Category Archives: Obama

Officially In: Jess L. Baily — From Turkey to Macedonia

– Domani Spero

 

On July 8, President Obama announced his intent to nominate Jess L. Baily as Ambassador to the Republic of Macedonia. The WH released the following brief bio:

Jess L. Baily, a career member of the Foreign Service, Class of Minister-Counselor, is the Deputy Chief of Mission in Ankara, Turkey, a position he has held since 2011.  From 2010 to 2011, Mr. Baily served at the Department of State as Director of the Office of Southeast European Affairs.  From 2008 to 2010, Mr. Baily served as Director of the Office of United Nations Political Affairs and previously served as Leader of the Regional Reconstruction Team in Erbil, Iraq from 2007 to 2008.  Mr. Baily served as the Director of the Washington Foreign Press Center from 2005 to 2007 and as Counselor for Public Affairs at the U.S. Embassy in The Hague, Netherlands from 2002 to 2005.  From 1998 to 2002, he served as a Cultural Affairs Officer and subsequently as an Information Officer/Spokesman at the U.S. Embassy in Ankara.  Before the United States Information Agency (USIA) merged with the Department of State, Mr. Baily served as USIA’s Representative to the American Foreign Service Association in Washington, D.C. from 1996 to 1997.  He was a Senior Advisor in the Office of the USIA Deputy Director from 1995 to 1996 and USIA Desk Officer for Francophone West Africa from 1994 to 1995.  From 1992 to 1994, Mr. Baily served as the Binational Center Director at the U.S Embassy in Bangkok, Thailand.  He also served at U.S. Embassies in Dakar, Senegal and Dhaka, Bangladesh.

Before joining the Foreign Service in 1985, he worked at AMIDEAST in Washington, D.C.  Mr. Baily received a B.A. from Yale University and an M.A. from Columbia University.

U.S. Embassy Deputy Chief of Mission Jess L. Baily joined the audience #ankaracazfestivali #raulmidon — at ODTÜ KKM - Kemal Kurdaş Salonu. via US Embassy Ankara/FB

U.S. Embassy Deputy Chief of Mission Jess L. Baily (R) joined the audience #ankaracazfestivali #raulmidon — at ODTÜ KKM – Kemal Kurdaş Salonu.
via US Embassy Ankara/FB

The Certificate of Demonstrated Competence submitted to SFRC says in part:

Jess Lippincott Baily, a career member of the Senior Foreign Service, class of Minister-Counselor, currently serves as Deputy Chief of Mission in Ankara, Turkey where he skillfully manages a complex mission in a NATO ally in the heart of a critical region. In February 2013, he expertly led the response to a suicide bombing of the Embassy. His years of experience in Europe, strong inter-agency and management skills, and public diplomacy expertise will enable him to further bilateral relations with the Government of Macedonia and engage effectively with both the Macedonian public and important institutions.

This is Mr. Baily’s first ambassadorial appointment. He would succeed  career diplomat Paul Wohlers who was sworn in as the sixth U.S. Ambassador to the Republic of Macedonia by Secretary Clinton on August 11, 2011. All ambassadors appointed to Macedonia to-date have been career diplomats.

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SFRC Clears Ambassadorial Nominees for South Korea, Honduras, Qatar, Egypt, Iraq, Vietnam, Algeria

– Domani Spero

 

On June 24, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee (SFRC) cleared the nominations of the following nominees as ambassadors to South Korea, Honduras, Qatar, Egypt, Iraq, Vietnam, and Algeria. It also cleared the nomination for the next Director of the Office of Foreign Missions.  The nominees will now join the long list of Obama nominees awaiting their confirmation.

