@StateDept Restricts Travel of USG Personnel/Family Members in Saudi Arabia, Issues New Travel Warning

Posted: 3:29 am ET
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The State Department issued a new Travel Warning for Saudi Arabia on July 27. It cites continuing security threats in the country including a “high potential” for spill over violence from Yemen. The new warning also notes the travel restrictions for USG personnel and family members in the country. Excerpt:

The Department of State recommends that U.S. citizens carefully consider the risks of travel to Saudi Arabia due to continuing ISIL (Da’esh) directed or inspired attacks across the Kingdom. Furthermore, continuing violence in neighboring countries such as Yemen has a high potential to spill over into Saudi Arabia. This replaces the Travel Warning issued April 11, 2016.

Security threats continue. Terrorist groups, some affiliated with ISIL or Al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), have targeted both Saudi and Western interests, including the U.S. Consulate General in Jeddah, mosques and significant religious sites (both Sunni and Shia), and places where members of the Shia-Muslim minority gather. Possible targets include mosques, pilgrimage locations, and Saudi government facilities, as well as housing compounds, hotels, restaurants, shopping areas, international schools, Western consulates and embassies, and other facilities where Westerners congregate.

sa-map

Over the past year, there have been multiple attacks on targets in Saudi Arabia, some resulting in significant loss of life. On July 4, 2016 suicide bombers launched attacks near:

  • U.S. Consulate General Jeddah
  • the Prophet’s Mosque (also known as Al-Masjid an-Nabawi) in Medina
  • a mosque in Qatif

On February 8, 2016, ISIL claimed responsibility for an explosion targeting a Saudi citizen in the Al-Azizia district of Riyadh. Media reports indicate that Saudi authorities thwarted plans to attack the Al-Janadriah festival in Riyadh, which took place in February 2016. In January 2016 a Shia mosque in Al-Ahsa in Eastern Province was attacked, as was a Shia mosque in Najran in October 2015. On October 16, 2015, a mass shooting took place at a gathering in Saihat. On August 6, 2015, a mosque in the city of Abha was bombed.  Most of the victims in that attack were members of the Saudi security forces.

U.S. government personnel and their families are restricted from travel in the following areas:

  • within 50 miles of the Yemeni border
  • the city of Jizan
  • the city of Najran
  • Qatif in the Eastern Province and its suburbs, including Awamiyah
  • Hofuf and its suburbs in the Al Hasa Governorate

Read in full here.

 

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Suicide Bomber Detonates Self Near the U.S. Consulate General in Jeddah

Posted: 3:01 am ET
Updated: 9:37 am PT
Updated: 4:09 pm PT
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A suicide bomber apparently blew himself up near the U.S. Consulate General in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. The bomber killed himself, and injured two security guards but it does not look like there are other casualties at this time.  BBC reported that the security personnel became suspicious of a man in the car park of the Dr. Suleiman Faqeeh hospital around 02:15 (23:15 GMT Sunday), interior ministry spokesman Maj-Gen Mansour al-Turki said in a statement.  The hospital is opposite the US consulate. As the guards approached the man, “he blew himself up with a suicide belt inside the hospital parking,” the statement said.  @OSACState told us that explosion was approximately 20 meters from the Consulate wall.

The American Mission in Saudi Arabia consists of the embassy in Riyadh and the consulates in Dhahran and Jeddah. The Mission to Saudi Arabia started as a legation in Jeddah in 1942. Full diplomatic relations were established in 1949 and the U.S Mission, located in a traditional house in the old city center, became an Embassy. According to the consulate’s website, the Embassy moved in 1952 to the current Consulate General location, which “at the time was an isolated, beach-front property far to the north of the city limits.” The Embassy was moved to Riyadh in 1984 along with all other foreign missions in the country.  The former Embassy compound in Jeddah is now the Consulate General.

Post provides quite a sad example of just how slow the bureaucracy moves despite plenty of promises/recommendations following a terrorist attack.

