Category Archives: Realities of the FS

SFRC Clears 13 More State Dept Nominees — Will They Get Confirmation Before August Recess?

– Domani Spero

 

On July 29, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee cleared thirteen ambassadorial nominations making way for their full vote in the U.S. Senate before the August recess in Congress. These newly endorsed nominees will, of course, join over three dozen other State Department nominees who have been waiting for a full Senate vote for many months (see the names of nominees here: The Fault in Our Skies: Senator to Deploy Blanket Senate Hold Over DOS Nominees Cuz FAA). That’s a lot of people waiting for the Senate’s nod before the August recess.

In case you missed it, yesterday, Senator Cruz announced that he lifted his hold on State Department nominees following what his press release says was “an extensive briefing” with senior Federal Aviation Authority officials.  WaPo also noted today that Secretary Kerry suggested to Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) in late June that nominations of career Foreign Service ambassadors be confirmed “en bloc,” like military promotions. The report seems to think that there is little prospect of this happening given the couple of days remaining until Congress recesses.

Note that Ambassadors Tefft and Sison, nominated respectively for the Russian Federation  and the United Nations had their confirmation hearing today, but were quickly endorse by the SFRC for the full Senate vote.  The nominees cleared by the SFRC on July 29 are as follows:

 

  • GUATEMALA | Todd D. Robinson, of New Jersey, to be Ambassador of the United States of America to the Republic of Guatemala
  • MONACO | Jane D. Hartley, of New York, to be Ambassador of the United States of America to the French Republic and to serve concurrently as Ambassador of the United States of America to the Principality of Monaco
  • FRANCE |  Jane D. Hartley, of New York, to be Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the United States of America to the French Republic.
  • IRELAND | Kevin F. O’Malley, of Missouri, to be Ambassador of the United States of America to Ireland
  • MOLDOVA | James D. Pettit, of Virginia, to be Ambassador of the United States of America to the Republic of Moldova
  • SLOVENIA | Brent Robert Hartley, of Oregon, to be Ambassador of the United States of America to the Republic of Slovenia
  • BANGLADESH | Marcia Stephens Bloom Bernicat, of New Jersey, to be Ambassador of the United States of America to the People’s Republic of Bangladesh
  • USUN | David Pressman, of New York, to be Alternate Representative of the United States of America for Special Political Affairs in the United Nations, with the rank of Ambassador; Alternate Representative of the United States of America to the Sessions of the General Assembly of the United Nations, during his tenure of service as Alternate Representative of the United States of America for Special Political Affairs in the United Nations
  • KAZAKHSTAN | George Albert Krol, of New Jersey, to be Ambassador of the United States of America to the Republic of Kazakhstan
  • TURKMENISTAN | Allan P. Mustard, of Washington, to be Ambassador of the United States of America to Turkmenistan
  • RWANDA | Erica J. Barks Ruggles, of Minnesota, to be Ambassador of the United States of America to the Republic of Rwanda
  • TURKEY | John R. Bass, of New York, to be Ambassador of the United States of America to the Republic of Turkey
  • USUN | Michele Jeanne Sison, of Maryland, a Career Member of the Senior Foreign Service, Class of Career Minister, to be the Deputy Representative of the United States of America to the United Nations, with the rank and status of Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary, and the Deputy Representative of the United States of America in the Security Council of the United Nations.
  • UNGA |  Michele Jeanne Sison, of Maryland, a Career Member of the Senior Foreign Service, Class of Career Minister, to be Representative of the United States of America to the Sessions of the General Assembly of the United Nations, during her tenure of service as Deputy Representative of the United States of America to the United Nations.
  • RUSSIAN FEDERATION | John Francis Tefft, 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 Russian Federation.

 

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Senate Confirmation by Crisis Continues: Hoza (Cameroon), Polaschik (Algeria), Andre (Mauritania),

– Domani Spero

 

The U.S. Senate appears to continue its trend of headline-triggered confirmations. Today, the Senate confirmed by voice votes the following ambassador to three African posts.

If you missed it, on July 27, WaPo reported that Nigerian Boko Haram militants kidnapped the wife of Cameroon’s vice prime minister. Premium Times citing BBC Hausa reported today that Security Forces in the Cameroun Republic have rescued the wife of the country’s Deputy Prime Minister, Amadou Ali, who was abducted on Sunday by suspected members of the extremist Boko Haram sect.  If that’s not enough bad news, VOA also reported that an outbreak of Cholera has killed 200 in Northern Cameroon and that there are fears that this may be a repeat of the 2010 epidemic, when the country had to deal with 10,000 cases.

