Category Archives: FSOs

Dept of Correction for the Record Fail — Diversity Statistics Still in Jaws of SBU Chupacabra!

– Domani Spero

 

Last week, we blogged about the State Department’s missing diversity stats from the FS promotion results (see Foreign Service 2013 Promotion Results — Gender, Ethnicity, Race Stats Still Behind the Great Firewall).  Previously, WhirledView’s Patricia Kushlis blogged about the State Department’s abysmal Hispanic record and gender inequality at the State Department (see  Unfulfilled Promises, Ignored Mandates: State’s Abysmal Hispanic Record and  State’s Female-Proof Glass Ceiling: Breaking into the Good Old Boys Diplomatic Club is Still Hard to Do).

Yesterday, WhirledView posted a new question: What’s the big secret with the State Department’s diversity statistics and why?  Patricia also  shared a fan mail from the State Department’s Bureau of Human Resources.

Via WhirledView:

From: State/HR – Greenberg
To: WhirledView-Kushlis

Regarding: “Going back to 2000, the only year that State published promotion figures based on gender and ethnicity was in 2012, when they appeared in the June 2012 issue of State Magazine.  Those statistics disappeared from State Magazine in 2013 and 2014. “

The 2013 promotion statistics are available on page 32 of the June 2014 online issue of State Magazine at http://digitaledition.state.gov/publication/ and the 2013 Foreign Service promotion statistics will also be published in the July-August 2014 print and digital issue of State Magazine.

The 2014 promotion statistics are simply not out yet.  The promotion boards have just convened.

Brenda Greenberg
HR Public Affairs
202-647-4282

 

<RANT>Why … why… why … in heaven’s name are you wasting your time and other people’s time with this kind of mush?!</RANT>

The italicized portion above is a paragraph in Patricia’s blog post on State’s abysmal record on Hispanic hiring available here.   It is clear that Patricia is  referring to the published promotion figures based on gender and ethnicity. Which are, by the way, while mentioned on State magazine, are actually not included in the published edition. So the HR spox wrote to point out that the stats is you know, available on page 32!

Nope, the promotion figures based on gender and ethnicity are not available on page 32. Here is what State, June 2014 says:

Screen Shot 2014-08-25

Neither the original State mag publication of the promotion stats in June nor the corrected version in July/August 2014 include the gender, ethnicity and race statistics. They are available at http://intranet.hr.state.sbu/offices/rma/Pages/DiversityStats.aspx.  Let’s click on it, just for fun:

Screen Shot 2014-08-25

Ay, caramba! They’re still in the jaws of the SBU Chupacabra (pdf) ?!!

Look — SBU or “sensitive but unclassified” information must not be posted on any public Internet website, discussed in a publicly available chat room or any other public forum on the Internet. You folks know that, right?  Disposition of SBU documents is also important; it includes shredding or burning, or by other methods consistent with law or regulation like chewing and swallowing (Note: Perfectly okay to do this with beer 😉).

Hey, if a State Department HR official can cite a non-existent public report, we, too, can cite a non-existent citation on the FAM that goes well with beer. Because why not?

Also this via WhirledView:

“Why HR even needs its own Public Affairs Office is beyond me but that’s another question for another day er post.  Rumor has it that a piece of the incumbent’s job is to  block relevant WV posts and likely Diplopundit ones too keeping them from Bureau higher ups and staff supposedly under the ignorance is bliss category.” 

Oh, no — no need to block us, we are quite entertaining at times.

Subscription is easy and painless and we occasionally deliver sweet and sour news and opinion!

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USCG Karachi: Goodbye Michael Dodman, Hello Brian Heath

– Domani Spero

 

 

USCG Karachi’s Consul General Michael Dodman recently concluded his 2-year tour in Pakistan.  Here is a memorable photo of Mr. Dodman showing his dance moves at the historic Kot Diji Fort in the Khairpur District of Pakistan’s southeastern province of Sindh.

Photo via USCG Karachi/Flickr

Photo via USCG Karachi/Flickr

Brian Heath assumed charge as the U.S. Consul General in Karachi on August 20, 2014. USCG Karachi released the following official bio:
 A career member of the Senior Foreign Service, Mr. Heath most recently served as the Minister-Counselor for Management Affairs at the U.S. Mission to the United Nations in New York.
Since joining the Foreign Service in 1998, Mr. Heath’s overseas assignments have included Director of the U.S. Regional Embassy Office in Al Hillah, Iraq; Consul General at the U.S. Consulate in Lahore, Pakistan; Management Officer at the U.S. Consulate General in Karachi, Pakistan; General Services and Human Resources officers at the U.S. Embassy in Berlin, Germany; and Consular Officer at the U.S. Consulate General in Mumbai (Bombay), India.
In the course of several assignments in Washington, DC, Mr. Heath has studied at the National War College; worked as a Senior Advisor in the Under Secretary of State for Management’s Office of Management Policy; and served as a Special Assistant to the Assistant Secretary of State for Administration. Mr. Heath is the recipient of multiple Department of State Superior and Meritorious honor awards.
Mr. Heath graduated from Fordham University with a Bachelor’s degree in political economics, earned a law degree from Rutgers University, and received his Master’s degree in national security studies from the National War College. He is a member of the New Jersey and New York State bars.