 

Argentina: Noah Bryson Mamet, of California, to be Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the United States of America to the Argentine Republic.
- Mamet, Noah – Republic of Argentina (pdf via State/FOIA)

South Korea: Mark William Lippert, of Ohio, to be Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the United States of America to the Republic of Korea

-Lippert, Mark – Republic of Korea – 05-2014

Honduras: James D. Nealon, of New Hampshire, a Career Member of the Senior Foreign Service, Class of Minister-Counselor, to be Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the United States of America to the Republic of Honduras.
-Nealon, James D – Republic of Honduras – 05-2014

Qatar: Dana Shell Smith, of Virginia, a Career Member of the Senior Foreign Service, Class of Minister-Counselor, to be Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the United States of America to the State of Qatar.
-Smith, Dana S – State of Qatar – 05-2014

Egypt: Robert Stephen Beecroft, of California, a Career Member of the Senior Foreign Service, Class of Minister-Counselor, to be Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the United States of America to the Arab Republic of Egypt
-Beecroft, Robert S – Arab Republic of Egypt – 05-2014

Iraq: Stuart E. Jones, of Virginia, a Career Member of the Senior Foreign Service, Class of Career Minister, to be Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the United States of America to the Republic of Iraq.
-Jones, Stuart E – Republic of Iraq – 05-2014

Vietnam: Theodore G. Osius III, of Maryland, a Career Member of the Senior Foreign Service, Class of Minister-Counselor, to be Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the United States of America to the Socialist Republic of Vietnam.
-Osius, George O, III – Socialist Republic of Vietnam – 05-2014

Algeria: Joan A. Polaschik, of Virginia, a Career Member of the Senior Foreign Service, Class of Counselor, to be Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the United States of America to the People’s Democratic Republic of Algeria.
-Polaschik, Joan A – Democratic Republic of Algeria – 05-2014

Gentry O. Smith, of North Carolina, a Career Member of the Senior Foreign Service, Class of Minister-Counselor, to be Director of the Office of Foreign Missions, and to have the rank of Ambassador during his tenure of service, vice Eric J. Boswell, resigned.
- President Obama Announces More Key Administration Posts – May 1, 2014

 

We imagine that Ambassador Jones (to Iraq) and Ambassador Beecroft (Egypt) could get their full Senate vote ahead of a very large pack of nominees. But the Senate being what it is these days, it’s hard to even guess how fast the Senators could tie their shoes. In any case, Ambassador Beecroft is apparently back in Baghdad after  a short stop in D.C. for his  confirmation hearing.  We are hoping that the nominees will not have to wait 300 days for their confirmation. To-date, the nominee for U.S. ambassador to Lesotho, a career FSO has waited 315 days for Senate confirmation. The nominees slated as chiefs of mission to Niger, Cameroon, Timor-Leste and Palau, all career FSOs have waited 326 days for their full Senate vote.

The clock appears to be broken in the Senate, but everywhere else, the world marches on.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Ambassadors Certificates of Demonstrated Competency Now Online: Better Formatted Than Ever Before! (Updated)

– Domani Spero

In March this year, WaPo reported on AFSA’s demands that the State Department turn over key documents on three embattled ambassadorial nominees — and all pending Obama administration nominees, both career Foreign Service and non-career folks — or face a prompt lawsuit for the materials. (See AFSA Threatens to Sue State Department Over Ambassadors Credentials, Again).

In early April, AFSA announced that it was given the documents but declined to make them public until the State Department did so. Below is an excerpt from the announcement:

We concluded that more transparency would benefit all: publication of the certificates of demonstrated competence – prior to a nominee’s hearing – together with an effort to write the certificates to specifically address the criteria in the AFSA Guidelines, would open up the process to the public and address directly the issues of qualifications for all nominees. We proposed this to the White House. They agreed that, going forward – as part of the Transparency in Government initiative and a forward looking legacy – the State Department will publish more detailed certificates on state.gov in real time. These revised documents will use the AFSA Guidelines to illustrate nominees’ experience in the four key areas:

  • Leadership, Character and Proven Interpersonal Skills
  • Understanding of High Level Policy and Operations
  • Management
  • Understanding of Host Country or Relevant International Experience

Media response to AFSA’s Chiefs of Mission initiative has been very favorable, and has helped raise our public profile.

Updated 5/9/14 1:14 pm PST: AFSA has now posted the certificates released by the State Department under FOIA.

