Category Archives: Staffing the FS

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

– Domani Spero

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

sewall swearingin with jk

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

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

stengel_swearingin with jk

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


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

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Filed under Appointments, John F. Kerry, Photo of the Day, Political Appointees, Staffing the FS, State Department, Under Secretary

State Department Seeks Contractor For Simulated Congressional Hearing Sessions

– Domani Spero

 

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

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

 

Screen Shot 2014-03-09

Below is an excerpt from the solicitation posted on fedbiz:

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

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

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

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

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

C.4.2. Ambassadorial Seminar (PT-120)

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

C.4.3. Simulated Congressional Hearing Sessions

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

 

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

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

 

 

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Filed under Ambassadors, Congress, Contractors, FSOs, Hearings, Political Appointees, Professional Development, Spouses/Partners, Staffing the FS, State Department, Training

Confirmations: Childress, Malinowski, Birx, Whitaker, Tueller, Westphal

- Domani Spero

 

The confirmations for presidential nominees are now moving as fast as a turtle’s pace.  Below is a round-up of the latest confirmations from the U.S. Senate this past week:

April 7, 2014

Mark Bradley Childress, of Virginia, to be Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the United States of America to the United Republic of Tanzania.

April 02, 2014

  • Tomasz P. Malinowski, of the District of Columbia, to be Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor.
  • Deborah L. Birx, of Maryland, to be Ambassador at Large and Coordinator of United  States Government Activities to Combat HIV/AIDS

April 01, 2014

Kevin Whitaker, 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 Colombia.

March 27, 2014

Matthew H. Tueller, of Utah, 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 Yemen.

March 26, 2014

Joseph William Westphal, of New York, to be Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the United States of America to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.

Screen Shot 2014-03-29

The newly arrived U.S. Ambassador to Saudi Arabia, Dr. Joseph Westphal introduces President Obama, March 29, 2014 at the US Embassy. Behind Ambasador Westphal is Deputy Chief of Mission Timothy Lenderking (with red tie). Photo via US Embassy Riyadh/FB

 

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U.S. Embassy Bahrain: “Seat of the Pants” Leadership and Management Mess

– Domani Spero

State/OIG posted its March 31, 2014 Inspection Report of the U.S. Embassy in Manama, Bahrain. While there are some pockets of sunshine in this report, it comes across like post is a huge management mess. Post is headed by career diplomat, Ambassador Thomas Krajeski who assumed charge in October 2011. According to the embassy’s website, Stephanie Williams arrived as Deputy Chief of Mission in Manama in June 2010.  The current Deputy Chief of Mission Timothy Pounds arrived at post in March 2013.

The inspection took place in Washington, DC, between September 3 and 23, 2013, and in Manama, Bahrain, between September 25 and October 19, 2013. Ambassador Marianne Myles (team leader), Michael Hurley (deputy team leader), Alison Barkley, Beatrice Camp, Roger Cohen, David Davison, Shawn O’Reilly, Keith Powell II, Richard Sypher, Joyce Wong, and Roman Zawada conducted the inspection.

Post Snapshot:



Embassy Manama is a medium-sized mission with 80 U.S. direct hires, 23 U.S. local hires and 85 locally employed (LE) staff members who oversee a $14 million budget and manage 78 leased properties. The embassy building opened in 1991 and is nearing capacity. Manama is one of the Middle East missions that allow families, and assignments there continue to be 3-year tours. Continuing demonstrations and attacks against government and commercial targets have severely restricted the movement of staff and taken a toll on their morale.

