Is State/OBO’s Intense Focus on Design Excellence Driving Engineering Employees Away?

Posted: 1:22 am EDT
Updated: April 16, 2015, 7:42 pm PDT


Last week, there was a Burn Bag submission we posted on the many losses in the Bureau of Overseas Buildings Operations’ engineering staff.  We’re republishing it below, as well as reblogging a post from The Skeptical Bureaucrat. Maybe this would help save the State Department leadership from having to say later on that no one made them aware of this issue.

We’re actually considering sending a love note to the 7th floor. Something like, “Hey, subscribe to Diplopundit. You may not always like what you read but we’ll tell you what do not always want to hear.” Or something like that.

On second thought, maybe we shouldn’t. They might decide to go back to just Internet Explorer and then all of our readers there won’t be able to read this blog ever again. In any case, here is that burn bag submission, repeated for emphasis:

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?


Below from The Skeptical Bureaucrat: Have Hard Hat, Will Travel (used with permission):

Diplopundit’s Burn Bag entry about OBO’s losses in engineering employees made me think back to the retirements and resignations I’ve noticed among my good friends in Overseas Buildings Operations over the last couple years. Yeah, I think there is indeed a pattern there.

A demoralization among OBO’s engineers would kind of make sense in the context of OBO’s overwhelming focus on Design Excellence, or, to use the new name for it, Just Plain Excellence. (The word “design” was dropped from the program’s name about one day after the disastrous House Oversight Committee hearing in which OBO’s Director and Deputy Director were severely criticized for favoring artsy & expensive embassy office buildings over functional & sensibly-priced ones.) In a Design Excellence organization, the architects are firmly in charge and the engineers will always play second fiddle.

According to the Burn Bag information, OBO has lost about 20 percent of its engineering staff. There is substantiation for that claim in the current USAJobs open announcement for Foreign Service Construction Engineers, which says OBO has “many vacancies” in that field:

Job Title: Foreign Service Construction Engineer
Department: Department Of State
Agency: Department of State
Agency Wide Job Announcement Number: CON-2015-0002

MANY vacancies – Washington DC,

A Foreign Service Construction Engineer (FSCE) is an engineer or architect, in the Bureau of Overseas Buildings Operations working specifically in the Office of Construction Management, responsible for managing Department of State construction projects overseas. The FSCE is a member of a U.S. Government team that ensures construction is professionally performed according to applicable plans, specifications, schedules, and standards. The FSCE must adhere to the highest standards of integrity, dependability, attention to detail, teamwork and cooperation while accepting the need to travel, to live overseas, and when necessary, to live away from family.

Those vacancies are for permanent, direct-hire, Foreign Service employees. In addition, there were also personal service contractor vacancies for OBO engineers announced on five days ago. That one is looking for General Engineers, Mechanical Engineers, and Civil/Structural Engineers.

Why isn’t there also a need for Electrical Engineers? After all, you can’t spell Geek without two Es.

It looks like engineers are indeed exiting OBO in large numbers. Why that is, I can’t be sure. But I have to think it is not a good thing for my friends in OBO.


Sources tell us that William Miner, the director of the OBO’s design and engineering office was one of those who left in the last 18 months and Patrick Collins, the chief architect retired in January this year. 

The USAjobs announcement cited by TSB does not indicate how many vacancies OBO plans to fill.  In addition to the open vacancies for Foreign Service Construction Engineers, also has one vacancy for a Supervisory Engineer (DEU) and one vacancy for Supervisory Architect (DEU).  The announcement linked to above includes full-time, non-permanent-temporary non-status jobs with initial 1 year appointment renewable for 4 years. All must be able to obtain and maintain a Top Secret security clearance. Oh, and relocation expenses will NOT be paid.

About OBO

 These are the jobs advertised via


A  2013 HR stats indicate that OBO has 81 construction engineers including 10 who are members of the Senior Foreign Service (SFS).  Those numbers are, obviously, outdated now.   And we’re not sure what “more than 20% deficit” actually means in actual staffing numbers. But if we take a fifth from that HR stats, that’s about 16 engineers gone who must be replaced not just in the staffing chart but also in various construction projects overseas.

Even if OBO can ramp up its hiring the next 12 months, it will still have the challenge of bridging the experience gap. A kind of experience that you can’t reconstruct or replicate overnight unless OBO has an implantable chip issued together with badges for new engineers. Experience takes time, time that OBO does not have in great abundance. Experience that OBO also needs to rebuild every five years since in some of these cases, the new hires are on limited non-career appointments that do not exceed five years.

