Friday, July 31, 2009

The Cable: Levin lifts hold on State Near East official, bureau makes senior appointments

From The Cable at Foreign Policy. If you read this blog regularly, you know I am delighted that Ambassador Feltman has gotten this position and even more delight that the hold up has been removed. (The last time I said I was glad he got the job and how much I thought of him, he thanked me for the kind words. So much for anonymity!). What you don't know is that I also served with his new DAS, Maura Connelly, in Jerusalem when she was the Deputy Principle Officer, and I think she is fabulous as well. I think under their leadership, NEA is in great stead!

UPDATED: Levin lifts hold on State Near East official, bureau makes senior appointments

Sen. Carl Levin (D-MI) lifted his hold today on the confirmation of Jeffrey Feltman to be assistant secretary of state for Near Eastern Affairs, a Levin staffer tells Foreign Policy. The move clears Feltman to be confirmed by the Senate by unanimous consent, perhaps even as early as tonight, a Hill foreign policy aide said, adding he doubted there would be a need for a roll-call vote.

As previously reported, Levin had been exercising the hold on the senior Near East appointment to pressure the administration to make eligible for Libyan relief compensation funds an Italian-born constituent who had been wounded in a 1985 terrorist attack on Rome's airport. Feltman, who has recused himself from the case, has declined to comment.

Meantime, sources say, Assistant Secretary of State for Legislative Affairs Richard Verma has gone to Levin with two offers in the past month trying to resolve the issue. The Michigan Democrat apparently didn't find either offer satisfactory, while word from State after the second go-round was that Levin had "raised the bar."

Levin's office declined to say how the matter was resolved today. Earlier Thursday, it had declined to comment on the matter. Verma has not responded to queries.

Last year, Levin had received a letter from a former top Bush administration State Department official that would have met his requirements, a Washington Middle East hand previously explained on condition of anonymity, but had been unable to get the U.S. government to follow through on whatever that letter promised regarding extending eligibility for Libya relief funds for his constituent.

Feltman, a well-liked career foreign service officer and former ambassador to Lebanon who assumed the role of acting head of the NEA bureau after the retirement of David Welch last December, has had some other unreported good news of late.

He was finally able earlier this month to make senior hires in the bureau. Among the most senior NEA appointments, Ronald L. Schlicher, a former ambassador to Cyprus and consul general in Jerusalem, came on as Feltman's PDAS on July 20. Schlicher oversees all the other DASes in the bureau, and has "executive section" authorities to make decisions on IT, budgets, personnel, human resources, funding and staffing. The State Department's Iran office, directed by Todd Schwartz, also reports to Schlicher.

Bureau DAS appointments that were finalized in the past couple weeks: Janet Sanderson, a former U.S. ambassador to Haiti and deputy chief of mission in Amman, became the DAS for the Maghreb and Arab Peninsula earlier this week. Michael Corbin, a former US charge d'affaires in Damascus and official in Iraq, became the new DAS for Iraq. Maura Connelly came on July 13 as the DAS for Israel, Palestine, Egypt and the Levant. Madeleine Spirnak continues to serve as the acting DAS for public diplomacy and the Middle East Partnership Initiative.

The Cable previously reported that the Brookings Institution's Tamara Cofman Wittes is a candidate to become the DAS for Middle East democracy/Arab reform issues. (Wittes, who previously declined to comment, couldn't be reached Thursday.)

"Every bureau has a set number of DAS slots, some Foreign Service, some Civil Service (in regional bureaus like NEA, most are Foreign Service)," a State Department official explained. "A few are Schedule C (political appointees). Each bureau has the right to fill those jobs as it sees fit, once the candidate is approved by a senior personnel review committee. A Senate hold wouldn't necessarily hold up that process."

One source speaking not for attribution said a new senior NEA official had recently remarked that he did not know how Feltman had managed to run the bureau (which after all counts in its map Iraq, Iran, Lebanon, Syria, Israel, the Palestinian Authority and Libya among a few warm spots) without getting his team in place for this long - almost eight months. Feltman, currently attending a Centcom conference, also recently lost a day sitting through jury selection (he wasn't ultimately picked), a department hand said.

The hold on Feltman's confirmation became an issue at the State Department press briefing yesterday. Asked by a reporter if Secretary of State Hillary Clinton had spoken to her former Senate colleague on the matter, spokesman Ian Kelly said, "Well, of course, we're all looking forward to having Jeff become the confirmed assistant secretary. There's a lot of important diplomatic activity under his purview in North Africa and the Middle East. I know the Secretary is eager to have him come on board as a full-fledged assistant secretary, but I don't think I'm prepared to talk about what exactly she's done with Congress."

