Category Archives: FSOs

Secondments to international organizations and promotions? Here comes the boo!

– Domani Spero

 

Eligible U.S. government employees may be detailed or transferred to certain international organizations in which the United States participates.  Authority and procedures for such details and transfers are found in:  5 U.S.C. §§ 3343, 358l-3584 and 5 C.F.R. and §§ 352.301 through 352.314. via

 

This past summer, we learned that for the past several years, the Department and AFSA have agreed to a “procedural precept” for the Foreign Service Selection Boards that explicitly excludes from promotion consideration Foreign Service Officers who have been transferred to some international organizations. We could not find hard numbers on how many officers have been impacted or which IO assignments are excluded.

We did hear that this particular issue (separation to work in an international organization, with re-employment rights) apparently affects “a very small number of people,” and that in the past, officers, typically not willing to rock the boat, have made themselves content with simply accepting a time-in-class (TIC) extension (pdf).

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That’s weird, right? This appears to disincentivize U.S. citizen employment in international organizations, something that is apparently a congressional mandate; so much so that an office in the Bureau of International Organization Affairs (State/IO) is actually tasks with promoting such employment. Well, actually the policy for agencies to take affirmative steps in having U.S. citizens work in international organization dates back to President Lyndon B. Johnson’s tenure. Seriously.

We understand that the justification for the exclusion in the Precepts was articulated over five years ago and is contained in a June 23, 2008 AFSA letter:

“The rule prohibiting Selection Board competition of members on  certain secondments became effective in June 2004 on issuance of the  Procedural Precepts for the 2004 Foreign Service Selection Boards   and has been in effect for the past five years [sic]. It was  introduced to prevent employees from using secondments to extend   their time-in-class and the length of their tours of duty in  Missions such as Vienna, Brussels and Geneva while continuing to  compete for promotion, performance pay, etc.”

An FSO who is familiar with the process and the exclusion told us that this explanation is “nonsense.”  Apparently, this exclusion also applies  to personnel transferred to UN agencies in Afghanistan, Darfur,  Southern Sudan, Kenya, East Timor, etc. We were also told that the Precept (see (I(B)(6)(j) of the Procedural Precepts), is a “Bush-era ham-fisted attempt” to   punish any service outside of Iraq and Afghanistan, with “scant  attention paid to broader policy implications or legal norms.”

So in essence, we really want more Americans to serve in international organizations, but if FS employees do serve in those capacities, it is likely that some of them will not be considered for promotion. And since international org assignments can run longer than foreign service tours, that basically puts a career in deep ice; surely a concerning detail in an up or out system like the Foreign Service.  And you wonder why there’s not a single stampede for these jobs.

What do the Federal regulations say?

Title 5 (see CFR § 352.314 Consideration for promotion and pay increases) has this:

(a) The employing agency must consider an employee who is detailed or transferred to an international organization for all promotions for  which the employee would be considered if not absent. A promotion based on this consideration is effective on the date it would have been effective if the employee were not absent. (pdf)

We were told that the State Department’s Legal Adviser’s (State/L) position is that…   “The Precepts are authorized under Title 22, and the Secretary has the authority to prescribe what they say”.

And what exactly does Title 22 says?

22 USC § 3982 (2011) §3982. Assignments to Foreign Service positions
(a) Positions assignable; basis for assignment
(1) The Secretary (with the concurrence of the agency concerned) may assign a member of the Service to any position classified under section 3981 of this title in which that member is eligible to serve (other than as chief of mission or ambassador at large), and may assign a member from one such position to another such position as the needs of the Service may require.

So basically since “L” had apparently ruled that FS Assignments are made under Title 22 (which does not address promotions), and Title 5 (the part of the regs that actually addresses promotion), does not apply — there is no desire to reconcile the conflict between the promotion eligibility of detailed/transferred employees to an international organization contained in Title 5 with the exclusion contained in the Precepts?

Wow! We’re having an ouchy, ouchy headache.

If this interpretation stands, does it mean that the Secretary of State is free to disregard any legal norm, standard or entitlement that is not spelled out specifically in Title 22?

And we’re curious — where does HR/CDA/SL/CDT obtain its legal authority to pick and choose among transferred members on who should and should not be considered for promotion? It appears that 5 CFR 352.314 spells out a clear entitlement to promotion consideration for ALL transferred officers but for the “L” interpretation.

