Goodbye 2020, a Most Cruel Year!

 

This has been a difficult year for us but harder for those who are facing empty chairs across their tables this year and harder still for those who will never get to hug their loved ones again. We have been lucky that while a few loved ones contracted coronavirus earlier this year, they all mercifully recovered from the illness.
However, the dark clouds hovering us all as we watch the deaths continue to set gruesome records have been inescapable. Of course, it is not just the coronavirus though, and it’s not just just one thing happening, but many things happening all at once. And none of them any good.  How did we get to become a full candidate for the Banana Republic Pageant? We try not to blog while angry, and holy moly macaroni, it turns out that’s really hard!
Thank you to everyone who took the time to check how we’re holding up and for helping keep our spirits up.  We are grateful for your kind thoughts even if we have not been the best of correspondents the last several months. Frankly, we don’t know yet what to do next year.  In about another three months, we would have been blogging for 13 years. We are wondering if we can still make a difference or if we have reached the end of the line here.
For readers sending us stuff even for the Burn Bag, please do not send us attachments unless we have agreed in advance to accept them. We regret that unsolicited attachments will not be opened for prudent reasons.
For readers looking for jobs with the incoming Biden Administration, please direct your inquiries to the Biden Transition website. This blog has no official connection to the Transition and we are not able to respond to every query.

Also the Consular Affairs Saga Continues

Meanwhile, at the State Department, a CA-EX-Special-Assistant announced that Mora Namdar “will serve as Acting Assistant Secretary for the bureau until a new Assistant Secretary has been appointed.” Career FSO Ian Brownlee apparently will continue to serve as Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary. So with just 20 days to go to President-elect Joe Biden’s inauguration, Pompeo’s State Department had to bring in someone from the United States Agency for Global Media (USAGM) to become Acting Assistant Secretary for Consular Affairs! Makes you turn your head sideways and asks, why, the why is this even happening? (Also see Whistleblower Reprisal Complaint, Sept 29, 2020 PDF).
The less-than 50 word announcement was actually missing a crucial part. The acting assistant secretary is a political appointee and will be required to step down by January 20 when the Biden administration takes office. Somebody please correct this asap before folks get the wrong impression (Also see CA’s Carl Risch Reportedly Quit Over the Weekend, Decamps to DOJ).

@StateDept Gets Yin and Yang on China

And while the outgoing secretary of state has been talking China, China, China on social media, we understand that the State Department has been fairly quiet about the treatment of U.S. diplomats and family members returning to their assignments in China. U.S. diplomats are apparently not allowed to home quarantine. We understand that all returning staff must spend 2 weeks in a Chinese government owned hotel, with families separated with men put in one room and women and children in another — “one dirty hotel room for two weeks” with apparently, no kitchenette, or laundry. This is just one more test to show how USG employees can make the best of a bad situation? Excuse me, even small children and babies must learn to make the best of a bad situation, too? 
State Department employees and family members going to China are reportedly required to get both a nasal swab and antibody blood test within 48 hours of leaving the United States. They are tested again upon arrival at the airport by the host government;  then tested again on the 13th day of their quarantine. The question then becomes — why are our diplomats not allowed home quarantine? Is the United States placing Chinese diplomats on USG quarantine upon arrival here for their diplomatic assignments?  
OFM’s Diplomatic Note 20-162 notes that the United States suspended entry of individuals from China but “Notably, the entry suspension is not applicable to individual foreign mission members seeking entry into or who are transiting the United States on A-1, A-2, C-2, C-3 (as a foreign government official or immediate family member of an official), G-1, G-2, G-3, G-4, NATO-1 through NATO-4, or NATO-6 visas. However, even with respect to exempted individuals such as the visa holders listed above, such individuals may be medically screened, and where appropriate quarantined for up to a 14-day period to prevent the spread of the virus.”
CDC guidance for international travelers as of today says that “CDC does not require that international travelers undergo mandatory federal quarantine, but does recommend travelers do the following after an international flight-Get tested with a viral test 3-5 days after travel AND stay home for 7 days after travel; Even if you test negative, stay home for the full 7 days; If your test is positive or you have symptoms of COVID-19, isolate yourself to protect others from getting infected and follow public health recommendations; If you don’t get tested, it’s safest to stay home for 10 days after travel.”
So why is the State Department fine with subjecting our diplomats to Chinese quarantine? Is somebody just filing this under the “needs of the service” folder? Psst! Wake up!

The New Kid in the Block Is Still Happening? 

Did we hear correctly that there is a congressional hold for the creation of a new bureau of Crisis and Contingency Response (CCR) at the State Department? Oh, but alas, the State Department hasn’t really paid that much attention to Congress, has it?  So just nah, apparently, they went ahead with the creation of this new bureau in the waning days of Pompeo’s Foggy Bottom tenure? What the what? Real oversight in the Senate has been almost non-existent the last few years. Do not be shocked if the GOP somehow keeps the majority, and the good senators suddenly find their jello spines miraculously strengthened in the new season. There may even be righteous orations from those exercising their vocal cords and flexing their secret/not so secret ambitions. (Also see New @StateDept Bureau to Take $26 Million, Plus 98 Staffers From the Medical Services  Bureau).

Pray Tell, Who/What Lighted the Damn Fire Under State/OBO?

Well, the sale of the ambassador’s residence made news back in summer. But why was State/OBO in a hurry to sell this property? We were told recently, “We do not have a new residence to replace it.  We are paying for a splendid suite at the King David in the meantime.” Oh, golly, something else for State/OIG to look into, hey?  Wait, the THIRD acting inspector general had also left? How many inspectors general and acting inspectors general have now been lost in the span of just 12 months? This is a record to beat, yes?
It’s a good thing we just have a few more days to go. We can’t stand any more darn records to break!
This was a close call, wasn’t it?  Let’s hope 2021 will be a kinder year, and will not make our lives any shorter than it already it.  Stay well. Sending air hugs to all who needs it!
–DS