US Embassy Helsinki: Ambassador Bruce “Biceps” Oreck Launches Innovation Center

Remember in December when our man in Finland, Ambassador Bruce Oreck caused quite a stir when his holiday card made it to Al Kamen’s In The Loop column? This one:

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Boulder’s Daily Camera could not resist with “Call it bicep diplomacy. Hopefully he doesn’t set off an arms race.”  Ahaha! And here he is without a shirt on featured on the cover of Kuukausiliite.

We must say that if we were approaching the big 60 and we have guns like that, we would pose without a shirt, too. And then you’d call that gun-boat diplomacy, no? But hey, so what?!

Last year Ambassador Oreck also wore a fashionable rhubarb summer hat but no one complained about that. Take a look, isn’t that cute?!

Ambassador Oreck and Ms. Cody Oreck visited the charming Kumpula School Garden on June 15. Host Janne Länsipuro (in the photo) styled a fashionable rhubarb summer hat for the Ambassador as it was a warm and sunny day!

Ambassador Oreck visited the charming Kumpula School Garden on June 15. Host Janne Länsipuro (in the photo) styled a fashionable rhubarb summer hat for the Ambassador as it was a warm and sunny day! (Photo via US Embassy Finland)

But we want to write this post because we actually are quite of fan of Ambassador Oreck’s approach to his job  in Finland.  Pardon me? Oh, yes … we know he is a political appointee, that’s not necessarily a red mark in our books. Why? We just happen to think that one is either a good steward of the U.S. mission overseas or not. So there’s no “but” here.

Anyway, you might not remember this but the US Embassy in Helsinki celebrated the 236th Independence Day with hard hats.  That’s because they were in the middle of a renovation project at post.  Instead of renting out a place somewhere for the 4th of July celebration, they (including the guests) just put on hard hats and carried on with the fun.

And remember the official residence in Embassy Port of Spain  which the OIG described as having “a feeling of neglect and disrepair, in part because the previous Ambassador viewed repair activities as intrusive?”  Well, it was the exact opposite in Finland.  In December last year, Ambassador Oreck’s wife  posted this on the embassy blog, which we thought was amiable and considerate:

Work continues apace here at the Embassy to restore the Residence and to open the Innovation Center.  Since we are passionate about both historic preservation AND high-performance building techniques, we have decided that it is better to live through the chaos ourselves so that the next Ambassador won’t have to deal with the disruption. We deeply appreciate the forbearance of our dear neighbors.  We do literally feel your pain!

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Embassy renovation project (photo via US Embassy Finland)

State/OIG also did an inspection of US Embassy Helsinki. The report says that there were concerns about the 9 months of noisy and dirty construction, and the lack of information about what comes next but the inspectors reported that “It is clear that employees do not question the need to renovate the dilapidated and unsafe facilities at Embassy Helsinki. Many also understand that without the Ambassador’s persistence, the project would not be underway (a judgment shared by OBO).” Also this:

An energetic, construction savvy, and persistent Ambassador has revived a stalled project to renovate the antiquated and unsafe chancery buildings; he is extremely involved in all details of the renovation and sees keeping the project on schedule as one of the greatest contributions he can make during his time in Finland. 

The Bureau of Overseas Buildings Operations (OBO) acknowledges that the embassy renovation project would not have been funded or advanced at an accelerated pace without the constant pressure of the Ambassador, both from Helsinki and during frequent trips to Washington.

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In Helsinki, new high-security spaces–mostly without windows–had to be inserted into a complex setting of heritage buildings and neighborhood, on a prominently visible site looking out over the Gulf of Finland. Here too climate was significant, as well as the profound cultural context of modern architecture and design in Finland.The new wing is attached to a remodeled 1926 apartment house, the Annex, and had to fit into a tightly circumscribed footprint, as determined by security requirements–an exercise we called ‘form follows setback’. But we welcomed the fish-shaped plan that resulted, as a form complementary to the historic neighbors, a contrast that is accentuated by materiality. The curved walls are rendered in vertically textured warm white brick toward the street, and a spectrum of textured glass surfaces facing the waterfront, reflecting the often icy context of the Gulf, as well as Finland’s famed modern glass craft. (Via Moore Ruble Yudell)

Ambassador Oreck reportedly logged about 250,000 miles in dozens of trips between Washington, D.C., and Helsinki to personally address concerns about costs and security. “In 36 months, we went from ‘no’ to ‘done,’ ” he said.

Early this year, the embassy staff returned to the building and the Innovation Center was officially opened in late February. The Innovation Center houses the public offices of the U.S. Embassy in Finland and is reportedly one of the most energy efficient embassy buildings in the world.  According to the embassy, the Center also “harnesses the best of Finnish technology by being the first U.S. government building in the world to use district cooling and heating.”

Somebody once said that it’s what you do on your third and fourth tries that matters.  We’re glad that Ambassador Oreck did not give up when he was told ‘no’ the first time.
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New Word of the Day: Nordstrom, \nord-struhm\, verb

Via blog pal, Kolbi:

Nordstrom, \nord-struhm\, verb;

1.)  To document your position so effectively and completely that, in the event of a very public Congressional hearing, if there are rear ends left flapping about in the breeze at the end of it, yours sure isn’t one of them.

Examples of Usage:

– “…So I made sure I Nordstromed the hell out of it…”

– “…And I told them that I would be Nordstroming that up one side and down the other, just so we were all clear on where I stood…”

Also

– “The country is falling apart and if you have not Nordstromed your requests yet, better start before it’s too late.”

After Eric A. Nordstrom, the former Regional Security Officer at the US Embassy in Tripoli.  Reposting this as a reminder to our friends in the region over there.

