FSO Andrew Veprek Reportedly Appointed to be Deputy Asst Secretary For State/PRM

Posted: 3:29 am ET
Updated: 2:51 pm PT

 

Politico’s Nahal Toosi reported recently on the appointment of FSO Andrew Veprek as a deputy assistant secretary in the Bureau of Population, Refugees and Migration (PRM) and how this is “alarming pro-immigration activists who fear that President Donald Trump is trying to effectively end the U.S. refugee resettlement program.”

A White House aide close to senior policy adviser Stephen Miller who has advocated strict limits on immigration into the U.S. has been selected for a top State Department post overseeing refugee admissions….
[…]
Veprek’s appointment as a deputy assistant secretary is unusual given his relatively low Foreign Service rank, the former and current State officials said, and raises questions about his qualifications. Such a position typically does not require Senate confirmation.
[…]
A State Department spokesperson confirmed Veprek’s new role and, while not describing his rank, stressed that Veprek comes to PRM “with more than 16 years in the Foreign Service and experience working on refugee and migration issues.”
[…]
“He was Stephen Miller’s vehicle,” the former State official said. The current official predicted that some PRM officials could resign in protest over Veprek’s appointment. “My experience is that he strongly believes that fewer refugees should admitted into the United States and that international migration is something to be stopped, not managed,” the former U.S. official said, adding that Veprek’s views about refugees and migrants were impassioned to the point of seeming “vindictive.”

PRM currently has no Senate-confirmed assistant secretary. The leadership of the Bureau of Population, Refugees and Migration as of this writing includes the Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary and two Deputy Assistant Secretaries, all Senior Executive Service, and Senior Foreign Service members.

According to congress.gov, Mr. Verdek was originally appointed/confirmed as a Consular Officer and Secretary in the Diplomatic Service of the United States in October 2002.

His name appears again in congress.gov in August 2006 with 129 nominees confirmed as Foreign Service Officers Class Four, Consular Officers and Secretaries in the Diplomatic Service of the United States of America.

We have not been able to find anything beyond that at congress.gov but in April 2010, he was identified here as Andrew Veprek, Consular Chief of the U.S Consulate in Chiang Mai during a Q&A at the Chiang Mai Expats Club in Thailand.

Emails from 2012 released under FOIA request related to Benghazi indicates that in September 2012, Veprek was a Senior Watch Officer at the Ops Center. Those assignments used to be 12 months, so there are gaps in what we know about his career in the State Department.

However, in Sept 2017, he was identified in a WSJ article about the review of the J-1 program as  Andrew Veprek, immigration adviser to Trump. A govexec database of White House staff also indicates the same title and a salary of $127,489 for Veprek. That’s a salary closest to an FS01/8 rank in the 2017 payscale (PDF). (Or he could be also be an FSO2 in DC with a salary still close to what’s listed on the database as White House detailees apparently receive a parking stipend that’s counted as income).

But how did he become an anti-refugee diplomat or a refugee hardliner in the retelling of this story? Or even “a low-ranking protegé of nativist Stephen Miller?”

Unlike Interior’s “independent scientist” who WaPo points out “highlights a regular bureaucratic ritual that has attracted little notice under this administration: When a new president comes to power, civil servants aligned with the administration can suddenly gain prominence,” we have so far been unable to find papers, write ups or speeches that indicate Verdek’s politics.

We don’t know him from Adam, and we have no idea about his political leanings are but we know that he is a career FSO who has worked for the USG since 2002. It seems to perplex people online that somebody who worked in a Clinton State Department, could also end up working at the Trump White House.  That’s what the career service is; career FS employees working for the administration of the day whether or not they personally agree with that administration’s policies. And when they can no longer do that, they are honor-bound to put in their resignation.  It is likely that Veprek came in during Powell’s Diplomatic Readiness Initiative, under George W. Bush. In some quarters who call career employees “holdovers”, he would be a George W. Bush holdover who went on to work for Barack Obama, and now an Obama holdover who end up working for Donald Trump’s White House.

