MFAN: Prepares to blog the State Department’s QDDR

Modernizing Foreign Assistance Network (MFAN) is a reform coalition composed of international development and foreign policy practitioners, policy advocates and experts, concerned citizens and private sector organizations.

MFAN’s goal is to help build a safer, more prosperous world by strengthening the United States’ ability to alleviate extreme poverty, create opportunities for growth, and secure human dignity in developing countries. Its members are “some of the most well known experts and organizations in the world. They make up the critical link between U.S. international development policy and its practice in the field, providing a unique perspective that informs its recommendations for streamlining and enhancing U.S. investments in the health, stability and economic growth of developing countries.” See more of the leadership here.

The release of initial findings from the State Department’s landmark Quadrennial Diplomacy & Development Review (QDDR) will for the first time provide a strategic blueprint for U.S. development and foreign assistance efforts. MFAN considers this a key moment in the long push for foreign assistance reform, and has launched a blog series to ensure lively debate about the goals and impacts of the QDDR (the preliminary report expected to be released sometime in April with the full report to be released in fall this year). 

The maiden post was by MFAN Co-Chair George Ingram (MFAN QDDR Blog Series: Time for Hard Questions | March 16th, 2010). This was followed by QDDR Blog Series: MFAN Principal Noam Unger on the Relation to the PSD on March 17th, 2010.

Development experts from across the MFAN community will post blogs on the QDDR and the importance of transparency, civil society engagement, gender, ownership, and legislation to making U.S. foreign assistance more effective and accountable. 

Check back here and on www.Twitter.com/ModernizeAid for the group’s updates.

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The Cat in a Hat’s Tale from Ambassador Godec

Robert F. Godec is currently the Principal Deputy Coordinator for Counterterrorism in the Department of State. From 2006 to 2009, he served as U.S. Ambassador to Tunisia. Ambassador Godec has also served as a Deputy Assistant Secretary in the Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs and was Deputy Coordinator for the Transition in Iraq, charged with organizing the transition of policy and operational elements of the Coalition Provisional Authority and the standup of U.S. Mission Iraq.

During his time as US Ambassador to Tunisia, Ambassador Godec blogged at Tumbler here. One of our favorite posts was one he did about a year ago on “Reading Rocks!” at the American Cooperative School of Tunis.  Below are some kids dressed up as their favorite book characters and two ambassadors playing along. That’s UK Ambassador Chris O’Connor in the Union Jack hat and Ambassador Godec as the Cat in the Hat.

Photo from Ambassador Godec’s blog

The Cat in the Hat’s Tale (Or… Why reading is magic!)
A poem by Bob Godec (with apologies to Dr. Seuss)
Written for the ACST “Reading Rocks!” Assembly | March 2009

I’ve come here today
With my striped hat and tie
For reading is magic
And I want to say why.

So this I must tell,

For it is just what is true
When you read a good book
You’ll never be blue.

Left all alone?

No one to play?
Read a short story
It’ll take you away!

With books as your friends

You’ll go many places
Some far, far away…
Why you’re off to the races!

There’ll be castles and dragons

And flights to the moon
Oh my,
my,
my,
my,
Don’t you want to go soon?

One day you can run

A race out on Mars
And the next you can sip
Tea with the stars.

You can cross a great desert

On a camel, in the sun
And find a lost kingdom
Now won’t that be fun!

Want to climb a tall mountain?

Meet a wizard or two?
Just open a book
There’ll be wonders for you.

For me a good book

Or a story so right
Is just what it takes
To make life really bright.

So I hope you will read

And give adventure a try
For there’s magic in words
And now you know why.

Well it’s time, I must go

But I’ll leave you with this
Trust the Cat in the Hat
And you just cannot miss.


