Category Archives: Real Post of the Month

U.S. Embassy Bolivia: A Post Far From Heaven, Read the Fine Details in the Classified OIG Annex!

– Domani Spero

 

Which regional bureau recalled one post’s top two officials prior to the arrival of the OIG inspectors?
Burn Bag, March 23, 2014

 

According to the OIG report on the US Embassy in La Paz, Bolivia released on July 17, just before the OIG inspection conducted in February and March 2014, the State Department “recalled the chargé and the political/economic section chief who served as acting DCM from August 2012 to September 2013 and took steps to mitigate some of the embassy’s leadership problems.”

How do you recall the embassy’s top two officials? Very quietly, presumably.  There were no public announcements or statements.  There have been some pretty awful embassies with leadership problems but we have seldom heard the recall of both the number #1 and #2 at the same time. So, what happened?

This OIG report has a classified annex which includes supplemental narrative and recommendations.  This is not the first time that a report has a classified annex but this is one of the few we can recall since the OIG stopped issuing the Inspector’s Evaluation Reports for senior embassy officials.  So now, all the bad stuff is just dumped in the classified annex of the report where the OIG says that “Portions of context, leadership, resource management, Equal Employment Opportunity, and quality of life in the annex should be read in conjunction with this report.” We have no access to the annex and of course, only State Department insiders who theoretically, have a “need to know” can access the classified material.

via US Embassy La Paz/FB

via US Embassy La Paz/FB

Here is what the publicly available, sanitized report on US Embassy Bolivia says on Leadership:

The former chargé interacted with senior government officials more often and more effectively than the hostile environment might have suggested. He expanded his personal engagement with the local media. He negotiated an unexpected $2.4-million reimbursement of value-added taxes. Also, he initiated development of an updated mission vision that called for expanded outreach to the Bolivian people and greater focus on cultural programs and English-language training.

Despite these and other successes, nearly all American staff members told the OIG team that they did not understand mission priorities or their part in achieving goals. The OIG team frequently heard staff tell of instructions given one day only to have the former front office forget or reverse them the next. Skepticism about public diplomacy programming one month could be replaced by front office enthusiasm for a cultural project the next. Reporting officers, already in a difficult environment for contact development and reporting, stated that the front office did little to direct reporting or provide training and mentoring. Embassy staff members told the OIG team they wanted clear and steady guidance from the front office but did not receive it.

Is that not enough to get two senior officials recalled?

On Resource Management:

Although the 2013 annual chief of mission statement of assurances identified no significant management control deficiencies, many of the vulnerabilities discussed in this report would have been apparent if embassy leadership had conducted a thorough review of management controls prior to submitting the chief of mission statement.

On Equal Employment Opportunity:

Within the past year, the EEO counselors handled more than 10 inquiries, many involving gender bias or sexual harassment.

On Quality of Life:

The Health Unit  ” handled eight medical evacuations of U.S. personnel within the past year and provides ongoing support to mission personnel for altitude-related ailments.”

 

Well, what do you think?  The report’s key judgments, are pretty well, bland; no one ran off to a new job in Tripoli or Sana’a. And man, whose fault was it that La Paz was assigned a cadre of inexperienced officers?

  • Embassy La Paz lacked the strong, consistent leadership and the sustained attention from Washington that it needed to manage a complicated bilateral relationship and had a relatively inexperienced officer cadre and a locally employed staff emerging from a reduction in force.
  • The embassy registered several impressive successes despite a drastic reduction in programs and work force in response to the Bolivian Government’s expulsion of the U.S. Agency for International Development and the Department of State’s decision to end all U.S. counternarcotics programs.
  • The embassy needs a clearly defined mission strategy.
  • The management section has a number of potential management control vulnerabilities related to record keeping and funds control. It is still coping with 2013’s major reduction in force of locally employed staff and an almost 50-percent reduction in the embassy’s services budget.

According to the OIG report, as of January 2014, the embassy had a total staff of 310, slightly more than one-third of 2008 numbers. The U.S. Embassy in La Paz has not been a typical embassy operation since 2008. In September that year, Bolivia expelled Ambassador Philip S. Goldberg (now ambassador to the Philippines). Shortly thereafter, the Drug Enforcement Administration and the Peace Corps suspended their operations in the country. In May 2013, Bolivia expelled USAID and the USG subsequently also shut down all International Narcotics and Law Enforcement (INL) programs in the country.   The OIG inspectors conclude that the US-Bolivia relationship is “unlikely to normalize soon.” Below are some additional details extracted from the publicly available report:

La Paz, A Post Far From Heaven

  • The Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs (WHA) paid sporadic attention to embassy operations.
  • Since 2008, WHA used a series of deputy chiefs of mission (DCM) as chargé d’affaires and after July 2012 detailed section heads (first from the political/economic section, then from public affairs, and just before the inspection from the management section) to serve as acting DCM for extended periods. The Department also decided not to assign a permanent office management specialist for the chief of mission, and the front office relied on office management specialists from other sections for months at a time. [...] The effects of these stopgap measures were threefold. First, they required officers to serve as acting DCM for extended periods without appropriate training. Second, they took seasoned leaders out of embassy sections, leaving those sections in the hands of usually capable—but inexperienced—deputies. The deputies rose to the challenge, but they did not receive adequate guidance or leadership from their former supervisors. Productivity and morale suffered.

Love Letters Written, Never Sent

  • The political/economic section staff is frustrated and discouraged, primarily because of lack of front office policy direction, as well as poor communication, organization, and training within the section. Given the deteriorating political environment and unclear policy guidance from both the front office and the Department, the section had an opportunity to devise and drive a revised policy and action agenda, but did not do so. [...] The OIG team reviewed a number of substantive and useful report drafts prepared by officers and local employees that were never sent, usually because the former section chief dismissed them without working with the drafter to improve the texts. This wasted effort caused significant staff frustration.

Tearing Your Hair, Learning on the Job

  • The public affairs section does not have enough experienced grants officers. Only one person in the section, a FAST officer, had a grants warrant as of February 2014. From June through August 2013, in the absence of any public affairs section grants officer, two political/economic FAST officers signed about 100 public diplomacy grants, about which they knew little.

Not Leading By Example – Managing From Desk Via Email

  • The consular section is a small operation, processing fewer than 20,000 nonimmigrant visas, approximately 800 immigrant visas, and about 1,600 passport applications in 2013. The section chief manages from her desk and via email. This remote management style is not appropriate for the size of the operation and has a negative impact on section morale and operations.
  • The consular section chief only adjudicates high-profile or referral visa cases. Recent guidance in 13 STATE 153746 reminded consular managers that they are expected to do some interviewing themselves. The section chief’s lack of hands-on participation contributes to longer hours that the more junior employees have to spend interviewing, and remoteness from actual processing undermines her credibility as an expert. It also reduces the opportunities for management to train new personnel and to identify potential interview technique and workflow efficiencies.
  • Neither the former chargé d’affaires nor the former acting DCM reviewed the 65 cases that the consular chief handled in the past year. Failure to review the required 10 percent of visa approvals and 20 percent of refusals, per 9 FAM 41.113 PN 17 and 9 FAM 41.121 N2.3-7, leads to lack of consistency in visa issuance and refusal. Adjudication reviews are also a vital management control to prevent malfeasance.