Ambassador-Designate Hoza also made the news recently when he was featured and quoted in WaPo’s piece, At Falls Church apartments, would-be ambassadors and families live in limbo. The three other nominees cited in that article, Donald Lu (Albania), Eric Schultz (Zambia), and Amy Hyatt (Palau) are not currently scheduled for a Senate vote.

We have previously blogged about Ambassador-Designate Polaschik when she was the deputy chief of mission who ran the Embassy Libya after Ambassador Cretz left the country due to Wikileaks.  She also led the evacuation of personnel/American citizens in February 2011 and lead the team back into Tripoli when it reopened in September 2011. A few days ago, Algeria was in the news.  Its national airline Air Algerie on a flight from Burkina Faso’s capital of Ouagadougou to Algiers had crashed in Mali. Did that prompt the confirmation?

What about Mauritania, what’s going on there?  Issues of interest include al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb and Mali refugees. Mauritania just had its presidential election last June. The United States “looks forward to continuing to work with President-elect Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz and the Government of Mauritania to promote prosperity and regional security” but that’s going to be difficult without an ambassador there.  Oops! The U.S.-Africa Leaders Summit is coming up next week, perhaps the U.S. Senate did note Mauritania’s Chairmanship of the African Union, and so we’ve got Ambassador-Designate Larry Andre ready to beam over to Nouakchott, so he could beam back to D.C. for the Summit next week.

Three days to go before Congress breaks for the summer!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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State Dept Suspends All Embassy Operations in Libya, Relocates Staff Under Armed Escorts

– Domani Spero

 

Updated on 7/27/14 with media reports on number of evacuees.

In the early morning of July 26, the State Department finally suspended all embassy operations in Libya and evacuated all its staff overland to Tunisia, due to ongoing violence between Libyan militias in the immediate vicinity of the embassy in Tripoli.  The new preferred official term for these personnel movements now appears to be “relocation,”perhaps to avoid any negative connotation that might be attached to the use of the term “evacuation.” So this is a relocation but under armed escorts.

The State Department also  released an updated Travel Warning for Libya (excerpt below):

The Department of State warns U.S. citizens against all travel to Libya and recommends that U.S. citizens currently in Libya depart immediately.  On July 26, the U.S. Embassy suspended all embassy operations in Libya and relocated staff, due to ongoing violence between Libyan militias in the immediate vicinity of the Embassy.  This Travel Warning supersedes the Travel Warning issued on May 27, 2014.

Please direct inquiries regarding U.S. citizens in Libya to LibyaEmergencyUSC@state.gov.  Callers in the United States and Canada may dial the toll free number 1-888-407-4747.  Callers outside the United States and Canada may dial 1-202-501-4444.

The security situation in Libya remains unpredictable and unstable.  The Libyan government has not been able to adequately build its military and police forces and improve security following the 2011 revolution.  Many military-grade weapons remain in the hands of private individuals, including antiaircraft weapons that may be used against civilian aviation.  Crime levels remain high in many parts of the country.  In addition to the threat of crime, various groups have called for attacks against U.S. citizens and U.S. interests in Libya.  Extremist groups in Libya have made several specific threats this year against U.S. government officials, citizens, and interests in Libya.  Because of the presumption that foreigners, especially U.S. citizens, in Libya may be associated with the U.S. government or U.S. NGOs, travelers should be aware that they may be targeted for kidnapping, violent attacks, or death.  U.S. citizens currently in Libya should exercise extreme caution and depart immediately.

[...]

The status of the country’s interim government remains uncertain.  The newly elected Council of Representatives is scheduled to convene by August 4, but political jockeying continues over where and when to seat the parliament.  Heavy clashes between rival factions erupted in May 2014 in Benghazi and other eastern cities.  In Tripoli, armed groups have contested territory near Tripoli International Airport since July 13, rendering the airport non-operational.  State security institutions lack basic capabilities to prevent conflict, and there remains a possibility of further escalation.

 

Read in full here. For previous warning see New Libya Travel Warning, Amphibious Assault Ship USS Bataan (LHD 5) Sails Closer.

Closure of an embassy indicates the termination of diplomatic relations, and that has not happened here. Here is Secretary Kerry emphasizing that this is a suspension of embassy operations not a closure.

