Category Archives: Political Appointees

State Department Seeks Contractor For Simulated Congressional Hearing Sessions

– Domani Spero

 

Last month, the State Department’s Foreign Service Institute issued Solicitation #SFSIAQ14Q3002 for a contractor to provide professional training on effective congressional testimony and briefing skills.  The requirement solicitation also includes a requirement for Simulated Congressional Hearing Sessions.

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

 

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Below is an excerpt from the solicitation posted on fedbiz:

The purpose of this project is to obtain the services of a contractor to deliver interactive, professional training seminars for senior-level officials on effective congressional testimony and briefing skills. There will be one primary product, a two-day course entitled “PT-302 – Communicating with Congress: Briefing and Testifying.” This course targets government professionals at the GS-14/FS-02 level or higher, who will be testifying before Congress or briefing members or staffers. We will offer this course between three to four times per year. There is a minimum of 10 and a maximum of 15 participants per class.

Secondly, LMS [Leadership Management School] will seek the services of a contractor to deliver training on strategies for building effective relationships with members of Congress and their staffers to participants of the Ambassadorial Seminar (PT-120) and other senior-level courses. The Ambassadorial Seminar is offered to Ambassadors-designate (including both career Foreign Service Officers and political appointees) and their spouses. This seminar normally runs two weeks and includes up to, but not limited to, 14 participants.

Lastly, contractor shall submit additional proposals to deliver hour-long, one-on-one simulated congressional hearing sessions with feedback for individuals as preparation for anticipated congressional testimony. These individuals may or may not be graduates of the Ambassadorial seminar, or they may be or may not be other, senior-ranking government officials.

C.4.1. Communicating With Congress: Briefing and Testifying (PT-302)

  • Provide professional services to design and deliver PT-302, Communicating with Congress: Briefing and Testifying, for senior ranking officers drawn from the Foreign Service, Civil Service, and military. It is expected that the first year will include significant course design work, but that option years will not involve major course design.
  • It shall include the following topics presented by individuals with current or recent Capitol Hill experience. Experience within the past two years is highly desirable.
  • Training and skill-building in briefing techniques;
  • Presentations/discussions on congressional committees and the hearing process
  • Presentations/discussions on tips for leveraging State’s Bureau of Legislative Affairs
  • Presentations/discussions on building effective relationships with Congress members and staffers.
  • It shall also include simulated congressional hearings, at which:
    • Each class member will deliver written and oral briefs/testimony before a panel of experts capable of appropriate questioning and criticism;
    • All briefings/testimony and responses to questions are video recorded;
    • Experts critique the individual briefing/testimony and responses to questions.

C.4.2. Ambassadorial Seminar (PT-120)

  • Provide professional services to design and deliver a three-hour training segment on strategies for building effective relationships with members of Congress and their staffers to participants of the Ambassadorial Seminar (PT-120) and other senior-level courses.
  • This shall be delivered via 1-2 presenters with ample time for questions and answers. If contractor provides two presenters, one presenter shall have current or recent experience on Capitol Hill as a member or staffer (experience within the past two years highly desirable), and the second presenter shall have recent senior-level executive branch service with personal experience in developing successful relationships on Capitol Hill, to include effective congressional testimony and briefing experience (experience within the past three years highly desirable). If contractor provides only one presenter, this presenter shall have both current or recent experience on Capitol Hill as a member or staff, and recent senior-level executive branch service with personal experience in developing successful relationships with Capitol Hill.

C.4.3. Simulated Congressional Hearing Sessions

  • Provide professional services to deliver hour-long, one-on-one simulated congressional hearing sessions with feedback for individuals as preparation for anticipated congressional testimony. These individuals may or may not be graduates of the Ambassadorial seminar, or they may be or may not be other, senior-ranking government officials.

 

The solicitation requires that the contractor/s’ professional qualifications include experience delivering training in a federal government context with senior executive participants; professional experience in working with Congressional staffers and members; current or recent Capitol Hill professional experience. Experience within the past two years is also highly desirable.  For presenters in the three-hour and one-hour sessions, qualifications also include prior service as a senior executive in a federal agency with personal experience briefing and testifying to Congress.  But the government also wants contractors with “knowledge of and experience using adult learning principles in the facilitation and delivery of a course” as well as “expertise in experiential learning methodologies and techniques.”

This should help avoid future incidents of trampling through the salad bowl during a confirmation hearing and save us from covering our eyes.

