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US Embassy Peru: The Ghost of Ambassador Past

— Domani Spero

 

State/OIG recently posted its inspection report of the U.S. Embassy in Lima, Peru with 30 recommendations and 33 informal recommendations. The inspection took place in Washington, DC, between January 6 and February 4, 2014, and in Lima, Peru, between February 5 and March 4, 2014. Ambassador Gene Christy (team leader), Leslie Gerson (deputy team leader), Thomas Allsbury, Laurent Charbonnet, Eric Chavera, Leo Hession, Tracey Keiter, Keith Powell, Ashea Riley, Richard Sypher, Alexandra Vega, Steven White, Roman Zawada, and Barbara Zigli conducted the inspection.

According to the OIG report, Peru is the world’s largest producer of cocaine and the second largest cultivator of coca. The current Peruvian administration has reportedly elevated combatting narcotics production and trafficking to a “national security” priority. Embassy Lima’s priorities are “to support the Government of Peru to defeat narcotics and terrorist organizations; increase trade, investment, economic growth, and social development; and protect the country’s unique environmental resources.

Mission Peru is a large operation with more than 900 employees as of December 2013. Post is headed by Chargé d’Affaires Michael J. Fitzpatrick who arrived in August 2011 and Acting Deputy Chief of Mission Jeffrey M. Hovenier who arrived in July 2011.  The name of the previous ambassador, a career FSO who previously served as ambassador at another WHA post was politely omitted from the report.

On June 19, 2014, career diplomat, Brian Nichols was confirmed by the Senate as the next ambassador to Peru.  This is his first ambassadorial appointment.  He was previously DCM at US Embassy Bogota and the Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary in the Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs. He served at Embassy Lima as a first tour officer in 1989. We hope he can pull this mission together. Pardon me?  The mission doesn’t need to be pulled together, just the Front Office?

Below are some of its key judgments from the IG report:

  •  In the past 3 years, Embassy Lima registered many successes in building a strategic United States-Peru partnership, particularly in counternarcotics, trade promotion, security, law enforcement, good governance, and development.
  • The political and economic sections produce relevant and high-quality reporting that is instrumental to Washington policy making.
  • The previous Ambassador put into place many processes and practices that had a negative effect on embassy morale. The chargé d’affaires and acting deputy chief of mission hesitated for months to make changes to improve the mission’s working environment but began to do so recently.
  • The public affairs section should establish clearer priorities and exert stronger missionwide leadership on long-term public diplomacy planning.
  • The management section can improve its generally good service by emphasizing communication with other agencies and offices that rely on the procurement, motor pool, and travel units.
  • The consular workload is growing steadily, and section leadership needs to improve work flow, efficiency, officer training, and the warden system.

