Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Office of Cuban Affairs "bustling"

The Obama administration began trying to improve relations with Cuba in 2009.
A January 2010 Inspector General's report cited "new Administration initiatives include efforts to reach out to Cuba."
The IG's report of the State Department's Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs included an inspection of the Office of Cuban Affairs. It stated:
The Office of Cuban Affairs (WHA/CCA) is a well-managed and bustling place to work. The coordinator and deputy form a respected and expert management team. They are supported by a reemployed annuitant senior advisor, a political officer, a consular officer, three economic policy officers, several interns, and office management staff. Overall, the morale in the office is very good.
The U.S. trade embargo and ongoing travel restrictions for both U.S. and Cuban citizens drive the daily work of the office. The April 2009 announcement made by the President lifting restrictions on remittances sent by Americans to family members in Cuba, easing travel restrictions of Cuban Americans to Cuba, and promoting a more liberal exchange of information and humanitarian assistance items has created new and increased interagency and public interest in Cuban affairs.
The economic officers provide advisory opinions to the Departments of Treasury and Commerce on individual and business requests to travel to, or do business with, Cuba.
Consular issues take up considerable time because WHA/CCA reviews almost every U.S. visa application submitted by Cuban nationals at the U.S. interests section in Havana or in other consular sections overseas. Visa applications are sent to Washington for review by various law enforcement and other federal agencies through the security advisory opinion process. WHA/CCA reviews each case under the lens of Presidential Proclamation 5377, (5) which deals with the suspension of entry as nonimmigrants
by officers or employees of the Government of Cuba or the Communist Party of Cuba, and which provides legal grounds for a visa denial under section 212(f) of the Immigration and Nationality Act (6). WHA/CCA will soon acquire access to systems and software maintained by the Bureau of Consular Affairs that will streamline WHA/CCA’s review of security advisory opinions, allow them to easily access historical visa application records, and eliminate the need for time consuming data entry and scanning procedures.
Office staffing is at an appropriate level, but there are two anomalies that could have potentially adverse effects. First, the senior advisor is an experienced officer with ideal institutional knowledge of Cuban affairs. He routinely travels to Cuba as the Department observer for Guantanamo Bay fence-line meetings between the American and Cuban military, and is a Department point of contact with the U.S. Southern Command for Cuban issues. This advisor, however, has been a temporary, reemployed annuitant employee in WHA/CCA for 12 years, and is limited in the number of hours he can work per year. The WHA/CCA coordinator and deputy are keenly aware of his employment restrictions, and so far, have been successful in utilizing his time and skills efficiently and effectively. The lengthy 12-year temporary assignment begs the question whether the position itself is appropriately classified, or if it could be better staffed by a rotating Foreign Service officer or a more permanent Civil Service officer. WHA/CCA will eventually have to address this staffing anomaly.
Second, the consular section is led by a Civil Service employee, and is staffed with interns and stay-in-school students; the work being done by these staff members is appropriate for their level, but the volume of paper generated that must be approved by the supervisory Civil Servant is significant. WHA/CCA is in the process of filling a GS 9/11/12 position in the consular section to provide some oversight relief to the supervisor.
5 50 F.R. 41329, 3 C.F.R., 1985 Comp., p. 273.
6 Pub. L. No. 101-649, Stat. (November 29, 1990).

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