On Thursday, we noticed that the ambassadorial nominees’ “Certificates of Competency” have now been posted online at state.gov:

“Under the Foreign Service Act of 1980, Certificates of Competency must be presented to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee for each candidate nominated by the President to serve as a bilateral Ambassador overseas and for the candidates for Ambassador to the European Union (EU), the African Union (AU) and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN).”

As of this writing, there are only two files online.

On May 1, President Obama announced the following nominees:

  • Gentry O. Smith – Director of the Office of Foreign Missions, with the rank of Ambassador during his tenure of service, Department of State
  • George Albert Krol – Ambassador to the Republic of Kazakhstan, Department of State
  • Mark William Lippert – Ambassador to the Republic of Korea, Department of State
  • James D. Nealon – Ambassador to the Republic of Honduras, Department of State
  • Dana Shell Smith – Ambassador to the State of Qatar, Department of State

We don’t quite know what “real time” means anymore.

In any case, President Obama announced the nomination of Alice Wells, to be the next ambassador to the Kingdom of Jordan on April 10, 2014. The WH released the following brief bio:

Alice G. Wells, Nominee for Ambassador to the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan, Department of State

Alice G. Wells, a career member of the Foreign Service, Class of Minister-Counselor, is currently Senior Advisor in the Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs at the Department of State.  Ms. Wells served as an assessor at the Foreign Service Board of Examiners in 2013.  She was Special Assistant to the President for Russia and Central Asia in the White House from 2012 to 2013 and Executive Assistant to Secretary of State Hilary Clinton from 2011 to 2012.  She served as Executive Assistant to the Under Secretary for Political Affairs William J. Burns from 2009 to 2011, and previously served as Minister Counselor for Political Affairs at the U.S. Embassy in Moscow, Russia from 2006 to 2009.  Ms. Wells was Director of Maghreb Affairs and Acting Director of Egypt and North African Affairs in the Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs from 2003 to 2005.  She served as Senior Desk Officer for Egyptian Affairs from 2002 to 2003, Deputy Political Counselor at the U.S. Embassy in New Delhi, India from 2001 to 2003, and Deputy Political Counselor at the U.S. Embassy in Islamabad, Pakistan from 1998 to 2000.  Prior to that, Ms. Wells served as a Political Officer and a Political-Military Officer at the U.S. Embassy in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, as well as a Political and Economic Officer at the U.S. Embassy in Dushanbe, Tajikistan.  Ms. Wells received a B.A. from Stanford University and a joint M.A. from the University of California at Los Angeles/Rand Corporation.

Below is Ms. Wells’ “Certificate of Demonstrated Competency” available here via state.gov.

 Screen Shot 2014-05-08

The certificate for the nominee for Djibouti is  here.

The “revised documents” were touted as “more detailed certificates” that will use the “AFSA Guidelines to illustrate nominees’ experience in the four key areas.”

By coincidence and some would say perfect timing, Yahoo News has just published the competency certificate of President Obama’s nominee for Norway, George Tsunis.

Via Yahoo News

Via Yahoo News

 

It looks like Yahoo News has also obtained the certificates for the nominees to Hungary (Bell) and Argentina (Mamet) and who knows how many more.

Folks, you know who won this round, right?  Okay, that’s it, enjoy the new format!

 

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President Obama Visits Tokyo, Seoul, Kuala Lumpur, Manila — Yabusame, Durian, EDCA, and Lots of Handshakes

– Domani Spero

President Obama is traveling to Japan, the Republic of Korea, Malaysia, and the Philippines from April 22 to April 29. Below are some photos from his stops:

Japan

The US Embassy Tokyo folks also got a meet and greet with President Obama. We are pleased to hear that no one was strangled with the lanyard of some Top Secret Clearance badge despite all that standing around waiting to see POTUS.  You all did not get up at 3 a.m., did you?

Republic of Korea

Malaysia

Philippines

Shortly before President Obama arrived in Manila, the United States and the Philippines signed the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA). The agreement is designed to promote among other things, capacity building towards Philippine Army modernization, maritime security, maritime domain awareness and humanitarian assistance and disaster response.

