Snapshot: US Mission Iraq Staffing as of July 2012

The following numbers and info from the July 30 SIGIR report:

As of early July, according to DoS, 15,007 personnel were supporting the U.S. Mission in Iraq:

  •  1,235 U.S. government civilian employees (includes full-time and temporary government employees and personal-services contractors)
  •  13,772 contractor personnel (U.S., Iraqi, and third-country nationals), 5,737 of whom were providing security services

In a change from its past reporting practice, DoS said that it obtained this quarter’s data on the number and role of contractors from the Synchronized Predeployment and Operational Tracker (SPOT) database maintained by DoD. SIGIR also obtained data from the SPOT database that showed 12,477 employees of U.S.-funded contractors and grantees were working in Iraq as of July 2, 2012—1,295 fewer contractor personnel than reported by the Embassy. The data may have been accessed on different dates, but SIGIR does not know if that would completely account for the difference in reported number of contractor personnel.

Reconstruction Staff Down to 6, But Wait —

According to DoS, only 6 personnel—the number of staff in the Iraq Strategic Partnership Office—support “reconstruction activities.” DoS estimated that 67 contractors also support reconstruction programs. However, in its tally of reconstruction personnel, DoS excludes the entire staff of the Office of Security Cooperation-Iraq (OSC-I), which manages Iraq Security Forces Fund (ISFF) projects and the Foreign Military Sales (FMS) and Foreign Military Financing (FMF) programs; DoS Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs (INL) personnel working on the Police Development Program (PDP); and personnel working on U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) programs.96 DoS contends that it excludes these individuals because they work on “traditional assistance programs (assistance programs that are found in embassies worldwide).” However, SIGIR takes the position that Economic Support Fund (ESF) and FMS, for example, are reconstruction programs in Iraq—a position supported in a March 31, 2011, letter by the Chairmen of the House Committees on Oversight and Government Reform and Foreign Affairs to the Secretary of State.

Less Expensive Staffing/Life-Support Options

DoS is working to reduce direct-hire staffing by 25%–30% by the end of 2013. Moreover, the Embassy is continuing to hire more Iraqis to fill direct-hire positions, reporting that 240 of the planned 400 were on board, as of June 28.

With regard to life-support contractors, DoS’s goal is for 50% of all life-support contractors to be Iraqis. As of late June, Iraqis made up about 24% of life-support contractors.

US Consulate Kirkuk Closes Today, Maybe

The U.S. Consulate in Kirkuk—which has been operational, though not providing most traditional consular services, for about one year—has been scheduled to close by the end of July 2012. The consulate, which had been colocated with the OSC-I site on the grounds of an Iraqi Air Force base, will transfer most of its personnel to the Erbil Diplomatic Support Center (EDSC). To accommodate this move, the EDSC is preparing additional containerized housing-units that will serve as living quarters and office space for those personnel relocated from Kirkuk. About 30 private-security  contractors will move from Kirkuk to Erbil as part of this plan. U.S. facilities in Kirkuk had been subject to regular indirect fire attacks since they opened. OSC-I will close its Kirkuk site by the end of September.

That’s a “maybe” because nowhere in US Mission Baghdad’s website or social media digs is there an announcement or an indication that the consulate in Kirkuk is about to close.  In fact, the embassy’s lengthy job vacancy list, still has the following:

Jobs/Vacancies in Consulate General Kirkuk:
Political Assistant, FSN-8; FP-6* (PDF 93kb) Closing Date: Open until filled

An FSN-8 at $40,102 USD per year. Not bad for a local rate in a country where the average annual income is $3,500.  But Iraqis may still not want their neighbors to know where they work. The job was originally published in February and republished in May.

Domani Spero

Advertisements

Photo of the Day: Ambassador Kim Shows His Fashion Sense at “2012 World of Calvin Klein”

Via US Embassy Seoul/FB:  “Ambassador shows his fashion sense at “2012 World of Calvin Klein” fashion show at the Seoul Station rooftop!”

