What About American Ambassadors? The Next President Will Not Nominate a Super PAC as Ambassador

Posted: 1:53 am EDT
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The 2016 presidential election is some 18 months away. Some folks who are hoping to land a gig at some of our European embassies are expecting to get busy just about now. About 2/3 of all ambassadorial appointments will go to career diplomats but about a third will still go to top supporters of the winning candidate, most of them heavy lifters when it comes to rounding up funds to help get their candidate elected.  That’s not going to end anytime soon. See list of Obama Bundlers via OpenSecrets. Click here for Obama’s ambassadors during his first term, click here for the current appointees.  Click here for George W. Bush’s Pioneer Fundraisers who got similar appointments.  @PhilipArsenault has the breakdown of appointments for both presidents, both terms here.

In any case — apparently, the not quite so rich has a new lament this election cycle. “Who needs a bundler when you have a billionaire?” One fundraiser interviewed on WaPo says“Bundlers felt they were part of the process and made a difference, and therefore were delighted to participate. But when you look at super-PAC money and the large donations that we’re seeing, the regular bundlers feel a little disenfranchised.” All that money is moving the ground under their feet, and disrupting the status of the new incarnation of rangers, pioneers, and bundlers.

It is highly unlikely that the next President of the United States will appoint Super-PACs as ambassadors to Paris, London, Madrid or Brussels, etc.. So folks, calm down! While waiting for the call, folks should gear up learning about what American ambassadors do.  Oh, interested individuals also need to figure out which posts to avoid for various reasons.  It could be that the official ambassador residence is too small, or smaller than the house the appointee is accustomed to, or too old, or needs a new roof, or new paint, or new floors, or has bad toilets (and new appointee ends up supervising repairs and all that).  So put that on the to-do list but for now, an excellent book to read is Ambassador Dennis C. Jett’s book, American Ambassadors, The Past, Present and Future of American Diplomats, because it’s delightful and informative and everyone should know what he/she is getting into.  Also mark your calendars; the author will be giving a talk on the book at AFSA on June 11th from 2:00 to 3:30 pm.  Many thanks to Ambassador Jett and Palgrave Macmillan’s Claire Smith for permission to share an excerpt from the book with our readers.

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Dennis C. Jett, American Ambassadors, Published 2014. Copyright© Dennis C. Jett, 2014 [First Published in 2014 by Palgrave Macmillan ®] reproduced with permission of Palgrave Macmillan.

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On the face of it, the first ambassador for whom I worked seemed perfect for the job. If the director of a movie called up central casting and told them to send over actors to audition for a role as an ambassador, he would have been a shoo-in for the part. He had, in fact, been an actor, costarring in movies with Marlene Dietrich and Shirley Temple. He had also been a successful politician, elected to Congress twice and as governor of Connecticut. The Connecticut Turnpike is named after him.

He came from a wealthy and illustrious lineage—his family included a senator, an admiral, and another ambassador. They could trace their roots back to the pilgrims. Tall, handsome, and silver-haired, he was fluent in several languages. According to one expert on style, he was “one of the most polished gentlemen in America” for more than half a century. He was also named ambassador three times by three different presidents. In referring to him, a journalist once wrote: “If the United States could be represented around the world the way it is represented in Argentina, it would be loved by the peoples of all nations.”

In reality, the ambassador was a disaster—and a dangerous one at that. Although he seemed to some to be the perfect diplomat, those who knew him better considered him, in effect, a threat to national security. The reason for such a divergence of opinion is that there is more to being an ambassador than simply glitz and glamour.

And when it came to John Davis Lodge, there was little else.

I did not know all of that when I was assigned to Buenos Aires as my first diplomatic posting. In early 1973, I had only been in the Foreign Service for a few weeks. All newly minted Foreign Service Officers (FSOs) are introduced to the State Department through a six-week course, a kind of boot camp for bureaucrats. There the raw recruits get basic training about the government they are to represent. Toward the end of the course, the fledgling FSOs are given a list of all the postings in the world that are available for their first tour of duty. They have to decide on their preferences and then hope that the personnel system answers their prayers.

Having grown up and been educated mainly in New Mexico, where the Hispanic and Native American cultures had an influence on even a transplanted Northeasterner like me, I decided Latin America would be my first choice. Because Argentina seemed the most exotic of the possibilities in the southern hemisphere, that country was at the top of my list. As luck would have it, none of my peers ranked it as high, so the job was mine. But first I had to take additional training, including learning Spanish.