On December 6, 2004 (video), a terrorist attack on Consulate Jeddah killed four locally employed staff members and injured nine others working outside the consulate building. An Accountability Review Board (ARB) had apparently determined that the consulate employees were killed or injured because the general services annex building did not have a safe area to which the employees could retreat. The Department concurred with the ARB recommendation to construct safe areas throughout compounds at posts worldwide.

In September 2013, State/OIG made two recommendations to the State Department during its Review of Department of State Implementation of Jeddah Accountability:

OIG recommended that the Bureau of Overseas Buildings Operations (OBO) provide compound emergency sanctuaries for employees who work in the buildings that do not have an approved safe haven or safe area.

OIG recommended that OBO request an increase in funding for the Compound Security Upgrade Program to reflect this additional require- ment for compound emergency sanctuaries.

A compound emergency sanctuary is a protected building or room, within or adjacent to an on-compound, unprotected functional area, that is used as a temporary shelter during an attack or other crisis for personnel unable to reach or find accommodations in a safe haven, safe area, or 15-minute FEfBR- protected building. It provides 15-minute FEfBR protection for walls, windows, and doors, emergency power, ventilation, telephone, connectivity to the emergency notification system, and where feasible and reasonable, an emergency escape. (12 FAH-5 H-040, Glossary).

The two 2013 recommendations are listed as “Significant Resolved Office of Evaluations and Special Projects Recommendations Pending Final Department of State Action for More Than 12 Months” in State/OIG’s latest report to the Congress.  “Resolved” means an  agreement on the recommendation and proposed corrective action (remains open) but implementation has not been completed.

The  Jeddah terrorist attack occurred in 2004, the State/OIG recommendations were issued in 2013 and in the 2016 OIG report to Congress (PDF), we’re still seeing this as unfinished business? If there’s an excellent reason for this, we’d like to hear about it. Other previous posts:

 

Here are some news clips from this latest attack:

Updated 4;09 pm PT

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USCG Dhahran Consular Team Wins 2015 President’s Award for Customer Service

Posted: 3:51 am EDT
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Via state.gov:

A State Department consular team has won the prestigious 2015 President’s Award for Customer Service. The team was honored at an awards ceremony at the Eisenhower Executive Office Building on December 15.

Administered through the Federal Customer Service Awards Program, the President’s Award for Customer Service is designed to recognize, promote, and reward service excellence, professionalism, and outstanding achievement by federal employees, including teams working on initiatives with a direct impact on customers. The Award also seeks to help agencies identify practices that can be reproduced across the government.

This year, the Department of State was cited for the work performed by Foreign Service and Locally Employed Staff members of the consular section in Dhahran, Saudi Arabia, who overcame security and technical hurdles to offer on-site consular customer service to the hundreds of U.S. citizens building the world’s largest petrochemical facility in Jubail. By setting up regularly scheduled visits to academic, corporate, and residential sites, the Dhahran team reduced U.S. citizens’ risks faced during road travel in Saudi Arabia.

Further information about the 2015 President’s Award for Customer Service can be found here.

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Our consular section is sporting their college gear in support of Back to School Week. August 2015 (Photo from U.S. Consulate General Dhahran/FB)

USCG Dhahran is headed by Consul General Mike Hankey who arrived at post on July 8, 2014. According to the Key Officers List, the consular section chief is Kelly Landry.  The Dow-Aramco petrochemical complex in Jubail, Saudi Arabia, is said to be the world’s largest. Once complete it will reportedly be home to 30 production plants and provide approximately 4,000 jobs.

The Travel Warning for Saudi Arabia dated September 21, 2015 notes that there have been attacks on U.S. citizens and other Western expatriates within the past year and there continue to be reports of threats against U.S. citizens and other Westerners, as well as sites frequented by them.  On January 30, 2015, two U.S. citizens were fired upon and injured in Hofuf in Al Hasa Governorate (Eastern Province). On October 14, 2014, two U.S. citizens were shot at a gas station in Riyadh. One was killed and the other wounded.

