AAFSW 50th Anniversary Special Professional Fellowships for Business Start Ups

Application deadline April 9, 2009

The Associates of the American Foreign Service Worldwide (AAFSW) recently announced a special one-time award of a limited number of fellowship funds to Foreign Service family members to support small business start ups. The one time financial award is in commemoration of AAFSW’s 50 years of service from 1960 to 2010, providing advocacy and support to the Foreign Service.

Click here to read more about this unique opportunity! (PDF)
Click here to download a fellowship application. (PDF)
According to the announcement, this program is based on criteria developed for the Family Liaison Office Professional Development Fellowships, ( 09 STATE 124971) with the caveat that this program funds small business start up costs, which are no longer eligible under the FLO program.
Funds for this program were donated by AAFSW members and Foreign Service community members. This program is a supplement for spouses who have entrepreneurial skills and are considering establishing a portable business overseas. Subject to budgetary considerations, fellowships of up to $1,500.00 will be granted on a reimbursable basis for business start up costs.  
Eligibility: Applicants must be the spouse, or partner of a civilian direct hire USG employee assigned to or residing at an overseas post under chief of Mission authority. The applicant must also be a member of AAFSW at the time of application. Membership information is available on www.aafsw.org or by emailing office@aafsw.org.
Application Procedures: Applications should include the applicant’s name, the name of the sponsoring employee, post and dates of assignment and current contact information. Applications must contain a one to two sentence synopsis followed by a detailed description of the business proposal. The proposal should be directly related to the spouse’s professional interests and skills and how the business will enhance the applicant’s employment as a portable career option. Proposals should include a budget that will provide a general outline of expenses involved and give an indication of how the stipend would be used. The applicant should also include a proportion of the project costs (for example 25% of total costs) that will be self funded. The application should be limited to two (2) pages.  All applications received will be acknowledged by email within 5 business days of receipt.
Non Reimbursed Costs: Travel, transportation, lodging costs, per diem and child care costs are not reimbursable under this program.
Selection Committee: Proposals will be reviewed by a selection committee chaired by AAFSW with members from the organization and a representative from the Family Liaison Office.
Selection Criteria: In selecting grantees, the Selection Committee will consider the following factors:
a. Unavailability of employment options in the applicant’s profession at his/her current post of assignment.
b. Correlation between the proposed business start up activity and professional development of the applicant
c. Favorable consideration will be given to business start ups that benefit the local community, or the American expatriate community as a whole through provision of services not readily available or alternatively in great demand.
Project Completion: Successful applicants will be expected to complete their proposed business start up program within 12 months of being notified of selection. If the proposal is for a later time frame, or the business plan needs more time, the reasons should be clearly stated in the proposal. Fellowship recipients will be required to submit a small business start up report describing activities and accomplishments as well as a financial report providing a detailed budget of the project. Those selected can submit receipts for qualifying expenses incurred at any time during the activity but not later than thirty days after the project completion.
Deadline Date: Proposals are due in AAFSW no later than April 9, 2010.
Proposals can be submitted as follows:
  • Emailed as an attachment to office@aafsw.org
  • Faxed to AAFSW at 703 820-5421
  • Mailed to AAFSW, 4001 North 9th Street, Arlington, VA 22203
Selections will be announced at the AAFSW 50th anniversary program on May 18th in the Benjamin Franklin Room. Successful applicants will be notified prior to this date.
Points of Contact: 
Faye Barnes | AAFSW President at president@aafsw.org
Margaret Teich | Office Manager at office@aafsw.org. (703 820-5420)

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This Embassy Front Office gets high marks but … one section suffers from “weak leadership”