Turkmenistan Crime and Safety 2010 Report Released

Tolkuchka Bazaar, Ashgabat, TurkmenistanImage via Wikipedia

OSAC released its Crime and Safety Report on Turmeninstan in early March. Quick summary below:

The Government of Turkmenistan publishes no crime statistics, but the overall rate of crime appears to be low.  Foreigners are rarely the targets of violent crime, although women in isolated surroundings face an increased risk of harassment or assault.
Foreigners  are often perceived as wealthy, encouraging occasional crimes of opportunity. Petty thieves tend to operate in crowded markets frequented by tourists, such as the Tolkuchka Bazaar. Maintaining a heightened sense of awareness and careful protection of valuables can greatly reduce the chances of becoming a victim in these locations.  Displaying large quantities of cash is inadvisable.  In the center of Ashgabat, large numbers of police and other security personnel tend to deter petty crime.
There is a relatively high rate of home burglaries, as local citizens tend to keep their cash at home rather than at local banks. Home burglaries are not common for expatriates, but good residential security measures are recommended.
Violent crime does exist in Turkmenistan.  Although not publicized or officially made known to the RSO, crimes such as rape and murder are not uncommon to Turkmenistan.  These crimes affect the local population more than they affect foreigners and expatriates, and they are often linked to the drug trade and/or prostitution.

Terrorist groups such as the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, al-Qa’ida, and the Eastern Turkistan Islamic Movement are active in Central Asia.  However, there have been no reports of these groups operating within Turkmenistan. Terrorists do not distinguish between official and civilian targets.  Due to increased security at official U.S. facilities worldwide, terrorists are seeking softer civilian targets such as residences, clubs, restaurants, places of worship, hotels, schools, events, and resorts.  Travelers to the country should carefully weigh Turkmenistan’s proximity to regions of past and current instability.

Read the whole thing here


Colton v. Clinton: Defendant has “memorialized its discriminatory practices" in its SOPs

On December 22, 2009 The Blog of Legal Times reported an update on the Colton v. Clinton case (State Department Seeks to Dismiss Age Discrimination Case). Excerpt below:  

The State Department filed its motion to dismiss a case challenging the U.S. Foreign Service‘s mandatory retirement policy, arguing the age cutoff was a valid piece of Congressional decision making.

Elizabeth Colton, a 64-year-old Foreign Services officer, sued the State Department in September alleging she had been denied an overseas assignment because of her age.

[…]
The government shot back yesterday, arguing that Colton was trying to upend long-settled law. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit has already found that the retirement policy at issue, which is contained in the Foreign Services Act, was exempt from the ADEA, the government said. It added that the Supreme Court has also ruled that the age cutoff does not violate equal protection.


BLT’s prior coverage of the case, Colton v. Clinton is here. Our latest coverage on this is in Who wants well-aged diplomats well refined?

Last month, Dr. Colton and her lawyers fired back, with an opposition to the State Department’s Motion to Dismiss and moved for discovery. The filing includes the following:

The State Department believes it can discriminate against Foreign Service Officers on the basis of their age without fear of recourse. Defendant’s relies on the Foreign Service Act of 1980 (the “1980 Act”), which requires individuals who participate in the Foreign Service Retirement and Disability System to retire by the last day of the month in which they turn 65. Defendant views this mandatory retirement provision as a right to subject older Foreign Service Officers, like Plaintiff, to disparate treatment based on their age years before their retirement is required by law.
[…]
Defendant argues that Plaintiff’s ADEA claims are barred on procedural grounds because she allegedly filed out-of-time and allegedly failed to exhaust her administrative remedies. This is not true. Defendant’s attempt to impose a 90-day statute of limitations defense to Plaintiff’s ADEA claims has been squarely rejected by Supreme Court precedent. Plaintiff  filed her Complaint within two years of the first discriminatory act and her Complaint is therefore timely. Likewise, numerous courts have rejected Defendant’s exhaustion arguments, which in this case is based on the misplaced notion that Plaintiff must repeatedly file notices of intent to sue each time she is subjected to a retaliatory act and each notice must include the word “retaliation” for it to be valid.

