FSGB Recognizes Grievant’s “Enduring Dissatisfaction” With @StateDept’s 40 Year Old Grievance Case — Where’s the Medal?

Posted: 1:21 am EDT


Charles William Thomas. You may not remember that name. He was a Foreign Service Officer. In April 1971 he shot and killed himself.  The Thomas case led to changes in the promotion and personnel system and helped usher in a grievance program at the Department.  Below excerpted from ADST:

Charles William Thomas was a bright mid-career Foreign Service officer who was selected out because his efficiency report was mixed with a poorer officer of the same name. After his lifelong dream of serving in the State Department came crashing down, Thomas committed suicide and his case became a cause celebre. His wife Cynthia held the Foreign Service and the State Department responsible.
In 1973, U.S. District Court Judge Gerhard Gesell rendered a decision in Lindsey v. Kissinger declaring the lack of procedural safeguards in State’s selection-out system unconstitutional. A Foreign Service Grievance Board with public members was established in 1976, and procedural safeguards were created through consultations with AFSA.


In April this year, the Foreign Service Grievance Board (FSGB) dismissed FSGB Case No. 2014-042 after the State Department sought a preliminary ruling on the grievance, contending that “the grievance was untimely filed and not covered under the Board’s jurisdiction.”

This case is notable not only because officials of the State Department of old ignored the Board’s original ruling in 1972, but also because ignoring the grievance has stretched into the current leadership of the State Department.  The unnamed grievant in this case apparently wrote to Secretary John Kerry on May 14, 2014, and again on May 28, asking that he implement the 1972 recommendations of the Grievance Committee. Apparently, the grievant did not even received a response. The current FSGB accepted the grievant’s appeal with an effective filing date of October 22, 2014 but then dismissed it  for untimely appeal.

Grievant is a former Foreign Service Officer (FSO) who was appointed as an FSO Class 6 on November 26, 1954. He had been in grade for eight years as a FSO Class 4 when the 1968 Selection Boards did not recommend him for promotion to Class 3. On January 17, 1969, the Department of State (agency, Department) officially notified him that he would be separated for expiration of time in class (TIC) effective April 30, 1969. Having already learned informally of his proposed termination, grievant met personally with the then Secretary of State on January 2, 1969, and gave him a paper, “Notes for the Secretary.” The notes detailed policy clashes grievant had with his superiors, which he believed had prevented his promotion. The Secretary appointed two senior inspectors to conduct an investigation. The inspectors made grievant’s “Notes” available to his supervisors and on January 8, 1969, the supervisors gave their comments on the “Notes” to the Secretary. The inspectors furnished their report1 to the Secretary on January 15. The submissions led the Secretary not to take any action to stop the separation.

On September 26, 1969, after receiving several extensions of his employment, grievant requested a hearing under 3 FAM 1820 (“Grievances”), becoming the first Foreign Service employee to do so. He charged that his supervisors’ comments introduced untrue, slanderous and misleading statements into the agency’s records.

Grievant was separated on October 4, 1969. He was not eligible to retire and collect an annuity because he did not meet the age requirement.2 The Department helped him secure an immediate civil service position on October 5, 1969 with the Department of Defense.

Following a period during which grievant sought information to support his case, a three-member Grievance Committee commenced hearings on March 3, 1971. On September 27, 1972, the Committee found generally in grievant’s favor. With one member voicing exceptions to some of its eleven recommendations, the Committee recommended, inter alia, that the agency appoint grievant to FSO Class 3, credit the time he spent in government service since his separation towards Foreign Service retirement, and pay his legal expenses. The Committee submitted its report to the Director General instead of the Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Personnel, because the latter had appeared as a witness and disqualified himself. The Committee suggested that the Deputy Secretary be the final reviewing officer.

The reviewing officers decided not to accept the recommendations. In 1977, grievant filed an appeal3 with the Foreign Service Grievance Board requesting reinstatement, which request was denied because the Board found the appeal untimely.4 On October 13, 1993, two Senators wrote to the Secretary of State on grievant’s behalf.

Noting that grievant’s claim was adjudicated in his favor by the Grievance Committee but never implemented, they suggested that grievant may not have been notified of his eligibility to pursue administrative and judicial remedies provided in legislation. They asked how their committee could be assured that the Department would implement the recommendations in grievant’s case. There is no evidence of the Secretary’s response in the record of proceedings (ROP).

Apparently, the grievant also seek confirmation that his hearing be held “completely within State Department regulations at the time, so that he would not be required to argue before a court that the Department is improperly failing to recognize the legitimacy of its past responsibility for implementing the recommendations which resulted from his hearing.”

Grievant wrote to the current Secretary of State twice and when he did not get a response, he wrote to the FSGB on September 12 and October 16, 2014. He explained that he sought a negotiated settlement of retirement pay in lieu of enforcement of the remedies granted to him in 1972. The Board accepted his appeal with an effective filing date of October 22. On December 12, 2014, the agency asked the Board to make a preliminary determination that grievant’s appeal should be dismissed, on the grounds that the Board lacked jurisdiction.

The FSGB ruling:

We recognize grievant’s unusual position in the history of this Board as well as his enduring dissatisfaction with the outcome of the hearing process. As noted earlier, our analysis today is limited to jurisdiction and does not address the merits of grievant’s case. In accordance with 22 CFR § 904.2, the Board makes the following preliminary determination on jurisdiction: because grievant has not shown that his appeal was made “not later than two years after the occurrence giving rise to the grievance,” nor is there evidence that grievant was “unaware of the grounds for the grievance,” we find grievant’s appeal untimely.