Key Judgments

  • The embassy has two competing policy priorities: to maintain strong bilateral military cooperation and to advance human rights. The Ambassador has forged strong relationships with U.S. military leaders based in Bahrain to promote common goals.
  • The Ambassador’s failure to maintain a robust planning and review process has led to confusion and lack of focus among some staff members and sidelined economic/commercial activities and public diplomacy programs.
  • The embassy has not developed a comprehensive strategy to improve the Ambassador’s negative media image. The Ambassador has agreed to increase his participation in noncontroversial programs and events with potential to generate positive publicity.
  • Public affairs activities suffer from a lack of strategic planning.
  • The mission produces well-sourced and timely political reporting. Economic reporting has been sparse. The embassy does not have a strategy to support the President’s National Export Initiative.
  • Management controls processes are weak across the board, and the embassy should make resolving them a priority. The management officer has been given other duties that prevent him from giving his full time and energy to addressing these weaknesses. A lack of transparency in management policies exacerbates low morale.
  • The embassy and the Department of State have not implemented local labor law provisions that went into effect in September 2012 and have not made a decision on a proposed 2011 locally employed staff bonus.
  • The front office does not give adequate attention to mentoring, especially first-and second-tour employees.
  • The embassy’s innovative practice of providing mobile Internet routers in welcome kits makes the transition process for new employees more efficient.

You’ve got to wonder what’s else is going on when the embassy’s website displays this white space despite its DCM’s arrival at post about a year ago.

 

Screen shot, US Embassy Manama

Screen Capture, US Embassy Manama – March 28, 2014

More details below extracted from the OIG report.

Leadership and Management

 – Ambassador:

  • The Ambassador has forged a strong relationship with the heads of U.S. Naval Forces Central Command and U.S. Marine Forces Central Command to promote consistent U.S. policy messaging. He is respected by many Bahraini officials and is well liked by mission staff. However, his lack of access to some key government officials, his poor media image, and the lack of an effective strategy to address these issues have created friction with principal officials in Washington.
  • 

The Ambassador has not focused sufficiently on planning processes and implementation as a way to keep staff focused during turbulent times. His belief that reactive “seat of the pants” leadership works best in Bahrain’s challenging environment has left staff members who do not have access to him on a regular basis confused about mission goals. Disdain for planning has trickled down to section heads, leaving most sections without the tools to make the best use of their programs and resources. During the inspection, the Ambassador endorsed a new planning effort launched by the deputy chief of mission (DCM) to create a broad-based plan of action for all sections and agencies. The Ambassador needs to remain personally involved in this effort.
  • Lack of a clear commercial strategy has impeded the Ambassador’s focus on export promotion. He should impart a vision to the economic/commercial section that will involve him in business issues, including making greater use of the Free Trade Agreement.
  • The Ambassador is intensely concerned about the security of mission employees, and they noted this favorably in OIG questionnaires. Despite that focus, he undermined the emergency action committee by allowing the former DCM to remain in a leased DCM residence in an unsafe red zone when other staff members living there were required to move. This decision required costly security measures to protect her and her family. When the new DCM arrived and moved into a new DCM residence, the Ambassador encouraged him to continue looking for yet another DCM residence, despite a 7-year lease and security upgrades that were already in place. The Ambassador’s practice of encouraging staff members to seek new housing is contrary to Department of State (Department) standard operating procedures.
  • 

The Ambassador has a well-received practice of walking around the embassy and dropping in on sections. He converses with staff on a frequent basis in the chancery cafeteria and at community functions. He holds “welcome breakfasts” at his own expense for newly arrived U.S. employees. However, he rarely meets with mission members in formal settings, such as town halls or LE staff committee meetings. There is a desire within the mission for greater engagement by the Ambassador.
  • The OIG team noted anomalies between the Ambassador’s calendar and his time and attendance reports and brought them to his attention through a formal memorandum with an itemized attachment. The OIG team noted that having elected a senior Foreign Service pay plan, the Ambassador is required to account for all leave, as outlined in ALDAC 13 State 26982. The Ambassador challenged two of the team’s assertions in the itemized attachment but declined to discuss other discrepancies, especially personal time spent out of the office on workdays. The issue merits further review, including examining time and attendance records and other documentation.
  • The Ambassador has had a difficult time with the government-dominated media since his arrival. Early in his tenure he wrote some broad policy articles for the newspapers and conducted television interviews. Press reaction was negative and included personal criticism of him. Soon after, the Ambassador reduced his press exposure. The Ambassador agreed to consider OIG team suggestions that he increase his participation in noncontroversial events and programs as a way to gain positive publicity and improve his public image, as well as the image of the United States. He agreed to attempt blogging and to engage first-and second-tour (FAST) employees in the effort. He also agreed to work with the public affairs staff to draw up a media plan, including his engagement in cultural programs.
  • The Ambassador chose not to engage with the OIG team in the exit brief process that is the standard final part of a mission inspection. His decision deprived the embassy of the opportunity to offer clarifications and raise questions directly with the OIG team.