It was then that I came across an article in the Washington Post about Lodge written by Lewis Diuguid, the paper’s Latin American correspondent. In essence, the article said that Lodge was all style and no substance; dinners at the elegant ambassadorial residence inevitably dissolved into songfests, with Lodge belting out his favorite tunes from Broadway shows. The article claimed that Lodge kept four staff members in the embassy’s information section engaged full time in trying to get the local press to run photos and articles about his latest social activities.

Diuguid implied that Lodge’s desire to appear in the newspapers did not extend beyond photographs and the society pages. The article went on to quote anonymous sources, who said a serious conversation with Lodge was impossible and that if anyone had any real business to conduct with the embassy, they went to see the deputy chief of mission, the number two person in any embassy and one who is always a career diplomat.

As I read the article, I found it hard to believe it was not grossly exaggerated. I wondered how someone in such an exalted position could be such an apparent lightweight. A few weeks after arriving in Buenos Aires, I had the opportunity to witness Lodge in action. He gave a large formal dinner at the residence for a visiting official from Washington. It was not a social occasion but rather an important opportunity to gather impressions on how the new government would conduct itself. One big question was whether Peronist officials would even come to the dinner. It was feared they might not if hostility toward the United States was going to again be one of Peron’s policies.

The evening unfolded, however, as if the Diuguid article had scripted the event. At the end of the sumptuous meal, as coffee and dessert were being served, Lodge called over an accordionist who had been providing soft background music. With this accompaniment, he burst into song while still seated at the table and rolled off a number of tunes. We all then adjourned to the ballroom, where he continued the entertainment. Among his favorite Argentine guests was a couple whom he summoned to join him at the grand piano. While the husband played, the wife and Lodge sang duets from Porgy and Bess and other Broadway hits.

As the show dragged on, the Peronist officials signaled they wanted to talk to the visiting official and the deputy chief of mission privately, so they all slipped off to the library. The Peronists made it clear that the new government would be open to a constructive and productive relationship with the United States, unlike in the past. This was a significant shift in policy that would be welcomed in Washington.

Finally, after the songfest, the guests began bidding the Lodges good night and thanking them profusely for the evening. The embassy staff members were always the last to leave; it was customary to stay until dismissed by the ambassador. As we waited for this to happen, Lodge learned of the discussion that had taken place in the library while he was singing in the ballroom. He became furious at his deputy, ranting that he had been stabbed in the back before but never in his own home. Unmoved by the success of the discussions, Lodge continued to berate the poor man in front of all of us. That evening I learned an important lesson: a country is not well served by an ambassador who thinks entertaining is the most important of his duties.

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Also read Selling Ambassadorships Is as American as Apple Pie (HuffPo)U.S. Embassies Have Always Been for Sale (Daily Beast) and Peter Van Buren’s review, American Ambassadors, The Past, Present, and Future of America’s Diplomats (HuffPo).

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May 1 Memorial Ceremony Honors Foreign Service Employees Lost Overseas: Rayda Nadal and David Collins

Posted: 12:35 am EDT
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Via afsa.org:

On Friday, May 1, AFSA will hold its 82nd Annual Memorial Ceremony, which honors Foreign Service personnel who have given their lives while serving their country overseas.

The plaques on which these individuals’ names are inscribed serve as a powerful reminder of the work of Foreign Service personnel who conduct American diplomacy abroad, often under dangerous and difficult conditions. The Memorial Ceremony is our opportunity to give these individuals the recognition that they are due.

We are honored to have Under Secretary for Management Patrick Kennedy scheduled to preside over this event, along with AFSA President Robert J. Silverman, who will serve as host for the solemn occasion.

The Memorial Ceremony will begin at 10:20 a.m. EST in the C Street Lobby of the Department of State. (Note that outside guests must arrive no later than 9:30 a.m.) The ceremony will be broadcast live on the Department of State’s BNET channel. We welcome members of the Foreign Service to attend the ceremony and to enter through the 21st street entrance. If the lobby is full, the ceremony can be watched via BNET or the live simulcast inside the Dean Acheson Auditorium. We hope that colleagues stationed around the world will watch the live BNET broadcast, as well. As with other AFSA events, a recording will be posted on the AFSA website (www.afsa.org/video) shortly after the ceremony.

