Looky at the Daily Press Briefings: “The Lowest-Profile State Department in 45 Years”

Posted: 1:18 am ET
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@StateDept Spins the Russia Sanctions, Fails to Impress Regular Folks

Posted: 12:01 am ET
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Tillerson Rescinds Delegated Authorities Department-Wide, Further Gums Up Foggy Bottom

Posted: 12:19 am ET
Updated: 9:05 pm PT
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According to the Foreign Affairs Manual (FAM), a delegation of authority states the specific actions for which an officer has authority, as well as the limitations and special conditions that apply to the authority. A delegation of authority is subject to any legally prescribed condition or criteria of execution, whether or not mentioned in the delegation. The FAM identifies two authorities:

(1) Authorities originally assigned to the Secretary or the Department: Unless otherwise specified in law, the Secretary of State may delegate authority to perform any of the functions of the Secretary or the Department of State to officers and employees under the direction and supervision of the Secretary. If the Secretary so specifies, such functions may be redelegated by the delegated officer or employee to any officers and employees under the delegated officers direction and supervision (see 22 U.S.C. 2651a); and

(2) Authorities originally assigned to the President: If an authority was originally assigned to the President, there must be a delegation of authority from the President to the Secretary or the Department before a Department of State delegation of authority to a Department officer can be signed. In addition, unless otherwise specified in law, authorities originally delegated from the President may only be redelegated to officials who are appointed by and with the advice of the Senate (see 3 U.S.C. 301).

We heard from sources that Secretary Tillerson has rescinded all delegated authorities last week. The two sources are not Public Affairs shop officials.  The revocation of authorities is department-wide and includes everything apparently from the Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF), the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) sanctions, and  even routine authorities related to military exercises. 

One called it “completely insane.”

Another said, “Basically it’s a clusterfuck.”

Icky, Sticky Bubble Gum’s Gonna Eat Ya

The Bureau of Administration’s A/GIS/DIR is supposed to maintain a database of delegated authorities including those rescinded. But, of course, those are not public.  On July 20, the Federal Register published the May 1 delegation of authority by Tillerson to the Director of the Office of U.S. Foreign Assistance Resources.

Below are some examples of delegated authorities:

Secretary of State to the Assistant Secretary for Diplomatic Security:  Diplomatic The Secure Embassy Construction and Counterterrorism Act of 1999 (Foreign Relations Authorization Act, FY 2000 and 2001, Title VI, Public Law 106-113) (22 U.S.C. 4865), established two security requirements for U.S. diplomatic facilities abroad:  collocation and setback.  The authority to waive these requirements has been delegated from the Secretary of State to the Assistant Secretary for Diplomatic Security, except for chancery and consulate buildings.

OFM’s Director and Deputy Director: Requests from foreign missions for the Department to certify to the Department of the Treasury the reciprocal income tax exemption privileges that are provided to employees of the U.S. mission in the respective country.  Such certifications are required under 26 U.S.C. 893(b).  The authority to make such certifications has been delegated to OFM’s Director and Deputy Director.

Deputy Legal Advisers: Per 22 CFR 172.4 and 172.5 (approval of testimony and production of documents by Department employees, delegated to the Deputy Legal Advisers by Delegation of Authority No. 206, dated September 7, 1993).

Under Secretary for Management : The Secretary of State is responsible for control of the organizational structure and assignment of functions in the Department of State.  The Secretary has delegated this authority to the Under Secretary for Management (M). Other authorities delegated to M are (not an exhaustive list):  

  • Department of State Delegation of Authority No. 311, Negotiation, Conclusion and Termination of Treaties and Other International Agreements; 
  • Department of State Delegation of Authority No. 147, Delegation of Authorities vested in the Secretary by Title II of the Basic Authorities Act (primarily foreign mission administration), dated September 13, 1982; 
  • Department of State Delegation of Authority No. 147-1, covering acceptance of gifts and vehicles overseas, dated December 21, 1990.

