USAID “Poor” Morale Goes From 37% to 47%, Administrator Approval Rating Plummets From 78% to 58%

— Domani Spero
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The June 2014 Foreign Service Journal includes an item on the AFSA USAID survey.  The 23-question, electronic survey focused on concerns, commendations and assessments related to the USAID FSO experience in calendar year 2013.

The USAID VP writes that the survey results will be discussed with USAID Administrator Rajiv Shah and Special Representative for the Quadrennial Diplomacy and Development Review Tom Perriello to help in the formulation of USAID priorities.

Excerpt below:

Staff Morale 

The agency morale rating has dropped significantly. Thirty-seven percent of respondents rated agency morale “poor” in 2012; in 2013, 47 percent of respondents rated morale “poor.” The “good/fair” rating shows a corresponding drop, from 61 percent in 2012 to 51 percent for 2013.

A wide range of concerns were shared by respondents, such as: tension between more seasoned USAID employees and those who have entered within the last five years; an overburdened system with too many “initiatives;” lack of transparency and support from HR; and slow encroachment by State.

In a cross-comparison between questions on the new HR leadership and agency morale, a similarly high percentage of employees (61) rated the new HR leadership “poor” and also determined that morale had dropped.

USAID Administrator 

The “poor” rating for the Administrator (question 20) increased from 23 percent in 2012 to 41 percent in the 2013 survey. His overall approval rating (“fair, good, excellent”) for 2013 stands at 58 percent, also a significant drop from 2012 (78 percent). This decline is disturbing and will be pointed out to his office.

Many FSOs originally liked the new initiatives. However, the prevailing sentiment now is that they are too numerous to coordinate and accurately report on, and many do not come with funding. The comments also reflect a recurring theme that work outside of Africa appears to be a lower priority for the Administrator.

Working Conditions 

The survey indicates a significant perception that overall conditions at work are worsening (42 percent). This is not as bad as it was in 2011 (46 percent) or 2010 (55 percent); nevertheless, it is a setback since 2012, when only 36 percent thought conditions at work were deteriorating. Pay and bonus freezes, work space concerns due to consolidation and micromanagement of the field by Washington were some of the concerns highlighted this year, and are possible explanations for the increased rating.

AFSA reports that several important issues have been illuminated in this survey, including the following:

  • First is the tendency for more recent employees in the workforce to have different views than their colleagues from previous generations. The different characteristics of this new generation of workers are increasingly being discussed in the media. In terms of numbers, the millennials are the largest generation in American history and, with USAID’s recent mass hiring, the majority of our workforce now fall into this category.
  • A bonus of the Development Leadership Initiative program is that USAID has a unique opportunity to be a leader in this regard, simply by virtue of its large population of millennials. If we focus on their primary concerns—such as corporate culture, work-life balance, workplace flexibility, making a difference and being appreciated—we realize that they value the same things that are important to everyone!  The difference is that millennials are more likely to voice their thoughts and to change jobs if their needs are not fulfilled. How the agency handles this will determine whether USAID emerges as a government leader in such issues as work-life balance, as well as how it fares in employee retention.
  • After a brief upturn, morale has taken a slide back down. Comments suggest that this is related to various factors, including the sense of a disconnect with significant guidance related to HR processes, and a feeling that Washington does not understand the challenges that FSOs face daily.  Inequalities in benefits  between USAID and State further exacerbate the problem.

The AFSA USAID VP Sharon Wayne writes that “AFSA will continue to engage management on these issues. It is my hope that current leadership will choose to accept these results for what they are: valuable feedback on which to act to make this agency better.”

 

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USAID Egypt: An Official Lie Comes Back to Bite, Ouchy!

— Domani Spero
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WaPo’s report on whistleblowers’ complaints that critical details had been sanitized from publicly released reports of USAID OIG includes an item on the NGO trial and bail money in Egypt:

[T]he Egyptian government charged 43 NGO workers with operating illegally. Sixteen of them were Americans, including the son of then-U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood.