[…]
Defendant also argues that Plaintiff failed to state a claim upon which relief can be granted because (1) Strawberry v. Albright, 111 F.3d 943 (D.C. Cir. 1997), a limited D.C. Circuit Court decision, held that the 1980 Act’s mandatory retirement provision is an exception to the ADEA; and (2) Vance v. Bradley, 440 U.S. 93 (1979), a 30 year-old Supreme Court decision, held that the mandatory retirement provision of the Foreign Service Act of 1946 (“1946 Act”) is constitutional based on a limited review of different  congressional findings more than 70 years old. Neither of these cases excuse the numerous instances of overt discrimination, retaliation and constitutional inequalities identified in Plaintiff’s Amended Complaint.
[…]

Defendant refused to modify the two-year tour of duty for the Algiers assignment, notwithstanding Defendant modifies tours of duty for assignments for a variety of reasons other than age. This disparate treatment — refusing to modify Plaintiff’s tour and denying her job opportunities because she would turn 65 years old before she completed an assignment — is a discriminatory employment practice that violates the ADEA. It has nothing to do with enforcing mandatory retirement, but has everything to do with discriminatory employment choices that Defendant makes against older employees in favor of younger ones.
[…]
The documents the State Department provided with its motion make it clear that Defendant has memorialized its discriminatory practices in its standard operating procedures. Defendant’s bidding instructions state, for example, that attempting to secure a position that would extend a Foreign Service Officer’s career past the mandatory retirement age would “subject [the officer] to negative consequences.” (Id. at Ex. B, p. 36 ¶ 3.) This policy is strange considering that Foreign Service Officers are statutorily entitled to seek an exception from the mandatory retirement provision and such requests can only be made after an officer bids on a position. (Id. at Ex. B, DeLisi Declaration.) Defendant admits that it “took steps to ensure that plaintiff was not assigned to a position for which she was ineligible [because of her age].” (Id. at 28.) Plaintiff believes that the “negative consequences” and admitted “steps of  assurance” are the impetus behind the retaliation that she endured.

[…]
Like its attempt to extend the Strawberry holding, Defendant’s argument that it is entitled to summary judgment by extending Vance is unavailing. This country is founded on a system of checks and balances that provide the judicial branch with authority to determine the constitutionality of the laws, including the 1980 Act. The system would fail if the checks and balances on one statute (e.g. the 1980 Act) were simply based on decisions involving a different set of facts challenging a different statute (e.g. the 1946 Act) with different congressional findings that occurred more than 70 years ago.

Following the State Department’s logic would mean that cases like Brown v. Board of 
Education could have never eradicated the discrimination of its time by overturning Supreme Court decisions like Plessy v. Ferguson, which already addressed the issue of separate but equal treatment. Defendant’s logic makes no sense. Plaintiff is entitled to challenge the constitutionality of the 1980 Act, raising colorable arguments that courts have never decided and discovering evidence in support thereof.

[…]
[T]he Bradley court stated that congressional conviction illustrates that “the country should be at great pains to assure the high quality of those occupying positions critical to the conduct of our foreign relations in the post-war world.” Bradley, 440 U.S. at 101 (citations omitted). Yet, many of the Ambassadors, Special Envoys and even Secretaries of State that we send overseas to conduct our foreign relations are frequently well over 65 years of age. Hypocrisy is never rational.
[…]
Defendant’s own SOPs contemplate that Foreign Service Officers will accept assignments even if they cannot complete a 24-month tour before mandatory retirement. (Id. At Attachment 3, p. 14 (discussing 24-month tours and stating that “prompt separation [will occur] upon reaching age 65 no matter the time remaining in your tour”).) Thus, Dr. Colton was qualified but Defendant discriminated against her on the basis of age.
[…]
Defendant, of course, states that Plaintiff’s belief that her career was curtailed is “a puzzling claim, given that she remains employed as the Public Affairs Officer in Karachi, Pakistan.” (Motion at 20.) In other words, Defendant believes that Plaintiff should be happy that she has a job even if that job is a lesser quality as is the case here.

Plaintiff will prove through discovery that Defendant has a policy of allowing officers over the age of 65 to serve in Iraq and Afghanistan, two of the most dangerous countries in the world. Plaintiff will also prove through discovery that Defendant not only re-hires retired Foreign Service Officers under the WAE program, but also has specific policies for hiring government contractors and other federal employees to perform precisely the same or substantially similar job as officers like Dr. Colton. Denying opportunities to Foreign Service Officers like Dr. Colton because of their age, while hiring others to perform the same tasks in the same areas under specific policies, is irrational.


