Amb Brian Nichols Assumes Charge as Asst Secretary For WHA

 

Confirmations: Donald Lu (SCA), Brian Nichols (WHA), Brett M. Holmgren (INR)

The U.S. Senate confirmed by voice vote two nominees for the State Department’s geographic bureau and one nominee for the functional bureau.
2021-09-13 PN551 Department of State | Donald Lu, of California, a Career Member of the Senior Foreign Service, Class of Minister-Counselor, to be Assistant Secretary of State for South Asian Affairs (SCA).
2021-09-13 PN268 Department of State | Brian A. Nichols, of Rhode Island, a Career Member of the Senior Foreign Service, Class of Career Minister, to be an Assistant Secretary of State (Western Hemisphere Affairs).
2021-09-13 PN273 Department of State | Brett M. Holmgren, of Minnesota, to be an Assistant Secretary of State (Intelligence and Research).

 

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Career Diplomat Brian A. Nichols to be Asst. Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs (WHA)

13 GoingOn 14: Help Keep the Blog Going For 2021 — GFM: https://gofund.me/32671a27

 

On March 26, 2021, President Biden announced his intent to nominate senior career diplomat Brian A. Nichols to be Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs (WHA). The WH released the following brief bio:

Brian A. Nichols, a career member of the Senior Foreign Service with the rank of Career Minister, currently serves as U.S. Ambassador to Zimbabwe.  He was U.S. Ambassador to Perú from 2014 to 2017.  Previously, Nichols served as Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs (INL).  Prior to that he was a Deputy Assistant Secretary in INL.  He also served as the Deputy Chief of Mission at the U.S. Embassy in Bogotá, Colombia, Director of the Office of Caribbean Affairs, and Counselor for Political Affairs at the American Embassy in Indonesia.  Earlier in his career, Nichols served as Deputy Political Counselor in Mexico.  He also worked in the Office of UN Political Affairs, the Office of Central American Affairs, and the Executive Secretariat. Nichols began his Foreign Service career as a Consular Officer in Perú and then as a Political Officer in El Salvador.  He received the 2016 Charles E. Cobb, Jr. Award for Initiative and Success in Trade Development, two Presidential Meritorious Service Awards, and 13 Senior Performance Awards.  He speaks Spanish.  A native of Rhode Island, he is a graduate of Tufts University.

According to history.state.gov, the Department had first established a Division of Latin American Affairs in 1909. The Department of State created the position of Assistant Secretary of State for American Republic Affairs during the general reorganization of Dec 20, 1944, after Congress had authorized an increase in the number of Assistant Secretaries of State from four to six (Dec 8, 1944; P.L. 78-472; 58 Stat. 798). On January 12, 1999, the Bureau assumed responsibility for Canada and was renamed the Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs. More here.
The most recent career diplomat confirmed by the U.S. Senate to lead the Western Hemisphere bureau was Thomas Alfred Shannon Jr. who served from 2005–2009. He was succeeded by political appointees: Arturo Valenzuela (2009–2011), Roberta S. Jacobson (2012–2016) under the Obama Administration and Kimberly Breier (2018-2019) under the Trump Administration. At least four designates have also served in an acting capacity: political appointee Mari Carmen Aponte; SES Michael Kozak, career diplomats Francisco “Paco” Palmieri and Julie J. Chung .
According to AFSA’s appointment tracker going back to 1975, the Western Hemisphere bureau has a 50 percent split between career and political/other appointees.
The AP notes that Ambassador Nichols would be the first Black assistant secretary of state for Western Hemisphere affairs since Terence Todman in the late 1970s (see Terence Alphonso Todman ).

