Our State Department friends have a favorite response to most questions. “It depends.”
About 10 years ago, State/OIG conducted a review of the Visa Referral Process in Nonimmigrant Visa Adjudication.
By law neither an ambassador nor a DCM can direct a consular officer to issue a particular visa. Even the Secretary of State has no authority to override a consular officer’s deci sion, pursuant to the Immigration and Nationality Act, 8 USC 1104. Recognizing the importance of the visa process both as a bilateral diplomatic issue and as a legitimate diplomatic tool for achieving U.S. aims, and considering the importance of providing as much information as possible to consular officers, the Department has long understood the need for a policy and system to allow all elements of the mission to benefit from the visa system and to protect consular officers from inappropriate pressure. After September 11, 2001, this system has been signifi cantly strengthened.
Based on the results of the survey, observations in the field, and discussions in Washington, OIG concluded that most ambassadors and DCMs appear to under stand the importance of their personal oversight of the referral system and that there are serious repercussions, including removal from post, in the most egregious cases of abuse. While Department oversight of referral systems is important, entrusting chiefs of mission with local supervision and responsibility is still appro priate and necessary, just as the Department entrusts chiefs of mission with the lives of all employees and dependents in their missions, the management of top secret information, and the conduct of key bilateral relations with the host country.
Clearly most missions’ front offices are overseeing the referral system as intended by the Department, sometimes after a little persuasion. For example, an officer at a post that was having problems said, “Our recent OIG inspection was helpful in making the front office realize the impact of their interventions with us and the appearance of undue influence. Despite our education of the front office, they have been incredulous that their good causes may pose us problems under the law.” One of the areas of emphasis for OIG inspection teams is border security readiness, which includes oversight of the referral program.
The survey, however, did reveal some disillusionment with the available recourses in those instances when the front office was itself exerting undue influence. One officer at a post in the Near East said, “In general the consular section feels pressure to act simply as a rubber stamp to visa referrals by chiefs of section and above.” Another stated,“The front office is the only section that has ever tried to influence decisions in referral cases. If I were to refuse the case, then I would be hurt in the employee evaluation report (EER) process as my rater is the DCM and the Ambassador is the reviewing officer.”
It’s an instructive read from 2005, see in full here (PDF).
Let’s fast forward to two cases in 2015 specifically mentioned by State/OIG. The following is from the State/OIG inspection report of the U.S. Embassy in Tajikistan (PDF). The IG report lists Susan M. Elliott as COM, and Robert G. Burgess as DCM.
The Offices of Visa Services and Fraud Prevention Programs, the Consular Integrity Division, and the front office of the Bureau of Consular Affairs all expressed concern about the embassy’s contravention of the worldwide visa referral policy. In the latter half of 2013, the Ambassador in seven cases and the DCM in two cases contravened the worldwide nonimmigrant visa referral policy by submitting noncompliant referrals and improperly advocating for issuance.
Complications arising from noncompliance with the policy led to deteriorating relations between the consular officer and other embassy offices, perceptions of intimidation and isolation, and increased involvement of and intervention by various offices in the Bureau of Consular Affairs. In response to revised guidance from the Bureau of Consular Affairs on referral policy, dated January 13, 2014, Embassy Dushanbe issued a management notice on January 17, 2014. On October 15 and 17, 2014, the embassy conducted briefings for referring officers and obtained current compliance agreements reflecting the revised policy guidance. The OIG team met with the front office and the consular officer, and they confirm that they understand and are committed to continuing to comply with the policy going forward.
How is it that this consular officer did not get the Barbara Watson Award for demonstrating courage?
The “Worldwide Visa Referral Policy Problems” below is from the State/OIG report of the U.S. Embassy in Armenia (see PDF). According to the IG report, the ambassador at that time was John Heffern:
In at least 15 documented cases, the Ambassador contravened the worldwide nonimmigrant visa referral policy (9 FAM Appendix K, Exhibit I) by contacting the consular chief to communicate information about visa applicants instead of providing referral forms for the applicants. The referral policy states, “Referrals are the only allowed mechanism to advocate for or assist visa applicants prior to visa adjudication.” Some of the cases involved previously refused applicants. Referral policy permits requesting assistance via referral on behalf of previously refused applicants only in extremely limited circumstances. Few, if any, of the violations involved applicants who would have been eligible for visa referrals. The consular chief did not take adequate steps to stop the Ambassador’s inappropriate communications or to report them to the Department, as required by Department referral polices.
The embassy provides no formal, detailed briefing (“referral school”) as recommended in the worldwide policy. The consular chief gives informal referral briefings on an individual basis to new arrivals at the embassy. Lack of a formal understanding of the referral policy and process can cause misunderstanding or abuse.
Wow! And the consular section chief got harshly treated by the … the um alphabet, which did not quite line up to say he/she was at fault but you get the idea.
It is not clear what kind of repercussions are suffered by chiefs of mission who contraven the worldwide nonimmigrant visa referral policy. According to a FAM update last November 2015, Consular Affairs has now added a NIV Referral Program Ombudsman (see 9 FAM 601.8-8(C).
Oh, wait, there’s more.
There’s an FSGB case where an FP-03 Diplomatic Security (DS) Special Agent (SA) with the Department of State (Department) was warned that there were strict prohibitions against anyone attempting to influence the visa process. The State Department later proposed to suspend him for four days on a charge of Misuse of Position. The proposal was sustained by the Grievance Board on March 3, 2015.
On October 5, 2010, a family friend of his (REDACTED), a (REDACTED) national, applied for a B1/B2 non-immigrant visa at the U.S. Embassy in REDACTED. His stated purpose for the visa request was to visit with grievant in the U.S. When the application was denied, grievant sent an email on that same date from his State Department account to REDACTED, the Deputy Consular Section Chief in REDACTED voicing his disappointment that his friend’s visa application had been turned down. In the email, grievant asked for assistance, provided additional information on behalf of his friend and cited his own experience as a DS officer who had collaborated with consular officials investigating fraud cases. All of grievant’s emails contained his electronic signature and identified him as “Special Agent, REDACTED, U.S. Department of State, Bureau of Diplomatic Security.” In response to this email, re-interviewed and approved his visa application. REDACTED subsequently visited grievant in the US.
To make the long story short, grievant was investigated (PDF) by DS for his efforts to procure visa approvals for his friend.
The Department reviewed the DS report of investigation (ROI) and determined that between 2010 and 2012, grievant used official communication channels to contact consular officials in the U.S. Embassy in and identified himself as a DS Special Agent in order to influence favorable decisions on visa applications submitted by his friend. On December 2, 2014, grievant received notice of the Department’s proposal to suspend him for four days on a charge of Misuse of Position. The proposal was sustained on March 3, 2015.
State/OIG released it inspection report of the U.S. Embassy in Tokyo and its constituent posts. The OIG made 65 recommendations intended to improve Embassy Tokyo’s operations and programs. Mission Japan is headed by Ambassador Caroline Kennedy who arrived in November 2013, and her DCM, Jason P. Hyland who arrived in June 2014. Mr. Hyland’s predecessor is not named in the report. Prior to this inspection, US Mission Japan was last reviewed in early 2008, and a report was issued in June 2008 (link to that report at the bottom of this post).
US Embassy Japan from diplomacy.state.gov
Let’s start with the key findings:
The Department of State has not addressed security problems, including vulnerabilities which the Office of Inspector General identified in previous inspection reports.
The role and authorities of the Ambassador’s chief of staff are not clearly defined, leading to confusion among staff as to her level of authority, and her role in internal embassy communications.
The embassy’s focus on daily reporting of political and economic developments comes at the expense of building a broad network of contacts and providing in-depth analysis for policy formulation.
