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Tillerson on Trump: “I understand I have to earn his confidence every day…”

Posted: 12:54 am ET

 

Via All News:

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson in an interview to be broadcast on Sunday said that the firing of FBI Director James Comey did not shake his faith in how much independence he has, adding that he has to earn President Trump’s confidence “every day.”

“I have a great relationship with the president,” Tillerson said on NBC’s “Meet the Press.”

“I understand what his objectives are,” he added. “When I’m not clear on what his objectives are, we talk about it.”

Tillerson also said he is “devoted” to helping Trump achieve his objectives.

“And I understand I have to earn his confidence every day with how I go about those affairs and how I go about conducting the State Department’s activities consistent with the direction he wants to take the country.”

When asked about his personal line between service to the president and service to the country, Tillerson said he “will never compromise” his own values.

“That’s my only line. And my values are those of the country.”

 

 

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@StateDept “Listening Tour” Survey Leaks, So Here’s Your Million Dollar Word Cloud

Posted: 4:34 pm PT

 

Zachary Fryer-Biggs, Senior Pentagon Reporter covering national security for Jane’s obtained a copy of the internal survey sent out at the  as part of Secretary Tillerson’s “listening tour” through Insigniam.

And then John Hudson, who used to be with  and now the Foreign Affairs Correspondent for  writes that the survey feels like Office Space, so he came up with all sorts of GIFs (must see, by the way). We thanked John for the GIFs; frankly, we don’t know where to store our laughing teardrops.

John Hudson also asked the State Department for comments, but the now famous Mark Stroh — who is just doing his job — and whose press shop now refuses to acknowledge or respond to inquiries from this blog — came back with an exclamation point!

What if you can’t come up with a word cloud?  To borrow what FBI Director Comey said the other day on teevee, “Lordy, that would be really bad.” So we’ve decided that we all deserve a million dollar word cloud. Here you go. You’re welcome!

 

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Expected USAID Pick Ex-GOP Rep Mark Green Lost in the Trump Jungle

Posted: 12:18 am ET

Via Politico:

Former GOP Rep. Mark Green is the Trump administration’s expected pick to lead the United States Agency for International Development, but has struggled to close a deal with the Trump administration, according to four sources with knowledge of the talks.
[…]
Green has been frustrated by his dealings with Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and other Trump officials, the sources said. In addition to wanting the title of USAID administrator, Green is also seeking to be named to a high-ranking position in the State Department. And he is seeking promises that Trump won’t dismantle USAID or make it a subsidiary of the State Department, a move that’s feared by people in international development circles as a way to sideline foreign aid.

Green made the case to White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus that he wanted the dual title of USAID administrator and a deputy slot with an office on the 7th floor, and was led to believe that the White House had given him those terms for accepting the job, according to a source close to State.

 

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

Posted: 3:04 pm ET

 

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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With Reported Proposal to Cut 2,300 @StateDept Jobs, Tillerson Set to Survey Employees

Posted: 2:31 am ET

 

Via AP:

One U.S. diplomat said people were “enraged” by a report that indicated Tillerson is unhappy with how much the U.S. spends on housing and schooling for the families of employees overseas, even though those diplomats often serve in tough conditions. The diplomat added that staffers were told they could not, for now, fill empty jobs with the qualified spouses of diplomats — a long-running State initiative — because Tillerson aides “think it’s a ‘jobs program.’” “They’ve got it exactly backwards,” the diplomat said. “These are not jobs we’re creating to give spouses and partners work. They are jobs we desperately need filled, and we’re saving the U.S. government money and improving morale by hiring spouses.”

So the State Department ignored our question on the “corporate welfare” rumor but Tilleron’s aides apparently think family member employment is a “jobs program.” (Oy! That Rumor About Foreign Service Family Member Employment as “Corporate Welfare”).

On Wednesday, Secretary Tillerson is scheduled to address State Department employees at 10:30am ET. The event is available to watch live at . We understand that the “address” (not/not billed as a townhall) will be brief, and that apparently there will be no questions.

Last Monday, Secretary Tillerson also sent a mass email to all State Department employees asking for their “participation” to identify how they “are going about completing the Department of State’s mission.”

