Which Ambassador is planning to unload his/her DCM shortly and other curtailment news

This blog recently received the following search queries:

Ambassador window of time to ask DCM to leave

When can the ambassador ask the DCM to leave

Uh-oh! Uh-oh! Like when can I toss my DCM out the window?  That last one is a joke, diplomats do not/not get physical, so no actual window tossing … What? Oh, no, wait a minute, it’s like a metaphor actually like Ms. Bachmann’s.    

My guess is that the person doing the search is not in the career service and who else can you ask on matters like this but the Googles.  In diplo-speak, the query is about curtailment which means shortening an employee’s tour of duty from his or her assignment. It may include the employee’s immediate departure from a bureau or post.  In this instance, possibly that of the deputy chief of mission in some unknown embassy (where about a third of total posts is encumbered by political ambassadors). 

The Foreign Affairs Manual, fondly known as the FAM says that curtailment is an assignment action, not a disciplinary one. Ha-ha! Oops, did I laugh out loud? Hookay, it may not be a disciplinary one but it follows the employee around, kind of like a dark cloud that follows Eeyore all over the place.

Now on to the law of unintended consequences —

Remember the U.S. Ambassador to Denmark who according to the OIG report asked her DCM to leave post in January 2010?  That resulted in a DCM staffing gap of 9 months. That’s 270 days where the chief of mission even with an acting DCM may be forced to function as her/his own executive officer dealing with the nuts and bolts of running an embassy.

The regs says that the ambassador can initiate an involuntary curtailment, which gives the chief of mission wide authority over this matter.  In fact, one political ambassador went though five DCMs during his tenure as George W’s ambo in paradise. The whole two Bush terms. We even wrote a tanka about it.  Another political ambassador went through seven permanent and temporary DCMs in less than one presidential term.  Only one served more than six months! That one deserves a super tanka, I know, just haven’t got around to writing it.

Anyway, kicking out the embassy’s #2 officer may seem easy enough – he/she is not your relative and the USG pays for him/her to be relocated elsewhere but we must point out something kinda important here. See, State Department assignments are usually arranged so that folks have assignments a year before they move or rotate to their new posts. Which means, when the chief of mission unloads a staffer, particularly in the higher ranks, there isn’t anyone waiting in the wings to take over at a moment’s notice. Except sometimes, the mothership sends in a retired Foreign Service Office to be temp DCM. Which is fine and all, except what happens if you don’t like him/her, too? I imagine that’s how you could end up as a record holder of sorts or in the top list of folks who should get Bob Sutton’s book for Christmas. And that’s not something you really want to hang on your wall next to that stuffed moose head, trust me.

So like Eminem sings it —

….be careful what you wish for
cause you just might get it and if you get it
then you just might not know what to do wit’ it ….

Speaking of curtailments — the junior diplomat at the U.S. Consulate General in Chennai who was in hot water for remarks made at a local school reportedly enrolled herself in a cultural sensitivity course. The State Department Spokesperson says:

“We consider the comments absolutely unacceptable. I think you saw that she apologized almost immediately. She’s also gone to – voluntarily enrolled in a cultural sensitivity course. But obviously, they’re unacceptable and inconsistent with core American values.”

A few days later, the Indian press reported that Ms. Chao is leaving her post in Chennai. NDTV reported that “Ms Chao herself decided to leave her posting in Chennai in the near future”, citing an unnamed US Consulate spokesperson in Chennai last Friday.

And here I thought the controversy was blowing over….

IBN India also reported the same thing word for word, but cited Anand Krishna, the spokesperson of the US Consulate in Chennai as the source. The report says that the spokesperson was seeking to delink the move from the controversial remarks and indicated that the officer was not coerced into taking the decision.  Queried about Ms. Chao’s next assignment, Mr. Krishna reportedly said, “It is her personal choice, we have no idea about that.”

Personal choice is an organizational oxymoron, LOL! At least he did not say she was leaving as a regular part of staffing reassignment, or realignment or repositioning.

There are several ways an FS assignment is curtailed or cut short.

One through voluntary curtailment:  An employee assigned abroad may request curtailment of his or her tour of duty for any reason. The employee submits a written request for curtailment that explains the reasons for the request to the appropriate assignment panel through his or her counseling and assignment officer. Post management must also state its support for or opposition to the employee’s request.  For example, an FSO who can’t stand his/her boss can request voluntary curtailment from post.  And then what? Need new shoes to walk up and down the C. Street corridors to find him/her-self a new job. Of course, they’d all want to know why he/she left the old job, bummer!  See why voluntary curtailment is tricky?  Most jobs are filled up a year in advance, too, which would make the curtailed FSO a candidate for the only places with rolling recruitment – Iraq, Afghanistan and ya betcha, Pakistan.

Two, there is involuntary curtailment at the request of the ambassador: If the chief of mission determines that curtailment of an employee’s tour of duty would be in the best interests of the post, the employee, or the employee’s dependents, the chief of mission may ask that the employee’s tour of duty be curtailed.  If I were a spouse with a great fondness for gin (and not just for rum-balls), drinks it like a fish in a tiny pond, then throws up at an official function, that might be grounds for involuntary curtailment, don’t you think?

Three, is immediate involuntary curtailment, an exceptional measure in some situations: When the chief of mission deems immediate curtailment of an employee to be in the best interests of the Foreign Service or the posts; when time will not permit the necessary exchange of communications between the post and the Department. This part of the regs must have been written before the advent of the telephone.  In any case, if you were roaring drunk and naked, and found by local police with bondage gear, you most probably would be on the first plane back to D.C. before you could say “oops!”

Finally, according to the FAM, the Director General of the Foreign Service and most senior HR person has the authority to propose curtailment from any assignment sua sponte or on his/her own accord without prompting from anyone. With good reasons, of course since curtailment entails not just additional moving/shipping expense for the government, but also staffing/logistic upheavals at both the losing and gaining post. 

Read more about curtailment in 3 FAM 2440 here.