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Consular Affairs Bureau Seeks to Expand Visa Waiver and Interview Waiver Programs

– Domani Spero

 

The State Department’s Assistant Secretary of State for Consular Affairs Janice Jacobs retired last April (see Asst Secretary for Consular Affairs Janice Jacobs to Retire Effective April 3).  As far as we know, no successor has been nominated to date.  Pardon me? You want ……..? And you want Overseas Citizens Services DAS Jim Pettit?  Excuse me, Mr. Pettit was already nominated as Ambassador to the Republic of Moldova.  Who else?  You want ……. ? Well, maybe State should have a list of nominees and have all CA employees vote for their next boss per the bureau’s Leadership Tenets. Because wouldn’t that be a screamingly fantastic experiment?

In any case, CA’s Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary Michele Bond has been the Acting A/S since April 2014.  This past June, at a hearing at the Senate Subcommittee on Tourism, Competitiveness and Innovation on  The State of U.S. Travel and Tourism Industry, Ms. Bond discussed how the bureau is meeting increasing demand for visas worldwide, particularly in  Brazil, India, Mexico and China (see prepared statement). Stressing that the State Department’s  “top priority in visa adjudication is always national security,” the prepared statement provides a look at where the bureau is seeking to expand.   Specifically, it seeks legislative authority to expand the Interview Waiver Program and wanted to see an expanded  Visa Waiver Program to include additional countries to the 37 current participants.  The  Interview Waiver Program (visa applications without personal appearances) is potentially controversial given its history, and probably the reason the bureau is seeking legislative authority from Congress.

Below are excerpts from the prepared statement:

Consular Adjudicators

In 2013, Brazilian visitors contributed $10.5 billion to the U.S. economy, a 13 percent increase from the prior year.  During the same period, Chinese visitors contributed $9.8 billion, an 11 percent increase from the prior year, or $5,400 per visitor.  To address this important opportunity to contribute to our country’s economy, 167 officers perform consular work in Mission China.  Consular Affairs created over 50 new officer positions in China in fiscal year 2012 alone.  In the same year, we increased consular staffing in Mission Brazil by 40 percent within six months, and eventually increased staffing by more than 100 percent.  We met the President’s Executive Order target of 40 percent capacity increase in Brazil in June 2012 and in China in November 2012, both ahead of schedule.
[...]

In 2011, we realized our traditional hiring mechanisms wouldn’t allow us to deploy officers quickly enough to meet exploding visa demand in Brazil and China. We weren’t recruiting enough Portuguese- and Mandarin-speaking officers and could not wait for new entry-level officers to learn these essential languages.  In response, the Department created a rapid hiring pilot program to ramp up staffing at critical needs posts.  These adjudicators met a high bar for qualifications and underwent a rigorous screening process to assess their skills and background for these positions.  The first class of these adjudicators, appointed for one-year periods and limited to a maximum of five consecutive years, began in January 2012.  That year, we brought on a total of 24 Mandarin-speakers and 19 Portuguese-speakers, all of whom arrived at posts by mid-July.  In fiscal year 2013, we expanded the program to recruit Spanish-speakers.  To date, we have hired and deployed 59 adjudicators under this program to China, Brazil, Mexico, Colombia, and the Dominican Republic, representing an added capacity of 900,000 visa adjudications per year.

Interview Waiver Program

We are utilizing technology and advanced fraud detection techniques to help us expand the pool of applicants for whom interviews can be waived under the Interview Waiver Program.  This allows us to focus resources on higher-risk visa applicants while facilitating travel for low-risk applicants.

We are working with our colleagues across the government to expand this successful program, which became permanent in January 2014.  In fiscal year 2013, we waived over 380,000 interviews, and a recent study showed that tourist and business visitor visa holders whose interviews were waived, all of whom were subject to the full scope of security checks, posed no greater risk for an overstay than those who were interviewed.  We are interested in explicit legislative authority to supplement the existing Interview Waiver Program by adding additional low-risk applicant groups such as citizens of Visa Waiver Program members applying for other types of visas such as student or work visas; continuing students moving to a higher level of education; non-U.S. citizen Global Entry and NEXUS trusted traveler program members; and holders of visas in other categories, such as students and workers, who wish to travel for tourism or business.  The Department is interested in working with Congress on legislation specifically authorizing the Secretaries of State and Homeland Security to enhance our interview waiver programs.

