Category Archives: AFSA

Twitter Is a Cocktail Party, Not a Press Conference – But What Happened to 3 FAM 4170?

– Domani Spero

 

 Updated 12/16/14 at 9:45 pm: We understand from the “R” shop that 3 FAM 4170 is in clearance now and something about “third time’s a charm!” What’s that about?

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The December issue of the Foreign Service Journal includes a Speaking Out piece by FSO Wren Elhai, Twitter Is a Cocktail Party, Not a Press Conference (or, Social Media for Reporting Officers). The author is currently serving in the political-economic section of Consulate General Karachi. Prior to joining the State Department, he worked at the Center for Global Development, a D.C.-based think-tank, as a policy analyst where he also ran the Center’s Twitter and Facebook pages. Excerpt below:

Current Foreign Affairs Manual regulations require any State Department employee posting anything to a social media site that relates to a matter “of official concern” to go through the same clearance process that would govern a media appearance or a published op-ed.

This is a shockingly vague rule, one that I have been told in training covers even posting quotes from official State Department statements or links to articles that support U.S. policy. It is a rule so vague that any diplomat with a Facebook account will confirm that nearly every one of us violates it on a daily basis.

If you think of Twitter as the digital equivalent of a newspaper, then it makes sense to try to maintain control over what diplomats say there. However, if Twitter is a digital cocktail party, that’s an untenable position. No one would even consider asking diplomats to pre-clear everything they say to people they meet at public events—let alone to seek press office clearance before starting a conversation with a potential contact.

We are paid to know U.S. foreign policy, to present and defend our positions, and to not embarrass ourselves when we open our mouths in public. We are trusted to speak tactfully and to know what topics are best discussed in other settings.

Our policy should treat our interactions online and in the real world on an even footing. Yes, there will be rare occasions when diplomats speak undiplomatically and, just as when this happens in the real world, those diplomats should face consequences.

But just as we don’t limit ourselves to talking about the weather at receptions, we should be able to present U.S. policy and engage with contacts online. To meet people, we need to show up for the party.

Read in full via FSJ here.

On the topic of consequences, Sir James Bevan KCMG, UK High Commissioner to India recently gave a speech to a group of journalists that’s related to this, particularly on how one might be a bit boring on Twitter, and for good reasons:

And we diplomats sometimes have to behave a bit differently from you journalists, or at least have to pretend that we do. There are things which you can do and say which we diplomats cannot, lest we provide you with copy that is good for you but bad for us. 

Some of you have said that my Twitter account @HCJamesBevan is a little bit boring. There’s a reason for that: I like my job and I want to keep it. For a diplomat, being too interesting on Twitter is the quickest way to get sacked. I like India and I want to stay here.

 

Back to the article, the author of the FSJ piece has cited 5 FAM 790 Using Social Media (pdf) on his article, the guidance first issued in June 2010. You might, however, want to check out 3 FAM 4172.1-3 (pdf) Review of Materials Prepared in an Employee’s Private Capacity, which includes matters of “official concern.”  It does look like 3 FAM 4170, the regs for Official Clearance of Speaking, Writing, and Teaching (pdf) has not been updated since 2009, but right now, that’s the official rules.

This past June, AFSA told its members that for more than a year it has been negotiating a revision to the current Foreign Affairs Manual regulations governing public speaking and writing (3 FAM 4170).

“As mentioned in our 2013 Annual Report, our focus has been to accommodate the rise of social media and protect the employee’s ability to publish. We have emphasized the importance of a State Department response to clearance requests within a defined period of time (30 days or less). For those items requiring interagency review, our goal is to increase transparency, communication and oversight.  We look forward to finalizing the negotiations on the FAM chapter soon—stay tuned for its release.”

This long awaited update to 3 FAM 4170 has been in draft mode since 2012 (see State Dept to Rewrite Media Engagement Rules for Employees in Wake of Van Buren Affair. Also check out a related piece we did in February 2013 (see Social Media Schizophrenia Continues on Background, and Oh, Stuff That Loophole, Ey?).

Hey, is it true that 3 FAM 4172.1-7  also known as the Peter Van Buren clause is nowhere to be found in the new version?

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Donald M. Bishop: Sources of State Department Senior Leadership

– Domani Spero

 

Donald M. Bishop, President of the Public Diplomacy Council, served 31 years in USIA and the State Department.  A Public Diplomacy officer, his first assignments were in Hong Kong, Korea, and Taiwan, and he led Public Diplomacy at the American embassies in Bangladesh, Nigeria, China, and Afghanistan.  He served as the Foreign Policy Advisor (POLAD) to two members of the Joint Chiefs of Staff at the Pentagon. The piece below was originally published via the Public Diplomacy Council website and republished here with Mr. Bishop’s kind permission.

Sources of State Department Senior Leadership

by Donald M. Bishop

In recent months, the front pages, websites, columns, blogs, and talking heads rediscovered an old issue — the nomination of individuals who raised funds for a Presidential campaign to be ambassadors.  A few nominees were embarrassed at their Senate confirmation hearings.

