Photo of the Day: Little Andrew Evaluates Secretary Kerry’s Haircut

Posted: 2:01 am EDT

 

Photo via state.gov/Flickr

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Secretary Kerry Holds 8-Month-Old on Shoulders After Addressing U.S. Military and Diplomatic Personnel at Yongsan Army Garrison in Seoul U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry holds 8-month-old Andrew Belz on his shoulders as he poses with the children of U.S. military and diplomatic personnel following a speech to them at the Yongsan Army Garrison amid a visit to Seoul, Republic of Korea, on May 18, 2015. [State Department Photo/Public Domain]

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Don’t Worry, Be Happy — John Kirby Officially Takes Over as @StateDeptSpox

Posted: 11:02 am  EDT
Updated: 5:23 pm EDT

 

 

Today, Secretary Kerry tweeted this:

I am pleased to welcome John Kirby as our new State Department Spokesperson. I first got to know John’s work several years ago, when I was on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and he was spokesperson for Admiral Mike Mullen and then Chief of Information for the Navy. John was known as the Navy’s indispensable utility player – it didn’t matter whether he was serving as an instructor at the U.S. Naval Academy, a public affairs officer for the Blue Angels, or aboard multiple Navy vessels – name the challenge – at every stage of his career, including in his most recent assignment as the Pentagon’s top spokesman, John has stood out for his impeccable judgment, collegiality, and character. And he understands the media – absolutely. John has always – intuitively, instinctively – gravitated toward diplomacy, and I know that he is looking forward to that focus as he retires from the Navy and moves into civilian life. All of this makes him the perfect person to help tell America’s story to the world.

I also want to recognize the extraordinary work of Deputy Spokesperson Marie Harf, who stepped in seamlessly as Acting Spokesperson over the past few months. Marie has made a contribution to every important thing I’ve done as Secretary and plays a particularly important role in leading the communications strategy for our Iran negotiations.

I am privileged to work with a remarkable team and grateful to each of them for their contributions.

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Gordon Adams on New QDDR — Thin Gruel For the Future of America’s Civilian Statecraft

Posted: 11:15  am EDT

 

You don’t like the new QDDR rolled out recently by the State Department? Just, you wait.  Gordon Adams writing for Foreign Policy has hopes.  He says that “the next secretary of state will look at the management and planning side of Foggy Bottom and leave it to someone else while he or she flies around the world doing the “fun” stuff. “  Oops! Mr. Adams writes that the longtime effort to reform and strengthen the State Department will be handed off again, as it has been for decades. And you know what, he hit that nail squarely on its tiny head; we kind of share that view.

There’s a race on who will be the most travelled Secretary of State — how many countries, how many miles, how many travel days, total flight time and so on and so forth. Secretary Kerry, so far has registered 791,085 miles, still way below the total miles traveled by Secretary Clinton at 956,733 miles. Secretary Albright held the record of most countries visited at 98 until that record was broken by HRC at 214 countries visited.

Unfortunately, there is no race on who will be the secretary of state who can sit still long enough to do the necessary fixes  needed by our “lead institution of U.S. foreign policy.”

Below is an excerpt from Democracy-Pushing Is Not Cutting-Edge Foreign Policy via FP:

[T]he first QDDR missed a great opportunity for fundamental change — change it might have pulled off with the star power of Clinton, which would have elevated the State Department to real foreign-policy leadership and would have eliminated some serious organizational dysfunction. It did not broaden the mission of the Foreign Service to include dealing with governance issues in other countries. It did not change training of Foreign Service officers fundamentally to provide skills in strategic planning and program development and management, and to make mid-career training and education available. It did not reform a broken architecture for security assistance at the State Department or make an effort to recapture leadership over U.S. security assistance policy from the Defense Department.

It did not end the division of planning and budgeting between a stovepipe over on the “management” side that does personnel, buildings, security, administration, and IT/communications support, and the other stovepipe over in the foreign assistance program office that plans and budgets for U.S. foreign assistance. And it did not even discuss the reality that the United States has far too many foreign assistance programs — an uncoordinated diaspora of offices and agencies scattered around the bureaucratic universe in D.C. from the Justice Department to the DoD to the Commerce Department to the Export-Import Bank to the Treasury Department and beyond, to the bewilderment of anyone the United States does business with overseas.