Visa Waiver Program

[W]e are working with our U.S. government colleagues to expand the Visa Waiver Program, consistent with U.S. law, as was recently done with the addition of Chile to the program earlier this year.  With this designation, Chile now joins 37 other participants and is currently the only participant from Latin America.  The Department supports the proposed amendments contained in the Senate-passed Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act, because we believe they would restructure the Visa Waiver Program in a manner that would strengthen law enforcement cooperation, while maintaining the program’s robust counterterrorism and criminal information sharing initiatives and promoting commerce and tourism in the United States.

No to Premium Visa Processing

However, we do not recommend offering premium visa processing.  We believe many visa applicants would be willing to pay any “premium processing fee” in the false belief that payment of a higher fee will ensure visa issuance, thus making any such program less efficient and compromising the integrity of the visa process.  The best approach to achieve greater efficiencies is the continued prioritization of student, medical, and urgent business travel applications, which is already in effect at consular posts worldwide.  We will also pursue increased visa validity where reciprocal agreement can be obtained with interagency support.

The full statement is available here.

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U.S. Embassy Cyprus Remembers Ambassador Rodger Davies Shot Dead 40 Years Ago Today

– Domani Spero

 

 

 

On the 40th anniversary of their deaths, the U.S. embassy residence in Nicosia is named the “Rodger Davies Residence” after Ambassador Davies who was killed on  August 19, 1974 and the embassy personnel lounge is named “Antoinette Varnava Lounge” after the local employee killed in the same attack.

Via ADST Oral History:

On August 19th, 1974, recently appointed Ambassador to Cyprus, Rodger Davies, was shot dead during a Greek Cypriot protest outside the U.S. Embassy. The demonstration brought out over 300 people who were protesting against the U.S.’s failure to prevent the Turkish invasion of the northern part of the island the week before. Davies was seeking shelter in a hallway at the embassy building in Nicosia when a sniper struck him in the chest. When Antoinette Varnava—a Maronite consular employee—rushed to his aid, she too was struck dead, with a bullet to the head.

James Alan Williams, a Political Foreign Service Officer, was at the Embassy in Nicosia as events unraveled. He served in Cyprus from 1973 to 1975 — the height of the tension between Greek and Turkish Cypriots; the coup which ousted democratically elected leader Archbishop Makarios III; and the Turkish invasions — all of which define the sociopolitical landscape of the divided island today. He was interviewed by Ray Ewing beginning in October 2003.

WILLIAMS:
[it was the] morning of August 19th, [1974]. A sunny day, cloudless skies, as it almost always is in Cyprus, and I think it was around 9:30 or 10:00, I don’t remember. [You could hear a rumble], a large number of people. I [had] only heard that once before in my life, and that was when Ann and I were in Adana, Turkey, and the consulate was stoned by a mob. I think I mentioned that in an earlier session, 1966 that was. You never forget that once you hear it. And I heard it, and everybody else heard it. We thought the demonstration had been approved by the police or whomever some ways away.

Cyprus Demonstration Riots[It was] a large crowd. It wasn’t a mob yet. I think the focus of the discussion was criticism of the Americans for what had happened to them, what had been done to them, what they had suffered. And somehow, and I don’t know how because I wasn’t there, the crowd started moving toward the embassy. At this point, I think it gained a lot of hangers-on and other elements [which] might not have been in the original demonstration at all. By the time it reached the embassy, which was in about 10 minutes, they were throwing rocks and other things at the chancery. So, we immediately had the Marines and everybody else shove the wooden shutters so the glass would be protected, close the gate, get the teargas canisters ready and prepare to stave off what we thought was going to be an unfettered demonstration, but that was about all.[…]

The Ambassador’s office was shuttered and he and his secretaries came into the central hallway. The rest of us were in the central hallway on the second floor. The FSNs were there. It was very crowded. The air conditioning held up for us, so it wasn’t too hot, but it was a little sticky. [Our] offices which had been on either side of that hallway, particularly [those which] were facing the front, were sort of exposed to the brunt of the mob’s wrath, we thought. At some point, shooting started. I remember hearing pops or whatever, but did not think anything of it because I didn’t know what it was, and I’d never heard shots fired in anger. I don’t know how many shots were fired. Several pierced the water tanks on the roof because they were leaking. Again, there was no central direction, put your hands down and put your hands behind your head and hunker down. We were milling around.
[...]
Q: Do you think the shots were fired at the patio at the top of the residence because they had seen the Marines up there doing the teargas?

WILLIAMS: It’s the same time the shots were fired at the Ambassador’s office. I think there were two shooters. There would have had to be because the ones that came in from the side [his office], were way over there, and this shot was up here. And I always thought, and my memory’s a little hazy on some of this, but the rounds that came into the office of Ambassador Davies were concentrated in the area of his office where his desk was. The rounds that came into the other side of the building where the residence was were concentrated on the patio, and I think some at the window of his bedroom. I think that’s right, though I’m not sure of it. So whether or not they fired at the patio because they saw a Marine or because they thought the ambassador was up there or because they saw me or whatever, I really don’t know. But there were a lot of bullets that came up there. I always thought it was an effort to get the Ambassador because of the way the bullets had come in. By sheer dumb luck they did get him. It was a blind bullet came in through the shutter, the glass and the partition in his office and came down into the corridor where he was standing and they shot him through the heart.

