NEA and SPP Language Divisions Moving Out of the Foreign Service Institute?

Posted: 12:47 am EDT


The Foreign Service Institute is located at the George P. Shultz National Foreign Affairs Training Center (NFATC) in Arlington, Virginia.  An expansion of facilities on FSI’s 72-acre campus in 2010 added 100 classrooms. About 2,000 students are on campus daily.


It looks like that expansion is not enough.  There is apparently a lot of rumors circulating that the SPP and NEA language divisions will be moving out of SA-42 (FSI) to “a new space somewhere along the Orange line.”  We understand that this topic has lighted up the Secretary’s Sounding Board, never mind that JK is traveling.

This rumored move, if true, would reportedly affect 1) the Division of Near East Central, and South Asian Languages (FSI/SLS/NEA) which directs, designs and conducts proficiency-based language training for Arabic, Near Eastern, Turkic, Central and South Asian languages; and 2) the Division of Slavic, Pashto, and Persian Languages (FSI/SLS/SPP) which directs, designs, and conducts proficiency-based language training for all Slavic languages including Bosnian, Bulgarian, Serbo-Croatian, Czech, Macedonian, Polish, Russian, Serbian, Slovak, Slovenian, and Ukrainian, Pashto and Persian languages including Dari, Tajiki, and Farsi.

People are apparently not happy about this rumored move. Some are posting questions on the Board, and hoping to find some clarity on what to expect next. Here are some of the employees’ concerns over the future of language training at FSI:

  • Looking for transparency:  “Given the massive number of employees this change will impact, both students and instructors, can we get a little transparency on what’s going on?”  One commenter writes that many find it “odd that language studies, arguably the priority purpose of FSI, would see such a huge change with little to no public discussion or outreach from FSI.”
  • Long-term vs. short-term: Why was the decision made to move long-term language studies (9-12 months in length in many cases) instead of short-term and intermittent courses (leadership, regional training, stability operations, area studies, world languages, etc.)?
  • Co-location: Will the new facilities be co-located with language division administration? This is a big deal in the event that a student has to make changes with class assignment).
  • Transportation/Commute/Parking : How will people commute to the new facilities? Is there a bus? Is there equally priced parking available nearby? Concerns that transportation issue affect not just students but also many of the language instructors and staff who live quite far from FSI and even further from Rosslyn, where there is a shuttle.
  • Language Lab/Tools: Are the language learning tools available at the new facilities? Language labs are a big part of reaching proficiency standards, will students have to go back to FSI in order to access labs?
  • Daycare: For personnel with kids, employees are interested whether they will have access to daycare. When transferring or rotating assignments, Foreign Service personnel with young kids rely heavily on the availability of reliable and accessible childcare at FSI. “The provision of childcare has always helped alleviate some of the stresses associated with the rigors of intensively learning a new language.” Depending on the new location, there is also the potential for disruption in the Oakwood housing program.
  • Town Hall: One requested a town hall meeting with the FSI administration for current and future students in the languages affected “so people can ask questions and get more information as they begin to plan for language training.”


We should note that both the NEA and SPP language divisions are part of FSI’s School of Language Studies (SLS). The School of Language Studies (SLS), with 684 staff members, 3 overseas schools, and 11 regional language programs, offers training and testing in more than 70 languages.   According to the OIG, SLS is the largest of FSI’s schools, with a base budget of $33.5 million in FY 2012 and a total budget of $46.7 million, which includes $5.5 million in reimbursements from other agencies.

In December 2012, SLS had 684 staff members: 374 direct-hire employees and 310 full-time equivalent contractors. SLS is managed by a dean and two associate deans and is composed of a testing division, five language divisions, a Curriculum and Staff Development division, and an administrative section. SLS trains employees of the Department, USAID, and other agencies in 70 languages ranging from Spanish to super hard languages such as Korean.

In any case, there is a slow train for consolidation humming in the State Department. One of Diplomatic Security’s arguments for building the FASTC in Virginia instead of Georgia is so all the training programs can be in one location.  Just recently, the IRM training located in Warrenton, VA had also been moved to the FSI campus. If the NEA/SPP move is true, is this SLS’ initial move at dispersing its divisions?

If true, the question then becomes “why”?

