Category Archives: Political Appointees

Opposition to George J. Tsunis Nomination as Norway Ambassador Now a Social Media Campaign

– Domani Spero

 

On September 10, 2013, President Obama announced a slew of executive nominations including that of George J. Tsunis as his nominee for Ambassador to the Kingdom of Norway.  In January 2014, Mr. Tsunis made an appearance at the Senate Foreign Relations Committee (see  Senator John McCain’s “No More Questions” at the Senate Confirmation Hearing Gets a GIF and US Embassy Oslo: Clueless on Norway, Murder Boards Next?).

In February, a group of Norwegian-Americans made their opposition to the nomination known (see Norwegian-Americans Petition For Withdrawal of Tsunis Nomination as Ambassador to Norway).  The same day we wrote about their opposition, the SFRC panel cleared the Tsunis nomination (seeSFRC Clears Barber, Bell, Tsunis, Harper, Talwar, Rose, Gottemoeller, Chacon, Carroll).

In April, murder boards became real (see State Department Seeks Contractor For Simulated Congressional Hearing Sessions). On August 7, the Washington Times reported that Orlando, Florida-based AMTIS, Inc. was awarded a $545,000 contract by the State Department for simulated congressional hearings and communicating with Congress classes.

Last week, opponents of the Tsunis nomination rolled out a new social media campaign to sink his nomination.  We did not see it until we got poked on Twitter today.   Tom Lundquist who started the original petition asking President Obama to withdraw the nomination posted the following on change.org:

Today looks to have been the first full day of starting out with a never-before-tried social media campaign in this effort to have George Tsunis withdrawn or defeated. An integrated Twitter, Facebook, and Web campaign have been launched!

http://citizensvstsunisdems4compdips.weebly.com/

https://twitter.com/CitizensvTsunis

https://www.facebook.com/citizens.vs.tsunis.dems.competent.diplomats/info

 

Screen Shot 2014-08-26

Twitter profile of Citizens v. Tsunis

 

On its website, the group listed several reasons why they opposed the Tsunis nomination including the following:

Perception of American Incompetence and Arrogance Abroad:

America’s foreign image hasn’t been the best over the last decade or so. Let’s not make it worse. George Tsunis’ wildly inaccurate statements of fact, diplomatic outrages, and lack of qualifications offended a number of Norwegian officials and Members of Parliament, including the mayor of Norway’s capitol city who made it clear that President Obama should send a far more knowledgeable and qualified person. To send Tsunis to Norway would be a fist in the face of a key ally – and an arrogant message to the world. Norway is a vital member of NATO, a key supplier of energy to the EU, an important player in peace efforts in the Middle East, and a strong U.S. ally everywhere. With rising tensions in Eastern Europe and the Middle East the U.S. has to take its diplomacy seriously and treat key allies with respect.

The website also listed the names of four Senators who already made their opposition to the Tsunis nomination known, calling them, Senate Heroes. As well, under the section “Money Bound,” the group listed the names of 9 Senators who were recipients of donations from Mr. Tsunis, urging supporters to email/call the senators and their aides. Check out the Senators Living Dangerously, the Silent Senators, and Our Party’s (Apparent) Worst Enemies. The website also includes the well-circulated clips from Anderson Cooper and the Daily Show.

The group suggests a series of questions constituents should ask their congressional representatives noting that “Until a Senator comes out publicly against the absolute most inane, unqualified nomination the Senate has perhaps yet ever seen, tacit support of Tsunis – and the damage it is doing to our Party and democracy – must be challenged.”

It also adds a carrot for the rabbits in the Senate, “By the Senator making a public commitment to vote against the Tsunis nomination, the Senator’s page here will be removed from this website and the Senator will be promptly added to The Principled Heroes list for all constituents to see.”

Over on Twitter, a new hashtag battle could be brewing — @CitizensvTsunis‘  and what appears to be a parody account by Not George J. Tsunis using the @ambGeorgeTsunis handle with the  hashtag. This could get nasty.

Given the many challenges facing our country these days, we don’t think the White House appreciates this new kind of headache. I mean, who would?  But we also suspect that it would not withdraw the nomination on its own. Once it nominated Mr. Tsunis, the WH is bound to stand by its nominee. The only way we think the WH would withdraw this nomination is if Mr. Tsunis , himself, withdraws his name from consideration.  That might be the most prudent action for Mr. Tsunis to do here. That would give President Obama a fresh start.

