Category Archives: Career Employees

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

Former State Dept DAS Raymond Maxwell Alleges Benghazi Document Scrub Pre-ARB Investigation

Domani Spero

 

Today via  Sharyl Attkisson of the Daily Signal:

As the House Select Committee on Benghazi prepares for its first hearing this week, a former State Department diplomat is coming forward with a startling allegation: Hillary Clinton confidants were part of an operation to “separate” damaging documents before they were turned over to the Accountability Review Board investigating security lapses surrounding the Sept. 11, 2012, terrorist attacks on the U.S. mission in Benghazi, Libya.

According to former Deputy Assistant Secretary Raymond Maxwell, the after-hours session took place over a weekend in a basement operations-type center at State Department headquarters in Washington, D.C.
[...]
When he arrived, Maxwell says he observed boxes and stacks of documents. He says a State Department office director, whom Maxwell described as close to Clinton’s top advisers, was there. Though the office director technically worked for him, Maxwell says he wasn’t consulted about her weekend assignment.

“She told me, ‘Ray, we are to go through these stacks and pull out anything that might put anybody in the [Near Eastern Affairs] front office or the seventh floor in a bad light,’” says Maxwell. He says “seventh floor” was State Department shorthand for then-Secretary of State Clinton and her principal advisors.

“I asked her, ‘But isn’t that unethical?’ She responded, ‘Ray, those are our orders.’ ”

Continue reading, Benghazi Bombshell: Clinton State Department Official Reveals Details of Alleged Document Review. 

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A quick note: We’ve previously written about Raymond Maxwell in this blog; the latest was this oneThe Cautionary Tale of Raymond Maxwell: When the Bureaucracy Bites, Who Gets The Blame?  Last year, we also posted, with his permission,  his poem “Invitation“ in this blog.  (see Raymond Maxwell: Former Deputy Asst Secretary Removed Over Benghazi Pens a Poem

In Ms. Attkisson’s report, Mr. Maxwell criticizes the ARB for failing to interview key people at the White House, State Department and the CIA, including Secretary Clinton.  We actually see no point in the ARB interviewing Secretary Clinton, given that she tasked the ARB to do the investigation and that the report is submitted to her. The regs as it exist right now does not even require that the Secretary submits the actual report to Congress, only that the Secretary of State “report to the Congress on any program recommendations and the actions taken on them.”

12 FAM 036.3: The Secretary will, not later than 90 days after the receipt of a Board’s program recommendations, submit a report to the Congress on each such recommendation and the action taken or intended to be taken with respect to that recommendation.

So we’re not hung up on the fact that she was not interviewed  But who gets the actual ARB report is probably one more thing that Congress really do need to fix in the regs.

Mr. Maxwell also named other officials who allegedly were never interviewed by the ARB: 1) Deputy Secretary of State Thomas Nides, who managed department resources in Libya; 2) Assistant Secretary of State for Political Military Affairs Andrew Shapiro; and 3) White House National Security Council Director for Libya Ben Fishman.

ARB Benghazi in its public report never identified all the people it interviewed in the conduct of its investigation. ABB Kenya/Tanzania did that and the list is online.   We still cannot understand why those names in the Benghazi investigation are not public. What kind of accountability is it when we can’t even tell who the ARB investigators talked to? Redact the names of the CIA people if needed, but the names of those interviewed should be public unless there is a compelling security reason not to do so. There is an opportunity here for the State Department to declassify that part of ARB Benghazi’s report.

At the heart of this latest bombshell on Benghazi is that the weekend document session, according to Mr. Maxwell, was reportedly held “in the basement of the State Department’s Foggy Bottom headquarters in a room underneath the “jogger’s entrance.”

This would be the 21st Street entrance; and the room is underneath the jogger’s entrance [insert room number for prospective Foggy Bottom visitors].  We understand that FOIA has had offices there in the past but that most of the FOIA offices moved to SA-2.  Apparently, the only office the A organization chart shows to be in the Harry S. Truman basement are B2A61 the Facilities Managment Office and B258 the Office of General Services Management.  But which office is called the Emergency Management Operations Center?  Some media sites are already calling this the “boiler room operation.”

We have generally been disappointed with the Benghazi investigations.  The fact that it has become a political football to throw back and forth with all the offense and defense attendant of the game makes us cringe; even more so, every “new” book  or revelation gave us a sad.

But we think this one is a most serious allegation and cannot be swatted away by a  State Department spokesman simply calling the implication that documents were withheld “totally without merit.”  A State Department spokesman also told Ms. Attkisson that “it would have been impossible for anybody outside the Accountability Review Board (ARB) to control the flow of information because the board cultivated so many sources.” So, hypothetically, if folks scrubbed through the documents as alleged, then an instruction went down to IT to removed those docs from the system — that could not really happen, could it?