The OIG Inspection Team gave the US Embassy in Belgrade, Serbia high marks for being a “successful engine of US foreign policy.” There are 6 pages in the report addressing executive direction and the performance of the Front Office.  You can tell that the inspection team was quite impressed with this crew and rightfully so. This post has been closed or evacuated four times in the last 15 years and still operates in the compound that was trashed and burned in 1999 and 2008. “Employees must cope with residual trauma from those events, plus cramped, inefficiently arranged, often window-less offices and highly inconvenient access to secure communications.” Excerpts below:
The Ambassador and DCM have overcome enormous obstacles in making Embassy Belgrade a productive, successful engine of U.S. foreign policy. They have transformed Serbia’s interactions with the United States, while ably guiding the embassy community during a traumatic mob attack on the chancery, closure of the Embassy, ordered departure, and eventual return of American staff. The 2008-2009 period tested the Ambassador and DCM far more than is typical and they deserve great credit for inspiring their colleagues to produce impressive results and keep their spirits intact during this prolonged crisis.
The Ambassador’s success derives from his own considerable skills but also from the DCM’s counsel. From being a student through several postings in the region, she has developed unparalleled expertise in Balkan affairs. Her guidance enabled the Ambassador to make his messages resonate effectively in the Serbian psyche; indeed, the turn-around in public opinion about the United States has far more to do with messaging style than any change in U.S. policies. Furthermore, the DCM’s stature as a Balkan expert establishes her own entrée with the Serbian Government and elites, which enables her to act very effectively as chargé d’affaires in the Ambassador’s absence. The Ambassador expressed full confidence in the DCM’s abilities, and the inspectors concurred with his assessment.
The teamwork forged between the Ambassador and DCM and their complementary skills and personalities impressed the inspectors. As is typical, the Ambassador takes the lead in contacts with senior Serbian officials and other figures, and the DCM manages the Embassy, liberating the Ambassador to attend to the many crises in U.S.-Serbian relations. Their partnership goes beyond the typical, however, especially because the Ambassador trusts and draws so much from his colleagues, and because the DCM has so much substantive expertise to offer. Their frank, frequent exchanges also result from the Ambassador’s openness to hearing criticism, advice, and bad news as well as good, and the DCM’s ability to deliver it. She is able, in turn, to speak for the Ambassador without anyone in the embassy community doubting her authority. Additionally, the inspectors noted with approval the informal, collegial atmosphere prevailing during country team and other embassy meetings.
The Ambassador’s leadership style mirrors textbook models: he sets the strategic direction for the Embassy, building consensus among the staff; he then allows them to develop the best tactics for achieving their goals, free of micromanagement. He has the confidence to surround himself with strong people and adjust his thinking when warranted, based on their views; his openness motivates initiative and creative thinking from staff. The DCM develops operational plans that knit together efforts across embassy sections and agencies in a commendable manner.
The laudable practice of delegating authority depends on staff meriting the trust invested in them and the inspectors found two instances where the Ambassador and DCM had trusted senior staff but had not adequately verified their performances. In one case, the Ambassador and DCM adjusted their management style because the head of an important agency in the Embassy had difficulty cooperating with another agency and following the guidance of embassy leadership. The inspectors found, however, that the oversight mechanisms they put in place had not succeeded and needed further tightening. The inspectors counseled the Ambassador and DCM accordingly; they accepted this advice, and implementation will fall to the DCM in her role as chargé after the Ambassador’s departure. The Ambassador and DCM were also unaware that the management of the consular section was unacceptably weak, and they agreed they should have supervised the officer more closely. The inspectors do not wish to imply that the Ambassador and DCM should not have delegated authority as they did; their leadership methods are ideal for most employees. Rather, the inspectors advised the Ambassador and DCM that the cases of the two under-performers demonstrate that leaders must be alert to the need to engage and adjust where necessary because variations in performance can be substantial.
The Ambassador and DCM have distinguished themselves in their public outreach activities. Although not a Serbian speaker, the Ambassador worked so hard on his media skills and, with the DCM’s advice, on his messages that the inspectors heard him called charismatic, “the most popular man in Serbia.” He excels at delivering tough messages cloaked in positive tones. He has sought at least one interview or media appearance per week, reaching provincial audiences as well as elites. The DCM’s fluency in Serbian enables her to form personal connections with the Serbian public via live TV interviews, a notable accomplishment. She hosted an acclaimed event celebrating President Obama’s inauguration. Both officers also reach out often to exchange-program alumni, visitors to the Embassy’s eight outstanding American Corners, and other groups able to influence Serbian views of the United States. The Ambassador has used the Ambassador’s Fund for Cultural Preservation to renovate potent architectural symbols of Serbia’s three major faiths: Orthodox Christianity, Islam, and Catholicism, and thus underline the importance of respecting diversity.
The only spoiler in this report seems to be the Consular Section where the report says “leadership is weak.” The report further states that “The consular section chief and the DCM have not been holding regularly scheduled meetings, yet the DCM holds weekly meetings with the other section chiefs. It is not clear how this problem evolved, since the consular section chief said she had asked for such meetings but apparently did not pursue the issue to conclusion. The lack of meetings is even more difficult to understand given that the DCM had counseled the consular section chief on leadership issues.”  
At the time of inspection, the embassy was led by Ambassador Cameron Munter, who arrived at post on 08/07 and Jennifer L. Brush, the Deputy Chief of Mission who arrived on 09/07. I understand that Ambassador Munter is currently Political/Military Minister Counselor at the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad.  He was succeeded by Mary Warlick, who arrived at post a couple of weeks ago.  Ms. Brush remains as DCM of the embassy in Belgrade but presumably will rotate out this summer.
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This potential “Best Practice” is not