The Americans were freed in March 2012 after USAID secretly paid the Egyptian government $4.6 million in “bail” money.
[…]
On March 1, 2012, the Americans were permitted to leave the country after USAID transferred $4.6 million from a local currency trust fund to the Egyptian government as “bail.” USAID’s connection to the money was not disclosed at the time.

“This was paid by the NGOs,” a State Department spokeswoman said that day.
[…]

Several findings were condensed; entire sections disappeared. They included a section titled “USAID/Egypt Borrowed Local Currency From the Trust Fund for Bail Expenses.”

That section raised questions about the legality of using the $4.6 million to free the NGO workers. Also deleted were concerns that the use of trust fund money for “bail payments” could set a bad precedent for USAID.

 

A lie and a bribe:

A ransom:

 

The State Department spokeswoman not named in the report was the former spox, and now Assistant Secretary for European Affairs Victoria Nuland.  And because the lie was from the official podium of the State Department, this was an official USG lie. Let’s revisit the Daily Press Briefing from March 1, 2012:

QUESTION: Victoria, could you clarify for us the role of the U.S. Government in posting the bond? I understand that $300,000 per individual was posted and the promise that they will return to face trial. Could you explain to us if there was any role for the U.S. Government in that aspect?

MS. NULAND: Well, first of all, let me just clarify that none of these people who have now departed were in custody, none of them were subject to arrest warrants. They were under travel restrictions. So at the request of the attorneys for the employees, the Egyptian court ruled that the travel restrictions would be lifted if the employees posted bail. So through their lawyers, the NGOs made payments on behalf of their employees from available funds. So there were no bribes paid, and this was paid by the NGOs.

QUESTION: No, I did not suggest that there was any bribes. I just wanted to ask if there was any official role for the U.S. Government to post bail. Some people may not have had the money. I mean, did you try to help them post that money? It’s a huge sum of money for the bail.

MS. NULAND: The organizations paid the bail.

QUESTION: But these organizations get money from the U.S. Government. Was there any government money involved in this bail payment?

MS. NULAND: The checks for this bail, as I understand it, came from the organizations.

QUESTION: But as I say, these organizations are funded, some of them quite – to the tune of quite a lot of money. So was there any taxpayer money involved in paying this bail? And if there was, which I understand there was, what happens if they – if bail is forfeited, if these people decide not to go back and to face the charges? Does that leave the taxpayer on the hook for however much the percentage was that you guys kicked in?

MS. NULAND: Well, first, to be clear, the bail was posted by the organizations.

QUESTION: Yes, but if I —

MS. NULAND: That said —

QUESTION: But if I give you $300,000 and then you give it to the Egyptians, it’s technically correct that you paid the Egyptians, but it’s my money.

MS. NULAND: Again, the bail was paid by the organizations. You are not wrong that these organizations benefit from U.S. Government funding. They benefit from U.S. Government funding so that they can do the work that they do to support a democratic transition. With regard to the fungibility of money or anything with regard to that, I will have to take that question.

 

So the NGOs paid Egypt; maybe those NGO’s carried and handed $4.6 million to the money shakers, and we called it NGO money. But apparently, it’s USAID money, so really — U.S. taxpayers’ money.  And but for this WaPo report, the American public would not have known that we paid the bail money because the key finding about the $4.6 million payment to free the NGO workers in Egypt was removed from the performance audit and placed into financial documents.  Documents that are not made public. Also apparently deleted were concerns that the use of trust fund money for “bail payments” could set a bad precedent for USAID.

So in places where American NGOs and USAID operates, a not too friendly host government can grab any of the staffers for any purported local crime, and USAID will pay ransom bail money to get the staffers released and returned to the United States; and it can put the details about those payments in USAID financial documents that we never get to see?

And we wonder why people get jaded watching this show.

The world is changing. While this information might have been hidden in the past from public view for say 20 years or until the FRUS is released, things, at least some things increasingly don’t work like that anymore. The refresh cycle on sunshine in government is coming at shorter bursts.

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