 

 

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Photo of the Day: VPOTUS Swears in Bruce Heyman as U.S. Ambassador to Canada

– Domani Spero

 

Vice President Joe Biden swears in Bruce Heyman as the U.S. Ambassador to Canada at the U.S. Department of State in Washington, D.C., on March 26, 2014. [State Department photo/ Public Domain]

Vice President Joe Biden swears in Bruce Heyman as the U.S. Ambassador to Canada at the U.S. Department of State in Washington, D.C., on March 26, 2014. [State Department photo/ Public Domain]

 

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Donor Ambassadors Are Here to Stay Because — #1 Elections Cost Money, Money, Honey (With ABBA)

– Domani Spero

On February 14, WaPo did the top 10 reasons to keep political ambassadors. It wasn’t terribly funny. The 10th item on the list, “The system is unlikely to change anytime soon” drove our friends insane.  They haven’t recovered yet from that shock and awe. Meanwhile, the uproar over the nominees who bungled their confirmation hearings continue to make waves.  Despite all that, former Senator Max “I’m no real expert” Baucus was confirmed as our next ambassador to China.  The Senate Foreign Relations Committee had also cleared the way for the full Senate vote for  the other nominees who did their made for Comedy Central moments at the SFRC.

For those who are shocked that an Obama nominee has never been to Argentina, might they also be awed that a George W. Bush ambassador had only visited Canada once–more than 30 years ago on a trip to Niagara Falls, prior to his appointment and subsequent confirmation?  Another George W. Bush ambassador was out of the country 37 percent of the time. (WaPo reported that the nominee’s mortgage company was investigated by 30 state regulators so that may have something to do with the absences.) Not to be outdone, an Obama ambassador to the Bahamas was also absent from post for 276 days during a 670-day period.

These are not the cringe-worthy parts.  But the thing is, this controversy over the nominations of political donors to cushy ambassadorships is a story that regularly repeats itself every few years.  They are typically followed by quite a rumpus ruckus, only to settle down after a short while, and to reappear after a few years.  We do think that political ambassadors, particularly the sub-group of wealthy donors and bundlers who gets appointed as chiefs of missions to our embassies will not go away anytime soon. We’re going to chop down the top reasons why … well, this piece kept getting longer so we’re posting this in parts.

Donor ambassadors are here to stay because –

#1. Elections Cost Money, Money, Honey

If we were a band, we’d write the song,  Money, Money, Money — ohw, but ABBA did it already!

In 2004, President George W. Bush won his second term over John Kerry with 286 of the electoral votes. That presidential election cost $1,910,230,862.  In 2008, President Obama won against John McCain with 365 electoral votes. That presidential race cost $2,799,728,146. In 2012, President Obama won reelection over Mitt Romney with 332 electoral votes.  That race cost slightly cheaper than the previous election at only $2,621,415,792 but there is no reason to believe that we’re on a downward spiral when it comes to big money in politics.

Here is Sheila Krumholz, executive director of the Center for Responsive Politics last year:  “You do not wage a financially viable campaign without hundreds of millions of dollars,” she said. “There is far greater reliance on the bundling operation, and I don’t see any evidence or reason to be hopeful that the donor rewards that are attendant to this system will diminish anytime soon. They go hand in hand.”

We imagine that the cost of the 2016 presidential election will be for the records book. All that money will not come from a money tree.

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Peter Spiro: Donor diplomats are embarrassing. Let’s get rid of them — Wait, What?

– Domani Spero

In 2009, David Rothkopf, a former Clinton deputy under secretary of commerce for international trade policy asked: “If a job is meaningless enough to be entrusted to someone who is unqualified to do it, do we really need to fill that post?”  Mr. Rothkopf is currently the CEO and Editor of the FP Group.  In an interview with NBC then, Mr. Rothkopf gave a two-pronged argument for nixing these posts: “First, if you can appoint someone who has no experience for the job, you can’t really value that job —someone else, who knows what’s going on, is doing the real work of the embassy; and Second, the job is outdated, created hundreds of years ago to bring sealed missives from one country to another.”

