Bomb Explodes Outside US Consulate Erbil in Northern Iraq, ISIS Claims Attack (Updated)

Posted: 9:24 am PDT
Updated: 10:41 am PDT

 

Media reports say that a car bomb went off at 5:40 pm local time in front of the U.S. Consulate General in Irbil, in northern Iraq today.  An unnamed senior State Department official told ABC News it was a vehicle-borne improvised explosive device (VBIED). Other reports say the target was the local cafe near the consulate. The AP reports that no consulate personnel or local guards were wounded. There are local casualties but the number has not been officially released. McClatchy’s Mitchell Prothero in Iraq reports that “the entrance to the consulate appeared to have been struck by a bomber on foot.”

U.S. Consulate Erbil (Irbil) is headed by FSO Joseph Pennington who assumed his duties as Consul General in northern Iraq in July 2013.

 

 

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American Diplomacy at Risk: Increased Politicization of the State Department — That Ain’t Funny Any-Moooo!

Posted: 2:12 am EDT

 

The American Academy of Diplomacy (www.academyofdiplomacy.org) recently released its report called “American Diplomacy at Risk,” that highlights serious problems and call for important changes in the way the State Department manages American diplomacy. The report notes that there are too many short-term political appointees too deep in the system. For example, eight of the 10 most senior foreign policy officials at State are non-career. The use of Special Representatives, Envoys, and Advisors has also skyrocketed; there are now 57 of these single-issue “tsars” that directly reports to the Secretary (also see  While You Were Sleeping, the State Dept’s Specials in This “Bureau” Proliferated Like Mushroom).

There is an increasingly politicized appointment and policy process in the State Department, resulting in a steady decrease in the use of diplomacy professionals with current field experience and long-term perspective in making and implementing policy. This is reversing a century-long effort to create a merit-based system that valued high professionalism. It is both ironic and tragic that the US is now moving away from the principles of a career professional Foreign Service based on “admission through impartial and rigorous examination” (as stated in the Act), promotion on merit, and advice to the political level based on extensive experience, much of it overseas, as well as impartial judgment at a time when we need it most.
[…]
The president and the Secretary of State should systematically include career diplomats in the most senior of State’s leadership positions because they provide a perspective gained through years of experience and diplomatic practice, thus assuring the best available advice and support.

We make a number of specific recommendations in the full report to recognize the importance and value of the contributions made by Foreign Service professionals. Details and rationales are in the report. Of these, the most important include:

• Ensuring that a senior FSO occupies one of the two deputy secretary positions, the undersecretary for political affairs and the director of the Foreign Service Institute (FSI);

• Changing the Deputy Secretary’s committee inside State that recommends ambassadorial nominations to the Secretary (the “D” committee) to include a majority of active duty or recently retired FSOs;

• Obeying the law (the Act) on ambassadorial nominations as “normally from the career Foreign Service” and “without regard to political campaign contributions,” thereby limiting the number of non-career appointees to no more than 10 percent;

• Restoring the stature of the Director General (DG) of the Foreign Service and Director of Human Resources (HR), by appointing highly respected senior officers to these positions, reflecting the intent of the law and their importance in managing the personnel system of the Foreign and Civil Service;

• Limiting the number of non-career staff in bureau front offices and limiting the size of special envoy staffs while blending them into normal bureau operations, unless special circumstances dictate otherwise.

SPOT AN FSO

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodríguez, flanked by their respective advisers, sit together on April 9, 2015, in Panama City, Panama, during a bilateral meeting - the first between officials at their level since 1958 - on the sidelines of the Summit of the Americas. [State Department photo/ Public Domain

CUBA: U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodríguez, flanked by their respective advisers, sit together on April 9, 2015, in Panama City, Panama, during a bilateral meeting – the first between officials at their level since 1958 – on the sidelines of the Summit of the Americas. [State Department photo/ Public Domain

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IRAN:  U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, U.S. Under Secretary for Political Affairs Wendy Sherman, and senior advisers watch President Barack Obama hold a news conference from the Rose Garden at the White House backstage at the École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne before he addressed reporters in Switzerland on April 2, 2015. [State Department photo/ Public Domain]

The AAD report looks in two directions. “One is at the politicization of the policy and appointment process and management’s effort to nullify the law—the Foreign Service Act of 1980 (“the Act”)— both of which reduce the role of a professional Foreign Service. We strongly believe this weakens the nation and the State Department and must be reversed and resisted.  A second focus is on key improvements for both the Civil and Foreign Service to strengthen professional education and the formation and quality of these careers.”