The embassy is not coordinating reporting and diplomatic engagement across the mission. Constituent posts in Sapporo, Nagoya and Osaka-Kobe need to be brought up to the high standards set by posts in Fukuoka and Naha.
The level of U.S. direct-hire staffing in the embassy’s political, economic, and consular sections is greater than workload warrants.
The public affairs section faces major management challenges, but has begun to focus on educational exchanges and staffing adjustments to cope with the high visitor load and public outreach needs.
American Presence Post Nagoya should cease offering routine consular services; consular operations in Fukuoka and Sapporo are inefficient.
Although the embassy’s management section has made significant progress on cost containment, senior managers should pay greater attention to management controls over travel and official residence allowances.
Office of Inspector General inspectors identified $122,665 in cost savings and $2,331,787 in funds put to better use during the inspection.
Overview of the mission:
Mission Japan is one of the U.S. Department of State’s (Department) most important missions in terms of its size and the U.S. interests for which it is responsible. The mission includes 13 U.S. Government agencies and 5 constituent posts: consulates general in Osaka-Kobe and Naha, consulates in Sapporo and Fukuoka, and an American Presence Post1 in Nagoya. The mission also includes the Foreign Service Institute language school in Yokohama. Headquarters of U.S. Forces Japan are located nearby at Yokota Air Base, and various U.S. military commands are located throughout the mainland and on Okinawa. The mission has 272 U.S. direct-hire employees and total employment of 727. In FY 2014, total funding for the mission, including other agencies, was $93.6 million. U.S. direct-hire employees were receiving a 25- to 35-percent cost-of-living allowance based on location at the time of the inspection.
Now, the good news:
Good Scores for Ethics | The Ambassador has made clear to the bureau’s executive office, the management officers at Embassy Tokyo, and her front office staff that she wants all her activities to be conducted in accordance with U.S. Government regulations. This was borne out by the fact that the highest score she received from staff members who completed a personal questionnaire was for her ethical behavior.
Hague Convention Accession | Japan is second only to Mexico in the number of children abducted from the United States. Japan’s accession to The Hague Convention on International Parental Child Abduction in 2014 was a significant development, due in no small part to Embassy Tokyo’s efforts to encourage Japan to join.
EFM Employment | A de facto work agreement with the Government of Japan allows family members to apply for work permits with strict rules governing employment. Twenty-seven eligible family members are employed inside the mission, and 34 eligible family members are employed outside the mission, mostly as English teachers.
RSO: The Tokyo regional security office is responsible for the security and emergency preparedness of a large geographically dispersed diplomatic mission. In discussions and interviews with embassy staff members, the OIG team was told repeatedly that the regional security office is responsive to their needs. Accomplishments of the senior regional security officer include reinvigorating the law enforcement working group, updating and drafting missing or outdated security policies, and implementing modifications to the local guard contract that save the Department approximately $230,000 annually. The regional security office staff uniformly describes the senior regional security officer as a good mentor and communicator.
Cost Containment: In 2014, to contain cost, the embassy transferred 70 percent of its voucher processing to the Department’s regional voucher processing center. The cost to process a voucher in Japan is three times higher than at the regional center. The transfer resulted in the elimination of at least two voucher examiner positions.
And the not so good news, oh where do we start?
Leadership | A non-career Ambassador with wide experience in nongovernmental and publishing industries leads Embassy Tokyo. She sees the strengthening of mutual understanding between the Japanese and the American people and the deepening of the security alliance as her prime responsibilities. The Ambassador does not have extensive experience leading and managing an institution the size of the U.S. Mission to Japan. She relies upon two key senior staff members—her non-career chief of staff and a career Senior Foreign Service deputy chief of mission (DCM)—to make sure that Embassy Tokyo and its constituent posts receive the resources and guidance they need to conduct day-to-day operations. The chief of staff, who has extensive experience in public relations and has worked with the Ambassador over a period of years, organizes special projects for the Ambassador, coordinates functions within the embassy, and oversees embassy staff interactions with the Ambassador. The DCM, who arrived in Tokyo 6 months before the start of the onsite inspection process, focuses on internal management of the embassy and coordination with the constituent posts.
Communication Between the Front Office and Embassy Sections Needs Improvement.
High Visibility Ambassador Puts a Strain on Some Embassy Elements
Role of Chief of Staff Needs Refinement
The Deputy Chief of Mission Should be More Proactive in Exercising Leadership
The leadership section does not include discussion on training, mentoring, and professional development of First and Second Tour (FAST) officers, or mission morale. The report says that “four of seven officers in the public affairs section assigned to Tokyo have left post before their tour end date.” There’s a term for that; it’s called curtailment. A non-career chief of staff, a PR person, who has a large sway in the functioning of this embassy is not named in this report. And just before the arrival of the inspectors, the front office apparently had made some headway on improving communication by holding a town hall meeting to unveil the revised memo outlining the activities the Ambassador would undertake. The report is not clear if this is the ambassador’s first town hall meeting with embassy staff.
Minister Counselor Positions Under-Ranked
Economic Section Has Too Many Supervisors
Economic Section Portfolios Organized Poorly
Excess Staff in the Political and Economic Sections
Law Enforcement Working Group Lacks Political Context
Reporting and Advocacy Needed on Structural Reform
Economic Section Not Keeping Proper Records and Files
Embassy Tokyo does not have a current records management policy and does not enforce Department and Federal regulations on records management.
The economic section’s reporting relies heavily on media sources. On some policy developments, the OIG team found that embassy reporting did not add value to more timely reporting by the international press. Reporting was mostly single-sourced and did not evidence a range of contacts among Japanese business leaders, legislators or staff, political parties, academia, or other economic leaders or decision makers, as intended by 2 FAM 113.1 c (10) and (11).
Consular Officer Staffing Is Excessive
No Coordination of Consular Social Media
Inefficient Consular Operations in Fukuoka and Sapporo
Note that citizens of some countries including Japan, who are traveling to the U.S. for 90 days less for business or tourism may not need a visa as they are eligible for the Visa Waiver Program (VWP). This report says that Tokyo’s consular section, with 14 officers, has more officer positions than other consular operations of similar workload, with a high proportion of managers to entry-level officers.
Inconsistencies in Billing Methods Creates Confusion
Cashiering Violation and Fiscal Irregularity
Class B Cashier’s Cash Advance is Excessive
Salaries Inappropriately Paid Directly to Official Residence Expense Staff (this is a pretty common subject in OIG reports)
Position Descriptions Are Inaccurate
Delays in Processing Within-Grade Increases
In-House Post Language Program Is Not Cost Effective
No In-House Equal Employment Opportunity Training Provided to Staff
Allegations of Sexual Harassment Not Reported to the Office of Civil Rights
Unauthorized Use of Motor Pool Shuttle Services
Living Quarters Allowance Not in Compliance with the Foreign Affairs Manual
No Emergency Backup Generators at Some Constituent Posts
The Department’s Office of Fire Safety conducted visits in 2014. The report identified 83 deficiencies of which the mission has corrected 53.
Locally Developed Software Applications Not in Compliance
Emergency Communication Does Not Meet Department Standards
No Logs of Network Maintenance
Premium Class Train Travel Policy Does Not Comply with Department Regulations
Extra Travel Costs Inappropriately Approved for Using Indirect Routes
USCG Naha: Inappropriate Use of Official Residence Expense Funds Instead of Representation Funds
The OIG report says that in the past 8 months, four of seven officers in the public affairs section assigned to Tokyo have left post before their tour end date. That’s called curtailment. Unless they were all medevaced.
Embassy’s 11-person Media Analysis and Translation Team Lacks a Clear Mandate | Without a survey of the MATT’s customers, the embassy cannot confirm who—if anyone—is reading its products or justify the $1.25-million annual cost of operating the MATT.