Now, Peter Spiro has written an op-ed against ambassadors.  He’s not even asking, he’s just giving it to you straight up — donor diplomats are embarrassing, get rid of them. Excerpt below:

For anyone looking to take a cheap shot at Washington, ambassadors are the gift that keeps on giving. In every administration — Republican or Democrat — individuals of no particular talent beyond their prodigious fundraising skills are picked and sent off to represent the United States in posh locales. Inevitably, some of them will manage to embarrass themselves, either before they leave or, worse, after they arrive.
[…]
Embassy appointments will be decoupled from patronage only after they are turned into less appealing prizes. And in many places, we don’t need ambassadors anymore at all. So here’s a modest proposal: Let’s just get rid of them.
[….]
So, how do we get rid of ambassadors? The drawdown should start with the posts coveted by incompetent fundraisers: Paris, London, Rome. Embassies in key friendly states do have visas to process and play some continuing role coordinating run-of-the-mine policy at the staff level. But the largely ceremonial function of the ambassador has become dispensable. Would our relationship with countries like the United Kingdom, France and Canada be damaged if no ambassador were in residence? Probably not. Ambassadors in those cushy posts are more in the business of cutting ribbons and hosting cocktail parties than toughing it out on the diplomatic front lines. Political ambassadors are like minor royalty — harmless, until they do something silly.

The top job in our European delegations could be rebranded as a minister position, a lower-ranked diplomatic status also recognized under international law. That’s what U.S. envoys were called until 1893, when Congress first authorized the appointment of ambassadors. Ambassador, on the other hand, is a title for life.

This is a tad extreme but would a rich car dealer be happy with a title for life that says “minister” instead of “ambassador?”  Maybe not, doesn’t come with the same dazzle dazzle. Read in full here.

Peter Spiro is the Charles R. Weiner Professor of Law at Temple University.   A former law clerk to Justice David H. Souter of the U.S. Supreme Court, Mr. Spiro specializes in international, immigration, and constitutional law. He is the author of “Beyond Citizenship: American Identity After Globalization.” (Oxford University Press 2008).  In the 1990’s, he was an attorney-adviser in the U.S. Department of State’s Office of the Legal Adviser.

We must note that any downgrade in positions for the political ambassadors, would similarly downgrade it for the career diplomats.  We imagine that this would not be a popular proposal for the professional diplomatic service.  It’s like, look this bathwater is dirty, let’s throw away the bath and the baby, too.  Of course, in Congress, there where things occasionally gets done, and where our politicians are already lining up for 2016, this would be double dead on arrival.

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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.

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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 Releases Part of FOIA’ed Ambo Credentials — Showing Soon Online? Mm-hmm.

– Domani Spero

On March 7, the State Department released the “certificates of demonstrated competence” requested by AFSA on July 29, 2013. The fulfilled request did not include the second FOIA request filed on February 28, 2014.  The DPB extract below also has brief FOIA data for FY2013, which we did not have when we blogged about this case yesterday (State Dept on Ambo Nominees’ “Certificates of Documented Competency” — Working On It.

Two sources confirmed to us that AFSA has these documents and is reviewing them. These “certificates” or “reports” are typically a page long, as previously described in our post here (AFSA Threatens to Sue State Department Over Ambassadors Credentials, Again).  It is our understanding that these docs released today are just bio data and are not confidential.  We’ll have to wait and see whether AFSA would share these “certificates” with their members, and the public by posting them as a subsection of the ambassadors page on its website.

Via DPB, March 7, 2014:

QUESTION: Do you have any update on whether you’ve given the certificates of demonstrated competence to the AFSA representatives?

MS. PSAKI: I do. We have – as I mentioned yesterday, there were two different FOIA requests. So we have fulfilled the requests meeting the July FOIA. That was from – requested from January – January 1st, 2013 to the present time, meaning to when it was – when the process of looking at it began, which means it’s through November. So that is a request we’ve met. The February request is separate. We just received it last week. As I said yesterday, and as is the case in any FOIA, we’re working to process that.

QUESTION: Now, when you say fulfilled, does that mean that you agreed and handed over those certificates –

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: – unredacted?

MS. PSAKI: I don’t have any details on that, but just to – and I know somebody asked this question yesterday, but it’s an important note here because I looked into this. These documents that they’re asking for are about a page or two pages long.

QUESTION: Right.

MS. PSAKI: They are certainly not reflective of the qualifications or even that extensive of a background or any – of any of the individuals.

QUESTION: Right, which kind of begs the question as to why it took so – if they’re only a page or two long, why it takes so long to go – anyway. But –

MS. PSAKI: Well, they only –

QUESTION: – when was –

MS. PSAKI: To answer another one of your questions, Matt –

QUESTION: Okay.

