Category Archives: Life After Jerusalem

AFSA Urges State Dept to Move Swiftly to Ensure Equality of All FS Families

The American Foreign Service Association released the following statement urging the State Department to move swiftly  to ensure equality of all FS families in light of the June 26, 2013 SCOTUS decision on DOMA:

AFSA welcomes today’s Supreme Court decision declaring the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) unconstitutional.

AFSA President Susan R. Johnson said “AFSA has long advocated for full equality for the same-sex spouses of our Foreign Service employees.  Much progress was made during Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s time in office as far as access to benefits is concerned.  Given that he was one of only fourteen Senators to vote against DOMA in 1996, we know Secretary of State John Kerry is committed to full equality.  Now it’s time to finish the job on a federal level.”  She added: “We urge the Department of State, USAID and the other foreign affairs agencies to move swiftly to ensure full equality for all Foreign Service families, including health, pension, and immigration rights.”

AFSA urges a quick resolution of any outstanding bureaucratic issues that may hinder any legally-married same-sex couples from having immediate and full access to over 1,100 federal benefits.  Our LGBT Foreign Service personnel perform admirable service on behalf of this country all over the world, and their full right as Americans should now be recognized as quickly as possible.

Secretary Kerry also released a Statement on Supreme Court Ruling on the Defense of Marriage Act with this:

“To fully implement the requirements and implications of the Court’s decision, we will work with the Department of Justice and other agencies to review all relevant federal statutes as well as the benefits administered by this agency. We will work to swiftly administer these changes to ensure that every employee and their spouse have access to their due benefits regardless of sexual orientation both at home and abroad.”

Life After Jerusalem writes, “No more skim milk marriage for me and my wife!”

Adventures by Aaron writes, “I just want you to know that, today, I am incredibly happy.”

To our blog pal D and his beloved somewhere  in Asia, and to 4G and her house full of love, we’re sending you hugs and kisses.  To a friend and his family somewhere in the far continent, you can come home again, dude!

(♥_♥)

 

 

 

 

About these ads

Leave a comment

Filed under Court Cases, Foreign Service, FS Benefits, FSOs, John F. Kerry, Life After Jerusalem, Secretary of State, Spouses/Partners, State Department

State Dept Holds Memorial Service for Anne Smedinghoff

There was a memorial service held at the State Department today for Anne Smedinghoff.  According to Life After Jerusalem, the ceremony was closed to the press at her family’s request.  If you are part of the State Department community, you can watch it via BNET at bnet.state.gov/meetings.asx or later on BNET’s Video-on-Demand archive.

Secretary Kerry:

For so many, there’s been a “there but for the grace of God go I” sentiment in how everyone saw in Anne’s idealism and her courage just a little bit of who we’d all like to be, and more than a little bit of a reminder that in this dangerous world that calls on foreign service professionals, the risks are always with us.
[...]
What I hope we can do this week is celebrate Anne’s life together. So this Thursday, May 2, I ask you to help remember Anne by joining me and Anne’s family – Tom, Mary Beth, Mark, Regina, and Joan – at a memorial service that will celebrate her and honor her ideals.”

There were others at the memorial with speaking parts but only the one by Tara Sonenshine, the outgoing Under Secretary for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs has so far been posted online:

I’d like to thank Under Secretary Kennedy and Father Moretti for their moving words. I’d also like to extend a warm embrace to Anne’s family, friends, and colleagues; and to the mother of Kelly Hunt. Also to Steve Overman, Jeff Lodinsky, and the other U.S. civilians hurt in this incident; and to the families of the three servicemen just mentioned by Under Secretary Kennedy, who also lost their lives.

We have heard, and we will hear, much about Anne as a person. I want to talk about Anne as a member of the public diplomacy family.

You may read the text of the full remarks here. No photos or video appear to be available to the public for this memorial service.

Also just to note that Jeff Lodinsky was wounded in the Kunar suicide bombing incident last year, not the Zabul incident that killed Anne Smedinghoff.  This is the first time we’ve heard about Steve Overman. We don’t know if he was wounded in Kunar or in Zabul. We think he might be with USAID but could not get confirmation on that.

 

– DS

 

 

 

 

 

 

Leave a comment

Filed under 68, Foreign Service, FSOs, John F. Kerry, Life After Jerusalem, Memorial, State Department

Oh hello there — we’re in today’s In the Loop show, no photos please!

WaPo’s Emily Heil gave Diplopundit a walk-on part in today’s In the Loop.

The State Department is considering instituting an extreme version of the famous 7-second delay used to keep profanity off live TV.

The department is rewriting its rules on social media, blogging, speeches and other appearances by employees, suggesting that officials get a full two days to review an employee’s proposed tweets and five days to give a yea or nay to a blog post, speech, or remarks prepared for a live event, according to the blog Diplopundit.
[...]
State Department deputy spokesman Mark Toner tells the Loop the still-in-the-works changes are merely updates “to recognize the dynamic and decentralized nature of the 21st century information environment.”

We know agency budgets are tight all around, but it sounds like the State Department better spring for some extra red pens.

Read in full here.

Also see Life After Jerusalem: New Rules on the Use of Media: going back to “people to bureaucracy to people”

Just to be sure, this is in reference to the — okay, “still-in-the works” changes of 3 FAM 4170 and not/not 5 FAM 790 released in 2010 which set the rules for the use of social media by State Department employees.

