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State/OIG Releases Ambassador Scott Gration’s Embassy Report Card – And Look, No Redactions!

On June 29, US Ambassador to Kenya Scott Gration announced his resignation effective July 28 (see US Embassy Kenya: Ambassador Scott Gration Quits Over “Differences” Effective July 28).  Ambassador Gration left Kenya on July 23. Two weeks after the ambassador’s official resignation took effect, State’s Office of the Inspector General posted online its inspection report of the U.S. Embassy in Nairobi. And its pretty brutal.

Unfortunately for Ambassador Gration, a political appointee, Kenya is not in a “geopolitical situation” like Beirut or Islamabad (see State Dept OIG Reports: Oh, Redactions, Is Double Standard Thy True Name?) so the 68-page report has only a few minor redactions (including the names of the inspection team). The section covering the ambassador’s mission leadership has not/not been Sharpied out to protect the readers.

Here are the key judgments cut and pasted from the published report:

  • The Ambassador has lost the respect and confidence of the staff to lead the mission. Of more than 80 chiefs of mission inspected in recent cycles, the Ambassador ranked last for interpersonal relations, next to last on both managerial skill and attention to morale, and third from last in his overall scores from surveys of mission members. The inspectors found no reason to question these assessments; the Ambassador’s leadership to date has been divisive and ineffective.
  • The Ambassador has damaged the cohesion of Embassy Nairobi’s country team by underscoring differences between offices working directly with Kenya and those with regional responsibilities. Country team members, particularly those from other agencies, relied on the recently departed deputy chief of mission to maintain a sense of common purpose at Embassy Nairobi. Unless corrected there is a risk that the country team will become dysfunctional. The Ambassador needs to broaden his understanding of why various agencies are part of his mission, cease avoiding contact with them, and work with the assistance of a senior Department of State (Department) official and the next deputy chief of mission to restore country team harmony.
  • The Ambassador’s efforts to develop and focus the mission’s work around what he calls “mission essential tasks” have consumed considerable staff time and produced documents of unclear status and almost no value to the Department in approving priorities and assigning resources. His efforts have also created confusion about the relevance of the embassy’s annual Mission Resource Request (MRR). The Office of Inspector General (OIG) team agreed with embassy staff that the mission essential task process added no real value to the management of the embassy.
  • The Ambassador’s greatest weakness is his reluctance to accept clear-cut U.S. Government decisions. He made clear his disagreement with Washington policy decisions and directives concerning the safe-havening in Nairobi of families of Department employees who volunteered to serve in extreme hardship posts; the creation of a freestanding Somalia Unit; and the nonuse of commercial email for official government business, including Sensitive But Unclassified information. Notwithstanding his talk about the importance of mission staff doing the right thing, the Ambassador by deed or word has encouraged it to do the opposite.
  • The Ambassador does not read classified front channel messages and has not established a system to have his staff screen incoming cables relevant to Kenya and U.S. interests in the region.
  • The Ambassador’s initiative to redirect programming for nearly $550 million in U.S. health assistance, while well intentioned, has proven disruptive and created confusion about its relationship to existing programs. He announced to the Kenyans the establishment of a new unfunded program, called Let’s Live, with the unrealistic aim of reducing by 50 percent in 1 year Kenya’s premature mortality rates for infants, mothers, and noncommunicable diseases.
  • The embassy needs to focus the political section’s reporting on the forthcoming March 2013 elections and should draw from a 1-year strategy recently approved by Washington, which includes a plan to engage the Kenyan public and authorities to prevent and mitigate ethnic-political conflict.
  • The respective responsibilities of Embassy Nairobi and the Somalia Unit are clear in principle, but in practice the Ambassador has set a tone that discourages collaboration between the embassy and the Somalia Unit.
  • The Department should consider extending assignments to Nairobi from 2 to 3 years, which would be in line with the large majority of other agency assignments to Nairobi, achieve cost savings of more than $5 million annually, and enhance productivity and effectiveness.
  • Embassy Nairobi’s public diplomacy efforts would be strengthened if there were better internal communication and coordination among agencies to publicize U.S. assistance efforts in Kenya. The Ambassador should be a more integral part of the mission’s public affairs strategy and activities.
  • The consular section handles a complex workload, involving multiple countries and nationalities in a professional manner. Consular management needs to address serious internal communication [REDACTED]
  • Despite rapid mission growth the embassy’s management section functions well. This is the third consecutive report in which OIG recommends replacing the substandard warehouse. The warehouse facilities constitute the greatest management control vulnerability and should be replaced quickly.