That’s Ambassador Sung Kim, our ambassador to the Republic of Korea. Prior to his appointment to the US Embassy in Seoul, you will remember him as the Special Envoy for the Six-Party Talks.  Before that, he headed the Office of Korean Affairs at the Department of State from August 2006 to July 2008.  Ambassador Kim also served in a variety of positions in the East Asia Pacific region including overseas assignments in Seoul, Tokyo, Kuala Lumpur and Hong Kong.

Photo via US Embassy Seoul/FB

In early July, we blogged about Ambassador Kenney at the BIFF (see Ambassador Kristie Kenney on the Runway at Bangkok International Fashion Fair). Not sure if Ambassador Kim actually walked the runway in Seoul in late May (no blog post about the event) or if he just popped in to show the flag. But if he did, that probably makes him the first chief of mission on the catwalk.

The show, by the way, was put together by Calvin Klein Inc., a fashion house founded by American fashion designer Calvin KleinAccording the WWD, the private event took place in a purpose-built structure on top of the landmark Seoul Station, and featured three interactive video installations by Rafaël Rozendaal, Scott Snibbe and the Flightphase collective. The night’s highlight, however, was a specially curated program of videos displayed on the Seoul Square Media Canvas, the world’s largest LED screen at 23 stories tall.

Domani Spero

US Mission Iraq/INL: Sexing-up Them “Engagement” Numbers in Iraq?

Here is part of the SIGIR report that talks about the number of meetings (on the Iraqi side) and engagements (on the US Embassy Iraq/INL side) during the first three month period of 2012.

In late December 2011, Principal Deputy Minister of Interior al-Asadi ordered the formation of a committee within the MOI to coordinate with INL and manage MOI’s involvement with the PDP [Police Development Program]. The committee reported that MOI officials held 80 meetings with INL advisors from January 1 to April 1, 2012. (INL reported that it held 517 engagements with MOI personnel during the same three-month period.) In addition, the MOI committee noted that it had rejected 55 meeting requests by INL during the first three months of 2012. The committee characterized 52 meetings with INL as “beneficial,” 21 as “semi-beneficial,” 1 as “non-beneficial,” and did not assess the other 6. The MOI committee also concluded.

Let’s just say that there are no weekends at US Mission Iraq.

517 engagements
÷  90 days
—————————
=  5.744444 engagements a day for a three-month duration

Given that no one can just pick up and go in Iraq, and that it is deemed unsafe to travel without any security details over there, how does five meetings/engagements a day from just one part of US Mission Iraq even works?

What are included in these 517 engagements — meetings via emails? Appointments by telephones? Pigeon posts?  Two cans and a string? What counts?

Unfortunately, the SIGIR report did not explain what the meaning of “engagement” really is from the INL perspective. Or how many resulted in face-to-face or face-to-screen-meetings.

Well, whatever it is, the 517 “engagements” did not seem to help much.

According to SIGIR, as of July 2012, the number of INL in-country advisors was reduced to 36: 18 in Baghdad and 18 in Erbil, down from the 85 advisors supporting the program in January 2012.

Of course, in the glass is full perspective, one could argue that without that 517 “engagements”, the number of in-country advisors could have been down from 85 advisors to 6 or zero. The fact that we’re left with 36 should be considered a programmatic success or something.

SIGIR’s analysis of DoS’s FY 2013 budget request, however, shows that the Police Development Program support costs would go up to 94% of program funding and the per advisor costs would double to about $4.2 million per year.

In short, 36 advisors will still cost US taxpayers $151.2 million a year.

Before you get mad, just remember that we already have a $204.8 million savings from the 49 advisors who were cut off from the program.

This monopoly game is addicting and so exciting! Can we please buy a new school in my district with that money?