This short piece is NOT about ambassadorial nominees.  Rather, let me step back and discuss the naming of political appointees to senior policy positions in the Department of State.

The American Foreign Service Association counts the number of political vs. career appointees as Deputy Secretary, Under Secretary, Assistant Secretary, Special Envoy, Special Representative, Director, Chief, Coordinator, Advisor, and Executive Secretary.  In 2012, 27 were career officers, and 63 were political appointees.  This was the highest percentage of political appointees in policy positions since AFSA began counting.  In 2008 there were 26 senior noncareer Schedule B hires; in 2012 there were 89.

How about Public Diplomacy?  Three bureaus report to the Under Secretary for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs — Public Affairs (PA), Educational and Cultural Affairs (ECA), and International Information Programs (IIP).  All three bureaus are led by appointees.  The three bureaus have eleven positions at the level of Deputy Assistant Secretary, and six geographic bureaus all have Deputy Assistant Secretaries assigned Public Diplomacy portfolios.   For these 17 positions, the exact count varies with ordinary turnover, but it is safe to say about half are career, and half are political.

No matter the bureau or function, many of these appointees indeed have solid foreign policy credentials.  There are many paths to expertise and several different incubators in foreign affairs, and the Foreign Service is only one.  Many experts have worked in Congress, the NSC and the White House, Presidential campaigns, and at the think tanks at different times in their careers.   At the beginning of their careers, they may have served in the Peace Corps or, less often, the armed forces.

Over the years, I worked with many appointees.  Many brought energy and fresh ideas into the Department.  This essay is not about individuals – many of whom earned my admiration – but rather about organizational dynamics.

I have concluded that an overreliance on political appointees from outside the Foreign Service weakens the conduct of American foreign policy.  These reasons have little to do with the qualifications of the individuals.  If the administration decides that this or that position at the State Department is better filled by a political appointee than by a Foreign Service officer, there are three down sides.

First, the search and selection process, vetting, security clearances, and – for those positions requiring confirmation by the Senate — long waits for hearings and confirmation add up to long vacancies between incumbents.  During the vacancies, someone picks up the slack, for sure, but some other portfolio is shorted.  Even if a career officer serves as “Acting,” the Department waits for the President’s nominee to come on board before launching new initiatives and committing funds.  Preferring political appointees from the outside, then, slows foreign policy down.  Public Diplomacy, in particular, suffered from long periods between Under Secretaries.

Second, whatever their regional or issue expertise, whichever Washington arena gave them their chops, however close appointees may be to the President and his team, they have had no reason to understand “the machinery” or “the mechanics” of the State Department – its funding, authorities, planning, reporting, budget cycle, and incentives.

All organizations have an organizational culture.  For the State Department and the Foreign Service, it encompasses the five cones, the assignment and promotion systems, hierarchies, the “D Committee” which recommends career FSOs to the White House to become ambassadors, and agreements with bargaining agents.  The culture includes such intangibles as policy planning but not program planning, tradeoffs between goals, “buttons to push,” “energy sponges,” “lanes,” “corridor reputations,” and the “thin bench.” The “ship of State” can indeed respond to new priorities, but few appointees have the inside experience to know how to make it turn quickly and smoothly.

All understand, moreover, that if something more is needed – “reform” of the Department, its processes, or the Foreign Service – it can take many years to achieve.  A career officer can commit to a long process of reform and understand the payoff down the road.  A political appointee may understand the need to change the Department’s way of doing business, but what is the incentive for doing so?  The appointee will be on to fresh pastures, through the revolving door, and doing something else soon.  Why take on tasks that will outlast her appointment?

Third, political appointees naturally come to the State Department with a strong intention to advance the President’s agenda.  Their frame of mind is, then, “top down,” meaning that ambassadors, embassies, consulates, and the Foreign Service should take their lead from the White House and become implementers of this month’s or this year’s White House policy initiatives.  If, for instance, the President believes that the United States must promote action against climate change, the political appointees in the Bureaus insure that the Department responds.  As a result, even Embassies in countries with strong environmental records – Western Europe, say — adjust their priorities to respond to the “top down” agenda.

A focus on the administration’s global broad-brush themes, however, inevitably crowds out the attention paid to bilateral issues.  Every Mission spends a large part of its spring in a deliberate process defining specific bilateral strategic goals, but their implementation can be overridden by political appointees and top-down priorities.  Many Public Affairs Officers at overseas posts have noted the shift to a “Washington driven” agenda.  The Foreign Service is always ready to “surge,” so to speak, on the nation’s most important objectives, but it’s not possible to “surge” month in and month out.  When an embassy surges on one administration priority, moreover, it can’t be very effective when yet one more surge is asked for.

