Officially In: Robert S. Connan to Reykjavik


On May 27, President Barack Obama announced his intent to nominate
Robert S. Connan, to be Ambassador to the Republic of Iceland.

Mr. Connan has served as Minister Consular for Commercial Affairs to the US Mission to the European Union since September 2008. Mr. Connan began his international career in the private sector. In 1980, he entered the U.S. Commercial Service. His first assignment was Commercial Officer in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, followed by Johannesburg, South Africa. He was Senior Commercial Officer (SCO) in Algiers and then Stockholm, Sweden. Next, he was assigned as SCO in Kuwait from 1991 to 1992, right after the end of the Gulf War, to rebuild the Commercial Section. In 1992, he was assigned as SCO in Seoul, Korea, where he went on special detail to Beijing China as acting SCO for the first Secretary Commerce trade mission into China. From 1996 to 2000, he served as SCO in Rome, Italy.

From 2000 to 2004, he was Minister Counselor for Commercial Affairs for Australia and New Zealand, at the American Consulate General in Sydney. During this period, Mr. Connan also served in Baghdad, Iraq from 2003 to 2004, setting up the Iraqi Business Center as part of the reconstruction process. From 2004 to 2008, he was the Minister Counselor for Commercial Affairs in Paris, France.

Mr. Connan holds a Bachelors of Science from Carnegie Mellon University and earned his MBA from University of Pennsylvania.

* * *

If confirmed, Robert Connan will succeed career diplomat Carol Van Voorst in Reykjavik. I should note that five of the last seven ambassadors assigned to Iceland in the last 20 years have been career diplomats. The last non-career appointee to this position was Sigmund A. Rogich of Nevada who served from Jun 4, 1992- Oct 14, 1993.

OpenSecrets.org on Robert S. Connan: “Working for the U.S. Commercial Service within the Department of Commerce since 1980, Connan has not made any contributions exceeding $200 to federal candidates, committees or parties. His most recent position has been with the European Union, and he has been nominated to be the ambassador to Iceland.”


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White House Rolls Out First Dozen Ambassadors


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Officially In: Thomas Shannon to Brasilia

On May 27, President Barack Obama announced his intent to nominate Thomas A. Shannon, to be Ambassador to the Federative Republic of Brazil.


Mr. Shannon has served as the Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs since October 2005. A career member of the Senior Foreign Service, Mr. Shannon entered the Foreign Service in 1984. Mr. Shannon also served as Special Assistant to the President and Senior Director for Western Hemisphere Affairs at the National Security Council from 2003 to 2005. From 2002 to 2003, he was Deputy Assistant Secretary of Western Hemisphere Affairs at the Department of State, where he was Director of Andean Affairs from 2001 to 2002. He was U.S. Deputy Permanent Representative to the Organization of American States (OAS) from 2000 to 2001. He served as Director for Inter-American Affairs at the National Security Council from 1999 to 2000; as Political Counselor at the U.S. Embassy in Caracas, Venezuela from 1996 to 1999; and as Regional Labor Attaché at the U.S. Consulate General in Johannesburg, South Africa from 1992 to 1996. During his career as a Foreign Service Officer, Mr. Shannon also served as Special Assistant to the Ambassador at the U.S. Embassy in Brasilia, Brazil from 1989 to 1992; as Country Officer for Cameroon, Gabon, and Sao Tome and Principe from 1987 to 1989; and as the Consular/Political Rotational Officer at the U.S. Embassy in Guatemala City, Guatemala from 1984 to 1986. Mr. Shannon holds a Doctorate and a Master’s degree in Politics from Oxford University, and a B.A. in Government and Philosophy from the College of William and Mary.

* * *

Thomas A. Shannon will succeed Clifford M. Sobel (non-career appointee). Previous ambassadors to Brasilia in the last 20 years have been about 50-50 between career diplomats and non-career appointees (with one non-career nomination withdrawn).

OpenSecrets.org on Thomas A. Shannon: “A career member of the U.S. Foreign Service, which he joined in 1984, he is the current Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs Ambassador. He has not given any disclosure-worthy federal campaign contributions, and he has been nominated to be the ambassador to Brazil.”

Related Post:
White House Rolls Out First Dozen Ambassadors


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President Obama Announces More Key Administration Posts, 5-27-2009


Officially In: Ambassador Chris Dell to Pristina

On May 27, President Barack Obama announced his intent to nominate Christopher William Dell, to be Ambassador to the Republic of Kosovo.


