Category Archives: Nominations

The Odd Story of “Vetting/Scrubbing” the Tenure/Promotion of 1,800 Foreign Service Employees in the U.S. Senate

– Domani Spero

We recently blogged about the hold on the commission, tenure and promotion of 1,705 career Foreign Service employees at the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. (See Is the U.S. Senate Gonna Wreck, Wreck, Wreck, the Upcoming Bidding Season in the Foreign Service?).

We wondered then if this was one more  unintended consequence from the Senate’s “nuclear” option.

Here’s what we were told by AFSA:

“FYI – this has nothing to do with the nuclear option – its strictly about State’s vetting process.”

AFSA then sent us a link of its April 1 notice to its membership: Ask the Senate to Support Foreign Service Employees!

After reading that, we were struck by the following line:

“We urge the SFRC to address issues regarding vetting of names for criminal background checks collaboratively. Simultaneously we ask the SFRC to grant these men and women the commissioning, tenure and promotions for which they’ve been recommended.”

Huh?

We asked AFSA again — what sort of vetting are we talking about here? All these nominees pending on the SFRC have Top Secret clearances and have been vetted by Diplomatic Security.

We got the following response:

“There are some differences in what the State Department does and what DoD does both in substance and information provided to oversight committees. […] it does NOT have to do with DS vetting and TS clearances.  There may be some periods of time and activity that are not being captured by current vetting process and I think State is amenable to working with committee to resolve.”

We did the underline there.  We don’t know what the heck that means!

So nothing to do with the nuclear option.

Nothing to do with Diplomatic Security vetting.

And nothing to do with TS clearances.

Wow!

What a strange mess! Anybody know what this is really all about?

Again from your elected AFSA official:

“Both the State Department and DoD vet/scrub the lists with internal and external agencies before they send the list to the Senate and its respective committees – SFRC, SASC.  This vetting/scrub is what is being discussed.”

Arghhh! Arff! Arff!

AFSA’s letter to the SFRC Chairman Bob Menendez and Ranking Member Bob Corker does not explain how this mess started in December 2013 but provides some details on the groups impacted by the Senate hold:

Now 1800 FS Employees Stuck at the SFRC

“[W]e are writing to convey our deep concerns about the impact that the delayed confirmations of tenure and promotions for career Foreign Service employees is having on U.S. diplomatic operations and U.S. national interests. When we raised this matter back in December 2013, nearly 1,300 individuals were affected by the holds. As of this time, there are approximately 1,800 members of the Foreign Service from four foreign affairs agencies (Department of State, USAID, Foreign Agricultural Service, and Foreign Commercial Service) who await Senate confirmation of appointment, tenure, or promotion.”

200 FS Employees Waiting to Officially Join the SFS

“Of these, over 200 employees of all four agencies are awaiting confirmation of their promotions into or within the Senior Foreign Service. These members are affected financially in two distinct ways. First, the pay increases earned as a result of their promotions cannot be paid until attestation by the president, nor can the promotions be back-dated so as to overcome this loss of remuneration. Second, unless the promotions are confirmed and attested before April 15, 2014, they are not eligible to be reviewed for, or to receive, performance pay. In addition, uncertainty besets the onward assignments of these 200 members. Failure to confirm these officers as members of the Senior Foreign Service affects the ability of consulates, embassies and USAID missions to conduct the business of the United States overseas.”

Over 900 Waiting for FSO Commissions

“Over 900 of the remaining officers are awaiting commissioning as Foreign Service officers and secretaries in the diplomatic service, almost half of whom have been waiting close to a year. Several of them are approaching the limit of their 5-year Limited Career Appointments. If that expires without their being commissioned, they are supposed to leave the Foreign Service in accordance with Section 309 of the Foreign Service Act of 1980 (22 USC §3949.) Moreover, as untenured officers, they are ineligible to receive some pay differentials for positions, which they currently encumber. Overall, this is having a severe effect on their morale and their eligibility for onward assignments. Unfortunately, this prolonged wait and uncertainty is coloring their impressions of public service at the beginning of their careers.”

Over 600 FSOs Without Consular Commissions

“Finally, over 600 new Foreign Service officers, just starting their Limited Career Appointments, have not yet received commissions as consular officers. Without a Consular Commission, these entry-level officers are technically not authorized to adjudicate visas and perform other consular work. In addition, the possession of a Consular Commission is generally a prerequisite to the granting by a host nation of all necessary diplomatic privileges and immunities under the Vienna Convention.”