The email announced an online survey that will also go live from May 3 until 9 am (EDT) on Monday, May 15, 2017.

Employees are asked to participate with Tillerson’s email promising “Individual survey answers and comments will be treated as confidential.”  The survey will include the workforce “including employed family members, locally-engaged staff, and certain contractors.”

This would effectively exclude 70% of family members overseas who are currently employed outside U.S. missions and family members who are unemployed.

The final report will reportedly be available in May.

In addition to the survey, Secretary Tillerson’s email also told employees that some “300 individuals from both the Department and USAID in the United States and abroad will be interviewed.”  These individuals will reportedly be randomly selected. “The interview will take approximately one hour. Your candid assessments are invaluable. All interviews will be conducted privately and all responses will be treated as confidential,” Mr. Tillerson writes.

The chief diplomat who is widely reported as set to chop 2,300 positions from State and USAID expects “candid assessments?” And then he writes:

“We will be using the results of the survey and interviews as input to efficiency improvements as part of our larger efforts called for under E.O. 13781. I have no pre-conceived notions about how the Department or USAID should be organized for the future. My commitment on that first day was to deploy the talent and resources of the State Department in the most efficient way possible. In order to do that, we need your help in identifying processes that we all need improved.”

This is hilarious, excuse me.

Isn’t this like telling somebody — we’re gonna chop your arm, but first go ahead and tell us how to make an improved version of you?

The mass email ends with, “My regard for the men and women of the Department of State and USAID has only grown, as I experience every day the dedication and professionalism of our workforce. I hope that we can count on your help as we pursue our shared mission.”

Note that the State Department has about 75,000 employees worldwide, USAID has some 3,800.  So the State Department is interviewing 0.3 percent of the combined workforce, or if we don’t count the local staff, it would be about 1 percent of the direct-hire American workforce.

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#ThrowbackThursday: Secretary of State Holds Town Hall With @StateDept Employees

Posted: 1:36 pm ET

The photograph below was taken on May 30, 2013, about four months into Secretary John Kerry’s tenure as the 68th Secretary of State.  Secretary Rex Tillerson assumed office on February 1, 2017 as the 69th Secretary of State. So we’re going to start our watch on when Secretary Tillerson will actually hold his first town hall and answer questions from his demoralized employees. Or is that though terrifying to Mr. Tillerson’s handlers?

Via state.gov:

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry responds to a question from a Department employee during a town hall meeting at the U.S. Department of State in Washington, D.C., on May 30, 2013. [State Department photo/ Public Domain]

 Meanwhile, the current Secretary of State apparently has big plans for the State Department but his employees first learned about it from the New York Times instead of hearing it directly from their new boss.  Now we’re hearing that a wave of consultants have descended down USS Foggy Bottom to map out eeeeeverything!

“The first step was to find out where the Titanic was, and then it was to map out where everything else is,” Mr. Hammond said, likening the department’s organizational structure to a sunken ocean liner and its seabed surroundings. “I think we’re still in the process of mapping out the entire ocean floor so that we understand the full picture.” 

 

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Are #EFM positions literally about to become…extinct under #Tillerson’s watch?

Posted: 3:20 am ET
Updated: April 22, 2:13 pm ET

 

On April 12, 2017, the State Department posted a statement indicating that the current hiring freeze guidance remains in effect particularly as it affects the hiring of Foreign Service family members.

At this time, the Department’s current hiring freeze guidance remains in effect, including with respect to hiring under a Family Member Appointment (FMA) or Temporary Appointment. The Family Liaison Office will continue to distribute any updates on the hiring freeze as soon as it receives them. FLO shares family member concerns regarding the current situation and communicates to Department of State management the many helpful suggestions and insights that it receives from the field. In the meantime, please be assured that FLO continues to actively represent the interests and concerns of family members.

The current guidance says that “hiring activities may resume for positions that are or most recently have been filled by employees on Personal Services Agreements (PSAs).”  This authority to hire apparently does NOT extend to any locally employed staff, Family Member or Temporary Appointments as those are still subject to the hiring freeze. “Positions that are or become vacant that have been most recently filled using a mechanism other than a PSA may not be filled at this time.”  Also that “Circumventing the hiring freeze by using a PSA to employ family members who would normally be hired on an FMA is not permitted.” 

