Dammit! Which State Dept Tiger Ate This Diplomatic Spouse Blogger for Dinner?

Folks, and paging Alec J. Ross –

— Dudes, this is getting old and making me um throw up! After a quick and sweet goodbye, she’s gone.

A Daring Adventure

— Is this a demonstration of the State Department’s 21st Century Statecraft at work? 

— Wow! 

— Now I have to add this blog to the Foreign Service Blogmetery. See the lower left hand sidebar of this blog, please.  Yes, unfortunately, the blogmetery is growing. Most of them died under suspicious circumstances. There’s a serial blog killer around, and I think there is more than one.

— Say, who are you folks going to eat for lunch, tomorrow?

Domani Spero

US Embassy Algiers: environment remains “unusually taxing” and about that success in social media

The State Department’s OIG released recently its inspection report of the U.S. Embassy in Algeria.  Ambassador Henry S. Ensher and his DCM, Elizabeth M. Aubin arrived at post in July and September respectively, last year.  During the OIG inspection last fall, three of the five section chief positions were vacant. Below are the report’s Key Judgments:

• [This section has been redacted. This section has been redacted. This section has been redacted.]
• The management section provides inadequate services to its customers. Opaque processes, perceptions of undue influence and preferential treatment in hiring, and poor communication contribute to customer dissatisfaction with management services.
• Management controls are weak due to a lack of standard operating procedures in vulnerable areas and insufficient collaboration among units, particularly in supply chain management.
• Interagency coordination on counterterrorism, economic and trade issues, and foreign assistance is excellent. Although the United States and Algeria cooperate closely on only a narrow range of issues, related primarily to counterterrorism, the embassy uses assistance programs to promote broader common interests.
• The Ambassador recognizes the centrality of public diplomacy (PD) to achieving the embassy’s goals and supports PD programs and activities. Embassy Algiers has effectively engaged with young people, a priority target audience, and employs a diverse range of exchange programs and PD platforms.

Operating Environment:

Embassy Algiers operates in an unusually difficult and dangerous environment that requires strong American management skills and expertise. The current management section has neither the staff nor the experienced leadership to operate effectively. The professional credentials of the current management team do not constitute a recipe for success: a management officer who had never served overseas previously; U.S. direct-hire unit chiefs who, with one exception, were serving in their functional areas for the first time; and LE staff members with mixed levels of proficiencies and who are still recovering from malfeasance cases in the recent past. Many of the findings in this inspection report mirror those of the last two inspections in 2001 and 2006. The former deputy chief of mission, who departed immediately prior to the OIG inspection, provided neither guidance nor sufficient mentoring to the management section. The absence of adequate front office support contributed to protracted debates and bureaucratic logjams at the working level. The Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs characterized the management section’s operations in more positive terms than OIG found to be warranted.

Family Member Employment:

The U.S. citizen eligible family member hiring process also generates complaints of favoritism and lack of fairness. The embassy’s hiring practices do not conform to Department recruitment policy guidelines contained in the Local Employee Recruitment Policy Guidebook. For example, the embassy has not constituted a post employment committee to review the qualifications of U.S. citizen eligible family members and U.S. veterans who apply for embassy positions. The committee must document its deliberations and prepare a formal memorandum to the chief of mission, recommending appointments for all U.S. citizen eligible family members and veterans who are hired at the mission. The human resources office has drafted, but not yet completed, a family member appointment handbook and other implementing guidance for hiring eligible family members. In the absence of a properly functional hiring process, the embassy cannot address concerns that eligible family member hiring is not transparent and free of improper influence.

Entry-Level Officer Mentoring

The embassy does not have a formal mentoring and professional development program for ELOs, as required by Department guidance (2010 State 120467). The large complement of untenured, first- or second-tour officers and specialists—13 employees, representing more than a third of the Department contingent —combined with the paucity of mid-level professionals, puts a heavy burden on the mission’s few senior officers. In some sections, adequate supervision, training, and mentoring are also deficient. [REDACTED]

There are a couple parts in the report where more enlightenment would have been nice:

Consular Management
Consular management and local staff observe consular leadership tenets. All LE staff members have been cross-trained in at least two of the consular functional areas. The section is sufficiently staffed to meet its visa and American citizens service workload. Standard operating procedures for all routine functions are in use and available to everyone in the section. The deputy chief of mission reviews the adjudications of the consular section chief.

The paragraph above is the entire section on consular management. The inspection occurs every five years and that’s all there is to say?  Management and staff observe the consular leadership tenets – like how? And which ones? All of them?