We’ve asked if these new changes have any bearing on spouses and partners of State employees but have not heard anything back.

As mentioned in this blog before, among the listed authorities of 5 FAM 790 is 3 FAM 4125, Outside Employment and Activities by Spouses and Family Members Abroad.(pdf)  The regs say “Family members of Department personnel working abroad who create and/or use social media cites must adhere to the policies contained in 3 FAM 4125.”

That section of course, is like Mars, without the rover.

domani spero sig

 

 

1 Comment

Filed under Blognotes, Digital Diplomacy, Foreign Service, FS Blogs, Life After Jerusalem, Regulations, Social Media, Spouses/Partners, State Department, Technology and Work

Say Goodbye to NEA Bureau Boss, Jeffrey Feltman

On May 22, 2012, the State Department spokesman confirmed that “Assistant Secretary Feltman has advised Secretary Clinton that he would – that he plans to retire at the end of the month and that he is going to be pursuing other opportunities.” Liz Dibble, NEA’s PDAS will reportedly be steering the ship in the interim.

Below is Jeffrey Feltman, then US Ambassador to Lebanon during the 15,000 amcit evacuation via Cyprus in 2006. Unfortunately, he’s not the most Flickr-friendly official we have and we do not have a lot of photos to share.  But he is not altogether invisible.  Click here to view a few more photos in a slideshow of the outgoing NEA boss.

Ambassador Feltman with U.S. Marine Brigadier General Carl Jensen during the evacuation of Beirut, July 2006
(photo via Wikipedia)
Click here to view slideshow

Digger of Life After Jerusalem has a nice post (would tickle FS bloggers, too) on Secretary Feltman saying, “Don’t go.”

The IG inspectors also had great things to say about him when they reviewed the bureau in May 2011:

The Assistant Secretary has served throughout the region, including as Ambassador in Lebanon, as well as principal deputy assistant secretary and acting Assistant Secretary immediately prior to his current position. He received consistently high marks from employees throughout the bureau and the Department for his knowledge of the region, his communication skills, and his genuine concern for his staff and their workload. His own grueling schedule only reinforced that appreciation.

Each Friday, the Assistant Secretary convenes an open meeting that all bureau employees and key contacts inside and outside the Department may attend. Interagency contacts praised the front office for its professionalism, transparency, and openness, saying it resulted in better communication for all sides as they work together on difficult and urgent issues.

The Assistant Secretary, DASes, and EX director take an active interest in filling the bureau’s positions with the best officers they can find. The need to fill key Iraq slots over the past 7 years has resulted in many non-NEA hands coming into the bureau. The Assistant Secretary is understandably proud of this influx of new blood. Competition for prime NEA slots remains fierce, despite the long hours.

So there, that’s why he will be missed.

We do not have confirmation for this but he is reportedly heading to the UN Secretariat as Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs (DPA).  Good for him!

About where he’s going:  Established in 1992, DPA is the lead U.N. department for peacemaking and preventive diplomacy. According to the UN, the Under-Secretary-General manages the department, advises the Secretary-General on matters affecting global peace and security, carries out high-level diplomatic missions and provides guidance to peace envoys and political missions in the field.  The Under-Secretary-General also serves on the Secretary-General’s Policy Committee, the highest decision-making body within the U.N. Secretariat, and chairs the Executive Committee on Peace and Security, a high-level body for interagency and interdepartmental coordination.  In addition to its more than 250 professional and administrative staff at U.N. headquarters in New York, DPA draws from the work of political and peace-building missions under its supervision, which employ more than 1,700 national and international staff in Africa, Asia and the Middle East.

Sounds like an interesting gig, with all best wishes!

Domani Spero

Leave a comment

Filed under Ambassadors, FS Blogs, Life After Jerusalem, Regional Bureaus, Retirement, State Department, UN

AFSA opposes mid-level lateral entry program to address mid-level experience gaps (updated)

The Harry S. Truman Building located at 2201 C...Image via WikipediaThe leaked QDDR contained a couple of sections on staffing issues at both USAID and the US Foreign Service. See below:

Building USAID as the World’s Premier Development Agency

Challenge 

  • USAID experienced a 38% decline in its workforce between 1990 and 2007 resulting in diminished capacity to manage programming and resources
  • Reduced capacity has increased reliance on contracting to fulfill USAID’s mission
  • Other U.S. agencies and offices have assumed roles that affect USAID’s programming

QDDR Response 

  • Advance the following QDDR reforms, introduced as part of USAID Forward:
  • Triple mid-level hiring at USAID by increasing the cap on mid-level Development Leadership Initiative hires from 30 to 95 per year
  • Bolster USAID’s policy leadership by creating the Policy, Planning and Learning Bureau and the Office of Science and Technology
  • Build budget capacity through the Office of Budget and Resource Management, to prepare a comprehensive USAID budget proposal by FY13, to be reviewed and approved by the Secretary and Deputy Secretary and incorporated into the overall assistance budget
    Create a Working Capital Fund by charging a fee for acquisition and assistance awards to help align and fund USAID programs
    Introduce more outcome-level indicators to track program progress and launch a new evaluation policy starting in January 2011