Grievant was separated on October 4, 1969 under the rules deemed unconstitutional in 1973 after the Lindsey v. Kissinger ruling.  The Grievance Committee recommended that grievant be reappointed to a higher position, a recommendation ignored by senior officials in the State Department.  Last year, the FSGB took the case then says this case was filed late, and the Board lacks jurisdiction. But the members recognize the grievant’s “enduring dissatisfaction.”  Yeah, there’s that. And the State Department lumped this case with the trash with no effort to fix or mitigate the alleged wrongs it did to one individual some four decades ago.

Read the 40 year old grievance case below:



NEA/SPP Language Divisions: From FSI to Wilson Blvd Rosslyn Until 2020

Posted: 3:01 am EDT


Last week we blogged about the rumored move of two language divisions from FSI (see NEA and SPP Language Divisions Moving Out of the Foreign Service Institute?).  We understand that Ambassador Nancy McEldowney, the director of the Foreign Service Institute has announced — through a reply to the post on the Sounding Board — that the contract has now been signed.  Starting in the fall of 2016, NEA and SPP languages will hold classes at the former Boeing building on Wilson Boulevard in Rosslyn, Virginia.  This arrangement will reportedly last only until 2020, when these departments will move back to the FSI campus. New comments received:

Some of us took handshakes on jobs with language training expecting to drive from locations that aren’t metro accessible, and some parents will now have to drop kids off at FSI (or other) daycare; FSI’s solution is, right now, to “encourage students to consider the metro” and a promise to provide information on the Transit Subsidy.

This will be enormously convenient for people on TDY language orders who can live at one of the many direct bill properties in Rosslyn within a few blocks walk — but many of us are on DC assignments, not on per diem, and cannot rearrange our lives based on a change that wasn’t announced until we’d accepted handshakes.

Screen Shot 2015-11-22 at 9.51.47 PM

Building on Wilson Boulevard, Rosslyn (photo via the Arlington Economic Development)

One source told us that the building will also have a fitness center and that parents will still be permitted to use the FSI daycare center.  However, the lease apparently does not include a provision for parking for staff and students, although it looks like the newly leased building has 259 parking spaces.  Monthly parking in the area ranges from $135 to $150 a month.  The published solicitation only requires 24 parking spaces.

According to public records, the building has 12 stories. We were informed that the language school will occupy floors 1-8, but that other State entities are considering moving into the rest of the building. Which entities, we have no idea at this time.

FSI will now reportedly form “working groups” to address a number of the issues associated with the temporary facility, including transportation.  Most of the the anxieties we’ve heard related to this move could have been avoided if the “working groups” were created before the plans became final. But it looks like this is now a done deal.  If you’re one of the students who will be affected by this move, you may contact FSI and get yourself into one of these working groups. We hope that these groups will be able to come up with plans to help mitigate the disruptions to some FSI students and staff the next five years.

We were able to find the first notice of an FSI expansion space dated December 8, 2014.  The solicitation was posted on FedBiz this past July and modified on September 30, 2015.

Here are the requirement published via FedBiz (partial list from the announcement):

The Department has a requirement for a single building/facility to increase classroom space to support expanded training program requirements and increased enrollments in the coming years . The base requirement is approximately 75,000 usf; lobby space for security access control will be provided in addition if required by the specific building. Options for 20,000 usf are additionally included, exercisable within any contract period.

Time Frame: Fully finished training space, ready for occupancy, including services to support facility operations, must be delivered within six months of contract award and in no event later than six months after contract award. This contract will be for one five-year base period with five additional one-year options, and includes options for an additional 20,000 usf, exercisable within any contract year.

Training Facility Requirements: The facility must be housed in a single location, and may be comprised of one large area on a single floor, or be collocated on consecutive stacked floors in a single building. These floors must be kept secured and not accessible by occupants of other floors in the building. If warranted, additional building and /or lobby space may be required to screen and control access for the training facility. The Department may install perimeter security or intrusion detection systems as deemed necessary.

The training facility will have complete telecommunications, voice/data/video, with Wi-Fi and internet connectivity throughout the facility (see Requirements).

The training facility will have a minimum of 24 parking spaces on site or within immediate proximity to the site.  To accommodate staff/students who may use bicycles for transportation, the contractor should provide sixteen covered bicycle racks near or close to the 24 parking spaces.

Contractor will provide an additional requirement for 20,000 usf of classroom/training program space within six to twelve months of occupancy of this space if required by the Government pursuant to the option provisions of the contract. Anticipated hours of operation will be from 6:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m.

Facility and Services|  The contractor will provide the following:

158 Language Classrooms (180 usf each classroom) Each classroom shall have a smart board (TV), white board, bulletin/tack board and adequate lighting, modular tables with 5 chairs, 5 open cubbies for storage of student backpacks, purses, etc. and associated cabling for telecommunication capability. Must have adequate sound attenuation for classroom use. Paint, carpet, adequate HV/AC, and a locking door.

77 Language Instructor collaboration spaces. Each shared by 3 instructors (180 usf each space) Each instructor space shall have modular furniture with double  row overhead storage bins and task lighting, pull-out keyboard tray, rolling lockable under desk file cabinet, acceptable ceiling lighting, a locking door, and associated cabling for telecommunication capability. Paint, carpet, adequate HVAC.

Suite with 20 student consultation rooms at 50 usf each and 200 circulation space/hallway. Each consultation room shall have a small table and 2 chairs. Paint, carpet, adequate lighting, adequate HV/AC, and a locking suite door(s). Interior consultation room doors should not have locks, and should be windowed to permit visibility into room.

One (1) Distance Learning classroom/delivery classroom with DVC capability with associated cabling for telecommunication/video capability; modular tables and chairs. Paint, carpet, adequate HV/AC, and a locking door.

Four (4) gaming/simulation rooms at 350 usf each, with modular tables and chairs; with one (1) control room at 200 usf; both with associated cabling for telecommunication/video capability.

One (1) DVC classroom and control room with associated cabling for telecommunication/video capability; modular tables and chairs.