If this is not true, if no document scrub happened in the basement of the State Department as alleged by a former Deputy Assistant Secretary of State, then we’d like the agency spokesman to say so clearly and call out Mr. Maxwell on this.   Security access records should also indicate if these five individuals were at the State Department that weekend, when this alleged “review” took place.

So, let’s hear it people. But. Without the word salad, please.

In any case, now that this allegation is out in the open, the individuals named or positions cited in the Attkisson report are presumably candidates for an appearance before the Benghazi Select Committee:

1)  two officials, close confidants of Secretary Clinton (Congressman Chaffetz said that he was told then-Clinton Chief of Staff Cheryl Mills and Deputy Chief of Staff Jake Sullivan were there and overseeing the operation)

2) one office director (??? from NEA bureau)

3) one intern (??? about to become the second most famous intern in Wash, D.C.)

4) State Department ombudsman (Office of the Ombudsman – Ombudsman Shireen Dodson)

One entity not included in the report but potentially a candidate for an appearance in the Select Committee is the Office of the Inspector General. In September 2013, State/OIG under the then acting OIG issued a report on the “process by which Accountability Review Boards (ARB/Board) are established, staffed, supported, and conducted as well as the measures to track implementation of ARB recommendations.”

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Filed under Career Employees, Congress, FSOs, Hearings, Hillary, Leaks|Controversies, Media, Org Life, Political Appointees, Politics, Secretary of State, State Department, Technology and Work

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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Death in the State Dept Family: Rayda Nadal, Foreign Service; Durron Swain, Civil Service – RIP

– Domani Spero

 

On March 3, 2014 we wrote about the death of  Deron Durron Swain, a State Department employee assigned to the Miami Passport Office as reported by  Local10 in Miami. Click here for the CBS Miami report the following day. The June 2014 issue of State Magazine includes the following obituary:

Screen Shot 2014-08-16

Extracted from Obituaries, State Magazine, June 2014

The July/August issue of State Magazine includes the following obituary for Rayda Nadal, a Foreign Service OMS who died in Sweden.  The notice did not mention that she died from the gas explosion while posted at the U.S. Embassy in Moscow, but we know that the OMS injured in that explosion died in Linkoping, Sweden. See US Embassy Moscow: FS Employee Hurt in Apartment Building Gas Explosion Dies. If anyone  has an update on the promised investigation, we’d like to know.

Screen Shot 2014-08-18

Extracted from Obituaries, State Magazine, July/August 2014

We still think that the State Department should be compelled to report the deaths of official Americans overseas. DOD identifies its casualties — name, rank, age, state of residence, date and place of death, and cause of death — why not the State Department?

At a minimum there ought to be  an annual reporting of all deaths from unnatural causes of USG personnel and family members on government orders under chief of mission authority.

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State Dept Office of Inspector General Gets Another Personnel Shuffle

– Domani Spero

 

Last October we posted about the personnel changes at the State Department Office of Inspector General (see New Faces, Old Faces — State Dept Office of Inspector General Gets a Make-Over).

Screen Shot 2014-08-02

On July 1, 2014, Wesley T. Kilgore was appointed Acting Assistant Inspector General for Investigations.  He succeeds Anna S. Gershman who was appointed Assistant IG for Investigations from January 3, 2011 until this year. The official word from OIG when we asked about her departure was: “Ms. Gershman was eligible and retired from federal service.” A side note here — each year, the President recognizes an esteemed group of career Senior Executives and senior career employees with the Presidential Rank Award. In 2013, Ms. Gershman was one of the seven finalist for the State Department (pdf) and the only one from the Office of Inspector General.

The State/OIG website indicates “Bio for Mr. Kilgore pending” but according to his LinkedIn profile, until his appointment Mr. Kilgore has been the Deputy Assistant Inspector General for Investigations since December 2011. Prior to coming to State, he was the Director of the U.S. Army CID, Major Fraud Unit.  Mr. Kilgore is now the third deputy promoted to head the directorates where prior incumbents departed in the last 12 months.

Norman Brown was appointed Acting Assistant Inspector General for Audits on September 13, 2013. Previous to that appointment, he was the deputy for the Audit directorate.  He is no longer in an acting capacity and is now the Assistant IG for Audit.   He succeeded Evelyn R. Klemstine who was appointed AIG for Audits in November 2009. State Magazine’s October 2013 issue listed  Ms. Klemstine as retired from the Civil Service.

On September 4, 2013, Karen Ouzts was appointed as the new Assistant Inspector General for Administration.  She was previously the deputy at State/OIG’s Office of General Counsel. Ms. Ouzts succeeded David M. Yeutter who was appointed as OIG’s Executive Officer on October 2009. Mr. Yeutter is a Foreign Service specialist who presumably returned to a regular assignment in the Foreign Service.

Emilia Di Santo who was appointed Acting Deputy IG on October 1, 2013 remains in that acting position.  She succeeded Harold Geisel, the Deputy IG who served as OIG boss for the last five years while the State Department did not have a Senate-confirmed Inspector General.