Recruiting, Training and Retaining a 21stCentury Workforce

Challenge

  • U.S. diplomats and development experts are the backbone of America’s civilian power. State and USAID must recruit, train and retain a 21st century workforce
  • Over the past five years, State and USAID have been called upon to significantly expand their presence and operations in frontline states such as Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Iraq
  • Global civilian operations require a workforce that is ever more innovative, entrepreneurial, collaborative, agile and capable of taking and managing risk

QDDR Response

  • Close the experience gap by tripling mid-level hires in the Development Leadership Initiative at USAID and expanding limited-term appointments at State
  • Recruit and retain highly skilled Foreign Service Nationals by creating expert level positions at USAID
  • Seek more flexible hiring authorities to attract expertise; enlarge the pool of candidates with specialized skills
  • Expand Foreign Service Officer conversion opportunities for State Department Civil Service and Foreign Service personnel
  • Tie promotion to training and expand the range of training opportunities

AFSA apparently has not been invited into the QDDR discussion.  Susan Johnson, the President of AFSA has sent a Message on QDDR Draft Recommendations on “Recruiting & Training” (h/t to Digger of Life After Jerusalem). Excerpt below:

In its briefing to AFSA, the department has asserted that it does not intend to establish a mid-level lateral entry program at the State Department. We will work to ensure that this does not happen. What has so far been revealed about the QDDR draft recommendations relating to recruiting and training suggests that it seeks to address the (unspecified) mid-level experience gap in broad terms. AFSA’s position remains clear: We believe that mid-level hiring programs are not and have not been the best way to address mid-level experience gaps for the Foreign Service at all agencies. Like our military, the Foreign Service consists of commissioned officers, who serve on an up-or-out basis and are subject to the discipline of worldwide availability. Lateral entry is disruptive to the system and undermines morale in the same way it would if introduced into our military services.

At State, the “hiring surge” of the last few years has brought in thousands of new entry-level officers, many with strong academic credentials and extensive work experience. We believe that a better, more flexible, quicker and less costly way to address any mid-level gap is to identify and give opportunities for rapid advancement and training in supervision and management to the best of the entry level officers and to draw on Foreign Service retirees – in effect, our “Foreign Service reserve” – who have the needed experience, need no training, know how embassies and missions work, can mentor and coach, and are, by definition, short term. More flexible hiring authority to use retirees to fill mid-level experience gaps, with appropriate sunset provisions, is a tool the Secretary of State should have and should use.

In contrast to the State Department, the QDDR recommends hiring 95 mid-level technical experts at USAID. While AFSA recognizes the occasional need to bring in mid-level technical experts not currently available in the agency, we are not convinced that the numbers proposed are critical to carry out USAID’s work. The need at the FS-2 and FS-3 levels can be largely met in a cost-effective manner by appointing personnel with the same skills at the FS-5 and FS-4 levels. In any case, AFSA needs to be included in any work-force analysis in order to assure that only justifiable hiring takes place.

The QDDR recommends expanding opportunities for State Department Civil Service personnel to convert to the Foreign Service, seeking more flexible hiring authorities to attract expertise, and tying promotion to training. The current conversion procedures were negotiated with AFSA, and we continue to welcome qualified career Civil Service colleagues who utilize these existing procedures.

We have asked for a detailed briefing about the scope and nature of the mid-level deficit of positions at State and USAID, and expect to receive it shortly.
[...]
We remain ready to contribute constructive proposals to ensure that the QDDR process enhances the operation of the Foreign Service. We look forward to working with management to ensure that: (1) any mid-level needs are carefully and transparently identified and documented; (2) established procedures to fill such gaps are followed; and (3) any remedial measures proposed strengthen our professional diplomatic and development services rather than weakening or politicizing them.

Read the whole thing here.

Not too long ago, we talked to an FSO who was holding down the fort at his/her post, juggling three other jobs beside his/her own. He/She could not take any long vacation because the work does not get done while he/she is away — it just balloons up for him/her to tackle on the next work day.  That officer was a breath away from total burnout.

The experience gap is a particularly important issue to address in an agency not known for growing its leaders effectively.  State needs good leaders and managers to teach the entry level officers the ropes of the trade so to speak.  But if you have a shortage of midlevel officers, who will do the teaching and mentoring? And if you have midlevel officers already handling one or two other jobs, how will they find time to mentor their junior officers?

Given the budget situation being what it is, it is hard to imagine that the staffing spurts for the State Department in the last couple of years could be sustained in the coming years.  As well, the expected departures of boomers in the next several years (sooner if the economy picks up) gave us pause.  We are speculating that the experience gaps at the midlevels will actually get worse in the foreseeable future. 

This problem has been persistent in the last several years. We have not seen or heard any creative ideas to resolve this problem for the long term.  How much longer will the “when we’re fully staffed” be part of the FS wish list for Santa?  How many of the expanded limited appointments would be spouses and partners? How much expansion in the CS to FS conversion? Most limited appointments going to the warzones, how many are going to temporarily fill in the gaps in the hardship posts that are not in the warzones?     

We also note that a GAO report released in 2009 concluded that “State faced a 28 percent greater deficit at the FS-02 level than it did in 2006, with mid-level positions in the public diplomacy and consular cones continuing to experience the largest shortages of staff overall.”