Of course, if the Democrats lose the Senate in November, well … maybe none of the nominees will be going anywhere.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

– Domani Spero

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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While You Were Sleeping, the State Dept’s Specials in This “Bureau” Proliferated Like Mushroom

– Domani Spero

Update on 5/7/14: Names of a few more special envoys during the Albright era added.

 

We were looking into mushrooms one day (problematic backyard lawn) and stumbled upon “The cleverness of mushrooms.” The article says that exactly how mushrooms proliferate is still poorly understood.” Hey, we thought — isn’t that kind of the same thing when it comes to special advisors, special envoys and special representatives proliferating inside the State Department?

Exactly how it’s done is still poorly understood. 

For instance, Secretary Madeleine Albright (1997-2001) had, can you believe it, two.  There was Theresa A. Loar, the Coordinator for International Women’s Issues. Then there was  Norman Neureiter, the Science and Technology Adviser to the Secretary of State. If there were more, they were not listed in the secretary’s archive.

Update on 5/7/14: A few more special envoys during the Albright era, not reflected on the state.gov archive (Thanks Michael T.):

  • Rev Jesse Jackson, Special Envoy for the President and the Secretary  of State for the Promotion of Democracy in Africa.
  • Amb Richard Bogosian, Special Coordinator for Rwanda and Burundi, 1996-1997
  • Dr. Howard Wolpe, Special Envoy of the President and the Secretary of State to the Burundi peace negotiations, then Special   Envoy of the President and Secretary of State to Africa’s Great Lakes region.
  • Amb Howard F. Jeter, Special Envoy for Liberia
  • Amb Paul Hare, Special Representative to the Angolan Peace Process, 1993-2001

 

Also, according to state.gov’s archive, there were fourteen senior folks including “Special Envoys” and “Special Representatives” at the State Department from 2001-2009 encompassing the tenure of Secretary Colin Powell (2001-2005) and Secretary Condoleezza Rice (2005-2009).

During Secretary Hillary Clinton’s tenure (2009-2013) and presently under Secretary Kerry, the number of these special folks has grown by quite a bit.  In six years, the State Department went from 14 special folks to something like four dozens. It is quite possible that  there are more special and senior folks whose appointments/new desks have not yet made it to the official website.   The number of senior advisors as opposed to the special advisors is even more difficult to find.

One example is Tom Perriello,  the Special Representative for the Quadrennial Diplomacy and Development (QDDR) Review appointed by Secretary Kerry in February 2014. His biography is live but he is not listed here. Another one not listed is Senior Advisor to the Secretary David H. Thorne, former U.S. ambassador to Italy and twin brother of  Secretary Kerry’s first wife. 

And by the way, we noticed that Special Advisor for Secretary’s Initiative Elizabeth Bagley was appointed on April 20, 2011. According to state.gov, her term of appointment is 04/20/2011 to present.  Currently her bio page says “The biography for Special Adviser for Secretary Initiatives Elizabeth Bagley will be posted when available.” 

screen shot state.gov

screen shot state.gov

You wait, and wait, and wait …. and nothing happens in three years like what, a turtle carrying the bio page is still circumnavigating the globe to get to Foggy Bottom?

We should note that while it was widely reported last year that the Gitmo Closure office had also been shuttered,  Ambassador Daniel Fried was actually succeeded as Special Envoy for Guantanamo Closure by Clifford M. Sloan, an attorney who previously served as Publisher of Slate Magazine and as a General Counsel at The Washington Post Company. Ambassador Fried is now the State Department’s Coordinator for Sanctions Policy.

In any case, here they are, the State Department’s Special Advisors, Special Envoys, and Special Representatives:

Afghanistan and Pakistan, Special Representative
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Afghanistan and Pakistan (Special Representative): James F. Dobbins

APEC (U.S. Senior Official): Robert S. Wang

Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention (BWC) Issues, Special Representative
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Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention (BWC) Issues (Special Representative): Vacant

Burma, Special Representative and Policy Coordinator
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Burma (Senior Advisor): Judith Beth Cefkin

Special Representative for the Central African Republic: W. Stuart Symington

Civil Society and Emerging Democracies, Senior Advisor
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Civil Society and Emerging Democracies (Coordinator): Tomicah Tillemann
Climate Change, Special Envoy
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Climate Change (Special Envoy): Todd D. Stern