Domani Spero

US Embassy Thailand: Ambassador Kenney and All Get High Marks; OIG Runs Out of Synonyms

State/OIG recently posted online its compliance follow-up review (CFR) of our two posts in Thailand, the US Embassy in Bangkok and USCG Chiang Mai. Ambassador Kristie A. Kenney arrived in Bangkok in January 2011, while her DCM, Judith B. Cefkin, arrived at post in July 2010.

Below are the main key judgments:

  • A new Ambassador and a new deputy chief of mission (DCM) since the 2010 inspection lead a cohesive and well-functioning interagency team. Morale is high.
  • The Ambassador’s emphasis on public diplomacy, especially a trailblazing use of social media, effectively promotes the U.S. foreign policy agenda in Thailand.
  • The consular section has excellent leadership, in contrast with the situation the OIG team found in 2010. Although the section works efficiently, it should change some processes to enhance customer service and conform with regulations.
  • The greatest staffing need is for a mid-level management officer position, which could be solved by converting an entry-level officer (ELO) position. The management section staffing has not grown commensurate with the overall growth of the mission.

Here’s Ambassador Kenney and DCM Cefkin in their matching blue dresses during the embassy’s Fourth of July celebration.

Photo via US Embassy Bangkok/FB

On Leadership

  • The embassy has been headed since January 2011 by a career Ambassador on her third assignment as Chief of Mission. Her tours as Ambassador and her experience in senior staff positions in the Department of State and the National Security Council prepared her well to lead one of the largest U.S. embassies in the world and to direct a country team that includes representatives of more than 30 U.S. Government departments and agencies. The embassy community recognizes the Ambassador’s skills in policy strategy, tactics, and advocacy of U.S. interests. Her management and coordination of the embassy’s human and material resources is admired and emulated. The Ambassador’s exemplary public outreach and her use of social media technologies have given her face recognition and a high level of public attention. She uses this platform to push ahead vigorously on U.S. bilateral and regional objectives in Thailand.
  • The DCM’s meticulous attention to detail and ability to operationalize the Ambassador’s vision complements the Ambassador’s broad and enterprising outlook. The excellent marks the Ambassador and DCM individually received for leadership and management capabilities in the CFR team’s preinspection survey of American direct-hire employees were reiterated in laudatory comments in interviews conducted at post. The partnership in the front office is regarded by employees as close, transparent, and a plus for the mission. A number of the most senior and well-traveled section chiefs in the Department and other agencies told the CFR team that this front office team is either the best or among the best leadership teams in their experience.
  • The Ambassador and DCM share a concern for the welfare of the embassy community and a common emphasis on high ethical and professional standards. Both articulate their goals and expectations clearly to the mission and require (and receive) a high-quality product. The front office’s informal style, openness to dissent, and encouragement of initiative invite creativity and allow feedback and contrary opinion to flow in both directions. The dialogue between the front office and the rest of the mission is dense and constant. Employees told inspectors it was exciting and invigorating. There is wide agreement throughout the embassy that the front office is accessible, responsive, and supportive.
  • The Ambassador is a decisive and self-aware leader with a high energy level. Employees understand what she wants from them. Coordination among sections and agencies at post is tight, fast, and collegial. The Ambassador and the DCM expect members of the country team to collaborate and to function on whole-of-government principles, and they do.
  • Front office attentiveness to the welfare of the employees has created strong bonds of loyalty, trust, and shared purpose. During the recent floods, the front office made taking care of the staff the primary mission goal. Although some LE staff had unrealistic expectations about what restitution or assistance the United States would provide, the front office’s responsiveness and empathy left many grateful.
  • An active and demanding Ambassador requires an active and productive support structure. The Ambassador’s extremely full agenda places considerable drafting and organizational responsibilities on the mission, particularly on the political, economic, transnational crime, and public diplomacy sections. The CFR team found that officers in a number of sections routinely put in long hours, mostly out of genuine enthusiasm to support the Ambassador’s objectives and a desire to meet high-quality standards.

