Category Archives: Learning

The Buck Stops Where? Ambassador Files Grievance Over an OIG Evaluation Report

– Domani Spero

 

The following is a Foreign Service Grievance Board case (all names redacted) where an ambassador filed a grievance over a State/OIG Inspector’s Evaluation Report (IER). The Board held that the IER be expunged from the ambassador’s personnel file.

Now, you see why State/OIG stopped doing the Inspector’s Evaluation Reports? We don’t like the fact that OIG no longer issues IERs but we can now understand in real terms why.

This is why. Where does the buck stops?

The President sends a Letter of Instruction to all Chiefs of Mission appointed by the President, and the contents of each letter differs according to whether the COM has a bilateral/country or international organization portfolio. The President’s Letter basically gives a COM full responsibility for the direction, coordination, and supervision of all U.S. Government executive branch employees within the host country or in the relevant Mission to an international organization, except those personnel under the command of a U.S. geographic area military commander or on the staff of an international organization.

We’re shocked it has not been argued yet that ambassadors must first have prior counseling from the President of the United States regarding their performance prior to the issuance of an OIG Inspector’s Evaluation Report. Not that it matters now, since State/OIG has ended the practice of issuing IERs.

Via FSGB Case No. 2013-028

Grievant, a former Ambassador to REDACTED, appealed the Department’s denial of her 2013 grievance, claiming that an IER prepared in November 2011 focused primarily on the performance of her DCM and contained several “inaccurate statements.” Grievant claimed that inclusion of the IER in her OPF was prejudicial because she had not received counseling on the areas of her performance that were criticized in the report. After soliciting feedback from post personnel, the Department expunged portions of two statements in the IER, but otherwise found the remainder to be an accurate reflection of grievant’s performance, as corroborated by numerous statements from identified Mission employees.

The Board determined that grievant was not counseled on matters that were negatively discussed in the IER, nor was she given an opportunity to improve performance problems raised in the report. The Board concluded that regardless of the purpose for the IER, grievant was entitled to be counseled and provided a reasonable opportunity to improve before she could properly be critiqued on performance deficiencies in an IER. The Board held further that grievant met her burden of proving that she was unaware of the shortcomings mentioned in the IER; she had no reason to become aware of these deficiencies; and, therefore, that counseling could not be excused as harmless error. The Board further found that the IER contained a significant number of inadmissible comments about the performance of the DCM, an identified other employee, and was, therefore, written in violation of applicable regulations that govern the preparation of evaluation reports. The Board concluded that the IER is invalid and ordered it removed from grievant’s OPF.

The Foreign Service Grievance Board decision:

HELD: The Department committed a procedural error by placing in grievant’s Official Personnel File (OPF) a prejudicial Inspector’s Evaluation Report (IER) that included inadmissible comments about another identified employee, in violation of agency regulations, and without first counseling grievant on certain performance issues mentioned in the IER, or giving her an opportunity to improve her performance. The IER was ordered expunged from grievant’s OPF in its entirety.

There are clips included in the Report of Proceeding:

“I do believe Ambassador REDACTED was aware that DCM REDACTED activities were exacerbating the rift between the front office and the rest of the mission, but I believe it was a type of willful unawareness, perhaps delusional. . . . If [the Ambassador] was not aware or not willing to admit that this rift existed, she was deluding herself. . . . [In All Hands meetings] . . . to the Ambassador, this kumbaya session was clear evidence that she had her finger on the pulse of the mission. It was a charade, but no one could tell the emperor that he had no clothes.”

Grievant submitted the following statements from post employees:

- “I think she didn’t realize the impact the DCM was causing till [sic] the OIG arrived. . . .”

- “I don’t know if she recognized the seriousness of the problems or not. . . . I don’t know if the Ambassador was aware of them or not.”

- “I believe that Ambassador did not fully recognize the seriousness of problems at Embassy If she had recognized the seriousness of the problems, I believe that she would have addressed them in the beginning and not let things get so out of hand.”

The OIG inspection team leader wrote:

REDACTED showed little awareness of the significant impact on morale cause by front office management practices and actions. She was not aware of the extent of negative sentiment concerning front office communications, nor the depth of employee resentment of the intrusive and imperious management style of the DCM. Although scheduled and conducted numerous regular meetings with employees, staff members told inspectors they volunteered little real feedback to the front office, fearing the reaction and the subsequent damage to their careers.