Leadership and Management – Deputy Chief of Mission:

  • The DCM has a sufficient host country network and has served effectively as chargé d’affaires. The DCM meets regularly with section and agency heads. However, he does not provide adequate support and guidance to FAST employees, the LE staff committee, the community liaison office (CLO), or eligible family member (EFM) employees. He also does not move about the embassy enough. Several employees reported never seeing him outside his office. The DCM agreed to circulate in the chancery more often.
  • The DCM has not focused sufficiently on key management issues, including several that affect morale. Lack of clarity in EFM hiring, LE staff hiring and promotions, and housing board decisions have led to perceptions throughout the community of favoritism and unfairness. In addition, the DCM supports allowing employees to move upon request, regardless of the reason, as a way of boosting morale. This approach leads to waste and does not conform to 15 FAM policies on housing.
  • DCM needs to devote more attention to the FAST mentoring program. His approach has left the program largely without guidance. The DCM has not led an effort to establish a new structure for the program, identify a FAST volunteer to chair the program, and meet regularly with the group. The OIG team encouraged leadership and FAST employees to consider best practices used by other embassies with strong FAST programs.
  • 

The DCM has neglected some personnel duties, such as discussing performance expectations with direct-hire employees for whom he is the rating or reviewing officer.
  • The OIG team reviewed consular accountability and found that the consular chief is reviewing subordinate officers’ adjudications properly. However, the DCM is not reviewing those of the consular chief. He should do so.

Econ Section

[T]he volume of economic reporting has been low, with approximately 1 economic cable for every 10 drafted by the political unit. The lack of front office attention to economic matters has left the economic unit with little guidance on issues of potential interest to Washington. The frequent diversion of the economic specialist’s attention to political issues, while the political specialist performs backup protocol duties, has also hurt economic reporting.

Public Affairs Section

The public affairs section has an experienced and dedicated staff conducting innovative programming and responding to intense front office interest in media reporting.
[…]
Post public diplomacy programs would have greater impact if they were part of an overall strategy that included greater participation by the Ambassador. The public affairs officer (PAO) has not directed the section in establishing policies, defining goals, and prioritizing plans to achieve mission objectives. Internal processes for dealing with grants, speakers, and exchanges are not consistent, clearly understood, or readily accessible. The section posts only limited information about its processes and activities on its SharePoint site.
[…]
The government-controlled press is frequently highly critical of the Ambassador but the embassy is cautious about using social media to counter this, concerned that doing so often draws negative comments. The public affairs section posts the Ambassador’s public appearances on Facebook but does not generally tweet his activities. The embassy does not use blogs. Officers adept at social media can help use these tools to improve the Ambassador’s public image and to correct misinformation about U.S. policies.

Management Overview 



There is a need for better management planning across the board, including for staffing, real property acquisition, office space, housing, safety, and maintenance. Management controls are inadequate; in the procurement section, weak controls constitute a serious deficiency. The section requires outside help. Customer satisfaction scores from OIG questionnaires for most support services were low, reflecting a lack of basic processes and standard operating procedures. Embassy Manama should make improving management operations and internal controls a priority.

General Services Office

The general services office suffers from poor communication up and down the chain of command. An accurate arrivals and departures list would enhance the efficiency of all general services sections. The embassy’s internship program is not adequately coordinated with the general services office, creating adverse effects on housing, motor pool, and travel services.

Customs and Shipping 

The customs and shipping staff consists of one LE employee who expedites shipments and has a large contact base at the port and at the airport. This employee has not been able to take leave, even when he has scheduled it well in advance, because of emergencies that require his presence. Sound management requires backup for each critical function.

Human Resources



Work and quality of life questionnaires administered by the OIG team report scores significantly below prior embassy averages in human resources support and services, administration of the awards program, and fairness of family member hiring. Poor leadership, lack of adequate processes, and the absence of transparency and communication have hampered the staff. The human resources officer needs to reinvigorate the section and regain the trust of the mission’s direct-hire employees, LE staff, and eligible family members.