This appointee appears to be on a consular career track and the State Department spox, of course, wants to highlight his experience  in “refugee and migration issues.” Is he the best one for this job? Maybe, or maybe not but that’s a question that is obviously immaterial. He may be Miller’s pick, but that also makes him this Administration’s pick, a prerogative exercised. And since these appointments do not require Senate confirmation, DAS appointments are mostly done deals.

It is also worth noting that the State Department, a pretty old organization is a highly hierarchical entity with a regular Foreign/Civil Service and a Senior Foreign Service and Senior Executive Service corps. Would career people leave because an FSO-01 is appointed to a position traditionally filled by a SES/SFSO? We can’t say. Did career people leave when GWB appointed a midlevel FSO-02 as Assistant Secretary for Public Affairs?

We would suggest that the proper functioning of the service does require an organization that respects order in ranks, traditions, and practices (What’s the use of playing the Jenga game if you don’t follow the rules, hey?) But we understand from long-time State Department watchers that the politicization of the senior ranks and appointments have been slow burning for years. This Administration with its deep aversion to career diplomats and its propensity for chaos may just blow it up and make us all pay attention for a change.

We are convinced that while this one appointment may not trigger senior officials to leave — given the lack of appointments of senior employees to appropriate career slots, the limited promotions numbers made available, the rumored 90-day rule and mandatory retirements — a combination of these factors may nudged retirement eligible employees to hang up their hats and walk off into the sunset.

It is highly likely that the departures from senior members of the Foreign Service will continue this year, with the number hitting three digit numbers by summer per some unofficial estimates.

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Heritage Reportedly to Recommend Full Merge of State/USAID, New Cone, Elimination of “J”, and More

Posted: 2:08 pm  PT
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James M. Roberts is a research fellow for Economic Freedom and Growth in the Center for Free Markets and Regulatory Reform at The Heritage Foundation. His bio says that he previously served as a foreign service officer at the State Department for 25 years and worked closely with USAID. As a Foreign Service Officer, he completed tours of duty at U.S. embassies in Mexico, Portugal, France, Panama and Haiti.  In an op-ed published on TheHill today, he writes that The Heritage Foundation will soon publish “a detailed background report with extensive analysis of the current dysfunctional state of U.S. government foreign assistance programs and detailed recommendations on how to fix them.” The op-ed includes highlights from that forthcoming report.

Excerpt via TheHill:

13 recommendations to reform U.S. foreign aid:

1. Eliminate duplicative foreign aid programs, improve coordination of remaining programs, end congressional “earmarks,” and terminate programs that do not work.

2. Replace USAID with a new “United States Health and Humanitarian Assistance Agency” (USHHAA) to manage all health and humanitarian assistance programs.

3. Fully integrate USHHAA into the State Department, with the USHHAA administrator reporting to the secretary of state as the under secretary of state for foreign assistance.

4. Merge State and USAID administrative functions in Washington and in the field. Put USAID’s Foreign Service Officers into a new “Assistance Cone” at State and consider more far-reaching reforms of the Foreign Service to give the U.S. government more flexibility to respond to future challenges.

5. Move all development assistance to the Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC), an independent agency that stresses the primary importance of the rule of law, effective governance, and recipient country accountability.

6. Transfer USAID’s Development Assistance account to the MCC and add the under secretary of state for foreign assistance to the MCC Board of Directors to better coordinate all U.S. foreign assistance.

7. Eliminate the under secretary of state for civilian security, democracy and human rights, and eliminate or move its offices, bureaus, and responsibilities to other parts of the State Department or to USHHAA.

8. Eliminate the State Department’s Bureau of Population, Refugees and Migration (PRM) and transfer policy responsibilities to the regional bureaus and the refugee assistance responsibilities to USHHAA.

9. Ensure that all other U.S. foreign aid programs at agencies as diverse as Justice, Interior, or Agriculture are coordinate and consult with the under secretary of state for foreign assistance. Technical or specialized assistance, such as responding to pandemics, should be led by the experts but coordination is critical to ensuring effective broader application of U.S. government resources.