The report also makes two central recommendations:

1. The Secretary and the State Department should continue to press the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) and Congress for resources—positions, people and the funds needed to support them—to restore to American diplomacy the ability to play its critical role in the country’s national security.

2. The Department must define the respective and distinctive roles of the Foreign Service and Civil Services to clarify their complementary functions, in accordance with legislative language.

The rest of the recommendations are summarized under five headings: reversing the politicization of the policy process; ending efforts to nullify the Foreign Service Act of 1980; improving personnel development and education; meeting the challenges of the Civil Service; and optimizing workforce development.

Click here to view the abridged report.

Click here to view the full report.

For a consolidated list of recommendations, click here.

A side note, there wasn’t a lot of coverage when this report was publicly released on April 1, 2015.  WaPo’s Joe Davidson did write about it in Foreign Service officers fear State Dept. wants to define them away. The comments section over in WaPo will give you an idea about the perception of the American public, and will, undoubtedly make FS members frustrated or even upset. But no matter how mad you may get, if you must respond online, we caution for a tempered response like one made by retired FSO James Schumaker. And do please stay away from “Did you pass the FSO exam?,” as a response; that will not win friends nor influence people.

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12 April 1975: Ambassador John Gunther Dean recalls the day the United States abandoned Cambodia

Posted: 12:46 am EDT

 

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Via USAToday:

Forty years later, John Gunther Dean recalls one of the most tragic days of his life — April 12, 1975, the day the United States “abandoned Cambodia and handed it over to the butcher.”

“We’d accepted responsibility for Cambodia and then walked out without fulfilling our promise. That’s the worst thing a country can do,” he says in an interview in Paris. “And I cried because I knew what was going to happen.”

Five days after the dramatic evacuation of Americans, the U.S.-backed government fell to communist Khmer Rouge guerrillas. They drove Phnom Penh’s 2 million inhabitants into the countryside at gunpoint. Nearly 2 million Cambodians — one in every four — would die from executions, starvation and hideous torture.

Below is an excerpt from Ambassador Dean’s oral history interview conducted in 2000 for the Association for Diplomatic Studies and Training:

Our messages from Phnom Penh were crystal clear: if the Khmer Rouge takes control of the country, there was going to be a bloodbath. The exact word was “bloodbath.” It turned out to be even worse: a genocide.
[…]
Certainly by the end of February and the first week of March, the Khmer Rouge were pressing hard. We used that time to move as many Cambodians, Americans, and foreigners as possible to safety in Thailand. We had set up a system imagined by Robert Keeley (DCM). Ray Perkins (Chief political Section), and Tim Carney, a junior officer who spoke Cambodian. Tim became Ambassador later in his life. All those who felt endangered were sent out by plane over a period of 8 weeks before our departure. In addition, we had set up a procedure whereby key Cambodian leaders were told to send an assistant or secretary to the U.S. Embassy at 6:00 a.m. every day to find out the situation and decisions taken by us regarding taking people to safety. That system worked rather well when on this fateful day of April 12, 1975 we had decided to leave Phnom Penh by helicopter. These aides and secretaries all came on the morning of April 12. One of them was the aide to Sirik Matak. We had prepared during the night a message stating that we were evacuating, and urging the recipient of the note to come along. In his reply to this message, Sirik Matak wrote one of the most heart-wrenching letters ever sent to an American official:

Phnom Penh
12 April 1975
Dear Excellency and Friend,
I thank you very sincerely for your letter and for your offer to transport me towards freedom. I cannot, alas, leave in such a cowardly fashion. As for you, and in particular for your great country, I never believed for a moment that you would have this sentiment of abandoning a people which has chosen liberty. You have refused us your protection, and we can do nothing about it.
You leave, and my wish is that you and your country will find happiness under this sky. But, mark it well, that if I shall die here on the spot and in my country that I love, it is too bad, because we all are born and must die (one day). I have only committed this mistake of believing in you the Americans.
Please accept, Excellency and dear friend, my faithful and friendly sentiments.
(signed) Sirik Matak

[…]

On that fateful day, I said to General Palmer that I wanted to be the last person to leave Cambodian soil. I felt like I was the captain of the ship and, as the tradition goes, the captain is the last man to leave the ship. My wish was granted. Awaiting to be called to move to the extraction site, I was sitting in my office, fully aware of the meaning of the moment for our country. I read the letter from Sirik Matak which had arrived about 45 minutes earlier. Looking out of the window, I saw the Marines taking people to the helicopters and to safety. I watched the Embassy personnel driving themselves to do all they could to help those who had thrown in their fate with us.