 

I added some active links above. These guys are good (“Hypocrisy is never rational,” “memorializing … in the SOPs?” ). Can you blame us if we want to hear them argue and slug this out in open court?

Besides — we really do want to know how many FSOs in the regular service and the SFS Senior Foreign Service were subjected to MAR but got waivers from “prompt” removal when they hit the 65 mark.  You’d think something like that would be easily accessible and transparent, State being one of those “best places to work” (admittedly not in AARP’s list); but apparently you can’t get that info from the state.gov website or pry it from anywhere else.  Would be nice to have that information pried out of the bureaucracy and see how that onion plays out in court. 


Read more below:


Insider Quote: No truer words said …

This one from our blog friends, Digger:  I had a rough first tour, and I went through a period where I was serious about quitting the service. But I ultimately learned that what I was told in A-100, that the Department is your family and will look out for you, was wrong. The Department is a bureaucracy that will meet its own needs, often at your expense. But the people you work with, the ones who show what corridor reputation is all about, they will become your family and they will help you serve your country through good times and bad. I am convinced that there have been times that they are the reason I have stayed, and I am very glad I did.”

(excerpted from comments online)

Snapshot: US Consulate General Cd. Juarez

El Paso & Ciudad Juárez from Scenic DriveImage by charlie llewellin via Flickr
The shootings involving staff/family members from the US Consulate General in Ciudad Juarez made me dig up the 2009 OIG report on US Mission Mexico. Below is part of what the report said about Ciudad Juarez:  

The consular section in Ciudad Juarez is the largest in the world with 50 consular officers, six EFMs, and 116 LE staff, yet its staffing is still too small for the workload (see the section of this report on IVs for a complete discussion). Despite workload pressures, the consular section is doing a remarkable job under excellent leadership. The consular section chief and IV unit chief work effectively as a team to manage the massive challenges facing the IV unit. However, the other parts of the consular section are also under stress. NIV work increased 31.4 percent to 121,010 cases in FY 2008.

The NIV unit copes with this increase with the help of a steady stream of TDY ELOs from other posts in Mexico.

This NIV workload increase was not surprising because Ciudad Juarez was the first post in Mexico to start issuing an improved version of the BCC on April 1, 1998, and therefore the first post to experience a surge from the 10-year replacement program. The workload rose dramatically in 1999 (to 308,370 cases) and peaked in 2001 (at 411,743 cases). This means Ciudad Juarez is likely to be hit by a huge increase in NIV work in the next three years. In addition, analysis shows that much of the Ciudad Juarez FY 2008 NIV workload increase is, in fact, coming from first time applicants, and this means that NIV levels after the BCC renewal surge ends are likely to remain higher than previously thought, requiring additional permanent resources.
[…]
Immediately following the visit by the OIG team to Ciudad Juarez, the consulate staff moved into a new OBO-built facility. This vast facility — with 87 visa interview windows — gives the staff the capability to handle the huge numbers of consular visitors and provides for future growth.
The consulate general in Ciudad Juarez processes all IVs for Mission Mexico, and in FY 2008 it handled 149,014 applications, 19 percent of all IVs worldwide. The workload was greater than that of the next three largest IV operations in Santo Domingo, Manila, and Ho Chi Minh City combined. IV workload has fluctuated greatly in the last 10 years in Ciudad Juarez, but recently increased dramatically. The Department will need to increase significantly officer and LE staffing in Ciudad Juarez to rightsize the operations.

Here is a nugget from the report that you may or may not know:

US Mission Mexico, consisting of an embassy, seven consulates general, two consulates, and 14 consular agencies, is one of the largest U.S. missions in the world. The magnitude of the consular operation is staggering: 20 percent of all arrests of Americans abroad occur in a single consular district in Tijuana. Consulate General Ciudad Juarez processes more IVs than any other post in the world. Embassy Mexico City processes more NIVs than any other post in the world except Embassy Seoul.

Because of the consular workload, 10 percent of all entry-level officers (ELO) in the U.S. Foreign Service are assigned to Mexican posts. With such numbers, Mexican experience will have an important influence on the next generation of Foreign Service officers.

USAID’s Global Pulse 2010 Starts Today

The U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) is sponsoring the Global Pulse 2010, a 3-day, online collaboration event, that will bring together individual socially-engaged participants and organizations from around the world.