We asked some FS folks about their thoughts on AFSA’s message and the midlevel staffing issues particularly in reference to the GAO conclusion above. Below is what we got, all in blind quotes for understandable reasons:

From a midlevel FSO currently posted in a warzone:

“I don’t have particularly strong opinions on this topic. (To confess my ignorance: I don’t even know what QDDR stands for). I can see how AFSA would be opposed to such a program; simultaneously, USAID has a mid-level entry program that seems to work fine. It seems like upping the number of mid-level officers might make bidding (a process I currently find nauseatingly Byzantine, right at the cross roads of high school popularity contest and begging for coins on the side of the road) more difficult, but if it’s good for the service, it hardly seems fair to complain.”

From an upper midlevel FSO currently assigned in WDC:

I heard several times in meetings here that in Summer 2011, there will actually be 40% fewer FS-02 officers than FS-02 jobs.  Then, of course, you have the recent huge hiring surge and no places to put those people, because the shortage is at mid-level, not entry level.  So bureaus are in the position of ceding massive numbers of mid-level jobs to entry-level just to get them filled.

[M]id-level entry is problematic for a variety of reasons, many of which involve fairness to those who came in the traditional way, not the least of which is negatively impacting career mobility.  The solution to all of this, of course, is to consistently fund DOS, instead of going through these boom or bust cycles that cause these bubbles to begin with.



From a senior FSO who retired from the FS:

I agree with AFSA on this issue. It is not 02 bodies that the service needs; it needs experienced, competent 02s. I can’t speak for PD, but I know that CA management has – and could easily acquire more of – a great deal of knowledge about its individual officers. I also know that CA still frequently fills positions because they need to be filled and there is an officer willing to go there, not because the officer is a good fit for the position, or is even competent. There are at least two SFS officers I personally know of who should never be allowed to run a house-cleaning service, let alone a large, sensitive consular section. Yet they continue to get assignments, and perform them badly.


Equally, CA has sometimes not removed officers from obviously bad fits because they were unwilling or unable to easily locate and recruit competent replacements. These two faults are not inexcusable, but they could be remedied.


I would say that CA needs to exercise more flexibility in assigning and moving officers, including – for example – asking selected 03 officers to fill open 02 positions; in re-training others; in conducting come-to-Jesus meetings with those who aren’t doing as well as they could; in letting known, irredeemably bad ones walk the halls; in asking consular-coned officers who serve most of their careers outside consular, to come back home for selected assignments; in guaranteeing that new officers receive both the training and the nurturing that they need to assure their competence, their confidence, and their pleasure in their new chosen profession, and to make them happy to do consular work. Etc.


A good private company would not run so haphazardly. I have enormous confidence in the basic competence of CA management, and its sense of responsibility. What I don’t have is confidence that CA takes its responsibilities seriously enough to change its overall philosophy.

From an FSO who has been in the service for 3-5 years, currently overseas:

I’m torn.  On the one hand, don’t we already do something like this – let people who have no clue about FS culture and practice run missions or offices, as long as they pay enough money to the right candidate?  On the other hand, I do believe that it’s a rare person who can come into an organization that’s as insular, interdependent, and self-reverential as we are and truly fit in well, or effect change in a constructive manner.


I’ve purposely written that to sound a bit whiny, because I think the position is a bit whiny.  Nonetheless, it’s one I hold.  What organism or organization doesn’t have self-interest in perpetuating its inertia?  I know we tried mid-level hiring once, and by accounts it was a disaster.  So maybe there’s another way to do it – isn’t that why we’re hired, to think creatively and flexibly? 


I was hired at the end of the post-DRI period, when hardly anyone was coming into the system.  People hired in the four years or so before me are shooting up the system rather quickly, but because of the huge bubble right behind me, I actually get into the bidding process and it’s going to be a nightmare.  So yes, it personally sucks for me…  but that doesn’t mean I oppose the ramp-up in hiring.  Maybe midlevel hiring is the way to fix that gap?  Or maybe just continuing the expanded hiring of JOs, knowing that it will eventually sort itself out.

An FS-02 Consular Officer writes (added on 12/14/2010):

I’ve always thought that bringing in some people at the mid-level would help shake up the “group think” that is indoctrinated in to most (but not all) FS generalists.  But one thing really irks me about the QDDR proposal — where are the hard cold (detailed) stats to support that the notion that there is this horrible mid-level gap.  I am an -02 consular officer (and generally not half bad at my job) but yet I look at the recent promotion stats and see that the recently released 2010 promotion stats show that consular officers were promoted at the 2nd to last rate of all generalists at the -02 (to -01) level.  [Combining the classwide and functional board stats, only 30 of 209 promotion-eligible consular officers were promoted last summer.  And let me tell you that bidding as an -02 or -01 consular officer definitely illustrates that there are far more consular officers than consular jobs at this level.  I can’t imagine where the stat comes from that there are 40% fewer consular officers at the -02 level than consular jobs at that level.  I would need to see lists of both to really believe it.  From previous assignments serving inside HR, I know they are well versed at spinning numbers to support whatever they are after.  So I’m putting aside my dreams of independent thinkers (mid-level entrants) and waiting for the Department to prove what it is talking about re mid-level gap.