So I hammered away a little last year in this column after the new QDDR was launched, urging the new team to at least try to address some key institutional problems that make the State Department (and its USAID partner) dysfunctional and unable to lead U.S. foreign policy. I picked three themes: 1) make governance dilemmas in the world a core mission of U.S. foreign policy, and build the programs and training to implement that priority; 2) take civilian control of U.S. security assistance (much of it is now at DoD), and embed that effort in stronger civilian governance overall; and 3) centralize and empower a capacity at the State Department to do integrated strategic and resource planning.

It will not surprise you that this latest QDDR did not go for the gold on any of these three core problems. At best it gets a fairly weak incomplete. Secretary of State John Kerry, like his star-powered predecessor, earned few points; in the end he didn’t actually put his credibility and heft on the line to get fundamental change, a change the department needs if it is going to give reality, not talk, to its claim that it is the lead institution for U.S. foreign policy.

Read in full here.

Thanks for the shoutout, GA! Follow him on Twitter at 

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Secretary Kerry Makes Brief Stop at Mogadishu Airport, First Ever Secretary of State Visit to Somalia

Posted: 2:10 pm EDT

 

On May 5, Secretary Kerry made a brief stop in Mogadishu, the capital of Somalia. He is the first Secretary of State ever to visit Somalia.  He met with Somalian leaders at the Mogadishu airport but did not go into town. State Department official told the press that this is due to “a huge, huge logistical and security challenge.”

“The last thing we need is something to happen when the Secretary is on the ground. And I don’t think we have the confidence of taking him out of – off the grounds of the airport…

[W]e’re making plans to make our presence more enduring in Somalia. As you know, we announced a new Foreign Service career ambassador for Somalia, and once that ambassador is on the ground, our office will continue to be here in Kenya. But once the ambassador is on the ground, we’re going to have a much more enduring TDY footing in Somalia. We’re going to be there much more regularly with a bit of a – a bit more larger footprint.

 

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Below is a quick recap of US-Somali relation via history.state.gov:

1960 | Somalia achieved its independence in 1960 with the union of Somalia, which had been under Italian administration as a United Nations trust territory, and Somaliland, which had been a British protectorate.

1960 | Diplomatic relations were established on July 1, 1960, when the U.S. Consulate General at Mogadiscio (now Mogadishu) was elevated to Embassy status, with Andrew G. Lynch as Chargé d’Affaires.

1969 | The Somali army launched a coup which brought Mohamed Siad Barre to power. Barre adopted socialism and became allied with the Soviet Union. The United States was thus wary of Somalia in the period immediately after the coup.

1977 |  Barre’s government became increasingly radical in foreign affairs, and in 1977 launched a war against Ethiopia in hopes of claiming their territory. Ethiopia received help from the Soviet Union during the war, and so Somalia began to accept assistance from the United States, giving a new level of stability to the U.S.-Somalia relationship.

1980s | Barre’s dictatorship favored members of his own clan. In the 1980s, Somalis in less favored clans began to chafe under the government’s rule. Barre’s ruthlessness could not suppress the opposition, which in 1990 began to unify against him.

1991 | After joining forces, the combined group of rebels drove Barre from Mogadishu in January 1991. No central government reemerged to take the place of the overthrown government, and the United States closed its embassy that same year, although the two countries never broke off diplomatic relations. The country descended into chaos, and a humanitarian crisis of staggering proportions began to unfold.

1991| The U.S. Embassy closed on January 5, 1991, and all U.S. personnel were withdrawn after the collapse of the central Somali government.

1992 | In December 1992, the United States began Operation Restore Hope. President George H.W. Bush authorized the dispatch of U.S. troops to Somalia to assist with famine relief as part of the larger United Nations effort.

A Marine sentry prepares to close the gate to the Joint Task Force Somalia headquarters during the multinational relief effort Operation Restore Hope. (Department of Defense/Joe Gawlowicz)

A Marine sentry prepares to close the gate to the Joint Task Force Somalia headquarters during the multinational relief effort Operation Restore Hope. (Department of Defense/Joe Gawlowicz)

1993 | On October 3, 1993 Somali warlord Muhammad Farah Aideed’s forces shot down two Black Hawk helicopters in a battle which lead to the deaths of 18 U.S. soldiers and hundreds of Somalis. The deaths turned the tide of public opinion in the United States. President Bill Clinton pulled U.S. troops out of combat four days later, and all U.S. troops left the country in March 1994.