[…]

Nobody was turned down for evacuation, including at the last moment, Sydney Schanberg’s Cambodian staffer working for the New York Times. We took foreign nationals out, for whom we had responsibility,  or even if we had no responsibility. We did not distinguish between illiterate gardeners and highly educated intellectuals. We took the Cambodian girlfriends of some of our bachelor staff members out to safety. I asked our resident military and the Marines in charge of the evacuation to take out anybody who wanted to go with us. At one point in my office, I took a pair of scissors and cut the American flag and the President’s flag off the staff of the poles which were in back of my desk in the ambassador’s office. I was trying to figure out a way of giving some form of protection to the symbol of our country and to the people whom I represented in Cambodia. Tears were rolling off my cheeks. I was alone. I took the two flags and put them over my arm. I got some plastic so they would not get wet. Unkind newspaper people wrote that I had put the flags in a body bag for dead soldiers. On our way to the helicopters, I stopped at my residence where the American flag was flying, and I struck the colors. I took the flag, the third flag, and put it with the other two flags. I asked the Cambodian staff at my residence whether they wanted to go with me. Some of them had been sent to safety before. Those who were still at the residence on April 12 thought they could stay behind without fearing for their safety. At that point, I abandoned the ambassadorial limousine and walked the rest of the way to the waiting helicopters with the American flags draped over my arm. As a Boy Scout in Kansas City, as an officer in the United States Army, and as a Foreign Service officer, I respected the Stars and Stripes as a symbol of our country. I was the last man in our Mission to leave Cambodia in a very large helicopter. One of the correspondents of an American broadcasting system sat next to me weeping because he understood what was going on. We landed on an American aircraft carrier. The entire extraction was called “Operation Eagle Pull.”

 

Ambassador John Gunther Dean‘s oral history interview for ADST is here (pdf-Cambodia starts on p.99). He was appointed Ambassador to Cambodia in March 1974 and he served in that posting until the Embassy was closed and all US personnel were evacuated on 12 April 1975, 5 days before the Khmer Rouge entered Phnom Penh.  Sirik Matak, a member of the Cambodian Royal family previously served as Prime Minister of the Khmer Republic. He was offered political asylum to the United States with other high ranking Khmer Republic officials but declined. He was reportedly executed on April 21, 1975.

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US Mission Afghanistan: Insider Attack During Senior U.S. Official’s Visit Kills One, Wounds Several Others

Posted: 1:17 pm EDT

 

Another insider attack out of Afghanistan is in the news today. According to media reports one U.S. service member is dead. The number of those wounded is reportedly between 3 to 7 Americans. The US Embassy in Kabul released the following brief statement:

We are aware that there was an exchange of gunfire involving Resolute Support service members near the provincial governor’s compound in Jalalabad. The incident took place after a senior U.S. official held a meeting with the provincial governor. All Chief of Mission personnel of the visiting party are accounted for.  

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via USConMazar/FB

via USConMazar/FB

Below via LAT

“The incident took place after a senior U.S. official held a meeting with the provincial governor,” embassy spokesperson Monica Cummings said. “All chief of mission personnel of the visiting party are accounted for.”  The U.S. ambassador in Afghanistan, P. Michael McKinley, was in Kabul and not part of the visit to Jalalabad, the capital of Nangarhar province, embassy officials said.
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Via Stripes:

The attack occurred after a meeting between U.S. Embassy officials and local Afghan leaders at the provincial governor’s home in Jalalabad, said Hazrat Hussain Mashraqiwal, police spokesman for Nangarhar province.  An Afghan soldier suddenly opened fire on American and NATO troops providing security for the embassy team. The gunman and a member of the security team were shot dead during the exchange, Mashraqiwal said.

Via WaPo:

According to Afghan officials, Ambassador Michael McKinley was not present at the meeting. The U.S. Embassy did not provide further details on which senior U.S. official was meeting with the governor. But Afghan officials in Jalalabad said it was Donald Y. Yamamoto, who also holds ambassadorial rank.
Yamamoto, a former U.S. ambassador to Ethi­o­pia and principal deputy assistant secretary in the State Department’s Bureau of African Affairs, served as a senior U.S. civilian representative to Northern Afghanistan, based in the U.S. Consulate in Mazar-e Sharif, where he was sent during last year’s elections. He now is the senior civilian representative in Afghanistan for Regional Command North, the State Department said.

According to USCG Mazar’s FB page, the Senior Civilian Representative to northern Afghanistan as of March this year is David Birdsey. Donald Y. Yamamoto currently serves as the Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary for African Affairs.  He was previously ambassador to Ethiopia and Djibouti.

