— Domani Spero
State/OIG posted its March 31, 2014 Inspection Report of the U.S. Embassy in Manama, Bahrain. While there are some pockets of sunshine in this report, it comes across like post is a huge management mess. Post is headed by career diplomat, Ambassador Thomas Krajeski who assumed charge in October 2011. According to the embassy’s website, Stephanie Williams arrived as Deputy Chief of Mission in Manama in June 2010. The current Deputy Chief of Mission Timothy Pounds arrived at post in March 2013.
The inspection took place in Washington, DC, between September 3 and 23, 2013, and in Manama, Bahrain, between September 25 and October 19, 2013. Ambassador Marianne Myles (team leader), Michael Hurley (deputy team leader), Alison Barkley, Beatrice Camp, Roger Cohen, David Davison, Shawn O’Reilly, Keith Powell II, Richard Sypher, Joyce Wong, and Roman Zawada conducted the inspection.
Embassy Manama is a medium-sized mission with 80 U.S. direct hires, 23 U.S. local hires and 85 locally employed (LE) staff members who oversee a $14 million budget and manage 78 leased properties. The embassy building opened in 1991 and is nearing capacity. Manama is one of the Middle East missions that allow families, and assignments there continue to be 3-year tours. Continuing demonstrations and attacks against government and commercial targets have severely restricted the movement of staff and taken a toll on their morale.
- The embassy has two competing policy priorities: to maintain strong bilateral military cooperation and to advance human rights. The Ambassador has forged strong relationships with U.S. military leaders based in Bahrain to promote common goals.
- The Ambassador’s failure to maintain a robust planning and review process has led to confusion and lack of focus among some staff members and sidelined economic/commercial activities and public diplomacy programs.
- The embassy has not developed a comprehensive strategy to improve the Ambassador’s negative media image. The Ambassador has agreed to increase his participation in noncontroversial programs and events with potential to generate positive publicity.
- Public affairs activities suffer from a lack of strategic planning.
- The mission produces well-sourced and timely political reporting. Economic reporting has been sparse. The embassy does not have a strategy to support the President’s National Export Initiative.
- Management controls processes are weak across the board, and the embassy should make resolving them a priority. The management officer has been given other duties that prevent him from giving his full time and energy to addressing these weaknesses. A lack of transparency in management policies exacerbates low morale.
- The embassy and the Department of State have not implemented local labor law provisions that went into effect in September 2012 and have not made a decision on a proposed 2011 locally employed staff bonus.
- The front office does not give adequate attention to mentoring, especially first-and second-tour employees.
- The embassy’s innovative practice of providing mobile Internet routers in welcome kits makes the transition process for new employees more efficient.
You’ve got to wonder what’s else is going on when the embassy’s website displays this white space despite its DCM’s arrival at post about a year ago.
Screen Capture, US Embassy Manama – March 28, 2014
More details below extracted from the OIG report.
Leadership and Management
- The Ambassador has forged a strong relationship with the heads of U.S. Naval Forces Central Command and U.S. Marine Forces Central Command to promote consistent U.S. policy messaging. He is respected by many Bahraini officials and is well liked by mission staff. However, his lack of access to some key government officials, his poor media image, and the lack of an effective strategy to address these issues have created friction with principal officials in Washington.
The Ambassador has not focused sufficiently on planning processes and implementation as a way to keep staff focused during turbulent times. His belief that reactive “seat of the pants” leadership works best in Bahrain’s challenging environment has left staff members who do not have access to him on a regular basis confused about mission goals. Disdain for planning has trickled down to section heads, leaving most sections without the tools to make the best use of their programs and resources. During the inspection, the Ambassador endorsed a new planning effort launched by the deputy chief of mission (DCM) to create a broad-based plan of action for all sections and agencies. The Ambassador needs to remain personally involved in this effort.
- Lack of a clear commercial strategy has impeded the Ambassador’s focus on export promotion. He should impart a vision to the economic/commercial section that will involve him in business issues, including making greater use of the Free Trade Agreement.
- The Ambassador is intensely concerned about the security of mission employees, and they noted this favorably in OIG questionnaires. Despite that focus, he undermined the emergency action committee by allowing the former DCM to remain in a leased DCM residence in an unsafe red zone when other staff members living there were required to move. This decision required costly security measures to protect her and her family. When the new DCM arrived and moved into a new DCM residence, the Ambassador encouraged him to continue looking for yet another DCM residence, despite a 7-year lease and security upgrades that were already in place. The Ambassador’s practice of encouraging staff members to seek new housing is contrary to Department of State (Department) standard operating procedures.
