“The best way to treat obstacles is to use them as stepping-stones. Laugh at them, tread on them, and let them lead you to something better.”
― Enid Blyton, Mr Galliano’s Circus
The Tumblr for Foreign Service Problems has been around for many months now. Sometime this past spring it also joined Twitter. Yes, it is hysterical and absolutely spot on. Below are some of our favorite entries to delight your day. Unless, the Foreign Service has also ruined your sense of humor, in which case, we pray you get it back — fast! or that could quickly be a future entry. With permission from @FS_Problems:
When someone mistakes you for being the Ambassador’s personal household help rather than a Foreign Service Officer or Specialist
When you know that you won’t be promoted before you TIS/TIC out and just don’t care any more.
— FS Problems (@FS_Problems) August 22, 2014 (Note: TIS for time-in- service, time in a combination of salary classes, computed from date of entry into the Foreign Service; TIC for time-in-class, time in a single salary class).
I’ve instructed Secretary Kerry to immediately begin discussions with Cuba to reestablish diplomatic relations that have been severed since January of 1961. Going forward, the United States will reestablish an embassy in Havana, and high-ranking officials will visit Cuba.
According to BuzzFeed, two Republican senators have already threatened to block congressional funding for a future U.S. Embassy in Cuba and an ambassadorial nomination after the Obama administration announced sweeping changes to U.S. policy toward Cuba.
“I anticipate we’re going to have a very interesting couple of years discussing how you’re going to get an ambassador nominated and how you’ll get an embassy funded,” Rubio, an ardent opponent of lifting the Cuban embargo, said.
The U.S. Interests Section (USINT) is in the former United States Embassy building that was built by Harrison Abramovitz architects and opened in 1953. The 6-story building was reopened in 1977, renovations were completed in 1997.
The functions of USINT are similar to those of any U.S. government presence abroad: Consular Services, a Political and Economic Section, a Public Diplomacy Program, and Refugee Processing unique to Cuba.
The objectives of USINT in Cuba are for rule of law, individual human rights and open economic and communication systems.
Bilateral relations are based upon the Migration Accords designed to promote safe, legal and orderly migration, the Interests Section Agreement, and efforts to reduce global threats from crime and narcotics.
Our de facto embassy has a staff of 51 Americans. Its total funding excluding salaries for FY2013 was $13,119,451, appropriated by Congress, of course. Our U.S. Congress.
Ambassador Jeffrey DeLaurentis, a career member of the Senior Foreign Service, is the Chief of Mission at the U.S. Interests Section in Havana. Prior to taking up this position in August 2014, Ambassador DeLaurentis served for three years as the Alternate Representative for Special Political Affairs at the U.S. Mission to the United Nations. Prior to that posting, he was Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for the Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs.
There’s more via State/OIG’s 2014 inspection report of USINT Havana:
USINT is located in a U.S. Government-owned building constructed in 1951 as a chancery and substantially renovated in the early 1990s. The land was first leased from the Cuban Government in 1949 for a 90-year term with a 90-year extension. In exchange, the U.S. Government leased three residences (in Havana, Matanzas, and Santiago) to the Cuban Government, also for 90 years.
The Department constructed and first occupied the U.S. Government-owned COM residence in 1942. The original eagle from the monument to the victims of the battleship Maine, which was toppled following the Bay of Pigs invasion, adorns the grounds. Representational, family, and guest spaces are well appointed. The residence is well maintained and furnished [….]
Short-term-leased properties in Havana include an annex, which houses Department of Homeland Security and the Bureau of Population, Refugees, And Migration, a warehouse, the DCM residence, a two-house Marine detachment compound, and residential housing for all other USINT American staff. These properties are all covered under an umbrella lease agreement with PALCO.
A special note, dedicated to our elected representatives who made lots of noise about security and protecting our diplomats overseas in the aftermath of Benghazi — the State Department Inspector General recommended that the Bureau of Overseas Building Operations “implement a comprehensive plan to address security, structural, fire safety, and space planning deficiencies” at the U.S. Interests Section Havana…”
We’d like to know that these congressional concerns extend to our diplomats who have been serving in Havana for years under our de facto embassy.