MS. PSAKI: – because I aim to please here –

QUESTION: Uh-huh, yeah.

MS. PSAKI: – the request was not made informally or through any other channels –

QUESTION: Before?

MS. PSAKI: – but through the FOIA. Correct, through the FOIA process.

QUESTION: Would they – oh, I suppose this is a hypothetical question, but would – does it – are – could they have gotten it through an informal request? Or do you – would you have demanded that they go through the FOIA route to get them?

MS. PSAKI: I can’t answer that question. I mean, it’s impossible to answer.

QUESTION: Right. And then –

MS. PSAKI: But we do try to provide information –

QUESTION: Okay.

MS. PSAKI: – and work closely with AFSA.

QUESTION: And when was it fulfilled as – the way –

MS. PSAKI: I’d have to double check on that. I believe it was this morning, but let me double check on that and make sure that’s true.

QUESTION: It was this morning. So you missed their deadline. You were hoping for a little leeway, kind of like the Israelis and the Palestinians.

MS. PSAKI: I’ll check and make sure, Matt. Well, they certainly know when we met it or didn’t meet it, right?

QUESTION: Well, right. I know. Okay.

MS. PSAKI: It’s not a secret to them.

QUESTION: So we need to ask them if they’re satisfied with –

MS. PSAKI: And I can check – well, I can check too when – if it was last night or this morning.

QUESTION: How many tickets – how many tickets were there?

MS. PSAKI: I don’t have any numbers for you. It was any that were applicable in that timeframe.

QUESTION: Do you have in front of you – and I know the building has put these together, but I don’t know if it’s made its way to you – the response to the question that I asked yesterday, just to get it on the record, for how long it takes on average to respond to FOIA requests for the State Department?

MS. PSAKI: I do, Arshad.

QUESTION: I am delighted. Let’s –

MS. PSAKI: Get excited, it’s a Friday.

QUESTION: Let’s put this on the record. (Laughter.) Excellent.

MS. PSAKI: Okay. In Fiscal Year 2013, the average time to process a simple request was 106 days. In the same fiscal year, the average time to process a complex request was 533 days. To show just a factual point here on efforts to improve, in Fiscal Year 2013, the Department received over 18,000 FOIA requests and processed over 21,000. So we processed more than we received, meaning we’re trying to speed up the process.

QUESTION: So – and I had one other question about that, which is that implies that there is a big backlog that you were able to – right?

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

 

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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.

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

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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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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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Asst Secretary for Consular Affairs Janice Jacobs to Retire Effective April 3

– Domani Spero

The State Department’s Assistant Secretary of State for Consular Affairs Janice Jacobs announced last week her retirement from from the State Department effective April 3.  Ambassador Jacobs was appointed  to the CA Bureau on 2008. Previous to this appointment, she was the U.S. Ambassador to Guinea Bissau, accredited at the same time to Senegal and was a resident in Dakar.  Excerpt from the announcement email sent to CA folks:

“It has been a wonderful thirty-plus years with the Department of State, serving in many different roles and in

English: Janice L. Jacobs

English: Janice L. Jacobs (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

many different locations around the world. As many of you have heard me say, my almost six years as Assistant Secretary has been the most enjoyable and the most rewarding of all the positions I have held.  I am extremely proud of the role the Bureau has played as a trailblazer in the area of leadership, and now, management.  Our team is recognized by counterparts throughout the Department for our balanced approach, our smart goal-setting, and our wise use of resources.  I am confident that you all will continue to innovate to provide the best of government service.” 

Ambassador Jacob’s two immediate predecessors, Maura Harty and Mary Ryan were both career Foreign Service officers, but seven of the twelve appointees since 1953 had been non-career appointees.

A quick summary of this top CA position via history.state.gov:

The Immigration and Nationality Act of 1952 (Jun 27, 1952; P.L. 82-414; 66 Stat. 174) established within the Department of State a Bureau of Security and Consular Affairs, headed by an Administrator with rank equal to that of an Assistant Secretary. From Mar 1 to Dec 30, 1954, the Bureau was renamed “Inspection, Security, and Consular Affairs”. From 1953 to 1962, the Secretary of State designated incumbents to this position. The Migration and Refugee Assistance Act of 1962 (Jun 28, 1962; P.L. 87-510; 76 Stat. 123) made the Administrator a Presidential appointee subject to the advice and consent of the Senate. In 1962, the Department transferred the security function to the Deputy Under Secretary for Administration, but the title remained unchanged until 1977, when the Foreign Relations Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 1978 (Aug 17, 1977; P.L. 95-105; 91 Stat. 847) changed the Administrator’s title to “Assistant Secretary of State for Consular Affairs.” This title has been given in full in all subsequent commissions to this office.