FSN Evaluations and Health Plans

  • The human resources office memo also listed 11 locally employed staff whose performance evaluations were between 21 and 242 days late. Locally employed staff members cannot qualify for in-grade salary increases if their performance reviews are not current.
  • Although the embassy participates in the local social security retirement plan, it does not participate in the local social security health program. Instead, the embassy provides a private health plan for locally employed staff. When locally employed staff members retire, most of the social security health plans are unwilling to accept them because they have not been longstanding contributors. The retirees are left with diminished health insurance coverage for their retirement years.

Allowances Paid on Outdated Info

  • The Department of State Standardized Regulation 072.12 requires that the hardship differential report, consumables allowance report, and cost-of-living survey be submitted every 2 years. All these reports are late. The embassy is paying allowances based on outdated information.

Power Outages with No Fully Functional UPS. For 3 Years!

  • The embassy’s centralized uninterruptible power system is in disrepair and has not been fully functional for the past 3 years. As a result, the chancery building experiences frequent power outages caused by the instability of the local power infrastructure. The power outages have caused permanent damage to the server room and disrupted the network infrastructure.

 

Just before the inspection, the WHA bureau and the Bureau of Human Resources apparently agreed that, because a permanent ambassador is not likely in the foreseeable future, the Department would assign a permanent chargé d’affaires and a permanent DCM in La Paz. It only took them about five years to make up their minds.

Peter Brennan was appointed chargé d’affaires of the U.S. Embassy in La Paz in June 2014. Prior to his appointment in Bolivia, he was Minister-Counselor for Communications and Public Affairs at the U.S. Embassy in Islamabad, Pakistan.  It does not look like post now has a permanent DCM as Public Affairs Officer, Aruna Amirthanayagam, who was acting chargé is now Acting DCM.

The inspection took place in Washington, DC, between January 6 and February 4, 2014, and in La Paz, Bolivia, between March 5 and 20, 2014. Ambassador Gene Christy (team leader), Thomas Allsbury, Laurent Charbonnet, Eric Chavera, Leo Hession, Tracey Keiter, Keith Powell, Ashea Riley, Richard Sypher, Alexandra Vega, Roman Zawada, and Barbara Zigli conducted the inspection.

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Related item:

-07/31/14   Inspection of Embassy La Paz, Bolivia (ISP-I-14-16A)  [595 Kb]  Posted on July 17, 2014

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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U.S. Embassy Iraq: By The Numbers — Still The Post With the Mostest

– Domani Spero

The New Embassy Compound (NEC) in Baghdad was the most expensive construction in the world in 2009.  Although a fixed amount is hard to come by, it is estimated that the construction cost amounted to approximately $700 million.  In 2012, WaPo reported a $115 million embassy upgrade.  If we add that and all other State Department capital projects in Iraq from FY2011, we would have to add approximately $411 million to the cost of the USG footprint in Iraq. Despite the recent rightsizing exercise, it remains the largest, and the most expensive diplomatic mission in the world.

The 104-acre U.S. Embassy in Iraq is the largest embassy in the world not just in terms of size at 420,873 square meters, but also personnel at 5,500 (estimated Jan 2014 headcount) and operational cost at $3.23 billion in FY2012. (Note: It is not the largest site in terms of  diplomatic properties as the Baghdad Diplomatic Support Center (BDSC) compound is located on a 350-acre facility adjacent to Baghdad International Airport).  A quick comparison — one of our smallest embassies, the US Embassy in Malabo, Equatorial Guinea is 1,208 square meters, so 348 US Embassy Malabo NECs would fit into Embassy Baghdad. As well, the New Embassy London is 54,000 square meters, so about 7 1/2 of them would fit into Embassy Baghdad.

It may be that in a couple of years, with the ongoing construction of the New Embassy London and New Embassy Islamabad (each may hit the $1 billion mark), Embassy Baghdad will no longer be the most expensive embassy in the world, but for now, it is still the post with the mostest.

In 2009, the OIG inspectors identified the number of factors that have contributed to the size of this Embassy:

(1) implementation of a civilian assistance program of over $24 billion;
(2) a wide-ranging capacity-building program covering most key ministries in the Iraqi National Government and, through the PRTs, all provincial governments;
(3) the legacy of running the country and then working hand-in-glove with the Iraqis as they assumed more responsibility for funding their own development;
(4) the need to coordinate with the U.S. military in practically all aspects of the Embassy’s responsibilities; and
(5) the inability to have host-country LE staff provide the support and services that they do in almost all other embassies in the world. Also, the fact that employees can take three separate 22-day long rest and recuperation trips (R&Rs) means that staffing has to be larger to ensure full coverage.

One could argue that a combination of the above reasons are also driving the size and growth of our embassies in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

According to the OIG, Embassy Baghdad’s security budget in 2012 was $698 million. It notes that “As long as the staff cannot move safely and independently outside compound walls, maintaining a robust security apparatus and meeting the life support needs of the mission staff will require significantly more financial and personnel resources than at other U.S. missions.”

In 2013, the OIG inspectors warned that the large Iraq footprints, expensive to guard and maintain even after the rightsizing exercise, will strain support for diplomatic facilities worldwide when special appropriations that fund them end.

On June 16, 2014, the President transmitted a report notifying the Congress that up to approximately 275 U.S. military personnel are deploying to Iraq to provide support and security for U.S. personnel and the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad. Today, AFPS reports that President Obama announced plans to send up to 300 military advisers to Iraq to help the government in Baghdad combat a rapid advance by Sunni-led insurgents.

Here is Embassy Iraq, by the numbers:

Screen Shot 2014-06-19

#a. Audit 2009: http://oig.state.gov/documents/organization/131069.pdf

#b. US Mission Iraq: Twelve Things You Might Not Know About the Largest Embassy in the World
#c. fedbiz.gov
#d. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Embassy_of_the_United_States,_Baghdad
#e. Malabo:  http://overseasbuildings.state.gov/sites/admin-overseasbuildings.state.gov/files/pdfs/malabo_508.pdf
#f. London: http://overseasbuildings.state.gov/sites/admin-overseasbuildings.state.gov/files/pdfs/london_508.pdf
#g. http://www.spiegel.de/international/world/baghdad-s-fortress-america-us-builds-bunker-of-an-embassy-in-iraq-a-511579.html
#h. OBO Inspection 2008: http://oig.state.gov/documents/organization/109074.pdf
#i.  Embassy Baghdad Inspection 2013: http://oig.state.gov/documents/organization/210403.pdf

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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US Consulate Ciudad Juárez Murder Trial Now On Going in El Paso

– Domani Spero

We’ve blogged previously about the US Consulate -related slayings in Ciudad Juarez in 2010.  The victims of that tragic incident were El Paso County sheriff’s detention officer Arthur Redelfs, his wife Lesley Ann Enriquez Redelfs, who worked at the U.S. Consulate in Juárez, and Jorge Salcido Ceniceros, husband of Hilda Salcido who also worked at the consulate.