— DS

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

State Dept’s Leadership and Mgt School Needs Some Leadership, And It’s Not Alone

State/OIG recently released its inspection of the State Department’s Foreign Service Institute. It is a chunky report with over 80 pages.  It reviewed the school’s executive direction but also FSI’s various schools. On of the schools reviewed is its Leadership and Management School (FSI/LMS) which is headed by Carol A. Rodley, the dean since November 2011 and a former US Ambassador to Cambodia.  The associate dean is Gail E. Neelon, a civil service official who assumed office in July 2008.

Here is the irony of the day:  the LMS dean’s “tenure has taken a toll on morale.” Excerpt from the IG report’s pretty sparse discussion about the management and leadership issues at the school:

Led by a Foreign Service dean and a Civil Service associate dean, LMS has 4 divisions and 48 staff members, of which 44 are direct-hire employees and 4 are full-time equivalent contractors. The school had an FY 2012 base budget of $2.4 million and a total budget of $3.6 million, which includes $473,000 in reimbursements. LMS is a small but important component of FSI, responsible for teaching leadership skills to senior and mid-level officers. When OIG inspected FSI in 1999, leadership training consisted of a few courses in SPAS. LMS was created in 2000 as part of the Department’s increased emphasis on leadership. It delivers well-received leadership training mandatory for Department employees at various stages in their careers.

Participants praised LMS courses highly. However, the dean’s directive leadership style was criticized by school staff. Although the dean met the FSI front office’s request to attend to management issues left unresolved during an extended period between deans, her tenure has taken a toll on morale. (b)(5)(b)(6) she has taken some steps to be more accessible to staff members and acknowledge them and their work.
[…]
Paper Flow in the Dean’s Office: In April 2012, most LMS staff members complained to the OIG team about the lack of timely actions from the dean’s office on paperwork, pointing to delays, missed deadlines, and unanswered mail. To meet a proposed inspection recommendation, LMS implemented a new system for tracking requests for clearances and approvals.

Read the whole report here: Inspection of the Foreign Service Institute (ISP-I-13-22)

Leadership and management have supposedly been elevated in importance since the tenure of Secretary Powell but in the many nook and crannies of the bureaucracy, it is just a shiny object that is talked about, often admired for its qualities but does not really merit serious attention.

In June 2010, the OIG sent a memo on the need to improved post leadership to the Executive Secretariat of the State Department (at that time Stephen Mull was S/ES; he is now the US Ambassador to Warsaw):

Office of Inspector General (OIG) inspections over the past 4 years have shown that while a majority of posts and bureaus are well run, leadership in a small but significant minority needs to be improved. In a recent OIG survey of employees who are serving or have served in high stress/high threat posts, 45 percent of the respondents cited post leadership as a cause of stress for them or their colleagues. An inspection of the Bureau of African Affairs identified leadership as a problem in certain posts overseas as well as in the bureau itself under its previous management. OIG has found problems in posts in every region, under both career and political ambassadors. The results of poor leadership include reduced productivity and effectiveness, low morale, stress, and curtailments.
[…]
OIG believes that it is the responsibility of the Department to conduct its own assessments, based in part on input from staff and to do so every year, especially at one­ year-tour posts. In many cases, the knowledge that the leaders would be assessed annually would cause them to be more sensitive to how they lead staff. The annual assessment would allow for the early identification of problems and for remedial action in time to have an effect on the management and operations of a post or bureau under each leadership team. In some cases, leaders and mid-level managers will be unable or unwilling to change. In more cases, OIG believes that leaders would be receptive to counseling and training to help them become more effective. These assessments would also provide better support for annual evaluations and help the chief of mission and deputy chief of mission selection committees make better informed recommendations and decisions.

(Read Implementation of a Process to Assess and Improve Leadership and Management of Department of State Posts and Bureaus, ISP-1-10-68)

The 2010 OIG memo cc’ed P: Mr. Burns, who is now one of the Deputy Secretaries; HR – Ms. Powell (who is currently the US Ambassador to India),  MED – Mr. Yun, DS – Mr. Boswell (who got recently eaten by the Benghazi troll) and FSI – Ms. Whiteside (who we learned recently retired after a long tenure at FSI) .

On September 19, 2012, the OIG once again reminded State Management about this same boring topic on leadership with a memo not to the Executive Secretariat but this time to the Under Secretary for Management Patrick Kennedy:

OIG’s FY 2012 inspections found that while 75 percent of ambassadors, deputy chiefs of mission, and principal officers are doing a good to excellent job, 25 percent have weaknesses that, in most cases, have a significant impact on the effectiveness and morale of their posts and certainly warrant intervention by the Department.

One reason for a high percentage of posts requiring leadership attention in the past year is that a number of posts were selected for inspection because OIG received specific indications of weak leadership.
[…]
OIG therefore reiterates the importance it places on adopting an effective assessment and performance improvement system for ambassadors, deputy chiefs of mission, and principal officers. OIG continues to believe that a confidential survey of personnel at post is an.essential element of such a system.

The September 2012 memo only cc’ed two individuals:  DGHR-Linda Thomas-Greenfield (currently the top HR person for the Foreign Service and rumored to be the next A/S for the AF BUreau) and S/ES -Stephen Mull (currently the U.S. Ambassador to Poland).

Read: Memorandum Report, Improving Leadership at Posts and Bureaus (ISP-I-12-48)

The September 2012 OIG memo was careful to point out that “the 75 percent 25 percent figures apply to the posts OIG inspected and not necessarily to the Department as a whole.”

Well, thank heavens for that!

Had the State Department actually adopted an effective assessment and performance improvement system for ambassadors, dcms and principal officers, Diplopundit would probably be a pretty booooring blog.  Perhaps we would be writing fake April Fool’s news  or doodling ourselves to death here  …. but so far there’s been a huge throve of materials to cover ….

 

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