 

So, when we read this, our immediate reaction was where is the State Department leadership in all this? We know that Secretary Kerry and his top officials are often traveling but  there’s a whole lot of ranking officials in Foggy Bottom who could interface with the leadership and staff of the SFRC. Where is the Under Secretary for Management? Where is the Deputy Secretary for Management and Resources?

But see – what we heard from insiders is that the State Department reportedly said: “AFSA had the lead on fixing this.” 

Well, that’s terribly odd, isn’t it?

Secretary Kerry was at the SFRC on April 8, and made passing mention of the nominations, but we sorta think he’s talking about the top ranking nominees.  We don’t even know if he’s aware that 1,800 of his employees are stuck in the committee:

“I also want to thank everybody on the committee for working so hard to move the nominations, which obviously is critical. I think our – it’s not the fault of the committee, but with a combination of vetting process and public process and so forth and the combination of the slowdown on the floor of the Senate, I think we’re averaging something like 220-some days and some people at 300 days and some over 365 days. So I have literally only in the last month gotten my top team in place one year in, and I’m very grateful to the committee.”

The Secretary did not specifically mention that  Ambassador Carlos Pascual who was nominated to be Assistant Secretary of State for Energy Resources on February 17, 2012 has been stuck in committee with Super Glue for 760 days.

Secretary Kerry also did not specifically mentioned the blanket senate hold during the April 8 hearing that affects about 10% of his agency’s workforce. And really — what do you do with 600 consular officers without their Consular Commissions? Have they been adjudicating visas without their Consular Commissions, and if so, what kind of immunity and diplomatic privileges are afforded these officials overseas?

But wait, like on teevee — there’s more!

We are now also hearing disturbing allegations that the genesis of this mess started long before December 2013, even going back to 2012.

It is alleged that this all started with one name on the promotion list. The original initiator (who apparently is not/not a stranger to AFSA and the State Department) allegedly brought a specific name on the promotion list to the attention of a Senate staffer. It is alleged that the action was taken using personal connections cultivated in the Senate. The key question at that time allegedly revolved around the security clearance of one — one specific individual and resulted in the removal of  this individual’s name from the promotion list.

Now, why would anyone do that?

If we could hire Veronica Mars, she’d definitely bug this  Mr. Initiator guy then we’d have the full story.

It is further alleged that  subsequent to the removal of that one name from the promotion list, the same SFRC staffer also identified several other FSOs who were subjects of “investigations” at some point in their careers. In most cases, these investigations reportedly were in the medium to distant past (as much as 10 or 15 years ago). Our source, clearly frustrated says that the fact that these investigations occurred in the past has not deterred the senator’s office pursuit of these FSOs.

This year’s senate hold reportedly started with an assertion by one senator’s office that the military vets people better than State does, and that the State Department list is “riddled with people” whose actions had been questioned “by OIG and others.”  We don’t know who consists of “others.” Our source familiar with this matter but speaking on background said that one senator reportedly vowed “not to approve any FS name until the matter was resolved.” The same SFRC staffer allegedly involved in the initial promotion list snafu works for this one senator. Senior State Department officials have reportedly demonstrated that, unlike the military, all State employees have TS clearances which include name checks. We’re told that at the senate’s request, the SOP on vetting at the State Department now goes “further” than what is required by the military. We do not know what “further” or additional layers of vetting were added.

The following areas were supposedly contentious:

#1. The automatic exclusion of any employees with criminal convictions.
#2. The separate nomination of any employees with “problems.”

Say, wait — how many State Department employees with criminal convictions have been able to hold on to their Top Secret clearance? One, two, a hundred, five hundred?

The number is .. wait for it …. ZERO.

How many State Department employees under investigation or with criminal convictions have been able to keep their names on the promotion list? Hey, don’t they yank your name from that promotion list as soon as there is an investigation with your name on it?

Employees who previously faced investigations and have successfully prevailed/survived the investigations will now be singled out on the promotion list? Why? Should they also be required to wear  “NOT GUILTY BUT” t-shirts to work?

If these employees have been cleared of wrongdoing, why is the Senate hardballing them?

We do not know the full story about this Senate hold involving some 1,800 FS employees but AFSA and the State Department should know who were the names targeted from the promotion lists and why. And if they don’t know the why, then they should find out, of course. If a Senate staffer who has worked in Congress for years just got out of bed one day and decided he/she wants to put a hold on 1,800 names because the “vetting” and “scrubbing” of names have been unsatisfactory all this time — we should all ask why.

Because.  Motive, motive, motive.

Let’s start at the very beginning… oh, where is Sherlock when you need him?

If  the allegation is true, that this whole merry go round mess was initiated by one Foreign Service insider and got out of hand … now then, you’ve got a mess, Houston. One FS person was initially targeted by another FS person using contacts in the Senate. That’s pretty personal.