Social Media Lacks Coordination| Several LE staff members work separately with social media, resulting in a multiplicity of uncoordinated messages
Grants Management Not in Compliance
No Public Diplomacy Strategy
The public affairs section was told to take a 26-percent cut. This reduced the public diplomacy allotment from $11.5 million in FY 2011 to $8.6 million in FY 2012. Even at that reduced rate, Mission Japan’s public affairs budget was still the largest in the Bureau of East Asian and Pacific Affairs. As a result of these budget cuts, the public affairs section eliminated 17 LE staff positions. The public affairs section allocated 68 percent of its FY 2014 budget of $8.5 million to LE staff salaries. According to the Under Secretary for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs, this is high by world standards. […]The Ambassador selected the country public affairs officer, who arrived in Tokyo in August 2014, to stabilize the public affairs section, end the curtailments, define LE staff duties in order to clarify the new distribution of duties following the 2012 staff cuts, bring transparency to personnel decisions, and get the entire staff’s commitment to move forward. Since the public affairs officer’s arrival, the public affairs section has had considerable success, particularly with programs on educational exchange and women’s issues
A few more items with notable details extracted from the report:
Commercial Email Usage | In the course of its inspection, OIG received reports concerning embassy staff use of private email accounts to conduct official business. On the basis of these reports, OIG’s Office of Evaluations and Special Projects conducted a review and confirmed that senior embassy staff, including the Ambassador, used personal email accounts to send and receive messages containing official business.
Employee Evaluation Reports do not Reflect Demonstrated Weaknesses | The OIG team reviewed a range of Department employee evaluations written by managers at the U.S. Mission to Japan. They found several examples of evaluations that did not reveal any indication of serious weaknesses, even though the rated officers had required in-depth management and or discipline by their supervisors and had absorbed time and resources from senior embassy officers. The DCM, having been at post only 6 months, has not yet produced employee evaluations. The inspectors advised him to make clear to rating officers that employee evaluations must present an accurate record of each staff member’s strengths and a realistic area for improvement.
Yokohama Language Program Cost-Benefit Analysis Lacking | To provide Japanese-language instruction in Yokohama, it costs the Department an estimated $2.3 million per year. The total cost of operating the school, factoring out fixed expenses, such as leasing residences for the students, post allowance, education allowance, the school director’s salary and benefits, and other sunk costs, is $1 million per year. This translates into a per-student cost of from $83,583 to $200,599 for a student body of from 5 to 12 students. The Department could be incurring higher costs for providing language services.
No Justification for Paying Post Allowance to Family Member Appointees | Worldwide, Embassies London and Tokyo are the only two authorized to pay post allowance to family member appointees. In 2001, the Department granted them an exception on the basis of their inability to recruit individuals for family member positions because of lower salaries and wages, in accordance with 3 FAM 8218.1 c. In Japan, these adverse employment conditions no longer exist. Except for security escort positions, the embassy has had no difficulty filling family member positions. It also has been able to fill some of its LE staff vacancies with eligible family members when they meet all position requirements. The cost impact to the embassy of providing the post allowance to nine full-time family members is $59,190, annually.
Consulate General Naha Not Benefiting from Zero Cost Leasing Offer | In February 2010, the Open Source Center located on the U.S. Army’s Torii Station offered four Government-owned houses located on Kadena Air Base to Consulate General Naha at zero leasing costs. Consulate General Naha has not fully considered this offer. The OIG team estimates accepting the Open Source Center’s offer would save leasing costs of $110,665 per year. The embassy would continue to fund utility and make-ready costs. In Naha, U.S. direct hires already use base services, including the commissary, Post Exchange, and other support services. U.S. direct-hire dependents attend Department of Defense schools. According to 15 FAM 228 b, housing selection should achieve maximum cost benefit to the U.S. Government, and every effort should be made to lease appropriate housing with terms that reflect the likelihood of the housing unit remaining in posts inventory, with lease terms of 5 years or more whenever appropriate.
Private Domestic Staff Inappropriately Housed in U.S. Government-Owned Facility | The embassy continues to house private domestic staff of U.S. direct-hire officers in a separate U.S. Government-owned facility (the former U.S. Marine Dormitory) despite a 2008 Office of Legal Counsel’s opinion cautioning that the legality of operating living quarters for private domestic servants of U.S. Government employees on U.S. Government premises is highly doubtful under Federal appropriations/employment law. The presence of such facilities on U.S. Government-controlled real property also raises liability issues under employment law and tort law. The embassy raised concerns about prior fraudulent domestic staff employment contracts, use of appropriated funds to maintain the facility and collection of utilities reimbursements through the employees association as a probable violation of appropriation law. At the time of inspection, 42 domestic staff resided in the 31-room U.S. Government-owned building designated for domestic staff. According to 15 FAM 244, post personnel may house full-time domestic staff in their own U.S. Government-provided quarters if space is available and approved by the regional security officer. The estimated cost of maintaining the facility is $60,000 per year.
Maine poet Richard Blanco who was born to a Cuban exile family and read at President Obama’s second inauguration will read a poem commemorating the reopening of the US Embassy in Havana on August 14. Its title is “Matters Of The Sea” or “Cosas Del Mar,” and its first line goes, “The sea doesn’t matter. What matters is this – that we all belong to the sea between us.” Looking forward to reading it in Spanish!
VIDEO: US Marines raise the US flag over the newly opened American Embassy in Havana, Cuba: http://t.co/Fbu7jZkqem
In March 2012, AFSA’s General Counsel Sharon Papp reported about a State Department proposal related to the “state of affairs” in the Foreign Service ….no, the other kind of affairs:
In 2011, the State Department proposed disciplinary action against a handful of employees for off-duty conduct that it had not sought to regulate in the past (i.e., extramarital affairs between consenting adults).
When we reviewed several sex-related grievance cases in 2012, we came to the conclusion that from the agency’s view, widespread notoriety is not required to demonstrate an adverse effect on the efficiency of the Service. Further, the potential for embarrassment and damaged to U.S. interests seems as weighty as actual embarrassment and damage. See: Sex, Lies, and No Videotapes, Just Cases for the Grievance Board
We recently received the following in our mailbox (edited to remove the most identifying details):
The married DCM at the embassy of a major Middle East ally slept with a married ELO whose husband worked for him. He blamed his alcoholism. As “punishment,” he was assigned as DCM at a significant high risk/high threat post. Next up? One of the top jobs at an embassy located in a Western European country. Where’s the accountability at State? Is it only the little people that are taken to task?
Well, that is an excellent question given another allegation we’ve received about another front office occupant involved in domestic violence overseas (another story we hope to write another day).
Extra-marital affairs, of course, are not mentioned anywhere in the Foreign Affairs Manual but below is what the regs say on sexual activity (pdf) and what constitutes, “notoriously disgraceful conduct.” Both sections were last updated in 2012, and applies to Foreign Service employees at State and USAID:
3 FAM 4139.1 Sexual Activity (CT:PER-673; 04-27-2012) (Uniform State/USAID) (Applies to Foreign Service Employees)
The agencies recognize that, in our society, there are considerable differences of opinion in matters of sexual conduct, and that there are some matters which are of no concern to the U.S. Government. However, serious suitability concerns are raised by sexual activity by an individual which reasonably may be expected to hamper the effective fulfillment by the agencies of any of their duties and responsibilities, or which may impair the individual’s position performance by reason of, for example, the possibility of blackmail, coercion, or improper influence. The standards of conduct enumerated in 3 FAM 4138 are of particular relevance in determining whether the conduct in question threatens the mission of the employing agency or the individual’s effectiveness.