Leadership Style, Morale and Paperwork Gone Nuts

  • Embassy Lima did not have a Senate-confirmed ambassador in place at the time of the inspection. After the previous Ambassador’s departure in September 2013, the deputy chief of mission (DCM) became chargé d’affaires, and the head of the mission’s international narcotics and law enforcement affairs (INL) section became acting DCM. Under the previous Ambassador, the mission convinced the Department and highest levels of the U.S. Government to work with President Humala, [REDACTED] (b) (5). Working closely with Peruvian Government, business, and civil society leaders, the mission racked up successes in the pursuit of counternarcotics and antiterrorism goals, in advancing trade growth under the bilateral trade agreement, and in building a strategic partnership. The chargé and acting DCM have sustained this momentum.
  • Initially, the chargé and acting DCM adopted caretaker roles in anticipation of the Ambassador-designate’s quick arrival. Neither of them felt empowered to make significant changes, nor did they want to adopt changes only to make additional ones or reverse others after the new Ambassador’s arrival. By November 2013, they realized their new leadership duties would extend for an indeterminate period.
  • Unfortunately, the previous Ambassador’s policy successes were overshadowed within the mission by a leadership style that negatively affected morale. Uncertain about their tenures and in some cases not fully aware of the effects of the previous Ambassador’s leadership style, the chargé and acting DCM kept in place most internal processes and a few problematic behaviors. Some of these continued to damage internal communications and morale. For example, many mission staff reported that the former Ambassador occasionally criticized and belittled certain section chiefs and agency heads in front of their peers. Onerous and excessive paperwork processes impeded communication. The amount of time and energy required to move memoranda through the front office, as well as insistence on letter-perfect products—even for materials intended solely for internal use—discouraged initiative and information sharing.
  • Mission staff noted front office reliance on a group of trusted mission leaders. Others not in the favored category were more likely to receive attention to weaknesses rather than strengths or potential. The President’s letter of instruction to chiefs of mission states that one of the Ambassador’s most important jobs is “to take care of our diplomatic personnel and to ensure that they have the tools they need to support your efforts.” Other Department guidance speaks to the role of Ambassadors and DCMs in establishing a productive workplace. The impact of the negative environment and uneven attention paid to human capital development is evident in lower-than-average scores for mission morale in pre-inspection surveys.
  • Mission staff told inspectors they had expected the caretaker leaders to eliminate some of the worst practices and processes of the previous 3 years. Comments to the OIG team indicated that those expectations were unmet. Mission staff evaluations of the chargé’s and acting DCM’s management and leadership skills were significantly below the averages of other recently inspected chiefs of mission and DCMs. By hesitating to make immediate changes, particularly in workflow and decisionmaking, the chargé and acting DCM became targets for employees’ frustrations. The OIG team counseled and encouraged mission leaders to institute some changes in behaviors and practices. Near the inspection’s end, the chargé acknowledged leadership shortcomings to the country team and began instituting welcome changes.
  • In addition, many staff members remarked that the atmosphere at meetings detracted from communication. Public criticism, excessive demand for detail, and primary focus on front office activities stifled information sharing and initiative taking among country team members. Some participants restricted their communication during country team meetings, because new ideas usually generated taskings and the attendant, onerous paperwork requirements. Paperwork served as a barrier to communication, not a facilitator, and stymied the kinds of informal communication and quick, issue-focused meetings common in most embassies. Even before the inspection, the chargé and acting DCM increased their access to mission staff. During the inspection, the chargé announced that the front office would relax requirements for information memoranda and welcome more casual, on-the-spot conversations to facilitate decisionmaking.
  • To manage the intense paperwork requirements under the former Ambassador, the mission established an informal staff assistant position that drew consular section and USAID first- and second-tour (FAST) employees to the front office for 3-month rotations. Staffing the position put pressure on both the consular section and the USAID mission, especially when they were shorthanded. Moreover, short rotations forced mission staff to adapt to a series of new staff assistants, who were learning on the job. In 2012, the Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs denied the embassy’s request to establish a full-time staff assistant position. The OIG team discussed with the chargé how other similarly sized missions have relied successfully on experienced Foreign Service office management specialists to take on staff assistant duties.

 

One Mission, Kinda

  • In 2011, the Secretary of Defense appointed a new senior Defense officer and Defense attaché  (SDO/DATT) and designated him as the principal Department of Defense (DOD) official at the embassy and his representative to the Ambassador and Government of Peru. The previous Ambassador dealt separately and equally with the mission’s several different DOD elements and sometimes excluded the SDO/DATT from meetings with other DOD components. Recently, the mission prepared a briefing book for the Ambassador-designate. The coordinator of the process tasked each DOD element for separate briefing papers. Failure to recognize the Secretary of Defense’s designation of a SDO/DATT contravened the instruction of the Deputy Secretary of State and disempowered the SDO/DATT.
  • Under the former Ambassador, the Foreign Commercial Service, Foreign Agricultural Service, and Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service attachés routed written communications through the economic counselor. In some cases, they believed they were required to report to the front office through him. That practice was still in effect at the time of the inspection. These procedures diminish the attachés’ ability to represent their respective agencies.