Here are the previous appointees.

The last political appointee assigned to the CA Bureau as Assistant Secretary was Elizabeth Tamposi under President George H. W. Bush . If you don’t remember the Bill Clinton passport files scandal, the NYT covered it here and here. More reading  here (Berry v. Funk) for some background and a separate judgement here, where the court granted monetary award to Ms. Tamposi for reimbursement of attorneys’ fees and expenses.

If you  have time to spare, you might also want to read Sherman Funk’s Oral History interview here; he was the IG at that time.  All Oral History interviews referenced to here are available via the Association for Diplomatic Studies and Training.

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AFSA Releases Underwhelming Ambassador Guidelines For “Successful Performance”

– Domani Spero

We’ve been hearing about the AFSA ambassador guidelines for a while now.  We were prepared to be amazed but frankly, given that AFSA has largely ignored the termination of ambassador report cards, we tried hard to contain our expectations (see State/OIG Terminates Preparation of Report Cards for Ambassadors and Sr. Embassy Officials).

Last week, the State Department’s favorite columnist over at WaPo writes, “The cringe-inducing performances in recent weeks by some of President Obama’s ambassadorial nominees have raised expectations that the American Foreign Service Association will weigh in next week with some revolutionary guidelines to revamp the nomination process.  Don’t count on it. Thoughtful, yes. Explosive, hardly. Our sense of the guidelines, which AFSA began working on last summer, is that they’re fairly anodyne suggestions, not a call for stricter criteria.”

According to Al Kamen, the AFSA board reportedly approved the draft guidelines on a 17 to 5 vote, with all four former ambassadors on the board voting against the guidelines, “apparently feeling the new ones watered down the 1980 Foreign Service Act’s useless section on ambassador selection.”  We also heard complaints that while AFSA has been working on these guidelines since last summer, the AFSA membership reportedly did not get a chance to provide comments and input until Friday last week. What the hey?!

Below is the relevant section of the Foreign Service Act of 1980

SEC. 304 – APPOINTMENT OF CHIEFS OF MISSION

(a)(1) An individual appointed or assigned to be a chief of mission should possess clearly demonstrated competence to perform the duties of a chief of mission, including, to the maximum extent practicable, a useful knowledge of the principal language or dialect of the country in which the individual is to serve, and knowledge and understanding of the history, the culture, the economic and political institutions, and the interests of that country and its people.

(2) Given the qualifications specified in paragraph (1), positions as chief of mission should normally be accorded to career members of the Service, though circumstance will warrant appointments from time to time of qualified individuals who are not career members of the Service.

(3) Contributions to political campaigns should not be a factor in the appointment of an individual as a chief of mission.

We are confident that various administrations since 1980 had their own definitions of what “from time to time” actually means.

So what’s the purpose of releasing these guidelines now?  AFSA says that it offers “this Guidelines paper as a resource to inform the executive and legislative processes of nominating and confirming U.S. chiefs of mission. Chiefs of mission are the president’s envoys to foreign countries and multilateralinstitutions, usually carrying the title of ambassador. They lead our engagement with foreign governments and act as the CEOs of U.S. overseas missions and embassies.”

One retired ambassador who is not an AFSA member asked why ambassadors are even described as CEOs  since they are not — having no bottom line, no shareholders, and no board of directors?  Without all that, we wonder who gets to fire these CEOs to improve “corporate” governance at our overseas missions?

Some of the folks we know who are retired members of AFSA are opposed to the practice of appointing bundlers as ambassadors citing Section 304 of the FSA 1980.   Some see this issue as key to defining an American profession.  Others strongly believe that AFSA as the professional association representing career Foreign Service diplomats, “must–like Cicero–at least take a stand and call out the current system for what it is–plutocratic  corruption.”

Just saw WaPo reporting that AFSA “may oppose Obama ambassador nominees” but that AFSA President Robert Silverman reportedly also “noted that there may be a feeling that AFSA might not “want to get into the middle of a dogfight” while it’s in progress.”