The devil in the details, found in various parts of the 68-page report:

  • [T]he exercise has fostered a sense of exclusion among the latter two, and in some instances the latter three, groups. This sense has been strengthened by the Ambassador’s reduction of country team meetings from weekly to biweekly and his ongoing unwillingness to meet agency heads who want to brief him on their programs. After his first year at the embassy, several have still not been given time on his calendar to explain their programs and have stopped asking.
  • Many embassy staff members told the OIG team about other meetings that featured scathing criticism from and humiliating treatment by the Ambassador directed at senior staff. Interviews with agency heads and senior staff indicate that most try to manage their attendance at ambassadorial meetings to minimize any attention he might focus on them. His score as a manager in the relevant inspection questionnaire ranked him 83rd among the last 84 inspected chiefs of mission.
  • Overall morale among U.S. direct-hire employees in Nairobi is slightly below that for recently inspected missions. High threat and crime levels no doubt weigh on morale, but the staff senses that its work is important and leadership has been strong below the level of the Ambassador. In the inspection questionnaires provided to OIG, the Ambassador’s score for attention to morale is the second lowest of more than 80 recently inspected chiefs of mission, and his score on interpersonal relations is the lowest. (Personal questionnaires are distributed to all Department U.S. direct-hire employees and also to the heads of other agencies representated in the mission. The embassy response rate was approximately 72 percent, which is higher than average.) Furthermore, his refusal to accept fully the Department’s decisions on establishing an independent Somalia Unit, on safe havening in Nairobi of families of Foreign Service officers working in extreme hardship posts, and on the non use of commercial email for official government business, except in emergencies, is widely known and a source of confusion and discouragement within the embassy community.

And if you don’t like the survey result, you can always deploy your own –

“Assessing mission morale to be low, the Ambassador designed and deployed his own climate survey of mission personnel. When the results pointed to him as the cause, he told embassy employees that senior officers had done a bad job of explaining his objectives. He subsequently sought—but did not obtain—access to individual survey responses that would have violated the anonymity of the respondents.”

A Personally Designed Health Campaign – Let’s Live!

“After arriving in 2011, the Ambassador showed a disinterest in receiving briefings about the mission’s extensive health assistance programs. Nonetheless, he personally designed a health campaign with the objective of reducing maternal and child mortality, and mortality from noncommunicable diseases, by 50 percent in 1 year. He named the campaign Let’s Live.

Staff found the Ambassador’s goals laudable in principle and consistent with Global Health Initiative (GHI) principles to strengthen and integrate local health systems, and prioritize maternal health. However, they expressed their concerns to him that the goals were not achievable within a year and that programs had to observe applicable legal authorities. At the same time, his assertive stance in pressing Kenya to adopt Let’s Live damaged his relations with senior Kenyan health authorities. Let’s Live created a heavy additional workload for staff as they managed ongoing programs while trying to be responsive to the Ambassador’s taskings, occasionally incurring his anger if he perceived insufficient commitment.”

Safe-havened families – the last to receive embassy support in a crisis because ….

“The embassy currently provides safe-haven for eight families of employees who volunteered for service in Afghanistan, Iraq or Pakistan. One safe-havened spouse is the recipient of the 2012 Avis Bohlen award for advancing American interests by her relations with the American and foreign communities in Kenya. The families received embassy concurrence on their status before the arrival of the current Ambassador, who questioned the safe-havening families in Nairobi, and informed the OIG team that he agreed only under pressure from Washington to allow the families to remain at post. After relenting, the Ambassador told safe-havened family members that he personally wanted them gone, and that they would be the last to receive embassy support in a crisis. The Ambassador also directed that, if safe-havened families did not reside in one of the embassy’s residential gated compounds, they would have to move to one. In addition, he required that each of the families obtain a sponsor from the spouse’s work unit, even if the family had been residing in Nairobi for a long time. The Ambassador’s rationale for these requirements was to enhance the security of the families, but in doing so he has created a separate security standard in contravention of existing Department standards for residential security. Although the Department’s policy on safe-havening families states that this option must be negotiated on a case-by-case basis by the employee taking the hardship assignment and the losing post, the aim is clearly to incentivize and facilitate employees to volunteer for these very challenging assignments. The Ambassador’s treatment of these safe-havening families continues to undermine that objective by imposing additional and unnecessary requirements on safe-havening families.”

