Officially In: Gary Locke – from Commerce Dept to US Embassy Beijing

It’s not often that you have the POTUS actually out in the Diplomatic Reception Room to announce an ambassadorial appointment.  He did it when he announced his nomination for the outgoing ambassador to China, Jon Huntsman in May 2009. And he did it again today to announce Gary Locke as Ambassador Huntsman’s successor at the US Embassy in Beijing:

THE PRESIDENT:  Good morning, everybody.  As many people know, our current Ambassador to China, Jon Huntsman, has decided to step down from his current job.  During his tenure, Jon has been an outstanding advocate for this administration and for this country.  He made a real sacrifice in moving his family out of the state that they loved and has helped to strengthen our critical relationship with the Chinese government and the Chinese people.  And so I am very grateful for his service.

In replacing Ambassador Huntsman, I can think of nobody who is more qualified than Gary Locke.  More than 100 years ago, Gary’s grandfather left China on a steamship bound for America, where he worked as a domestic servant in Washington State.  A century later, his grandson will return to China as America’s top diplomat.

In the years between these milestones, Gary has distinguished himself as one of our nation’s most respected and admired public servants.  As our country’s first Chinese-American governor, he worked tirelessly to attract jobs and businesses to Washington State, and he doubled exports to China.

Two years ago, I asked Gary to continue this work as Commerce Secretary.  I wanted him to advocate for America’s businesses and American exports all around the world, make progress on our relationship with China, and use the management skills he developed as governor to reform a complex and sprawling agency.

He has done all that and more.  He’s been a point person for my National Export Initiative, and last year, Gary’s department led an historic number of trade missions that helped promote American businesses and support American jobs.  He’s overseen an increase in American exports, and particularly exports to China, a country we recently signed trade deals with that will support 235,000 American jobs.

As Commerce Secretary, Gary oversaw a Census process that ended on time and under budget, returning $2 billion to American taxpayers.  He’s earned the trust of business leaders across America by listening to their concerns, making it easier for them to export their goods abroad, and dramatically reducing the time it takes to get a patent.  When he’s in Beijing, I know that American companies will be able to count on him to represent their interests in front of China’s top leaders.

As one of the world’s fastest-growing economies, our relationship with China is one of the most critical of the 21st century.  Over the last two years we worked hard to build a relationship that serves our national interest -– addressing global security issues and expanding opportunities for American companies and American workers.  Continued cooperation between our countries will be good for America, it will be good for China, and it will be good for the world.

As the grandson of a Chinese immigrant who went on to live the American Dream, Gary is the right person to continue this cooperation.  I know he will bring the same skills and experience that he brought to Commerce Secretary to this new position that he’s about to embark on.

I want to thank him and I also want to thank his gorgeous and extraordinary family, who’s standing here — Mona, Emily, Dylan, and Maddy.  It’s always tough to move families.  Maddy just turned 14 today, so I was commiserating —


THE PRESIDENT:  Emily just turned 14 today, so I was commiserating with her as somebody who moved around a lot when I was a kid as well.  I assured her it would be great 10 years from now.  (Laughter.)  Right now it’s probably a drag.  But I’m absolutely confident that this is — we could not have better representative of the United States of America in this critical relationship than we’re going to get from the Locke family.

And, Gary, I wish you all the best of luck in Beijing.  Thank you so much.

SECRETARY LOCKE:  Thank you, Mr. President.  Well, thank you very much, Mr. President.  And I’m deeply humbled and honored to be chosen as your next ambassador to China.

It was a little over a century ago that my grandfather first came to America to work as a houseboy for a family in the state of Washington in exchange for English lessons.  And he went back to China, had a family, and so my father was also born in China, and came over as a teenager a few years later.  He then enlisted in the United States Army just before the outbreak of World War II, became part of that “greatest generation,” and saw action on the beaches of Normandy and on the march to Berlin, and then came back to Seattle to raise a family and start a small business.

My father never imagined that one of his children could ever serve as the Secretary of Commerce in the United States of America.  And he was beaming with pride, Mr. President, the day you presided over my swearing-in ceremony.  Sadly, Dad passed away this past January.  But I know that if he were still alive, it would be one of his proudest moments to see his son named as the United States ambassador to his ancestral homeland.

I’m going back to the birthplace of my grandfather, my father, my mom and her side of the family, and I’ll be doing so as a devoted and passionate advocate for America, the country where I was born and raised.

As Commerce Secretary, I’ve helped open up foreign markets for American businesses so they can create more jobs right here in America.  And I’m eager to continue that work in China and to help you, Mr. President, manage one of America’s most critical and complex diplomatic, economic, and strategic relationships.

