Category Archives: FSOs

The Odd Story of “Vetting/Scrubbing” the Tenure/Promotion of 1,800 Foreign Service Employees in the U.S. Senate

– Domani Spero

We recently blogged about the hold on the commission, tenure and promotion of 1,705 career Foreign Service employees at the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. (See Is the U.S. Senate Gonna Wreck, Wreck, Wreck, the Upcoming Bidding Season in the Foreign Service?).

We wondered then if this was one more  unintended consequence from the Senate’s “nuclear” option.

Here’s what we were told by AFSA:

“FYI – this has nothing to do with the nuclear option – its strictly about State’s vetting process.”

AFSA then sent us a link of its April 1 notice to its membership: Ask the Senate to Support Foreign Service Employees!

After reading that, we were struck by the following line:

“We urge the SFRC to address issues regarding vetting of names for criminal background checks collaboratively. Simultaneously we ask the SFRC to grant these men and women the commissioning, tenure and promotions for which they’ve been recommended.”

Huh?

We asked AFSA again — what sort of vetting are we talking about here? All these nominees pending on the SFRC have Top Secret clearances and have been vetted by Diplomatic Security.

We got the following response:

“There are some differences in what the State Department does and what DoD does both in substance and information provided to oversight committees. […] it does NOT have to do with DS vetting and TS clearances.  There may be some periods of time and activity that are not being captured by current vetting process and I think State is amenable to working with committee to resolve.”

We did the underline there.  We don’t know what the heck that means!

So nothing to do with the nuclear option.

Nothing to do with Diplomatic Security vetting.

And nothing to do with TS clearances.

Wow!

What a strange mess! Anybody know what this is really all about?

Again from your elected AFSA official:

“Both the State Department and DoD vet/scrub the lists with internal and external agencies before they send the list to the Senate and its respective committees – SFRC, SASC.  This vetting/scrub is what is being discussed.”

Arghhh! Arff! Arff!

AFSA’s letter to the SFRC Chairman Bob Menendez and Ranking Member Bob Corker does not explain how this mess started in December 2013 but provides some details on the groups impacted by the Senate hold:

Now 1800 FS Employees Stuck at the SFRC

“[W]e are writing to convey our deep concerns about the impact that the delayed confirmations of tenure and promotions for career Foreign Service employees is having on U.S. diplomatic operations and U.S. national interests. When we raised this matter back in December 2013, nearly 1,300 individuals were affected by the holds. As of this time, there are approximately 1,800 members of the Foreign Service from four foreign affairs agencies (Department of State, USAID, Foreign Agricultural Service, and Foreign Commercial Service) who await Senate confirmation of appointment, tenure, or promotion.”

200 FS Employees Waiting to Officially Join the SFS

“Of these, over 200 employees of all four agencies are awaiting confirmation of their promotions into or within the Senior Foreign Service. These members are affected financially in two distinct ways. First, the pay increases earned as a result of their promotions cannot be paid until attestation by the president, nor can the promotions be back-dated so as to overcome this loss of remuneration. Second, unless the promotions are confirmed and attested before April 15, 2014, they are not eligible to be reviewed for, or to receive, performance pay. In addition, uncertainty besets the onward assignments of these 200 members. Failure to confirm these officers as members of the Senior Foreign Service affects the ability of consulates, embassies and USAID missions to conduct the business of the United States overseas.”

Over 900 Waiting for FSO Commissions

“Over 900 of the remaining officers are awaiting commissioning as Foreign Service officers and secretaries in the diplomatic service, almost half of whom have been waiting close to a year. Several of them are approaching the limit of their 5-year Limited Career Appointments. If that expires without their being commissioned, they are supposed to leave the Foreign Service in accordance with Section 309 of the Foreign Service Act of 1980 (22 USC §3949.) Moreover, as untenured officers, they are ineligible to receive some pay differentials for positions, which they currently encumber. Overall, this is having a severe effect on their morale and their eligibility for onward assignments. Unfortunately, this prolonged wait and uncertainty is coloring their impressions of public service at the beginning of their careers.”

Over 600 FSOs Without Consular Commissions

“Finally, over 600 new Foreign Service officers, just starting their Limited Career Appointments, have not yet received commissions as consular officers. Without a Consular Commission, these entry-level officers are technically not authorized to adjudicate visas and perform other consular work. In addition, the possession of a Consular Commission is generally a prerequisite to the granting by a host nation of all necessary diplomatic privileges and immunities under the Vienna Convention.”

 

So, when we read this, our immediate reaction was where is the State Department leadership in all this? We know that Secretary Kerry and his top officials are often traveling but  there’s a whole lot of ranking officials in Foggy Bottom who could interface with the leadership and staff of the SFRC. Where is the Under Secretary for Management? Where is the Deputy Secretary for Management and Resources?

But see – what we heard from insiders is that the State Department reportedly said: “AFSA had the lead on fixing this.” 

Well, that’s terribly odd, isn’t it?

Secretary Kerry was at the SFRC on April 8, and made passing mention of the nominations, but we sorta think he’s talking about the top ranking nominees.  We don’t even know if he’s aware that 1,800 of his employees are stuck in the committee:

“I also want to thank everybody on the committee for working so hard to move the nominations, which obviously is critical. I think our – it’s not the fault of the committee, but with a combination of vetting process and public process and so forth and the combination of the slowdown on the floor of the Senate, I think we’re averaging something like 220-some days and some people at 300 days and some over 365 days. So I have literally only in the last month gotten my top team in place one year in, and I’m very grateful to the committee.”

The Secretary did not specifically mention that  Ambassador Carlos Pascual who was nominated to be Assistant Secretary of State for Energy Resources on February 17, 2012 has been stuck in committee with Super Glue for 760 days.

