Front Office: Exhibit A for Poor Behavior and Bad Management

NDS had this piece up last week If Something Looks Wrong, It Invariably Is. A good must read, especially if you are a consular officer.  One of the anonymous comments from that post said:  “The real problem is the fact that the State Department does not want to enforce its own rules. If you don’t believe me, please go to and look at grievance case 2004-061, from Sana’a, Yemen. This one should have been resolved in the grievant’s favor at the agency level instead of having been appealed to the FSGB.”

We have always been a curious cat; it’s a surprise we still have all our appendages together.  In any case, we went digging up the case from the FSGB or the Foreign Service Grievance Board.  And ta-da – you can read the PDF file of this case here (original word document converted to PDF for accessibility).  Of course, like all cases in the FSGB website, this one is also scrubbed of post names, dates, or the names of the individuals involved (except in one page, where we have a first name as a clue).
The FSGB document made mention that the Grievant was Chief of the Consular Section at the American Embassy in {Host City}, {Host Country} during the bombing of the {Terrorist Event} and the 9/11 terrorist attacks in the U.S.”  The immediate terrorist event prior to 9/11 was the bombing of USS Cole at the port of Aden, in Yemen in 2000.  It also cited the US attack on Afghanistan on October 8 (2001) when “core staff stayed in the Embassy 24 hours a day for 3 days.”  Further, it mentions Mildred Patterson “[O]n February 9, grievant’s Career Development Officer informed her that Mildred Patterson (Director, CA/EX) was willing to call the DCM or Ambassador to discuss the leave situation, since grievant was now talking about curtailing over the DCM’s micro-management, perceived harassment, and the annual leave controversy.” Are these good enough clues?
So– from best I could tell this case came about from an EER covering the rating period around 2000-2002. Now, the folks who are Exhibit “A” for poor behavior and bad management here are senior rank career Foreign Service officers (although I won’t be surprised if the DCM is an FS-01 on stretch assignment).  The grievant was an FS-02 Consular Officer, and the controversial Excursion Tour Civil Servant (ETCS) filled-in an FS-03 position, a four-grade stretch position. An FS-03 is equivalent to a GS-12.  This one went from what — GS-8 to like GS-12? Holy mother of goat and all her crazy nephews! How’d that happen, I wonder?
I should note that no political appointee ever served as US Ambassador to Yemen. But after reading this case — makes one think – you know, at least bad behavior from political appointees lasts no more than 4-8 years tops; career officers who are bad managers just get recycled from one post to the next. I wonder where these folks went?  Not all Front Office are like this, of course, but this one is so utterly dreadful and not just because of that Superior Honor Award.   

