U.S. Withdrawal From U.N. Postal Union Will Interrupt/Eliminate U.S. Diplomatic Post Office Deliveries

 

Via afsa.org:
On October 17, 2018, the Trump Administration announced that the U.S. was starting the one-year withdrawal process from the Universal Postal Union (UPU), a 145-year-old United Nations organization that regulates global mail delivery. The UPU will meet in late September to consider changes to the organization’s rules and rate structures. The Administration has said that it will remain in the organization if certain changes are adopted. Because the U.S. is required to give one year’s notice before withdrawal, the U.S. could depart as early as mid-October if it decides to do so. 
Should the U.S go through with the withdrawal, the Diplomatic Post Office (DPO) will experience—at best—significant interruption, if not outright elimination while the U.S. would have to negotiate new bilateral postal service agreements with other countries. While pouch deliveries will not be affected, DPO deliveries for any Foreign Service personnel at post will likely be impacted. The potential ramifications are obvious to all members of the Foreign Service, particularly when it comes to delivery of medical supplies and medications.
AFSA has raised the possible negative effects of withdrawal on Foreign Service families with senior officials in HR and has been working with the Military Officers Association of America (MOAA), which is the military equivalent of AFSA, as APO services may be affected as well. While the legal authority to withdraw from the UPU lies with the executive branch, AFSA is also warning Congress of the negative implications DPO interruption or elimination would bring our diplomats.
The A Bureau is well aware of this problem and has been working to mitigate possible challenges and seek alternative solutions. AFSA advises all members to read the recent ALDAC on this issue (19 STATE 76584), as well as any embassy-issued management notices.
AFSA will keep following this and will update members if and when needed. In the meantime, please heed the guidance from the Department of State: Plan to make bulk purchases or crucial supplies early so that your deliveries will reach you before mid-October.  

 

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Canada Study: Mosquito Fumigation May Have Caused ‘Havana Syndrome’

 

 

You may access the report here or read it below:

State/MED: Kathy Gallardo No Longer Deputy Chief Medical Officer For Mental Health Programs

 

We understand that as of this week, Dr. Kathy Gallardo is no longer the State Department’s Deputy Chief Medical Officer – Mental Health Programs (MED/MH Director) at the Bureau of Medical Services (State/MED). Unconfirmed reports that she will be taking an overseas posting, post unknown as of this writing.

Dr. Charles Lilly will reportedly serve in an acting capacity  until a replacement is identified. We could not locate any bio for Dr. Lilly. Also for some reason, none of the employees under the Directorate for Mental Health Programs (MED/MH) are listed on DOS directory. The Bureau of Medical Services (MED) web page on state.gov is also pretty sparse; the only individual identified on its leadership page is Chief Medical Officer Dr. Mark Cohen.  

Via FSJ:

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US Embassy Bahamas on ‘Ordered Departure’ For Non-Emergency Staff/Family Members #HurricaneDorian

 

On August 30, 2019, the State Department issued a Travel Advisory for The Bahamas urging caution due to Hurricane Dorian. It also announced the “ordered departure” of non-emergency personnel and family members from the island on August 29. Embassy Nassau announced on Twitter that the mandatory departure of affected personnel and family members are done via commercial flights and ferries.

Freeport, Grand Bahama – Level 3: Reconsider Travel

Exercise increased caution in Freeport, Grand Bahama due to Hurricane Dorian.

On August 29, The Department of State ordered non-emergency personnel and family members of U.S. government employees to depart Freeport, Grand Bahama in The Bahamas in advance of Hurricane Dorian.

If you decide to travel to The Bahamas:

      • Exercise caution in the area known as “Over the Hill” (south of Shirley Street) and the Fish Fry at Arawak Cay in Nassau, especially at night.
      • Do not answer your door at your hotel/residence unless you know who it is.
      • Do not physically resist any robbery attempt.
      • Enroll in the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP) to receive Alerts and make it easier to locate you in an emergency.
      • Follow the Department of State on Facebook and Twitter.
      • Review the Crime and Safety Report for The Bahamas.
      • U.S. citizens who travel abroad should always have a contingency plan for emergency and medical situations. Review the Traveler’s Checklist.

The Bahamas – Level 2: Exercise Increased Caution

Exercise increased caution in the Bahamas due to crime. Some areas have increased risk. Read the entire Travel Advisory.

Violent crime, such as burglaries, armed robberies, and sexual assault, occurs even during the day and in tourist areas. Although the family islands are not crime-free, the vast majority of crime occurs on New Providence and Grand Bahama islands. U.S. government personnel are not permitted to visit the area known by many visitors as the Sand Trap area in Nassau due to crime. Activities involving commercial recreational watercraft, including water tours, are not consistently regulated. Watercrafts are often not maintained, and many companies do not have safety certifications to operate in The Bahamas. Jet-ski operators have been known to commit sexual assaults against tourists. As a result, U.S. government personnel are not permitted to use jet-ski rentals on New Providence and Paradise Islands.