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New Danger Pay Differential Posts: See Gainers, Plus Losers Include One Post on Evacuation Status

Posted: 3:11 pm EDT
Updated: 811:33 pm PDT
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In February 2015, we blogged about the proposed changes to the State Department’s danger pay incentives (see Danger Danger, Bang Bang — State Department Eyes Changes in Danger Pay). In February, a total of 26 countries with 45 posts/locations were eligible to receive danger pay allowance according to the publicly available data from the State Department’s Office of Allowances. As of September 6, 2015, employees in a total of 28 countries with 47 named post and locations, plus 20 undesignated posts labeled as “other” are eligible to receive danger pay differential.  Note that “other” is a place which is not listed individually in Section 920 of the Department of State Standardized Regulations (DSSR) but which is located in a country or area which has been so designated by the Secretary of State, e.g. Herat and Mazar-e-Sharif in Afghanistan.

Danger Pay allowance provides additional compensation for employees serving at designated danger pay posts. It is paid as a percentage of basic compensation in 5, 10, 15, 20, 25, 30 and 35% increments. In addition to being paid to permanently-assigned personnel, danger pay may also be paid to employees on temporary duty or detail to the post.

According to the State Department,  the danger pay allowance is in lieu of that part of the hardship post  differential rate (Chapter 500) at a post which is attributable to  political violence.  Consequently, the rate of post differential may be reduced while danger pay allowance is in effect to avoid dual crediting  for political violence.

Under circumstances defined by the Secretary of State, a danger pay  allowance may also be granted to civilian employees who accompany U.S. military forces designated by the Secretary of Defense as eligible for imminent danger pay.  The Secretary of State will define the area of  application for civilian employees and the amount of danger pay shall  be the same flat rate amount paid to uniformed military personnel  as imminent danger pay.  Danger pay authorized under this subparagraph  will not be paid for periods of time that the employee either receives  danger pay authorized under subparagraph “f” or post differential that would duplicate political violence credit.

Danger Pay authorized under DSSR 652(g), unofficially referred to as “hazardous duty” or “imminent danger pay,” is paid at a flat monthly rate (currently $225). Employees cannot receive Post Hardship Differential and Danger Pay under DSSR 652(g) for the same periods of time, nor can employees receive Danger Pay under DSSR 652(f) and 652(g) at the same time. Imminent Danger Pay under DSSR 652(g) is established for designated areas for U.S.G. civilian employees accompanying uniformed military for whom the Secretary of Defense has established a similar benefit. No review of the Post Hardship Differential is conducted when establishing Imminent Danger Pay under DSSR 652(g) so employees cannot receive both allowances since they are being provided for duplicate conditions.

Plus Posts

The total number of countries (26 to 28) and locations (45 to 47) under the changed designations do not tell the details. Let’s start with countries which gained danger pay differentials under the new designations.

  • Kenya: The capital city of Nairobi retained its 15% danger pay differential and nine new locations are now designated at 15% as well (Kihara, Wangige, Kahawa, Kikuyu, Kiambu, Ruiru, Kibichiku, Thogoto, Other). We’d appreciate it if  somebody can help us understand why we have this nine new entries? Who or what do we have in these places? Contact us here.  Embassy Nairobi is the largest U.S. embassy in Africa with a staff of more than 1,300 (including local employees and more than 400 U.S. direct hires) among 19 federal agency offices.  The President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) in Kenya includes four U.S. Government agencies as implementers of the program: USAID, CDC, the U.S. Army Walter Reed Medical Research Unit, and the Peace Corps. In terms of staffing, USAID is the second largest component in the mission next to the State Department, with DOD and CDC as the third and fourth largest components respectively. (Thanks J.) 
  • Colombia: The capital city of Bogota lost its 15% pay differential but seven new locations, namely, Baranquilla, Buenaventura, Cali, Medellin, San Andres, San Marta, Other are now designated at 15% danger pay. DEA has the second largest representation (next to the State Department) among agencies at U.S. Mission Colombia, so we conclude that this new designation covers DEA employees and contractors, as well as military personnel operating outside the capital city.
  • Haiti: The capital city of Port-au-Prince, as well as Petitionville and all Other locations are newly designated at 15%.
  • Turkey: Gaziantep is newly designated at 25%.  The city is located in the southeastern Anatolia, some 185 kilometres east of Adana and 97 kilometres north of Aleppo, Syria.
  • In Tunisia, Carthage has been added at 25%.