I submit, then, that reliance on political appointees weakens not strengthens the achievement of America’s national goals.  Long vacancies slow down the implementation of policy.  Lacking institutional knowledge, appointees increase the friction within the system.  They tip the scales to respond to worldwide, “top-down” rather than bilateral goals.  There will always be a mix of political appointees and career officers in the State Department’s senior policy positions, but in my judgment the nation is better served when there are more of the latter than the former.

 The original post is here, check out the comments.

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Political Appointee Rejects Criticisms of Too Many Political Picks at the State Department

– Domani Spero

 

The retirement of Deputy Secretary Bill Burns and the attendant task of finding his replacement as the State Department’s No.2 official highlighted the career versus political appointments in the upper ranks of the oldest executive agency in our country. Below via Yahoo News:

Obama has overseen an expansion of political appointments at the State Department. He has chosen fewer career diplomats for ambassadorial postings than his recent predecessors. And his administration has tripled the number of noncareer appointments under so-called “Schedule B authority,” which have soared from 26 to 89 employees between 2008 and 2012 at the senior levels.

The report notes that “just one of the top nine jobs in American diplomacy is held by a career diplomat: Undersecretary for Management Patrick Kennedy.” It further notes that this number rises to 2 out of 10 if State Department Counselor Tom Shannon is included.

The report also quotes AFSA saying, “We’re not rabble-rousers. We’re not going to be burning down the building. [snip] But we are concerned about the growing politicization throughout the State Department.”

For comparison, see this chart to see how the breakdown between career versus non-career appointees have progressively trended towards non-career appointees in the past decades.

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infographic via afsa.org

Last Friday, the State Department officially rejected criticisms that too many top diplomatic jobs have gone to political appointees rather than to career foreign service officers.  As a sign of the times, the official who rebutted the criticism is the spokesperson of the State Department, a former political operative and herself, a political appointee:

“There’s never been a secretary of state more personally connected to the Foreign Service than Secretary (John) Kerry. It’s in his blood. It’s stamped in his DNA. He’s the son of a foreign service officer,” spokeswoman Jen Psaki told Yahoo News by email.

“It’s no accident that he has worked with President (Barack) Obama to build a senior team with more foreign service officers in leading assistant secretary positions than at any time in recent memory, and no accident that he chose a foreign service officer to serve as the State Department’s Counselor for the first time in thirty years,” she added.

For understandable reason, AFSA wants to see another FSO appointed as a Deputy Secretary.  Congress created the position of Deputy Secretary of State in the Foreign Relations Authorization Act of 1972, approved Jul 13, 1972 (Public Law 92-352; 86 Stat 490), to replace the Under Secretary of State as the second ranking officer in the Department. The Deputy Secretary serves as the principal deputy, adviser, and alter ego to the Secretary of State; serves as Acting Secretary of State in the Secretary’s absence; and assists the Secretary in the formulation and conduct of U.S. foreign policy and in giving general supervision and direction to all elements of the Department. Specific duties and supervisory responsibilities have varied over time.

 

The candidates currently rumored to replace Bill Burns are not career diplomats. That is not at all surprising. According to history.state.gov, of the 17 deputy secretary appointments since the position was created in 1972 only four had been career Foreign Service officers:

 

In this blog’s last two months online, this might actually be an interesting project to look into — and see just how imbalanced are these appointments.  As we have blogged here previously, we readily recognize that the President and the Secretary of State should have some leeway to pick the people they need to support them in doing their jobs. That said, we think that this practice can be done to such an extreme that it can negatively impact the morale and functioning of the organization and the professional service, in this case the State Department and the institution of the Foreign Service.  Not only that, following an election year, it basically decapitates the upper ranks of an agency pending the arrival of new political appointees. In the case of the State Department, 4/5 of the top appointees are political. It will almost be a wholesale turnover in 2017 whether a Democrat or a Republican wins the White House.

So let’s take a look, for a start, at the top organizational component of the State Department.

1. Secretary of State (S): John F. Kerry, Political Appointee 

2. Deputy Secretary (D) – VACANT

3. Deputy Secretary for Management and Resources (DMR): Heather Higginbottom, Political Appointee
She was the Policy Director for the Kerry-Edwards Presidential Campaign in 2004, Policy Director for then Senator Obama’s Presidential Campaign in 2007, and came to the State Department after stints in the White House and OMB. We expect that she’ll tender her resignation on/or about January 2017 unless she leaves earlier or is asked to stay on by the next Secretary of State from her party.

4. Counselor of the Department (C): Thomas A. Shannon, Jr., Career Foreign Service Officer
Former U.S. Ambassador to Brazil and former Assistant Secretary for Western Hemisphere Affairs.  He is only the seventh Foreign Service Officer to hold the position of Counselor since World War II, and the first in 32 years. Not quite mandatory retirement age in 2017, we expect he would  rotate out of this position for another upper level assignment, unless, he takes early retirement and goes on to a leadership position at some think tank.

