State Department Serves ‘Guidance on Toxic Behaviors at Work’ Soup, Um …Forgets Meat in Yak Soup

Posted: 12:36 am EDT

 

The State Department recently issued guidance for its American direct-hire employees on “Toxic Behaviors at Work: Where to Turn For Help.” The aim was “to help mitigate the impact of toxic behaviors in the workplace, should they occur.”  It notes that “The stress this causes can lower productivity and employee satisfaction, and make it harder for the Department to retain strong employees and perform its best.”  A separate guidance will reportedly be issued for local employees and contractors.

What is toxic behavior? According to the State Department, the following is what constitutes toxic behavior:

Toxic behaviors are unwanted and can be verbal or non-verbal.  They are behaviors that a reasonable person would consider offensive, humiliating, intimidating, or otherwise significantly detrimental to their ability to do their work.  They include, but are not limited to: violent behavior, e.g., throwing items, breaking items; threatening behavior, i.e.,  intimidation, bullying, yelling, passive aggression, exclusion, lack of communication and/or cooperation; unethical behavior or the appearance of it, loafing, insubordination or failure to follow instructions, discrimination, or harassment.

Let’s add a few more warning signs from Kirk Lawrence of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill Kenan-Flagler Business School:

Types of toxic behaviors include tearing others down, passive aggressive leadership, destructive gossip, devious politics, negativity, aggressiveness, narcissism, lack of credibility, passivity, disorganization, and the resistance to change. These behaviors—individually or combined—can create a toxic workplace environment.

The State Department guidance cable does not provide examples of toxic behavior so we had to do some archive  diving where we found some relevant examples:

  • A Public Affairs Officer at a U.S. embassy alleged that his interim performance review was tainted by a hostile environment to which he was subject, characterized by bullying and harassment by his rater, the Deputy Chief of Mission, and his reviewer, the Ambassador. (FSGB No. 2011-042).
  • A Principal Commercial Officer asserted that there were multiple violations of due process resulting “in an oppressive work environment.”  He claimed that “Resolution of this grievance is in the national interest because any organization in which accountability does not exist, managers may act on whim, and decisions and personnel actions are based not on facts but on hearsay, rumors, bullying and fear affects all employees including myself, paralyzes decision-making, erodes morale, makes risk-taking impossible, erodes motivation and performance . . . .” (Case No. 2011-018)
  • A Senior FSO who was an office director at one of the bureaus was charged with inappropriate conduct in interactions with his staff and others.  The charge and specifications include repeatedly referring to women as “bitches” and “hormonal,” yelling, banging on his desk and forcefully expressing his political views throughout the office. This Senior FSO yelled at subordinates and peers, demonstrating threatening and aggressive behavior towards them in violation of the workplace violence policy, evincing anger management issues, and damaging office morale. According to one witness account, there was a tendency to berate people publicly. “The office has this term being of in the tribe and out of the tribe. You can be put out of the tribe by him. There is a culture of fear to be put out of the tribe. Everyone tries to tip toe because it is not a good place to be. He will take away TDY and site visits and make life difficult.” (FSGB Case No. 2011-004)
  • An FS-01 Office Director referred to a former colleague as a “bitch” and used “little officer” and “little employee” to describe women. He sent an e-mail to officemates “which could be viewed as offensive” and received a Letter of Admonishment. (FSGB Case No. 2010-0035)
  • Most employees described this ambassador as aggressive, bullying, hostile, and intimidating, which resulted in an extremely difficult, unhappy, and uncertain work environment. The ambassador eventually resigned but not before most of the embassy’s senior staff, including two deputy chiefs of mission (DCM) and two section chiefs, had either curtailed or volunteered for service in Kabul and Baghdad (via pdf here).
  • One ambassador’s policy successes were overshadowed within the mission by a leadership style that negatively affected morale. Many mission staff reported that the ambassador occasionally criticized and belittled certain section chiefs and agency heads in front of their peers. Mission staff noted front office reliance on a group of trusted mission leaders. Others not in the favored category were more likely to receive attention to weaknesses rather than strengths or potential.  (via)

So this is not really a case of “toxic behaviors in the workplace, should they occur,” is it?

The State Department unclassified guidance helpfully provided a section for “Roles and Responsibilities” — some of the points enumerated below  like, how it’s “nearly impossible to succeed in changing a toxic situation without making any changes in your own behavior” — are rather questionable. We understand the consequences of meeting fire with fire but it sure looks like the onus is on the person who perceives the toxic environment here, rather than the person who is causing it.  Take a look:

It is incumbent on everyone working at the Department of State to conduct themselves in a professional manner.  This means not only refraining from engaging in toxic behavior, but also following the appropriate steps when confronted by someone who is engaging in such behavior.  Meeting the toxic behavior of another with toxic behavior of one’s own is neither productive nor professional.

