New Biden Nominations: DGHR, EUR, NEA, AF, IO, DS and CSO

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On April 15, President Biden announced his intent to nominate the following individuals for top positions in the geographic and functional bureaus of the State Department.
  • Marcia Stephens Bloom Bernicat to be Director General of the Foreign Service and the Chair of the Board of the Foreign Service (DGHR)
  • Karen Erika Donfried to be Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs (EUR)
  • Barbara A. Leaf to be Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs (NEA)
  • Mary Catherine Phee to be Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs (AF) and Member of the Board of Directors of the African Development Foundation (AFD)
  • Michele Jeanne Sison to be Assistant Secretary of State for International Organization Affairs (IO)
  • Gentry O. Smith to be Assistant Secretary of State for Diplomatic Security (DS)
  • Anne A. Witkowsky to be Assistant Secretary of State for Conflict and Stabilization Operations (CSO) and Coordinator for Reconstruction and Stabilization
For the geographic bureaus, President Biden previously nominated Ambassador Brian Nichols to be A/S for Western Hemisphere Affairs (WHA) and Ambassador Daniel J. Kritenbrink for  the East Asian and Pacific Affairs (EAP). With these new nominees for EUR, NEA, AF and IO, we are now waiting for just SCA to complete the line up under the Under Secretary for Political Affairs (P). The nominee for “P”, Victoria Nuland had her confirmation hearing before the SFRC on 4/15/21.
If all these nominees are confirmed, it looks like at the regional bureaus, Foggy Bottom will have  one non-career appointee (EUR), one retired FS (NEA), four active career FS (WHA, EAP, AF, IO) , and one as yet unknown for SCA. During the previous administration, these top geographic bureau positions were all filled with non-career appointees (the assistant secretary for the AF bureau was a retired FS). This is a hopeful start.
The WH released the following brief bio:
Marcia Stephens Bloom Bernicat, Nominee for Director General of the Foreign Service and the Chair of the Board of the Foreign Service

Marcia Bernicat, a career member of the Senior Foreign Service, Class of Minister-Counselor, currently serves as the Senior Official for Economic Growth, Energy and the Environment and as Acting Assistant Secretary for the Bureau of Oceans, International Environmental and Scientific Affairs of the Department of State.  Previously, she was the U.S. Ambassador to Bangladesh, U.S. Ambassador to Senegal and Guinea Bissau, and Deputy Assistant Secretary in the Bureau of Human Resources at the State Department.  She also served as Deputy Chief of Mission at the U.S. Embassies in Barbados and Malawi and as Principal Officer of the U.S. Consulate General in Casablanca, Morocco. Bernicat earned a Master of Science in Foreign Service Degree at Georgetown University and a Bachelor’s Degree at Lafayette College.  Her foreign languages are French, Hindi and Russian and she is a recipient of the Secretary of State’s Distinguished Service Award.

Karen Erika Donfried, Nominee for Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs

Dr. Karen Donfried currently serves as President of the German Marshall Fund of the United States (GMF).  Before assuming this position in April 2014, Donfried was the Special Assistant to the President and Senior Director for European Affairs at the National Security Council.  Prior to that, she served as the National Intelligence Officer for Europe on the National Intelligence Council.  She first joined GMF in 2001 after having served for ten years as a European specialist at the Congressional Research Service.  When she was at GMF from 2005 to 2010, she first served as senior director of policy programs and then as executive vice president.  From 2003-2005, she worked in the Policy Planning office at the U.S. Department of State, handling the Europe portfolio.  Donfried has written and spoken extensively on German foreign policy, European integration, and transatlantic relations.  She is a Senior Fellow at Harvard University’s Center for European Studies.  The King of the Belgians awarded the Commander of the Order of the Crown to her in 2020 and she became an Officer of the Order of Merit of the Italian Republic in 2018.  Additionally, she received the Cross of the Order of Merit from the German Government in 2011 and a Superior Service Medal from the National Intelligence Community in 2014.  She is a member of the Council on Foreign Relations and the American Council on Germany.  Donfried has a Ph.D. and MALD from the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University, a Magister from the University of Munich, Germany and holds a B.A. from Wesleyan University.  She is fluent in German. 

Barbara A. Leaf, Nominee for Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs

Barbara A. Leaf is the Special Assistant to the President and Senior Director for Middle East and North Africa Affairs on the National Security Council.  Prior to this, she was the Ruth and Sid Lapidus Fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy and Director of the Beth and David Geduld Program on Arab Politics.  She previously served as the U.S. Ambassador to the United Arab Emirates, Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for the Arabian Peninsula in the Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs as well as Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Iraq at the State Department.  She directed the U.S. Provincial Reconstruction Team in Basrah, Iraq and was the Department’s first Director of the Office of Iranian Affairs.  Leaf also has served in Rome, Sarajevo, Paris, Cairo, Tunis, Jerusalem and Port-au-Prince.  She speaks Arabic, French, Italian and Serbo-Croatian.  Leaf has a Bachelor’s degree from the College of William and Mary and a Master’s degree from the University of Virginia. 