The most recent OIG inspection of FSI is dated March 2013. That report notes that “SLS needs organizational and programmatic changes to strengthen pedagogy, coordination, and strategic planning. Outside review of a portion of recorded language test samples and other steps are required to address the inherent conflict of interest of SLS instructors serving as testers.” The report made 79 recommendations and 23 informal recommendations, however, we could not locate one specifically related to NEA/SPP, or the school’s expansion or spin off location outside of FSI.



Ambassador Matthew Barzun Says Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwyll-llantysiliogogogoch

— Domani Spero


Matthew Barzun, our Ambassador to the Court of St. James’s will soon get royally slammed for suggesting undiplomatically that he can’t stand British lamb.  The New York Daily News writes that “you don’t need to be fluent in the King’s English to predict the outrage.” Uh-oh!

Okay, so before you all get mad about the lamb, he also did try to learn a few sentences of Welsh in preparation for the NATO summit this week.  So he gets points for that.  Let’s hear it from Wales Online who is “delighted to see Mr Barzun having a go” at learning Welsh:

US ambassador to the UK, Matthew Barzun, wasn’t shy about sharing the more painful moments of his attempts to learn his first few sentences in Welsh – despite taking nine attempts to master saying “Helô”.
Mr Barzun, who was appointed as ambassador to the UK last year after previously being ambassador to Sweden, posted the video of his Welsh attempts, which also included the essential “Croeso i Gymru, President Obama”, the very useful “dwi’n hoffi coffi” (I like coffee) and a very impressive beginner’s pronunciation of the famous Anglesey village Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwyll-llantysiliogogogoch.
But he also displayed some knowledge of Welsh popular culture and one of our most famous export – confessing in Welsh that the three words of the language that Americans know are “Catherine. Zeta. Jones.”


We don’t know if they teach Welsh at FSI; though probably not.  In any case, here are the outtakes:



One of the commenters on WalesOnline writes, “Welsh is a really difficult language to master, even for the Welsh people !! The fact that you have made the effort , is such a compliment.”  

We imagine that Ambassador Barzun will probably impress most Welsh folks with his attempts to speak even a few phrases of their language. We’d be really impressed if the ambassador also gets to visit the Cardiff Rift that runs through Roald Dahl Plass, a public plaza in Cardiff Bay, and takes a selfie with our favorite Captain Jack Harkness. Captain Jack is there somewhere, somebody fiiiinnnnd hiiiiim and bring him back to the telly!

Oh, pardon me … what about the lamb? Those suggested recipes may have to wait until after the Summit, but the ambassador already realized he’s in a lamb stew of sorts:

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State/OIG: US Mission Vietnam — One Mission, One Team, Well, Sort Of

Several weeks back, State/OIG released its inspection report of the US Embassy Hanoi and Consulate General Ho Chi Minh City in Vietnam. The US Ambassador to Vietnam is career diplomat, David Shear who arrived at post in August 2011. The Consul General at Ho Chi Minh City is An T. Le who arrived at post in August 2010. The Consular Chief in Hanoi is Deborah Fairman who arrived at Embassy Hanoi in August 2009 and became section chief in July 2011, according to the OIG report. The Consular Chief at CG Ho Chi Minh City is not named in the report.

The inspection took place in Washington, DC, between September 7 and 27, 2011; in Hanoi, Vietnam, between October 20 and November 2, 2011, and between November 19 and 21, 2011; and in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam, between November 2 and 18, 2011. The names of the members of the inspection team have been redacted.

U.S. Ambassador David Shear opens safe medicine exhibition in Hanoi
(Photo from USAID Vietnam/Flickr)

Some of the key judgments, so very well couched you got to read between the lines:

  • The Ambassador in Hanoi, the consul general in Ho Chi Minh City, and their respective deputies, should be at the forefront of an effort to more effectively coordinate embassy and consulate general operations. Increasing and formalizing regular, planned working visits of American and local employees between the two posts are a necessary step.
  • Embassy Hanoi’s reporting is generally comprehensive and of high quality, although staffing gaps and the loss of a position have adversely affected Hanoi’s output. Consulate General Ho Chi Minh City has not reported frequently enough or in sufficient detail on the official activities, meetings and policy views of the consul general.
  • Overall management operations at Embassy Hanoi and Consulate General Ho Chi Minh City are effective, although stronger cooperation and teamwork between the two are necessary.
  • The need for heightened involvement by embassy management in the mission’s management controls program is evident. Management control procedures at both Embassy Hanoi and Consulate General Ho Chi Minh City need to be carefully reviewed to ensure that employees at every level are fully aware of their responsibility for ensuring that controls are in place to protect assets and to avoid any perception of conflict of interest.