Special Advisor for Children’s Issues Ambassador Susan Jacobs

Closure of the Guantanamo Detention Facility (Special Envoy): Clifford M. Sloan

Commercial and Business Affairs, Special Representative
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Commercial and Business Affairs (Special Representative): Lorraine Hariton

Conventional Armed Forces in Europe, Special Envoy

Cyber Issues, Coordinator
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Cyber Issues (Coordinator): Christopher Painter

Eurasian Energy, Special Envoy
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Faith Based and Community Initiatives (Special Advisor): Shaun Casey

Global Food Security, Special Representative
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Global Food Security (Special Representative): Jonathan Shrier (Acting)

Global Health Diplomacy (Special Representative): Leslie V. Rowe (Acting)

Global Intergovernmental Affairs, Special Representative
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Global Intergovernmental Affairs (Special Representative): Mary Pensabene (Acting)

Global Partnerships, Special Representative
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Global Partnerships (Special Representative): Andrew O’Brien

Global Youth Issues, Special Advisor
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Global Youth Issues (Special Adviser): Zeenat Rahman

Great Lakes Region and the D.R.C., Special Envoy
-Great Lakes and the Democratic Republic of the Congo (Special Envoy): Russell D. Feingold

Haiti, Special Coordinator
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Haiti (Special Coordinator): Thomas C. Adams

Holocaust Issues, Special Envoy
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Holocaust Issues (Special Adviser): Stuart E. Eizenstat
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Holocaust Issues (Special Envoy): Douglas Davidson

International Disability Rights, Special Advisor
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International Disability Rights (Special Advisor): Judith E. Heumann

International Energy Affairs, Coordinator
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International Energy Affairs (Special Envoy and Coordinator): Carlos Pascual

International Labor Affairs, Special Representative
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International Labor Affairs (Special Representative): Vacant

International Religious Freedom, Ambassador-at-Large

Israel and the Palestinian Authority, U.S. Security Coordinator
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Israeli-Palestinian Negotiations (Special Envoy): Martin S. Indyk

Kimberly Process, Chair

Middle East Transitions (Special Coordinator): Vacant

Middle East Peace, Special Envoy

Monitor and Combat Anti-Semitism, Special Envoy
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Monitoring and Combating Anti-Semitism (Special Envoy): Ira N. Forman

Muslim Communities, Special Representative
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Muslim Communities (Special Representative): Adnan Kifayat (Acting)

Nonproliferation and Arms Control, Special Advisor
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Nonproliferation and Arms Control (Special Advisor): Robert J. Einhorn

North Korean Human Rights Issues, Special Envoy
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North Korean Human Rights Issues (Special Envoy): Robert R. King

North Korea Policy, Special Representative
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North Korea Policy (Special Representative): Glyn Davies

Nuclear Nonproliferation, Special Representative of the President
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Nuclear Nonproliferation (Special Representative of the President): Susan Burk

Organization of the Islamic Conference, Special Envoy
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Organization of Islamic Cooperation (Special Envoy): Rashad Hussain

QDDR (Special Representative): Thomas Perriello

Sanctions Policy (Coordinator): Daniel Fried

Science and Technology (Adviser): E. William Colglazier

Secretary Initiatives, Special Advisor
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Secretary Initiatives (Special Adviser): Elizabeth Bagley

Senior Advisor to the Secretary: David H. Thorne

Six-Party Talks, Special Envoy
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Six-Party Talks (Special Envoy): Vacant

Strategic Stability and Missile Defense, Special Envoy

Sudan, Special Envoy
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Sudan and South Sudan (Special Envoy): Donald E. Booth

Threat Reduction Programs, Coordinator
-
Threat Reduction Programs (Coordinator): Bonnie D. Jenkins

 

In 2016, if you don’t want to compete for the ambassadorial sweeps, don’t forget these gigs.  These positions are not advertised through usajobs.gov and more importantly, these jobs do not/do not require senate confirmations.