Mary Catherine Phee, Nominee for Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs and to be a Member of the Board of Directors of the African Development Foundation

Mary Catherine Phee, a career member of the Senior Foreign Service with the rank of Minister Counselor, currently serves as Principal Deputy Special Representative for Afghanistan Reconciliation at the State Department.  She was U.S. Ambassador to South Sudan from 2015 to 2017.  Previously, she served as Deputy Chief of Mission at the U.S. Embassy in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, and as Chief of Staff in the Office of the Special Envoy for Sudan and South Sudan.  She also was the Acting Assistant Secretary of State for International Organization Affairs and Deputy Security Council Coordinator at the U.S. Mission to the United Nations, handling UN engagement in Africa for both portfolios.  Earlier in her career, Phee served as Director for Iraq at the National Security Council and as Senior Civilian Representative of the Coalition Provisional Authority to Maysan Province, Iraq.  She began her career in Amman, Jordan and also worked at U.S. Embassies in Cairo, Egypt and Kuwait City, Kuwait.  She received the Robert C. Frasure Memorial Award for conflict resolution and peacemaking, the James A. Baker, III-C. Howard Wilkins, Jr. Award for Outstanding Deputy Chief of Mission, the Secretary of Defense Meritorious Civilian Service Award, the Order of the British Empire Award, and a Presidential Rank Award.  She speaks Arabic.  A native of Chicago, she is a graduate of Indiana University and holds a Master’s degree from the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University. 

Michele Jeanne Sison, Nominee for Assistant Secretary of State for International Organization Affairs

Michele Jeanne Sison, a five-time Ambassador, has extensive experience in advancing U.S. interests through multilateral diplomacy.  Sison has served as U.S. Ambassador to Haiti since 2018.   She also served as Deputy Representative of the United States to the United Nations (with the rank of Ambassador) from 2014 to 2018, where she helped build global coalitions to counter transnational threats to peace and security and advocated for a more effective, efficient, and accountable UN and multilateral system.  She also has long experience with UN peacekeeping and the UN entities responsible for development, humanitarian relief, and human rights in the field.  Previously, she served as U.S. Ambassador to Sri Lanka and Maldives, U.S. Ambassador to Lebanon, U.S. Ambassador to the United Arab Emirates, Assistant Chief of Mission in Iraq, Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for South Asian Affairs, and Deputy Chief of Mission in Pakistan.  Her earlier tours include India, Cote d’Ivoire, Cameroon, Benin, Togo, Haiti, and Washington.  Sison received a B.A. from Wellesley College and is the recipient of numerous State Department awards, including the Distinguished Service Award and the Presidential Rank Award of Meritorious Service.  She holds the personal rank of Career Ambassador, the highest rank in the U.S. Foreign Service.

Gentry O. Smith, Nominee for Assistant Secretary of State for Diplomatic Security

Gentry O. Smith leads The Gentry Group, LLC, a security consulting firm.  A former career member of the Foreign Service, Class of Minister-Counselor, he served as the Director of the Office of Foreign Missions, the Deputy Assistant Secretary for Countermeasures in the Bureau of Diplomatic Security, and the Director of Physical Security Programs in the Bureau of Diplomatic Security at the State Department.  Other State Department postings include assignments as Regional Security Officer at the U.S.  Embassy in Tokyo, Japan, Deputy Regional Security Officer at the U.S. Embassy in Cairo, Egypt, and Regional Security Officer at the U.S. Embassy in Rangoon, Burma.  Smith also served as a Special Agent in the Criminal Investigative Liaison Division, Special Agent on the Secretary of State Protection Detail, and Assistant Regional Security Officer at the U.S. Embassy in Cairo.  He earned a B.A. in political science from North Carolina State University in Raleigh, North Carolina.

Anne A. Witkowsky, Nominee for Assistant Secretary of State for Conflict and Stabilization Operations and Coordinator for Reconstruction and Stabilization

Anne A. Witkowsky most recently served as the Co-Director of the Task Force on U.S. Strategy to Support Democracy and Counter Authoritarianism, a partnership of Freedom House, the Center for Strategic and International Studies, and the McCain Institute.  She has served as Deputy Assistant Secretary for Stability and Humanitarian Affairs in the Office of the Undersecretary of Defense for Policy at the Pentagon and as the Acting Principal Deputy Assistant Coordinator, and Deputy Assistant Coordinator, in the State Department’s Bureau of Counterterrorism.  Witkowsky was a Senior Fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, DC and earlier served as Director for Defense Policy and Arms Control on the National Security Council Staff at the White House.  She earned a Master in Public Administration degree from the John F. Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University and a Bachelor’s degree from Yale. She has been recognized with a number of awards including the Secretary of Defense Medal for Outstanding Public Service and the Department of Defense Medal for Distinguished Civilian Service.

 

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Biden Announces Nominations of Nine Ambassadors to Countries in Africa, East Asia, Middle East/North African Region

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On April 15, 2021, President Biden announced his intent to nominate nine career members of the Senior Foreign Service as ambassadors to countries in Africa, East Asia, and in the Middle East/North Africa region:
  • Larry Edward André, Jr. – Ambassador to the Federal Republic of Somalia
  • Maria E. Brewer – Ambassador to the Kingdom of Lesotho
  • Christopher John Lamora – Ambassador to the Republic of Cameroon
  • Tulinabo S. Mushingi – Ambassador to the Republic of Angola and the Democratic Republic of Sao Tome & Principe
  • Michael Raynor – Ambassador to the Republic of Senegal and to serve concurrently and without additional compensation as Ambassador to the Republic of Guinea-Bissau
  • Eugene S. Young – Ambassador to the Republic of the Congo

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  • Marc Evans Knapper – Ambassador to the Socialist Republic of Vietnam