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2014 Foreign Service Promotion Results By Gender & Race Still Behind the Great Firewall of State

Posted: 1:05 am EDT

 

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

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

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

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

Ugh! Not again.

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

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

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

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

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

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Asking about the security clearance logjam: “Seriously? I suggest we sent her to FLO…” Seriously, let’s not!

Posted: 12:46 am EDT

 

According to Diplomatic Security’s FAQ, the general time to process security clearance averages about 120 days. But the Department of State has apparently initiated a goal to render a security clearance decision in 90 days.   We have, however, heard complaints that eligible family members (EFMs) overseas waiting to start on jobs have been caught in a security clearance logjam with some waiting much longer than four months. We’ve also heard rumors that DS no longer issue an interim security clearance.

So we thought we’d ask the Diplomatic Security clearance people. We wanted clarification concerning interim clearances and the backlogs, what can post do to help minimize the backlogs and what can EFMs do if they have been waiting for months without a response.

We sent our inquiry to Grace Moe, the head of public affairs at the Diplomatic Security Service (DSS). We did not get any response. Three days later, we sent a follow-up email to her deputy, and the group’s security clearance mailbox. Shortly, thereafter, an email popped up on my screen from the Security Specialist at DS’s Customer Service Center of the Office of Personnel Security/Suitability:

“Seriously? I suggest we sent her to FLO…”

Somebody suggesting they send Diplopundit to the FLO? Let’s not.    We’re not privy to the preceding conversation on that email trail.  But seriously, a straight forward  inquiry on security clearance should not be pushed over to the Family Liaison Office (FLO) just because it’s related to family members.

So we told DS that we sent the security clearance inquiry to them for a very good reason and that we would appreciate a response unless they want to decline comment.

The lad at the Customer Service Center wrote back with a lame response that they will answer, but he was not sure about our email because it ends with a .net. Apparently, we’re the only one left in the world who has not moved over to dot com.  And he asked if it would be possible to obtain a name from our office.

Whaaaat? The next thing you know, they’ll want a phone date.

We’re sorry to inform you but this Customer Service not only shovels inquiry elsewhere but it also cannot read and see contact names on emails. So days later, Customer Service is still waiting for us to provide them a name that’s already on the email we sent them.  That kind of redundant efficiency is amazing, but we hate to waste any more of our time playing this game.

So we asked a DS insider, who definitely should get double pay for doing the Customer Service’s job. But since the individual is not authorized to speak officially, try not to cite our source as your source when you deal with that DS office.

Anyway, we were told that it is not/not true that DS no longer issue interim clearances.  Apparently, what happens more frequently is that HR forgets to request an interim clearance when it makes the initial request. So you paperwork just goes into a big pile. And you wait, and wait, and wait.  So if you’re submitting your security paperwork, make sure you or your hiring office confirms with HR that they have requested an interim clearance.

We were going to confirm this with HR except that those folks appear to have an allergic reaction to our emails.

In any case, the logjam can also result from the FBI records checks. If the FBI has computer issues, that, apparently, can easily put tens of thousands of cases behind because without the results of the FBI check, “nothing can be done.” There’s nothing much you can do about that except pray that the FBI has no computer issues.

We also understand that the Office of Personnel Security/Stability or PSS is backed up because of a heavy case load. “Posts seem to be requesting clearances with reckless abandon.”  We were cited an example where an  eligible family member (EFM) works as a GSO housing coordinator. The EFM GSO coordinator has access to the same records as the local staff working at the General Services Office but he/she gets a security clearance.

The Bureau of Human Resources determines whether a Department of State position will require a security clearance, as well as the level required, based upon the duties and responsibilities of the position. So in this example, HR may determine that the EFM GSO housing coordinator needs a clearance because he/she knows where everybody lives – including people from other agencies.  Again, that same information is also accessible to the  Foreign Service Nationals working as locally employed staff at GSO and HR.

Not sure which EFM jobs do not require a security clearance.  We understand that HR routinely asks for it when hiring family members.  Of course, this practice can also clog up the process for everyone in the system.  Routinely getting a clearance is technically good because an EFM can take that security clearance to his/her next job.  The Department of State will revalidate a security clearance if (1) the individual has not been out of federal service for more than 2 years and (2) if the individual’s clearance is based on an appropriate and current personnel security clearance investigation.  So the next time an EFM gets a job in Burkina Faso or back in Foggy Bottom, the wait won’t be as long as the clearance only requires revalidation.

And there is something else. Spouses/partners with 52 weeks of creditable employment overseas get Executive Order Eligibility, which enables them to be appointed non-competitively to a career-conditional appointment in the Civil Service once they return to the U.S. A security clearance and executive order eligibility are certainly useful when life plunks you back in the capital city after years of being overseas.