Robert Peterson is currently serving as Assistant Inspector General for Inspections. He has been assigned to the Department of State’s Office of Inspector General since 1987. He was appointed  Assistant Inspector General for Inspections since March 2003 and to-date remains in that position.

It is likely that many more new faces will be joining the office. In addition to recent new hires, the positions for director for Congressional and Public Affairs and the deputy AIG for Middle East Region Operations are still listed as vacant.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Congress to State Dept: We Want All Your Stuff on New London Embassy Except Paperclips

– Domani Spero

 

We recently blogged about the congressional hearing on the new embassy construction (see New Embassy Construction Hearing: Witnesses Not Invited, and What About the Blast-Proof Glass?).  Well, a couple of weeks ago, the  House Oversight and Government Reform Committee sent a letter to Secretary Kerry asking for documents and information on the new embassy construction.  Presumably in preparation for the hearing.  Almost half of the docs requested were related to the New London Embassy.  Did not look like the Committee got the docs that they wanted in time for the hearing.  In any case, below is a partial list; it looks like they wanted everything including drafts and all, except paperclips.

Giant paper clip at BI Commercial College near...

Giant paper clip at BI Commercial College near Oslo (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

We must say that the HOGR has not been short on its version of HPD … way too much emotion and drama that draws attention to themselves and the nearest camera for our taste.  Really, if they just do their jobs without too much theatrics, our institutions would be a lot better for it.  Having said that, it’s the only Congress we’ve got and they have an oversight role to play even if more than one in five Americans (22%) are ready to start over entirely after all members are fired.  For now, we’re stuck with these folks.  Luckily for us, not all of them will stay in Congress for life. So — please give these angry folks the documents they need even if they occasionally drive you nuts; they may not be there next year. They want a cost/benefit analysis, give it to them, too. We suspect the analysis would be useful anyways, and these folks would have to write their own scripts on what to say on teevee.

Oh hey, they want to know about the blast testing of the curtain wall, so do we!

 

20.   All Action Memoranda and Information Memoranda, including drafts, referring or relating to the New Embassy Compound in London, United Kingdom.

21.   All documents referring or relating to Value Engineering Studies relating to the New Embassy Compound in London, United Kingdom, including all versions of any Value Engineering Studies.

22.   All documents and communications relating to changes and notices to proceed relating to the New Embassy Compound in London, United Kingdom, including, but not limited to, all such communications with: a) KieranTimberlake Architects; b) B.L. Harbert International;  and, c) Weidlinger and Associates.

23.   All documents referring or relating to congressional Construction Security Certification for the New Embassy Compound in London, United Kingdom, including, but not limited to, all communications with the Office of the Director of National Intelligence.

24.   All documents and communications referring or relating to Value Added Tax (VAT) relating to the New Embassy Compound in London, United Kingdom.

25.   All documents and communications referring or relating to blast testing of the curtain wall, and curtain wall components, of the New Embassy Compound in London, United Kingdom, including, but not limited to, all such communications with: a) the Bureau of Diplomatic Security; b) KieranTimberlake Architects; c) B.L. Harbert International; d) Weidlinger and Associates.

26.   All documents and communications referring or relating to the application of General Services Administration (GSA) Performance Conditions to blast testing of the curtain wall, and curtain wall components, of the New Embassy Compound in London, United Kingdom, including, but not limited to, communications between OBO and the Bureau of Diplomatic Security.

27.   All documents and communications relating to the engineering and legal justifications for applying standards other than those of the Bureau of Diplomatic Security to blast testing of the curtain wall, and curtain wall components, of the New Embassy Compound in London, United Kingdom.

28.   A document identifying all State Department overseas properties, the physical security of which were designed, tested or certified to GSA standards.

29.   All documents and communications relating to the decision to conduct blast testing of the curtain wall, and curtain wall components, of the New Embassy Compound in London, United Kingdom, in both Ft. Polk, Louisiana and Socorro, New Mexico.

30.   The U.S. Army Engineer Research and Development Center report relating to blast testing of the curtain wall or curtain wall components, of the New Embassy Compound in London, United Kingdom which occurred in Fort Polk, Louisiana.

31.   All reports prepared for the Committees on Appropriations on the New Embassy Compound in London, United Kingdom which, pursuant to P.L. 112-74, Section 7004 (f)(2), were to be delivered every six months from 60 days after enactment, and which were to include revenue and cost projections, cost containment efforts, project schedule and actual project status, the impact of currency exchange rate fluctuations on project revenue and costs, and options for modifying the scope of the project in the event that proceeds of real property sales in London fall below the total cost of the project.

32.   The estimated cost per square meter to rent office space in the vicinity of the current U.S. Embassy in London, United Kingdom.

33.   All documents related to any lease-back of current U.S. Embassy in London, United Kingdom if the New Embassy Compound in London is not completed on schedule.