3 FAM 4139.14 Notoriously Disgraceful Conduct (CT:PER-673; 04-27-2012) (Uniform State/USAID) (Applies to Foreign Service Employees)
Notoriously disgraceful conduct is that conduct which, were it to become widely known, would embarrass, discredit, or subject to opprobrium the perpetrator, the Foreign Service, and the United States. Examples of such conduct include but are not limited to the frequenting of prostitutes, engaging in public or promiscuous sexual relations, spousal abuse, neglect or abuse of children, manufacturing or distributing pornography, entering into debts the employee could not pay, or making use of one’s position or immunity to profit or to provide favor to another (see also 5 CFR 2635) or to create the impression of gaining or giving improper favor. Disqualification of a candidate or discipline of an employee, including separation for cause, is warranted when the potential for opprobrium or contempt should the conduct become public knowledge could be reasonably expected to affect adversely the person’s ability to perform his or her own job or the agency’s ability to carry out its responsibilities. Evaluators must be careful to avoid letting personal disapproval of such conduct influence their decisions.
One might argue that an extra-marital affair between two consenting adults is a private matter. And in most cases, it is; who wants to be the sex police? But. If the allegations are true, can you really consider it private, particularly in a case that involves the second highest ranking public official at an embassy and an entry level officer (ELO) assigned under his command? Even if the DCM is not the ELO’s rating or reviewing officer — how does this not affect the proper functioning of the mission? Can anyone exclude undue influence, potential favoritism or preferential treatment? Which section chief would give a bad performance review to a junior officer who slept with the section chief’s own reviewing officer? Even if not widely known outside the Foreign Service, can anyone make a case that this is not disgraceful or notorious? For real life consequences when a junior officer has a “special relationship” and “unrestricted access” to an embassy’s front office occupant, read the walking calamity illustrated in this case FSGBNo.2004-061 (pdf).
Look … if widespread notoriety is not required to demonstrate an adverse effect on the efficiency of the Service for the lower ranks, why should it be a requirement for the upper ranks? It’s not? Well, how else can we explain a good number of senior officials who allegedly looked the other way?
Can’t you see I’m busy? Besides I did not/did not see anything!
We went and looked up the Foreign Service Grievance Board cases related extra-marital affairs or related to notoriously disgraceful conduct. Here are some quick summaries.
In 2011, the State Department handed down a 30-day suspension to a junior officer for “off-color and offensive emails about women he dated, which were widely disseminated” after his private email account was hacked. State said this constituted “notoriously disgraceful conduct.” (pdf)
Another case in 2011 involves an FSO who was told by the State Department: “Given the nature of Foreign Service life, you are aware that you are on duty 24/7. These multiple extramarital affairs involving sexual relations with an estimated 13 women during two separate assignments overseas without your spouse’s knowledge show poor judgment for a Foreign Service Officer.” (pdf) (note: two separate assignments could mean 4-6 years; untenured tours at 2 years, tenured tours typically at 3 years).
A Diplomatic Security (DS) Special Agent was suspended for three days for Notoriously Disgraceful Conduct arising from a domestic violence incident with his spouse. (pdf)
A married FP-04 Information Management Specialist (IMS), received a 20-day suspension, subsequently reduced to 10 days, for improper personal conduct and failure to follow regulations. The employee served at a critical threat post, and admitted having an extramarital relationship with a local embassy employee as well as engaging in sexual relations with two “massage techs.” (pdf)
An untenured FP-04 Diplomatic Security (DS) agent was disciplined for poor judgment and improper personal conduct. The employee brought a woman to his hotel room and engaged in sex with her. Although the employee voluntarily disclosed the incident and asserted that the woman was not a prostitute, the Department contends that the incident at a minimum gave the appearance of engaging in prostitution and as such violated 3 FAM 4139.14 or Notoriously Disgraceful Conduct. (pdf)
A married FS-02 Information Management Officer (IMO) with seventeen years in the Department, with numerous awards and no disciplinary record, was found in his personal vehicle that was parked in an isolated area, and in a dazed condition with injuries suggesting he had been assaulted. He stated that during the prior night he had picked up a woman unknown to him, shared wine with her while driving, pulled over to the side of the road and then had no recollection of what followed, presumably because she had introduced a substance into his drink. During the ensuing investigation, the employee revealed he had picked up four or five women on previous occasions over a four-month period and had sex with them without the knowledge of his wife. As a result, the Department proposed a ten-day suspension based on the charges of Poor Judgment and Notoriously Disgraceful Conduct. (pdf)
An FP-04 Diplomatic Security (DS) agent was given a five-day suspension without pay on the charge of Improper Personal Conduct. The charge is based on an incident in a criterion country in which employee (an unmarried person) engaged in consensual sex with a local woman and gave her $60.00 after the sexual activity had concluded. There was no evidence that the woman was a prostitute and there were no witnesses to their encounter. The employee self-reported the incident immediately to his supervisors, who took no disciplinary action. Eighteen months later, the Department opened an investigation and eventually suspended the employee. The deciding official concluded that employee’s conduct had violated two regulations governing behavior subject to discipline: 3 FAM 4139.1 (Sexual Activity) and 3 FAM 4139.14 (Notoriously Disgraceful Conduct). (pdf)
We have so far been unable to locate FSGB cases of “notoriously disgraceful conduct” involving senior Foreign Service officials; certainly nothing at the DCM or COM level. It could be that 1) our search function is broken; 2) the folks are so risk-aversed and discreet that there are no cases involving a single one of them, or 3) potential such cases were swept under the rug, nothing makes it to the public records of the Foreign Service Grievance Board.
Missionwide staffing is 42 U.S. direct-hire employees, including 27 Department U.S. direct-hire employees. The FY 2014 missionwide budget was $8.9 million. Other agencies represented at the mission include elements of the U.S. Departments of Defense, Justice, and Homeland Security. A small number of U.S. military personnel on rotation to Estonia fall under chief of mission authority. The mission has no consulates. The mission’s FY 2015 request for foreign assistance funds totaled $3.6 million for Estonian military stabilization operations and security sector reform ($2.4 million for foreign military funding and $1.2 million for international military education and training). Embassy Tallinn’s missionwide budget for FY 2014 was approximately $8.9 million. Department staffing was 27 U.S. direct-hire employees and 85 locally employed (LE) staff members.
Excerpt from key findings:
The Ambassador and the deputy chief of mission provide appropriate oversight to the country team, and U.S. Department of State sections, in accordance with Section 207(a) of the Foreign Service Act of 1980. However, stronger leadership from the Ambassador and his greater adherence to Department of State rules and regulations are necessary.
The political/economic section is staffed adequately to carry out its policy advocacy and reporting responsibilities but needs to adjust local staff portfolios and the language requirements of its U.S. officers to maximize resources.
The public affairs section is central to mission efforts to carry out Integrated Country Strategy objectives, using traditional public diplomacy tools, media engagement, social media, and regional outreach to amplify policy messages.
The embassy’s consular warden system has not been reviewed, activated, or tested since at least 2011. Worldwide tensions increase the need for an effective warden system with the flexibility to meet multiple contingencies, including the potential interruption of electronic messaging capability.
The aging chancery does not meet—and cannot be retrofitted to meet—even the most basic security standards, and numerous infrastructure deficiencies need to be addressed if the embassy is to remain at its present location.
The telecommunications and power cabling infrastructure throughout the chancery is disorganized and largely undocumented, which limits the ability of information management staff to carry out their duties.
The embassy needs a comprehensive training plan for locally employed staff that reflects priority training needs.
Internal management controls need to be strengthened, with particular attention to separation of duties, documenting processes and standard operating procedures, clarifying backup duties, and reassessing organization structure.