I’m excited to take on this new challenge, as is my wife and our children — to varying degrees among the kids.  (Laughter.)  And we’ll be leaving Washington, D.C., with great memories and many new friends.

Being Commerce Secretary has been one of the best jobs I’ve ever had, thanks to the immensely talented and dedicated men and women within the Department of Commerce, in the White House, and within the Cabinet.  And I’m proud of the work that we’ve done at the Commerce Department, delivering services faster, serving the needs of U.S. businesses and workers, saving taxpayers billions of dollars by being more efficient in everything that we do.  And I’m confident that these accomplishments will stand the test of time.

Mr. President, I’m eager to assume this new position.  And it’s a privilege and a solemn responsibility to serve you and the American people as the next United States ambassador to China.  Thank you for the confidence and the trust that you’ve placed in me.  Thank you.

THE PRESIDENT:  Thank you.  Thank you so much.

It’ll be interesting to watch US Mission China for the next couple of years.  Josh Chin in this WSJ piece points out that President Obama is “trading in a white former governor who speaks Mandarin for a Chinese-American former governor who doesn’t.” The piece also talks about perceptions and whether Mr. Locke’s ethnic background will be an advantage or a hindrance in his new job as the first Chinese-American chief of mission in Beijing. Inevitably, Mr. Locke’s story will be one more example of America as a place where anything is possible.        

On a related note, the WH has released a collection of soundbites praising the President’s selection of Mr. Locke as the next
US ambasssador to China. Looks like a who’s who in American business. Jim Rogers, CEO of Duke Energy calls the selection, “an inspired choice.” John Frisbie, President of US-China Business Council (USCBC) calls it, “a great choice.” Robert Holleyman, President and CEO of Business Software Alliance (BSA) says, “Secretary Locke is an exceptionally well-qualified and respected choice to be US Ambassador to China.”

Related items:

WSJ: A Locke for China Ambassador? Evaluating Obama’s Expected Choice

Praise for President Obama’s Choice to Nominate Gary Locke to be Ambassador to China

DOC: Gary Locke’s Official Biography

AAD Report: Under-investment in diplomacy has left Foreign Service overstretched, under prepared

The American Academy of Diplomacy has released a new report on the U.S. Foreign Service that points to the “urgent need to prepare and sustain a corps of American diplomatic professionals that is intellectually and operationally ready to lead in the new environment.”  The report also says that “there is little question that under-investment in diplomacy over the last decade or so has left our Foreign Service overstretched and under prepared.”

Among its recommendations are 1) fully funding of the staffing initiative under Diplomacy 3.0, 2) creation of a 15% training float, 3) long-term commitment to investing in the professional education and training needed “to build a 21st-century diplomatic service of the United States able to meet the complex challenges and competition we face in the coming decades”; 4) strengthening and expansion of the Department of State’s professional development process ; 5) establishment of a temporary corps of roving counselors to address mentoring problems caused by the mid-level gap; 6) a study that will examine best practices in the field to determine how on-the-job training can be most effectively conducted for FSOs; 7) completion of a year of advanced study related to FSO’s career track as a requirement for promotion to the Senior Foreign Service; and 8) appropriately targeted consultations before a new Chief of Mission (COM) even begins pre-assignment consultations.
You can read the whole thing below. Or you can download the abridged and full version of the report here. Do not skip the appendices.  The US Foreign Service Primer in Appendix A includes the most current employment numbers as well as a quick look on promotion and the ‘up or out’ system. Appendix D includes an interesting item on the professional development in other diplomatic services. You probably already know that Chinese officers must take a leadership and management training course, along with courses on international relations, economics and finance, international history, Chinese history, protocol, and consular affairs for promotion to 2nd Secretary. But do you know that these courses apparently are taken in officers’ spare time, in addition to their normal duties? Do you know which diplomatic service requires its officers to sit for exams following a one-month course that focuses on economics, law, civil society, and politics before promotion to 1st Secretary?  Or which one requires a PhD-level dissertation for promotion to Counselor?  Read more below.

Forging a 21st Century Diplomatic Service for the United States through Professional Education and Training

Copyright © 2011 American Academy of Diplomacy, the Henry L. Stimson Center and the American Foreign Service Association // Republished with permission from AAD.

