Officially Moved: Nancy J. Powell goes from DGHR to New Delhi, and if she turns 65 in 2012, so what?

On December 16, President Obama announced his intent to nominate outgoing Director General of the Foreign Service, Nancy J. Powell to be Ambassador to India.  The WH released the following brief bio:

Ambassador Nancy J. Powell, a career member of the Senior Foreign Service, currently serves as Director General of the Foreign Service and Director of Human Resources at the Department of State.  She was conferred the personal rank of Career Ambassador in January 2011.  Prior to her current assignment, Ambassador Powell served as Ambassador to Nepal (2007-2009), Ambassador to Pakistan (2002-2004), Ambassador to Ghana (2001-2002), and Ambassador to Uganda (1997-1999).  Previous overseas assignments included service in Ottawa, Kathmandu, Islamabad, Lome, Calcutta, New Delhi, and Dhaka.  Her Washington assignments have included: Refugee Assistance Officer, Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary for African Affairs, Acting Assistant Secretary for International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Activities, and the National Intelligence Officer for South Asia at the National Intelligence Council.  Ambassador Powell joined the Foreign Service in 1977 following six years as a high school social studies teacher in Dayton, Iowa.

She received a B.A. from the University of Northern Iowa.

* * *

In State Magazine’s December issue, Ambassador Powell said goodbye after a two-year tenure as Director General of the Foreign Service and Director of Human Resources at the Department of State. She also highlighted the accomplishments of her HR shop including the following:

“We successfully staffed our priority posts, especially in AIP, with volunteers. Thank you to all who recognized the vital importance of providing Foreign Service expertise to these missions. This willingness to step up is crucial to maintaining a system that gives employees the opportunity to decide when it is best for them and their families to serve in these dangerous places without sacrificing our mission.”

That sorta got my porcu-quills up.  The previous DGHR who oversaw arm twisting and directed assignment threats of diplomats during Condi Rice’s time, got a nice onward assignment as ambassador to a tropical country. His deputy, similarly, ended up as ambassador to another tropical “paradise” albeit, where the last surviving tribes in the world engaging in cannibalism lives. Don’t worry, the tribe does not venture into the capital city just to dine.

I wish — just for once, that the folks asking people to
volunteer to serve in our priority posts in the war zones of Afghanistan
and Iraq and in Pakistan, would themselves volunteer to work there? No,
not just visit. But. Work. There. Because why not? That would be a nice
example of leadership in action instead of a misfired caper of “follow
what I say but not what I do.”

Wonderful to see all you volunteers stepping up to fill in vacant slots in AIP posts (Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan), but Ambassador Powell herself ain’t going there. She was in Pak seven years ago before the civilian uplift and before State bundled it up as part of AIP.  And now she is going to New Delhi, India, a 15% COLA and a 20% hardship post. What are you grumbling about?  India is almost an AIP post, and really — given its close proximity to Pakistan shouldn’t it count as a priority post also without the flying bullets? Wonder where the Deputy DGHR going for onward assignment? Don’t know but we’ll sure hear about it.

Col. Michael Howard, commander, 4th Brigade Combat Team,  25th Infantry Division,
escorts senior State Department representatives, Ambassador Nancy Powell, Ambassador
Joseph Mussomeli, and Dr. Ruth Whiteside at Forward Operating Base Salerno
in Khost province, eastern Afghanistan, Oct. 14. Representatives visited various areas
within the provinces  of  Paktya, Paktika, and Khowst to assess
the security and governance in the area.
Photo by Staff Sgt. Marcus Butler

In any case, if confirmed, the reportedly 64-year-old nominee would succeed Tim Roemer, who resigned from his post in April 2011 following a two-year stint as U.S. envoy to India.  And if all goes well, this would be Ambassador Powell’s 5th ambassadorial appointment.

Besides the issue of an onward assignment, I find this a rather curious nomination in terms of timing.  It does not look like she will get a confirmation hearing between now and the end of the year. So she would need to be renominated next year. Depending on how things are in the Senate, she could have her confirmation hearing within the first three months. Or not.