The Ambassador has a well-received practice of walking around the embassy and dropping in on sections. He converses with staff on a frequent basis in the chancery cafeteria and at community functions. He holds “welcome breakfasts” at his own expense for newly arrived U.S. employees. However, he rarely meets with mission members in formal settings, such as town halls or LE staff committee meetings. There is a desire within the mission for greater engagement by the Ambassador.
- The OIG team noted anomalies between the Ambassador’s calendar and his time and attendance reports and brought them to his attention through a formal memorandum with an itemized attachment. The OIG team noted that having elected a senior Foreign Service pay plan, the Ambassador is required to account for all leave, as outlined in ALDAC 13 State 26982. The Ambassador challenged two of the team’s assertions in the itemized attachment but declined to discuss other discrepancies, especially personal time spent out of the office on workdays. The issue merits further review, including examining time and attendance records and other documentation.
- The Ambassador has had a difficult time with the government-dominated media since his arrival. Early in his tenure he wrote some broad policy articles for the newspapers and conducted television interviews. Press reaction was negative and included personal criticism of him. Soon after, the Ambassador reduced his press exposure. The Ambassador agreed to consider OIG team suggestions that he increase his participation in noncontroversial events and programs as a way to gain positive publicity and improve his public image, as well as the image of the United States. He agreed to attempt blogging and to engage first-and second-tour (FAST) employees in the effort. He also agreed to work with the public affairs staff to draw up a media plan, including his engagement in cultural programs.
- The Ambassador chose not to engage with the OIG team in the exit brief process that is the standard final part of a mission inspection. His decision deprived the embassy of the opportunity to offer clarifications and raise questions directly with the OIG team.
Leadership and Management – Deputy Chief of Mission:
- The DCM has a sufficient host country network and has served effectively as chargé d’affaires. The DCM meets regularly with section and agency heads. However, he does not provide adequate support and guidance to FAST employees, the LE staff committee, the community liaison office (CLO), or eligible family member (EFM) employees. He also does not move about the embassy enough. Several employees reported never seeing him outside his office. The DCM agreed to circulate in the chancery more often.
- The DCM has not focused sufficiently on key management issues, including several that affect morale. Lack of clarity in EFM hiring, LE staff hiring and promotions, and housing board decisions have led to perceptions throughout the community of favoritism and unfairness. In addition, the DCM supports allowing employees to move upon request, regardless of the reason, as a way of boosting morale. This approach leads to waste and does not conform to 15 FAM policies on housing.
- DCM needs to devote more attention to the FAST mentoring program. His approach has left the program largely without guidance. The DCM has not led an effort to establish a new structure for the program, identify a FAST volunteer to chair the program, and meet regularly with the group. The OIG team encouraged leadership and FAST employees to consider best practices used by other embassies with strong FAST programs.
The DCM has neglected some personnel duties, such as discussing performance expectations with direct-hire employees for whom he is the rating or reviewing officer.
- The OIG team reviewed consular accountability and found that the consular chief is reviewing subordinate officers’ adjudications properly. However, the DCM is not reviewing those of the consular chief. He should do so.
[T]he volume of economic reporting has been low, with approximately 1 economic cable for every 10 drafted by the political unit. The lack of front office attention to economic matters has left the economic unit with little guidance on issues of potential interest to Washington. The frequent diversion of the economic specialist’s attention to political issues, while the political specialist performs backup protocol duties, has also hurt economic reporting.
Public Affairs Section
The public affairs section has an experienced and dedicated staff conducting innovative programming and responding to intense front office interest in media reporting.
Post public diplomacy programs would have greater impact if they were part of an overall strategy that included greater participation by the Ambassador. The public affairs officer (PAO) has not directed the section in establishing policies, defining goals, and prioritizing plans to achieve mission objectives. Internal processes for dealing with grants, speakers, and exchanges are not consistent, clearly understood, or readily accessible. The section posts only limited information about its processes and activities on its SharePoint site.
The government-controlled press is frequently highly critical of the Ambassador but the embassy is cautious about using social media to counter this, concerned that doing so often draws negative comments. The public affairs section posts the Ambassador’s public appearances on Facebook but does not generally tweet his activities. The embassy does not use blogs. Officers adept at social media can help use these tools to improve the Ambassador’s public image and to correct misinformation about U.S. policies.