Later on, a reporter opined to Kelly, this is "a political holdup by a member of Congress because of an issue that has nothing to do with his nomination," before throwing in a question, "What can you do about it to end the standoff?"

G4 Visas for World Bank domestic partners

I received this via email today:

"One of the priority areas of work for GLOBE has been to work on the visa situation of domestic partners and spouses of marriages that are not recognized by the United States. As you know, the World Bank President has sent a letter to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to ask her attention for the problems that many of our LGBT colleagues and their partners are facing. We are now happy to report that the State Department has moved partially in the right direction. A new rule was announced on providing G4 visa to domestic partners and spouses of un-recognized marriages on the basis that these relationships are recognized in the country of origin. Partners will receive G4 visa as "immediate family" of the World Bank staff concerned, provided proof can be given that the relationship is recognized by the "sending Government".

This is very good news and it will solve problems that many LGBT colleagues are facing. However, it will not solve the situation for those of us who come from countries where our relationships are not recognized, even if the World Bank does recognize our relationship. Furthermore, it is not clear what would happen if the relationship would be recognized in principle, but has not been registered in the home country, because in such cases the required proof of "immediate family" in the new definition may not be available.

One last issue is that the G4's for partners at this moment in time will not lead to work permits in the US, because work permits are provided by the Department of Homeland Security, and that Department has not yet taken the new rule into consideration for its own policies and rules and regulations.

These issues may take time. But we definitely hope to see some of the problem cases of colleagues solved in the very near future!

Tarek M. Soueid,
World Bank GLOBE "

Thursday, July 30, 2009

HRC: Details on Today’s DPBO Markup

From today's Human Rights Campaign Backstory

Details on Today’s DPBO Markup

UPDATE: Today’s Subcommittee markup of the Domestic Partnership Benefits and Obligations Act, while ultimately successful, did see an attempt by the Republican minority to distort and derail the bill. Subcommittee Republicans — Representatives Jason Chaffetz (R-UT), Mark Souder (R-IN) and Brian Bilbray (R-CA) — attempted to frame the issue as a referendum on marriage, arguing that this bill devalues traditional marriage. Furthermore, they argued that employment benefits historically have been given to traditional married couples, with the intent that one parent was staying at home to take care of the children.

Dismissing this outdated, inaccurate notion and recognizing that many families today have both parents working full-time, Chairman Stephen Lynch (D-MA) and Representatives Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC), Dennis Kucinich (D-OH), William Lacy Clay (D-MO) and Gerry Connolly (D-VA) recognized that DPBO is about equal pay for equal work.

During the markup, Representative Bilbray attempted to kill the bill with an amendment to expand the extension of benefits to any federal employees who are in a domestic partnership — same-sex or opposite-sex — claiming that it would be unfair to exclude different-sex couples from coverage. However, opposite-sex couples already have access to complete family benefits under federal law. To gain access to these benefits, they simply have to marry. In contrast, marriage is only available to same-sex couples in six states, and even if they do legally marry, they still do not have access to federal civilian employment benefits such as health and retirement benefits for their families. The Bilbray amendment was not about fairness, or even about giving different-sex couples a new manner of securing family benefits. It was about making the bill more expensive so that it would fail. And while HRC does not oppose providing benefits to all families, we support the existing bill and applaud any attempts to prevent poison pills from standing in the way of domestic partner benefits. The Bilbray amendment failed on a voice vote.

Lastly, a Chairman’s amendment to expand DPBO to include annuitants (recipients of an annuity) passed the committee by a vote of 5-3. The bill as amended then passed the Subcommittee by a vote of 5-3.

DPBO now moves ahead to consideration by the full House Oversight and Government Reform Committee. We will continue working with our coalition partners — including the American Federation of Government Employees; Center for American Progress Action Fund; Family Equality Council; Federal GLOBE; Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network (GLSEN); Gays and Lesbians in Foreign Affairs Agencies (GLIFAA); GOProud; National Coalition for LGBT Health; National Air Traffic Controllers; National Center for Lesbian Rights; National Gay and Lesbian Task Force; National Treasury Employees Union (NTEU); Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG); National Pride at Work, AFL-CIO and Service Employees International Union (SEIU) — to push this bill until it reaches the President’s desk for signature.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Brought to you courtesy of the dark ages

I don't know Richard W. Hoover of Front Royal, Virginia, but the self-identified retired FSO certainly represents the bad old days of the Foreign Service.

