Senators Grassley and Cotton Now Have 25 @StateDept Nominations Glued Down, and Going Nowhere

Posted: 2:58 am EDT


In early August, Senator Chuck Grassley  (R-IA) placed a hold on the nomination of David Malcolm Robinson, a career member of the Senior Foreign Service who was nominated to be the next Assistant Secretary of State for the floundering Conflict and Stabilization Operations bureau. He also placed a hold on 20 Foreign Service mid-level nominees, something we don’t often see (see Senate Judiciary Sets Sight on Allegations Over Huma Abedin’s State Dept Employment, Senate Hold OnSenator Grassley Places Hold on 20 FSO Nominations Over Clinton Inquiry).

On September 30, Senator Grassley added a hold on the nomination of Brian Egan, the nominee for Legal Adviser at the State Department. The previously confirmed Legal Adviser was Harold Hongju Koh who left the State Department in early 2013. Mr. Egan has now waited at least 636 days for his senate confirmation.


On October 5,  Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) added to the confirmation logjam by placing a hold on three ambassadorial nominees, apparently until “the administration shows it is taking steps to punish Secret Service staff involved in leaking unflattering information about a lawmaker.” According to WaPo, Cotton also said he will consider blocking more nominees if the administration refuses to fully investigate and discipline the Secret Service staff.


You might wonder what do these ambassadorial nominations have to do with the Secret Service? Why, nothing at all.  The Secret Service is under the Department of Homeland Security and the subject of the Cotton hold are nominees for the State Department.  That distinction hardly matters in today’s Washington, D.C.. Remember in July last year when Senator Cruz deployed a blanket hold over the FAA’s prohibition of U.S. airlines flying to or from Israel’s Ben Gurion International Airport? (See The Fault in Our Skies: Senator to Deploy Blanket Senate Hold Over DOS Nominees Cuz FAA). Right.  The Cotton hold are on three political appointees who have been waiting for senate confirmation between 141 days to 836 days.

There apparently is also a secret hold for the USAID administrator nominee but no one has officially filed a notice of his/her intent to object to the Gayle Smith’s nomination. Devex reported back in July that her nomination has hit a snag. Below is a list of nominees who are subject to a hold.

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Here is an updated list of nominees waiting for a full Senate vote as of October 1, 2015:


Reading Tips: Recent Reports From State/OIG, USAID/OIG, SIGAR, GAO, CRS

Posted: 12:40 pm EDT



Management Assistance Report: Action Still Needed to Update the Department’s Standards of Conduct as They Relate to Trafficking in Persons and to Comply with a Related Recommendation Posted On: September 17, 2015

Audit of Selected Nonproliferation and Disarmament Fund Management Control Posted On: September 14, 2015

Audit of Department of State Management and Oversight of Non-Lethal Assistance Provided for the Syrian Crisis Posted On: September 14, 2015



09/16/2015Management Letter Regarding Environmental Concerns Identified During the Survey of Selected USAID/Office of Foreign Disaster Assistance Programs in Iraq

09/15/20158-OPC-15-002-P Audit of Overseas Private Investment Corporation Projects in Jordan and Turkey

09/11/2015A-IAF-15-008-P Audit of the Inter-American Foundation’s Fiscal Year 2015 Compliance with the Federal Information Security Management Act of 2002, as Amended

09/10/20159-000-15-004-P Audit of USAID’s Evaluation Policy Implementation

09/03/20155-482-15-007-P | Audit of USAID/Burma’s Shae THOT (The Way Forward) Program

09/01/2015 4-000-15-001-S | Survey of USAID’s Development Leadership Initiative in Southern and Eastern Africa



Remarks Prepared for Delivery by Special Inspector General John F. Sopko at Georgetown University, Washington, DC Thursday, September 10, 2015

Afghan Refugees and Returnees: Corruption and Lack of Afghan Ministerial Capacity Have Prevented Implementation of a Long-term Refugee Strategy Thursday, August 27, 2015

Power Grid Project at the Counter Narcotics Strip Mall in Kabul: Construction Met Contract Requirements but Electrical System Was Not Deemed Operable Until More Than 18 Months After Project Completion Monday, August 3, 2015



Diplomatic Security: Options for Locating a Consolidated Training Facility  GAO-15-808R: Published: Sep 9, 2015. Publicly Released: Sep 16, 2015.

Regionally Aligned Forces: DOD Could Enhance Army Brigades’ Efforts in Africa by Improving Activity Coordination and Mission-Specific Preparation  GAO-15-568: Published: Aug 26, 2015. Publicly Released: Aug 26, 2015.

SEC Conflict Minerals Rule: Initial Disclosures Indicate Most Companies Were Unable to Determine the Source of Their Conflict Minerals  GAO-15-561: Published: Aug 18, 2015. Publicly Released: Aug 18, 2015.

International Food Assistance: USAID Should Systematically Assess the Effectiveness of Key Conditional Food Aid Activities  GAO-15-732: Published: Sep 10, 2015. Publicly Released: Sep 10, 2015.


