a so-called
visa mill. In fact, I experienced the best the State Department has
to offer; a tour in a first class, Western European city and at a post
with no staffing problems and a high visa issuance rate.

The fact that even I was terrified by State’s incompetence and
apathy toward law enforcement proves just how far this problem
has progressed. I urge the Congress to support the transfer of the
visa issuing function from State’s Bureau of Consular Affairs to the
new Department of Homeland Security, a department that will be
committed to the rule of law and the national security of the
United States.

During my tour in Amsterdam, I observed two primary institu-
tional problems with the way the State administers visas. First,
State routinely sacrifices the rule of law in order to further its dip-
lomatic goals and ignores the impact this may have on national se-
curity. Second, State considers visa adjudication to be a right of
passage of all Foreign Service officers, even the vast majority who
are disinterested in consular service.

The State Department is by definition a diplomatic institution.
Our officers at posts abroad work hard to improve America’s image
overseas. Adjudicating visa applications, however, has nothing to
do with diplomacy. Immigration law like environmental regulations
and the tax code is a complex, specialized set of rules which allows
foreign nationals to apply for permission to travel to the United
States. The proper administration of these laws requires strict ad-
herence to the rule of law even when decisions are unpopular.

State’s diplomatic function has proven too inconsistent with this
law enforcement function for it to be trusted with this responsibil-
ity. The result has been a visa policy whereby the rule of law is
repeatedly sacrificed to please host country officials and important
contacts in reckless disregard of the impact on national security.

Just one example: While serving in Amsterdam, I interviewed a
Tanzanian who wanted to visit the United States. He had only
been in Holland for a few days as a visitor. He could not articulate
a single reason for wanting to visit the United States or even give
a specific geographic destination for his trip. He had no evidence
of employment or other ties to Tanzania or any other country.

I refused his application for failure to prove his qualifications for
a visit to visit the United States. Less than an hour later, a high-
ranking official called me into his office. Apparently, a local VIP
had called to report that he was disappointed to hear that his
neighbor’s safari jeep driver from Tanzania had been denied a visa.

After the State official apologized to the neighbor for any incon-
venience this man caused, I was then directed to issue the visa.
The fact that the applicant did not qualify for a visa under any rea-
sonable interpretation of the Immigration and Nationality Act did
not seem to bother the official. The only thing that mattered was
the diplomatic mission. Only an agency committed to law enforce-
ment and not diplomacy should be trusted with enforcing the laws
as intended by Congress.

State’s record on visa worsens when one views its staffing policy.
Simply put, State views visa adjudication as garbage work to be
delegated to the lowest ranking, least experienced officers. Poorly
trained, unenthusiastic officers are sent by the hundreds every
year to be our first line of defense at visa issuing posts abroad.

Although virtually all FSOs must spend some time adjudicating
visas, only a minority are actually interested in the work. The rest
suffer through it with the knowledge that the rest of their careers
will be spent elsewhere. It is no wonder that State cannot com-
petently administer the visa function when it intentionally staffs
its Consular sections with people who desperately do not want to
be there.

Visa work should be done by people who are interested in a law
enforcement career, although State behaves as if no one ever wants
to spend their careers adjudicating visas abroad. This is simply not
true. I found visa work to be an exciting and important job where
I could use all my skills as an attorney to implement and enforce
the laws of the United States. I know I’m not alone.

I urge the Congress to support the transfer of the visa issuing
function to the new Department of Homeland Security where visa
sections will likely be staffed with dedicated and enthusiastic law
enforcement officers committed to the national security of the
United States. Thank you.

-> END STATEMENT

 

Related notes:

The Homeland Security Act of 2002 (HSA) contained language stating that DHS is responsible for formulating regulations on visa issuances. In §428, the Secretary of DHS is expressly tasked as follows:

…shall be vested exclusively with all authorities to issue regulations with respect to, administer, and enforce the provisions of such Act, and of all other immigration and nationality laws, relating to the functions of consular officers of the United States in connection with the granting or refusal of visas, and shall have the authority to refuse visas in accordance with law and to develop programs of homeland security training for consular officers (in addition to consular training provided by the Secretary of State), which authorities shall be exercised through the Secretary of State, except that the Secretary shall not have authority to alter or reverse the decision of a consular officer to refuse a visa to an alien … 17

The HSA also enabled DHS to assign staff to consular posts abroad to advise, review, and conduct investigations, which is discussed more fully below. It further stated that DOS’s Consular Affairs continued to be responsible for issuing visas. The HSA required DHS and DOS to reach an understanding on how the details of this division of responsibilities would be implemented.

