Tillerson Meets Erdoğan in Ankara With Turkish Foreign Minister as Interpreter

Posted: 12:35 am ET

 

AND NOW THIS, from people paying attention:

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After Congressional Queries, @StateDept to Mandate Sexual Harassment Training

Posted: 3:31 am ET

 

On January 11, Deputy Secretary Sullivan held a session “Harassment in the Workplace” at the State Department (see @StateDept to Hold “Harassment in the Workplace” Session But First, Read This FSI Sexual Harassment Case).  The following day, Secretary Tillerson delivered his remarks on values, also specifically addressing sexual harassment.

We understand that for a while there on January 12, Secretary Tillerson’s Conversation on the Value of Respect was reportedly the “tip of the day” when you log in to the Department’s OpenNet. That’s right, just mere hours after the President of the United States was reported to call certain countries “shitholes” during a meeting with lawmakers at the White House. Click here for reactions from different countries.

We’re not sure why both Deputy Secretary and the Secretary talked about sexual harassment two days in a row. Our most charitable take is that this is something the State Department cares very much, and the senior leadership would like to impress upon employees the  importance it places on sexual harassment (see our posts on sexual harassment here).  The less charitable take is that they’ve heard about folks talking to Congress about sexual harassment at the State Department, and they did not want to be perceived as not doing anything. (See Senators Seek Review/Analysis of @StateDept and @USAID Sexual Harassment and Assault DataCongress Seeks Info on @StateDept Senior Executives Who Are Subjects of Multiple ComplaintsInbox: “State Department absolutely deserves to have a trial by media”).

Of course, we also have our jaded take and we’re not alone on this — that Tillerson’s folks had atrocious timing, and did not want to seem like the Secretary was criticizing his boss on the day when the “shitholes” comment was  bouncing around the globe.

Fast-forward to February 12, Tillerson has now reportedly announced mandatory sexual harassment training for State Department employees. Reuters reports that the mandatory training is supposed to be completed by June 1:

“There is no form of disrespect for the individual that I can identify, anything more demeaning than for someone to suffer this kind of treatment,” he said. 

“It’s not OK if you’re seeing it happening and just look away. You must do something. You must notify someone. You must step in and intervene,” Tillerson added, speaking in Cairo to about 150 U.S. embassy staff outside the ambassador’s residence.

We’d be interested to know who provides the training, and what’s the source of the training material. For those who experienced sexual harassment first hand, we’d like to know if you think this mandatory training would help remedy the problem.

AND NOW THIS — Randy Rainbow’s ‘Stand By Your Man’ is quite memorable.

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A Look at @StateDept Staffing Losses Between FY2016-FY2017 #ThisCouldGetWorse

Posted: 12:28 pm PT
Updated: Feb 13, 2:02 pm PT

 

We’ve written previously about staffing and attrition at the State Department in this blog. We’ve decided to put the staffing numbers in FY16 and FY17 next to each other for comparison. The numbers are publicly released by State/HR, and links are provided below.

Since the State Department had also released an update of its staffing numbers dated December 31, 2017 for the first quarter of FY2018, we’ve added that in the table below.

FY2016 saw a high water mark in the total number of State Department employees worldwide at 75,231.  There were 13,980 Foreign Service employees (officers and specialists), 11,147 Civil Service employees and 50,104 locally employed (LE) staff members at 275 overseas posts.

The Trump Administration took office on January 20, 2017. On February 1, 2017, Rex W. Tillerson was sworn in as the 69th Secretary of State. With the exception of the month of January, note that Secretary Tillerson was at the helm at State for eight months in FY2017 (February-September 30, 2017), and the first three months of FY2018 (October 2017-December 2017).

With 75,231 overall number as our marker, we find that the State Department overall was reduced by 351 employees at the end of FY2017.  On the first quarter of FY18, this number was reduced further by 476 employees.  Between September 30, 2016, and December 31, 2017 — 15 months — the agency was reduced  overall by 827 employees (including LE employees).

FY2017 did see six, that’s right, six new FS specialists, and 256 LE staffers added to its rolls (see That FSS Number for additional discussion on that six FSS gains). Note that LE staffers are generally host country nationals paid in local compensation plans with non-dollarized salaries.