According to OBO, the State Department is entering an overseas construction program of unprecedented scale in the history of the bureau.  What might also be unprecedented is OBO engineers running out the door in droves.

Why is this happening? We can’t say for sure but …

  • We’ve heard allegations that an official has “run people out of the Department with his/her histrionic behaviors” and other unaddressed issues in the workplace that have generated complaints from staff but remained unresolved.
  • There are also allegations of “poor treatment” of OBO employees and families while in the Department or even when trying to separate.
  • One commenter to the Burn Bag post writes about problems within the Department of “an extreme lack of planning which will have caused our children to attend three schools in three countries just this year alone.”
  • Another commenter writes, “I know it’s TRUE, because I recently departed. Somewhere along the way OBO decided that Design Excellence meant more architecture and less engineering.”
Foggy Bottom, you’ve got a problem. People do not just quit their jobs and the security that goes with it for no reason. Somebody better be home to fix this before it gets much worse.

State Dept Spouse Employment: “Let’s not pretend that this system is working as advertised”

Posted: 12:07 EST


One of our favorite FS bloggers is Kelly from Well That Was Different. She has spent the last 25 years living and traveling in Latin America, Africa and Europe with her FSO spouse.  Kelly recently wrote a blogpost on spouse employment in the Foreign Service.  We excerpted the following with her permission.  We should add that she is not/not an employee of the State Department, so hold your bite, you silly tigers. If the somebodies from the alphabet soup offices read this, we suggest full, undivided attention.

Excerpt from Who Are You Calling Eligible?

Any spouse can tell you about jobs that are advertised, but actually “reserved” for the spouse of a certain officer. Or jobs that are not advertised at all, even though they should be, because someone has already been handpicked for the job. Any spouse can tell you about jobs that were assigned to someone who might not even have arrived at post yet, who might even be on their first FS tour, who simply kicked up more of a fuss than others. Any spouse can tell you about positions that were mysteriously created out of thin air for male spouses who “have” to have a job (sorry, but it happens).

So, let’s not pretend that this system is working as advertised. If it did, then frustration probably wouldn’t be as rampant among the EFMs who choose to participate in it. Spouse employment is always named as the number one morale issue in the Foreign Service. There are valid reasons for this—and they can’t all be blamed on shrinking budgets or post 9/11 security requirements.

A good friend who was once an EFM and is now an FSO says that you have to choose. If you are serious about having a “real” career as the spouse of a Foreign Service Officer, the only option is to become an FSO yourself. If you don’t do that, then forget about having a linear, highly remunerative, career. It’s not a popular point of view, but I have to say, based on over 25 years of experience, that I agree with her. Repeatedly having to compete for scraps at every post is just not a satisfying trajectory. I have noticed that it seems to make a lot of spouses pretty unhappy.

Read in full here.

Only 2,736 eligible family members (EFMs) are working within U.S. missions overseas (pdf). As of November 2014, 64% or 7,449 family members overseas — out of a total of 11,620 — are not working.

Family Member Employment, State Department, Nov 2014

Family Member Employment, State Department, Nov 2014 (click image for larger view)

I went and look at the FLO website just now.  Good heavens, the Global Employment Initiative (GEI) is still on!  That exciting program “helps family members explore employment options and opportunities, and provides career development services.” Want to know how effective is that program? Me, too!


You know who else is back? Madam le Consul! Can you see me doing cartwheels?


Madam le Consul started blogging at The Consuls’ Files — ‘bringing humanity, common sense, realism and humor to the work of the US consul’ — in May 2009.  By October that year, she was gone, chewed to death by bureaucratic tigers. She later came back for sporadic posts.

Today, she told me she’s officially back. And she just revised her 1,000-word disclaimer to 15 words! Her first blog post: Yes, You’re King of the World. She writes:

Madam would like to think that US chiefs of mission will always set the best possible example for their underlings – an example for said underlings to aspire to, be proud of, and remember with fond admiration. Sadly, the newest crop of inspection reports confirms that far too many ambassadors are instead still playing the role of the biggest kid on the block – or the biggest frog in the puddle.
It appears that, still, a knuckle slap by inspectors may or may not lead to a leash-jerk by the appropriate bureau, which may or may not lead to improved behavior, which may or may not last longer than it takes to write a reassuring email and then forgetting about it. But at the same time, all ordinary, well-behaved, well-trained, doing-the-best-they-can FSOs know that they will be the ones who will suffer if they try to follow the rules when the boss’s boss doesn’t want them to. A single sentence in an EER review statement can doom a good officer to years of undeserved 03-dom.