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  • Elizabeth Moore Aubin – Ambassador to the People’s Democratic Republic of Algeria
  • Steven C. Bondy – Ambassador to the Kingdom of Bahrain

State/AF – AFRICA

Larry Edward André, Jr., Nominee for Ambassador to the Federal Republic of Somalia

Larry André, a career member of the Senior Foreign Service, class of Minister-Counselor, is the United States Chargé d’Affaires ad interim at U.S. Embassy Juba, South Sudan.  He is a former Ambassador to the Republic of Djibouti and the Islamic Republic of Mauritania.  He has served as Director of the Office of the Special Envoy for Sudan and South Sudan, and as Deputy Executive Director  in the State Department’s Bureau of African Affairs, and was the Deputy Chief of Mission at the U.S. Embassy in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania.  André earned an MBA from Arizona State University/American Graduate School of International Management and a B.A. from Claremont McKenna College.  He is the recipient of numerous State Department Awards, including the Director General Award for Reporting, and was recently recognized by the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff with the Joint Distinguished Civilian Award.  He speaks French fluently.

Maria E. Brewer, Nominee for Ambassador to the Kingdom of Lesotho

Maria E. Brewer, a career member of the Senior Foreign Service, class of Minister-Counselor, recently served as the U.S. Ambassador to the Republic of Sierra Leone.  Prior to that, Brewer served as the Deputy Director in the Office of Career Development and Assignments for the State Department; as the Deputy Chief of Mission and Chargé of the U.S. Embassy in Abuja, Nigeria; and as the leader of the management team at the U.S. Embassy in Islamabad, Pakistan.   Earlier in her career, Brewer’s assignments include service as the Management Officer at the U.S. Embassy in Colombo, Sri Lanka and Management Officer at the U.S. Consulate General in Mumbai, India.  She also was Deputy Executive Director and Supervisory Post Management Officer in the State Department’s Bureau of African Affairs; Special Assistant to the Under Secretary of State for Management; and Special Assistant to the Assistant Secretary of State for Administration.  She earned a B.A. from Valparaiso University and an M.S. from the National Defense University, Industrial College of the Armed Forces.  She speaks Spanish, Krio and Hindi.

Christopher John Lamora, Nominee for Ambassador to the Republic of Cameroon

Christopher Lamora, a career member of the Senior Foreign Service, is the Deputy Chief of Mission at the U.S. Embassy in Accra, Ghana. He was previously the Acting Deputy Assistant Secretary for Central Africa and African Security Affairs in the Bureau of African Affairs at the State Department and he also served as Director of the Office of Central African Affairs, Deputy Director of the Bureau’s Office of Economic and Regional Affairs, and desk officer for the Democratic Republic of Congo.  He served overseas at the U.S. embassies in Guatemala, the Dominican Republic, Greece and the Central African Republic, and the U.S. Consulate General in Douala, Cameroon. Lamora earned a B.S. at Georgetown University and speaks French, Spanish, and Modern Greek.

Tulinabo S. Mushingi, Nominee for Ambassador to the Republic of Angola and the Democratic Republic of Sao Tome & Principe

Tulinabo Mushingi, a career member of the Senior Foreign Service, class of Counselor, is currently U.S. Ambassador to Senegal and the Republic of Guinea-Bissau.  Mushingi also served previously as the U.S. Ambassador to Burkina Faso and as the Deputy Chief of Mission of the U.S. Embassy in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.  Mushingi was the Deputy Executive Secretary and Executive Director in Executive Office of the Secretary in the Department of State.  Earlier in his career, Mushingi served at the U.S. Embassy Dar es Salaam, Tanzania; the U.S. Consulate in Casablanca, Morocco; and the U.S. Embassies in Mozambique and Malaysia as well as in various assignments at the State Department in Washington, D.C.  Mushingi earned a Ph.D. from Georgetown University, an M.A. from Howard University, and both “Graduat and Licence” degrees from the Higher Institute of Education in Bukavu, Congo.  He is a recipient of the Palmer Award for the Advancement of Democracy.  He speaks Portuguese, French, and Swahili.

Michael Raynor, Nominee for Ambassador to the Republic of Senegal and to serve concurrently and without additional compensation as Ambassador to the Republic of Guinea-Bissau

Michael Raynor is a career member of the Senior Foreign Service who most recently served as the U.S. Ambassador to Ethiopia.  Earlier, he held positions as the Assistant Chief of Mission of the U.S. Embassy in Kabul, Afghanistan and the U.S. Ambassador to Benin.  Raynor also was the Director of the Office of Career Development and Assignments in the Bureau of Global Talent Management and the Executive Director in the Bureau of African Affairs at the State Department.  Raynor’s earlier experience includes service at the U.S. Embassies in Zimbabwe, Namibia, Guinea and Djibouti.  He earned his B.A. from Lafayette College and a Master of International Affairs from Columbia University.  He is the recipient of the State Department’s Leamon R. Hunt Award for Management Excellence.  He speaks fluent French.