Bureau of Consular Affairs: We don’t know how many delegated authorities there are in totality but the Bureau of Consular Affairs alone has 27 delegated authorities going back to 1969. We understand that this was recently just been renegotiated.  Here are some (not an exhaustive list):

  • Delegation of Authority 119 (2/13/1969):  Authority to designate persons who shall be authorized and empowered to administer oaths in connection with the execution of passport applications.
  • Delegation of Authority 143 (10/30/1981):  Delegation of Authority to Issue Certificates of Authentication for Documents Maintained by the Office of Passport Services Department of State.
  • Delegation of Authority 253 (9/1/2002):  Delegation from the Secretary of State to the Assistant Secretary for Consular Affairs Exceptions from Port-of-Entry Special Registration, Fingerprinting and Photographing (Class A Referrals).
  • Delegation of Authority 261 (9/16/2003):  Intercountry Adoption Act of 2000 – Authority of the Secretary of State under the Hague Adoption Convention and the IAA delegated to the Assistant Secretary for Consular Affairs.
  • Delegation of Authority 361 (7/15/2013):  Authority to disclose certain visa information to national security officials for a national security purpose.
  • Delegation of Authority 298 (4/9/2007):  Delegation by the Assistant Secretary for Consular Affairs to the Deputy Assistant Secretary for Overseas Citizens Services; the Managing Director, Overseas Citizens Services; the Director, Office of Children’s Issues, Overseas Citizens Services; and the Director, Office of American Citizens Services, Overseas Citizens Services, of Authority to Issue Hague Adoption Certificates and Custody Declarations.
  • Delegations of Authorities 367 (9/17/2013)and 367-3 (3/30/2015): Authority to administer and enforce immigration and nationality laws, and re-delegation of certain of those authorities to CA/VO, CA/VO/L/A, and CA/VO/L/R.

So this is really bonkers. Whoever advised Tillerson to rescind the delegation of authorities department-wide could not possibly be this dumb because this is one quick way of gumming up further the entire agency. Much more than it already has been gummed up.

Why yes, if you need a pass for the State Department parking garage, you have to ask Tillerson’s Front Office for that, too.

The parking garage permit needs the 7th Floor approval. Just think about that.

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ExxonMobil “demonstrated reckless disregard for U.S. sanctions” – @StateDept says go over there for QQQs!

Posted: 12:42 am ET
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The State Department spokesperson Heather Nauert did one of her twice a week Daily Press Briefing at the State Department and was asked about the Treasury Department’s Exxon fine for violating the Russian sanctions when Secretary Tillerson was the CEO. A quick note here.  We realized that they’ve changed the name of this briefing into “Department Press Briefing” but as a daily reminder that the Bureau of Public Affairs is now unable to handle the daily demands of briefing the press, we will continue calling this the State Department’s Daily Press Briefing.

Below are excerpts from the DPB:

MS NAUERT: The Secretary – we’re not going to have any comments today for you on some of the alleged facts or the facts underlying the enforcement action. Treasury is going to have to answer a lot of these questions for you. I’m not going to have a lot for you on this today. The Treasury Department was involved in this. They were the ones who spearheaded this. And so for a lot of your questions, I’m going to have to refer you to Treasury.

MS NAUERT: Yes. I’m not going to comment on that at this time. The Secretary recused himself from his dealings with ExxonMobil at the time that he became Secretary of State. This all predates his time here at the Department of State, and so —

MS NAUERT: I think I will say this: The Secretary continues to abide by his ethical commitments, including that recusal from Exxon-related activities. The action was taken by the Department of State – excuse me, the Department of the Treasury, and State was not involved in this.

QUESTION: And does – can you tell us if the Secretary believes in the objectives of the Ukraine-related sanctions programs?

MS NAUERT: I know that we have remained very concerned about maintaining sanctions. That will continue. We’ve been clear that sanctions will continue until Russia does what Russia needs to do.

QUESTION: For the record, will he come down and talk with us —

MS NAUERT: Well, I’m sorry, who —

QUESTION: — talk about this? Just for the record, will he come down and talk about this to us himself?

MS NAUERT: Well, I’m here to speak on his behalf and on behalf of the building. There’s not a whole lot that we can say about this right now. Again, you can talk to Treasury or to Exxon about this. Okay.

MS NAUERT: The Secretary has been – not to my knowledge. I can tell you this, that he has been extremely clear in his recusal of anything having to do with Exxon. When this information come to us here at the State Department, it did not come to the Secretary himself. It came to the Deputy Secretary John Sullivan. The Secretary has taken this very seriously, that Exxon-related activities are not something that he is involved with here as Secretary of State.

