This is the archive for the Burn Bag submissions published in this blog. The accompanying date is when the item appears on this blog. About the Burn Bag read: Burn Bag Submissions Accepted: Because It’s Cheaper Than Therapy. Also A Note About the Burn Bag. To recap, here are the blog rules for the burn bag submissions (updated 9/1/2014):
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The U.S. Government never discusses the fact that flows of cocaine to the U.S. and the coca crop in Colombia do not correlate. Since there is no science behind this, why is INL [Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs] so enamored with spray? What interests are driving this program?
While the Danger Pay Working Group contemplates denying Danger Pay to Mexico border posts, consulate staff in Guadalajara spent the weekend on lockdown and the narco violence related security incidents in Matamoros have gone up fourfold.
Yes, the Bureau of Conflict and Stabilization Operations (CSO) has a new mission: “CSO advances the Department of State’s understanding of how to anticipate, prevent, and respond to violent conflict through analysis and planning; monitoring, evaluation, and learning; and targeted, in-country efforts that inform U.S. government policymaking.” Since there’s no longer any mission element about stabilization and stabilization operations, why is that being left in the Bureau’s name?
The Consular Leadership Indicator: great idea in principle. But do they really think officers are going to give candid feedback about their supervisors right in the middle of EER* season? And what about all those ELOs** who are up before the Tenuring And Commission Board next month?
“We have many EFM clearances – and interim clearances were requested by HR and rejected by DS for all of them – which are still pending. The oldest one is 15 months, the next is 13 months, etc. etc. (we have many). These people will PCS [permanent change of station] and still not have their clearance completed. The only statements from DS – other than implying to leave them alone or the process will become “more” problematic are that USDH [U.S. direct hire] clearances are first in line. Some missions depend on EFMs.”
Is the State Department leadership aware that there have been many losses of OBO [Bureau of Overseas Buildings Operations] engineers in the last 18 months, leaving more than a 20% deficit (OBO words via email, not mine) in engineering staff, with more contemplating separation? Does it care?
When management at your post in crisis tells you they have an open door and want to know how people are feeling, then tells you your (widely shared) concern is insignificant and you are ruining your corridor reputation by bringing it up.
“Yes, we devote more and better lip service to the problem every year.”
“Why are we still downplaying the enormous health impact to officers and their families serving in China? Why are State MED officers saying ‘off the record’ that it is irresponsible to send anyone with children to China and yet no one will speak up via official channels?
Hello AFSA …. EAP …. HR… Anyone? And the band played on …. “
“According to the Foreign Affairs Manual, the Department will “in general” assign FS members “to a domestic position at least once during each 15 years” (Note: waiver not required). But the Bureau of Diplomatic Security (DS) is playing by its own rules, refusing to panel mid-level Special Agents to overseas assignments if they’ve served overseas only two or three times in a row—even if those tours were at Priority Staffing Posts. The justification? A FAM-be-damned “guidance” email. Why does the Bureau of Human Resources allow this? Why doesn’t AFSA complain? And why did I even bother asking?”
“Why is the CCD [Consular Consolidated Database] such a piece of trash lately and when is Senior CA [Consular Affairs] Management going to communicate honestly with the Field what the problem is? Anyone with a brain can tell there is something seriously wrong with the system.”
“Halfway through my Priority Staffing Post (PSP) assignment with no onward assignment in sight. Thanks for that “possibility of an early handshake.”
“Is it a bad sign when the Regional Medical Officer/Psychiatrist (RMO/P) remembers you from another post over five years ago?”
“Frankly you should be ashamed of posting the Burnbag of 10/26 – definitely deserves a correction. For your information, the idiot that wrote this obviously didn’t realize that the DS Director was on Travel to XXXX, XXXXX, and XXXX – actually doing his job. The Assistant Secretary was called away to a meeting at the White House. Bunch of crap.”
“New Diplomatic Security (DS) director preaches leadership … was a no show at most recent Basic Special Agent Course (BSAC) graduation in October. The DS Assistant Secretary talks about the DS family, supporting each other, making time to mentor young agents…then promptly walks out in middle of the same BSAC graduation the new DS director couldn’t be bothered to attend. #leadershipbyexample.”