 

American officials told NBC that 158 Americans, including 80 heavily armed U.S. Marines, left the embassy compound early Saturday.  The Daily Beast reported that “158 U.S. diplomats and 80 U.S. Marines evacuated the American embassy in Tripoli, Libya.” A variation of those two numbers have been widely reported in the media. The US Embassy in Tripoli had a skeleton crew prior to the evacuation, so “158 U.S. diplomats” evacuated from Tripoli is a questionable number.  Perhaps the only  one who got closest to the number evacuated is Reuters, reporting that “the eight or so U.S. diplomats who had been in Libya and a security staff numbering 200 or more drove out of the country on Saturday under a heavy escort….”

In any case, the last time the State Department suspended its operation in Libya was in February 2011. (See State Dept Suspends US Embassy Operations in #Libya, Withdraws All Personnel). It was subsequently reopened in September 2011. Following the attack on the U.S. mission in Benghazi, the State Department ordered the departure of all non-emergency U.S. government personnel from Libya on September 12, 2012 but did not appear to suspend operations then (if it did, we missed it). See our related Libya posts here.

The current suspension of embassy operations follows the temporary withdrawal of  the United Nations Support Mission (UNSMIL) staff from Libya last July 14. That UN convoy reportedly left Tripoli by road headed for the Tunisian border, 170 kilometres (110 miles) to the west.  Yesterday, July 25, the Turkish Foreign Ministry also announced the suspension of its mission’s operations in Tripoli for security reasons and the evacuation of more than 500 Turkish nationals similarly via Tunisia.

The State Department’s media note this morning :

This relocation was done over land, with our personnel arriving in Tunisia this morning, and traveling onward from there. We are grateful to the Government of Tunisia for its cooperation and support.

Something else to note about an evacuation unfolding in the age of social media.  During the evac, Libyan tweeps reported “3 convoys with total of 27 cars +1  lorry were leaving the US embassy in airport rd. Marines on foot and planes above.”  Other tweets of note:

 

According to Pentagon Press Secretary Rear Adm. John Kirby, the U.S. military assisted in the relocation of personnel from the U.S. Embassy in Tripoli, Libya on Saturday, July 26 at the request of the Department of State.  The operation lasted five hours without incident:

At the request of the Department of State, the U.S. military assisted in the relocation of personnel from the U.S. Embassy in Tripoli, Libya on Saturday, July 26. All embassy personnel were relocated, including the Marine security guards who were providing security at the embassy and during the movement. The embassy staff was driven in vehicles to Tunisia. During movement, F-16’s, ISR assets and an Airborne Response Force with MV-22 Ospreys provided security. The mission was conducted without incident, and the entire operation lasted approximately five hours.

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US Embassy Norway: Emergency Message on Foreign Fighters Returned From Syria Threat

– Domani Spero

 

The U.S. Embassy in Oslo has just issued an emergency message to Americans in Norway based on the Norwegian Government’s announcement of a threat from foreign fighters returning to Norway from Syria:

United States Embassy Oslo, Norway | 24 July 2014
This morning, 24 July 2014, the Norwegian government announced that foreign fighters returned from Syria may be planning an attack in Norway over the coming days. The Norwegian police are not aware of where, when, or in what method this attack could take place. However, public gatherings, government facilities, businesses, and public transportation systems tend to be the targets of choice for terrorists and extremist groups.

The Embassy recommends the U.S. citizen community in Norway remain extra alert during this period. Please err on the side of caution over the coming days. Especially now, if you see anything threatening, dangerous, or concerning, please call the Norwegian Police at 112.

Read the full announcement here.

U.S. Embassy, Oslo, Norway.

U.S. Embassy, Oslo, Norway. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

U.S. Embassy Oslo is currently headed by Chargé d’affaires  Julie Furuta-Toy.  The controversial nominee for U.S. ambassador to Norway, George Tsunis was announced on September 10, 2013 and has been stuck in the Senate awaiting for the full vote since February 4, 2014.

 

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US Embassy Libya: “…almost nothing more important than the safety and security of our staff”

– Domani Spero

 

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry uncorks a bottle of champagne en route from Andrews Air Force Base to Stockholm, Sweden as he celebrates the first press briefing at the U.S. Department of State Department by his new Spokesperson, Jen Psaki, on May 13, 2013. [State Department photo / Public Domain]

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry uncorks a bottle of champagne en route from Andrews Air Force Base to Stockholm, Sweden as he celebrates the first press briefing at the U.S. Department of State Department by his new Spokesperson, Jen Psaki, on May 13, 2013. [State Department photo / Public Domain]

Via state/gov/DPB/July 15, 2014:

QUESTION: Can I ask one about Libya?

