WhatTheWhat? State/OIG Reviewed But Did Not/Not Evaluate @StateDept’s COVID-19 Response

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“The scope of this review was the Department’s response to the global COVID-19 pandemic and its plans and procedures for returning employees to offices. As part of this review, OIG did not evaluate whether the Department’s implementation of its plans and procedures effectively safeguarded Department personnel health and safety. In addition, OIG did not include the Department’s COVID-19 vaccine distribution or new policies, such as President Biden’s executive order on required mask wearing, as these occurred subsequent to fieldwork completion. OIG completed this review in Washington, DC, and virtually with officials from U.S. Embassy Baghdad, Iraq; U.S. Embassy Kabul, Afghanistan; and Consulate General Frankfurt, Germany. These posts were selected due to OIG’s onsite presence at each post, as well as the varying local responses to the global COVID-19 pandemic, which influenced how the Department’s reopening plans were executed by post management.”

 


 

 

@StateDept Expands Interview Waiver Eligibility For Visas

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On March 11, the State Department announced in a brief statement the expansion of visa interview waiver eligibility:
Secretary Blinken, in consultation with the Department of Homeland Security, has temporarily expanded the ability of consular officers to waive the in-person interview requirement for individuals applying for a nonimmigrant visa in the same classification.  Previously, only those applicants whose nonimmigrant visa expired within 24 months were eligible for an interview waiver.  The Secretary has temporarily extended the expiration period to 48 months.  This policy is in effect until December 31, 2021.  This change will allow consular officers to continue processing certain nonimmigrant visa applications while limiting the number of applicants who must appear at a consular section, thereby reducing the risk of COVID-19 transmission to other applicants and consular staff.  Travelers are encouraged to review the website of the nearest U.S. embassy or consulate for detailed information on what services are currently available as well as eligibility information and instructions on applying for a visa without an interview. 
The original announcement is available here.

via travel.state.gov

 


 

@SecBlinken’s Memo on COVID-19 Vaccinations and His Commitment to @StateDept Employees

Last week, Secretary Blinken sent a memo to State Department employees titled, “COVID-19 and My Commitment to You.”
The memo notes that “Our first priority must be to take care of our people—the more than 76,000 women and men who carry out the work of the Department in good times and tough times.”
He addressed the vaccination question:
“I know that many of you are asking, “When will I be vaccinated?” “When will my family be vaccinated?” My team and I want to get you and your families vaccinated as soon as possible—and we want to make this process as transparent as possible, so you have a better sense of how long it will take. We won’t stop until the entire workforce has the opportunity to be vaccinated. I wish this process were faster, but rest assured that we are pushing hard, and we will get there.”
The memo further notes that the State Department has “deployed nearly 80 percent of our received vaccine allotment to our overseas workforce” to-date. “Everyone at a given post is offered the vaccine at the same time. As the national supply increases, we will keep making the case for the State Department to receive our full allotment—as the lead foreign affairs agency and an integral member of the national security community with employees deployed in every corner of the globe, often in harm’s way,” Secretary Blinken wrote.
In his memo, Secretary Blinken also said, “we commit to keeping you informed with regular updates in the weeks ahead.”
He also encouraged all employees “to use leave to rest and recoup—and to seek help when necessary” and urged the need “to care of ourselves—and each other.”
Finally, Secretary Blinken said that he reminded the leadership team that we have no greater responsibility than the health, safety, and wellbeing of the people we’ve been entrusted to lead. Collectively, we are doing everything we can to support our entire workforce. We will get through this. And until then, let’s be sure to show one another the consideration, respect, and kindness everyone deserves. That’s how we will emerge from this crisis a strong—maybe even stronger—team, just as we’ve done in the face of other challenges throughout our long history.”
Also see @StateDept’s Vaccination Efforts For Overseas Posts Under Fire, a Test for @SecBlinken.


 

 

 

Burn Bag: Foreign Affairs Security Training Center (FASTC), a Logistical Nightmare For Students

Grumpy Agent writes:

“The Diplomatic Security Service’s brand new Foreign Affairs Security Training Center (FASTC) on Fort Pickett, near Blackstone, Virginia is a disaster for those attending the academy. Incoming agents and those who have to attend advanced training should buckle up for a very rough ride due to a lack of planning, poor accommodations, and general haywire.

Most incoming students are housed at the Holiday Inn Express in Farmville, Virginia. Due to Covid-19, everyone is forced to remain at this little gem, conveniently located in the middle of an open field, for exactly two weeks. State calls it a “quarantine,” but no restrictions are enforced. So, the two-week lockdown is really just a waste of time and money for all parties involved. Since there is no way to keep anyone in their rooms, there is still the possibility that students could arrive at FASTC infected with Covid-19, begging the question: why bother with a fake isolation period?

Additionally, adults who are cooped up in a hotel for weeks on end with nothing to do seem to revert back to their college years of binge drinking and general debauchery. Class advisors at FASTC have openly complained that they have really gotten to know police officials in the rural one-cop town of Farmville.