Here is what Section 207(a) of the Foreign Service Act of 1980 says:
Quite impressive, yo!
The ambassador is popular with the Estonian public, helped sold Javelin missiles worth $50–$60 million, met so infrequently with senior Estonian Government officials but succeeded, nonetheless, to get Estonia to accept one Gitmo detainee. This report reminds us of those evaluation reports where the drafter attempts walking on water. Excerpts:
The Ambassador’s interpersonal skills have enabled him to participate effectively in public affairs and other programing in several parts of the country and have garnered him personal popularity with the Estonian public.
His support for the military includes advocacy for U.S. military sales. His efforts have helped secure a sale to the Estonian Government of U.S. Javelin missiles worth $50–$60 million.
The Ambassador, however, has not established strong relationships at the Government of Estonia’s ministerial level. In his 2 years as Chief of Mission, he has met infrequently with the Prime Minister or other ministers in the cabinet (less than 12 times during his 24 months in the embassy, in addition to initial courtesy calls or accompanying visitors and at public events). … Despite the infrequency of his meetings with senior Estonian Government officials, the Ambassador successfully led the effort to obtain the government’s acceptance of a Guantanamo detainee—an impressive achievement given the small size of the country and the government’s reluctance.
On getting the Estonians to “yes,” how did he do it? The IG report did not say, which would have been really helpful given how many Gitmo detainees we still need to place elsewhere.
On leadership, the IG report says:
The most significant findings concern the need for stronger leadership from the Ambassador and his greater adherence to ethics principles, Equal Employment Opportunity (EEO) guidelines, and security policies.
Buried in the report is this:
[T]he embassy staff rated the Ambassador below average in leadership categories, including vision, engagement, fairness, and ethics. Segments of the mission community, including some U.S. direct-hire and LE female employees told the OIG team that they feel undervalued. .. Some American and LE staff members gave examples of preferential treatment that the Ambassador afforded to specific employees and interns. It is imperative that the Ambassador reverse these perceptions; he indicated that he is willing to work hard to do so, and he began the process by apologizing to his staff before the inspection team’s departure.
On the EEO program, the report says, “The EEO program at Embassy Tallinn requires attention by embassy leadership.” Oy! What happened?
Non-review of visa issuances/refusals:
The DCM has not met requirements in 9 FAM 41.113 and 9 FAM 41.121 to review nonimmigrant visa issuances and refusals. The most recent regional consular officer report for Tallinn, dated January 2014, states that “[t]he DCM did not meet adjudication review standards…since the last regional officer report visit [in May 2013].” A Bureau of Consular Affairs preinspection report found that standards had also not been met between May 1 and July 30, 2014. The DCM’s review of visa adjudications at single officer embassies is especially important, as no other person provides required oversight and quality control.
Things that happen just before the OIG starts work, or leave post:
The Ambassador’s efforts to establish an overall strategic vision, in accordance with 3 Foreign Affairs Manual (FAM) 1214, have not been successful. Few of Embassy Tallinn’s senior leaders can articulate the Ambassador’s overall strategic vision or identify the top priorities contained therein, despite an off-site planning session held just days before the start of the inspection. The Ambassador held the previous planning off site almost 2 years earlier—too long ago to enable employees to have a lasting awareness of his goals and direction. A clear shared vision—key to coordinated team work and productivity—is missing. Greater communication is needed. No structured effort exists to inform the mission employees, including LE staff members, of the outcome of the planning session, which has left a large part of the embassy team uninformed.
At the start of the inspection no program was in place for mentoring the mission’s two first- and second-tour (FAST) employees, and some mid-level officers stated that they would welcome mentoring on career development issues. The DCM structured a FAST program and scheduled initial mentoring sessions prior to the inspection team’s departure.
Counsel from EUR/Office of the Legal Adviser?
Elsewhere on the report, it says that “the OIG team identified instances in which the Ambassador did not appear to adhere to established Department rules and regulations. Each instance was small, but collectively they suggest his disregard for adherence to the rules.” It recommends that EUR, in coordination with the Office of the Legal Adviser, should counsel the Embassy Tallinn Ambassador concerning ways to avoid breaches of Department of State rules and regulations.
What the hey?
[T] he Ambassador has been involved only marginally in efforts that would identify potential opportunities in Estonia for U.S. businesses, as outlined in 18 FAM 015. He agreed to increase efforts in that area, as well as not to pursue Estonian export interests that would not directly result in U.S. jobs.
The IG inspectors cited Section 207(a) of the Foreign Service Act of 1980 on its key findings but forgot Section 207 (c) of the Act?
Oh darn, we almost forgot — whatabout curtailments?
Embassy Tallinn’s chief of mission is Jeffrey Levine. Prior to his appointment as ambassador to Estonia, he was the State Department’s director of Recruitment, Examination and Employment from 2010-2012 (HR/REE).
The OIG team who inspected the mission was headed by Marianne Myles who was previously Ambassador to Cape Verde (2008-2010). Prior to her appointment to Cape Verde, she, too was the director of the State Department’s Office of Recruitment, Examination and Employment (HR/REE). She was also Director of Policy Coordination for the Foreign Service’s Director General (DG/HR).
A side note here, HR/REE had three directors spanning at least six years who went directly from HR to an ambassadorship. (Luis Arreaga, the HR/REE director from 2008-2010 was appointed Ambassador to Iceland from 2010-2013). This is an extremely small club to belong to.
So we asked Mr. Linick’s office about its recusal policy. Wasn’t IG Linick concerned about potential conflict of interest in this instance? We also asked if there has ever been an instance when OIG inspectors who are/were FS members recused themselves when there is potential or appearance of conflict of interest?
Over the weekend, we received the OIG’s response to our inquiry. Repeated below in its entirety:
OIG strictly follows the independence standards established by the Council of the Inspectors General on Integrity and Efficiency (CIGIE). In order to ensure each inspector is free, both in fact and appearance, from personal, external, and organizational impairments to independence, OIG has a rigorous conflict review within the Office of Inspections (ISP).
Pursuant to this policy, prior to an inspection, every member of the inspection team must review a staffing chart with every employee of the inspected entity, and report, in writing, all prior professional and personal relationships with any such individual. ISP management and the Office of General Counsel carefully review this information to ensure that all ISP teams’ members are independent and free from real or apparent conflicts of interest. This process happens early in the inspection process as ISP assigns staff to individual teams. If any such conflicts are identified, ISP takes action to mitigate the conflict, which could include removing a team member from a team. OIG provides training to all inspectors on CIGIE independence standards and how to avoid conflicts of interest.
Regarding the Tallin inspection, OIG followed its standard procedure in reviewing input from Ambassador Myles regarding any relationships with employees in Embassy Tallinn and concluded her participation in the inspection was appropriate under CIGIE standards and OIG policy.
So there you go.
We must note that for years, the names of the OIG inspection team members were redacted from these publicly released OIG reports. We have railed about those redactions for various reasons. In 2013, when Steve Linick assumed charge of the OIG — the first Senate-confirmed IG since the 2007 resignation of Howard J. Krongard — one of his first actions was to release the names of the inspectors with the publicly available reports. We have not forgotten that.
M. André Goodfriend has served as Deputy Chief of Mission at the U.S. Embassy in Budapest since August 2013 . Pending the confirmation of the new ambassador, he was Embassy Budapest’s chargé d’affaires. Last month, he tweeted this:
Preparing to welcome Ambassador Bell this week. Anticipating many opportunities for positive, constructive movement forward in relations.