5. Under Secreatry for Arms Control and International Security (T): Rose E. Gottemoeller, Political Appointee
She was the chief U.S. negotiator of the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START) with the Russian Federation, which entered into force on February 5, 2011. Prior to the Department of State, she was senior associate with the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. In 1998-2000, she was the Deputy Undersecretary of Energy for Defense Nuclear Nonproliferation and before that, Assistant Secretary and Director for Nonproliferation and National Security. We expect that she’ll tender her resignation on/or about January 2017 unless she leaves earlier or is asked to stay on by the next Secretary of State.

6. Under Secretary for Civilian Security, Democracy, and Human Rights (J):  Sarah Sewall, Political Apppointee
Prior to this position, she served as a Senior Lecturer in Public Policy at the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University. In 2012, Dr. Sewall was Minerva Chair at the Naval War College and from 2006 to 2009 she served as the Director of Harvard’s Carr Center for Human Rights Policy. She was also Deputy Assistant Secretary for Peacekeeping and Humanitarian Assistance at the Department of Defense from 1993 to 1996. From 1987 to 1996, she served as the Senior Foreign Policy Advisor to U.S. Senate Majority Leader George J. Mitchell. We expect that she’ll tender her resignation on/or about January 2017 unless she leaves earlier or is asked to stay on by the next Secretary of State.

7. Under Secretary for Economic Growth, Energy, and Environment (E): Catherine Novelli, Political Appointee
Prior to the State Department, she was Vice President for Worldwide Government Affairs at Apple, Inc.; Prior to her tenure at Apple, Ms. Novelli was a partner in the Washington office of Mayer, Brown, Rowe & Maw LLP where she assisted Fortune 100 clients on issues involving international trade and investment. She was also a former Assistant U.S. Trade Representative for Europe & the Mediterranean. We expect that she’ll tender her resignation on/or about January 2017 unless she leaves earlier or is asked to stay on by the next Secretary of State.

8. Management (M): Patrick F. Kennedy, Career Foreign Service Officer
He has been the Under Secretary of State for Management since 2007. From February 2005 to April 2005, he headed the Transition Team that set up the newly created Office of the Director of National Intelligence. In 2001, he was appointed  U.S. Representative to the United Nations for Management and Reform with the Rank of Ambassador. During this period he also served from May 2003 to the end of November 2003 as Chief of Staff of the Coalition Provisional Authority in Iraq, and from May 2004 to late August 2004 as the Chief of Staff of the Transition Unit in Iraq. He joined the Foreign Service in 1973, so he’s been in federal service for at least 40 years.

His Wikipedia page indicates that he is 65 years old, the mandatory retirement age for the Foreign Service. Except that the regs also make exceptions for presidential appointees under  3 FAM 6216.2-2. (With regard to a member of the Service who would be retired under 3 FAM 6213 who is occupying a position to which the member was appointed by the President, by and with the advice and consent of the Senate, the effective date of retirement will not take effect until the end of the month in which such appointment is terminated and may be further postponed in accordance with 3 FAM 6216.2-1 if the Director General determines it to be in the public interest). If he serves out the rest of the Obama term as “M,” he’ll be the under secretary for management for almost a decade (2007-2016), probably the longest serving incumbent in this position.

9. Political Affairs (P): Wendy Sherman, Political Appointee
She is the Department’s current fourth-ranking official. Prior to this position, Under Secretary Sherman served as Vice Chair of Albright Stonebridge Group, a global strategy firm. Yes, that Albright.  Ambassador Sherman served as Counselor for the State Department from 1997 to 2001, as well as Special Advisor to President Clinton and Policy Coordinator on North Korea. From 1993 to 1996, under Secretary of State Warren Christopher, she was Assistant Secretary for Legislative Affairs. On November 3, 2014, she became dual-hatted as the Acting Deputy Secretary of State.  The Cable says that she has been informed that she is not the permanent pick for the job. We expect that she’ll tender her resignation on/or about January 2017 unless she leaves earlier or is asked to stay on by the next Secretary of State after the 2016 elections.

10. Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs (R): Richard StengelPolitical Appointee
Mr. Stengel was sworn in as Under Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs on February 14, 2014. As of October 31, 2014, the official directory for the State Department still lists that position as vacant, by the way. Prior to assuming this position, Mr. Stengel was the Managing Editor of TIME from 2006 to 2013. From 2004 to 2006, he was the President and Chief Executive Officer of the National Constitution Center in Philadelphia. We expect that he’ll tender his resignation on/or about January 2017 unless he leaves earlier or is asked to stay on by the next Secretary of State. The average tenure, by the way, for the incumbent of this position is 512 days.

So, as of this writing, a total of ten positions occupy the top ranks of the State Department: one vacant position, two positions encumbered by career diplomats, and seven encumbered by political appointees.

Is that the right balance?