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.”
ABC News’ Kirit Radia wrote recently about how the US Embassy in Moscow is facing cold war-era harassment:
One American diplomat’s tires were slashed. Another’s personal email was hacked. Still others reported mysterious break-ins.
The incidents are all signs, U.S. officials and experts said, that aggressive, Soviet-era counterintelligence tactics are back in fashion in Russia.
The number of incidents targeting American diplomats in Moscow has increased in recent years to levels not seen since the Cold War, officials said.
Taken together, they paint an escalating pattern of intimidation and harassment that is believed to be led by Russia’s Federal Security Services (FSB), a successor to the Soviet KGB.
Some of the alleged Russian actions seemed petty. In several instances, U.S. officials returned home to find their belongings had been moved or a window left open in the middle of winter. American diplomats have also been trailed more overtly by Russian security agents.
Others attempted to interfere with diplomatic work, like disrupting public meetings with Russian contacts. Uniformed guards provided by Russia to stand outside the embassy, ostensibly for protection, have harassed visitors and even employees trying to enter the building.
Ambassador McFaul was followed almost everywhere he went in an aggressive, at times threatening way by both Russian security agents and pro-Kremlin television stations, even while attending private events with his family.
In one notably flagrant episode, according to officials, McFaul was stranded in the Russian Foreign Ministry parking lot after police stopped his driver for a minor infraction and revoked his driver’s license on the spot.
On October 29, the Russian Foreign Ministry said it believed “the allegations could have been cooked up at the suggestion of the U.S. State Department,” according to TASS and accused the United States of spying on official Russians in the United States, as well as the following:
[T]he United States is making regular attempts to recruit our diplomats by means of gross provocations involving the use of illegally obtained personal data, including information on the health of family members,” the Russian Foreign Ministry stressed.
In any case, we can tell you that the U.S. Embassy in Moscow is not alone when it comes to host country harassment.
In Belarus where parliamentary democracy ended with the 1994 presidential election of Alexander Lukashenko, staff members at the U.S. Embassy in Minsk, both American and local nationals have also been subjected to regular harassment by the Belarusian security services. “To visit Embassy Minsk is to step back in time to an era when American diplomats in Eastern Europe operated in inhospitable environments,” reports the OIG. The following is excerpted from the State/OIG inspection report from September 2013:
American staff residences have been entered surreptitiously [REDACTED]. The embassy and all U.S. and Belarusian staff are under constant physical surveillance.
Staff members operate on the assumption that everything sent on unclassified systems or spoken on the telephone is monitored by Belarusian security services and other local security agencies. See OIG, Belarus September 2013 (pdf).
In July 2012 authorities installed police checkpoints at all embassy gates and at the public affairs office. Police take personal information from both U.S. and Belarusian citizens before allowing visitors to enter. Except in rare cases, when U.S. Government officials make temporary visits to Minsk, host-country authorities require that an equivalent number of permanent American staff members leave the country to maintain the five-person limit. This restriction and persistent harassment hamper mission operations and program implementation.
Take a look at this current staffing that has been the norm for a while:
In May 2012, State/OIG noted the official harassment of US Mission Pakistan by the Pakistani Government. We should note that Pakistan is the 3rd largest recipient of U.S. foreign assistance in FY2012 at $1.821B, after Israel and Afghanistan. In the FY 2014 budget request, Pakistan slipped to #4, dislodged by Egypt, but still receiving foreign assistance in the amount of $1.2B. Below is what the OIG inspector wrote about the harassment of U.S. mission elements in Pakistan; most of the section on this topic, of course, is redacted from the report:
Official Pakistani obstructionism and harassment, an endemic problem in Pakistan, has increased to the point where it is significantly impairing mission operations and program implementation (REDACTED (b) (5). The issue of harassment must be made an integral part of high-level policy discussions with the Pakistani Government regarding the future of the bilateral relationship.