“As one with a PTSD Claim (Iraq PRT) languishing at OWCP for the past year, I can assure you that OER and State Med have been nothing but obstructions. Fortunately, as a former Vietnam Era vet, I have been treated at VA for the past ten months, else I would have killed myself long ago. What a bunch of animals lie in those offices where PTSD claims are concerned. (They have very few because they aggressively turn them down). The system is hopelessly failed.”
“The CG [consul general] of our very large consular section was recently on leave for several weeks, not that anybody noticed. She interacts with her staff so rarely that we’ve begun to make jokes about “CG sightings” in the consular section (Note: she’s up to six after a year here). Apparently, however, this was simply too much interaction and she has convinced CA [Consular Affairs] to create a Deputy CG position. Huh?”
“State will force tenured 04 officers to fill 03 jobs after they finish their directed tours, but doesn’t think many of those same officers are worthy of promotion to 03. WTF?”
“All 35% danger differential posts are not created equal: self-driving to restaurants at one, RPG-dodging in armored vehicles at another.”
“Well, the results of the new Consular Bidder Assessment Tool are out. Based on the median scores, every bidder is in the top 20% of all bidders according to the rankings assigned by his peers. How much did we pay a contractor to come up with something just as useless as the 360?”
“I wish that AFSA would spend as much energy working on issues that affect the careers and quality of life of its thousands of rank-and-file members as it does complaining that the Senate is taking too long to confirm a few dozen ambassadorial nominees. Does it really matter if there’s been a charge d’affaires in Lesotho for 411 days?”
“Only Diplomatic Security (DS) would take somebody with no prior law enforcement or military background and send him to one of the most isolated and dangerous posts in the world for his first overseas assignment and expect FSOs to have blind trust in his competence and judgement. But he graduated from DS’s “rigorous” high threat training course in West Virginia, you say. Right. Whatever helps you sleep at night.”
“Extravagant Priority Staffing Post (PSP) compensation packages? Hardly. FSOs with young children sell a year of their lives cheap. Time is the most irrecuperable loss; it can never be redeemed.”
(Note: PSPs: Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan, South Sudan, Libya, and Yemen)
“A fun little fact on U.S. Diplomatic Couriers: The department is so concerned with cutting costs that they are implementing policies to not pay couriers for hours worked while on official travel. While couriers are expected to travel and cross international boundaries at odd hours, on support flights, boats, ships, trains, busses and commercial planes, the leadership is refusing to pay for hours worked so that they can get an EER bullet point and also a good bonus at the end of the fiscal year. Did you know that management also receives bonuses while they squeeze everything out of us? What’s more, we are afraid to speak up for fear of retribution. Leadership is notorious for being punitive.”
“The last male Assistant Secretary for Consular Affairs was one Diego Ascensio, who last performed those duties in 1983. That’s 31 years by my count. A whole generation. “
“So the first email I received from the Dept on the Anniversary of 9/11 informed me that my pay has been cut and that I owe the government back pay for their error. This is the Department’s and Congress’ sweet way of saying, “F**k you for your service. “
“CDOs’ advice to bidding tandems? Consider doing an unaccompanied assignment. That’ll work one time, but how about next bid cycle? When will the Department realize you cannot separate tandem issues with women’s retention? “
“Now that we have brought up the uselessness of AFSA can we also discuss the other elephants in the room? Ms. Harf and Ms. Psaki make me cringe. I haven’t heard anything positive about either inside the halls of Main State. Amazing. We are all such diplomats no one will bother to call it like it is. These two women are further damaging the image of DOS. Kerry is just so out of touch with his diplomats. We long for the spokesmen and women that used to be — the class acts that they were. We will all breathe a sigh of relief when these two ladies move on. “
“Atlas shrugged? No, AFSA shrugs almost every time Department management squeezes FSO salaries, allowances, or professional privileges. Why did it take so long for me to redirect the $302 in yearly AFSA dues to my son’s college savings fund?”