It looks like you’ve got a petty little beaver who never left hight  high school …

And he’s representing the United States of America.

On Friday, April 11, AFSA released this: Senate Confirms Tenure and Promotion!

 

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Is the U.S. Senate Gonna Wreck, Wreck, Wreck, the Upcoming Bidding Season in the Foreign Service?

– Domani Spero

 

Do you know how many Foreign Service members are currently awaiting approval for commissioning, tenuring and promotion in the U.S. Senate? 1,705. That’s 1,705 regular folks  in the career service, excluding the ambassadorial nominees.

Some of these names have been submitted since January, and they are all still pending in a dark cauldron brewing in the SFRC.

In a message to its members on March 18, AFSA writes that it “has worked diligently for months on this issue and we would like to alert you that last week, important progress was made in resolving the holds, through the leadership of Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Senator Bob Menendez (D-NJ) and Ranking Member Senator Bob Corker (R-TN).   AFSA is confident that both sides have demonstrated the good will necessary to move the process forward and looks now to an amicable and expedited solution to this situation in the coming days.”

The Senate's side of the Capitol Building in DC.

The Senate’s side of the Capitol Building in DC. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

End of the month and here we are.  Neither the Chairman nor the Ranking Member of the SFRC has anything to say about this logjam on their website.

These employees are waiting Senate attestation so they are officially commissioned, tenured and promoted. And you know what, the Foreign Service “bidding season” is fast eating up the days in the calendar.

Why this can get complicated?

A good number of these employees pending at the SFRC will be “bidding” for their next assignments.   The Foreign Service is a rotational, rank-in-person system.  As a consequence, there will be “real” FS-01s, for example and “FS-02s” who are supposed to be treated as 01s but who technically are 02s.

The State Department reportedly is telling folks looking at bids to treat “02” bidders as “01s” and so on and so forth because of inaction from the Senate.

Oh crap, how do you sort them all out?

One frustrated official writes, “I can’t see how this won’t have a major impact as we’re evaluating employees.”

Not only that, we imagine that the bump in pay and associated hardship/danger/COLA allowances (a percentage of basic compensation) will also not get taken care of until the Senate officially blesses these names.

Since bad news comes in threes — you should know that Ambassador Arnold A. Chacon’s nomination as Director General of the Foreign Service got out of the SFRC in February 2 but has been stuck since then waiting for a full vote in the U.S. Senate.

WaPo recently reported that President Obama may have learned how to finally break through the months-long Senate logjam on his ambassadorial nominations: he or Vice President Biden must travel to the countries where nominees would be headed.

Unfortunately for the Foreign Service, neither President Obama nor VP Biden has DGHR listed in their immediate schedule.

Below is the list of nominations pending in committee:

  • Feb 10, 14     PN1419    Foreign Service Nominations beginning Scott S. Sindelar, and ending Christine M. Sloop, which 6 nominations were received by the Senate and appeared in the Congressional Record on February 10, 2014.
  • Feb 10, 14     PN1418    Foreign Service Nominations beginning Mark L. Driver, and ending Karl William Wurster, which 59 nominations were received by the Senate and appeared in the Congressional Record on February 10, 2014.
  • Jan 30, 14     PN1384    Foreign Service Nominations beginning Beata Angelica, and ending Benjamin Beardsley Dille, which 381 nominations were received by the Senate and appeared in the Congressional Record on January 30, 2014.
  • Jan 30, 14     PN1383    Foreign Service Nominations beginning Kevin Timothy Covert, and ending Paul Wulfsberg, which 277 nominations were received by the Senate and appeared in the Congressional Record on January 30, 2014.
  • Jan 30, 14     PN1382    Foreign Service Nominations beginning Matthew D. Lowe, and ending Wilbur G. Zehr, which 242 nominations were received by the Senate and appeared in the Congressional Record on January 30, 2014.
  • Jan 30, 14     PN1381    Foreign Service Nominations beginning Gerald Michael Feierstein, and ending David Michael Satterfield, which 196 nominations were received by the Senate and appeared in the Congressional Record on January 30, 2014.
  • Jan 30, 14     PN1380    Foreign Service Nominations beginning Kate E. Addison, and ending William F. Zeman, which 121 nominations were received by the Senate and appeared in the Congressional Record on January 30, 2014.
  • Jan 30, 14     PN1379    Foreign Service Nominations beginning Kathleen M. Adams, and ending Sean Young, which 112 nominations were received by the Senate and appeared in the Congressional Record on January 30, 2014.
  • Jan 30, 14     PN1378    Foreign Service Nominations beginning Julie Ann Koenen, and ending Brian Keith Woody, which 94 nominations were received by the Senate and appeared in the Congressional Record on January 30, 2014.
  • Jan 30, 14     PN1377    Foreign Service Nominations beginning Susan K. Brems, and ending Ann Marie Yastishock, which 45 nominations were received by the Senate and appeared in the Congressional Record on January 30, 2014.
  • Jan 30, 14     PN1376    Foreign Service Nominations beginning Scott Thomas Bruns, and ending Janelle Weyek, which 23 nominations were received by the Senate and appeared in the Congressional Record on January 30, 2014.
  • Jan 30, 14     PN1375    Foreign Service Nominations beginning James Benjamin Green, and ending Geoffrey W. Wiggin, which 11 nominations were received by the Senate and appeared in the Congressional Record on January 30, 2014.
  • Jan 30, 14     PN1374    Foreign Service Nominations beginning Christopher David Frederick, and ending Julio Maldonado, which 3 nominations were received by the Senate and appeared in the Congressional Record on January 30, 2014.
  • Jan 09, 14     PN1317    Foreign Service Nominations beginning Ranya F. Abdelsayed, and ending Fireno F. Zora, which 135 nominations were received by the Senate and appeared in the Congressional Record on January  9, 2014.

