Former AFSA Presidents to SFRC: Delay Approval for FSO Dana Smith as Qatar Ambassador

— Domani Spero
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Eleven former presidents of the American Foreign Service Association (AFSA), the professional association of the United States Foreign Service have written to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee (SFRC) requesting that the Committee postpone consideration of FSO Dana Shell Smith’s nomination as ambassador to Qatar until the Foreign Service Grievance Board (FSGB) has made a decision in the case related to Ms. Smith and another senior FSO, Susan Johnson.  Ms. Johnson, the immediate former president of AFSA served two terms from 2009-2013.

The letter says that the former AFSA presidents, which includes seven former ambassadors, “firmly believe that Ms. Smith  has not demonstrated the judgment or temperament to shoulder the responsibilities of Chief of Mission.” 

Ouchy!

It adds that “Ms. Smith’s actions are central to a formal Grievance brought against the Department of State by Ms. Susan R. Johnson, also a Senior Foreign Service Officer and President of AFSA at the time she co-authored an op-ed that stimulated negative Department reaction.

image via cspan

Excerpt from the letter:

 Ms. Smith and Ms. Valerie C. Fowler, then Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary and Deputy Assistant Secretary respectively, misusing their official positions and authority over senior assignments and career advancement in order to convey personal views, authored a factually incorrect letter-petition sent through State Department e mail to other FSOs in senior positions, publicly attacking Ms. Johnson on an ad hominem basis for the op-ed she co-authored about the declining role of the Foreign Service.

Senior levels of the Department declined to acknowledge the behavior of Ms. Smith and Ms. Fowler as improper, unprofessional and unprecedented.    Instead the Department condoned the impropriety and compounded the Grievance by nominating one of authors of the ad hominem letter to the senior Foreign Service promotion board which reviewed and did not recommend Ms. Johnson for promotion.   This nomination, the letter-petition and the Department’s inaction may have tainted the board and denied Ms. Johnson a fair promotion review.  Individually and collectively, these actions send a chilling message that speaking out about or questioning personnel policies that lead to the weakening of the Foreign Service as a professional cadre may put careers at risk.

Valerie C. Fowler named above is now the Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary for Public Affairs in the R Bureau. PDASes do not need Senate confirmations. As an aside, have you noticed that the R Bureau now has 15 senior officials, all non-career appointees except for five FSOs?

According to her LinkedIn profile, Ms. Johnson is currently a senior fellow at the Academy of American Diplomacy where she is working on the latest AAD study-report on strengthening Foreign Service professionalism. The April 2013 op-ed referred to in the letter to the Senate is online at WaPo (see “Presidents are breaking the U.S. Foreign Service).” That op-ed piece was authored by Ms. Johnson who was then AFSA president, Ronald E. Neumann, a former U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan and president of the American Academy of Diplomacy, and  Thomas R. Pickering, a former undersecretary of state, and chairman of the AAD board.

The Senate letter was from the following former AFSA presidents: Ambassador Thomas Boyatt, Ambassador William Harrop, Ambassador Alphonse La Porta, Ambassador Theodore Eliot, Ambassador Dennis Hays,  Ambassador J. Anthony Holmes, Ambassador John Limbert, and senior  FSOs F. Allen “Tex” Harris, Theodore Wilkinson, Marshall Adair, and Kenneth Bleakley. Their letter specifically requests that consideration be postponed “until the Foreign Service Grievance Board has made a decision in the case and forwarded the file to the Committee.”

WaPo’s Federal Eye has additional details of this “family” feud:

State did not permit interviews with Smith and Fowler. Doug Frantz,  an assistant secretary of state, said the letter asking the committee to delay action on Smith “contained errors.”  He noted that Johnson’s grievance “was filed subsequent to Ms. Smith’s nomination.” He added that Johnson could have requested Fowler’s recusal from the board, but did not.

Though the letter from Smith, Fowler and the others to Johnson was sent by government e-mail, Frantz said it “was intended to be a private communication from AFSA members to the head of their association.” It’s not private now.

We should note that Douglas Frantz was appointed Assistant Secretary for the Bureau of Public Affairs in 2013. Prior to Ms. Smith’s nomination as ambassador to Qatar, she was Mr. Frantz’s top deputy as Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of State in the Bureau of Public Affairs (2011-2014).

Also, the average time for consideration of a Foreign Service grievance from time of  filing to a Board decision was 41 weeks in 2011 and 33 weeks in 2012.

This could take a whole tour …

Or … maybe not.

Today, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee (SFRC) cleared Ms. Smith’s nomination for the Senate’s full vote.  Unless a Senate hold suddenly materialize, we anticipate that this nominee and a whole slew of ambassadorial nominees will be confirmed as Congress runs off to its summer vacation in August.

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New Embassy Mexico City Estimated to Cost $350-$450M Now More Pricey At $763 Million

— Domani Spero
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On June 20, 2014, the U.S. Embassy in Mexico City announced the 50thanniversary of the building of the chancery in Mexico
City´s  Reforma Avenue. According to Embassy Mexico City, the building began in 1960 during the Kennedy Administration and under then Ambassador Thomas Mann. The building reportedly cost 5 million dollars and in 1964 became the second largest U.S. embassy in the world.

