Category Archives: Staffing the FS

New Travel Warning for Yemen — Don’t Come; If In Country, Leave! But Some Can’t Leave

– Domani Spero

 

On July 21, the State Department updated its Travel Warning for Yemen urging Americans to defer travel to Yemen and for those living there to depart the country:

The U.S. Department of State warns U.S. citizens of the high security threat level in Yemen due to terrorist activities and civil unrest.  The Department urges U.S. citizens to defer travel to Yemen and those U.S. citizens currently living in Yemen to depart. This supersedes the Travel Warning for Yemen issued on January 29, 2014.

The U.S. Embassy in Sana’a remains a restricted staffing post.  This limits the Embassy’s ability to assist U.S. citizens in an emergency and provide routine consular services. Embassy Officers are restricted in their movements and cannot travel outside of Sana’a. In addition, movements within Sana’a are severely constrained and may be further constrained by the fluid security situation.

The security threat level in Yemen is extremely high. The Embassy is subject to frequent unannounced closures.  In May 2014, the Embassy was closed for almost five weeks because of heightened security threats.

Demonstrations continue to take place in various parts of the country and may quickly escalate and turn violent. U.S. citizens are urged to avoid areas of demonstrations, and to exercise extreme caution if within the vicinity of a demonstration.

Terrorist organizations, including Al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), continue to be active throughout Yemen. The U.S. government remains highly concerned about possible attacks on U.S. citizens (whether visiting or residing in Yemen), and U.S. facilities, businesses, and perceived U.S. and Western interests.

Read the full release here.

The very next day, Yemeni Americans were on the news.  US citizens in Yemen accused the  American embassy of confiscating their passports.  The State Department reportedly is withholding fraudulent passports, but rights groups say Yemeni Americans are being unfairly targeted.

 

Leaving the country without a regular passport would be difficult but perhaps not impossible.

Back in January, we blogged about this. (See US Embassy Yemen: Revocation of U.S. Passports, a Growing Trend?  At that time,a State Department official who spoke on background told us that citizens with revoked passports “may be provided with a limited validity passport for a direct return to the United States.” That is, based on the circumstances of the case. Earlier, we’ve prodded that CA/Embassy Sana’a provide guidance on how to file an appeal in revocation cases on its website.  To-date, there is nothing online in terms of guidance on appealing these cases.

Passport revocations are not the only thing that seem to be surging in Yemen.

Last month, Embassy Sana’a announced that U.S. Ambassador to Yemen Matthew H. Tueller, along with Embassy Sana’a Consular staff, hosted a “Super Saturday” event to register the births of children born in Yemen who are eligible for American citizenship.  Consular staff volunteers reportedly assisted more than 120 Americans and Yemeni-American dual nationals residing in Yemen complete Consular Report of Birth Abroad (CRBA) forms to document the U.S. citizenship of their children.

U.S. Ambassador to Yemen Matthew H. Tueller, along with Embassy Sana’a Consular staff, hosted a special weekend event to register the births of children born in Yemen who are eligible for American citizenship

U.S. Ambassador to Yemen Matthew H. Tueller, along with Embassy Sana’a Consular staff, hosted a special weekend event to register the births of children born in Yemen who are eligible for American citizenship. (photo via US Embassy Sana’a/FB)

In 2010, the State Department estimated the number of U.S. citizens in Yemen at  over 55,000. This past June, the US Embassy in Sana’a says that it serves more than 73,000 American citizens residing in Yemen. The embassy also expects to process  7,000 Consular Report of Birth Abroad (CRBA) for this year alone.  This at a high fraud post with limited staffing.

This is not the first time that the U.S. has told its nationals to leave Yemen.  And so far, there has been no talk of an evacuation.  The embassy is already on restricted staffing but should the embassy shutdown, the evacuation of Yemen’s American citizen population would be a logistical nightmare and could potentially dwarf the evacuation of nearly 15,000 American citizens from Lebanon in 2006.

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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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Headline Triggered-Senate Confirmations: Michael Lawson (Plane Down), Eunice Reddick (Drones)

– Domani Spero

 

On July 21, the Senate confirmed the following nominations by voice votes:

 

Maybe there’s a bored Hollywood film producer willing to construct multiple fake events and get this Senate moving?

It seems like this is the trend in the Senate these days.  The chance for confirmation in the “world’s greatest deliberative body” seems to jump by quite a bit, and speeds up in a hurry  when a particular country hits breaking news.   The nominations for Iraq, Egypt, Honduras, Kuwait, Qatar … were all walked relatively quickly.  Those going to the islands may have a longer wait.