In his letter in the current issue of the Foreign Service Journal, titled "Don't Encourage Them," he responds to a May 2009 article asking that the Secretary address the inequities facing LGBT Foreign Service families. He says that the article's "
sweeping shopping list will produce greater numbers of those whose habits are unacceptable to most American taxpayers, and perhaps more significantly, to the religions and cultures of most of the cultures in which we operate."

He goes on to say that "In my view, the issue is not one of equality and fairness. The issue turns on what is fair for the Foreign Service, what best enables it to accomplish its mission.And that depends, in large part, on building relationships and projecting values."

First, I take issue with his point that our "habits" are unacceptable to most Americans. The latest polling shows a steady increase in support for gay rights, including that 75% of Americans now support allowing gays and lesbians to serve openly in the military and more than half of the country supports at least civil unions.

Further, I agree completely that we should be projecting our values. In fact, one of the things I am proudest of in my service is that we are willing to demonstrate that we value diversity to the world in our appointments of Ambassadors and Secretaries of State. Remember when we appointed a black ambassador to apartaid South Africa? We were sending a message that we didn't share their value of discrimination and hatred. It is the same with having had three of the last four Secretaries of State be women. Did we worry that some countries would be offended? No. Because we value equality.

Supporting openly gay diplomats is no different than supporting other minorities. We give benefits to families because it is the right thing to do. And my family is no less valuable than Mr. Hoover's.

We live in a country where such offensive opinions can be spouted freely, and for that I am glad, but I wonder whether the Foreign Service Journal would have published a letter suggesting we not encourage racial minorities or women to join. I suspect not.

At any rate, I am glad I don't serve in the same Foreign Service he did. I am not even certain we served the same country. The country I serve values diversity and respects freedom and equality.

State's Job

Politico has an article on the House gutting DOD’s IO budget. Here's why they are slashing it:

"It’s propaganda. Why, the military’s got nothing to do with this. That should be in the State Department, in my estimation." Rep. John Murtha (D-Pa.)

You can read the entire article here.

This is even funnier to me now that I am in Public Affairs (yes, I made it to the mother bureau at last!).

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Brian Adkin’s killer sentenced to 17 years in Ethiopia

Brian Adkin’s killer sentenced to 17 years in Ethiopia

The Ethiopian man who murdered alumnus and Foreign Service Officer Brian Adkins in his home last February was sentenced to 17 years in prison, Adkins’ family and friends said.

Adkins, 25, was found dead in his home in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia’s capital city, where he was working for the U.S. State Department. In an e-mail sent to family, friends and The Hatchet, fellow alumnus and friend Michael Geremia decried the sentence for the unidentified Ethiopian man who confessed to killing Adkins in April.

“Such a lenient sentence, for such a heinous crime, makes a mockery of the principle of justice; undermines the safety of American diplomats everywhere, but particularly in Ethiopia; and lacks any serious deterrent value for future murders of Americans in Ethiopia,” Geremia said.

Adkins’ father, Dan, said the family was “devastated” by the sentence but added that the prosecution has already appealed the ruling.

“To try to make sense of all of this, all we can hope for is that Brian’s work was done here and he was taken to do more important work for our Lord,” Adkins’ father said in the e-mail. “Regardless of the sentencing, this doesn’t change the daily loss that we all feel.”

Though the Adkins’ father said he does not believe in the death penalty, he said he hoped his son’s killer would have received a life sentence, preventing him from ever committing another crime. To make matters worse for the family, Adkins’ father said his son’s killer was tried in Ethiopia, as extradition laws prevented the U.S. from trying the case, leaving his family with no say in the killer’s fate.

“This young man devastated our family and we did not get an opportunity to send a letter or state in court what was done to us,” Adkins’ father said in a phone interview Monday afternoon. “Over there we have no say. We would have no say when he comes up for parole, whether or not we feel after 10 years and nine months if he can be out on good behavior, and it’s not acceptable to me. Our hands are tied in this process. To me, all these young people are going over there with the idea they are safe and they’re not. If there are no repercussions [for committing this type of crime] what is going to keep people from robbing and killing.”

Adkins’ father said he did not know when a decision on the appeal would be made, however he said the process will most likely take months.