Inspectors encountered a number of shortcomings in the office. The retail price survey had not been completed since 2009. Personnel cables were not being sent using the proper template and each message was being created from scratch. Supervisors were not being notified 6 months prior to LE subordinates’ retirement dates. Staffing patterns contained numerous mistakes.



Foreign Service National Issues

  • Inspectors met with the LE staff committee, whose members expressed concerns about compensation and benefit issues, hiring policy, discrimination and favoritism, unfair dismissals, and a lack of cultural sensitivity displayed by some direct-hire employees. They said their primary points of contact are the management officer and the human resources officer. They occasionally have access to the DCM, but not to the Ambassador. It would be helpful for embassy management to respond to LE staff concerns in writing.
  • The second benefit issue relates to changes to the local compensation plan brought about by a new Bahraini labor law implemented in September 2012. The law grants additional benefits to Bahraini employees in the areas of annual and sick leave, maternity benefits, and pilgrimage leave. As with the bonus, too much time was wasted—this time trying to get an English translation of the labor law that was issued in Arabic. The embassy sent the plan to the Office of Overseas Employment in March 2013; it remains under review.

Cultural Sensitivity

The LE committee cited several examples of culturally insensitive behavior by American employees. It is unclear whether the words and actions were spiteful or occurred because the employees lacked knowledge of Bahraini culture and norms. To guard against such events, it would be helpful for the embassy to incorporate a cultural sensitivity component into its orientation programs for U.S. direct-hire and locally employed staff.

Money Matters

COM Residence:  The chief of mission residence costs $272,000 per year (approximately $22,500 per month) to rent. It is one of the Department’s most expensive short-term leased properties, qualifying it for consideration to purchase. The embassy has requested the Department also consider purchase of a DCM residence and a Marine security guard residence.

Language Designated Positions:  Embassy Manama has 10 language designated positions: the DCM; 4 political/economic officers, 2 consular officers, 2 public diplomacy officers, and the management officer. As half the population of Bahrain is expatriate, many from South Asia, the common language of the country is English. Six of the 10 officers in language designated positions reported to inspectors that they do not use Arabic in their jobs. The number of language designated positions makes finding qualified candidates for embassy jobs more challenging. Moreover, it costs the Department approximately $500,000 to train an officer to speak proficient Arabic.



Management Controls: Management controls at Embassy Manama are inadequate. Despite the embassy’s positive responses to the OIG functional questionnaires, and the positive information provided by the regional bureau, the OIG team determined the breakdown in procurement processes reaches the level of a significant deficiency. 

Though adequately staffed, Embassy Manama paid 2,000 hours of overtime compensation to general services employees and 1,000 hours to facilities management employees in FY 2013. According to the Foreign Affairs Handbook, (FAH) 4 FAH-3 H-525.1-2 the management officer must establish controls for accurate and timely recording and reporting of time and attendance. The mission delegates responsibility for overtime authorization to each section supervisor and time and attendance to the financial management officer. Nobody monitors LE staff overtime, resulting in anomalies and improper overtime approvals.

The report is available to read here (pdf).

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

– Domani Spero

 

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

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

 

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Online Petition to POTUS: Nominate “Mad Dog Mattis” as Next Ambassador to Moscow

– Domani Spero

Francis Regan of San Francisco, CA has started a petition to nominate General James Mattis, USMC, Ret. to be the next Ambassador to the Russian Federation.  Below is part of his justification:

Ambassador McFaul resigned last month to return to Stanford University’s Hoover Institution, leaving us without a dedicated official envoy to Moscow. We need an Ambassador to advocate for regional stability and economic confidence. We need an Ambassador right now to be a stone in the Putin administration’s shoe, always present and felt with every step. This is not something we should expect of either the Secretary of State or the Deputy Chief of Mission in Moscow, who each have other responsibilities.

Finally, we need an Ambassador with a detailed knowledge of existing US capability across every agency and department; a proven ability to deliver finely calibrated messages in volatile situations; and a keen awareness of the ability and willingness of our allies to stand beside us under any given set of circumstances.