We understand that there is now a Foreign Service Grievance case based exactly on this exclusion in the Precept. If not resolved by FSGB, this could potentially move to federal court as it involves not only adjustment in rank, and withheld benefits but also TSP coverage which has retirement implications. Will State Department lawyers go to court citing “FS Assignments outside DOS” booklet, issued by HR/CDA/CDT over the federal regulations under Title 5?

Perhaps, the main story here is not even about a specific precept, but the fact that Department management is disregarding Federal law and from what we’ve seen — AFSA, the professional representative and bargaining unit of the Foreign Service has been  aware of this for years but has no interest in pressing the issue.

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Amb to Canada Bruce Heyman Retweets Embassy on Locked Down Tweet, Confusion Follows

– Domani Spero

 

On October 22, 2014, a gunman now identified by police as Michael Zehaf-Bibeau (32) fatally shot Corporal Nathan Cirillo, a soldier on guard duty at the Canadian National War Memorial in Ottawa, Canada. Following the shootings, downtown Ottawa was placed on lockdown while police searched for any potential additional shooters. According to media reports, the lockdown lasted into the evening and ended at 8:25 p.m. ET, when the safety perimeter in downtown Ottawa was lifted.

Earlier that day, we saw this news clip from ABC7 I-Team Investigation. The US Mission Canada has about a thousand employees, but okay, Ambassador Heyman is the best known Chicago man at the mission:

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Ambassador Heyman retweeted  Embassy Ottawa’s tweet that post is in lockdown. Apparently, 421 tweeple, (including this blog) also retweeted that embassy tweet.

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On October 23, ABC7 made a follow-up report:

As it turns out, Ambassador Heyman, a former Chicago investment banker, was not locked down in the Embassy or even in Ottawa, the I-Team has learned. It is unclear where he was.
[snip]
We were told by Embassy press assistant Jennifer Young that “the Ambassador is not available for interviews at this time. As far as the situation here in Ottawa, what I can tell you about this evolving situation is that the embassy is currently locked down.”

We were not informed by Ms. Young that the ambassador was actually not present and his retweet that “we are currently on lockdown” suggested he was indeed hunkered down with his staff. A woman who answered Ambassador Heyman’s cell phone did not say that he was out of the office and took a message which was not returned. Heyman did not respond to emails or social media messages.
[snip]
On Thursday, after we reported that the ambassador was locked down with the rest of his staff, his public affairs chief Diane Sovereign contacted the I-Team, stating that “the Ambassador was not in the Embassy yesterday and has not returned to Ottawa.” Ms. Soveriegn said that they “don’t post the Ambassador’s location on the Embassy website.”
[snip]
We repeatedly asked Embassy officials for the whereabouts of the ambassador during the incident and whether he was in Chicago. The spokesperson would not say where he was, nor why he wasn’t in the Embassy at the time of the attack that occurred about a quarter-mile away. His staff members at the Embassy were on security lockdown for more than eight hours on Wednesday.

 

Typically, our ambassadors are engage in external relations while his/her deputy chief of mission manages the internal business of the embassy. So it would not at all be surprising if the ambassador was not inside the embassy that day.

On October 21, @BruceAHeyman tweeted this:

We understand that #TechDayontheHill was held in Ottawa, so we know that the day before the incident, he was in Ottawa.

On October 22, he retweeted several official USG messages from the White House, the National Security Council, and the State Department related to the Ottawa attack.  According to Ottawa Citizen, upwards of 50 ambassadors were in Regina on Wednesday, (the day of the attack) for an economic forum, organized for the diplomatic corps by the Department of Foreign Affairs, Trade and Development and the government of Saskatchewan. So maybe he was in Saskatchewan that day?

Then, it looks like he was in Ontario on October 23:

 

So if Ambassador Heyman “has not returned to Ottawa,”when the lockdown occurred, he  could have been in Saskatchewan or traveling to  Ontario for that speech?

We don’t think anyone expects the embassy to post on its website the ambassador’s location but his whereabouts during the Ottawa attack is certainly of public interest. He is President Obama’s personal representative in Canada. We expect that as chief of mission, he would have been in constant contact with the embassy.  If he was not in lockdown with his staff, where was he?