In a potential best practice, the DCM mandated a program wherein entry-level officers in the consular section spend one month during their tour in the section of the Embassy that conforms with their individual cone. If the entry-level officer is consular cone, that person still can work in another section for a month. While the intent of this was admirable in terms of long-term professional development, it has added to the staffing pressures that already existed in the consular section. The continuance of the program could lead the Bureau of Consular Affairs to take away an officer position from the consular section. There are other ways to ensure that entry level officers have professional development opportunities without rotating them formally. The inspection team offered examples to the DCM of how other missions are achieving that goal.

Recommendation 2: Embassy Guatemala City should cease the program in which entry-level officers in the consular section are rotated to other sections in the Embassy for one month during their tour. (Action: Embassy Guatemala City)
From
OIG| Embassy Guatemala City, Guatemala (ISP-I-09-11A) Dec 08 | Note: This report only became available online on 2/2010. Active links added above.

SIGIR Identifies $340M Anomalous Transactions in Iraq Recon Funds

SIGIR might be winding down but it continues its forensic review of Department of Defense (DoD), Department of State (DoS), and U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) expenditures. These reviews systematically examine Iraq reconstruction program expenditures to identify anomalies in transactional data that may indicate fraud, waste, or abuse. From its latest Interim Report (#2) dated January 28, 2010:

SIGIR’s Results to Date
51,000 | additional transactions reviewed by SIGIR
$17.3 billion | value of transactions reviewed by SIGIR
73,000 | total transactions reviewed todate
$28 billion | total value of transactions reviewed todate
$340 million | anomalous transactions identified
800 | approximate number vendors involved with anomalous transactions
27 | criminal investigations opened by SIGIR
36 | total subjects in criminal investigations opened by SIGIR
Anomalous transactions excerpted from the report:
Since our last report, SIGIR has reviewed an additional 51,000 transactions valued at $17.3 billion, bringing the total transactions reviewed to 73,000 transactions valued at $28 billion. We continue to identify numerous anomalous transactions, including payments that may be duplicates, payments to possibly fictitious or generic vendors, notable variances in payment activity, payments occurring prior to or on the date of invoice, and oddly sequential contractor invoices. We also identified payments to firms with what appear to be fictitious addresses, and payments to possibly suspended or debarred contractors.
To date, we have identified almost $340 million in anomalous transactions involving approximately 800 vendors that we are in the process of researching to determine if they are fraudulent or improper. To do this, we are examining the transactions and reviewing relevant contract file documentation. Due to the number of transactions that must be examined, we are prioritizing our work using risk factors such as transaction type and amount and whether there is a prior history of questionable activity. A SIGIR forensic audit team is currently focusing on possible duplicate payments associated with DoD expenditures. In addition, a SIGIR initiative that focuses on programs that afford easy access to cash associated with weak controls over expenditures continues to identify instances of questionable activity. As a result of this effort, to date SIGIR has opened 27 criminal investigations currently involving a total of 36 subjects. Detailed information regarding ongoing criminal investigations will not be presented in these reports.
The results of SIGIR’s forensic audit efforts will generally be reported in the aggregate and specific findings will be included where appropriate and useful. We are also providing lessons learned that can be applied to other contingency operations, such as in Afghanistan.
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