It is imperative to keep the following points in mind as you consider how to address a situation that you find toxic or counter-productive:

–> If a supervisor is telling you what needs to be done, in a reasonable and non-threatening manner, and holding you accountable for doing it, in a reasonable and non-threatening manner, this is not toxic behavior.  This is their job.  Therefore, you are required to follow supervisory instructions, unless there is substantial reason to believe that the instruction given would place you in a clearly dangerous situation or cause you irreparable harm.  If you perform the action instructed, you do have the right to register a complaint or grieve later.

–> You cannot control the behavior of others, only your own.

–>You should take some time to consider your own role in a situation you find toxic.

–>It is nearly impossible to succeed in changing a toxic situation without making any changes in your own behavior.

–>These are not easy things to do.  Stretching oneself in a situation that is already difficult is additionally unpleasant.  However, it is a necessary part of one’s own development and the improvement of one’s work environment.

Has somebody been reading those management books about “stretching” again? You’re in a toxic workplace, and your boss is an ass and a bully, and you’re “stretching” yourself, so your boss would be more pleasant? No, you’re stretching yourself so that you’ll be more pleasant to your toxic boss, who will, of course, cease being a bully and an ass? No, whaaat?

Ay, dios mio! Who writes this stuff?

The State Department guidance identifies 10 key resources for toxic behaviors:

  • The Office of the Ombudsman, Workplace Conflict Prevention and Resolution Center (wCPRc)
  • Office of Civil Rights (S/OCR)
  • Human Resources/Employee Relations/Office of Conduct, Suitability, and Discipline (HR/ER/CSD)
  • Employee Consultation Service (ECS)
  • Human Resources/Grievance (HR/G
  • Diplomatic Security Office of Protective Intelligence Investigations (DS/TIA/PII)
  • Diplomatic Security Office of Special Investigations (DS/DO/OSI)
  • Foreign Service Institute (FSI) Leadership and Management School (LMS) Leadership Coaching
  • Office of the Inspector General (OIG)
  • Unions for State Department Employees:  American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE) Local 1534, the American Foreign Service Association (AFSA), or the National Federation of Federal Employees (NFFE) Local 1998.

That’s a long list but dear ones, aren’t you forgetting the meat in the soup?

What about leadership?

Leadership—or the lack of it—lays at the core a toxic workplace. When a toxic workplace develops on a peer-to-peer level, it is the lack of leadership that allows it to fester. All too often, however, toxic workplaces are created from the top down, when managers or supervisors are the root of the problem. One study found that 37 percent of workers said they had been bullied at work and that the majority of those bullies (72 percent), were bosses. (via)

A piece on toxic culture from forbes.com notes that there is a large body of research showing that a leader sets the tone for the office and sets an example for internal comportment. “Executives who claim to operate at such a lofty level that they cannot be bothered by the daily operations or political scale-balancing of their organizations are simply poor leaders.”

One HR manager interviewed by Peter Frost in Toxic Emotions at Work (Harvard Business School Press) also observed:

“Fish stinks from the head!” The higher up the toxic person is, the more widely spread is the pain, and the more people there are who behave in the same way. If you have a CEO who delivers public lashings—in effect does his performance appraisals in public—then you will have the lieutenants begin to join in.

We understand the intention is good but c’mon folks … to issue a lengthy guidance on toxic behavior in a workplace without addressing leadership is like serving yak soup without yak meat.

Here are some wild yaks to look at when you read that official guidance. Not quite the same but better than nothin.

“Wild Yaks” by Nadeemmushtaque – Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons – http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Wild_Yaks.jpg#/media/File:Wild_Yaks.jpg

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More yak meat here:

 

 

Is State/OBO’s Intense Focus on Design Excellence Driving Engineering Employees Away?

Posted: 1:22 am EDT
Updated: April 16, 2015, 7:42 pm PDT

 

Last week, there was a Burn Bag submission we posted on the many losses in the Bureau of Overseas Buildings Operations’ engineering staff.  We’re republishing it below, as well as reblogging a post from The Skeptical Bureaucrat. Maybe this would help save the State Department leadership from having to say later on that no one made them aware of this issue.

We’re actually considering sending a love note to the 7th floor. Something like, “Hey, subscribe to Diplopundit. You may not always like what you read but we’ll tell you what do not always want to hear.” Or something like that.