On February 13, less than a month after Ambassador Bell’s arrival in Budapest, Mr. Goodfriend tweeted this:
Friends, not as an official, but a person, I am overwhelmed by warm farewells. Honored to have been with you. Thank you. Viszontlátásra — M. Andre Goodfriend (@GoodfriendMA) February 13, 2015
Politics.hu notes that the embassy’s twitter feed had not acknowledged Goodfriend’s departure. Neither the embassy website nor its Facebook page carried any announcement about his departure prompting an FB user to write:
No post about Mr. Goodfriend leaving Budapest? Why not? He has become a sort of iconic figure representing the tolerant and smart politics, which has been missing in and around Hungarian leadership. I think that it is a mistake to let him go. His political wisdom, experience and insight will be missed, I am sure.
Mr. Goodfriend is a career diplomat, and the typical length of assignments, particularly in European posts like Budapest is three years. Budapest is a 5% COLA post, with zero hardship and zero danger pay. It appears that Mr. Goodfriend is leaving post 18 months short of a full tour. We’ve asked the U.S. Embassy Budapest via Twitter and email the reason for this early departure and we were told by Embassy Spokesperson Elizabeth Webster on February 14 that they normally do not issue press releases when personnel depart post; however, they made the following statement available to the media upon request:
“DCM Andre Goodfriend is departing his posting in Hungary to return to the United States for family reasons. Mr. Goodfriend served nearly 18 months as chargé d’affaires of the U.S. Embassy in Budapest during a time of significant developments in Hungary and in our bilateral relations. Enjoying the full support of senior leadership in Washington, he did an excellent job of promoting and explaining U.S. policy in public and in private. We ask for the media to respect the privacy of the Goodfriend family.”
The following is a Foreign Service Grievance Board case (all names redacted) where an ambassador filed a grievance over a State/OIG Inspector’s Evaluation Report (IER). The Board held that the IER be expunged from the ambassador’s personnel file.
Now, you see why State/OIG stopped doing the Inspector’s Evaluation Reports? We don’t like the fact that OIG no longer issues IERs but we can now understand in real terms why.
This is why. Where does the buck stops?
The President sends a Letter of Instruction to all Chiefs of Mission appointed by the President, and the contents of each letter differs according to whether the COM has a bilateral/country or international organization portfolio. The President’s Letter basically gives a COM full responsibility for the direction, coordination, and supervision of all U.S. Government executive branch employees within the host country or in the relevant Mission to an international organization, except those personnel under the command of a U.S. geographic area military commander or on the staff of an international organization.
We’re shocked it has not been argued yet that ambassadors must first have prior counseling from the President of the United States regarding their performance prior to the issuance of an OIG Inspector’s Evaluation Report. Not that it matters now, since State/OIG has ended the practice of issuing IERs.
Via FSGB Case No. 2013-028
Grievant, a former Ambassador to REDACTED, appealed the Department’s denial of her 2013 grievance, claiming that an IER prepared in November 2011 focused primarily on the performance of her DCM and contained several “inaccurate statements.” Grievant claimed that inclusion of the IER in her OPF was prejudicial because she had not received counseling on the areas of her performance that were criticized in the report. After soliciting feedback from post personnel, the Department expunged portions of two statements in the IER, but otherwise found the remainder to be an accurate reflection of grievant’s performance, as corroborated by numerous statements from identified Mission employees.
The Board determined that grievant was not counseled on matters that were negatively discussed in the IER, nor was she given an opportunity to improve performance problems raised in the report. The Board concluded that regardless of the purpose for the IER, grievant was entitled to be counseled and provided a reasonable opportunity to improve before she could properly be critiqued on performance deficiencies in an IER. The Board held further that grievant met her burden of proving that she was unaware of the shortcomings mentioned in the IER; she had no reason to become aware of these deficiencies; and, therefore, that counseling could not be excused as harmless error. The Board further found that the IER contained a significant number of inadmissible comments about the performance of the DCM, an identified other employee, and was, therefore, written in violation of applicable regulations that govern the preparation of evaluation reports. The Board concluded that the IER is invalid and ordered it removed from grievant’s OPF.
The Foreign Service Grievance Board decision:
HELD: The Department committed a procedural error by placing in grievant’s Official Personnel File (OPF) a prejudicial Inspector’s Evaluation Report (IER) that included inadmissible comments about another identified employee, in violation of agency regulations, and without first counseling grievant on certain performance issues mentioned in the IER, or giving her an opportunity to improve her performance. The IER was ordered expunged from grievant’s OPF in its entirety.
There are clips included in the Report of Proceeding:
“I do believe Ambassador REDACTED was aware that DCM REDACTED activities were exacerbating the rift between the front office and the rest of the mission, but I believe it was a type of willful unawareness, perhaps delusional. . . . If [the Ambassador] was not aware or not willing to admit that this rift existed, she was deluding herself. . . . [In All Hands meetings] . . . to the Ambassador, this kumbaya session was clear evidence that she had her finger on the pulse of the mission. It was a charade, but no one could tell the emperor that he had no clothes.”
Grievant submitted the following statements from post employees:
– “I think she didn’t realize the impact the DCM was causing till [sic] the OIG arrived. . . .”
– “I don’t know if she recognized the seriousness of the problems or not. . . . I don’t know if the Ambassador was aware of them or not.”
– “I believe that Ambassador did not fully recognize the seriousness of problems at Embassy If she had recognized the seriousness of the problems, I believe that she would have addressed them in the beginning and not let things get so out of hand.”
The OIG inspection team leader wrote:
REDACTED showed little awareness of the significant impact on morale cause by front office management practices and actions. She was not aware of the extent of negative sentiment concerning front office communications, nor the depth of employee resentment of the intrusive and imperious management style of the DCM. Although scheduled and conducted numerous regular meetings with employees, staff members told inspectors they volunteered little real feedback to the front office, fearing the reaction and the subsequent damage to their careers.
The best part of this decision is this:
What remains are grievant’s claims that the IER improperly focused on the performance of the DCM and a claim that she had a right to counseling prior to inclusion of negative statements in her IER. As to her complaint about the focus of the IER, grievant points out that although the report was meant to address her management and leadership skills, it is largely directed at the DCM’s behavior and contains several comments that did not pertain at all to her performance. We find that what was at issue in the inspection was grievant’s alleged lack of awareness of, and inattentiveness to, the negative effect on post morale that was purportedly caused by the behavior of her subordinates. Because the concern was how well or poorly grievant was performing as Chief of Mission, we find that the IER should have focused on grievant’s performance vis-à-vis her detection and management of post problems caused by a subordinate.
We think the rule of fundamental fairness applies equally when the performance of an Ambassador is evaluated in an IER, as when an untenured officer receives his first EER. We conclude that “[c]riticisms included in the final [evaluation report] should not come as a surprise to [any] rated employee.” Accordingly, because we see no difference between the impact of performance criticisms in an EER and an IER on an employee’s career opportunities, we conclude that any employee whose work performance is evaluated in an IER, as in an EER, has a right to be notified and counseled about any perceived deficiencies and given a reasonable opportunity to improve before those deficiencies may be included in either evaluative document.
The parties do not contest that grievant received no counseling about any of the criticisms about her performance that were stated in the IER at issue. Grievant presented evidence that shortly before the OIG began its inspection at post in November 2011, the DAS from the regional bureau (and the Office Director visited and met with Mission employees in October. It is unclear whether these individuals received the same information as the OIG team, but grievant reports that neither of them counseled her on any of the matters later identified as performance weaknesses by the OIG team. If grievant’s superiors were made aware of any shortcomings in her work performance, then they should have, but did not, counsel her about them. If they were unaware of any performance deficiencies, then the Department must concede that grievant’s superiors could not, and did not, counsel her. In the absence of counseling, grievant did not have the opportunity to try to improve.