    U.S. Consul General Le An at Long An Province during a visit to USAID flood relief beneficiaries
    (Photo from USAID Vietnam/Flickr)

Ambassador Shear arrived at post about couple months before this OIG inspection.  The previous Chief of Mission at US Embassy Hanoi was career FSO, Michael W. Michalak who left post on February 14, 2011. Some of the finer points from the report:

  • The Ambassador also has engaged decisively with the embassy’s sole constituent post: the large and influential Consulate General Ho Chi Minh City (formerly Saigon). On his introductory visit to Ho Chi Minh City, the Ambassador stressed to the American and Vietnamese staff that, as Chief of Mission, he values the important role of the consulate general and expects the embassy and consulate general staffs to function as “one mission, one team.” His message was especially welcome in view of a number of legacy issues, including Ho Chi Minh City’s continuing role as the economic and commercial hub of the entire country, the persistent cultural and historical differences between Vietnam’s North and South, and the symbolic significance that today’s consulate general is located on the site of the former embassy.
  • Embassy Hanoi and Consulate General Ho Chi Minh City, until recently, have operated more like two, separate missions than one, cohesive entity. The embassy has not provided, nor has the consulate general sought, regular guidance as to how the two posts can best operate together. With the arrival of new staff in summer 2011, both the embassy and the consulate general have started thinking about ways to project a “one mission, one team” face to the government and people of Vietnam and to the respective mission staffs. A necessary step to improving the mission’s cohesiveness will be increasing and formalizing a process whereby American and local employees conduct working visits between the two posts, for consultations and training.

There is no “I” in team, and hey, what about those pol reports?

  • The consul general is fluent in Vietnamese and has a deep understanding of the host country’s culture and norms. However, he only infrequently writes cables regarding his meetings outside the consulate general. It is important that he include other officers in all meetings related to political and economic affairs, human rights, the environment, energy, adoption concerns, treatment of minorities, and other matters relevant to their respective portfolios. The expertise of these officers should be called upon, even if it means relying on interpreters in some situations. (The Vietnamese language is notoriously difficult; even language-qualified officers sometimes require assistance from native speakers in unscripted situations.) The officers could act as note takers, and write cables or provide other information coming out of these meetings. In a closely controlled political environment such as Vietnam, no post official, including the consul general himself, should meet with Vietnamese officials unaccompanied. As an added benefit, in a culture that venerates seniority and status, including officers in meetings would enhance their ability to develop contacts and follow up independently on important issues.
  • The consulate general has produced some valuable and insightful reporting, but generally there is far less reporting than would be expected of a post of its size. Material provided by a consulate general often ends up in cables from the embassy, and there is a vibrant, informal exchange between the respective political and economic sections. More telling, however, is the lack of emphasis upon reporting by the consul general, who does not routinely report on his own activities nor provide comprehensive readouts. For example, a single cable reported on his visits to 6 provinces over the course of 7 months. This disinclination both eliminated a major source of reporting, as compared to previous years, and undercut the ability of other officers to follow up on his meetings. The inspection team counseled the consul general and his deputy to follow standard reporting practices.

iPads with no wi-fi, because folks will, of course pay for 4G in Vietnam – wait, what?!

  • For security reasons, there is no wireless Internet access at the embassy’s American Center, which limits the usefulness of the its new iPads. The OIG team discussed this situation with the embassy’s information management (IM) section, but due to the technical complexity of the issues, no decisions had been made by the end of the inspection. It is important that the mission continue to research ways to resolve these issues and still comply with Department regulations in 5 FAM 790-792.

VietNamNet has a pretty straightforward explanation – the new iPad has the advantage of having a 4G connection. However, that advantage has no use in Vietnam, where no mobile network has provided 4G services. So if you can’t use the new iPads at the American Center because there is no wireless access and there is no 4G service in Vietnam, the embassy clearly bought itself some pretty expensive mousepads.

The OIG inspectors, blessed their hearts recommends “that Embassy Hanoi explore the feasibility of establishing wireless Internet access or otherwise maximizing the usability of the Hanoi American Center’s iPads.”