This year, we will be honoring the lives and work of David Collins and Rayda Nadal.

David Collins, 54, was a financial management officer at Consulate General Lagos, Nigeria. Before joining the Foreign Service, Mr. Collins worked as an ordained minister with the Assemblies of God for more than 20 years, serving in many different capacities such as youth minister and business administrator. Mr. Collins also worked for the Compassion Ministry at the Convoy of Hope in Brussels. He joined the Foreign Service in 2009 and served as an FMO in Pretoria before he arrived in Lagos. There, he and his wife participated in an embassy group outing to the beach on April 28, 2013. Swimming in the ocean, the two were caught in an undertow; struggling to save his wife, David managed to push her successfully to higher ground, but was unable to save himself. When he was brought to shore, he still had a pulse, but died during the 90 minutes it took to get emergency medical treatment. His family has requested that donations in David’s name be made to Convoy of Hope in Springfield, Missouri. Information on Convoy of Hope can be found at www.convoyofhope.org.

Rayda Nadal, 37, was a Foreign Service specialist serving at Embassy Moscow. She joined the Foreign Service in 2008. Ms. Nadal served as an office management specialist in Kuwait City, Kabul, Nassau and New Delhi. She worked for Ambassador Capricia Marshall under Secretary of State Hillary Clinton at the Office of Protocol in Washington, D.C. While in Moscow, Ms. Nadal sustained injuries in a gas explosion in her apartment on May 22, 2014. She was transported for treatment to a hospital in Sweden where she died on May 26, 2014. Her family requests that donations in Rayda’s name be made to the Harriet Tubman Emergency Shelter in Washington, D.C. Information on the shelter can be found at www.catholiccharitiesdc.org/HarrietTubmanShelter.

David Collins and Rayda Nadal affected the lives of others through their dedication and passion. Please join us on May 1, as we commemorate their lives and legacies.

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US Embassy Nepal: DART and Search and Rescue Teams Are On the Ground

Posted: 12:15 am EDT
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At the DPB on April 27, the State Department said that Embassy Kathmandu remains open and the U.S. Embassy and the American Club continue to shelter U.S. citizens and their family members as well as dozens of non-Americans. There are reportedly about 85 U.S. citizens at the chancery and about 220 U.S. citizens at the American Club.  The spokesman said he is “not aware of any significant damage, at least not that is impeding their [embassy’s] operations.”  

Embassy Kathmandu staff is reportedly being supplemented with resources in the region “to better enable us to respond to – not only to the things concerning U.S. citizens, but also liaison coordination with the U.S. Government and such.” All of the American personnel at the embassy are accounted for. The embassy is continuing its efforts to account for all its local employees. Meanwhile, the DART and the search and rescue teams have arrived in country.

 

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Temporarily Disabling Comments For Security Reason

Posted: 11:45  pm EDT
Updated 4/29/15 6:25 pm PDT issue resolved.
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There is a WordPress flaw that can be exploited through the comments section of WordPress sites. We are temporarily disabling all comments/not approving comments until we can confirm that this issue has been resolved. Thank you for your patience –DS

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Next Generation U.S. Passport To Roll Out in 2016, No More Additional Page Insert Starting Jan 1, 2016

Posted: 5:04  pm EDT
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Below is from the official proposal to be published on the Federal Register tomorrow eliminating the visa page insert (VPI) service for regular fee U.S. passports:

The Department proposes eliminating the visa page insert service for regular fee passport book holders beginning January 1, 2016. The expected effective date of this rule coincides with when the Department expects to begin issuing an updated version of the Next Generation Passport book. The Department routinely updates the technology used to produce U.S. passport books so that U.S. passport books use the most current anti-fraud and anti-counterfeit measures. The Next Generation Passport, which is the next update of the U.S. passport book, will contain a polycarbonate data-page and will be personalized with laser engraving. This passport will also employ conical laser perforation of the passport number through the data and visa pages; display a general artwork upgrade and new security features including watermark, security artwork, optical variable security devices, tactile features, and optically variable inks. The primary reason for eliminating visa page inserts is to protect the integrity of the Next Generation Passport books.

