Secretary Clinton’s Mumbai Meet and Greet

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton on stage
with Timothy J. Roemer, U.S. Ambassador-Designate to India (R),
and Consul General Paul Folmsbee (L) during the address to
Mumbai Consulate staff at the Taj Palace Hotel
in Mumbai, India July 19, 2009.
[State Department photo]

It’s good to see the Secretary of State as both troop leader and cheerleader-in-chief during her stop at the Consulate General in Mumbai. At the end of every tasker is a desk with a human being, but not everyone in the State leadership ladder has always remembered that. Given the Mumbai ordeal a few months ago, and the exploding consular workload there (typical wait time for visa interviews range from 3-17 days within US Mission India), I find it refreshing that she made an effort to do this meet and greet and recognize publicly the Foreign Service employees work in hard numbers:

“Last year you processed more than half-a-million visa interviews, and 18,000 legal permanent resident interviews, with total work hours close to 60,000. There has been a 200 percent increase in total staffing here in the past 10 years…With over 300 employees, you have outgrown the former Maharaja’s Palace that has been the home for you for many years. And I am pleased that by 2010 you will be able to move into the new consulate complex. You are replacing history with modernity and new technology and a lot of the other needs that you have been telling us are required.”


The new US Ambassador to India, Timothy Roemer was confirmed on time to accompany the Secretary on this trip. See Ambassador Roemer’s brief talk and the Secretary’s meet and greet talk to Consulate employees here.

I understand that the new Consulate General building in Mumbai that opens next year will feature 46 service windows, a significant increase from post’s current 17 windows. India has also been designated since 2006 as a single, countrywide consular district, which allows the India posts to shift officers and/or workload to best match resources with demand. Under their appointment system, the Minister Counselor for Consular Affairs in New Delhi designates which applicants may apply at another post with a shorter wait time. All good news, but there’s more…

Still on India — I am hearing that Don Jacobson, until recently Counselor for Consular Affairs at the US Embassy Riyadh is heading to New Delhi as the new Consul General there. Don Jacobson, is a career FSO who runs the GovLeaders.org website and has added an accompanying blog to his site earlier this year. James Herman who was previously Deputy Director of CA/CST is also reportedly heading to New Delhi as the Minister Counselor for Consular Affairs (MCCA). I understand that you’re considered lucky if heading to a consular tour in India with these two guys running the shop.


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14 State Dept Nominees Clears the SFRC

The following nominees for the State Department have cleared the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and are currently waiting for the full Senate Vote.

Jul 08, 2009 Reported by Mr. Kerry, Committee on Foreign Relations, without printed report.


Capricia Penavic Marshall
of the District of
Columbia, to be Chief of Protocol, and to have
the rank of Ambassador during her tenure of
service, vice Nancy Goodman Brinker,
resigned.


Philip L. Verveer,
of the District of Columbia,
for the rank of Ambassador during his tenure
of service as Deputy Assistant Secretary of
State for International Communications and
Information Policy in the Bureau of
Economic, Energy, and Business Affairs and
U. S. Coordinator for International
Communications and Information Policy.


Nancy J. Powell,
of Iowa, a Career Member of
the Senior Foreign Service, Class of Career
Minister, to be Director General of the
Foreign Service, vice Harry K. Thomas, Jr.,
resigned.


Maria Otero,
of the District of Columbia, to be
an Under Secretary of State (Democracy and
Global Affairs), vice Paula J. Dobriansky,
resigned.

Jul 21, 2009 Reported by Mr. Kerry, Committee on Foreign Relations, without printed report.


Anne Elizabeth Derse
, of Maryland, 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
Lithuania.


Carlos Pascual
, of the District of Columbia, to
be Ambassador Extraordinary and
Plenipotentiary of the United States of
America to Mexico.


Kenneth H. Merten
, 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 Republic of
Haiti.


Donald Sternoff Beyer, Jr
, of Virginia, to be
Ambassador Extraordinary and
Plenipotentiary of the United States of
America to Switzerland, and to serve
concurrently and without additional
compensation as Ambassador Extraordinary
and Plenipotentiary of the United States of
America to the Principality of Liechtenstein.


John R. Nay
, 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 the Republic of Suriname.


Vinai K. Thummalapally
, of Colorado, to be
Ambassador Extraordinary and
Plenipotentiary of the United States of
America to Belize.


Nicole A. Avant
, of California, to be
Ambassador Extraordinary and
Plenipotentiary of the United States of
America to the Commonwealth of The
Bahamas.


Howard W. Gutman
, of Maryland, to be
Ambassador Extraordinary and
Plenipotentiary of the United States of
America to Belgium.


Vilma S. Martinez
, of California, to be
Ambassador Extraordinary and
Plenipotentiary of the United States of
America to Argentina.


David H. Thorne
, of Massachusetts, to be
Ambassador Extraordinary and
Plenipotentiary of the United States of
America to the Italian Republic, and to serve
concurrently and without additional
compensation as Ambassador Extraordinary
and Plenipotentiary of the United States of
America to the Republic of San Marino.

The nominee to be Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs, Arturo Valenzuela and nominee to be Ambassador to Brazil, Thomas Shannon are still stuck in committee. Senator Jim DeMint (R-SC) is reportedly the reason for the delayed committee votes on these two nominees due to his objections over the Administration’s Honduran policy.


Also Jeffrey D. Feltman
(reported out of Committee on May 19), of Ohio, a Career Member of the Senior Foreign Service, Class of Minister-Counselor, to be an Assistant Secretary of State (Near Eastern Affairs), vice C. David Welch is still snared in Senate Hold.





Quickie: Downsizing US Embassy Baghdad; Yes, Please!

On July 22, Warren P. Strobel of McClatchy Newspapers reports on “Big cuts needed at huge Baghdad embassy built by Bush.”

The U.S. Embassy in Iraq, the government’s largest overseas diplomatic mission, is significantly overstaffed and needs to be downsized to reflect the reduced American role in the country, according to a new State Department report.

“There is a clear consensus from the top to the bottom of the embassy: The time has come for a significant rightsizing,” says the report Wednesday by the department’s inspector general.

In addition to downsizing the embassy, the report recommends ending the Provincial Reconstruction Teams by 2011, which have been the prime U.S. tool for rebuilding civilian life in Iraq’s provinces.

“For some, it (the downsizing) is much overdue, as they believe the ‘civilian surge’ went too far,” the report says. “For others, it is a necessary result of the now-changed circumstances in Iraq and in our bilateral relationship.”


Good lordy, it’s about time! I’m still hunting down the OIG report on this. Will post as soon as it’s available online. In the meantime, read the full Strobel report
here.


Update: Link to OIG report added @ 11:57pm

Embassy Baghdad, Iraq
OIG Report Number ISP-I-09-30A, July 2009
http://oig.state.gov/documents/organization/126600.pdf

You can’t serve in Iraq if you’re on MEDs?

Peter Van Buren is a Foreign Service Officer with 20 years experience under his belt. He is trying to go to Iraq and has gone public with his quest. The following piece from US Foreign Service Officer Denied Iraq Service is reprinted in full via Cryptome. No mainstream media, as far as I know, has covered Mr. Van Buren’s case (more sexy to cover diplomats who refused to go):


This is my story. I am a Foreign Service officer trying to actually go to Iraq instead of trying to get out of serving there. Please feel free to contact me at work 703-875-4344 or by email. If you’d like to contact the Department of State about this matter, please call Acting Director General Teddy Taylor at 202-647-9438. I can supply emails with the quotes noted below if you’d like. Peter Van Buren
* * *
The Department still works hard to round up enough volunteers though apparently is ready to cut out willing FSOs because they are afraid they’ll get depressed. No kidding.
Peter Van Buren has served with the Foreign Service for over 20 years. He received a Meritorious Honor Award for assistance to Americans following the Hanshin Earthquake in Kobe in 1995, a Superior Honor Award for assisting an American rape victim in Japan and another award for work in the Tsunami Relief efforts in Thailand. Unlike many of his colleagues, he has worked extensively with the military while overseeing evacuation planning in Japan and Korea. This experience includes multiple field exercises and drills, plus civil-military conferences in Seoul, Tokyo, Hawaii and Sydney, working closely with allies from the UK, Australia and elsewhere. He was selected to travel to Camp Lejeune in 2006 to participate as “Ambassador” in a week-long field exercise that included simulated Iraqi conditions and problems. Van Buren spent a year on the Hill and brings that understanding of Congress to Iraq.
Sounds like the kind of guy you’d want in a PRT in Iraq, right?
Van Buren wants to go, and the assignments office in the Department offered him a senior team leader job in Anbar. The problem is that Van Buren suffers from depression, treated with the drugs you see advertised on TV all the time, and the State Department Medical Office says they can’t support depressed people in Iraq. Med came to the stunning conclusion in Van Buren’s case that “there are strong safety and health concerns for any in Iraq at this time. In addition, living conditions are most austere.” Better yet, Med first approved Van Buren for Iraq and then pulled the decision back a week later after the Medical Officer in Baghdad, there for only one week, balked.
Despite the denial, Van Buren remains committed to the job. He is appealing the decision internally at State and has even contacted Senator Webb’s office seeking assistance.
“Success in Iraq remains a vital component of U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East, and the PRTs are central to President Obama’s Iraq strategy. The State Department continues to need the very best to serve as PRT leaders to ensure that our effort in Iraq remains strong,” said the State Department in a recent cable to the field seeking volunteers for Iraq.
Too bad Med did not get the memo.
Below is the composition of the PRTs in Iraq as of last year:
According to the GAO, the United States was leading 28 of 31 PRTs and other coalition countries were leading 3 PRTs in Iraq. As of August 2008, three types of U.S.-led PRTs were operating in Iraq: 11 PRTs at the provincial level of government; 13 ePRTs embedded with U.S. brigade combat teams and operating in local governments in Baghdad, Anbar, Babil, and Diyala provinces; and 4 Provincial Support Teams (PST), which are smaller PRTs that cannot be based in the intended province due to security concerns. PRTs and ePRTs are a joint State and DOD mission, operating under the command of both the Ambassador and the MNF-I Commanding General.
All U.S. PRTs and ePRTs in Iraq are led by the State Department and consist primarily of civilian personnel. The teams, however, rely heavily on U.S. military forces for their security, food, housing, and other support. The Office of Provincial Affairs at the U.S. embassy in Baghdad directs and supports the operations of PRTs and ePRTs, providing political and economic direction to team members. The military commander has authority over the security and movement of ePRTs; many others provide security for PRTs that are colocated with U.S. military units.

Given the drawdown of military presence in Iraq, I’m sure the PRT numbers and composition will probably change with the needs on the ground. But then again, I don’t know how much of that would impact this case, since MED is the one saying “no” to this one. Will keep you posted if we learn anything more about this case.

As I understand it — MED has agreed to “re-review” Mr. Van Buren’s case if the Department were to offer him a Baghdad PRT vice something further afield. The idea probably so MED could “monitor” him if he was in Baghdad. I wonder how much of that is CYA and how much monitoring that really means?

Considering the challenges that FSOs and their families are subjected to in missions all over the globe, the constant relocation and reinvention of self every 2-4 years, the fragmentation of one’s emotional life as you leave friends and make friends anew and the missing presence of extended families and relations — I’m surprised that not many more are suffering from depression. One other FSO is also wrestling with MED for exactly the same reason as Mr. Van Buren’s.

Which begs the questions of — 1) how often does MED really screen for depression unless it’s self reported by the employees and the family members? (Presently, you can simply update your medical records when you relocate to a new place; you won’t even need a physician to give you a thorough look see under the hood …). And 2) If you suffer from depression but do not seek treatment, what’s the chance of you ending up in Iraq or Afghanistan or one of the hardship posts in the FS?

Related Item:
GAO-09-86R PROVINCIAL RECONSTRUCTION TEAMS
October 1, 2008 | PDF

SFRC Hearings: Six Ambassador-Nominees at the Senate Today

Huntsman, Roos, Addleton, Taylor, Campbell, Gross


COMMITTEE ON FOREIGN RELATIONS
UNITED STATES SENATE
111th CONGRESS
1st Session


Date:
Thursday, July 23, 2009
Time:
9:30 A.M.
Place:
419 Dirksen Senate Office Building
Presiding:
Senator Webb


Nominees:


Panel 1

  • The Honorable Jon M. Huntsman Jr., of Utah
    to be Ambassador to
    the People’s Republic of China

  • John V. Roos, of California
    to be Ambassador to Japan

Panel 2

  • Jonathan S. Addleton, of Georgia
    to be Ambassador to Mongolia

  • Teddy Bernard Taylor, of Maryland
    to be Ambassador to Papua New Guinea,
    and to serve concurrently and without additional
    compensation as Ambassador to the Solomon Islands
    and Ambassador to the Republic of Vanuatu

  • Martha Larzelere Campbell, of Michigan
    to be Ambassador to
    the Republic of the Marshall Islands

  • Kenneth E. Gross Jr., of Virginia
    to be Ambassador to the Republic of Tajikistan

You can check my new Ambassadors Hearing Page for quick links to videos and confirmation statements of the nominees.