Mr. Dell has served as Deputy Chief of Mission in Kabul, Afghanistan since 2007. Mr. Dell, a career United States Foreign Service Officer since 1983, served as United States Ambassador to the Republic of Zimbabwe from August 2004 to July 2007. Previously, Mr. Dell served as Ambassador to Angola from 2001-2004. He was Chief of Mission in Kosovo from 2000-2001 and Deputy Chief of Mission to Bulgaria from 1997-2000. Mr. Dell has also served as Deputy Director of the Office of Regional Political Affairs in the Bureau of European and Canadian Affairs from 1994-1996 and was Special Assistant to the Undersecretary for International Affairs from 1989-1991. Mr. Dell holds a Bachelor of Arts from Columbia University and a Master of Arts from Oxford University.

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If confirmed, Ambassador Dell will only be the second US Ambassador to Pristina, succeeding Tina Kaidanow, a career diplomat who was sworn in as U.S. Ambassador to the Republic of Kosovo on July 18, 2008. OpenSecrets.org says that “he does not have any known federal campaign contributions.”

Related Post:
White House Rolls Out First Dozen Ambassadors


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President Obama Announces More Key Administration Posts, 5-27-2009

Officially In: Ambassador Pat Butenis to Colombo

On May 27, President Barack Obama announced his intent to nominate Patricia A. Butenis, to be Ambassador to the Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka and the Republic of Maldives.


Ms. Butenis has served as the Deputy Chief of Mission at the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad, Iraq since July 2007. Prior to this assignment, she served as Ambassador to Bangladesh, a position for which she was confirmed by the U.S. Senate on February 16, 2006, and sworn in on March 17, 2006. She is a career member of the Senior Foreign Service, rank of Minister-Counselor.

Ms. Butenis was previously Deputy Chief of Mission at the U.S. Embassy in Islamabad, Pakistan (2004-2006), serving with Ambassador Ryan Crocker. Ms. Butenis joined the Foreign Service in 1980. She has served as Vice Consul in Karachi, Pakistan (1980-1982); Vice Consul/Political Officer in San Salvador, El Salvador (1982-1985); Consul in New Delhi, India (1985-1988); El Salvador Desk Officer (1988-1990); and Consul (American Citizen Services Chief) in Bogotá, Colombia (1990-1993). She attended the National War College (1993-1994) and also served at the Visa Office, Field Liaison, in the Department of State (1994-1997). She then served as Consul General in Warsaw, Poland (1998-2001) and Consul General in Bogotá, Colombia (2001-2004). Ms. Butenis received a B.A. in Anthropology from the University of Pennsylvania and an M.A. in International Relations from Columbia University.


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If confirmed, Ambassador Butenis will be based in Colombo. She will succeed Ambassador Robert O. Blake, a career diplomat who was recently appointed to head the South Central Asia (SCA) Bureau. OpenSecrets.org says that “Butenis has not given contributions greater than $200 since 1989.”

As a side note, all US ambassadors assigned to Sri Lanka in the last 20 years have been career diplomats. The last non-career political appointee assigned to Colombo (and the Maldives) was John Hathaway Reed who served there twice from 1982-85 and from 1976-77.

Related Post:
White House Rolls Out First Dozen Ambassadors


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President Obama Announces More Key Administration Posts, 5-27-2009

Staffing Shortages/Lack of Mid-Level Officers Hinder U.S. Outreach Efforts

The GAO has just released its report on U.S. Public Diplomacy: Key Issues for Congressional Oversight on May 27 (GAO-09-679SP). It discusses the background, strategic and operational planning, performance measurement, and coordination of communication efforts on public diplomacy. It also talks about outreach efforts in high threat posts as well as the State Department’s Public Diplomacy workforce. Excerpt below:

State has experienced a shortage of public diplomacy staff since 1999 when the United States Information Agency was merged into the department. In 2003, GAO reported that State experienced a 13 percent vacancy rate in its public diplomacy positions. Similar findings were reported by GAO in May 2006, and data from November 2007 show a vacancy rate of over 13 percent. In our 2003 report, we noted that more than 50 percent of those responding to our survey of public diplomacy officers felt the number of Foreign Service officers available to perform public diplomacy duties was inadequate.

Our May 2006 report noted that while several recent reports on public diplomacy had recommended increased spending on U.S. public diplomacy programs, several embassy officials told us that, given current staffing levels, they lacked the capacity to effectively utilize increased funds.