Visa Referral System for national interests and who else?

  • The consulate general executive office, including both American and local staff, frequently contact the consular section to pass on information about specific visa applicants. For instance, they might ask the section to review a case; tell why they believe an applicant is qualified; or ask the consular chief or another manager to conduct a second interview. These practices violate the Department’s worldwide referral policy, which mandates that no information on specific cases be passed to the section outside of formal referrals. It is appropriate for the executive office to forward relevant correspondence to the consular section, but it should not ask for special treatment of visa applicants or advocate on their behalf outside the referral system. Shortly before this inspection, the deputy principal officer told local staff to stop sending cases directly to the consular section.
  • There are several issues regarding the way the referral system is handled at the consulate general. Not all referrals indicate how that referral directly supports U.S. national interests; they also do not specify the nature and degree of contact the person making the referral has had with the applicant, as is required by 9 FAM Appendix K.
  • The inspectors counseled the consul general and the deputy principal officer on the Department’s referral policy. They suggested having cards printed, explaining that visa eligibility is determined by strict legal requirements and that the consulate general’s leaders cannot influence the decision. This card, which could be given to anyone inquiring about visas, also could refer applicants to the consulate general’s Web site for additional information. The consul general accepted this suggestion.
  • The mission’s referral policy is out-of-date. As stated above, the referral practices conflict with Department policy on what constitutes a legitimate referral. The consular officers at the consulate general have not been trained on the Department’s policy. Because compliance has been an issue, it will be important for the Ambassador to review a monthly report on all referral cases, including information on any email or other contacts that circumvent the policy.

Wait, wait, our memory may be foggy but at some point in 2009 or 2010, we understand that there was a notice that went out to all missions requiring that the chief of the consular section provide a copy of the Worldwide Visa Referral Policy to mission staff and conduct a referral briefing to each officer who is authorized to utilize the mission referral system, before that officer submits and/or approves any visa referrals.  Actually it is in  9 FAM APPENDIX K, 102 WORLDWIDE VISA REFERRAL POLICY.  Now, this is not optional; the regs even say that “If an officer has not attended a referral briefing and signed the Worldwide NIV Referral Policy Compliance Agreement, he or she may not authorize or approve a referral, regardless of his or her position.”

That includes everyone, including Chiefs of Missions and Consul Generals, no doubt.

If there’s one thing that the State Department is really good at, it is writing and sending cables.  So if these senior officers had to be counseled by the OIG on the Department’s worldwide referral policy what are we to think? That they don’t read their incoming cables? Or were folks aware of the referral policy but were too scared to rock the boat?

We don’t know this for sure but we imagine that Vietnam as a communist country is considered a critical threat post for human intelligence. So, if those visa referrals did not indicate how each directly supports U.S. national interest, how come no one is asked to review all of them?

Consular managers missing on the visa line

  • The mission has a policy called “self clearing” that permits experienced, entry-level officers to send, without a manager’s review, memoranda requesting revocation of a petition. Given the sensitivity of these memoranda and the need for consistency, a manager should review all of them before they are sent to the National Visa Center for transmission to the Department of Homeland Security.
  • Some officers indicated that managers spend little time on the visa line. The inspectors emphasized the importance of managers spending some time adjudicating on the line, both to understand any systemic problems and to regularly see the types of cases that officers encounter.

Ugh!  And where’s the lead by example and all that feel good stuff about holding self accountable and modeling the leadership tenets? This is the kind of thing that makes newbies get jaded rather quickly. “Lead by example” but what if they’re learning the bad example?

FSI language training fail or who the heck talks nuclear proliferation with visa applicants?

  • Consular officers also indicated the language training at the Foreign Service Institute did not help them conduct consular interviews; many were more comfortable talking about nuclear nonproliferation than about family relationships.
  • The criteria for designating language study for a particular position (per 13 FAM 221 b.(l)) is that “only those positions where language proficiency is essential, rather than merely helpful or convenient, should be designated…” Language training, although useful, is expensive and time consuming. As such, it should provide officers with the particular language skills needed to adequately perform their job.