Related posts:

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State/WHA DAS Cynthia Kierscht to be U.S. Ambassador to Mauritania

The WH released the following brief bio:
Cynthia Kierscht, of Minnesota, to be Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the United States of America to the Islamic Republic of Mauritania.
Ms. Kierscht, a career member of the Senior Foreign Service, class of Counselor, currently serves as a Deputy Assistant Secretary in the State Department’s Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs.  Prior to that, she was the Director and Deputy Director of the Office of Canadian Affairs for the State Department.
Overseas, Ms. Kierscht served at the United States Embassies in Bogota, Colombia, Rabat, Morocco, and Cairo, Egypt, in the United States Consulate in Marseille, France, and at the United States Interests Section in Tripoli, Libya.  Among her other assignments at the State Department, Ms. Kierscht worked in the Executive Secretariat and the Operations Center, in the Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs, and in the Bureau of Counterterrorism.
Ms. Kierscht earned her B.A. from Carleton College in Northfield, Minnesota and her M.P.P. from Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government.  She speaks Arabic, French, and Spanish.

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US Embassy Lima Works on Repatriating Thousands of Americans #StuckInPeru

Updated: March 28, 9:45 am PDT

A Health Alert from US Embassy Lima in Peru notes that post is continuing its operations and is “coordinating with the Peruvian Government to arrange repatriation flights over the next few days for U.S. citizens to return to the United States.”
Post’s Alert issued on Tuesday said that “As of March 24, approximately 700 Americans have departed Peru on repatriation flights. It also announced the departure from post of Ambassador Urs, and the travel to Peru of Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs Julie Chung  “to support our aggressive repatriation efforts.”

“For medical reasons, Ambassador Krishna Urs departed Peru on March 20.  He continues to engage from Washington with senior Peruvian officials as well as to support the Department’s efforts on behalf of the United States.”

As of 5:00PM on March 25, post said it has  repatriated over 1000 Americans from Peru.
In video below released by Embassy Lima, the Chargé d’Affaires Denison K. Offutt says that there are currently over 5,000 Americans in Peru. We don’t know if all of them are asking to return to the United States, but if so, this would be one of the largest evacuations of U.S. citizens from overseas at this time. This is not as huge as the nearly 15,000 evacuation from Lebanon in 2006 but the  logistics of moving a large number of people to the United States with border closures and limited air traffic during a pandemic will be extraordinarily challenging.
According to Embassy Lima, the Peruvian government declared a national state of emergency on March 15, 2020, at 8:00 PM Peru local time.  Under the state of emergency, Peru enacted 15 days of mandatory quarantine, starting at 00:00 on March 16, 2020.  At 23:59 PM on March 16, 2020, the Peruvian Government closed all international borders (land, air, and maritime) and suspended all interprovincial travel within Peru (land, air, and river).
Update from post indicates unusual difficulties with host country in obtaining permission for these repatriation flights . First, the Government of Peru told Ambassador Urs on March 23 that it had authorized repatriation flights, only for the contracted airline to notify the embassy at night that the flights are not approved. The following day, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs confirmed to US Embassy Lima that no U.S. flights had been approved. Ambassador Urs then spoke to the Peruvian Foreign Minister at 6:45 a.m., during which time, he was reportedly assured that the permissions would be granted in time. The Peruvian government ultimately declined to provide the proper clearances for a LATAM flight to pick up Americans stranded in Cusco.  A charter flight operated by American Airlines departed Miami with a scheduled arrival at 12:30 p.m.  Embassy Lima said that the Peruvian government also declined to approve permits for the charter flight, so the pilot returned the airplane to Miami.
Something’s going on there, hey?
During the March 25 Special Briefing, CA PDAS Ian Brownlee called the logjam “a capacity issue on the part of the Peruvian Government” and that the “information didn’t efficiently trickle down to the people in the regulatory agencies that had to issue the permits, the landing permits for the planes.”
Embassy Lima’s update on March 25 said  that there were two flights scheduled today, but these are “booked with humanitarian priority individuals, including older adults, people with underlying health conditions, minors traveling without a parent or legal guardian, and other adults in need of medical assistance.” Also that “the U.S. Embassy is scheduling additional flights for this week pending Peruvian government authorization.” As of March 25, Embassy Lima was able to get its first flight from Cusco to Miami (via Lima) and is reportedly scheduling a flight from Iquitos to Miami. So that’s good news.
Meanwhile, Foreign Affairs Minister François-Philippe Champagne confirmed that Canada received the go-ahead for 3 Air Canada flights to bring stranded Canadians home from Peru this week.
On March 21, Politico reported that a U.S. official familiar with the situation said the Peruvian government is not allowing Americans stuck in Peru to leave until the White House ensures thousands of Peruvians are given safe passage home.[…] “The government of Peru is basically holding these Americans hostage,” the U.S. official said. “They want the U.S. to fill planes with Peruvians before they’ll let the planes land to pick up Americans. But they’re not ready or organized in the United States to gather their people up, and they don’t want to pay for the flight.“
Could Peru wait this out or slow this down as Americans stuck in Peru fumes louder, and clogs congressional offices with complaints? Already Senator Rubio (R-Texas FL) has publicly scolded the State Department for Americans stuck in Peru “due to lack or (sic) urgency by some in mid-level of .”
Except that Peru apparently wants something from the White House not the State Department.
March 25 DOS Special Briefing with CA PDAS Ian Brownlee called the logjam in Peru a “capacity issue:”