Ah well, as Madam has often said, we don’t do our jobs for thanks. And yet, to all those good officers who do their best under pressure to not do their best from those who should be setting the highest-quality example but instead can’t be bothered, thank you.

Pardon me?  There are folks hyperventilating already in the next corridor? My web doctor says they need to go get a brown bag. Check out The Consuls’ Files and welcome Madam back to the blogosphere!


Related posts:



‘Foreign Service Problems’ Gets a Tumblr — 48 Pages of Hilariousness, Laugh or Else!

— Domani Spero

“The best way to treat obstacles is to use them as stepping-stones. Laugh at them, tread on them, and let them lead you to something better.” 

― Enid BlytonMr Galliano’s Circus


The Tumblr for Foreign Service Problems has been around for many months now. Sometime this past spring it also joined Twitter. Yes, it is hysterical and absolutely spot on. Below are some of our favorite entries to delight your day. Unless, the Foreign Service has also ruined your sense of humor, in which case, we pray you get it back — fast! or that could quickly be a future entry.  With permission from @FS_Problems:

Screen Shot 2014-12-21 at 3.41.44 PM


When someone mistakes you for being the Ambassador’s personal household help rather than a Foreign Service Officer or Specialist

— FS Problems (@FS_Problems) December 15, 2014



When you’re finally somewhere where you don’t have to soak your vegetables in bleach before eating them.

— FS Problems (@FS_Problems) July 13, 2014



When you hear someone complain that their free housing that has more bedrooms than they have family members and is in an expensive city, isn’t big enough.

— FS Problems (@FS_Problems) August 1, 2014




When someone asks GSO, who has no control over the furniture contract, why the Drexel Heritage furniture is so ugly…AGAIN.

— FS Problems (@FS_Problems) May 22, 2014 (Note: GSO for General Services Office)



When someone is rude to an FS spouse at a reception because the spouse “isn’t important enough.”

— FS Problems (@FS_Problems) May 18, 2014



What posts say about life at post and the job when they’re trying to lure bidders into accepting a handshake.

— FS Problems (@FS_Problems) October 27, 2014



When the ELO you’re supervising complains about having to do a visa tour in a visa waiver country when you served at a visa mill before applications were electronic.

— FS Problems (@FS_Problems) December 14, 2014 (Note: ELO for entry level officer)



When you see incompetent people on the promotion list, while excellent people get passed over for promotion.

— FS Problems (@FS_Problems) October 2, 2014



What you do when your boss is looking for someone to work the Shopdel coming to post over Christmas.

— FS Problems (@FS_Problems) December 5, 2014 (Note: Shopdel, a variation of a CODEL, that is, a congressional delegation mainly for shopping).



When someone at home assumes you can get away with anything since you have diplomatic immunity.

— FS Problems (@FS_Problems) November 8, 2014



When a family member back home insists that you must be a spy, because who ever heard of the Foreign Service anyway?

— FS Problems (@FS_Problems) August 20, 2014



When you watch Madam Secretary and can’t stand the inaccuracies.

— FS Problems (@FS_Problems) November 3, 2014



When you think you might disagree with an official policy.

— FS Problems (@FS_Problems) September 22, 2014



Foreign Service truth that they don’t tell you in orientation.

— FS Problems (@FS_Problems) June 13, 2014



When things are going to hell in a handbasket at post but Washington refuses to acknowledge anything’s wrong.

— FS Problems (@FS_Problems) October 21, 2014



What post management says when you’re put in charge of the 4th of July party and given a piddly budget.

— FS Problems (@FS_Problems) October 9, 2014



When you know that you won’t be promoted before you TIS/TIC out and just don’t care any more.

— FS Problems (@FS_Problems) August 22, 2014 (Note: TIS for time-in- service, time in a combination of salary classes, computed from date of entry into the Foreign Service;  TIC for time-in-class, time in a single salary class).



And oh, look, we made it there, too…

That’s really sweet.  Thanks @FS_Problems! Stay sharp.