The best part of this decision is this:

What remains are grievant’s claims that the IER improperly focused on the performance of the DCM and a claim that she had a right to counseling prior to inclusion of negative statements in her IER. As to her complaint about the focus of the IER, grievant points out that although the report was meant to address her management and leadership skills, it is largely directed at the DCM’s behavior and contains several comments that did not pertain at all to her performance. We find that what was at issue in the inspection was grievant’s alleged lack of awareness of, and inattentiveness to, the negative effect on post morale that was purportedly caused by the behavior of her subordinates. Because the concern was how well or poorly grievant was performing as Chief of Mission, we find that the IER should have focused on grievant’s performance vis-à-vis her detection and management of post problems caused by a subordinate.
[…]
We think the rule of fundamental fairness applies equally when the performance of an Ambassador is evaluated in an IER, as when an untenured officer receives his first EER. We conclude that “[c]riticisms included in the final [evaluation report] should not come as a surprise to [any] rated employee.” Accordingly, because we see no difference between the impact of performance criticisms in an EER and an IER on an employee’s career opportunities, we conclude that any employee whose work performance is evaluated in an IER, as in an EER, has a right to be notified and counseled about any perceived deficiencies and given a reasonable opportunity to improve before those deficiencies may be included in either evaluative document.

The parties do not contest that grievant received no counseling about any of the criticisms about her performance that were stated in the IER at issue. Grievant presented evidence that shortly before the OIG began its inspection at post in November 2011, the DAS from the regional bureau (and the Office Director visited and met with Mission employees in October. It is unclear whether these individuals received the same information as the OIG team, but grievant reports that neither of them counseled her on any of the matters later identified as performance weaknesses by the OIG team. If grievant’s superiors were made aware of any shortcomings in her work performance, then they should have, but did not, counsel her about them. If they were unaware of any performance deficiencies, then the Department must concede that grievant’s superiors could not, and did not, counsel her. In the absence of counseling, grievant did not have the opportunity to try to improve.

The Department argues that grievant was not entitled to be counseled on matters about which her supervisors were not aware. We do not agree. The fundamental fairness of a performance evaluation hinges on the provision of notice to the rated employee of his or her deficiencies, coupled with a reasonable period in which the employee can make efforts to improve. If a supervisor is unaware of the deficiencies, it is true that he or she cannot counsel the employee, but, it follows, then, that, unless the employee was independently aware of performance deficiencies, he or she ought not be negatively evaluated on those deficiencies of which neither the employee nor the supervisor were aware.

The Department also asserts that even in the absence of counseling, the criticisms contained in grievant’s IER should not have come as a surprise to her because she should have known of the morale problems existing at post. In support of this assertion, the Department provides numerous statements from Mission employees expressing their beliefs that grievant was aware of the problems raised in the IER, but failed to manage them. Grievant responds that not only did her supervisors not tell her of the employees’ complaints, but the employees themselves did not inform her. She speculates that “[i]n hindsight, I recognize that the DCM may have been shielding and insulating me from staff dissatisfaction.” She also cites a number of employees who stated that they did not think she was aware of how the DCM was behaving or how it was undermining morale.

Bureaucratic high drama,very instructive, read it below:

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Filed under Ambassadors, DCM, Foreign Service, FSOs, Govt Reports/Documents, Grievance, Huh? News, Leadership and Management, Learning, Realities of the FS, Staffing the FS, State Department, U.S. Missions

Don’t Give Up On Us Baby: State Dept OIG Writes Back on Leadership and Management

– Domani Spero

 

In the years that we’ve blogged about the State Department and the Foreign Service, we’ve covered the Office of Inspector General (OIG) quite a bit.  The complaints that reports to the OIG were ignored or forwarded to other parts of the bureaucracy are not new.  We have readers bending our ears about that specific issue for years.

Recently, we had a Burn Bag submission saying “The OIG can’t and won’t save us. They stress, the Bureaus, not the OIG, should be the “bad leadership police.”

That is troubling, yes?  To paraphrase the Dalai Lama, if people lose hope, that’s your real disaster. If employees start thinking and feeling that their institution do not care about them, how soon before the employees stop caring about their institution?

So we sent the following questions to the Office of Inspector General:

Is it true that complaints or allegations of bad leadership or mismanagement are forwarded by the OIG to the bureaus to handle?

Do you think that the bureaus are equipped to police their own ranks?

Who do you go to if you have complaints about mismanagement at the bureau level?