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In assessing the maximum monetary penalty, Treasury/OFAC outlined the following as aggravating factors (via):

(1) ExxonMobil demonstrated reckless disregard for U.S. sanctions requirements when it failed to consider warning signs associated with dealing in the blocked services of an SDN; (note: Specially Designated Nationals)

(2) ExxonMobil’s senior-most executives knew of Sechin’s status as an SDN when they dealt in the blocked services of Sechin;

(3) ExxonMobil caused significant harm to the Ukraine-related sanctions program objectives by engaging the services of an SDN designated on the basis that he is an official of the Government ofthe Russian Federation contributing to the crisis in Ukraine; and

(4) ExxonMobil is a sophisticated and experienced oil and gas company that has global operations and routinely deals in goods, services, and technology subject to U.S economic sanctions and U.S. export controls.

U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson delivers remarks at the 22nd World Petroleum Congress opening ceremony in Istanbul, Turkey, on July 9, 2017. [State Department photo/ Public Domain]

 

AND NOW THIS — the State Department’s “employee-led redesign initiative” with no “predetermined outcomes” is a runner up for “Best in Show.”

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@StateDept Spox Talks About Visa Refusals, Oh Dear!

Posted: 3:01 am ET
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Via the Department Press Briefing:

(No longer daily, now rebranded, and better than ever)

QUESTION: Well, does that mean parole – the fact that parole had to be used would suggest – and let’s just put it in a – not in this specific context, because you won’t talk about these visas specifically – would suggest that the reason for ineligibility stands, that – in other words, that if parole is the only way a person can get into this country, that the decision made by the consular officers at post stands.

MS NAUERT: The consular officers – as I understand it, under law and the way that they handle visa adjudications, once a visa is denied, that that is not able to be reversed, that that decision is not able to be reversed.

QUESTION: Right. In other words – so the decision that was made at post that these girls or anyone was ineligible for a visa stands. So —

MS NAUERT: I can’t comment – I cannot —

QUESTION: — then one wonders why the immigration law is such that it determines or that someone looking at it determines that a bunch of teenage Afghan girls are somehow a threat to the United States or are somehow a – somehow – or otherwise ineligible for an American visa.

MS NAUERT: I think commenting on that, as much as I would like to be able to share with you more about this – you know I can’t. You know I can’t because it’s a visa confidentiality, but I can tell you that it is not reversible once a consular affairs officer denies someone’s visa. DHS took it up; they have the ability to do so. Anything beyond that, DHS would have to answer that.

QUESTION: Right. But I mean it remains the State Department’s position that someone who can only get into the country on this parole – on parole is ineligible for a visa, correct?

MS NAUERT: I wouldn’t conflate one with the other. That is DHS. That’s a different department. That’s a different kind of program. That’s not a program that we administer here. Okay?

QUESTION: But State Department denied the visas twice before the parole was granted.

MS NAUERT: I can’t comment on that. Again, that would come under visa confidentiality. DHS made its decision, and so we are now glad that the girls are coming to the United States and wish them well.

QUESTION: But would that initial decision be reviewed, then, and whatever —

MS NAUERT: I know that our people at very senior levels in Afghanistan were involved in this, and I’ll just leave it at that. Okay?

QUESTION: So if parole – if visa – if visa information is completely confidential and you can’t discuss it, why is parole information available? And then why didn’t you give parole to the —

MS NAUERT: That’s a – you have to talk to DHS about that. Again, that’s a DHS program.

NOW THIS — tales of visa confidentiality:

In fairness to the State Department, the agency did not release any statement about its issuance of a visa to the current central player of the Russian controversy. The Department of Homeland Security did that on its own in a statement to BuzzFeed News last week when DHS cited the issuance of a B1/B2 nonimmigrant visa by the U.S. Department of State in June 2016.

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Related items:

9 FAM 403.10-4  (U) OVERCOMING OR WAIVING REFUSALS

INA 291 places the burden of proof upon the applicant to establish eligibility to receive a visa.  However, the applicant is entitled to have full consideration given to any evidence presented to overcome a presumption or finding of ineligibility.  It is the policy of the U.S. Government to give the applicant every reasonable opportunity to establish eligibility to receive a visa.  This policy is the basis for the review of refusals at consular offices and by the Department.  It is in keeping with the spirit of American justice and fairness.  With regard to cases involving classified information, the cooperation accorded the applicant must, of course, be consistent with security considerations, within the reasonable, non-arbitrary, exercise of discretion in the subjective judgments required under INA 214(b) and 221(g).