There is no publicly available data on how many EFMs have security clearances. But we should note that EFMs with security clearance are not assured jobs at their next posts. And we look at this as potentially a wasted resource (see below). EFMs who want jobs start from scratch on their security package only when they are conditionally hired. So if there’s an influx of a large number of new EFMs requesting security clearance, that’s when you potentially will have a logjam.

Back in 2009, we blogged about this issue (some of the numbers below are no longer current):

We have approximately 2,000 out of 9,000 family members who are currently working in over 217 missions worldwide.  Majority if not all of them already have, at the minimum, a “Secret” level clearance. And yet, when they relocate to other posts, it is entirely possible that they won’t find work there. The average cost to process a SECRET clearance has been reported to run from several hundred dollars to $3,000, depending on individual factors. The average cost to process a TOP SECRET clearance is between $3,000 and about $15,000, depending on individual factors. Given that most FS folks spend majority of their lives overseas, the $3,000 for a Secret clearance process for EFMs would be way too low. But let’s assume that all the EFMs currently working only have a Secret level clearance – at $3,000 each that’s still 6Million USD right there. Even if only 500 of them lost their jobs due to regular reassignment, that’s 1.5M USD that’s not put to effective use.

So here’s the idea – why can’t we create an EFM Virtual Corps? The EFMs who are already in the system could be assigned a specialization based on prior work experience within the US Mission. When not employed at post, their names could be added to the EFM Virtual Corps, a resource for other posts who require virtual supplementary or temporary/ongoing support online. Their email and Intranet logon should be enabled to facilitate communication while they are on a float assignment and their reporting authority should be a straight line to a central coordinator at Main State and a dotted line to the Management Counselor at post.  I know, I know, somebody from HR probably have a ready list of reasons on why this can’t be done, but – how do we know if this works or not if we don’t try? The technology is already available, we just need organizational will and some, to make this work.

Here’s our related post on this topic: No Longer Grandma’s Foreign Service. You’re welcome to post this on the leadership site behind the State Department firewall. Hey, the somebodies already post our burn bag entries there, so why not this one?

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AFSA Election: Statements of Candidates — Well, Is This Gonna Be Interesting or What?

Posted: 2:19 am EDT

 

A couple of weeks ago, AFSA announced the candidates for positions on the ballot for the AFSA Governing Board for the 2015-2017 term.  On April 1st, AFSA released the candidates’ statements. There are three candidates running for president: Ambassador Barbara Stephenson, leading the Strong Diplomacy slate, Matthew Asada, leading the Future Forward AFSA slate, and Tex Harris who does not have a slate.  You should read the full statements of the candidates below, but we should note that both Mr. Asada and Mr. Harris are incumbent members of the current Governing Board.  In addition to your bread and butter issues, perhaps voters should ask how they might reconcile Mr. Asada’s rosy report of accomplishments with Mr. Harris charged that “AFSA’s current top mandates are to protect individual members and to grow “AFSA as a business.”  Also a $125/plate dinner at its 90th Anniversary celebration– we’re you invited? Did you know that AFSA is selling FS coins? And grave markers? Well, now you know.

Don’t miss the following upcoming town hall meetings:

  • April 7, 2015—State Town Hall at HST in the Loy Henderson Auditorium
  • April 8, 2015—Retiree Town Hall at AFSA HQ Building in the first floor conference room

Oh, yes, somebody also please ask what the crap is going on with the Senate (See SFRC Bullies Diplomats Up For Promotion to Self-Certify They Have Not Been Convicted of Any Crime).

And what’s AFSA doing for 8 FSOs stuck in super glue at the SFRC? By the way, the fellow stuck there the longest, in fact stuck there since 2012 appears to be the former AFSA State VP.  When we inquired, outgoing AFSA President Bob Silverman politely declined to comment upon advice of his staff. Mr. Asada, current AFSA State VP never acknowledged receipt of our email.

Wait, former AFSA State VP + 7 FSOs held hostage at the Senate sounds pretty interesting, don’t you think? Should we put up the Hotline?

 

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Note: Mr. Silverman and Mr. Harris have both contributed to the third-party run GFM fundraising for this blog earlier this year.

SFRC Bullies Diplomats Up For Promotion to Self-Certify They Have Not Been Convicted of Any Crime

Posted: 12:45 pm EDT

 

The question is why? Why is the Senate Foreign Relations Committee (SFRC) demanding that our diplomats self-certify that they have not committed a felony within the last seven years? The form says “disclosure of this information is voluntary.” But also that “failure to provide the information requested may result in delay or exclusion of your name on a Foreign Service nomination list.”