MS. PSAKI: Sure.

QUESTION: It does seem as if – well, that the airport is – continue to be shelled, most of the planes even are damaged, I don’t – and the Embassy is near the airport, I mean, and it doesn’t seem as if there’s been any movement on any type of evacuation. So I’m just wondering what’s going on.

MS. PSAKI: Well, we’re obviously deeply concerned about the level of violence in Libya and some of the incidents you referred to. Every day, we make assessments about the level of violence and the impact on our personnel there, but I don’t have anything to predict for you or outline in terms of any changes to our security posture or level of staffing on the ground.

QUESTION: I mean, it seems as if there wouldn’t be any way for those employees to get out unless you had some kind of airlift because the airport is inoperable right now.

MS. PSAKI: Well, again, Elise, I think it’s safe to say that we evaluate every single factor when we’re making determinations about our staff. There’s nothing more important than the safety, almost nothing more important than the safety and security of our staff, but we do that in private and I have nothing to outline for you here from – publicly.

QUESTION: Is Ambassador Satterfield in Libya now or here?

MS. PSAKI: I know – I’m not sure, actually, where he is. We can check and see if we can get that information to you.

Meanwhile in the “why are we still in Tripoli edition?”our ambassador tweets this:

 

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Congress to State Dept: We Want All Your Stuff on New London Embassy Except Paperclips

– Domani Spero

 

We recently blogged about the congressional hearing on the new embassy construction (see New Embassy Construction Hearing: Witnesses Not Invited, and What About the Blast-Proof Glass?).  Well, a couple of weeks ago, the  House Oversight and Government Reform Committee sent a letter to Secretary Kerry asking for documents and information on the new embassy construction.  Presumably in preparation for the hearing.  Almost half of the docs requested were related to the New London Embassy.  Did not look like the Committee got the docs that they wanted in time for the hearing.  In any case, below is a partial list; it looks like they wanted everything including drafts and all, except paperclips.

Giant paper clip at BI Commercial College near...

Giant paper clip at BI Commercial College near Oslo (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

We must say that the HOGR has not been short on its version of HPD … way too much emotion and drama that draws attention to themselves and the nearest camera for our taste.  Really, if they just do their jobs without too much theatrics, our institutions would be a lot better for it.  Having said that, it’s the only Congress we’ve got and they have an oversight role to play even if more than one in five Americans (22%) are ready to start over entirely after all members are fired.  For now, we’re stuck with these folks.  Luckily for us, not all of them will stay in Congress for life. So — please give these angry folks the documents they need even if they occasionally drive you nuts; they may not be there next year. They want a cost/benefit analysis, give it to them, too. We suspect the analysis would be useful anyways, and these folks would have to write their own scripts on what to say on teevee.

Oh hey, they want to know about the blast testing of the curtain wall, so do we!

 

20.   All Action Memoranda and Information Memoranda, including drafts, referring or relating to the New Embassy Compound in London, United Kingdom.

21.   All documents referring or relating to Value Engineering Studies relating to the New Embassy Compound in London, United Kingdom, including all versions of any Value Engineering Studies.

22.   All documents and communications relating to changes and notices to proceed relating to the New Embassy Compound in London, United Kingdom, including, but not limited to, all such communications with: a) KieranTimberlake Architects; b) B.L. Harbert International;  and, c) Weidlinger and Associates.

23.   All documents referring or relating to congressional Construction Security Certification for the New Embassy Compound in London, United Kingdom, including, but not limited to, all communications with the Office of the Director of National Intelligence.

24.   All documents and communications referring or relating to Value Added Tax (VAT) relating to the New Embassy Compound in London, United Kingdom.

25.   All documents and communications referring or relating to blast testing of the curtain wall, and curtain wall components, of the New Embassy Compound in London, United Kingdom, including, but not limited to, all such communications with: a) the Bureau of Diplomatic Security; b) KieranTimberlake Architects; c) B.L. Harbert International; d) Weidlinger and Associates.

26.   All documents and communications referring or relating to the application of General Services Administration (GSA) Performance Conditions to blast testing of the curtain wall, and curtain wall components, of the New Embassy Compound in London, United Kingdom, including, but not limited to, communications between OBO and the Bureau of Diplomatic Security.

27.   All documents and communications relating to the engineering and legal justifications for applying standards other than those of the Bureau of Diplomatic Security to blast testing of the curtain wall, and curtain wall components, of the New Embassy Compound in London, United Kingdom.