Humanitarian or Significant Public Benefit Parole for Individuals Outside the United States

Individuals who are outside of the United States may be able to request parole into the United States based on humanitarian or significant public benefit reasons.

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A #SexualAssault Reporting Process Foreign Service Members Deserve: How Much Longer Secretary #Tillerson?

Posted: 8:55 pm PT
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We’ve written several blogposts on sexual assaults and/or the lack of clear sexual assault reporting guidance in the Foreign Service in 2016 (see The State Dept’s Sexual Assault Reporting Procedure Appears to Be a Black Hole of Grief and First Person: I am a ✂️ FSO who was ✂️ raped in ✂️… Continuing on has been ✂️ incredibly difficult… and other links below).

On November 22 last year, the State Department directed a task force to create a new section in the Foreign Affairs Manual for sexual assault (see U/S For Management Directs Task Force to Create New Sexual Assault FAM Guidance). In December, we posted an update when the State Department told us that “The Department is committed to the work the taskforce is doing to create a sexual assault section for the FAM, work that will continue past inauguration day.” (see @StateDept Task Force For New Sexual Assault FAM Guidance – An Update). Through the last few months we have regularly checked in with the State Department to follow-up on the new regulations.

Today is exactly six months to the day when an inter-bureau taskforce was directed to create a new section in the Foreign Affairs Manual for guidance on sexual assault.  The State Department’s Bureau of Public Affairs — that in the past had been responsive in assuring us that the agency is committed to the creation of the sexual assault regulations —  did not acknowledge nor respond to our inquiry as of this writing.

So let’s ask their boss — how much longer Secretary Tillerson before the Foreign Service gets its sexual assault reporting guidance?

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Sexual Assault Related posts:

 

@StateDept’s $1,086,250 Organizational Study: Multiple Contractors Interviewed But Only 1 Offer?

Posted: 1:54 am ET
Updated: May 12, 1:02 pm PT
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Via CBS News:

The State Department will be spending at least $1,086,250 for the “listening tour” that Secretary of State Rex Tillerson launched Wednesday morning.

The department has contracted Insigniam, a private consulting firm, to conduct the review in a project they are calling the “Department of State organizational study.” The State Department has not replied to requests for comment on the review’s price tag and their decision to use Insigniam to carry out this review.

Tillerson and the Insigniam co-founder Nathan Owen Rosenberg served on the Boy Scouts of America board together in 2011. The State Department has not replied to requests for comment on the review’s price tag and their decision to use Insigniam to carry out this review.

After Bloomberg broke the news on April 27 that Secretary Tillerson is seeking a 9% workforce cut and has hired the consulting company Insigniam to conduct a survey, we started looking for the contract awarded. We wanted to see the scope of work and the statement of work requirement included in this contract. We were able to find a $60M Professional Staffing Support Contract awarded on April 5, an Intent to Sole Source $34K Representational Furnishings on April 24  on FedBizOpps where federal business opportunities are typically posted, but not this one.

We understand that Insigniam was elected under a “sole source” contract. On May 1st, we emailed the State Department’s Bureau of Public Affairs for information on how and when this contract was awarded since we have not been able to find  the agency’s sole source justification for the job. As of this writing, the State Department has neither acknowledged nor responded to our inquiry.

Three contracts

We have since learned of three transactions (thanks Z!) issued to Insigniam LLC, a company based in Pennsylvania’s 2nd congressional district (PA02). The first contract SAQMMA17C0157 dated April 25, 2017 is valued at $850,000. The second contract SAQMMA17C0157 dated April 28, 2017 is valued at $236,250.  The third contract SAQMMA17C0157 is dated April 29, 2017 and does not have an obligated value. The third contract’s “Reason for Modification” is listed as “M: Other Administrative Action.”  All three contracts list May 30, 2017 as the “current” and “ultimate” completion date.

click on image to see the contracts via usaspending.gov

The funding for these contracts have been requested through the Bureau of Administration (State/A) but the Contracting Office is the State Department’s Acquisitions office (AQMMA). This is a definitive, firm fixed price contract.  The cost or pricing data is listed as “W: Not Obtained — Waived.”  The contract description says “Department of State Organizational Study.”

Multiple contractors interviewed but only 1 offer?