In 2012, an interagency working group tasked with overseeing the development and deployment of Next Generation Passport books found that visa page inserts could compromise the effectiveness of security features of the new passport books that are intended to provide greater protections against fraud and misuse. To maximize the effectiveness of the Next Generation Passport that is expected to be issued to the general public in 2016, the Department considered whether visa page inserts could be phased out at the time that the Department begins to issue the new passport books.

As part of this study, the Department considered the extent of the public’s usage of visa page inserts, costs to the Department of eliminating the service, and whether any inconvenience to the public could be minimized. A study of a sample of visa page insert applications revealed that a significant majority of those applying for visa page inserts had them added to 28-page passport books, rather than to the larger 52-page books. A set of visa page inserts is 24 pages. Accordingly, a 52-page passport book is the same size as a 28-page book with a set of extra visa pages. The Department determined that the demand for additional visa pages would be substantially reduced by issuing only the larger 52-page passport books to overseas U.S. passport applicants. Accordingly, the Department has begun issuing the 52-page book to overseas applicants, who are the most likely to apply for extra visa pages, at no additional cost. This should further reduce the already limited demand for visa page inserts, thus making the rule’s impact on the public very minimal. Individuals who apply for U.S. passports within the United States will continue to have the option to request a 52-page passport at no additional charge.

Each version of the Next Generation Passport book contains two fewer pages total, but the same number of visa pages as the passport books currently in circulation. Accordingly, after the Department begins issuing the Next Generation Passport book, all domestic passport book applicants will still have the option to choose between a 26-page passport book and a larger 50-page passport book, but the larger 50-page passport books will be automatically issued to people applying overseas.

The Department believes the limited demand for visa page inserts is outweighed by the importance of ensuring that the Next Generation Passport provides the maximum protection against fraud and misuse. Furthermore, the Department must monitor unused inventories of passport products, and the elimination of visa page inserts would facilitate more secure inventory controls. Accordingly, the Department proposes eliminating visa page inserts in passport books issued to the general public beginning January 1, 2016.

image from state.gov

image from state.gov click for larger view

When news about the elimination of passport page inserts first surfaced in late March, we went looking for answers.  A State Department official responded to our inquiry as follows, with emphasis on security and other interesting details:

The Department’s highest priority is to protect the lives and interests of U.S. citizens and this includes our commitment to ensure the U.S. passport remains the most secure travel document in the world. As we look forward to the next version of the U.S. passport, an internal focus group determined that supplemental visa pages pose vulnerabilities to both the physical security of the passport and the issuance process. While the United States is the only country to offer the option of adding additional visa pages to passports, below is some additional data which helped us arrive at our decision:

  • The total demand for additional visa pages is quite small. In FY 2012, we saw approximately 168,000 requests for additional pages compared to 12 million passport issuances.
  • For years have we have offered two passport book sizes to the American public: 28 pages and 52 pages. In FY2013 we estimated that 97% of all passport renewals used fewer than 18 visa pages, a strong indication that the current book sizes we offer meet the needs of the majority of American travelers.
  • To meet the needs of frequent travelers, we began issuing the 52-page passport books at all overseas posts which is where most requests for additional visa pages are processed.
  • Customers can renew their passports via expedited service both domestically and overseas at U.S. consulates and embassies.

We realize some frequent travelers may have concerns about this decision, but it is our duty to implement policies that reinforce and maintain the security of the passport. The United States allows travelers to enter into the country with a valid visa in an expired passport, as long as both passports (the valid and the expired one with the visa) are from the same country and type. Many other governments have similar regulations. However, we recommend that travelers obtain the latest information on visas and entry requirements from the nearest embassy or consulate of destination country before traveling.

According to CA, after the proposed rule is announced on the Federal Register, the Bureau of Consular Affairs will conduct outreach to educate the public on the elimination of visa pages insert (VPI), the effects of this decision, and alternative consular services.

Interested parties may submit comments for 60 days starting April 29, by any of the following methods:

  • Visit the Regulations.gov web site at: http://www.regulations.gov/index.cfm and search the RIN 1400-AD76 or docket number DOS-2015-0017.
  • Mail (paper, disk, or CD-ROM): U.S. Department of State, Office of Passport Services, Bureau of Consular Affairs (CA/PPT), Attn: CA/PPT/IA, 44132 Mercure Circle, P.O. Box 1227, Sterling, Virginia 20166-1227.