The State Department spox is indeed right; Tom Shannon is the first career FSO in 32 years to serve as counselor of the State Department, and Secretary Kerry deserves credit for that pick. We must also note that Secretary Clinton picked one FSO (Burns) and that Secretaries Clinton and Kerry both inherited a third FSO from Secretary Rice’s tenure (Kennedy).(We’ll look at the assistant secretaries in a separate post).

But.

What message are you sending to a 24,000 career workforce if you cannot find a single one among them to appoint as deputy of their own agency? The political appointees have impressive resumes.  That said, why should any of the career employees aspire for an under secretary position when despite their work experience and  years of sacrifices (and their families’) in all the hellholes in the world, all but one (sometimes all), inevitably go to well-connected political appointees?

Any career advice about picking political horses or how to get on the state-of-the-art bullet elevator to the Seventh Floor?

Maybe  somebody will be brave enough to ask these questions during Secretary Kerry’s next town hall meeting? Yes, even if folks get instructions to ask policy-related questions only. In the next few weeks we will also peek into some of these upper offices within State and go on a journey of institutional discovery. We understand that it’s pretty interesting out there.

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Filed under AFSA, Appointments, Career Employees, Elections, Foreign Service, FSOs, John F. Kerry, Leadership and Management, Obama, Org Life, Political Appointees, Politics, Realities of the FS, Secretary of State, Staffing the FS, State Department, Under Secretary

Snapshot: Breakdown of State Department Employees as of 6/30/2014

– Domani Spero

via afsa.org

Click here to view pdf file

Click on image to view pdf file

 

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Secondments to international organizations and promotions? Here comes the boo!

– Domani Spero

 

Eligible U.S. government employees may be detailed or transferred to certain international organizations in which the United States participates.  Authority and procedures for such details and transfers are found in:  5 U.S.C. §§ 3343, 358l-3584 and 5 C.F.R. and §§ 352.301 through 352.314. via

 

This past summer, we learned that for the past several years, the Department and AFSA have agreed to a “procedural precept” for the Foreign Service Selection Boards that explicitly excludes from promotion consideration Foreign Service Officers who have been transferred to some international organizations. We could not find hard numbers on how many officers have been impacted or which IO assignments are excluded.

We did hear that this particular issue (separation to work in an international organization, with re-employment rights) apparently affects “a very small number of people,” and that in the past, officers, typically not willing to rock the boat, have made themselves content with simply accepting a time-in-class (TIC) extension (pdf).

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That’s weird, right? This appears to disincentivize U.S. citizen employment in international organizations, something that is apparently a congressional mandate; so much so that an office in the Bureau of International Organization Affairs (State/IO) is actually tasks with promoting such employment. Well, actually the policy for agencies to take affirmative steps in having U.S. citizens work in international organization dates back to President Lyndon B. Johnson’s tenure. Seriously.

We understand that the justification for the exclusion in the Precepts was articulated over five years ago and is contained in a June 23, 2008 AFSA letter:

“The rule prohibiting Selection Board competition of members on  certain secondments became effective in June 2004 on issuance of the  Procedural Precepts for the 2004 Foreign Service Selection Boards   and has been in effect for the past five years [sic]. It was  introduced to prevent employees from using secondments to extend   their time-in-class and the length of their tours of duty in  Missions such as Vienna, Brussels and Geneva while continuing to  compete for promotion, performance pay, etc.”

An FSO who is familiar with the process and the exclusion told us that this explanation is “nonsense.”  Apparently, this exclusion also applies  to personnel transferred to UN agencies in Afghanistan, Darfur,  Southern Sudan, Kenya, East Timor, etc. We were also told that the Precept (see (I(B)(6)(j) of the Procedural Precepts), is a “Bush-era ham-fisted attempt” to   punish any service outside of Iraq and Afghanistan, with “scant  attention paid to broader policy implications or legal norms.”

So in essence, we really want more Americans to serve in international organizations, but if FS employees do serve in those capacities, it is likely that some of them will not be considered for promotion. And since international org assignments can run longer than foreign service tours, that basically puts a career in deep ice; surely a concerning detail in an up or out system like the Foreign Service.  And you wonder why there’s not a single stampede for these jobs.

What do the Federal regulations say?

Title 5 (see CFR § 352.314 Consideration for promotion and pay increases) has this:

(a) The employing agency must consider an employee who is detailed or transferred to an international organization for all promotions for  which the employee would be considered if not absent. A promotion based on this consideration is effective on the date it would have been effective if the employee were not absent. (pdf)

We were told that the State Department’s Legal Adviser’s (State/L) position is that…   “The Precepts are authorized under Title 22, and the Secretary has the authority to prescribe what they say”.

And what exactly does Title 22 says?

22 USC § 3982 (2011) §3982. Assignments to Foreign Service positions
(a) Positions assignable; basis for assignment
(1) The Secretary (with the concurrence of the agency concerned) may assign a member of the Service to any position classified under section 3981 of this title in which that member is eligible to serve (other than as chief of mission or ambassador at large), and may assign a member from one such position to another such position as the needs of the Service may require.