The logjam there was a capacity issue on the part of the Peruvian Government. To reduce this to simplicity, we had commitment from the senior-most levels of the government – from the foreign minister, et cetera, the ministerial level – that yes, the flight yesterday Monday would be able to go forward – flights yesterday Monday would be able to go forward. That information didn’t efficiently trickle down to the people in the regulatory agencies that had to issue the permits, the landing permits for the planes, and so the American Airlines flight that was going into Lima literally turned around as it was preparing to enter Peruvian airspace because it didn’t have the permit necessary.

The difficulty arises there from the fact that there was some infections in the civil aviation authority and in the civilian side of the airport, and they just shut down that entire entity and they’re trying to run it on a bit of a shoestring from the military side of the airport. We’re helping them address this shortfall by – we’ve taken the INL, the International Narcotics and Law Enforcement hangar on the military side of the airport, taken everything out of it. We’re arranging chairs in there at socially distant appropriate spacing and we’re preparing to use that as a working space, a processing space to move people through. We’re also preparing to send down a flyaway team of consular officers and we have a senior officer from the Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs going down to assist as well. So we’re doing what we can to help the Peruvians fill that sort of capacity gap, and we hope – we hope – that this will keep things moving more fluidly in the future. Out.

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Related post:
US Embassy Lima: Avianca Airlines May Have Outbound Flights For #StuckinPeru Americans

@StateDept Appoints SES Michael Kozak as Acting Assistant Secretary for Western Hemisphere Affairs

 

Via state.gov:

Ambassador Michael Kozak is a charter member of the career Senior Executive Service of the United States Government. As such, he has served in a number of senior positions in the U.S. Executive Branch:

Acting Assistant Secretary for Western Hemisphere Affairs (2019-Present).

Senior Bureau Official for Democracy, Human Rights and Labor (2017-2019).

Senior Adviser to the Assistant Secretary for Democracy, Human Rights and Labor (2009-2017). Negotiated a UN resolution to replace “Defamation of Religions” that respected freedom of expression. Served as Acting Special Envoy for Monitoring and Combatting Anti-Semitism.

Senior Director on the National Security Council staff (2005-2009) with responsibility for Democracy, Human Rights, International Organizations, Migration and Detainee issues. In this capacity, he chaired interagency policy coordinating committees and proposed and coordinated the implementation of events for the President of the United States. He conceived and implemented a system for achieving interagency agreement on democracy promotion strategies and prioritizing resource allocation to implement them. He authored the first National Security Presidential Directive on Democracy and Human Rights since the Carter administration.
[…]
Ambassador in Minsk, Belarus (2000-2003), and Chief of Mission in Havana, Cuba (1996-1999).