See Battle of Mogadishu (1993)

1995 | The United Nations withdrew from Somalia in March 1995.

2013| The United States did not sever diplomatic relations with Somalia. Through the U.S. Embassy in Nairobi, Kenya, the United States maintained regular dialogue with transitional governments and other key stakeholders in Somalia, and after January 17, 2013, with the newly recognized central government of Somalia.

2015 | In February 2015, President Obama announced his intent to nominate Katherine S. Dhanani as first Ambassador to Somalia since 1991. If confirmed, Ms. Dhanani will lead the U.S. Mission to Somalia but will be physically based at the U.S. Embassy in Nairobi, Kenya. See President Obama Nominates FSO Katherine S. Dhanani as First Ambassador to Somalia Since 1991.

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US Embassy Kenya: August 7 Memorial Park Gets Back to Back Visitors

Posted: 12:01 am EDT

 

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Who’s Running Foggy Bottom? You Get Three Guesses. Wait, Four Guesses?

Posted: 2:27 am EDT

 

In March, the State Department’s Chief of Staff David Wade left his post to start an adventure in parenthood. Secretary Kerry released a statement on his departure.

 

Two days later, Jonathan Finer was officially appointed as Chief of Staff. He previously served as Deputy Chief of Staff for Policy.

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The Travels With Secretary Kerry page indicates that he has travelled to 59 countries, logging 769,650 miles, and 339 travel days. So far, his total flight time is 1,671.18 hours or about 2.5 months spent flying around the world.

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What’s this question about who’s running Foggy Bottom?

There’s the Deputy Secretary of State Tony Blinken as Foggy Bottom’s stay-at-home dad. Wait, he’s often traveling, too.  As Secretary Kerry was on his way to Africa, D/Secretary Blinken was in Mexico:

But there’s Deputy Secretary for Management and Resources (D/MR) Heather Higginbottom as Foggy Bottom’s stay-at-home mom, right? We thought that’s the main reason why the State Department asked for a second deputy, so one is always home to mind the shop. But as Number #1 was on his way to Africa and Number #2 was in Mexico, D/MR Higginbottom was in Paris to mark the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization’s (UNESCO) fourth annual International Jazz Day:

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Foreign Policy’s John Hudson reported recently that when “Kerry crisscrossed the globe to various diplomatic hotspots during the first two years of his tenure, Wade rarely left Washington and instead consumed himself with the personnel and management decisions that go along with running a massive bureaucracy.”  A State Department official also told FP that “Finer, will continue to travel with the secretary, albeit less frequently than in his previous role as deputy chief of staff.”

That’s raised concerns among some rank-and-file diplomats that no single point person will fully fill the role of Wade, leaving Foggy Bottom without a stay-at-home dad to make important decisions while Kerry’s abroad.

Hold it. No need to worry. More from FP:

A new key change, which hasn’t been previously reported, is Kerry’s appointment of two deputy chiefs of staff to assist Finer at home and abroad.

Tom Sullivan, the younger brother of Hillary Clinton’s loyal foreign policy adviser Jake Sullivan, became the new deputy chief of staff for policy this month. Formerly serving as a liaison between the State Department and Congress, Sullivan will advise Kerry on policy and join him on most of his foreign travel. That will allow Finer to remain in Washington more often.

Still, Finer, unlike Wade, will still play a significant role in traveling with the secretary and aiding his policy decisions — including on a trip this week to Africa and South Asia, according to one official.

Meanwhile, Jennifer Stout, formerly the chief of staff to the undersecretary for public diplomacy and public affairs, has been named deputy chief of staff for management. In that role, Stout will assist Finer in his day-to-day management issues in Washington.

“We felt that two deputy chiefs of staff was the best way to structure our front office to meet the big challenges and opportunities of the last two years, and to advance the secretary’s priorities on the road and in the building,” said a senior State Department official.
[…]
“Smart move in my view,” said Ilan Goldenberg, who recently left the State Department as a member of the Israel-Palestine negotiating team.