Secretary Kerry also did not specifically mentioned the blanket senate hold during the April 8 hearing that affects about 10% of his agency’s workforce. And really — what do you do with 600 consular officers without their Consular Commissions? Have they been adjudicating visas without their Consular Commissions, and if so, what kind of immunity and diplomatic privileges are afforded these officials overseas?

But wait, like on teevee — there’s more!

We are now also hearing disturbing allegations that the genesis of this mess started long before December 2013, even going back to 2012.

It is alleged that this all started with one name on the promotion list. The original initiator (who apparently is not/not a stranger to AFSA and the State Department) allegedly brought a specific name on the promotion list to the attention of a Senate staffer. It is alleged that the action was taken using personal connections cultivated in the Senate. The key question at that time allegedly revolved around the security clearance of one — one specific individual and resulted in the removal of  this individual’s name from the promotion list.

Now, why would anyone do that?

If we could hire Veronica Mars, she’d definitely bug this  Mr. Initiator guy then we’d have the full story.

It is further alleged that  subsequent to the removal of that one name from the promotion list, the same SFRC staffer also identified several other FSOs who were subjects of “investigations” at some point in their careers. In most cases, these investigations reportedly were in the medium to distant past (as much as 10 or 15 years ago). Our source, clearly frustrated says that the fact that these investigations occurred in the past has not deterred the senator’s office pursuit of these FSOs.

This year’s senate hold reportedly started with an assertion by one senator’s office that the military vets people better than State does, and that the State Department list is “riddled with people” whose actions had been questioned “by OIG and others.”  We don’t know who consists of “others.” Our source familiar with this matter but speaking on background said that one senator reportedly vowed “not to approve any FS name until the matter was resolved.” The same SFRC staffer allegedly involved in the initial promotion list snafu works for this one senator. Senior State Department officials have reportedly demonstrated that, unlike the military, all State employees have TS clearances which include name checks. We’re told that at the senate’s request, the SOP on vetting at the State Department now goes “further” than what is required by the military. We do not know what “further” or additional layers of vetting were added.

The following areas were supposedly contentious:

#1. The automatic exclusion of any employees with criminal convictions.
#2. The separate nomination of any employees with “problems.”

Say, wait — how many State Department employees with criminal convictions have been able to hold on to their Top Secret clearance? One, two, a hundred, five hundred?

The number is .. wait for it …. ZERO.

How many State Department employees under investigation or with criminal convictions have been able to keep their names on the promotion list? Hey, don’t they yank your name from that promotion list as soon as there is an investigation with your name on it?

Employees who previously faced investigations and have successfully prevailed/survived the investigations will now be singled out on the promotion list? Why? Should they also be required to wear  “NOT GUILTY BUT” t-shirts to work?

If these employees have been cleared of wrongdoing, why is the Senate hardballing them?

We do not know the full story about this Senate hold involving some 1,800 FS employees but AFSA and the State Department should know who were the names targeted from the promotion lists and why. And if they don’t know the why, then they should find out, of course. If a Senate staffer who has worked in Congress for years just got out of bed one day and decided he/she wants to put a hold on 1,800 names because the “vetting” and “scrubbing” of names have been unsatisfactory all this time — we should all ask why.

Because.  Motive, motive, motive.

Let’s start at the very beginning… oh, where is Sherlock when you need him?

If  the allegation is true, that this whole merry go round mess was initiated by one Foreign Service insider and got out of hand … now then, you’ve got a mess, Houston. One FS person was initially targeted by another FS person using contacts in the Senate. That’s pretty personal.

It looks like you’ve got a petty little beaver who never left hight  high school …

And he’s representing the United States of America.

On Friday, April 11, AFSA released this: Senate Confirms Tenure and Promotion!

 

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FBI Adds Ex-Diplomat Bradford Bishop, Jr. to Ten Most Wanted Fugitives List (Video + Photos)

– Domani Spero

On April 10, the FBI named William Bradford Bishop, Jr. to the Ten Most Wanted Fugitives list. Bishop is wanted for allegedly bludgeoning to death his wife Annette, mother Lobelia, and three sons, William Bradford III (14), Brenton (10), and Geoffrey (5) at their home in Bethesda, Maryland, on March 1, 1976.  He was a Foreign Service officer with postings in Italy, Ethiopia, Botswana and was posted in Foggy Bottom in 1974. He has been a fugitive since 1976.

 

bishop1

Photo taken circa 1970-1975 Source: FBI |              More images here.

Have you seen this man?
1-800-CALL-FBI

Photograph enhanced to age 77 Source: FBI

Photograph enhanced to age 77
Source: FBI | More images here.

Via FBI:

Investigators believe Bishop then drove to rural North Carolina, buried the bodies in a shallow grave, and lit them on fire. The United States Attorney’s Office in Maryland has charged Bishop with unlawful flight to avoid prosecution in the murders.

Adding Bishop to the FBI’s Ten Most Wanted Fugitives list creates the national and international attention needed to bring closure to a case that has remained unsolved for decades. Bishop has not been seen since he bought a pair of sneakers in Jacksonville, North Carolina, in 1976. A witness said Bishop was with a woman who was walking a dog described as an Irish Setter but is believed to have been the family’s golden retriever Leo.

Investigators with the FBI’s Baltimore and Washington Field Offices, Montgomery County Police Department, Montgomery County Sheriff’s Office, and United States Department of State formed a task force in May 2013 to review the case as part of a cold case initiative. The task force is now asking the public for help in finding Bishop. The task force worked with top forensic artist Karen T. Taylor to create an age-progressed bust of what Bishop may look like now at the age of 77.

“Media wasn’t the same in 1976 as it is now. You didn’t have 24-hour news stations that many people watch in the gym or sitting in airports. You also didn’t have social media, like Facebook or Twitter back then,” said Steve Vogt, Special Agent in Charge of the FBI Baltimore Division. “All that has changed with the Bishop case is the passage of time. Bishop broke with his life and assumed a new identity. Because of that fact, most traditional fugitive investigative techniques are worthless. We’re hoping media and people who are active on social media pay attention to this; they’ll be the ones to solve this case.”