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Related posts:

US Embassy Nassau: #HurricaneDorian 🌀 Aftermath, @USAID/OFDA, @USCGSoutheast

 

This is a follow-up to our post on August 31, US Embassy Bahamas on ‘Ordered Departure’ For Non-Emergency Staff/Family Members #HurricaneDorian.  The NOAA Hurricane Update of 1100 PM EDT Mon Sep 02 2019 notes that devastating hurricane conditions continue on Grand Bahama Island and that a life-threatening storm surge will raise water levels by as much as 12 to 18 feet above normal tide levels in areas of onshore winds on Grand Bahama Island.

USAID/OFDA announced on Twitter that a team of Caribbean-based disaster experts is in the Bahamas to work w/ national authorities & humanitarian partners to help assess impacts & humanitarian needs.

The US Coast Guard Southeast said that its Coast Guard Air Station Clearwater MH-60 Jayhawk helicopter crews, forward deployed to Andros Island, medevaced 19 people from the Marsh Harbour Clinic to Nassau International Airport on Monday, September 2. 

U.S. Embassy Nassau: Aging Facility, Staffing Gaps, Curtailments, Morale Issues, and More in Sunny Bahamas

 

In 2012, State/OIG did an inspection of the US Embassy in Nassau, The Bahamas (see US Embassy Nassau: Where Absence Makes the Heart Not/Not Grow Fonder); State/OIG Nassau Report: What’s taking them so long?
The new inspection dated August 2019 reveals that the aging facility which was supposed to have been replaced in 2016 is still aging. The IG report now says that construction of a new chancery building is scheduled to begin in 2019 and be completed in 2021 on property purchased by the Bureau of Overseas Buildings Operations (OBO).
The State Department announced on February 1, 2019 that it has awarded the Design-Build contract for the new U.S. Embassy in Nassau to Caddell Construction Co., LLC of Montgomery, Alabama. Ennead Architects of New York, New York is the design architect for the project and Integrus Architecture of Spokane, Washington is the architect of record.
The report notes that the embassy had been without a permanent, confirmed ambassador since November 2011, when the incumbent, a political appointee, resigned. Her replacement was never confirmed, and, at the time of the inspection, the current nominee had been awaiting confirmation since 2017.
In May 2017, the WH announced the president’s intent to nominate Doug Manchester to be his ambassador to the Bahamas. His nomination was cleared by the SFRC in the fall of 2017 but failed to make it to the full Senate. His nomination was resubmitted in January 2018 and again in January 2019. The SFRC has held hearings on June 20, 2019. According to congress.gov, this nomination remains pending at the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

 

Below via State/OIG:
  • Embassy Nassau is located in an aging facility originally leased by the Department of State (Department) in 1973 and purchased outright in 1994. Construction of a new chancery building is scheduled to begin in 2019 and be completed in 2021 on property purchased by the Bureau of Overseas Buildings Operations (OBO).
  • A related classified inspection report discusses the embassy’s security program and issues affecting the safety of mission personnel and facilities.
  • At the time of the inspection, the embassy had 143 authorized U.S. staff positions, 2 eligible family members, and 76 locally employed (LE) staff members. The embassy houses 11 different U.S. Government agencies and sub-agencies. Embassy Nassau also provides International Cooperative Administrative Support Services (ICASS)1 administrative and logistical support to U.S. Government agencies on Grand Bahama Island, Great Inagua Island, Andros Island, Great Exuma Island, and in Turks and Caicos.