Traditionally, Goldenberg said, the deputy chief of staff has traveled with the secretary and been a key policy advisor. Meanwhile, the chief of staff runs the politics, messaging, and internal management of the department, he said.

The new set-up, Goldenberg said, will delegate much of the internal dealings to the deputy. That will free the chief of staff to “do more big picture policy instead of constantly being forced to deal with tough management questions,” he added.

Sigh. Everyone is looking at doing policy.

Here are the new folks reportedly running Foggy Bottom.

Jonathan Finer| Chief of Staff
Term of Appointment: 03/08/2015 to present

Jon Finer is Chief of Staff at the U.S. Department of State, where he previously served as Deputy Chief of Staff for Policy. He previously worked for four years at the White House, most recently as Senior Advisor to Deputy National Security Advisor Antony Blinken. Before that he was Special Advisor for the Middle East and North Africa and Foreign Policy Speechwriter for Vice President Joseph R. Biden. He joined the Obama Administration in 2009 as a White House Fellow, assigned to the Office of the White House Chief of Staff and the National Security Council Staff.

Prior to entering government service, Jon was a foreign and national correspondent at The Washington Post, where he reported from more than 20 countries and spent 18 months covering the war in Iraq, embedding with the U.S. Marines during the 2003 invasion and based in Baghdad in 2005-2006. He also covered conflicts in Gaza (2009), Russia/Georgia (2008) and Israel/Lebanon (2006); the 2004 U.S. Presidential campaign; and the 2004 Major League Baseball playoffs.

Before the Washington Post, Jon spent a year in Hong Kong as a Henry Luce Foundation Scholar, working as a reporter and editor at the Far Eastern Economic Review. He has a law degree from Yale, where he co-founded the Iraqi Refugee Assistance Project; an M.Phil. in international relations from Oxford, where he was a Rhodes Scholar; and an undergraduate degree from Harvard. He was born and raised in Norwich, Vermont.

Jennifer Park Stout | Deputy Chief of Staff
Term of Appointment: 03/11/2015 to present (see YouTube Video via US Embassy New Zealand)

Jennifer Park Stout serves as Deputy Chief of Staff to Secretary of State John Kerry.

Jennifer has served in a number of capacities both in and out of government. Most recently, Jennifer was Chief of Staff to Under Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs Richard Stengel.  Prior to that, she was Special Assistant to the President in the White House Office of Legislative Affairs.

From 2012 to 2013 as Vice President of International Government Relations for MetLife, Jennifer supported government and industry relations and international business segments in the Asia Pacific. From 2010 to 2012, she was a Deputy Assistant Secretary in the East Asian and Pacific Affairs Bureau at the State Department, leading the bureau’s public affairs and public diplomacy strategy.

Previously Jennifer was Senior Advisor and Director of Senate Affairs in the Bureau of Legislative Affairs at the State Department and spent 11 years on Capitol Hill, working as a legislative aide to then-Senator Joseph Biden on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Senator Patrick Leahy on the Senate Committee on Appropriations, Subcommittee on State and Foreign Operations, Senator Jim Webb, and Representative James Moran.

Jennifer holds a M.A. in International Affairs from George Washington University and a B.A. from James Madison University.

Thomas D. Sullivan |Deputy Chief of Staff
Term of Appointment: ???
Mr. Sullivan does not appear to have an online bio at state.gov.  He is currently listed as Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary for Legislative Affairs.

According to FP,  Tom Sullivan is “the younger brother of Hillary Clinton’s loyal foreign policy adviser” Jake Sullivan.  The older brother previously served as Director of Policy Planning at the State Department and also as deputy chief of staff to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.   One other interesting connection here: like Jake Sullivan, the new Chief of Staff Jon Finer has a law degree from Yale.  Both have a M.Phil. from Oxford, and both were Rhodes Scholars.

Back to the younger brother —  Senator Amy Klobuchar, the  senior Senator from Minnesota gave a Tribute to Tom Sullivan during the 112th Congress on the occasion of his departure from the Senate and his move to the State Department.