Last week, a Malaysia Airlines passenger plane was shot down over Ukraine.  This week, we finally have our ambassador to Council of the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), freshly confirmed after a 10-month wait.

Ambassador Reddick was confirmed for the US Embassy in Niger after almost a year of wait. Excuse me, Niger, what the heck is going on there?  What –  drones in Niger?

Don’t worry if we’re now going on five months with no ambassador to Moscow.  That Russian bear has been growling rather badly, so by next week, it looks like we’ll finally get a newly confirmed ambassador for Moscow.  That is, if the Senate has been reading the news with eyes wide open.  

We expect all these officials will have chips implanted in their brains and will have no need for time to transition to their new responsibilities. They’ll just know it and do it. They may not even need to do pack out or make travel arrangements for family and pets either.   A heck of a time to move house when things are falling apart almost everywhere.  No matter.  We’ll just beam them all up to their next posts. And just like that, with a push of a button, we’ll erase all those wasted months of waiting.

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Tick Tock: Multiple State Dept Nominees Still Pending in Foreign Relations Committee

– Domani Spero

 

The Senate’s tentative schedule (pdf) has August 1st as its last day in session, with a return to work scheduled on September 8, 2014.  With the August recess only a few days away, we should note that multiple State Department nominees are still pending in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee (SFRC). As of this writing, only Ambassador John Tefft’s nomination as ambassador to the Russian Federation has been scheduled for a confirmation hearing on July 29. That leaves the Tefft nomination barely 36 hours to get confirmation from  the full Senate before Congress runs out into the sun for its obviously well-deserved summer break.

Dear SFRC — wouldn’t it be embarrassing to go off for some fun and sun when so many people are stuck in town and cannot do the jobs they’re supposed to do because you did not do yours?

By the way, Ambassador Carlos Pascual (listed below) was appointed the State Department’s Special Envoy and Coordinator for International Energy Affairs in May 2011 and announced as the first Assistant Secretary for Energy Resources in 2012. His nomination remains pending in the SFRC.  Last month, the WSJ reported that Ambassador Pascual will leave his position in July and will join the Center on Global Energy Policy, a research organization at Columbia University founded last year by Jason Bordoff, a former top adviser to President Obama.

Besides the pending ambassadorial nominees, the pending names in the Committee also include regular Foreign Service officers awaiting the Senate’s confirmation for their promotions to the next class.

 

Jul 21, 14     PN1920    Bahrain

William V. Roebuck, of North Carolina, 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 Kingdom of  Bahrain.

Jul 21, 14     PN1919    Malawi

Virginia E. Palmer, 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 Malawi.

Jul 21, 14     PN1918    United Arab Emirates

Barbara A. Leaf, 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 United Arab Emirates.

Jul 17, 14     PN1869    Finland

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

Jul 14, 14     PN1853    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.

Jul 14, 14     PN1852    Armenia

Richard M. Mills, Jr., of Texas, 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 Armenia.

Jul 14, 14     PN1851    Monaco

Jane D. Hartley, of New York, to serve concurrently and without additional compensation as Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the United States of America to the Principality of Monaco.

Jul 14, 14     PN1850    Brunei Darussalam

Craig B. Allen, 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 Brunei Darussalam.

Jul 09, 14     PN1848    Senegal and Guinea-Bissau

James Peter Zumwalt, 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 Republic of Senegal and to serve concurrently and without additional compensation as Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the United States of America to the Republic of Guinea-Bissau.

Jul 09, 14     PN1847    Montenegro

Margaret Ann Uyehara, of Ohio, 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 Montenegro.

Jul 09, 14     PN1846    UNGA/UN

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.

Jul 09, 14     PN1845    UNSC/UN

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.

Jul 09, 14     PN1843    Costa Rica

Stafford Fitzgerald Haney, of New Jersey, to be Ambassador Extraordinary  the Republic of Costa Rica.

Jul 09, 14     PN1842    Azerbaijan

Robert Francis Cekuta, 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 Azerbaijan.

Jul 09, 14     PN1841    Fiji/Kiribati, Nauru, Tonga, and Tuvalu

Judith Beth Cefkin, of Colorado, 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 Fiji, and to serve concurrently and without additional compensation as Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the United States of America to the Republic of Kiribati, the Republic of Nauru, the Kingdom of Tonga, and Tuvalu.

Jul 09, 14     PN1840    Macedonia

Jess Lippincott Baily, of Ohio, 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 Macedonia.

Jun 16, 14     PN1773    UNGA/UN

David Pressman, of New York, to be an 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.

Jun 16, 14     PN1772    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.

Jun 16, 14     PN1771    Botswana

Earl Robert Miller, of Michigan, 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 Botswana.