Oh dear, like how difficult is this really – you ask, Bạn có bao nhiêu trẻ em? or Urani bao nhiêu bạn có trong căn nhà của bạn? You can just ask the visa applicant how many kids do you have or how much Uranium do you have in your house? Or what kind of heavy water do you use in your laundry? Or are you or anyone in your family ever employed by A.Q Khan? The possibilities are endless, so really there’s no need to have a consular-centric vocabulary to adequately perform a consular job.

Follow the leader, it works

  • The consul general in Ho Chi Minh City circumvented host government importation restrictions by bringing in a vehicle that was more than 5 years old. There have been no reported repercussions. The stated reason behind the importation was to encourage the host government to relax this importation requirement, but the matter has not gained any momentum. It has not been followed up with a diplomatic note, nor was the issue raised with the Office of Foreign Missions. No other exceptions to the rule have been attempted, though some officers were encouraged to also import vehicles older than 5 years.

And so there you have it …. and life goes on….

The names of the accountable, responsible principal officers are all in the OIG reports and a matter of public record.  We hope to save our reading folks time from having to dig them up.

Domani Spero

Related item:

Inspection of Embassy Hanoi and Consulate General Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam Report Number ISP-I-12-11A, February 2012

Question of the Day: Studying Arabic for 4 years and not ever getting to a 2/2?

Image via Wikipedia
The language shortfall at the State Department has been well documented in various reports of the Government Accountability Office.  We understand it’s hard, especially the more
challenging languages. 
But if an FSO has been studying Arabic for um, four years (about 176 weeks of class work) and does not ever get a 2/2 in speaking/reading proficiency, what happens?

The normal course of study and proficiency for super hard languages like Arabic and Chinese is 88 weeks for S-3/R-3 proficiency and 44 weeks for S-2/R-2 proficiency.

The more interesting question, of course, is how does one manage to get an extra 132 weeks to get to a 2/2 after already having 44 weeks and failing to get a 2/2?

Curious minds would like to know.

Public Affairs Skills Gap: Shortage of Language Qualified Press Officers

Wikipedia (ويکيپېډيا) in Pashto using FreeFars...Image via WikipediaHere is one more nugget from the OIG review of the Af/Pak “bureau”:

The January 27, 2011, arrest in Lahore, Pakistan, of an American official assigned to Embassy Islamabad drew attention to a public affairs skills gap. Not once during nearly 2 months that coincided with this inspection did a Pakistan-based American public affairs official engage the Urdu-speaking media in that local language about this issue. At the 2011 Global Chiefs of Mission Conference, the final report noted that effective engagement requires talented officers and “officers who can engage contacts in local languages with fluency.”3 Likewise, the Quadrennial Diplomacy and Development Review stated the intent to, “Make public diplomacy a core diplomatic mission by building regional media hubs staffed by skilled communicators to ensure that we can participate in public debates anywhere and anytime.”4 This is not the case –or at least not regularly – in either Pakistan or Afghanistan. The result is that other voices, including those of extremists, go unchallenged by U.S. officials speaking local languages. Public opinion in Pakistan of Americans and U.S. policy has consistently been at relatively low levels, but that situation was gradually improving [REDACTED[ until the disruption of the Lahore incident. The Lahore incident is an aberration, but it illustrates how quickly – after months of implementing a well-designed strategic communication and public diplomacy strategy –an event can halt, and even temporarily reverse, progress.
Other direct-hire American staff at the U.S. missions in Afghanistan and Pakistan have a degree of competency in the main local languages (Urdu, Pashto, and Dari), but they may not have the high level of language competency needed to speak extemporaneously in a live television interview or as part of a round table. They may not be Department employees or part of the public affairs section or have press attaché skills. According to FSI, fewer than 120 active career and career-conditional employees can read and speak these hard languages at a competency level of 3 or greater. (See table below.) A native-speaker proficiency in a foreign language is measured at or near the 5 competency level. At the time of this inspection, there were 24 Department officers in Afghanistan and Pakistan serving at that highest level of proficiency in any of the three languages. Dari speakers at the 4 level or higher numbered six, two Pashto speakers; and 14 Urdu speakers. Four Dari speakers, one Pashto speaker, and five Urdu speakers spoke those languages at the highest level.