Related items:

US Embassy Greece: OIG recommends elimination of R&Rs, closure of ConGen Thessaloniki

Seal of ThessalonikiImage via Wikipediaand reduction of language designated positions  

State/OIG recently posted its February 2011 inspection report of US Embassy Athens. Among other things, the IG report recommends the elimination of rest and recuperation (R&R) travel benefits for U.S. direct-hires on 3-year assignments (two R&Rs) and for ELOs on 2-year assignments (one R&R), reduction of its Greek-language designated positions and the closure of the Consulate General in Thessaloniki. Excerpts extracted from the report:

Rest and Recuperation Travel

Employees at Embassy Athens and Consulate General Thessaloniki have been receiving rest and recuperation (R&R) travel benefits since 2000. U.S. direct-hires on 3-year assignments receive two R&Rs, and ELOs on 2-year assignments receive one. Department regulations (3 FAH-1 H-3721.4) state that all posts that receive R&R are required to submit documentation to the appropriate regional bureau executive every 2 years to justify continued eligibility. The most recent justification submitted by Embassy Athens and the consulate general was 10 years ago.

The principal reason for providing R&R at that time was personal hardship. The inspection team found scant evidence to justify that decision today. The post’s own report of conditions in Athens and Thessaloniki cites adequate medical care, local transportation, communication, and recreation opportunities. The schools are good. It is easy and relatively inexpensive to travel to the Greek islands and other European countries. Traffic and summer pollution are problems, but no more so than in many other cities. In FY 2010, the Department spent $108,600 to fund R&R travel for 23 direct-hires and 24 dependents, which the team believes was an unnecessary expense. Many embassy employees agree that R&R is not justified for Greece.

Recommendation 24: The Bureau of European and Eurasian Affairs should discontinue the rest and recuperation benefit for Embassy Athens. (Action: EUR)

Closure of Consulate General in Thessaloniki

In inspecting the consulate, the team was mindful that, in 2004, the last OIG inspection report had questioned the need to maintain a full consulate general in Thessaloniki. In addition, the Department’s operating budget is likely to face pressures in the years immediately ahead. With Portugal, Greece is among the smallest  countries in Western Europe where the Department still maintains a stand-alone constituent post. The consulate’s operating budget is approximately $2.2 million a year. Central support costs, the salaries and benefits of its three U.S. employees, and the cost of language training add another $600,000, at a minimum.

The OIG inspectors considered the post’s small output of reporting and analysis, its limited consular and public outreach programs, and the ease of transportation between Athens and Thessaloniki. The team concluded that, while Consulate General Thessaloniki adds a dimension to embassy reporting and outreach, it is not essential to achieving U.S. interests in Greece.

Recommendation 37: The Bureau of European Affairs, in coordination with Embassy Athens, the Bureau of Overseas Buildings Operations, the Bureau of Legislative Affairs, and the Bureau of Diplomatic Security should prepare a written plan for the Under Secretary for Management, outlining measures to close Consulate General Thessaloniki at the earliest opportunity.
(Action: EUR, in coordination with Embassy Athens, OBO, H, and DS)

The report notes that only 15,000 U.S. citizens reside in Thessaloniki’s consular district. It also points out that Embassy Athens could adequately provide these and other consular services, particularly if the embassy maintained a local staff member in Thessaloniki to assist.

Reduction of Language-Designated Positions

An excessive 36 officers and staff members received long-term language training prior to arrival at post. Twelve were trained to a level of 3/3. Most of those interviewed by the inspection team reported they seldom need to speak Greek for more than pleasantries in their professional work, relying instead on English. As a result, their language skills steadily deteriorate after arrival at post.

The inspection team estimates that only half a dozen Department officers have the ability, and need, to deliver substantive public addresses or conduct complex official discussions in Greek. Officers in the consular and public affairs sections regularly use Greek, but a number of political and economic officers who are trained to a professional 3/3 level probably could do equally well with a less expensive, working level 2/2, and with more emphasis on reading than speaking. The OIG team saw no work statements that require officers to maintain their language skills, although most participate in the post language program.
The inspection team believes the Department is misspending several hundred thousand dollars a year to give employees Greek language skills that quickly deteriorate and are not useful elsewhere except Cyprus, making it difficult to amortize training costs over several tours. The team estimates the cost of training an officer to a 3/3-level Greek to be approximately $150,000, counting salary, or roughly $50,000 a year for a 3-year tour. That would put the cost of training 12 officers to 3/3 level at approximately $600,000 a year. To this expense must be added the cost of training an additional 24 officers and staff to lower skill levels. Finally, based on 2009 figures, the Department spends $200,000 a year in language incentive pay for officers and staff in Greece. Some of these costs are justified, because they support officers who require Greek language skills to be effective in their jobs; other costs are unnecessary and should be eliminated.