Jun 16, 14     PN1770    Cabo Verde

Donald L. Heflin, 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 Cabo Verde.

Jun 16, 14     PN1769    Slovenia

Brent Robert Hartley, of Oregon, 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 Slovenia.

Jun 16, 14     PN1768    Rwanda

Erica J. Barks Ruggles, of Minnesota, 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 Rwanda.

Jun 09, 14     PN1762    France

Jane D. Hartley, of New York, to be Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the United States of America to the French Republic.

Jun 05, 14     PN1754    Ireland

Kevin F. O’Malley, of Missouri, to be Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the United States of America to Ireland.

Jun 04, 14     PN1741    Guatemala

Todd D. Robinson, 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 Republic of Guatemala.

Jun 04, 14     PN1740    Turkmenistan

Allan P. Mustard, of Washington, a Career Member of the Senior Foreign Service, Class of Career Minister, to be Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the United States of America to Turkmenistan.

Jun 04, 14     PN1738    Turkey

John R. Bass, 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 Turkey.

May 22, 14     PN1734    Moldova

James D. Pettit, 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 Moldova.

May 22, 14     PN1733    Bangladesh

Marcia Stephens Bloom Bernicat, 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 People’s Republic of Bangladesh.

May 05, 14     PN1644    Kazakhstan

George Albert Krol, 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 Republic of Kazakhstan.

Apr 10, 14     PN1569    Foreign Service

Nominations beginning Melinda Masonis, and ending Jeffrey R. Zihlman, Congressional Record on April 10, 2014.

Apr 10, 14     PN1568    Foreign Service

Nominations beginning Andrew J. Billard, and ending Brenda Vanhorn, which 11 nominations were received by the Senate and appeared in the Congressional Record on April 10, 2014.

Apr 10, 14     PN1567    Foreign Service

Nominations beginning Michael A. Lally, and ending John E. Simmons, which 4 nominations were received by the Senate and appeared in the Congressional Record on April 10, 2014.

Jan 30, 14     PN1384-2  Foreign Service

The following named Career Member of the Foreign Service of the Department of State for promotion into the Senior Foreign Service to the class indicated, effective January 1, 2012: Career Member of the Senior Foreign Service of the United States of America, Class of Counselor: Daniel Menco Hirsch

Jan 30, 14     PN1381-2  Foreign Service

Nominations beginning Douglas A. Koneff, and ending Lon C. Fairchild, which 3 nominations were received by the Senate and appeared in the Congressional Record on January 30, 2014.

Jan 30, 14     PN1378-2  Foreign Service

For appointment as Foreign Service Officer of Class Three, Consular Officer and Secretary in the Diplomatic Service of the United States of America: Aaron Schubert

Jan 30, 14     PN1377-2  Foreign Service

Nominations beginning Susan K. Brems, and ending R. Douglass Arbuckle, which 3 nominations were received by the Senate and appeared in the Congressional Record on January 30, 2014.

Jan 06, 14     PN1101    State/ENR

Carlos Pascual, of the District of Columbia, to be an Assistant Secretary of State (Energy Resources).

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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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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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Burn Bag: Where are the good, or at least decent, consular managers?

Via Burn Bag:

Our post is in the top 5 for IV, NIV, and ACS cases, with dozens of ELOs, and yet we have some of the worst senior level and mid-level managers I have ever encountered in the Foreign Service.  Our Consul General is a walking stiff who shows her face once every six months, half of the consular management seems to suffer from tone deafness and do not realize how poor morale is or how unpopular they are for their mismanagement.  Where are the good, or at least decent, consular managers?

Via reactiongifs.com

Via reactiongifs.com

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Confirmations: Douglas Silliman (Kuwait), Dana Shell Smith (Qatar), Darci Vetter (USTR)

– Domani Spero

 

Today, the U.S. Senate confirmed by voice vote President Obama’s nominees for Kuwait and Qatar:

  • Douglas Alan Silliman, Texas, to be Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the United States of America to the State of Kuwait
  • Dana Shell Smith, Texas, to be Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the United States of America to the State of Qatar

Yesterday, the U.S. Senate also confirmed the nomination of  Darci L. Vetter, of Nebraska, to be Chief Agricultural Negotiator, Office of the United States Trade Representative, with the rank of Ambassador.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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A Blackwater Warning Before the Nisour Square Shooting and the State Dept’s Non-Response

– Domani Spero

 

A James Risen  scoop over in NYT on how a warning on Blackwater in Iraq prior to the 2007 Nisour Square shooting that killed 17 civilians was ignored by the State Department. Quick excerpt:

State Department investigators arrived in Baghdad on Aug. 1, 2007, to begin a monthlong review of Blackwater’s operations, the situation became volatile. Internal State Department documents, which were turned over to plaintiffs in a lawsuit against Blackwater that was unrelated to the Nisour Square shooting, provide details of what happened.