All posts in Afghanistan, CAR, Iraq, Libya, Pakistan (except Quetta), Somalia, South Sudan, Syria and Yemen are  now at the top bracket at 35%.

Back in February, we’ve asked why Erbil and the Erbil Diplomatic Support Center in Iraq did not have the same danger pay rates.  Under the new designation, the Erbil Diplomatic Support Center (EDSC) and Basrah have both been bumped up to 35% (they were previously at 25% and 30% respectively). The State Department has not totally ditched the seven danger pay brackets but with very few exceptions, it has narrowed the danger pay posts into tighter bundles at the 15%, 25% and 35% pay brackets.

Screen Shot 2015-09-14

click image to view the full list

Minus Posts

There are also losers under the new designation. All the locations are diplomatic/consular posts where we have permanently stationed employees.

  • Mexico: Back in February, Nogales was at 10%, Ciudad Juarez, Matamoros and Tijuana were at 15%, and Monterrey and Nuevo Laredo were both at 20%. As of September 6, the only post in Mexico with danger pay is Ciudad Juarez at 15%.
  • Saudi Arabia:  Riyadh, Jeddah and Dharan were all at the 15% danger pay bracket in February 2015. Under the new designation, all these posts no longer have danger pay differential. The only location in Saudi Arabia currently designated at 15% is “Other.”
  • Algeria lost its 15% for Algiers but retains 25% for Other.
  • Burundi lost its 5% for Bujumbura but retains 5% for Other.  We should note that US Embassy Bujumbura went on “ordered departure” for non-emergency personnel and family members on May 15, 2015. There is a Travel Warning against all travel to Burundi and recommends that U.S. citizens currently in Burundi depart as soon as it is feasible to do so.”  The evacuation status for post—either authorized or ordered—has a 180-day clock  (by law, an evacuation cannot last longer than 180 days). Has that evacuation lifted? If not, isn’t it odd that post currently on evacuation status does not have “danger pay” for the emergency personnel remaining at post? Does that make sense? Yes, there are hardship and COLA differentials, but the embassy was not evacuated due to hardship, was it?
  • Israel and Jerusalem both lost their 15%.
  • Nigeria lost its 10% danger pay designation for Lagos.

We understand that at U.S. Mission Saudi Arabia where Riyadh, Jeddah and Dhahran have lost their 15% danger pay, “M” had increased the hardship differential at all three posts from 15% to 25%. So the net loss of pay to officers/specialists is at 5%. But as we’ve also previously noted here, Eligible Family Members (EFMs) receive danger pay while working in embassies but do not receive any other differentials. All EFMs in posts that lost their danger pay designation will suffer a pay cut and will not receive any hardship pay in lieu of the danger pay lost. The few dual-income families in Mexico and Saudi Arabia, will actually have a pay cut of at least 20%.

We’ve posted potential fallouts to these changes back in February. We understand that these are among the questions that still remained unanswered from Foggy Bottom.

One source says that his/her post “have asked AFSA for updates on what they are doing and recommending” but that post  is only “getting radio silence so no kudos to AFSA either.”

Danger Pay, like Post Hardship Differential, and Difficult-to-Staff Incentive Differential (also known as Service-Needs Differential) are all considered recruitment and retention incentives. These allowances are designed to recruit employees to posts where living conditions may be difficult or dangerous. The State Department has been criticized for its inability to evaluate and measure the effectiveness of its incentive program, specifically its danger and hardship programs. The GAO had also previously complained that State did not comply with a congressional mandate to evaluate its increases in hardship and danger pay.   We don’t know if these new changes now include an evaluation of the effectiveness of these incentives.

 

Danger Pay- September 2015 Diplopundit

3 FAM 3270 DANGER PAY ALLOWANCE (pdf)

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