Global Pulse 2010 is an online “virtual” event. Registration is free and participants can join from any computer with internet access. The event will be live, over the span of 3 days, and is hosted online using IBM’s award-winning Innovation Jam TM solution. “Similar to the collaborative spirit of musical ‘jamming,’ participants gather online to collaborate on ideas around real societal issues, build on each other’s contributions, find shared solutions — or simply connect. The Web 2.0 platform provides for a meaningful brainstorming environment where groups of individuals ranging from a few hundred — to hundreds of thousands — can join in. Based on the concept of crowdsourcing (also knows as “wisdom of crowds”), the Jam platform is especially adept at bringing communities together to discuss social issues.”
Global Pulse 2010 launches today, Monday, March 29th and concludes on Wednesday, March 31st.  Sign up here to participate.
  


China Issues 2009 Human Rights Report of the United States

Seriously. You know this was going to happen sometimes.


The Country Reports on Human Rights Practices are submitted annually by the U.S. Department of State to the U.S. Congress in compliance with sections 116(d) and 502B(b) of the Foreign Assistance Act of 1961 (FAA), as amended, and section 504 of the Trade Act of 1974, as amended. On March 11, the State Department published its
latest Human Rights Report.

Secretary Clinton says that “[f]or the last 34 years, the United States has produced the Country Reports on Human Rights Practices, providing the most comprehensive record available of the condition of human rights around the world.”

The online documents
here only dates back to 1999.  Prior reports should be available from the U.S. GPO; some are available in PDF format here.
Well, at least one foreign office must have been waiting for the official US report to be released.  On March 12, China’s Information Office of the State Council published a report titled “The Human Rights Record of the United States in 2009.” Its full text is published by english.xinhuanet.com here.

Here is part of its introduction: “As in previous years, the reports are full of accusations of the human rights situation in more than 190 countries and regions including China, but turn a blind eye to, or dodge and even cover up rampant human rights abuses on its own territory. The Human Rights Record of the United States in 2009 is prepared to help people around the world understand the real situation of human rights in the United States.”

On Life, Property and Personal Security section is declares: “Widespread violent crimes in the United States posed threats to the lives, properties and personal security of its people.”

On Civil and Political Rights section it claims that “In the United States, civil and political rights of citizens are severely restricted and violated by the government.”

On Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, it claims that “Poverty, unemployment and the homeless are serious problems in the United States, where workers’ economic, social and cultural rights cannot be guaranteed.”

The report also states that “immigrants live in misery.”
I don’t understand.  Since the United States is a country of immigrants, does that mean all 305 million of us, except Native Americans — live in misery?

Video of the Week: Jonathan Zittrain on the Web as random acts of kindness

Feeling like the world is becoming less friendly? Social theorist Jonathan Zittrain begs to difffer. The Internet, he suggests, is made up of millions of disinterested acts of kindness, curiosity and trust.

from ted.com  

Feeling like the world is becoming less friendly? Social theorist
Jonathan Zittrain begs to difffer. The Internet, he suggests, is made
up of millions of disinterested acts of kindness, curiosity and trust.

The increasing proliferation of “tethered” devices, from iPhones to Xboxes, is only one of countless threats to the freewheeling Internet as we know it. There’s also spam, malware, misguided legislation and a drift away from what Internet law expert Jonathan Zittrain calls “generativity” — a system’s receptivity to unanticipated (and innovative) change instigated by myriad users.

Harvard law professor Zittrain, as an investigator for the OpenNet initiative and co-founder of Harvard’s Berkman Center for Internet and Society, has long studied the legal, technological and world-shaking aspects of quickly morphing virtual terrains. He performed the first large-scale tests of Internet filtering in China and Saudi Arabia in 2002. His initiatives include projects to fight malware (StopBadware) and ChillingEffects, a site designed to support open content by tracking legal threats to individual users.

“Zittrain’s book, The Future of the Internet and How to Stop It, sounds … a klaxon calling to arms everyone who believes that platforms open to user innovation should rule the world, not tethered, sterile appliances that are controlled only by their designers.” – ArsTechnica