“Always fun to see the newbies’ burn bag submissions! Adjudicator guy meets girl and divorces wife, CA training is amateurish, and there are crappy managers? Sadly it’s par for this course. Along with: Career diplomat forces staff to have sex with him and gets slap on the wrist but keeps job and pension; married EFMs use Embassy office to hook up; and senior FSO torched by OIG but gets immediate promotion. The OIG can’t and won’t save us. They stress, the Bureaus, not the OIG, should be the “bad leadership police.” The State Dept doesn’t care about you, your family, or your career. The sooner you realize this the better. The good news is you’ve got to be incredibly unlucky to not/not get tenure. Enjoy the ride.”
“Can you request a snap OIG inspection of your bureau for gross mismanagement, favoritism, and general incompetence?”
“Those consular adjudicators who met a “high bar for qualifications and underwent a rigorous screening process”? I’m not sure it’s a good idea to skip the rigorous screening process that normally applies to Foreign Service officers (FSOs), as these adjudicators have the very same powers as FSOs and appear to the outside world to be diplomats. For example, at my post, the very first time one officer represented the Mission at a representational event, he spent the time picking up women, rather than working (he’s married, and here with his family). Within two weeks, he’d told his wife their marriage was over. I can’t believe this represents the kind of good judgement the FS is looking for, any more than I believe the woman he picked up is interested in his personality.”
“CA [Consular Affairs] will publish a proposed rule on Thursday in the Federal Register raising the fee for renunciation of citizenship from $450 to $2,350. This will not be popular. Fee based on annual fee study and lack of common sense.”
“First it’s refusal to pay MSIs, now they take pay away from us for OCP. How much more do we have to lose before the work slow downs start? Why is it that “M” thinks this is acceptable? “
“CA management feels the biggest problem facing CA are leaks to the Washington Post (old news) and comments on Diplopundit (new excuse). So much for actually addressing real problems.”
“How do you ask an FSO to be the last FSO to die for a mistake?”
“It’s amazing there hasn’t been a mutiny in the CA training at FSI this year given the behavior of some of the leadership. There’s a broad consensus that the way they treat officers in training is right out of Full Metal Jacket. Disparaging, disrespectful, amateurish, and completely undermining of moral[e]. Not to mention doing nothing to advance the goal of training competent, empowered consular officers. If that’s what CA thinks is what 1CA means I imagine there will be a lot of Consular officers who will be seeking conal rectification….”
“I know no one actually cares about ELOs or their development, but it’s still surprising to hear a supervisor straight-out say “trying to deal with everyone’s preferences will be hard, so I’ve decided they don’t matter.”
“What is it about summer transfer season that makes people lose their minds? The Oakwoods has turned into a Foreign Service ghetto with loud drunks in the courtyard every night and near-fistfights whenever the moving trucks block multiple parking spaces. I can’t wait to leave this place behind for the peace of a high-threat post!”
“This place will be closed. It’s inevitable because it’s just too dangerous. We’ve got only a skeleton staff of direct hires here now because of the danger. But the bureaucracy is, it seems, incapable of having the courage to make the decision that will result in the flag being lowered once and for all. A week passes. And then another. Still, no decision. So we raise the flag every day. And wait. We live in limbo–and fear of another attack. Fingers crossed we don’t get killed while waiting.”
Our post is in the top 5 for IV, NIV, and ACS cases, with dozens of ELOs, and yet we have some of the worst senior level and mid-level managers I have ever encountered in the Foreign Service. Our Consul General is a walking stiff who shows her face once every six months, half of the consular management seems to suffer from tone deafness and do not realize how poor morale is or how unpopular they are for their mismanagement. Where are the good, or at least decent, consular managers?
“Self-drive” in Kabul means sitting alone and unarmed in the back of a GSO vehicle praying that your motor pool driver doesn’t decide to make 100 times his annual salary by selling you to the Taliban.”
“I love that the Department’s idea of a work-life balance is when staff members have time to walk their dog.”