For more of that, see links below:

President Barack Obama stretches to shake the hand of a young girl held aloft during a U.S. Embassy meet and greet at the Sofitel Hotel in Manila, Philippines, April 28, 2014. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

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State Dept Responds to an FOIA Two Years After Request — Confusion and Hilarity Follows

– Domani Spero

One of our blog readers asked us about the Freedom of Information Act  (FOIA). Nope, we don’t know much about it except the (b)(6) exemptions which resulted on the redactions of OIG inspectors names from publicly available reports posted online.  In  October 2013, State/OIG finally started disclosing the names of inspectors in publicly available reports, so yay for that.

But because we’re a curious cat, we wanted to know why he was asking us about the FOIA. It turned out, our reader submitted a FOIA request to the State Department in 2012.  He wanted to know about “Meetings between Jeff Gorsky and the AILA.”  Mr. Gorsky is the Chief of the Legal Advisory Opinion Section of the Visa Office of the Bureau of Consular Affairs and AILA is the American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA), the national association of more than 13,000 attorneys and law professors who practice and teach immigration law. Our reader, Mr. Requester, shared the confirmation of his FOIA request from 2012:

Screen Shot 2014-04-20

After repeated inquiries and prodding, and after almost two years of waiting, a response finally arrived in Mr. Requester’s mail box this year. Note that the subject of the FOIA request is “Jeff Gorsky and the AILA” and the official State Department response to the FOIA request came from Mr. Gorsky himself. Take a look:

Screen Shot 2014-04-21

What the hey?

Is it normal or routine that the subject of the FOIA request is also the signatory of the letter that basically says we found 42 documents but they all contain information that is “personal in nature?”

I don’t know, is it?  Help me out here.  These are presumably from work emails, how can they all be “personal in nature?”

Screen Shot 2014-04-20

Note: FOIA Exemption (b)(6) – permits the government to withhold all information about individuals in “personnel and medical files and similar files” when the disclosure of such information “would constitute a clearly unwarranted invasion of personal privacy.”

Is it bizarre or is it just totally expected that the responding office (b)(6)’ed just about every name that appears on the documents released?  In handwritten notations that look messy and all?  What’s the use of filing an FOIA if all you get are these scrawny (b)(6)s?  The email above concerns a meeting request on “L1 Visas in Singapore.” So, the names of all  pertinent parties to that meeting are also “personal in nature?”

Processing … processing ….screeeccch bang kaplunga!  Ugh! I don’t get it; I must be, like… like….like, a malfunctioned magnet*.

Folks, the White House publishes online its Visitor Access Records, and heavens help them, there are lots of names listed there; some even include middle names!

On March 16, 2009, just as the new president came to office, the State Department’s Bureau of Administration released an FOIA Guidance from the Secretary of State to the department employees.  In says in part:

On his first full day in office, President Barack Obama signed two memoranda on openness in government – one ushering in a new era of transparency in government, the other ordering a presumption of disclosure in the implementation of the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). The State Department will be at the forefront of making this commitment a reality.
[…]
As a Department, we should respond to requests in a timely manner, resolve doubts in favor of openness, and not withhold information based on speculative or abstract fears.
[…]
We need every Department employee to manage the challenge of informing the public and protecting information in a way that fulfills the President’s strong commitment to transparency.

Well, what about that, huh?

In any case, the Department of Justice FOIA Guide on Exemption 6 notes that “Personal privacy interests are protected by two provisions of the FOIA, Exemptions 6 and 7(C). … Exemption 6 permits the government to withhold all information about individuals in “personnel and medical files and similar files” when the disclosure of such information “would constitute a clearly unwarranted invasion of personal privacy.” (1)

The Guide also says that “In some instances, the disclosure of information might involve no invasion of privacy because, fundamentally, the information is of such a nature that no expectation of privacy exists. (49) For example, civilian federal employees generally have no expectation of privacy regarding their names, titles, grades, salaries, and duty stations as employees (50) or regarding the parts of their successful employment applications that show their qualifications for their positions.” (51)

Also this: “if the information at issue is particularly well known or is widely available within the public domain, there generally is no expectation of privacy. “

You should know that we have no expertise on FOIAs. But the State Department on this FOIA case managed to use the (b)(6) exemption to redact the names of the Assistant Secretary of the Bureau of Consular and that “Desk Officer for Singapore Visa matters.”