And it’s not just the Front Office

  • Pol/Econ:  The four units of the political section function largely autonomously but collegially and well. The new political counselor was unanimously praised for his empowering management style and for expanding support to the two units with regional responsibilities. The economic section, with an embedded environment, science, technology, and health unit, is doing a remarkable job handling an increasingly dynamic operational tempo with a growing commercial portfolio. The economic counselor skillfully and strategically directs her staff. The transnational crime affairs section, headed by its only U.S. direct-hire employee, has made important strides in increasing interagency law enforcement cooperation, capitalizing on programming synergies to increase the impact of each program dollar.
  • Consular: The 2010 inspection report described a consular section with serious leadership and morale problems. A strong cadre of ELOs and LE staff members were putting in an impressive performance under great stress, but the consul general and the visa chief were providing inadequate leadership and supervision. The two most senior officers in the section were not helping the other officers during peak visa workload periods, they were not mentoring and counseling the ELOs on a regular basis, and they were not communicating well with the staff.The CFR team observed a transformed consular section. The new consul general and visa chief arrived in the summer of 2011. They and the other consular managers are practicing the consular leadership tenets of the Bureau of Consular Affairs. Although the workload for the section continues to rise and the pressures on the staff are heavy, consular employees are working hard and their morale is high.

The report says that overall embassy morale is also high and from the looks of it, the whole mission works so well, the OIG could have used a thesaurus to avoid multiple repeats of words like excellent and effective.

  • The management counselor provides strong leadership to a section that includes 23 U.S. direct-hire employees. The section is understaffed in that it does not include a mid-level generalist management officer, a needed resource in this huge enterprise of over 600 direct-hire Americans; more than 1,110 LE staff members; 55 EFMs; and hundreds of contractors, including local guards and others.
  • The community liaison offices in Bangkok and Chiang Mai received high praise for their creativity and dedication
  • The information management office is an efficient, well-managed operation that meets customer needs.
  • The senior general services officer is very experienced and an expert in the section’s operations and requirements. This section is excellent, and there are no concerns about performance.
  • The financial management section provides excellent customer service and financial support, including budgeting and accounting to its large client base.
  • The human resources office provides excellent service to the large population resident in Bangkok.
  • The International Cooperative Administrative Support Services council operates effectively.

Social Media

The Ambassador’s use of social media makes her stand out in Thailand. Almost 30,000 Thai receive her personal tweets; retransmission by the embassy’s Twitter feed extends her immediate reach by another 40,000. She also has a Facebook page and a blog. To accommodate the Thai preference for broadcast rather than print news and opinion, the Ambassador posts video commentary on YouTube for the local television channels to pick up. Although the terseness required by Twitter has on occasion generated some public misunderstanding, the Ambassador’s skillful management of her public persona is a huge asset to the mission.

Seriously, it’s not often that we get to see a review like this.

The only other item that strikes us in this report is apparently, ELOs in the consular section are working considerable amounts of overtime, but are not claiming compensation. The CFR team reportedly heard anecdotal evidence that the officers were working on average several hours of overtime per week. The OIG recommended that “Embassy Bangkok should implement a plan so that entry-level officers in the consular section seek approval and claim compensation for the hours of overtime they work.”

Sometimes, the boss person at Consular Sections are known to frown … um, discourage entry level officers from claiming overtime pay.  So newbies don’t even attempt to file claims.  We hope that’s not the case here and those folks get paid for all work that are more than eight hours per day or 40 hours per week. Read the 2012 AFSA Guidance on Overtime and Comp Time for FS Specialists and FS Untenured Generalists Serving Overseas.

Domani Spero

Related item:

-06/30/12   Compliance Followup Review of Embassy Bangkok and Consulate General Chiang Mai, Thailand (ISP-C-12-33A) [914 Kb]  Posted Online by State/OIG on July 24, 2012

US Embassy London: First Lady Brings Let’s Move! to Winfield House

Via US Embassy London/Flickr:

First Lady Michelle Obama hosted a Let’s Move! event for about 1,000 American military children and American and British students in London today. The event took place at the Ambassador’s residence Winfield House. The kids had the chance to meet Olympic and Paralympic legends including David Beckham, Bart Conner, Nadia Comaneci, Teresa Edwards, Emily Hughes, Sarah Hughes, Shawn Johnson, Carl Lewis, Dikembe Mutombo, Dara Torres, members of the 2012 US Track and Field Team and Manchester United legends, among others.