Eugene S. Young, Nominee for Ambassador to the Republic of the Congo

Eugene Young is a career member of the Senior Foreign Service who currently serves as the Economic Counselor of the U.S. Embassy in Jerusalem, Israel.  Previously,  Young was the Chargé d’Affaires, a.i. and Deputy Chief of Mission of the U.S. Embassy in Vienna, Austria; the Consul and Senior Civilian Representative of the U.S. Consulate in Herat, Afghanistan; and the Deputy Chief of Mission of the U.S. Embassy in Ljubljana, Slovenia.  Among his other assignments,  Young served as the Economic Counselor of the U.S. Embassy in Nairobi, Kenya, the Consul General of the U.S. Consulate General in Durban, South Africa, and as a Special Assistant in the Office of the Deputy Secretary of State.   Young earned his B.A. degree from Miami University in Oxford, Ohio and an M.A. degree from The George Washington University, in Washington, D.C.  His foreign languages are German, French, Slovene, Slovak, and Serbo-Croatian.

State/EAP – EAST ASIA PACIFIC

Marc Evans Knapper, Nominee for Ambassador to the Socialist Republic of Vietnam

Marc Evans Knapper, a career member of the Senior Foreign Service, class of Minister-Counselor, currently serves as the Deputy Assistant Secretary for Japan and Korea in the Bureau of East Asian and Pacific Affairs at the Department of State.  Before assuming that position, Knapper was the Chargé d’Affaires a.i. of the U.S. Embassy in Seoul, Korea and, prior to that, was the Embassy’s Deputy Chief of Mission.  Earlier, Knapper was Director of the State Department’s Office of India Affairs and Director of the State Department’s Office of Japanese Affairs.  His other assignments include leadership positions in the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad, Iraq, and the U.S. Embassy in Tokyo, Japan.  Knapper earned his B.A. from Princeton University and his M.A. from the Army War College.  He is the recipient of numerous awards, including the Secretary of State’s Distinguished Service Award, the State Department’s Linguist of the Year Award, and a Presidential Rank Award.  He speaks Japanese, Korean and Vietnamese.

State/NEA – Middle East and North Africa

Elizabeth Moore Aubin, Nominee for Ambassador to the People’s Democratic Republic of Algeria

Elizabeth Moore Aubin, a career member of the Senior Foreign Service, class of Minister-Counselor, is the Acting Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary in the Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs, in the Department of State.  Other senior leadership roles held by Aubin during her three decades of service are Executive Director of the Joint Executive Office of the Bureaus of Near Eastern Affairs and South and Central Asian Affairs, Deputy Chief of Mission of the U.S. Embassy in Ottawa, Canada; Executive Director of the Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs; and Deputy Chief of Mission of the U.S. Embassy in Algiers, Algeria.  Aubin earned her B.A. degree from Barnard College of Columbia University and did graduate work at Syracuse University’s Maxwell School.  She speaks French and Italian.

Steven C. Bondy, Nominee for Ambassador to the Kingdom of Bahrain

Steven C. Bondy, a career member of the Senior Foreign Service, class of Minister-Counselor, is a Senior Advisor in the Department of State’s Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs.  In 2017-2020 he was Charge d’Affaires a.i. and Deputy Chief of Mission at the U.S. Embassy in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates.  He previously served as the Assistant Chief of Mission in Kabul, Afghanistan and as the Foreign Policy Advisor to the commander of the Joint Special Operations Command.  Mr. Bondy earned his B.A. and M.A. degrees from the University of Delaware.  The recipient of numerous U.S. government awards, including a Presidential Rank Award, he speaks Arabic, French, Farsi, Turkish and Spanish.

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US Embassy Bamako Shelters in Place as Malian Soldiers Stage a Mutiny

 

The US Embassy in Mail issued a security alert on August 18 as unrest unfolded in the capital city of Bamako. Soldiers have reportedly detained the country’s president, as well as the prime minister and other top officials in an apparent coup attempt. The Malian president had since announced his resignation on TV.

Embassy Bamako issued a shelter in place order and suspended consular services on August 18. As of this writing it has not announced a resumption of services:

The U.S. Embassy is aware of gunfire and unrest in the area of Kati, as well as ongoing police/military operations in Bamako.  There have been multiple reports of gunfire throughout the city as well as reports of soldiers driving in trucks and firing their weapons in the air.  There are continued reports of demonstrators gathered at the Monument de l’Independance.  The U.S. recommends all U.S. citizens avoid these areas, if possible.  Likewise, the U.S. Embassy is recommending its staff to exercise caution, remain in doors,  and avoid non-essential travel.

The U.S. Embassy has taken the following additional steps in response to the ongoing security threats:

    • Consular services at the U.S. Embassy were suspended for August 18.
    • Personnel are recommended to remain indoors.
    • Employees have been advised to avoid any unnecessary travel until further notice and to be cautious when crossing the bridges.

 

State/AF PDAS Geeta Pasi to be U.S. Ambassador to Ethiopia

The WH released the following brief bio:
Geeta Pasi, of New York, to be Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the United States of America to the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia.
Ms. Pasi, a career member of the Senior Foreign Service, class of Career Minister, is Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary for African Affairs at the Department of State.  She previously served as United States Ambassador to Chad and as United States Ambassador to Djibouti.
Ms. Pasi also served as Director of Career Development and Assignments for the State Department, Director of the Department’s Office of East African Affairs, Deputy Chief of Mission at the United States Embassy in Dhaka, Bangladesh, and Deputy Principal Officer at the United States Consulate General in Frankfurt, Germany.  Her other past assignments include Afghanistan Desk Officer in the Office of Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Bangladesh Affairs, Political Officer at the United States Embassy in New Delhi, India, and Political Officer at the United States Embassy in Accra, Ghana.
Ms. Pasi earned her B.A. from Duke University and her M.A. from New York University.  She has won numerous Department of State performance awards, including the Matilde W. Sinclaire Language Award.  She speaks French, German, Hindi, Romanian, and Russian.