Two (2) Active Learning classrooms at 1,000 usf each. Shall have a smart board, computer projection with drop down screen, adequate lighting, modular tables with 40 chairs, podium, and associated cabling for telecommunication capability.

Two (2) Quiet Study Rooms for students each about 300 usf, with tables/chairs.Paint, carpet, good lighting, adequate HV/AC.

Lactation Room – Sink with running water, garbage disposal, refrigerator, modular furniture with partitions and shelving, electrical outlets for pumping equipment and ten chairs. Paint, carpet, acceptable lighting, adequate HV/AC, and a locking door.

Ten (10) pantries (about 230 usf each with refrigerators, Microwaves, sinks with garbage disposals, vending machines with hot/cold drinks and healthy snacks). Located in an open central place. Paint, carpet, good lighting, adequate HV/AC.

Note that USF refers to useable square footage. [When a tenant occupies a full-floor, the usable square feet amount extends to everything inside the boundaries of the building floor, minus stairwells and elevator shafts. This can include non-usable areas like janitorial closets, or mechanical and electrical rooms. It also encompasses private bathrooms and floor common areas, like kitchenettes, hallways, and reception areas that are specific to that floor’s use (via].

The requirements include a Language Program Management Suite, a Training Computer Server Area, a Registration/IT Support Area,  a DS Processing Area, and an SLS Senior Dean Consultation Suite, among those listed. We have not been able to locate a requirement for a language lab in the solicitation.

The contract requirement also includes a “Facility Manager, who shall have primary responsibility for the operation and maintenance of the facility on a day–to–day basis and who shall be the primary point of contact for the government on all matters relating to the use of the facility by the government during the period of performance of the contract, and eight full time administrative staff to support the daily classroom functions during operating hours.


USAID Finally Gets an Inspector General 1,496 Days After Job Went Vacant

Posted: 12:17 am EDT


The U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) has been without a Senate-confirmed inspector general for four years.  The position became vacant in October 2011 following Donald Gambatesa’s resignation (he was confirmed by the U.S. Senate in December 2005).

On June 20, 2013, President Obama announced his intent to nominate Michael G. Carroll as the next Inspector General.  According to WaPo, Michael G. Carroll, who was USAID’s acting inspector general, withdrew his name from consideration to be President Obama’s permanent inspector general after it has been pending for 16 months. This came amidst WaPo’s report that negative findings in USAID OIG’s reports were allegedly being stricken from audits between 2011 and 2013.   On November 12, 2014, the White House officially withdrew the Carroll nomination.  WaPo reported Mr. Carroll’s retirement on December 8, 2014 (see USAID watchdog Michael Carroll retires in wake of whistleblower claims).

In May this year, President Obama announced his intent to nominate Ann Calvaresi Barr, as the next Inspector General for USAID.

On May 11, the Senate received and referred Ms. Barr’s nomination  to the Committee on Foreign Relations; it was  also sequentially referred to the Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs for 20 calendar days.

Ms. Barr did not get her confirmation hearing until August 4. Two months later, the Barr nomination was cleared by the SFCR on October 1, and by the Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs on October 22.  On November 19, the full Senate confirmed Ms. Barr by voice vote, 1,496 days after the job went vacant and 192 days after President Obama announced her nomination.

Ms. Barr should have a lengthy junkyard dog list. Just look at this:

Stricter definition?  Help, where’s my smelling salt …



Related posts:

Coming Soon to PBS — That CG Istanbul Position Is Apparently Another Foggy Bottom Drama

Posted: 2:50 pm EDT


This is a follow-up post to Whoa! The Next Consul General in Istanbul Will Be a Political Appointee?  When we wrote about this last week, it was not clear to us if the rumored candidate for the CG Istanbul position is a Civil Service employe or a political appointee of the bundler kind. We’ve since learned that the candidate is neither.

Three sources informed us that the new CG slated for Istanbul is a newly minted FS-01. For some readers not familiar with Foreign Service ranking, that’s the topmost rank in the Foreign Service below the Senior Foreign Service. An FS-01 is equivalent in rank to a colonel in the U.S. military.  Counselor, the lowest rank in the Senior Foreign Service is equivalent in rank to a one star general in the U.S. military. One source put it this way:

While it’s a bit unusual that CDA would grant a senior cede to allow [snip](an FS-01) to take such a high profile SFS job, [snip] was Executive Assistant to the Secretary.  I imagine that helped with HR.  Some would argue that’s a bit of a scandal (not me though…) but I think we can all agree, even if that is a scandal, it’s a lot less of a scandal, than a political appointee taking that job.

So the good news is that the WH/State Department is not sending an Obama bundler to assume the Consul General’s position in Istanbul. Yo! We can hear your collective sigh of relief all the way here! But we can also hear all the drama going on.

CDA is the Office of Career Development and Assignments at the State Department’s Bureau of Human Resources. Since this is a stretch assignment across the senior threshold (think colonel assigned to a general’s position), this would require what’s called a “senior cede” which HR/CDA/SL usually grants only after determining that no senior employee is seeking the senior position.

Seriously, no senior diplomat of the C, MC or CM kind asked to go to Istanbul? Who believes that?  Or perhaps the more interesting question is who drove the John Deere high speed dozer to clear the obstacle path from the 7th Floor to Istanbul?

Here’s the Hiawatha by the way, at a ready in Istanbul for whoever ends up going there.


A separate source informed us that the next Consul General to Istanbul was not only a previous member of Secretary Kerry’s staff, the staffer also worked for an Executive Secretary of the State Department. That Executive Secretary is now the U.S. ambassador to Turkey.

We understand that there was “a ton of drama” associated with this assignment.  “Crammed down EUR’s throat,” that is, the Bureau of European and Eurasian Affairs’ throat, we heard.   There are apparently, “heartaches” in Foggy Bottom related to this appointment. Another alleged that the assignment was done through “irregular means” and that the “job wasn’t announced in FSBid” among other things.