Data also shows that there were 68 more FS/CS employees overseas. We interpret this to mean 68 more FS/CS employees assigned overseas, and not/not necessarily new hires. The FSO ranks were reduced by 107 officers, and the Civil Service corps was reduced by 500 out of a total of 25,127 American employees by September 2017. The Foreign Service was further reduced by 197 employees, and the Civil Service reduced by 144 employees by December 31, 2017.

Tillerson on Track

Mr. Tillerson goal is reportedly to reduce the department’s full-time American employees by 8 percent by the end of September 2018, the date by which Mr. Tillerson has purportedly promised to complete the first round of cuts. A November 2017 report  calculated the 8 percent as 1,982 people with 1,341 expected to retire or quit, and 641 employees expected to take buyouts. The data below indicates that the State Department’s American FS/CS employees at 25,127 in FY2016 was reduced by 948 employees by December 31, 2017, a reduction of 3.8 percent.  If the buyouts, as reported, occurs in April 2018, Tillerson would be at 6.3 percent reduction by spring, with five months to get to the remaining 1.7 percent to make his 8 percent target by September 30. And this is just the first round.

Projected Attrition

In 2016, the State Department already projected that between FY 2016 and FY 2020, close to 5,400 career FS and CS employees (21 percent) will leave the Department due to various types of attrition (non-retirements, retirements, voluntary, involuntary). That’s an average of 1,080 reduction each fiscal year from FY2016-FY2020.  Even without a threat of staff reduction, it was already anticipated that the State Department was going to shrink by 1,080 employees every year until 2020.  We think that part of this estimate has to do with the graying of the federal service, and the mandatory age retirement for the Foreign Service, but also because of the built-in RIF in the Foreign Service with its “up or out” system. Anytime we hear the State Department trimming its promotion numbers, we also anticipate more departures for people who could not get promoted.

It’s Not a RIF, Just Shrinking the Promotion Numbers

Tillerson made the staff reduction his own by announcing a staffing cut and a buyout. This was obviously a mistake, but what do we know? What this signals to us is a lack of understanding of how the system was intended to work most especially in the Foreign Service. This is a mistake that he could have easily avoided had he not walled himself away from career people who knew the building and the system that he was trying to redesign.

Yes, the reduction in State Department workforce was in the stars whether Tillerson became Secretary of State or not. There is a regular brain drain because the Foreign Service is an “up or out” system. Some diplomats who are at the prime of their careers but are not promoted are often forced to leave.  But to get more people to leave, Tillerson does not even need to announce a RIF, he only need to shrink the promotion numbers. A source familiar with the numbers told us that in 2017, 41 FSOs were promoted from FS01 to the Senior Foreign Service (SFS), down from an average over the past five years of 101, or a 60% decrease. Across the Foreign Service, we understand that the average decrease in promotion numbers is about 30% percent.

In the rules books, the Director General of the Foreign Service is supposed to determine the number of promotions of members of the Foreign Service reviewed by the selection boards by “taking into account such factors as vacancies, availability of funds, estimated attrition, projected needs of the Service, and the need for retention of expertise and experience.” This decisions is based on “a systematic, long-term projection of personnel flows and needs designed to provide: (1)  A regular, predictable flow of recruitment into the Service; (2)  Effective career development to meet Service needs; and (3)  A regular, predictable flow of talent upwards through the ranks and into the SFS.”

The State Department does not even have a Senate-confirmed DGHR. The last Senate confirmed Director General Arnold Chacon left his post in June 2017 (see DGHR Arnold Chacón Steps Down, One More @StateDept Office Goes Vacant). Bill Todd who is the Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary is now acting Director General of the Foreign Service & acting Director of Human Resources, as well as “M” Coordinator. The Trump Administration has nominated ex-FSO  Stephen Akard to be the next DGHR (see Ten Ex-Directors General Call on the SFRC to Oppose Stephen Akard’s Confirmation).