He was [in the central hall], and he was dead before he hit the ground. Another bullet came in and ripped off the top of the skull of Toni Varnava, a Maronite local in the Administration section, and she was dead instantly. A steel jacket of one of the bullets that came in landed up in the thigh of Jay Graham, the economic officer. Those were the only causalities from the rounds. One of the older locals may have had a heart attack. Everybody else was intact but scared to death.
[…]
[Varnava] had [gone to Ambassador Davies’ aid]. She had been very close to him and she saw him fall. I was not down there, but those who were say she saw him fall and bent down to catch him and as she did her head was ripped open by the bullet, so they both fell.

The windows were appropriately shuttered. So, the bullets did not have to go through significant physical barriers to get to the Americans in the central corridor. I have no way of knowing whether the shooter or shooters knew that we would be huddled in that corridor as a safe place, but the wooden shutter over the window, the single pane of glass and the partition on the door of the wall of the office were not very thick.
[…]
It was a blind shot that got the Ambassador, no question about that. Toni was an incidental casualty, God rest her soul, and Jay Graham was also unlucky with that minor wound in his thigh.[…]

[The shooters] were on the periphery of the crowd in both cases. One of them was wearing the uniform of a Greek Cypriot policeman as I recall, although the weapon he used was not in the standard arms of the Greek Cypriot police. They were in the crowd on the periphery, but not in adjacent buildings. There was some more shooting of handguns I guess. I think though, soon after the heavy stuff came in and killed the ambassador, they couldn’t know at that time they killed the Ambassador, and hit the side where Mike and I and the Marines were, soon thereafter as I recall, maybe 20 or 30 minutes, time was really very strange as experienced in that day, the crowd started to disperse. Either its anger had been spent or the Greek Cypriot police had started to come in sufficient numbers to control it. Because what the Greek Cypriot authorities had approved as a demonstration had quickly gotten way out of hand and had to be stopped. I don’t know who was calling, our phones were still intact, I don’t know who called whom. I certainly was not calling anybody because I could still barely see, Mike wasn’t.
[...]
I remember I knelt down to Rodger and I just said, “Oh, Mr. Ambassador,” and I couldn’t say anything else because he was clearly gone. I think it had gone right through his heart so there was no question about saving him.
[…]
Q: Ambassador Davies did not have any family of his own at post?

WILLIAMS: He did. Dana is the daughter and John is her younger brother, and they had briefly come to post with Rodger and Ms. T, the family cat. Rodger’s wife had died tragically after a long struggle with brain cancer just that year. And so one of the reasons he wanted to go [to] Cyprus was to get away from Washington and the intense environment he’d been working and living in there, and also get away from, I think, some of the memories of Sally and what she’d gone through in the last years of her life.

Nicosia was going to be a way for the family to replenish itself, just relax and recover a bit. And tragically it did not work out that way. So John and Dana had been in the convoy that went south to Akrotiri [British Airbase in Cyprus] in late July and were in Beirut, and had to be told what had happened to their father on August 19th.

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FSO-Author Writes About Publishing in the Foreign Service; Update to 3 FAM 4170 Coming Soon?

– Domani Spero

 

The June 2014 issue of the Foreign Service Journal includes an article, Publishing in the Foreign Service by FSO Yaniv Barzilai, who is serving in Baku on his first overseas posting. He is the author of 102 Days of War—How Osama bin Laden, al Qaeda & the Taliban Survived 2001 (Potomac Books, 2013).  Below is an excerpt from that article with a prescription for the improvement of the pre-publication clearance process in the State Department.

There is plenty of room for improvement in the pre-publication clearance process. First and foremost, State must do a better job of adhering to the regulations it has set forth in the Foreign Affairs Manual. Anything short of that standard is unfair to everyone involved. 

Second, the department should establish clear guidelines on how it distributes material internally and across the interagency community. That threshold should have nothing to do with terms as vague as “equities.” Instead, offices and agencies should have the opportunity to clear on material only if that material is the result of “privileged information”: information that employees acquire during the discharge of their duties that is not otherwise available.

Third, State needs to ensure that former employees receive treatment comparable to current employees. A significant gap exists between the attention given to current employees by PA and that former employees receive from A/GIS/IPS/PP/LA. 

As that lengthy acronym suggests, former employees are relegated to an obscure office in the Bureau of Administration when they seek pre-publication clearance. In contrast, the PA leadership is often engaged and provides consistent oversight of the review process for current employees. This bifurcation not only creates unnecessary bureaucratic layers and redundancies, but places additional burdens on former employees trying to do the right thing by clearing their manuscripts. This discrepancy should be rectified.

These short-term fixes would go a long way toward improving the pre-publication clearance process for employees. In the long term, however, the State Department should consider establishing a publication review board modeled on the CIA’s Publication Review Board. 