28.   A document identifying all State Department overseas properties, the physical security of which were designed, tested or certified to GSA standards.

29.   All documents and communications relating to the decision to conduct blast testing of the curtain wall, and curtain wall components, of the New Embassy Compound in London, United Kingdom, in both Ft. Polk, Louisiana and Socorro, New Mexico.

30.   The U.S. Army Engineer Research and Development Center report relating to blast testing of the curtain wall or curtain wall components, of the New Embassy Compound in London, United Kingdom which occurred in Fort Polk, Louisiana.

31.   All reports prepared for the Committees on Appropriations on the New Embassy Compound in London, United Kingdom which, pursuant to P.L. 112-74, Section 7004 (f)(2), were to be delivered every six months from 60 days after enactment, and which were to include revenue and cost projections, cost containment efforts, project schedule and actual project status, the impact of currency exchange rate fluctuations on project revenue and costs, and options for modifying the scope of the project in the event that proceeds of real property sales in London fall below the total cost of the project.

32.   The estimated cost per square meter to rent office space in the vicinity of the current U.S. Embassy in London, United Kingdom.

33.   All documents related to any lease-back of current U.S. Embassy in London, United Kingdom if the New Embassy Compound in London is not completed on schedule.

 

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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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State/OIG Files Report to Congress, Wassup With the In-Depth Review Over CBS News Allegations?

– Domani Spero

 

The State Department’s Office of the Inspector General submitted its first semi-annual report to Congress under Steve Linick last March. The report which summarizes OIG’s work during the period October 1, 2013, through March 31, 2014 was not published online until June 2014. Looking at the investigative data from the previous report ending on September 30, 2013, you will note that the OIG registered 182 less complaints this reporting cycle. Employee misconduct is steady at 4% while conflict of interest cases were down from 17% to 4%.  Embezzlement and theft cases went from 8% to 15% and contracts and procurement fraud went from 63% to 70%.

Extracted from Semi-Annual Report, March 2014

Extracted from Semi-Annual Report, State/OIG, March 2014

 

Below is the investigative data from the previous report ending on September 30, 2013:

OIG_SA_report Sept 2013

In the report ending September 30, 2013, State/OIG told Congress it was conducting an in-depth review of Diplomatic Security’s investigative process.  This was in connection with last year’s allegations that several recent investigations were influenced, manipulated, or simply called off by senior State Department officials. (See CBS News: Possible State Dept Cover-Ups on Sex, Drugs, Hookers — Why the “Missing Firewall” Was a Big Deal).

The Office of Investigations (INV) is conducting an independent oversight review of certain investigations conducted by the Bureau of Diplomatic Security, Office of Investigations and Counterintelligence, Special Investigations Division (DS/ICI/SID). This is an in-depth review of the DS/ICI/SID investigations to assess the adequacy of the investigative process.

The current OIG report ending on March 31, 2014 makes no mention of the status or disposition of this investigation. That CBS News story broke in June 2013, so we’re now a year into this and still counting.

Oops, wait! A statement provided to CBS News by the Inspector General’s office on June 2013 said:

OIG does not comment on drafts of reports.

On its own initiative, OIG Office of Investigations has been conducting its own independent review of the allegations made. This is our standard procedure.

We staffed it independently and appropriately and they were people hired specific for this review at the end of 2012. They are on staff. We staffed it with the best people we can find at hand to do the job.

DS does not speak for us.

End of 2012 and isn’t it now July 2014?  So — wassup with that?

Mr. Linick’s report to Congress also notes that he has initiated the practice of sending out management alerts to senior Department of State and Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG) officials in order to identify high-risk systemic issues requiring prompt attention and risk mitigation. He told Congress that to-date, OIG has issued two management alerts: one addressing significant vulnerabilities in the management of contract files with a combined value of $6 billion and the other addressing recurring weaknesses in the Department’s information-security program.  That’s a great initiative; that means the senior officials will not have an excuse to say later on that they were not alerted to issues that need their attention.

He also writes that the OIG goal is clear — “to act as a catalyst for effective management, accountability, and positive change for the Department, BBG, and the foreign affairs community.”

And that’s a lovely goal and all,really, except that Mr. Linick’s OIG — all together now — no longer issue the Inspector’s Evaluation Reports (IERs) for senior officials during the IG inspections at overseas missions!

No more IERs included in the official performance files (OPF), no more IERs for review by promotion boards, thus, no more IERs to potentially derail promotions.