 
Related item:

Leading through Civilian Power 2010 Quadrennial Diplomacy & Development Review

 


Leave a comment

Filed under AFSA, Foreign Assistance, Foreign Service, Life After Jerusalem, Reform, State Department, USAID

AFSA opposes mid-level lateral entry program to address mid-level experience gaps

Image via WikipediaThe leaked QDDR contained a couple of sections on staffing issues at both USAID and the US Foreign Service. See below:

Building USAID as the World’s Premier Development Agency

Challenge 

  • USAID experienced a 38% decline in its workforce between 1990 and 2007 resulting in diminished capacity to manage programming and resources
  • Reduced capacity has increased reliance on contracting to fulfill USAID’s mission
  • Other U.S. agencies and offices have assumed roles that affect USAID’s programming

QDDR Response 

  • Advance the following QDDR reforms, introduced as part of USAID Forward:
  • Triple mid-level hiring at USAID by increasing the cap on mid-level Development Leadership Initiative hires from 30 to 95 per year
  • Bolster USAID’s policy leadership by creating the Policy, Planning and Learning Bureau and the Office of Science and Technology
  • Build budget capacity through the Office of Budget and Resource Management, to prepare a comprehensive USAID budget proposal by FY13, to be reviewed and approved by the Secretary and Deputy Secretary and incorporated into the overall assistance budget
    Create a Working Capital Fund by charging a fee for acquisition and assistance awards to help align and fund USAID programs
    Introduce more outcome-level indicators to track program progress and launch a new evaluation policy starting in January 2011

Recruiting, Training and Retaining a 21stCentury Workforce

Challenge

  • U.S. diplomats and development experts are the backbone of America’s civilian power. State and USAID must recruit, train and retain a 21st century workforce
  • Over the past five years, State and USAID have been called upon to significantly expand their presence and operations in frontline states such as Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Iraq
  • Global civilian operations require a workforce that is ever more innovative, entrepreneurial, collaborative, agile and capable of taking and managing risk

QDDR Response

  • Close the experience gap by tripling mid-level hires in the Development Leadership Initiative at USAID and expanding limited-term appointments at State
  • Recruit and retain highly skilled Foreign Service Nationals by creating expert level positions at USAID
  • Seek more flexible hiring authorities to attract expertise; enlarge the pool of candidates with specialized skills
  • Expand Foreign Service Officer conversion opportunities for State Department Civil Service and Foreign Service personnel
  • Tie promotion to training and expand the range of training opportunities

AFSA apparently has not been invited into the QDDR discussion.  Susan Johnson, the President of AFSA has sent a Message on QDDR Draft Recommendations on “Recruiting & Training” (h/t to Digger of Life After Jerusalem). Excerpt below:

In its briefing to AFSA, the department has asserted that it does not intend to establish a mid-level lateral entry program at the State Department. We will work to ensure that this does not happen. What has so far been revealed about the QDDR draft recommendations relating to recruiting and training suggests that it seeks to address the (unspecified) mid-level experience gap in broad terms. AFSA’s position remains clear: We believe that mid-level hiring programs are not and have not been the best way to address mid-level experience gaps for the Foreign Service at all agencies. Like our military, the Foreign Service consists of commissioned officers, who serve on an up-or-out basis and are subject to the discipline of worldwide availability. Lateral entry is disruptive to the system and undermines morale in the same way it would if introduced into our military services.

At State, the “hiring surge” of the last few years has brought in thousands of new entry-level officers, many with strong academic credentials and extensive work experience. We believe that a better, more flexible, quicker and less costly way to address any mid-level gap is to identify and give opportunities for rapid advancement and training in supervision and management to the best of the entry level officers and to draw on Foreign Service retirees – in effect, our “Foreign Service reserve” – who have the needed experience, need no training, know how embassies and missions work, can mentor and coach, and are, by definition, short term. More flexible hiring authority to use retirees to fill mid-level experience gaps, with appropriate sunset provisions, is a tool the Secretary of State should have and should use.

In contrast to the State Department, the QDDR recommends hiring 95 mid-level technical experts at USAID. While AFSA recognizes the occasional need to bring in mid-level technical experts not currently available in the agency, we are not convinced that the numbers proposed are critical to carry out USAID’s work. The need at the FS-2 and FS-3 levels can be largely met in a cost-effective manner by appointing personnel with the same skills at the FS-5 and FS-4 levels. In any case, AFSA needs to be included in any work-force analysis in order to assure that only justifiable hiring takes place.

The QDDR recommends expanding opportunities for State Department Civil Service personnel to convert to the Foreign Service, seeking more flexible hiring authorities to attract expertise, and tying promotion to training. The current conversion procedures were negotiated with AFSA, and we continue to welcome qualified career Civil Service colleagues who utilize these existing procedures.

We have asked for a detailed briefing about the scope and nature of the mid-level deficit of positions at State and USAID, and expect to receive it shortly.
[...]
We remain ready to contribute constructive proposals to ensure that the QDDR process enhances the operation of the Foreign Service. We look forward to working with management to ensure that: (1) any mid-level needs are carefully and transparently identified and documented; (2) established procedures to fill such gaps are followed; and (3) any remedial measures proposed strengthen our professional diplomatic and development services rather than weakening or politicizing them.

Read the whole thing here.

Not too long ago, we talked to an FSO who was holding down the fort at his/her post, juggling three other jobs beside his/her own. He/She could not take any long vacation because the work does not get done while he/she is away — it just balloons up for him/her to tackle on the next work day.  That officer was a breath away from total burnout.