We can’t help but think that this is one more  unintended consequence from the Senate’s “nuklear” option.  This WaPo piece on President Obama’s inability to fill many of his administration’s most important jobs is not even hopeful.

Doesn’t this remind you of  wreck ‘em Plants v. Zombies, the DC edition?

 

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Donor Ambassadors Are Here to Stay Because — #2 Like ABBA Sings It, Winner Takes It All, Still

– Domani Spero

Donor Ambassadors Are Here to Stay Because — #1 Elections Cost Money, Money, Honey (With ABBA).  The #2 excuse should be –

Winner Takes It All — Still

Article II. Section 2: The President shall be Commander in Chief …He shall have the power , by and with the Advice and Consent of the Senate, to make Treaties, provided two thirds of the Senators present concur; and he shall nominate, and by and with the Advice and Consent of the Senate, shall appoint Ambassadors, other public Ministers and Consuls, Judges of the supreme Court, and all other Officers of the United States, whose Appointments are not herein otherwise provided for, and which shall be established by Law…”

Sometime back, Georgetown professor Clyde Wilcox, who studies campaign finance said, “Rewarding your political supporters is as old as the republic.”

Did you know that when Simon Cameron, who helped Abraham Lincoln clinched the the Republican nomination in the 1860 convention, proved not up to the task as Secretary of War, he was shipped off to Russia  by President Lincoln? After first making him Envoy Extraordinary and Minister Plenipotentiary in 1862, of course.

Coupled with the presidential authority to nominate ambassadors  is the “Advice  and Concent of the Senate.” And yet the process is mostly pro forma, even after the lawmakers themselves wrote the Foreign Service Act of 1980 (22 USC 3944) dealing with ambassadorial appointments. The Senators recognize that the authority to nominate his representatives is a presidential prerogative under the Constitution and that the president, therefore, should be able to pick his own team and representatives.  But perhaps, the Senators pro forma advice and consent is to also ensure that when their party’s candidate get to the WH, that he/she, too, would have the latitude to appoint his/her own people.

We had a laugh out loud moment when we saw the GOP released its Ambassadors for Dummies How to Guide. How easily we forget.  Let’s refresh our memories with this gem from 2005,  The Oval: The Price of an Ambassadorship.  How about this 2007 nugget from Scholars and Rogues on Bush’s patronage appointments to ambassador exceed father’s, Clinton’s?

Our  diplomatic spoils system plays out every four years. In the landmark election of hope and change, there was concern that the Envoy Convoy may screech to a halt , but we were just kidding ourselves.

In 2014, the spoils system is alive and thriving. And the winner still takes it all. The system is not going to change because the very people who can change the system will not lift a finger, as they may be next in line to benefit from the same system.

Cynical much?  Oh, absolutely, though mumsie said we were not born this way.

We teach our kids that the golden rationalization, or “everybody does it” excuse is not acceptable; that the number of people who performs an act, does not improve the ethical nature of that act.  But then adulthood happens, and early onset amnesia sometime occurs.  Yeah, it’s a practice as old as the republic; yow, everybody does it, or maybe the next administration will really do better  … sigh.