The OIG inspectors also reviewed the embassy’s web and social media usage and have the following conclusion:

Internet usage is growing but still limited in Algeria. Facebook is the dominant social medium. The embassy successfully uses its Web page and social media to disseminate and amplify policy information, promote programs, and facilitate contact with younger Algerians. PAS Algiers places appropriate emphasis on social media and allocates resources to locally relevant social media.

The report, however, never discussed the OIG’s measure for success in this area.  How can you tell that an embassy has “successfully” used its web page and social media platforms — number of fans? number of comments? type of engagement? number of face-to-face contact? mere existence?

US Embassy Algiers has four, yes, four Facebook accounts:

U.S.Embassy Algiers-Alumni & Education Advising has 2709 fans and open to the general online public. The following FB pages are apparently up but are only open to registered FB users.

  • US Embassy Algiers Consular Section – American Citizen Services
  • US Embassy Algiers Consular Section – Visa Unit
  • U.S.Embassy Algiers Access Program

US Embassy Algiers joined YouTube on Oct 7, 2009. It has 248 video uploads and currently has 285 subscribers.  It is also on Twitter at http://twitter.com/#!/USEmbAlgiers with 704 followers.

Algeria is the second largest country in the African continent. It currently sits as the top 7th internet country in Africa, in terms of users. In 2000, there were only 50,000 internet users in the country.  Internet usage statistics for 2010 indicates 4.7 million users, and an internet penetration rate of 13.6%.  Internet World Stats citing Facebook numbers says that there are 2,836,740 FB users in Algeria as of December 2011.

I admit I was never good with math but c’mon — the embassy has 2,709 FB fans in a country with 2,836,740 FB users. It has approximately a total of 3,600 users across FB, YouTube and Twitter (non gen-public FB pages excepted) in a country with some 4.7 million internet users. 

Dear OIG, what the heck are you talking about?

US Embassy Sarajevo: February Blizzard

The US Embassy in Sarajevo last Friday issued an emergency message to Americans in BiH warning of continuing winter freeze:

The U.S. Embassy in Sarajevo informs U.S. citizens residing in or visiting Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH) of continuing severe winter weather conditions impacting the country.  More snow and frigid temperatures are forecasted for the next seven days (February 10-17).  We urge U.S. citizens to stay alert and to monitor local weather reports closely and follow the instructions provided by local BiH officials.

The entire Federation and parts of the Republic of Srpska currently remain under a state of emergency.  Because of heavy snow and record low temperatures in Bosnia and Herzegovina, road conditions are hazardous with most roads covered in snow and ice.  In addition, the Mostar region is experiencing severe power outages.  According to press reports, regular access routes to many villages in eastern Bosnia are also blocked.  Public schools have been closed temporarily.  The airport in Sarajevo is open.

Photo from US Embassy Sarajevo/FB

Click here for more photos from the February blizzard.

US Embassy New Delhi: What’s Human Services Gotta Do with Visas?

Below is excerpted from an Ask the Consul chat transcript posted online by the US Embassy in New Delhi:

Moderator: Hi This is ”Ask the Consul” chat about Visa Issues. Are you planning a trip to the U.S.? Have lots of queries about visa procedures? Our consular officer will make it all easy for you. Chat live about visa issues with a New Delhi Consular Officer.

Moderator: The consular officer will provide guidance on general queries. Personal visa issues will not be discussed.

sivasubramanian: my Q-any limits on the peroid of stay within the 10 yr. visa perod?

Consular Officer: Depending on the visa, documents may not be required for the officer to make a decision. Please read the booklet they gave you, and re-apply if you wish. Please note that we process 600,000 non immigrant visas per year

swami: I want to know one major thing that people have a fear to deny of visa from Embassy always ; thats why the agents take a advantage,please explain some reason of deny visa ?

Consular Officer: Your visa is permission to travel to the United States. The amount of time you can actually stay in the United States per visit is up to the Department of Human Serivces upon arrival.

No! No! Nooooo!

We don’t even have a Department of Human Serivces. We have the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), the federal government’s principal agency for protecting the health of all Americans and providing essential human services, especially for those who are least able to help themselves.

I’m sure the Consular Section in New Delhi did not really mean that, but it never appended a note with the correct information either. So officially according to the US Embassy in New Delhi, the amount of time you can stay in the U.S. per visit is up to a non-existing Department of Human Serivces.

Will they meet you at the airport upon arrival, too?

Domani Spero