US Embassy Denmark: A Flat Stanley-Mission, Well Sort Of, But Not Really – Oh, Confusion!

About a year ago, we posted about the OIG inspection of the US Embassy in Denmark (see State/OIG on US Embassy Denmark: “Ambassador has, in effect, become a first-line supervisor”).

Two items stand out from that report:

  • The embassy staff perceives that the Ambassador is unwilling to delegate authority, and that this weakens the chain of command and disempowers section leaders, making it difficult for them to organize their work and to hold officers within their sections accountable.
  • The Ambassador has, in effect, become a first-line supervisor, and can be harsh in dealing with any lapses she perceives.[REDACTED]

State/OIG had since concluded a Compliance Follow-up Review (CFR) which took place in Washington, DC, between October 31 and November 4, 2011, and in Copenhagen, Denmark, between November 7 and 17, 2011. The report was recently posted online. Excerpt below:

Although the mission seemed to be functioning adequately, the inspection team found [REDACED] problems with senior mission leadership. In response to several key judgments on leadership, the team recommended that the Ambassador return to Washington for consultations that had not been possible before her arrival in Copenhagen and issued three other recommendations that sought to clarify the chain of command. In a meeting with the deputy inspector general in December 2010, the Ambassador asked for a CFR. She felt that the inspection was unduly critical because it did not take into account the fact that it was conducted just as a new team, which she had selected, arrived.
The inspection report for Embassy Copenhagen, issued early in 2011, noted problems of clarity in delineating the responsibilities and authorities of the DCM; problems with senior mission officers understanding the chain of command, including section chiefs’ responsibilities for the work of their subordinates; and problems of communication and transparency across the mission. Inspectors issued three recommendations intended to address these problems. Mission officers told the CFR team that they have seen some improvement and many believed their relationships with the Ambassador have also improved.

As was the case at the time of the inspection, the Ambassador prefers to run a relatively flat organization; the Ambassador reaches out to individual officers for information or to assign them tasks. Often, section chiefs are unaware of assigned tasks until advised by their subordinates. While it is the prerogative of the Ambassador and DCM to operate a relatively flat organization, including reaching out directly to any member of the mission, the absence of a clear system to keep supervisors informed about those contacts hinders section chiefs’ ability to maintain oversight and quality control over their officers’ work. This practice also results in a loss of accountability, and in the case of some entry-level officers, their involvement with special projects may have limited their exposure to the core programs that they need to master.

Image from Wikipedia

Reissuing the inspection recommendation to distribute an administrative notice that delineates a clear chain of command will not, in itself, address the issues identified by the inspection. The Ambassador believes the current approach works best for her. The system has not resulted in obvious lost opportunities or unforced errors. Nevertheless, this approach has the effect of denying the Ambassador the shaping and enrichment of her thinking by professionals with experience in Department processes, as well as some who have experience and understanding of Denmark. Additionally, some officers do not feel that they have been able to do the jobs they expected to do. Compared to the original inspection, survey results from mission staff in personal questionnaires completed prior to the CFR have not significantly improved, and overall mission morale, as measured by the OIG survey, is about the same.
The Ambassador has established guidelines for messages and emails that the DCM may approve. It is not always clear to mission staff the exact criteria for messages the DCM is authorized to approve. By default, there is a tendency in all sections to assume the Ambassador will want to approve most messages. That assumption is correct.

Oh, dear! And this is just one more example why a political ambassador can have a bumpy ride at an overseas mission.

The State Department, including its embassies and consulates overseas are hierarchical creatures. They are all versions of a pyramid with large numbers of people at the bottom and fewer people as you get to the top, arranged in order of rank, grade or class. Members of these structures mainly communicate with their immediate superior and with their immediate subordinates. That’s the way its been since …well, since the beginning of time.

Then you get an ambassador who prefers to run her embassy as a “relatively flat organization.”  We presume from reading the report that this includes less management layer, more direct staff input, shorter chain of command, and more direct tasking of entry level officers and other staff. Which cuts off “oversight” and “quality control” by supervisors and midlevel managers; a hallmark of flatter organizations where responsibilities are shifted from levels of management directly to employees, empowering them to take charge.

At an embassy where the flat experience without a doubt is limited to a visit by Flat Stanley, there will surely be a clash of undiplomatic proportion which results in some motion sickness and disorientation for everyone.

There will be confusion.  Of course, the chain of command is suddenly unrecognizable. The more senior officers may suddenly feel like spare wheels and less important. Information as power no longer works.

Regretfully, chewing a gum would not help if you have Visually Induced Mission Sickness (VIMS); that’s the ailment for those suffering disorientation from being out of the loop.

The less senior employees may suddenly feel empowered but also concerned, after all, if the big boss is giving them direct assignments, who will be their rating officers? And if their rating officers or reviewing officers are out of the loop, how do you get a performance review that would snag tenure or promotion?