If top officials are not accountable for their bad leadership or mismanagement and as these officials are reassigned from one post to the next, doesn’t this build a negative impact on morale and ultimately on the institution?

I am trying to understand why the OIG, which is often, the last resort in many of these cases, does not think effective management and leadership is a priority as he embarks on his new tenure at State?

Yesterday, we received the following response:

 

Oops, excuse me, that’s Hutch’s 1977 smash-hit single. If you don’t remember him, that’s because I’m officially an oldster protected by ADEA.  And he’s that fellow from the original Starsky and Hutch.

 

Here’s the official OIG response, republished below in full:

Leadership and management are challenges for the Department and an oversight priority for the Office of Inspector General (OIG). IG Linick has discussed leadership and management issues directly with the Secretary and the Deputy Secretary for Management and Resources. Each of the divisions within OIG play a role, often collaborating to hold the Department accountable for ineffective leadership and mismanagement.

OIG’s Office of Investigations (INV) learns of ineffective leadership or management through Hotline reports, from our Office of Inspections (ISP), and in the course of its own investigations. INV addresses complaints about Department leadership and management in a number of different ways. OIG investigators conduct initial reviews of mismanagement involving fraud, waste, abuse, administrative misconduct, or retaliation against whistleblowers, for example, and refer matters to the Department of Justice when there is evidence of possible criminal or civil violations.

There are, however, circumstances that prompt OIG to refer leadership and management concerns to the Department. If, for instance, a complainant’s allegations relate to a personnel matter, such as allegations that an official used abusive language with subordinates, OIG may notify appropriate Department officials about the alleged perpetrator so that they may take action. Thus, if such a complaint were about a COM or DCM, OIG would notify the relevant Assistant Secretary and Director General. Matters referred to the Department are monitored for appropriate follow-up. In other circumstances, when warranted, OIG will send investigators to look into the allegations directly.

OIG’s Office of Investigations notifies OIG inspectors of allegations or complaints about leadership and management at posts and bureaus to help ISP prioritize its work and to identify areas that should be assessed during formal inspections. OIG monitors compliance with its recommendations and brings them to the attention of Congress through formal and informal means. ISP evaluates the effectiveness of leadership and management in the course of its inspections, and it may move up scheduling of a post’s inspection when these types of concerns surface in survey results or by other means.

Over the years, ISP has made recommendations to the Department aimed at improving Department-wide leadership and management issues, such as recommendations that the Department develop directives on leadership or management principles, conduct 360-degree surveys on its leaders, enhance First And Second Tour (FAST) mentoring, and be more innovative in providing sustained leadership and management training to Foreign Service Officers throughout their careers. The Department has already adopted some of OIG’s major recommendations, such as updating the Foreign Affairs Manual to address leadership. It has also begun to conduct its first 360-degree survey of COMs.

 

We  appreciate State/OIG’s effort  to address our questions. We hope this is helpful to our readers. We will have a follow-up post later on.

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Filed under Ambassadors, Assistant Secretary, Foreign Service, Leadership and Management, Learning, Lessons, Org Life, Quotes, Realities of the FS, State Department, U.S. Missions

Burn Bag: Who cares? Somebody please care, dammit! 😢

Via Burn Bag:

“Always fun to see the newbies’ burn bag submissions! Adjudicator guy meets girl and divorces wife, CA training is amateurish, and there are crappy managers? Sadly it’s par for this course. Along with: Career diplomat forces staff to have sex with him and gets slap on the wrist but keeps job and pension; married EFMs use Embassy office to hook up; and senior FSO torched by OIG but gets immediate promotion. The OIG can’t and won’t save us. They stress, the Bureaus, not the OIG, should be the “bad leadership police.” The State Dept doesn’t care about you, your family, or your career. The sooner you realize this the better. The good news is you’ve got to be incredibly unlucky to not/not get tenure. Enjoy the ride.”

via replygifs.net

via replygifs.net

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 Note: New officers/specialists are often referred to as “newbies.”  “EFM”stands for Eligible Family Member and refers to a spouse; same sex domestic partner (as defined in 3 FAM 1610); unmarried children under the age of 21; and parents, sisters, or brothers who are at least 51% dependent on the employee or the employee‘s spouse for support; are listed on the employees OF-126 (Dependency Report) or on the official travel orders of the employee.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Ambassador Freeman on American statecraft — It’s hard to think of anything that has gone right.