El Paso Times’ Diana Washington Valdez has covered this case from the beginning. According to EPT, the jury was selected on January 31, 2014:

Jury selection gets underway today in the trial of an alleged drug cartel enforcer accused of taking part in the slayings of three people associated with the U.S. Consulate in Juárez in 2010.

Arturo “Benny” Gallegos Castrellon, who pleaded not guilty, claims in court filings that he confessed to the crime because he was tortured and his wife raped by Mexican police before he was extradited to the United States in 2012.
[…]
U.S. officials have not offered a clear motive for the three slayings in 2010, except to suggest that the killers might have confused the victims for rivals. Evidence from the trial may shed light on why the trio was attacked.

The three victims had left a children’s party in Juárez attended by consulate employees and their families, and were in two separate vehicles, Redelfs and his wife in one, and Salcido in the second vehicle. Both vehicles were white in color.

Shooters, who were also in separate vehicles, followed the two white cars and shot them up in Juárez near the Stanton Street bridge.

Read more here.

Catch up on the trial below — see links to the El Paso Times coverage:

Juarez consulate killings: Opening statements begin
02/03/2014 – The government presented opening statements this morning in the trial of Arturo “Benny” Gallegos Castrellon, an alleged drug cartel enforcer accused of taking part in the slayings of three people associated with the U.S. Consulate in Juarez in 2010.

US Consulate trial: Barrio Azteca gang member recounts killings during Juarez cartel war
02/04/2014 – A Barrio Azteca gang member gave bone-chilling testimony Monday about his role in the violence that ignited Juarez during the drug cartel wars and left among its victims a U.S.

Juarez consulate trial: FBI agent says the accused never told him he was tortured in Mexico
02/05/2014 – The defendant in a federal trial accused of conspiring to kill three people linked to the U.S. Consulate in Juarez in 2010 did not tell FBI agents that Mexican police tortured him…

Juarez consulate killings: Witness says Barrio Aztecas were trained by Zetas cartel
02/05/2014 – A Barrio Azteca gang member turned government witness testified Tuesday that his gang had received training on how to become better killers from the notorious Zetas drug cartel.

Juarez consulate trial: Relative of kingpin Vicente Carrillo Fuentes testifies
02/07/2014 – A relative of Mexican drug kingpin Vicente Carrillo Fuentes testified Thursday as a government witness in the federal trial of Arturo Gallegos Castrellon, an alleged Barrio Azteca leader accused of conspiring to kill three people with links to the U.S. Consulate in Juarez.

El Paso Barrio Azteca gang helped arm counterparts in Juarez
02/08/2014 – Barrio Azteca gang members in El Paso provided firearms and ammunition to counterparts in Juarez and used women as drug mules to smuggle heroin into the United States, said former gang members

US Consulate trial: DEA source set up secure network for Juarez cartel
02/11/2014 – A telecommunications specialist from Mexico testified Monday that he helped set up a secure radio network for the Barrio Azteca and La Linea members in 2010 that was used to relay orders to kill …

US Consulate killings trial: Witness says defendant ordered the slayings
02/12/2014 – A Barrio Azteca member who admitted taking part in the March 2010 slaying of three people with ties to the U.S. Consulate in Juarez testified Tuesday that Arturo Gallegos Castrellon gave the order…

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US Embassy Caracas: Two American Officials Wounded at “Some Sort of Social Spot”

The State Department has confirmed that 1) “two members of the U.S. Embassy in Caracas were injured during an incident early this morning” (May 28); 2) their injuries do not appear to be life threatening; 3) Embassy security and health unit personnel are at the hospital and have been in touch with the two individuals and their families; 4) that the incident occurred at “at some sort of social spot or somewhere outside of the Embassy grounds;” and 5) these are “other agency personnel.”

QUESTION: Were they Foreign Service – or are they Foreign Service officers, or are they other –

MR. VENTRELL: No, my understanding is that they are other agency personnel, not from the State Department. But if we’re able to confirm later in the day more about their status, we’ll do that for you.

According to CNN,  the two who were shot at a nightclub in northeast Caracas are U.S. military officials who worked with the embassy’s Defense Liaison Office.  A police spokeswoman said the shooting occurred at the Antonella 2012 club. The attending physician at a hospital in Caracas said one was shot in the abdomen and the leg, and the other in the abdomen,

Rodrigo@RodrigoEBR via CNN en Español tweeted that the U.S. Embassy staffers wounded were Roberto Ezequiel Rosas and Paul Marwin and that both are in stable condition after the shooting in Caracas.
Although not named, the two made it to the New York Times page:  2 American Embassy Officials Are Shot in Venezuela Strip Club.

“Some sort of social spot” is really a strip club?  Apparently it is. Some days we just feel sorry for the guy on the podium.  Heavy.com has an interesting piece:  US Embassy Employees Shot After Brawl inside Caracas Strip Club — includes a statement from a club rep saying in part:

“Two men were shot. Who cares what they were doing here. It sure as hell isn’t our fault. Why does the media wants to ruin these guys lives – these guys who probably have a family and a wife – with this news that they were in our club? Its dumb. I have had to deal with police officers and with people from the embassy all day.” … Last week three people were killed in the mall. May 1st two people were killed and nobody came. Why do people only care when its not Venezuelan people who are dying and getting shot….I saw a man get killed in front of my house. He died and they took 20 bucks from him. Do you think the police came? No. Venezuela is worse than Afghanistan. Its worst than Iraq. This violence is our daily bread.”

The April 2013 report from the Regional Security Officer on Crime and Security in Caracas indicates that several neighborhoods of Caracas are off-limits to American employees of the Embassy. The Embassy has also mandated that all employees travel in an armored vehicle to and from Simón Bolivar International Airport in Maiquetia as it judged the airport road especially dangerous after receiving numerous reports of robberies and murders in the areas around the terminal (street, parking lot, etc.). Here is a quick summary:

The U.S. Department of State rates the criminal threat level in Caracas as “Critical.” Much of Caracas’s crime and violence can be attributed to mobile street gangs and organized crime groups. A number of factors explain the pervasive criminality in Caracas, including criminals’ disdain for official reprisal; a poorly paid, under-armed, and sometimes corrupt police force; an inefficient and politicized judicial system; a system of violent and overcrowded prisons, frequently managed with impunity by prison gang leaders themselves; and (according to some sources) as many as six million illegal weapons spread out across the country.