We know that some sections at some posts have instructions not to talk to this blog. We don’t know how widespread is that instruction so we wrote to Embassy Ottawa’s public affairs folks anyway and see if we can get some clarification on the ambassador’s whereabouts.

On October 27, we heard back from Diane Sovereign, Embassy Ottawa’s Cultural Attaché who told us that on October 22, Ambassador Heyman was on “a pre-scheduled trip for meetings in the Toronto area and was not in the Embassy at all on that day.” The ABC affiliate reporting about the embassy’s Chicago connection incorrectly assume that Ambassador Heyman was inside the embassy during the lockdown. Ms. Sovereign said that “At no point on October 22 did any media outlet ask us about the Ambassador’s location or ask us to confirm that he was inside the Embassy.” Following the original report talking about Ambassador Heyman “caught in the mayhem” and locked down inside the Embassy, Embassy Ottawa reportedly reached out to the ABC affiliate asking that the inaccuracies be corrected.

The response we received from Embassy Ottawa did point out that the embassy, for understandable reasons, does not make public the ambassador’s schedule or location but — there actually was a second part to that response — if asked:

“For security reasons, we normally do not make public the Ambassador’s travel schedule or specific location.  However, if asked, we have no issue confirming whether the Ambassador is or is not inside the Embassy,” Ms. Sovereign said.

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Photo of the Day: Come to Manitoba, Stay for the Dig

– Domani Spero

 

Via U.S. Consulate Winnipeg, Canada:

I visited the Canadian Fossil Discovery Center (CFDC) in Morden on October 17. Along with me was MLA Cameron Friesen, Mordern City Councillor Heather Francis, Morden City manager John Scarce, and CFDC representatives Curator Matt Duda and Executive Director Peter Cantelon. I have never tried to hide my enthusiasm for all things associated with paleo-history. Indeed, at one time in my university career I was studying paleobiology. So, I came to the CFDC with a bit of a background in their field of expertise.

Principal Officer Chris Gunning during his visit to the Canadian Fossil Discover Centre in Morden, Manitoba, Canada

U.S. Consulate Winnipeg Principal Officer Chris Gunning poses with Bruce, the Mosasaur during his visit to the Canadian Fossil Discover Centre in Morden, Manitoba, Canada | October 2014

The CFDC focuses on marine reptiles like the Mosasaur (you may have heard of “Bruce” – if not, check out the pictures, you’ll know him when you see him. He’s a record breaker.). I also had the fortune to spend part of the day with the CFDC out in the field on a dig. It was a privilege to work on pulling some of the fossils out of the ground, but what really struck me was just how many fossils there were. Southern Manitoba is, almost literally, a goldmine of marine fossils. It is really a breathtaking geological situation – and you don’t need to be a paleontologist to appreciate how unique southern Manitoba is in regards to fossils.

Read in full here.  More photos here.

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U.S. Consulate Herat Officially Relocates From 5-Star Hotel to ISAF’s Camp Arena

– Domani Spero

 

In December 2009, then U.S. Ambassador to Afghanistan, Karl Eikenberry signed the lease for the 5-Star Hotel property in Herat, Afghanistan, identified as the site of the future U.S. Consulate in Herat, the post that would  cover the four provinces of western Afghanistan bordering Iran and Turkmenistan: Herat, Badghis, Ghor, and Farah.

Two and a half years after that lease signing, the U.S. Consulate in Herat officially opened. Deputy Secretary of State Bill Burns attended the opening ceremony on June 13, 2012. He made the following remarks:

And so we are here to celebrate the opening of the consulate — this remarkable refurbished facility, leased from the Municipality of Herat. This was truly a community effort – we purchased local products to use in the refurbishment, some of which you can see on display in the waiting room next door. World-class quality, Chesht-e-Sharif marble now graces some of the floors. Every week, on average, more than 70 Afghans contributed their time and skills to the consulate’s construction. One expert carpenter turned plain packing crates into beautifully carved room dividers. And artwork produced by students from Herat University is displayed on the walls of the consulate.
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This consulate, built with so many Afghan hands and so much Afghan talent, is a small reminder of what the people of Herat can accomplish. And it gives us hope for the greater effort facing Afghans—which is not merely the building of a single structure, but the building of an entire nation that deserves a future better than its recent past. Let this building stand as a sign of our commitment: As you build this future, one day at a time, you can count on the steadfast support and friendship of the United States of America.