Career members of the Foreign Service must be promoted into the Senior Foreign Service by appointment of the President, by and with the advice and consent of the Senate. This self-certification is reportedly also required for employees who are up for commissioning and tenuring at the Foreign Relations committee.

So basically in bullying our diplomats into signing this witless self-certification, the SFRC will be able to provide better advice to President Obama?

How?


All Diplomats Must Hold and Keep Top Secret Clearances

The American diplomatic profession requires the issuance of a security clearance. All Foreign Service officers must hold and keep an active Top Secret security clearance.

The personnel security background investigation begins after an individual has been given a conditional offer of employment and has completed the appropriate security questionnaire, usually a Standard Form 86, Questionnaire for National Security Positions, and other required forms.  Once the security package is received by the Office of Personnel Security and Suitability, it is reviewed for completeness. National agency record checks and scanned fingerprint checks are then conducted. A case manager will direct the background investigation to cover key events and contacts from the individual’s past and present history.   Once the investigators have completed a report, highly trained security clearance adjudicators will weigh the results against existing adjudicative guidelines for security clearances. A critical step in the background investigation is the face-to-face interview the individual will have with a DS investigator. This interview usually occurs within a few weeks of an individual submitting a complete security clearance package. Security clearances are subject to periodic reinvestigation every 5 years for TS clearance, and every 10 years for a Secret clearance.

When there is derogatory information, even based on preliminary facts from a DS criminal investigation, Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) counterintelligence or other law enforcement investigation, or an Inspector General investigation, the security clearance is suspended.  Personnel whose security clearances have been suspended may not be placed on temporary duty status at diplomatic facilities abroad and may not be retained in positions requiring a security clearance until the investigation is resolved.

The names of those with pending investigations are automatically removed from the promotion list.  It goes without saying …. oops, maybe it does need saying — diplomats who have pled guilty or convicted of a crime will not be able to hold a security clearance, much less have his/her name included in the promotion list.

Let’s give you an example — Michael Sestak, an FSO who pled guilty in a visa fraud-bribery case. He is currently sitting in jail. He’ll be sentenced in April.  When he comes out of prison, he will not/not have a job to return to at the State Department. Does anyone at the SFRC really think that somebody like Mr. Sestak can slip through federal employment again, get on the promotion list and somehow make it through the most deliberative body in Congress. No? So why would anyone in the Senate think that this self-certification is anything but idiotic?

 

8,042 Diplomats Targeted

On March 2012, fcw.com cited 2,102,269 as the total number of executive branch employees.  Of those, however, only 1,877,990 are full-time, permanent employees. These numbers reportedly do not include uniformed military personnel, or data on the Postal Service and excludes legislative and judicial branch employees.

Out of the 2.1 million employees, the State Department has  a total of 71,782 employees which includes 47,110 Foreign Service National (FSN) employees; 10,871 Civil Service (CS) employees and 13,801 (FS) Foreign Service employees as of December 2014 (see stats here-pdf.)

Of the total 13,801 Foreign Service employees, 8,042 are considered “Generalists” and 5,759 are “Specialists.”  The “Specialists which include DS agents, and HR, IT professionals are not subject to Senate confirmation.  The “Generalists” are the Foreign Service Officers  whose tenure and promotion are subject to confirmation by the United States Senate.

The Senate majority in the Foreign Relations Committee appears to be targeting only Foreign Service officers.  FSOs, and FSOs alone have been asked to self-certify that they have not been “convicted of or pled guilty of any crime” in the last seven years. As far as we are aware, this requirement does not extend to nominees who are political appointees.

What makes career diplomats special, pray tell?


The White House Knows About This? You Gotta be Kidding.

This self-certification form which is not available at OPM.gov and does not include an official form number says that “The information collected and maintained in this form will be used as part of the vetting process for Foreign Service Lists submitted to the White House for eventual nomination to the Senate.”

An informed source told us that this self-certification had been negotiated between a representative of AFSA, a staffer at the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and the State Department.

No, there were no photos.