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Burkina Faso’s Revolution. Or the day mama jumped in the pool fully clothed.

— Domani Spero


One of our readers pointed us to this MamaCongo blogpost (thanks A!).  We’ve requested and was granted permission by the author to excerpt it here. She is the country representative of the Mennonite Central Committee,  a nongovernment organization operating in Burkina Faso, and a marvelous storyteller. In the post below, she tells us a slice of life amidst a crisis in a foreign land. Reminds us of Four Globetrotters’ blogpost about what an FSO and her colleagues went through during the attack of the U.S. Embassy in Tunis in 2012 (see Attack here).

The following post from MamaCongo is a first person account of an American expat during the recent  revolution in Burkina Faso, a land-locked country in the center of West Africa with one of the highest poverty rates in the world.  According to Diplomatic Security’s Crime and Safety Report, Burkina Faso was also rocked by several months of protests, civil unrest, and lawlessness in 2011. In the event of lawlessness or protests by armed groups, including such incidents perpetrated by soldiers and police, the official advice is to seek a safe location, remain indoors, and shelter in place.  The shelter in place advice, of course, that does not work, if the house you’re in is a target for burning, and looting,, as was the case here.


There is a shoutout in the blogpost for Kristin, an FSO at our embassy in Ouagadougou.  For all the consular officers and duty officers out there who seldom get a mention for their work, this one’s for you. And those French, by heavens, they remain cool and collected with smokes and drinks even in a crisis?

* * *

Burkina Faso’s Revolution. Or the day mama jumped in the pool fully clothed.

by Sarah Sensamaust
from MamaCongo

It’s taken us a bit of time to process Burkina Faso’s recent uprising, or revolution, or coup, or junta, or whatever you want to call it. Granted we’re not Burkinabé nor were we anywhere near the front lines, but our expat lives were a bit shaken up. I mean, we’re not in Congo anymore so life should be easy peasy for goodness sake.

In short, Blaise Compaoré, Burkina Faso’s longtime president of 27 years, decided he wanted to change the constitution to extend term limits. But folks had another idea. As in, on the day of the vote thousands of people mobilized to stop it.

On that morning, we planned to introduce the director of our organization (who was visiting from the States – perfect timing) to participants we work with at the prison. No big deal, Adam would take him in the morning before the vote results were announced. I’d stay back in the office and hold down the fort. Of course no one else was dumb enough to come to work that day. So there I sat alone while they headed off to the prison.

About the time they arrived at the prison, the city exploded. Tens of thousands of people protested and then attacked the parliament building setting it on fire. There was gunfire, then helicopters dropped tear gas. I spent the morning pacing up and down the office hallway. Convincing myself my eyes were burning from really intense dust and not tear gas. I also sent messages to Jill because how can this be happening and I have no one to talk to?!

I won’t mention how many paces it took me to remember my children playing outside a few blocks away. But I did eventually call Anastasie and ask her to take the girls inside and close the windows. Clearly she had already done this. Because tear gas.

Meanwhile at the prison, a mob had gathered outside and began banging on the doors, so needless to say, Adam and our director were stuck inside. I’ll keep this exciting part about Adam short due to his issue with reading long posts and all: Prison guards quickly change into military uniforms. Everyone running. Adam stuck inside. Me thinking it’s slightly funny he’s got himself and our director trapped in a prison during a coup. Me waiting a long time, not thinking it’s so funny anymore. Crowds getting bigger. Me making lots of phone calls and driving back and forth through protestors to attempt to free them from prison. They eventually escape with zero help from me. 30 minutes later factory across from the prison is looted and burned. Revolt later that day in the prison and 3 people killed. Us breathing sigh of relief.

The stuck in prison situation is the kind of experience I’m happy to have had when it’s over. It was equal parts tense and exciting and it makes for a good story. All’s well that ends well. We are safe and sound at home. Boy was that crazy! So glad this whole revolution thing is over. I put up a semi-clever post on Facebook with a synopsis of the day. We’re proud of ourselves for distracting our children from the gunfire. They didn’t even notice! We’re so cool. Goodnight.

Compaoré resigned the next morning and left the country in a heavily armored motorcade. A general in the military was then named interim leader. Turns out this guy was not so popular and the city erupted once again. Oh wait, this revolution thing isn’t over yet?