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Photo of the Day: Under Secretaries for “J” and “R” Now On Board

– Domani Spero

Under Secretary for Civilian Security, Democracy, and Human Rights (J):
Sarah Sewall

sewall swearingin with jk

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry greets Sarah Sewall and her husband, Tom Conroy, before swearing her in as Under Secretary of State for Civilian Security, Democracy, and Human Rights at the U.S. Department of State in Washington, D.C., on April 14, 2014. [State Department photo/ Public Domain]

Under Secretary for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs (R):
Richard Stengel

stengel_swearingin with jk

Secretary Kerry Swears in Rick Stengel as Under Secretary With his family looking on, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry swears in Rick Stengel as Under Secretary for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs at the U.S. Department of State in Washington, D.C., on April 15, 2014. [State Department photo/ Public Domain]


This completes the ranks of the senior officials of the State Department. Deputy Secretary Bill Burns is, however,  retiring in October so we expect that the top blocks of the org chart will be reshuffled/changed once more in the next six months.

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Quote of the Day: “I want it on my desk in one week, or I’m going to the Washington Post”

– Domani Spero

Ambassador Richard E. Hoagland, the Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Bureau of South and Central Asian Affairs (SCA) gave his remarks at the 2014 Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies Pride Conference on April 16, 2014.

The following is an excerpt:

On June 5, 1985, on my way to my very first day of training as a newly-minted U.S. diplomat, I glanced across our national Mall and saw the U.S. Capitol and its iconic dome. My heart was bursting with pride in the career I was embarking on to serve my country. At the very same time, I said to myself – and I meant it – “No one will ever hurt me because I am gay.” Yes, that was about 15 years after Stonewall, but it was also only about 30 years after the McCarthy purges of hundreds of gay diplomats and other public servants from the U.S. government. During the very first close-door briefing we newly-minted diplomats had from Diplomatic Security, we heard, “We don’t want homosexuals in the Foreign Service. If you are, we’ll hunt you down and drum you out!” I thought, “Yeah, you just try it.”

Although it was becoming a gray area, by the beginning of the 1990s, it was still possible that one’s security clearance could be jeopardized for being gay. After five years, it was time for my security clearance to be renewed, and – yes – it was held up for months and months. I finally got fed up. I went to the head of Diplomatic Security and said, “You have no reason to deny my security clearance. I want it on my desk in one week, or I’m going to the Washington Post.” It was on my desk in one week. Ten years later, by 2000, it was still nearly a radical act to include material about LGBT rights in the State Department’s annual Country Human Rights Reports. It wasn’t until just a handful of years ago that then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton declared in a major speech at the United Nations in Geneva, “LGBT rights are human rights. Period.”
[...]
In closing, let me add one personal word of caution. There are times and places where I believe we need to temper our idealism with at least a certain degree of realpolitik. In our desire to do good, we should never forget the terribly important maxim, “First do no harm.” There are countries in the world, whether religiously or culturally deeply conservative, that will react to our values and goals with backlash against their own LGBT citizens. We should maintain enough humility to remember that we are terribly new at promoting LGBT human rights as U.S. foreign policy. Of course we want to do good – but we should do it, with patience, in a way that results in the maximum benefit for those we want to help.

Read the full remarks here.

Ambassador Hoagland, a career diplomat was previously U.S. Ambassador to Kazakhstan (2008-2011), and U.S. Ambassador to Tajikistan (2003-2006).  Life After Jerusalem recently posted about the five current ambassadors who are openly gay (see What’s Wrong With This Picture?). All five are also non-career political appointees.

Not too long ago….

According to David K. Johnson, author of The Lavender Scare: the Cold War Persecution of Gays and Lesbians in the Federal Government, a 1952 procedures manual for security officers contained a nine-page section devoted entirely to homosexuality, the only type of security offense singled out for such coverage.  The book describes what took place “inside security interrogation rooms where thousands of Americans were questioned about their sex lives.” It was referred to as “homosexual purges” which “ended promising careers, ruined lives, and pushed many to suicide.” At the British Foreign Office, things were no better, Ambassador Charles Crawford’s 2010 piece, The love that dared not speak its name in the Foreign Office is a must read.

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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?

 

Screen Shot 2014-03-09

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.
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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.
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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.

Screen Shot 2014-03-09

Below is an excerpt from their letter:

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

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

These three nominations represent a continuation of an increasingly unsavory and unwise practice by both parties.  In the words of President Theodore Roosevelt, “The spoils or patronage theory is that public office is primarily designed for partisan plunder.”  Sadly it has persisted, even after President Nixon’s acknowledged rewarding of ambassadorial nominations to major campaign donors was exposed.
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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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