Under Competition Information, usaspending.gov lists this contract as “not competed”; the reason for the non-competition is listed as “Urgency.” This section also saysNumber of Offers Received: 1.”

The State Department apparently told CBS News that “they interviewed multiple contractors for the project before selecting Insigniam.”

“Of the proposals reviewed, Insigniam’s was the most cost-effective for the expertise, scope, and timeline needed, including its ability to survey and provide analysis of large organizations,” a State Department official told CBS News.  

So the State Department interviewed multiple contractors but those companies did not compete for this contract? And only one offer was received?

The company is listed on usaspending.gov as a partnership with 49 employees and an annual revenue of $12.7M.  The contracting officer determined it as a “small business”, “woman owned” and a “self-certified disadvantage business.” Under competition information, however, these contracts indicate “no set aside used” and “no preference used.”

The GSA confirmed to us that “the agency will dictate whether they are required to use GSA schedules or directly from a vendor. GSA has no say in how a customer orders needed materials or services.”

We are aware of only one previous organizational study conducted at the State Department (if there’s more, let us know!). There was  a study focused on the Foreign Service and was based on three management conferences held by the Department in 1965. It was conducted by Professor Chris Argyris of Yale University.  There were a few others through the years; we’ll try and see if we can find a good list to post here. 

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#RememberWhen: Secretary of State Answers Questions on World Press Freedom Day

Posted: 3:04 pm ET
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Via state.gov:

May 3rd marks the annual commemoration of World Press Freedom Day. The United States values freedom of the press as a key component of democratic governance. Democratic societies are not infallible, but they are accountable, and the exchange of ideas is the foundation for accountable governance. In the U.S. and in many places around the world, the press fosters active debate, provides investigative reporting, and serves as a forum to express different points of view, particularly on behalf of those who are marginalized in society. The U.S. commends journalists around the world for the important role they play, and for their commitment to the free exchange of ideas.

The U.S. in particular salutes those in the press who courageously do their work at great risk. The press is often a target of retaliation by those who feel threatened by freedom of expression and transparency in democratic processes. Journalists are often the first to uncover corruption, to report from the front lines of conflict zones, and to highlight missteps by governments. This work places many journalists in danger, and it is the duty of governments and citizens worldwide to speak out for their protection and for their vital role in open societies.

Below is a photo of then Secretary Kerry taking questions from reporters after his remarks on World Press Freedom Day last year. There is no such event this year.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry listens to a question from AP reporter Matt Lee after the Secretary’s remarks on World Press Freedom Day at the top of the Daily Press Briefing at the U.S. Department of State in Washington, D.C., on May 3, 2016. [State Department Photo/Public Domain]

Secretary Tillerson who has a documented aversion to journalists released a statement marking World Press Freedom Day:

Today, on World Press Freedom Day, we reaffirm our commitment to promoting the fundamental principles of a free press around the world. We honor those men and women who work tirelessly, often at great personal risk, to tell the stories we would not otherwise hear. They are the guardians of democratic values and ideals.

The United States has a strong track record of advocating for and protecting press freedom. The U.S. Department of State offers development programs and exchanges for media professionals, supports the free flow of information and ideas on the internet, and provides the tools and resources needed to keep journalists safe.

Ethical and transparent media coverage is foundational to free and open societies. It promotes accountability and sparks public debate. Societies built on good governance, strong civil society, and an open and free media are more prosperous, stable, and secure.

For five years ending in 2016, the State Department had a “Free The Press” campaign timed for World Press Freedom Day. It usually highlights for a week — at the Daily Press Briefing leading up to May 3rd — various journalists and media outlets (including bloggers) who are censored, attacked, threatened, intimidated, imprisoned, or otherwise oppressed because of their reporting.  DRL’s https://www.humanrights.gov does not have anything on this campaign for 2017 so this annual campaign is effectively done and over.

Some parts of the organization, are nonetheless doing the best they can to mark May 3rd. Share America, part of IIP, the foreign public facing arm of arm of the State Department is doing this:

And one of the two remaining under secretaries at State did this with BBG:

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Oy! That Rumor About Foreign Service Family Member Employment as “Corporate Welfare”

Posted: 1:39 am ET
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We posted recently about the hiring freeze, the jobs for diplomatic spouses, and the worries that these jobs could soon be filled not by the U.S. citizen spouses of USG employees overseas but by locally hired employees (see Are #EFM positions literally about to become…extinct under #Tillerson’s watch?).