“We were told that they had very strict laws in that country back in February, and for this sentence to come down the way it did left us very disappointed,” Adkins’ father said. “The man, only being 18 years old now, can be really young when he gets out of prison. He can still commit this crime again.”

Adkins was honored by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton as one of 231 Foreign Service Officers who has died while serving their tours of duty.

Thursday, July 09, 2009

Bi-National Gay Couples Cry Out for Security

This is an issue facing many LGBT Foreign Service families. Our heterosexual colleagues can fall in love overseas and get immigration visas for their spouses. IN fact, because of their service, heterosexual Foreign Service Officers can get what is referred to as "expeditious naturalization" for their spouses, meaning the spouse does not have to live in the U.S. the requisite amount of time before being naturalized.

Not so for LGBT folks in the Foreign Service. We are still often not allowed to bring our partners back to the U.S. if we want to do a D.C. posting (which is necessary to advance your career) unless we can get them a student visa or, if possible, a work visa. And forget retiring to the country you spent your life serving unless you plan to leave behind the partner who served it with you.

Bi-National Gay Couples Cry Out for Security

Shortly before dawn on Jan. 28, a knock at the door turned the idyllic life of Shirley Tan and her family upside-down.

Agents from the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement handed a deportation letter to Tan, the stay-at-home lesbian mom of 12-year-old twin boys. Stunned, Tan, who describes herself as a "housewife," told the agents she had never before seen the letter, dated 2002.

"I was handcuffed and taken away, like a criminal," Tan recently told the Senate Judiciary Committee, which called a first-ever hearing to look into the outrageous harm done to gay bi-national families by locking them out of the protections built into immigration law for heterosexual spouses of U.S. citizens.

"I was put into a van with two men in yellow jump suits and chains, and searched like a criminal. ... All the while, my family was first and foremost the center of everything on my mind," Tan added, as her son Jashley wept so hard that Chairman Patrick Leahy temporarily halted the hearing.

"Young man," the senator said, "your mother is a very brave woman."

Tan testified that she had applied for asylum in the United States after the release in the Philippines of the man who had killed her mother and sister and brutally beaten her. She said she thought her slow-moving appeal was still pending.

Over the years, Tan had built a good life in Pacifica, Calif., with her American partner, Jay Mercado, their sons and their Catholic church, where the couple sings in the choir and Tan is a Eucharistic minister.

Because Mercardo (like their sons) is a U.S. citizen, she could sponsor Tan for permanent resident status if they were a heterosexual married couple.

According to the 2000 Census, 36,000 mixed-nationality same-sex couples are in the same boat.
Nearly half, 16,000, are raising children. (For more information, go to

Tan remains in her adopted homeland thanks only to a two-year reprieve arranged by Sen. Dianne Feinstein.

It's wrong for partners of gay U.S. citizens to be so vulnerable. And it's long past time for Congress to help gay bi-national couples, many of whom now must live apart, connected only by cell phones and occasional visits.

The Uniting American Families Act, pending in the House and Senate, would fix the problem by recognizing gay "permanent partners" in immigration law.

The legislation — sponsored by heavy-hitters Leahy in the Senate and Jerry Nadler, who chairs a House Judiciary subcommittee — would amend the Immigration and Nationality Act so partners of gay U.S. citizens or of lawful permanent residents could legally settle here.

Eligibility rules — and the hefty penalties for fraud — would be virtually the same as for married heterosexuals. Nineteen countries — including Canada, France, Germany, Great Britain and Spain — have already taken such steps.

The Leahy-Nadler push recently got a boost when President Barack Obama put overhaul of the nation's broken immigration system on one of his White House's front burners.

If Congress finally passes immigration reform, the Leahy-Nadler fix might be folded into the overall package, finally giving the Tan-Mercado family and thousands of others the security they are crying out for.

As Tan told senators: "After 23 years building our life together, Jay and I know that our family is still at great risk of separation. We have a home together. Jay has a great job. We have a mortgage, a pension, friends and a community. We have everything together, and it would be impossible to re-establish elsewhere."

Basic fairness says they shouldn't have to try.

Deb Price of The Detroit News writes the first nationally syndicated column on gay issues. To find out more about Deb Price and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate web page at

OPM 'Wholeheartedly' Endorses Benefits for Same-Sex Partners

This from the Washington Post this morning. What a difference ten months can make.

