Newsweek recently reported about the strict vetting imposed by the Obama administration on its prospective candidates. “Over-the-top ethics rules are disqualifying or driving away some of the best and the brightest,” it concludes. If you have ever filled out those national security forms, you know it’s enough to turn your hair and whiskers purple! Now there’s more:
“The White House’s basic vetting questionnaire for a top federal job is now close to 100 pages long. A separate national-security vetting form can be filled out only by typewriter. The questioning by White House lawyers can be excruciatingly personal. One job dropout told NEWSWEEK he just couldn’t bear to get into the messy lives of his children.”
If this does not turn you off, I should point out that 66 plus ambassadorships are still up for grabs (see list above). The USNATO and Kabul positions are currently encumbered by career FS officers and are not included in this list of vacancies. USNATO Ambassador Kurt Volker, career member of the Foreign Service will be succeeded by administration nominee Ivo Daalder. US Embassy Kabul Ambassador William Braucher Wood, a career member of the Foreign Service will be succeeded by administration nominee Lt. General Karl Eikenberry. Both nominees are political appointees.
As of March 2, out of a total of 173 ambassadorships — 105 post (61%) currently have career diplomats serving as Ambassadors, 12 (7%) are filled by non-career ambassadors (hold-overs from the previous administration) and 56 (32%) are still vacant. I removed Iraq and Ireland from this list (so the number is 54) since the nominees have been announced, although yet to be confirmed. The plus sign is simply a recognition that the president has the prerogative of filling in each of the embassy top post with a career diplomat or a political appointee as his personal representative abroad.
It is possible that some embassies currently staffed with career ambassadors will end up having political appointees when this is all over (Timor-Liste, anyone?). And the 54 current vacancies plus the 12 posts currently staffed with political appointees from the Bush administration may get career diplomats as ambassadors (The Last Time I Saw Paris Was in 1981 …). Or not…
In the meantime, all the Chargés d’affaires ad interim get a chance to show the stuff they are made of — in the absence of our accredited ambassadors. And down the line it has a cascading effect. Somebody else has to serve as acting Deputy Chief of Mission, and the losing section could have an acting chief of section. I figure that for every post headed by a Chargé right now, about 2-3 career employees get to do a temporary stretch assignment — until the new ambassador clears the confirmation hurdles and get to post.
Who’s Going to Our Top Diplomatic Vacation Spots?