State/OIG on US Embassy Norway: "Ambassador is an effective political appointee"

What does that not mean, really?  I read through the OIG inspection report of US Embassy Norway and it looks like our ambassador there is an okay chief of mission, morale is good, and no one has asked to be transferred to Greater Georgebushistan. He is an “effective political appointee” according to the report.  The inspectors seem to be saying he’s good, too bad he’s not the real deal. I read quite a bunch of OIG reports for breakfast and I don’t think I’ve ever had my Honey Bunches of Oats with a report that says “he (or she) is an effective career appointee” for career diplomats. It seems like a low blow distinction. I mean, c’mon — the ambassador is either an effective ambassador or not.

The Office of the Inspector General conducted its inspection of US Embassy Oslo in Washington, DC, between September 1 and 29, 2010, and in Oslo, Norway, between November 1 and 15, 2010.  The publicly available report contains 13 recommendations and 17 informal recommendations.

The US Ambassador to Norway, Barry B. White arrived at post on 10/09. His Deputy Chief of Mission James T. Heg arrived at post on 07/09.
Ambassador White with hey —
that’s “No Way Out” Kevin Costner
Photo from US Embassy Oslo/Facebook 

Key Judgments extracted from the OIG report:
• Embassy Oslo’s political appointee Ambassador and experienced Foreign Service deputy chief of mission work closely to advance the goals identified in the embassy’s Mission Strategic and Resource Plan.
• The front office needs to do more to foster effective communication among
embassy elements, allowing sections, some of them on the outside of the policy
discussion, to work effectively beyond their own portfolios.
• The embassy’s workload, combined with the numerous high-level visitors and
congressional delegations that visit during the busy summer months, can push
the embassy to the limit of its capacity. Better strategic planning could help to
address this issue.
• The consular section has been proactive and effective in using a variety of
outreach tools, including town halls, travel and speaking engagements outside the capital, appearances on local and national media, and an innovative newsletter, to provide consular services and communicate and inform the American community in Norway.

• Norway has low unemployment and a highly competitive labor market, and
Embassy Oslo experiences unusually high local staff turnover. The embassy
should determine whether any changes are needed in the work environment to
promote retention of local staff.
A quick summary on Norway excerpted from the IG report:

“Norway is Scandinavia’s northernmost country, bordering Sweden, Finland, and Russia to the east, the Barents Sea to the north, and the Atlantic Ocean and North Sea to the west. Thanks to the large petroleum reserves on the Norwegian Continental Shelf and careful management of oil and gas revenues, it is one of the world’s wealthiest countries on a per capita basis and enjoys the highest standard of living, as measured by the Human Development Index. Roughly half of Norway’s population lives within 75 miles of downtown Oslo, whose population is among the fastest growing in Europe, due in almost equal degree to high birth rates and immigration.”

Controversy on the embassy’s surveillance detection unit:

“During the inspection, domestic political attention focused on the United States as a result of sensationalist press coverage alleging that the embassy’s surveillance detection unit had been conducting espionage on Norwegian citizens over the past 10 years. The unit became the object of a police investigation and a Ministry of Justice report to parliament to determine if its employees “spied for a foreign power” or violated Norway’s privacy laws. This case, with its potential to cast a shadow on the United States-Norway bilateral relationship, occupied much of the embassy’s attention during the OIG inspection.”

By the way, a similar investigation on SDUs was conducted by Sweden, and the Public Prosecutor had recently released its report and its decision not to pursue further investigation. The report is posted here at Cryptome. 

The ambassador gets an “A”, well, sort of —

“The Ambassador is an effective political appointee, who actively seeks to be a positive face of the United States. The deputy chief of mission (DCM) is an experienced, senior Foreign Service officer who takes his role as mentor seriously. Together, they have worked to advance the goals identified in the embassy’s Mission Strategic and Resource Plan (MSRP), including securing Norwegian cooperation on global and regional political-military issues; countering terrorism; winning support for U.S. policies; combating climate change; and promoting common economic and business objectives. Embassy staff perceives the Ambassador as open, friendly, and outgoing, and he is often seen around the chancery engaging with them. Morale in the embassy is good.

The DCM has responsibility for coordinating policy details, internal embassy management, and priority setting. This arrangement has freed the Ambassador to assume a more public, externally oriented role. The DCM and section and agency heads keep the Ambassador informed of developments. However, some elements within the mission characterized embassy communication, including within the front office itself, as incomplete. Indeed, the team observed a classic “stovepiping” of activity, with a high degree of delegation that leaves insufficient room for the coordinating function the front office should provide.”

LE staff turnover at 25% cannot be good — 

“Embassy Oslo has an unusually high employee turnover rate. The numbers reached a high of approximately 40 percent in 2007, and the 2010 turnover through November 1 is around 25 percent. The embassy has done standard exit interviews to determine why people are leaving, but there has been no systematic analysis of the information it has obtained. The high turnover creates inefficiencies, including a constant need for expensive and time-consuming training. Norway has very little unemployment, and the embassy has competition from many local and international employers; this situation would predict a higher turnover rate than at other embassies, but there are likely other factors contributing to the retention issue. Employees note that the embassy’s salary and benefits are competitive, and anecdotal evidence indicates that few depart because they are dissatisfied with their salary.”

Life is good but do something about the weather and the lack of Vitamin D – please?   

“Norway, with its wonderful summer environment and outdoor/health focus, enjoys a very high quality of life. However, it is not always an easy place for a non-Norwegian to live. Challenges include one of the world’s highest costs of living, and a persistent winter gloom that begins in November and ends in March. The cold weather and lack of sunshine require embassy staff to create opportunities for exercise and social activity during the long winters.”

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