First Lady Michelle Obama hosted a Let’s Move! event for about 1,000 American military children and American and British students in London.
(click on photo for slideshow)

Nickelodeon, The NBA and USA Basketball, U.S. Tennis Association, USA Field Hockey, USA Track and Field, Manchester United and Right to Play provided sports stations for kids to get into the Olympic spirit by getting active.

The Wanted, the University of Florida Gator Marching Band, Mark Ronson, Katy B. and Nickelodeon’s DJ J Boogie and Jeff Sutphen, the Power Rangers and SpongeBob helped entertain the kids throughout the event

Active links added above.

–DS

All It Takes to Unite the Olympic Games Host Country? A Guy Called Mitt Romney

You probably heard this story already.

The Mittster talked to NBC’s Brian Williams and he said, “There are a few things that were disconcerting.”

We’ve seen the stories out of London, of course.  The Mittster also heard those stories and he added, “The stories about the private security firm not having enough people, the supposed strike of the immigration and customs officials – that obviously is not something which is encouraging.”

Probably did not sit well with UK Prime Minister David Cameron who rebuked Romney (according to HuffPo) with:

“We are holding an Olympic Games in one of the busiest, most active, bustling cities anywhere in the world. Of course, it’s easier if you hold an Olympic Games in the middle of nowhere.”

What’s that they say about diplomats never unintentionally insulting another person? Think the Prime Minister got some tips from Whitehall?

But the Mittster did have some nice things to say about Great Britain during that NBC interveiw:

“But I can tell you that we have a very special relationship between the United States and Great Britain,” Romney said. “It goes back to our very beginnings, cultural … and historical. But I also believe the president understands that. So I don’t know agree with whoever that advisor might be. But do agree that we have a very common bond between ourselves and Great Britain.”

Except that the Mittster forgot he wrote something about it in his book. FP’s Joshua Keating notes that Romney’s book says Britain is a tiny island that makes stuff nobody wants:

“England [sic] is just a small island. Its roads and houses are small. With few exceptions, it doesn’t make things that people in the rest of the world want to buy. And if it hadn’t been separated from the continent by water, it almost certainly would have been lost to Hitler’s ambitions. Yet only two lifetimes ago, Britain ruled the largest and wealthiest empire in the history of humankind. Britain controlled a quarter of the earth’s land and a quarter of the earth’s population.”

Wait until Boris Johnson hears that.

Boris Johnson, if the name is not too familiar is Alexander Boris de Pfeffel Johnson, a British Conservative Party politician and journalist, who has been the elected Mayor of London since 2008. According to Wikipedia, he was previously the Member of Parliament for Henley and Editor in Chief of The Spectator magazine. You might also remember him as the person who said, “Maybe when President Obama’s hors d’oeuvre plate is whisked away he will find a bill for £5.5m.”

That’s the “congestion” charge for driving in central London. According to the BBC, the Transport for London (TfL) confirmed the US Embassy London owed £5.2m in unpaid congestion charge. The US embassy said it considered the charge to be a “direct tax”.

Okay, yeah, that’s the guy.  And here he is hailing ‘Olympomania’ at Hyde Park, including leading the crowd in a chant of ‘Yes We Can,’ President Obama’s famous campaign slogan from 2008.:

“I heard there’s a guy called Mitt Romney who wants to know whether we’re ready. Are we ready? Yes we are!”
[…]
“Can we put on the greatest Olympics games that have ever been held?” he asked. “Can we beat France? Yes we can! Can we beat Australia? Yes we can!”

Ouch! The Mittster’s travel will also take him to Israel and Poland. We’re all ears.