There is a need for better management planning across the board, including for staffing, real property acquisition, office space, housing, safety, and maintenance. Management controls are inadequate; in the procurement section, weak controls constitute a serious deficiency. The section requires outside help. Customer satisfaction scores from OIG questionnaires for most support services were low, reflecting a lack of basic processes and standard operating procedures. Embassy Manama should make improving management operations and internal controls a priority.
General Services Office
The general services office suffers from poor communication up and down the chain of command. An accurate arrivals and departures list would enhance the efficiency of all general services sections. The embassy’s internship program is not adequately coordinated with the general services office, creating adverse effects on housing, motor pool, and travel services.
Customs and Shipping
The customs and shipping staff consists of one LE employee who expedites shipments and has a large contact base at the port and at the airport. This employee has not been able to take leave, even when he has scheduled it well in advance, because of emergencies that require his presence. Sound management requires backup for each critical function.
Work and quality of life questionnaires administered by the OIG team report scores significantly below prior embassy averages in human resources support and services, administration of the awards program, and fairness of family member hiring. Poor leadership, lack of adequate processes, and the absence of transparency and communication have hampered the staff. The human resources officer needs to reinvigorate the section and regain the trust of the mission’s direct-hire employees, LE staff, and eligible family members.
Inspectors encountered a number of shortcomings in the office. The retail price survey had not been completed since 2009. Personnel cables were not being sent using the proper template and each message was being created from scratch. Supervisors were not being notified 6 months prior to LE subordinates’ retirement dates. Staffing patterns contained numerous mistakes.
Foreign Service National Issues
- Inspectors met with the LE staff committee, whose members expressed concerns about compensation and benefit issues, hiring policy, discrimination and favoritism, unfair dismissals, and a lack of cultural sensitivity displayed by some direct-hire employees. They said their primary points of contact are the management officer and the human resources officer. They occasionally have access to the DCM, but not to the Ambassador. It would be helpful for embassy management to respond to LE staff concerns in writing.
- The second benefit issue relates to changes to the local compensation plan brought about by a new Bahraini labor law implemented in September 2012. The law grants additional benefits to Bahraini employees in the areas of annual and sick leave, maternity benefits, and pilgrimage leave. As with the bonus, too much time was wasted—this time trying to get an English translation of the labor law that was issued in Arabic. The embassy sent the plan to the Office of Overseas Employment in March 2013; it remains under review.
The LE committee cited several examples of culturally insensitive behavior by American employees. It is unclear whether the words and actions were spiteful or occurred because the employees lacked knowledge of Bahraini culture and norms. To guard against such events, it would be helpful for the embassy to incorporate a cultural sensitivity component into its orientation programs for U.S. direct-hire and locally employed staff.
COM Residence: The chief of mission residence costs $272,000 per year (approximately $22,500 per month) to rent. It is one of the Department’s most expensive short-term leased properties, qualifying it for consideration to purchase. The embassy has requested the Department also consider purchase of a DCM residence and a Marine security guard residence.
Language Designated Positions: Embassy Manama has 10 language designated positions: the DCM; 4 political/economic officers, 2 consular officers, 2 public diplomacy officers, and the management officer. As half the population of Bahrain is expatriate, many from South Asia, the common language of the country is English. Six of the 10 officers in language designated positions reported to inspectors that they do not use Arabic in their jobs. The number of language designated positions makes finding qualified candidates for embassy jobs more challenging. Moreover, it costs the Department approximately $500,000 to train an officer to speak proficient Arabic.
Management Controls: Management controls at Embassy Manama are inadequate. Despite the embassy’s positive responses to the OIG functional questionnaires, and the positive information provided by the regional bureau, the OIG team determined the breakdown in procurement processes reaches the level of a significant deficiency.
Though adequately staffed, Embassy Manama paid 2,000 hours of overtime compensation to general services employees and 1,000 hours to facilities management employees in FY 2013. According to the Foreign Affairs Handbook, (FAH) 4 FAH-3 H-525.1-2 the management officer must establish controls for accurate and timely recording and reporting of time and attendance. The mission delegates responsibility for overtime authorization to each section supervisor and time and attendance to the financial management officer. Nobody monitors LE staff overtime, resulting in anomalies and improper overtime approvals.
The report is available to read here (pdf).
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