CRS Reports via Steven Aftergood/Secrecy News

The FY2014 Government Shutdown: Economic Effects, updated September 11, 2015

Procedures for Congressional Action in Relation to a Nuclear Agreement with Iran: In Brief, Updated September 11, 2015

The United Arab Emirates (UAE): Issues for U.S. Policy, Updated September 14, 2015

Syrian Refugee Admissions to the United StatesCRS Insight, September 10, 2015

Cyprus: Reunification Proving Elusive, Updated September 10, 2015

Saudi Arabia: Background and U.S. Relations, Updated September 8, 2015

Jordan: Background and U.S. Relations, Updated September 10, 2015

Iran Nuclear Agreement, Updated September 9, 2015

Statutory Qualifications for Executive Branch Positions, Updated September 9, 2015


USAID/OIG on Development Leadership Initiative: Some Good News, Some Problems

Posted: 2:24 am EDT


USAID’s Regional Inspector General/Pretoria recently released its survey  of USAID’s Development Leadership Initiative  (DLI) in Southern and Eastern Africa (Survey Report No. 4-000-15-001-S).  Junior officer DLIs are the focus of the survey and are referred to simply as DLIs.  USAID’s southern and eastern Africa missions with DLIs were Angola, East Africa, Ethiopia, Kenya, Madagascar, Malawi, Mozambique, Namibia, Rwanda, South Africa, Southern Africa, South Sudan, Tanzania, Uganda, Zambia, and Zimbabwe. South Sudan received only mid-career DLIs and was not included in the survey.

The report delivered some good news: “Survey results showed that DLI had some successes; 92 percent of the DLIs who responded said they received assignments in their designated backstops, and 99percent reported receiving their second administrative promotion on time.”

Survey results also found the following problems.

Some new hires did not use the foreign languages they were taught.

Some DLIs raised concerns with the requirement to attend the Foreign Service Institute because the courses there were tailored for State Department employees working in diplomacy, not USAID employees working in development. The curriculums did not teach the vocabulary they needed for development work, they explained.

DLI respondents who filled positions at English- speaking posts asked why they could not postpone the training until it could be matched with an overseas assignment. Moreover, DLI respondents who could not use the languages they were taught immediately said they needed to get the training again to regain fluency.

 Since USAID employees constitute a small percentage of students at the institute, the officials said they did not have much influence over the curriculum. They tried to address this problem in the past by offering translated copies of key Agency documents in the USAID library, but few people used them. USAID pays approximately $1,520 per week of training at the Foreign Service Institute, and students generally attend for 24 to 30 weeks.

Supervisors did not always help DLIs prepare for future assignments.

Some said they were assigned supervisors who were not FSOs or U.S. direct hires, which meant that they could not provide insight on overseas assignments or Agency policies and procedures.

USAID/HR officials acknowledged that they did not formally monitor the quality of supervision provided to DLIs and said DLIs were responsible for reporting any concerns they had to mission managers.

USAID/HR officials said one of the consequences of the Agency’s staffing shortage was that there were not enough experienced supervisors for the number of new junior officers.

Some DLIs did not find coaches and mentors helpful.

USAID/HR officials said a DLI who remained in contact with his or her coach after going overseas would be a good indication of the program’s success. However, 69 percent of the DLIs who responded to the survey said they rarely or never made contact with their coach after leaving Washington. DLIs explained that their coaches were too busy to meet with them, too far retired from the Agency to help with current processes, or from a different backstop and thus unable to provide the technical guidance the DLIs needed.

Nearly half of the DLIs who responded to the survey said they were not assigned a mentor at their mission. Moreover, many said they did not realize that mentoring was part of the program overseas.

Some perceived that USAID overlooked Foreign Service nationals (FSNs).

While some FSNs said their office directors told them that employees called “DLIs” would be joining their team, nobody explained what the initiative was, what the role of the DLIs would be, or how they would fit into the mission’s existing framework. It also was not clear how work assignments would be shared among FSNs and DLIs.

FSNs said the lack of understanding negatively affected DLIs’ reception at post. It also led to the common misconception that USAID hired DLIs to replace FSNs. In fact, many missions created additional FSN positions to support the additional hires. DLIs commented that their relationships with FSNs were sometimes awkward or hostile because of unclear roles and responsibilities. DLIs and FSNs also reported problems from perceived and real inequalities for training and professional development.

Hiring practices changed midway through the initiative.

When the initiative began, USAID/HR recruited junior officers at the FS-06 level for all backstops and mid-career officers at the FS-03 to -02 levels for certain backstops. Midway through, however, the division began to appoint junior officers at the FS-05 level. This meant that people with fewer qualifications came in at a higher grade and for backstops that were not offered previously.

Survey respondents said this fact might affect retention. In addition, by starting the majority of DLIs at the FS-06 level, USAID has a large pool of similarly graded officers bidding for a limited number of assignments. Half of the DLI respondents who reported not receiving assignments in their designated backstops explained this was because opportunities within their areas of expertise were limited. While USAID/HR officials estimated attrition at about 10 percent, survey respondents said they expected to see a surge of DLIs resign from the Agency after their second tours unless USAID provides adequate opportunities for professional development.

Training was not always relevant.

DLIs who completed formal training and rotations were away from their offices so frequently that their supervisors found it difficult to assign them substantive work. This limited the amount of on-the-job training DLIs received. Conversely, DLIs who had substantive work assignments had to forego other opportunities for formal training and rotations.

Some DLIs explained that the value of formal training was diminished because they could not apply everything they learned in a timely manner. For example, they completed required training for agreement and contracting officers’ representatives yet they were not assigned to these jobs during the 2 years of their first overseas assignment. DLIs also completed a supervision seminar when they were not supervisors.

Some DLIs said the training and orientation they completed in Washington, D.C., before leaving for post lacked critical information on the realities of working in an overseas mission or in other cultures.

When asked about course content, USAID/HR officials said they relied heavily on contractors to provide formal training because Agency employees were not available consistently to provide it. The officials said requiring contract trainers to have USAID experience would be too expensive.

Here is a quick background of this initiative and its cost:

The U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) reported that USAID’s workforce declined 2.7 percent from 2004 to 2009, while program funding almost doubled to $17.9 billion in the same period.1 At the time, USAID faced critical staffing shortages—especially in high-priority countries like Afghanistan and Iraq—and a high percentage of Foreign Service officers (FSOs) nearing retirement. All of these factors affected USAID’s ability to work directly with foreign governments and local partners, and increased its reliance on contractors and outside organizations to carry out its mandate for development.