– Domani Spero

 

Ambassador Chas Freeman was the U. S. Ambassador to Saudi Arabia (1989 to 1992 ) during operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm. He served as Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs under Chester Crocker during the historic U.S. mediation of Namibian independence from South Africa and Cuban troop withdrawal from Angola.  More notably, he was the principal American interpreter during the late President Nixon’s meeting with Mao Zedong in China in 1972. He did tours in the Middle East, Africa, Asia and Europe. In the 1990s, he was appointed Assistant Secretary of Defense for International Security Affairs.  He is the author of several books including a favorite of ours, the The Diplomat’s Dictionary published by the U.S. Institute of Peace Press. We  previously blogged about Ambassador Freeman here and here.

On August 19, he gave a speech at The Hammer Museum in Los Angeles California on How Diplomacy Fails.  What’s racking up a remarkably poor track record?  “Hastily-arranged presidential phone calls, hopscotch huddles with foreigners by the secretary of state, scoldings of foreign leaders by U.S. spokespersons, suspensions of bilateral dialogue, sanctions,” etc, etc  —  for starters.  Glad to hear Ambassador Freeman bring these up.  We hope more would speak up.

 

 

We are republishing the text of the speech below; a must read as it explains a lot of what ails American diplomacy.

How Diplomacy Fails

We are here to discuss what we can learn from the failure of diplomacy to prevent, halt, and wrap up World War I.  We just heard a masterful review of what happened from Geoffrey Wawro.  He has already said most of the things I wanted to say.  So he’s left me  with no alternative but to actually address the topic I was asked to speak about, which is the failings of today’s American diplomacy in light of the deficiencies of diplomacy in 1914.

There are in fact some very disquieting similarities between the challenges statecraft faced back then and those it faces today.

The eve of World War I was also a time of rapid globalization, shifting power balances, rising nationalisms, socioeconomic stress, and transformative military technologies.  The railroad networks, barbed wire, dynamite, repeating rifles, machine guns, long-range artillery, aircraft and submarines that altered the nature of war then are paralleled by today’s cyber and space-based surveillance systems, drones, precision-guided munitions, sub-launched and land-based anti ship missiles,  missile defense and penetration aids, anti satellite missiles, cyber assaults, hypersonic gliders, and nuclear weapons.  Changes in the European political economy set the stage for World War I.  Changes in technology made it different from previous wars.

Armed conflict between major powers today would reveal that warfare has again mutated and developed new horrors for its participants.  But some factors driving conflict now would parallel those of a century ago.  In 1914, as in 2014, a professional military establishment, estranged from society but glorified by it, drew up war plans using new technologies on the fatal premise that the only effective defense is a preemptive offense.  Then, as now, these plans evolved without effective political oversight or diplomatic input.  Then, as now, military-to-military interactions within alliances sometimes took place without adequate supervision by civilian authority, leading to unmanageable policy disconnects that were revealed only when war actually broke out.

As the 20th century began, successive crises in the Balkans had the effect of replacing the 19thcentury’s careful balancing of interests with competition between military blocs.  This conflated military posturing with diplomacy, much as events in  the East and South China Seas, the Middle East, and Ukraine seem to be doing today.  Then, as now, decisions by the smaller allies of the great powers risked setting off local wars that might rapidly expand and escalate.  Then, as now, most people thought that, whatever smaller countries might do, war between the great powers was irrational and therefore would not occur.  And then, as now, the chiefs of state and government of the great powers practiced attention deficit diplomacy.  They were so engaged at the tactical level that they had little time to give full consideration to the strategic implications of their decisions.

Ironically, in light of what actually happened, few would dispute that the factors inhibiting war in Europe in 1914 were greater than those impeding it today.  European leaders were not only personally acquainted but, in many instances, related to each other.  They and their diplomatic aides knew each other well.  There was a common European culture and a tradition of successful conference diplomacy and crisis management for them to draw upon.  European imperialists could and had often solved problems by trading colonies or other peripheral interests to reduce tensions between themselves.  None of these factors exist today to reduce the likelihood of wars between the United States and China or Iran, or NATO and Russia, or China and Japan or India – to name only the pairings warmongers seem to enjoy talking about the most.

On the other hand, alliances today facilitate cooperation.  In practice, they no longer, as they did in 1914, oblige mutual aid or embody preconcerted common purposes.  This welcome but dishonorable fact reduces the moral hazard implicit in American defense commitments to weaker allies and diminishes the prospect that they might act rashly because the U.S. has their back.  It also reduces the danger of automatic widening and escalation of local wars.