We have since learned that the Foreign Service community has been roiled by a rumor that the top diplomat of the United States has allegedly called the employment of Foreign Service family members as “corporate welfare” and allegedly said to one of his deputies that this practice is going to stop.

The secretary of state is surrounded by a small number of inner circle staffers like Margaret Peterlin, Christine Ciccone, Matt Mowers and Bill Ingle but his top deputies are currently nowhere in sight in Foggy Bottom as he has no confirmed deputy. Where did this rumor come from?  Was this overheard in the cafeteria, by the water coolers, in Foggy Bottom’s sparkling bathrooms?  We have not been able to trace the origin of this alleged quote, or locate a first hand account of who heard exactly what when.  But since the rumor has raced like wildfire fire within the State Department, and has a potential deleterious effect on morale, we’ve asked the Bureau of Public Affairs via email, and on Twitter to comment about this alleged quote. Unfortunately, we got crickets; we got no acknowledgement that they even received our multiple inquiries, and we’ve seen no response to-date.

Not even smoke signals! Dear Public Affairs, please blink if you’re being held hostage …

via reactiongifs.com

We’ve also asked the Family Liaison Office (FLO), the institutional advocate for Foreign Service family members. The FLO folks also did not respond to our inquiry. Finally, we’ve asked the Director General of the Foreign Service via email. We got a canned response thanking us for our inquiry and advising us that if a response is required, we’ll hear from DGHR within 10 days. Yippee! The DGHR’s office did bother to set up an auto-response and we’re holding our breath for a real response!

H-e-l-p … g-u-l-p …we’re still holding our breath!

Dual Career Households

Foreign Service spouses have similar challenges to military spouses in maintaining dual careers while following their spouses during assignments — have you ever heard our top generals call the jobs for military spouses  “corporate welfare?” Of course not. Why? Because dual career households have been trending up since 1970.  According to a Pew Research Center analysis of Current Population Survey data in 2015, the share of two-parent households in which both parents work full time now stands at 46%, up from 31% in 1970.  “At the same time, the share with a father who works full time and a mother who doesn’t work outside the home has declined considerably; 26% of two-parent households today fit this description, compared with 46% in 1970.” 

So, we were counting on the State Department to set the record straight on what this secretary of state thinks about the family members who serve overseas with our diplomats.  We are unable to say whether this quote is real or not, whether he said this or not but we can tell you that the rumor is doing the rounds and upsetting a whole lot of people.  Anecdotal evidence suggests that a good number of folks within the organization also believe this to be true.

Rumors Uninterrupted. Why?

Well, there are a few reasons we can think of.  One, the White House has now lifted the hiring freeze, but there is no thaw in sight for the State Department until the reorganization plan is approved (see No thaw in sight for @StateDept hiring freeze until reorganization plan is “fully developed”).  Two, we’re hearing all sorts of news about gutting State and USAID budgets and staffing but we have yet to hear about the Secretary of State actually talking to his people in Foggy Bottom or defending the agency that he now leads. And then there’s this: there are apparently over 70 exceptions to the hiring freeze for EFM jobs that have been requested. Only 6 EFM positions for the Priority Staffing Posts (like Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan) were reportedly approved by Secretary Tillerson.  PSPs are important to watch as EFMs can only accompany their employee-spouse if they have a job at post. If State only grants exceptions to EFM jobs at PSP posts on the rarest of cases, will employees break their assignments when their EFMs are unable to accompany them?

These EFM jobs, almost all requiring security clearance range from Community Liaison Officers tasked with morale and family member issues to security escorts, minders for the janitorial or repair staff, to mailroom clerks who process mail and diplomatic pouches, to security clerks who process security badges and do other clerical work.  With few exceptions like consular associates who work in the visa sections and professional associates, most of these EFM jobs are  clerical in nature and require no more than a high school education. Some 80% of diplomatic spouses have college degrees but only 29% works inside U.S. missions overseas, 14% works in the local economy and a whopping 57% are not employed.

Let’s pause here for a moment to note that the 57% for the State Department more than double the Pew Research Center analysis of Current Population Survey data from 2015 for two-parent households where the wife does not work outside the home.