Bishop is a white man and 6’1” tall and 180 pounds with brown hair and brown eyes when he was last seen in 1976. He has a six-inch vertical surgical scar on his lower back that would still be visible.

“This was a horrific case that involved five innocent members of one family, including three young children, who were all brutally murdered in a place in which they felt safe and by a person whom they trusted. It is unthinkable that a man who is a son, a husband, and a father could commit such a terrible crime,” said Chief Thomas Manger with the Montgomery County Police Department.

Bishop loved the outdoors and was an avid hiker, runner, swimmer, and fisherman who also enjoyed riding motorcycles. He was also a licensed amateur pilot who learned to fly in Botswana, Africa. Bishop was well-read and learned to speak many languages while working in the United States Foreign Service. Bishop earned a degree in American Studies from Yale University and a master’s degree in Italian from Middlebury College in Vermont. He kept detailed journals and may continue to do so now. Bishop was a longtime insomniac and was being treated with medication for depression. Bishop drank scotch and wine, and he enjoyed eating peanuts and spicy food. He was also prone to violent outbursts and preferred a neat and orderly environment.

“Bishop wrote many times in his journal that he wanted a freer life, one where he didn’t have to answer to anyone but himself. He doesn’t deserve the freedom he’s enjoyed for the last three decades,” said Sheriff Darren Popkin with the Montgomery County Sheriff’s Office. “We have a warrant for his arrest, and regardless of how old it is, we know the only way we’re going to bring Bishop to justice is for a neighbor, co-worker, or possible family member to come forward to say they know Bishop now.”

Bishop is believed to have taken with him a Smith and Wesson .38 revolver he inherited from his father with the serial number C981967. He had been seen in many photos wearing his class ring from Yale, something that meant a lot to him andthat he still may have or wear.

William Bradford Bishop, Jr. is the 502nd person to be placed on the FBI’s Ten Most Wanted Fugitives list, which was established in March 1950. Since then, 471 fugitives have been caught or located, 156 of them as a result of citizen cooperation.

If you have any information about William Bradford Bishop, Jr. that may help lead to locating him or help investigators, you are asked to call 1-800-CALL-FBI. You could receive a reward of up to $100,000 for information leading to his arrest. Go to http://www.fbi.gov to see more detailed information about the Bishop case, study the age-progressed photos in-depth, and view his dental records and other important images that may help you identify Bishop. You can also leave any tips at https://tips.fbi.gov/. If you are overseas, you are asked to go to the nearest embassy or consulate.


Related FBI.gov Top Story: William Bradford Bishop Added to FBI Top Ten List

Bethesda Magazine – The Man Who Got Away

Also read An Open Letter to William Bradford Bishop, Jr. by former FSO James Bruno of DiploDenizen.

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State Department Seeks Contractor For Simulated Congressional Hearing Sessions

– Domani Spero

 

Last month, the State Department’s Foreign Service Institute issued Solicitation #SFSIAQ14Q3002 for a contractor to provide professional training on effective congressional testimony and briefing skills.  The requirement solicitation also includes a requirement for Simulated Congressional Hearing Sessions.

Related post: US Embassy Oslo: Clueless on Norway, Murder Boards Next?

 

Screen Shot 2014-03-09

Below is an excerpt from the solicitation posted on fedbiz:

The purpose of this project is to obtain the services of a contractor to deliver interactive, professional training seminars for senior-level officials on effective congressional testimony and briefing skills. There will be one primary product, a two-day course entitled “PT-302 – Communicating with Congress: Briefing and Testifying.” This course targets government professionals at the GS-14/FS-02 level or higher, who will be testifying before Congress or briefing members or staffers. We will offer this course between three to four times per year. There is a minimum of 10 and a maximum of 15 participants per class.

Secondly, LMS [Leadership Management School] will seek the services of a contractor to deliver training on strategies for building effective relationships with members of Congress and their staffers to participants of the Ambassadorial Seminar (PT-120) and other senior-level courses. The Ambassadorial Seminar is offered to Ambassadors-designate (including both career Foreign Service Officers and political appointees) and their spouses. This seminar normally runs two weeks and includes up to, but not limited to, 14 participants.

Lastly, contractor shall submit additional proposals to deliver hour-long, one-on-one simulated congressional hearing sessions with feedback for individuals as preparation for anticipated congressional testimony. These individuals may or may not be graduates of the Ambassadorial seminar, or they may be or may not be other, senior-ranking government officials.

C.4.1. Communicating With Congress: Briefing and Testifying (PT-302)

  • Provide professional services to design and deliver PT-302, Communicating with Congress: Briefing and Testifying, for senior ranking officers drawn from the Foreign Service, Civil Service, and military. It is expected that the first year will include significant course design work, but that option years will not involve major course design.
  • It shall include the following topics presented by individuals with current or recent Capitol Hill experience. Experience within the past two years is highly desirable.
  • Training and skill-building in briefing techniques;
  • Presentations/discussions on congressional committees and the hearing process
  • Presentations/discussions on tips for leveraging State’s Bureau of Legislative Affairs
  • Presentations/discussions on building effective relationships with Congress members and staffers.
  • It shall also include simulated congressional hearings, at which:
    • Each class member will deliver written and oral briefs/testimony before a panel of experts capable of appropriate questioning and criticism;
    • All briefings/testimony and responses to questions are video recorded;
    • Experts critique the individual briefing/testimony and responses to questions.