Our embassy in Caracas has been problematic for years not just in relation with the host country but within the mission itself.  Almost as if its been forgotten by the bureaucratic gods.  Between July 2010 and October 2011, US Embassy Caracas had two interim chargés, and relied upon a series of acting DCMs. This contributed, according to the OIG, to inconsistency and confusion regarding internal direction within the mission.  In February 2012, we blogged this — US Embassy Caracas: Where do I begin, to tell the story of how bad a post can get?.  In May last year, there was something else — US Embassy Caracas: Former FSN Pleads Guilty for Receiving Illegal Gratuity. In January this year, remember that carjacking?

Letter From Caracas: Did You Hear About the American Diplomat Carjacked in Venezuela?

On Tuesday, October 9, 2012, at approximately 7:50 p.m. an American employee of Embassy Caracas was carjacked in the Sebucan neighborhood of Caracas. The perpetrators were three or four men armed with handguns. The victim’s house keys, wallet, and cell phone were in the cup holders located between the vehicle’s two front seats at the time of the carjacking. They were taken with the car. The victim was unharmed, and with the aid of friends living in a nearby building, was able to contact the Regional Security Office which then dispatched an embassy roving patrol to pick up the victim.

As of this writing, Caracas is a 42% COLA, 20% hardship post and a 0% danger post.

– DS

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Name That Embassy: Where The DCM Has Two Official Residences (the Second, For DCM Junior’s Playdates)

Most of this blog’s readers are already familiar with the term DCM.  For those who aren’t, a DCM or a Deputy Chief of Mission is like the chief executive officer or chief operating officer of the embassy. He/She is a career diplomat and acts as Charge d’Affaires (person in charge) whenever the Ambassador is absent from the host country or when the position is vacant. The DCM is responsible for the day to day management of the embassy, ensuring the mission can operate with allocated resources and together with the Ambassador runs the Embassy “front office.”  He/She oversees the heads of sections (Political, Economic, Public Affairs, Management, Consular and the Regional Security Office) at the Embassy and has overall responsibility for mentoring and professional development of the entry-level professionals.

All that serves as a preamble to this:

The Deputy Chief of Mission in Country X has an official residence in the downtown area of the capital city; the location is not too far from the embassy.

The second residence, an apartment is allegedly in the suburbs, in one of the U.S. government compounds in the capital city. The ostensible reason for the second residence is reportedly so the DCM’s spouse would have a place to arrange playdates near the international school where DCM junior is enrolled.

Imagine if you’re overseas and you demand a second USG-owned or USG-leased residence for your kid’s playdates.  Do you know what would happen?  They’d pack you up on a medical evacuation so quickly before you can even say BOO!

But when you’re a DCM, apparently they don’t do that, which we must admit is a nice perk.

Poor contract guards.

They wanted to know what sort of special protection they should be giving to the DCM and his/her visitors when he/she is using the second residence.

As you might imagine, the  security office was not happy about this.

And the housing office was pretty steam up about it.  The Housing GSO reportedly refused to have anything to do with this … um, unusual arrangement.

Luckily, the Housing GSO’s supervising officer …. no, not the GSO but the Management Counselor is said to have arranged the details so the DCM gets the second USG housing. This is the part where we need to point out that the Management Counselor’s Employee Evaluation Report rater is no other than the DCM.

So –

If you were the Management Counselor at this post, would you have “arranged the details” so the DCM gets a second residence?

Or would you have taken out the Foreign Affairs Manual  and  said, “No your excellency, you may not have a second residence.”

Perhaps this should cover as our ethical dilemma exercise for the day.

According to FAM  15 FAM 211.1, the objective of the housing program is “to provide safe and secure housing that is adequate to meet the personal and professional requirements of employees at a cost most advantageous to the U.S. Government. For the purposes of this policy, adequate housing is defined as that comparable to what an employee would occupy in the Washington, DC Metropolitan Area, with adjustments for family size and locality abroad.”  The housing provided to employees is based on position rank and family size:  “Where an employee’s position rank is greater or less than his or her personal rank, the position rank determines the employee’s maximum authorization.”  

We have been unable to locate regulations in the FAM that allows an employee to occupy two USG-owned or USG leased housing overseas.  It might be that the FAM in a parallel universe does not specifically prohibit the allocation of two residences to a DCM, especially if one needs an apartment for the officer’s kid’s playdates. But — even if we grant that this is not illegal — holy mother of goat! How can a senior official even think this is not waste and misused of U.S. government property?

In any case, we understand that several mission staffers thought this was just plain wrong and appropriately filed complaints at the Office of Inspector General (OIG).

We heard that State/OIG “passed it on” to the regional bureau which then had a “conversation” of some sort. Subsequent to the conversation with the regional bureau, the keys to the second residence were returned.

We checked with the OIG and this is what we’re told by its spokesman, Douglas Welty:

[I]t is OIG policy not to comment on complaints submitted to our Hotline, nor do we comment on any possible, pending or on-going investigations.

It is also OIG policy to refer  non-criminal, but inappropriate activities to the Department (or bureau) for administrative action – with a request for a response and report of remedial actions taken.

So unless you don’t return the keys … then it becomes a big deal. But if you do return the keys, then things can be forgotten and forgiven? Did the bureau even charged the DCM rental for the use of the second residence? Was any administrative action ever issued? No one knows since that’s all done behind doors because hey, privacy!

In what ethical landscape would anyone consider this appropriate behavior for any public servant, particularly one who is a senior official with mentoring responsibility for our next generation of diplomats?

sig4

Updated May 16@8:37 am to include RSOs under the responsibility of the DCMs.

 

 

 

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US Embassy Cairo Issues Security Message: Yo! Maintain Good Personal Security; A Terror Cell Got Disrupted Also!

But … nothintodowithus!

Two days after the Egyptian Government announced the arrest of three militants with ties to Al Qaeda plotting terrorist attacks in Egyptian cities and after local officials have reportedly told their American counterparts that the US Embassy was a target, the U.S. Embassy Cairo finally released Security Message to U.S. Citizens No. 44: Maintaining Good Personal Security in Egypt. Excerpt below:

The knife attack on the Embassy’s perimeter, along with weekend media reports acknowledging that Egyptian authorities have disrupted a terror cell possibly targeting Egyptian and Western interests, serve as yet another reminder of the need to exercise good situational awareness.  Effective situational awareness starts with fully understanding the threat environment and elevating your personal alert level when indicators are present or as the environment may dictate – oftentimes in more public settings. Security and Emergency Messages to U.S. Citizens over the past year portray an environment where elevated awareness and good security habits must become normal practice.

In an incident on May 9, 2013 involving the stabbing of a U.S. citizen on the Embassy perimeter, the victim was approached by an unknown person who asked whether he was an American.  The victim turned away from his attacker, at which point the attacker stabbed the victim with a knife.  Though in general, anti-American sentiment is not directed at individual U.S. citizens in Egypt, U.S policy in the region does elicit strong, often negative emotions in Egypt.  Therefore, U.S. citizens should consider their profile as U.S. citizens, and possibly adjust depending on the area they are in, including near the Embassy compound, or the person/s with whom they may be interacting.  Moving in and around the Embassy perimeter can readily identify U.S. citizens as such.