Available now, contract jobs with no USG service credit!

PSAs are typically designed for a non-U.S. citizen spouse on the travel orders of a Foreign Service, Civil Service employee, or uniformed service member assigned to a U.S. embassy or consulate abroad. This is also the hiring mechanism for Members of Household (MOH) overseas who are not on the employee’s travel orders.

Most notable, PSAs are subject to government contracting authorities and do not/do not confer retirement benefits or USG service credit.

Eligible Family Members (EFMs) may apply for jobs, but no job offers 

“Eligible family members may continue to apply for any advertised position for which they feel they are qualified and the hiring preference will be applied during the process. However, Appointment Eligible Family Members (AEFM) cannot be offered a position at this time due to the freeze on use of FMA and temporary appointments. Any position where an AEFM would have been selected absent the hiring freeze must be referred to the Office of Overseas Employment (HR/OE) in Washington at  HR-OE-Freeze@state.gov.”

With the summer transfer season just months away, this means that FS family members who currently have jobs, will be jobless once more when they transfer to their new posts. And because there is a hiring freeze, they will be able to apply for jobs at their next posts, but they won’t be hired into new jobs even if they have current security clearances and even if their new posts need them. Think of mailroom jobs, security escorts, facility escorts, admin assistants, community liaison officers to name a few.

EFMs who work in Civil Service positions (via)

Due to the federal civilian hiring freeze, EFMs who are working in Civil Service (CS) positions and who are planning to accompany their sponsoring employee abroad may not join the Foreign Service Family Reserve Corps (FSFRC) at this time. The processing of a CS employee into the FSFRC requires the issuance of a new Family Member Appointment (FMA). Unless an exemption has been granted, all direct hire appointments (including Family Member Appointments) are currently subject to the federal civilian hiring freeze.

EFMs may request Leave Without Pay (LWOP) status, but Uncle Sam may still say “nooooooo!”  (via)

EFMs who are currently working in Civil Service positions, who are preparing to join their sponsoring employee abroad may want to request consideration of being placed into Leave without Pay (LWOP) status when they finish working in their CS position. LWOP is a temporary non-pay status and approved absence from duty that may be granted at the discretion of the Bureau’s Executive Director. (Please note that a Bureau’s Executive Director may not be able to approve LWOP requests based on a variety of factors.)

Holymoly macaroni! They won’t even let you stay on the rolls even on non-pay status?  The notice did not include the “variety of factors” what would cause the disapproval of a LWOP request.  We should note that 3 FAM3500 is clear that the authorization of LWOP is a matter of “administrative discretion.” Which means that an employee cannot demand leave without pay as a matter of right except as provided by 3 FAM 35303 FAM 35123 FAH-1 H-3513, and 3 FAH-1 H-3514.  Which makes us wonder — if a family member is a Civil Service employee accompanying his/her FS spouse overseas but is not allowed to join the FSFRC and could not be granted LWOP status, what option is there for the employee short of going AWOL or quitting his/her job?

What happens to the Foreign Service Family Reserve Corps (FSFRC)?

Remember in mid-2016 when the State Department launched the Foreign Service Family Reserve Corps (FSFRC) “to more quickly mobilize family members to fill available positions in missions overseas?”  At that time, the State Department notes that the FSFRC will become the exclusive hiring program for Appointment Eligible Family Members (AEFM) into Family Member Appointments (FMA). Its FAQ says that “After open enrollment commences, which we estimate to be 18 to 24 months from now, the Department will announce the initiation of a new hiring preference.” The Department estimated that in excess of 5,000 family members are eligible to apply to join the Reserve Corps (see @StateDept Launches Foreign Service Family Reserve Corps (FSFRC)).

Last year, the State Department said that “at full implementation (by 2018), the FSFRC will improve efficiency in the hiring process for Appointment Eligible Family Members (AEFMs).”

But what happens if/when there are no jobs?