So basically since “L” had apparently ruled that FS Assignments are made under Title 22 (which does not address promotions), and Title 5 (the part of the regs that actually addresses promotion), does not apply — there is no desire to reconcile the conflict between the promotion eligibility of detailed/transferred employees to an international organization contained in Title 5 with the exclusion contained in the Precepts?

Wow! We’re having an ouchy, ouchy headache.

If this interpretation stands, does it mean that the Secretary of State is free to disregard any legal norm, standard or entitlement that is not spelled out specifically in Title 22?

And we’re curious — where does HR/CDA/SL/CDT obtain its legal authority to pick and choose among transferred members on who should and should not be considered for promotion? It appears that 5 CFR 352.314 spells out a clear entitlement to promotion consideration for ALL transferred officers but for the “L” interpretation.

We understand that there is now a Foreign Service Grievance case based exactly on this exclusion in the Precept. If not resolved by FSGB, this could potentially move to federal court as it involves not only adjustment in rank, and withheld benefits but also TSP coverage which has retirement implications. Will State Department lawyers go to court citing “FS Assignments outside DOS” booklet, issued by HR/CDA/CDT over the federal regulations under Title 5?

Perhaps, the main story here is not even about a specific precept, but the fact that Department management is disregarding Federal law and from what we’ve seen — AFSA, the professional representative and bargaining unit of the Foreign Service has been  aware of this for years but has no interest in pressing the issue.

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Filed under AFSA, Americans Abroad, Appointments, Career Employees, Foreign Service, FSOs, Huh? News, Realities of the FS, Regulations, Staffing the FS, State Department, U.S. Missions

USAID “Poor” Morale Goes From 37% to 47%, Administrator Approval Rating Plummets From 78% to 58%

– Domani Spero

 

The June 2014 Foreign Service Journal includes an item on the AFSA USAID survey.  The 23-question, electronic survey focused on concerns, commendations and assessments related to the USAID FSO experience in calendar year 2013.

The USAID VP writes that the survey results will be discussed with USAID Administrator Rajiv Shah and Special Representative for the Quadrennial Diplomacy and Development Review Tom Perriello to help in the formulation of USAID priorities.

Excerpt below:

Staff Morale 

The agency morale rating has dropped significantly. Thirty-seven percent of respondents rated agency morale “poor” in 2012; in 2013, 47 percent of respondents rated morale “poor.” The “good/fair” rating shows a corresponding drop, from 61 percent in 2012 to 51 percent for 2013.

A wide range of concerns were shared by respondents, such as: tension between more seasoned USAID employees and those who have entered within the last five years; an overburdened system with too many “initiatives;” lack of transparency and support from HR; and slow encroachment by State.

In a cross-comparison between questions on the new HR leadership and agency morale, a similarly high percentage of employees (61) rated the new HR leadership “poor” and also determined that morale had dropped.

USAID Administrator 

The “poor” rating for the Administrator (question 20) increased from 23 percent in 2012 to 41 percent in the 2013 survey. His overall approval rating (“fair, good, excellent”) for 2013 stands at 58 percent, also a significant drop from 2012 (78 percent). This decline is disturbing and will be pointed out to his office.

Many FSOs originally liked the new initiatives. However, the prevailing sentiment now is that they are too numerous to coordinate and accurately report on, and many do not come with funding. The comments also reflect a recurring theme that work outside of Africa appears to be a lower priority for the Administrator.

Working Conditions 

The survey indicates a significant perception that overall conditions at work are worsening (42 percent). This is not as bad as it was in 2011 (46 percent) or 2010 (55 percent); nevertheless, it is a setback since 2012, when only 36 percent thought conditions at work were deteriorating. Pay and bonus freezes, work space concerns due to consolidation and micromanagement of the field by Washington were some of the concerns highlighted this year, and are possible explanations for the increased rating.

AFSA reports that several important issues have been illuminated in this survey, including the following:

  • First is the tendency for more recent employees in the workforce to have different views than their colleagues from previous generations. The different characteristics of this new generation of workers are increasingly being discussed in the media. In terms of numbers, the millennials are the largest generation in American history and, with USAID’s recent mass hiring, the majority of our workforce now fall into this category.
  • A bonus of the Development Leadership Initiative program is that USAID has a unique opportunity to be a leader in this regard, simply by virtue of its large population of millennials. If we focus on their primary concerns—such as corporate culture, work-life balance, workplace flexibility, making a difference and being appreciated—we realize that they value the same things that are important to everyone!  The difference is that millennials are more likely to voice their thoughts and to change jobs if their needs are not fulfilled. How the agency handles this will determine whether USAID emerges as a government leader in such issues as work-life balance, as well as how it fares in employee retention.
  • After a brief upturn, morale has taken a slide back down. Comments suggest that this is related to various factors, including the sense of a disconnect with significant guidance related to HR processes, and a feeling that Washington does not understand the challenges that FSOs face daily.  Inequalities in benefits  between USAID and State further exacerbate the problem.