The Egyptian Minister of Interior’s announcement on May 11 that a terror cell was disrupted signals the need to be vigilant and exercise good security habits.  The most vulnerable periods are normally when departing/arriving from/to residence/workplace and therefore should be a time of elevated awareness.  Please do not set routine patterns; vary your times and routes.  Get a sense of what/who belongs in the neighborhood and  report anything appearing out of the ordinary or suspicious.

 

The knife attack gets the lead and exactly two paragraphs, in addition to one statement previously released about that incident on May 10th (see Security Message for U.S. Citizens: Knife Attack on Embassy Perimeter).  The terror plot unmentioned except for a disrupted terror cell. Makes one wonder if post management even acknowledged to its mission staff that the embassy was a target.

In a separate development, in no way related to whatever —  the embassy also announced that the Special Assistant to the President and White House Coordinator for the Middle East Philip Gordon (former EUR A/S) visited Cairo to meet with a range of government, political party, civil society, and business leaders.

Dr. Gordon is said to have “reaffirmed the importance of the U.S.-Egypt relationship and reiterated the United States’ strong support for the Egyptian people as they work to complete their democratic transition.” As well, he “pledged continued U.S. support as Egypt works to stabilize its economy and reach agreement with the IMF to promote its economic recovery.”

On May 9th, the AP reported that the IMF assessed that Egypt’s financial situation is deteriorating and the lending agency won’t move ahead with a $4.8 billion loan until receiving updated economic information and reform plans from President Mohamed Morsy’s government.

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A New Travel Warning for Egypt? No Comment or Howabout “There Are No Guarantees In This Business”

The NYT reported on May 11 that Egyptian security forces have arrested three militants with ties to Al Qaeda who were planning terrorist attacks in Egyptian cities and against a foreign embassy.  An unnamed western official told the NYT that the Egyptians had privately identified the embassy as the US Embassy in Cairo. Egyptian officials have reportedly told their American counterparts that the US Embassy was a target.

Interior Minister Mohamed Ibrahim said at a news conference that the suspects had been arrested with 22 pounds of explosive materials and instructions on how to make bombs and build rockets and model airplanes to use in the attacks.

He said the suspects were ‘‘on the verge’’ of attacking an embassy when they were arrested.

The State Department would not comment on the Egyptian allegations. ‘‘We don’t discuss the specifics of our operations nor the exchanges we have with foreign officials,’’ said Jennifer R. Psaki, a department spokeswoman.

As of this writing, there is no USG Travel Warning issued for Egypt.  There is a Travel Alert dated March 29, 2013 that talks about “the continuing possibility of political and social unrest, incidents of which have led to recent violence.” Also that “There have been no reports of U.S. citizens being targeted specifically because of their nationality; however, in isolated instances, Westerners and U.S. citizens have been caught in the middle of clashes and demonstrations.”

That March 29 alert made no mention of al-Qaeda or terrorism in Egypt. The Embassy’s Messages to U.S. Citizens do not appear to include any details about the October 2012 incident where an al-Qaeda cell was caught in Cairo’s Nasr City. At least, we could not find anything on the embassy or OSAC’s website.

We have several contacts in Egypt and one of them shared with us the security advisory sent by an international organization to its 1,000 plus personnel in Egypt on May 11. Below is an excerpt:

Egyptian security forces reportedly apprehended three militants with alleged ties to al-Qaeda in Alexandria and Cairo on May 11. Initial reports indicate militants planned to execute suicide bombings in central locations in Cairo and Alexandria in the coming days, including in Metro stations. Mohammed Ibrahim then added that their target was a “foreign embassy”, which other reports claimed was the French Embassy in Cairo’s Giza district.

The minister further stated that the cell is related to a previous cell that was apprehended in Nasr City on October 24, 2012. In that incident, forces raided a suspected militant hideout in Cairo’s Nasr City District, killing one suspect said to have been linked to the deadly September 11 Consulate in Benghazi.

The security advisory on its assessment says that the arrests highlight the continued presence of Islamist militants “throughout Egypt and their connection with transnational extremist networks.”

The advisory also notes that the militants of the Nasr City cell who were apprehended in October last year were arrested on suspicion of possessing weapons, engineering attacks in Cairo, planning assassinations of government leaders, and smuggling weapons from Libya to support the rebels in Syria. It warns that “A suicide attack in the immediate term highlights militants’ ability to advance beyond the preliminary stages of planning attacks, which coincides with the ongoing security and intelligence vacuum that emerged following the January 2011 revolution.”

Apparently, there were reports claiming that the target was the French Embassy. The advisory addressed this but appeared convinced that “there remains a high likelihood” that the US Embassy Cairo may have ben the target due to the “notable rise in Anti-US sentiments” since the Arab Spring:

In case the French Embassy was not the intended target, we assess there remains a high likelihood that other Western missions in Cairo may have been targets, primarily the U.S. and Israeli embassies. This is due to a notable rise in anti-U.S. and anti-Israeli sentiments in North Africa since the 2011 upheaval.

Also — the security advisory points to the potential risk for reprisal attacks in the aftermath of the arrests:

As details emerge regarding the background of the detainees, we assess that the risk for reprisal attacks in Cairo and elsewhere in Egypt will increase.  This threat is likely to include, but is not limited to, the targeting of security installations as well as foreign interests. Furthermore, in case the planned attack was indeed related to the situation in Mali, this threat applies to Western-affiliated interests in the Middle East and Africa regions as a whole, and not solely in Egypt. 

Via Google Earth

Google Earth

Okay then –

We’re going to have to ask a delicate question – which will annoy folks at Embassy Cairo’s front office.

Did post management know that there is this threat? Does it know about the threat to the mission now?

If the answer is “no” — does that mean their local and intel contacts are plainly useless? But … but …see, apparently “Egyptian officials have reportedly told their American counterparts that the US Embassy was a target.”

Well, then if that is true, then the answer had to be a “yes.” In which case the policy of “No Double Standard” kicks in. That’s the part where if/when the Department shares information with the official U.S. community (as in travel warnings/alerts/consular info program), it should also make the same or similar information available to the non-official U.S. community if the underlying threat applies to both official and non-official U.S. citizens/nationals (see 7 FAM 052.1).

So far we haven’t seen anything from US Embassy Cairo.  This is a curious case that’s bugging our OCD plenty.

Update on May 12@9:50 am:  Wait — we posted this past midnight last night and  this morning, a blog pal kindly knocked us on the head on this — telling the blog that it is “easy” to get around the No Double Standard policy.  See, you only need to tell the public, if you’re alerting the official community.  So, really —  if you carry on as before, and you don’t change official behavior or advice, you don’t need to tell anyone.