A State Department PRB would codify a transparent, objective and fair process that minimizes the need for interagency clearance, ensures proper and consistent determinations on what material should be classified, and reduces the strain on the State Department at large, and its employees in particular.

Ultimately, State needs to strike a better balance between protecting information and encouraging activities in the public domain. The pre-publication review process remains too arbitrary, lengthy and disjointed for most government professionals to share their unique experiences and expertise with the American public.

Read in full here.

We totally agree that a publication review board is needed for State. Instead of parcelling out the work to different parts of the bureaucracy, a review board would best serve the agency.  We have some related posts on this topic on the Peter Van Buren case as well as the following items:

The rules and regulations for publishing in the Foreign Service can be found in the infamous Foreign Affairs Manual 3 FAM 4170 (pdf).  Last June, AFSA told its members that for more than a year it has been negotiating a revision to the current Foreign Affairs Manual regulations governing public speaking and writing (3 FAM 4170).

“As mentioned in our 2013 Annual Report, our focus has been to accommodate the rise of social media and protect the employee’s ability to publish. We have emphasized the importance of a State Department response to clearance requests within a defined period of time (30 days or less). For those items requiring interagency review, our goal is to increase transparency, communication and oversight.  We look forward to finalizing the negotiations on the FAM chapter soon—stay tuned for its release.”

This long awaited update to 3 FAM 4170 has been in draft mode since 2012 (see State Dept to Rewrite Media Engagement Rules for Employees in Wake of Van Buren Affair. We’ll have to wait and see if 3 FAM 4172.1-7  also known as the Peter Van Buren clause survives the new version.

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The State of Foreign Service Family Member Employment 2014 – Which Bureau Tops for Jobs?

– Domani Spero

 

Last year, we posted about the  family member employment in the Foreign Service (see The State of Foreign Service Family Member Employment 2013 — Where Are the Jobs?).  We’ve extracted the following from State/FLO’s April 2014 (pdf) numbers and put them next to last year’s numbers. The female/male numbers for overseas family members remain at 78%/22%.  Family members working inside the mission increased from 24% in 2013 to 25% in 2014.  Those working outside the mission increased from 12% to 13%.  Family members who are not working went from 64% in 2013 to 62% in 2014. A pretty slim change with over 7200 family members still not working either by choice or due to severely limited employment opportunities overseas. We should note that  the FLO data is dated November 2013,which is after the summer transfer season and April 2014, which is before the summer rotation.

Family Member Population Overseas

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fam pop 2013

Employment Status – Overseas Family Members

2014

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2013

FAM 2013

 

Family Member Employment Overseas – Inside the Mission

By Regional Bureau

2014

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2013

fam reg 2013

SCA –  where 63% of family members at post are working

The FLO employment data does not include details of full-time or part-time work or job shares, or the types of jobs inside or outside the mission. But if you want to work, the chance of getting a job is higher in the Bureau of South Central Asian Affairs (SCA) where 50% of family members are employed with the embassy and 13% are employed outside the U.S. mission. At 63%, SCA has the most number of family members working at post, however, the bureau also has the smallest number of family members located at posts. In the AF bureau, 50% of over 1500 family members at post were able to find jobs inside the mission (35%) and outside the mission (15%).

SCA_Bureau_400_1

 

WHA/EUR – where most number of positions located

Posts in the Western Hemisphere and Europe have the most number of approved positions for overseas family members.  These positions more than double the number of positions approved in each of the SCA and NEA bureaus. However, you will also note that only about 1/5 of family members in those respective bureaus (EUR-21%, WHA-22%) are able to  working inside the mission in April 2014. Last year, EUR had 19% while WHA had 23% working inside the mission.  This is not surprising since EUR and WHA have the most number of family members at post. The larger the family member population, the less jobs available to go around.

Screen Shot 2014-08-14 at 11.33.58 PM

 

Employment Outside the Mission

2014

Where are the jobs?

The FLO’s break down of outside the mission jobs are perhaps too broad to be useful. For instance, 30% of outside the mission jobs are in the field of education but we cannot tell if these are local teaching jobs, online teaching, or something else. There are 199 family members engaged in telework, but we can’t tell in what fields from looking at this graphic.The same goes for working in the local economy, home business and freelancing.  If this is meant to be more than a snapshot of family member employment overseas, to actually help folks plan career-wise when moving overseas, we’d suggest that this annual report be beef up with additional details.

Screen Shot 2014-08-14 at 11.34.46 PM

 

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Burn Bag: Conal Rectification? Dear Consular Affairs, This Sounds Painful

 Via Burn Bag:

 “It’s amazing there hasn’t been a mutiny in the CA training at FSI this year given the behavior of some of the leadership.  There’s a broad consensus that the way they treat officers in training is right out of Full Metal Jacket.  Disparaging, disrespectful, amateurish, and completely undermining of moral[e]. Not to mention doing nothing to advance the goal of training competent, empowered consular officers.  If that’s what CA thinks is what 1CA means I imagine there will be a lot of Consular officers who will be seeking conal rectification….”