And just like on teevee, there’s more.

CG Istanbul is a language designated position. That means you either need to already know Turkish  or must get the Turkish language level required for the job. Allegations have also surfaced that the State Department has now reportedly waived the language requirement for this position.  Language waivers are not unheard of, of course, but … given what’s going on in Turkey ….

Say, is this the best the State Department can do for its diplomatic post and staff in Istanbul?

Our man in Istanbul, Chuck Hunter has been an FSO since 1990, so he has some 25 years of experience in the Foreign Service. He was Public Affairs Officer at the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad, Iraq (2011-12) and served in Damascus as Deputy Chief of Mission and Chargé d’Affaires of the U.S. Embassy to Syria (2009-11). He previously worked in Cairo, Tunis, Muscat and Jerusalem. In addition to various D.C. tours, he also served as the Babil Provincial Reconstruction Team Leader, based in Al-Hillah, Iraq.  He speaks Turkish, Arabic and French.

The principal officer in Adana, the smallest constituent post in Turkey (with four direct hire employees) is Linda Stuart Specht who assumed her duties last August.  She has been an FSO since 1989. She has spent about 26 years in some difficult and dangerous places around the world. She previously served in positions in U.S. missions in Iraq, Afghanistan, Cameroon, Vietnam, Papua New Guinea, and Suriname.  Her most recent previous assignments were as Deputy Director of Pakistan Affairs (2012-2014), Director of the Office of Economic Sanctions and Counter Terrorism Finance (2011-2012), and Deputy Director for Arabian Peninsula Affairs (2009-2011). She speaks Turkish, Dutch, French, and Vietnamese.

We should note that the Consulate General in Istanbul is actually larger than many embassies around the world. So, it looks like next year, an FS-01 will oversee U.S. Government relations in a city that is the commercial, financial, cultural, educational, and media capital of Turkey. The same official will also supervise other FS-01s in Istanbul.  The last time we’ve seen a midlevel official successfully appointed to a similar high profile posting was in 2005 when an FS-02 became an Assistant Secretary for Public Affairs.

In any case, back in the fall of 2014, there was also a rumor that a staffer from the Under Secretary for Political Affairs, (the Department’s fourth-ranking official), allegedly wanted the Iran Watcher position in London. (see Is This Iran Watcher London Position Not Bidlisted About to Go to a “P” Staffer?). After a fuss was raised, the job apparently went to an FSO. Another Iran Watcher job was reportedly then created in Amsterdam. But there was an Iran Watcher already in language training whose assignment to Erbil, Iraq was cancelled; that individual eventually ended up with the Amsterdam assignment.

Assignments on the 7th floor must be quite hazardous and perilous. One staffer almost end up in London, then Amsterdam, and now one is reportedly going to Istanbul. Who’s next? Secretary Kerry’s pilot as the next Consul General to Bora Bora? Yes, we know there is no CG Bora Bora … well, not yet, anyway.

It’s a good thing that the State Department as an institution has “embraced” what is apparently “an overarching set of Leadership Principles” contained in 3 FAM 1214. This part of the FAM talks about supervisors and managers having “a unique opportunity and responsibility to lead by example.” 

Hey, look!  Things are growing crazy as heck over in Turkey.

Oh, yeah?



@State Dept’s Danger Pay: All Through With Promises, Promises Now?

Posted: 3:10 am EDT


On September 14, we posted about the new State Department’s danger pay posts (New Danger Pay Differential Posts: See Gainers, Plus Losers Include One Post on Evacuation Status). Previously, we’ve written about these upcoming changes including potential fallout to bidding, student loan repayment, security funding allocation, EFM employment, and first and second tour (FAST) officers’ onward assignments (see Danger Danger, Bang Bang — State Department Eyes Changes in Danger Pay). Click here for AFSA’s update to its members regarding the changes in danger pay.

This is the first time the State Department had updated its danger pay process and designation from best we could tell. Of the forty or so danger pay posts, about half lost their designation, including Monterrey and Nuevo Laredo which lost 20%, and all Saudi Arabian posts which lost 15%. Wouldn’t better planning with a longer roll out have been better for everyone? Why was there such a short fuse on this project? Was Congress snapping at somebody’s heels?

One group particularly affected (without any mitigation in place) are Eligible Family Members (EFMs) who receive danger pay but do not receive any other differentials. All EFMs in posts that lost their danger pay designation have suffered a pay cut and will not receive any hardship pay in lieu of the danger pay lost. The dual-income Foreign Service families particularly in Saudi Arabia and some in Mexico had a pay cut of at least 20%.

The changes in the danger pay designation also affected employees who went to some difficult posts to qualify for the student loan program (SLRP).  Student Loan Repayment Program (SLRP) is a recruitment and retention tool used by the Department to attract and retain Civil Service and Foreign Service employees applying for or encumbering specific positions.  The loan repayment is linked to danger/hardship only, and is for posts designated at 20% or greater. We understand that some who qualified for SLRP this year, will not qualify next year if they’re seeing danger/hardship under 20%. Despite that fact that the SLRP was used to “lure” officers to some of these challenging posts.  That section of the FAM updated in May this year, notes that “Posts may be added to or eliminated from this list as differential and danger pay rates change.”

We understand that entry level officers (ELOs, we don’t know how many) felt particularly short-changed by these changes.  These officers typically go out on their first two overseas tours on directed assignments. They go where they’re sent by the State Department. They get equity points based on danger pay and hardship differentials that help determine their next assignment.  We should add that super high equity posts  (like Iraq/Afghanistan, etc.) are not available to first tour officers. A large number of first tour officers end up in visa mill posts in Mexico, China, India, Brazil and posts in Africa. Which means that a 5-10% change in equity in the pecking order is noticeable.