Oops …. but… but … oh, dammit!!

If you missed our blog post on US Embassy Cairo on May 11th, see  US Embassy Egypt: From the Real Post Reports, the New Cairo; Plus Western Embassy Targeted.  That post merit at least a triple curse!

 

– DS

 

 

 

 

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US Embassy Egypt: From the Real Post Reports – the New Cairo; Plus Western Embassy Targeted

Target: Western Embassy Cairo

Today, the BBC News reported the arrest of three al-Qaeda militants in Cairo.  The reported target is a western embassy. That probably means, the three militants who were in the final stages of their terror plot were targeting New Zealand or Uruguay, either would do as a western embassy.  Dear US Embassy Cairo – since the mob was there to just say hello to you last year, it’s not you, carry on.  Excerpt from the BBC:

Egyptian police have arrested three al-Qaeda militants planning a suicide attack on a Western embassy, the country’s interior minister says.

Mohammed Ibrahim did not specify which embassy had been targeted, but said a quantity of chemicals had been found.

Mr Ibrahim gave the names of three men and said they were planning attacks in both Cairo and Alexandria.
[...]
All three men, described as jihadists, had been in touch with an al-Qaeda militant in Pakistan as well as another in the Sinai peninsula, the minister said.

He also linked the men to a group arrested last October who were accused of setting up a cell in the Nasr City area of Cairo.

Knife Attack: Not Tied to Any Larger Conspiracy

Last Thursday, Christopher Stone, an American citizen and a fellow at the American Research Center in Egypt, was attacked outside the perimeter of the embassy. US Embassy Cairo quickly released a statement that says the ongoing investigation has established that the “incident was not tied to any larger conspiracy.”

“Police investigating yesterday’s knife attack on the Embassy perimeter reported that the perpetrator has admitted to the attack and claimed his motivation was to seek revenge over U.S policies in the Middle East. The perpetrator carried out the attack after establishing his victim to be a U.S. citizen. The U.S. citizen victim is reportedly recovering and should be released from the hospital in the next day or so. The investigation, while still ongoing, has established that the perpetrator acted alone, and the incident was not tied to any larger conspiracy.”

Of course, it’s not a conspiracy! What a silly thing to suggest!

US Embassy Cairo – The Real Post Reports

Post Reports if you’re not familiar with them are detailed reports of every diplomatic post in the U.S. foreign service that are intended to help personnel decide where they want to go next.  It is part of the official bidding resources (see this old one from 2004 still available online via ediplomat.com – Post Report on Egypt).

A while back, the State Department removed the Post Reports from the Internet. Updated reports are now available only via Diplopedia in the State Department’s Intranet website.

Since these are part of the bidding tools, one can easily tell that every post report’s goal is to look as attractive as possible to the prospective bidders. And that’s probably the main reason why the Real Post Report (RPR) was born.  The Real Post Reports is the brainchild of a few Foreign Service spouses and now resides in the privately-run Tales from a Small Planet.  The website, run by volunteers no longer requires registration, so we feel better linking to that from this blog.

There are RPRs going back years.  Sometimes, you’re lucky if you see an RPR once a year. Here are a few examples:

  • Sana’a Yemen  has RPRs submitted in 2006, 2007 (two) and 2011.
  • Kabul, Afghanistan has RPRs submitted in 2008, 2009, 2010 (three) and 2013.
  • Peshawar, Pakistan has one RPR submitted in 2009, and one in 2010.
  • Baghdad, Iraq has one RPR submitted so far in 2013.
  • Tunis, Tunisia has one RPR submitted in 2012.
  • Khartoum, Sudan has at least one RPR submitted every year from 2006 – 2011.
  • Tripoli, Libya has one RPR from January 8, 2007

The RPRs, of course, are done voluntarily and submitted primarily by members of the Foreign Service as well as members of the expat community.

As of this writing, Cairo, Egypt has already six RPRs from January – March 2013 alone.  If that trend continues, we’ll have 24 RPRs by the end of the year. The reports were all written by volunteers affiliated with the US Government in Cairo with overseas experience ranging from a first tour to a seventh/multiple tours. (Note: The day after this post went online, two more RPRs were posted on Cairo here).

Here are excerpts from the Real Post Reports on Cairo culled from six eight reports:

Size of expat community

  • Large, but shrinking because of the political unrest.
  •  Dwindling.
  •  Not as large as before the revolution, but there are still a fair number of expats here.
  • The expat community in Cairo is very very large. Beyond the USG community (which is huge), there are substantial communities from the other embassies, a huge US military/contractor community, and a huge oil community. In addition, there are faculty at CAC and the American University in Cairo, along with other donor groups.
  •  Getting smaller by the day.

Morale among expats

  • Extremely low. Post management was too late in spotting and/or admitting that Cairo is getting worse, not better. Post management is highly unsympathetic to the plights of the little people, and they live a fairly sheltered life with teams of bodyguards and walled villas — while we hope we don’t get sexually assaulted or mugged on the way from our apartment to the Maadi House.
  •  At the moment it is pretty low because of the uncertainty. Crime is on the increase, and people are worried—not sure what is going to happen. The U.S. Embassy community is struggling because of our location right near all the activity of the last two plus years. But, having been here four years, I don’t regret it. I have enjoyed my time here and, if I had a choice, would have done it again. It’s been good for family. But I definitely see that many people are unhappy
  • Extremely low since the revolution – this place really is bad now. It seems that everyone you talk with is counting the days until they leave or they are contemplating curtailing.
  • Long gone. People are waiting for the end of their tours. The use of alcohol is increasing, and rumors about the deterioration of Egypt are circulating everywhere, including at school.
  • Among those I interact with it is very poor. Pessimism about the situation pervades life here. People don’t feel safe and don’t see any prospects that Egypt is going to improve in the near-term future. Even some long-time residents are packing up and heading elsewhere.
  •  Extremely poor. Everyone is trying to get out at the earliest opportunity. It has clearly not always been that way, but the country is going downhill fast.
  • Moral here is mixed. Really, it depends on who you spend time with! Many USG personnel prefer to spend their time only in the USG community. For many folks, it seems like Egypt is their first (and possibly only) developing world post – these folks often seem to be generally negative (i.e., it’s dirty, people are like home, etc.). It’s true that life in Cairo has its quirks, but It is a fascinating place. Egyptians are a generally nice people (who love kids), and life here is relatively easy in terms of amenities. That said, as in many places, the people who thrive here are those that can laugh at the quirks of the developing world and those who make sure to get away for breaks on a regular basis!
  •  Poor. Egypt has always been very dirty and frustrating, but for some people it used to be fun and exotic. Now, with the increasingly poor security, deteriorating infrastructure and criminality, and sense of entitlement of its population, most people—Egyptians included—are desperately trying to flee. Morale at the Embassy is poor, with people hoping for an evacuation.

Are there any special security concerns?