Ambassador McFaul and General Mattis have been colleagues at the Hoover Institution for the past six weeks, where they have undoubtedly been talking through this Ukraine crisis as it has unfolded from unrest, to the shooting of protesters, to the ouster of President Yanukovych, and finally to an undeclared Russian invasion of Crimea.

As of this writing, the petition has 50 signatories. Some of the reasons given by the supporters are below:

  • Because I’m a Marine and I know Mattis takes zero shit.
  • Because General Mattis is a badass.
  • Because I’m begging you, with tears in my eyes…
  • Because Gen. Mattis has a zero-tolerance for bullshit.
  • I know General Mattis personally & professionally and he is by far the answer and the patriot to what this country is facing at this time.

One supporter of this petition which is addressed to President Obama states his reason as, “Because this guy unlike the President has a set of balls.

Obviously, that’s really going to help.

In 2013, Gen. James Mattis, known to his troops as “Mad Dog Mattis,” retired after 41 years of military service. Business Insider called him “an icon of sorts in the Marine Corps, arguably the most famous living Marine” and collected some of his unforgettable quotes. Take a look.

On a related note, WaPo’s Al Kamen reported a few days ago that White House press secretary Jay Carney, rumored to be angling for the top spot in Moscow denied that he wanted the job.  Rumint right now apparently includes national security adviser Susan Rice‘s interest in having a woman in Moscow.  In the Loop threw in some names:
  • Sheila Gwaltney , the current Charge d’Affaires at the US Embassy Moscow; was deputy chief of mission during Amb. McFaul’s tenure; was consul general in St. Petersburg from 2008 to 2011. We understand that she is scheduled to rotate out this summer with Lynne M. Tracy, current DAS for South and Central Asia as the next DCM.
  • Pamela Spratlen , U.S. Ambassador to Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan, who is a former No. 2 at the embassy in Kazakhstan and former consul general in Vladivostok, Russia.
  • Rose Gottemoeller , undersecretary of state for arms control and international security. She just got confirmed on March 6, 2014.

Who else are you hearing?

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GAO: State Dept Management of Security Training May Increase Risk to U.S. Personnel

– Domani Spero

The State Department has established a mandatory requirement that specified U.S. executive branch personnel under chief-of-mission authority and on assignments or short-term TDY complete the Foreign Affairs Counter Threat (FACT) security training before arrival in a high-threat environment.

Who falls under chief-of-mission authority?

Chiefs of mission are the principal officers in charge of U.S. diplomatic missions and certain U.S. offices abroad that the Secretary of State designates as diplomatic in nature. Usually, the U.S. ambassador to a foreign country is the chief of mission in that country. According to the law, the chief of mission’s authority encompasses all employees of U.S. executive branch agencies, excluding personnel under the command of a U.S. area military commander and Voice of America correspondents on official assignment (22 U.S.C. § 3927). According to the President’s letter of instruction to chiefs of mission, members of the staff of an international organization are also excluded from chief
-of-mission authority. The President’s letter of instruction further states that the chief of mission’s security responsibility extends to all government personnel on official duty abroad other than those under the protection of a U.S. area military commander or on the staff of an international organization.

The Government Accountability Office (GAO) recently released its report which examines (1) State and USAID personnel’s compliance with the FACT training requirement and (2) State’s and USAID’s oversight of their personnel’s compliance. GAO also reviewed agencies’ policy guidance; analyzed State and USAID personnel data from March 2013 and training data for 2008 through 2013; reviewed agency documents; and interviewed agency officials in Washington, D.C., and at various overseas locations.

High Threat Countries: 9 to 18

The June 2013 State memorandum identifying the nine additional countries noted that personnel deploying to three additional countries will also be required to complete FACT training but are reportedly exempt from the requirement until further notice. State Diplomatic Security officials informed the GAO that these countries were granted temporary exceptions based on the estimated student training capacity at the facility where FACT training is currently conducted. We know from the report that the number of countries that now requires FACT training increased from 9 to 18, but they are not identified in the GAO report.