In August 2006, we reported that State’s consular and public diplomacy positions were the hardest to fill, with 91 percent of the vacancies in these two tracks at the mid-level. We noted this staffing gap placed pressure on State to appoint junior officers to so-called “stretch positions”—whereby they serve in a position above their pay grade—to fill as many of these vacancies as possible. For example, at the time of our visit in 2006 the U.S. Ambassador to Nigeria—which had the third largest mission in Africa with nearly 800 employees—told us the embassy had only three senior officers, and public affairs were handled entirely by first-tour junior officers. Ambassadors at posts GAO visited stated that junior officers, while generally highly qualified when entering the Foreign Service, lack sufficient training to handle some of the high-stress situations they encounter and therefore often end up making mistakes.

A January 2008 analysis by State’s Human Resources Bureau indicates that mid-level shortages continue. The report notes the public diplomacy cone has the highest mid-level deficit among the five generalist cones, and public diplomacy officers are being promoted through the mid-levels at higher rates than other cones. State officials expect it will take several years before the mid-level deficit is erased. One senior State official noted accelerated rates of promotion have led to concern that some public diplomacy officers may not have the requisite experience and expertise to perform effectively at their current levels.

The GAO has posted the following oversight questions:

1. What is State’s strategy to obtain a sufficient number of staff to create the desired training float needed to fill vacant public diplomacy positions and meet all required language training needs?

2. What is State’s strategy to address the deficit in mid-level management expertise?

3. Are public affairs officers at posts overburdened with administrative duties? If so, what can be done to alleviate this situation?


Related Item:

(GAO-09-679SP): U.S. Public Diplomacy: Key Issues for Congressional Oversight dated May 27, 2009

White House Rolls Out First Dozen Ambassadors

The White House has rolled out its first dozen ambassadors late last night; the names are not even posted in its website yet as of this writing. The following names via The Cable, were posted at 10:21 pm last night.

I have added the names of the prior occupants to these positions. In the last Bush term, eight from this list were non career political appointees, and four were Foreign Service Officers (career diplomats). In this list, nine eight of Obama’s nominees are also non-career political appointees, while the remaining three four are Foreign Service Officers: Shannon, Dell and Butenis, plus Connan who is with the Foreign Commercial Service. Note that Christopher Dell was most recently the #2 official at US Embassy Kabul and Patricia Butenis is currently the #2 in US Embassy Baghdad. Will have some additional posts later.


African Union (AU)
(Addis Ababa)

U.S. Representative to the African Union with the Rank of Ambassador
Michael A. Battle, Sr., vice John Simon, non-career appointee


Ambassador to Argentina (Buenos Aires)

Vilma S. Martinez vice Earl Anthony Wayne, career diplomat

Ambassador to the Federative Republic of Brazil (Brasilia)

Thomas A. Shannon, FSO, vice Clifford M. Sobel, non-career appointee

Ambassador to Denmark
(Copenhagen)
Laurie S. Fulton vice James P. Cain, non-career appointee

Ambassador to France
(Paris)
Charles H. Rivkin vice Craig Roberts Stapleton, non career appointee

Ambassador to the United Kingdom of Great Britain & Northern Ireland (London)

Louis B. Susman vice Robert Holmes Tuttle, non career appointee


Ambassador to the Holy See
(Rome)
Miguel H. Díaz vice Mary Ann Glendon, non career appointee

Ambassador to the Republic of Iceland (Reykjavik)

Robert S. Connan, FCS, vice Carol Van Voorst, career diplomat


Ambassador to India (New Delhi)

Timothy J. Roemer vice David C. Mulford, non career appointee


Ambassador to Japan (Tokyo)

John V. Roos vice J. Thomas Schieffer, non career appointee


Ambassador to the Republic of Kosovo (Pristina)

Christopher William Dell, FSO, vice Tina S. Kaidanow, career diplomat

Ambassador to the Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka and the Republic of Maldives (Colombo)

Patricia A. Butenis, FSO, vice Robert O. Blake, career diplomat

Updated @6:07 pm:
Added notation on Connan as career officer in the US Foreign Commercial Service (USFCS). 

It’s the Transfer Season, You’re Jobless Once More…

June is almost upon us. In many places around the globe, Foreign Service families are conducting pre-pack surveys, packing out their houses and saying goodbye to colleagues and friends. They return homeless to the United States for a few weeks, staying with relations and friends or shuffling themselves, the kids and their pets from one hotel to another until they are ready to move again, to another part of the globe. This is all part of life that is considered normal in the Foreign Service.

I have great sympathy for those FS spouses and partners who were able to find jobs, because the transfer season also means something else – they are jobless once more. One of my best friends is riding this unicycle again. A job at one post, does not translate to another job at the next post. Excelling at a job at one post, does not mean a whole lot in your next post. A new assignment for the employee also means starting from scratch for their spouses/partners. And when they are in the “starting from scratch” stage, they hear that seemingly broken record of advice from the old — “be flexible,” “reinvent yourself,” keep busy.”