Here’s a person of the street question: Why would anyone think that disclosing Janice J. Jacobs‘ name as Assistant Secretary of the Bureau of Consulate Consular Affairs (she is on Wikipedia, by the way) would constitute an “unwarranted invasion of personal privacy?” 

C’mon, folks, you gotta admit, this is totally hilarious!

 

Screen Shot 2014-04-20

Let’s compare this to the  emails released under FOIA on the Keystone XL meetings. Also redacted but as you can see on the emails here, the State Department did not use the (b)(6) exemption and instead used (b)(5) which protects “inter-agency or intra-agency memorandums or letters which would not be available by law to a party other than an agency in litigation with the agency.” But look how this is marked:

Screen Shot 2014-04-22

Click on image to read the released emails.

The FOIA super ninja we consulted (thanks J!) suggested that an immediate appeal be filed.  Mr. Requester told us he already sent in an appeal.  We just hope the response to his appeal would not take two years, and would not include scrawny (b)(6)s for decorations.

Seriously. Do you realize  that if the State Department continue to slap (b)(6)s on FOIA’ed docs so thoughtlessly like this, that the agency will be at the forefront of making President Obama’s commitment to “transparency in government” and “presumption of disclosure” a laughing matter? Pardon me, it is already a laughing matter?  Well, a  competition then on who will be at the forefront.  

Folks, you need to fix this or we may be forced to start a rock band called Twisted Hilarity.    

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Photo of the Day: Secretary Kerry Swears in Ambassador Timothy Broas

– Domani Spero

 

 

Secretary Kerry Swears in Ambassador Broas With Julie Broas looking on, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry swears in Tim Broas as U.S. Ambassador to the Netherlands at the U.S. Department of State in Washington, D.C., on April 10, 2014. [State Department photo/ Public Domain]

Secretary Kerry Swears in Ambassador Broas
With Julie Broas looking on, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry swears in Tim Broas as U.S. Ambassador to the Netherlands at the U.S. Department of State in Washington, D.C., on April 10, 2014. [State Department photo/ Public Domain]

 

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Photo of the Day: President Obama Meets Pope Francis

- Domani Spero

Photo via US Embassy The Holy See/FB

Photo via US Embassy The Holy See/FB Click on image to view more photos

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Photo of the Day: Man on a Mission

– Domani Spero

Via @VP

Screen Shot 2014-03-18

Vice President Joe Biden, joined by US Ambassador to Poland Stephen Mull or @SteveMullUSA to the Twitterati, arrived in #Poland on March 18, 2014 to discuss the situation in #Ukraine with regional leaders.
(Photo via @VP)

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15 Former AFSA Presidents Urge Senators to Oppose Confirmation of Ambassadorial Nominees to Norway, Hungary, and Argentina

– Domani Spero

On March 5, 2014, the AFSA Governing Board resolution says that “AFSA will send letters to the Senate and the White House expressing concern that the recent nominations for chief of mission positions in Norway, Hungary and Argentina appear to be based primarily on their status as financial contributors to political campaigns, which is in violation of the Foreign Service Act of 1980.” 

On Friday, March 7, fifteen former presidents of the American Foreign Service Association (AFSA) wrote to Senators Reid, McConnell, Menendez, Corker, Franken, Klobuchar, McCain, Cardin, Mikulski, Warner, Kaine, Whitehouse  and others, urging the non-confirmation of President Obama’s nominees for ambassadors to Norway, Hungary and Argentina.