USAID launched the Development Leadership Initiative (DLI) on May 24, 2008, to address diminished staff levels. Managed by USAID’s Office of Human Resources (USAID/HR), the initiative aimed to double the number of FSOs from 1,200 to 2,400 by fiscal year (FY) 2012 and targeted both junior and mid-career officers, referred to as “DLIs.”

The initiative aimed to prepare junior-officer DLIs2 for careers as FSOs through an intensive multiyear training program. DLIs spent between 4 and 12 months in the Agency’s Washington, D.C., headquarters to complete mandatory orientation, rotations, and formal training. Many also spent 6 to 9 months studying a foreign language. DLIs continued their learning during their first overseas assignment, which typically lasted for 2 years. There, they completed additional training and rotations, and gained hands-on experience in their area of expertise or “backstops.”3

The last class of 23 DLIs entered the Agency on September 23, 2012. At that time, USAID had hired 820 DLIs above attrition—approximately 68.3 percent of the number initially targeted. USAID/HR officials said congressional funding limitations prevented them from hiring the full number. As of January 31, 2014, obligations and disbursements for the initiative were approximately $640 million and $540 million, respectively.

Approximately 21 percent of DLIs were deployed to 16 missions in southern and eastern Africa for their first overseas assignments. Obligations and disbursements for these groups as of January 31, 2014, were $116.7 million and $95.3 million, respectively.

Read the full report here (pdf).

In October 2012, DLI had transitioned to the Career Candidate Corps (C3) program. According to management’s comments to this report, USAID plans to deploy C3s overseas as regular employees within newly established First Tour Officer positions. C3s will reportedly be also given credit for language skill proficiency during the recruitment process in an effort to increase the number of FSOs entering the Agency with tenure level proficiency in a Foreign language thus focusing more resources on language training for Language Designated Positions.


Photo of the Day: In Cowries and Frangipanis at Boera, Papua New Guinea

Posted: 12:23  am EDT


Deputy Secretary of State for Management and Resources Heather Higginbottom meets with community members in Boera, Papua New Guinea, on September 10, 2015, to learn about climate change impacts on the community and to join them in celebrating with Motuan cultural songs, dances, and history. Earlier in the day, Deputy Secretary Higginbottom launched a USAID Coastal Community Adaptation Project (C-CAP), which will build the resilience of vulnerable coastal communities in the Pacific region to withstand more intense and frequent weather events and ecosystem degradation in the short term and sea level rise in the long term. [State Department photo/ Public Domain]

Deputy Secretary of State for Management and Resources Heather Higginbottom meets with community members in Boera, Papua New Guinea, on September 10, 2015, to learn about climate change impacts on the community and to join them in celebrating with Motuan cultural songs, dances, and history. Earlier in the day, Deputy Secretary Higginbottom launched a USAID Coastal Community Adaptation Project (C-CAP), which will build the resilience of vulnerable coastal communities in the Pacific region to withstand more intense and frequent weather events and ecosystem degradation in the short term and sea level rise in the long term. [State Department photo/ Public Domain]


Q&A on QDDR, Now Includes Officially Cleared State Department Answers

Posted: 12:47 am EDT


On August 13, we posted this: Q&A With QDDR’s Tom Perriello, Wait, What’s That? Whyohwhyohwhy?. Last Friday, Kathryn Schalow, the new director of the QDDR office sent us the long-awaited answers to our questions with a brief note saying, “As the new director of the QDDR office, I am excited to carry on the work of this office and look forward to working with everyone –both inside and outside the government – who wants to help with the implementation of the review’s recommendations.”  

The answers are published below in full:

#1.  QDDR/CSO: The 2010 QDDR transformed the Office of the Coordinator for Reconstruction and Stabilization (S/CRS) into the Bureau of Conflict and Stabilization Operations (CSO) to enhance efforts to prevent conflict, violent extremism, and mass atrocities. The 2015 QDDR says that “Some progress has been made in this area.”  I understand that CSO no longer has any mission element about stabilization and stabilization operations. It also remains heavy with contractors.  One could argue that the current CSO is not what was envisioned in QDDR I, so why should it continue to exists if it only duplicates other functions in the government? Can you elaborate more on what is CSOs new role going forward, and what makes it unique and distinct from the Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs’ Middle East Partnership Initiative (MEPI) and USAID’s Office of Transition Initiatives?  

The Bureau of Conflict and Stabilization Operations is one of many offices in State/USAID working to prevent, respond to, and stabilize conflict and crisis.  CSO maintains the specific goal of stability in its mission statement.  The Bureau advises the Secretary, Regional Bureaus and Ambassadors on diplomatic action to address conflict and prevent mass atrocities, violent extremism and political violence.  Central elements of CSO’s mission were reinforced as top priorities for the Department and USAID in the 2015 QDDR, specifically the policy priority to prevent and mitigate conflict and violent extremism.  Many elements within the State Department and USAID also work to support the Administration’s policy on this topic, including the Bureau for Democracy, Conflict, and Humanitarian Assistance (DCHA) at USAID, and the Bureaus of Counterterrorism (CT) and CSO at the State Department, as well as Special Envoy and Coordinator for Strategic Counterterrorism Communications Rashad Hussain.

#2. Innovation and Risks: The QDDR talks about “promoting innovation.” Innovation typically requires risk. Somebody quoted you saying something like the gotcha attitude of press and Congress contributes to risk aversion from State and USAID. But risks and risk aversion also comes from within the system.  I would point out as example the Center for Strategic Counterterrorism Communications previously headed by Ambassador Alberto Fernandez, and its controversial campaign “Think Again Turn Away” which afforded the USG a new way to disrupt the enemy online. Ambassador Fernandez was recently replaced by a political appointee with minimal comparable experience.  It also looks like CSCC will be folded into a new entity. So how do you encourage State/USAID employees “to err on the side of engagement and experimentation, rather than risk avoidance” when there are clear bureaucratic casualties for taking on risks?