Official Harassment: U.S. official entities operating in Pakistan have long been subjected to unusual, government-initiated obstructionism and harassment. That harassment has reached new levels of intensity, however, after the events of 2011. The embassy describes the harassment as deliberate, willful, and systematic. While other diplomatic missions have experienced similar treatment, the United States is clearly the principal target. The harassment takes many forms: delayed visa issuances; blocked shipments for both assistance programs and construction projects; denials of requests for in-country travel; and surveillance of and interference with mission employees and contractors. (REDACTED).
The scope and impact of official Pakistani harassment and obstructionism is described in the Background section of this report. (LOOONG REDACTION).
The good news here is that so far, except in Homeland, no ex-CIA director has yet been kidnapped and spirited out of Islamabad while locked in the trunk of a car.
Beyond petty harassment like blocked shipments and delayed visa issuance, perhaps the worse ones are reports of harassment out of Havana, Cuba where the OIG in 2007 says that “USINT life in Havana is life with a government that “let’s you know it’s hostile.”
Apparently, retaliations at that time have ranged from the petty to the poisoning of family pets. The regime had also gone to great lengths to harass some employees by holding up household goods and consumable shipments. The apparent goal apparently, had been “to instigate dissension within USINT ranks. “
C’mon, poisoning the pets?!
Fast forward to 2014 and not much have changed. Here is what the OIG report says:
Mission employees face a difficult working environment. U.S. officers can meet only with certain government officials. They are allowed to travel only a limited distance from Havana without special permission. Shipments of supplies, mail, and personal effects are frequently delayed. Normal banking operations are nonexistent. Consumer goods are scarce and expensive. Communication facilities are substandard.
Surveillance of U.S. and local employee staff members by Cuban authorities is pervasive.
USINT officers’ travel is limited to within Havana province. Permission to travel outside that area requires sending a diplomatic note a minimum of 5 days before travel begins.
Shipments of official procurements take 6 months or more to be cleared even after receiving pre-clearance from the Ministry of External Relations–another lengthy process. Unclassified pouches with personal mail are often rejected and sent back to the United States. Incoming household effects, which take 1 day to sail from Miami to Havana, have sat for months in the port awaiting clearance; the same holds for personal vehicles and consumables.
Cuban customs authorities open and x-ray both inbound and outbound shipments before they will clear them.
At least there’s no more poisoning of the family pets of the U.S. Interest Section Havana staffers. And no one, as far as we know, has been reported to accept the offer of “*Cigars, señora?” from a handsome young man. (*from an FS spouse short fiction about life in Cuba via American Diplomacy).
Mr. Kerry is vocal and forceful in internal debates, officials said, but he frequently gets out of sync with the White House in his public statements. White House officials joke that he is like the astronaut played by Sandra Bullock in the movie “Gravity,” somersaulting through space, untethered to the White House.
Aides to Mr. Kerry reject that portrait, saying he dials into White House meetings from the road and is heavily involved in the policy process.
Yup, you’re careening wildly all over the place, and undermining very publicly this administration’s Secretary of State, and you think there will be no consequences because it’s just a joke? Didn’t you stop to consider that foreign ministries around the world may start questioning just how “untethered” the Secretary is to the White House and that it could impact how they deal with him or his agency?
For Baracksakes, adult supervisors need to please step on the brakes here!
* * *
Oops, what did the WH say?
.@PressSec, per WH pool: #SecKerry, like Sandra Bullock’s astronaut in Gravity, “has circled the globe many times to advance U.S. interests”
On August 30, following a reported coup in Lesotho, the U.S. Embassy in Maseru issued a message to U.S. citizens urging them to “take proper precautions when traveling, such as avoiding areas of potential intimidation, routes of marches, and ongoing demonstrations.” It also advised U.S. citizens who choose to move around the capital city to return to their residences by 5:30 pm and remain there overnight.