Read the Safety and Security section on the country information page.

NOAA’s Public Advisory issued at 5PM EDT Sat Aug 31 2019 notes that hurricane conditions are expected in the hurricane warning area across the northwestern Bahamas by Sunday, with tropical storm winds beginning tonight. It also warns of life-threatening storm surge that will raise water levels by as much as 10 to 15 feet above normal tide levels in areas of onshore winds the Abaco Islands and Grand Bahama Island. Near the coast, the surge will be accompanied by large and destructive waves. Further, rainfall may cause life-threatening flash floods.

 

 

Foreign Service Child Abuse and Domestic Violence Statistics (2005-2013)

 

We have never seen the State Department’s data on child and domestic abuse in the Foreign Service. While looking into another matter, we came across a publicly available document titled Department of State Family Advocacy Program: Clinical and Administrative Considerations” by Stanley Piotroski, PhD. The 20-page slide appears to be from 2014 and includes 1) An Overview of the family advocacy program ; 2) Key processes of the FAC/FAT* process; 3) Provider and employee concerns about FAC;  4) Clinical considerations and 5) Application of considerations to case vignettes. It also includes the 2005-2013 Family Advocacy Committee (FAC) statistics from MED on child abuse and domestic violence in Foreign Service posts. 
The three vignettes includes 1) Child seemed to have trouble sitting back in his chair. When teacher inquired, he said, “my daddy hit me on the back.” Teacher looked at their was bruising on his back. Child reported it to administration who contacted the health unit at post; 2) While in a routine health appointment, the wife of a FSO reported that her husband had struck her on the face during an argument. She stated that he frequently takes her keys away from her, will not allow her to have any money and at times will not allow her access to her phone. Wife received her US citizenship two years ago, but was raised in Beijing until she met her husband; 3) 16 year old daughter of DOS FSO told school counselor that her father has struck her mother and has been verbally been abusive to her. She said she wanted to run away from her home due to the stress in the household. She states she witnessed her father knock her mother down and slap her.
The document explains that the State Department’s Family Advocacy Program’s purpose is “To prevent and respond effectively to suspected child abuse/neglect and domestic violence involving DOS and others under Chief of Mission (COM) authority at post. Pages 4-5 includes the statistics on child abuse and domestic violence in 2012 and 2013. The stats are not broken down by agency. Page 13 notes that “Referrals need to be made on personnel from other agencies and that the “highest number of other agency cases are from DOD.”
We would like to see the State Department voluntarily release an assessment of its Family Advocacy Program.  Has  the program prevented, and responded effectively to cases of abuse and fulfilled its purpose? We are interested in the data from 2014-present. We would like to see State publicly release the annual data on child abuse, domestic violence and sexual assaults in the Foreign Service. Abuse is difficult to deal with anywhere, but it is exceptionally difficult for diplomatic employees and families overseas where every part of their lives are dictated by government regulations, and where there is often few places to run.
Note: * FAC-Family Advocacy Committee;  FAT-Family Advocacy Team.
The document references 3 FAM 1810 Family Advocacy Program (Child Abuse, Child Neglect, and Domestic Violence) of the Foreign Affairs Manual. This part of the regs has most recently been updated on August 17,-2018.

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Susan Pompeo wants you to know she’s making happiness, security of diplomatic families her mission