No one wants war of any kind.  But, as events in Europe in the summer of 1914 remind us, discounting the possibility of war and not wanting it are not enough to prevent it from happening.  And, as the president suggested in his commencement address at West Point this May, we need to find alternatives to the use of force to advance our interests in the 21stcentury.  That means strengthening our capacity for diplomacy.

It is said that those who do not remember the past are condemned to repeat it.  But it is equally true that those who learn the wrong lessons from history must expect reeducation by painful experience.  So it’s not surprising that, since the end of the Cold War, American diplomacy has suffered repeated rebuke from unexpected developments.  Some of these have taken place in the Balkans, where World War I was kindled – and where we have arranged a ceasefire, installed a garrison, and called it peace.

But most challenges to our problem-solving ability are coming from other places and are producing still worse results.  Consider the north Korean and Iranian nuclear issues, Israel-Palestine, 9/11 and our ever-intensifying conflict with militant Islam, regime change in Iraq, the Russo-Georgian war, the Arab uprisings (including that in Syria), “humanitarian intervention” in Libya, the “pivot to Asia” amidst tussles in the South and East China Seas, the collapse of Sykes-Picot and the rise of Jihadistan in the Levant, and the Ukraine crisis, among other tests of American statecraft.  It’s hard to think of anything that’s has gone right.

It’s worth asking what we have got wrong.  Clearly, military strength alone is not enough to guarantee international order or compel deference to U.S. desires.  So Americans are looking for a more restrained and less militaristic way of dealing with the world beyond our borders.

The president nicely captured the national mood when he said that “our military has no peer,” but  added that: “U.S. military action cannot be the only — or even primary — component of our leadership in every instance. Just because we have the best hammer does not mean that every problem is a nail.”

That insight implies that we should be skilled at measures short of war, that is: diplomacy.  For many reasons, we are not.  To set aside  militarism and redevelop the capacity to shape events abroad to our advantage without a feckless resort to force, we need to unlearn a lot of bad habits and to reexamine some of the presuppositions guiding our approach to foreign affairs.   Military overreach cannot be offset by diplomatic incapacity.

Part of what is required is correcting dysfunctional assumptions about how to deal with ornery foreigners.  Denouncing them and breaking off dialogue with them is petulant.  It doesn’t solve  problems.  Refusing to meet with another government until it accepts and meets our moral standards is a sure recipe for impasse.  “Come out with your hands up or we won’t talk to you” is not a persuasive way to begin negotiations.  Declaratory “diplomacy” and sanctions entrench confrontation.  They neither mitigate it or address its causes.  We are seeing that effect now with Russia in Ukraine.

Short of the use of force, without tactfully persuasive conversation very few people and no nations can be convinced to change course.  It is difficult to get an adversary to yield when he believes his political survival as well as his dignity depend on not surrendering.  So as long as we know what we are going to say and what effect it is likely to have, it is better to talk than not to talk.  Those with whom we disagree need to hear directly and respectfully from us why we think they are wrong and harming their own interests and why they are costing themselves opportunities they should want to pursue and risking injuries they should wish to avoid.

It takes time to establish the mutual confidence necessary for such dialogue.  It is counterproductive to stand on our side of the oceans and give other nations the finger, while threatening to bomb them.  It does not make sense to react to problems in other nations by severing communication with them.  As Winston Churchill observed, “the reason for having diplomatic relations is not to confer a compliment but to secure a convenience.”  Yet, for example, we routinely withdraw military attachés following military coups.  Since our attachés are the only American officials who know and have credibility with the new military rulers, this is the equivalent of gagging, deafening, and blinding ourselves – a kind of unilateral diplomatic disarmament.  Our diplomatic technique badly needs an upgrade.

But the more fundamental problem for U.S. diplomacy is the moral absolutism inherent in American exceptionalism.  Our unique historical experience shapes our approach to our disadvantage, ruling out much of the bargaining and compromise that are central to diplomacy.  In our Civil War, World War I, World War II, and the Cold War, we demonized the enemy and sought his unconditional surrender, followed by his repentance, reconstruction, and ideological remolding. The American way of international contention formed by these experiences is uniquely uncompromising.   Our rigidity is reinforced by the mythic cliché of Hitler at Munich. That has come to stand for the overdrawn conclusion that the conciliation of adversaries is invariably not just foolish but immoral and self-defeating.