C.4.2. Ambassadorial Seminar (PT-120)

  • Provide professional services to design and deliver a three-hour training segment on strategies for building effective relationships with members of Congress and their staffers to participants of the Ambassadorial Seminar (PT-120) and other senior-level courses.
  • This shall be delivered via 1-2 presenters with ample time for questions and answers. If contractor provides two presenters, one presenter shall have current or recent experience on Capitol Hill as a member or staffer (experience within the past two years highly desirable), and the second presenter shall have recent senior-level executive branch service with personal experience in developing successful relationships on Capitol Hill, to include effective congressional testimony and briefing experience (experience within the past three years highly desirable). If contractor provides only one presenter, this presenter shall have both current or recent experience on Capitol Hill as a member or staff, and recent senior-level executive branch service with personal experience in developing successful relationships with Capitol Hill.

C.4.3. Simulated Congressional Hearing Sessions

  • Provide professional services to deliver hour-long, one-on-one simulated congressional hearing sessions with feedback for individuals as preparation for anticipated congressional testimony. These individuals may or may not be graduates of the Ambassadorial seminar, or they may be or may not be other, senior-ranking government officials.

 

The solicitation requires that the contractor/s’ professional qualifications include experience delivering training in a federal government context with senior executive participants; professional experience in working with Congressional staffers and members; current or recent Capitol Hill professional experience. Experience within the past two years is also highly desirable.  For presenters in the three-hour and one-hour sessions, qualifications also include prior service as a senior executive in a federal agency with personal experience briefing and testifying to Congress.  But the government also wants contractors with “knowledge of and experience using adult learning principles in the facilitation and delivery of a course” as well as “expertise in experiential learning methodologies and techniques.”

This should help avoid future incidents of trampling through the salad bowl during a confirmation hearing and save us from covering our eyes.

 

 

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Filed under Ambassadors, Congress, Contractors, FSOs, Hearings, Political Appointees, Professional Development, Spouses/Partners, Staffing the FS, State Department, Training

Photo of the Day: Shhh! Play it once, Sam. For old times’ sake.

–Domani Spero
On April 4, during a visit to Morocco, Secretary Kerry stopped by at Rick’s Cafe owned by Kathy Kriger – a former State Department Foreign Service Officer.  The cafe apparently also has a piano player named Sam who presumably played “As Time Goes By” during the secretary’s visit.

Secretary Kerry then headed back home after a 12-day, 23,000-mile trip to Europe, the Middle East, and North Africa on April 4, 2014.  While he was gone, State/OIG issued a management alert over $6 billion in State Department contracting money.  In the alternate universe our Rick says, “You better hurry, they cannot properly account $6 billion in contracting money. And you’ll miss that plane.”  Our Ilsa [laughs] and says: “The whole world isn’t crumbling.  And don’t worry, I have my own plane and now have 371,006 miles!

 

ricks cafe_casablanca

Secretary Kerry Views ‘Casablanca’ During Visit to Rick’s Cafe in Morocco U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry watches a scene from the film ‘Casablanca’ during a visit to Rick’s American Cafe – started by a former State Department Foreign Service Officer – in Casablanca, Morocco, on April 4, 2014. [State Department photo/ Public Domain]

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U.S. Ambassador to India Nancy Powell to Retire in May After 37 Years in the FS

– Domani Spero
The U.S. Embassy in New Delhi announced today the retirement of Ambassador Nancy Powell after 37 years in the Foreign Service:

Ambassador Nancy J. Powell Photo via US Embassy India/FB

Ambassador Nancy J. Powell
Photo via US Embassy India/FB

U.S. Ambassador to India Nancy J. Powell announced in a U.S. Mission Town Hall meeting March 31 that she has submitted her resignation to President Obama and, as planned for some time, will retire to her home in Delaware before the end of May.  She is ending a thirty-seven year career that has included postings as U.S. Ambassador to Uganda, Ghana, Pakistan, Nepal and India as well as service in Canada, Togo, Bangladesh, and Washington, where she was most recently Director General of the Foreign Service.  Ambassador Powell expressed her appreciation for the professionalism and dedication of the U.S. Mission to India team who have worked to expand the parameters of the U.S.-India bilateral relationship.  She also thanked those throughout India who have extended traditional warm Indian hospitality to her and who have supported stronger bilateral ties.

 

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U.S. Embassy Bahrain: “Seat of the Pants” Leadership and Management Mess

– Domani Spero

State/OIG posted its March 31, 2014 Inspection Report of the U.S. Embassy in Manama, Bahrain. While there are some pockets of sunshine in this report, it comes across like post is a huge management mess. Post is headed by career diplomat, Ambassador Thomas Krajeski who assumed charge in October 2011. According to the embassy’s website, Stephanie Williams arrived as Deputy Chief of Mission in Manama in June 2010.  The current Deputy Chief of Mission Timothy Pounds arrived at post in March 2013.

The inspection took place in Washington, DC, between September 3 and 23, 2013, and in Manama, Bahrain, between September 25 and October 19, 2013. Ambassador Marianne Myles (team leader), Michael Hurley (deputy team leader), Alison Barkley, Beatrice Camp, Roger Cohen, David Davison, Shawn O’Reilly, Keith Powell II, Richard Sypher, Joyce Wong, and Roman Zawada conducted the inspection.

Post Snapshot:



Embassy Manama is a medium-sized mission with 80 U.S. direct hires, 23 U.S. local hires and 85 locally employed (LE) staff members who oversee a $14 million budget and manage 78 leased properties. The embassy building opened in 1991 and is nearing capacity. Manama is one of the Middle East missions that allow families, and assignments there continue to be 3-year tours. Continuing demonstrations and attacks against government and commercial targets have severely restricted the movement of staff and taken a toll on their morale.