 

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Filed under Career Employees, Congress, Construction, Contractors, Foreign Affairs, Govt Reports/Documents, Hearings, Politics, Realities of the FS, State Department

Colombian Nationals Extradited to U.S. For Bogotá Death of DEA Special Agent Terry Watson

– Domani Spero

 

In June 2013, we blogged about the death of DEA Special Agent Terry Watson in Bogota, Colombia (see US Embassy Bogota: DEA Special Agent James “Terry” Watson Killed in Colombia).  On July 2, 2014, the Department of Justice announced the extradition of seven Colombian nationals charged in connection with the DEA agent’s death.

Via USDOJ:

Seven Colombian nationals were extradited to the United States to face charges relating to the kidnapping and murder of Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) Special Agent James Terry Watson.
[...]
“DEA Special Agent James ‘Terry’ Watson was a brave and talented special agent who represented everything good about federal law enforcement and our DEA family,” said DEA Administrator Leonhart.  “We will never forget Terry’s sacrifice on behalf of the American people during his 13 years of service, nor will DEA ever forget the outstanding work of the Colombian National Police and our other law enforcement partners.  Their efforts quickly led to the arrest and extradition of those accused of committing this heinous act.”

All of the defendants were indicted by a grand jury in the Eastern District of Virginia on July 18, 2013.   Gerardo Figueroa Sepulveda, 39; Omar Fabian Valdes Gualtero, 27; Edgar Javier Bello Murillo, 27; Hector Leonardo Lopez, 34; Julio Estiven Gracia Ramirez, 31; and Andrés Alvaro Oviedo-Garcia, 22, were each charged with two counts of second degree murder, one count of kidnapping and one count of conspiracy to kidnap.  Oviedo-Garcia was also charged with two counts of assault.   Additionally, the grand jury indicted Wilson Daniel Peralta-Bocachica, 31, also a Colombian national, for his alleged efforts to destroy evidence associated with the murder of Special Agent Watson.

The defendants arrived in the United States on July 1, 2014, and made their initial appearance in federal court in Alexandria, Virginia, today before United States Magistrate Judge Thomas Rawles Jones Jr.   A detention hearing is scheduled for July 9, 2014, before United States Magistrate Judge Ivan D. Davis.
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According to the indictment, Figueroa, Valdes, Bello, Lopez, Gracia and Oviedo-Garcia were part of a kidnapping and robbery conspiracy that utilized taxi cabs in Bogotá, Colombia, to lure victims into a position where they could be attacked and robbed.  Once an intended victim entered a taxi cab, the driver of the taxi cab would signal other conspirators to commence the robbery and kidnapping operation.

The indictment alleges that on June 20, 2013, while he was working for the U.S. Mission in Colombia, Special Agent Watson entered a taxi cab operated by one of the defendants.  Special Agent Watson was then allegedly attacked by two other defendants – one who stunned Special Agent Watson with a stun gun and another who stabbed Special Agent Watson with a knife, resulting in his death.

On July 1, 2014, the Government of Colombia extradited the defendants to the United States.

This case was investigated by the FBI, DEA and DSS, including the Office of Special Investigations and the Regional Security Office at Embassy Bogatá, in close cooperation with Colombian authorities, and with assistance from INTERPOL and the Justice Department’s Office of International Affairs.

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US Embassy Peru: The Ghost of Ambassador Past

– Domani Spero

 

State/OIG recently posted its inspection report of the U.S. Embassy in Lima, Peru with 30 recommendations and 33 informal recommendations. The inspection took place in Washington, DC, between January 6 and February 4, 2014, and in Lima, Peru, between February 5 and March 4, 2014. Ambassador Gene Christy (team leader), Leslie Gerson (deputy team leader), Thomas Allsbury, Laurent Charbonnet, Eric Chavera, Leo Hession, Tracey Keiter, Keith Powell, Ashea Riley, Richard Sypher, Alexandra Vega, Steven White, Roman Zawada, and Barbara Zigli conducted the inspection.

According to the OIG report, Peru is the world’s largest producer of cocaine and the second largest cultivator of coca. The current Peruvian administration has reportedly elevated combatting narcotics production and trafficking to a “national security” priority. Embassy Lima’s priorities are “to support the Government of Peru to defeat narcotics and terrorist organizations; increase trade, investment, economic growth, and social development; and protect the country’s unique environmental resources.

Mission Peru is a large operation with more than 900 employees as of December 2013. Post is headed by Chargé d’Affaires Michael J. Fitzpatrick who arrived in August 2011 and Acting Deputy Chief of Mission Jeffrey M. Hovenier who arrived in July 2011.  The name of the previous ambassador, a career FSO who previously served as ambassador at another WHA post was politely omitted from the report.

On June 19, 2014, career diplomat, Brian Nichols was confirmed by the Senate as the next ambassador to Peru.  This is his first ambassadorial appointment.  He was previously DCM at US Embassy Bogota and the Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary in the Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs. He served at Embassy Lima as a first tour officer in 1989. We hope he can pull this mission together. Pardon me?  The mission doesn’t need to be pulled together, just the Front Office?