The Department encourages informed risk taking and innovation, and the QDDR reports on a number of State and USAID initiatives to facilitate innovation and creativity in solving complex problems.  In particular, the Department’s Innovation Roundtable, the Consular Affairs Bureau’s 1CA Office and Teamwork@State initiatives, Public Diplomacy and eDiplomacy Innovations Funds, and USAID’s Global Development Lab demonstrate a commitment to fostering creativity and experimentation.  The 2015 QDDR (p. 56) highlights outcomes from these initiatives such as efficiency improvements at U.S. Embassy Mexico City’s American Citizen Services Unit or the LAUNCH open innovation platform founded by NASA, NIKE, USAID and State that is accelerating the market adoption of sustainable technologies.

Ambassador Fernandez retired from the State Department last spring, and  Rashad Hussain was chosen as his successor.   He has brought to the position his strong academic and professional background in national security, diplomatic experience engaging Muslim-majority countries as Special Envoy to the OIC, and published writings and engagement over the past decade on a range of CVE issues. Under his leadership, the Center for Strategic Counterterrorism Communications (CSCC) remains an innovative organization that works to counter ISIL’s appeal, including by helping other countries and NGOs expand their anti-ISIL messaging capacity within their own societies.  The recently-opened Sawab Center in the United Arab Emirates is one example.   The CSCC also continues to challenge online extremism on a number of social media platforms in multiple languages.  The CSCC remains a stand-alone office reporting to the Under Secretary for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs, and has expanded to include a new counter-ISIL cell to the Center’s operation.  

#3. Engagement with American Public: The QDDR says:  “Make citizen engagement part of the job. Every Foreign Service employee in the Department and USAID will be required to spend time engaging directly with the American people.” Are you aware that there are over 500 blogs run by Foreign Service employees and family members that could potentially help with engagement with the American public? Isn’t it time for these blogs to be formally adopted so that they remain authentic voices of experience without their existence subjected to the good graces of their superiors here or there?

One of our goals is to expand our communication with fellow Americans so that they gain a better understanding of the Department’s and USAID’s work and how it affects them.  The Hometown Diplomats program, started in 2002, is the main way we conduct these dialogues with the American people.  More than 1200 Department employees – both Foreign and Civil Service – have met with high school and college students, social and professional organizations, and media in their hometowns.  So far in 2015 we have organized 56 Hometown Diplomat engagements.  The 2015 QDDR has a number of recommendations for boosting the Hometown Diplomats program, as well as creating new outreach initiatives.  For instance, technology and social media expand opportunities for employees at overseas posts and in Washington to engage the American people and help educate young Americans about global issues and how U.S. diplomacy and development improve Americans’ lives.  The Bureau of Public Affairs has already begun a program of virtual Hometown Diplomats speaking from post via videoconference to domestic audiences, and the preliminary feedback is positive.  This year we have held four virtual Hometown Diplomat events from overseas posts that reached almost 300 Americans.

The Department encourages employees, in both their official and personal capacities, to undertake activities, including public communications, devoted to increasing public study and understanding of the nation’s foreign relations.  The private blogs of employees can be an important contributor to this effort and they have a role in informing the public about the work and experiences of our officers and their families.  The private blogs and social media posts of employees that do not discuss official Departmental policy or actions do not need formal Department adoption (or review) to be part of the broader conversation about U.S. foreign policy.

#4. Eligible Family Members:  The State Department has talked about expanding opportunities for eligible family members for a long time now and I regret that I have not seen this promise go very far. There are a couple of things that could help eligible family members — 1) portability of security clearance, so that they need not have to wait for 6-12 months just to get clearances reinstated; and 2) internship to gain experience from functional bureaus or section overseas. Why are we not doing these?  And by the way, we’re now in the 21st century and FS spouses still do not have online access to State Department resources that assist them in researching assignments and bids overseas. Employees are already afforded remote access, why is that not possible for family members? Wouldn’t taking care of people start with affording family members access to information that would help them plan their lives every three years?

Work life balance and the wellbeing of our Foreign Service families is of paramount importance to the Department.   Programs such as the Expanded Professional Associates Program (EPAP) and the Global Employment Initiative are increasing the number of jobs for eligible family members and receive positive reviews from FSOs and family members.  The QDDR commits us to expanding these programs even further and making them easier to access through a single portal; creating a database to assist EFMs and employers to connect and take advantage of EFM Non-Competition Eligibility earned overseas; and identifying ways to address the challenges with security clearance.  This QDDR also commits State and USAID to “continue pursuing mechanisms to facilitate the security clearance process for EFMs so they can begin work at post without lengthy delays.”

The Department has two great sources of information to help employees and their families research post conditions, schools and employment opportunities – both are completely accessible to EFMs.  The Overseas Briefing Center manages an extensive comprehensive public website that provides information about preparing for life at overseas posts, the logistical requirements of moving, and much more.  EFMs are able to readily receive post-specific material electronically by sending a simple email request to the Overseas Briefing Center.  Overseas Briefing Center personnel also engage with EFMs by email, phone, and through social media to offer suggestions and guidance on obtaining resources and resolving questions related to relocating and living overseas.  Secondly, the public website of the Family Liaison Office provides extensive resources to help FS spouses interested in pursuing employment overseas – either within a US Embassy or Consulate or on the local economy.