Domani Spero

State, USAID Must Learn From Afghanistan Errors. Whatabout Iraq?

Below is an excerpt from Andrew Exum’s piece in Abu Muqawama: State, USAID Must Learn From Afghanistan Errors.

The State Department rarely garners similar praise from the American people or its elected leaders. Republican congressmen on Capitol Hill talk a big game on national security and vow never to cut the military’s budget, while at the same time threatening to slash the International Affairs budget by 20 percent. U.S. military officers and troops are held up as the best of what America has to offer, while diplomats . . . well, few Americans are quite sure of what diplomats even do.
[..]
Unfortunately, the State Department is not very good at telling its story to either the U.S. Congress or the American people. When people effectively stand up for the budget of the State Department and make the case for a larger International Affairs budget, it is too often either U.S. military officers or conservative, “pro-military” defense intellectuals.  The State Department and its foreign service officers deserve some of the blame here. I recently finished John Lewis Gaddis’ biography of George F. Kennan, and Kennan’s life is a reminder that those Americans who are most knowledgeable about other cultures can often be the most contemptuous and ignorant of U.S. domestic political culture. Foreign service officers who do not hesitate to spend endless afternoons drinking chai with Central Asian warlords somehow can’t, by and large, stomach the occasional coffee with a junior congressman from Nebraska.

The result is that the State Department as an organization constantly feels that it is under pressure and underappreciated by its appropriators. We should not wonder, then, why such an organization fails to be introspective or critical of itself. That shortchanges both America and the State Department, though, because as Chandrasekaran’s book details, much of the civilian effort promised by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in Afghanistan has been an embarrassment.

Actually he’s quite nice about this even when he called the Afghanistan civilian effort by HRC “an embarrassment.” He could have written something a lot worse, like — did you not learn anything from Iraq?

The State Department has been doing stuff in Iraq. Is the Baghdafication of Kabul really any better?  Did State learn anything from what went down in Iraq? And if it did, how come we’re now reading  Chandrasekaran’s Afghanistan edition of Imperial Life in the Emerald City?

As to being not particularly “very good at telling its story,” the State Department has no one else to blame for this. It insists on telling only the happy talk stories. The real world is not all happy talk. 21st century information consumers will not just swallow hook, line and sinker, everything that the 21st century statecraft machine puts out. Oh, wait, that’s the same 21st century statecraft message machine that is all confused and eating crap statistics anyway. You should hear the back story about that multimillion, excuse me, $16.5 million multi-year Kindle acquisition.  Secretary Clinton and Amazon’s Jeff Bezos were supposed to hold hands on the 7th floor, but it never happened.  I bet you want to know how come that’s indefinitely postponed. No, it’s not because she was traveling, silly!

The State Department, by the way, has some quite talented storytellers — authentic and even pee in your pants funny writers. But State is in such a schizo mess when it comes to social media that it runs after bloggers (well, not all of them, just some of them).  Sometimes it wields a large hammer, and whacks a mole or two just so everyone can appreciate its whack-a-mole ability and the “friendly” warning to those who potentially can be whacked also.

How can one help but … you know …. 🙄

Finally, introspection and self criticism, like innovation, (oh, that favorite 21st century statecraft word) are all by-products of an organizational culture that positively recognize the value of mistakes in the learning process.

Kipling writes in If

         If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
And treat those two impostors just the same

Except that no one makes mistakes at State. Triumph is always crowned king and no one has ever heard of Disaster — except in one’s nightmares, or in very few instances, in OIG reports. But wait, those are redacted. Right. So technically, we are only acquainted with Triumph.

Domani Spero

SFRC Clears Cretz, Malac, Wharton, Laskaris, Ries, Koenig, Kirby, Armbruster, Holtz

The Hill reports that the Senate Foreign Relations Committee (SFRC) on Thursday unanimously approved the following nominees for ambassadorships, setting up their possible approval by the full Senate before the August recess.