The experience gap is a particularly important issue to address in an agency not known for growing its leaders effectively.  State needs good leaders and managers to teach the entry level officers the ropes of the trade so to speak.  But if you have a shortage of midlevel officers, who will do the teaching and mentoring? And if you have midlevel officers already handling one or two other jobs, how will they find time to mentor their junior officers?

Given the budget situation being what it is, it is hard to imagine that the staffing spurts for the State Department in the last couple of years could be sustained in the coming years.  As well, the expected departures of boomers in the next several years (sooner if the economy picks up) gave us pause.  We are speculating that the experience gaps at the midlevels will actually get worse in the foreseeable future. 

This problem has been persistent in the last several years. We have not seen or heard any creative ideas to resolve this problem for the long term.  How much longer will the “when we’re fully staffed” be part of the FS wish list for Santa?  How many of the expanded limited appointments would be spouses and partners? How much expansion in the CS to FS conversion? Most limited appointments going to the warzones, how many are going to temporarily fill in the gaps in the hardship posts that are not in the warzones?     

We also note that a GAO report released in 2009 concluded that “State faced a 28 percent greater deficit at the FS-02 level than it did in 2006, with mid-level positions in the public diplomacy and consular cones continuing to experience the largest shortages of staff overall.”

We asked some FS folks about their thoughts on AFSA’s message and the midlevel staffing issues particularly in reference to the GAO conclusion above. Below is what we got, all in blind quotes for understandable reasons:

From a midlevel FSO currently posted in a warzone:

“I don’t have particularly strong opinions on this topic. (To confess my ignorance: I don’t even know what QDDR stands for). I can see how AFSA would be opposed to such a program; simultaneously, USAID has a mid-level entry program that seems to work fine. It seems like upping the number of mid-level officers might make bidding (a process I currently find nauseatingly Byzantine, right at the cross roads of high school popularity contest and begging for coins on the side of the road) more difficult, but if it’s good for the service, it hardly seems fair to complain.”

From an upper midlevel FSO currently assigned in WDC:

I heard several times in meetings here that in Summer 2011, there will actually be 40% fewer FS-02 officers than FS-02 jobs.  Then, of course, you have the recent huge hiring surge and no places to put those people, because the shortage is at mid-level, not entry level.  So bureaus are in the position of ceding massive numbers of mid-level jobs to entry-level just to get them filled.

[M]id-level entry is problematic for a variety of reasons, many of which involve fairness to those who came in the traditional way, not the least of which is negatively impacting career mobility.  The solution to all of this, of course, is to consistently fund DOS, instead of going through these boom or bust cycles that cause these bubbles to begin with.



From a senior FSO who retired from the FS:

I agree with AFSA on this issue. It is not 02 bodies that the service needs; it needs experienced, competent 02s. I can’t speak for PD, but I know that CA management has – and could easily acquire more of – a great deal of knowledge about its individual officers. I also know that CA still frequently fills positions because they need to be filled and there is an officer willing to go there, not because the officer is a good fit for the position, or is even competent. There are at least two SFS officers I personally know of who should never be allowed to run a house-cleaning service, let alone a large, sensitive consular section. Yet they continue to get assignments, and perform them badly.


Equally, CA has sometimes not removed officers from obviously bad fits because they were unwilling or unable to easily locate and recruit competent replacements. These two faults are not inexcusable, but they could be remedied.


I would say that CA needs to exercise more flexibility in assigning and moving officers, including – for example – asking selected 03 officers to fill open 02 positions; in re-training others; in conducting come-to-Jesus meetings with those who aren’t doing as well as they could; in letting known, irredeemably bad ones walk the halls; in asking consular-coned officers who serve most of their careers outside consular, to come back home for selected assignments; in guaranteeing that new officers receive both the training and the nurturing that they need to assure their competence, their confidence, and their pleasure in their new chosen profession, and to make them happy to do consular work. Etc.


A good private company would not run so haphazardly. I have enormous confidence in the basic competence of CA management, and its sense of responsibility. What I don’t have is confidence that CA takes its responsibilities seriously enough to change its overall philosophy.

From an FSO who has been in the service for 3-5 years, currently overseas:

I’m torn.  On the one hand, don’t we already do something like this – let people who have no clue about FS culture and practice run missions or offices, as long as they pay enough money to the right candidate?  On the other hand, I do believe that it’s a rare person who can come into an organization that’s as insular, interdependent, and self-reverential as we are and truly fit in well, or effect change in a constructive manner.


I’ve purposely written that to sound a bit whiny, because I think the position is a bit whiny.  Nonetheless, it’s one I hold.  What organism or organization doesn’t have self-interest in perpetuating its inertia?  I know we tried mid-level hiring once, and by accounts it was a disaster.  So maybe there’s another way to do it – isn’t that why we’re hired, to think creatively and flexibly? 


I was hired at the end of the post-DRI period, when hardly anyone was coming into the system.  People hired in the four years or so before me are shooting up the system rather quickly, but because of the huge bubble right behind me, I actually get into the bidding process and it’s going to be a nightmare.  So yes, it personally sucks for me…  but that doesn’t mean I oppose the ramp-up in hiring.  Maybe midlevel hiring is the way to fix that gap?  Or maybe just continuing the expanded hiring of JOs, knowing that it will eventually sort itself out.