In 2011, the State Department solicitation on fedbiz announced that the New Embassy Compound (NEC) in Mexico City, Mexico will be a design-bid-build project estimated to cost between $350 million and $450 million.

The new Embassy compound will be constructed on U.S. Government-owned property located in the Nuevo Polanco neighborhood of Mexico City. It will be in the range of 40,000-45,000 gross square meters in area and will include a new Chancery, General Services Office/support buildings, parking structures, Marine Security Guard Quarters, and vehicular/pedestrian screening facilities.

In 2012, the estimated construction cost was $450 – $500 million.

In November 2013, FP’s The Cable reported that the State Department has quietly reversed course, saying its initial solicitation to industry is “cancelled in its entirety” because plans have been altered. The State Department did not explain why in its announcement, but said a new, future solicitation to industry for the project “is under acquisition review.” (See State Department Quietly Reverses Course On Its $500 Million Mexican Embassy).

Yesterday, the House Appropriations Committee’s draft report on the fiscal 2015 State and foreign aid spending bill notes that the new construction cost estimate of NEC Mexico City is now at $763,500,000.  The following is the section of the Committee draft report on the new embassy that will soon join our list of most expensive embassies in the world:

Enhanced notification requirements.—The  Congressional Budget Justification for Department of State Operations, Fiscal Year 2015 estimates the cost for construction of the New Embassy Compound in Mexico City, Mexico at $763,500,000. The Committee is troubled that this is an escalation in cost of more than 38 percent in the two years since the initial estimate was provided. Cost increases of this magnitude, as well as reports of other new embassy project cost escalations, are of great concern to the Committee. Accordingly, in order to enhance the oversight of new construction projects, the Committee recommendation modifies and expands section 7004(d) of the bill to require that all notifications for the purchase of land and for the award of construction contracts be subject to the regular notification procedures of, and prior approval by, the Committees on Appropriations.

Notifications made pursuant to section 7004(d) shall include the following information, at a minimum: (1) the location and size of the property to be acquired, including the proximity to existing United States diplomatic facilities and host government ministries; (2) the justification of need for acquiring the property and construction of new facilities; (3) the total projected cost of the project delineated by site acquisition, project development, design/construction, and any other relevant costs; (4) any unique requirements of the project which may drive up the cost of the project, such as consular workload, legal environment, physical and/or security requirements, and seismic capabilities; (5) any religious, cultural, or political factors which may affect the cost, location, or construction timeline; (6) the current and projected number of desks, agency presence, and the projected number of United States direct hire staff, Locally Engaged Staff, and Third Country Nationals; (7) the current and projected number of beds, if applicable; (8) the most recent rightsizing analysis; and (9) a justification for exceeding the staffing projections of such rightsizing analysis, if applicable.

Additionally, the Committee directs the Department of State to carefully review the design and cost of the Mexico City new embassy compound and to provide updated design plans and options for reducing the cost of the facility to the Committees on Appropriations prior to the obligation of additional funds for this project from funds made available in this Act or prior Acts.

 

In 2013, State/OBO awarded the New U.S. Embassy Mexico City project to Tod Williams Billie Tsien/ Davis Brody Bond Architects and Planners Joint Venture. It is listed as a capital program project for FY2015 (pdf).

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Confirmations: Nichols, Wells, Nix-Hines, Harper, La Lime, Moreno

— Domani Spero
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The Senate confirmations of President Obama’s nominees continue at a turtle’s pace.  Here are the following State Department nominees who made it through the confirmation process so far. The nominees for non-embassy positions do not appear to have their Certificate of Demonstrated Competence per Foreign Service Act, Section 304(a)(4 posted online. 

June 19, 2014

Brian A. Nichols, of Rhode Island, a Career Member of the Senior Foreign Service, Class of Minister-Counselor, to be Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the United States of America to the Republic of Peru.

Certificate via State/FOIA (pdf)

June 16, 2014

Alice G. Wells, of Washington, a Career Member of the Senior Foreign Service,  Class of Minister-Counselor, to be Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of  the United States of America to the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan.

Wells, Alice G – Kingdom of Jordan – 04-2014

June 12, 2014

Crystal Nix-Hines, of California, for the rank of Ambassador during her tenure of service as the United States Permanent Representative to the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization.

June 3, 2013

Keith M. Harper, of Maryland, for the rank of Ambassador during his tenure of service as United States Representative to the UN Human Rights Council.

May 15, 2014

Helen Meagher La Lime, of the District of Columbia, a Career Member of the Senior  Foreign Service, Class of Minister-Counselor, to be Ambassador Extraordinary and  Plenipotentiary of the United States of America to the Republic of Angola.

Certificate via State/FOIA (pdf)

May 14, 2014

Carlos Roberto Moreno, of California, to be Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the United States of America to Belize.

Certificate via State/FOIA (pdf)

 

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