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Did US Embassy Bangui Go on “Ordered Departure” Without Telling Anyone? (Updated)

Updated 3/28/2020, 8:20 pm PDT | US Embassy Bangui’s Health Alert dated March 26, 2020 says “On March 18, the Department of State ordered the departure of non-emergency U.S. personnel in Bangui.”
We learned last week that the US Embassy in Bangui, Central African Republic “just went on ordered departure.” Apparently this was less about Covid19 and more about a flare-up of violence in the country. To-date, neither the State Department nor the US Embassy has made an announcement about this post’s evacuation status.
On March 20, US Embassy Bangui released the following statement about reduced staffing:

The U.S. Embassy in Bangui announces that it is reducing its staffing in response to increasing travel restrictions, limited health infrastructure and potential disruption of supply chains for essential goods in the Central African Republic.

We call your attention to the State Department’s Global Travel Advisory issued March 19, 2020

The State Department has issued a global travel advisory advising all U.S. citizens to avoid all international travel due to the global impact of COVID-19.  In countries where commercial departure options remain available, U.S. citizens who live in the United States should arrange for immediate return to the United States, unless they are prepared to remain abroad for an indefinite period.  U.S. citizens who live abroad should avoid all international travel.  Many countries are experiencing COVID-19 outbreaks and implementing travel restrictions and mandatory quarantines, closing borders, and prohibiting non-citizens from entry with little advance notice.  Airlines have cancelled many international flights and several cruise operators have suspended operations or cancelled trips.  If you choose to travel internationally, your travel plans may be severely disrupted, and you may be forced to remain outside of the United States for an indefinite timeframe.

U.S. Embassy in Bangui does not provide visa or citizen services  to U.S. citizens in CAR.  U.S. citizens in need of assistance there are advised to contact the U.S. Embassy in Yaoundé, Cameroon.
Note that the Central African Republic is on a Level 4 Do Not Travel Advisory “due to crime, civil unrest, and kidnapping” as of December 12, 2019. The Travel Advisory has not been updated to indicate its evacuation status as of this writing.
A source at a neighboring post is similarly perplexed as they know from colleagues in Bangui that the embassy has gone on ordered departure despite the lack of public announcement.  We were asked if it is possible to have an internal ordered departure and Foggy Bottom knows it but it’s not ‘official’?
These days anything is possible, it seems, but we don’t know how that works without running afoul of 7 FAM 050 No Double Standard Policy. “Generally, if the Department shares information with the official U.S. community, it should also make the same or similar information available to the non-official U.S. community if the underlying threat applies to both official and non-official U.S. citizens/nationals.”
7 FAM 053(f) includes a reminder: “Remember that if post concludes it should warn, or has warned, its personnel or any U.S. Government employees beyond those with a strict need-to-know, whether permanently stationed or on temporary duty abroad, about a security threat, post should share that same information with the non-official U.S. community under the “No Double Standard” policy (see 7 FAM 052).

 

COVID-19 Pandemic Howler: “No one in DC, to include S, gives AF about AF”

Update 1:14 PDT: US Embassy Pretoria’s meltdown (see below)