Those who choose not to engage in such antics remain in their rooms with little to do but scan the 9 channels on the hotel-provided basic cable system. For an organization that purports to have a renewed focus on mental health and morale, this feels like a crisis in the making, particularly for those RSOs who are arriving from overseas posts and do not have personal transportation readily available. Walking anywhere from the hotel is not ideal unless you’re comfortable going for a stroll on the shoulder of a major highway.

As for food, take-out is really the only option, unless you’re comfortable visiting one of a few bar/restaurants that are no better than Applebees. The hotel provides no meal accommodations. If you’ll be there for a few months, expect to gain a little more than the “quarantine 15.” Also, if you have dietary restrictions, this place is not for you, unless fried chicken fingers are part of your preferred menu items.

Once your two-weeks of faux-quarantine are over, you’ll commute 45 – 60 minutes (one way) to FASTC. Students are required to shuttle themselves in government-issued vans each morning and evening. No more than five to a van (for Covid-19 safety reasons). However, many have reported cramming up to 10 in a van simply for convenience and split training locations.

The Foreign Affairs Security Training Center is a state of the art facility. The technology, instruction, resources, and training quality are unmatched by any agency and the Department should be commended for that. However, the logistical nightmare for the students must be addressed. This is unacceptable for those new to State but is probably tolerated because they don’t know any better. However, for those seasoned employees, this is categorically unsatisfactory. State and more specifically DS needs to get its act together soon and focus more on the employee rather than touting the perks of a brand new facility that may be more trouble than it’s worth.

DS already has retention and quality of life problems. Do we want to make it worse?”

The Bureau of Diplomatic Security is one of the 13 bureaus and offices under the direct oversight and supervision of the Under Secretary for Management Brian Bulatao. 
The Senate-confirmed Assistant Secretary for Diplomatic Security, Michael Evanoff resigned from his post in July 2020. It doesn’t look like a nominee has been announced to succeed Evanoff. According to state.gov, Todd J. Brown, a special agent and a career member of the Senior Foreign Service with the rank of Minister Counselor was appointed to serve as Acting DS Assistant Secretary on August 1, 2020.  
 

FASTC Map

Map of the high-speed driving track at the Foreign Affairs Security Training Center, Blackstone, Va. (Department of State Photo)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Federal Employees’ Compensation Act Due to COVID-19

Via DOL/Office of Workers’ Compensation Programs:

DOL has created new procedures to specifically address COVID-19 claims. Employees filing a claim for workers’ compensation coverage as a result of COVID-19 should file Form CA-1, Notice of Traumatic Injury through your employer using the Employees’ Compensation Operations & Management Portal. The new procedures will also call the adjudicator’s attention to the type of employment held by the employee, rather than burdening the employee with identifying the exact day or time they contracted the novel coronavirus.

    • If a COVID-19 claim is filed by a person in high-risk employment, the Office of Workers’ Compensation Programs (OWCP) DFEC will accept that the exposure to COVID-19 was proximately caused by the nature of the employment. If the employer supports the claim and that the exposure occurred, and the CA-1 is filed within 30 days, the employee is eligible to receive Continuation of Pay for up to 45 days.
    • If a COVID-19 claim is filed by a person whose position is not considered high-risk, OWCP DFEC will require the claimant to provide a factual statement and any available evidence concerning exposure. The employing agency will also be expected to provide OWCP DFEC with any information they have regarding the alleged exposure, and to indicate whether they are supporting or controverting the claim. If the employer supports the claim and that the exposure occurred, and the CA-1 is filed within 30 days, the employee is eligible to receive Continuation of Pay for up to 45 days.

The key evidence needed for a COVID-19 FECA CLAIM as required by the law are the following:

Exposure – Federal employees who are required to interact with the public or front-line medical and public health personnel are considered to be in high-risk employment, thus triggering the application of Chapter 2-0805-6 of the FECA Procedure Manual. In such cases, there is an implicit recognition of a higher likelihood of infection; OWCP will confirm the nature of your employment based on your position title and after confirming with your employer that your position is indeed considered high risk. If your position has not been identified as a high-risk position, you will be asked to provide any evidence of the duration and length of your occupational exposure. This evidence may include information such as a description of job duties, which federal agency you worked for, and the location of the work. OWCP will ask your employing agency to provide information about occupational exposure including relevant agency records.

Medical – You will need to provide medical evidence establishing a diagnosis of COVID-19. You will also need to provide medical evidence establishing that the diagnosed COVID-19 was aggravated, accelerated, precipitated, or directly caused by your work-related activities. Please submit the results of any COVID-19 testing, if available. If you have encountered difficulty in obtaining such testing, OWCP will authorize such testing if you are working in high-risk employment or otherwise have a confirmed COVID-19 employment exposure.

Establishing causal relationship generally requires a qualified physician’s opinion, based on a reasonable degree of medical certainty, that the diagnosed condition is causally related to your employment conditions. This opinion must be based on a complete factual and medical background.