As one male spouse passionately puts it: “I want to shout “Goddamit, I’m not trying to ‘keep busy,’ like poor old grandpa shuffling around his retirement condo, I have a career! I’m good at what I do! I’ve busted my ass to get the experience that I want to put to work!”

Two things made me write this post today. One is an article in State Magazine this month about what the Department is doing to “help” spouses find jobs, and the other is an official report from the OIG about compensation issues for locally employed (LE) staff at U.S. embassies and consulates worldwide. It includes among other things an example of local employees earning less than $1.00 per day, excuse me $3-$4 a day (corrected on May 16).

The article in State Magazine says “Missions help where they can.”

Really?

From what I’ve seen, I don’t know about partners, but at least with spouses – most on the first few years of their tours, appear happy to believe that the Agency is helping where it can to allow them to continue working overseas. You can tell those who have been in the Service for 5-6 years because you can hear them start to question if this were really true. And you can spot those who have reached their 10 year mark, because most have finally come to realize the gravity of their career prospects in the Foreign Service.

The State magazine quotes the director of the State Department’s Family Liaison Office, Leslie Teixeira: “There are not enough employment opportunities within the embassy, and most are clerical and support positions by nature,” she said. What she did not say but the article helpfully points out is that “limited budget means that many positions go to local nationals who are paid on a local scale.”

Let’s put this in context.

The Family Member Employment Statistics – November 2008 currently returns a 404 Error, so I’ll have to use the previously published statistics from 2007.

In the fall of 2007, with 217 overseas posts reporting, the total population of family members overseas was 9,243. Female spouses comprised 80% of the population. MOH and partners are currently not considered EFMs so I presumed that these numbers excluded them. Since no significant hiring also occurred after these stats were published, the 2008 numbers would probably be only slightly changed, accounting for births/adoptions of new dependents and the aging out of dependents. (Children retain the status of eligible family member until they turn 21. Once a child turns 21, he/she can no longer remain on the parent(s) orders and is considered a Member of Household).

According to the FLO numbers, out of this total population – exactly 5,775 family members overseas or a whopping 63% are not working; of those working — 25% do so inside the mission while the remaining 12% works outside the mission.

Extracted from Family Member Employment Statistics 2007
Family Liaison Office, Department of State

In the fall of 2008, U.S. embassies and consulates worldwide employed more than 51,000 Locally Employed (LE) staff in about 170 overseas missions. The total numbers of positions and staff for the Department and other Federal agencies are shown below:

Extracted from OIG Report

There is no way to tell from that FLO statistics how many family members do not work by choice. I think it is telling that there is no statistics reflecting this. I would suggest however, that whatever is the number of the unemployed by choice, they do not constitute 63%.

So — there were almost 6,000 family members not working overseas in 2007, and there were some 5,000 LE positions vacant as of fall 2008.

Isn’t this a match made in heaven? Not so fast…

One of the few times when the State Department was forced to hire family members and US contractors for local jobs, was in Moscow back in the 1980’s when 260 Soviet employees were withdrawn from the embassy. That does not happen very often.

“Missions help where they can.” I’m sorry — but I think believing that is like eating a thick soup of disappointment, with a strong dash of habanero. Too harsh?

But see — even when they can, they won’t. Not because they are evil but because post overseas are holding tight purse strings and must make hard choices. Look — the lowest foreign service position for family members that pays maybe $8/hour would still allow an embassy/consulate to hire a local at $8/day in some places in the world. Or even $3-4 dollar/day as indicated in the OIG report. Maybe not in Seoul, Tokyo or in Europe but certainly, in a large swath of the globe that is possible. So for one US-salaried position, depending on location and standard of living, posts could potentially afford to fund multiple local positions. I would not put the entire lot of blame on post management, after all, its job is to stretch the budget for as far as it can go to fund the mission. In the end the choice is rather simple from a post management perspective — either you keep some spouses unhappy in their journey to self actualization, or you keep most of your mission population together by hiring essential support staff needed to keep the mission and the residences humming.

Somebody said that an unhappy loved one does not have to be the norm … ah, but —

As long as FS family member positions are not centrally funded, we will continue to see high rates of unemployment among the EFM population. And as long as State continue to look at spouses and partners seeking jobs as problems instead of solutions, no one will get central funding for any position. Tomorrow Next I’ll write about State’s soft power approach to spouse employment.

Related Item:
Review of Locally Employed Staff Compensation Issues
Report Number ISP-I-09-44, April 2009 (pdf)