The Cold War reduced most American diplomacy to proclaiming our values, holding our ground, containing the enemy, and preventing inroads into our sphere of influence – the zone we called “the free world.”  Despite occasional talk of “rollback,” with few exceptions, our approach was static and defensive – the diplomatic equivalent of trench warfare.  In this formative period of American diplomacy, our typical object was not to resolve international quarrels but to prevent their resolution by military means.  So we learned to respond to problems by pointing a gun at those who made them but avoiding talking to them or even being seen in their company.

Without our realizing it, Americans reconceived diplomacy as a means of communicating disapproval, dramatizing differences, amplifying deterrence, inhibiting change, and precluding gains by adversaries.  For the most part, we did not see diplomacy as a tool for narrowing or bridging differences, still less solving them by producing win-win outcomes.  We seem to be having trouble remembering that diplomacy’s usual purpose is  to do these very things.

The experience of other nations causes most to see diplomacy and war as part of a continuum of means by which to persuade other states and peoples to end controversies and accept adjustments in their foreign relations, borders, military postures, and the like.  Given Americans’ history of isolationism alternating with total war, we tend to see diplomacy and armed conflict as opposites.  We describe war as a failure of diplomacy, not as a sometimes necessary escalation of pressure to achieve its aims.

Americans suppose that diplomacy ends when war begins and does not resume until the enemy lies prostrate before us.  We imagine that wars end when the victor proclaims his military mission accomplished rather than when the vanquished is brought to accept defeat.  Lacking a tradition of war termination through diplomacy, we have great difficulty successfully ending wars, as Korea, Vietnam, the Persian Gulf, Bosnia, Afghanistan, Iraq, and Libya all attest.  We have yet to internalize the need to reconcile enemies to the political consequences of military outcomes and to translate these outcomes into peace agreements – binding acceptances of a new status quo as preferable to its overthrow.

The failure of diplomacy in World War I left most Americans with a very jaundiced view of it.  Will Rogers summed this up when he said “the United States never lost a war or won a conference” and added “take the diplomacy out of war and the thing would fall flat in a week.”  As a nation, despite our seven decades of superpower status, Americans still don’t take diplomacy seriously.  Most of us see it as an expression of weakness – so much namby-pamby nonsense before we send in the Marines.  And, despite mounting evidence to the contrary, we still seem convinced that diplomacy is an amateur sport.

We show this in how we staff our country’s statecraft and diplomacy.  Our military and our spies are professionals.  But, for the most part, our foreign policy is crafted, led, and executed by ambitious amateurs – ideologues, the paladins of special interests, securocrats playing games of musical sinecures, political spin doctors, and the occasional academic.  Our ambassadors in important capitals are selected as a reward for their campaign contributions, not for their experience in diplomacy or competence at advancing U.S. national interests abroad.  All too often these days, our politicians fiddle while the world turns, leaving the diplomatic ramparts unmanned as crises unfold.  As an example, we had no ambassador to Moscow for the five months in which Russophobes and Russians pulled down an already rickety Ukraine, detached the Crimea from it, and reignited East-West confrontation in Europe.  On August 1, the U.S. Senate cast its last votes of the season, leaving 59 countries with no American ambassador.

America’s dilettantish approach to national security is unique among modern states.  We get away with it – when we do – mainly because our diplomacy is supported by very bright and able career officers.  But our foreign service works in an environment contemptuous of professionalism that more often than not leaves its officers’ potential unrecognized, unmentored, and underdeveloped.  (If the highest ranks of the diplomatic profession in the United States are reserved for men and women who have made a lot of money in other professions and avocations, why should our most talented young people – even those who want to serve our country – waste time apprenticing as diplomats?  Why not do something less dangerous and more lucrative, then buy your way in at the top?)  Under the circumstances, it’s hardly surprising that the United States has come to be known for its military prowess, not its foreign affairs literacy, the wisdom and imagination of its statecraft, or the strategic sophistication and subtlety of its diplomacy.  This is proving dangerous.  In an increasingly competitive world, diplomatic mediocrity is no longer good enough.

Americans must now consider whether we can afford to continue to entrust our diplomacy to amateurs.  Hastily-arranged presidential phone calls, hopscotch huddles with foreigners by the secretary of state, scoldings of foreign leaders by U.S. spokespersons, suspensions of bilateral dialogue, sanctions (whether unilateral or plurilateral), and attempted ostracism of foreign governments are racking up a remarkably poor track record in the increasingly complex circumstances of the post-Cold War world.  So is the dangerous conflation of military posturing with diplomacy.  If we Americans do not learn to excel at measures short of war, we will be left with no choice but to continue to resort to war to solve problems that experience tells us can’t be solved by it.