Recommendation 12: The Office of the Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan should develop and implement a plan to recruit detailees or excepted Civil Service employees and place them in Embassy Kabul and Embassy Islamabad press offices to serve as full-time, dedicated public spokespersons; these individuals must be U.S. citizens who are proficient in the local language(s) and have press officer training or experience. (Action: S/SRAP)

Recommendation 13: The Office of the Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan, in coordination with the Bureau of Human Resources and the Foreign Service Institute, should provide career public diplomacy officers with the training they need to communicate proficiently
in the designated local languages, so they can engage with the Afghan and Pakistani local language media at any time and in any place. (Action: S/SRAP, in coordination with DGHR and FSI)

Recommendation 14: The Office of the Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan, in coordination with the Bureau of International Information Programs, and Embassies Kabul and Islamabad, should examine the feasibility of developing a speakers bureau of experts who are proficient in Urdu, Pashto, or Dari, who can be detailed from their regular jobs to assist with outreach and engagement strategies in Afghanistan and Pakistan. This speakers bureau should include whole-of-government agencies, as well as American citizens who do not work in government and who are fluent speakers of Urdu, Pashto, or Dari to participate in public outreach and other mission-sponsored public diplomacy activities. (Action: S/SRAP, in coordination with IIP, and Embassies Kabul and Islamabad)

I do feel sorry for the six Pashto speakers in the whole State Department; Afghanistan and Pakistan will keep calling them back, never mind the one-year tours; it’s called service need.

And the State Department still insists on not/not hiring for skills needed; perhaps thinking it can train itself out of this problem. Ten years from now, unless hiring policy gets smarter, and as more FS personnel reaches the mandatory retirement age of 65 — we’ll be rocking and talking about this same language gap.

FP’s Stephen Walt in 2009 citing  DOD media relations officer Brian Lamar, wrote that the Defense Language Institute (DLI) in Monterey, California trains roughly 30 to 40 military personnel in Pashto each year but that most of them are enlisted men in military intelligence.

Even if we presume, for the sake of argument that the State Department trains six Pashto speakers a year, DOD has roughly six times that number every year.  How can we even think of a demilitarized U.S. foreign policy with this kind of numbers? The reality is — our development and reconstruction folks in Afghanistan not only wear combat boots, they also have their own ATMs, and they speak the local language. So…

Snapshot: Af/Pak Strategic Communication and Public Diplomacy Strategy, Funding and Staffing

Via the OIG Review of the Af/Pak “Bureau” under the  Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan (SRAP):

The Afghanistan and Pakistan strategy follows four pillars: expand media engagement, counter extremist voices, build communications capacity, and strengthen people-to-people ties.

To implement that strategy, Embassy Islamabad runs the Department’s largest bilateral exchange program, and Pakistan has the largest Fulbright program in the world. The public diplomacy budget for Pakistan grew from a base public diplomacy budget of approximately $1.5 million in FY 2009 to $58 million in FY 2010 for public diplomacy and strategic communications from Department and USAID funds, not counting strategic communication funds from the Department of Defense. Funds limited to public diplomacy that were spent in Pakistan in FY 2010 totaled $41.4 million (FY 2010 base of $1.6 million; FY 2009 supplemental, 2-year funds of $31.1 million; and FY 2010 supplemental regularization funding of $8.7 million). The FY 2011 budget request is for up to $110 million.

The public diplomacy budget in Afghanistan grew from a base public diplomacy budget of $1.5 million in FY 2009 to over $87.5 million in FY 2010 for public diplomacy and strategic communications from Department and USAID funds, not counting significant strategic communication funds from the Department of Defense. Funds used only for public diplomacy that were spent in Afghanistan in FY 2010 totaled $46.7 million (FY 2010 base $1.3 million; FY 2009 supplemental 2-year money $22.1 million; and FY 2010 supplemental regularization $23.3 million).

These budget increases at Embassies Kabul and Islamabad have been accompanied by a doubling of the number of public affairs officers at the two missions and by SCA/PPD staffing up to support grants management. Neither the S/SRAP unit nor SCA/PPD requires further staff augmentation to manage this increased workload.

Active links added above. Is the informational effect worth all that money?

Countering extremist voices in English is not the same as countering it in the local language or dialect.  Right there, the State Department has a problem not just in the Af/Pak super bureau but in US missions in the large swath of the world where English is not the principal language.

If extreme voices calls you a dog in American English, you should be able to call them back a dog in their language, and explain what kind of dog and why, even debate about it. No translators required, no mistranslation, no misunderstanding just what you mean. But if you can’t speak their language … well, um …. see why that’s a problem?