Ms. KLOBUCHAR. Mr. President, I rise today to recognize the exceptional leadership and dedication of my deputy chief of staff Tom Sullivan, who has been with me since my first days in the Senate and will soon be leaving to accept a senior adviser role at the U.S. State Department.

To say that Tom will be missed would be an understatement. Over the last 6 years, he has distinguished himself as an invaluable member of my staff, rising through the ranks and filling many key roles along the way. He started out as a legislative assistant, but it wasn’t long before he was serving as my deputy legislative director and, eventually, my deputy chief of staff.

In many ways you could call Tom the nerve center of my office–the utility player who can step in and perform virtually any task that is asked of him, regardless of whether it is press strategy or scheduling or legislative analysis. No policy was ever too complex for him, no assignment too daunting, no challenge too thorny.

Tom’s versatility is especially apparent in his knowledge of policy, which spans the full spectrum of State and Federal issues. He came to my office with a background in foreign relations but quickly became an expert in everything from energy to technology to health care, mastering and remembering even the most minute of details without losing sight of the forest for the trees. That is a rare talent, and Tom has it in spades.

 Mr. President, as you know, Senate offices often become like their own little family units. In the last 6 years, Tom Sullivan has become an esteemed member of the Klobuchar family, and he will be sorely missed–not just for his skill and expertise but for his composure, kindness, and unflappable good nature. We wish Tom well in his new position at the State Department and know that we can expect to see great things from him as he begins a new and exciting journey in public service.

We should note that the new COS Jon Finer is currently traveling with Secretary Kerry on his trip to Sri Lanka, Kenya and Djibouti.

Now we’re just waiting for the announcement of four new special assistants  assisting the two newly appointed deputy chief of staff.

So serious question. Who’s interested in addressing the “tough management questions” and fixing whatever is broken in the building? Anyone?

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Secretary Kerry’s Sri Lanka-Kenya-Djibouti Trip, May 1-5, 2015 (Photos)

Posted: 2:04 am EDT
Updated: May 12, 2015 at 1:25 pm PDT

 

Secretary Kerry is traveling to Sri Lanka, Kenya and Djibouti from May 1-5, 2015. He was in Colombo, Sri Lanka, on May 2, his first trip to the country.  Secretary Kerry’s second stop was Nairobi, Kenya on May 3, according to the State Department “to reinforce the importance of our strong bilateral relationship.”  He will reportedly discuss a range of issues including security cooperation — particularly in light of the recent tragic attack at Garissa University College – refugee assistance, trade, and biodiversity.  On May 5, Secretary will travel to Djibouti, Djibouti.  He will meet high-level leaders to discuss our bilateral cooperation and their support to evacuation efforts from Yemen. He will also visit with U.S. military personnel at Camp Lemonnier.  This is the first time that a sitting Secretary of State will visit Djibouti.

Colombo, Sri Lanka

Secretary Kerry Walks With Monk In Processional to Kelaniya Temple in Colombo  U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry walks with a monk in a processional to the Kelaniya Temple in Colombo, Sri Lanka on May 2, 2015. [State Department Photo/Public Domain]

Secretary Kerry Walks With Monk In Processional to Kelaniya Temple in Colombo
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry walks with a monk in a processional to the Kelaniya Temple in Colombo, Sri Lanka on May 2, 2015. [State Department Photo/Public Domain]

Secretary Kerry Salutes Longtime Embassy Sri Lanka Worker During Employee Meet-and-Greet in Colombo  U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry salutes a longtime Embassy employee who has worked on behalf of the United States for over 30 years as he addressed employees and family members from U.S. Embassy Sri Lanka on May 3, 2015, in Colombo, Sri Lanka. [State Department Photo/Public Domain]

Secretary Kerry Salutes Longtime Embassy Sri Lanka Worker During Employee Meet-and-Greet in Colombo
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry salutes a longtime Embassy employee who has worked on behalf of the United States for over 30 years as he addressed employees and family members from U.S. Embassy Sri Lanka on May 3, 2015, in Colombo, Sri Lanka. [State Department Photo/Public Domain]