 

Feeding the Fish

  • Public Affairs:  The public affairs section runs an extensive set of programs tied to mission themes, but the public affairs officer has been unable to exert strong missionwide leadership on long-term public diplomacy planning. Several factors contributed to this situation–an intimidating atmosphere in embassy meetings resulting in a hesitancy to take ownership of strategic messaging, distractions caused by time-consuming front office demands, and a dearth of experienced officers in the section.
  • Consular:  Consular managers are approachable and emphasize teamwork, but they have not uniformly provided the strategic thinking, procedural guidance, and surge capacity that the section needed to be optimally effective. The consul general and the visa chief have dedicated so much effort responding to detailed front office requests for information that they have not paid enough attention to daily operations. Even absent front office demands, their hands-off management style has prevented them from identifying procedural efficiencies, providing training and feedback for nonimmigrant visa interviewing officers, and modeling interview techniques.The consul general and the visa chief rarely adjudicate visa applications, except for high-profile or referral cases. A recent cable (13 STATE 153746) reminded posts that consular managers are expected to do some interviewing themselves. Not only does the lack of hands-on participation contribute to the long hours that the more junior staff has to spend interviewing, this remoteness from actual processing undermines their credibility as experts. It also reduces the opportunities for management to train new personnel and to identify potential interview technique and workflow efficiencies.
  • EEO: Although grievance procedures are displayed on some chancery bulletin boards, many locally employed staff indicated that they are unfamiliar with their rights under the program and reluctant to voice their concerns. The former Ambassador’s aloofness with regard to locally employed staff and their awareness of the impact of some of her behaviors on American supervisors has also affected willingness to raise workplace issues.

 

We should note that Embassy Lima has 29 First and Second Tour (FAST) employees.  This includes Foreign Service FSOs, specialists and FAST USAID mission staff.   Which is to say that their first or second tour exposure to an embassy environment now includes a leadership style that negatively affected mission morale, experience with ineffective communication, intense “paperworking,” dedicated feeding of the front office and if “lucky,” experience as the preferred “golden children”of mission leaders.

We highlight for scrutiny the chiefs of mission leadership and management of our diplomatic mission in these OIG reports because we believe they are leaders by example. For good or bad.  They can make or break a post.  Most importantly for career ambassadors — even the poorly performing ones have been known to be thrown quietly into the State Department’s Recycle Program.  Before you know it, you see him or her again at other posts providing leadership and management expertise, interpersonal skills and um … creativity — to the point where post needs a misery differential.

Probably the most impressive item in this report is that the previous ambassador departed post reportedly in September 2013 and four months later during the IG inspection, her ghost still haunted embassy operation.  Since she’s not even named in this report, there is no danger that this OIG report would merit a mention in her Certificate of Competency the next time she is nominated for a chief of mission position.

Oh, you think things will get better?

According to the GAO, the OIG is  supposed to inspect each overseas post once every 5 years; however, due to resource constraints, the OIG Office of Inspections has not done so. Thanks Congress!  The OIG Office of Inspections has conducted inspections in an average of 24 countries per year (including all constituent posts within each country) in fiscal years 2010 through 2013. Given their limited resources, according to OIG officials, they have prioritized higher-risk posts — which probably means more NEA, SCA, AF and less EAP, EUR, WHA post inspections.

As well, State/OIG had terminated its “report cards” for ambassadors and senior officials at inspected diplomatic missions. So inspections are only conducted maybe once every five years. And if post does get inspected, the OIG no longer issue its Inspector’s Evaluation Reports  (IER) for any deficient  performance by chief of mission, dcm or other senior officials. (see IERs: We’re Not Doing ‘Em Anymore, We’re Doing Something Better — Oh, Smashing, Groovy!).

So — enjoy the gummy bites!

gummy-bears-o

Gummy Bears by Dentt42 via GIFsoup.com

 

Related item:

-06/30/14   Inspection of Embassy Lima, Peru (ISP-I-14-12A)  [465 Kb]

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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