Burning Both Ends of the Candle

The surprise is not that people are leaving, it is that people that you don’t expect to leave now are leaving or have left. An ambassador who retires in the middle of a three-year tenure. The highest ranking female diplomat who potentially could have been “P” retired. A senior diplomat retiring while at the pinnacle of his diplomatic career five years short of mandatory age retirement. A talented diplomat calling it quits while there’s a whole new world yet to be explored. The highest numbers of departures are occurring at the Minister Counselor level, and at the FS01s and below level (PDF). That said, these numbers as released and shown below, are still within the previously projected attrition numbers for FY2017. The FY2018 numbers is the one we’re anxious to see.

Tillerson’s staff reduction is not even the most glaring problem he gave himself. Basically, Tillerson’s State Department is burning both ends of the candle. The diplomatic ranks were reduced by 225 in December 31 last year but State will reportedly only hire a hundred in FY2018. There are rumors of only hiring at 3 for 1 to attrition. If this is the plan, Tillerson will surely shrink the diplomatic service but by not ensuring a smooth flow of new blood into the Service, he will put the institution and its people at risk. For instance, there are about 2,000 Diplomatic Security agents. Let’s say 21 percent or 420 agents leave the agency between now and 2020, and the State Department hires 140 new agents during the same period. The work will still be there, it will just remain unfilled or the positions get eliminated. A three-person security office could shrink to two, to one, or none. In the meantime, the United States has 275 posts overseas, including high threat/high risk priority posts that require those security agents.  What happens then? Are we going to see more contractors? Since contractor numbers are typically not released by the State Department, we won’t have any idea how many will supplement the agency’s workforce domestically and overseas.

The Foreign Service Specialists (FSS) Count

So if we look at the first table below (thanks JR), note that the total Foreign Service Specialists (FSSs) number is 5,821. A State Department release in November 29, 2017 confirms the 5,821 figure. But this figure as you can see here (PDF) includes Consular Fellow gains (previously known as Consular Adjudicators) in FY2017 (231), FY2016 (141), FY2015 (70), FY2014 (35) and FY2013 (37). The numbers are not clear from FY13 and FY14 because the counts were not done at the end of the fiscal year but midyear and end of the year. As best we can tell, the State Department HR Fact Sheet counts Consular Fellows as part of its FSS count in fiscal years 2015-2017.

The result is that the career FSS count is artificially inflated by the inclusion of the Consular Fellows in the count. While the first table below shows an FSS gain of six specialists, in reality, the CF inclusion in the count hides the career FSS losses in the last three fiscal years that ended. Why does that count matter? Because the Consular Fellow LNA appointments max out at 60 months.

11/29/17  Department of State Facts About Our Most Valuable Asset – Our People (September 30, 2017 Counts) 

Consular Fellows are hired via limited non-career appointments (LNAs). The Consular Fellows program, similar to its predecessor, the Consular Adjudicator Limited Non-Career Appointment (CA LNA) program, is not an alternate entry method to the Foreign Service or the U.S. Department of State, i.e. this service does not lead to onward employment at the U.S. Department of State or with the U.S. government. In fact state.gov notes that Consular Fellows are welcome to apply to become Foreign Service Specialists, Foreign Service Generalists, or Civil Service employees, but they must complete the standard application and assessment processes. So for Congressional folks keeping track of the career Foreign Service numbers, this would be a notable distinction.

Trump’s 2019 Budget and the Next 27% Cut

Trump’s fiscal 2019 proposed budget includes a 27% cut to the State Department. This potentially could get a lot worse; when the Administration starts shrinking programs, and priorities at this rate, it will inevitably create a cascading effect impacting overseas presence and personnel. State Department officials may say no post closures, and no reduction-in-force now but we probably will see those down the road, even if not immediately.  Remember when State was shrunk in the early 1990’s? It took a while before people could start picking up the pieces, and the replenishment for the workforce did not happen until almost a decade later. (see The Last Time @StateDept Had a 27% Budget Cut, Congress Killed ACDA and USIA).

Still, we have to remind ourselves that the budget proposal is just that, a proposal, and that Congress has the power of the purse. Is it foolish to hang our hopes on our elected reps?