Nairobi, Kenya

Secretary Kerry Poses for a Photo with a Baby Elephant at the Sheldrick Elephant Orphanage  U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry poses for a photo with a baby elephant at the Sheldrick Elephant Orphanage in Nairobi National Park in Nairobi, Kenya, on May 3, 2015, following a wildlife tour of the Park and before a series of government meetings. [State Department Photo/Public Domain]

Secretary Kerry Poses for a Photo with a Baby Elephant at the Sheldrick Elephant Orphanage
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry poses for a photo with a baby elephant at the Sheldrick Elephant Orphanage in Nairobi National Park in Nairobi, Kenya, on May 3, 2015, following a wildlife tour of the Park and before a series of government meetings. [State Department Photo/Public Domain]

Secretary Kerry Feeds a Baby Elephant at the Sheldrick Elephant Orphanage in Nairobi  U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry feeds a baby elephant at the Sheldrick Elephant Orphanage in Nairobi National Park in Nairobi, Kenya, on May 3, 2015, following a wildlife tour of the Park and before a series of government meetings. [State Department Photo/Public Domain]

Secretary Kerry Feeds a Baby Elephant at the Sheldrick Elephant Orphanage in Nairobi
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry feeds a baby elephant at the Sheldrick Elephant Orphanage in Nairobi National Park in Nairobi, Kenya, on May 3, 2015, following a wildlife tour of the Park and before a series of government meetings. [State Department Photo/Public Domain]

Photos from the trip are available here.  We will add photos from the Djibouti stop when they become available.  A couple of pics from Djibouti:
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Foreign Service Kids Grill Secretary Kerry During Take Your Child to Work Day

Posted: 12:40  pm EDT

 

Secretary Kerry and his dog, Ben F. Kerry attended the Take Your Child to Work Day ceremony at the State Department today. Secretary Kerry said he wanted to  “take a moment to maybe answer any questions that some of you have, which is always very, very dangerous – (laughter) – and could put my entire job at risk.”   So the Foreign Service kids get to ask their parents’ boss a few questions during the Q&A:

  • When do you have time to relax?
  • What do you do as your job?
  • Why do you have to wear suits to work?
  • Is it fun being Secretary of State?
  • When did you get your dog?
  • Is this your first time being Secretary of State?
  • What is your favorite sport?
  • What inspired you to be the Secretary of State, and what age did you decide?
  • How tough was it to become what you are?
  • Do you like to do chores? 

You can add all these questions to an 11-year old’s who apparently asked Secretary Kerry, “Who are you and what do you do?” See video here. Click here for the transcript.
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Is State/OBO’s Intense Focus on Design Excellence Driving Engineering Employees Away?

Posted: 1:22 am EDT
Updated: April 16, 2015, 7:42 pm PDT

 

Last week, there was a Burn Bag submission we posted on the many losses in the Bureau of Overseas Buildings Operations’ engineering staff.  We’re republishing it below, as well as reblogging a post from The Skeptical Bureaucrat. Maybe this would help save the State Department leadership from having to say later on that no one made them aware of this issue.

We’re actually considering sending a love note to the 7th floor. Something like, “Hey, subscribe to Diplopundit. You may not always like what you read but we’ll tell you what do not always want to hear.” Or something like that.

On second thought, maybe we shouldn’t. They might decide to go back to just Internet Explorer and then all of our readers there won’t be able to read this blog ever again. In any case, here is that burn bag submission, repeated for emphasis:

Is the State Department leadership aware that there have been many losses of OBO [Bureau of Overseas Buildings Operations] engineers in the last 18 months, leaving more than a 20% deficit (OBO words via email, not mine) in engineering staff, with more contemplating separation? Does it care?

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Below from The Skeptical Bureaucrat: Have Hard Hat, Will Travel (used with permission):

Diplopundit’s Burn Bag entry about OBO’s losses in engineering employees made me think back to the retirements and resignations I’ve noticed among my good friends in Overseas Buildings Operations over the last couple years. Yeah, I think there is indeed a pattern there.

A demoralization among OBO’s engineers would kind of make sense in the context of OBO’s overwhelming focus on Design Excellence, or, to use the new name for it, Just Plain Excellence. (The word “design” was dropped from the program’s name about one day after the disastrous House Oversight Committee hearing in which OBO’s Director and Deputy Director were severely criticized for favoring artsy & expensive embassy office buildings over functional & sensibly-priced ones.) In a Design Excellence organization, the architects are firmly in charge and the engineers will always play second fiddle.