On second thought, maybe we shouldn’t. They might decide to go back to just Internet Explorer and then all of our readers there won’t be able to read this blog ever again. In any case, here is that burn bag submission, repeated for emphasis:

Is the State Department leadership aware that there have been many losses of OBO [Bureau of Overseas Buildings Operations] engineers in the last 18 months, leaving more than a 20% deficit (OBO words via email, not mine) in engineering staff, with more contemplating separation? Does it care?

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Below from The Skeptical Bureaucrat: Have Hard Hat, Will Travel (used with permission):

Diplopundit’s Burn Bag entry about OBO’s losses in engineering employees made me think back to the retirements and resignations I’ve noticed among my good friends in Overseas Buildings Operations over the last couple years. Yeah, I think there is indeed a pattern there.

A demoralization among OBO’s engineers would kind of make sense in the context of OBO’s overwhelming focus on Design Excellence, or, to use the new name for it, Just Plain Excellence. (The word “design” was dropped from the program’s name about one day after the disastrous House Oversight Committee hearing in which OBO’s Director and Deputy Director were severely criticized for favoring artsy & expensive embassy office buildings over functional & sensibly-priced ones.) In a Design Excellence organization, the architects are firmly in charge and the engineers will always play second fiddle.

According to the Burn Bag information, OBO has lost about 20 percent of its engineering staff. There is substantiation for that claim in the current USAJobs open announcement for Foreign Service Construction Engineers, which says OBO has “many vacancies” in that field:

Job Title: Foreign Service Construction Engineer
Department: Department Of State
Agency: Department of State
Agency Wide Job Announcement Number: CON-2015-0002

MANY vacancies – Washington DC,

A Foreign Service Construction Engineer (FSCE) is an engineer or architect, in the Bureau of Overseas Buildings Operations working specifically in the Office of Construction Management, responsible for managing Department of State construction projects overseas. The FSCE is a member of a U.S. Government team that ensures construction is professionally performed according to applicable plans, specifications, schedules, and standards. The FSCE must adhere to the highest standards of integrity, dependability, attention to detail, teamwork and cooperation while accepting the need to travel, to live overseas, and when necessary, to live away from family.

Those vacancies are for permanent, direct-hire, Foreign Service employees. In addition, there were also personal service contractor vacancies for OBO engineers announced on Monster.com five days ago. That one is looking for General Engineers, Mechanical Engineers, and Civil/Structural Engineers.

Why isn’t there also a need for Electrical Engineers? After all, you can’t spell Geek without two Es.

It looks like engineers are indeed exiting OBO in large numbers. Why that is, I can’t be sure. But I have to think it is not a good thing for my friends in OBO.

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Sources tell us that William Miner, the director of the OBO’s design and engineering office was one of those who left in the last 18 months and Patrick Collins, the chief architect retired in January this year. 

The USAjobs announcement cited by TSB does not indicate how many vacancies OBO plans to fill.  In addition to the open vacancies for Foreign Service Construction Engineers, USAJobs.gov also has one vacancy for a Supervisory Engineer (DEU) and one vacancy for Supervisory Architect (DEU).  The monster.com announcement linked to above includes full-time, non-permanent-temporary non-status jobs with initial 1 year appointment renewable for 4 years. All must be able to obtain and maintain a Top Secret security clearance. Oh, and relocation expenses will NOT be paid.

About OBO

 These are the jobs advertised via monster.com:

 

A  2013 HR stats indicate that OBO has 81 construction engineers including 10 who are members of the Senior Foreign Service (SFS).  Those numbers are, obviously, outdated now.   And we’re not sure what “more than 20% deficit” actually means in actual staffing numbers. But if we take a fifth from that HR stats, that’s about 16 engineers gone who must be replaced not just in the staffing chart but also in various construction projects overseas.

Even if OBO can ramp up its hiring the next 12 months, it will still have the challenge of bridging the experience gap. A kind of experience that you can’t reconstruct or replicate overnight unless OBO has an implantable chip issued together with badges for new engineers. Experience takes time, time that OBO does not have in great abundance. Experience that OBO also needs to rebuild every five years since in some of these cases, the new hires are on limited non-career appointments that do not exceed five years.

According to OBO, the State Department is entering an overseas construction program of unprecedented scale in the history of the bureau.  What might also be unprecedented is OBO engineers running out the door in droves.