The Department argues that grievant was not entitled to be counseled on matters about which her supervisors were not aware. We do not agree. The fundamental fairness of a performance evaluation hinges on the provision of notice to the rated employee of his or her deficiencies, coupled with a reasonable period in which the employee can make efforts to improve. If a supervisor is unaware of the deficiencies, it is true that he or she cannot counsel the employee, but, it follows, then, that, unless the employee was independently aware of performance deficiencies, he or she ought not be negatively evaluated on those deficiencies of which neither the employee nor the supervisor were aware.
The Department also asserts that even in the absence of counseling, the criticisms contained in grievant’s IER should not have come as a surprise to her because she should have known of the morale problems existing at post. In support of this assertion, the Department provides numerous statements from Mission employees expressing their beliefs that grievant was aware of the problems raised in the IER, but failed to manage them. Grievant responds that not only did her supervisors not tell her of the employees’ complaints, but the employees themselves did not inform her. She speculates that “[i]n hindsight, I recognize that the DCM may have been shielding and insulating me from staff dissatisfaction.” She also cites a number of employees who stated that they did not think she was aware of how the DCM was behaving or how it was undermining morale.
Bureaucratic high drama,very instructive, read it below:
This past October, the U.S. Embassy in Hungary released the following statement:
The U.S. Embassy is not aware of any NAV investigations into US businesses or institutions in Hungary and no U.S. actions have been taken as the result of any such investigations.
The U.S. takes corruption seriously. The U.S. Department of Justice has established an anti-kleptocracy unit to expand capacity to pursue cases in which ill-gotten wealth overseas is found to have a U.S. connection.
Certain Hungarian individuals have been found ineligible to enter the United States as the result of credible information that those individuals are either engaging in or benefiting from corruption. This was a decision by the Department of State under the authority of Presidential Proclamation Number 7750 and its Anti-Kleptocracy Provision of January 12, 2004. Criminal proceedings are up to the host nation to pursue. U.S. privacy laws prohibit us from disclosing the names of the individuals involved.
No one is above the law. The United States shares Hungary’s view of “zero tolerance” of corruption. Addressing corruption requires a healthy system of checks, balances and transparency. The U.S. Government action related to Hungarian individuals is not a Hungary-specific measure, but part of an intensified U.S. focus on combating corruption, a fundamental obstacle to good governance, transparency and democratic values.
The Budapest Beacon reported that ten Hungarian officials and associates have been banned for travel to the United States including individuals close to Prime Minister Viktor Orbán. Yup, the same one Senator McCain called a “neo-fascist dictator. And the reason Chargé d’Affaires André Goodfriend, our acting ambassador at the U.S. Embassy in Budapest was summoned to Hungary’s Foreign Ministry.
Last month, Hungary Today citing reports from Portfolio.hu has reported, said that the head of National Tax and Customs Administration of Hungary (NAV), Ildikó Vida had revealed that she and some of her colleagues are among those state officials that were banned by Washington from travelling to the United States.
Orbán also criticized Goodfriend for accusing a government official of corruption “while hiding behind diplomatic immunity”. Orbán called on Goodfriend to “be a man and take responsibility for his accusations” by agreeing to allow himself to be sued in a Hungarian court for defamation.
“In Hungary, if someone is proven to have been involved in corruption, we don’t replace that person but lock them up,” said the prime minister, neglecting to mention the fact that a similar fate awaits people convicted of defaming public officials.
Later in the day the head of the Fidesz caucus, Antal Rogán, an authority on corruption, told the Hungarian News Service that Goodfriend could prove to a Hungarian court of law if Vida was guilty of corruption, “but that this would first involve the US agreeing to lift his diplomatic immunity”.
Right and she did not want to be fired. As can be expected, the tax office (NAV) chief Ildikó Vida filed a defamation lawsuit against US embassy chargé d’affaires André Goodfriend. According to Hungary Today, the complaint was filed with the prosecutor’s investigations office on the ground of “public defamation causing serious damage,” a NAV lawyer said.
The Financial Review notes that growing anti-government protests in the country may become another battleground between Europe and Russia. Several protests in the last few months over corruption, internet tax plan, private pensions, etcetera. The Review suggests that these protests against an increasingly pro-Russian leadership, raised questions about whether the former communist nation could become the next Ukraine.
Amidst this, the U.S. Senate confirmed President Obama’s nominee to be ambassador to Hungary, and The Colbert Report noticed.
Mr. Colbert notes that “The Bold And The Beautiful is perfect training to be an ambassador. Hungary is a region rife with drama and constant threat of violence — exactly the situation the Forrester family routinely handles from their palatial estate while simultaneously running their fashion empire.”
So apparently, Senator John McCain led a CODEL to the Munich Security Conference a couple weeks back last February and made a four-hour side trip to Budapest. Bloomberg View’s Jeffrey Goldberg writes that, he suspect, though he could not prove it, that the good senator from Arizona decided to meet with two dozen Hungarian journalists in Budapest mainly so that the delegation would be asked questions about a woman named Colleen Bell.
Who is Colleen Bell? Bell is a soap opera producer — “The Bold and the Beautiful” is her masterwork — who was nominated by Barack Obama’s administration to serve as U.S. ambassador to Hungary. Bell, one of Obama’s larger fundraising “bundlers,” bought this nomination with more than $500,000 of mostly other people’s money.
In Budapest, they’re highly interested in her. When a reporter, early in the press conference, asked McCain about Bell, a devilish smile played across his face.
“We’re very fortunate,” he said, “to have with us today the chairman of the committee that holds the hearings that these nominees come before, and that is Senator Murphy, and he is very knowledgeable about these issues.”
Three things then happened. First, most everyone at the press conference laughed. Second, one of the people who didn’t laugh, the aforementioned Senator Chris Murphy, a freshman Democrat from Connecticut, approached the podium as if it were covered in rat poison. Third, McCain winked — not at all subtly — at the three American journalists sitting in the front row.
This is a pretty hilarious piece, although definitely not/not hilarious if you are Colleen Bell. Just imagine being in her shoes — you have yet to arrived at your host country and a couple dozen journalists who presumably will cover your tenure in Budapest, were already laughing at your expense.
Reax via Twitter:
NYT’s Mark Leibovich, author of This Town, Two Parties and a Funeral — Plus Plenty of Valet Parking! — in America’s Gilded Capital says:
McCain and Goldberg in full bloom // Depressingly hilarious look at America’s Woman to See in Hungary. http://t.co/evYjpX2lcT
WaPo’s Daniel W. Drezner reacts to WH spox spin about this nominee. Really a bad sign when the spox pulls out the “I wasn’t part of this decision process” excuse. The dudester is … who the heck expects the spokesman, even of the White House to be involved in the deliberation of ambassadorships?
Oh, John McCain. The former straight talker, and former presidential contender, is apparently not happy about this nominee according to ABC News. Although, we’re not sure if the senator has been happy about anything since 2008.
“We’re about to vote on a totally unqualified individual to be ambassador to a nation which is very important to our national security interests,” he said.
“I am not against political appointees … but here we are, a nation that’s on the verge of seceded its sovereignty to a neo-fascist dictator getting in bed with Vladimir Putin and we’re gonna send the producer of ‘The Bold and the Beautiful’ as our ambassador,” McCain said. (via)
Isn’t our capital city just the most marvelously enchanting reality show ever?
But there’s more.
Today, Reuters is reporting that Hungary’s Foreign Ministry summoned Chargé d’Affaires André Goodfriend, our acting ambassador at the U.S. Embassy in Budapest over comments made by Senator McCain on Tuesday, calling Prime Minister Viktor Orban a “neo-fascist dictator.”
This, we suspect, will not/not be a boring tour. The next time Senator McCain rants about Hungary, the MFA will be calling in the new ambassador. It would certainly help smooth relations if she is likable instead of grouchy.