 
Related item:

Leading through Civilian Power 2010 Quadrennial Diplomacy & Development Review

 


Leave a comment

Filed under AFSA, Foreign Assistance, Foreign Service, Life After Jerusalem, Reform, State Department, USAID

FSI on Social Media and Public Diplomacy

Digger of Life After Jerusalem has posted about her quick sojourn over at the Foreign Service Institute (or NFATC) for a course on new and social media (including, oh my long haired goat — what you can’t blog about)!  The keynote speaker for the course was John Matel of World Wide Matel.  He has a couple of items on public diplomacy and social media that I thought was interesting — the notion of a flatter organization and a coherent message as X factor in the era of social media. Excerpt below:

There was mention of the problems of staffing.  Social media duties tend to get tacked onto the workload.  Since most posts are already working with reduced staffs and already “doing more with less,” this can be a strain.  There are no easy solutions to the staffing problem.   All of them involve priorities.  We agreed that posts need to identify who will be doing the new work and how much time it will take.  Then they have to ask and answer the question whether the new duties are important enough to displace old ones, and if so what.   Of course, social media will sometimes automatically displace older duties.   The need to copy, collate and distribute is vastly decreased because of the social media, for example.   As with most management decisions, it might be better to reengineer and/or eliminate whole sets of tasks rather than tinker around the edges.

A flatter hierarchy might be very helpful, since a great deal of time is spent getting clearances and making fairly meaningless cosmetic changes to documents.   The old saying that you shouldn’t spend a dollar to make a dime decision goes for wasting time too.

The medium is not the message

Finally, we have to recognize that the advent of social media may be less immediately revolutionary than we initially thought.   Most people still get their information through traditional media, especially television and radio.  When President Obama spoke in Cairo, for example, it was hailed as a social media success but almost everybody who saw the speech, saw it on television.   Even people who saw it later on Internet saw it essentially through the television lens, just delivered differently.  And following up on social media has not proven as successful as the original excitement would have implied.  You still have to have something to say and you still have to maintain relationships.   Social media will become increasingly important as components in the toolbox of public diplomacy, but it will never be a standalone technique.   Social media can support programs, but it never can be the program itself.  The medium is not the message.   

Continue reading Notes on Social Media & Public Diplomacy.

PowerPoint on Public Diplomacy Persuasion (republished with John Matel’s permission):

Media Landscape FSI | April 12, 2010 (John Matel) http://d1.scribdassets.com/ScribdViewer.swf?document_id=29762695&access_key=key-2jn0b74tvqi41sxmln4u&page=1&viewMode=slideshow

Continue reading Public Diplomacy Persuasion.  Check out John Matel’s blog here.

Leave a comment

Filed under Digital Diplomacy, Foreign Service, FS Blogs, Life After Jerusalem, Public Diplomacy, Technology and Work

Insider Quote: No truer words said …

This one from our blog friends, Digger:  I had a rough first tour, and I went through a period where I was serious about quitting the service. But I ultimately learned that what I was told in A-100, that the Department is your family and will look out for you, was wrong. The Department is a bureaucracy that will meet its own needs, often at your expense. But the people you work with, the ones who show what corridor reputation is all about, they will become your family and they will help you serve your country through good times and bad. I am convinced that there have been times that they are the reason I have stayed, and I am very glad I did.”

(excerpted from comments online)

Leave a comment

Filed under FSOs, Life After Jerusalem, Quotes, Realities of the FS

Fortress Embassies: A Tanka or Two

New US Embassy in ProgressImage by Moto Pony via Flickr

Two blog friends, TSB of The Skeptical Bureaucrat and Digger of Life After Jerusalem have both written on the recent dancing in a tide pool about fortress embassies by an outgoing ambassador. After a weekend reading the OIG report on US Embassy Croatia, a very good report I must say, except for questionable staff morale attributed to the location of its new fortress office — I feel I must wade into the tide pool with a tanka or two…

But first, the OIG on that fortress Embassy in rural Croatia:

In 2003, Embassy Zagreb moved into a new embassy compound (NEC) whose fortress-like exterior and remote location are seen by many employees as a source of irritation and an impediment to conducting efficient, open relations with Croatia. Falling staff levels mean that current occupancy is 20 percent lower than the level for which the building was built. […]

US Embassy Zagreb via Wikipedia

Despite unanimous high regard for the Ambassador among the embassy staff and the Ambassador’s and DCM’s attention to the community, staff morale is not quite as high as expected for an operation so well run, in a pleasant and pro-American country. The principal reason appears to be the location of the NEC. This facility, which opened in 2003, has a very attractive, spacious, and well-designed interior, but it lies amid farmland and industrial warehouses, well outside the urban or even suburban reaches of Zagreb. Consequently, Croatians and third-country interlocutors rarely visit the Embassy; every meeting with a government official or other contact requires a bracket of up to an hour before and after in transit time; and the distance factor inevitably reduces the number of such meetings. In addition, the morning and evening commute consumes almost as much time as in cities with 15 times the population of Zagreb. Housing U.S. employees near the Embassy, as is planned, will reduce the commute but isolate them from the life of the country. In 20 years, Zagreb may sprawl outward to reach the Embassy; meanwhile, the NEC’s location thwarts the primary purpose for its existence. Embassy Zagreb is paying for its safety with two decades or more of unnecessary staff transit time and aggravation. In addition to the location issue, the building is at least 20 percent larger than necessary for the staff now required in Croatia.