The Department of State is committed to increasing the accessibility and usability of Department information for all Foreign Affairs agency employees and their families.  The Foreign Affairs Network 3.0 (FAN3), developed under the Department’s Bureau of Information Resource Management will allow eligible family members to access appropriate State systems using existing credentials.   This will greatly facilitate EFM access to Department networks.

#5. Foreign Assistance: One of the criticisms I’ve heard about QDDR is how it did not even address the reality that the United States has far too many foreign assistance programs — “an uncoordinated diaspora of offices and agencies scattered around the bureaucratic universe in D.C. from the Justice Department to the DoD to the Commerce Department to the Export-Import Bank to the Treasury Department and beyond, to the bewilderment of anyone the United States does business with overseas.” What do you say to that? 

The number and variety of assistance programs is actually a great strength.  The number of U.S. foreign assistance programs is large because there is a broad diversity in need, and specific departments and agencies are best placed to deliver the specialized assistance that is required.  For example, USAID is advancing a new model of development that combines local ownership, private investment, and multi-stakeholder partnerships to provide assistance that is coordinated with investments by national/regional/local governments, the private sector, and multilateral development banks.  These efforts complement, and are coordinated with, the assistance activities carried out by other U.S. government agencies, such as the Millennium Challenge Corporation, the Treasury Department, and the Overseas Private Investment Corporation.

Although interagency coordination can be complex and difficult, the 2015 QDDR builds on recommendations from the 2010 QDDR to improve coordination of assistance by creating Integrated Country Strategies (ICS) and making clear that at posts abroad the Ambassador has oversight over assistance efforts.  The ICS serves as an overarching strategy that encapsulates U.S. government policy priorities, objectives, and the means by which diplomatic engagement, foreign assistance, and other tools will be used to achieve them.  The development of the ICS involves all agencies in the country under Chief of Mission authority and, as such, incorporates a “whole of government” approach to guide U.S. government activities in each country.  The result improves coordination not just for foreign assistance programs, but for our entire overseas interagency presence (see p 61).

#6. Data Collection: Somebody called the second set of “three Ds” — data, diagnostics, and design as the “most revolutionary, disruptive element of QDDR II.” I can see development subjected to these three Ds, but how do you propose to do this with diplomacy where successful engagements are based on national interests and the human element and not necessarily data driven? Also data is only as good as its collector. How will data be collected?

One of the QDDR priorities is to ensure that Department and USAID employees have greater access to, and are better utilizing, the vast amounts of data and information available today.  We want diplomats in the field and in Washington to be better informed through a variety of internal and external data sources.  We want to better empower and prepare our employees by giving them new tools to better understand the issues they work on and to identify new opportunities for engagement.   In many instances our policy is data-driven and similarly, there is benefit to having diplomats who are data-informed.  For example, the U.S. Global AIDS Coordinator combines epidemiological evidence, expenditure data, and local information to determine where PEPFAR (President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief) resources can have the greatest impact.  More broadly, State and USAID are implementing the President’s Open Government Initiative through tools such as the Foreign Assistance Dashboard.

Data are collected from a variety of sources, including governments, international organizations, academia, NGOs and the private sector.  We want to lower barriers to information access, provide standardized platforms and better disseminate the data we have.  USAID’s Global Development Lab and the agency’s data policies including the Open Data Policy, the Department’s Enterprise Data Quality Initiative, global partnerships including GODAN, and community-engagement based programs such as MapGive have each demonstrated progress in increasing the accessibility and usability of high-quality data.  These efforts ensure that we have the infrastructure in place to leverage the information at hand.  The QDDR recommends bringing additional organizational support to efforts like these – as well as adding new programs to the mix.

#7. Institutional WeaknessesSome quarters look at the State Department and points at several institutional weaknesses today: 1) the predominance of domestic 9-5 HQ staff with little or no real field experience, foreign language and other cultural insight, and 2) the rampant politicization and bureaucratic layering by short term office holders with little or no knowledge of the State Department and less interest in its relevance as a national institution. How does the QDDR address these weaknesses? How does the QDDR propose to recreate a national diplomatic service based on a common core of shared capabilities and understanding of 21st century strategic geopolitical challenges and appropriate longer term responses? 

The Department and USAID’s greatest asset is human capital.  Our employees, whether Civil Service, Foreign Service, non-career appointees, or contractors, are the foundation upon which our institutions stand and the source of our achievements.

The QDDR endorses a common training core, called Diplomatic Mastery, for all incoming  Foreign Service generalists, starting from the orientation (“A-100”) course, and continuing in the first two tours, as an additional prerequisite for tenure (along with proficiency in a foreign language).  Diplomatic Mastery will include subject areas such as diplomatic history, negotiating skills, and building esprit de corps.  A new curriculum will also be made available to Foreign Service Specialists and Civil Service employees.  FSI has been developing in-depth, interactive modules to be used overseas for this and other training purposes.

In March 2014 Secretary Kerry introduced a new set of Leadership and Management Principles to serve as a standard for all Department employees (3 FAM 1214).  The QDDR complements and supports these principles by recommending strengthened mandatory leadership training, increasing accountability, as well as expanding long-term training opportunities and excursion tours at mid- and senior-levels of the Foreign and Civil Services.  These assignments outside the Department will increase expertise and experience through time at a university, in the private sector, at an NGO, or with other U.S. government agencies.   This will allow the Department and USAID to make their organizations more flexible and adaptive, with a more agile and mobile workforce.

#8: QDDR Operation: I remember that you sent out a solicitation of ideas and suggestions for QDDR II and I’m curious at the kind of response you got. Can you also elaborate the process of putting together QDDR II? Finally, the success of QDDR II will be on implementation. Who’s leading the effort and what role will you and the QDDR office have on that? Unless I’m mistaken, the QDDR implementers are also not career officials, what happens when they depart their positions? Who will shepherd these changes to their expected completion?