Via reactiongifs.com

Via reactiongifs.com

 

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U.S. Embassies Baku and Yerevan Restricts USG Personnel Travel to Armenian-Azerbaijani Border

– Domani Spero

 

Over the weekend, the US embassies in Baku and Yerevan issued emergency messages to the respective U.S. citizens in their host countries alerting them of the security situation along the Armenian-Azerbaijani border.  U.S. government personnel travel to this border area is now restricted. US Embassy Yerevan also notes the increased tensions along the Line of Contact in the Nagorno-Karabakh region.

US Embassy Yerevan, Armenia |August 2, 2014 via

Due to increased tension in the security situation along the Armenian-Azerbaijani border in the Tavush Province, the U.S. Embassy in Yerevan advises U.S. citizens to avoid travel to this border area.  U.S. government personnel travel to this border area is restricted.  Villages and their connecting border roads in this area include, but are not limited to, Vazashen, Varagavan, Paravakar, Aygepar, Azatamut, and Barekamavan.  The embassy notes this area also includes the segment of the frequently traveled route between Yerevan and Tbilisi on M-16/H-26 from Azatamut through Jujevan to the Georgian border.  

Tensions have also increased along the Line of Contact in the Nagorno-Karabakh region.  Consular services continue to be unavailable to U.S. citizens in Nagorno-Karabakh and the surrounding territories.

US Embassy Baku, Azerbaijan | August 2, 2014

Due to recent escalation in hostilities at the Armenian-Azerbaijani border, the U.S. Embassy in Baku advises U.S. citizens to defer all non-essential travel to the Armenian-Azerbaijani border near the line of contact.  Consular services are no longer available to U.S. citizens in that area.  U.S. government personnel travel to the area is restricted for security reasons.

Note that Ambassador Richard L. Morningstar who was appointed to Azerbaijan in 2012 has recently announced his departure (pdf) from post after a two-year tenure. Prior to his appointment to Baku, he was the Secretary of State’s Special Envoy for Eurasian Energy.

A related note — last month, the Co-Chairs of the Minsk Group expressed their serious concern about the increase in tensions and violence, including the targeted killings of civilians, along the Line of Contact and the Armenian-Azerbaijani border. The Co-Chairs urged the parties “to commit themselves to avoiding casualties and rejected the deliberate targeting of villages and the civilian population. They called on the Foreign Ministers to defuse tensions and adhere to the terms of the ceasefire.”  Over the weekend,  the Co-Chairs expressed their deep concern about the intense upsurge in violence along the Line of Contact and Armenian-Azerbaijani border that resulted in numerous casualties reported in recent days. They released the following statement:

The Chairperson-in-Office and the Co-Chairs of the Minsk Group said that they were deeply concerned about the fact that a clearly marked International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) vehicle came under fire while assisting the local population on the Armenian-Azerbaijani border on a humanitarian mission. They strongly condemned the deliberate targeting of civilians and shooting at representatives of international organizations and reminded the parties of their obligations under Geneva Conventions.

They appealed to the Presidents of Armenia and Azerbaijan to take immediate action to defuse tensions and respect the ceasefire agreement. Retaliation and further violence will only make it more difficult to continue efforts to bring about a lasting peace, the Chairperson-in-Office and the Co-Chairs of the Minsk Group emphasized. They also urged the Presidents of Armenia and Azerbaijan to resume as soon as possible negotiations on peaceful settlement of the conflict, being the only way to bring peace and genuine reconciliation to the peoples of the region.

 

You might remember that the Minsk Group came out of the OSCE Budapest Summit in 1994 tasked with convening a forum for negotiations towards a peaceful settlement of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict involving Armenia and Azerbaijan.  Twenty years on and they’re still at it. The Co-Chairs of the Minsk Group are Ambassadors Igor Popov of the Russian Federation; Pierre Andrieu of France; and James Warlick of the United States.

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U.S. Embassy Burundi — Sacrificing Free Time Is Worthwhile, Rinse, Repeat

– Domani Spero

 

State/OIG has just posted its inspection report of the U.S. Embassy in Bujumbura, Burundi. Post is headed by career diplomat, Dawn Liberi who was appointed to post in 2012 and assumed office in January 2013, plus a revolving door of DCMs since late last year.