“Lower Priority” Security Training for Eligible Family Members

One section of the report notes that according to State officials, of the 22 noncompliant individuals in one country, 18 were State personnel’s employed eligible family members who were required to take the training; State officials explained that these individuals were not aware of the requirement at the time. The officials noted that enrollment of family members in the course is given lower priority than enrollment of direct-hire U.S. government employees but that space is typically available.

Typically, family members shipped to high-threat posts are those who have found employment at post. So they are not just there accompanying their employed spouses for the fun of it, they’re at post to perform the specific jobs they’re hired for. Why the State Department continue to give them “lower priority” in security training is perplexing. You know, the family members employed at post will be riding exactly the same boat the direct-hire government employees will be riding in.

Working Group Reviews

This report includes the State Department’s response to the GAO. A working group under “M” reportedly is mandated to “discover where improvements can be made in notification, enrollment and tracking regarding FACT training.” The group is also “reviewing the conditions under which eligible family members can and should be required to complete FACT training as well as the requirements related to personnel on temporary duty assignment.”

Excerpt below from the public version of a February 2014 report:

Using data from multiple sources, GAO determined that 675 of 708 Department of State (State) personnel and all 143 U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) personnel on assignments longer than 6 months (assigned personnel) in the designated high-threat countries on March 31, 2013, were in compliance with the Foreign Affairs Counter Threat (FACT) training requirement. GAO found that the remaining 33 State assigned personnel on such assignments had not complied with the mandatory requirement. For State and USAID personnel on temporary duty of 6 months or less (short-term TDY personnel), GAO was unable to assess compliance because of gaps in State’s data. State does not systematically maintain data on the universe of U.S. personnel on short-term TDY status to designated high-threat countries who were required to complete FACT training. This is because State lacks a mechanism for identifying those who are subject to the training requirement. These data gaps prevent State or an independent reviewer from assessing compliance with the FACT training requirement among short-term TDY personnel. According to Standards for Internal Control in the Federal Government , program managers need operating information to determine whether they are meeting compliance requirements.

State’s guidance and management oversight of personnel’s compliance with the FACT training requirement have weaknesses that limit State’s ability to ensure that personnel are prepared for service in designated high-threat countries. These weaknesses include the following:

  • State’s policy and guidance related to FACT training—including its Foreign Affairs Manual , eCountry Clearance instructions for short-term TDY personnel, and guidance on the required frequency of FACT training—are outdated, inconsistent, or unclear. For example, although State informed other agencies of June 2013 policy changes to the FACT training requirement, State had not yet updated its Foreign Affairs Manual to reflect those changes as of January 2014. The changes included an increase in the number of high-threat countries requiring FACT training from 9 to 18.
  • State and USAID do not consistently verify that U.S. personnel complete FACT training before arriving in designated high-threat countries. For example, State does not verify compliance for 4 of the 9 countries for which it required FACT training before June 2013.
  • State does not monitor or evaluate overall levels of compliance with the FACT training requirement.
  • State’s Foreign Affairs Manual notes that it is the responsibility of employees to ensure their own compliance with the FACT training requirement. However, the manual and Standards for Internal Control in the Federal Government also note that management is responsible for putting in place adequate controls to help ensure that agency directives are carried out.

The GAO notes that the gaps in State oversight may increase the risk that personnel assigned to high-threat countries do not complete FACT training, potentially placing their own and others’ safety in jeopardy.

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Advancement for Women at the State Department: Learning From Best Practices

– Domani Spero

On March 8, we posted Women in the Foreign Service — go own the night like the Fourth of July!. We only recently discovered FSO Margot Carrington’s paper on Advancement for Women at State: Learning From Best Practices which was written during a sabbatical sponsored by the Una Chapman Cox (UCC) Foundation and the State Department.  Ms. Carrington was the 2010-2011 Una Chapman Cox Sabbatical Fellow.

Ms. Carrington writes, “When I look at the leadership of my organization, I still see too few women. And, as many have noted, it appears that many women who do make it to the top are single or childless. Women who have successfully sustained a career and a family appear to be few and far between.”

What do you see?