10. End the role of the Department of Agriculture in food assistance by terminating the P.L. 480 program, with its inefficient shipping and purchase requirements. Give USHHAA full authority over all U.S. food assistance.

11. Eliminate outdated agencies such as the Export-Import Bank of the United States, the United States Trade and Development Agency, and the Overseas Private Investment Corporation. These agencies were established in a world where private investment in developing countries was scarce. This is no longer the case. The focus should be to encourage developing countries to access these resources based on their policies, not send the message that government subsidies are necessary for development.

12. Re-designate the State Department’s Economic Support Fund account as the “Policy Goal Implementation Fund” with the express purpose of generating goodwill and support for U.S. foreign policy and security objectives, including promoting resilient, democratic, prosperous and secure societies around the world.

13. Better coordinate military and security assistance under the joint authority of the Departments of Defense and State.

Read the full piece here.

Other commentaries by Roberts include Why Trump’s Budget Proposal for the State Department Makes SenseTrump Wants to Shut Down OPIC. Will His Nominee Do It?Congress Should Support the Trump Administration’s Proposal to Close Down OPIC, and more here.

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New Report on Tillerson-Miller Battle Over Visa and Refugee Functions

Posted: 12:40 pm ET
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The Bureau of Consular Affairs via history.state.gov:

The Immigration and Nationality Act of 1952 (Jun 27, 1952; P.L. 82-414; 66 Stat. 174) established within the Department of State a Bureau of Security and Consular Affairs, headed by an Administrator with rank equal to that of an Assistant Secretary. From Mar 1 to Dec 30, 1954, the Bureau was renamed “Inspection, Security, and Consular Affairs.” From 1953 to 1962, the Secretary of State designated incumbents to this position. The Migration and Refugee Assistance Act of 1962 (Jun 28, 1962; P.L. 87-510; 76 Stat. 123) made the Administrator a Presidential appointee subject to the advice and consent of the Senate. In 1962, the Department transferred the security function to the Deputy Under Secretary for Administration, but the title remained unchanged until 1977, when the Foreign Relations Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 1978 (Aug 17, 1977; P.L. 95-105; 91 Stat. 847) changed the Administrator’s title to “Assistant Secretary of State for Consular Affairs.” This title has been given in full in all subsequent commissions to this office.

WaPo’s John Rogin reported on Sunday about the internal administration debate over which part of the government should be charged of deciding who gets into the United States.  WH policy adviser Stephen Miller has reportedly been pushing Secretary Tillerson to get “tougher” on immigration, vetting and refugee policy at the State Department.   Rogin writes that a White House official told him that if Tillerson doesn’t go along with the changes that Miller and others (???) in the White House are pushing the State Department to implement internally, the plan to strip Foggy Bottom of its role supervising these functions could gain traction.  Rogin’s report quotes State Department spokesperson Heather Nauert saying that Tillerson believes that two bureaus should remain where they are and the Secretary of State reportedly views consular and refugees work “as essential to the Department’s mission to secure our borders and protect the American people.” We linked to Rogin’s report below.

Stephen Miller is widely regarded as the principal author of Trump’s travel ban.  We have a feeling that the only “tougher” vetting that Miller and company will find acceptable is shutting down the U.S. border.

We know that some folks are already distressed with the news about the the potential transfer of consular function to DHS. It doesn’t help that Secretary Tilleron’s “listening tour” recommended it (see @StateDept Survey Report Recommends Moving Issuance of Visas, Passports, Travel Docs to DHS).  Neither is it helpful to discover that the nominee to be the next Assistant Secretary of Consular Affairs is on the record supporting this move (see Ex-FSO Who Once Advocated Moving Visas to DHS May be the Next Asst Secretary For Consular Affairs. And we haven’t forgotten that the nominee to be the next “M” is a seasoned GOP budget aide (see Trump to Nominate Top GOP Budget Aide Eric Ueland to be Under Secretary for Management #StateDept).

But take a deep breath.