We recognize that this is a  presidential prerogative. We agree that the President, whether a Republican or a Democrat should be able to pick his/her own representatives and advisers.  But we also believe that the WH should be attentive and judicious with its nominees to represent the United States abroad.  There ought to be one selection panel for ambassadors, not one at the WH for political appointees and another one at the State Department for career diplomats. One panel ought to be tasked with shortlisting potential candidates, no more than three for each country for recommendation to the president.  To help ensure that political contributions will not be the main consideration in the nominations, campaign operatives ought to be firewalled from that selection panel (written by a true blooded resident of Planet Pluto).

Of course, this can only happen if our political leadership has the balls to clean up the system. But who got ‘em balls?

So can we agree that this practice will go on like the Celine Dion song?  Okay …. now, while we’re on this subject,why don’t we bring back the OIG report cards for ambassadors and senior embassy officials, hey?! (see IERs: We’re Not Doing ‘Em Anymore, We’re Doing Something Better — Oh, Smashing, Groovy! and State/OIG: No More Ambassador Report Cards Cuz They’re Not as Sexy as Debarments?).

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Confirmations: Barry Heyman, Puneet Talwar, Dwight L. Bush Sr, Timothy M. Broas , Arun Madhavan Kumar

– Domani Spero

On March 12, the U.S. Senate confirmed the following State Department nominee by voice vote:

  • Bruce Heyman, of IL, to be Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the United States of America to Canada

On March 13, the U.S. Senate confirmed a few more:

  • Puneet Talwar – to be an Assistant Secretary of State (Political-Military Affairs)
  • Dwight L. Bush, Sr – to be Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the United States of America to the Kingdom of Morocco
  • Timothy M. Broas – to be Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the United States of America to the Kingdom of the Netherlands
  • Arun Madhavan Kumar – to be Assistant Secretary of Commerce and Director General of the United States and Foreign Commercial Service (FCS)

Below is Ambassador Broas in an intro video produced by the State Dept’s Bureau of International Information Programs where he talks about his Dutch ancestry and how he wants to connect with the people of the Netherlands! 

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AFSA Threatens to Sue State Department Over Ambassadors Credentials, Again

Updated on March 6, 10:13 pm PST with the “demonstrated competence” requirement in the FS Act of 1980.

– Domani Spero

Via WaPo’s Al Kamen:

The State Department employees union is demanding that the department turn over key documents on three embattled ambassadorial nominees — and all pending Obama administration nominees, both career Foreign Service and non-career folks — by Thursday evening or face a prompt lawsuit for the materials.

The documents, called “certificates of demonstrated competence,” essentially explain the rationale for nominating  each individual. The 28-member governing board of the American Foreign Service Association (AFSA) voted unanimously to demand the documents.

AFSA had filed a Freedom of Information Act request for the documents in July, but it has not received them.
[...]
Although the board was very concerned about those particular three nominees, “We’re not going to be satisfied with one or two small victories,”AFSA president Robert Silverman said in an interview. “We want the system to be fixed, it’s broken.”

With the certificates in hand, the board, probably by telephone vote, is expected to deal with those three nominees. On the other hand, if AFSA needs to go to court for the documents, it may not get them before the full Senate votes on the nominations.

On AFSA’s Facebook page, the news has yet to generate a wave of response from its membership. Besides over a dozen likes and a few short “bravos,” a couple of concerns were also posted:

One wrote: “While I appreciate the broader issue, and think that it is nice that the press is focused on the service of career diplomats, I wonder how much efforts like this will go to alienate senior leadership in the Department and Administration who might later be called on to advocate for OCP or other issues of concern for the rank and file. I agree the Service would benefit if a few more Ambassadorships went to career diplomats, but I doubt that the senators who right now might applaud the sideshow generated by a lawsuit will feel similarly disposed when a Republican administration is making its appointments.”

Another comment: “While I am concerned about the quality of our Ambassadors I am even more concerned that AFSA has chosen this matter as the defining issue on which to expend its political capital.  I understand your explanation that no publicity is bad publicity but if the choice is to put our support behind an initiative that will benefit a very select few versus a different initiative that will benefit all, i.e. OCP, then I would rather we back the latter. My fellow proletarians may disagree but this seems to me a much wiser use of resources.”

In responding to one FB comment, Mr. Silverman, the AFSA president wrote in part:

“I want to assure you that we are working very closely on this Chief of Mission Guidelines initiative with the senior leadership at State, other Administration and SFRC. That has been the focus since the initiative’s genesis in August. Informally senior State leaders applaud and support this initiative. And we are collaborating closely with State on our single biggest ask of Congress: the third tranche of OCP. From my perspective as AFSA’s president, this collaboration has never been closer. The unprecedented media attention also strengthens AFSA’s voice in general. The goal is to have it help with OCP, and the most urgent issue in front of us – the Senate holds on 1,300 FS members awaiting tenure and promotion.”