OPM 'Wholeheartedly' Endorses Benefits for Same-Sex Partners

In case there was any lingering doubt from last fall about the government's position on providing full domestic benefits for same-sex partners of federal workers, Office of Personnel Management Director John Berry erased them yesterday.

The White House and OPM, he said at the top of his statement to a House hearing, "wholeheartedly endorse passage" of legislation that would provide them with health and retirement coverage.

His clear, declarative statement could not have been more of a turnaround from the agency's bumbling presentation in September. Then, an OPM official told a Senate committee that the Bush administration had no position on similar legislation, only to correct himself minutes later after an aide informed him that OPM actually opposed the bill.

The official's use of the movie "I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry," an Adam Sandler film about two firefighters who pretend they are lovers so they can get domestic partner benefits, to demonstrate the dangers of insurance fraud, also left many incredulous.

But now the Obama administration has reversed the Bush administration's position, and the new policy was presented by the government's highest ranking openly gay official.

The current policy, Berry said, "is unjust and it directly undermines the Federal Government's ability to recruit and retain the nation's best workers. Historically, the federal government has in many ways been a progressive employer, but we're behind the private sector and 19 states, including Alaska and Arizona, on this one. Almost 60 percent of Fortune 500 companies already offer similar benefits to the same-sex domestic partners of their employees. . . . The Federal Government does not effectively compete with these companies for every talented person when we fail to offer comparable job benefits to our employees."

President Obama took a small but important step toward ending federal workplace discrimination against gays and lesbians when he issued a memorandum last month that allows same-sex partners of federal employees to be covered by federal long-term care insurance. The memorandum also allows the workers to use sick leave to care for their same-sex partners. But extending full benefits requires legislation of the sort being considered by the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee's federal workforce subcommittee.

Berry's argument did not convince Rep. Jason Chaffetz of Utah, the top Republican on the subcommittee, which held the hearing. He said the bill "is directly discriminatory against heterosexual couples" who cohabitate without marriage. The legislation would not cover them.

Those couples, however, have the option to marry, which would allow them to be covered.

Berry does not have that option. He and his partner of 13 years would benefit from the bill because Berry's partner does not have employer-provided insurance.

Unlike some other hearings about federal workforce issues that were relatively lonely affairs, yesterday's session was packed with spectators who waited in a long line to get in. Many in the audience appeared to support the legislation, but not the Chaffetz-invited group of sharply dressed ministers from the Missionary Baptist Ministers Conference.

Pastor T.L. Rogers of Triumphant Church in Hyattsville was among those who says he thinks the bill would invite fraud because a non-gay couple could pretend to be lovers to reap the employee benefits. "If I have a cousin who does not have insurance, I can say he is my domestic partner," Rogers said in an interview.

[Digger comments: There is an easy solution to this. Pass federal same-sex marriage now.]

Of course, this version of the Chuck and Larry argument implies that large numbers of people would risk committing a federal crime, by signing an affidavit subject to perjury laws, that certifies the partner relationship meets a set of criteria that says, among other things, the couple share each other's financial obligations. Married couples don't have to submit such documentation.

Rep. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.), the chief sponsor of the legislation, said intentional false statements to obtain benefits could get culprits five years in prison or a $10,000 fine. As shot with holes as our health-care system is, it's still unlikely that many people would risk that punishment to get the federal benefits.

Baldwin noted that as a lesbian, she is denied the same level of compensation as her straight, married colleagues in Congress. She and her partner also are not subject, as they would be under the legislation, to the same obligations of married couples. In Baldwin's case that would include disclosure of her partner's income and debts.

Baldwin summed up the rationale for her bill with a simple statement about fairness. The purpose, she said, "is to ensure that hard-working Americans can no longer be denied equal compensation for equal work just because of who they love."

Written statements from the hearing are available here.

Monday, July 06, 2009

Still Waiting

So the memo is out. People are registering their domestic partners. Everything was to be in place for the start of the pay period beginning July 5.

I am still waiting.

We got our affidavits in on time. And we were even registered as a tandem for a day. Then our assignment techs came back and said they had to take that designation away until they got "more guidance." They said they wanted to make sure we weren't folded into each other's orders because since we are both officers, we each have our own orders.

So they listed us as domestic partners, pending "guidance."

The problem is they already have the guidance. They were told this should be done.

The bigger problem is that listing us as domestic partners rather than as a tandem is EXACTLY what would cause us to be folded into each other's orders.

Bureaucracy's can be frustrating.