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Saudi Arabia Arrests 93 Suspected Terrorists Over Plot to Bomb US Embassy Riyadh

Posted: 3:30  pm EDT
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Related posts:

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Bringing Cellphones to Work Ends For Federal Employees in 22 Domestic Passport Offices

Posted: 3:19  pm EDT
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WaPo reported last week that federal employees responsible for reviewing and processing U.S. passports are now prohibited from bringing their cellphones to work.  The new rule would affect the 1,200 government workers and 1,000 private contractors in passport offices across 22 domestic locations. What started this off? Who knows except that there apparently was a contractor in Houston:

“The rumor among passport workers is that a contractor in Houston was taking pictures of private information on passports.”

A State Department official confirmed the new policy to WaPo:  “The Department has a serious and important obligation to protect the personally identifiable information (PII) of U.S. citizens applying for passports,” the official said. “Prohibiting cellphones throughout our Passport Agencies, where employees review and process passport applications, is an effort to further protect passport applicant’s PII.”  

The National Federation of Federal Employees (NFFE) Local 1998 that represents Passport Agency workers nationwide is not happy.  The union wondered what use is getting these employees secret clearances if they can’t be trusted with the information?

Read in full here.

Our own source at the Consular Affairs bureau declined to confirm the rumor but did confirm the ban on cell phones.

The last time the Passport Agency made a huge splash was back in 2008 when illegal access of politician and celebrity passport records were discovered.  Nine State Department employees and contractors were charged and pleaded guilty in that case.

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Howard v. Kerry: Court Denies Motion to Dismiss One Retaliation Claim

Posted: 10:52 am EDT
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Excerpt from Civil Action No. 14-727 (JDB) by Judge John D. Bates of the United States District Court of the District of Columbia:

Kerry Howard, a former Community Liaison Officer at the American consulate in Naples, did not enjoy her working environment. That is an understatement, to be fair: she refers to it as a “cesspool.” Pl.’s Opp’n [ECF No. 21] at 3. In this suit, Howard asserts that she suffered from a hostile work environment that was discriminatory to women, and from discrete instances of retaliation for her attempts to aid fellow employees. But these claims do not match precisely with those she raised during the administrative process. As a result, some must be dismissed, based on the defendant’s motion to do so.
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Here, Howard filed administrative charges alleging only two discrete retaliatory acts: her poor evaluation on April 19, 2012, and being placed on a performance improvement plan that same day. See Notice of Dismissed Allegations [ECF No. 13-2] at 5. Both were dismissed administratively for failure to contact an EEO counselor within forty-five days, as required by the first step of the exhaustion process. See id. Since then, however, it has become clear to both parties that Howard did timely request an EEO counselor on May 7, 2012—regarding her performance improvement plan. See Pl.’s Supp. at 2; Def.’s Resp. at 3. This claim was therefore appropriately exhausted. The Court will accordingly deny defendant’s motion to dismiss as to the retaliation claim regarding that performance improvement plan.1
[…]
Odious the allegations may be—but Title VII “does not set forth a general civility code for the American workplace.” Burlington, 548 U.S. at 68 (internal quotation marks and citations omitted) (citing precedent that courts “must filter out complaints attacking the ordinary tribulations of the workplace, such as the sporadic use of abusive language” (internal quotation marks omitted)). Thus, the Court will grant the government’s motion to dismiss the remainder of Count I.

More straightforward is the government’s assertion that Howard failed to exhaust her hostile work environment claim. In the hostile work environment context—as opposed to discrete instances of retaliation—it is settled that claims “like or reasonably related to the allegations of the administrative charge may be pursued in a Title VII civil action, notwithstanding the failure to otherwise exhaust administrative remedies.” Bell, 724 F. Supp. 2d at 8 (internal quotation marks, citation, and alteration omitted); see also Morgan, 536 U.S. at 115 (“Hostile environment claims are different in kind from discrete acts.”). “A new claim is ‘like or reasonably related’ to the original claim if it ‘could have reasonably been expected to grow out of the original complaint.’” Bell, 724 F. Supp. 2d at 8–9 (quoting Weber v. Battista, 494 F.3d 179, 183 (D.C. Cir. 2007)).