Oh, Confusion, you naughty child of organizational culture clash!

What this show is that bureaucracies despite touting smarts and innovation and whatnot, and despite good intentions are true creatures of its cultures, which can often be fixed and rigid, and coping mechanisms are not as agile as needed.

Update: 4/18/2012 @11:18 pm

The point I missed on the OIG Denmark report —

One of our readers told us that we’ve missed the point in the report.  Like – “Embassy Copenhagen isn’t very big–so we’re not talking about layer upon layer of intermediate managers.”  Okay, we got that.  So if everything has to go to the big boss for approval (or if everyone thinks it should), we’re told that is “sclerotic.” Yep, the wheels on the bus grinds to a slow-mo.

“If first-line supervisors don’t know what their staffs are doing, they can neither manage them properly nor provide the advice any ambassador should need and want.  And if junior officers are being diverted from their functional tasks and aren’t learning core skills and programs, then they are not being prepared for advancement (and the work they getting paid for isn’t getting done, thus wasting taxpayer funds).  This isn’t innovation, it’s micromanagement.”

And we get all that.  But we rather think that the preference for a flatter structure is a management style not an innovative initiative per se in this case.  Micromanagement is not an unknown issue at State, where some career ambassadors and DCMs are known to be so themselves, and employees learn to managed up, as they say in those corridors (although most if not all trust their DCMs to sign off on things that need approval). If ELOs are not doing visa interviews and are instead sent window shopping or something, then we’d be very concerned about taxpayer’s funds. But if they are doing special projects prioritized by the chief of mission, included in the embassy’s strategic plan or whatever they call those things these days, they’re still doing a job for the mission, just not the job written in their work requirement statements. Disruptive, yes, but is it wasteful? The OIG report did say that this has “not resulted in obvious lost opportunities or unforced errors.”  Our correspondent’s point taken, but we still think of this under the larger umbrella of a culture clash.

We’d hate to be in that DCM’s place though.

Domani Spero


Related post:
State/OIG on US Embassy Denmark: “Ambassador has, in effect, become a first-line supervisor”

Related items:
-03/31/11   Inspection of Embassy Copenhagen, Denmark (ISP-I-11-19A) March 2011  [4434 Kb]
-04/09/12   Compliance Follow-up Review of Embassy Copenhagen, Denmark (ISP-C-12-20)  [534 Kb]




State Dept Tops Chief Watchdog Vacancy Club – 1,546 Days and Counting

POGO’s Jake Wiens calls it an “inglorious membership” with the club’s longest serving member,  the State Department OIG having a leadership vacancy streak of 1,546 days and counting.

Since assuming office, the Obama Administration has not bothered to put in a Senate confirmed Inspector General for the State Department.  The current Deputy Inspector General, Harold W. Geisel, was appointed to office by Secretary Rice on 06/02/2008. There is no current IG nominee waiting in the wings or stuck in Senate confirmation. The last State IG confirmed by the Senate was Howard J. Krongard.  According to LAT, Mr. Krongard was “accused of improperly interfering with investigations into private security contractor Blackwater USA and with other probes” and resigned in December 2007.  If you have forgotten about that incident, see more about the Ballad of Cookie and Buzzy here to refresh your memory.


Offices of Inspector General (OIGs) are the public’s primary bulwarks against waste, fraud, and misconduct within federal agencies—but without a permanent leader to spearhead their operations, they’re much less effective. Unfortunately for taxpayers, the President is failing to nominate watchdogs to lead these offices in a timely manner.

To date, permanent IG positions at twelve different agencies remain unfilled. Seven of these positions—including those in major departments such as the Department of Justice and Department of the Interior—have been vacant for over a year. The most troubling case is the State Department, which hasn’t had a permanent IG since the days of the last presidential election.

State’s oversight of contractors has inspired little confidence, given scandals like “Spring Break in Kabul,” where there was a serious breakdown of discipline among private security personnel defending the U.S. Embassy in Afghanistan. Now, the Department faces an unprecedented diplomatic mission in Iraq, and must oversee a massive influx of contractors to the country. Without a permanent IG, the opportunity for misconduct and waste is great.

POGO has put together a page to Tell Obama to Stop the Foot-Dragging and Nominate a State Dept. Watchdog.

This is not the first time that POGO has called for the appointment of a permanent IG for the State Department. In 2010, POGOo wrote a letter to President Obama and raised questions about Deputy IG Geisel’s personal ties to State Department management.

“Of particular concern is Geisel’s relationship with State Under Secretary for Management Patrick F. Kennedy. Kennedy “is responsible for the people, resources, facilities, technology, consular affairs, and security of the Department of State,” according to his State Department biography.[26] The matters under his purview are the types of issues routinely investigated and audited by any independent and effective IG.”