Secretary Kerry launched the second QDDR process in April 2014 and tasked us with creating a “blueprint for the next generation of American diplomacy.”  The report was co-chaired by the Deputy Secretary for Management and Resources, Heather Higginbottom, and USAID Acting Administrator Alfonso Lenhardt.  The impact of this QDDR will depend on its implementation and Deputy Secretary Higginbottom is overseeing implementation of the QDDR as a whole, with action on particular recommendations being driven by a range of senior leaders across the Department.  The QDDR office is currently staffed by a dedicated team of career FSOs and Civil Service employees, who are facilitating and monitoring the implementation of the report’s recommendations. Individuals throughout State and USAID – in dozens of bureaus and offices – are involved in the implementation.

Over the course of the year-long research and drafting process, we solicited ideas and suggestions through a variety of forums, and we were very pleased with the response and the interest that people took throughout the process.   For example, we conducted a QDDR Sounding Board Challenge, garnering 200 ideas and 1,900 votes from over 4,700 viewers, at all levels at the Department.  We also conducted meetings with stakeholders from throughout the Department and USAID, the interagency, Congress, and NGOs.  With this input and guidance from senior leaders at State and USAID, including an Executive Committee (listed at the back of the report), we determined the policy and operational priorities to highlight.  The Secretary also asked us to produce a report that was shorter and more tightly focused than the first QDDR, and we met that objective.


We should note that Tom Perriello was appointed Special Representative for the Quadrennial Diplomacy and Development Review (QDDR) in February 2014, and was the original recipient of our questions. On July 6, 2015, he was appointed Special Envoy for the Great Lakes Region and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. He succeeds former Senator Russ Feingold in that position. No one has yet been announced as Special Representative for the QDDR as of this writing; the next report is not due for another four years.


Travel Photographer/FS Spouse Seeks to Help Rebuild a Small Corner of Nepal

Posted: 2:58 am EDT


The impact of the 25 April and 12 May earthquakes resulted in over two million people in Nepal losing their houses due to damage. According to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, during September and October this year, population movements are expected to increase, particularly with the mass outflux from the Kathmandu Valley to districts before the Dashain festival beginning in late October. On a smaller scale, with the end of the monsoon, the majority of those residing in spontaneous settlement and those relocated due to landslide risks will likely return to their original residence. Ensuring comprehensive returns will also depend on the availability of support for shelter reconstruction.

Derek Brown, a Foreign Service spouse and a friend of the blog is helping with shelter reconstruction in a small corner of Nepal.  Derek is an American travel photographer, currently based in Kathmandu. He was previously in Pakistan and India with his USAID FSO spouse and has been generous in sharing some of his photos with this blog (see Derek Brown’s Photographs From India — Old Delhi, Ahmedabad, Udaipur, and Kutch; NYT’s India Ink Features Awesome Photographer and USAID/EFM).

In the aftermath of the earthquake, Derek wanted to document Nepalis helping Nepalis, and reached out to his friend Pawan Shakya whom he’d first met in 2013. Pawan who runs a small family publishing business from Durbar Square, the historic center of Kathmand has already embarked on self-funded relief projects aimed at some of the neediest villages following the earthquake. Derek realized that he could help in the planning, funding and execution of Pawan’s projects. He brought in Tyler Driscoll, a graphic designer he knew from San Francisco and together they put up a GoFundMe fundraising to help rebuild a small corner of Nepal.

The relief effort is intended to improve the lives of over 500 earthquake-stricken Nepali villagers in 2 villages. They picked the village of Chhap, 3.5 hours northeast of Kathmandu. Of 250 houses in the area, only 1 remained inhabitable after the earthquakes. The other location Ranipauwa Village is roughly 1.5 hours drive northwest of Kathmandu, and was almost totally destroyed by the earthquake, with essentially none of the houses inhabitable or even repairable.

The villages were selected based on need, the ability of villagers to help each other, and their ability to help themselves. Very importantly, one young man from each village works for Pawan’s family business. Having a person from inside each community not only provides valuable insight into issues and opportunities, but it also facilitates ongoing communication and monitoring that can help avoid all sorts of missteps.

They plan not only to build bamboo relief houses, they also plan to fund chicken farms, replace livestock and provide improved seeds for future plantings in the two villages.

derek bamboo hse

Tyler, Derek and Pawan © 2015 Derek Brown

Derek says that neither Pawan nor him will be taking any compensation at any point–Pawan is doing the calendar printing at cost and there will be no charge for Derek’s  images.  The GFM campaign provides other rewards that do carry cost like mugs, t-shirts, large prints, so do let them know if you do not want them.  They have raised about $11K so far in the last two months of their GFM campaign.   If you are able to help, check out their GFM campaign:

You may also follow Derek’s photo blog documenting their rebuilding efforts here:

Below is a photo of a mother and child washing hair in a creek in Nepal, one of our favorites from Derek’s  collection. What a lovely smile! Check out the rest of his photos on Facebook and Tumblr.  धन्यवाद

Photo by

© 2015 Derek Brown


Tick Tock: Ambassador Nominees Cleared by SFRC Still Waaaaaaaiting For Senate Votes

Posted: 12:54  pm EDT


The Senate will head out for its five-week August recess this week. According to the calendar, the recess would kick off on August 10 and run through Labor Day. The following nominees are currently waiting for a full Senate vote. Unless they get confirmed this week, they’re stuck in confirmation purgatory for another month.

Cleared by the SFRC on May 21:

  • Cassandra Q. Butts, of the District of Columbia, to be Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the United States of America to the Commonwealth of The Bahamas.

Cleared by the SFRC on June 10:

  • Azita Raji, of California, to be Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the United States of America to the Kingdom of Sweden.