“Claims of ideologically distinct categories of discrimination and retaliation, however, are not ‘related’ simply because they arise out of the same incident.” Id. at 9 (internal quotation marks omitted). As this Court has pointed out before, “[t]he EEOC charge form makes it easy for an employee to identify the nature of the alleged wrongdoing by simply checking the labeled boxes that are provided. When an employee is uncertain which type of discrimination has occurred, she need only describe it in the text of the charge form.” Williams v. Spencer, 883 F. Supp. 2d 165, 174 (D.D.C. 2012) (internal quotation marks and citation omitted). In Howard’s formal complaint, she checked the box for reprisal—not for sex discrimination. See Formal Compl. of Discrimination [ECF No. 13-1] at 2. And the explanation she attached to the form similarly focuses on reprisal alone. See id. at 3–4. Thus, “[t]o the extent that [Howard] is attempting to claim that [the hostile work environment] was discriminatory based on [sex], as opposed to retaliatory, [the government] is correct that [Howard] did not exhaust her administrative remedies.” Williams, 883 F. Supp. 2d at 174. As a result, the Court will grant the government’s motion to dismiss as to Count II (hostile work environment based on discrimination).

Read in full at https://ecf.dcd.uscourts.gov/cgi-bin/show_public_doc?2014cv0727-25.

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State Department Serves ‘Guidance on Toxic Behaviors at Work’ Soup, Um …Forgets Meat in Yak Soup

Posted: 12:36 am EDT
Updated: 4/28/2015 at 7:35 am PDT
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The State Department recently issued guidance for its American direct-hire employees on “Toxic Behaviors at Work: Where to Turn For Help (see ALDAC 15 STATE 45178) The aim was “to help mitigate the impact of toxic behaviors in the workplace, should they occur.”  It notes that “The stress this causes can lower productivity and employee satisfaction, and make it harder for the Department to retain strong employees and perform its best.”  A separate guidance will reportedly be issued for local employees and contractors.

What is toxic behavior? According to the State Department, the following is what constitutes toxic behavior:

Toxic behaviors are unwanted and can be verbal or non-verbal.  They are behaviors that a reasonable person would consider offensive, humiliating, intimidating, or otherwise significantly detrimental to their ability to do their work.  They include, but are not limited to: violent behavior, e.g., throwing items, breaking items; threatening behavior, i.e.,  intimidation, bullying, yelling, passive aggression, exclusion, lack of communication and/or cooperation; unethical behavior or the appearance of it, loafing, insubordination or failure to follow instructions, discrimination, or harassment.

Let’s add a few more warning signs from Kirk Lawrence of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill Kenan-Flagler Business School:

Types of toxic behaviors include tearing others down, passive aggressive leadership, destructive gossip, devious politics, negativity, aggressiveness, narcissism, lack of credibility, passivity, disorganization, and the resistance to change. These behaviors—individually or combined—can create a toxic workplace environment.

The State Department guidance cable does not provide examples of toxic behavior so we had to do some archive  diving where we found some relevant examples:

  • A Principal Commercial Officer asserted that there were multiple violations of due process resulting “in an oppressive work environment.”  He claimed that “Resolution of this grievance is in the national interest because any organization in which accountability does not exist, managers may act on whim, and decisions and personnel actions are based not on facts but on hearsay, rumors, bullying and fear affects all employees including myself, paralyzes decision-making, erodes morale, makes risk-taking impossible, erodes motivation and performance . . . .” (Case No. 2011-018)
  • A Senior FSO who was an office director at one of the bureaus was charged with inappropriate conduct in interactions with his staff and others.  The charge and specifications include repeatedly referring to women as “bitches” and “hormonal,” yelling, banging on his desk and forcefully expressing his political views throughout the office. This Senior FSO yelled at subordinates and peers, demonstrating threatening and aggressive behavior towards them in violation of the workplace violence policy, evincing anger management issues, and damaging office morale. According to one witness account, there was a tendency to berate people publicly. “The office has this term being of in the tribe and out of the tribe. You can be put out of the tribe by him. There is a culture of fear to be put out of the tribe. Everyone tries to tip toe because it is not a good place to be. He will take away TDY and site visits and make life difficult.” (FSGB Case No. 2011-004)
  • An FS-01 Office Director referred to a former colleague as a “bitch” and used “little officer” and “little employee” to describe women. He sent an e-mail to officemates “which could be viewed as offensive” and received a Letter of Admonishment. (FSGB Case No. 2010-0035)
  • Most employees described this ambassador as aggressive, bullying, hostile, and intimidating, which resulted in an extremely difficult, unhappy, and uncertain work environment. The ambassador eventually resigned but not before most of the embassy’s senior staff, including two deputy chiefs of mission (DCM) and two section chiefs, had either curtailed or volunteered for service in Kabul and Baghdad (via pdf here).
  • One ambassador’s policy successes were overshadowed within the mission by a leadership style that negatively affected morale. Many mission staff reported that the ambassador occasionally criticized and belittled certain section chiefs and agency heads in front of their peers. 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.  (via)