Related posts:

 

This past September, we’ve blogged about the 2014 OIG report on Mission Afghanistan noting the rebuilding of the Consulate Herat building following the September 2013 attack:

Rebuilding of the badly damaged consulate building is expected to be completed in summer 2014. Consulate employees were relocated to either ISAF’s Camp Arena or to Embassy Kabul.[snip] The embassy estimates the annual operating cost for Herat is approximately $80 million, most of which is devoted to security.

We have yet to confirm if  the rebuilding was completed this past summer (see * below).

However, on October 20, 2014, the U.S. Embassy in Kabul released a statement of its official notification to the Government of Afghanistan that it is consolidating the State Department operations in Herat at ISAF’s Camp Arena effective October 23:

On October 18, the U.S. Embassy in Kabul informed the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan that the United States intends to move its diplomatic and consular presence from its current location on Qol-e-Urdu Road to Camp Arena of the International Security Assistance Force effective on October 23, 2014.  Following the September 13, 2013 attack on the U.S. Consulate building in Herat, the staff has been working from Camp Arena, and due to operational considerations, we have decided to continue to operate from Camp Arena.  The U.S. Consulate Herat staff remains committed to engaging with the Afghan people.

Camp Arena, the main Italian base near the city of Herat is home to 2,000 Italian soldiers and 400 Spanish troops (2012 numbers).

So.  That’s where we are right now. * Word on the corridors is that this $10 million refurbished/repaired/hardened building will be a returned to the municipality and will be treated as a write-off. We anticipate that Consulate Herat will be operating out of an ISAF base for the foreseeable future but we don’t know at this time how many of these bases will remain in Afghanistan when troops are reduced to 9,800 after this year and cut in half at the end of 2015.  The reduction of forces in Afghanistan only calls for “a small military presence at the U.S. Embassy” at the end of 2016.

With that in mind, the big question is — where would this plan leave the U.S. Consulate in Herat, currently located in Camp Arena and U.S. Consulate Mazar e-Sharif, currently located in Camp Marmal?

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Bill Burns Retires: Read His 10 Parting Thoughts for America’s Diplomats

– Domani Spero

 

After 33 years in the Foreign Service, career diplomat, Bill Burns who served as Deputy Secretary of State since July, 2011 (only the second serving diplomat in history to become Deputy Secretary) is retiring from the Service. His retirement had been postponed twice previously but will finally happen this month.

His 10 parting thoughts for America’s diplomats piece was published by Foreign Policy. Excerpt below:

The ability of American diplomats to help interpret and navigate a bewildering world still matters. After more than a decade dominated by two costly conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan and the worst financial crisis of our lifetime, the United States needs a core of professional diplomats with the skills and experience to pursue American interests abroad — by measures short of war.

The real question is not whether the State Department is still relevant but how we can sustain, strengthen, and adapt the tradecraft for a new century unfolding before us. As I look back across nearly 33 years as a career diplomat — and ahead to the demands on American leadership — I offer 10 modest observations for my colleagues, and for all those who share a stake in effective American diplomacy.

  • Know where you come from.
  • It’s not always about us.
  • Master the fundamentals.
  • Stay ahead of the curve.
  • Promote economic renewal.
  • Connect leverage to strategy.
  • Don’t just admire the problem — offer a solution.
  • Speak truth to power.
  • Accept risk.
  • Remain optimistic.

Read it in full at FP (registration required)  here via state.gov.

Deputy Secretary of State Bill Burns visits St. Michael’s Cathedral, where he meets with Maidan medics, civil society representatives, and religious leaders in Kyiv, Ukraine, on February 25, 2014. [State Department photo/ Public Domain]

Deputy Secretary of State Bill Burns visits St. Michael’s Cathedral, where he meets with Maidan medics, civil society representatives, and religious leaders in Kyiv, Ukraine, on February 25, 2014. [State Department photo/ Public Domain]

Excerpt from D/Secretary Burns’ letter to Secretary Kerry:

Over more than three decades, I have done my best to serve ten Secretaries of State. I have had the opportunities and experiences far beyond anything I would have imagined when I entered the Foreign Service. I owe a great deal to my friends and colleagues in the Department – to the mentors and role models who showed me over the years how to be a good diplomat; to the peers and subordinates who always made me look far better than I ever deserved; and to the men and women who serve our country with honor and distinction in hard places around the world as I write this letter. I also owe a debt of gratitude greater than I can ever express to Lisa and our two wonderful daughters, who shared fully in our Foreign Service life and made it whole. I look forward to the next chapter in my professional life, but nothing will ever make me prouder than to be a career American diplomat.”