I recognize that 2012 is an election year but Ambassador Powell is a career diplomat.  The presidential election outcome should have limited bearing on her tenure.  Typically in a political transition, career appointees with some exceptions are allowed to serve their full term, which is normally three years. Except that Ambassador Powell is a prospective candidate for what I’d call, State Trek’s “airlock.

If her Wikipedia entry is correct and she was born in1947, she would turn 65 next year. She would run right smack of the mandatory retirement age under the Foreign Service Act of 1980. Which means, her ambassadorial tenure in New Delhi could be a short 8-10 months or less depending on when she would get her Senate confirmation or when is her actual birth month. Normally, FSOs are supposed to retire on the last day of the month they turn 65.

Spending 2-3 months on confirmation preparation for a tenure that would not even last more than 12 months seems like a questionable allocation of resources. Also the USG has to pay for her entire relocation to India.  Retired diplomat Peter Burleigh (who served as Ambassador to Sri Lanka and the Maldives, and the UN) has been acting as Charge d’affaires at U.S. Mission India since Mr. Roemer’s departure last spring. Two consecutive one-year tours of the chief of mission in India would not have any impact on continuity, priorities and mission effectiveness, of course.

But it gets better.  Apparently, there is also such a thing called the Foreign Service Standard Operating Procedure D-01:

(click on image for larger view)

In all of US Embassy India’s constituent posts, only Kolkata is considered an HDS post.  So, if the SOP above is current, why is Ambassador Powell, a career member of the Foreign Service even nominated for New Delhi when it seems she would hit 65 in less than 24 months?

I bring this up for good reason.  See, the given justification why Dr. Elizabeth Colton’s assignment to Algiers was withdrawnn according to her age discrimination court filings was that “she would be unable to fulfill a two year tour because of the “statutory retirement requirements.”

And yet, here the State Department has recommended and the WH nominated somebody who will be legally kicked out under the law for being officially old next year.  The only reason this would not seem like a questionable allocation of resources is if a decision is already made that the Director General, Ambassador Powell, if confirmed, would not be mandatorily retired next year. Yeah, because there is something called — whatchamaculit?  A mandatory retirement waiver or something called an extension of service if it’s “in the public interest.”

(click on image for larger view)

Um, wait — what’s that? Ambassadors are exempt from “officially” getting old? Sec. 812 of the Foreign Service Act of 1980 says that “Any participant who is otherwise required to retire under subsection (a) while occupying a position to which he or she was appointed by the President, by and with the advice and consent of the Senate, may continue to serve until that appointment is terminated.”

So if Ambassador Powell gets confirmed, and I see no reason why she won’t get senate confirmation given that this would be her 6th, she could serve from 2012-2015.  Until she’s 68.  No mandatory retirement waiver even required.

Now, one of the majority arguments for mandatory retirement in the Foreign Service the last time it was litigated to conclusion has always been that the Foreign Service involves extended overseas
duty under difficult and often hazardous conditions, and that the wear
and tear on members of this corps is such that there comes a time when
these posts should be filled by younger persons. Mandatory retirement,
it is said, minimizes the risk of less than superior performance by
reason of poor health or loss of vitality. The Court noted the “common
sense proposition that aging — almost by definition — inevitably wears
us all down.”

It is good to know that ambassadors unlike regular
members of the U.S. diplomatic corps are not afflicted by this “common
sense proposition” of aging.

So there you go — there are rules and there are rules, and just as important, there are exceptions to the rules.  The 1% and 99%, even in the Foreign Service — who knew?

On a related note, Dr. Colton who I heard was nominated for the Edward R. Murrow Award for Excellence in Public Diplomacy for her work in Egypt this past year (a nomination gobbled up by a black hole never to be heard of again), and was forced to retire last September is scheduled to appear before the U.S. Court of Appeals for her age discrimination case against the State Department.

 

 

Updated with additional info on MRA under the FS Act of 1980 12/18.