Whose dogfight is this, anyways?  Does AFSA really think that these guidelines would change the current practice of nominating ambassadors ?

At the DPB yesterday, a reporter asked if the State Department believe that an association or the union for current and retired professional diplomats should have any say in the nomination process.  The official spokesperson Jen Psaki replied, “I’d have to check and see … if we have an official U.S. Government position on that question.” Prior to that question, she did say this:

“Obviously, the nomination process, as you well know, happens through the Executive Branch, which has been a traditional process, and input and thoughts comes from a range of resources. And certainly, we support freedom of speech by anyone in terms of what they view nominees should be able to – should – criteria they should meet. But again, these decisions have traditionally been made out of the White House.”

Seriously now, are you hearing what she’s saying?

AFSA says that the Guidelines are “drawn from the collective experience of a group of distinguished former chiefs of mission, both career and non-career, and from legislative and regulatory sources.” Ten ambassadors, all retired; including Ambassador Donald Gips, our former ambassador to South Africa who also served  as head of the WH office for Presidential Personnel.  In that role, Ambassador Gips managed “the selection of several thousand political appointments for the Obama Administration” prior to his appointment to South Africa.  The working group surprisingly did not include a single member of the active Foreign Service.   How well or how badly these missions are managed have a direct impact on the life and work of our diplomats. So we’re curious — how much input did the active membership provide in finalizing the guidelines that the association issued on its behalf?  

AFSA says that the paper is “non-partisan in nature” and offers the following guidelines:

Under “Leadership, character and proven interpersonal skills,” the Guidelines says “A key skill is the ability to listen in order to better understand the host country’s perspectives.”

You know that every bartender worth his/her salt, actually could do this one just as well, right?

Under “Understanding of high level policy and operations, and of key U.S. interests and values in the country or organization of prospective assignment,” the Guidelines says of the  nominee: “He or she demonstrates the capacity to negotiate, and has the proven ability to take on various challenges, including working with U.S. and foreign business communities and other nongovernmental interests, and providing services to U.S. citizens.”

One could argue that Mr. Tsunis, the hotelier nominated for the U.S. Embassy Norway can demonstrate this just as well. As CEO of Chartwell Hotels, LLC which owns, develops and manages Hilton, Marriott and Intercontinental hotels throughout the Northeast and Middle Atlantic states, he presumably worked with U.S. and foreign business communities and provide services to American citizens. Every. Single. Day.

The third item in the Guidelines is Management.  The President of the Garden Club of Oz, as well, “possesses experience in setting goals and visions, managing change, and allocating resources.”

The fourth and last item listed is “Understanding of host country and international affairs.“The Guidelines says of the nominee: “has experience in or with the host country or other suitable international experience, and has knowledge of the host country culture and language or of other foreign cultures or languages.”

Experience as a foreign exchange student count, right?

To be clear, your blogger’s household does not pay any dues to AFSA, so we are not a member of any standing.   But after reading  the AFSA Guidelines officially titled, “Guidelines for Successful Performance as a Chief of Mission,”we also had to wonder — what was AFSA thinking?  Yes, it is doing something, but is it doing the right thing?

In fact, we think folks could wave these AFSA Guidelines around to defend even the most controversial ambassadorial nominees.  Let’s try it.

For example, according to Wikipedia, Colleen Bell, producer of The Bold and the Beautiful, graduated with high honors from Sweet Briar College with a bachelor’s degree in political economy, a dual major in political science and economics. She spent her junior year abroad at the University of St Andrews in Scotland.   Scotland is not Hungary but that is a foreign culture, is it not? You don’t think this is enough for AFSA Guidelines #4?  Doesn’t it say on paper, “of other foreign cultures or languages?” She also produced the world’s most-watched soap opera, viewed in over 100 countries. The show serves 26.2 million viewers, including U.S. citizens. You don’t think that has anything to do with management and understanding of international affairs?

As a taxpayer with a vested interest in the effective functioning of our overseas missions, we have followed AFSA and the Foreign Service closely.  While we are not a voting member of this association, we would have wanted, instead, to see two things from AFSA: 1)  work on strengthening the Foreign Service Act of 1980 through Congress, who is after all, tasked to provide “advice and consent”on ambassadorial nominees under the U.S. Constitution, and 2)  work on the reinstatement of the OIG Inspector Evaluation Reports (IERs)  to promote accountability and successful performance of our chiefs of missions overseas.  The end.

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