For your health and safety as well as the health of those around you, consider an appointment with your physician by videoconference or teleconference. A medical report generated as the result of such an appointment is compensable as long as it is signed by a physician.

OWCP will also assist by asking your employing agency for any pertinent medical information in their records.

Source:
DOL: Division of Federal Employees’ Compensation (DFEC)

 

Burn Bag: Sharing COVID-Positive Employees’ Information May be Prohibited Under ADA and EEO Regulations

Via Burn Bag:
“The Department has numerous required trainings for supervisors.  Yet, some continue to disregard them.  This behavior can create costly lessons for the Department, especially when it touches upon ADA and EEO regulations.
A supervisor recently emailed several individuals the full name of an employee – from a different team/office – who tested positive for COVID.  Our understanding is that the supervisor should have omitted the employee’s name per federal ADA/EEO regulations.  We do not know if the employee is aware of this supervisor’s actions, but based on previous experiences, this supervisor will retaliate if we inform the employee, EX, or S/OCR.
 Since we do not have an anonymous EEO reporting process, we ask the Department institute a mandatory training for all Bureau and posts for all supervisors, FSOs, FSSs, CSs, EFMs, contractors, detailees, and others to learn about federal EEO/ADA regulations for COVID-related matters.
 Returning to this supervisor, s/he has averaged approximately one EEO violation per month towards various individuals (with his/her leadership’s knowledge).  Yet the Department allows this supervisor to remain.  We’d like to remind the Department that it has the authority to proactively manage supervisors without waiting for numerous costly and time-consuming ADA/EEO complaints.  Employees (on their personal time) are also allowed to inform their Senators and Congressmen of the Department’s compliance with ADA/EEO regulations.”

Addendum:

“We understand that S/OCR will soon be drafting the 2020 MD-715, an annual status report of the Department’s EEO/ADA programs, which should include COVID-related actions.  We are curious to learn how it may acknowledge that 1) supervisor(s) may be in ongoing non-compliance with EEO/ADA regulations, 2) the Department appears to maintain supervisors in their same roles and 3) this continued non-compliance directly hurts retention and advancement of employees with disabilities.”

 

White Cat on Grass Field by Pixabay

OPM: Protect Employee Privacy Interests During COVID-19

Via OPM:

Under what circumstances should an agency communicate to its employees that there is a confirmed case among one or more of its employees (without identifying the person/specific office)?

The infected employee’s privacy should be protected to the greatest extent possible; therefore, his or her identity should not be disclosed. In an outbreak of quarantinable communicable disease or COVID-19, management should share only that information determined to be necessary to protect the health of the employees in the workplace but maintain confidentiality as required by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).
Supervisors should consult with their agency general counsel to determine what information is releasable. Employees exposed to a co-worker with confirmed COVID-19 should refer to CDC guidance for how to conduct a risk assessment of their potential exposure at https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/hcp/assess-manage-risk.html.
If social distancing, information sharing, or other precautions to assist employees in recognizing symptoms or reducing the spread of the illness can be taken without disclosing information related to a specific employee, that is the preferred approach. Managers should work with their workplace safety contacts and local health officials to stay apprised of information regarding transmission of the illness and precautions that should be taken to reduce the spread of influenza or any other contagious disease in the workplace. Managers should treat this as they would any other illness in the workplace and continue to protect employee privacy interests while providing sufficient information to all employees related to protecting themselves against the spread of illness.
Source: (PDF)

Where Americans Are Not Welcome Due to USA’s Epic Failure in Containing COVID-19 Infections #RealPostoftheMonth

 

Fourth of July 2020: Who’s Doing What Where During This Global Pandemic?

 

U.S. Embassy Brasilia, Brazil

U.S. Embassy Prague, Czech Republic

U.S. Embassy Bangkok, Thailand

U.S. Embassy Belgrade, Serbia

U.S. Embassy Phnom Penh, Cambodia

U.S. Embassy The Hague, The Netherlands

U.S. Embassy Seoul, South Korea

U.S. Embassy Athens, Greece

 

U.S. Embassy Singapore, Singapore

U.S. Embassy Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

US Embassy Kabul, Afghanistan

(Same stock photo used by US Embassy Prague, attributed here to Getty Images).

U.S. Embassy Banjul, The Gambia

U.S. Embassy London, UK

U.S. Consulate Thessaloniki, Greece

U.S. Embassy Kolonia, Micronesia

U.S. Consulate Calgary, Canada

 

U.S. Embassy Managua, Nicaragua

U.S. Embassy Lusaka, Zambia

 

U.S. Mission Italy

U.S. Embassy Antananarivo, Madagascar

U.S. Consulate Milan, Italy

U.S. Embassy Podgorica, Montenegro

U.S. Embassy Mexico City, Mexico

U.S. Consulate General Toronto, Canada

#UnitedAgainstCoronavirus: “A Defining Moment For the Global Community” (Without the United States)