Via reactiongif.com

Via reactiongif.com

I wonder if their CDOs say if you take Promisestan now with 15% danger pay and 20% hardship, you get bidding priority for say Buenos Aires or Madrid when you bid next time. Did the CDOs blink when they said that?  By the time the ELOs bid, Promisestan had been downgraded to zero danger pay with hardship still at 20%.  So ELOs who said yes to 35%, now had to make do with their 20%.

“A claim of fairness and transparency does not make it so,” one writes.

A senior government official had apparently told employees earlier that “this is not going to be such a big deal.” But for a number of employees just starting off on their careers at State, this is going to be a big deal. Somebody made them a promise, an inherent tradeoff when they started, and now they’re told they just have to suck it. We understand that despite efforts by AFSA, FSOs, and some posts themselves argued against danger pay changes or for mitigation — specifically including entry level bidding should these changes be imposed — management apparently had not been responsive.

We sent the following to DGHR on Twitter but he, too, has not been responsive.


We estimate that this affects the bidding of a small range of A-100 classes, perhaps some members in the 174th-180th classes. And perhaps that’s the problem? A small number of entry level FSOs, though no fault of their own, are negatively impacted in their bidding options by these changes. And the somebodies at the State Department — from M, DGHR, DS, CDA, PRI — have decided that the negative impact to these newbies are acceptable.

Say — isn’t this kind of like going on a cross country A-Z train with the fares changing midway through the trip? Suddenly, here comes the conductor asking for additional fares somewhere at the P stop, even if you’ve originally paid up to get to the Z stop.

The Yoda conductor delivers the bad news:

So sorry, just doing the job, I am.  P stop not as good as Z stop. But F stop, it is not.

If throw up, you must, use bucket under coach seat, please.


Ambassador Chas Freeman on Diplomatic Amateurism and Its Consequences

Posted: 3:02 am EDT


Ambassador Chas Freeman did a speech on Diplomatic Amateurism and Its Consequences at Foggy Bottom’s Ralph Bunche Library earlier this month. He also recently spoke about America’s Continuing Misadventures in the Middle East.  We need more people like Ambassador Freeman telling it like it is; unfortunately that often puts people like him in the outs with people who do not want to hear what needs to be said. More often than not, the top ranks have large rooms for obedient groupies and not much room for anyone else.

Below is an excerpt from his diplomatic amateurism speech:

In other countries, diplomacy is a prestigious career in which one spends a lifetime, culminating in senior positions commensurate with one’s talents as one has demonstrated them over the years.  But, in the United States, these days more than ever, the upper reaches of diplomacy are reserved for wealthy dilettantes and celebrities with no prior experience in the conduct of relations with foreign states and peoples, national security policy, or the limitations of the use of force.  Policy positions in our government dealing with such issues are now largely staffed by individuals selected for their interest-group affiliation, identity, or sizable campaign contributions.  These diplomatic neophytes are appointed for the good of the political party with which they are affiliated and to reward their loyal service during political campaigns, not for their ability to do the jobs they are given.  It is assumed that they can learn on the job, then move on after a while to give others a chance at government employment.  But whatever they learn, they take with them when they leave, adding nothing to the diplomatic capacity of our government.

If you tried to staff and run a business or a sports team like this, you’d get creamed by the competition.  If you organized our armed forces this way, you’d be courting certain defeat.  You can judge for yourself how staffing and running a foreign policy establishment through the spoils system is working out for our country now that our margin for error has been reduced by “the rise of the rest” since the end of the Cold War.  Staffing national security policy positions and ambassadorships with people whose ambition greatly outstrips their knowledge and experience is a bit like putting teenagers in charge of risk management while entrusting lifeguard positions to people with no proven ability to swim.  Hit and run statecraft and diplomacy were never wise, but they didn’t matter much when America was isolated from the world or so powerful that it could succeed without really trying.  Neither is the case anymore

The United States is now the only great power not to have professionalized our diplomatic service.  As the trove of diplomatic reporting spewed out by WikiLeaks shows, our career people remain very bright and able. But their supervisors are less prepared to carry out their duties than their counterparts in the diplomatic services of other great and lesser powers.  One of the 20th century’s greatest diplomats, Abba Eban put it this way

“The word ‘ambassador’ would normally have a professional connotation but for the American tradition of ‘political appointees.’ The bizarre notion that any citizen, especially if he is rich, is fit for the representation of his country abroad has taken some hard blows through empirical evidence, but it has not been discarded, nor should the idea of diluting a rigid professionalism with manpower from less detached sectors of society be dismissed out of hand. Nevertheless, when the strongest nation in the world appoints a tycoon or a wealthy hostess to head an embassy, the discredit and frustration is spread throughout the entire diplomatic corps in the country concerned.”

That was in 1983. Quite a bit before that, about 130 years before that, demonstrating that this is indeed a lengthy American tradition, the New York Herald Tribune observed, “Diplomacy is the sewer through which flows the scum and refuse of the political puddle. A man not fit to stay at home is just the man to send abroad.”

These American observations, or observations about American diplomacy, contrast quite strikingly with the views expressed by the classic writer on diplomatic practice, François de Callières. Writing now almost exactly three centuries ago, in 1716, he said:

“Diplomacy is a profession by itself, which deserves the same preparation and assiduity of attention that men give to other recognized professions. The qualities of the diplomatist and the knowledge necessary to him cannot indeed all be acquired. The diplomatic genius is born, not made. But there are many qualities which may be developed with practice, and the greater part of the necessary knowledge can only be acquired by constant application to the subject.

“In this sense, diplomacy is certainly a profession, itself capable of occupying a man’s whole career, and those who think to embark upon a diplomatic mission as a pleasant diversion from their common task only prepare disappointment for themselves and disaster for the cause that they serve. The veriest fool would not entrust the command of an army to a man whose sole badge of merit was his eloquence in a court of law or his adroit practice of the courtier’s art in the palace. All are agreed that military command must be earned by long service in the army. In the same manner, it must be regarded as folly to entrust the conduct of negotiations to an untrained amateur.”