Record of Proceedings | FSGB No. 2004-061
Date:  June 8, 2005 | DECISION – EXCISION
Grievant, an FS-02 Consular Officer, appeals the Department of State’s denial of her grievance alleging that her April {Year} to April {Year} Employee Evaluation Report (EER) is inaccurate and falsely prejudicial, causing the Selection Board to low rank her in {Year}.  For relief she requests removal of the contested language from the EER, replacement of the low-ranking with a mid-ranking, a reconstituted Selection Board and an additional year of time-in-class (TIC).
Grievant was Chief of the Consular Section at the American Embassy in {Host City}, {Host Country} during the bombing of the {Terrorist Event} and the 9/11 terrorist attacks in the U.S.  The DCM and Ambassador were her rating and reviewing officers.  For security reasons, the Consulate was closed to the public for all but emergency citizen services for most of the rating period.  However, work continued and grievant was assisted in the Consular Section by TDY officers and local staff.  In late August {Year} an Excursion Tour Civil Servant (ETCS) arrived at post to fill an FS-03 position.  She was in a four-grade stretch position with almost no prior consular experience.  Five of the critical statements in the EER concerned grievant’s integration and management of the ETCS and designating an acting head of section.  The other two dealt with grievant’s need to be more responsive and sympathetic to services required by her colleagues.
Grievant contends that her relations with the DCM were tense because of his attempts to micromanage the Consular Section and Front Office attempts to circumvent visa referral procedures.  The situation deteriorated after arrival of the ETCS because, although she had a difficult personality, shouted at other officers, did not follow orders, etc., she had a special relationship with the Ambassador and unrestricted access to the Front Office, where she complained about grievant.  Grievant alleges that the Ambassador assisted the ETCS with aspects of her EER and directed grievant’s successor to nominate the ETCS for a Superior Honor Award, which she later received.  She asserts that though she consulted with the DCM on matters pertaining to the ETCS, she was never counseled on better integrating her into her section.  Grievant asserts that in early January {Year} she requested annual leave in late February.  Numerous times grievant discussed with the DCM naming the newly arrived Junior Officer who showed promise as acting head of section over the higher ranking, but inexperienced and unreliable ETCS, but he offered no guidance.  Later, he conditioned approval of her leave on her designating the acting head first, as well as insisting that a consular officer be on duty during part of her leave (in addition to the Embassy duty officer).
The Department solicited statements from a number of individuals present at the Embassy during the rating period, but chose to rely on and quote extensively from lengthy statements by the DCM and Ambassador in support of their EER criticisms in reaching its decision to deny the grievance.  Despite the fact that grievant’s counseling certificate was not drafted and signed by the DCM until four months after the session, the agency asserts that grievant was counseled on managing the ETCS.  It contends that even if an inappropriate relationship existed between the Ambassador and ETCS, a skilled supervisor would have been able to rise to the challenge and handle the difficult situation effectively.  It discounts grievant’s claims that it neglected to give any weight to statements from colleagues about the ETCS or grievant’s responsiveness to Country Team needs by maintaining that the statements do not support a conclusion that the relationship was not solely professional and that in a previous decision this Board found that a supervisor has a stronger vantage point from which to evaluate an employee’s performance, having knowledge of the broader picture and the impact of employee actions on the organization.
The Board determined that the grievant had carried her burden of proof.  In contrast to statements by the DCM and Ambassador, whether solicited by grievant or the Department, numerous statements in the record offered by Embassy colleagues, staff and local employees, overwhelmingly support grievant’s positions on the issues.  The Board found that the relationship between the ETCS and Ambassador made it impossible for grievant to adjust her management style to better integrate the officer into the unit.  By all accounts, grievant was an extremely hard-working, discreet, nurturing supervisor who provided guidance and training for her staff.  She was placed in an untenable position of supervising an inexperienced, temperamental employee who did not follow instructions and who was unhappy with the work and restricted security environment.  The Department has offered nothing in support of its position that a skilled supervisor would be able to successfully rise to meet the management challenge presented here.
Criticisms of grievant’s non-responsiveness to Country Team visa referral requests are equally unsupported.  Security checks and visa processing requirements changed drastically in the wake of the terrorist attacks.  Grievant could not issue visas any sooner than when authorization was received from the Department.  Once again, statements by grievant’s colleagues were specific in mentioning the lack of understanding by the Front Office in grievant’s attempts to do things right.
Likewise, the Board found criticisms for failure to more timely designate her back-up or more adequate explanations for the delay to be falsely prejudicial.  The DCM never indicated how far in advance he considered reasonable.  Grievant apparently named her back-up and the DCM approved her leave request one week in advance.  It is uncontested that there were numerous discussions on this difficult issue, yet instead of offering guidance, the DCM conditioned approval of her leave on inappropriate demands, which precipitated Department intervention.
The Board was not persuaded that grievant had been counseled on her management of the ETCS, but even were she counseled, the Board would have found the criticism falsely prejudicial because of the special relationship between the Ambassador and ETCS.  The Board held that it was patently unfair to criticize grievant for a situation the Ambassador created and which the DCM allowed to continue.
The Board found that the EER did not meet reasonable standards of completeness, balance, accuracy and documentation.  The rater and reviewer were biased against grievant to the point that they were unable to give a fair and reasonable assessment of her performance or potential.  The Department was directed to expunge the EER, nullify the low-ranking, replace it with a gap memo and mid-ranking, and extend grievant’s TIC by one year.