Key Judgments

  • The embassy has two competing policy priorities: to maintain strong bilateral military cooperation and to advance human rights. The Ambassador has forged strong relationships with U.S. military leaders based in Bahrain to promote common goals.
  • The Ambassador’s failure to maintain a robust planning and review process has led to confusion and lack of focus among some staff members and sidelined economic/commercial activities and public diplomacy programs.
  • The embassy has not developed a comprehensive strategy to improve the Ambassador’s negative media image. The Ambassador has agreed to increase his participation in noncontroversial programs and events with potential to generate positive publicity.
  • Public affairs activities suffer from a lack of strategic planning.
  • The mission produces well-sourced and timely political reporting. Economic reporting has been sparse. The embassy does not have a strategy to support the President’s National Export Initiative.
  • Management controls processes are weak across the board, and the embassy should make resolving them a priority. The management officer has been given other duties that prevent him from giving his full time and energy to addressing these weaknesses. A lack of transparency in management policies exacerbates low morale.
  • The embassy and the Department of State have not implemented local labor law provisions that went into effect in September 2012 and have not made a decision on a proposed 2011 locally employed staff bonus.
  • The front office does not give adequate attention to mentoring, especially first-and second-tour employees.
  • The embassy’s innovative practice of providing mobile Internet routers in welcome kits makes the transition process for new employees more efficient.

You’ve got to wonder what’s else is going on when the embassy’s website displays this white space despite its DCM’s arrival at post about a year ago.

 

Screen shot, US Embassy Manama

Screen Capture, US Embassy Manama – March 28, 2014

More details below extracted from the OIG report.

Leadership and Management

 – Ambassador:

  • The Ambassador has forged a strong relationship with the heads of U.S. Naval Forces Central Command and U.S. Marine Forces Central Command to promote consistent U.S. policy messaging. He is respected by many Bahraini officials and is well liked by mission staff. However, his lack of access to some key government officials, his poor media image, and the lack of an effective strategy to address these issues have created friction with principal officials in Washington.
  • 

The Ambassador has not focused sufficiently on planning processes and implementation as a way to keep staff focused during turbulent times. His belief that reactive “seat of the pants” leadership works best in Bahrain’s challenging environment has left staff members who do not have access to him on a regular basis confused about mission goals. Disdain for planning has trickled down to section heads, leaving most sections without the tools to make the best use of their programs and resources. During the inspection, the Ambassador endorsed a new planning effort launched by the deputy chief of mission (DCM) to create a broad-based plan of action for all sections and agencies. The Ambassador needs to remain personally involved in this effort.
  • Lack of a clear commercial strategy has impeded the Ambassador’s focus on export promotion. He should impart a vision to the economic/commercial section that will involve him in business issues, including making greater use of the Free Trade Agreement.
  • The Ambassador is intensely concerned about the security of mission employees, and they noted this favorably in OIG questionnaires. Despite that focus, he undermined the emergency action committee by allowing the former DCM to remain in a leased DCM residence in an unsafe red zone when other staff members living there were required to move. This decision required costly security measures to protect her and her family. When the new DCM arrived and moved into a new DCM residence, the Ambassador encouraged him to continue looking for yet another DCM residence, despite a 7-year lease and security upgrades that were already in place. The Ambassador’s practice of encouraging staff members to seek new housing is contrary to Department of State (Department) standard operating procedures.
  • 

The Ambassador has a well-received practice of walking around the embassy and dropping in on sections. He converses with staff on a frequent basis in the chancery cafeteria and at community functions. He holds “welcome breakfasts” at his own expense for newly arrived U.S. employees. However, he rarely meets with mission members in formal settings, such as town halls or LE staff committee meetings. There is a desire within the mission for greater engagement by the Ambassador.
  • The OIG team noted anomalies between the Ambassador’s calendar and his time and attendance reports and brought them to his attention through a formal memorandum with an itemized attachment. The OIG team noted that having elected a senior Foreign Service pay plan, the Ambassador is required to account for all leave, as outlined in ALDAC 13 State 26982. The Ambassador challenged two of the team’s assertions in the itemized attachment but declined to discuss other discrepancies, especially personal time spent out of the office on workdays. The issue merits further review, including examining time and attendance records and other documentation.
  • The Ambassador has had a difficult time with the government-dominated media since his arrival. Early in his tenure he wrote some broad policy articles for the newspapers and conducted television interviews. Press reaction was negative and included personal criticism of him. Soon after, the Ambassador reduced his press exposure. The Ambassador agreed to consider OIG team suggestions that he increase his participation in noncontroversial events and programs as a way to gain positive publicity and improve his public image, as well as the image of the United States. He agreed to attempt blogging and to engage first-and second-tour (FAST) employees in the effort. He also agreed to work with the public affairs staff to draw up a media plan, including his engagement in cultural programs.
  • The Ambassador chose not to engage with the OIG team in the exit brief process that is the standard final part of a mission inspection. His decision deprived the embassy of the opportunity to offer clarifications and raise questions directly with the OIG team.

Leadership and Management – Deputy Chief of Mission:

  • The DCM has a sufficient host country network and has served effectively as chargé d’affaires. The DCM meets regularly with section and agency heads. However, he does not provide adequate support and guidance to FAST employees, the LE staff committee, the community liaison office (CLO), or eligible family member (EFM) employees. He also does not move about the embassy enough. Several employees reported never seeing him outside his office. The DCM agreed to circulate in the chancery more often.
  • The DCM has not focused sufficiently on key management issues, including several that affect morale. Lack of clarity in EFM hiring, LE staff hiring and promotions, and housing board decisions have led to perceptions throughout the community of favoritism and unfairness. In addition, the DCM supports allowing employees to move upon request, regardless of the reason, as a way of boosting morale. This approach leads to waste and does not conform to 15 FAM policies on housing.
  • DCM needs to devote more attention to the FAST mentoring program. His approach has left the program largely without guidance. The DCM has not led an effort to establish a new structure for the program, identify a FAST volunteer to chair the program, and meet regularly with the group. The OIG team encouraged leadership and FAST employees to consider best practices used by other embassies with strong FAST programs.
  • 

The DCM has neglected some personnel duties, such as discussing performance expectations with direct-hire employees for whom he is the rating or reviewing officer.
  • The OIG team reviewed consular accountability and found that the consular chief is reviewing subordinate officers’ adjudications properly. However, the DCM is not reviewing those of the consular chief. He should do so.