HR Fact Sheet as of December 31, 2017 (PDF)

HR Fact Sheet as of 9/30/2017 (PDF)
Oops, looks like this file was subsequently removed after post went up.
See copy via the Internet Archive

HR Fact Sheet as of 9/30/2016 (Archived PDF)

HR Fact Sheet as of 9/30/2015 (PDF)

Below is a bonus chart with the FY2015 staffing numbers (yellow column#1), and the gains/losses between September 2015 to December 2017 (yellow column ##2). We’re sure that Mr. Tillerson’s aides would say that yes, there are staffing losses but look, the State Department’s overall workforce is still larger at the end of 2017 when compared to 2015. And that is true. Except that if you look closely at the numbers, you will quickly note that the gains of 1,346 employees are all LE staffers on local compensation.

 

Related posts:

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Tom Shannon’s ‘Dear Friends and Colleagues’ Note Announcing His Foreign Service Retirement

Posted: 1:12 am ET

 

Congress first authorized the position of Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs in the Department of State Organization Act of July 30, 1959. Under Secretary Tom Shannon is the 22nd incumbent to the third highest ranking position in Foggy Bottom since 1959. He is only the 16th career diplomat to be appointed as “P”.  He was nominated by President Obama in September 2015 but he did not get confirmed until February 2016. He officially signed his appointment and assumed post in April 2016, so he’s barely two years on the job. We understand that he recently turned 60 years old and wants to set a new direction in his life but we should also note that he is five years short of the mandatory Foreign Service retirement age inscribed in the Foreign Service Act of 1980.

Signed “Warm Regards, Tom Shannon,” the following is the text of the note addressed to friends and colleagues sent by the Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs announcing his retirement from the Foreign Service and the State Department:

Yesterday I spoke with the Secretary and informed him of my decision to retire from the United States Foreign Service and the Department of State.  After more than 34 years of service to our great Republic, I have decided that it is time to step aside.  I do so confident in the next generation of Foreign Service leadership, and proud of what we have accomplished across four decades of American diplomacy.

My decision is personal, and driven by a desire to attend to my family, take stock of my life, and set a new direction for my remaining years.

The Secretary has asked me to stay on until my successor is named, and to ensure a smooth transition to the new Under Secretary for Political Affairs.  I have agreed to do so.

I want to express my profound gratitude to the Secretary and the President for the privilege of serving at the highest levels of the Department during this past year.  I have had the honor of serving under six presidents and ten secretaries of state.  All have been extraordinary public servants and great Americans.  As with each of you, my service has been defined by our oath of office and the commitment we make to protect and defend our Constitution, our institutions, and our values.  Underlying this commitment is our deep respect for the will of the American people and a determination to advance the interests and well-being of our nation by ensuring the success of our elected governments.  The sense of duty and obligation that this implies, and the discipline it imparts, has allowed the Department of State and its officers to serve successfully since the earliest days of our Republic.

One of the greatest honors I have been afforded during my career is the opportunity to have worked with all of you.  I am deeply grateful for your friendship and solidarity, and I have been humbled by your generosity of spirit, your courage in confronting the dangers and risks inherent in our profession, and your joyful embrace of a life spent far from home and hearth.

To be an American diplomat is a high calling.  I salute you all, and look forward to having the opportunity to say my farewells to you in the weeks to come.

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Photo of the Day: Tillerson Meets With Ambassadors/CDAs During Regional Chiefs of Mission Meeting

Posted: 12:27 am ET

 