Cleared by the SFRC on June 25:

  • David Hale, of New Jersey, a Career Member of the Senior Foreign Service, Class of Minister-Counselor, to be Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the United States of America to the Islamic Republic of Pakistan.
  • Atul Keshap, of Virginia, a Career Member of the Senior Foreign Service, Class of Counselor, to be Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the United States of America to the Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka, and to serve concurrently and without additional compensation as Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the United States of America to the Republic of Maldives.
  • Alaina B. Teplitz, of Illinois, a Career Member of the Senior Foreign Service, Class of Minister-Counselor, to be Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the United States of America to the Federal Democratic Republic of Nepal.
  • William A. Heidt, of Pennsylvania, 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 Kingdom of Cambodia.
  • Glyn Townsend Davies, of the District of Columbia, 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 Kingdom of Thailand.
  • Jennifer Zimdahl Galt, 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 Mongolia.
  • Brian James Egan, of Maryland, to be Legal Adviser of the Department of State, vice Harold Hongju Koh, resigned.

Cleared by the SFRC on July 29

  • Sheila Gwaltney, of California, a Career Member of the Senior Foreign Service, Class of Minister-Counselor, to be Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the United States of America to the Kyrgyz Republic.
  • Perry L. Holloway, of South Carolina, a Career Member of the Senior Foreign Service, Class of Minister-Counselor, to be Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the United States of America to the Co-operative Republic of Guyana.
  • Kathleen Ann Doherty, of New York, a Career Member of the Senior Foreign Service, Class of Minister-Counselor, to be Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the United States of America to the Republic of Cyprus.
  • Hans G. Klemm, of Michigan, a Career Member of the Senior Foreign Service, Class of Minister-Counselor, to be Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the United States of America to Romania.
  • James Desmond Melville, Jr., 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 Estonia.
  • Peter F. Mulrean, of Massachusetts, 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 Haiti.
  • Laura Farnsworth Dogu, of Texas, 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 Nicaragua.
  • Samuel D. Heins, of Minnesota, to be Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the United States of America to the Kingdom of Norway.
  • Paul Wayne Jones, of Maryland, 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 the Republic of Poland.
  • Michele Thoren Bond, of the District of Columbia, a Career Member of the Senior Foreign Service, Class of Minister-Counselor, to be an Assistant Secretary of State (Consular Affairs), vice Janice L. Jacobs, resigned.
  • Sarah Elizabeth Mendelson, of the District of Columbia, to be Representative of the United States of America on the Economic and Social Council of the United Nations, with the rank of Ambassador.
  • Sarah Elizabeth Mendelson, of the District of Columbia, to be an Alternate Representative of the United States of America to the Sessions of the General Assembly of the United Nations, during her tenure of service as Representative of the United States of America on the Economic and Social Council of the United Nations.

Also cleared by the SFRC are the two USAID nominees and one Foreign Service list with 181 names:


PN573 – 1 FOREIGN SERVICE nominations (181) beginning Maura Barry Boyle, and ending Anthony Wolak, which nominations were received by the Senate and appeared in the Congressional Record of June 10, 2015.


  • Gayle Smith, of Ohio, to be Administrator of the United States Agency for International Development, vice Rajiv J. Shah, resigned.
  • Thomas O. Melia, of Maryland, to be an Assistant Administrator of the United States Agency for International Development, vice Paige Eve Alexander, resigned.


We Meant Well, Afghanistan Edition: Ghost Students, Ghost Teachers, Ghost Schools, Ugh!

Posted: 1:16 am  PDT




Over and over, the United States has touted education — for which it has spent more than $1 billion — as one of its premier successes in Afghanistan, a signature achievement that helped win over ordinary Afghans and dissuade a future generation of Taliban recruits. As the American mission faltered, U.S. officials repeatedly trumpeted impressive statistics — the number of schools built, girls enrolled, textbooks distributed, teachers trained, and dollars spent — to help justify the 13 years and more than 2,000 Americans killed since the United States invaded.

But a BuzzFeed News investigation — the first comprehensive journalistic reckoning, based on visits to schools across the country, internal U.S. and Afghan databases and documents, and more than 150 interviews — has found those claims to be massively exaggerated, riddled with ghost schools, teachers, and students that exist only on paper. The American effort to educate Afghanistan’s children was hollowed out by corruption and by short-term political and military goals that, time and again, took precedence over building a viable school system. And the U.S. government has known for years that it has been peddling hype.
USAID program reports obtained by BuzzFeed News indicate the agency knew as far back as 2006 that enrollment figures were inflated, but American officials continued to cite them to Congress and the American public.

As for schools it actually constructed, USAID claimed for years that it had built or refurbished more than 680, a figure Hillary Clinton cited to Congress in 2010 when she was secretary of state. By 2014, that number had dropped to “more than 605.” After months of pressing for an exact figure, the agency told BuzzFeed News the number was 563, a drop of at least 117 schools from what it had long claimed.

Last week, we were looking for clinics.

What’s next … ghost soldiers? Oops, that’s already an old story?


June Is PTSD Awareness Month — Let’s Talk Mental Health, Join Us at the Forum

Posted: 11:13 pm  EDT

Join us at the forum today at, noon – 2pm, EST

I’ve blogged about mental health in the State Department for years now (see links below). I know that a mental health issue affecting one person is not a story of just one person.  It affects parents, spouses, children, siblings, friends; it affects the home and the workplace. It is a story of families and communities. While there is extensive support in the military community, that’s not always the case when it comes to members of the Foreign Service.

I once wrote about a former Foreign Service kid and his dad with severe PTSD. A few of you took the time to write and/or send books to the ex-FS employee incarcerated in Colorado, thank you.