To prosper in the multipolar world before us, Americans will need to be at the top of its  diplomatic game.  We are a very long way from that at present.  And time’s a wasting.

 

Frankly, we’re exhausted watching Secretary Kerry fly here and there. We know he meant well, but what does it say when he is required to do the work that his ambassadors or special envoys should be doing?  As to the spokespersons, we have to confess that there are days, and there are many of them, when we are overwhelmed with great envy that the Pentagon has a Rear Admiral Kirby behind the podium. Well, boo! for me.

The original material is located at http://chasfreeman.net/how-diplomacy-fails/.  Republished here with Ambassador Freeman’s permission.

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Filed under Ambassadors, Diplomacy, Diplomatic History, Foreign Affairs, Foreign Policy, Foreign Service, Learning, Lessons, Obama, Secretary of State

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

– Domani Spero

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Read in full here.

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

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

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

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

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Filed under AFSA, Book Notes, Foreign Service, FSOs, Functional Bureaus, Interagency Cooperation, Learning, Lessons, Peter Van Buren, Public Service, Realities of the FS, State Department

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

 Via Burn Bag:

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

Via reactiongifs.com

Via reactiongifs.com

 

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Photo of the Day: Diplomatic Security’s Smoky Scenario Training

 

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U.S. government personnel evacuate a building through a smoky scenario September 9, 2013, at the Diplomatic Security (DS) Interim Training Facility in Summit Point, West Virginia.  All government personnel serving at U.S. embassies or consulates in high-threat regions of the world must undergo DS’s Foreign Affairs Counter Threat training before their deployment. (U.S. Department of State photo)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Special Immigrant Visa (SIV) Program for Iraqi Nationals to End Sept 30, Or How to Save One Interpreter At a Time

– By Domani Spero

In June this year, we blogged about the potential termination of the SIV program for Iraqis who have worked for or on behalf of the U.S. Government in Iraq (See Iraqi Special Immigrant Visa Program: Potential Termination on September 30, 2013). The recent OIG inspection report on the US Embassy in Baghdad and it constituent posts indicate that the impending termination of Iraqi SIVs at the end of September this year has not been publicized because US Embassy Baghdad, and the Bureaus of Consular Affairs (CA), and Population, Refugees and Migration (PRM) expect the program to be extended.

On September 12, USCIS sent a reminder and issued a statement that authorization for the Special Immigrant Visa (SIV) program for Iraqi nationals who worked for or on behalf of the United States government will expire on Sept. 30, 2013. Individuals applying under this program, including family members, must be admitted to the United States or adjust their statuses before Oct. 1, 2013.

The program was created by Section 1244 of Public Law 110-181, as amended by Public Law 110-242. It covers Iraqi nationals who—during the period between March 20, 2003, and the present—have been employed by or on behalf of the United States government in Iraq for a period of not less than one year. The expiration date also applies to spouses and unmarried child(ren) accompanying or following to join the principal applicant.

As announced at its inception, the Iraqi SIV program will expire on Sept. 30, 2013, at 11:59 p.m. EDT unless Congress extends the program. After Sept. 30, 2013, USCIS will reject any petitions or applications filed based on the Iraqi SIV program. Beginning Oct. 1, 2013, USCIS will suspend processing of any pending Form I-360, Petition for Amerasian, Widow(er), or Special Immigrant, or Form I-485, Application to Register Permanent Residence or Adjust Status, filed based on the Iraqi SIV program.

For updates, please check our website at www.uscis.gov or call the National Customer Service Center at 1-800-375-5283. You can also find useful information on the U.S Embassy in Iraq’s website at http://iraq.usembassy.gov/siv-special.html.

If the program will expire in three weeks, and the individual has to be admitted to the United States before October 1, 2013, the door is left with just a crack.  Who can get an SIV in three weeks and slip into that crack?