Below are the key findings:

  • The Ambassador’s vision of growing the size of the embassy is not supported by available resources.
  • Political and economic reporting lacks classified analysis, and the volume is limited.
  • The embassy does not prioritize its personnel and resources, especially in the area of public diplomacy, and its workload level is not sustainable.
  • American staff morale is low, in part a result of work pressure and travel restrictions.
  • The embassy is not reimbursed for all the costs of supporting military personnel assigned to the embassy by the regional combatant command.
  • Funding and staffing levels are adequate for embassy operations.
  • The management section provides good administrative support services.
US Embassy Burundi/FB

US Embassy Burundi/FB

 

Below are additional details extracted from the OIG report. About that New Embassy Compound Bujumbura, here is what the inspectors say:

In October 2012, the embassy occupied the new embassy compound. In addition to the Department of State (Department), the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) and the Department of Defense (DOD) are represented in the embassy. The mission has a total staff of 186, with 33 authorized U.S. direct-hire positions. The embassy occupies a modern compound with an electrical generating capacity equal to that of the entire national grid. The capital cost of the new embassy compound, $137 million, is 25 percent of the national government’s annual budget.

Just pause for a moment and digest that — “equal to that of the entire national grid” of Burundi.

Perhaps the more disturbing part of the report, which is not uncommon in the last few reports issued, has been the deficient leadership at the top of the mission.  This is the kind of ‘taking care of the troops’ that impairs the mission, demoralized employees, impacts the future of the Service and one more reason why we think scrutiny of chief of mission candidates should not be solely focused on political appointees.

The Ambassador as Hub of Embassy Operations?

The embassy staff respects the Ambassador for her achievements, vision, and indefatigable energy in advancing U.S. interests in Burundi but is hard pressed to keep up with expectations. The Ambassador has made herself the hub of embassy operations, with section and agency heads reporting directly to her. This hub-and-spoke organizational structure results in the Ambassador making decisions on issues such as leave requests for U.S. direct hires. She monitors coverage plans for individual absences and occasionally withholds approval, if she deems them inadequate. A revolving door of temporary DCMs, including the embassy’s third-tour political officer, assisted the Ambassador for the 3 months prior to the inspection. The presence of three short-term, acting DCMs—who lacked sufficient time on the ground to gain the Ambassador’s confidence and an understanding of embassy operations—reinforced the Ambassador’s tendency to micromanage.

Multiple interviews of staff members and responses to OIG surveys revealed staff members’ concern that the Ambassador has an occasionally harsh leadership style. This assessment was based on incidents when she scolded individuals in a group setting over performance shortcomings. As a result, staff members have told the OIG team they are less willing to show initiative or take chances, because they are concerned about failing to meet the Ambassador’s high expectations. The arrival of a permanent DCM in April 2014 represents an opportunity for the Ambassador to delegate operational authority.

But why should anyone have weekends?

Despite her self-assessment to the OIG team that the pace and volume of current work at her embassy is unsustainable, the Ambassador either has accepted or initiated many new activities over the past 6 months, such as preparing a quarterly assessment of Burundian conditions indicating a risk of political violence. Embassy staff strains to keep up with work demands; many U.S. direct hires routinely work extra hours to accommodate the Ambassador’s demands on staff to organize special events, draft speeches, and coordinate media coverage. The staff manages these demands by working weekends and staying late in the office on weekdays.

Of course, sacrificing free time is worthwhile, silly!

The Ambassador, whose position allows her to work from home while others cannot, has not succeeded in convincing her overworked staff that sustaining a high operations tempo and sacrificing free time are worthwhile. She conveys the impression that this kind of 24/7 work rhythm is normal. Personal questionnaires indicate that the embassy’s operating tempo has eroded morale and has also undermined the embassy’s ability to surge should events require. The OIG team counseled the Ambassador on the need to apply, in a disciplined fashion and within existing resources, the embassy’s ICS priorities to its operational activities. Staff morale at the embassy is below average, according to the OIG survey and interviews with personnel. This low morale is due to two sets of factors: the hardship associated with Burundi’s isolation and lack of free-time amenities, compounded by restrictions on travel. Further contributing to the situation are the country’s extreme poverty and uneven availability of ordinary consumer items, the tropical environment, and overtime work to keep up with the Ambassador’s high expectations and operations tempo. The effect is that the U.S. staff is wearing down. This is especially noticeable among the first- and second-tour officers, though as a group they continue to perform at high levels. The arrival of a new permanent DCM is an opportunity to reset the embassy’s operational pace and address morale problems.

Overexposed? Is there a press release for that?

The Ambassador is overexposed in the Burundian media. She has diluted the impact of the small public diplomacy staff with demands for outreach at every opportunity, without regard to prioritizing resources on high-yield activities more likely to receive media attention. In a 1-week period during the inspection, the embassy issued four press releases on the Ambassador’s outside events, but these received scant local media coverage. The OIG team counseled the Ambassador on ways to improve embassy media coverage.

No More Facebook and YouTube?

Burundi has a miniscule audience for digital products. Only 1.7 percent of the public has access to the Internet, and only 17 percent of that audience accesses the Internet for news. Facebook statistics show it has a penetration rate of 0.4 percent. The embassy posted two videos to YouTube, which, at the time of the inspection 9 months later, had combined total views of only 322. Because social media demands regular interaction with users, neither the staffing in the section nor the audience in Burundi can justify this activity. The public affairs officer agreed to focus staff time on the embassy Web site, which needs attention. At the time of the inspection, it featured an announcement for a recruiting effort that had ended more than a month earlier.