Thursday night is reportedly the deadline.  It’ll be an interesting night, or maybe not.

If the State Department releases these “certificates of demonstrated competence” on “all pending Obama administration nominees,” it will, no doubt, be a media field day. We could be wrong, but we don’t think State will roll over a threat that easily.  If it does’t, AFSA will, of course, have to go to court. It won’t be for the first time.  Since we don’t have a drive-thru court, this will certainty take time winding through the federal district court. By the time a hearing is in sight or folks need to appear in court, the ambassadorial nominees potentially would already be confirmed and off to post.

We have not been able to find anything on these “certificates of demonstrated competence” – not in the FAM or anywhere else in state.gov.  Not even in history.state.gov but it is in the FS Act of 1980:(h/t to M!)

Section 304 (4)
(4) The President shall provide the Committee on Foreign Relations of the Senate, with each nomination for an appointment as a chief of mission, a report on the demonstrated competence of the nominee to perform the duties of the position in which he or she is to serve.

Also,  a little digging in ADST’s oral history project gave us an idea on what maybe in these “certificates.” Below is an excerpt from the ADST interview of Charles A. Schmitz who served in the State Department from 1964 to the early 1990′s. He worked in the Director General’s Office from 1976-1978 and served as AFSA Vice President in 1990 when the association took the State Department to court for these “certificates.” Excerpt below, read the full interview here (pdf).

The State Department, in a most conniving, almost criminal way, connived to keep from the public view the description of how bad a lot of these appointees were, in violation of the law. The law requires the State Department to issue a certificate of demonstrated competence for every ambassadorial appointee.
[...]
It is in the Foreign Service Act. It is much ignored, by the way. Pell required it to be written into the law, but then quit taking it seriously. Therefore, the certificate was produced in name only. It was not a certificate of competency at all. It was a brief, usually one page, description of what the person had done. A typical example was of the model…Mr. so-and-so has been a pillar of his community, a successful businessman in running his used car dealership and therefore would make an excellent ambassador of the United States to Spain. It was so bad that these things were not even carefully done. They had typos in them. In one case the last line naming the country was the wrong country.
[...]
Nobody noticed it because they classified it. There is a little operation in the State Department that produced these things. They were not really State Department people, they were White House people sent over to write these things. There were two of them. They then sent them as confidential documents to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. That is why we sued him. We said that you can not classify somebody’s resume. Under the National Security Act involving classification this is a violation of the act. We, of course, argued that point until we were blue in the face for months and months with the State Department in negotiations. They refused to move on it, so AFSA sued the Secretary of State in the Federal District Court. Before the matter came to hearing, the State Department compromised and provided AFSA all of the documents which it had withheld until that point. It undertook to provide us the documents as the law should require and denied having done anything wrong.
[...]
These things turned out to be laughable in practice. They were slipshod, superficially done, just marking the boxes So we had to expose that in some fashion. And that was important that it was exposed and ultimately, as I said before, what caused a certain amount of embarrassment. This didn’t defeat any of those nominees, but it may have had some effect on other potential appointees, or the nominators anyway who realized it wasn’t going to be just a free ride to nominate anybody as ambassador.

Remember Battlestar Galactica’s “All this has happened before, and all of it will happen again?”  

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SFRC Clears Barber, Bell, Tsunis, Harper, Talwar, Rose, Gottemoeller, Chacon, Carroll

– Domani Spero

On February 4, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee (SFRC)  cleared the following State Department nominees.

Robert C. Barber, of Massachusetts, to be Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the United States of America to the Republic of Iceland.

Colleen Bradley Bell, of California, to be Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the United States of America to Hungary.

George James Tsunis, of New York, to be Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the United States of America to the Kingdom of Norway.

Keith M. Harper, of Maryland, for the rank of Ambassador during his tenure of service as United States Representative to the UN Human Rights Council.

Puneet Talwar, of the District of Columbia, to be an Assistant Secretary of State (Political-Military Affairs), vice Andrew J. Shapiro.

Frank A. Rose, of Massachusetts, to be an Assistant Secretary of State (Verification and Compliance), vice Rose Eilene Gottemoeller.

Rose Eilene Gottemoeller, of Virginia, to be Under Secretary of State for Arms Control and International Security, vice Ellen O. Tauscher, resigned.

Arnold A. Chacon, of Virginia, a Career Member of the Senior Foreign Service, Class of Minister-Counselor, to be Director General of the Foreign Service, vice Linda Thomas-Greenfield, resigned.