Today, the Embassy Maseru informed the U.S. citizen community in Lesotho that the Department of State has ordered the departure of non-employed family members of U.S. Mission personnel due to concerns over a possible deterioration of the security situation in Lesotho. An “ordered departure” means that family members who are not employed at the U.S. mission, do not have an option to stay in country and must depart. The Security Message includes the following information:
The Embassy is prepared to assist U.S. citizens who wish to depart from Lesotho and recommends those interested in Embassy assistance to contact us at +266 5888 4035.
The U.S. Embassy in Lesotho will be open September 2-3 for emergency American Citizens Services only. Citizens should be aware that depending on the security situation, the Embassy may be forced to suspend operations without advance notice. The international airport in Maseru is currently operating normally, however, flights may be suspended if the current security situation worsens. Land borders are also open at this time, but may close without warning. U.S. citizens who remain in Lesotho despite this Travel Warning are urged to stay in their homes until the security situation returns to normal, to closely monitor media reports, and to follow all official instructions. U.S. citizens who must leave their homes for any reason are urged to exercise extreme caution, be particularly alert to their surroundings, and to avoid crowds, demonstrations, or any other form of public gathering.
U.S. citizens in Lesotho should carry their travel documents (i.e., passport, birth certificate, picture ID’s, etc.) with them at all times. Additionally, U.S. citizens in the area are reminded to stay in contact with friends and family in the United States to keep them apprised of their current welfare and whereabouts.
* * *
Troops have reportedly mounted raids on police headquarters and police stations in the capital, Maseru, on Saturday and there is confusion over who is in control of the country. To understand political parties and democratization in Lesotho, read this (pdf) publication by the Electoral Institute of Southern Africa.
Embassy Masesu is a small post with about a couple dozen American employees and about 80 local staff according to a 2010 OIG report. According to a State Department listing, as of August 27, 2014, U.S. Embassy Lesotho is currently headed by DCM/CHG Charge John McNamara. President Obama announced Matthew Harrington as his nominee for Ambassador to Lesotho on August 1, 2013. Mr. Harrington, a career diplomat, has now been stuck in confirmation purgatory for 395 days.
The 2014 July 4th celebrations at our diplomatic missions actually started this past February, with the U.S. Embassy Kathmandu celebration of the 238th Anniversary of the Independence of the United States of America on February 22, 2014. This was followed by the US Embassy in Oman which hosted its independence day event on March 25, 2014 (see Open Season: This Year’s July 4th Independence Day Celebrations Officially On). Here are the well-timed red, white and blue celebrations that caught our eyes this year.
U.S. Consulate Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
In an unprecedented tribute to U.S. Independence Day, Rio de Janeiro’s iconic the Christ the Redeemer statue in Rio de Janeiro was lit with the colors of the American flag on July 3, 2014. U.S. Consul General to Rio de Janeiro John Creamer and Christ the Redeemer rector Father Omar Raposo were at the monument for the special lighting, which happens as Brazil hosts approximately 90,000 U.S. tourists for the 2014 FIFA World Cup. Pretty cool!
U.S. Embassy Tallin, Estonia
This 4th of July cake was so huge that it needed six people to carry it into the event hosted by Ambassador Jeffrey Levine. We think that this cake was made by the Radisson Blu Hotel in Tallinn. We don’t know many many years the hotel has been making this cake for the annual event but just below the photo is the time lapse video showing the making of the 300KG 4th of July cake for Embassy Tallinn a couple of years ago. Amazing!
Independence Day Celebration, June 26, 2014 Photos by U.S. Embassy Tallinn
Embassy Canberra ran a social media Independence Day contest and came up with MasterChef Australia contestants akitchencat and The Bread & Butter ChefKylie Ofiu as winners to join them for the 4th of July bash. American chef Tory McPhail also arrived in Canberra last week and got the Embassy kitchen prepped and ready to feed over 600 people for the event hosted by Ambassador John Berry.
Rydhave, all ready to receive over 1.000 of Embassy Copenhagen’s closest friends and contacts. Entertainment this year was provided by Basim, and the band The Sentimentals. The Embassy’s own Sonia Evans performed the American national anthem.The food at the event was supplied by CP Cooking.