  • The security situation in Cairo is rapidly deteriorating. Egypt is seeing more jihadi extremism, constant protests/riots around the US Embassy, carjackings, and muggings. As tourism bottoms out, people are getting desperate and know that expats have money. Also, sexual assault and/or harassment is pretty much guaranteed to affect you or someone close to you.
  • Crime is on the increase since the revolution, but this is still a safe city.
  • Where to start? Daily power outages, sexual assaults on women, robbery by sudden snatching, theft, assault and battery, rape, getting shot at or attacked with rocks are now all common-place events since the revolution. Even the safe districts of Maadi have seen these issues, rise and the State Department thinks we are still the same 15% post we were pre-revolution. This is easily a 25% diff post now and the tours should only be for two years.
  • And how! Law enforcement, as noted earlier, is ineffective, and criminals have become more brazen—likely because they feel much more confident that they can get away with theft, robbery, sexual assault, etc. The security situation in North Africa and Sinai has created an Egypt in which there is no shortage of guns and other dangerous toys—and bad guys willing to use them. It isn’t at all clear whether a large-scale attack against Westerners hasn’t occurred because there is a lack of capability or a lack of will. Uncertainty about the security environment has created a tremendous amount of stress among expats and Egyptians alike.
  • Absolutely. This place is a war zone. The police are totally ineffective and will stand there and watch while you get robbed or are groped and molested. Carjackings are becoming a problem, with even a senior government minister falling victime to a random carjacking.
  • Since the revolution, security has become more of an issue. But Cairo was abnormally safe for a city of its size prior to the revolution and has now really just shifted to a security level one would expect for city of this size. The key factor is that the police force is relatively ineffective. So, when something does happen, there is little that can or will be done about it. In the expat areas (Maadi, Zamalak, and Dokki, primarily) there have been increases in issues such as purse snatchings, etc.
  • During Mubarak’s regime, Egypt was extremely safe. Now there are few police, and they are quite scared themselves to intervene. On a daily basis you see more and more disorder and chaos. Women are regularly accosted throughout Cairo, and crime has become a real problem.

Knowing what you now know, would you still go there?

  •  I would not wish this post on anyone.
  • Yes, I would do it again, but perhaps not four years. It’s never boring, and I can’t say that I love the place, or will ever come back, but I don’t regret the four years. And yes, I would do it again.
  •  NOOOO!
  • Yes. But we’d like to be recognized for the sacrifices we make. This would be as simple as seeing post management demonstrate that they care about our safety and security and recognize the very real hardships and dangers we face.
  • No. And when I leave, it will be with the intention of never returning. I had wanted to come to Egypt for quite some time, and it’s been a major disappointment.
  • Absolutely. It’s an experience that eveyone should have at least once in their lives—unless you have already lived in a war zone.
  • In a heartbeat! We have loved it, and would have no issues coming back here again, even with all the post-revolution changes—assuming, of course, that things don’t go downhill more than they have to date!
  • No way! Don’t come.

You may read the full Real Post Reports on Cairo here.

Meanwhile, on May 1st this year, Financial Times reported that homicides in Egypt tripled from 774 in 2010 to 2,144 last year; home invasions jumped from 7,368 in 2010 to 11,699 in 2012; kidnapping for ransom rose from 107 in 2010 to 412 in 2012.  The US Embassy published its Egypt 2012 OSAC Crime and Safety Report in February last year. It’s now May and we’re still looking for the 2013 report.


Quick Check – Is There An Abyss in “Abysmal Morale?”

Now, if you’ve been following this blog, you will noticed that we’ve been blogging about the goings on at the U.S.  Embassy in Cairo. No, not just because its Twitter team occasionally make a large splash but also because of a reported “abysmal morale” at post. See this blog post —  US Embassy Bangui: 15% Danger Post With Terrifically Bad Trimmings, It’s Not Alone –Wassup Cairo?

Can you imagine what happened then?

Apparently, following the blog post, the DCM (is it still Marc Seivers?) stormed into the security office demanding to know “who leaked the story to that damn blog…”  and not getting the answer he want, slammed the door on the way out.

Uh-oh!

But really, it’s okay, we’ve been called worse than “damn.”

So anyway, “that damn blog”  has learned that Embassy Cairo was recently host to high level visits presumably to see if there was an abyss in “abysmal morale.”

We understand that post visitors included Ambassador Hans Klemm, the Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary Bureau of Human Resources (DGHR),  Elizabeth Dibble, the Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary for Near Eastern Affairs (NEA), and Paul Reid, the Director for Entry Level Career Development and Assignments (DGHR/CDA).

We don’t know yet what they found at Embassy Cairo.  But we heard that there is one team heading that way to um ….  look around or something. Another team who’s trip had been previously postponed is also heading that way again …

What a relief that the Interior Minister did not specify which western embassy had been targeted.  It could have been Venezuela, you know.

– DS

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Top Ten Signs Your Embassy Might Be Dysfunctional … or Just Plain Dreadful

 

1.  Mission Favorites.  Mission staffer’s favorite movie is “Under Siege” but not/not because they’re die-hard fans of Steven Seagal.  The mission’s theme song is  “Front Office in a Bubble” to the tune of Jim Croce’s Time in a Bottle and it’s not because they want to save time in the bubble and spend them with you.

2.  Voluntold.  When the Front Office holds a meeting on morale participants had to be voluntold so there are real people in the room and not just left over cardboard cut-outs of Mitt Romney and Barack Obama from election past.

3.  Liquor Store Run.  Every town hall meeting causes a minor run on the commissary liquor store. This is not necessarily bad as it improves the commissary’s bottom line but, but when employees get up with a hangover the day after every town hall meeting, that is never a good sign.

4.  Not So Cute Nicknames.  Front Office executives and senior managers get nicknames that are neither cute nor fit for polite conversation. The nicknames are occasionally funny, that is, funny to everyone except to those they have been assigned to.

5.  Suck  It Up Buttercup.  The embassy’s motto of DMWL or “doing more with less” has been replaced with SIUB or “suck it up buttercup.”  If employees have legitimate concerns that are impairing their ability to do the work they are sent to do and you tell them to suck it up, what kind of manager does that make you?

6.  Hamsters on Wheels.  Mission staffers ask questions about crisis preparedness in various re-iterations, repeats, rinses, then do over again and again like hamsters on a wheel.  When employees kept repeating the same questions over and over it means 1) they’re not getting the answers they need or 2) they do not believe what you’re telling them.  In which case, they’ll keep asking those questions until they’re satisfied with the answer.

7.  Rumor Has It.  The rumor factory has taken over the embassy compound like the pink slime from Ghostbusters. Rumors express and gratify “the emotional needs of the community.” It occupies the space when that need is not meet, and particularly when there is deficient communication between the front office and the rest of the mission.

8. Humor-less.  It’s been a long time since anyone at post had a real good laugh. Once humor becomes the missing link in the chain of command, then that is a sign of not good things to come.  Employees who are unhappy, demoralized, despondent, frustrated, angry have a hard time laughing at anything unless they are laughing at their senior managers.