A tactic that proved quite effective the day before was the burning and looting of former Compaoré government official’s houses along with those of his relatives and friends. A house a few blocks in front of our’s was burned as well as another house behind us. We got word that our next door neighbor’s house, with whom we share a wall, was next on the loot and burn list. A mob was on its way. Our neighbor on the other side yelled for us to quick get out of our house.

It’s safe to say this was not my calmest moment in motherhood. I went into full panic mode and ushered my children next door – to the safe neighbor’s house. We’ve been down this leave-the-house-and-all-of-your-belongings road before in Congo, so I grabbed their growth chart off the wall, the baby quilt and the princess dresses. Because I can hide from our children the fact that our house has been burned to the ground, but they’re definitely going to notice if their princess dresses are missing.

We took shelter next door. And again the pacing sets in. At this point we crossed a line we had never crossed before. Our children were scared and crying and asking what was going on. Guards were gathered in the road. And everyone was just waiting for the inevitable to happen. It didn’t ease our minds that a document had been looted from the president’s brother’s house, photocopied in mass and distributed throughout the city listing the addresses of houses that the president had bought for his friends. Our neighbor’s house number was #2 on the list.

I kind of just wanted the looters and burners to show up so it could just happen and be over. Someone suggested I call the embassy. After 6 years in Congo, I have their emergency number on speed dial. I don’t know how many times in Kinshasa I had to call an annoyed 18-year-old Marine and explain how we got our car booted in the middle of the road again.

Here in Ouagadougou it’s a kind woman named Kristin, who bless her heart, must have been a 911 operator or worked at a suicide prevention hotline in a previous life. She was so sweet and encouraging and for the first time since this whole ordeal began, I was talking with someone to whom I didn’t need to show a brave face. I started to tear up, so I took myself into my neighbor’s garage and had a good cry with dear, sweet Kristin. (Kristin, I hope you never read this. I would like to remain the anonymous, unstable expat caller.)

For whatever reason the mob had yet to come and it’s clear that pacing at our neighbor’s house all day was not a good plan for anyone. So we scurried across the street to distract our children and let them swim at the pool of our neighborhood French compound.

And folks, I kid you not. Those Frenchies were smoking and drinking and having a grand old time behind their wall, not 20 feet away from our panic attack across the street.

Our girls soon forgot their trauma and swam and joined in the carefree French time. Meanwhile, Adam and I were poolside sending emails and making hurried phone calls to our organization’s headquarters in the States, all the while keeping an ear out for approaching angry mobs.

At this point, as if our world had not stopped already, I glanced in the pool and Ani was bobbing and gasping for air in the deep end. So naturally, I jump in the pool, in front of all those relaxed French folk – fully clothed, leather clogs and all – to pull that poor girl out.

I swear to you, at this moment another military plane buzzed overhead and after the near-burning of our house and the near-drowning of my child, I took a moment to tread water and have a mini breakdown right there in the pool. I’ll never forget Adam and our director looking down at me, offering hands to help me out. But I just stayed. And treaded water. And cried.

And then my loving husband said, “That was crazy. It was kind of embarrassing that you had to jump in the pool like that to save her, but none of these French people even noticed. No one turned their heads. How are they so cool about everything?!”

I spent the rest of the day sitting by the pool. Sopping wet. You know, because of no spare clothes due to being evacuated from my house and all. Then after the curfew set in (which is announced in the curious way of police going through the streets and shooting in the air) our house was still standing and it was deemed safe to go home.

Our neighbors in question had rallied their burliest male relatives to set up camp outside their house to protect it. We managed to fall asleep that night, but it’s practically impossible to distinguish between the noises of a mob of men guarding a house and a mob of men attacking a house.

We debriefed with the girls and asked them how they felt when we had to leave our house and run next door. Because afterall, they were upset and scared and I don’t want that coming back at us in adolescence.

They didn’t really seem to remember it, so we didn’t press it. They were too distracted and confused about why mama jumped and cried in the pool. “No really, why were you crying in the pool?” they asked, “And why didn’t you put on your bathing suit first?” A full month later, they are still talking about this. “Hey! Remember that time mama jumped in the pool with her clothes on?!”

Thank the lord they’re not asking, “Remember that time we ran screaming from our house because we thought it was going to burn down?”

There’s more.  Read the entire blogpost here via MamaCongo.