There was a big do in Foggy Bottom last night celebrating the 90th anniversary of the modern Foreign Service founded on May 24, 1924 when the Diplomatic and Consular Services were unified under the Rogers Act (named for Representative John Jacob Rogers of Massachusetts). Former Secretary Colin Powell and former Senator Lugar, as well as other friends of the Service were in attendance. Secretary Kerry, the 68th Secretary of State and the son of former Foreign Service officer, Richard John Kerry, delivered the remarks. Excerpt:
Ninety years ago the Foreign Service was just absolutely unrecognizable compared to what it is today. Back then we had fewer than 700 Foreign Service officers and now we have more than 13,000. Back then we had no female chiefs of mission – none. Now we have more than 40. And I’m proud to tell you that right now in this Department five out of six of our regional Assistant Secretaries are women; four out of six of our Under Secretaries are women; and we are joined tonight – since we have two Deputy Secretaries of State, 50 percent are women, and one of them is here. Heather Higginbottom, sitting right over here. So I think that’s a great record.
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry delivers remarks at an event celebrating the 90th Anniversary of the United States Foreign Service at the U.S. Department of State in Washington, D.C., on May 22, 2014. The modern Foreign Service was created on May 24, 1924, with the passage of the Rogers Act establishing the current merit-based, professional Foreign Service. [State Department photo/ Public Domain]
Former Secretary Colin Powell and former Senator Richard Lugar listen as U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry delivers remarks at an event celebrating the 90th Anniversary of the United States Foreign Service at the U.S. Department of State in Washington, D.C., on May 22, 2014. The modern Foreign Service was created on May 24, 1924, with the passage of the Rogers Act establishing the current merit-based, professional Foreign Service. [State Department photo/ Public Domain]
Back then, when it started, we had only one African American Foreign Service officer. One. A man named Clifton Wharton. I happened to know of him way back when because my dad actually worked for him way back in those early days. Now we have nearly a thousand African American Foreign Service officers following in his footsteps. […] And in 1924, House Resolution 6357 passed Congress and it gave birth to the modern Foreign Service. Now to quote Rogers: “The promise of good diplomacy is the greatest protector of peace.” And our hope is that people will recognize that 90 years from that moment, that is exactly what the Foreign Service has done.
The U.S. Foreign Service has more than 90 years of history, of course. According to the State Department historian, from 1789 until 1924, the Diplomatic Service, which staffed U.S. Legations and Embassies, and the Consular Service, which was primarily responsible for promoting American commerce and assisting distressed American sailors, developed separately.
The first Act of Congress providing for U.S. consuls abroad was passed on April 14, 1792. Except for the consuls appointed to the Barbary States of North Africa (who enjoyed quasi-diplomatic status when Muslim countries did not maintain permanent missions abroad), U.S. consuls received no salary and were expected to earn their livings from private trade or from fees charged for official services. Some of these officials did not start getting paid until 1856 when Congress established a salary between $1,000 and $7,500 per year.
In 1781, we had 4 diplomatic posts and 3 consular posts. By 2010, we had 168 diplomatic and 89 consular posts. In 1781, the State Department also had 4 domestic and 10 overseas personnel. By 1940, this grew to 1,128 domestic personnel and 840 staff overseas. The largest bump in staffing occurred in the 1950s when domestic personnel expanded to 8,609 employees and the Foreign Service grew to 7,710 overseas staff. By the time the Foreign Service Act of 1980 became law, there were 3,438 Civil Service employees and 9,326 Foreign Service. When USIA was integrated into the State Department, there were 6,958 CS employees and 9,238 FS employees. The Diplomatic Readiness Initiative (DRI) in 2005 boosted the staffing numbers to 8,098 CS employees and 11,238 FS employees. In 2012, there were 13,676 FS employees of 55% of the total agency employees and 10,811 CS employes or 45% of State employees.
The question we have is what will the Foreign Service look like when it turns 100 in 2024? The DRI hires will be in senior management positions in 10 years. How will their experience help them manage a new generation of diplomats?