  • The Honorable Gene Allan Cretz, of New York, to be Ambassador to the Republic of Ghana
  • Ms. Deborah Ruth Malac, of Virginia, to be Ambassador to the Republic of Liberia
  • Mr. David Bruce Wharton, of Virginia, to be Ambassador to the Republic of Zimbabwe
  • Mr. Alexander Mark Laskaris, of Maryland, to be Ambassador to the Republic of Guinea
  • The Honorable Marcie B. Ries, of the District of Columbia, to be an Ambassador to the Republic of Bulgaria
  • Mr. John M. Koenig, of Washington, to be Ambassador to the Republic of Cyprus
  • The Honorable Michael David Kirby, of Virginia, to be Ambassador to the Republic of Serbia
  • Mr. Thomas Hart Armbruster, of New York, to be Ambassador to the Republic of the Marshall Islands
  • Ms. Greta Christine Holtz, of Maryland, to be Ambassador to the Sultanate of Oman

The nine nominees will now join Carlos Pascual in the wait for the confirmation of the full senate. Mr. Pascual who was nominated to be the State Department’s first Assistant Secretary of State for Energy Resources was cleared by the SFRC in March 2012.

Domani Spero

Haiti Says G’bye to Ambassador Merten While AP Complains About the $1.8 Billion Reconstruction Promise

Last Friday, Ambassador Kenneth Merten concluded his assignment as U.S. Ambassador to Haiti. They must really like him over there. The Embassy had somebody sketched him and his family over in FB; rather cute.

Via US Embassy Haiti/FB

“Today, we bid adieu to Ambassador Kenneth Merten and his family after a three-year term as U.S. Ambassador to Haiti. With his deep knowledge of the country, Ambassador Merten has strengthened Haitian-American relations and led U.S. Government assistance to the Government and people of Haiti through the good times and the bad. He has worked to support the take-off of Haiti, pou ayiti ka dekole, strongly encouraging investments and job creation in the country, particularly with the construction of the Caracol Northern Industrial Park. We salute Ambassador Merten’s commitment and dedication to Haiti. Embassy Port-au-Prince wishes all the best to the Merten family and we look forward to the arrival of our next Ambassador.”

Last week, Haiti President Michel Martelly awarded the outgoing ambassador with the National Order of Honour and Merit. The award, with the grade of Grand Cross, was given to Ambassador Merten at a ceremony in Port-au-Prince’s National Palace.

You might remember that last year, Ambassador Merten was also the recipient of the 2011 Ryan C. Crocker Award for Outstanding Leadership in Expeditionary Diplomacy. “This award recognizes those U.S. diplomats who excel in the most challenging leadership positions overseas. The Selection Committee commended Ambassador Merten for his extraordinary leadership of the unprecedented U.S. government response to the 2010 Haiti earthquake, which involved over 22,000 US military in Haiti and thousands of civilian personnel from numerous U.S. government agencies. His capable leadership saved lives and embodies the highest virtues of public service and crisis management.”

Then less that 24 hours of his departure from Haiti, the Associated Press published a lengthy report complaining about the Haiti reconstruction (see US pledge to rebuild Haiti not being met).  What’s wrong with you, AP?

The Associated Press also says that “the fruits of an ambitious, $1.8 billion U.S. reconstruction promise are hard to find.”

Further it has some more troubling details:

  • On July 21, Less than 12 percent of the reconstruction money sent to Haiti after the earthquake has gone toward energy, shelter, ports or other infrastructure. At least a third, $329 million, went to projects that were awarded before the 2010 catastrophe and had little to do with the recovery — such as HIV/AIDS programs.
  • Half of the $1.8 billion the U.S. promised for rebuilding is still in the Treasury, its disbursement stymied by an understaffed U.S. Embassy in Port-au-Prince in the months after the quake and by a Haitian government that was barely functional for more than a year.

The AP report also cites major frustration for watchdogs of the U.S. effort for the lack of transparency over how the millions of dollars are being spent.