More about the diplomat’s diplomat that made Secretary Kerry felt the need “to build a system that builds the next Bill Burns”:

Deputy Secretary Burns holds the highest rank in the Foreign Service—Career Ambassador—and became Deputy Secretary of State in July 2011. He is only the second serving career diplomat in history to become Deputy Secretary, and the longest serving. Ambassador Burns served from 2008 until 2011 as Under Secretary for Political Affairs. He was U.S. Ambassador to Russia from 2005 until 2008, Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs from 2001 until 2005, and Ambassador to Jordan from 1998 until 2001. Ambassador Burns has also served in a number of other posts since entering the Foreign Service in 1982, including: Executive Secretary of the State Department and Special Assistant to Secretaries Christopher and Albright; Minister-Counselor for Political Affairs at the U.S. Embassy in Moscow; Acting Director and Principal Deputy Director of the State Department’s Policy Planning Staff; and Special Assistant to the President and Senior Director for Near East and South Asian Affairs at the National Security Council staff. He speaks Russian, Arabic, and French, and is the recipient of two Presidential Distinguished Service Awards and a number of Department of State awards, including the Secretary’s Distinguished Service Award, two Distinguished Honor Awards, the 2006 Charles E. Cobb, Jr. Ambassadorial Award for Initiative and Success in Trade Development, the 2005 Robert C. Frasure Memorial Award for conflict resolution and peacemaking, and the James Clement Dunn Award. In 1994, he was named to TIME Magazine’s list of the “50 Most Promising American Leaders Under Age 40″, and to TIME’s list of “100 Young Global Leaders.”

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USAID Egypt: An Official Lie Comes Back to Bite, Ouchy!

– Domani Spero

 

WaPo’s report on whistleblowers’ complaints that critical details had been sanitized from publicly released reports of USAID OIG includes an item on the NGO trial and bail money in Egypt:

[T]he Egyptian government charged 43 NGO workers with operating illegally. Sixteen of them were Americans, including the son of then-U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood.

The Americans were freed in March 2012 after USAID secretly paid the Egyptian government $4.6 million in “bail” money.
[...]
On March 1, 2012, the Americans were permitted to leave the country after USAID transferred $4.6 million from a local currency trust fund to the Egyptian government as “bail.” USAID’s connection to the money was not disclosed at the time.

“This was paid by the NGOs,” a State Department spokeswoman said that day.
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Several findings were condensed; entire sections disappeared. They included a section titled “USAID/Egypt Borrowed Local Currency From the Trust Fund for Bail Expenses.”

That section raised questions about the legality of using the $4.6 million to free the NGO workers. Also deleted were concerns that the use of trust fund money for “bail payments” could set a bad precedent for USAID.

 

A lie and a bribe:

A ransom:

 

The State Department spokeswoman not named in the report was the former spox, and now Assistant Secretary for European Affairs Victoria Nuland.  And because the lie was from the official podium of the State Department, this was an official USG lie. Let’s revisit the Daily Press Briefing from March 1, 2012:

QUESTION: Victoria, could you clarify for us the role of the U.S. Government in posting the bond? I understand that $300,000 per individual was posted and the promise that they will return to face trial. Could you explain to us if there was any role for the U.S. Government in that aspect?

MS. NULAND: Well, first of all, let me just clarify that none of these people who have now departed were in custody, none of them were subject to arrest warrants. They were under travel restrictions. So at the request of the attorneys for the employees, the Egyptian court ruled that the travel restrictions would be lifted if the employees posted bail. So through their lawyers, the NGOs made payments on behalf of their employees from available funds. So there were no bribes paid, and this was paid by the NGOs.