Why is this happening? We can’t say for sure but …

  • We’ve heard allegations that an official has “run people out of the Department with his/her histrionic behaviors” and other unaddressed issues in the workplace that have generated complaints from staff but remained unresolved.
  • There are also allegations of “poor treatment” of OBO employees and families while in the Department or even when trying to separate.
  • One commenter to the Burn Bag post writes about problems within the Department of “an extreme lack of planning which will have caused our children to attend three schools in three countries just this year alone.”
  • Another commenter writes, “I know it’s TRUE, because I recently departed. Somewhere along the way OBO decided that Design Excellence meant more architecture and less engineering.”
Foggy Bottom, you’ve got a problem. People do not just quit their jobs and the security that goes with it for no reason. Somebody better be home to fix this before it gets much worse.
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2014 Foreign Service Promotion Results By Gender & Race Still Behind the Great Firewall of State

Posted: 1:05 am EDT

 

The April 2015 issue of State Magazine includes the 2014 Foreign Service promotion statistics: a “modest decrease” in overall promotion rate it says:

Due to the Diplomatic Readiness Initiative (DRI) and Diplomacy 3.0 hiring efforts, Foreign Service hiring surged in the first decade of the 2000s. These employee cohorts are currently moving into the mid-ranked positions and above, intensifying the competition between employees for promotions. Although the total number of promotions increased to record levels over the past few years, the overall promotion rate decreased as the total number of promotion-eligible employees increased more rapidly. As a result, the overall 2014 promotion rate for all eligible Foreign Service employees experienced a modest decrease to 21 percent, compared with 22 percent in 2013 and 24 percent for the five-year average.

HR has made available online, behind the firewall, the 2014 promotion results by gender and ethnicity/race along with detailed breakouts by grade level for each generalist cone and specialist skill group. They are available at: http://intranet.hr.state.sbu/offices/rma/Pages/DiversityStats.aspx.

Details on Foreign Service promotion planning and promotion trends can also be found at: http://intranet.hr.state.sbu/Workforce/ WorkforcePlanning/Pages/default.aspx.

Ugh! Not again.

Yup, not only is this behind the great firewall, they put it in the “Sensitive But Unclassified” page so they can yank anyone who wants to pass this information out to us or anybody who is in the public sphere.

Last year, somebody in Secretary Kerry’s staff told us he’d take a look and see what can be done.  That’s the last we’ve heard of it and follow-up emails just went into dead email boxes. To this date, we have not learned of any legitimate reason why the detailed breakdown on gender and race in Foreign Service promotions are protected information.

The state.gov’s career website includes the following statement on diversity and inclusion from Secretary Kerry:

 In order to represent the United States to the world, the Department of State must have a workforce that reflects the rich composition of its citizenry. The skills, knowledge, perspectives, ideas, and experiences of all of its employees contribute to the vitality and success of the global mission. Our commitment to inclusion must be evident in the face we present to the world and in the decision-making processes that represent our diplomatic goals. The keys to leading a diverse workforce successfully are commitment and persistence. Delivering strong and effective action requires every employee’s commitment to equal employment opportunity principles. To that end, I pledge that at the Department of State we will: Propagate fairness, equity, and inclusion in the work environment both domestically and abroad…

But that commitment apparently does not include publicly sharing the Foreign Service promotion statistics by gender and race.

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Burn Bag: Where taking “open door” seriously can ruin corridor reputation … oh woe!

Posted: 2:19  am EDT

 

When management at your post in crisis tells you they have an open door and want to know how people are feeling, then tells you your (widely shared) concern is insignificant and you are ruining your corridor reputation by bringing it up.

 

 

Former FSO Joan Wadelton With Truthout Goes to Court Over FOIA Case

Posted: 1:0808 am EDT

 

We didn’t know this but former FSO Joan Wadelton was joined by non-profit organization, Truthout in her FOIA lawsuit (pdf) against the State Department. Her formal complaint includes the following:

Over the past decade, Wadelton has collected evidence demonstrating that the type of treatment she received from HR was not unique to her, but instead was the product of a systematic manipulation of the selection board promotion process by a circle of current and former high-level HR managers to advantage themselves and their allies and to disadvantage those they did not favor.

See more here.

Since this is a FOIA case, the Clinton emails made their first walk-in part. We expect that these emails will be cited in many more cases in the court system before too long.

Via Politico:

The saga stemming from revelations about Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email account as secretary of state made its way into a federal courtroom in Washington Wednesday afternoon in an ex-foreign service officer’s lawsuit for records related to her dismissal.

The discussion of the State Department’s email issues—including a disclosure last week that the agency did not automatically archive the email of many top officials until February of this year—came at a hearing on a Freedom of Information Act suit filed by former State employee Joan Wadelton.
[…]

“The State Department has proposed filing a motion for summary judgment in August 2015, stating it requires nearly six months to compile a Vaughn index for approximately 450 documents. The Court is not convinced, without a further and clearer showing of necessity, that six months is needed to complete this task,” wrote Chutkan, an Obama appointee. She ordered the government to offer a written explanation by March 30 of why that many months are needed.