In the past decade, we have seen an increase in unaccompanied assignments, and in the number of male eligible family members. The number of danger posts, as well, as the number of priority posts have also expanded. A good number of junior diplomats have started their careers in war zone assignments in Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya; some more were sent to restricted assignments in Pakistan, Yemen, and various countries under civil strife. We have Diplomatic Security agents moving from one priority posting to the next priority posting; rinse that and repeat. We don’t how many PTSD cases and non-natural deaths occur among FS members but we know they exist.
These folks will all come “home” one day to a Foreign Service where some have never served in the front line states. We hope somebody at the State Department is thinking and planning for that day. Or maybe that day is already here since there is already a divide between those perceived to be conducting “real diplomacy” and those who are not; with some considering an assignment in a war zone as not being “actual diplomacy.” There are also folks annoyed that FSOs who serve in war zones get much more money and received favorable treatment on promotions.
Something is happening in the Foreign Service. What will it be like in fifty years?
State/OIG recently posted its inspection report of the U.S. Interests Section (USINT) in Havana, Cuba. Post which is headed by career diplomats, John P. Caulfield, the Chief of Mission and Conrad R. Tribble, the Deputy Chief of Mission received a good overall review with a few exceptions. “U.S. Interests Section Havana advances U.S. objectives in a challenging environment. The Chief of Mission and his deputy provide strong leadership.”
Among the main judgments: 1) The consular section has reduced waiting times for Cuban visa applicants and deftly handled the increase in American citizens cases; 2) The political/economic section meets high standards in its reporting, despite limited information and host government restrictions that limit opportunities to make representations to the Cuban Government, and 3) The management section performs well under difficult conditions that hamper its ability to provide seamless administrative support.
An important point, USINT is not in regular communication with the Bureau of Diplomatic Security’s Office of Foreign Missions on issues of reciprocity. Since the movement of diplomatic pouches, cargo, and personal shipments is covered under the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations, OIG recommends that USINT should inform the Office of Foreign Missions (OFM) and the Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs (WHA) on a regular basis of delayed shipments and other reciprocity issues. On May 1, President Obama announced his nomination of Gentry O. Smith as Director of the Office of Foreign Missions, with the rank of Ambassador during his tenure of service. He will, of course, be stuck in the Senate for the next several months. (Note: We understand that OFM no longer reports to DS but now reports directly to U/S Management). Also, the report describes low morale among First and Second Tour (FAST) officers. However, the final report does not include the curtailments of ELOs/FAST officers from post.
The inspection took place in Washington, DC, between September 3 and October 17, 2013, and in Havana, Cuba, from November 5 through 21, 2013. The overseas portion of the inspection was truncated because of the partial Federal Government shutdown. Ambassador Pamela Smith (team leader), Lavon Sajona (deputy team leader), Paul Cantrell, Eric Chavera, Mark Jacobs, John Moran, John Philibin, Iris Rosenfeld, and Steven White conducted the inspection.
Below we’ve listicled the twelve things we learned about the assignment in Havana that we did not know before, plus a couple of other things that apparently did not make it to the final report.
#1. The mission had 51 U.S. direct-hire employees, a cap jointly agreed to by the United States and Cuba. USINT cannot sustain the elevated pace of nonimmigrant visa adjudications without increasing the number of consular officer positions. However, because of the cap, it is unlikely that new permanent officer positions can be established in the short term.
#2. Sixteen employees work in the Office of the Coordinator for Cuban Affairs, one of the Department’s largest country desks. […] Not all the coordination office’s operations are transparent to USINT or to working-level office staff …Compounding these difficulties, the coordinator has not visited USINT since his previous assignment in Havana more than a decade ago.
#3. USINT officers’ travel is limited to within Havana province. Permission to travel outside the area requires sending a diplomatic note a minimum of 5 days before travel begins.
#4. Materials and supplies sourced in the United States can take 6 months or longer to procure, ship, and clear into Cuba; that is if the Cuban Government doesn’t reject them.