“Should I stay or should I go? As I approach the five year mark, I have started looking for an outside-the-beltway job, only to realize the FS has given me no marketable skills…”
“Help me understand this. The senior General Services Officer (S/GSO) on a Caribbean island doesn’t like his house because it’s not on the beach. So, he has his staff find a beachfront penthouse, under the auspices of adding it to the housing pool, then appeals to have himself moved in. The housing board denies but the DCM overturns based on the Housing GSO’s recommendation. Doesn’t the Housing GSO work for the S/GSO? Oh yeah, the DCM’s OMS is also the S/GSO’s wife.”
“When I finally saw the Regional Medical Officer/Psychiatrist (RMO/P) for help, I was told I just needed a man to make me happy.”
“OMSs are treated unlike any other group in the state department. OMSs often serve without diplomatic title which makes them ineligible for benefits like the issuance of diplomatic license plates and VAT reimbursement. OMSs don’t even supervise other OMSs anywhere. There is no career path. A first tour OMS can fill a slot in the front office which is supposed to take over 20 years to earn. It is no wonder the attrition for OMSs is as high as it is.”
“Several rounds of directed assignments weren’t enough to fill all the vacancies on the S Detail. Entry-level CDOs were even threatening to send tenured FP-04 agents to SD for directed assignments … on their third tour!
“SIPR and OpenNet are completely down at HST. We’re like a bunch of giddy schoolchildren playing hookie. I’m going to go fling spitballs at IO/UNP right now!!”
“It would be far more efficient if the Ambassador would dispense with the illusion that the Joint Awards Committee has a meaningful role and simply decide for herself–in advance–who gets which award, and then send out taskers for the writing of the award nominations. It would actually be less destructive to morale, too.”
“Not really sure I want the Secretary referring to our work as our epitaph… so much for work-life balance!”
“Please Human Resources, we beg of you, control your colleagues in HR/CDA and stop the madness. These untenured walking talking EEO violations responsible for the “career development” of other officers are a contradiction to what officers expect from HR. Hazing? Bullying? Or just plain incompetence? Where are the HR professionals at State?”
Which FS rep demanded that the servers for a breakfast conference last month be attractive and skinny? At the organization’s previous events, the bartenders and waitstaff according to this official had been “chunky and unattractive.” His exact words. The catering company was so offended they refused to cater the event until the Executive Director stepped in.
“When I’m at work until 8 PM on a Friday night, I unapologetically steal beer from another office’s fridge. It’s retaliation because they go home at 5 PM.”
“If JOs behaved slightly like their egotistic tantrum throwing supervisors, tenure would be but a dream. Is this really going to be the organization where the most obnoxious person wins?”
“Wouldn’t the bureau with the most evacuations benefit from listening to evacuees instead of being so defensive and bristling at suggestions for improvement? Instead of checking the Lessons Learned box – try to actually DO something right after that colossal mistake called ordered departure!”
Which regional bureau recalled one post’s top two officials prior to the arrival of the OIG inspectors?
“It warms the cockles of my heart to hear a career ambassador, in town for the Chief of Mission conference, explode in profanity at some bureaucratic skullduggery pulled by a 3161. It gives me hope that my profanity won’t necessarily hold me back in this career… so long as I’m as verbally enthusiastic as this COM!”
“ELOs are constantly being told during training that we need to ensure that we have a comfortable work/life balance. But miss the CG’s first informal bbq for friends visiting from out of town because you’ve already made plans, and you’ll never be given any opportunities to interact with the front office ever again.”
“Our Management Officer skipped some processes/approvals and got a paid intern. S/he is living for free in gov’t housing (putting us waaaay beyond the 3 month rule.) S/he brought a significant other so GSO is told to hold the housing while s/he goes on vacation after the internship and the SO stays in the home. After the vacation, s/he had to use an armored car to go to the airport on a weekend during the peak of a yearly high activity period.”
“Aren’t the statements of an Amb-designate definitively the opinion of the Embassy and those of Washington DC? Is Oslo disowning their own future Ambassador?”
“The Secretary is having another Town Hall. And once again, we have instructions to send up only policy-related questions. Isn’t the Secretary suppose to manage the Department and ensure the development of world class staff to carry out his policies?”