Foreign Service Family Member Employment

Jobs for diplomatic spouses are supposed to enhance quality of life overseas, and is an important part of the agency’s effort to recruit and retain Foreign Service employees who, like the rest of America, have come increasingly from two-profession households.

The creation of the Foreign Service Family Reserve Corps (FSFRC) is part of that effort, as well as various programs and initiatives through the years like EPAP, GEI, SNAP, Professional Associates program, etc. In 2003, there was even a proposed three-year pilot program to establish a Family Member Cost Equalization Fund, which the Office of Overseas Employment was to manage. With funds in place, posts would have been able to make specific requests to fund the salary gap when a qualified EFM was selected to fill a job previously filled by a locally employed staff (LES). The 2006 OIG report says that “Despite the apparent support for the concept, in the course of three successive years the Department has not funded the initiative.” It further states that if no funding is available, that “Department management may need to acknowledge that it cannot give a high enough priority to this particular program.”  The OIG noted then that “Maintaining rhetoric on the program in communications with posts overseas and in briefings of incoming officer classes creates expectations that, when not met, negatively affect morale and retention of entry-level officers.”

11 years on, and the 50% target remains beyond reach

One of the agency’s performance goals in FY 2005 was a 50%  increase in the percentage of family members employed overseas.  The State Department previously noted that the 50% “was not intended to be a one-year goal but rather a multi-year goal.” The target was developed with the expectation that “the Department would steadily work towards the 50 percent spousal employment rate.” Its justification was that this contributes to increased retention rates of Foreign Service and Civil Service employees.

According to state.gov, statistics from an earlier survey from the Family Liaison Office indicate that even though 83 percent of Foreign Service family members have college degrees (29 percent have advanced degrees), the majority of positions they fill while serving abroad are clerical in nature.  These jobs typically pay in the low to mid-$30Ks.

As of November 2016, there are 11,841 total adult family members serving overseas with their FS employees. About 3,500 or 30% works inside an embassy or consulate, about 1,650 or 14% works outside the U.S. mission, while more than half — 6,688 or 56% are not working.

So 11 years on, and that 50% target is still beyond reach. And it looks like things are about to get harder not better.

Rumor #1: EFM Hiring Freeze Till 2018?

Internal State Department circles are ripe with rumors about the future of eligible family member (EFM) positions. There are talks that the EFM hiring freeze may last until 2018. Or beyond. No one is sure. No one is authorized to discuss it. You will find nothing about it anywhere online. Not on a FLO website or anywhere else, for that matter.

The State Department is clear that EFM positions are affected by the Federal hiring freeze.  However, if this becomes a permanent directive, it will have sobering repercussions not only in the operation of over 280 posts overseas, but also in the retention of FS employees.  Note that the last time the State Department had a hiring freeze and the agency was hiring at 50% below attrition, diplomatic spouses ended up getting hired because the Department could not hire direct-hire USG employees. We still don’t know what will happen to the September FS classes, but IF it turns out that State will not be able to hire FSOs and specialists even at attrition, and also won’t be able to hire EFMs, then embassies and consulates overseas will be in a real pickle (also see  @StateDept Gets Exemption From Trump Federal Hiring Freeze, March Classes Are On).

Rumor #2: Locally Employed Staff for EFM Positions?

One of the few times when the State Department was forced to hire family members and US contractors for local jobs was in Moscow back in the 1980’s when 260 Soviet employees were withdrawn from the embassy.

Now, rumors are circulating that locally employed (LE) staff could replace EFM positions at our overseas posts.  While this might be cheaper in some countries, it will be more expensive in others.  For example, at the US Embassy in Japan,  the public affairs section allocated 68 percent of its FY 2014 budget of $8.5 million to LE staff salaries.  And in Germany, LE procurement agent salaries in Frankfurt are among the highest in the world at $74,700.  So hey, you can probably hire two EFMs for the price of one LE staffer in Frankfurt, unless you want to hire local staff in Asia or in Africa. But then, of course, since you want to save money on housing and travel of local nationals working at U.S. embassies, you need to teleport them to the various posts that requires their services. Good luck with that teleportation scheme with Captain Kirk.

So right now, apparently, many are wondering – if Locally Employed Staff members replace EFMs, will this replacement be permanent? Are EFM positions literally about to become…extinct under Secretary Tillerson’s watch?