Some critics of transferring the visa function to DHS warned that visa issuance “adjudication” might become subject to judicial appeals or other due process considerations if a stateside agency, such as DHS, assumed responsibility. As a result, §428(f) of the HSA stated: “Nothing in this section shall be construed to create or authorize a private right of action to challenge a decision of a consular officer or other United States official or employee to grant or deny a visa.” (via CRS)

Memorandum of Understanding Between the Secretaries of State and Homeland Security Concerning Implementation of  Section 428 of the Homeland Security Act of 2002 (via state.gov)

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Snapshot: Top 10 Posts For Immigrant Visas, FY2015

Posted: 2:31 am ET
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Immigrant visas  are used for travel to live permanently in the United States. Click here for immigrant visa categories. Below via travel.state.gov:

iv

 

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Snapshot: Top 10 Posts For Nonimmigrant Visa Issuances, FY2015

Posted: 2:21 am ET
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Nonimmigrant visas are used for travel to the United States on a temporary basis. Click here for the categories of nonimmigrant visas. Note that visas are used to make application to enter the United States. The validity of the visa is not a permit to stay.  Having a visa does not guarantee entry to the United States, it does indicate a consular officer at a U.S. Embassy or Consulate abroad has determined you are eligible to seek entry for that specific purpose. DHS/CBP inspectors are responsible for admission of travelers to the United States, for a specified status and period of time.

Via state.gov:

niv

 

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US to Implement Immediate Heightened Screening and Vetting of Visa Applications

Posted: 4:08 am ET
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Read the cables via Reuters:

1) CABLE 23338 – Guidance to Visa-Issuing Posts; March 10, 2017

2) CABLE 24324 – Implementing Immediate Heightened Screening and Vetting of Visa Applications; March 15, 2017

3) CABLE 24800 – Halt Implementation; March 16, 2017

4) CABLE 25814 – Implementing Immediate Heightened Screening and Vetting of Visa Applications; March 17, 2017

 

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Trump EO Also Suspends Visa Interview Waivers – Expect Long Visa Wait Times, Again

Posted: 10:28 am  PT
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In 2012, then President Obama issued an Executive Order on Establishing Visa and Foreign Visitor Processing Goals and the Task Force on Travel and Competitiveness, which among other things, “ensure that 80 percent of nonimmigrant visa applicants are interviewed within 3 weeks of receipt of application, recognizing that resource and security considerations and the need to ensure provision of consular services to U.S. citizens may dictate specific exceptions”.  The Obama EO directed a plan that “should also identify other appropriate measures that will enhance and expedite travel to and arrival in the United States by foreign nationals, consistent with national security requirements.” In 2012, an Interview Waiver Pilot Program (IWPP) was introduced for for low-risk visa applicants. It became was made permanent in 2014, and became the Visa Interview Waiver Program (VIWP).

According to congressional testimonies, there are 222 visa-issuing embassies and consulates where “highly-trained corps of consular officers and support staff process millions of visa applications each year, facilitating legitimate travel while protecting our borders.”  In FY2015, overseas posts issued over 10.8 million nonimmigrant visas. That number is only a partial picture of the workload as it does not include visa refusals, a number that is significantly higher than visa issuances.

Section 8 of President Trump’s Executive Order: Protecting the Nation From Foreign Terrorist Entry into the United States refers to the immediate suspension of visa interview waivers specifically, the VIWP, and imposes a requirement that all nonimmigrant visa applicants, with exceptions, undergo in-person interviews.

Sec . 8 . Visa Interview Security

(a) The Secretary of State shall immediately suspend the Visa Interview Waiver Program and ensure compliance with section 222 of the INA, 8 U.S.C. 1222, which requires that all individuals seeking a nonimmigrant visa undergo an in-person interview, subject to specific statutory exceptions.

(b)  To the extent permitted by law and subject to the availability of appropriations, the Secretary of State shall immediately expand the Consular Fellows Program, including by substantially increasing the number of Fellows, lengthening or making permanent the period of service, and making language training at the Foreign Service Institute available to Fellows for assignment to posts outside of their area of core linguistic ability, to ensure that non-immigrant visa-interview wait times are not unduly affected.

We understand that the current Visa Interview Waiver Program (VIWP) was “carefully crafted”, and rolled out in consultation with the Congress. It was designed not/not to go back to pre-911 situation but to facilitate travel in cases of no discernable risk.