Last March, OPM released a publication titled, Workforce Reshaping Operations Handbook (pdf). Under Transfer of Function, OPM writes:

An interagency transfer of a function and/or personnel requires specific statutory authorization. Without a specific statutory basis, there is no authority for an agency to permanently transfer a function and/or personnel to another agency on the basis of a memorandum of understanding, a directive from the Executive Office of the President, a reimbursable agreement, or other administrative procedure.

So Congress would have a say whether or not consular function should be stripped from State and moved to DHS. We anticipate that Congressional representatives — especially those with oversight responsibilities are already aware of the many improvements over the visa and refugee vetting process — would need a compelling justification for moving both functions to another agency.  Like how would DHS make it better, with Agatha and a pre-crime division?

Per historical record, on April 18, 1997 then President Clinton announced the reorganization of foreign affairs agencies. In December 1998, he submitted a report to Congress on the reorganization as required by the Foreign Affairs Reform and Restructuring Act of 1998, the Act that provided authority to reorganize the foreign affairs agencies. On March 28, 1999, the United States Arms Control and Disarmament Agency (ACDA) was integrated into the State Department. The United States Information Agency (USIA) was integrated into State on October 1, 1999.  The Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG), part of USIA, became a separate federal entity. The Act also provided that USAID remained a separate agency but on April 1, 1999, the USAID Administrator reported to and came under the direct authority and foreign policy guidance of the Secretary of State.  Shrinking State’s budget started in 1993 during the first Clinton term under Warren Christopher. The reorganization did not get completed until halfway through Clinton’s second term.

We cannot say whether or not this is going to happen. After all, during the Clinton years, GOP Senator Jesse Helms was chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee. So we need to pay attention where this is going, but would not do any good to panic over something that appears to be a floated idea at this time. It would, of course, be helpful if we can hear directly from Secretary Tillerson.

Trump White House Reportedly Considering Folding CA and PRM to Homeland Security

Posted: 3:43 am ET
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Last week, we blogged about Carl Risch who was recently nominated to be the next Assistant Secretary for the Bureau of Consular Affairs (State/CA).  See Ex-FSO Who Once Advocated Moving Visas to DHS May be the Next Asst Secretary For Consular Affairs. On Wednesday, CNN came out with a report about the Trump White House is reportedly considering a proposal to move both CA and PRM to the Department of Homeland Security. The report says the memo came from the WH Domestic Policy Council.  Trump’s DPC page currently says “Domestic Policy Council – Check back soon for more information.”

According to the Obama White House, Executive Order in 1993, established the Domestic Policy Council (DPC) to coordinate the domestic policy-making process in the White House, to ensure that domestic policy decisions and programs are consistent with the President’s stated goals, and to monitor implementation of the President’s domestic policy agenda.

The DPC is chaired by the President and comprised of the following Council members (see if you can spot who’s missing):

  • Vice President;
  • Secretary of Health and Human Services;
  • Attorney General; Secretary of Labor;
  • Secretary of Veterans Affairs;
  • Secretary of the Interior;
  • Secretary of Education;
  • Secretary of Housing and Urban Development;
  • Secretary of Agriculture;
  • Secretary of Transportation;
  • Secretary of Commerce;
  • Secretary of Energy;
  • Secretary of the Treasury;
  • Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency;
  • Chair of the Council of Economic Advisers;
  • Director of the Office of Management and Budget;
  • Assistant to the President for Economic Policy;
  • Assistant to the President for Domestic Policy;
  • Assistant to the President and Director of the Office of National Service;
  • Senior Advisor to the President for Policy Development;
  • Director, Office of National Drug Control Policy;
  • AIDS Policy Coordinator; and
  • such other officials of Executive departments and agencies as the President may, from time to time designate.

You can read the full Executive Order here.

A January 5 Transition announcement includes the following appointments to the DPC; director and council report to the Senior Advisor to the President for Policy, Stephen Miller.

Director of the White House Domestic Policy Council - Andrew Bromberg -worked at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services from 2001 to 2009, including serving as the Chief of Staff for the Office of Public Health and Science. He later served as Policy Advisor and Counsel on Nominations for Senator Mitch McConnell. He worked as the Policy Director for the 2016 Republican Party Platform. He now works in a lead policy and administrative role on the Presidential Transition Team.