So this is not really a case of “toxic behaviors in the workplace, should they occur,” is it?

The State Department unclassified guidance helpfully provided a section for “Roles and Responsibilities” — some of the points enumerated below  like, how it’s “nearly impossible to succeed in changing a toxic situation without making any changes in your own behavior” — are rather questionable. We understand the consequences of meeting fire with fire but it sure looks like the onus is on the person who perceives the toxic environment here, rather than the person who is causing it.  Take a look:

It is incumbent on everyone working at the Department of State to conduct themselves in a professional manner.  This means not only refraining from engaging in toxic behavior, but also following the appropriate steps when confronted by someone who is engaging in such behavior.  Meeting the toxic behavior of another with toxic behavior of one’s own is neither productive nor professional.

It is imperative to keep the following points in mind as you consider how to address a situation that you find toxic or counter-productive:

–> If a supervisor is telling you what needs to be done, in a reasonable and non-threatening manner, and holding you accountable for doing it, in a reasonable and non-threatening manner, this is not toxic behavior.  This is their job.  Therefore, you are required to follow supervisory instructions, unless there is substantial reason to believe that the instruction given would place you in a clearly dangerous situation or cause you irreparable harm.  If you perform the action instructed, you do have the right to register a complaint or grieve later.

–> You cannot control the behavior of others, only your own.

–>You should take some time to consider your own role in a situation you find toxic.

–>It is nearly impossible to succeed in changing a toxic situation without making any changes in your own behavior.

–>These are not easy things to do.  Stretching oneself in a situation that is already difficult is additionally unpleasant.  However, it is a necessary part of one’s own development and the improvement of one’s work environment.

Has somebody been reading those management books about “stretching” again? You’re in a toxic workplace, and your boss is an ass and a bully, and you’re “stretching” yourself, so your boss would be more pleasant? No, you’re stretching yourself so that you’ll be more pleasant to your toxic boss, who will, of course, cease being a bully and an ass? No, whaaat?

Ay, dios mio! Who writes this stuff?

The State Department guidance identifies 10 key resources for toxic behaviors:

  • The Office of the Ombudsman, Workplace Conflict Prevention and Resolution Center (wCPRc)
  • Office of Civil Rights (S/OCR)
  • Human Resources/Employee Relations/Office of Conduct, Suitability, and Discipline (HR/ER/CSD)
  • Employee Consultation Service (ECS)
  • Human Resources/Grievance (HR/G
  • Diplomatic Security Office of Protective Intelligence Investigations (DS/TIA/PII)
  • Diplomatic Security Office of Special Investigations (DS/DO/OSI)
  • Foreign Service Institute (FSI) Leadership and Management School (LMS) Leadership Coaching
  • Office of the Inspector General (OIG)
  • Unions for State Department Employees:  American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE) Local 1534, the American Foreign Service Association (AFSA), or the National Federation of Federal Employees (NFFE) Local 1998.

That’s a long list but dear ones, aren’t you forgetting the meat in the soup?

What about leadership?

Leadership—or the lack of it—lays at the core a toxic workplace. When a toxic workplace develops on a peer-to-peer level, it is the lack of leadership that allows it to fester. All too often, however, toxic workplaces are created from the top down, when managers or supervisors are the root of the problem. One study found that 37 percent of workers said they had been bullied at work and that the majority of those bullies (72 percent), were bosses. (via)

A piece on toxic culture from forbes.com notes that there is a large body of research showing that a leader sets the tone for the office and sets an example for internal comportment. “Executives who claim to operate at such a lofty level that they cannot be bothered by the daily operations or political scale-balancing of their organizations are simply poor leaders.”

