State/OIG Issues Mgt Horror Report of the Year for US Embassy Luxembourg

For the last several months, we have see seen an uptick on the search for the OIG report on the US Embassy in Luxembourg in our blog. Alternatively, a search on Luxembourg’s DCMs.

That would get you curious, right? One of our hottest searches. Then the ambassador quit last month citing the need to focus on her family and personal business.

Today, fresh out of the oven …. the Office of the Inspector General’s report on US Embassy Luxembourg finally made it online ….

The two are not necessarily connected, of course.

But the report looks mighty harsh, scathing … scorchingly blunt for a political appointee with less than about a year in tenure …

First about Luxembourg:

“One of the world’s smallest and wealthiest nations, Luxembourg plays a role in international relations, finance, media, and other areas that is disproportionate to its size. Slightly smaller than Rhode Island, with fewer than 500,000 residents, Luxembourg’s per capita gross domestic product (GDP) of $79,600 in 2009 trailed only Liechtenstein and Qatar in the entire world.”

So rich country, rich people, one of those much talked about “cushy” assignments in Europe. Should be paradise, right?

Whoever said that even paradise can be hell got it right on this one. Some embassy staff according to the report curtailed from their 3-year assignments in Luxembourg to volunteer for assignments in the war zones.

Extracted from the report’s summary:

The Ambassador’s confrontational management style, chronic gaps in senior and other staffing caused by curtailments, and the absence of a sense of direction have brought major elements of Embassy Luxembourg to a state of dysfunction. These curtailments entail considerable costs to the U.S. Government. Morale among Americans and local staff is very low, and stress levels are high. Most employees describe the Ambassador as aggressive, bullying, hostile, and intimidating, which has resulted in an extremely difficult, unhappy, and uncertain work environment. [REDACTED]

Poor management of the front office has aggravated communication within and outside the office and has led to serious inefficiencies. Taskings are arbitrary and erratic, the flow of information is excessively restricted, and the work of embassy staff members is not properly channeled or coordinated.

The public affairs section is stretched to the breaking point. Tactical, short term support to the front office consumes available time and resources, preventing the embassy from developing a strategic approach to public diplomacy in support of policy objectives.

The small and underresourced management section has been absorbed with issues surrounding the official residence, and a move to a temporary residence, resulting in insufficient time to devote to management controls and customer support. [REDACTED]

The inspection took place in Washington, DC, between September 7 and 29, 2010, and in Luxembourg, Luxembourg, between October 25 and November 5, 2010.

Okay, so leadership and management, anyone?

The current Ambassador is not responsible for the management cuts in 2008 that crippled general services operations before her arrival. However, the bulk of the mission’s internal problems are linked to her leadership deficiencies, the most damaging of which is an abusive management style. She has followed a pattern of public criticism of colleagues, including DCMs, who have not performed to her satisfaction. The team believes that a climate of acute stress exists in the mission, which is especially evident among officers and local staff who have been here more than 3 or 4 months. Those who have questioned or challenged some of the Ambassador’s actions state that they have paid a heavy price in the form of verbal abuse and been threatened with dismissal.

This appraisal will not be news to the Bureau of European and Eurasian Affairs (EUR), which has been forthcoming about its concerns regarding management issues at Embassy Luxembourg. [REDACTED] It is unfortunate that an impression is being created among officers and local employees at this mission that this kind of behavior may be routinely tolerated by Department of State (Department) leadership, particularly for noncareer ambassadors.

Curtailments: from paradise to the war zones:

Since the Ambassador’s confirmation, most of the senior staff, including two deputy chiefs of mission (DCM) and two section chiefs, has either curtailed or volunteered for service in Kabul and Baghdad. Other U.S. staff members have also departed early. At the time of the inspection, additional members of staff were contemplating curtailing. The OIG team believes and in some cases knows for certain that these early departures are because of the Ambassador’s management style. The mission does not provide an environment that nurtures, supports, or trains entry-level or recently tenured officers. Management resources have been skewed toward front office priorities to the detriment of the performance of core responsibilities and the fulfillment of Foreign Affairs Manual (FAM) policies and requirements.

Whew! And there’s more ….

  • Chronic communications problem between the front office and the rest of the mission.
  • No permanent DCM at the mission. Of the seven permanent and temporary staff  who served in this position since the Ambassador’s confirmation in November 2009, only one has remained for longer than 6 months.
  • The Ambassador decided to replace a DCM who had been in the job for only 4 months weeks before her arrival at the embassy
  • The [Ambassador’s] residence manager retired and the CMR’s cook was fired
  • Ambassador maintains total control over her own calendar
  • An even bigger problem is the Ambassador’s lack of confidence – or perhaps trust – in her staff, which leads to a near total absence of regular guidance and advance planning.
  • After learning about a professional school in Switzerland that trained employees to work in places such as Buckingham Palace, the Ambassador and then-general services officer flew to the school to interview candidates.
  • The OIG team was told that the Ambassador was not pleased with the condition of the CMR mattress, and preferred a queen bed to the king-size bed already provided.
  • During one 6-week period earlier in 2010, he [one local procurement staff] spent 80 to 90 percent of his time searching for a temporary CMR [Chief of Mission Residence]. In late summer, he and several other staff members, as well as the management officer, spent several days locating and purchasing an umbrella for the CMR patio.
  • The [OIG] team believes that too many of the limited resources of this embassy have been allocated to issues related to her personal support.

And here we thought who could possibly top Embassy Port of Spain’s five DCMs under George W’s political appointee?

At Embassy Port
Of Spain, it rained with migraine,

Complaints and hard rain;

And five DCMs stayed sane
Changing zip codes and domains.

Now, we may have to come up with a Luxembourg Tanka….ugh!


Related item:

OIG Report No. ISP-I-11-17A – Inspection of Embassy Luxembourg, Luxembourg – January 2011

Related posts:
That Did Not Work Out Very Well, Did It? | Friday, September 25, 2009

Sunday Tanka: At Embassy Port of Spain | Sunday, October 25, 2009