Below are some of its key judgments from the IG report:

  •  In the past 3 years, Embassy Lima registered many successes in building a strategic United States-Peru partnership, particularly in counternarcotics, trade promotion, security, law enforcement, good governance, and development.
  • The political and economic sections produce relevant and high-quality reporting that is instrumental to Washington policy making.
  • The previous Ambassador put into place many processes and practices that had a negative effect on embassy morale. The chargé d’affaires and acting deputy chief of mission hesitated for months to make changes to improve the mission’s working environment but began to do so recently.
  • The public affairs section should establish clearer priorities and exert stronger missionwide leadership on long-term public diplomacy planning.
  • The management section can improve its generally good service by emphasizing communication with other agencies and offices that rely on the procurement, motor pool, and travel units.
  • The consular workload is growing steadily, and section leadership needs to improve work flow, efficiency, officer training, and the warden system.

Leadership Style, Morale and Paperwork Gone Nuts

  • Embassy Lima did not have a Senate-confirmed ambassador in place at the time of the inspection. After the previous Ambassador’s departure in September 2013, the deputy chief of mission (DCM) became chargé d’affaires, and the head of the mission’s international narcotics and law enforcement affairs (INL) section became acting DCM. Under the previous Ambassador, the mission convinced the Department and highest levels of the U.S. Government to work with President Humala, [REDACTED] (b) (5). Working closely with Peruvian Government, business, and civil society leaders, the mission racked up successes in the pursuit of counternarcotics and antiterrorism goals, in advancing trade growth under the bilateral trade agreement, and in building a strategic partnership. The chargé and acting DCM have sustained this momentum.
  • Initially, the chargé and acting DCM adopted caretaker roles in anticipation of the Ambassador-designate’s quick arrival. Neither of them felt empowered to make significant changes, nor did they want to adopt changes only to make additional ones or reverse others after the new Ambassador’s arrival. By November 2013, they realized their new leadership duties would extend for an indeterminate period.
  • Unfortunately, the previous Ambassador’s policy successes were overshadowed within the mission by a leadership style that negatively affected morale. Uncertain about their tenures and in some cases not fully aware of the effects of the previous Ambassador’s leadership style, the chargé and acting DCM kept in place most internal processes and a few problematic behaviors. Some of these continued to damage internal communications and morale. For example, many mission staff reported that the former Ambassador occasionally criticized and belittled certain section chiefs and agency heads in front of their peers. Onerous and excessive paperwork processes impeded communication. The amount of time and energy required to move memoranda through the front office, as well as insistence on letter-perfect products—even for materials intended solely for internal use—discouraged initiative and information sharing.
  • Mission staff noted front office reliance on a group of trusted mission leaders. Others not in the favored category were more likely to receive attention to weaknesses rather than strengths or potential. The President’s letter of instruction to chiefs of mission states that one of the Ambassador’s most important jobs is “to take care of our diplomatic personnel and to ensure that they have the tools they need to support your efforts.” Other Department guidance speaks to the role of Ambassadors and DCMs in establishing a productive workplace. The impact of the negative environment and uneven attention paid to human capital development is evident in lower-than-average scores for mission morale in pre-inspection surveys.
  • Mission staff told inspectors they had expected the caretaker leaders to eliminate some of the worst practices and processes of the previous 3 years. Comments to the OIG team indicated that those expectations were unmet. Mission staff evaluations of the chargé’s and acting DCM’s management and leadership skills were significantly below the averages of other recently inspected chiefs of mission and DCMs. By hesitating to make immediate changes, particularly in workflow and decisionmaking, the chargé and acting DCM became targets for employees’ frustrations. The OIG team counseled and encouraged mission leaders to institute some changes in behaviors and practices. Near the inspection’s end, the chargé acknowledged leadership shortcomings to the country team and began instituting welcome changes.
  • In addition, many staff members remarked that the atmosphere at meetings detracted from communication. Public criticism, excessive demand for detail, and primary focus on front office activities stifled information sharing and initiative taking among country team members. Some participants restricted their communication during country team meetings, because new ideas usually generated taskings and the attendant, onerous paperwork requirements. Paperwork served as a barrier to communication, not a facilitator, and stymied the kinds of informal communication and quick, issue-focused meetings common in most embassies. Even before the inspection, the chargé and acting DCM increased their access to mission staff. During the inspection, the chargé announced that the front office would relax requirements for information memoranda and welcome more casual, on-the-spot conversations to facilitate decisionmaking.
  • To manage the intense paperwork requirements under the former Ambassador, the mission established an informal staff assistant position that drew consular section and USAID first- and second-tour (FAST) employees to the front office for 3-month rotations. Staffing the position put pressure on both the consular section and the USAID mission, especially when they were shorthanded. Moreover, short rotations forced mission staff to adapt to a series of new staff assistants, who were learning on the job. In 2012, the Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs denied the embassy’s request to establish a full-time staff assistant position. The OIG team discussed with the chargé how other similarly sized missions have relied successfully on experienced Foreign Service office management specialists to take on staff assistant duties.