“Incompetent and unprofessional US-direct hire and local hire staff waste money, time, affect peoples health and medical clearances. They delay the appropriate required care and request medical care that is not standard, required or often advisable.”
“Before we talk about numbers, let’s have a conversation about the correlation (or lack thereof) between success in the interview process and success as a Foreign Service Officer. Who are we hiring, why are we hiring them, and are they making our organization a more effective instrument of our policy? And, more importantly, once we do get these talented folks, what are we doing to train and empower them to achieve our objectives?”
“The Bureau of Consular Affairs actively encourages its officers to serve out of cone on one hand yet punishes those who dare leave the hive when it comes to assignments on the other hand. Somedays one has to question how serious CA is about producing FSO Generalists when all it seems to want are Consular Specialists.”
“Easy. Get a staff assistant job to a powerful principal early on, suck up, follow up and have him/her intercede on all your bids.”
“Can someone please explain to me how you get to spend your entire overseas career in non-differential postings?
“Entry level officers (ELOs) constantly listen to advice from well-meaning senior officers. I don’t think it ever occurs to these advice givers that the ELOs may not want to be like them.”
“I almost ran after ___ when he was assigned to Indonesia. I didn’t. That was 20 years ago. I still think about him.”
“A meritorious step increase that does not involve a step increase. Really.
“Does Mother State have a corrupted hard drive, and a virus-infested operating system?”
“What’s the point of requiring something, if you won’t pay for it?”
“Foreign Service officers think, or course, that the brass ring washes all the sins away.”
“It kills me that on any given weekend since January, there have been more DS agents stationed at the Nantucket consulate than there have been at most high-threat posts.”
“DS “Just Say ‘Yo’ Strategy: A list of dance clubs (including those with well known touring DJs) named “off limits” because State employees might be subject to “undue influence” of drug use. “
“New Rule: candidates for DCM/PO jobs must be screened for the ability to identify the difference between “constructive dissent” and “insubordination.” #InYourDreams.”
“Another round of TDY requests for high-threat posts went unfilled with exactly ZERO DS agents volunteering. DS is now at the point where they’re threatening to direct agents to these high-threat locations for periods of 45 to 60 days.”
“A two year civil service excursion post in London as a poloff working on cyber-security. Who would like a piece of that action? How about the many non-consular coned FSOs doing back-to-back consular tours because they couldn’t find any in-cone bids or perhaps tandems forced back to DC because of lack of non-consular jobs. Why don’t civil service excursions to major European capitals require a year in AIP or a year at a visa mill as a prerequisite? Now that would be an excursion.”
“An ambassador’s spouse cannot work in the same country without special permission. Yet when a married ambassador carries on an affair with the top representative of another country everybody looks the other way.”
120-day TDYs per Benghazi ARB | Those “mandatory” 120-day TDYs to high-threat posts lasted for about one day, until DS [Diplomatic Security] ran out of volunteer 5s and 6s…..
“Today I opened the Post to see yet another story about Syria and Iran, based on an anonymous State Department official without authorization to discuss. This, when we have Bradley Manning, the AP media wiretapping, and other cases where leaking is aggressively pursued. I don’t understand this double standard.”
“Ponta Delgada – probably one of the lowest threat posts on the planet – holds crisis training. Our large, vulnerable post has a COM who leaves the country during this training. Bureau #FAIL, for allowing the COM to leave post during CME exercise? or #FSI #FAIL, for training SFS who thinks that’s okay?”
“With respect, yes, we ought to acknowledge that Chris decided to go to Benghazi. But there’s another question that needs asking. He was a rookie Ambassador. Greg Hicks was a rookie DCM. Who decided it was okay to send two rookies into a war zone?.”
“Who is going to say it? With all respect, Chris Stevens decided – he decided – to go to Benghazi. His choice. And couldn’t the energy used now on the fingerpointing and fall-guying be used better to actually make some changes? Hello? We’re still out here, all over the world.”