Second, I did not realize that an OIG report can be quite inspiring as a muse. A tanka or two below:

the new embassy
fortress-like, aggravation
an impediment
to open air relations
a beauty obscured, secured

~ * ~

the new embassy
fortress-like irritation
one big obstruction
to candid conversation
an eyesore for sure, secure

Related articles by Zemanta

Leave a comment

Filed under Foreign Service, Govt Reports/Documents, Life After Jerusalem, New Embassy Compound, Org Life, Poetry, Skeptical Bureaucrat, U.S. Missions

Bidding Sucks, No, Really …

It’s that time of year again when FS folks are subjected to a routine stress test that is unique to the Foreign Service. Every couple of years or so you get to pour your eyes out over a list; mind you it’s no ordinary list. It’s a list of places where you (and your family) could potentially spend the next 2-3 or 4 years of your lives in. And it’s not just coming up with your own list, which is difficult enough but the process also includes getting post, the bureau and your guardian angels to “yes” on at least one post on your list, preferably your number #1 pick.

“Don’t get your hopes up” or “Don’t set your heart on XPost” you tell each other during this bidding season. That is, not until you get that cable officially announcing your assignment or you set yourselves up for a disappointment. Because we all know that a “handshake” is just a handshake, an offer can be broken, somebody’s top dog might bark louder than your top dog (and there goes the bone), the bureau might flip, and the sky might rain toads and frogs and you can end up in a place that’s not even in your bidlist …

It’s not altogether different from a roller coaster ride at times. Remember that time when you’ve been offered and you’ve reconciled yourself to going to Managua (#5 on your list) and then the incumbent decided at the very last day that he wanted to stay on that job after all? Party-pooper. What about Suriname? they asked. Can you imagine what it’s like having to reconcile yourself the second time to going to another post like Suriname? Yep, it’s best not to keep one’s hopes up.

The bidding season also includes one tradition from American politics that dates back to the 1800s – lobbying. I don’t know anyone who appreciate those K Street lobbyists — backdoor influence and all that. But what about those C Street lobbyists? I mean, the well connected, the self promoters, the skilled impression managers do get an edge over others without those skills when it comes to scrambling for the best jobs. Corridor reputation, my god, despite what HR says, still rocks. I wonder if this kind of job lobbying would eventually move into the social networking sphere or into a virtual corridor one day. Knowing the right people is important, not pissing off the right people is just as important. And you wonder why this organization has a pretty risk-averse culture?


The irony here, of course, is everybody gets into the FS on merit and then once you’re in, who you know trumps what you know. In fairness, lots of smart folks out there. But with all smarts bring equal, the one who is best connected/well networked/has best guardian angel gets the prize. I’ve read somewhere some top honcho saying they are making the bidding process more transparent. Is it, transparent, yet? Can you see who’s lobbying on behalf of which candidate on job #1 in your bidlist? For some reason, I don’t know why, this often reminds me of a certain VP’s energy task force.

There’s one good news. If you survive this ritual (and you will), you won’t have to do this again until 2012 or later. Around the blogosphere the stress test is on:

Donna from Email From the Embassy writes Apples Vs. Elephants: The Bidding Process:

This is really, really stressful. Because how do you compare, say, a small South American city where crime is rampant but the air is clean, with no direct flights but a great school, to a mid-sized European city where the tourism opportunities are abundant but the winters are dark and the language is unlearnable? How about a country where you have to find your own housing v a place where you need to rely on local medical care? A 12-room school v a place that requires high altitude medication be taken upon arrival? A place where you’re likely to be carjacked vs a place where you could get encephalitis?

KG from Diplodocus writes So Where Have I Been?

Now: we’re bidding. And planning a vacation. There’s a list of jobs and places that we’re staring at every day, and emails we’re sending to friends around the world for advice, for insight, for contacts. The entire exercise of trying to figure out where to go next is harrowing and frustrating. Actually, that’s too kind. Let’s be honest: no matter how good or how connected you are, bidding sucks. Show me an officer who says they enjoy bidding, and I’ll show you a liar.

The Girl in the Rain writes The Bid List is Out

Just typing that phrase gives me huge knots in my stomach. Now that there’s a list of positions I might be eligible to bid on (and lobby for, and kick and scratch and fight over, all hopefully without sounding either obsequious or malicious), I’m giving myself the very rare permission to think about the future. My immediate response to this is, “Oh God oh God oh God.” This whole bidding thing didn’t go well the first time. It went particularly un-well the second time, when I’d allowed myself to hope and then was left completely devastated. And now, the third time, the process has changed and it’s all about knowing the right people from having gotten the right positions the first two times. Um, yeah. Oh God oh God oh God oh God.

Digger of Life After Jerusalem writes a comment

I sympathize. I hate hate hate bidding. On the one hand, you think about the possibilities. Then you think about the fear of not getting a good job, or for us, not getting jobs together. And the whole lobbying thing drives me nuts. I think you should look at my resume and say, hmm, she sounds interesting. And then interview me. Instead I have to rely on previous bosses, some of whom I had to turn in to DS. Ick ick ick

1 Comment

Filed under Foreign Service, FS Blogs, FSOs, Life After Jerusalem, Org Culture, Org Life, Realities of the FS