On February 4, the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs also discharged the nomination of Michael G. Carroll, of New York, to be Inspector General for the United States Agency for International Development (vice Donald A. Gambatesa). Mr. Carroll’s nomination was previously reported out of the SFRC by Senator Menendez on January 15, 2014.

We have no idea at this time when the full Senate will vote on these nominations.

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White House Petition: Appoint Chris Holmes as U.S. Ambassador to Iceland

– Domani Spero

On February 14, A.P. from Los Angeles started a White House petition to appoint Chris Holmes the U.S. Ambassador to Iceland. The petition currently has 186 signatures.  Apparently Mr. Holmes has been to Iceland “a bunch of times” and “knows the best bars.” A good an endorsement as any.  Over on Twitter, one of the endorsers tweets, “Chris Holmes is the chillist perfect 4 da job.” Another tweets, “Love Iceland, love mad scientist werewolf Chris Holmes. Holmes for US Ambassador to Iceland.” 

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Who is Chris Holmes? Below via FB:

On Chris Holmes: released his major label debut Dan Loves Patti under his Yum Yum moniker, an album that Rolling Stone said “more than holds it own in comparison with influences as the Beatles, and Beach Boys circa Pet Sounds.” He has since toured and recorded with The Smashing Pumpkins and Felix da Housecat, co-produced tracks for P. Diddy, worked on Billy Corgan’s solo album and written with Rachael Yamagata and Mandy Moore. Also an established DJ, Holmes appeared on URB’s “Next 100” list and was handpicked by Sir Paul McCartney to open for him at 2009’s Coachella Fest and to tour the world with him in 2011. In addition Chris has toured with Radiohead, Atoms for Peace, and Daft Punk.

Active links added above. To read more, see LAT’s Chris Holmes marches to his own extraterrestrial drummer and Six degrees of Chris Holmes: Obama neighbor, Beck sideman, more. The LA Times also writes that “Indeed, there proved so many fascinating instances of Holmes’ notable connections that, quite simply, they wouldn’t fit in a single article.”  And this:

While a student the University of Chicago, Holmes lived across the street from a then-unknown Barack Obama. “He was a really nice guy,” Holmes recalls. “I first met him when a bunch of professors had a party next door.   They were like, ‘This is Barack -– he lives a couple houses down the cul-de-sac.’ I was the weird dude of the neighborhood, always lighting off fireworks and doing crazy things, and he’d always just be sitting on his porch, smoking and thinking. He was such a chain smoker, we nicknamed him ‘Smoking Guy’ after the character on ‘The X-Files.’

So he knew President Obama back when, he’s been to Iceland a bunch of times, and he knows the best bars. He is already on Twitter as @ashtarchris and on Instagram, where a week ago he posted this with a note that says, “C’mon. We can do better.”

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Got Tired of Laughing — SFRC Confirmation Hearings Now on Audio Only?

– Domani Spero

“Is there a rule ambassadors can’t have set foot in the countries they are going to ambassador? Would it ruin the surprise?” Jon Stewart asked with sort of a straight face.  Then he did double jabs on the corrupt practice of awarding ambassadorships to political donors and bundlers.  This was funny sad, really — well, maybe more sad than funny for Mr. Stewart’s subjects. If you missed the laughs, see below:

Yeah, bet you didn’t know that Iceland cost more than Argentina in the ambo sweeps.  Sure, Argentina has horses, wine, and tango, but Iceland has Westeros, folks.

In any case, Congress must have gotten tired of laughing. The last time we checked, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee only had the audio up on its website for the latest confirmation hearings.  We hope this was because of the snow that week or some glitch and nothing like the remove the Marine Corps Times from the newsstands sort of thing.  Because that would not be cool.

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Today at the SFRC: Crocker (IO), Lawson (ICAO), Wood (USCD)

– Domani Spero

The Senate Foreign Relations Committee is holding its confirmation hearings for President Obama’s nominees for  the International Organization AffairsInternational Civil Aviation Organization and the Conference on Disarmament .

Presiding: Senator Markey
Date: Tuesday, February 04, 2014
Time: 03:00 PM
Location: Senate Dirksen 419

Webcast:

This hearing is scheduled to be live webcast. Please return to this page to view the hearing live or see the nominees’ prepared statements.