Wadelton’s complaints about favoritism and irregular employment practices at State have been covered by various diplomacy-related blogs and news outlets, including here at the Atlantic.

The Vaughn Index is an itemized index, correlating each withholding with a specific FOIA exemption and a justification for that justification. This document is prepared by the agency, in this case, the State Department, to justify any FOIA withholdings made.

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Related posts:

Joan Wadelton: Time To Fix The State Department (via WhirledView)

Joan Wadelton’s Appeal Makes it to FSGB 2011 Annual Report to Congress (diplopundit.net)

Joan Wadelton’s Case: That’s One Messy Promotion Scorecard, Next Up – It’s GAO Time! (diplopundit.net)

GAO Examines Foreign Service Promotion Process — Strengthened But Documentation Gaps Remain) (diplopundit.net)

U.S. District Court for the Court of the District of Columbia | Wadelton v. State Department, 4/25/13 (pdf)

Wadelton Case | The FOIA Project

WADELTON et al v. DEPARTMENT OF STATE | Complaint 4/1/2013 (pdf)

 

State/FLO’s Global Employment Initiative — How Effective Is It? Plus a New Survey For EFMs

Posted: 12:20  am EDT

 

A few years back, the State Department’s Family Liaison Office established the Global Employment Initiative (GEI) to help Foreign Service family members with career development and exploration of employment opportunities while posted overseas. The program employs Global Employment Advisors (GEAs) reportedly to provide on-site job coaching sessions, training workshops, and career development services at no cost to family members. They also “offer networking assistance, information regarding volunteer projects, and support family members’ efforts to engage in the local economy.”

Our overall experience with this initiative was not at all impressive. A locally hired U.S. citizen got the GEI advisor gig at post and spouses interested in networking and finding jobs got on a meet and greet with a couple American companies operating in the host country.  But not a single EFM ended up with a job at post or a career plan through GEI.

There is, of course, the advantage of hiring a local U.S. citizen as GEI advisor, presuming that the individual already has an existing local network and need not have to build one from scratch. But it also has a disadvantage of hiring someone who has no idea how the system works. And that’s how you get a GEI advisor telling an EFM to make handicrafts for sale on Etsy. Because obviously, if you’re an EFM entrepreneur, the Foreign Affairs Manual does not have anything but lots of recommendations for you!

Blog comment: State’s so-called “global employment initiative” is a complete joke (well, except that nobody’s laughing about it). After two assignments I have *never* heard of someone who got a job through GEI. The only thing our regional GEI person ever said that made any sense was “State Department does not owe you a job.” Of course, I never said it did, but that was irrelevant as she then segued into telling me to start a cooking blog or make hand-woven baskets to sell on Etsy.

Image via FAMER, November 2014 (click for larger view)

Image via FAMER, November 2014 (pdf)
(click for larger view)

 

We wanted to learn more about this initiative, its funding, its results. How effective is it in assisting Foreign Service spouses overseas. How many GEI advisors have been hired to-date since its creation?  How many spouses have been helped by the initiative in finding jobs, starting a business, developing career plans, etc. We also wanted to know what is the annual budget for this initiative, and if the return justify the investment. We’ve reached out to the GEI office at the State Department last week but we have not heard anything back to-date.

If you have a personal experience with the Global Employment Initiative — if you’ve found a job, started a business, created a successful career plan, or able to develop a career through GEI while posted overseas, let us hear from you in the comments section or send us an email.  We will have a follow-up post if we have enough response.

In related news, State/FLO would like to explore ways to connect family members with professional telework opportunities and is  conducting a survey until the end of March to determine the skills, education and experience of family members in the Foreign Service:

The Family Liaison Office (FLO) is investigating ways to connect interested family members with professional telework opportunities.  To do this, we need current statistics on the education, skills, and experience of our Foreign Service family members.  The questions were developed with input from the Associates of the American Foreign Service Worldwide (AAFSW), the non-profit Foreign Service community organization. FLO will use this information to more effectively communicate with companies and organizations about the advantages of hiring talented mobile professionals.  Your responses are anonymous and the survey should take less than 5 minutes to complete.

http://www.surveymonkey.com/s/FLOEmployment

We understand that the FLO intends to use this information to “more effectively communicate with companies and organizations about the advantages of hiring talented mobile professionals.”  We wanted to know if this outreach includes hiring managers at the State Department and/or USAID, and other federal agencies for telework opportunities. We’ve asked but have not heard a response to this specific question.

Why were we asking?

Because.

If the State Department is trying to impress “companies and organizations” to take advantage of hiring talented mobile professionals who are Foreign Service members, but the agency itself will not hire them to take advantage of their talent — well, what message does that say?