Click here to read POGO’S Nov 18, 2010 letter to the White House.  POGO also posted a purported email between Deputy IG Harold Geisel and State’s Under Secretary for Management Patrick Kennedy. Read it here, you’ll probably think it’s a tad cozy.

The concern about the State IG’s independence and effectiveness is nothing new.  The Government Accountability Office had raised this issue in 2007 and in spring 2011 had brought it up again during a congressional hearing.   Specifically, the GAO points to the appointment of management and Foreign Service officials to head the State OIG in an acting capacity for extended periods of time as not consistent with professional standards for independence.

“[T]he use of Foreign Service officers at the ambassador level to lead OIG inspections resulted in, at a minimum, the appearance of independence impairment.”

GAO also reported that “inspections, by design, are conducted under less in-depth requirements and do not provide the same level of assurance as audits.” However, the OIG relied on inspections rather than audits to provide oversight coverage, resulting in gaps to the audit oversight of the department.

Here is a rundown of the oversight history at State (via GAO):

The State OIG is unique among federal inspectors general in its history and responsibilities due to a statutory requirement for the OIG to provide inspections of the department’s bureaus and posts worldwide. From 1906 until 1957, inspections were to be carried out at least once every 2 years and were viewed as a management function, and not a function of an independent inspector general. In 1957, the State Department administratively established an Inspector General of Foreign Service, which was the first inspector general office within the State Department to conduct inspections. Congress enacted legislation in 1961 and in 1980 creating statutory inspectors general who were tasked with performing inspections on certain State Department activities. In 1978, GAO reviewed the IG’s inspection reports and questioned the independence of Foreign Service officers who were temporarily detailed to the IG’s office and recommended the elimination of this requirement. 6 The 1980 legislation, section 209(a) of the Foreign Service Act, required the State IG to inspect every foreign service post, bureau, or other operating unit in the State Department at least once every 5 years.

In 1982, we reviewed the IG’s operations and noted that the 5-year inspection cycle led to problems with the IG’s effectiveness by limiting the ability to do other work.7 In addition, we continued to question the use of Foreign Service officers and other persons from operational units within the department to staff the IG office. In 1986, reacting to concerns similar to those expressed in our 1982 report, Congress made the State IG a presidentially appointed inspector general subject to the Inspector General Act and prohibited a career member of the Foreign Service from being appointed as the State IG. Starting in 1996 and continuing until today, Congress, in the Department of State appropriations acts, annually waives the 5-year statutory requirement for inspections. However, while the inspection requirement is waived annually by Congress, the State IG continues to conduct inspections as part of its plan for oversight of the department.

In March 2007, we reported on two areas of continuing concern regarding the independence of the State OIG. These concerns involved the appointment of management officials to head the State OIG in an acting capacity for extended periods of time and the use of Foreign Service staff to lead State OIG inspections. These concerns were similar to independence issues we reported in 1978 and 1982 regarding Foreign Service officers temporarily detailed from program offices to the IG’s office and inspection staff reassigned to and from management offices within the department. In response to concerns about personal impairments to the State IG’s independence, the act that created the current IG office prohibits a career Foreign Service official from becoming an IG of the State Department.13

Another independence concern discussed in our March 2007 report is the use of Foreign Service officers to lead inspections of the department’s bureaus and posts. We found it was State OIG policy for inspections to be led by ambassador-level Foreign Service officers. These Foreign Service officers frequently move through the OIG on rotational assignments. As Foreign Service officers, they are expected to help formulate, implement, and defend government policy which now, as team leaders for the IG’s inspections, they are expected to review. These officers may return to Foreign Service positions in the department after their rotation through the OIG which could be viewed as compromising the OIG’s independence. Specifically, the appearance of objectivity is severely limited by this potential impairment to independence resulting in a detrimental effect to the quality of the inspection results.
[T]he Deputy IG stated that having Foreign Service officers with the rank of ambassador as team leaders is critical to the effectiveness of the inspection teams. OIG officials stated that there are currently six Foreign Service officers at the ambassador level serving as the team leaders for inspections, four of whom are rehired annuitants working for the State OIG. To address independence impairments the State OIG relies on a recusal policy where Foreign Service officers must self-report whether they have worked in a post or embassy that is subject to an inspection and therefore presents a possible impairment. Further, State OIG officials noted that the team leaders report to a civil service Assistant IG and the inspection teams include other members of the civil service. We continue to believe that the State OIG’s use of management staff who have the possibility of returning to management positions, even if they are rehired annuitants or currently report to civil service employees in the OIG, presents at least an appearance of impaired independence and is not fully consistent with professional standards.

In its testimony before the House Committee on Foreign Affairs in April last year, Mr. Geisel told Congress that the exclusion of management staff from IG jobs is not in the “best interests of OIG or the Department.”