Nominees:

  • Ms. Bathsheba Nell Crocker
    of the District of Columbia, to be an Assistant Secretary of State for International Organization Affairs

Bathsheba N. Crocker is the Principal Deputy Director in the Office of Policy Planning at the Department of State (DOS), a position she has held since 2011.  Previously at DOS, she served as Chief of Staff to the Deputy Secretary of State from 2009 to 2011.  From 2008 to 2009, Ms. Crocker was a Senior Policy and Advocacy Officer for International Affairs at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.  She was the Senior Advisor to the Assistant Secretary-General for Peacebuilding Support at the UN Peacebuilding Support Office from 2007 to 2008.  From 2005 to 2007, Ms. Crocker was the Deputy Chief of Staff to the UN Special Envoy at the Office of the UN Special Envoy for Tsunami Recovery.  Ms. Crocker worked at the Center for Strategic and International Studies on the Post-Conflict Reconstruction Project as a Fellow and Co-Director from 2003 to 2005 and as an International Affairs Fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations from 2002 to 2003.  Ms. Crocker was an Attorney-Adviser for the Office of the Legal Advisor at DOS from 2001 to 2002 and from 1997 to 1999.  From 2000 to 2001, she was Deputy U.S. Special Representative for Southeast Europe Affairs at the U.S. Embassy in Rome, Italy.  From 1999 to 2000, Ms. Crocker was Executive Assistant to the Deputy National Security Advisor for the National Security Council at the White House.  She has served as an adjunct professor at Johns Hopkins University, George Washington University, and American University.  Ms. Crocker received a B.A. from Stanford University, an M.A. from Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy, and a J.D. from Harvard Law School. (Via)

  • Mr. Michael Anderson Lawson 
    of California, for the rank of Ambassador during his tenure of service as Representative of the United States of America on the Council of the International Civil Aviation Organization

Michael Anderson Lawson is the immediate past President of the Los Angeles World Airports’ Board of Airport Commissioners.  He has been a member of the Board of Airport Commissioners since 2005 and held the position of President of the Commission since 2011.  From 1980 to 2011, he practiced law at Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom, LLP where he served as partner since 1995.  From 1978 to 1980, he was a staff attorney at the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation.  Mr. Lawson is a member of the Board of Trustees of Morehouse College, Loyola Marymount University, The Advancement Project, the Music Center at the Performing Arts Center of Los Angeles County, the California State Teachers Retirement System Board, and the Community Redevelopment Agency Oversight Board for the City of Los Angeles.  Mr. Lawson received a B.A. from Loyola University in Los Angeles and a J.D. from Harvard Law School. (Via)

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US Embassy Oslo: Clueless on Norway, Murder Boards Next?

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– Domani Spero

In the short path to the U.S. Embassy in Oslo, Norway, this episode has now been recorded for posterity.

Also made it to Anderson Cooper’s “RidicuList” and now posted on YouTube.

This episode shows that cramming for a job that takes 30 years to prepare for the regular service can be quite perilous for aspiring ambassadors with deep pockets. Despite a week or so of training at the Foreign Service Institute one can still end up as the Norwegians put it, “trampling through the salad bowl.” Imagine that.

We’ll never look at our salad bowl the same way again.

Maybe the SFRC will start conducting closed hearings for these nominees to save us from the embarrassment?  Well, we hope not. Now that Senator McCain has brought the badass back into the confirmation hearings, we’ll have to start watching these hearings again.  A few more of these incidents and the nominees will need to be put through “murder boards.”

In the meantime, U.S. Embassy Oslo had to managed this “uncomfortable” episode.

Via News In English Norway:

TV2 reported that the embassy expressed in the “private conversations” that Tsunis’ remarks amounted to an episode that was both “uncomfortable” and “regrettable,” and one they gladly would have avoided. They reportedly stressed that Tsunis’ remarks did not represent either the attitudes of the US Embassy in Oslo or US authorities in Washington DC.

Kristian Norheim, a Member of Parliament and international secretary for the Progress Party, confirmed he has “been in dialogue” with the embassy since the hearing and told TV2 there was “no doubt” that Tsunis’ remarks were problematic. “The embassy therefore had a need to clarify that they also think this was an uncomfortable episode,” Norheim told TV2.

Norheim’s party colleague Jan Arild Ellingsen, who demanded an apology from Obama himself last week, said that Tsunis clearly needs to undergo some “adult education” and that both he and other party members would welcome him to a meeting at the parliament, assuming the senate goes through with his confirmation as ambassador.

 

News in English Norway, in a follow-up item today reports this update:  “George James Tsunis, the wealthy New York businessman tapped to be the next US ambassador to Norway, has reportedly told Norway’s TV2 that he regrets remarks he made at his US Senate confirmation hearing earlier this month that showed him to be ignorant of the country where he was being sent.”

We are unofficially sorry for you folks, damage control and all that, but you gotta do what you gotta do. We hope you put the next ambassador on Twitter as soon as he is confirmed.

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