 

One Mission, Kinda

  • In 2011, the Secretary of Defense appointed a new senior Defense officer and Defense attaché  (SDO/DATT) and designated him as the principal Department of Defense (DOD) official at the embassy and his representative to the Ambassador and Government of Peru. The previous Ambassador dealt separately and equally with the mission’s several different DOD elements and sometimes excluded the SDO/DATT from meetings with other DOD components. Recently, the mission prepared a briefing book for the Ambassador-designate. The coordinator of the process tasked each DOD element for separate briefing papers. Failure to recognize the Secretary of Defense’s designation of a SDO/DATT contravened the instruction of the Deputy Secretary of State and disempowered the SDO/DATT.
  • Under the former Ambassador, the Foreign Commercial Service, Foreign Agricultural Service, and Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service attachés routed written communications through the economic counselor. In some cases, they believed they were required to report to the front office through him. That practice was still in effect at the time of the inspection. These procedures diminish the attachés’ ability to represent their respective agencies.

 

Feeding the Fish

  • Public Affairs:  The public affairs section runs an extensive set of programs tied to mission themes, but the public affairs officer has been unable to exert strong missionwide leadership on long-term public diplomacy planning. Several factors contributed to this situation–an intimidating atmosphere in embassy meetings resulting in a hesitancy to take ownership of strategic messaging, distractions caused by time-consuming front office demands, and a dearth of experienced officers in the section.
  • Consular:  Consular managers are approachable and emphasize teamwork, but they have not uniformly provided the strategic thinking, procedural guidance, and surge capacity that the section needed to be optimally effective. The consul general and the visa chief have dedicated so much effort responding to detailed front office requests for information that they have not paid enough attention to daily operations. Even absent front office demands, their hands-off management style has prevented them from identifying procedural efficiencies, providing training and feedback for nonimmigrant visa interviewing officers, and modeling interview techniques.The consul general and the visa chief rarely adjudicate visa applications, except for high-profile or referral cases. A recent cable (13 STATE 153746) reminded posts that consular managers are expected to do some interviewing themselves. Not only does the lack of hands-on participation contribute to the long hours that the more junior staff has to spend interviewing, this remoteness from actual processing undermines their credibility as experts. It also reduces the opportunities for management to train new personnel and to identify potential interview technique and workflow efficiencies.
  • EEO: Although grievance procedures are displayed on some chancery bulletin boards, many locally employed staff indicated that they are unfamiliar with their rights under the program and reluctant to voice their concerns. The former Ambassador’s aloofness with regard to locally employed staff and their awareness of the impact of some of her behaviors on American supervisors has also affected willingness to raise workplace issues.

 

We should note that Embassy Lima has 29 First and Second Tour (FAST) employees.  This includes Foreign Service FSOs, specialists and FAST USAID mission staff.   Which is to say that their first or second tour exposure to an embassy environment now includes a leadership style that negatively affected mission morale, experience with ineffective communication, intense “paperworking,” dedicated feeding of the front office and if “lucky,” experience as the preferred “golden children”of mission leaders.

We highlight for scrutiny the chiefs of mission leadership and management of our diplomatic mission in these OIG reports because we believe they are leaders by example. For good or bad.  They can make or break a post.  Most importantly for career ambassadors — even the poorly performing ones have been known to be thrown quietly into the State Department’s Recycle Program.  Before you know it, you see him or her again at other posts providing leadership and management expertise, interpersonal skills and um … creativity — to the point where post needs a misery differential.

Probably the most impressive item in this report is that the previous ambassador departed post reportedly in September 2013 and four months later during the IG inspection, her ghost still haunted embassy operation.  Since she’s not even named in this report, there is no danger that this OIG report would merit a mention in her Certificate of Competency the next time she is nominated for a chief of mission position.

Oh, you think things will get better?

According to the GAO, the OIG is  supposed to inspect each overseas post once every 5 years; however, due to resource constraints, the OIG Office of Inspections has not done so. Thanks Congress!  The OIG Office of Inspections has conducted inspections in an average of 24 countries per year (including all constituent posts within each country) in fiscal years 2010 through 2013. Given their limited resources, according to OIG officials, they have prioritized higher-risk posts — which probably means more NEA, SCA, AF and less EAP, EUR, WHA post inspections.

As well, State/OIG had terminated its “report cards” for ambassadors and senior officials at inspected diplomatic missions. So inspections are only conducted maybe once every five years. And if post does get inspected, the OIG no longer issue its Inspector’s Evaluation Reports  (IER) for any deficient  performance by chief of mission, dcm or other senior officials. (see IERs: We’re Not Doing ‘Em Anymore, We’re Doing Something Better — Oh, Smashing, Groovy!).