Yay! Sections

  • The Chargé and, beginning in October 2018, the acting DCM carried out regular reviews of the Consular Section chief’s nonimmigrant visa adjudications, as required by 9 FAM 403.9-2d and 9 FAM 403.10-3d.
  • The Consular Section chief, who arrived in August 2017, demonstrated strong leadership in developing standard operating procedures, mentoring three First- and Second-Tour officers, and preparing for future hurricanes. OIG determined that the embassy’s consular programs generally complied with guidance in 7 FAM, 9 FAM, 7 FAH, applicable statutes, and other Department policies.
  • Embassy Nassau’s American citizen services workload consisted primarily of processing emergency passports. Nassau hosts up to six cruise ships from the United States per day with approximately 3,000 passengers each, the majority of whom are U.S. citizens. Passengers who missed their ships’ return to Florida contributed to the more than 400 emergency passports Embassy Nassau issued in FY 2018.
  • OIG determined that the Chargé and the acting DCM conducted their security responsibilities in accordance with 12 Foreign Affairs Handbook (FAH)-1 H-721[…] Shortly after her arrival, the Chargé reviewed, revised, and reissued all security directives, including one to all personnel under chief of mission authority mandating participation in the weekly checks of the emergency and evacuation radio network. In addition, she emphasized to staff that she expected full participation in the radio checks. Participation rates increased from 20 percent in spring 2018 to almost 90 percent by October of that year.
  • The Chargé successfully oversaw the embassy’s First- and Second-Tour employee development program for five officers and specialists, as directed by 3 FAM 2242.4. Participants commented favorably on the Chargé’s involvement in the program.

Oh, Yow! Sections

Via reactiongifs.com

Lengthy Gaps in Key Leadership Positions Hampered Operations

Embassy Nassau faced significant operational challenges due to lengthy staffing gaps in three key leadership positions: ambassador, DCM, and management officer. The embassy had been without a permanent, confirmed ambassador since November 2011, when the incumbent, a political appointee, resigned. Her replacement was never confirmed, and, at the time of the inspection, the current nominee had been awaiting confirmation since 2017. As a result, three different long-term Chargés have led the embassy since 2011. The current Chargé arrived in March 2018. Additionally, because the embassy’s DCMs have served as Chargé, it has also had a series of acting DCMs. The current acting DCM arrived in June 2016 as the INL Director and assumed the collateral duties of acting DCM in June 2018. As a result, like previous acting DCMs, she shouldered two sets of responsibilities. Finally, due to a series of curtailments in the management officer position, from 2014 to September 2018, the management section had relied on nine temporary duty officers as well as support from the Florida Regional Center.

OIG found that the lack of consistent leadership in the ambassador, DCM, and management officer positions, combined with a series of section heads covering two positions at once for long periods of time, led to serious internal control deficiencies and morale issues, as detailed later in this report. The newly assigned Management Officer arrived in September 2018 and started addressing the embassy’s internal control deficiencies, lack of procedures, and outdated policies. However, the current Front Office structure continued to place undue burdens on both the Chargé and the acting DCM, making it impossible for them to perform all of their required functions.

Internal control deficiencies

During the inspection, OIG identified numerous internal control deficiencies and vulnerabilities in the Management and Information Management Sections. The lengthy staffing gaps in key leadership positions exacerbated many of these issues, particularly those detailed in the Resource Management section of this report.

Management Section operations and oversight suffered as a result of staffing gaps due to two previous curtailments in the management officer position. Since 2014, the embassy had relied on a succession of nine temporary-duty management officers. Additionally, from 2014 to 2018, both the embassy and the management support structure at the Florida Regional Center experienced high turnover of staff.

Embassy Nassau did not have internal controls in place to ensure maintenance and repair charges for its vehicle fleet were properly recorded and monitored, increasing the risk of fraud. OIG’s review of maintenance logs and procurement orders found that in FY 2017 and FY 2018, the embassy spent $244,533 on maintenance and repairs but did not keep records to document that the work was necessary or was actually completed.