The AFSA USAID VP Sharon Wayne writes that “AFSA will continue to engage management on these issues. It is my hope that current leadership will choose to accept these results for what they are: valuable feedback on which to act to make this agency better.”

 

Related posts:

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Is This Iran Watcher London Position Not Bidlisted About to Go to a “P” Staffer?

– Domani Spero

 

Remember that position at the US Embassy in London last year that “mysteriously” appeared, got pulled down, then re-advertised under curious circumstances? See London Civil Service Excursion Tour Opens — Oh Wait, It’s Gone, Then It’s Back, Ah Forgetaboutit?). Well, it sounds like there’s another one; and this one is roiling the American Foreign Service Association, for good reasons.

With the bidding deadline around the corner, the American Foreign Service Association (AFSA) wants to bring to your attention an FS-02 IROG position in London that has been the subject of some discussion between AFSA and the Department.  In AFSA’s view this position should be available to all eligible bidders now; however, the position has yet to be posted.  On October 1, AFSA’s Governing Board met to discuss the Department’s refusal to include the FS-02 Iran Watcher position in London (IROG Position Number 67700008) in this Summer’s Open Assignment Cycle, instead proposing to include it in the pilot Overseas Development Program.  The Governing Board passed a unanimous motion strongly objecting to the Department’s decision and instructing its General Counsel to advise AFSA on avenues of redress for this apparent breach of contract.  AFSA, the professional association and exclusive representative of the Foreign Service, had previously expressed concern to the Department about including the position in the pilot Overseas Development Program that was created two years ago pursuant to an informal agreement between the Department and AFSA.  AFSA’s concerns center around the position’s uniqueness, Farsi language designation, and the significant number of interested, qualified Foreign Service bidders for the position.  The position is the only one in London and the only Iran Watcher position in an English speaking country.

The Foreign Service needs to build up its Iran expertise including language capability.  The best known Persian speaker at State is probably the State Department Farsi spox, Alan Eyre, who since 2011 has been the public face of the United States to many Iranians and Persian speakers. In 2013, when State/OIG looked into the process of establishing “language designated positions,” we learned that State had established 23 LDPs for Persian-Iranian. Those are jobs where the selectees will be required to have official language training and reach a certain level of proficiency prior to assuming the position. That’s the number for the entire agency, by the way.  In 2012, 8 students studied Farsi at the Foreign Service Institute.  We have no idea how many Farsi speakers have attained the 3/3 level at State but we know that studying a hard language does not come cheap.

The OIG team estimates training students to the 3/3 level in easier world languages such as Spanish can cost $105,000; training in hard languages such as Russian can cost $180,000; and training in super hard languages such as Chinese and Arabic can cost up to $480,000 per student. Students learning super hard languages to the 3/3 level generally spend one year domestically at the Foreign Service Institute (FSI) and then a second year at an overseas training facility.

So — what’s the deal about this Iran Watcher London position?

Rumor has it that a staffer at the Under Secretary for Political Affairs Wendy Sherman‘s office, the Department’s fourth-ranking official allegedly wants this position.

If the State Department is not listing this position in the Open Assignment Cycle bidlist, that means this job is not/not up for grabs for Foreign Service officers. One less FSO studying Farsi next year!

If State includes this position in the Open Assignment Cycle bidlist then only FS employees can bid and a CS employee cannot be assigned to London unless there are no qualified FS bidders (we’re told that’s not going to be the case here).

If State is listing this position under the Overseas Development Program, it means this is potentially for a two-year London assignment, open to Civil Service employees only, and requires a 44-week language training for presumably an S-3/R-3 proficiency in Farsi.

And if this position goes to a Civil Service employee, the chance of that employee serving overseas is a one-time fill. He/She goes to London for two years then return to the State Department. Unless the State Department moves to a unitary personnel system, CS employees typically do not serve on multiple tours overseas.  Which means that State could be spending between $180,000 – $480,000 to teach — whoever is selected for this London position — Persian language to an employee who can be assigned overseas just once.

Now, perhaps the more important question is, in light of AFSA’s protest — if State gives in and list this London position in this Summer’s Open Assignment Cycle, would that really make a difference? Sure FSOs can bid on it, but will anyone of the qualified bidders be …. um…the right fit?

Maybe we can go through this “call your friends in London upstairs” exercise, and see what they say (pick one):

  1. don’t bother applying for the job
  2. don’t waste your time on this one
  3. forgetaboutit, selection already done
  4. all of the above

And you’re wondering why watching bureaucratic life and backstage machinations can make one jaded?  If indeed this job is going to go, as rumored, to a “P’ staffer, all job-related announcements would just be bureaucratic theater.

But don’t worry, everything will fit in the end. Just like a puzzle box.