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On July 6, 2019, just days after the July 1st CNN report  on a whistleblower claiming Secretary Pompeo’s security picks up Chinese food, and the dog, Sherman, apparently from the groomer, the Washington Times has a rollicking coverage of Susan Pompeo.
‘Do you feel safe?’ Susan Pompeo makes happiness, security of diplomatic families her mission” blares the headline. She’s not a government employee, so the  chances of getting her on the podium to speak about this mission is not high, but the next time reporters get a chance to er … grill her, please ask her where she was when State Department employees were terrified while trying to find an accommodation for their special needs children and their education while overseas.
Where was Mrs. Pompeo when the medical provider at State was deemed to lack a “fundamental lack of compassion”  and lack of understanding and empathy for Foreign Service personnel and families?
Where was Mrs. Pompeo when a senior official of her husband’s agency appears to believe that individuals and families with any sort of special need should not serve overseas, should curtail or break assignments, should stay indefinitely in the United States, or even leave the Foreign Service altogether?
Employees and family members already facing physical, mental and educational challenges, also had to face fear of retribution given the reported hostile and adversarial relationship fostered by a bureau tasked with taking care of employees and families.
Despite reported mistreatment, Foreign Service families have not publicly pushed back, and anything reported are only on background, for fear that their actions could result in the denial of financial support for needed services for special needs children  or fear that it would put in jeopardy clearances for themselves and their dependents. Without appropriate clearances, employees would not be able to work overseas or may have to contend with family separation for members with limited clearances.
If taking care of diplomatic families has become her mission, we’re curious where was Mrs. Pompeo when this issue was causing so much pain, fear, and distractions among FS families? (Also see Under Secretary Bulatao on Enhancing Support for Employees with Children with Special Needs 
As an aside – we should note that following the furor over her travel with Secretary Pompeo during the January 2019 government shutdown, CNN reported that the secretary described his wife’s trip as a “working trip”  — apparently telling reporters she joined him to try to help the department “be better.” “So she meets with the medical officers. She’ll tour housing. She will write up her thoughts and comments after that. And I wish I had time to do each of those things myself, but she is a force multiplier,” Secretary Pompeo said according to CNN.
If she did a trip report for that January trip, it has so far remained a secret.  By March 2019, as she became increasingly visible flying around with Secretary Pompeo, the official word coming out of Foggy Bottom is that the secretary “reimburses the United States government for all appropriate expenses, including Mrs. Pompeo’s travel, in accordance with the law.”
Oh, by the way, we think employees at a small post — with leaks in a new embassy compound building roofs in Paramaribo and suffering from exposure to mold — needs help. The health hazard was identified in March 2017!  And the problem still had not been resolved.  Imagine that. We’re guessing that they are not terribly happy nor feeling heath-safe over there.

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

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

Also from state.gov’s FAQ on SNEA:

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

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

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

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

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

Key Points: 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Read the whole thing here.

 

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Senators Van Hollen and Sullivan Introduce the Foreign Service Families Act (S.1293)

 

U.S. Senators Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) and Dan Sullivan (R-Alaska), cofounders of the bipartisan Foreign Service Caucus, have introduced the Foreign Service Families Act (S.1293), a bill to expand employment opportunities for spouses of Foreign Service officers.

Senator Van Hollen’s press statement notes that “This legislation will help ensure that the State Department is able to attract and retain a world-class diplomatic corps by providing expanded career options and services to eligible family members. For many of these family members, the process of finding employment isn’t easy — frequent moves, language barriers, and limited options pose significant challenges. This legislation will address that issue so our Foreign Service can continue to serve the best interests of Americans at home and abroad.”

According to Senator Van Hollen’s press statement, The Foreign Service Families Act would provide authority to the State Department to offer the same services to Foreign Service family members overseas that the Defense Department is permitted to provide to military families. This includes:

  • Expanded hiring authority and preference for qualified spouses
  • Ensuring that Foreign Services spouses receive notice of State Department vacancies and that those who apply receive consideration
  • Making space available in State Department facilities for outside entities to provide career services
  • Developing partnerships with the private sector to enhance employment opportunities for Foreign Service spouses, and
  • Incorporating hiring preferences for qualified Foreign Service spouses into contracts between the Department of State and private-sector entities.

Additionally the legislation:

  • Directs the State Department to expand telecommuting opportunities for Foreign Service family members, so that family members can continue to work federal civilian and private sector jobs while overseas
  • Ensures that family members in the Expanded Professional Associates Program, which offers career opportunities for family members with advanced education and professional experience, are not held to unfair hiring standards, and
  • Makes sure that the State Department has fully implemented the Foreign Service Family Reserve Corps, a program intended to speed hiring and improve clearance portability for Foreign Service family members.

The bill has been “read twice and referred to the Committee on Foreign Relations.” We’ve searched for the text but have not yet been able to locate it.  According to congress.gov, as of 05/10/2019 text has not been received for S.1293: “Bills are generally sent to the Library of Congress from GPO, the Government Publishing Office, a day or two after they are introduced on the floor of the House or Senate. Delays can occur when there are a large number of bills to prepare or when a very large bill has to be printed.”

Govtrack notes that the United States Congress considers about 5,000 bills and resolutions each year, but of those only about 7% will become law. All bills not enacted by the end of the session on Jan 3, 2021 die, and Congress will start over.

 

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FSGB finds no merit in argument that @StateDept has “unfettered discretion” to grant or deny SNEA benefit

Via FSGB Case No. 2018-016:

“The Department next argues that its granting a SNEA under section 5924 is “discretionary,” and in any event must be paid in accordance with the DSSRs. As we have previously stated, the prior authorization the grievants sought, for reimbursement after their arrival at post, is fully consistent with the DSSRs. Further, we find no merit to the argument that the Department has unfettered discretion under section 5924 to grant or deny a SNEA benefit to employees in any way it may see fit. Rather, law and regulation must limit its discretion.”

Via giphy.com