Here is what the Consular Affairs bureau told Congress:

Since 9/11, a risk-based approach grounded on greater and more effective domestic and international information sharing has become a key principle of visa processing policy.  This approach enables the United States to channel more resources toward the prevention of high-risk travel while simultaneously increasing the number of legitimate visitors arriving by land, air, and sea.  The Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA) prescreening process for Visa Waiver Program (VWP) travelers, international information sharing arrangements, Global Entry, which expedites the movement of low-risk, frequent travelers who proceed directly to automated kiosks upon arrival in the United States, and interagency counterterrorism and eligibility checks are examples of how U.S. agencies can use information collected from visitors and/or governments in advance of travel to accomplish complimentary and mutually re-enforcing goals of preventing terrorists and serious criminals from traveling to the United States while facilitating the entry of legitimate visitors.

We asked the State Department about the suspension of the VIWP and its impact on visa operations. We were interested in the number of applicants who used the Visa Interview Visa Program for the last fiscal year.  In trying to get a sense of the impact of the new EO on visa operations, we also were interested on number of consular officers in visa sections worldwide.

Our question is in general staffing terms not specific to any posts, nonetheless, a State Department official on background declined to discuss staffing levels or the number of officers working at any embassy or consulate.  However, the SDO  did provided the following information:

The Executive Order suspends previously authorized portions of the Interview Waiver Program. The Interview Waiver Program will continue for certain diplomatic and official visa applicants from foreign governments and international organizations (categories: A-1, A-2, G-1, G-2, G-3, G-4, NATO-1 through -6, C-2 and C-3) applicants under the age of 14, or over the age of 79; and applicants who previously held a visa in the same category that expired less than 12 months prior to the new application. As always, a consular officer must require that any applicant appear for an in-person interview in any situation where information provided on the application or during the screening process indicates any reason for further questioning. All visa applications, including those cases above, for which the visa interview is waived, are subject to the same rigorous security screening.

Previously, applicants renewing their visas in the same category within 48 months of expiration were eligible for their interview to be waived, as were first-time Brazilian and Argentine applicants ages 14-15 and 66-79.

We don’t know what is the current number but in 2013, Brazilian visitors contributed $10.5 billion to the U.S. economy, a 13 percent increase from the prior year.

Background of the Visa Interview Waiver Program (VIWP)

In January 2012, the Department and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) initiated the two-year Interview Waiver Pilot Program (IWPP) to streamline processing for low-risk visa applicants.  The worldwide pilot program allows consular officers to waive in-person interviews for certain nonimmigrant visa applicants who were previously interviewed and thoroughly screened in conjunction with a prior visa application, and who are renewing a previous visa within four years of its expiration.  The pilot program also allows consular officers to waive interviews for qualified Brazilian applicants falling into specific age ranges, even when applying for visas for the first time.

All IWPP applications are thoroughly reviewed by a commissioned consular officer, with the applicant’s fingerprints, photograph, and biodata undergoing extensive database checks.  Consular officers have been directed to require an interview for any applicant who might otherwise qualify for the IWPP, if the application is not immediately approvable upon paper review, including if database checks reveal potential grounds of inadmissibility or other possible concerns.  State concluded an August 2013 validation study of the IWPP, which showed that B1/B2 visa issuances under the IWPP present no greater risk of overstay than interview-based B1/B2 visa issuances.

In 2013, State/CA’s congressional testimony indicates that “more than 90 percent of applicants worldwide were interviewed within three weeks of submitting their applications.”  This includes key markets such as China where consular officers were able to keep interview wait times to an average of five days while managing an average annual workload increase of 23 percent over the past three years.  In Brazil, consular officers were able to bring down wait times by 98 percent, from a high of 140 days in São Paulo, to just two days in September 2013, while also managing an eleven percent jump in annual workload between 2011 and 2013. These results were partially attributed to the VIWP:

The Department’s success is partially attributable to the introduction of secure, streamlined processes such as the Interview Waiver Pilot Program (IWPP), which allows consular officers to waive in-person interviews for certain nonimmigrant visa applicants who are renewing their visas, and whose biometric data we have on file.  IWPP is operational at more than 90 visa processing posts in more than 50 countries, and consular officers have already waived interviews for more than 500,000 of these low-risk visa applicants.  The pilot has been particularly successful in China, where it constitutes 30 percent of Mission China’s visa renewal workload.  Of course, these applicants are subject to all of the security checks conducted for any interviewed applicant.  State also concluded an August 2013 validation study of the IWPP, which showed that B1/B2 visa issuances under the IWPP present no greater risk of overstay than interview-based B1/B2 visa issuances.