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Related posts:








Retired FSO Richard Boly Bikes Solo Across America – His Top 10 Reasons

— Domani Spero

Richard Boly served as a Peace Corps volunteer in Ecuador in the 1980s. In early 1990s, he  joined the Foreign Service. He was posted overseas in Santo Domingo, Quito, Asuncion and Rome.  He became the director of the Office of eDiplomacy in 2009 and served there for over four years. He was a 2012 Sammies finalist for  creating “innovative social media and online platforms for State Department employees around the world to collaborate, share information and connect with important outside audiences.” 

Last year, he retired from the State Department.  Today, his title is simply pedaller-in-chief, as he bikes across the United States from WashDC to California. Here are his reasons for this adventure:


Screen Shot 2014-06-01


1. (romantic) In the summer of ’88 I was going to bike cross county from Portland, OR. The day before departure, my bike was stolen. I took it as a sign to quit putzing around and get a job. A month later I was working in NY, where I met my bride to be! In hindsight, I am soooo lucky my bike was stolen, but I still want to bike the US.
2. (selfish) Since 2007 I have gone from 175 lbs to 205. Time to reboot my metabolism!
3. (nostalgic) My mother was born in rural Kansas, my father in rural Missouri. I would like to have a glimpse into the country and people they came from.
4. (practical) My wife, Wendy, and son, Ian, can practice for what life would be like if I were abducted by aliens ;-)
5. (appropriate) The day after I retired from the State Department, I began a consulting job. It was a great gig, but I felt like I didn’t really celebrate retirement. This will be a two month celebration.
6. (reflective) Short of becoming a monk, I can’t think of a better way to plumb your depths.
7. (aspirational) I really love having clear, challenging goals that I can have quick feedback on success or not. I will wake up every morning with a distance goal and by sunset will have met it (or not).
8. (quixotic) I am a volcano of ideas, but not a dreamer. The satisfaction for me is not in the dreaming, but in the doing – turning the idea into reality. Until I dip my front tire in SF Bay, I am just another Don Quixote.
9. (NOT bigger than me) I am not riding for any greater cause. I am just a middle aged white guy on a bike to see America.
10. (pulse) I live inside the bell jar that is the Washington, DC beltway. I am really looking forward to connecting with people on the outside.

Awesome!  Follow his trip via tumblr at  Pedal Quicker, Time is Catching Up (Just Another Middle-Aged White Guy, Rebooting with a Solo Ride from DC to SF) and via Twitter @Beaurichly.

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Ex-Diplomat With Zero Acting Experience Wants to Join Cast of The Bold and the Beautiful

— By Domani Spero

His name is James L. Bruno.  His LinkedIn profile says he was a Foreign Service officer for twenty-three years with prior experience in military intelligence and journalism.  He previously served in South East Asia, Australia, Pakistan, Cuba, GTMO and Washington, DC. He is also the author of political thrillers, Chasm, Permanent Interests, Tribe and Havana Queen, all available via  Now he wants to join the cast of The Bold and the Beautiful and try his luck as “a soap opera matinée idol.”  

What the hey?!

Off the bat, we can’t really say what prompted this ex-diplomat to want to join B&B.  But we should note that on November 6, 2013, President Obama announced his intent to nominate Colleen Bradley Bell as the next U.S. Ambassador to Hungary.   Later, we discovered that Mr. Bruno has written an open letter to Bradley Bell, the Executive Producer of the CBS soap opera who is also the husband of the nominee to Hungary. Mr. Bruno published his letter three days after the White House announcement.  Mr. Bruno writes:

“I hereby submit my application to join the cast of your wildly successful soap opera, The Bold and the Beautiful. After reading about your wife, Colleen, a producer for B&B, being named by President Obama to be our next ambassador to Hungary, I thought, I too, can realize one of my wildest dreams: become a soap opera matinée idol.

Now, looking at my résumé, you might think, “Hmm. Very thin. No acting experience. No background in showbiz. He’s very good looking though!”

Mr. Bruno who at one point in his diplomatic career was Charge d’Affaires in Vietnam explains the compelling  reason for this desired career change:

“I’ll confess I haven’t watched a soap opera since my mother caught highlights of As the World Turns during breaks from housework when I was a little kid. But, having failed at getting my own presidential appointment to embassy Rome or Paris because political hack fundraisers always ace out career diplomats for these posts, I need to make a career change.”