QUESTION: No, I did not suggest that there was any bribes. I just wanted to ask if there was any official role for the U.S. Government to post bail. Some people may not have had the money. I mean, did you try to help them post that money? It’s a huge sum of money for the bail.

MS. NULAND: The organizations paid the bail.

QUESTION: But these organizations get money from the U.S. Government. Was there any government money involved in this bail payment?

MS. NULAND: The checks for this bail, as I understand it, came from the organizations.

QUESTION: But as I say, these organizations are funded, some of them quite – to the tune of quite a lot of money. So was there any taxpayer money involved in paying this bail? And if there was, which I understand there was, what happens if they – if bail is forfeited, if these people decide not to go back and to face the charges? Does that leave the taxpayer on the hook for however much the percentage was that you guys kicked in?

MS. NULAND: Well, first, to be clear, the bail was posted by the organizations.

QUESTION: Yes, but if I –

MS. NULAND: That said –

QUESTION: But if I give you $300,000 and then you give it to the Egyptians, it’s technically correct that you paid the Egyptians, but it’s my money.

MS. NULAND: Again, the bail was paid by the organizations. You are not wrong that these organizations benefit from U.S. Government funding. They benefit from U.S. Government funding so that they can do the work that they do to support a democratic transition. With regard to the fungibility of money or anything with regard to that, I will have to take that question.

 

So the NGOs paid Egypt; maybe those NGO’s carried and handed $4.6 million to the money shakers, and we called it NGO money. But apparently, it’s USAID money, so really — U.S. taxpayers’ money.  And but for this WaPo report, the American public would not have known that we paid the bail money because the key finding about the $4.6 million payment to free the NGO workers in Egypt was removed from the performance audit and placed into financial documents.  Documents that are not made public. Also apparently deleted were concerns that the use of trust fund money for “bail payments” could set a bad precedent for USAID.

So in places where American NGOs and USAID operates, a not too friendly host government can grab any of the staffers for any purported local crime, and USAID will pay ransom bail money to get the staffers released and returned to the United States; and it can put the details about those payments in USAID financial documents that we never get to see?

And we wonder why people get jaded watching this show.

The world is changing. While this information might have been hidden in the past from public view for say 20 years or until the FRUS is released, things, at least some things increasingly don’t work like that anymore. The refresh cycle on sunshine in government is coming at shorter bursts.

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Tweet of the Day: Ambassador John Bass Now in Turkey

– Domani Spero

 

Ambassador John Bass arrived in Ankara over the weekend. Here is his intro video.  Today, he presented his credentials to Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, the President of Turkey.

 

U.S. Embassy Ankara also got a new deputy chief of mission, Lawrence (Larry) Mandel who was previously Director of the Office of Performance Evaluation, from October 2011 to September 2013.  He also he served as Deputy Chief of Mission at the U.S. Embassy in Amman, Jordan.

İyi şanslar!

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Burn Bag: CG Sighting! CG Sighting! Near Window #36, the Consular Section, Now!

Via Burn Bag

“The CG [consul general] of our very large consular section was recently on leave for several weeks, not that anybody noticed.  She interacts with her staff so rarely that we’ve begun to make jokes about “CG sightings” in the consular section (Note:  she’s up to six after a year here).  Apparently, however, this was simply too much interaction and she has convinced CA [Consular Affairs] to create a Deputy CG position.  Huh?”

via reactiongifs.com

via reactiongifs.com

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Tweet of the Day: Amb @KristieKenney Announces Departure

– Domani Spero

 

 

Ambassador Kenney was nominated on July 19, 2010 by President Barack Obama to be the US Ambassador to the Royal Kingdom of Thailand. She was confirmed by the United States Senate on September 29, 2010.  She assumed charge of the US Embassy in Bangkok in January 2011. When she depart post next month, she’ll be a couple months short of a four year tour.

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Is This Iran Watcher London Position Not Bidlisted About to Go to a “P” Staffer?

– Domani Spero

 

Remember that position at the US Embassy in London last year that “mysteriously” appeared, got pulled down, then re-advertised under curious circumstances? See London Civil Service Excursion Tour Opens — Oh Wait, It’s Gone, Then It’s Back, Ah Forgetaboutit?). Well, it sounds like there’s another one; and this one is roiling the American Foreign Service Association, for good reasons.