We’ve explained previously about evacuations in the State Department’s Foreign Service posts (see New Travel Advisories and Voluntary/Mandatory Departures: Micronesia (L3), Tajikistan (L3), Mongolia (L4)).
Authorized departure is an evacuation procedure, short of ordered departure, by which post employees and/or eligible family members are permitted to leave post in advance of normal rotation when U.S. national interests or imminent threat to life requires it. Departure is requested by the chief of mission (COM) and approved by the Under Secretary for Management (M). The incumbent to this office is Brian Bulatao.
Ordered departure is an evacuation procedure by which the number of U.S. government employees, eligible family members, or both, at a Foreign Service post is reduced. Ordered departure is mandatory and may be initiated by the chief of mission or the Secretary of State. Posts with very few exceptions, report to their regional or geographic bureaus headed respectively by an Assistant Secretary, a Senate confirmed position.
As we’ve watched this pandemic unfold at home, we’ve also watched the State Department’s troubling response to it, particularly at overseas posts and in its public communication.
Update: On March 20, US Ambassador to South Africa Lana Marks reportedly held a “town hall” meeting for staff members “after mounting complaints from employees that she had refused to self-quarantine or take other protective measures, according to accounts of the meeting provided to The Washington Post by people familiar with it.” She apparently “attended a dinner at President Trump’s Mar-a-Lago Club with Brazilian officials who later tested positive for the novel coronavirus. But she told her State Department employees she did not consider herself at risk because the dinner was outside and she believed the virus could not withstand the Florida heat.” A second hand source with extensive sources told us “Embassy Pretoria is in meltdown.”
Recently, we heard about Post 1 in Africa that just went into ordered departure. We understand that employees were hoping to get on to what is being called “the last Air France flight.” We were told that what happens if/after they arrive in Paris is “unknown.”  
Then we received a howler from Post 2 in Africa:  They’ve shut the airport here. And closed the borders in [XXX]. No one gives AF about AF. Authorized Departure, yes. But flights were full or cancelled so that didn’t leave much room for options. No one in DC, to include S, gives AF about AF.”
We understand that this particular post was given the option to evacuate but “there’s no consensus” from the AF bureau if they’re going to authorize “ordered departure.” Post has sent a request but no response from D.C. — “they’re dragging their feet.”
Source from Post 2 says that they were given a 24-hour window for voluntary departure but then the border to [the neighboring country] had closed as well, and that also cuts off supplies for their host country.
“And as you know, people get crazy if they can’t get food or supplies.”
Source from Post 2 further writes “I don’t know how many more EACs and thresholds they want to cross before they say you’re on OD [ordered departure]. And – we are on staggered shifts so teleworking and not really getting anything done.”
Post 2 also says that “A lot of us are worried because of the optics on a lot of the confirmed cases on the continent – they’re all foreigners.” That’s a real worry given what’s happening in Ethiopia and Cameroon. 
On March 18, the US Embassy in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia issued a Security Alert on Reports of Anti-Foreigner Sentiment:
The Embassy continues to receive reports regarding a rise in anti-foreigner sentiment revolving around the announcement of COVID-19 in Ethiopia. Typical derogatory comments directed at foreigners, the terms “China” and “Ferengi” (foreigner), have been reportedly coupled with the label “Corona,” indicating a disparaging view on the link between the outbreak of COVID-19 and foreigners in Ethiopia. Incidents of harassment and assault directly related to COVID-19 have been reported by other foreigners living within Addis Ababa and other cities throughout the country. Reports indicate that foreigners have been attacked with stones, denied transportation services (taxis, Ride, etc.), being spat on, chased on foot, and been accused of being infected with COVID-19.”
On March 19, the US Embassy in Cameroon issued a similar Security Alert:
The Embassy has received reports regarding a rise of anti-foreigner sentiment revolving around the announcement of the spread of COVID-19.  Incidents of harassment and assault directly related to COVID-19 have been reported by U.S. citizens and other foreigners in both Yaounde and Douala.  Reports include verbal and online harassment, stone throwing, and banging on vehicles occupied by expatriates.
During the Ebola outbreak in the Democratic Republic of Congo, the attack on one of the Ebola Treatment Centers in February 2019 was preceded by a change in public behavior toward the Medicins sans Frontiers (MSF) team. “On February 17, residents began shouting “Ebola, Ebola, Ebola” at the MSF team. Simultaneously, there was a marked drop in suspected cases referred to the ETC. The ETC had been receiving 35 to 40 suspected Ebola cases a week. However, on the day before the attack, only 1 suspected Ebola case was referred, and on the day of the attack, only 2. Rumors about foreigners experimenting on locals, taking organs, and filling the bodies with concrete and Ebola being a fabrication were also circulating.”
Our Post 2 source says that We knew what we signed up for. This is an unprecedented time. But borders and airports closing is a bit of a game changer in these high threat posts. It would be wonderful to know there’s some sort of exit strategy. And there isn’t one when they shut down the borders and airports.”
For now other worries include the civil unrest that may occur if food and supplies are stopped; not having plans in place for medical evacuation if/when it becomes necessary; the fact that these places are austere in medical facilities to take care of their own people let alone handling a car accident or malaria; that the guards are wonderful and in place, but you know, for how long?
There are worst case scenarios that we’re not going to spell out here but we’re sure the AF bureau and all posts in Africa are aware of them. It can’t be that no one has thought about what to do with posts in Africa during a pandemic.
Is there a pandemic plan for FS posts somewhere in Foggy Bottom’s vaults? What are their plans for post operations, repatriation of employees/family members, protection of local employees, or continuity of operations during/after a pandemic. Have they simply brushed off the shelf the Bush Administration’s old ‘stay remain in country/shelter in place’ policy during a pandemic without telling anyone?

Pompeo Swears In Retired SFSO Tibor Nagy as Asst Secretary For African Affairs

 

Via state.gov:

Ambassador Nagy, a retired career Foreign Service Officer, spent 32 years in government service, including over 20 years in assignments across Africa. He served as the United States Ambassador to Ethiopia (1999-2002), United States Ambassador to Guinea (1996-1999) as well as the Deputy Chief of Mission in Nigeria (1993-1995), Cameroon (1990-1993), and Togo (1987-1990). Previous assignments include Zambia, the Seychelles, Ethiopia, and Washington, DC.

Ambassador Nagy has received numerous awards from the U.S. Department of State in recognition of his service, including commendations for helping prevent famine in Ethiopia; supporting the evacuation of Americans from Sierra Leone during a violent insurrection; supporting efforts to end the Ethiopian-Eritrean War; and managing the United States Embassy in Lagos, Nigeria during political and economic crises.

Following his retirement from the Foreign Service, Ambassador Nagy served as Vice Provost for International Affairs at Texas Tech University from 2003 – 2018. During that time he lectured nationally on Africa, foreign policy, international development, and U.S. diplomacy, in addition to serving as a regular op-ed contributor to the Lubbock Avalanche-Journal newspaper on global events. He co-authored “Kiss Your Latte Goodbye: Managing Overseas Operations,” nonfiction winner of the 2014 Paris Book Festival.

Ambassador Nagy arrived in the United States in 1957 as a political refugee from Hungary; he received his B.A. from Texas Tech University and M.S.A. from George Washington University.

