M. André Goodfriend has served as Deputy Chief of Mission at the U.S. Embassy in Budapest since August 2013 . Pending the confirmation of the new ambassador, he was Embassy Budapest’s chargé d’affaires. Last month, he tweeted this:
Preparing to welcome Ambassador Bell this week. Anticipating many opportunities for positive, constructive movement forward in relations.
— M. Andre Goodfriend (@GoodfriendMA) January 17, 2015
On February 13, less than a month after Ambassador Bell’s arrival in Budapest, Mr. Goodfriend tweeted this:
Friends, not as an official, but a person, I am overwhelmed by warm farewells. Honored to have been with you. Thank you. Viszontlátásra — M. Andre Goodfriend (@GoodfriendMA) February 13, 2015
Politics.hu notes that the embassy’s twitter feed had not acknowledged Goodfriend’s departure. Neither the embassy website nor its Facebook page carried any announcement about his departure prompting an FB user to write:
No post about Mr. Goodfriend leaving Budapest? Why not? He has become a sort of iconic figure representing the tolerant and smart politics, which has been missing in and around Hungarian leadership. I think that it is a mistake to let him go. His political wisdom, experience and insight will be missed, I am sure.
Mr. Goodfriend is a career diplomat, and the typical length of assignments, particularly in European posts like Budapest is three years. Budapest is a 5% COLA post, with zero hardship and zero danger pay. It appears that Mr. Goodfriend is leaving post 18 months short of a full tour. We’ve asked the U.S. Embassy Budapest via Twitter and email the reason for this early departure and we were told by Embassy Spokesperson Elizabeth Webster on February 14 that they normally do not issue press releases when personnel depart post; however, they made the following statement available to the media upon request:
“DCM Andre Goodfriend is departing his posting in Hungary to return to the United States for family reasons. Mr. Goodfriend served nearly 18 months as chargé d’affaires of the U.S. Embassy in Budapest during a time of significant developments in Hungary and in our bilateral relations. Enjoying the full support of senior leadership in Washington, he did an excellent job of promoting and explaining U.S. policy in public and in private. We ask for the media to respect the privacy of the Goodfriend family.”
Hungarian media has widely reported the news of Mr. Goodfriend’s impending departure based on the embassy’s media note. Here is a view from the Hungarian Spectrum:
André Goodfriend’s departure is greeted with great sadness in liberal circles in Hungary. Many looked upon him as a valued friend of Hungary and were extremely grateful to him. On Facebook there are thousands of posts in which Hungarian citizens thank him for being the defender of Hungarian democracy. I heard a story about one gesture that exemplifies the kind of gratitude Hungarians felt. It was Christmas Eve and André Goodfriend went to a flower shop to buy a bouquet. When he wanted to pay, the owner of the flower shop wouldn’t accept his money, saying that it is she who owes him instead of the other way around.
Perhaps the most moving manifestation of the affection felt for André Goodfriend in Hungary is a video sent by Kreatív Ellenállás (Creative Opposition), a Facebook group, to which the creators added a popular song entitled “André j’aime” composed by János Bródy, played by the Illés Ensemble and sung by Zsuzsa Koncz. These people are legends in Hungarian popular music, mainly because their songs were highly critical of the Kádár regime.
There are, of course, wild speculations and guesses as to why he is departing post after only 18 months on the job. For a sampling of those, check out the comments section of Hungarian Spectrum. One went so far as to state that “there is not a single person here in Budapest who believes the official story on Goodfriend’s departure after a mere 18 months’ of service here.”
It could be just pure coincidence that this “family reasons” occur barely a month after the arrival of a political ambassador who has zero experience in managing bilateral relations or running an embassy. But this is also not the first time that a DCM’s assignment has been shortened at a European post (hello Luxembourg).
Given that Mr. Goodfriend was chargé d’affaires for over a year, and was, until recently, quite active in social media, there will be questions about this departure, no matter that “family reasons” is the stated reason for this departure. We’ve asked Embassy Budapest follow-up questions but we doubt very much that we’ll get anything more beyond what was already released.
Embassy Budapest will have a more immediate challenge, of course. It is not as easy as 1,2,3 to find a replacement DCM when assignments have already been made a year in advance. There are no DCM “floaters” in the active service hanging around Foggy Bottom waiting to be called to fill a gap at a European post. So we’re looking at possibly three scenarios here, each with potential impact to mission effectiveness and productivity, continuity and morale.
1) Stop Gap | the DCM gap at the Front Office will be filled by embassy section chiefs in an acting capacity until Mr. Goodfriend’s replacement arrive at post. This would require officers to serve as acting DCM for possibly extended periods without appropriate training. This also takes seasoned leaders out of embassy sections, leaving those sections in the hands of usually capable, but inexperienced deputies.
2) TDY DCM | a retiree on When Actually Employed (WAE) status will assume temporary assignment until a permanent DCM arrive at post. The DCM on WAE status will, of course, depart post when the statutory time/salary limits are reached, that is, no more than 1040 hours during each service year and his/her appointment cannot exceed one year. That’s about 26 weeks of full-time work. So basically, just when the TDY DCM has fully transitioned to the job, it will be time for him/her to leave post.
3) AMB/DCM | The ambassador traditionally handles external relations while the DCM serves as the executive officer managing the internal business of running an embassy. The ambassador may decide to handle both until Mr. Goodfriend’s replacement arrives. We must note that scenario #3, for obvious reasons, should be a no-go for all COMs but most particularly for political ambassadors. If it does happen, in addition to bilateral relations, our new ambassador to Hungary will also be responsible for the nitty-gritty details of running Embassy Budapest which employs 95 Americans and 232 locally employed (LE) staff members, servicing five agencies. The total mission funding for FY 2013 was $17.5 million, which includes Department of State (Department) funding of $11.5 million. The total bilateral assistance for FY 2013 was $1.8 million.
Perhaps most important to note, according to the OIG inspectors last year, Embassy Budapest was apparently “a well managed and productive” mission during Mr. Goodfriend’s tenure (see US Embassy Hungary: A well managed, productive mission awaits Ambassador Colleen Bell).
That will be hard to maintain without a strong number two.
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Goodfriend News Coverage (politics.hu)