INL’s $17.8 million foreign assistance with no formal evaluation

INL has supported Bahamian law enforcement since 1978, including committing $17.8 million in foreign assistance since 2010. […] INL Nassau lacked appropriate metrics to monitor progress for its four law enforcement and judicial assistance projects. Specifically, OIG found that project metrics had not been updated since at least 2014 and were outdated. Furthermore, INL Nassau did not formally evaluate project progress on a quarterly basis, as required by INL guidance.7 INL Nassau told OIG that it informally reported project progress on a quarterly basis but was unaware of the requirement to formally track and monitor project progress against established metrics. Without current metrics for its projects, the embassy cannot measure progress and performance against the embassy’s ICS goals and INL’s strategic planning objectives.

Intranet woes, and WHA the hey?

Embassy Nassau’s intranet network faced critical processing delays and frequent variations in processing speed due to internal IT infrastructure issues. The May 2017 Bureau of Diplomatic Security CSA report also identified this severe network performance deficiency and recommended that the embassy work with the Department and the Regional Information Management Center in Ft. Lauderdale to resolve the issue. In August 2017, a regional center network technician performed a limited service repair to the network infrastructure but did not complete all needed repairs. Embassy staff told OIG that despite repeated embassy requests, WHA had yet to provide the additional Regional Information Management Center technical support to complete the work.

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Asst Secretary For Western Hemisphere Kimberly Breier Quits; Second Loss For Regional Bureaus in 2019

 

 

The Assistant Secretary of State for the Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs (WHA) Kimberly Breier who assumed charge of the bureau on October 15,  2018 has resigned. She was barely 10 months into her tenure (she was with S/P prior to her WHA appointment). The AP reports that she “stepped down earlier this week, although they offered differing reasons for her departure.” Two AP sources say that Breier cited personal reasons for her decision, but that “the two officials suggested it was prompted by differences over a recent migration accord with Guatemala.” A congressional aide told the AP that her departure was “mainly driven by family responsibilities.” The WaPo report includes an item about a clash with White House darling Stephen Miller over Trump’s Guatemala asylum accord.
Secretary Pompeo tweeted that Ms. Breier is “stepping down to spend more time with her family.” [Sorry, gotta LOL here. He really did tweet that]. Ms. Breier also tweeted her “profound thanks” to the president and the secretary of state, and for the “friendship and support” of the president’s daughter and son-in-law.
This resignation follows the departure of EUR’s Assistant Secretary Wess Mitchell who left his post after some 16 months on the job. A/S Mitchell took office in October 2017 and left Foggy Bottom in February 2019 (see EUR’s Wess Mitchell Quits, New Acting EUR A/S Millard Reportedly to Retire 2/22).  That position is currently filled by career diplomat Philip T. Reeker who has been appointed Acting Assistant Secretary of European and Eurasian Affairs since March 18, 2019. As far as we are aware, no nominee for EUR has been announced.
The latest departure means that three of the seven  geographic bureaus within the State Department will have officials appointed in an acting capacity (SCA, EUR, WHA).  Assistant secretaries appointed to EAP and NEA were just confirmed this past June.
So now the next question becomes, who will be the new assistant secretary at WHA? If State follows its normal ladder, career diplomat Julie Chung who assumed position as WHA’s Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary in November 2018 would be the Acting Assistant Secretary until a new nominee is announced and confirmed.  But these days, under the chaos strategy intended to confuse friends and enemies alike, we just don’t really know anymore.

 

Assistant Secretary Breier and Special Representative Abrams Meets With With Fabiana Rosales, Wife of Interim President Guaido
Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs Kimberly Breier and Special Representative for Venezuela Elliott Abrams meet with Fabiana Rosales, wife of Interim President Juan Guaido of Venezuela, and Venezuelan Ambassador to the U.S. Carlos Vecchio at the U.S. Department of State in Washington, D.C., on March 27, 2019. [State Department photo/ Public Domain]


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Secretary Pompeo Swears-In Kimberly Breier as WHA Asst Secretary

 

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