Screen Shot 2014-03-09

Below is an excerpt from their letter:

Among the nominees for ambassadorships currently under consideration by the Senate, three have generated considerable public controversy: George Tsunis (Norway), Colleen Bell (Hungary), and Noah Mamet (Argentina). The nominations of Mr. Tsunis and Ms. Bell have been forwarded to the full Senate by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

As former presidents of the American Foreign Service Association, the professional association and trade union of career members of the Foreign Service, we urge you to oppose granting Senate consent to these three candidates. Although we have no reason to doubt that the nominees are conscientious and worthy Americans, the fact that they appear to have been chosen on the basis of their service in raising money for electoral campaigns, with minimal demonstrated qualifications for their posts, has subjected them to widespread public ridicule, not only in the U.S. but also abroad. As a result, their effectiveness as U.S. representatives in their host countries would be severely impaired from the start. Their nominations also convey a disrespectful message, that relations with the host country are not significant enough to demand a chief of mission with relevant expertise.

These three nominations represent a continuation of an increasingly unsavory and unwise practice by both parties.  In the words of President Theodore Roosevelt, “The spoils or patronage theory is that public office is primarily designed for partisan plunder.”  Sadly it has persisted, even after President Nixon’s acknowledged rewarding of ambassadorial nominations to major campaign donors was exposed.
[...]
During his 2008 election campaign, President Obama recognized the appropriateness of these guidelines, and promised to respect them. The time for the Senate to begin enforcing its own guidelines set forth in law for U.S. diplomatic chiefs of mission is now.  The nation cannot afford otherwise.

The signatories of the letter are Marshall Adair, Thomas Boyatt, Kenneth Bleakley, Theodore Eliot, Franklyn A Harris, William Harrop, Dennis Hays, J. Anthony Holmes, Lars Hydle, Susan Johnson, Alphonse La Porta, John Limbert, John Naland, Lannon Walker, and Theodore Wilkinson.

One scenario where this might get off  the hot topics column is if the nominees themselves recognize that their confirmation hearing performance and subsequent public ridicule would have an impact on their effectiveness as President Obama’s top representatives in their prospective host countries, and withdraw their names for consideration. This would be the less messy route, but we do not anticipate this happening or it would have happened already.

Another scenario is if we get to see more Senate confirmation hearings bungled under similar circumstances, with the accompanying public uproar, and more mockery from cable news and comedians day in and day out — which might, just might make President Obama think, “enough already.” If that happens, it might also forced him to  revisit his promise that “the days of Michael Brown, Arabian Horse Judge, are over.”  Well, that’s a lot of ifs and mights, so we’re not holding our breath.

There is, of course, the ultimate scenario that we have seen before, and no doubt, we’ll see again — Senators’ offices will acknowledge the former AFSA presidents’ letter and others like it, and then proceed to confirm the nominees (Senate holds for ambassadorial nominees seem reserved for nutty reasons like the case of an ancient boyfriend or the ethnic origin of the nominee’s wife). It is just a coincidence that some nominees are also contributors to the Senate Majority PAC, the party’s Senatorial Campaign, the party’s victory fund or even to the guys from the other party.  Oh, but we are extraordinarily special and exceptional that way — watch.

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State Dept on Ambo Nominees’ “Certificates of Documented Competency” — Working On It

– Domani Spero

The American Foreign Service Association was in the news yesterday after announcing that it will file a suit against the State Department if, by end of business day today, it does not get the certificates of demonstrated competence for ambassadorial nominees (see AFSA Threatens to Sue State Department Over Ambassadors Credentials, Again).

The topic made it to today’s Daily Press Briefing with the State Department spokesperson Jen Psaki answering questions about AFSA’s FOIA requests for these documents which were reportedly filed on July 29, 2013 and a second request filed on February 28, 2014.  Ms. Psaki refused to make a prediction of whether State would respond to AFSA’s request by the close of business today.

At about 3pm EST, ABC News tweeted that AFSA is giving the State Department until tomorrow morning to furnish the requested “Certificates of Documented Competency” for ambassador nominees.

When you look at that AFSA FOIA request delay of 7 months and a week, it might be useful to note that in FY2012, the State Department’s total requests in backlog is 10,464.   In fact, according to foia.gov, State has one of the highest backlogs, second only to DHS. In FY 2011, the average number of days to process a simple case was 156; for complex cases, 342. Some cases have been pending for 5 or 6 years (see State Dept FOIA Requests: Agency Ranks Second in Highest Backlog and Here’s Why).  The oldest pending request, as you can see below is 1,922 days.