There is indeed every reason for diplomacy to be a learned profession in the United States, like the law, medicine, or the military.  But it isn’t.  When top positions are reserved for people who have not come up through the ranks, it’s difficult to sustain diplomacy as a career, let alone establish and nurture it as a profession.  Professions are human memory banks.  They are composed of individuals who profess a unique combination of specialized knowledge, experience, and technique.  They distill their expertise into doctrine – constantly refreshed – based on what their experience has taught them about what works and what doesn’t.  Their skills are inculcated through case studies, periodic training, and on-the-job mentoring.  This professional knowledge is constantly improved by the critical introspection inherent in after-action reviews.

In the course of one’s time as a foreign service officer, one acquires languages and a hodgepodge of other skills relevant to the conduct of foreign relations.  If one is inclined to reflect on one’s experience, one begins to understand the principles that undergird effective diplomacy, that is the arts of persuading others to do things our way, and to get steadily better at practicing these arts.  But, in the U.S. foreign service, by contrast with – let’s say – the military, there is no systematic professional development process, no education in grand strategy or history, no training in tactics or operational technique derived from experience, no habit of reviewing successes and failures to improve future performance, no literature devoted to the development of operational doctrine and technique, and no real program or commitment to the mentoring of new entrants to the career.  If one’s lucky, one is called to participate in the making of history.  If one is not, there is yet a great deal to learn from the success or failure of the diplomatic tasks to which one is assigned.

As an aside, I also don’t believe that, as an institution, the Department of State now understands the difference between bureaucrats and professionals.  (I’m not sure it ever did.)   Both have their place in foreign affairs but the two are quite different.  Bureaucrats are trained to assure uniform decisions and predictable outcomes through the consistent interpretation and application of laws, regulations, and administrative procedures.  Professionals, by contrast, are educated to exercise individual, ad hoc judgments, take actions, and seek outcomes autonomously on the basis of principles and canons of behavior derived from experience.  They are expected to be creative, not consistent, in their approach to the matters in their charge.


There is an obvious alternative to this bleak scenario.  That is that the secretary of state – this secretary of state, who is the son of a foreign service office and who has personally demonstrated the power of diplomacy to solve problems bequeathed to him by his predecessors – will recognize the need for the U.S. diplomatic service to match our military in professionalism and seek to make this his legacy.  In the end, this would demand enlisting the support of Congress but much could be done internally.

Read in full here:  http://chasfreeman.net/diplomatic-amateurism-and-its-consequences/

AFSA’s media digest failed to include Ambassador Freeman’s event in its daily digest for members. But AFSA members got a nice treat with the inclusion of Taylor Swift: America’s Best Public Diplomat? as reading fare.



Related posts:

Too Quick on the Draw: Militarism and the Malpractice of Diplomacy in America

Lessons from America’s Continuing Misadventures in the Middle East


@StateDept’s Problematic Information Security Program and Colin Powell’s Wired Diplomatic Corps

Posted: 2:10 am EDT



Via the AP:

Clinton approved significant increases in the State Department’ information technology budgets while she was secretary, but senior State Department officials say she did not spend much time on the department’s cyber vulnerabilities. Her emails show she was aware of State’s technological shortcomings, but was focused more on diplomacy.
Emails released by the State Department from her private server show Clinton and her top aides viewed the department’s information technology systems as substandard and worked to avoid them.

Screen Shot 2015-10-20

click here to view pdf file

The report does not include specific details on the “significant increases” in the IT budget. Where did it go? Why did the Clinton senior staff suffer through the State Department’s antiquated technology without any fixes?

In contrast, here is Colin Powell’s Wired Diplomatic Corps:

Another disturbing aspect of State Department life prior to 2001 was the poor condition of its information technology (IT). Independent commissions warned the organization’s computer networks were “perilously close to the point of system failure” and “the weakest in the U.S. government.” Inadequate funding, concerns over IT security, and simple bureaucratic inertia were all contributing factors. Powell came to an institution in which his employees relied on an antiquated cable messaging system, slow, outdated computers and as many as three separate networks to do their daily work. At several posts diplomats did not enjoy full access to the Internet or the department’s classified network. Such realities were troubling for a new secretary of state, who had served on American Online’s board of directors and considered Internet access an indispensable resource in his own daily life. Powell believed effective twenty-first diplomacy necessitated a modern communications system at State and made its establishment a top priority.

As with embassy construction and security, Powell successfully garnered the financial resources to make substantial quantitative and qualitative improvements in the organization’s information technology. For instance, a secure unclassified computer network with full Internet access was extended to 43,500 desktops during his tenure, making the State Department a fully wired bureaucracy for the first time in its history. This goal was reached in May 2003, under budget and ahead of schedule. Shortly thereafter a modernized classified network was installed at 224 embassies and consulates — every post that the Bureau of Diplomatic Security deemed eligible for such technology. In addition, a Global IT Modernization (GIT-M) program was launched to ensure that all computer hardware is kept state-of-the-art through an aggressive, four-year replacement cycle. Other changes equipped the institution with cutting-edge mainframes, updated secure telephones, and wireless emergency communication systems. Most recently, the State Department began under Powell’s leadership to replace its decades old cable and e-mail systems with one modern, secure, and fully integrated messaging and retrieval system.

These impressive technological changes were complemented by the creation of a new 10-person office for e-Diplomacy in 2002. The unit was established to support State’s information revolution by finding ways to increase organizational efficiency through information technology, making the newly installed systems user-friendly, and continuing to identify new ways to send, store and access information. Furthermore, IT security was enhanced considerably. One department report indicated that by August 2004, 90.4 percent of State’s operational systems had been fully authorized and certified, earning the department OMB’s highest rating for IT improvement under the President’s Management Agenda (PMA). In part, achievements of this type were facilitated through Powell’s hiring of 530 new IT specialists (while controlling for attrition). Through an aggressive recruitment and retention program based on incentives and bonuses, the department’s vacancy rate for such positions, which was “over 30 percent five years ago, [was] essentially eliminated.” As with congressional relations and embassy construction and security, State’s information technology was enhanced significantly under Powell’s leadership.