One of the most effective ways we have to improve the efficiency of visa operations is to eliminate in-person interviews for low-risk travelers, while retaining all of the security checks that apply to every visa applicant.  Although the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA) requires our consular officers to interview in-person all visa applicants aged 14 through 79, it also provides limited authority to waive interviews, including authority to waive for diplomatic and official applicants from foreign governments and for some repeat applicants.  We are utilizing technology and advanced fraud detection techniques to help us expand the pool of applicants for whom interviews can be waived under the Interview Waiver Program.  This allows us to focus resources on higher-risk visa applicants while facilitating travel for low-risk applicants.

We are working with our colleagues across the government to expand this successful program, which became permanent in January 2014.  In fiscal year 2013, we waived over 380,000 interviews, and a recent study showed that tourist and business visitor visa holders whose interviews were waived, all of whom were subject to the full scope of security checks, posed no greater risk for an overstay than those who were interviewed.  We are interested in explicit legislative authority to supplement the existing Interview Waiver Program by adding additional low-risk applicant groups such as citizens of Visa Waiver Program members applying for other types of visas such as student or work visas; continuing students moving to a higher level of education; non-U.S. citizen Global Entry and NEXUS trusted traveler program members; and holders of visas in other categories, such as students and workers, who wish to travel for tourism or business.  The Department is interested in working with Congress on legislation specifically authorizing the Secretaries of State and Homeland Security to enhance our interview waiver programs.

Since the VIWP is available in China and India, and many other countries with high visa demand, and includes visitor/business (B1-B2) visas, student (F) visas, and temporary worker’s (H1-B) visas, the workload impact on consular sections will be significant.  As more applicants require interviews, more interview windows will be needed, more consular officers will be needed, and larger facilities would become necessary.

By shutting down the IVWP, the Trump EO immediately expands the number of applicants that require in-person interviews. Section 8 (b) of the Trump EO also “immediately expand” the Consular Fellows Program, while a separate EO imposed a federal hiring freeze. Even if hiring is allowed under the Consular Fellows program, training new limited noncareer employees cannot occur overnight.

According to CA official’s congressional testimony, in 2014, 75 million international visitors traveled to the United States, a seven percent increase over 2013; they spent over $220 billion.  “Tourism is America’s largest services export and one that can’t be outsourced.” See current key numbers on US tourism in infographic below.

In FY 2014, Consular Affairs also generated $3.6 billion in revenue, which supports all consular operations in the Department and provides border security-related funding to some interagency partners. The CA bureau is probably the only fully fee-funded operation in the State Department.  It collects and retains fees for certain visa and passport services pursuant to specific statutory authority.  According to congressional testimony, the current fee statutes allow the bureau to retain approximately 80 percent of the fees it collects, with the balance going to the Treasury, which then help fund 12 other arms of the USG supporting border protection/national security.

 

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@StateDept Launches Inaugural Leadership Day — Who’s Missing? (Updated)

Posted: 1:07 am ET
Updated: 8:44 pm PT
[twitter-follow screen_name=’Diplopundit’ ]

 

In 2014, we saw a FAM update on Leadership and Management Principles for State Department Employees. Long, long, before that, there was Secretary Colin Powell and leadership. In 2000, FSI launched a new Leadership and Management School. Twelve years later, State/OIG still talked leadership (see State Dept’s Leadership and Management School Needs Some Leadership, And It’s Not Alone). For the longest time after Powell exited the State Department, the one part of the State Department that actively pursued leadership as part of it staff development is the Bureau of Consular Affairs (CA). CA developed the Consular Leadership Tenets  in 2006 after receiving input from 87 overseas consular sections. In 2007, somebody even got the then Under Secretary for Management Henrietta Fore to “talked” (PDF) about promoting leadership development, specifically citing the consular leadership tenets and what the bureau “is doing to cultivate a culture of leadership and results-oriented professional development.”

Now, we understand that there were a few folks at CA/EX who made possible the leadership initiative there, including Don Jacobson, the founder of GovLeaders.org. He was previously consular boss for Mission Brazil and received the Raphel Memorial Award for  “outstanding leadership and direction” of the consular team.  He once said:

My best assignments have been those that involved “crucible” experiences–intense experiences rich in learning. For example, in Bogota we had a huge spike in workload and nowhere near the resources we needed to get the job done. We implemented some terrific innovations, but I also wound up burning out some of my officers. I learned a lot from that and have tried to take a much more balanced approach since then. At another post, I had some great opportunities to develop a stronger backbone. I terminated two employees and also had to protect my staff from a difficult senior boss. I used to avoid conflict as much as I could, but that is not helpful in a manager. Managers need to have a backbone in order to be effective—to speak truth to power, to protect their staff from abuse, and to deal with poor performance and unacceptable behavior. These things get easier with practice because, as I have found, difficult problems go away if you actually deal with them. 