See pages 26-29 for a Summary of Recommendations. Should be interesting to see how many of the recommendations here have been considered and implemented by State.  Thanks for Ms. Carrington and the Cox Foundation for permission to share this paper here.

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Got Tired of Laughing — SFRC Confirmation Hearings Now on Audio Only?

– Domani Spero

“Is there a rule ambassadors can’t have set foot in the countries they are going to ambassador? Would it ruin the surprise?” Jon Stewart asked with sort of a straight face.  Then he did double jabs on the corrupt practice of awarding ambassadorships to political donors and bundlers.  This was funny sad, really — well, maybe more sad than funny for Mr. Stewart’s subjects. If you missed the laughs, see below:

Yeah, bet you didn’t know that Iceland cost more than Argentina in the ambo sweeps.  Sure, Argentina has horses, wine, and tango, but Iceland has Westeros, folks.

In any case, Congress must have gotten tired of laughing. The last time we checked, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee only had the audio up on its website for the latest confirmation hearings.  We hope this was because of the snow that week or some glitch and nothing like the remove the Marine Corps Times from the newsstands sort of thing.  Because that would not be cool.

Screen Shot 2014-02-22

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Filed under Ambassadorships, Congress, Funnies, Hearings, Nominations, Obama, Political Appointees, SFRC, Staffing the FS, State Department, U.S. Missions

Arctic Ambassador Position Announced, Move-In Ready Office Available – Hurry Before It Melts!

– Domani Spero

On Friday, Secretary Kerry announced the creation of a Special Representative for the Arctic Region to help advance American interests in the Arctic:

The Arctic region is the last global frontier and a region with enormous and growing geostrategic, economic, climate, environment, and national security implications for the United States and the world.

Today I informed my two former Senate colleagues that here at the State Department we will soon have a Special Representative for the Arctic Region, a high-level official of stature who will play a critical role in advancing American interests in the Arctic Region, particularly as we prepare efforts for the United States to Chair the Arctic Council in 2015. President Obama and I are committed to elevating our attention and effort to keep up with the opportunities and consequences presented by the Arctic’s rapid transformation—a very rare convergence of almost every national priority in the most rapidly-changing region on the face of the earth.

The great challenges of the Arctic matter enormously to the United States, and they hit especially close to home for Alaska, which is why it is no wonder that Senator Begich’s very first piece of legislation aimed to create an Arctic Ambassador, or why as Foreign Relations Committee Chairman I enjoyed a close partnership with Senator Murkowski on a treaty vital to energy and maritime interests important to Alaska. Going forward, I look forward to continuing to work closely with Alaska’s Congressional delegation to strengthen America’s engagement in Arctic issues.

Apparently, Alaska’s senators — Begich, and Murkowski — have been pressing for an ambassador  to the Arctic.

“The bottom line is that the changes we see in the Arctic warrant a higher level of involvement from the U.S. and this position will allow us to better exercise leadership and vision in Arctic policy moving forward,” Senator Begich said in a statement.

The title is ready, just need to know the name of the appointee. Oh, and see the move-in ready office below. Best hurry before it melts.

Igloo in Alert, Nunavut Photo via US Embassy Canada

Igloo in Alert, Nunavut
Alert is the northernmost permanently inhabited place in the world.
Photo via US Embassy Canada

Arctic Council Member States are Canada, Denmark (including Greenland and the Faroe Islands), Finland, Iceland, Norway, Russian Federation, Sweden, and the United States of America. Chairmanship of the Arctic Council rotates every two years between the eight member states.  Indigenous peoples also have permanent representation on the Council.  In May 2013, Canada assumed assumed the two-year chairmanship. The US last held the chairmanship in 1998-2000 and is scheduled to lead the council again in 2015-2017.

The State Department has yet to announce who will be appointed to this new post. The Special Representative position does not require Senate confirmation, so he/she will not be waiting for confirmation for a year.  There is also no danger of Senators asking questions like, “Have you been to the Arctic?”  or “Do you speak any of the Arctic region’s 40 indigenous languages?”

So hurry, apply now.

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Filed under Congress, Foreign Affairs, John F. Kerry, Secretary of State, Special Envoys and Reps, Staffing the FS, State Department