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Filed under AFSA, Career Employees, Foreign Service, FSOs, Huh? News, Iran, Leadership and Management, Org Culture, Org Life, Realities of the FS, Staffing the FS, State Department

AFSA Event: Why Ethics Matter in the Foreign Service — Thursday, October 9, 2pm

– Domani Spero

 

We’re passing the info below for our friends at AFSA.  This event is sponsored by AFSA’s Committee on the Foreign Service Profession and Ethics ( PEC) currently chaired by FSO (ret) Robert Dry; he succeeded Ambassador Charles Ray, the first PEC chairman.

On October 9, AFSA presents “Why Ethics Matter in the Foreign Service” in which the concept of professional ethics writ large – and how they apply to the Foreign Service in particular – will be examined. Should the Foreign Service have a code of professional ethics? What would that look like? How would one benefit the Foreign Service profession?

Anthony J. Gray is President and Chief Executive Officer at the Institute for Global Ethics (IGE). Previously, he served as Global Compliance Officer at a major U.S. corporation where his innovative leadership significantly improved the global compliance culture within the organization. Gray is a Member of the Bar of three jurisdictions. AFSA and IGE collaborated on the 2013 Foreign Service values survey which can be found on the AFSA website.

This program takes place at AFSA headquarters, 2101 E St NW, and begins at 2:00 p.m. on Thursday, October 9. Please RSVP to events@afsa.org if you have not done so already. The event will be recorded and made available for later online viewing for those unable to attend.

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Insider Quote: Integrity and Openness – Requirements for an Effective Foreign Service

Kenneth M. Quinn, the only three-time winner of an AFSA dissent award, spent 32 years in the Foreign Service and served as ambassador to Cambodia from 1996 to 1999. He has been president of the World Food Prize Foundation since 2000. In the September issue of the Foreign Service Journal, he writes about integrity and openness as requirements for an effective Foreign Service. Except below:

I can attest to the fact that challenging U.S. policy from within is never popular, no matter how good one’s reasons are for doing so. In some cases, dissent can cost you a job—or even end a career. And even when there are no repercussions, speaking out may not succeed in changing policy.

Yet as I reflect on my 32 years in the Foreign Service, I am more convinced than ever how critically important honest reporting and unvarnished recommendations are. And that being the case, ambassadors and senior policy officials should treasure those who offer different views and ensure that their input receives thoughtful consideration, no matter how much they might disagree with it.

Read in full here.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Foreign Service, Civil Service: How We Got to Where We Are (via FSJ)

– Domani Spero

 

Harry Kopp, a former FSO and international trade consultant, was deputy assistant secretary of State for international trade policy in the Carter and Reagan administrations; his foreign assignments included Warsaw and Brasilia. He is the author of Commercial Diplomacy and the National Interest (Academy of Diplomacy, 2004). He is also the coauthor of probably the best guide to life in the Foreign Service, Career Diplomacy: Life and Work in the U.S. Foreign Service (Georgetown University Press, 2011).  Last May, on the 90th anniversary of AFSA and the U.S. Foreign Service he wrote the piece, Foreign Service, Civil Service: How We Got to Where We Are for the Foreign Service Journal. It deserves a good read.  Excerpt:

By 2009, State employed 12,018 members of the Foreign Service and 9,487 members of the Civil Service, a ratio of just 1.3 to 1.

Throughout this period, the emphasis that AFSA and other foreign affairs organizations placed on the unique characteristics of the Foreign Service clashed repeatedly with the emphasis of the department’s leadership on teamwork and unity of purpose. AFSA and other organizations were quick to criticize Secretary Powell when he changed the annual Foreign Service Day celebration to a more inclusive Foreign Affairs Day in 2001 and renamed the Foreign Service Lounge the Employee Service Center.

More seriously, AFSA fought a long and litigious campaign to block certain high-profile assignments of Civil Service employees to Foreign Service positions overseas, and to inhibit such assignments generally. These and other efforts to defend the distinction of the Foreign Service did not reverse the Service’s diminishing prominence in the Department of State and in the conduct of the country’s foreign relations. Nor did such efforts sit well with the department’s management, which tried under successive secretaries to make (in Secretary John Kerry’s words) “each component of our workforce … work together as one cohesive and vibrant team.”

The Foreign Service Act of 1980 is now 34 years old, the age of the Foreign Service Act of 1946 when it was replaced. The drafters of the 1980 legislation had no great admiration for the dual-service system, but like Secretaries Byrnes, Acheson and Rusk, they concluded that keeping it was preferable to attempting change. With two very different personnel systems—not to mention a large and growing cohort of appointees exempt from the disciplines of either—the Department of State lacks the cohesion and vibrancy Sec. Kerry has called for.

As of April 2013, there are 13,676 Foreign Service and 10,811 Civil Service employees in the State Department. Click here (pdf) for the historical number of Foreign Service and Civil Service employees from 1970-2012.  Full article republished below with permission from the Foreign Service Journal.

 

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