click image for larger view                                                                                 Secretary Tillerson Meets With U.S. Ambassadors and Chargé d’Affaires During a Regional Chiefs of Mission Meeting | U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson poses for a photo with thirteen U.S. Ambassadors and Chargé d’Affaires during a regional Chiefs of Mission meeting (L to R) Kent Logsdon, Chargé d’Affaires a.i., U.S. Embassy in Germany, Lewis M. Eisenberg, U.S. Ambassador to the Italian Republic, and the Republic of San Marino, Matthew Lussenhop, Chargé d’Affaires a.i., U.S. Embassy in Belgium, Reece Smyth, Chargé d’Affaires a.i., U.S. Embassy in Ireland, Thomas Williams, Acting DCM, U.S. Embassy in the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, Kerri S. Hannan, Chargé d’Affaires a.i., U.S. Embassy in Luxembourg, Richard Duke Buchan III, U.S. Ambassador to Spain and Andorra, Jamie D. McCourt, U.S. Ambassador to the French Republic and Principality of Monaco, Peter Hoekstra, U.S. Ambassador to the Netherlands, George E. Glass, U.S. Ambassador to the Portuguese Republic, Callista Gingrich, U.S. Ambassador to the Holy See, Edward “Ed” McMullen, Jr., U.S. Ambassador to Switzerland and Liechtenstein, Adam Shub, Chargé d’Affaires a.i., U.S. Mission to the European Union in Paris, France on January 23, 2018. [State Department Photo/ Public Domain]

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@TheOnion Exclusive: Secretary Tillerson Having a Blast in Foggy Bottom

Posted: 1:21 am ET

 

Remember The Many Adventures of Secretary of State John Kerry (2013-2017) via The Onion?  Several months after he took office, Secretary Tillerson also got The Onion treatment (see here, here, and here)  But the latest update has the potential to make our top diplomat go viral. Given the 7th Floor’s legendary lack of humor, IMOs may soon get an IMMEDIATE instruction to keep Foggy Bottom’s eyeballs away. Hurrrry! Read it here before the Bureau of Public Affairs asks The Onion to take it down!

“Leaping out from behind a wall as Bob Seger’s “Old Time Rock and Roll” blared from the building’s intercom, a pantless Secretary of State Rex Tillerson slid across the waxed marble floors of the completely empty State Department, sources confirmed Wednesday.”

Bob Seger! The Onion really outdid itself with that music; too bad there’s no YouTube video! We heard that we may have to wait a while for the Gobi Desert, or the Isle of Embers adventures because he’s busy with his passion project.

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Tillerson Swears-In New Asst Secretary For Econ and Business Affairs Manisha Singh

Posted: 2:58 am ET

 

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Photo of the Day: Secretary Tillerson Lunches With Former Secretary of State Rice and Shultz

Posted: 3:29 am ET

 

Via state.gov

01/17/18 Remarks on The Way Forward for the United States Regarding Syria;  Secretary of State Rex W. Tillerson; Hoover Institute at Stanford University; Stanford, CA

Secretary Tillerson Meets With Former Secretary of State Rice and Shultz
U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson participates in a luncheon event with former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and George P. Shultz at the Hoover Institution at Stanford University, Stanford, California on January 17, 2018. [State Department photo/ Public Domain]

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Tillerson’s End of Year Confession: I Am Proud of Our Diplomacy #TigerTeamsin2018

Posted: 4:02 pm PT
Updated: 12/31 10:29 am PT

 

On December 28, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson published an op-ed in The New York Times, entitled “I Am Proud Of Our Diplomacy”. You may also read it here via state.gov.

On North Korea: A door to dialogue remains open, but we have made it clear that the regime must earn its way back to the negotiating table. Until denuclearization occurs, the pressure will continue.

Pakistan: We are prepared to partner with Pakistan to defeat terrorist organizations seeking safe havens, but Pakistan must demonstrate its desire to partner with us.

Russia: Absent a peaceful resolution of the Ukraine situation, which must begin with Russia’s adherence to the Minsk agreements, there cannot be business as usual with Russia.

Iran: We will continue to work with our allies and with Congress to explore options for addressing the nuclear deal’s many flaws, while building a like-minded effort to punish Iran for its violations of ballistic missile commitments and its destabilizing activities in the region.

On the redesign:

I am proud of what our State Department and Agency for International Development teams around the world have accomplished this year, and our progress will continue in 2018 and beyond. To that end, we have undertaken a redesign of the State Department to strengthen our teams’ ability to deliver on our mission.