Internet in the Bathroom for a boss who needs to be gifted with one of Bob Sutton’s book

“Very soon after the Ambassador’s arrival in May 2011, he broadcast his lack of confidence in the information management staff. Because the information management office could not change the Department’s policy for handling Sensitive But Unclassified material, he assumed charge of the mission’s information management operations. He ordered a commercial Internet connection installed in his embassy office bathroom so he could work there on a laptop not connected to the Department email system. He drafted and distributed a mission policy authorizing himself and other mission personnel to use commercial email for daily communication of official government business. During the inspection, the Ambassador continued to use commercial email for official government business. The Department email system provides automatic security, record-keeping, and backup functions as required. The Ambassador’s requirements for use of commercial email in the office and his flouting of direct instructions to adhere to Department policy have placed the information management staff in a conundrum: balancing the desire to be responsive to their mission leader and the need to adhere to Department regulations and government information security standards. The Ambassador compounded the problem on several occasions by publicly berating members of the staff, attacking them personally, loudly questioning their competence, and threatening career-ending disciplinary actions. These actions have sapped the resources and morale of a busy and understaffed information management staff as it supports the largest embassy in sub-Saharan Africa.”

Wouldn’t you want to know who scored worse as a manager and ranked 84th out of 84 inspected chiefs of mission? Me, too.

We can’t find on paper the issue on the adjustments of heights of all embassy tables or the reported recalibration of official clocks … maybe more later? I’m still reading.

Domani Spero

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5 responses

  1. Some of the prose highlights in this report sounded very familiar to me, and Gration’s protestations that no one ever asked for his side of the story was a second indicator of a particular individual with whom I have had experience in the Department. What was the composition of the OIG team? Who was the chairperson? I could not see this info in the final report, but perhaps I missed it or do not know where to look. But I sure do think a scathing report like this one has to have its authors identified. Thank you for your continued efforts on this great blog.

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    • Thanks for the note. That’s the big problem with these OIG reports – the names of the team members are redacted. I can’t for the life of me understand that. How do we know if there is a connection between the inspection teams and the inspectees? The IG told the GAO that in those cases, the inspection team member will recuse himself/herself, but how do we know that. We can’t because the names of the inspection teams are not published.

      I just read the DODIG report on General Ward (of Africom). Four-star general was allowed to response to the allegations in the IG report, and the released report includes the General’s response, and the IG’s response to the general. I don’t know why DODIG can do that but DOS-IG cannot.

      I’ve asked the OIG once about an ambassador’s rebuttal to one of its reports and was told that although they allow the ambassadors to respond to the report, they do not published those with the publicly available report. Will have to write this up one day soon.

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  2. I’ve been through a number of OIG inspections, and the experiences were underwhelming. Seemed like the inspectors come with agendas, and their work at post points toward the report they’d already roughed out back at their DC office. I’d have more confidence in these reports if the State OIG was more independent, specifically not staffed with State retirees, and working off the guidance or notes of their Department allies and insiders. Likewise, it seems that many of the recommendations are founded in what worked for the inspectors back in the day, as opposed to an objective appraisal of what’s going on at the inspected unit/section/post. And what a shock that a bunch of high-level career types will write a report that savages political appointees. And so it goes….

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    • GFF- thanks for your note. What I’ve noticed through reading a lot of these reports if when the COM is a career diplomat, the executive direction section and leadership portion is either too impressed and long, or too impressed but short. If the COM or senior managers are not very impressive, the leadership portion does not get a lot of attention. When there is attention paid due to poor management, they are redacted (see my posts on OIG double standard on Islamabad and Beirut). This case is possibly the fourth case where a political ambassador gets the scathing end of the OIG pen in the last couple of years.

      I do think that the State-OIG should have a permanent IG and a deputy IG who are not retired FSOs. The argument that State makes that they need retired FSOs who knows how US missions work does not wash. Perhaps you might want a retired FSO as a team member for inspecting Consular operations, but certainly, the rest of the mission operation can be done by someone who can learn the regs and understand its applicability.

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  3. Devastating report on the ambassador…but this struck me:
    “The embassy needs to focus the political section’s reporting on the forthcoming March 2013 elections and should draw from a 1-year strategy recently approved by Washington, which includes a plan to engage the Kenyan public and authorities to prevent and mitigate ethnic-political conflict.”
    Let’s imagine, the embassy of Country X (pick one – China? Russia?) being told by its foreign ministry minders that “the embassy needs to focus the political section’s reporting on the coming November 2012 elections and should draw from a 1-year strategy recently approved by Capital City, which includes a plan to engage the American public and authorities to prevent and mitigate ethnic-political conflict.”
    And then Wikileaks publishes this instruction. All hell would break loose. I thought our job was to represent the American people, not to manage other people. Given our current political system, we have a lot of chutzpah telling anyone else how to manage political conflict….

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