So — enjoy the gummy bites!

gummy-bears-o

Gummy Bears by Dentt42 via GIFsoup.com

 

Related item:

-06/30/14   Inspection of Embassy Lima, Peru (ISP-I-14-12A)  [465 Kb]

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Former AFSA Presidents to SFRC: Delay Approval for FSO Dana Smith as Qatar Ambassador

– Domani Spero

 

Eleven former presidents of the American Foreign Service Association (AFSA), the professional association of the United States Foreign Service have written to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee (SFRC) requesting that the Committee postpone consideration of FSO Dana Shell Smith’s nomination as ambassador to Qatar until the Foreign Service Grievance Board (FSGB) has made a decision in the case related to Ms. Smith and another senior FSO, Susan Johnson.  Ms. Johnson, the immediate former president of AFSA served two terms from 2009-2013.

The letter says that the former AFSA presidents, which includes seven former ambassadors, “firmly believe that Ms. Smith  has not demonstrated the judgment or temperament to shoulder the responsibilities of Chief of Mission.” 

Ouchy!

It adds that “Ms. Smith’s actions are central to a formal Grievance brought against the Department of State by Ms. Susan R. Johnson, also a Senior Foreign Service Officer and President of AFSA at the time she co-authored an op-ed that stimulated negative Department reaction.

image via cspan

Excerpt from the letter:

 Ms. Smith and Ms. Valerie C. Fowler, then Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary and Deputy Assistant Secretary respectively, misusing their official positions and authority over senior assignments and career advancement in order to convey personal views, authored a factually incorrect letter-petition sent through State Department e mail to other FSOs in senior positions, publicly attacking Ms. Johnson on an ad hominem basis for the op-ed she co-authored about the declining role of the Foreign Service.

Senior levels of the Department declined to acknowledge the behavior of Ms. Smith and Ms. Fowler as improper, unprofessional and unprecedented.    Instead the Department condoned the impropriety and compounded the Grievance by nominating one of authors of the ad hominem letter to the senior Foreign Service promotion board which reviewed and did not recommend Ms. Johnson for promotion.   This nomination, the letter-petition and the Department’s inaction may have tainted the board and denied Ms. Johnson a fair promotion review.  Individually and collectively, these actions send a chilling message that speaking out about or questioning personnel policies that lead to the weakening of the Foreign Service as a professional cadre may put careers at risk.

Valerie C. Fowler named above is now the Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary for Public Affairs in the R Bureau. PDASes do not need Senate confirmations. As an aside, have you noticed that the R Bureau now has 15 senior officials, all non-career appointees except for five FSOs?

According to her LinkedIn profile, Ms. Johnson is currently a senior fellow at the Academy of American Diplomacy where she is working on the latest AAD study-report on strengthening Foreign Service professionalism. The April 2013 op-ed referred to in the letter to the Senate is online at WaPo (see “Presidents are breaking the U.S. Foreign Service).” That op-ed piece was authored by Ms. Johnson who was then AFSA president, Ronald E. Neumann, a former U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan and president of the American Academy of Diplomacy, and  Thomas R. Pickering, a former undersecretary of state, and chairman of the AAD board.

The Senate letter was from the following former AFSA presidents: Ambassador Thomas Boyatt, Ambassador William Harrop, Ambassador Alphonse La Porta, Ambassador Theodore Eliot, Ambassador Dennis Hays,  Ambassador J. Anthony Holmes, Ambassador John Limbert, and senior  FSOs F. Allen “Tex” Harris, Theodore Wilkinson, Marshall Adair, and Kenneth Bleakley. Their letter specifically requests that consideration be postponed “until the Foreign Service Grievance Board has made a decision in the case and forwarded the file to the Committee.”

WaPo’s Federal Eye has additional details of this “family” feud:

State did not permit interviews with Smith and Fowler. Doug Frantz,  an assistant secretary of state, said the letter asking the committee to delay action on Smith “contained errors.”  He noted that Johnson’s grievance “was filed subsequent to Ms. Smith’s nomination.” He added that Johnson could have requested Fowler’s recusal from the board, but did not.

Though the letter from Smith, Fowler and the others to Johnson was sent by government e-mail, Frantz said it “was intended to be a private communication from AFSA members to the head of their association.” It’s not private now.

We should note that Douglas Frantz was appointed Assistant Secretary for the Bureau of Public Affairs in 2013. Prior to Ms. Smith’s nomination as ambassador to Qatar, she was Mr. Frantz’s top deputy as Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of State in the Bureau of Public Affairs (2011-2014).

Also, the average time for consideration of a Foreign Service grievance from time of  filing to a Board decision was 41 weeks in 2011 and 33 weeks in 2012.

This could take a whole tour …

Or … maybe not.

Today, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee (SFRC) cleared Ms. Smith’s nomination for the Senate’s full vote.  Unless a Senate hold suddenly materialize, we anticipate that this nominee and a whole slew of ambassadorial nominees will be confirmed as Congress runs off to its summer vacation in August.