Hard Choices Ahead

If the EFM job freeze becomes indefinite, we anticipate that some families with financial obligations for college tuitions or other family obligations may opt for voluntary separation to enable the EFM to keep her/his Civil Service job or stay stateside to keep her/his private sector job. More senior  spouses may also have particular concerns about having jobs/keeping their jobs so we may see an increase in voluntary unaccompanied tours and family separations. Is that something the State Department really wants to do?

Given that the summer rotation is coming up between June and August, how is the State Department going to remedy the staffing gaps at various locations while the EFM hiring freeze is on?  We’ve also asked the State Department this question, but we did not hear anything back, not even a buzz-buzz.  Do you think there is even a plan?

We should note that not all rotations are created equal.  There are posts that may have a light staff rotation this year, while other posts have larger staff turnovers.  Small posts may be hit particularly hard.  Sections with one FSO supported by a couple of EFMs could potentially lose both EFM staffers and be unable to hire new ones because of the hiring freeze.  Meanwhile, the work requirements including all congressionally mandated reporting go on.

One source told us that the main option for his/her post during rotation is to suck up the extra work, and even temporarily reassign the existing staff to higher priority projects. Which means somethings will not/not get done.  There are already posts where one officer has two-three collateral duties, so those are not going to get any better. Visa officers may need to collect fingerprints as well as conduct visa interviews. Unless their jobs get handed over to DHS (yes, there are rumors on that, too!).   Regional Security Officers may need to process embassy badges, and answer their own phones, as well as attend to mission security, supervise the local guards, review contracts, etc.

An Aside — on Rumors

We once wrote about rumors in a dysfunctional embassy.  It now applies to the State Department.  Rumors express and gratify “the emotional needs of the community.” It occupies the space when that need is not meet, and particularly when there is deficient communication between the front office and the rest of the mission.  In the current environment, the rampant rumors circulating within the State Department is indicative of Mr. Tillerson’s deficient communication with his employees.

If State Really Cares About the Costs

In any case, if the State Department no longer even pretends to care that FS spouses are under-employed or not employed overseas, it still ought to care about costs. These are support employees who already have their security clearances, and require no separate housing. It is estimated that there are about 5,000 EFMs who would qualify for the Foreign Service  Family Reserve Corps. A few years ago, we noted that majority of EFMs employed at US mission, at the minimum, have a “Secret” level clearance. The average cost to process a SECRET clearance has been reported to run from several hundred dollars to $3,000, depending on individual factors. We suspect that the cost is higher for FS members due to overseas travels and multiple relocations.  The average cost to process a TOP SECRET clearance is between $3,000 and about $15,000, depending on individual factors. If State gets rid of EFM jobs (already cheap labor compared to direct-hire), the work will still be there.  Or is it planning on hiring contractors to bridge the gap? If yes, these contractors would all have to get through the security clearance process themselves.  State still has to fund contractors’ travel and housing, etc. How would that be cheaper?  Or … if not, who will do all the work?

Tillerson’s 9% Cut and a Troubling Nugget

The latest news from Bloomberg talks about Tillerson reportedly seeking a 9% cut in State Department staffing with majority of the job cuts, about 1,700, through attrition, while the remaining 600 will be done via buyouts (we’ll have to write about this separately).   Oh, and he’ll be on a “listening tour” sometime soon.  Note that during the slash and burn in the 1990’s, the State Department “trimmed” more than 1,100 jobs at the State Department, 600 jobs at  the U.S. Information Agency (USIA), and had identified for elimination about 2,000 jobs at the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID).

The Bloomberg report also has this troubling nugget:

“Tillerson was taken aback when he arrived on the job to see how much money the State Department was spending on housing and schooling for the families of diplomats living overseas, according to one person familiar with his thinking.”

So next, we’re gonna to be talking about those houses with concertina wire on top of 18 foot walls?

Since there may not be EFM jobs for diplomatic spouses, and we could soon be back to the old days when American diplomats are accompanied overseas by stay-at-home spouses who make no demands on having careers of their own, who’s to say when dependents’ schooling will next be upgraded to allow only homeschooling, when travel will be made only by paddle boats,  and diplomatic housing will be reduced to yurts?

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NOTE: There are a few EFMs who are hired in Civil Service positions and allowed to telecommute from their locations overseas once they go abroad with their spouses . They’re officially on DETO status (domestic employee telecommuting overseas).  We understand that last year,  one bureau had “pushed out” its EFM employees on DETO status. The employees either had to resign their CS jobs or return to DC to report to work.  In these DETO cases, the spouses can either stay at post with no jobs, or return to Washington, D.C. and endure the family separation. While this predates Tillerson’s arrival, we’d like to see how many other bureaus have now done away with DETO employees. Email us.