Recommendation 14: Embassy Bujumbura should close its Facebook and YouTube pages. (Action: Embassy Bujumbura)

 Professional development and experience gaps?

The embassy does not have a formal, structured program for the professional development of first- and second-tour (FAST) officers. Embassy Bujumbura has eight FAST officers, three of whom are specialists. FAST officers comprise half the Department’s U.S. direct-hire employees at the embassy. Every section has a FAST officer, with the exception of public affairs. Only one Department employee in the embassy has had more than three assignments overseas.
[...]
Consular Training and Backup. The officer who will replace the current consular chief in summer 2014 has no previous consular experience. To ensure an adequate level of performance and compliance with regulations, the new consular chief will need embassy-specific training and clear, detailed guidance, in addition to standard consular training in Washington, to help her fulfill the many obligations she will face as the new consular chief.

Please, more of everything here!

In the embassy’s ICS and Mission Resource Request, as well as in OIG interviews, the Ambassador has made clear her ambitions to grow the embassy from a Class 2 to a Class 3 mission.1 In her view, more personnel resources are needed for the embassy to carry out its mission. Since the 2007 OIG inspection report, the mission’s U.S. direct-hire staffing has grown by 9 positions: 3 from the Department and 6 from other agencies. LE staffing increased by 59 positions: 52 from the Department and 7 from other agencies. At the same time, the total Department operating budget increased by $1.82 million. By 2018, the embassy predicts a net increase of 23 positions: 7 U.S. direct hires, 1 eligible family member, and 15 LE staff members. In its 2013 analysis, the Office of Management Policy, Rightsizing, and Innovation predicts modest increases of only 1 U.S direct hire and 9 LE staff members. The OIG team found no evidence of the Department’s willingness to fund the embassy’s projected growth. The embassy’s rightsizing review does not reflect realistic goals and objectives. The Bureau of African Affairs did not respond to the embassy’s most recent Mission Resource Request concerning plans for embassy growth.

 

This OIG report has a classified annex.  The inspection took place in Washington, DC, between January 6 and 30, 2014, and in Bujumbura, Burundi, between February 18 and 28, 2014. Ambassador Lawrence Butler (team leader), Kenneth Hillas (deputy team leader), Paul Cantrell, Ellen Engels, James Norton, John Philibin, Lavon Sajona, Scott Thayer, Ken Moskowitz, and Timothy Wildy conducted the inspection.

-07/31/14   Inspection of Embassy Bujumbura, Burundi (ISP-I-14-20A)  [301 Kb]  Posted on July 30, 2014

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Senate Confirmation by Crisis Continues: Hoza (Cameroon), Polaschik (Algeria), Andre (Mauritania),

– Domani Spero

 

The U.S. Senate appears to continue its trend of headline-triggered confirmations. Today, the Senate confirmed by voice votes the following ambassador to three African posts.

If you missed it, on July 27, WaPo reported that Nigerian Boko Haram militants kidnapped the wife of Cameroon’s vice prime minister. Premium Times citing BBC Hausa reported today that Security Forces in the Cameroun Republic have rescued the wife of the country’s Deputy Prime Minister, Amadou Ali, who was abducted on Sunday by suspected members of the extremist Boko Haram sect.  If that’s not enough bad news, VOA also reported that an outbreak of Cholera has killed 200 in Northern Cameroon and that there are fears that this may be a repeat of the 2010 epidemic, when the country had to deal with 10,000 cases.

Ambassador-Designate Hoza also made the news recently when he was featured and quoted in WaPo’s piece, At Falls Church apartments, would-be ambassadors and families live in limbo. The three other nominees cited in that article, Donald Lu (Albania), Eric Schultz (Zambia), and Amy Hyatt (Palau) are not currently scheduled for a Senate vote.

We have previously blogged about Ambassador-Designate Polaschik when she was the deputy chief of mission who ran the Embassy Libya after Ambassador Cretz left the country due to Wikileaks.  She also led the evacuation of personnel/American citizens in February 2011 and lead the team back into Tripoli when it reopened in September 2011. A few days ago, Algeria was in the news.  Its national airline Air Algerie on a flight from Burkina Faso’s capital of Ouagadougou to Algiers had crashed in Mali. Did that prompt the confirmation?

What about Mauritania, what’s going on there?  Issues of interest include al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb and Mali refugees. Mauritania just had its presidential election last June. The United States “looks forward to continuing to work with President-elect Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz and the Government of Mauritania to promote prosperity and regional security” but that’s going to be difficult without an ambassador there.  Oops! The U.S.-Africa Leaders Summit is coming up next week, perhaps the U.S. Senate did note Mauritania’s Chairmanship of the African Union, and so we’ve got Ambassador-Designate Larry Andre ready to beam over to Nouakchott, so he could beam back to D.C. for the Summit next week.

Three days to go before Congress breaks for the summer!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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