Econ Section

[T]he volume of economic reporting has been low, with approximately 1 economic cable for every 10 drafted by the political unit. The lack of front office attention to economic matters has left the economic unit with little guidance on issues of potential interest to Washington. The frequent diversion of the economic specialist’s attention to political issues, while the political specialist performs backup protocol duties, has also hurt economic reporting.

Public Affairs Section

The public affairs section has an experienced and dedicated staff conducting innovative programming and responding to intense front office interest in media reporting.
[…]
Post public diplomacy programs would have greater impact if they were part of an overall strategy that included greater participation by the Ambassador. The public affairs officer (PAO) has not directed the section in establishing policies, defining goals, and prioritizing plans to achieve mission objectives. Internal processes for dealing with grants, speakers, and exchanges are not consistent, clearly understood, or readily accessible. The section posts only limited information about its processes and activities on its SharePoint site.
[…]
The government-controlled press is frequently highly critical of the Ambassador but the embassy is cautious about using social media to counter this, concerned that doing so often draws negative comments. The public affairs section posts the Ambassador’s public appearances on Facebook but does not generally tweet his activities. The embassy does not use blogs. Officers adept at social media can help use these tools to improve the Ambassador’s public image and to correct misinformation about U.S. policies.

Management Overview 



There is a need for better management planning across the board, including for staffing, real property acquisition, office space, housing, safety, and maintenance. Management controls are inadequate; in the procurement section, weak controls constitute a serious deficiency. The section requires outside help. Customer satisfaction scores from OIG questionnaires for most support services were low, reflecting a lack of basic processes and standard operating procedures. Embassy Manama should make improving management operations and internal controls a priority.

General Services Office

The general services office suffers from poor communication up and down the chain of command. An accurate arrivals and departures list would enhance the efficiency of all general services sections. The embassy’s internship program is not adequately coordinated with the general services office, creating adverse effects on housing, motor pool, and travel services.

Customs and Shipping 

The customs and shipping staff consists of one LE employee who expedites shipments and has a large contact base at the port and at the airport. This employee has not been able to take leave, even when he has scheduled it well in advance, because of emergencies that require his presence. Sound management requires backup for each critical function.

Human Resources



Work and quality of life questionnaires administered by the OIG team report scores significantly below prior embassy averages in human resources support and services, administration of the awards program, and fairness of family member hiring. Poor leadership, lack of adequate processes, and the absence of transparency and communication have hampered the staff. The human resources officer needs to reinvigorate the section and regain the trust of the mission’s direct-hire employees, LE staff, and eligible family members.

Inspectors encountered a number of shortcomings in the office. The retail price survey had not been completed since 2009. Personnel cables were not being sent using the proper template and each message was being created from scratch. Supervisors were not being notified 6 months prior to LE subordinates’ retirement dates. Staffing patterns contained numerous mistakes.



Foreign Service National Issues

  • Inspectors met with the LE staff committee, whose members expressed concerns about compensation and benefit issues, hiring policy, discrimination and favoritism, unfair dismissals, and a lack of cultural sensitivity displayed by some direct-hire employees. They said their primary points of contact are the management officer and the human resources officer. They occasionally have access to the DCM, but not to the Ambassador. It would be helpful for embassy management to respond to LE staff concerns in writing.
  • The second benefit issue relates to changes to the local compensation plan brought about by a new Bahraini labor law implemented in September 2012. The law grants additional benefits to Bahraini employees in the areas of annual and sick leave, maternity benefits, and pilgrimage leave. As with the bonus, too much time was wasted—this time trying to get an English translation of the labor law that was issued in Arabic. The embassy sent the plan to the Office of Overseas Employment in March 2013; it remains under review.

Cultural Sensitivity

The LE committee cited several examples of culturally insensitive behavior by American employees. It is unclear whether the words and actions were spiteful or occurred because the employees lacked knowledge of Bahraini culture and norms. To guard against such events, it would be helpful for the embassy to incorporate a cultural sensitivity component into its orientation programs for U.S. direct-hire and locally employed staff.

Money Matters

COM Residence:  The chief of mission residence costs $272,000 per year (approximately $22,500 per month) to rent. It is one of the Department’s most expensive short-term leased properties, qualifying it for consideration to purchase. The embassy has requested the Department also consider purchase of a DCM residence and a Marine security guard residence.

Language Designated Positions:  Embassy Manama has 10 language designated positions: the DCM; 4 political/economic officers, 2 consular officers, 2 public diplomacy officers, and the management officer. As half the population of Bahrain is expatriate, many from South Asia, the common language of the country is English. Six of the 10 officers in language designated positions reported to inspectors that they do not use Arabic in their jobs. The number of language designated positions makes finding qualified candidates for embassy jobs more challenging. Moreover, it costs the Department approximately $500,000 to train an officer to speak proficient Arabic.



Management Controls: Management controls at Embassy Manama are inadequate. Despite the embassy’s positive responses to the OIG functional questionnaires, and the positive information provided by the regional bureau, the OIG team determined the breakdown in procurement processes reaches the level of a significant deficiency. 

Though adequately staffed, Embassy Manama paid 2,000 hours of overtime compensation to general services employees and 1,000 hours to facilities management employees in FY 2013. According to the Foreign Affairs Handbook, (FAH) 4 FAH-3 H-525.1-2 the management officer must establish controls for accurate and timely recording and reporting of time and attendance. The mission delegates responsibility for overtime authorization to each section supervisor and time and attendance to the financial management officer. Nobody monitors LE staff overtime, resulting in anomalies and improper overtime approvals.

The report is available to read here (pdf).