Screen Shot 2014-03-06

Here is the short version of the March 6, 2014 DPB:

Screen Shot 2014-03-06

via Word It Out

Below is the long version from the March 6, 2014 DPB:

QUESTION: The American Foreign Service Association said yesterday that they were going to be filing suit against the State Department if, by end of business today, you don’t provide certificates of demonstrated competence for ambassadorial nominees. So I just wanted to know if you had any reaction to that.

MS. PSAKI: Sure. Well, AFSA submitted a FOIA request on July 29th 2013 to our website – this is just some details for all of you to be aware of – seeking certificates of a demonstrated competence for every ambassador from January 1st 2013 to the present. We receive, as many of you know, about 18,000 FOIA requests per year. Generally – we generally process requests on a first in, first out basis. So we’re currently actively processing the request in accordance with the statute and the Department’s regulations, which applies to the specific release they put out yesterday.

In terms of broadly speaking, obviously, in nominating ambassadors, we look – the Administration looks for qualified candidates who represent Americans from all walks of life and who show true zeal for serving their country, and we’ve received interest and recruited talented people from all across the country and all kinds of professional backgrounds, whether they are Foreign Service – well, that’s – they proceed through a different process, there, of course, but political appointees who may be from the business sector, who may be from a public service sector. We feel that this kind of diversity helps represent who we are and the United States around the world.

So long story short, we are reviewing their request. We process requests as they come in. Certainly we welcome the comments of anyone and views of anyone on these sorts of issues, but I think it’s important to remind everyone of what we look at when it comes to ambassadorial nominees.

QUESTION: Jen, they submitted this request in July? How many months ago?

QUESTION: January.

QUESTION: No, July 29th, she said.

QUESTION: I thought you said January.

MS. PSAKI: For every ambassador from January 20 –

QUESTION: Oh, sorry, sorry, sorry.

QUESTION: So how long should they expect to wait until you finish processing your request? And why should they even have to submit a FOIA request for this? Why wouldn’t you just – if they asked for it, why wouldn’t you just turn them over?

MS. PSAKI: They were asking for specific documents that are –

QUESTION: Right. But this is not an organization that has a questionable interest in this. It’s an organization that, in fact, represents – I mean, it is the – basically the union for Foreign Service officers, so it’s not really an outside party.

MS. PSAKI: Well, oftentimes, Matt, there’s a processing aspect that needs to take place with these requests, so –

QUESTION: Right, I’m sure that – I’m sure everyone is thrilled, everyone who’s ever filed a FOIA request to the State Department or any other government agency is thrilled, but I think that –

MS. PSAKI: There are many people who do. That’s part of the challenge in processing them.

QUESTION: Right. Okay, so you just threw this in the big pile, in the in-box with every single other request, even though they clearly have some – they have demonstrated interest in this subject. I don’t understand –

MS. PSAKI: I didn’t say we threw it in a pile, Matt.

QUESTION: Yeah, you did. You said you get 18,000 requests a year, so – and –

MS. PSAKI: We do. We process them.

QUESTION: So when they –

MS. PSAKI: But obviously, we’re working to review their request and see how we can meet it as quickly as possible.

QUESTION: But specifically they asked for it to be by the close of business tonight. Otherwise, they’re going to take their – take this to legal action.

MS. PSAKI: I understand that.

QUESTION: Are you saying that you will not be able to get it to them by end of day tonight?

MS. PSAKI: I’m not going to make a prediction of that. We’ll see what happens.

QUESTION: Just – can I have one –

MS. PSAKI: Sure.

QUESTION: Where – you are now processing this specific request, correct?

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: You’re actually looking at it and trying to satisfy it?

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: Okay. If you get 18,000 FOIA requests a year, what is the typical time lag for processing a request? Is it, as in this case, I guess, eight months or – is that typical or is it less, is it more?

MS. PSAKI: I don’t have any specific time breakdown for you. I’m happy to see if there’s anything like that we can provide.

