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

Advertisements

2 responses

  1. Good to see such an improvement over 2010! The raves about morale and leadership are a little hard to figure out, though. Maybe folks there are simply raving? Seriously, while things could be much worse, this report suggests that OIG is limited in its ability to get candid input when it comes to atmospherics. Being effective is not the same as playing well with others…

    • I’ve seen the 2010 report and it was not glowing. Been reading a lot of these reports and noticed that the leadership portion is often uneven with some reports going on and on about how great it is, and in some cases, you get just a paragraph.

      And I still would like to know the composition of the inspection team listed for clarity. For some reason, the OIG continues to redact the names of the OIG inspection teams from all reports.