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Tillerson Delivers to @StateDept’s Africa Bureau Its “Most Significant Management Challenge”

Posted: 12:25 am ET
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All Foreign Service posts in Africa receive post hardship differential, that is, an allowance meant to provide “additional compensation of up to 35 percent over basic compensation for the majority of employees officially stationed or detailed to a mission with extraordinarily difficult living conditions, excessive physical hardship, or notably unhealthful conditions.” More than half of all AF posts have been designated “Historically Difficult to Staff” meaning fewer than three at- grade/in-skill-code bids were received in three of the last four summer bidding cycles. Of all AF posts, 47 percent (24 posts) have also been designated ” Service Need Differential” that is, 20 percent hardship differential/standard 2 year tour of duty gets a 15 percent  bump in pay if employees agree to serve a third year.

According to State/OIG, the AF Bureau’s FY2017 staffing includes 1,147 American Direct Hire overseas, 572 local staff, 140 reemployed annuitants (retired Civil Service or Foreign Service employee rehired on an intermittent basis for no more than 1,040 hours during the year), and 14 rover-employees based overseas who go where they are needed. State/OIG also says that the AF bureau relies on 399 eligible family member employees for its overseas staffing. The 399 EFM employees are not specifically excluded from the State/OIG 1,147 count; we calculate that family member employees encumbering direct-hire positions constitute 34 percent, or a third of the bureau’s overseas workforce. If the 399 employes are in addition to the 1,147 count,  the number would be 25 percent, or a quarter of the bureau’s overseas workforce.

To be sure, staffing the AF Bureau’s posts has suffered from longstanding difficulties. Unfortunately for everyone with few exceptions,  the 69th Secretary of State sure made it worse.

On January 23, 2017, President Trump ordered a freeze on the hiring of Federal civilian employees to be applied across the board in the executive branch (see OMB Issues Initial Guidance For Federal Civilian Hiring Freeze (Read Memo); President Trump Freezes Federal Hiring Regardless of Funding Sources (Read Memo).

In April, while the OMB lifted the hiring freeze, the State Department with very few exceptions continued with its self-imposed freeze (see No thaw in sight for @StateDept hiring freeze until reorganization plan is “fully developed”).  On April 12, 2017, the State Department posted a statement indicating that the current hiring freeze guidance remained in effect particularly as it affected the hiring of Foreign Service family members (see Are #EFM positions literally about to become…extinct under #Tillerson’s watch?).

During the first week of August, amidst cascading bad press of his stewardship of the State Department, Secretary Tillerson quietly “approved an exemption to the hiring freeze that will allow the Department to fill a number of priority EFM positions that are currently vacant. This exemption gives posts authority to fill critical vacancies supporting security, safety and health responsibilities.”

The hiring freeze snared folks who transferred between January and July (FLO April data says 743 jobs were pending due to security clearance or hiring freeze). Deputy Secretary Sullivan told members of the press on August 8 that “almost 800 EFMs [that] have been approved since this – the hiring freeze was imposed.” So, that’s like everyone who’s been waiting since January. And we were all so happy to see folks granted the exemptions that we forgot to ask who’s the “bright” bulb who started this mess. And if these EFM jobs were finally filled in August (a month before the end of the fiscal year), these employees could not all show up to work the following week, given all the paperwork needed and security investigations required.

Freezing EFM jobs never made sense. We’re still floored that it lasted that long and no one told S “But that’s nuts!” Despite Mr. Tillerson slip of the tongue (“we’re styling as the redesign of the State Department”), we can’t imagine the “redesign” resulting in zero jobs for diplomatic spouses overseas, not only because EFM jobs  makes sense and help post morale, but also because it is the cheaper option.  Unless, of course, 1) the “employee-led” redesign teams are proposing that embassies hire third country nationals for mailroom, escort, fingerprinting, and all support services for post overseas, too (yes, we heard North Korean labor imports are way cheaper). Or 2) this is part of the strategery to reduce the FS workforce without going through a reduction-in-force, while maintaining a goal of a 3 for 1 in attrition.

In any case, as we’ve pointed out in May, when the EFMs leave posts during the transfer season, their positions would not have been filled (with very few exceptions) due to the hiring freeze; and they could not be hired at their next posts because of the same hiring freeze. And that’s exactly what happened. In the oral history of the State Department, this will be remembered as that time when the Secretary of State created/produced/delivered one bureau its “most significant management challenge.” We don’t think this is limited to just the AF Bureau but it’s the only one reported on by State/OIG at this time.

Via State/OIG (PDF):

Four previous OIG reports over the past 20 years have highlighted challenges in staffing AF’s overseas posts. OIG found that these challenges persist, despite reforms to Foreign Service bidding and career development processes intended to promote service in hardship posts and bolster bureau efforts to improve recruitment. Hardships at AF’s overseas posts include ethnic violence, deteriorating local infrastructure, evacuations, health risks, high crime, limited recreation opportunities, physical isolation, political instability, pollution, poor medical facilities, severe climates, and substandard schools. All 51 AF posts receive post hardship differential, 27 posts were included in the Historically Difficult to Staff program, and 24 were Service Need Differential posts.

AF’s difficulties in filling its overseas positions were profound. For the 2017 summer bidding season, AF attracted, at most, only one Foreign Service bidder on 37 percent of its positions, leaving 143 of 385 total positions potentially unfilled. The bureau used a broad range of alternative and sometimes costly personnel mechanisms to fill vacancies and short-term gaps. It relied on 399 eligible family member employees, a roster of 140 reemployed annuitants, 14 rovers based overseas, and approximately 50 senior locally employed staff members to fill staffing gaps and support essential services. AF also filled about 25 percent of its 2017 positions with entry-level employees. AF overseas management officers who responded to an OIG survey cited concerns about eligible family member employment as their most significant management challenge. Because of the Department-wide hiring freeze, these positions could not be filled as they became vacant. These vacancies are of concern because, as explained by the Government Accountability Office in 2009, staffing and experience gaps place at risk diplomatic readiness, particularly for high-threat environments such as those in which AF operates.