Recommendation 2: Embassy Athens should submit a request to the Bureau of European and Eurasian Affairs that (1) reduces post’s 12 positions that are language-designated to a 3/3 level to 9 positions; (2) reduces the number of language-designated positions at post from 36 to 20; and (3) maximizes the number of officers and staff who are offered first-and secondtour
or other short-term training prior to arrival at post. The request should identify specific positions to be redesignated. (Action: Embassy Athens)

A few other items also caught my attention:

  • Ethics } The Ambassador told employees early on that he would adhere to the highest ethical standards and would require the same of them. The previous ambassador’s tenure was clouded by questions over ethics, primarily the acceptance of gifts from outside the embassy. In light of this, the current Ambassador is continuing a strengthened gifts policy, adopted in August 2010. This policy shifted responsibility for cataloguing gifts from an LE staff member in the protocol office to an American officer, who records and values incoming gifts from either a foreign government or nongovernmental source and flags any gifts that appear to be inappropriate.

To check on previous ambassadors to Greece, click here.

  • Consular Management }The FS-01 consul general leads a staff of two mid-level officers, three full-time ELOs, and one half-time ELO. One additional mid-level position was not filled this summer, and one of the two ELO positions will be eliminated when the current incumbent transfers next summer. […] While the consul general is directly involved in the ACS unit and backs up the ACS officer, he is less involved in the visa unit and adjudicates only Class A referrals. The IG report offers an informal recommendation that Embassy Athens should encourage the consul general to adjudicate visas on the line at least once a month to retain his skills and observe the operation.
  • Nepotism } Despite complaints about nepotism and favoritism, the OIG team found no specific examples of inappropriate hiring. The perception of nepotism stems from the fact that over 12 percent of the LE staff are related to each other. Any nepotism concerns had been properly addressed prior to hiring. The human resources officer has taken steps to open the hiring process, to reduce the possibility of family members exerting undue influence on hiring and promotion. He has insisted that all advertisements are placed in local newspapers and on the Internet. He and his senior financial specialist will review each application after an initial screening, to increase transparency.

The IG report cites two best practices from US Embassy Athens: 1) Professional Development for FAST Officers and Specialists: program includes 18 specific training goals (such as public speaking, interacting with other diplomats, and serving as control officers) and a detailed calendar of events, and features a broad array of programs, including those that expose management offi cers to political work and equally important, expose reporting officers to management work; 2) Expanded emergency call center: Under the supervision of the regional security office, the embassy has expanded the security receptionist program into a call center staffed by bilingual responders who can provide prompt 24-hour service and assistance to embassy staff and their families. The center also prepares an overnight briefing for the regional security office

Related item:

OIG Report No. ISP-I-11-15A – Inspection of Embassy Athens, Greece – February 2011

US Consulate General Karachi Catches Cricket Fever

The ICC Cricket World Cup 2011 is being played in Bangladesh, India, and Sri Lanka between February and early April 2011. Catching on the cricket fever, the U.S. Consulate General in Karachi hosted the Youth Exchange & Study (YES) alumni for a competitive game of cricket at the CG compound. Consul General William Martin captained one team while Information Officer, Andie DeArment captained the other. The players all had spent one year living with an American family, going to an American high school, & experiencing American culture.

Photo from ConGen Karachi/Facebook
Photo from ConGen Karachi/Facebook
Photo from ConGen Karachi/Facebook
Over in Facebook, CG Karachi FB is also running a cricket-themed contest with the following invitation to its 13,000+ fans:

Tell us which team will win the cricket world cup AND tell us why it is that sports has the power to bring people together?  DEADLINE is MARCH 20th before the quarterfinals start! We can’t wait to see your predictions and hear why sports is important in your lives and around the world!  Winners will be chosen after the winner of the world cup through a random drawing and will receive a Pakistan cricket jersey, cricket equipment, as well as some American sporting goods

Read more here.
The YES program is officially called the Kennedy-Lugar Youth Exchange and Study (YES) Program and was established in October, 2002. It is sponsored and funded by the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs to provide scholarships for high school students (15-17 years) from countries with significant Muslim populations to spend up to one academic year in the U.S. Students live with host families, attend high school, engage in activities to learn about American society and values, acquire leadership skills, and help educate Americans about their countries and cultures. In 2007, YES Abroad was established to provide a similar experience for U.S. students (15-19 years) in selected YES countries.  Read more here.  If you are a family in the U.S. and interested in hosting a student from a specific country, click here.