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@StateDept Deputy Spokesperson Mark Toner Says Goodbye

Posted: 12:49 am ET
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Mark Toner is a career Foreign Service Officer who has served overseas in West Africa and Europe. He was the Information Officer in Dakar, Senegal; the Public Affairs Officer in Krakow, Poland; and the Spokesman for the U.S. Mission to NATO, in Brussels, Belgium. On June 1, 2015, he assumed the role of Deputy Spokesperson after serving at the Bureau of European and Eurasian Affairs as a Deputy Assistant Secretary.

As a career FSO, Mr. Toner has previously worked as a senior advisor for the Senate Foreign Relations Committee; as a Senior Watch Officer in the Department’s Operations Center; and as the Director of the European Bureau’s Press and Public Outreach Division. Mr. Toner has an undergraduate degree from the University of Notre Dame and a graduate degree from National Defense University’s Industrial College of the Armed Forces. Prior to joining the State Department, he was a Peace Corps volunteer in Liberia, West Africa, and carried out graduate work in Journalism at the University of California at Berkeley.

As Deputy Spokesperson, he is one of the most public faces of the State Department.  He did his last Daily Press Briefing on April 27, 2017:

Via DPB, April 27, 2017

This is, believe it or not, my last briefing as deputy spokesman. It’s with mixed feelings that I reach this moment, because I’ve loved this job. Honestly, I was just telling a group of young kids who were brought in to Take Your Child to Work Day earlier today that, to me, this was the greatest honor that I could ever hope to have as a Foreign Service officer. I came out of journalism school into this gig, and I always thought this would be one of the greatest jobs to have within the Foreign Service. And I’ve enjoyed working with all of you over the years through good times and bad times and some really tough days at the podium, but I respect fundamentally with all of my heart the work that all of you do in carrying out your really important roles in our democracy, and I want you to know that.

I’m also very, very happy that I can pass the baton, the spokesperson baton – there is one, in fact – no – (laughter) – over to such a capable person as Heather Nauert, who is getting up to speed on all these issues but will be taking the podium and carrying on the daily press briefings and acting as the department spokesperson going forward. So anyway, just appreciate all the support that you’ve given me over the years.

Matt, over to you.

QUESTION: Thanks, Mark. And before I start with my policy question, I just wanted to note the lack of children in the room today on the Take Your Work to – Take Your Kids to Work Day and recall how many years ago it was when you were sitting there with —

MR TONER: I told that story, actually. (Laughter.)

QUESTION: — with a bunch of kids in the audience and one of the main topics of the day being the antics or/ behavior of some Secret Service agents in Colombia and how delicately we danced around that topic.

MR TONER: Indeed, indeed. As we’re doing right now. (Laughter.)

QUESTION: But that story also just – it brings to mind the fact that you have served in this position in PRS as spokesman on and off for many years. And I think on behalf of the press corps, I want to thank you for those years of service, particularly since January over the course of the last couple months when things have been, as they often are, in transitions, unsettled to say the least. And through it all, you’ve been incredibly professional and really just, I think, the model of the kind of career Foreign Service or Civil Service officer.

So on behalf of all of us and on behalf of the public, the American public, thank you. (Applause.)

MR TONER: Thanks, Matt. I really appreciate that. Thank you. (Applause.)

QUESTION: Good luck. And I am sure you’ll enjoy not having to be —

MR TONER: I’ll miss it in a couple weeks.

QUESTION: — attacked with questions for —

MR TONER: Thank you.

QUESTION: May I say a word, Matt?

QUESTION: Yeah.

QUESTION: I want to thank you especially – I’ve known you for many, many years. I mean, I’ve attended briefings all the way back to Richard Boucher. You have been really solid and professional. I never once took your accommodating me for granted or indulging me all throughout. I really appreciate it. You have always been there for us. So Godspeed and good luck.

MR TONER: Thank you. All right, thanks. Enough of this sentimentality. (Laughter.)

QUESTION: Rank sentimentality.

MR TONER: Yeah, there you go. Rank sentimentality.

QUESTION: So let’s go to the most unsentimental thing you can think of, North Korea.

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