“A recent CODEL cost taxpayers $25,000. Main purpose? The senator’s lover wanted to shop at the overseas post.”
“Would you feel safe if your missions security for off compound personnel movements, which were previously done by U.S. citizen contractors, are now being done by a local police force that is an un designated terrorist organization according to U.S. terrorism laws? Yeah, as you can guess it all comes down to $$$$ and nothing to do with being safer.”
“Not sure which is more fun: colleagues who run to the principal when things don’t go their way, or principals (read: DCMs) who challenge employees based on hearsay, under the guise of “mentoring.” Can’t we all act like grown-ups, you know, like they do in the real world?!”
“Isn’t it illegal for a CDO [career development officer] to serve on AFSA’s Board?” http://codes.lp.findlaw.com/uscode/22/52/X/4112
“When sending negative news to post from the mothership via e-mail, at least have the decency to sign your name at the end of the message.”
“Encourage all voting AFSA members to look into the conditions under which candidates left their previous posts.”
“If September arrives and NEA has not made a management change in Cairo that brings in principals who take the security situation here seriously, I’ll be considering curtailment — and I know others who are already planning exit strategies.”
“I’m not sure how I feel about CDA suddenly pretending to care about entry level officers.”
“They came over the wall and post management still believes we are safe. #Trapped.”
After another Twitter tempest, the ambassador “goes back to Washington for a week of consultations on (snip). Love to be a fly on those walls.”
“You see these pesky rumors circulating about our ambassador in a hot zone which has been repeatedly denied? The striking thing about these articles is their tone: good riddance.”
“The MC [minister counselor] that heads my section thinks he/she is a great mentor, but just makes me want to never be in the Senior Foreign Service if it means having to be as insufferable as him/her.”
“The couple has separated with intent to divorce. At least I hope that’s the case or the ambassador’s girlfriend in [insert city] would require some explanation.”
“Unlike Mr. Carson of Downton Abbey, I have to work for a boss that I do not respect.”
“The curfew at my embassy (we have to take motorpool everywhere) is earlier than the curfew I had in JUNIOR HIGH.”
“We write cables, submit lengthy required reports, and upload tons of information to various websites. Yet, no one reads it. Worse yet, research skills have all but disappeared. I have stopped forwarding documents when asked for them, and even the hyperlinks to them, and instead suggest my Washington-based colleagues google them instead.”
“Secretary JK changed the font for 7th floor paper from 14 pt TNR (Times New Roman) to 12pt TNR. All over the building desk officers are reveling in the extra 100 words that now fit on a call sheet.”
“Stretch positions are the greatest racket of the Foreign Service. We compete for greater responsibility and more work…. for no credit and the same pay? Great idea!”
“One can only take so much women’s coffee club meetings. Why do I even go?”
“Rule 23 for FS Sanity: Never read your boss’ EER.”
“It’s January, time to launch the 2013-EER cycle of faux-complishments.”
“After watching 3 marriages (in 18 months) at post break-up because of the husband’s dalliance with a local lady, it’s disheartening to see the Ambassador with a host-country-nationality girlfriend.”
“My DCM pees all over the floor in the bathroom. I know this because there is only one bathroom for the entire front office/pol section, and he’s the only guy who works there. (I assume the women aren’t hovering 8 inches in front of the toilet.)”
“I would have realized from the outset that State will always seek its interest first and I’d act accordingly to take care of my own interests. I don’t mind it now but it was hard to have that come to light in a tough time.”
“Why are so many FS blogs so self-obsessive? It makes me want to retch.”
“I just read the Department notice about all the people who got Department awards this year, and almost every single one of them are men! This place is men giving awards to other men.”
“Sometimes, I look around at Department senior leadership, and think, ‘If I ever become this insufferable, I’ll deserve that posting to Lagos.’ Of course, SFS don’t serve in Lagos.”
“I was madly in love with a FSO once; he did not think I was ambassadorial wife material. Is it wrong to feel glad that he’s still waiting for 1) the right wife, and 2) to become an ambassador?”
“If I could live those days at post over, I would do things differently. But life does not work that way.”