They’re smashingly great, hire them to telework for you because we won’t?

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Related posts:

 

 

February 25, Wilson Center: The Changing Face and Changing Roles of the Foreign Service

Posted: 08:45 PST

 

The Bureau of Public Affairs, the U.S. Diplomacy Center and the Wilson Center will host a panel discussion on The Changing Face and Changing Roles of the Foreign Service:

Wednesday, February 25, 2015
10:30-11:45 am
6th Floor Flom Auditorium

Wilson Center
Ronald Reagan Building and
International Trade Center
One Woodrow Wilson Plaza
1300 Pennsylvania, Ave., NW
Washington, D.C. 20004
Phone: 202.691.4000
wwics@wilsoncenter.org

Via the Wilson Center:

For more than two decades, the US Department of State, USAID and other foreign affairs agencies have worked to ensure that the Foreign Service looks more like America.  Success in that effort could contribute immeasurably to the United States’ global leadership on a range of issues including gender equality, democracy and minority rights. A panel of experts will question if the Foreign Service has been successful in these efforts and explore how it must continue to evolve in a rapidly changing world.

Introduction

Shante Moore, Foreign Service Officer

Remarks

Ambassador Arnold Chacon, Director General of the Foreign Service

Discussants

  • Susan Reichle, USAID Counselor
  • Robert Silverman, President, American Foreign Service Association

Moderator

Diana Villiers Negroponte, Wilson Center Public Policy Scholar

 

 

Related posts:

Related item:

State’s Female-Proof Glass Ceiling: Breaking into the Good Old Boys Diplomatic Club is Still Hard to Do (whirledview.typepad.com)

Burn Bag: What’s ‘off the record’ about Assignment China?

 

“Why are we still downplaying the enormous health impact to officers and their families serving in China? Why are State MED officers saying ‘off the record’ that it is irresponsible to send anyone with children to China and yet no one will speak up via official channels?

Hello AFSA …. EAP …. HR… Anyone? And the band played on …. ”

 

 

‘Foreign Service Problems’ Gets a Tumblr — 48 Pages of Hilariousness, Laugh or Else!

— Domani Spero


“The best way to treat obstacles is to use them as stepping-stones. Laugh at them, tread on them, and let them lead you to something better.” 

― Enid BlytonMr Galliano’s Circus

 

The Tumblr for Foreign Service Problems has been around for many months now. Sometime this past spring it also joined Twitter. Yes, it is hysterical and absolutely spot on. Below are some of our favorite entries to delight your day. Unless, the Foreign Service has also ruined your sense of humor, in which case, we pray you get it back — fast! or that could quickly be a future entry.  With permission from @FS_Problems:

Screen Shot 2014-12-21 at 3.41.44 PM

_______________

When someone mistakes you for being the Ambassador’s personal household help rather than a Foreign Service Officer or Specialist

— FS Problems (@FS_Problems) December 15, 2014

FSprob_butler

_______________

When you’re finally somewhere where you don’t have to soak your vegetables in bleach before eating them.

— FS Problems (@FS_Problems) July 13, 2014

FSprob_veges

_______________

When you hear someone complain that their free housing that has more bedrooms than they have family members and is in an expensive city, isn’t big enough.

— FS Problems (@FS_Problems) August 1, 2014

FSprobhousing

 

_______________

When someone asks GSO, who has no control over the furniture contract, why the Drexel Heritage furniture is so ugly…AGAIN.

— FS Problems (@FS_Problems) May 22, 2014 (Note: GSO for General Services Office)

FSprob-furniture

_______________

When someone is rude to an FS spouse at a reception because the spouse “isn’t important enough.”

— FS Problems (@FS_Problems) May 18, 2014

FSprob_spouse

_______________

What posts say about life at post and the job when they’re trying to lure bidders into accepting a handshake.

— FS Problems (@FS_Problems) October 27, 2014

FSprob_bidding

_______________

When the ELO you’re supervising complains about having to do a visa tour in a visa waiver country when you served at a visa mill before applications were electronic.

— FS Problems (@FS_Problems) December 14, 2014 (Note: ELO for entry level officer)

FSprob_elos

_______________

When you see incompetent people on the promotion list, while excellent people get passed over for promotion.

— FS Problems (@FS_Problems) October 2, 2014

FSprob_promotion

_______________

What you do when your boss is looking for someone to work the Shopdel coming to post over Christmas.

— FS Problems (@FS_Problems) December 5, 2014 (Note: Shopdel, a variation of a CODEL, that is, a congressional delegation mainly for shopping).

FSprob_shopdel

_______________

When someone at home assumes you can get away with anything since you have diplomatic immunity.