From interviews to records requests, efforts to track spending in Haiti by members of Congress, university researchers and news organizations have sometimes been met with resistance and even, in some cases, outright refusals.

Even when US contractors were willing to release the information on the Haiti reconstruction, apparently they become unreleasable because the information is considered “proprietary” by their funder. And who is the funder? USAID. To my last recollection, USAID is still run by the U.S. government, and funded by U.S. taxpayers.

For the AP to released this report on the 21st is just mean, that’s a weekend for goodness sake!

But you gotta do what you gotta do. Thomas C. Adams who serves as Haiti Special Coordinator at the U.S. Department of State, and Mark Feierstein who serves as Assistant Administrator for Latin America and the Caribbean at the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), probably did not get much sleep trying to make sure that their blog post on Haiti makes it to DipNote on the day the AP report came out; and it did.

On July 21, they jointly blogged about the Progress in Haiti.

And — poor guy, Ambassador Merten’s luggage was barely out of the Reagan National Airport when he had to pen an op-ed for the Miami Herald saying “I am proud that the work we have done, and continue to do, helps Haitians build a stronger foundation for a prosperous future.”

Also this:

As I leave Haiti, I am encouraged. Haiti has reported a 21-percent increase in foreign direct investment since 2010. In the north, I saw the completion of the first factory buildings and modern power plant at the Caracol Industrial Park. There is palpable enthusiasm in the community for the jobs this park will bring, adding more factories over the coming months and years. Anchored by a $78 million investment from Korean apparel manufacturer Sae-A Co., Ltd., the park has the potential to create more than 60,000 jobs.

[Potential rosy picture. 🙄 ].

Oh, wait, a blog friend pointed us to this piece in NYT –  is he touting the same Sae-A Trading, a South Korean clothing manufacturer and major supplier to American retailers like Walmart and Gap Inc.? The company that’s been called ““one of the major labor violators”?

[T]hanks to a deal that Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton helped broker, Sae-A looked forward to tax exemptions, duty-free access to the United States, abundant cheap labor, factory sheds, a power plant, a new port and an expatriate residence outfitted with special kimchi refrigerators.
[…]
The developers — the Haitian government, the State Department and the Inter-American Development Bank — chose Sae-A despite its troubled labor relations in Guatemala, where the company closed its flagship factory last year after threatening to move jobs out of the country during an acrimonious dispute with its union.

Before the Haiti deal was sealed, the A.F.L.-C.I.O. urged American and international officials to reconsider, given what it described in a detailed memo as Sae-A’s egregious antiunion repression, including “acts of violence and intimidation” in Guatemala, where Homero Fuentes, who monitors factories for American retailers, calls Sae-A “one of the major labor violators.”

Continue reading Earthquake Relief Where Haiti Wasn’t Broken.

You think Ambassador Merten deserves a double 🙄 here for touting that company in his op-ed and not mentioning the um, labor issue? Okay, here you go –

🙄

🙄

In related news, Al Kamen writes that Rajiv Chandrasekaran’s book, “Little America,” apparently “has sparked a scramble in the Kabul embassy compound to compile “success stories” for publication to counter the book’s analysis.”

SO LISTEN UP!

If you’re the smarty person who leaked that nugget to Al Kamen, they better not find out who you are; or you will be compiling “success stories” until 2024.

Domani Spero

Photo of the Day: Mobile diplomacy wears combat boots also…

Via dvidshub.net:

Mobile diplomacy comes to Mizan: Afghan national police officers pose for a photo while cooking lunch for the more than 100 Afghans attending a mobile diplomacy shura in the district of Mizan, Zabul province, Afghanistan, Jan. 4. Provincial leaders were on hand at the shura to talk with locals about security and education, and to officially open the road from Qalat, the provincial capital, to the district. Provincial Reconstruction Team Zabul. (Photo by Staff Sgt. Brian Ferguson; Date Taken:01.04.2011; Location:MIZAN, AF)