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2013 Mathilda W. Sinclaire Language Awardees

– Domani Spero

According to AFSA, a generous bequest from retired Foreign Service officer Mathilda W. Sinclaire established a program since 1982 honoring Foreign Service employees who excel in the study of hard languages.  The purpose of Ms. Sinclaire’s bequest was to “promote and reward superior achievement by career officers of the Foreign Service [...] while studying one of the Category III or IV languages under the auspices of the Foreign Service Institute.” The guidelines were reportedly amended and updated in October 2001 to expand eligibility for the awards to any career and career-conditional member of the Foreign Service from the Department of State, USAID, FCS, FAS, BBG and APHIS.  The 10 winners of the 2013 Mathilda W. Sinclaire Language Awards are as follows:

  • Miriam R. Asnes – Arabic
  • Sonnet A. Frisbee – Czech
  • Paul F. Narain – Greek
  • Jacob M. Rocca – Hebrew
  • Timothy Shriver – Hungarian
  • Robert Silberstein – Lithuanian
  • Alan J. Smith – Russian
  • Adam T. Stevens – Vietnamese
  • Matthew Wilson – Bulgarian
  • Bryan G. Wockley – Persian/Dari/Afghan

 

We received an email on this noting … “all but one of whom appear to be men. What’s with that?”  We looked at the list of winners from the previous four years and must note that in 2012 seven of the ten awardees were female.

2012: Anne Casper (Kinyarwanda), Vanna Chan (Lithuanian), Rebecca Danis (Pashto), Spencer Fields (Albanian), Christina Le (Greek), Dan McCandless (Dari), Robert Mearkle (Arabic), Nina Murray (Lithuanian), Roshni Nirody (Japanese), Kristen Pisani (Greek) M/F -3/7

2011: Nancy Abella (Dari), Eric Collings (Uzbek), Sarah Grow (Persian/Farsi), James Hallock (Mandarin), Rebecca Hunter (Albanian), Theresa Mangione (Vietnamese), E. Jerome Ryan, Jr. (Japanese), David Vincent Salvo (Serbian/Croatian). M/F-4/4

2010: Daniel Heath Bailey (Latvian), Eric M. Frater (Vietnamese), Melanie Harris Higgins (Indonesian), Bradley Hurst (Hungarian), Andrew J. Partin (Georgian), Daniel Rakove (Mongolian), Stuart Madgett Smith (Greek), Thomas Venner (Tagalog), Vaida Vidugiris (Greek). M/F-7/2

2009: Joshua Baker (Arabic), Laura Brown (Arabic), Zachary Harkenride (Dari), Vincent Traverso (Dari), Meredith Rubin (Icelandic), William M. Coleman (Japanese), Alan Clark (Mandarin Chinese), Scott Hansen (Mandarin Chinese), Denise Shen (Mandarin Chinese), Alfred Boll (Serbian), Adam Hantman (Thai). (Laura Brown was a previous winner for Bosnian in 2003.) M/F-8/2

Arabic as official language

Arabic as official language (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

It looks like candidates to the Sinclaire Language Awards may be nominated by the language-training supervisors at the FSI School of Language, the language instructors at field schools, or post language officers. According to AFSA’s website, winners are selected by a committee comprising the Dean of the FSI School of Language Studies (or designee), members of the AFSA Governing Board, AFSA Awards Committee and general AFSA membership. Each winner receives a check for $1,000 and a certificate of recognition signed by the AFSA President and the chair of the AFSA Awards committee.

The nomination requires the submission of DS‐651 Language Training Report or DS ‐1354 Language Proficiency Report if appropriate. In addition to the submission of the S/R (speaking/reading) scores, it also requires a nominating statement (not to exceed one page); and, of course, somebody who’s willing to write up and submit the nomination.

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Introducing Mike Hammer — No, Not Mickey Spillane’s, Esto Se Habla Español

– Domani Spero

Via State/IIP

“Este vídeo ha sido producido por la Oficina de Programas de Información Internacional del Departamento de Estado de Estados Unidos en marzo de 2014. En él se presenta el embajador de Estados Unidos en Chile, Mike Hammer.”

Ambassador Hammer is a career member of the U.S. Senior Foreign Service and entered the diplomatic corps in 1988. He has served abroad in Bolivia, Norway, Iceland and Denmark. In the Department he is known as “Mike” and has served in the Operations Center and as special assistant to the Under Secretary for Political Affairs. He has received several awards in his career, including the Department’s Edward R. Murrow Award for Excellence in Public Diplomacy.  He is fluent in Spanish and speaks French and Icelandic.

He was confirmed by the U.S. Senate in early March just in time to be at post during Vice President Biden’s official visit to Chile.

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Monday Inbox: US Embassy Baghdad’s Conrad Turner Recites a Russian Poem, And ….

– Domani Spero

Updated on 3/24 at 11:24 pm PST: The YouTube description now indicates that this is “One of four videos celebrating international poetry during the visit to Iraq of poets from the University of Iowa’s Writers’ Workshop.”

The video below was published by U.S. Embassy Baghdad on March 4, 2014 on YouTube. The video includes the English and Arabic text translation of a Russian poem.  The speaker is the embassy’s Public Affairs Counselor in Baghdad reciting a poem by Russian poet Alexander Sergeyevich Pushkin in Baghdad. The embassy’s AIO also recited a poem last February; can’t say whose work he is reciting here, can you?

Oh, please don’t get us wrong, we love poetry.  We love Mary Oliver’s “Wild Geese and  Lawrence Ferlinghetti’s “Underwear“and Keats, and Yeats, and Billy Collins, too.  But somebody from that building sent us an email asking if this is “really clever use of PD time and money?” So we went and look.  The YouTube post is 1:40 min in length, has 256 views, and does not include any context as to why our U.S. diplomat in Baghdad is reciting a Russian poem. What’s the purpose why this video is up, anyways? Was this part of a larger event? Nothing on the embassy’s website indicate that it is.  Was he just feeling it?  We can’t say, no explainer with the vid.  This could, of course, be part of celebrating poetry month, but the National Poetry Month in the U.S. has been celebrated in April since 1996.