— FS Problems (@FS_Problems) November 8, 2014

FSprob_immunity

 _______________

When a family member back home insists that you must be a spy, because who ever heard of the Foreign Service anyway?

— FS Problems (@FS_Problems) August 20, 2014

FSprob_spy

 _______________

When you watch Madam Secretary and can’t stand the inaccuracies.

— FS Problems (@FS_Problems) November 3, 2014

FSprob_madam

_______________

When you think you might disagree with an official policy.

— FS Problems (@FS_Problems) September 22, 2014

FSprob_policy

_______________

Foreign Service truth that they don’t tell you in orientation.

— FS Problems (@FS_Problems) June 13, 2014

FSprob_truth

_______________

When things are going to hell in a handbasket at post but Washington refuses to acknowledge anything’s wrong.

— FS Problems (@FS_Problems) October 21, 2014

FSprob_nothingtosee

_______________

What post management says when you’re put in charge of the 4th of July party and given a piddly budget.

— FS Problems (@FS_Problems) October 9, 2014

FSprob_4july

_______________

When you know that you won’t be promoted before you TIS/TIC out and just don’t care any more.

— FS Problems (@FS_Problems) August 22, 2014 (Note: TIS for time-in- service, time in a combination of salary classes, computed from date of entry into the Foreign Service;  TIC for time-in-class, time in a single salary class).

FSprob_tis

_______________

And oh, look, we made it there, too…

That’s really sweet.  Thanks @FS_Problems! Stay sharp.

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Stocking Stuffers: Are you making a list, and checking it twice?

— Domani Spero

 

The Demilitarization of American Diplomacy: Two Cheers for Striped Pants
by Laurence Pope

The author’s retired friend from the Foreign Service emailed to say that he has been approached about running a very major embassy, yet again and Ambassador Pope asks what we’ve all been thinking, “What would we say if over and over the Navy couldn’t find an admiral on active duty to run a carrier battle group?”

Laurence Pope is a retired American diplomat who lives in Portland, Maine. He is the author of several books, including François de Callieres: A Political Life (2010), a biography of the first proponent of professional diplomacy. He was previously  the U.S. Ambassador to Chad from 1993 to 1996 and was the US Chargé d’Affaires to Libya following the Benghazi attack.  The author said in an interview with PDC that “At the State Department history is just one damn thing after another.  Its culture is profoundly hostile to ideas and theory, remarkable for such a smart group of people.  (That is why nobody has read the QDDR —my book takes it apart so you won’t have to.)“The QDDR is 242 pages long, this is shorter!

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Career Diplomacy: Life and Work in the US Foreign Service, Second Edition
by Harry Kopp

An insider’s guide that examines the foreign service as an institution, a profession, and a career, written by an FSO with a long and distinguished career in the U.S. Foreign Service. The second edition published in 2011 addresses major changes that have occurred since 2007: the controversial effort to build an expeditionary foreign service to lead the work of stabilization and reconstruction in fragile states; deepening cooperation with the U.S. military and the changing role of the service in Iraq and Afghanistan; and the growing integration of USAID’s budget and mission with those of the Department of State. We’ve previously written about this author here: Career Diplomacy | Life and Work in the Foreign Service, 2nd Edition – Now OutForeign Service, Civil Service: How We Got to Where We Are (via FSJ).

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Seriously Not All Right: Five Wars in Ten Years
by Ron Capps

We have previously blogged about the author here (see Call in the Civilians. Pray Tell, From Where?!Ron Capps | Back From The Brink: War, Suicide, And PTSD).

Seriously Not All Right is a memoir that provides a unique perspective of a professional military officer and diplomat who suffered (and continues to suffer) from PTSD. One FSO writes that this book should be required reading for everyone in A100, the orientation training course for all diplomats when they first begin their careers.

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The Diplomat’s Dictionary
by Chas Freeman, Jr.

On the caution of diplomats: “The training and life of a foreign service officer are not apt to produce men well fitted for the task [of innovating policy]…The bureaucratic routine through which foreign service officers must go produces capable men, knowledgeable about specific parts of the world, and excellent diplomatic operators. But it makes men cautious rather than imaginative.” (Dean Acheson, p.84).

The Diplomat’s Dictionary is an entertaining and informative collection, with lots of gems — from career diplomat Chas Freeman ( I don’t leave home without it). The 2010 expanded second edition contains 476 new entries, including definitions for selected up-to-date terminology and hundreds of additional quotations from across cultures and centuries. Chas. W. Freeman, Jr., has been a career officer in the U.S. Foreign Service, ambassador to Saudi Arabia during the Persian Gulf War, and assistant secretary of defense for international security affairs. He was a fellow at the United States Institute of Peace in 1994-95 and is also the author of Arts of Power: Statecraft and Diplomacy (USIP Press). We previously blogged about Ambassador Freeman here, see Ambassador Freeman on American statecraft — It’s hard to think of anything that has gone right.Protecting Diplomats Post-Embassy Attacks: More Fortresses or Rethinking Fortresses?Who’s Gonna be Kicked Around Next?).