Well, so there you go, some sort of non-foreign exchange, is it?  Mr. Bruno’s elevator pitch to B&B also includes what he can offer the show:

“…[H]ere’s what I can offer to CBS’s B&B. Hollywood and Foggy Bottom have much in common: plenty of contrived dramas, glitzy superficiality, fragile runaway egos, Machiavellian intrigues and backstabbing. I was immersed in this bizarre culture for two-and-a-half decades. It’s all second nature to me. And here’s how I propose you use it on your show once you’ve hired me on: write me in as J. Huntington Outerbridge III, an effete, conniving, snarky diplomat who sleeps with all the beautiful female characters while engaged in high-stakes diplomacy to foil nefarious plots by al-Qaida and the Iranian Revolutionary Guard.”

Ouchy!  He did mention something about ratings “going through the roof” so that’s good, right?

Read his whole letter at Diplo Denizen – The American Diplomatic Spoils System, Part III: My Job Application to the World’s Most Popular Soap Opera. Try not to fall off your chair.

Anyway, apparently, résumés are also on the way to Ambassador James Costos, HBO V-P and current U.S. ambassador to Spain, and Ambassador Charles Rivkin, ex-CEO of The Jim Henson Company, and most recent U.S. ambassador to France.

Mr. Bruno calls it a “spoils system.”

He’s being diplomatic, of course and just want to be a soap opera matinée idol.


Ninety-Five Years Ago, We Tried to Export American Thanksgiving Day Around The World

— Domani Spero

Via,  below is an excerpt from David Langbart’s The Text Message blog post from November 20, 2012 about  Thanksgiving Day 1918. The Text Message is the blog of the Textual Services Division at the National Archives.

“Thanksgiving is considered by many to be the quintessential American holidayAs Thanksgiving 1918 approached, American had more reason than the usual to give thanks.  On November 11, 1918, Germany signed the armistice that brought World War I to an effective end.  In the wake of that event, the United States made an attempt to broaden the application of Thanksgiving to a selected world-wide audience.

On November 13, the Department of State sent a the following telegram, personally drafted and signed by Secretary of State Robert Lansing, to its diplomatic representatives in the capitals of the victorious powers.  The message went to the American embassy or legation in Belgium, Brazil, China, Cuba, France, Great Britain, Greece, Guatemala, Haiti, Honduras, Italy, Japan, Nicaragua, Panama, Portugal, Roumania, Russia, and Siam.”

langbart1_thanksgiving 1918

Click on image to read the cable)

Here is the text of Secretary of State Lansing’s telegram above:

Nov 13, 1918
“You will at the first opportunity offered call attention of the Government, to which you are accredited, to the fact that on the last Thursday of November this country according to customs will celebrate a national day of thanksgiving and prayer. You may add that at this time, when there are such profound reasons for gratitude, the other victorious nations may consider it appropriate to designate Thursday, November twenty-eight, a national day of thanksgiving for the blessings bestowed upon us.”

Mr. Langbart writes:

Not all countries responded.  Among the responses, the government of Greece appointed November 28 a national holiday to celebrate “deliverance from the yoke of foreign domination;” in Brazil, the government declared November 28 a day of thanksgiving and rejoicing and further stated that “Brazil wishes to associate herself in this thanksgiving with the people of North America who both in time of peace and war have been her friends;” and in great Britain, while there was not enough time to make arrangements for a general celebration, a service took place at Saint Martin in the Fields, attended by a representative of the King, other principals of the UK government, and members of the U.S. embassy.  Several other countries designated November 28 a national holiday.

Mr. Langbart notes that President Woodrow Wilson (1913-1921) also issued the traditional Thanksgiving Proclamation on November 19, 1918, and it was distributed via telegram to American diplomatic and consular employees around the World.  Click here to see the two-page telegram.

Thanksgiving Day became an official Federal holiday in 1863 under President Abraham Lincoln who proclaimed it  a national day of “Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens”, to be celebrated on Thursday, November 26.  That 1863 proclamation was reportedly written by Secretary of State William Seward, and the original was in his handwriting.  The holiday was not always a paid Federal holiday nor always on the fourth Thursday of November.  According to the CRS (pdf), a law signed by FDR on December 26, 1941, settled the dispute and permanently established Thanksgiving Day as a federal holiday to be observed on the fourth Thursday in November.