In any case, Ambassador-designate Colleen Bell, the producer of ‘The Bold and the Beautiful’ will officially be our top American representative in Hungary once that country accepts her credentials. You may not like that, but the Senate confirmed her nomination and she’s one of ours now. She will not only be the chief of mission at our embassy in Hungary, she will also be responsible for foreign service and other agency personnel and their family members at post. Embassy Budapest employs 95 Americans and 232 locally employed (LE) staff members, servicing five agencies. The total mission funding for FY 2013 was $17.5 million, which includes Department of State (Department) funding of $11.5 million and excludes U.S. direct-hire salaries. The total bilateral assistance for FY 2013 was $1.8 million.
We hope that the ambassador-designate spent the last year while waiting for confirmation to learn more about her host country. She’ll need it. She will be America’s face in a country where the elected government doesn’t have a lot of fondness for America. She did graduate with honors from Sweet Briar College with a bachelor’s degree in political economy, a dual major in political science and economics, so she’s not stupid, despite a near disastrous confirmation hearing. The good news is — she’ll assume charge of a mission that has been “A well managed and productive, and led by a talented chargé d’affaires(CDA),” who arrived in August 2013. (The Hungarian right is apparently hoping that CDA Goodfriend would be recalled or replaced). According to the OIG inspectors, Chargé d’Affaires André Goodfriend effectively leads a collegial and active country team and is preparing carefully for the arrival of a new ambassador.
So — let’s wish the new ambassador well in her new assignment and hope that she be a good steward of Mission Budapest.
Don’t look now but it appears as if the situation in Argentina is about to get more than touchy serious. On September 29, 2014, the U.S. Embassy in Buenos Aires released a Security Message for U.S. Citizens on General Security Awareness (pdf):
The U.S. Embassy wishes to inform U.S. citizens living and traveling in Argentina that in recent months, U.S. citizens have reported a number of crimes to the embassy. Crimes reported include petty crime, taxi scams (especially at international airports), mugging, snatch-and-grab robbery involving motorcycles and bicycles, and occasionally more serious crimes such as express kidnapping, home invasion, carjacking, assault, and sexual assault using date rape drugs. We recommend that U.S. citizens traveling and living in Argentina always be aware of their surroundings, maintain a high level of vigilance, and take appropriate steps to enhance their personal security. Please consult reliable sources for information on transportation, lodging, and the general security of areas you are visiting.
U.S. citizens should avoid areas of demonstrations and exercise caution in the vicinity of any large gatherings or protests. The majority of crimes reported to the Embassy occur in the major metropolitan areas but U.S. citizens should use an equal level of caution outside large population centers. While crimes happen at all times of day and night, they are significantly more frequent after dark.
The Embassy does not have evidence that victims have been targeted because of their U.S. citizenship. If you are the victim of a crime, please report it immediately to the police and inform American Citizen Services at the U.S. Embassy.
The message went out a few days after the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints president David P. Robertson, of the Argentina Buenos Aires West Mission, was robbed and briefly held on the night of September 24. According to El Dia cited by a Provo newspaper, Robertson was driving his Toyota truck when he was stopped by armed bandits at an intersection in Ciudadela, a city in the Buenos Aires area. The assailants reportedly took his wallet, cell phone and vehicle, and then released him on the street.
The president of Argentina, Cristina Fernández de Kirchner (or CFK), called the security message, “a provocation” and she knew exactly who to blame. Below via mercopress:
“The note is a provocation. Usually, when the embassy issues this type of warning messages, it focuses on specific events such as political rallies or hostage situations which can be dangerous to US citizens,” the Argentine president explained.
“In this case, the threat is not specific. It describes Argentina as if we were living in the far-west,” she added, and went on to doubt US interim ambassador in Buenos Aires Kevin Sullivan’s intentions with the note.
“We know who wrote it: the same person who announced the country was in default,” CFK said, referring to Sullivan’s remarks about the country needing “to exit default as soon as possible”.
“Maybe he thought: ‘I can provoke her with this statement, escalate tension and then they’ll kick me out of the country’. But we are not going to do this… because the person who comes to fill his position may be even worse. We know this one; we know who he is. I always say: If you know them, better leave them where they are,” the President stated.
Let’s see if we can get this straight …the Chargé d’Affaires (a.i.) Kevin K. Sullivan wrote the Consular Section’s security message to upset the host country president so that he, CDA Sullivan can be kicked out of the country where he has been boss-man at the U.S. Embassy since June 2013? That make perfect sense, right? If true, this might just be one of the nuttiest way of getting out of what we’d call a plum assignment in the diplomatic service. Anybody out there who has successfully got himself/herself PNGed using this strategy?
Chargé d’Affaires (a.i.) Kevin K. Sullivan (center) with Willem Dafoe and Mikhail Baryshnikov at Palacio Bosch, Argentina (photo via US Embassy Buenos Aires/FB)
Back in May, Diplomatic Security actually released its 2014 Crime and Security Report on Argentina where it calls crime a serious problem in the country. “Street and residential crime appears to be increasingly common,is more violent than in the past, and is often perpetrated with a firearm or other deadly weapon.“But the report also says that “Despite the negative perception of various U.S. government policies, Argentines are friendly to Americans, and visitors are unlikely to experience anti-American sentiment.”
Unless Mr. Sullivan is pulling double duty as the Regional Security Officer (RSO) at Embassy Buenos Aires, we’re pretty confident that he also did not write that crime and security report.
We should note that the nominee to be the next permanent resident of Palacio Bosch is Obama bundler, Noah Mamet. Mr. Mamet one of the more controversial political appointees is still stuck in the Senate. If Mr. Mamet gets through the confirmation process, CFK may have to get to know him, too. Mr. Mamet speaks a little Spanish but has never been to Argentina, so there’s an opportunity for some work there.
In the meantime, as if all this is not convoluted enough, the Guardian reported that President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner has now“claimed the US may be behind a plot to overthrow her government and possibly even assassinate her.” Whaaaat? Excerpt below:
[S]he gave a rambling televised address in which she claimed the US may be behind a plot to overthrow her government and possibly even assassinate her.
“If something should happen to me, don’t look to the Middle East, look to the North,” Fernández said during the address on Tuesday night, in which she alluded to an alleged plot against her by local bankers and businessmen “with foreign help”.
Fernández had previously claimed to have received death threats from Islamic State (Isis) because of her friendship with Pope Francis. In last night’s speech, however, she seemed to suggest the threats against her, received in three emails to Argentinian security officials, had come from the US.
Her claim comes in the wake of a rapid deterioration of Argentina’s already rocky relationship with the US after the country went into default in August.
This is the president of over 41 million Argentines who says “the first thing I demand is respect.”
Secretary Clinton With Argentine President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton poses with Argentine President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner following a press conference in Buenos Aires, Argentina March 1, 2010. [State Department Photo/Public Domain]
According to the Guardian, Elisa Carrió, the UNEN party presidential candidate has called President Fernández “completely out of touch with reality”. “
“Since she doesn’t resist reality, with unemployment, high inflation, the rising dollar, she says it’s no longer Isis trying to kill her, but the US,” said Carrió. “She’s inventing conspiracies.”
In related news, CFK on September 30, also publiclycriticized the country’s Central Bank “for allegedly leaking inside information” according to Bloomberg News. Central Bank President Juan Carlos Fabrega officially resigned yesterday which resulted in deepening Argentine bond and stock markets losses.
No, it’s not useful to revisit that INR (Bureau of Intelligence and Research) cable; that one only has questions, and none of the answers. And we’d really like to know who is CFK going to suggest of plotting to kill her next.
Hey, what’s gong going on with Arturo, the only polar bear in Argentina?