The State Department Cast Into the “Foggy Bottom" …. Um, Why?

Joe Feuerherd, the editor-in-chief of National Catholic Reporter, died in late May after an 18-month bout with cancer.  On June 4, the recently resigned US Ambassador to Malta, Douglas Kmiec pens “With faith, insight, Joe Feuerherd held all to account for NCR. The piece is about Mr. Feuerherd, of course, but also contains a rehashing of that OIG report on his tenure at the US Embassy in Malta. Excerpts below:

The untimely death of Joe Feuerherd is much regretted. Just a few weeks ago I had the benefit of Joe’s writing in an April 8 column entitled “Kmiec takes friendly fire.” The column presented Joe’s analysis of an event that should otherwise not have been newsworthy: namely, a routine Office of Inspector General report that found my then-Embassy in Valletta, Malta to be accomplishing, even exceeding, its mission goals.
In the middle of the night, I was awakened by a State Department assistant secretary instructing me to boycott the assembly and the keynote the next day. I manifested hesitation, and then objection. Boycotting would get international notice and put into jeopardy a substantial amount of EU goodwill available to our still new President Obama. Had the State Department been instructed by the President to have me stand down, I asked? Presidentially nominated Ambassadors confirmed by the Senate have no business questioning assistant secretaries, I was told. I persisted and requested some assurance before morning that the President was in agreement with the instruction to boycott. That assurance was not forthcoming.

Ambassadors are described as Chiefs of Mission, and told in writing by the President that we answer to him alone unless he specifically delegates a matter to the Secretary and he has made that plain. That’s the right letter for President Obama to write, but there are many in Washington working for its disregard. Democratic voices during the second Bush presidency raised objection to extravagant presidential power claims, rightly so, but they need be careful not to then so immunize the bureaucracy that it feels immune to presidential direction altogether.
Benedict XVI has set out the perils of coerced secularism. Others have speculated that it is the exclusion of the light of the Divine that has cast the State Department into the “foggy bottom.” Malta, of course, is a small country with a rock solid Catholic tradition that shows welcoming hospitality to those of other Christian denomination as well as those of Islamic and Judaic belief. Malta basks in gentle wind and warm sunshine most of the year. What happens in this ancient country in the Sea will go on largely unaffected by the hostility of a few in the State Department who insist that religion and politics are to be avoided or hidden from view in the mists of a nominal fog shrouding a less than candid disclosure of its motivating values or strategic interests. Respect by avoidance (and thus unfamiliarity) is a possible position; it just isn’t Obama’s. Obama finds mutual respect more likely advanced by greater understanding.

These “others” who  “have speculated that it is the exclusion of the light of the Divine that has cast the State Department into the “foggy bottom,” — well, don’t you want to meet these speculators briefly to ask them one simple question?

According to our most reliable source, Wikipedia, Foggy Bottom is one of the oldest late 18th and 19th-century neighborhoods in Washington, D.C. The area is thought to have received the name because its riverside location made it susceptible to concentrations of fog and industrial smoke, an atmospheric trait that did not prevent the neighborhood from becoming the original location of the United States Naval Observatory.

The southern edge of Foggy Bottom is home to many federal government offices. The Main Interior Building (headquarters of the Department of the Interior), the Bureau of Indian Affairs headquarters, and the Federal Reserve Board buildings all lie on or around Virginia Avenue. To the east lies the Eisenhower Executive Office Building, home to the Executive Office of the President of the United States and the Office of the Vice President of the United States.

Foggy Bottom is also home to numerous international and American organizations. The World Bank buildings, the International Finance Corporation, the International Monetary Fund, the Office of Personnel Management, DAR Constitution Hall of the Daughters of the American Revolution, the American Pharmacists Association, the American Red Cross National Headquarters, the Pan American Health Organization, and the Organization of American States are all located in the neighborhood. In addition, the Mexican and Spanish Embassies are located in Foggy Bottom, both on Pennsylvania Avenue.

Concordia German Evangelical Church, located at 1920 G Street NW was founded in 1833. Today the congregation is The United Church, and is the oldest religious community remaining in Foggy Bottom.

What does it mean — that all of the above are also in the “foggy bottom”?


State Dept’s Counternarcotics Programs: Over $1 Billion, Five Countries And …

The GAO released its report on  the Department of State’s Counternarcotics Performance Management System recently. Excerpts:

The Department of State (State) received over $1 billion in its fiscal year 2010 appropriation for international counternarcotics assistance programs. The vast majority of this funding—about 90 percent in fiscal year 2010—supports counternarcotics programs in five countries—Mexico, Afghanistan, Colombia, Peru, and Bolivia. State’s Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs (INL) is primarily responsible for implementing U.S. assistance programs involving eradication of illicit crops, interdiction of drug trafficking, and drug demand reduction, which represented about 85 percent of State’s counternarcotics appropriation in fiscal year 2010.2 INL implements a large share of its funding through contractors, primarily for aviation support for eradication and interdiction efforts.

The chart below includes funding from Economic Support Fund and Development Assistance accounts, implemented by USAID for alternative development programs, but excludes centrally managed accounts and Overseas Contingency Operations funding.

Extracted from GAO report

According to INL officials responsible for contract management, INL generally does not link the performance of individual contracts to its overall program performance assessments, in part because performance measures in contracts relate specifically to fulfillment of contract requirements rather than broad program goals. For example, performance measures in the aviation equipment and support contracts define targets for availability of aircraft and the number of flights to be conducted, not drug interdiction or eradication targets. In addition to aviation equipment and support, which constitute the bulk of contract obligations related to counternarcotics efforts, other INL counternarcotics contract activities include meal services and lodging for counternarcotics personnel, and commodities, such as fuel and vehicles. According to INL officials, State does not have a centralized inventory of counternarcotics contracts.

Overseas posts are generally responsible for setting contract requirements and conducting contract oversight of counternarcotics activities.

Help me out here — isn’t this a tad confusing?

If the performance of the individual contracts are not linked to the overall program, and if each post is responsible for contract requirements and oversight, how are all these activities tie together into a coherent and effective counternarcotics program as a whole? 

Snapshot: State Dept Personnel Projections for FY2006-2014

The State Department’s actual and projected numbers of Foreign Service and civil service personnel for fiscal years 2006 through 2014.

Extracted from GAO-11-241, Jan 25, 2011

Remains to be seen how close these projected numbers will be to the actual numbers authorized by Congress in the next fiscal years.

If you’re in Shanghai, by all means go visit the Embassy of Scotch Whisky Culture

Johnnie Walker Black Label (12 years Scotch Wh...Image via WikipediaVia PRNewswire/ —

JOHNNIE WALKER®, the world’s best-selling brand of Scotch whisky, opened The JOHNNIE WALKER HOUSE™ in Shanghai’s Sinan Mansions on May 19, 2011. The JOHNNIE WALKER HOUSE™ is the first of its kind outside of Scotland and marks a new chapter for whisky culture in China. Interactive sensory journeys, inspirational forums and luxury dinners make this house a unique experience for every guest.

“When we talk to people about blending, we don’t lecture or talk at them. We like people to gather round and have what we call a whisky conversation,” says the JOHNNIE WALKER® Master Blender, Dr Jim Beveridge. “The House is inspired by the ‘Whisky Conversation’, and is the first whisky embassy in China creating a new milestone for whisky culture and marking a new chapter in the epic JOHNNIE WALKER® story.”

Read in full here.

Coming up next — the Scotch Whisky Ambassador? Hurry, the line starts over there ….