 

 

The State Department: More Than Just Diplomacy
(The Personalities, Turf Battles, Dangers Zones For Diplomats, Exotic Datelines, Miscast Appointments, the Laughs — and Sadly, the Occasional Homicide) by George Gedda

This is a book by an AP reporter who covered the State Department for about 40 years and travelled with nine secretary of state to more than 80 countries. Bound to have lots of interesting stories and quips like “He’s the only guy I know who can strut while sitting down.” Bwa-ha-ha! Or when the then Cuba desk officer meet Fidel Castro. He asked if she was there as a spouse of a member of the American delegation, and she replied, “I’m head of Cuban Affairs.”  “Oh,” said Castro. “I thought I was.” The book has a people’s index so you can start there!

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Realities of Foreign Service Life, Volume 1 & 2
by Patricia Linderman (Author), Melissa Brayer Hess (Author), Marlene Monfiletto Nice (Author)

It has been said that the Foreign Service is more than a profession; it is a way of life. As much as it is fulfilling to most people I know and a grand adventure to all, it is not for everyone. And if you have a spouse or a partner interested in pursuing his/her career, consideration on the trade offs you both are willing to make or what you are willing to give up must make for serious conversation. Here are a couple of books that anyone considering a career in the Foreign Service should read. The Realities books are published by the Associates of the American Foreign Service Worldwide (AAFSW) a non-profit organization that represents Foreign Service spouses, employees and retirees. The AAFSW volunteers have been around forever, supporting multiple evacuations and assisting members of the Foreign Service community. Its tireless volunteers even supported somebody we know who was not a paying member of the group.

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Pomegranate Peace [Kindle Edition]
by 
Rashmee Roshan Lall

Rashmee Roshan Lall was The Times of India’s Foreign Editor based in London, reporting on Europe.  Till June 2011, she was editor of The Sunday Times of India. An EFM, she spent a year in Kabul, Afghanistan, working for the US Embassy’s Public Affairs Section and six months in Washington,D.C., reporting on the 2012 American presidential election. Rashmee currently works for a paper in the Middle East. This book is kind of We Meant Well,Also in Afghanistan, except it’s fiction. The protagonist’s boss quotes from Alice in Wonderland: ‘We’re all mad here. I’m mad. You’re mad. You must be or you wouldn’t have come here.’ And there’s Little Sam, “the Haiku poet laureate on the frontline of a war no one could properly explain any longer.” In the novel, Little Sam could churn out fourteen syllables for every mission objective, every ambassadorial platitude – Rule of Law; Transparency and Accountability in Government;etcetera, etcetera. Here’s one.

It’s war, but we spend like peacetime
Blood, treasure,
Strewn. Yours, mine.

The protagonist in the story, who is a former journalist manages a  Pomegranate Grant, which had been previously approved with the following rationale: ‘Pomegranate production can sustain the Afghan economy. This Afghan-led grant proposal will persuade farmers in the highly kinetic Kandahar area to change from the habit of poppy production.’ “The grantee,” the author writes, “lived in Canada all his life and seemed unwilling to change his address of record.” Jeez, that sounds familiar, doesn’t it?

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The Foreign Circus: Why Foreign Policy Should Not Be Left in the Hands of Diplomats, Spies and Political Hacks [Kindle Edition] by James Bruno

Via Amazon: An ambassador orders his staff into the lawless interior of a civil war-torn country as guerrillas are targeting foreigners for assassination. Hundreds of millions of dollars of U.S.-bought weaponry are channeled to Afghan religious fanatics, the future Taliban. White House players leak classified information to the media, then blame the leaks on career civil servants. Diplomats succumb to the temptations of exotic overseas sexual playgrounds. Political hacks and campaign money bundlers are rewarded with ambassadorships in a diplomatic spoils system that hearkens back to the Robber Baron age. Computer nerds Edward Snowden and Bradley Manning steal a veritable Croesus of sensitive national security information and give it away free to our adversaries.  What’s wrong with this picture? Everything.

We previously blogged about the author here: Ex-Diplomat With Zero Acting Experience Wants to Join Cast of The Bold and the Beautiful. James Bruno is also the author of  Havana Queen, Tribe, Chasm and Permanent Interests.

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