Read in full here via American Diplomacy — The Other Side of Powell’s Record by Christopher Jones.

So, among the more recent secretaries of state, one stayed home more than most. Secretary Powell knew the IT systems were substandard and he went about making the fixes a priority; he did not hand it off to “H” to lobby Congress or simply talked about the State Department’s “woeful state of civilian technology.” 

Below is a clip from OIG Steve Linick’s Management Alert for recurring information system weaknesses spanning FY2011-FY2013.  The actual FISMA reports do not seem to be publicly available at this time:

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The FISMA audit dated October 2014 says:

[T]he Chief Information Security Officer stated that the Bureau of Information Resource Management, Office of Information Assurance (IRM/IA), received a budget of $14 million in FY 2014, an increase from $7 million in FY 2013.6 A majority of the budget was used for contractor support to improve FISMA compliance efforts.

We identified control deficiencies in all [Redacted] (b) (5)  of the information security program areas used to evaluate the Department’s information security program. Although we recognize that the Department has made progress in the areas of risk management, configuration management, and POA&M since FY 2013, we concluded that the Department is not in compliance with FISMA, OMB, and NIST requirements. Collectively, the control deficiencies we identified during this audit represent a significant deficiency to enterprise-wide security, as defined by OMB Memorandum M-14-04.

We have been unable to find the FISMA reports during all of Rice, Clinton and Kerry tenures. We’ll keep looking.



Senior FSO Solicits Favorable Comments From Subordinates, Wants GSO “To Grow a Pair”

Posted: 1:53 am EDT


An unnamed senior FSO solicited favorable statements about herself from her subordinates and in an email to her supervisor, the DCM, made disparaging remarks that the General Services office “needs to grow a pair.” Both made it to the FSO’s evaluation report which became the subject of a grievance case before the Foreign Service Grievance Board (FSGB Case No. 2014-029).

The FSGB decision: Grievant, has failed to show by a preponderance of evidence pursuant to 22 C.F.R. §905.1 that her 2013 Amended EER documenting her performance while serving as Principal Officer/Consul in contained inaccuracies, omissions, errors, or falsely prejudicial information to such an extent that it must be expunged in its entirety. The appeal is denied in part and granted in part, but only for a remand with instructions to delete one phrase in the Amended EER. No other relief is granted.

Excerpt below:

Grievant is a Senior Foreign Service Officer, class of Counselor (FE-OC). She appeals the Department’s partial denial of her grievance in which she seeks the following relief: expunction from her Official Performance File (OPF) of her 2013 Amended Employee Evaluation Report (EER); extension of her time-in-class by one year; and a reconstituted 2014 SB to consider her file, if in fact she was low-ranked by the 2014 Promotion Board based upon her 2013 Amended EER.

Grievant joined the Foreign Service in 1987 as a Political Officer, and has had tours both overseas and in Washington. She has served in a variety of increasingly senior positions, including Deputy Chief of Mission (DCM)/Charge d’affaires in [REDACTED] Principal Officer in [REDACTED]  and Special Advisor to the Assistant Secretary in the [REDACTED] Bureau in Washington. The recipient of a number of awards throughout her career, she was also recommended for Performance Pay while serving as Principal Officer/Consul General in [REDACTED]. Grievant describes herself alternatively as “autistic” and a person who suffers from a disability known as Asperger’s Syndrome (a condition on what is known as the autism “spectrum”).

The contested statements concern two incidents, the basic facts of which are not in dispute and are summarized below. One incident involved grievant’s solicitation of favorable statements about herself from subordinates. The other incident arose from a remark grievant made to her rater, expressing grievant’s views of her own colleagues and using language that the rater deemed inappropriate.

The Solicitation of Statements from Subordinates. The first incident arose when grievant asked her locally-engaged (LE) assistant to gather from other LE staff written statements in which staff would describe what they liked about grievant, or how they viewed her as a boss. On December 15, 2012, grievant sent an email to her LE assistant asking that “each employee who is able or wants to do so” submit something written stating “if they liked working for me or something they liked about me as a boss.” Grievant asked her assistant (REDACTED) to compile such favorable comments for presentation to the grievant at the time of grievant’s upcoming birthday. In this email, grievant characterized the employee statements as “a gift I can keep with me always.”

When the DCM learned of grievant’s actions, she accused grievant of soliciting a gift from subordinates. The DCM issued a Letter of Admonishment to grievant, citing the email of December 15, 2012 to [REDACTED] asking for a “gift” from subordinates on the occasion of grievant’s birthday.2 In the Letter of Admonishment, the DCM instructed grievant to rescind that request. In an email of January 14, 2013, the DCM transmitted to grievant a copy of the Letter of Admonishment, directing grievant to comply with the instructions in the Letter, and to sign the Letter and return it to her. Grievant responded with a refusal to implement the instructions.

Grievant’s Remarks About Colleagues. The second incident concerns an email grievant sent to the DCM in preparation for a visit by the Secretary of State of [REDACTED]. Locally-engaged [REDACTED] staff would be coming to  [REDACTED] to support the visit. The scarcity of hotel rooms or accommodations for them became a pressing issue. In an email of August 6, 2012, to the DCM, grievant expressed her frustration that [REDACTED] American management staff, the Management Officer, and the General Services Officer (GSO), were not doing enough to secure such accommodations. Grievant wrote, in pertinent part:

For months and even during the current pre-advance, I have been trying to get the people to focus on finding hotel space or working with the government to find hotel space for the support staff. They refused to do so. Instead, they are living under the fantasy that they will be able to force the USG, with less than a month to go, to accredit FSNs as members of the US delegation and they will be able to stay with other members of the US delegation on .