According to the Burn Bag information, OBO has lost about 20 percent of its engineering staff. There is substantiation for that claim in the current USAJobs open announcement for Foreign Service Construction Engineers, which says OBO has “many vacancies” in that field:

Job Title: Foreign Service Construction Engineer
Department: Department Of State
Agency: Department of State
Agency Wide Job Announcement Number: CON-2015-0002

MANY vacancies – Washington DC,

A Foreign Service Construction Engineer (FSCE) is an engineer or architect, in the Bureau of Overseas Buildings Operations working specifically in the Office of Construction Management, responsible for managing Department of State construction projects overseas. The FSCE is a member of a U.S. Government team that ensures construction is professionally performed according to applicable plans, specifications, schedules, and standards. The FSCE must adhere to the highest standards of integrity, dependability, attention to detail, teamwork and cooperation while accepting the need to travel, to live overseas, and when necessary, to live away from family.

Those vacancies are for permanent, direct-hire, Foreign Service employees. In addition, there were also personal service contractor vacancies for OBO engineers announced on Monster.com five days ago. That one is looking for General Engineers, Mechanical Engineers, and Civil/Structural Engineers.

Why isn’t there also a need for Electrical Engineers? After all, you can’t spell Geek without two Es.

It looks like engineers are indeed exiting OBO in large numbers. Why that is, I can’t be sure. But I have to think it is not a good thing for my friends in OBO.

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Sources tell us that William Miner, the director of the OBO’s design and engineering office was one of those who left in the last 18 months and Patrick Collins, the chief architect retired in January this year. 

The USAjobs announcement cited by TSB does not indicate how many vacancies OBO plans to fill.  In addition to the open vacancies for Foreign Service Construction Engineers, USAJobs.gov also has one vacancy for a Supervisory Engineer (DEU) and one vacancy for Supervisory Architect (DEU).  The monster.com announcement linked to above includes full-time, non-permanent-temporary non-status jobs with initial 1 year appointment renewable for 4 years. All must be able to obtain and maintain a Top Secret security clearance. Oh, and relocation expenses will NOT be paid.

About OBO

 These are the jobs advertised via monster.com:

 

A  2013 HR stats indicate that OBO has 81 construction engineers including 10 who are members of the Senior Foreign Service (SFS).  Those numbers are, obviously, outdated now.   And we’re not sure what “more than 20% deficit” actually means in actual staffing numbers. But if we take a fifth from that HR stats, that’s about 16 engineers gone who must be replaced not just in the staffing chart but also in various construction projects overseas.

Even if OBO can ramp up its hiring the next 12 months, it will still have the challenge of bridging the experience gap. A kind of experience that you can’t reconstruct or replicate overnight unless OBO has an implantable chip issued together with badges for new engineers. Experience takes time, time that OBO does not have in great abundance. Experience that OBO also needs to rebuild every five years since in some of these cases, the new hires are on limited non-career appointments that do not exceed five years.

According to OBO, the State Department is entering an overseas construction program of unprecedented scale in the history of the bureau.  What might also be unprecedented is OBO engineers running out the door in droves.

Why is this happening? We can’t say for sure but …

  • We’ve heard allegations that an official has “run people out of the Department with his/her histrionic behaviors” and other unaddressed issues in the workplace that have generated complaints from staff but remained unresolved.
  • There are also allegations of “poor treatment” of OBO employees and families while in the Department or even when trying to separate.
  • One commenter to the Burn Bag post writes about problems within the Department of “an extreme lack of planning which will have caused our children to attend three schools in three countries just this year alone.”
  • Another commenter writes, “I know it’s TRUE, because I recently departed. Somewhere along the way OBO decided that Design Excellence meant more architecture and less engineering.”
Foggy Bottom, you’ve got a problem. People do not just quit their jobs and the security that goes with it for no reason. Somebody better be home to fix this before it gets much worse.
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NYT’s David Brooks Asks, “Are we in nursery school?” Acting State Dept Spox Marie Harf Reax. Tsk-tsk!