Our redesign doesn’t involve simply shifting boxes on an organizational chart. Our changes must address root problems that lead to inefficiencies and frustrations. By making changes like streamlining our human resources and information technology systems, better aligning personnel and resources with America’s strategic priorities, and reforming duplicative processes, we are giving our people more opportunities to flourish professionally and spend more time confronting the global problems they have dedicated their careers to solving.

When I wake up each morning, my first thought is, “How can I and my colleagues at the State Department use diplomacy to prevent people around the world from being killed, wounded or deprived of their rights?” In spite of the challenges, I remain optimistic about the power of diplomacy to resolve conflicts and advance American interests. My confidence comes from the knowledge that our efforts are carried out daily by patriotic and dedicated State Department employees who make sacrifices to serve with patience and persistence and who, by advancing democratic values the world over, are protecting our citizens’ rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

Should we thank the new R Undersecretary Steve Goldstein for this? A bit underwhelming after a tumultuous year around the world, and a year of ‘what the heck’ is going on in Foggy Bottom. Folks can be forgiven if you let out a deep sigh. We did, too.  Tillerson did not mention them in his op-ed but we’re hearing about the “tiger teams” and the “keystone projects” that are in some of our readers’ future as 2018 marches in.

Rawr!

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Career Diplomat Susan A. Thornton to be Asst Secretary for East Asian and Pacific Affairs (EAP)

Posted: 2:31 am ET

 

On December 19, the WH release a statement of the nominations it sent to the Senate. The list includes the names of retired military officer Andrea L. Thompson to be Under Secretary for Arms Control and International Security (T) whose nomination was  announced on December 13, and of senior career diplomat Susan A. Thornton to be the Assistant Secretary of State for the Bureau of East Asian and Pacific Affairs (EAP). As of this writing, and we’ve looked hard, the statement on the nominations forwarded to the Senate appears to be the only one that came out of the WH reflecting Ms. Thornton’s nomination. Maybe the official announcement will come later. Or maybe not.

According to BuzzFeed’s report, Alex Wong, the former foreign policy adviser to Republican Sen. Tom Cotton, is also poised to join the Department as a deputy assistant secretary in the EAP Bureau, a position that does not require Senate confirmation.

Below is Ms. Thornton’s official bio via state.gov:

Susan Thornton assumed responsibility as Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary in February 2016, after serving for a year and a half as Deputy Assistant Secretary. A career-member of the United States Foreign Service, Ms. Thornton joined the State Department in 1991 and has spent the last twenty years working on U.S. policy in Eurasia, focused on the countries of the former Soviet Union and East Asia.

As Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary in the Bureau of East Asian and Pacific Affairs, Ms. Thornton is responsible for policy related to China, Mongolia, and Taiwan.

Previous Foreign Service assignments include Deputy Chief of Mission to the U.S. Embassy in Turkmenistan, Deputy Director of the Office of Chinese and Mongolian Affairs at the State Department in Washington, Economic Unit Chief in the Office of Korean Affairs, and overseas postings in Beijing, Chengdu, Yerevan and Almaty.

Prior to joining the Foreign Service, Ms. Thornton worked at the Foreign Policy Institute in Washington, DC, where she researched and wrote about Soviet bureaucratic politics and contemporary Russia. She speaks Russian and Mandarin Chinese.

A quick summary of this position via history.state.gov:

The Department of State established the position of Assistant Secretary of State for Far Eastern Affairs in 1949, after the Commission on Organization of the Executive Branch of Government (Hoover Commission) recommended that certain offices be upgraded to bureau level and after Congress increased the number of Assistant Secretaries of State from six to ten (May 26, 1949; P.L. 81-73; 63 Stat. 111). On Nov 1, 1966, the Department by administrative action changed the incumbent’s designation to Assistant Secretary for East Asian and Pacific Affairs. The Division of Far Eastern Affairs, established in 1908, was the first geographical division to be established in the Department of State.

If confirmed, Ms. Thornton would succeed Daniel R. Russel who served from 2013 to 2017. Other prior appointees to this position include Winston Lord (1993–1997); Paul D. Wolfowitz (1982–1986); Richard Charles Albert Holbrooke (1977–1981); William Averell Harriman (1961–1963), and David Dean Rusk (1950–1951) to name a few.

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