Deputy Director of the Domestic Policy Council and Director of Budget Policy  – Paul Winfree – Director of the Thomas A. Roe Institute for Economic Policy Studies, the Center for Data Analysis and the Richard F. Aster Research Fellow, all at The Heritage Foundation. Prior to joining Heritage, Mr. Winfree was the Director of Income Security on the U.S. Senate Committee on the Budget.

Via CNN:

The White House is considering a proposal to move both the State Department bureau of Consular Affairs and its bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration to the Department of Homeland Security, a senior White House official tells CNN.

The move, which the White House official cautioned was far from becoming official policy, would likely be controversial among diplomats and experts in State Department matters.
[…]
The proposals were written in a memo submitted to the White House Office of Management and Budget from the White House Domestic Policy Council as part of President Trump’s March executive order pushing for ideas for Government Reorganization.
[…]
A senior White House official cautioned that the proposal was far from becoming policy, telling CNN that the idea of moving the longstanding State Department bureaus to the Department of Homeland Security is “one among many in a document resulting from a brainstorming session focused on improving efficiencies across government. None has been reviewed in great depth, let alone formally approved.”
More ….

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Meet John Doe, an Iraqi Refugee Who Works For Uncle Sam, and Still Waiting For Resettlement in the Home of the Brave

Posted: 3:01 am EDT
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In the aftermath of the Paris attacks, opposition is growing in the U.S. to the Obama administration’s plans to admit up to 10,000 refugees from Syria’s civil war. Below via the Pew Research’s Fact Tank:

A new Bloomberg Politics poll found that 53% of Americans don’t want to accept any Syrian refugees at all; 11% more would accept only Christian refugees from Syria. More than two dozen governors, most of them Republicans, have said they’ll oppose Syrian refugees being resettled in their states. And on Thursday the House of Representatives passed a bill blocking the admission of Syrian and Iraqi refugees unless they pass strict background checks.

According to the Washing Examiner, under the legislation, no Syrian or Iraqi refugee would be admitted into the United States until the nation’s top federal law enforcement officials certify that they do not pose a safety or terrorism threat.

Now this …

 

The GOP candidates appear to be in a parallel race on who can put out the most dehumanizing idea when talking about refugees: spoiled milk, rabid dogs, Muslim database, special IDs, ending housing assistance, etc. What’s next?

We will remember this week as that time when the 2016 presidential campaigns have gone heartless for the win.

Here’s one story that might give folks a glimpse of how lengthy, and how convoluted is the USG refugee process.

On November 3, 2015, Judge Richard W. Roberts allowed John Doe, an Iraqi refugee to file his complaint under a pseudonym in the District Court of the District of Columbia:

Screen Shot

According to court documents, John Doe voluntarily assisted with the U.S.-led reconstruction efforts following the withdrawal of U.S. troops in Iraq, and has received numerous recommendations for his work in connection with those efforts.  But this assistance has come at a significant cost to John Doe and his loved ones. Because of his work, John Doe is a target for those who seek to intimidate, harm, and kill those who have assisted the U.S. in its reconstruction efforts.

Court documents also say that John Doe served as a Provincial Model Clinic Support Coordinator in a USAID funded program. As part of his service, John Doe reportedly worked to improve access to primary health care in and around Kirkuk, Iraq by coordinating health clinics, training clinic staff, and conducting health surveys. Since October 2014, John Doe has served as a Senior Medical Officer at another USAID-funded projects. As part of his service, John Doe’s reported responsibilities include planning, development, implementation, oversight, monitoring, and reporting for two projects: static, camp-based medical clinics and mobile medical units that move throughout displaced populations in and around Erbil.

