Owlers: "Particularly Qualified" Letters Sent to Diplomats

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Last week, President Obama signed the Presidential Memorandum on Federal Benefits and Non-Discrimination, followed by Secretary Clinton’s statement on the granting of benefits to same-sex partners of Foreign Service employees. H.R. 2346 (which grants overseas comparability pay to Foreign Service employees class 1 or below) also cleared Congress late last week and just awaiting the President’s signature …

In related news that might just be as interesting …

I understand that the owl mail started hitting workstations last week. I received a tip that Career Development Officers (CDOs) have sent out DG-drafted letters late last week to Foreign Service officers deemed “particularly qualified” for service in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan.

One officer who received the targeted recruitment letter was quite surprised. Why? Well, because the job this officer was targeted for requires a specific language proficiency (which this FSO does not have) and reporting on economic conditions (FSO had no previous experience in the country nor in writing economic reports). The last time we’ve seen similar letters was about two years ago when State was staffing the diplomatic surge in Iraq, and diplomats were under threat of being sent on directed assignments.

The letter was received via unclassified email with no other restriction; it says in part:

[…]I am writing to inform you that the Department considers you among those particularly well qualified for the following XX positions and is asking you to seriously consider volunteering for an opportunity to tackle one of our nation’s top foreign policy priorities by bidding on:

XXXX (Country)(Post) XXX XXXX

[…] You are considered well qualified because your record of achievement indicates that you have the knowledge, skills and experience, as defined by the Embassy, to be successful in these positions.[…]

The targeted recruitment letter says that the goal is 100% volunteer but it includes a short blurb — if positions remained unfilled, the recipient would be in a pool of qualified individuals potentially subject to identification. Identification for a directed assignment, that is, although those two words are not found anywhere in the letter.

I don’t know if anyone should really be surprised by this. The military is expected to draw down soon in Iraq but there is no corresponding expectation for the draw down of US diplomatic presence there. So even as the State Department ramps up its diplomatic surge in Afghanistan and Pakistan, the demand for FS personnel in Iraq will not abate.

As an aside — I am presuming that the push is still there to staff these critical posts first before all other mission staffing will be considered. So now — you have the Iraq tax, and the Af/Pak tax. Personnel destined for assignments to other missions now have also reportedly either curtailed or have changed assignments to go to Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan this summer. Which is good, except that the losing posts won’t necessarily find replacements for those personnel even with projected increased hiring this summer/fall. I am told that in a couple of posts, an FSO is quad-hatted (is that the term?) working as the human resource officer, financial management officer, and general services officer in addition to his/her full-time job.

This is of course, for next year’s assignment cycle. But would volunteers continue to step up year after year? We’re on Year 6 going on 7 in Iraq, plus Year 1 going on 4, at least in Af/Pak (under new policy). I’m not sure how long you can keep recycling the same volunteers (who are language qualified or with reporting or stabilization experience) into the war zones or into critical post. Aren’t there folks doing their third tour in Iraq? (I should note that the most recent DCM coming out of Iraq is tapped for Sri Lanka; and the most recent DCM coming out of Kabul is going to Kosovo).

In the big hullabaloo back in 2007, the outgoing Director General, Harry Thomas was quoted by TWP as saying that in the future, “everyone in the Foreign Service is going to have to do one out of three tours in a hardship post.” Those who have not served in hardship assignments in the past will not be punished, but they all have to realize that there are “different conditions” now than in the past, he said.

If what he said holds true, that’ll be 3 years every 9 years spent in a hardship post. The problem with that calculation is from Afghanistan to Zimbabwe, the number of hardship posts seems to be expanding year after year.

Officially In: James B. Foley to Zagreb

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On June 19, President Barack Obama announced his intent to nominate James B. Foley to be Ambassador to the Republic of Croatia. Official bio released by the WH below:

James B. Foley, a career member of the Senior Foreign Service, has served as the State Department’s Senior Coordinator for Iraqi Refugee Issues since 2007, working to alleviate the plight of several million Iraqis displaced by the war.

Previously, Mr. Foley served as faculty member and Deputy Commandant of the National War College from 2006-2007, as Diplomat-in-Residence at the State University of New York at Fredonia from 2005-2006, and as U.S. Ambassador to Haiti from 2003-2005.

He joined the Foreign Service in 1983 and served overseas as vice consul and political officer in Manila, Philippines from1984-1986 and as political officer in Algiers, Algeria from1986-1988. Mr. Foley was subsequently a speechwriter and adviser to former Secretary of State Lawrence S. Eagleburger from 1989-1993 and Deputy Director of the Private Office of the NATO Secretary General in Brussels, Belgium from 1993-1996. He was special assistant to the late Senator Paul Coverdell from 1996-1997 under the State Department’s Pearson Fellowship program, and served as State Department Deputy Spokesman and Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary for Public Affairs from 1997-2000.

Mr. Foley received his B.A. from the State University of New York at Fredonia and an M.A. from the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy.

* * *

If confirmed, Mr. Foley would succeed Robert Anthony Bradtke, a career diplomat who was appointed US Ambassador to Croatia in 2006. Embassy Zagreb was opened Aug 25, 1992, with Ronald Nietzke as Chargé d’Affaires ad interim. In the short history of the US diplomatic presence in Croatia, the only non-career appointee ever to serve there was Peter W. Galbraith of Vermont who was US Ambassador from June 1993-Jannuary 1998.

Related Item:
President Obama Announces More Key Administration Posts, 6-19-09

Officially In: John R. Bass to Tbilisi

US Embassy Tbilisi, Georgia – State Magazine, June 2009

On June 19, President Barack Obama announced his intent to nominate John R. Bass to be Ambassador to Georgia. Official bio released by the WH below:

John Bass has led the Provincial Reconstruction Team-Baghdad, a joint team of civilians and military personnel supporting the government and citizens of Baghdad province, since July 2008.

Prior to serving in Iraq, Mr. Bass served as Director of the State Department Operations Center for three years, coordinating the State Department’s response to crises threatening American embassies, personnel and citizens. A career member of the Senior Foreign Service, Mr. Bass also has served in Italy, Belgium and Chad. In Washington, his assignments include a detail to the Office of the Vice President as Special Advisor for Europe and Eurasia, Chief of Staff to Deputy Secretary Strobe Talbott and special assistant to the Deputy Secretary for Europe and Eurasia. Other assignments at the State Department include work on Turkey, Cyprus, NATO-Russia relations and conventional arms reductions in Europe.

Mr. Bass joined the Foreign Service in 1988. Born and raised in upstate New York, Mr. Bass holds a B.A. from Syracuse University.

* * *

If confirmed, Mr. Bass would succeed John F. Tefft, a career diplomat who was appointed US Ambassador to Tbilisi in 2005. Embassy Tbilisi was established on April 23, 1992, with Carey Cavanaugh as Chargé d’Affaires ad interim. No political appointee has yet succeeded in getting appointed as US Ambassador to Tbilisi.

Related Item:
President Obama Announces More Key Administration Posts, 6-19-09

Officially In: Ertharin Cousin to UN – FAO

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On June 19, President Barack Obama announced his intent to nominate Ertharin Cousin as U.S. Representative to the United Nations Agencies for Food and Agriculture with the rank of Ambassador during her tenure of service. Official bio released by the WH below:

Ertharin Cousin currently serves as President of The Polk Street Group, a national public affairs firm located in Chicago, Illinois. Cousin is a national leader in the domestic hunger relief community, and served as one of the leading African American corporate executives in the retail food community.

She has served as the Executive Vice-President and COO of America’ Second Harvest, now known as Feeding America (2004-2006), board member for America’s Second Harvest (2002-2004), and a member of Board for International Food and Agriculture Development (1997-2000). Her professional experiences in retail food have included assignments as Senior Vice President Public Affairs, Albertsons Foods (2001-2004); Group Vice President Public Affairs, Albertsons Foods (1999-2001); Vice-President Government and Community Affairs, Jewel Food stores (1997-1999).

During her service as White House Liaison at the State Department (1994-1996), Cousin was awarded the Meritorious Service Award. Before coming to Washington, she served as Assistant Illinois Attorney General, Deputy Director of the Chicago Ethics Board and a member of the affirmative action enforcement team at the Water Reclamation District.

Born in Chicago, Illinois, Cousin is a graduate of the University of Illinois at Chicago, and the University of Georgia School of Law.

* * *

If confirmed, Ms. Cousin would replace Gaddi Vasquez, a former Peace Corps Director appointed as the 8th US Representative to the UN Agencies for Food and Agriculture in 2006 during George W. Bush’s second.

Related Item:
President Obama Announces More Key Administration Posts, 6-19-09

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