In related news, according to iraqbodycount.org, the March civilian casualties in Iraq is currently at 749; the year-to-date count is 2,755 deaths.

Well, what do you think –  is this “really clever use of PD time and money?” or is this Reality Detachment, a chapter in Peter Van Buren’s future novel?

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GAO: State Dept Management of Security Training May Increase Risk to U.S. Personnel

– Domani Spero

The State Department has established a mandatory requirement that specified U.S. executive branch personnel under chief-of-mission authority and on assignments or short-term TDY complete the Foreign Affairs Counter Threat (FACT) security training before arrival in a high-threat environment.

Who falls under chief-of-mission authority?

Chiefs of mission are the principal officers in charge of U.S. diplomatic missions and certain U.S. offices abroad that the Secretary of State designates as diplomatic in nature. Usually, the U.S. ambassador to a foreign country is the chief of mission in that country. According to the law, the chief of mission’s authority encompasses all employees of U.S. executive branch agencies, excluding personnel under the command of a U.S. area military commander and Voice of America correspondents on official assignment (22 U.S.C. § 3927). According to the President’s letter of instruction to chiefs of mission, members of the staff of an international organization are also excluded from chief
-of-mission authority. The President’s letter of instruction further states that the chief of mission’s security responsibility extends to all government personnel on official duty abroad other than those under the protection of a U.S. area military commander or on the staff of an international organization.

The Government Accountability Office (GAO) recently released its report which examines (1) State and USAID personnel’s compliance with the FACT training requirement and (2) State’s and USAID’s oversight of their personnel’s compliance. GAO also reviewed agencies’ policy guidance; analyzed State and USAID personnel data from March 2013 and training data for 2008 through 2013; reviewed agency documents; and interviewed agency officials in Washington, D.C., and at various overseas locations.

High Threat Countries: 9 to 18

The June 2013 State memorandum identifying the nine additional countries noted that personnel deploying to three additional countries will also be required to complete FACT training but are reportedly exempt from the requirement until further notice. State Diplomatic Security officials informed the GAO that these countries were granted temporary exceptions based on the estimated student training capacity at the facility where FACT training is currently conducted. We know from the report that the number of countries that now requires FACT training increased from 9 to 18, but they are not identified in the GAO report.

“Lower Priority” Security Training for Eligible Family Members

One section of the report notes that according to State officials, of the 22 noncompliant individuals in one country, 18 were State personnel’s employed eligible family members who were required to take the training; State officials explained that these individuals were not aware of the requirement at the time. The officials noted that enrollment of family members in the course is given lower priority than enrollment of direct-hire U.S. government employees but that space is typically available.

Typically, family members shipped to high-threat posts are those who have found employment at post. So they are not just there accompanying their employed spouses for the fun of it, they’re at post to perform the specific jobs they’re hired for. Why the State Department continue to give them “lower priority” in security training is perplexing. You know, the family members employed at post will be riding exactly the same boat the direct-hire government employees will be riding in.

Working Group Reviews

This report includes the State Department’s response to the GAO. A working group under “M” reportedly is mandated to “discover where improvements can be made in notification, enrollment and tracking regarding FACT training.” The group is also “reviewing the conditions under which eligible family members can and should be required to complete FACT training as well as the requirements related to personnel on temporary duty assignment.”

Excerpt below from the public version of a February 2014 report:

Using data from multiple sources, GAO determined that 675 of 708 Department of State (State) personnel and all 143 U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) personnel on assignments longer than 6 months (assigned personnel) in the designated high-threat countries on March 31, 2013, were in compliance with the Foreign Affairs Counter Threat (FACT) training requirement. GAO found that the remaining 33 State assigned personnel on such assignments had not complied with the mandatory requirement. For State and USAID personnel on temporary duty of 6 months or less (short-term TDY personnel), GAO was unable to assess compliance because of gaps in State’s data. State does not systematically maintain data on the universe of U.S. personnel on short-term TDY status to designated high-threat countries who were required to complete FACT training. This is because State lacks a mechanism for identifying those who are subject to the training requirement. These data gaps prevent State or an independent reviewer from assessing compliance with the FACT training requirement among short-term TDY personnel. According to Standards for Internal Control in the Federal Government , program managers need operating information to determine whether they are meeting compliance requirements.

State’s guidance and management oversight of personnel’s compliance with the FACT training requirement have weaknesses that limit State’s ability to ensure that personnel are prepared for service in designated high-threat countries. These weaknesses include the following:

  • State’s policy and guidance related to FACT training—including its Foreign Affairs Manual , eCountry Clearance instructions for short-term TDY personnel, and guidance on the required frequency of FACT training—are outdated, inconsistent, or unclear. For example, although State informed other agencies of June 2013 policy changes to the FACT training requirement, State had not yet updated its Foreign Affairs Manual to reflect those changes as of January 2014. The changes included an increase in the number of high-threat countries requiring FACT training from 9 to 18.
  • State and USAID do not consistently verify that U.S. personnel complete FACT training before arriving in designated high-threat countries. For example, State does not verify compliance for 4 of the 9 countries for which it required FACT training before June 2013.
  • State does not monitor or evaluate overall levels of compliance with the FACT training requirement.
  • State’s Foreign Affairs Manual notes that it is the responsibility of employees to ensure their own compliance with the FACT training requirement. However, the manual and Standards for Internal Control in the Federal Government also note that management is responsible for putting in place adequate controls to help ensure that agency directives are carried out.

The GAO notes that the gaps in State oversight may increase the risk that personnel assigned to high-threat countries do not complete FACT training, potentially placing their own and others’ safety in jeopardy.

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