9. Post Trends. El Jefe of one of the largest sections at post is suddenly retiring. The resident regional psychiatrist also curtails and retires.  And just about everyone has a curtailment plan.  The non-resident regional psychiatrist posted across the globe has been told he/she is spending way too much time at post. The community liaison officer shows up at Country Team meetings wearing a mockingjay pin. (In The Hunger Games, the mockingjay is a symbol of rebellion and hope among the districts). Uh-oh, trends — the not so subtle and the crafty. And don’t even think about making mocking jay pins illegal.

Mockingjay Pin via wikia.com

10. Fan Mail.  Demoralized embassy employees in the Republic of Z send howlers to this blog.  Not one email or two email but emails from the parliament of owls.  Frankly, they are worse than those listed on Harry Potter’s Owl Post.  If you think being featured in this blog is bad, think about how much worse your morning can be when you end up in Al Kamen’s In The Loop column, widely read  by the chattering crowd inside the beltway and the Seventh Floor.

The end.

–DS

 

 

 

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US Embassy Sudan and Those Critical Pool and Picnic Resources

Every now and then we get tips for blog post ideas, sometimes offline, via email or sometimes via social media as was the case a few days ago:

@tradeaidmonitor
Hope @Diplopundit catches “U.S. State Dept. Sending Critical [Pool & Picnicking] Resources to Sudan” http://www.tradeaidmonitor.com/2012/08/state-dept-resources-sudan.html

Sometimes we catch the toss, sometimes we don’t, primarily because we have some time constraints.  But this one, we thought we’d catch because in a place like our US Embassy in Khartoum, pool and picnic resources are critical resources in our view.  And we’ll tell you why.

Let’s start off with Sudan as the third largest country in Africa.  Slightly less than a quarter the size of the continental United States. It achieved independence on January 1, 1956 from the British, and has been at war with itself for more than three-quarters of its existence.

The USG designated Sudan as a state sponsor of terrorism in 1993 and the U.S. Embassy operation in Khartoum was suspended in 1996. According to the no longer updated Background Notes in October 1997, the U.S. imposed comprehensive economic, trade, and financial sanctions against the Sudan. In August 1998, in the wake of the East Africa embassy bombings, the U.S. launched cruise missile strikes against Khartoum. The last U.S. Ambassador to the Sudan, Ambassador Tim Carney, departed post prior to this event and no new ambassador has been designated since.

We do have a Special Envoy to Sudan –Ambassador Lyman since 2011; he succeeded Ambassador Gration who was appointed to office in 2009.

The U.S. Embassy is headed by a series of Charge d’Affaires. Joseph D. Stafford, III, a career Foreign Service Officer has been Charge’ d’ affaires in Khartoum since June 2012. The US Embassy reportedly continues to re-evaluate its posture in Sudan, particularly in the wake of the January 1, 2008, killings of a U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) officer John Granville and local USAID employee, Abdel Rahman Abbas.

(see How much does a US diplomat’s life worth? About $1,800 US dollars, and look there’s no raging mob…)

The U.S. Mission in Sudan has declared disasters due to the complex emergency on an annual basis since 1987. On October 1, 2009, President Obama renewed the Sudan complex emergency disaster declaration for FY 2010.

Sandstorm Over the Nile
(Photo by US Embassy Khartoum/Picasa)

So let’s just agree that it’s not a very nice, cushy place when its dry. And it’s not a very nice place when it’s wet.

In fact, it’s one of those places where family members of embassy personnel under age 21 are not allowed to reside.  State Department employees in Sudan also get a 30% cost of living allowance, a 25% hardship differential and a 25% danger pay differential, and for good reasons.

Cost-of-living allowance (COLA) is granted to an employee officially stationed at a post in a foreign area where the cost of living, exclusive of quarters costs, is substantially higher than in Washington, D.C.

Hardship differential is established for any place when, and only when, the place involves extraordinarily difficult living conditions, excessive physical hardship, or notably unhealthful conditions affecting the majority of employees officially stationed or detailed at that place.  Living costs are not considered in differential determination

Danger pay allowance is designed to provide additional compensation above basic compensation to all U.S. Government civilian employees, including Chiefs of Mission, for service at places in foreign areas where there exist conditions of civil insurrection, civil war, terrorism or wartime conditions which threaten physical harm or imminent danger to the health or well-being of an employee.

So in a country where Al Qaeda has a long history, what do people do to entertain and de-stress themselves?  You can go to a fitness club where the monthly fee for adults is $192.50 (or 352.94 % more than what you’d pay in WashDC) according to numbeo.com. Or you can eat out where the combo meal similar to McDonald’s is $11.14 (except that you’re a real moving target).  Or you can go to the movies for $5.00, certainly cheaper than DC but do you want to be in the dark with people with guns? Probably not.

You can stay home and surf online; 6 Mbps Internet is at $67.50 a month whether it works or not. Or have a roaring pool party. Maybe. And invite even people you can’t stand. In which case you need to shop for party food.  You can shop for chicken breasts which at $8.00/kilogram is actually cheaper in Khartoum than in DC. You can also buy 12 pack eggs at $2.93, and a kilogram of fresh cheese at $16.33. Beer, the 0.5 liter bottle is reportedly $5.00. And there goes your COLA.

Then there’s the haboob, a small one or a big one, it doesn’t matter, it gets into everything. And they don’t have haboob days like snow days back in WashDC, which frankly, isn’t fair.   We terribly missed our undiplomatic diplomat from Facts Are Strictly Optional; you betcha she would have had insightful things to say about these critical resources.

The patio furniture below is similar to those required under the solicitation mentioned above and posted by US Embassy Khartoum at fedbiz. The complete solicitation is here: https://www.fbo.gov/notices/b8deabb7df3866417121ac528cf8a837.

Wave Square 4 Seater Set”Weatherproof, Rust-Free Guaranteed, 5 Year Warranty, Durable, UV Resistant, Powder Coating, Door to Door Free Delivery, All prices include VAT.
Manufactured by Golden Barley Garden Furniture Trading as HomeGarden.co.za, South Africa
(Photo from Golden Barley Garden Furniture Trading) 

Rust-fee, weatherproof, five year warranty – what’s not to like? More to the point, and this is important — you can hose them down after a dust storm, they’re too heavy to fly away in a sandstorm and they are deliverable from South Africa, just 2900 miles from the Sudan instead of some 6,000 miles from the United States.

So frankly, we cannot find it in our hearts to quarrel with these pool and patio furniture. All that dust and sand would probably drive us nuts ala The Shining if we live down there.  And anyways — what use is a pool if you cannot sit down or lounge or have a picnic with people you see every single day at work and at play?

Dear US Embassy Khartoum – we hope you folks enjoy your new pool and patio furniture. The bronze ones look really lovely.

The end.

Domani Spero

 

 

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