#5. Unclassified pouches with personal mail are often rejected and sent back to the United States. Incoming household effects, which take 1 day to sail from Miami to Havana, have sat for months in the port awaiting clearance; the same holds for personal vehicles and consumables.
#6. The mission makes effective use of eligible family members to fill gaps and augment its workforce to meet critical needs. All family members who wish to work have jobs.
#7. Offices go without equipment and supplies, the maintenance section lacks materials to repair buildings and residences, and employees and their families go without familiar foods, medicines, clothes, children’s toys, transportation, computers, and books.
#8. USINT pays the Cuban Government a monthly fee for each employee’s services. The Cuban Government withholds a large portion of the fee, ostensibly as the employee’s contribution to the social welfare system, and pays employees a salary that can be as little as the equivalent of $10 per month.
#9. In addition to the clearance delays, staff report that the Havana port authority has only one crane and one forklift (not always operable) to move containers, adding to delays.
# 10. On a more positive note, employees state that Cuban packers are some of the best they have experienced in their careers. Unfortunately, Cuban customs authorities open and x-ray both inbound and outbound shipments before they will clear them.
#11. Productivity increased by a factor of four, as the consular section went from interviewing 120 to 150 applicants per day to an average of more than 500.[…] Consular managers schedule appointments assuming that each officer will interview at least 110 applicants per day. In reality, some officers interview as many as 140 applicants a day, but others interview as few as 80. The rate at which the top producing officers are expected to interview is not reasonable or sustainable for the long term.
#12. [M]ission employees operate vehicles that are damaged, unsightly, and possibly unsafe. One vehicle is missing interior door panels and its gear shift knob. In Cuba, diplomatic vehicles can be sold only to other diplomatic missions. No mission has expressed interest in purchasing USINT’s unserviceable vehicles.
#13. What’s that? Just couple or so sections accounted for the loss of multiple officers at post? Miserable. So as a consequence, 3 out of 8 permanently assigned Entry Level Officer (ELO)/First and Second Tour (FAST) officers curtailed? You wouldn’t know it from reading the IG report. Blame it on this ‘swallow da bad stuff’ contraption:
Image via Imgur
#14. Pardon me? One officer curtailed Havana to go to Pakistan? Yo, Pakistan! Then one officer … what? A West Point grad, quit post and the Foreign Service in mid-tour? And then there’s one that did not work out … when we heard these, we’re like ….
American Diplomacyis the Publication of Origin for this work. The author, David A. Langbart is a senior archivist in the Textual Archives Services Division at the National Archives. He specializes in the records of the Department of State and other foreign affairs agencies. We have previously excerpted his work here and here in 2013 and most recently this year on the women in the Foreign Service. Excerpt from his piece, Bureaucratic Pique:
An essential aspect of the U.S. foreign policy program, especially since the 1930s, is the use of cultural representatives abroad. Having major musicians perform overseas under the auspices of the U.S. government is a major component of the cultural program. Planning for such events did not always proceed smoothly. In June 1974, the attempt to arrange for one such event led to a unique bureaucratic response, if not the specific performance itself.
In late June 1974, the U.S. embassy in the Philippines informed the Department of State of the impending inauguration of a new folk art theater, part of a cultural complex on Manila Bay. The embassy reported that while the Philippine Government had invited ministers of culture from a number of friendly countries, and the embassy expected several “significant” attendees, the U.S. had not received such an invitation because it had no cabinet level equivalent.
The embassy further reported that the noted pianist Van Cliburn had agreed to perform concerts on July 3 and 4, just a matter of days away. In order to give Cliburn an official imprimatur, the Philippine Secretary of Foreign Affairs requested that the U.S. designate the performer as a “special cultural representative” or similar title. The ambassador, William Sullivan, noting that Cliburn was a “local favorite,” endorsed the idea, writing that “This strikes me as an easy and painless gesture for the U.S. Government to make in order to earn a useful return of Philippine appreciation.” Given the timing, however, he noted that the issue needed to be resolved quickly. 1
And because nothing is ever resolved quickly in a bureaucracy, stuff happens. Ambassador Sullivan would have been spectacular on Twitter!