Ambassador Franklin “Pancho” Huddle who previously served as U.S. Ambassador to Tajikistan and spent five years as a senior OIG inspector at the State Department told us:

“When OIG dumped their IERs, they dumped their ability to make a real difference.” 

Boom!

When asked if we can quote him, he said, “I didn’t survive one of history’s deadliest skyjackings not to go on record.”

Ambassador Huddle and his wife survived the hijacking and the crash of  Ethiopian Airlines Flight 961, considered the deadliest hijacking involving a single aircraft before the 9/11 attacks.  He  said that he earned three promotions directly related to favorable IERs done by the OIG. He now trains special forces which “put a premium on honest appraisals.”

What he said about making a real difference — anyone want to top that?

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-03/31/14   Semiannual Report to the Congress October 1, 2013 to March 31, 2014  [11136 Kb] Posted on June 23, 2014

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Burn Bag: Post Closure — O Courage, Where Art Thou?

 

Via Burn Bag:

“This place will be closed. It’s inevitable because it’s just too dangerous. We’ve got only a skeleton staff of direct hires here now because of the danger. But the bureaucracy is, it seems, incapable of having the courage to make the decision that will result in the flag being lowered once and for all. A week passes. And then another. Still, no decision. So we raise the flag every day. And wait. We live in limbo–and fear of another attack. Fingers crossed we don’t get killed while waiting.”

Photo via state.gov

 

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Colombian Nationals Extradited to U.S. For Bogotá Death of DEA Special Agent Terry Watson

– Domani Spero

 

In June 2013, we blogged about the death of DEA Special Agent Terry Watson in Bogota, Colombia (see US Embassy Bogota: DEA Special Agent James “Terry” Watson Killed in Colombia).  On July 2, 2014, the Department of Justice announced the extradition of seven Colombian nationals charged in connection with the DEA agent’s death.

Via USDOJ:

Seven Colombian nationals were extradited to the United States to face charges relating to the kidnapping and murder of Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) Special Agent James Terry Watson.
[...]
“DEA Special Agent James ‘Terry’ Watson was a brave and talented special agent who represented everything good about federal law enforcement and our DEA family,” said DEA Administrator Leonhart.  “We will never forget Terry’s sacrifice on behalf of the American people during his 13 years of service, nor will DEA ever forget the outstanding work of the Colombian National Police and our other law enforcement partners.  Their efforts quickly led to the arrest and extradition of those accused of committing this heinous act.”

All of the defendants were indicted by a grand jury in the Eastern District of Virginia on July 18, 2013.   Gerardo Figueroa Sepulveda, 39; Omar Fabian Valdes Gualtero, 27; Edgar Javier Bello Murillo, 27; Hector Leonardo Lopez, 34; Julio Estiven Gracia Ramirez, 31; and Andrés Alvaro Oviedo-Garcia, 22, were each charged with two counts of second degree murder, one count of kidnapping and one count of conspiracy to kidnap.  Oviedo-Garcia was also charged with two counts of assault.   Additionally, the grand jury indicted Wilson Daniel Peralta-Bocachica, 31, also a Colombian national, for his alleged efforts to destroy evidence associated with the murder of Special Agent Watson.

The defendants arrived in the United States on July 1, 2014, and made their initial appearance in federal court in Alexandria, Virginia, today before United States Magistrate Judge Thomas Rawles Jones Jr.   A detention hearing is scheduled for July 9, 2014, before United States Magistrate Judge Ivan D. Davis.
[...]
According to the indictment, Figueroa, Valdes, Bello, Lopez, Gracia and Oviedo-Garcia were part of a kidnapping and robbery conspiracy that utilized taxi cabs in Bogotá, Colombia, to lure victims into a position where they could be attacked and robbed.  Once an intended victim entered a taxi cab, the driver of the taxi cab would signal other conspirators to commence the robbery and kidnapping operation.

The indictment alleges that on June 20, 2013, while he was working for the U.S. Mission in Colombia, Special Agent Watson entered a taxi cab operated by one of the defendants.  Special Agent Watson was then allegedly attacked by two other defendants – one who stunned Special Agent Watson with a stun gun and another who stabbed Special Agent Watson with a knife, resulting in his death.

On July 1, 2014, the Government of Colombia extradited the defendants to the United States.

This case was investigated by the FBI, DEA and DSS, including the Office of Special Investigations and the Regional Security Office at Embassy Bogatá, in close cooperation with Colombian authorities, and with assistance from INTERPOL and the Justice Department’s Office of International Affairs.

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