Apparently, there also was no White House representative involved, although you might missed that when reading the unclassified State Department 14 STATE 98420 cable dated Aug 12, 2014, which says in part:

The Senate Foreign Relations Committee (SFRC) now requires additional vetting before it considers nominees for confirmation in all of the above-mentioned categories. Effective immediately all employees in those categories who have been nominated on or after April 1, 2014 must file a self-certification form certifying that they have not been convicted of a crime or pled guilty in any court over the past seven years, regardless of whether the record in the case has been sealed, expunged, or otherwise stricken from the court record. HR will notify those employees who are up for commissioning, tenure and SFS promotion that they must submit the form, available at:  [Note: we redacted sbu link] and which must be submitted to HR-PasSelfCertificat@state.gov.
Please note: failure to submit the form will mean that HR will not/not forward your name to the White House for nomination to the Senate. There is no waiver of the SFRC requirement. For those individuals who are unable to make the certification, and wish to provide information relevant to any conviction or guilty plea in the last seven years, they may report the information in the space provided on the form. Further investigation may be made on the basis of any additional information provided. The Department may then be required to provide this information to the SFRC.

 

AFSA and the State Department must realized that this is a meaningless and coersive made-up document, but both rolled over and played dead.  No other nominees of any agency of the U.S. government are obliged to sign such a certificate, which is essentially, again, meaningless in the context of a profession in which an active security clearance is a prerequisite to the performance of a job.

This is spectacular and unprecedented.

Well, not unprecedented if you count Senator McCarthy’s witch hunt and lavender scare in the 1950s.


Why roll over and play dead?

The SFRC can hold up ambassadorial nominations, senior State Dept level nominations (undersecretaries/assistant secretaries), and decide who to put first on the hearings list and who to put last (see Happy Easter Greeting: SFRC Left Town With 19 Ambassadorial Nominations Still Stuck on Glue!).  The simple act of holding up large numbers of nominees rather than passing them through at a reasonable pace wreaks havoc on State’s budget, assignments process, and people’s lives. (see Is the U.S. Senate Gonna Wreck, Wreck, Wreck, the Upcoming Bidding Season in the Foreign Service?)  Salaries, promotions, transfers, offices, authorities are money. Ambassadors who do not go to posts on time have big time resource implications in addition to political implications. People who do not have the legal authority to do their jobs (is a consular officer’s notarial legal if he/she did not receive Senate confirmation?) operate in a legal limbo presumably implying risks of all kinds.

So —

Self_certification

click image for larger view

 

Why not ‘just do it’ like Nike? It’s already done but it’s a horrible precedent, what’s next?

This is already being done. Folks have already signed this self-certifying documents and have submitted them as a requirement to their nominations.  They don’t really have a choice, do they? But where does it end?

It doesn’t.

We’ve learned that the SFRC gets information  on names recommended for promotion from the State Department “following vetting” and also directly from the OIG, including information that reportedly goes back decades.

That’s right, going back decades.

If an FSO or any employee is charged with a crime, the employee defends himself/herself in court, and if charged with an administrative matter, the employee defends himself/herself in an HR process. That’s how it works.

One SFRC staffer is now reportedly “negotiating” to gain access to OIG investigative data under the guise of allowing the Senate panel to better advise President Obama concerning the qualifications of Foreign Service Officer candidates. But what the SFRC is now “negotiating” with State and AFSA would be access to raw OIG and Diplomatic Security reports containing derogatory information without any of an employee’s mitigating, exculpatory or defensive evidence information. You okay with that?

What is Senator Corker’s SFRC going to ask for next, your diplomatic liver?

The White House seems asleep at the wheel on this. Today, it’s the State Department, tomorrow, it could be any agency in the Federal Government.

Hey, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee is doing it, what’s the rest of the Senate going to ask for next?

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Happy Easter Greeting: SFRC Left Town With 19 Ambassadorial Nominations Still Stuck on Glue!

Posted: 6:58 am EDT

 

On March 10, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee (SFRC) held confirmation hearings for the following nominees:

  • Mr. Stafford Fitzgerald Haney
    Of New Jersey, To Be Ambassador To Costa Rica
    Download Testimony
  • Mr. Matthew T. McGuire
    Of The District Of Columbia, To Be United States Executive Director Of The International Bank For Reconstruction And Development For A Term Of Two Years
    Download Testimony
  • Mr. Gentry O. Smith
    Of North Carolina, To Be Director Of The Office Of Foreign Missions, And To Have The Rank Of Ambassador
    Download Testimony
  • Mr. Charles C. Adams Jr.
    Of Maryland, To Be Ambassador Of The United States Of America To The Republic Of Finland
    Download Testimony

 

On March 25, four more nominees had their confirmation hearings before the committee:

  • Mr. Paul A. Folmsbee
    Of Oklahoma, To Be Ambassador Of The United States Of America To The Republic Of Mali
    Download Testimony
  • Ms. Mary Catherine Phee
    Of Illinois, To Be Ambassador Of The United States Of America To The Republic Of South Sudan
    Download Testimony=
  • Ms. Cassandra Q. Butts
    Of The District Of Columbia, To Be Ambassador Of The United States Of America To The Commonwealth Of The Bahamas
    Download Testimony
  • Ms. Katherine Simonds Dhanani
    Of Florida, To Be Ambassador Of The United States Of America To The Federal Republic Of Somalia
    Download Testimony

 

On March 27, the U.S. Senate left for the Easter recess, so we won’t see the senators hard at work again until mid April. None of the nominees who already had their confirmation hearings this month were cleared before the committee left town.  Regular Foreign Service officers who have been waiting confirmation for their promotions have also been stuck, some in super glue. We will have a separate post on that. The following are the 25 nominations for ambassadors and senior officials stuck in Committee.

via Wikimedia Commons

via Wikimedia Commons

 

2015-03-26 PN325 | Alaina B. Teplitz, of Illinois, 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 Federal Democratic Republic of Nepal.

2015-03-26 PN324 Julieta Valls Noyes, 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 Republic of Croatia.

2015-03-26 PN323 Atul Keshap, 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 Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka, and to serve concurrently and without additional compensation as Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the United States of America to the Republic of Maldives.

2015-03-25 PN317 Lucy Tamlyn, of New York, 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 Benin.

2015-03-25 PN316 Hans G. Klemm, of Michigan, 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 Romania.

2015-03-25 PN315 Kathleen Ann Doherty, of New York, 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 Cyprus.

2015-03-16 PN289 Ian C. Kelly, of Illinois, 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 Georgia.

2015-03-11 PN280 David Hale, of New Jersey, 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 Islamic Republic of Pakistan.

2015-03-04 PN238 Perry L. Holloway, of South Carolina, 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 Co-operative Republic of Guyana.

2015-03-04 PN237 Gregory T. Delawie, 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 Republic of Kosovo.

2015-02-25 PN212 Sheila Gwaltney, 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 Kyrgyz Republic.

2015-02-25 PN211 Katherine Simonds Dhanani, of Florida, 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 Federal Republic of Somalia.

2015-02-12 PN192 Mary Catherine Phee, of Illinois, 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 South Sudan.

2015-02-12 PN189 Charles C. Adams, Jr., of Maryland, to be Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the United States of America to the Republic of Finland.

2015-02-05 PN177 Nancy Bikoff Pettit, 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 Republic of Latvia.

2015-02-05 PN176 Stafford Fitzgerald Haney, of New Jersey, to be Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the United States of America to the Republic of Costa Rica.

2015-02-05 PN175 Cassandra Q. Butts, of the District of Columbia, to be Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the United States of America to the Commonwealth of The Bahamas.

2015-01-08 PN49 Azita Raji, of California, to be Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the United States of America to the Kingdom of Sweden.

2015-01-08 PN47 Paul A. Folmsbee, of Oklahoma, 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 Mali.

Nominees for two ambassador ranked positions at the United Nations and four assistant secretary level positions at the State Department are also awaiting their confirmation hearings and/or full  Senate vote.

2015-02-12 PN191 United Nations | Sarah Elizabeth Mendelson, of the District of Columbia, to be an Alternate Representative of the United States of America to the Sessions of the General Assembly of the United Nations, during her tenure of service as Representative of the United States of America on the Economic and Social Council of the United Nations.

2015-02-12 PN190 Department of State | Sarah Elizabeth Mendelson, of the District of Columbia, to be Representative of the United States of America on the Economic and Social Council of the United Nations, with the rank of Ambassador.

2015-01-29 PN131 Department of State| 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.

2015-01-16 PN87 Department of State | Brian James Egan, of Maryland, to be Legal Adviser of the Department of State.

2015-01-08 PN48 Department of State | Jennifer Ann Haverkamp, of Indiana, to be Assistant Secretary of State for Oceans and International Environmental and Scientific Affairs.

2015-01-08 PN46 Department of State | Michele Thoren Bond, of the District of Columbia, a Career Member of the Senior Foreign Service, Class of Minister-Counselor, to be an Assistant Secretary of State (Consular Affairs).

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Insider Quote: Petty Little Beaver Plays Dirty in Humans of the Foreign Service

Posted: 6:53 am PDT

 

“You are not in the Senior Foreign Service, and you never will be in the Senior Foreign Service, because somebody has told the Senate all about you!” 

— petty little beaver (who never left high school but now representing the United States of America) to person who refused to give job endorsement

 

Related post:

The Odd Story of “Vetting/Scrubbing” the Tenure/Promotion of 1,800 Foreign Service Employees in the U.S. Senate