US Embassy Oman: Arabic Language Proficiency

An all too familiar report on Arabic proficiency and staffing gap. This one excerpted from the newly released OIG report on the US Embassy in Oman:

None of the section’s officers has reached a level of language competence that allows them to discuss embassy business in Arabic at a professional level. Government officials and educated interlocutors usually speak English, but the lack of Arabic proficiency among political and economic officers limits outreach beyond society’s elite. One employee remarked that the lack of language ability insulates American officers from Omani culture. This is to be expected in a section staffed primarily by ELOs, who cannot receive the full two years of Arabic language training needed to establish proficiency in the language. The embassy is delaying the arrival of one of the new ELOs to allow for one full year of Arabic language training.
Public diplomacy outreach in Oman is often conducted in English, in whole or in part. The current assistant public affairs officer (PAO) did not complete the one year of training required for his position and is on a language waiver. The PAO routinely uses Arabic in conversation and in informal remarks with other Omani audiences. When possible, officers speak Arabic at least as an ice-breaker. For example, the PAO speaks Arabic to open each year’s orientation for teenage exchange students and their parents. As the embassy actively seeks opportunities to reach out to grassroots and non-elite civil society organizations where interlocutors less commonly speak fluent English, it would significantly enhance the embassy’s outreach success if officers were trained in Arabic to the conversational level. The Department-wide deficit of public diplomacy cone officers, along with staffing requirements in Iraq and the growth at Middle Eastern posts, make this a global issue outside the scope of this inspection.

OIG Report No. ISP-I-10-71A – Inspection of Embassy Muscat, Oman – August 2010



Huh? News: Interpeter Bungles Afghan Translation for US Military

This one is must-see tv from ABC News: What Did He Say?

Read ABC News related item on a whistleblower claim that many U.S. interpreters can’t speak Afghan languages here.



Quickie: Foreign Service’s ‘Greatest Challenge’

The Federal Diary covered the Lockheed Martin-AFSA Speaker Series launched on Wednesday with Ambassador Negroponte (see Fluency is Foreign Service’s ‘greatest challenge‘ (April 8): Excerpt below from Joe Davidson:

The “greatest challenge,” according to Negroponte, is the need for officers who can speak the languages of the world.

“There is no substitute,” said the multilingual Negroponte, “for recruiting, training, deploying, retaining and retraining,” officers in languages and geography so they “develop the contacts, the knowledge, the insight, the local and area expertise” needed to help develop America’s foreign policy.

But State isn’t meeting that challenge well enough, according to the Government Accountability Office. In September, it said the department needs a comprehensive plan to address “persistent foreign language shortfalls.”
The second challenge cited by Negroponte is the need for State to provide a mix of policies and incentives “in order to optimize the deployment of officers and their families for a substantial majority of their careers.”

Last year, President Obama took an important step in making international postings more attractive when he signed legislation that begins to close a pay gap for Foreign Service officers, who do not get locality pay as do other federal employees.

Without that law, Negroponte said, there was a “perverse incentive” for Foreign Service officers to serve in the United States. He advocated greater employment opportunities for spouses of officers abroad — “that effort has faltered at various times” — and a reduction in postings to which officers can’t take their families. At least, he said, State should “find ways of compensating for that problem.”

Read the whole thing here.

GAO Report: Diplomatic Security Needs Strategic Review

Bureau of Diplomatic SecurityImage via Wikipedia

The Government Accountability Office had just released its report titled Diplomatic Security’s Recent Growth Warrants Strategic Review (GAO-10-156 November 2009). It lists down Diplomatic Security’s policy and operational challenges.

First, according to Diplomatic Security officials, State is maintaining missions in countries where it would have previously evacuated personnel, which requires more resources and, therefore, makes it more difficult for Diplomatic Security to provide a secure environment.

Second, although Diplomatic Security has grown considerably in staff over the last 10 years, staffing shortages in domestic offices and other operational challenges further tax Diplomatic Security’s ability to implement all of its missions.

Finally, State has expanded Diplomatic Security without the benefit of solid strategic planning; neither State’s departmental strategic plan nor Diplomatic Security’s bureau strategic plan specifically addresses the bureau’s resource needs or its management challenges.

