On Performance Pay Awards and Why No HR Seniors to Rat-Tat-Tat-Kaboom Posts?

It’s not everyday that the State Department’s Human Resources Office is called “as opaque as the black hole of Calcutta on a moonless winter night.” Which sounds almost poetic and all, but not in any way something you want to brag about. Below is from this post at WhirledView by Patricia Kushlis. Excerpts below:   

As I noted in previous posts, ambassadorships have gone overwhelmingly to HR insiders over those who have put their lives on the line in Iraq and Afghanistan. The latest — and most appalling — examples? The most recent Director General and his Deputy — both having spent their two-year tenures pushing their State colleagues off to war zones — are going where? To Iraq or Afghanistan? Not a chance. They are both enjoying agreeable posts in the South Pacific.

Nor has the situation regarding bonus pay for senior foreign and civil service improved. HR insiders dot the lists as they have for years. As an example on the Civil Service side, a current senior HR official and a former senior HR official (now at the Department’s training institute) have received either SES (Senior Executive Service) Performance Awards or Presidential Rank Awards every year for at least the last five years — including 2009. Whether the awards lists are long or short — these two women are on them.

HR is a support function at the Department — not a line function. The several hundred SES employees in the State Department do complicated, high-profile work on the front lines of diplomacy; many of these people are ignored at awards time. It is difficult to imagine how these HR employees (who after all, have run a Bureau unable to put together six-person meetings on a regular basis) manage to snag the US government’s top honors year after year. It certainly calls into question the integrity of the awards process — from the selection of the boards that grant the awards — to the choice of award recipients themselves.

I repeat my suggestion to Hillary and her people — revise the regulations to bar any one senior employee (Civil or Foreign Service) from getting an award more than once in three years.

Not a new post but still relevant. Active links added above. Continue reading The Broom’s April Check Up.
OPM has an August 2010 order to freeze discretionary awards, bonuses, and similar payments for federal employees.  But wait – the directive has the following exception:

Although Foreign Service Officers and career members of the Senior Foreign Service (SFS) appointed under section 302(a)(1) of the Foreign Service Act receive PAS appointments, they are not political appointees and are not subject to the freeze.  Also, SFS members with PAS or PA appointments who elect to retain eligibility for SFS performance awards under section 302(b) of the Foreign Service Act of 1980 are not political appointees and are not subject to the freeze.  

So – I guess you better be in the lookout for the next performance pay cable.  Unfortunately, none of those cables seem to be available anywhere in the public domain. Wonder why that is, ward off the evil eye?  But isn’t that taxpayer money?  You can look those up for comparison year to year if you are inside the firewall at State.  It now seems amusing to watch folks get all contorted over political ambassadorships when right in the front inside of the yard — well …

Anyhow, Patricia’s suggestion that the revised regs should only allow senior employees in the Civil or Foreign Service to receive performance pay awards once every three years sounds extremely reasonable given our current budget pains.   

In the same spirit, shouldn’t senior officials serving in the HR Bureau ought to have a “cooling off” period after serving in that bureau before being considered for career ambassadorships? I mean, if I’m the boss/next bosses of the bureau that puts together the names of the next ambassadors and my name is in it, too — well, wouldn’t you think that smells Epoisses cheesy? Unless, of course — I’m going to one of the two, wait three, no – five war zones, two of them undeclared.

I do think that the next Director General of the Foreign Service ought to have experience not just in hardship posts but real on the ground experience from one of our increasingly rat-tat-tat kaboom posts, that now includes Pakistan and Mexico (although they’re not listed as such anywhere).  Why? Because why not? The DG is the most senior HR person at the State Department. His/Her office is the arm twister, excuse me, the carrot dangler for all those folks who are volunteering to serve in the rat-tat-tat place.  One old friend could not get hold of anyone during the bidding season, that is, apparently, no one was reading the old friend’s multiple emails until there was nothing left on the bidlist. In this case, the carrot was hidden not dangled.  When the old friend finally got a response, well, all the options in that short list says Iraq.  But she’s the small fry!

As far as we are aware, one senior official at State went directly from an HR tour to a warzone tour.  That’s Ambassador Joseph Mussomeli, now of the US Embassy in Slovenia. He was the Director of Human Resources/Entry-Level CDA at the U.S. Department of State for a year prior to deploying to the US Embassy in Kabul as Assistant Chief of Mission, then went on become ambassador to Ljubljana.  Yay for Ambassador Mussomeli!

But other senior HR folks seems to have skipped the warzone tours before proceeding to ambassadorial appointments.  HR’s top recruitment guy went on to an ambassadorship in Europe. Another director of HR’s Entry-Level Career Development and Assignments went on to an ambassadorship in Europe. Two former top HR officials, went on to ambassadorships in Asia. And one senior advisor to the Office of Performance Evaluation went on to a lovely island in the South Pacific.  

But if these are important enough foreign policy engagements that the HR bureau cajole colleagues every year to volunteer to go, shouldn’t the HR seniors’ names be on that volunteer list, too?  Because that’s probably the best recruitment tool for the warzones …

Everybody would finally come around to thinking — hey, things must be really serious … the boss who’s asking me to go to the rat-tat-tat kaboom place, is also going to the rat-tat-tat kaboom place…

Note: The term “rat-tat-tat kaboom” to describe posts in war zones was absolutely originally coined by one of our favorite bloggers, Dakota of The Afghan Plan.
The rat-tat-tat-kaboom posts in our book includes all posts in Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya, Pakistan and Mexico.

Related item:
3 FAM 2870 | Senior Foreign Service Performance Pay and Presidential Awards