“Hire American” except at US Embassies?

Somebody should really ask the new State Department management how this would work with Trump’s new “Hire American” policy.

The Foreign Service Act of 1980 (FSA) ties LE staff salaries to prevailing wages and compensation practices for corresponding types of positions in the host country. The OIG review of local compensation back in 2009 notes that the FSA does not require that wage adjustments be associated with inflation and cost of living changes, and the Department does not link LE staff compensation adjustments to variations in inflation or cost of living. This has its own problems and issues due to persistent underfunding. The 2015 OIG report on US Mission Japan indicates that the LE staff there received their last pay increase in 1995. Yup. 1995. (see State Dept on Embassy Workers Unionization: Yo! Could Put U.S. National Security at Risk).

Local compensation plans are, of course, not created equal.  Some plans like the one in Germany authorizes a year of maternity leave and 6 weeks of annual leave a year. Separation costs in Western Europe are also very high, often exceeding 2.5 years of salary for long-term employees. But we also need to add that a 2009 OIG report cited at least 27 U.S. missions which presented “compelling arguments that their lower grade employees fall short of minimal living standards.” (Don’t look now but about 200 local guards working for a security contractor at the U.S. Embassy in Nairobi, Kenya have staged a demonstration over low wages.  The local guards protecting an embassy that had been bombed previously are reportedly paid “peanuts” according to one guard rep).

Oh, leadership in action! 

We’ve asked the State Department for comments on these reports a week ago.  Following the April Fools’ Day take down sent to this blog, it looks like the um … our friends at the Bureau of Public Affairs no longer acknowledge inquiries from this blog, or bother to actually answer their emails.  Milk cartoons, anyone?

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Trump to nominate John J. Sullivan to be @StateDept’s No.2 and to also serve as No.3

Posted: 1:47 am ET

 

Back in March, the WSJ reported that John J. Sullivan is set to be nominated as Deputy Secretary of State (see Previously Announced DOD Nominee John J. Sullivan Now Slated to be @StateDept’s No. 2). On April 11, the White House officially announced President Trump’s intent to nominate Mr. Sullivan not only as the State Department’s Deputy Secretary of State (D) but to also serve concurrently as Deputy Secretary of State for Management and Resources (D/MR). If confirmed, the White House would get two positions filled with one nominee; Mr. Sullivan would succeed Tony Blinken as “D” and Heather Higginbottom as “D/MR” at the same time.

Click here for Mr. Sullivan’s archived biography via DOC.

Deputy Commerce Secretary John J. Sullivan Swearing In Ceremony | May 27, 2008 (Photo via Department of Commerce)

Since 2009, the State Department has been authorized a Deputy Secretary of State for Management and Resources (D/MR), the third highest ranking position at the agency.   Jack L. Lew stayed from January 28, 2009 – November 18, 2010, before moving on to better jobs. Thomas R. Nides was in from January 3, 2011 – February, 2013, then rejoined Morgan Stanley as vice chairman. After a stint at OMB, Heather Anne Higginbottom served the State Department from 2013-2017.  This is an eight year old position, and while it may be worrisome for some that this job will now be concurrently filled by “D”, the State Department managed for a long time without this position. Also, if the top ranking person in the agency is not willing to fight for the State Department’s funding, how the heck is the deputy for management and resources going to make a difference in the White House or with Congressional appropriators?  We suspect that the D/MR office will be folded into D, which makes the most sense, and “P” will again become the 3rd most senior person in the Department.  One of our main concerns continue to be the appointment of the Under Secretary for Management, and that he/she has a depth of experience  not only in management but in the many challenges of overseas assignments.

Some clips:

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Related posts:

 

Tillerson Responds to North Korean Missile Launch With a 23-Word Statement 👀

Posted: 12:49 am ET

 

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Tillerson Finally Issues Condemnation of Syria Chemical Attack

Posted: 12:19 am ET

 

Shortly after 1:00 pm, the State Department finally released a statement from Secretary Tillerson. One wonders if the folks in Foggy Bottom had to get clearance for this statement all the way to the White House.

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