John Doe is an Iraqi citizen currently residing in Erbil, Iraq. For over two years, since fleeing to Erbil, John Doe has worked for programs funded by USAID in furtherance of the U.S.-led reconstruction efforts following the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq. During this time, John Doe has risked his life alongside U.S. personnel to rebuild Iraq’s infrastructure. By helping with the U.S. reconstruction efforts, John Doe has knowingly placed himself, his wife, and his small child in danger. If John Doe’s service to the United States were to become fully known in Iraq, he would likely be killed by persons opposed to the United States and to the Iraqis who have assisted the United States.

He applied as a refugee in 2010:

John Doe first sought protection from the U.S. Government through his application for emigration to the United States with the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program (USRAP).

On April 8, 2010, John Doe requested to be added to his sister’s USRAP application out of fear for his own safety after members of his family were threatened and physically assaulted because of their work for the U.S. Government. John Doe provided all necessary documentation and took all steps necessary for his USRAP application, including attending his Department of Homeland Security (DHS) interview. On September 22, 2010, he was notified that his case was deferred and would continue to be processed. Despite continued assurances that his case is being processed, John Doe has yet to receive a decision on his USRAP application. As of the filing of this complaint, it has been over five years and four months since John Doe first submitted his USRAP application. Over five years have elapsed since John Doe attended his DHS interview. In addition, it has now been over four years and eleven months since John Doe was notified that his application was deferred for further processing.

He also applied under the Special Immigrant Visa (SIV) program in 2012:

Finding himself with a deferred USRAP application and with no indication that he would receive a timely response to the application, John Doe sought to avail himself of the protections offered by the SIV program. On August 11, 2012, John Doe’s wife submitted on behalf of herself and John Doe all documents needed to obtain Chief of Mission Approval (COM Approval). COM Approval was granted on June 17, 2013, and John Doe submitted all necessary documentation for the SIV application (the SIV Application) on August 15, 2013. On November 19, 2013, John Doe attended his visa interview at the U.S. Embassy.

As of the filing of this Complaint, it has been over three years since John Doe first filed his papers for COM Approval. Over two years have elapsed since John Doe submitted his SIV Application materials. In addition, it has now been over one year and nine months since John Doe completed his interview, the final step in his application process.

John Doe has exhausted efforts to work with Defendants to receive a timely decision on his SIV Application. Following repeated requests for information concerning his application, John Doe has been told by the U.S. Embassy on several occasions that his case remains in “additional administrative processing” and that no estimate of how long it will take to complete such processing can be provided.

Defendants’ substantial delay in processing John Doe’s SIV Application is not only unreasonable, but egregious-particularly given the dangerous situation faced by John Doe. Each day that John Doe remains in Iraq leaves him in mortal danger. This danger increases by the day as the security situation in Iraq deteriorates. Additionally, John Doe’s wife and child who have been issued SIVs-plan to travel to the United States on October 5, 2015 in advance of the November 4, 2015 expiration of their visas. By failing to make a decision on John Doe’s SIV application, Defendants have created another hardship for John Doe in forcing him to be left behind and separated from his wife and young child.

The court filing says that given the urgency of John Doe’s situation, and because Defendants have been unresponsive to John Doe’s repeated requests that his SIV Application be decided, John Doe has no choice but to seek relief from this Court compelling Defendants to adjudicate his SIV application.

If this is what happened to an Iraqi refugee who helped with USG reconstruction efforts in Iraq, what can other Iraqi and Syrian refugees expect with their resettlement hope in the United States?

And since you’ve read this far, do read Phil Klay’s response to the refugee crisis.  He  served with the U.S. Marines in Iraq during the 2007 and 2008 surge. He is the author of Redeployment, which won the National Book Award for fiction in 2014. He tweeted his powerful reaction to the congressional news today. In one of them Klay wrote, “It’s only during frightening times when you get to find out if your country really deserves to call itself the ‘home of the brave.'”

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Snapshot: Refugee Admissions to the United States, FY2005-2015

Posted: 7:30 pm EDT
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Via state.gov

Screen Shot 2015-09-04 at 4.20.19 PM

The full report is available to download here (excel file): Refugee Admissions Report 2015_07_31. Note that the August and September 2015 numbers are not yet included in the year-todate total for FY2015, which is 51,530 as of July 31, 2015.

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