It did not take long for the two-man investigative team — Mr. Richter, a Diplomatic Security special agent, and Donald Thomas Jr., a State Department management analyst — to discover a long list of contract violations by Blackwater.
[...]
The armored vehicles Blackwater used to protect American diplomats were poorly maintained and deteriorating, and the investigators found that four drunk guards had commandeered one heavily armored, $180,000 vehicle to drive to a private party, and crashed into a concrete barrier.
[...]
The investigators concluded that Blackwater was getting away with such conduct because embassy personnel had gotten too close to the contractor.
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The next day, the two men met with Daniel Carroll, Blackwater’s project manager in Iraq, to discuss the investigation, including a complaint over food quality and sanitary conditions at a cafeteria in Blackwater’s compound. Mr. Carroll barked that Mr. Richter could not tell him what to do about his cafeteria, Mr. Richter’s report said. The Blackwater official went on to threaten the agent and say he would not face any consequences, according to Mr. Richter’s later account.

Mr. Carroll said “that he could kill me at that very moment and no one could or would do anything about it as we were in Iraq,” Mr. Richter wrote in a memo to senior State Department officials in Washington. He noted that Mr. Carroll had formerly served with Navy SEAL Team 6, an elite unit.
[...]
On Oct. 5, 2007, just as the State Department and Blackwater were being rocked by scandal in the aftermath of Nisour Square, State Department officials finally responded to Mr. Richter’s August warning about Blackwater. They took statements from Mr. Richter and Mr. Thomas about their accusations of a threat by Mr. Carroll, but took no further action.

Condoleezza Rice, then the secretary of state, named a special panel to examine the Nisour Square episode and recommend reforms, but the panel never interviewed Mr. Richter or Mr. Thomas.

Patrick Kennedy, the State Department official who led the special panel, told reporters on Oct. 23, 2007, that the panel had not found any communications from the embassy in Baghdad before the Nisour Square shooting that raised concerns about contractor conduct.

“We interviewed a large number of individuals,” Mr. Kennedy said. “We did not find any, I think, significant pattern of incidents that had not — that the embassy had suppressed in any way.”

Read in full Mr. Risen’s piece, Before Shooting in Iraq, a Warning on Blackwater.

Click here for text of the teleconference call on October 23, 2007 with then State Department Spokesman Sean McCormack and Ambassador Patrick F. Kennedy on the Report of the Secretary of State’s Panel on Personal Protective Services in Iraq. The Q and A below:

QUESTION: Hi, this is Brian Bennett from Time magazine. I’m wondering in these reviews — why this review wasn’t done earlier, complaints about contractor conduct have been relayed to Ambassador Khalilzad, tocharge d’affaires Margaret Scobey, to Ambassador Crocker. And I’m wondering if in looking into this you had found any communiqus that have gone out of the Embassy into main State in the months prior to the September 16th incident about concerns about contractor conduct and why wasn’t – why it took an event like September 16th for these concerns to be addressed?

AMBASSADOR KENNEDY: We — when you look through the report you’ll see that we interviewed a large number — large number of individuals. We did not find any, I think, significant pattern of incidents that had not — that the Embassy had suppressed in any way. No one told us that they had — that they had made reports to the Embassy that had been suppressed.

 

Also see the  Implementation of Recommendations from the Secretary of State’s Report on Personal Protective Service Details

We found the Panel’s 2007 report (see below).  The Panel was composed of Eric Boswell, George Joulwan, J. Stapleton Roy and Patrick F. Kennedy.  Appended at the end of the report are the list of interviewees, which includes the acting RSO named in the NYT report. It does not, however, include the names of  the Blackwater project manager, or  Jean C. Richter, the Diplomatic Security special agent nor Donald Thomas Jr., the State Department management analyst.  According to the NYT, Mr. Richter and Mr. Thomas declined to comment for its article.

Mr. Richter’s report that the private security firm’s manager there had threatened to kill him, an episode that  occurred just weeks before Blackwater guards shot and killed 17 Iraqi civilians in Nisour Square is available here via NYT.    We note also that Ambassador Kennedy was appointed Under Secretary of State for Management (M)  on November 6, 2007. Prior to assuming his position as “M,” he was Director of the Office of Management Policy, Rightsizing, and Innovation (M/PRI) from May 2007.

Read the Secretary of State’s Report on Personal Protective Service Details from 2007:

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