For readers who are not familiar with the Foreign Service and spouse employment — say you and your spouse arrived at a 2-year assignment at a post in Africa in late October 2016. You found an embassy job in December 2016 but was not officially hired prior to January 22, 2017, so you would have been included in the hiring freeze. When the EFM exemptions were granted on August 4, you would have already waited some eight months to start on that embassy job. Wait, but you needed a security clearance or an interim security clearance which could also take a few weeks to 90 days (or longer). By the time you officially start work, you have some 12-14 months to do the job (maybe less). And then you move on to your next  post and do this process all over again. Now, imagine doing this every 2-3 years, that’s the arc of the working life of a diplomatic spouse.

Career Diplomat Eric P. Whitaker to be U.S. Ambassador to Niger

Posted: 4:56 am ET
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On September 2, President Trump announced his intent to nominate career diplomat Erik Whitaker to be the next U.S. Ambassador to Niger. The WH released the following brief bio:

Eric P. Whitaker of Illinois to be Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the United States of America to the Republic of Niger. Mr. Whitaker, a career member of the Senior Foreign Service, class of Counselor, has served as an American diplomat since 1990. He is currently the Acting Deputy Assistant Secretary for East Africa and the Sudans in the Bureau of African Affairs at the Department of State. A two-time Deputy Chief of Mission overseas and a senior official at the Department of State at home and abroad, his diplomatic career has been diverse, and included consular, economic, commercial, political, and refugee assignments. He has served at U.S. embassies in ten African countries and was a Peace Corps Volunteer in the Philippines. Mr. Whitaker earned an M.P.P. from Princeton University, an M.P.A from the University of Pittsburgh, and an M.S. and B.S. from the University of Illinois, Champaign-Urbana. He speaks Spanish, Portuguese, French, Visayan, and Korean.

The State Department has a more detailed bio via state.gov:

Eric P. Whitaker joined the Bureau of African Affairs Front Office as Acting Deputy Assistant Secretary in January 2017 with East African Affairs, Sudan, and South Sudan. His previous position was Director of East African Affairs.

Born in DeKalb, Illinois, he attended the University of Illinois, where he earned a BS in general biology and an MS in community health education. Eric thereafter earned a Master of Public Administration degree at the University of Pittsburgh and a Master of Public Policy degree at the Wilson School at Princeton University while serving as a Weinberg Fellow. Prior to entering the Foreign Service, he served as a Community Health Development Peace Corps Volunteer in the Philippines and as Assistant to the City Manager for the City of Lodi, California.

As a Foreign Service Officer, Eric has held several positions: Consular Officer – Seoul, Korea; Refugee Affairs Coordinator – Khartoum, Sudan; Kampala, Uganda; and Zagreb, Croatia; Economic/Commercial Officer – Addis Ababa, Ethiopia; Political/Economic Chief – Bamako, Mali, and Maputo, Mozambique; Trade Policy Officer – Bureau for Economic and Business Affairs; and Political/Economic Counselor – Khartoum, Sudan.

Eric also served a tour of duty as an Embedded Provincial Reconstruction Team (E-PRT) Leader in Baghdad, Iraq, heading an eight-member team composed of State, USAID, and DoD civilians. Covering the districts of Karada, Rusafa, and Tissa Nissan, the E-PRT supported local governance, economic growth and development, essential public services and infrastructure, and community reconciliation. In August 2008, he departed for Niamey, Niger, where he served as Deputy Chief of Mission and then as Chargé d’Affaires at the U.S. Embassy. In October 2010, he commenced service as Counselor for Economic Affairs at Embassy Nairobi, Kenya, our largest diplomatic post in sub-Saharan Africa. Thereafter he served as Foreign Policy Advisor (POLAD) at Combined Joint Task Force – Horn of Africa (CJTF-HOA) in Djibouti on Camp Lemonnier. Finally, from October 2012-2014, he served as Deputy Chief of Mission at U.S. Embassy N’Djamena, Chad, before returning to the Department of State.

Eric speaks Portuguese, Spanish, French, Visayan, and Korean, and has received eleven Meritorious and Superior Honor Awards, as well as the Department of Defense Meritorious Civilian Honor Award.

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Nomination: Career Diplomat Peter H. Barlerin to be U.S. Ambassador to Cameroon

Posted: 2:47 am ET
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On July 17, President Trump announced his intent to nominate Peter Henry Barlerin to be the U.S. Ambassador to Cameroon. The WH released the following brief bio:

Peter Henry Barlerin of Colorado to be Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the United States of America to the Republic of Cameroon. Mr. Barlerin, a career member of the Senior Foreign Service, class of Counselor, has served as an American diplomat since 1989. He is currently the Deputy Assistant Secretary in the Bureau of African Affairs at the Department of State, a post he has held since 2016. Mr. Barlerin also served as Deputy Chief of Mission with senior level appointments at the State Department. An economist, he has served at seven U.S. Missions overseas. Mr. Barlerin earned a M.A. from University of Maryland, College Park and a B.A. from Middlebury College. He speaks French, Japanese, Spanish, and Norwegian.

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