QUESTION: And was this one –

MS. PSAKI: We’re – they’re about to start the press avail, but go ahead.

QUESTION: Okay. Was this one jumped to the front of the queue for any reason or no? It was processed –

MS. PSAKI: Well, there are cases where – and they asked for expedited processing, and some cases that question is asked. This didn’t satisfy the specific laid out standards for that, but we’re still working to see if we can process this as quickly as possible.

QUESTION: But it was not – was it jumped ahead or no? Or it –

MS. PSAKI: Well, we’re still working to see if we can process it as quickly as possible.

QUESTION: No, no, that’s not my question, though. My question is whether it got – I understand that they may have requested expedited processing –

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: – and did not – denied it because they don’t meet the standards, which happens to a lot of people.

MS. PSAKI: And at the same time, we’re still working to expedite – to process this as quickly as possible.

QUESTION: Right. Right. Right. No, but I’m sure you’re doing that with the other 17,199, right? I mean, the question is whether you are doing this faster.

MS. PSAKI: Specifically with this one, we are –

QUESTION: Yeah.

MS. PSAKI: – working to process it as quickly as possible.

QUESTION: But quicker than everything – others’ stuff?

MS. PSAKI: It doesn’t work in that exact way, but we’re working to process it as quickly as possible.

Ali.

QUESTION: And Jen, they said that – AFSA said that they also filed a second FOIA request on February 28th.

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: So did they express to you their – because I know there was discussion between counsels.

MS. PSAKI: Sure.

QUESTION: So was that part of the aspect, that they didn’t feel that the July request had been processed or addressed within a – expeditiously enough so that –

MS. PSAKI: You’d have to ask them that question. I’m not sure if they are basically about the same thing or not. So I’m happy to check, and you may want to check with them and see what the reason was for the second one.

QUESTION: These documents are – what they’re seeking or these certificates are not classified, are they?

MS. PSAKI: No, but they’re still internal files, and so obviously we go through a process –

QUESTION: Fair enough. But they’re for a very small number of people, 50. Do you have any idea how many pages one of these things is?

MS. PSAKI: Well, it’s every ambassadorial nominee for the last 14 months.

QUESTION: Right.

MS. PSAKI: So –

QUESTION: And how many – well, actually, it wouldn’t have been originally –

MS. PSAKI: 15?

QUESTION: No, because they filed it in July asking for every one that went back to January. So –

MS. PSAKI: But when you meet it, you’re abiding by what the FOIA request –

QUESTION: Fair enough. How many pages is one of these things?

MS. PSAKI: I don’t have a specific number of pages for you.

QUESTION: It seems to me like this is a very limited request from an organization that’s got a very, very important interest in this subject, and that frankly, they should, if they ask, should be allowed to see – without having to go to through the FOIA processing. Was there any – did – do you know – are you aware if they asked outside of FOIA to get this – to get these documents?

MS. PSAKI: They are closely engaged with our chief of staff and deputy secretary of state, and have a range of meetings. So I know that all of these issues have been discussed. In terms of this specific request, I can check if there’s anything we can share on that.

QUESTION: So in other words, you said no. They asked, you said no, you have to submit a FOIA? Is that –

MS. PSAKI: I’m not saying that’s how it all went down. I’m saying they have many channels for having discussions with people in the Administration. And if there’s more to share on whether they made this specific request outside of the FOIA request process, I’m happy to check into that.

QUESTION: Do you have any idea if there is a chance, even a remote chance, that the processing will be finished by 5 o’clock this afternoon?

MS. PSAKI: I’m not going to predict when it will be finished.

QUESTION: Well, I know, but –

MS. PSAKI: Obviously, we’re working to process it as quickly as possible.

QUESTION: I understand that. But is there a possibility that it could be done by 5 o’clock?

MS. PSAKI: There’s always a possibility.

QUESTION: There is. Okay.

QUESTION: How many nominees are we talking about? Have you got a figure?

MS. PSAKI: I don’t have a figure.

Well, then, tomorrow, maybe  – or we’ll wonder who’ll stop the rain …

 

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