Today at the SFRC: The Future of US Public Diplomacy

The SFRC is holding a hearing on the Future of U.S. Public Diplomacy on Wednesday, March 10, 2010 at 3:00 P.M. at 419 Dirksen Senate Office Building.  Click here to view the testimonies hearing video or read the prepared statements submitted for public record.
The Honorable Evelyn S. Lieberman
Former Under Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy
Director of Communications and Public Affairs
The Smithsonian Institution
Washington, DC
The Honorable Karen P. Hughes
Former Under Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy
Worldwide Vice Chair
Austin, TX
The Honorable James K. Glassman
Former Under Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy
Executive Director
George W. Bush Institute
Dallas, TX
The Honorable Judith A. McHale
Under Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy
Department of State
Washington, DC

eServices: The Best Invention since Sliced Bread!

We get all sorts of emails from folks, sometimes just saying hello, sometimes saying thank you, sometimes a rant here or there, and sometimes just frustrations brewing over that no HR can help with. Not that we can help either. But we try to listen kindly without interruption. Sometimes that’s all that’s needed. We don’t give out names and we don’t give out email addresses either.
Some folks understandably do not want anything posted in public, for fear of being traced to their undisclosed locations. We understand that and we try our best not to leave some bread crumbs on the street. 
Other times, folks just really want to scream quietly – like the most recent one we got on the State Department’s eServices, apparently the best invention since sliced bread. We’ll keep this rant short, but not too short.  If you have a serious aversion to rants, please skip this and move on. We don’t want to ruin your day.
Anyway, it used to be that the spouses can do requests for house repairs, electrical work and things that break down in US owned or rented properties. We don’t know when this actually happened (I’m sure somebody will enlighten me) but somebody at the State Department had this great bright idea that such services should be automated through eServices. Here is what the Department says about eServices touted in its 100-Day Report:
Developed Collaborative Management Initiative (CMI): A quality management system enables overseas posts to deliver high-quality, customer-focused services that are consistent, cost-effective, and measurable. The Department is currently rolling out an enhanced web-based ordering system, eServices, providing USG customers across the globe with standardized access to programs. Analysis of performance metrics collected by eServices will significantly enhance the State Department’s ability to direct resources where and when they are needed most.
Excuse me — unless you’ve been under a rock the last several years, you know that State Department resources have been directed to Iraq, Iraq, Iraq.  After the last election, we thought maybe the imbalance would start to right itself.  Instead, resources are now suck not just by one post but by the Big3 also known as I’AfPak — Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan. Really. We could have done those metrics for free, save the government money so it can significantly enhance its ability to direct more money to Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan.      
The problem – of course, there  is a problem or nobody would come ranting about this here.  The spouses and partners (who are at home because they could not find work) have no access to it. The employee has to make those requests through eServices via the intranet. Apparently, no email or paper requests will be entertained. Toilet overflowed? Go to eServices! Basement flooded with knee-high sludgy, yucky water? No problem, go to eServices! No running water? Go to eServices, dammit! Employee traveling? Too bad. DIY at your own peril!
Folks with active gray cells between the ears can sympathize.  Family members  (a large number college educated and they read English) could no longer do even the simplest thing for their occupied houses/apartments because they are not real people with logons. The next thing you know, you need somebody to hold your hand when you cross the street in Burkina Faso. 
Let me illustrate — if your spouse is a Consular Officer who conducts interviews starting at 8:15 am – he/she must attend to repair requests before the interviews. If he/she doesn’t at the start of the day, he/she should do this during his spare time. Of course, we all know that consular officers have tons of free time after interviewing 200 applicants. If you are the employee and happened to be high enough in the pyramid to merit an office assistant, I supposed – your spouse can tell you what needs repair, you can tell your office assistant what needs repair, and he/she can request the needed repairs through eServices. Sounds like a wonderful and delightful office relay! 
Whose idea of ENHANCED “service” is this?  Um, that’s me in my upper case voice.

But really, you guys are lucky; let’s be reasonable here.  Imagine if they went for EXCELLENT instead of just ENHANCED.  Just think where would you all be now? So stop the whine and bring out the wine, pronto!

What? You now have to use eServices to open your own winebox? Why did you not read the memo?



Do we need to recall Ms. Old DS-156 to reclaim her sash?

Visa Section Chief, Nancy Abella, as “Ms. DS-160” discussed the benefits of the new DS-160 online application at the US Embassy in Beijing:

Wonderful! Except that DS-160 is having some techie problems…. 

“Due to recent technical problems with the new on-line application form, DS-160, the Embassy wishes to inform you that you are authorized to utilize the older version of the visa application available at:”
Does that mean — we need to recall Ms. Old DS-156 to reclaim her crown/sash?
More photos here.
Note on the photo:  “This official U.S. Embassy photograph is being made available for publication by news organizations and/or for personal use printing by the subject(s) of the photograph. The photograph may not be used in materials, advertisements, products, or promotions that in any way suggest approval or endorsement of the Embassy, the Ambassador, the Ambassador’s family, the U.S. government, or any employee of the U.S. Government.”
Note on “note on the photo”: Just for the record, this blog and its writer are not related, family or otherwise to Ms. DS-160 or to Ms. Old DS-156; we have no relations to the Ambassador and his family. Posting the photo above does not suggest approval/endorsements by the US Embassy Beijing and all its relatives in the Federal Government.

That said, we have to give two thumbs up to the Consular Section in Beijing for their creative work in giving the DS-160 rollout exposure. But somebody at CA might want to stop and read the comments on DS-160 at the US Embassy London’s YouTube channel; the paying folks are not happy. It’s been called “a complete and utter nightmare,” “torture,” “a nightmare.”  I don’t know what the “russiancookie” said, that comment was removed by the channel owner.