I’ve written about Ron CappsRachel SchnellerCandace Faber, FSOs who came forward to share their brave struggles with all of us. There was also a senior diplomat disciplined for volatile behavior who cited PTSD, I’ve also written about Michael C. Dempsey, USAID’s first war-zone related suicide, and railed about suicide prevention resources.  The 2014 Foreign Service Grievance Board 2014 annual report says that eight of the new cases filed involved a claim that a disability, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), or other medical condition affected the employee performance or conduct that resulted in a separation recommendation.

With very few exceptions, people who write to this blog about mental health and PTSD do so only on background. Here are a few:

  • A State Department employee with PTSD recently told this blog that “Anyone outside of our little insular community would be appalled at the way we treat our mentally ill.”  The individual concludes with clear frustration that it “seems sometimes the only unofficially sanctioned treatment plan encouraged is to keep the commissaries well stocked with the adult beverage of your choice.” 
  • Another one whose PTSD claim from service at a PRT in Iraq languished at OWCP said, “I can assure you that OER and State Med have been nothing but obstructions… as a vet, I have been treated at VA for the past ten months, else I would have killed myself long ago.”
  • Still another one writes: “VA indicates the average time between trauma and treatment-seeking is eight years. The longer it is undiagnosed and treated, the more difficult to ameliorate. I have a formal diagnosis from VA but could not even get the name of a competent psychiatrist from DoS. The bulk of DoS PTSD claims are still a few years away (2008/2009 PLUS 8), with no competent preparation or process.”
  • A friend of a State employee wrote that her DOS friend was “deployed/assigned to a  war-torn country not too long ago for a year. Came back with PTSD and  was forced by superiors to return to very stressful/high pressure work  duties while also seeking medical attention for an undiagnosed then, but eventually diagnosed (took about 6 months) disease  triggered by environmental conditions where s/he was last posted.”
  • Another FSO said, “I actually thought State did a decent job with my PTSD. After I was subject to an attack in Kabul, the social worker at post was readily available and helpful. He indicated I could depart post immediately if I needed to (and many did after the attack). When I departed post I was screened for PTSD and referred to MED here in DC. After a few sessions here with MED, I was referred to a private psychologist who fixed things up in a few months.”
  • One FSO who suffered from PTSD assured us that “State has come a very long way since 2005” and that it has made remarkable progress for an institution. Her concerns is that PTSD is widespread in the Department in the sense that people develop it in a wide range of posts and assignments. She cited consular officers in particular, who evacuate people from natural disasters and civil wars and deal with death cases on a regular basis, and are particularly at risk.


Screen Shot 2015-06-03

June is PTSD Awareness Month. We are hosting a forum at for an open discussion on PTSD.

It’s not everyday that we get a chance to ask questions from somebody with post traumatic stress disorder. On Monday, June 29, FSO Rachel Schneller will join the forum and answer readers’ questions  based on her personal experience with PTSD.  She will be at this blog’s forum from noon to 2 pm EST. She will join the forum in her personal capacity, with her own views and not as a representative of the State Department or the U.S. Government.  She’s doing this as a volunteer, and we appreciate her time and effort in obtaining official permission and  joining us to help spread PTSD awareness. Please feel free to post your questions here.

Rachel Schneller joined the Foreign Service in 2001. Following a tour in Iraq 2005-6, she was diagnosed with PTSD. Her efforts to highlight the needs of Foreign Service Officers returning from tours in war zones helped prompt a number of changes in the State Department, for which she was awarded the 2008 Rivkin Award for Constructive Dissent.

Prior to joining the U.S. Department of State, Rachel served as a Peace Corps volunteer in Mali from 1996-98. She earned her MA from the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS) in 2001. We have previously featured Rachel in this blog here, and here.

The forum, specifically created for PTSD discussion is setup as an “open” forum at this time; readers may post questions without registration.  We’re hosting, same Privacy Policy apply.


Below are some of our previous blog posts on mental health, PTSD, security clearance and the State Department’s programs:

What to do when different voices start delivering multiple démarches in your head?]

USAID’s First War-Zone Related Suicide – Michael C. Dempsey, Rest in Peace

State Dept’s Suicide Prevention Resources — A Topic So Secret No One Wants to Talk About It

Former Foreign Service Kid Writes About Dad With Severe PTSD  (Many thanks to readers who took the time to write and send books to Tony Gooch! We appreciate your kindness).

Ron Capps | Back From The Brink: War, Suicide, And PTSD

Rachel Schneller | PTSD: The Best Thing that Ever Happened to Me

Senior Diplomat Disciplined for Volatile Behavior Cites PTSD in Grievance Case, Fails

Pick the Long or Short Form, But Take the Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) Screening

On the Infamous Q21, PTSD (Again) and High Threat Unaccompanied Assignments

Ambassador Crocker Arrested for Hit and Run and DUI in Spokane

Quickie | Running Amok: Mental Health in the U.S. Foreign Service

Former FSO William Anthony Gooch: No Mercy for Broken Men?

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder: The Ticking Bomb in the Foreign Service

Clinton issues note on mental health; seeking help a sign of maturity and professionalism

EFM shouldn’t have to see three RMOs, do a PPT presentation and wait 352 days for help

Join the Petition: Revised Q21 for the Foreign Service

State Dept’s WarZone Deployment Incentives, Programs, Training and Medical Support

DMW: Mental Health Treatment Still a Security Clearance Issue at State Department

Insider Quote: Returning to the Real World

What’s State Doing with Question 21?


Gayle Smith For USAID Gets a Confirmation Hearing, a Protestor, an Open Letter to End Famine

Posted: 12:13 pm  PDT


On June 17, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee held a confirmation hearing on the nomination of Gayle Smith as the next USAID Administrator:

Ms. Gayle Smith Of Ohio,
To Be Administrator Of The United States Agency For International Development
Download Testimony (pdf)


Then this happened: