Who’s Storming Which Office to Sink Al Franken’s S.Amdt. 2588?

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Sam Stein at Huffington Post has just posted an update on Al Franken’s Senate Amendment that has now been called the Anti-Rape Amendment.

An amendment that would prevent the government from working with contractors who denied victims of assault the right to bring their case to court is in danger of being watered down or stripped entirely from a larger defense appropriations bill.

Multiple sources have told the Huffington Post that Sen. Dan Inouye, a longtime Democrat from Hawaii, is considering removing or altering the provision, which was offered by Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.) and passed by the Senate several weeks ago.

Inouye’s office, sources say, has been lobbied by defense contractors adamant that the language of the Franken amendment would leave them overly exposed to lawsuits and at constant risk of having contracts dry up. The Senate is considering taking out a provision known as the Title VII claim, which (if removed) would allow victims of assault or rape to bring suit against the individual perpetrator but not the contractor who employed him or her.
The second-longest-serving member of the United States Senate, Inouye is a veteran of WWII. The chairman of the Committee on Appropriations, he has received $294,900 in donations from the defense and aerospace industries over the course of his career, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.

According to the report, “[t]he defense contractors have been storming his office,” said a source with knowledge of the situation.”

Read the whole thing here.

Ugh!!! I’ve just thrown my shoes at my computer screen. But that won’t help.

We can help! Please make time to contact Senator Inouye and tell him not to strip or water down the Franken Amendment, S.Amdt. 2588, from the defense appropriations bill. Call him in DC at Phone: 202-224-3934, Fax: 202-224-6747; in Honolulu at Phone: 808-541-2542, Fax: 808-541-2549; in Hilo at Phone: 808-935-0844, Fax: 808-961-5163. If you’re a HI voter, you can email him here.

Call Capitol Hill and tell your senators to keep the Franken Amendment in the bill. Capitol switchboard phone: 202- 224-3121 to contact your senators. Here is Majority Leader Harry Reid’s Office contact numbers: Phone: 202-224-3542, Fax: 202-224-7327. If you’re a NV voter, you can also email Senator Reid here.

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All the Things We Are – Are Not Learnable

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NDS at Calling a Spade a Spade has an excellent post on selecting a cone or career track in the Foreign Service.

The most significant change to the recruitment process in recent times is the requirement that you choose a career track at the time you take the Foreign Service exam. And until I worked a recent recruitment trip, I didn’t realize how big a deal this has become. The problem, of course, is that very few prospective FSOs have any clue about what work in each of those tracks entails.
My contention is that your choice of career track should depend primarily upon your personality type. Let me explain. In many parts of the world, if you do political or economic reporting, you may write some bang-up cables and does great liaison work. But at the end of the day, you send out your cable, and only God knows whether anyone ever reads it, especially if you work in Carjackistan or Tsunamia.

Read NDS’ Choosing a Cone (or Career Track or Specialty or Whatever They’re Calling It This Week)

I think briefly in the 90’s, the State Department did experiment with taking in entry level officers without preselecting their career tracks. I can’t remember now how long that lasted, or if an in-depth study of its impact was ever conducted. I knew of a couple of folks who wanted to be in the political cone and who were really unhappy when they ended up assigned to the consular and management cones. But I’ve lost track of them so I can’t say if they got out or were able to reconcile themselves to their bureaucratic fates.

I do think that the selection of career tracks ought to be driven by personality type but also strengths. Strengths with its three ingredients as Marcus Buckingham put it: talents (things you’re born with), skills (things you can learn) and knowledge (facts and lessons learned, including self-awareness). But State doesn’t necessarily recruit for specific skills or talents and only test job applicants on general knowledge. Its recruitment drive is to find well-rounded individuals that the organization can mold grow into successful representatives of the government.

But the notion of a well-rounded individual is a myth. The most successful people in the world are not conformist or cookie cutter-images of each other but unique individuals with edges and sharpness uniquely their own… Bill Gates, Larry Ellison, Richard Branson.

Of course, in diplomacy, there is Richard Holbrooke, the larger than life character who is currently SRAP to the most turbulent part of the world. He is probably best known for the Dayton Peace Accords, but also widely known for his aggressiveness and short temper. Which made this British Ambassador mused “I have often wondered why precisely we Europeans cannot produce anyone like Holbrooke to lead our diplomatic effort with bravura and amusing confidence, plus ruthless bullying/intimidation.”

As an aside — Holbrooke joined the Foreign Service during the Vietnam War. I doubt if it surprised anyone that he did not stay put in the Foreign Service in order to climb the ladder of career ambassadorship.

In any case, perhaps the reason why Europeans cannot produce anyone like Richard Holbrooke is because there are things inherent in all of us that cannot be “produced.” Things that when absent, we cannot compensate by skilling-up or by training.

I once knew a public diplomacy officer, before it was called that, who was promoted up to become the chief of a branch post. He was a nice guy with a deep technical background but had no feel for connecting with the public and was under skilled in managing his small crew. He did his best – he gained experience, learned his lessons and he went to trainings. But no amount of experience or training could hide the fact that at most, he was a mediocre representative of the United States government in the field.

There is, too, former Secretary of State, Colin Powell. Say what you will about Secretary Powell’s speech to the UN in the lead up to the war in Iraq, but the fact is Colin Powell’s speeches are always delivered in near perfect pitch, always. And the Toast Masters had nothing to do with it. (If you missed his leadership lecture at the State Department, btw, check it out here). The US Army did not start with a blank slate with Colin Luther Powell in 1958. It honed what was already there.

This contrarian believes that all the things we are – are not learnable.

The self-improvement market in the US worth $11.06 Billion in 2008 would disagree. And so would the State Department’s Human Resource Bureau.

This is, of course, contrary to what we’ve been taught most of our lives – that we can be anything we want to be. That we can put in what was left out. And that turning square-peg people into well-rounded ones in perfectly round holes is a real possibility especially in a bureaucracy.

All the things we are – are not learnable. That’s not my excuse, just pragmatism. So thanks, but no thanks. I like my square peg edges.

The Greatest Possibility of Success

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Sometimes Al Kamen’s column is more fun than a barrel of monkeys. He just awarded the State Department’s HR Bureau with The Loop Better-Late-Than-Never award.

“The bureau, in an Oct. 13 notice, said it had awarded a $1.6 million contract to Campion Services Inc. in West Lafayette, Ind., to “assist the department in ensuring that all examinations for Foreign Service [jobs] have been professionally validated and constitute a reliable means of identifying those applicants with the greatest possibility of success in the foreign service.” Well, good thing the department’s only been hiring for a couple of hundred years.”

Okay — some folks I know take themselves too seriously at times; they’d burst if they laugh. Don’t get mad at Al. Relax, have a good laugh. It’s good for the soul.

I’ll try to explain. See it’s pretty much like insurance – a “just in case” thingy.

article cited the Foreign Service Written Exam as “a proven cognitive test, and the Oral Assessment” — both considered a “gold standard” by McKinsey. The State Department reportedly rolled out its Total Candidate hiring strategy a couple years back at the recommendation of the same management consulting agency.

My educated guess is that State just wants to “ensure” that this upgraded “gold standard” strategy actually works. One – because what if it doesn’t? Just imagine the implications. {Um, can they actually compare the success rate of intakes before and after the Total Candidate roll out?} Two- They need the professionals to validate that what they know is true. OMG! Would they know … what if … you rise up to that possibility of success now but not 10-20 years from now? Would they really know?

A reliable means to identify applicants with the greatest possibility of success …

You think maybe that means success in day to day work?

Or is that success with a capital “S” after every tour?

{Or is it success like in Afghanistan – “we’ll know it when we see it?”}

Is it a well-lived life? The sum of all experiences in a culture not your own? Is it the richness of friends across the globe crossing time zones, languages and cultures?

Is it surviving 30 years of conformity going to places you’re asked to go, saying things you’re asked to say? A marriage intact after assignments to 8 countries in 6 continents {let’s skip Antarctica, that’s a slushy assignment there}? An ambassadorial assignment? There are 173, give or take, resident ambassador assignments every four years or so. {A third of that goes to political appointees with about 115 to career diplomats}. I don’t know what the current number of the Senior Foreign Service is but I know it gets crowded at the top.

{Is it as Albert Einstein’s says: “If A equals success, then the formula is A equals X plus Y and Z, with X being work, Y play, and Z keeping your mouth shut?”}

Is that officially depressing now? I meant to serve sweet, not sweet and sour. It’s Al Kamen’s fault for bringing up that $1.6 million contract.

I digress. In any case — there was something I really wanted to say. Oh success.

Whether you consider success a journey or a destination, best have a plan in place on what scenery you intend to see or how to get to your destination. This is not an advice. Just reality. To paraphrase Winnie-the-Pooh’s creator, A. A. Milne, planning is what you do before you do something, so that when you do it, it is not all mixed up.