Posted: 11:41 am PDT

 

So last week, SecState #56 and SecState #60, both Republican-appointed Secretaries of State wrote an op-ed about The Iran Deal and Its Consequences.

The Acting Spokesperson Marie Harf was asked about this during the April 8 Daily Press Briefing:

QUESTION:  Henry Kissinger and George Shultz published a piece in the Wall Street Journal today that raised a lot of questions about the deal.  These are diplomatic statesman types.  Do you guys have any reaction to that?  Do you think they were fair?
MS HARF:  Well, the Secretary has spoken to a number of his predecessors that were former secretaries of state since we got this agreement – or since the parameters – excuse me – we got the parameters finalized.  And we’re having conversations with other senior officials.  We are happy to have that conversation about what this agreement is, what it isn’t, the work we still have to do, and how we are very confident that this achieves our objectives.  And that conversation will certainly continue.
[…]
QUESTION:  Okay.  So one of the things they say is that “absent a linkage between nuclear and political restraint, America’s traditional allies will conclude that the U.S. has traded temporary nuclear cooperation for acquiescence to Iranian hegemony” in the region.  Not true?
MS HARF:  I would obviously disagree with that.  I think that an Iran backed up by a nuclear weapon would be more able to project power in the region, and so that’s why we don’t want them to get a nuclear weapon.  That’s what this deal does.
QUESTION:  Back when —
MS HARF:  And I didn’t hear a lot of alternatives.  I heard a lot of sort of big words and big thoughts in that piece, and those are certainly – there’s a place for that, but I didn’t hear a lot of alternatives about what they would do differently.  I know the Secretary values the discussions he has with his predecessors regardless of sort of where they fall on the specifics.
QUESTION:  Well, I guess one of the criticisms is that there aren’t enough big words and big thought – or people argue that there are not enough big words and big thoughts in what the Administration is pursuing, its overall policy, particularly in the Middle East right now, which has been roiled with unrest and uncertainty.  And I think that’s what the point is they’re making.  That you reject, it, I understand that.  One of the —
MS HARF:  Well, in a region already roiled by so much uncertainty and unrest —

On that same day, conservative talk show radio host Hugh Hewitt had NYT’s David Brooks as guest and was asked about the Kissinger-Schultz op-ed, and the State Department’s official response to it. Click here for the transcript: Below is an audio of the exchange.

HH: David Brooks, this is the critique of the critics, is that we don’t have a lot of alternatives. In fact, every critic I’ve heard has alternatives, and I’m sure Kissinger and Schultz do. But a lot of big words? Really?
DB: Are we in nursery school? We’re not, no polysyllabic words? That’s about the lamest rebuttal of a piece by two senior and very well-respected foreign policy people as I’ve heard. Somebody’s got to come up with better talking points, whatever you think. And of course, there are alternatives. It’s not to allow them to get richer, but to force them to get a little poorer so they can fund fewer terrorism armies.

The Daily Caller caught that story and posted this:  Are We In Nursery School?’: David Brooks Slams Marie Harf Over Kissinger, Shultz Op-Ed Criticism.

Ouch!

But that’s not the end of the story.

William M. Todd, apparently a friend of the Harf family reposted the Daily Caller story on his Facebook page with a note that says: “Team Obama bans polysyllabic words !!”

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Here is the State Department’s Acting Spokesperson on Mr. Todd’s FB page.

Marie Harf Bill – I’m not sure how you could think this article accurately portrays me or how I view complicated foreign policy issues, given how long you’ve personally known me and my family. Does your hatred of this administration matter so much to you that it justifies posting a hurtful comment and a mean-spirited story about the daughter of someone you’ve known for years and used to call a friend? There’s a way to disagree with our policies without making it personal. Growing up in Ohio, that’s how I was taught to disagree with people. I hope your behavior isn’t an indication that’s changed.

She also posted a lengthy follow-up response here from the Daily Press Briefing.

William M. Todd responded on FB with the following:

I certainly can understand why your Team would disagree with Henry Kissinger and George Schultz on policy matters. However, what is amazing to me was your condescending and, almost childish criticism of what I considered to be a well-reasoned and thoughtful op-ed on the current Middle East crisis.

So, this is where we are people.

That’s potentially the next official spokesperson of the United States of America to the world.

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