With the bidding deadline around the corner, the American Foreign Service Association (AFSA) wants to bring to your attention an FS-02 IROG position in London that has been the subject of some discussion between AFSA and the Department.  In AFSA’s view this position should be available to all eligible bidders now; however, the position has yet to be posted.  On October 1, AFSA’s Governing Board met to discuss the Department’s refusal to include the FS-02 Iran Watcher position in London (IROG Position Number 67700008) in this Summer’s Open Assignment Cycle, instead proposing to include it in the pilot Overseas Development Program.  The Governing Board passed a unanimous motion strongly objecting to the Department’s decision and instructing its General Counsel to advise AFSA on avenues of redress for this apparent breach of contract.  AFSA, the professional association and exclusive representative of the Foreign Service, had previously expressed concern to the Department about including the position in the pilot Overseas Development Program that was created two years ago pursuant to an informal agreement between the Department and AFSA.  AFSA’s concerns center around the position’s uniqueness, Farsi language designation, and the significant number of interested, qualified Foreign Service bidders for the position.  The position is the only one in London and the only Iran Watcher position in an English speaking country.

The Foreign Service needs to build up its Iran expertise including language capability.  The best known Persian speaker at State is probably the State Department Farsi spox, Alan Eyre, who since 2011 has been the public face of the United States to many Iranians and Persian speakers. In 2013, when State/OIG looked into the process of establishing “language designated positions,” we learned that State had established 23 LDPs for Persian-Iranian. Those are jobs where the selectees will be required to have official language training and reach a certain level of proficiency prior to assuming the position. That’s the number for the entire agency, by the way.  In 2012, 8 students studied Farsi at the Foreign Service Institute.  We have no idea how many Farsi speakers have attained the 3/3 level at State but we know that studying a hard language does not come cheap.

The OIG team estimates training students to the 3/3 level in easier world languages such as Spanish can cost $105,000; training in hard languages such as Russian can cost $180,000; and training in super hard languages such as Chinese and Arabic can cost up to $480,000 per student. Students learning super hard languages to the 3/3 level generally spend one year domestically at the Foreign Service Institute (FSI) and then a second year at an overseas training facility.

So — what’s the deal about this Iran Watcher London position?

Rumor has it that a staffer at the Under Secretary for Political Affairs Wendy Sherman‘s office, the Department’s fourth-ranking official allegedly wants this position.

If the State Department is not listing this position in the Open Assignment Cycle bidlist, that means this job is not/not up for grabs for Foreign Service officers. One less FSO studying Farsi next year!

If State includes this position in the Open Assignment Cycle bidlist then only FS employees can bid and a CS employee cannot be assigned to London unless there are no qualified FS bidders (we’re told that’s not going to be the case here).

If State is listing this position under the Overseas Development Program, it means this is potentially for a two-year London assignment, open to Civil Service employees only, and requires a 44-week language training for presumably an S-3/R-3 proficiency in Farsi.

And if this position goes to a Civil Service employee, the chance of that employee serving overseas is a one-time fill. He/She goes to London for two years then return to the State Department. Unless the State Department moves to a unitary personnel system, CS employees typically do not serve on multiple tours overseas.  Which means that State could be spending between $180,000 – $480,000 to teach — whoever is selected for this London position — Persian language to an employee who can be assigned overseas just once.

Now, perhaps the more important question is, in light of AFSA’s protest — if State gives in and list this London position in this Summer’s Open Assignment Cycle, would that really make a difference? Sure FSOs can bid on it, but will anyone of the qualified bidders be …. um…the right fit?

Maybe we can go through this “call your friends in London upstairs” exercise, and see what they say (pick one):

  1. don’t bother applying for the job
  2. don’t waste your time on this one
  3. forgetaboutit, selection already done
  4. all of the above

And you’re wondering why watching bureaucratic life and backstage machinations can make one jaded?  If indeed this job is going to go, as rumored, to a “P’ staffer, all job-related announcements would just be bureaucratic theater.

But don’t worry, everything will fit in the end. Just like a puzzle box.

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Filed under AFSA, Career Employees, Foreign Service, FSOs, Huh? News, Iran, Leadership and Management, Org Culture, Org Life, Realities of the FS, Staffing the FS, State Department