🍹 Happy Thanksgiving everyone!  Thank you for making us part of your day.  And if you have a bird in this year’s White House Hunger Games, may the odds be ever in your favor🍹!! 

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Joshua Foust on The Uncomfortable Questions Not Raised by Benghazi

In the most recent Oversight Committee hearing, State Department’s Gregory Hicks mentioned that there were 55 people in the two annexes in Benghazi.  Earlier reports says that a total of 30 people were evacuated from Benghazi. Only  7 of the 30 evacuees were employees of the State Department.  So if 55 is correct, there were actually 48 CIA folks in Benghazi.  How come no one is throwing a tantrum to hear what they have to say?

Joshua Foust writes that the press and Congress are asking the wrong questions.


The eight-month controversy over the attacks on a U.S. outpost in Benghazi reintensified last week, as the former Deputy Chief of Mission in Tripoli testified before a panel at the House of Representatives. The hearing, however, seemed to focus not on the attack itself, but rather on what happened afterward: the content of the talking points handed to UN Ambassador Susan Rice, and whether President Obama referred to it as terrorism quickly enough.Indeed, the entire scandal, as it exists in the public, is a bizarre redirection from the serious failures for which no one has yet answered.
The CIA’s conduct during and after Benghazi should be the real scandal here, not the order in which certain keywords make their way into press conferences. It is a tragedy that two diplomats died, including the first ambassador killed in the line of duty since 1979. Sadly, they are part of a growing number of American diplomats hurt or killed in the line of duty. Embassies and diplomatic facilities were attacked 13 times under President Bush, resulting in dozens of dead but little action. If future Benghazis are to be avoided, we need to grapple with why the attack and our inadequate response unfolded the way it did.

Many of those issues were raised in the Accountability Review Board report that the State Department released last December. But to this day, the complicated nature of CIA operations and, more importantly, how they put at risk the other American personnel serving alongside them have gone largely unremarked upon. It’s past time to demand answers from Langley.


Read in full here.

Joshua Foust is a freelance writer and an analyst. Check out his website here:; follow him on Twitter @joshuafoust.

This piece originally appeared in Medium, a new elegant publishing platform from Evan Williams, of Blogger and Twitter fame. Check it out.


— DS











El Snarkistani: 5 Things You Should Know About Dead Kids in Kabul

El Snarkistani of It’s Always Sunny in Kabul was gone for a couple of weeks of R&R.  We miss him when he’s gone and we’re always happy to see him return to his blog. But then he blogs about the 5 Things You Should Know About Dead Kids in Kabul which makes us throw shoes at the dark, surly skies.

Because it’s Massoud Day, or because it’s a Saturday, or because the CIA is here, or because the State Department just declared the Haqqani network a Foreign Terrorist Organization, the Taliban/ISI/Haqqani convinced a street kid to fill a backpack with explosives and detonate it near the front entrance to ISAF headquarters here in Kabul.

I, like most people who have worked with ISAF/the Embassy/the Afghan government in that part of Kabul have walked that stretch of road a lot. We know the kids that hang out there, sometimes by name, mostly by whatever trinkets they’re trying to sell this week.

As tragic as today’s events were, and believe me, I’m trying like hell to keep typing and not just sit here in a pool of my own self-pitying grief for kids I barely knew in a place I’ve come to love at some level, it matters a whole lot more than just our (hopefully) usual human response to tragedy.

So, in keeping with a format that a) keeps my ADD at bay and b) lets me make a list, here’s 5 reasons why some dead kids in Kabul should matter.

Go here to read the 5 reasons.

His reason #3: This is going to be blamed on the Haqqani.   On September 8, Afghan Interior Ministry spokesman Sediq Sediqi  blamed Saturday’s attack on the Haqqani network but did not say how he came to that conclusion.

CBS News report that the bomber, who Kabul police estimated to be about 14 years old, struck just before noon on a street that connects the alliance headquarters to the nearby U.S. and Italian embassies, a large U.S. military base and the Afghan Defense Ministry.  He reportedly detonated his explosives while walking down the street, according to Kabul police. The Ministry of Interior said some of the victims were street children.  The NYT has additional coverage of this attach here.

At the end of his piece, El Snarkistani asks, “After 11 years, billions of dollars, and thousands of lives (most of them Afghan), are we really doing any good that’s going to last more than a minute after we shut off the aid spigot?”

Good question. Are we?