Matt Zeller,  a United States Army veteran of the Afghan War and a Fellow with the Truman National Security Project writes about a specific visa case, under a similar program in Afghanistan:

From 2011 until July 2013, Janis waited for word that the State Department had approved his visa. Several times the US embassy in Kabul asked him to file additional paperwork and even appear for medical and personal interviews. At every appointment Janis would ask how much longer the process would take, but no one could ever give him a more specific answer other than “months to years.”[…] Going through this complicated process educated me beyond imagination. I’m convinced that the current visa program, while well intentioned, cannot succeed as designed. […] for Janis to receive his visa, organizations such as the FBI, Homeland Security, and State Department all had to individually approve his visa application during their security background investigation, using their own individual opaque databases.

Read One Veteran’s Battle to Bring His Afghan Interpreter to the United States.

Something else Mr. Zeller did.  He started a Change.org petition and he and Janis did media interviews (by phone from Kabul). Yahoo! News reportedly published the first story about Janis on Sept. 6, and within hours the petition had thousands of signatures.  Here is the HuffPo Live video interview.

Mr. Zeller, a forceful advocate for the person who saved his life also asked supporters to contact their members of Congress and get these elected officials to write and call the U.S. Embassy in Kabul, the State Department, and anyone else they thought could help expedite Janis’ visa for approval. Note that visa petitions are approved by DHS, once approved, only then can visas be issued by State.  By the time it was over, and 104,588 signatures later, Mr. Zeller won his campaign to secure a visa for Janis Shinwari, his interpreter while he was in Afghanistan.  Now he is on a mission to save his other interpreter, Ehsan.

We admire what Mr. Zeller is doing for his interpreters.   But we worry about applicants who qualify for SIVs both in Afghanistan and Iraq but do not have vocal advocates for their cases.   In a perfect world, we don’t need a Matt Zeller or a change.org for the US Embassy in Kabul or Baghdad to issue these visas.  But the fact that Janis received a visa after a change.org petition and after a lot of press noise, tells us something folks already know — the system is not working as it should but one person can make a difference.   If Mr. Zeller can  replicate this campaign with Ehsan’s case, we suspect that in short order, the State Department will be swamped with similar campaigns.

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War Vet Alan Cutter on “the profound disquiet of the wounded soul”

Alan Cutter is a Presbyterian reverend who served in the US Navy from 1969-1975. He also worked as teacher at the Naval Academy Preparatory School and is currently a member of the International Conference of War Veteran Ministers.  He wrote Learning to come home from war: no one said ‘thank you’ to Vietnam vets for The Guardian.

What has not changed over the centuries is the profaneness of war; the frustration of returning to a society preoccupied with mindless vicarious thrill seeking, enthralled by “reality” shows; the loneliness one feels even in the midst of a crowd; the terror of the unexpected sight or sound or smell; the rage so easily triggered; and the profound disquiet of the wounded soul.
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I am waiting for someone to say “Forgive me?” That question both admits complicity for what happened and initiates a conversation. I’d like to tell that person this: my friend, we share responsibility. I’m proud to have served my country, even if it meant going to Vietnam. I’m sinfully proud of having been both an enlisted man and an officer. I did my best in an untenable situation. But I wasn’t prepared for the haunted eyes in the refugee camp, or the cries of the wounded, or the angry, wary stares of the villagers. Forgive us, yes, if that will ease your mind. But if you will stay and listen to the story, then together we may find salve for our wounded souls.

Thus begins the risky pathway of healing. Will you, beloved and fortunate citizen, do that duty for some returning warrior who has served our nation?

Read in full here.

– DS

 

 

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Free Online Class on Coursera: Fundamentals of Personal Financial Planning

This might be of interest to our regular readers but may be particularly helpful to State’s EFMs and third culture spouses.  Coursera is offering a 7-week long online course on financial planning for free.

About the Course | This course was created to help those who cannot afford extensive planning assistance better understand how to define and reach their financial goals. It provides basic understanding so informed decisions can be made. The course can also be seen as a reference for individual topics that are part of personal financial planning.

Course Syllabus

Week One: Where Are You? Where Are You Going?
Week Two: Taxes
Week Three: Defense — Insurance
Week Four: Investing
Week Five: Funding Retirement
Week Six: Doing the Math and Making Reasonable Assumptions;
Week Seven: Estate Planning

The course is taught by Avi Pai, CFP®, CRPC®, AIF® , a Managing Partner and a Certified Financial Planner Practitioner with the Irvine office of Provence Wealth Management Group (LPL Financial).  The class started on Jan 14 so you can still catch up.  Sign up here.

This course is offered by Coursera, a start-up in the fast-evolving arena of free online college courses.  Check it out.

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