Related Items:
Foreign Service Grievance Board: Case 2004-061 | DECISION – EXCISION | Date:  June 8, 2005 | PDF
Foreign Service blog:  Jen and Michael Kolodner’s Yemen Stories and Pics (2001-2002)

Af/Pak Stabilization Strategery: The Missing Number

The Office of the Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan released its Af/Pak Regional Stabilization Strategy (January 2010) last week.  Briefly — nearly 1,000 personnel on the ground by early 2010 and some 20-30% additional staffing after that.  I’ve dug up an OIG report from last year that talks about staff expansion of protective service in Afghanistan.  If the OIG number actually means 14 FSOs to each of the new consulates in Mazar and Herat plus 67 protective service personnel in each location – that amounts to almost 5 security contract personnel for every direct hire employee.  And we’re not even talking yet about the additional protective service and life support requirements for the 1,000+ surge personnel.

The $400 million indicated below as resource requirement is probably nowhere closed to the actual amount when personal protective service and life support services are taken into account.  Since we unavoidably are going to “surge” the contractors into Afghanistan – shouldn’t we have those numbers?  Just because we can’t see them, doesn’t mean we’re not paying for them. 

By the way, you must see this numbers from Sam Stein about how the Top Defense Contractors Spent $27 Million Lobbying At Time Of Afghan Surge Announcement. Ugh!
Excerpt from Af/Pak Stabilization Strategy: PDF | HTML
Hundreds of civilian experts have answered that call to service, and we are now in the midst of the most significant deployment of U.S. civilian expertise to a war zone in decades. The increase, coordinated by the Office of the Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan and Deputy Secretary of State Jacob Lew, includes some of the top experts from 10 different U.S. government departments and agencies. Many have previous experience in Afghanistan or other conflict environments. U.S. civilian experts contribute to the mission in field, especially in the East and South where a majority of U.S. combat forces are operating and many of the additional 30,000 forces announced by President Obama will deploy. They partner with Afghans to enhance the capacity of national and sub-national government institutions, and to help rehabilitate Afghanistan’s key economic sectors. When their tours are complete, permanent civilian experts are encouraged to continue service on Afghanistan or Pakistan, in Washington or abroad, as well as to help in training their successors. Our goal is to create a cadre of civilian expertise on Afghanistan and Pakistan.
Enhanced Civilian Presence: The vast majority of civilian experts deploy to Afghanistan for a minimum of one year. Under the first phase of this uplift, the civilian footprint in Afghanistan will triple from roughly 300 personnel on the ground in January 2009 to nearly 1,000 on the ground by early 2010. We anticipate further increasing our civilian staffing in 2010 by another 20 to 30 percent, concentrating experts in the field and at key ministries that deliver vital services to the Afghan people. Each U.S. civilian hires or works with an average of 10 Afghans and other implementing partner personnel. Additionally, civilians act as force multipliers for military personnel, helping build relationships with local community leaders and coordinate military civil affairs projects with civilian programs. Civilian personnel will remain deployed in significant numbers even after the security situation improves and our combat troops come home.
Expanded Presence in Ministries and Outside of Kabul: Responding to the Afghan government’s request for targeted technical assistance, we are placing more than 50 additional civilian advisors in core Afghan ministries. Outside of Kabul, we are deploying several hundred additional personnel to more than 50 locations. In addition to staffing PRTs, civilians are living and working alongside forward deployed military units in District Support Teams (DSTs). Civilians will also extend our permanent diplomatic presence outside of Kabul by staffing new consulates in Mazar-e-Sharif and Herat, which will serve as assistance platforms for the North and West and also symbolize our long-term, increasingly normal relationship with Afghanistan.