“As OIG stated in its 2007 response to GAO, to eliminate from consideration all Civil Service officers with State Department management careers would unduly restrict OIG’s ability to consider the broadest number of highly qualified candidates. In fact, the Foreign Service Act (22 U.S.C. § 3929 (a) (1) lists “knowledge and experience in the conduct of foreign affairs” as a qualifying factor for potential IGs. In sum, we believe we have complied with all but the last part of GAO’s third recommendation, which we do not agree is in the best interests of OIG or the Department.”

And right there, we think is the crux of the problem. As an independent entity, he should have said “which we do not agree is in the best interests of OIG” period.   Because surely, the State Department can look after its own interest?

We are a first line consumer of State OIG reports.  And we agree with POGO that the State Department should have a permanent IG. And as long as Foreign Service Officers and other management staff rotates to assignments in the OIG, we also think that it should not have the names of the members of the inspection teams redacted in publicly available reports.  If its recusal policy works, there is no reason why the public should not know who inspected which post when.

Update 4/18/2012 @11:05 pm:

One of our readers,  John Q Inspector wrote to tell us that “while the lack of a confirmed IG is inexplicable, Harry Geisel has done a super job of revitalizing a thoroughly demoralized organization after Krongard.  We don’t pull punches, and he keeps telling us not to.”  

That’s good to know–

Domani Spero



Officially In: Susan Marsh Elliott – from SCA Bureau to Tajikistan

On April 11, President Obama announced his intent to nominate Susan Marsh Elliott as the next Ambassador to the Republic of Tajikistan. The WH released the following brief bio:

Susan Marsh Elliott, a career member of the Senior Foreign Service with the rank of Counselor, currently

State Dept Photo

serves as Deputy Assistant Secretary in the Bureau of South and Central Asian Affairs at the Department of State.  Prior to this role, Ms. Elliott served as Minister-Counselor for Political Affairs at the U.S. Embassy in Moscow (2009-2010) and as Principal Officer at the U.S. Consulate General in Belfast (2007-2009).   Other assignments have included Deputy Executive Secretary (2005-2007), Office Director of the Executive Secretariat Staff (2003-2005), Visa Section Chief at the U.S. Embassy in Athens (2001-2003), Deputy Economic Counselor at the U.S. Embassy in Athens (1999-2001), and Desk Officer in the Office of the Coordinator for Regional Conflicts in the New Independent States (1994-1995).  Ms. Elliott joined the Foreign Service in 1990 after serving as a nurse at the U.S. Embassy in Tegucigalpa.

Ms. Elliott received a B.S. from Skidmore College, an M.S. from Russell Sage College, and a D.S.N. from Indiana University.

If confirmed, she would succeed career diplomat, Kenneth E. Gross, Jr. who was appointed chief of mission to Dushanbe in 2009. Ms. Elliott speaks Russian, Greek, and Spanish. During her twenty-year career as a Foreign Service Officer she has received several individual superior and meritorious honor awards.

Ms. Elliott is married to Matthias Mitman, who is also a Foreign Service officer. They have two adult sons. Prior to joining the Foreign Service she received a doctoral degree from Indiana University and served on the faculties of Ball State University and the University of Virginia.

Domani Spero

Related item:
April 11, 2012 | President Obama Announces More Key Administration Posts

Officially In: David J. Lane – from the White House to UNFAO

On April 11, President Obama announced his intent to nominate David J. Lane as the next US Rep to UNFAO.  The nominee will have the rank of Ambassador during his tenure of service as the United States Representative to the United Nations Agencies for Food and Agriculture. The WH released the following brief bio:

David J. Lane currently serves as Assistant to the President and Counselor to the Chief of Staff at the White House.  From 2007 to 2011, he was President and Chief Executive Officer of ONE.  Prior to joining ONE, Mr. Lane was the Director of Public Policy and External Affairs and Director of the East Coast Office for the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.  From 1993 to 2000, he served in a number of senior positions in the federal government, including Executive Director of the National Economic Council at the White House and Chief of Staff to the U.S. Secretary of Commerce.

He received a B.A. from the University of Virginia and an M.P.A. from the Woodrow Wilson School at Princeton University.

WaPo’s Who Runs Gov has this to say about David Lane:

When Bill Daley took the reins as White House chief of staff in January 2011, he brought his own former chief of staff, Lane, to the West Wing to advise him. Lane came to the Washington from a job as president and CEO of ONE, an organization that fights global poverty that was co-founded by the U2 rock star Bono. “He’s astute, considered and calm,” Bono said of Lane. “His presence means a better night’s sleep for those who work with him.”

If confirmed, Mr. Lane would succeed Democratic Party official, Ertharin Cousin who was appointed to UNFAO in 2009 and recently moved on as Executive Director of the United Nations World Food Programme.

Domani Spero

Related item:
April 11, 2012 | President Obama Announces More Key Administration Posts