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State Dept Public Service Recognition Week: You Rock But No MSIs

– Domani Spero

The Public Service Recognition Week for 2014 ends today. If the official clock was not broken, around 4 pm yesterday, Friday, the State Department’s Human Resources Bureau (DGHR) sent out a message to inform folks that there will be no monetary compensation for the 2013 Foreign Service MSIs.

For readers who may not know this, MSI stands for Meritorious Service Increase per authority in 22 U.S.C. 3966(b) (Section 406(b) of the Foreign Service Act of 1980, as amended).  Under 3 FAM 3121.3-2 it is the policy of the Department to provide an increase to the next higher step of the member’s class for especially meritorious service.

In any case, the email message explains that State faced “serious financial difficulties” in 2013 due to several factors including sequestration.  “We made a number of decisions to conserve resources including halting the monetary portion of extending meritorious step increases granted to a portion of those employees recommended for promotion by the 2013 Selection Boards but not actually promoted.”  In fact, DGHR points out, no other Foreign Service, Civil Service or Locally Employed Staff received a monetary award for 2013 performance, with the only exception being Safe Driver awards apparently targeted toward the lowest paid Locally Employed Staff.

Apparently, following the passage of the FY 2014 budget, there were questions about retroactive payment to 2013 MSI awardees. Since it appears that retroactive funding may not be a possibility, there were also questions whether the step increases could be funded going forward.

Yesterday, just before COB, the acting Director General Hans Klemm (nominee as DGHR Arnold Chacon is still stuck waiting for confirmation in the Senate) informed everyone via email that “after careful thought and deliberation on how best to handle the 2013 MSIs”  it’s been decided that there will be no retroactive monetary compensation to those MSIs conferred by the 2013 Selection Boards. There was no mention what happens going forward.

Part of the message from Ambassador Klemm says that Bureau of Human Resources is “determined that we do two things equally well:  manage a vigorous program to recognize and reward truly outstanding performance, and enhance intrinsic motivation as we face continuing fiscal challenges in the coming years.”  We imagine they have to figure out how to make everyone simply enjoy an activity or see work as an opportunity to learn, explore, and actualize their potentials?  He pledged to “doing the best for all of our talented and committed employees, recognizing that some things we want and arguably deserve are not always within reach.”

Uh-oh!  The email message reportedly closed with an exhortation that employees continue to “do your best.”

We understand that things are fiscally tough (unless related to the money sinkhole in Afghanistan) and we must confess we don’t know how much money is needed for the MSIs. But where’s the fire?  This is the bureau tasked with rewarding and motivating employees.  And it could not wait until next week when it’s no longer Public Service Recognition Week to to deliver the bad news.

Bravo for picking the most imperfect timing of the week! Here have some candies!

By Ewon Amos via Wikipedia

Original image  by Ewon Amos via Wikipedia

 

Less than an hour after Ambassador Klemm’s email blast, Secretary Kerry sent out his own email with the subject line, “My Thanks on Public Service Recognition Week.”

On his ‘thank you’ message to State and USAID employees, Secretary Kerry complained that Hallmark doesn’t make a card that celebrates Public Service Recognition Week. So he sent an email thanking his employees for the work they do. He notes that the work isn’t always easy and often it’s even dangerous – but that all of the employees – Foreign Service Officers, Civil Service employees, USAID team, Diplomatic Security, and locally employed staff “make a difference in the great enterprise of making this world a little safer and a little stronger each and every day.” 

He writes in part:

“One of the things that has struck me about the State Department and USAID is the remarkable diversity, expertise, and experience we have to offer – and the unique way each of you fits into the larger mosaic of the work to try and do something pretty fundamental but pretty profound: making this complicated world a little less complicated, a little more orderly, a little more free.  That’s about the best epitaph anyone could ask for, the best gift you can share through your service. And none of it works unless we’re all working together.”

“Everywhere I travel, in every meeting, from Bogota to Beijing” – he writes that he is deeply impressed of his employees’ “commitment to a future that’s stronger and more prosperous in a world that’s changing faster and becoming more interconnected than ever before…” 

Sorry folks, he has traveled 418,891 miles to 48 countries; we think, he really meant from here to here but that’s too many places to list down.

The best part perhaps — this part of the message:

“You get to spend your whole careers believing in something that will never go out of fashion:  You believe in diplomacy – you believe in something bigger and more important than any of us as individuals…”

Enhanced.Intrinsic.Motivation.

We must note that since Friday was the last working day of the week, it would have been weird had the Secretary sent his thank you email today, the end of the Public Service Recognition Week. But certainly, DGHR should have been more attentive.

“Makes for a nice end to the week,” the  snarky angels of Foggy Bottom said.

And the most requested video to feature in this blog is, you got it — Alanis Morissette singing, Ironic…

 

 

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