Resource Requirements
Resources available to meet requirements from FY 2010 and prior year appropriations: approximately $400 million.           
* * *

A publicly released OIG audit of USTC/Blackwater/Xe’s performance in Afghanistan in 2009 includes this item:

“The Department has decided to open consulates in the north of Afghanistan at Mazar-e-Sharif and in the west at Herat. According to Department cable 027341 of March 29, 2009, 14 Foreign Service Officers will be deployed to these locations in 2009. USTC has submitted a proposal to add 67 personnel to each location. The RSO in Kabul has reported that the security threat in Mazar-e-Sharif and Herat is considerably lower security than in Kabul.”

This IG report was prepared last year; before rockets were fired on the new consulate site in western Afghanistan.  

Related Items:

$250 Million to Counter Extremist Voices in Af/Pak Region

This one is extracted from the Office of the Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan’s Af/Pak Regional Stabilization Strategy (January 2010) released last week:

The Taliban and al-Qaeda use information as a weapon, dominating the information space. While our previous strategy focused largely on traditional public diplomacy and communications tools, we are now elevating our communications efforts in importance and innovation. New programs will empower Afghans and Pakistanis to challenge the extremist narrative and offer their own vision for Afghanistan and Pakistan’s future. A sustained media and outreach strategy will set the record straight, highlight key civilian efforts, and explain our larger strategic rationale for the fight in Afghanistan, as well as our strategic support for Pakistan, to the Afghan and Pakistani peoples.
Key Initiatives
Expanded Media Outreach: We will respond more quickly to misinformation, serve as a source of credible information for journalists, conduct polls on key issues, and expand training of Afghan and Pakistani journalists in the United States. We will actively build our partnerships with all parts of Afghan and Pakistani society, including youth, civil society and nongovernmental organizations, and political actors and institutions at all levels.
Building Communications Capacity: Our support will help the Afghan and Pakistani governments communicate effectively with their people, and help people better communicate with one another. We will also leverage new technologies to support people with SMS services, mobile banking, telemedicine, and mobile micro-finance. And we will help build media infrastructure (radio, television, and cell towers) to carry communications into underserved areas dominated by extremist voices.  
  • In Afghanistan, we are supporting the expansion of the Government Media Information Center in Kabul and an additional 16 provincial satellite offices. We will also enhance communications capabilities in core ministries by providing mentoring, public affairs training, and exchange opportunities for communications personnel. 
  • In Pakistan we have helped launch Humari Awaz, Our Voice, the first mobile based social network empowering Pakistan’s 95 million mobile users with a voice. Our Voice mobile users harness mobile phones to instantly share news and information with a network of friends and followers via SMS messages. In five weeks, 20 million messages were sent and over 150,000 people enrolled, with an average of 3,000 new followers joining daily.
Taking Back the Airwaves: We are empowering indigenous voices to drown out extremist propaganda. We will expand local radio coverage and support creation of public, private and university radio stations. Using local partners, we will support distribution of content on all media, and use cell technology to help people build communities and get critical information.
Strengthening People to People Ties: Strengthening ties between all aspects of American, Afghan, and Pakistani society will deepen our long-term partnership. In Afghanistan and Pakistan, we are enhancing educational opportunities, including teacher training and English language training. Secretary Clinton’s three-day visit to Pakistan in October 2009, much of which was covered live on Pakistani television, underscored our new approach by engaging broad segments of Pakistani society in honest dialogue. This approach will be reinforced with a new public diplomacy and communications effort that will feature: greater engagement with Pakistani media; increased academic and business exchanges; and more robust outreach to the Pakistani-American community through the American Pakistan Foundation and similar organizations. We are also increasing professional, educational, and cultural exchanges.
  • 24-hour cell coverage is restored in areas of the South and East of Afghanistan. 
  • Afghans and Pakistanis utilize radio and other media platforms to criticize extremists and hold government officials accountable. 
  • Enemy propaganda is significantly decreased – in quantity and effectiveness – by July 2011. 
  • The number of people-to-people exchanges is doubled by 2012. 
  • U.S. disapproval ratings in Pakistan decrease, with Pakistanis’ increasingly convinced that the United States is committed to a long-term partnership on an array of issues, not just counterterrorism.
Resource Requirements
Resources available to meet requirements from FY 2010 and prior year appropriations: approximately $250 million.