One HR manager interviewed by Peter Frost in Toxic Emotions at Work (Harvard Business School Press) also observed:

“Fish stinks from the head!” The higher up the toxic person is, the more widely spread is the pain, and the more people there are who behave in the same way. If you have a CEO who delivers public lashings—in effect does his performance appraisals in public—then you will have the lieutenants begin to join in.

We understand the intention is good but c’mon folks … to issue a lengthy guidance on toxic behavior in a workplace without addressing leadership is like serving yak soup without yak meat.

Here are some wild yaks to look at when you read that official guidance. Not quite the same but better than nothin.

“Wild Yaks” by Nadeemmushtaque – Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons – http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Wild_Yaks.jpg#/media/File:Wild_Yaks.jpg

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More yak meat here:

 

 

Nepal Earthquake: USAID/OFDA activates Disaster Assistance Response Team; how you can help in relief efforts

Posted: 12:30 am EDT
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On April 25, the U.S. Government (USG) issued a disaster declaration for Nepal due to the effects of the earthquake. In response, USAID/OFDA immediately activated a Response Management Team (RMT) in Washington, D.C., and a DART—including urban search-and-rescue (USAR) specialists from the Fairfax County Fire and Rescue Department—to support emergency response efforts in cooperation with the GoN. USAID/OFDA has also authorized an initial $1 million to address urgent needs.

According to media reports, the earthquake has resulted in widespread damage and destruction of buildings as well as damaged roads and other public infrastructure. According to USAID, USG staff in Kathmandu reported that electrical and telecommunications networks are intermittently operational, although landlines appear to function. The airports in Kathmandu and Pokhara reportedly remained open, with some commercial flight activity already resumed.  Nepal earthquake death toll is now reported to be over 3,200, including 3 Americans.  More than 6,000 have been injured in the earthquake.

The U.S. Embassy in Kathmandu has drilled about the big one for years now. Our post there has an American staff of less than a hundred. Post is a typical accompanied post so there will be family members there.  If public infrastructure and food supply becomes problematic, we anticipate that family members will be evacuated to a safehaven area or back home like what happened in the aftermath of the Haiti earthquake. It is also worth noting that in a crisis like this, the local employees who are expected to assist the mission may also be facing their own challenges with the need and safety of their own families. Let’s keep them all in our thoughts.

In response to the Government of Nepal requests for assistance, USAID/OFDA deployed a DART to Nepal. The team includes USAID/OFDA humanitarian specialists and 54 USAR personnel from the Fairfax County Fire and Rescue Department. USAID/OFDA has also allocated an initial $1 million for relief organizations in Nepal to address urgent humanitarian needs. Also this:

For nearly two decades, USAID/OFDA has supported disaster risk reduction (DRR) efforts in Nepal, including throughout Kathmandu Valley. USAID/OFDA funding has enabled the International Organization for Migration (IOM) to identify, prepare, and preserve more than 80 open spaces in Kathmandu Valley to ensure the sites are available for humanitarian purposes—such as distribution centers or warehouses—in the event of large-scale disasters. USAID/OFDA has also supported Nepal Red Cross Society (NRCS) to pre-position critical emergency relief supplies in order to address the immediate needs of affected communities following a disaster.

Here are a few more updates via Twitter:

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We understand that due to the weather, tents are an urgent need right now. USAID/OFDA director Jeremy Konyndyk says, “We’re mobilizing emergency shelter supplies from our global stocks. Clear need.”

How You Can Help

USAID says that the most effective way people can assist relief efforts is by making cash contributions to humanitarian organizations that are conducting relief operations. A list of humanitarian organizations that are accepting cash donations for disaster responses around the world can be found at www.interaction.org.

USAID encourages cash donations because they allow aid professionals to procure the exact items needed (often in the affected region); reduce the burden on scarce resources (such as transportation routes, staff time, and warehouse space); can be transferred very quickly and without transportation costs; support the economy of the disaster-stricken region; and ensure culturally, dietary, and environmentally appropriate assistance.

More information can be found at:

  • The Center for International Disaster Information: www.cidi.org or +1.202.821.1999.
  • Information on relief activities of the humanitarian community can be found at www.reliefweb.int

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