Unfortunately, it does not look like he has a speaking part in the State Department’s big leadership powwow. Perhaps all those annual leadership awardees at State should be talking about leadership in practice?

Today, the State Department launched its first Leadership Day.  According to AFSA, the inaugural Leadership Day is organized by the State Department’s Culture of Leadership Initiative (iLead), a voluntary group of employees “working to strengthen leadership skills and practice throughout the State Department.” iLead originated with the 2014 release of the LMPs. The iLead forum is currently co-chaired by Carmen Cantor, HR/CSHRM Office Director; Michael Murphy, Associate Dean at FSI’s Leadership and Management School; and Julie Schechter-Torres, Acting Deputy Director of M/PRI.

As outlined in the 2015 Quadrennial Diplomacy and Development Review (QDDR), the success of the State Department rests on its ability to recruit, train, deploy, and retain talented and dedicated professionals. We must prepare people not only to react quickly to crises, but also to proactively advance our interests – all the while caring for the wellbeing and development of themselves and colleagues. To celebrate recent achievements and to foster continuous commitment to the Department’s Leadership and Management Principles, iLead is organizing a Leadership Day to showcase leadership in practice. The event is scheduled to take place on December 13, 2016 with a plenary session in the Dean Acheson Auditorium and a Leadership Expo in the Exhibit Hall at the Harry S Truman building. The event will feature presentations, panel discussions, and short talks on leadership and professional development by Department staff at all levels and from various disciplines.

The preliminary agenda is as follows:

11:00 AM – 1:00 PM Leadership Expo in the Exhibit Hall, HST

1:00 PM – 4:00 PM Plenary Session in the Dean Acheson Auditorium

The Leadership Day plenary session will be comprised of two segments: a senior leadership panel discussion and a series of short talks on the Leadership and Management Principles. The senior panel will highlight reflections on leadership and bureau best practices as championed by the following participants:

Catherine Novelli, U/S for Economic Growth, Energy and the Environment;
Michele Thoren Bond, A/S for Consular Affairs;
Linda Thomas-Greenfield, A/S for African Affairs;
William Brownfield, A/S for Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs.

Interested employees may send questions for the panel to ilead@state.gov.

We noticed the names absent from the above line-up.  The Deputy Secretary of Management and Resources (D/MR) is missing. The Under Secretary for Management (M) is not listed as a speaker. The Director General of the Foreign Service (DGHR) who by the way, has been running a podcast on leadership on iTunes and SoundCloud is also not in the line-up. Of course, they are busy with other stuff but these senior officials have a larger impact on the institution and its people. Wouldn’t you want to hear their thoughts about leadership and management in practice during the inaugural Leadership Day? No?

Update: It looks like the AFSA notice we saw about this event was outdated.  We’ve since learned that Secretary Kerry gave a keynote speech on leadership, and DGHR Arnold Chacon had a speaking role as well. Don Jacobson also did a presentation during the “Leaders Speak” part of this program.  Our source told us that “Leadership Day was organized by an amazing team of volunteers who are passionate about growing leaders for State. They are among the many members of the iLead group that consistently put their discretionary energy into promoting effective leadership at all levels of the State Department.”

The talk, the talk, Throwback Tuesday:

From State Magazine, 2001: “Investment in human capital is critical to maintaining State’s expertise in the 21st century. As Director General Marc Grossman told a Georgetown University audience recently, “I tell everyone who will listen that training and professional development will be key to meeting the challenges of our new world and key to our ability to fashion a diplomacy for the 21st century.”

From AFSA, 2015 – DGHR Arnold Chacon: “We are partnering with AFSA to develop and implement a professional code of ethics for the Foreign Service, based on our core values of accountability, character, community, diversity, loyalty and service. Bringing these values into sharper relief—and tying them to who we are and to what we do that is unique and consequential for our nation—is essential for our conversations with Congress and the American people. We not only want to forge a more capable FS 2025 workforce, but also communicate our accomplishments strategically and well.”

Also, hey, whatever happened to AFSA’s Committee on the Foreign Service Profession and Ethics?

 

Related posts:

 

 

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Burn Bag: Consular Locally Employed Staff on LinkedIn? #VisaTroubles

Via Burn Bag:

“So, the Consular Section’s locally engaged employees are publicly identifying themselves as such on LinkedIn? Not a good idea.”

via imoviequotes.com

via imoviequotes.com

LES – Locally Employed Staff

FSNs – Foreign Service National employees

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