The GAO report also gives an overview of the impact of the missions in Iraq and Afghanistan on Diplomatic Security:

Staffing the Iraq mission:
As previously discussed, staffing the large number of special agents at the Iraq embassy has drawn staff away from other missions and offices. Iraq is a critical threat post; therefore, Diplomatic Security fills it and other critical threat posts first. In 2008, 81 Diplomatic Security special agents—or 16 percent of Diplomatic Security staff—were posted to Iraq for 1-year tours. To fill this need, State officials reported that special agents frequently leave positions in other countries before completing the end of their tours to serve in Iraq. In 2008, we reported that, in order to provide enough Diplomatic Security special agents in Iraq, Diplomatic Security had to move agents from other programs, and those moves have affected the agency’s ability to perform other missions, including providing security for visiting dignitaries and visa, passport, and identity fraud investigations.

Afghanistan is currently Diplomatic Security’s second largest overseas post with a staff of 16 special agents in 2008, which increased to 22 special agents in 2009. As of April 2009, Diplomatic Security was responsible for the security of approximately 300 authorized U.S. civilian personnel, although Diplomatic Security expects that number to increase if State opens consular offices in the cities of Herat and Mazar-e-Sherif. While Diplomatic Security has not been placing a special agent in every contractor-led convoy, as in Iraq, Diplomatic Security plans to increase the use of Diplomatic Security staff for all convoys. To address these changes, Diplomatic Security plans to add an additional 25 special agents in 2010, effectively doubling the number of agents in Afghanistan.

Other operational challenges that impede the Diplomatic Security’s ability to fully implement its missions and activities were also indentified including two glaring ones on foreign language deficiencies and experience gaps. Excerpted from report:

Foreign language deficiencies:
Earlier this year, GAO found that 53 percent of RSOs do not speak and read at the level required by their positions. According to officials in Diplomatic Security, language training for security officers is often cut short because many ambassadors are unwilling to leave security positions vacant. However, GAO concluded that these foreign language shortfalls could be negatively affecting several aspects of U.S. diplomacy, including security operations. For example, an officer at a post of strategic interest said because she did not speak the language, she had transferred a sensitive telephone call from a local informant to a local employee, which could have compromised the informant’s identity.

Experience gaps:
Thirty-four percent of Diplomatic Security’s positions (not including those in Baghdad) are filled with officers below the position’s grade. In a previous publication, GAO reported that experience gaps can compromise diplomatic readiness. In addition, Diplomatic Security officials stated that these gaps between the experience level required by the position and the experience level of the employee assigned can affect the quality of Diplomatic Security’s work. For example, several ARSOs with whom we met were in their first overseas positions and stated that they did not feel adequately prepared for their job, particularly their responsibility to manage large security contracts.

The GAO concludes that “Diplomatic Security faces human capital challenges, such as inexperienced staff and foreign language proficiency shortfalls. The implications of this growth—in conjunction with the potential for increased challenges in Iraq, Afghanistan, and other hostile environments as well as the management challenges listed above— have not been strategically reviewed by the department. Nevertheless, State leadership acknowledges the importance of broad strategic planning, as evidenced by the Secretary’s new QDDR, which is intended to ensure people, programs, and resources serve the highest priorities at State.”

According to the State Department’s response to this report, there is no current plan to conduct a strategic review of Diplomatic Security’s mission and capabilities under the QDDR, but it still mentioned the QDDR’s overall strategic focus on building operational and resource platforms for success” in its response. See State’s full response in Appendix X.

For the next several months, State can point to the QDDR as the possible response to the different challenges ranging from foreign assistance to human capital challenges and all that ails State. But the QDDR is not expected to be completed until summer or fall of 2010 (I hear that an interim report could be released early next year), half-way through this administration’s first term.

Let’s see what else DS, the American Academy of Diplomacy and AFSA might add to this report. The GAO as well as Ambassador Eric J. Boswell, A/Secretary of State for Diplomatic Security, Ambassador Ronald E. Neumann, (Ret.) of the American Academy of Diplomacy and Susan R. Johnson of the American Foreign Service Association will be at the Senate tomorrow, December 9 for The Diplomat’s Shield: Diplomatic Security in Today’s World hearing (Dirksen Senate Office Building, room 342, 2:30 PM).

Related Item:
GAO-10-156 State Department: Diplomatic Security’s Recent Growth Warrants Strategic Review | November 2009 | PDF