Both you and I know that the USG is not going to accredit FSNs. If you are not accredited, you are not going to sleep on . Even if they want to continue to entertain this fantasy, check out hotels as a plan B. However, MGT says they have a plan B – staying in the Consulate’s non-existent TDY housing (LOL), bunking with Consulate officers (NO!), or sleeping through the night at the Consulate (H$*# to the No!).

One problem is that when the American officers broach the subject with FSNs, the FSNs refuse to look at hotel options, because the FSNs want to be accredited. GSO needs to grow a pair.

The appeal is granted in part and denied in part. Pursuant to the Board’s findings, the sole form of relief granted is that the case is remanded to the Department with instructions to make two modifications to the Amended EER. One, the Department is hereby ordered to delete the words “gift of” in every place in which the Amended EER contains the phrase “gift of positive statements from her direct reports.” Second, the Department is hereby ordered to delete from the section on “Interpersonal Skills” the phrase “and in doing so, did not set the standard for integrity.”

Read in full: 2014-029 06-11-2015 – B – Decision_Redacted (pdf).


Burn Bag: Get a Portable Career, Bake Cupcakes! Geez Louise!

Via Burn Bag:

Quote from FLO at spouse orientation: “You should consider a portable career – you could bake cupcakes and sell them to the embassy staff”. I am a C-suite executive. Cupcakes.


FLO -Family Liaison Office. FLO’s mission is “to improve the quality of life of all demographics we serve by identifying issues and advocating for programs and solutions, providing a variety of client services, and extending services to overseas communities through the management of the worldwide Community Liaison Office (CLO) program.”

On Family Member Employment, state.gov/M/DGHR/FLO says: “The Family Liaison Office understands that when most family members join the Foreign Service community, they have already established personal and professional lives. Finding meaningful employment overseas is challenging given limited positions inside U.S. missions, language requirements, lower salaries, and work permit barriers on the local economy. The Family Liaison Office (FLO) has a dedicated team of professionals working to expand employment options and information resources to internationally mobile family members, both at home and abroad. FLO’s employment program team will advise individual family members on overseas employment issues, either in person, via email or phone.”


Reading Tips: Recent Reports From State/OIG, USAID/OIG, SIGAR, GAO, CRS

Posted: 12:40 pm EDT



Management Assistance Report: Action Still Needed to Update the Department’s Standards of Conduct as They Relate to Trafficking in Persons and to Comply with a Related Recommendation Posted On: September 17, 2015

Audit of Selected Nonproliferation and Disarmament Fund Management Control Posted On: September 14, 2015

Audit of Department of State Management and Oversight of Non-Lethal Assistance Provided for the Syrian Crisis Posted On: September 14, 2015



09/16/2015Management Letter Regarding Environmental Concerns Identified During the Survey of Selected USAID/Office of Foreign Disaster Assistance Programs in Iraq

09/15/20158-OPC-15-002-P Audit of Overseas Private Investment Corporation Projects in Jordan and Turkey

09/11/2015A-IAF-15-008-P Audit of the Inter-American Foundation’s Fiscal Year 2015 Compliance with the Federal Information Security Management Act of 2002, as Amended

09/10/20159-000-15-004-P Audit of USAID’s Evaluation Policy Implementation

09/03/20155-482-15-007-P | Audit of USAID/Burma’s Shae THOT (The Way Forward) Program

09/01/2015 4-000-15-001-S | Survey of USAID’s Development Leadership Initiative in Southern and Eastern Africa



Remarks Prepared for Delivery by Special Inspector General John F. Sopko at Georgetown University, Washington, DC Thursday, September 10, 2015

Afghan Refugees and Returnees: Corruption and Lack of Afghan Ministerial Capacity Have Prevented Implementation of a Long-term Refugee Strategy Thursday, August 27, 2015

Power Grid Project at the Counter Narcotics Strip Mall in Kabul: Construction Met Contract Requirements but Electrical System Was Not Deemed Operable Until More Than 18 Months After Project Completion Monday, August 3, 2015



Diplomatic Security: Options for Locating a Consolidated Training Facility  GAO-15-808R: Published: Sep 9, 2015. Publicly Released: Sep 16, 2015.

Regionally Aligned Forces: DOD Could Enhance Army Brigades’ Efforts in Africa by Improving Activity Coordination and Mission-Specific Preparation  GAO-15-568: Published: Aug 26, 2015. Publicly Released: Aug 26, 2015.

SEC Conflict Minerals Rule: Initial Disclosures Indicate Most Companies Were Unable to Determine the Source of Their Conflict Minerals  GAO-15-561: Published: Aug 18, 2015. Publicly Released: Aug 18, 2015.

International Food Assistance: USAID Should Systematically Assess the Effectiveness of Key Conditional Food Aid Activities  GAO-15-732: Published: Sep 10, 2015. Publicly Released: Sep 10, 2015.


CRS Reports via Steven Aftergood/Secrecy News

The FY2014 Government Shutdown: Economic Effects, updated September 11, 2015

Procedures for Congressional Action in Relation to a Nuclear Agreement with Iran: In Brief, Updated September 11, 2015

The United Arab Emirates (UAE): Issues for U.S. Policy, Updated September 14, 2015

Syrian Refugee Admissions to the United StatesCRS Insight, September 10, 2015

Cyprus: Reunification Proving Elusive, Updated September 10, 2015

Saudi Arabia: Background and U.S. Relations, Updated September 8, 2015

Jordan: Background and U.S. Relations, Updated September 10, 2015

Iran Nuclear Agreement, Updated September 9, 2015

Statutory Qualifications for Executive Branch Positions, Updated September 9, 2015