New No. 4 Wanted: Wendy Sherman to Step Down as State Department’s “P” After Iran Talks

Posted: 12:52 am EDT
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Via NYT:

Ms. Sherman, the No. 3 official at the State Department, said she did not expect to take another post in the administration, and she has not announced any plans. But she is close to Hillary Rodham Clinton, whose presidential campaign she supported in 2008, and who is running again for the Democratic nomination.

It was Mrs. Clinton who brought Ms. Sherman back into the government to handle Iran and other issues. Previously, she had worked as a social worker in Boston, a Senate campaign aide, and a counselor to Secretary of State Madeleine K. Albright during the Clinton administration, handling North Korea. Her congressional critics often cited that credential in critiquing her negotiations with Iran.

She’s actually No.4 (Kerry, Blinken, Higginbottom) and depending on what happens with the Iran Talks and 2016, we might see her again.  Is this the start of the exodus from the 7th Floor?

We don’t think this position will be too attractive for a political appointee at this point. Counting the vetting, nomination and confirmation, the wait could be anywhere between a couple of months to half a year. If that happens, that’ll give the new “P” barely a year on the job before the 2016 election, and the traditional resignation required when the new administration takes office in January 2017.  That would be like 6 months to transition to the new job, and 6 months looking for a new job.  Any political appointee who takes this on would appear desperate. We could be wrong, of course, but we anticipate that a career diplomat will succeed Ms. Sherman as “P.” This position has traditionally been assigned to a career diplomat, and that’s the most logical step right now.

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FSO Matthew Palmer at Politics & Prose with new thriller — Secrets of State, June 1, 7pm

Posted: 3:15 am EDT
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In February, we did an excerpt of Matthew Palmer’s book, The American Mission (see Move Over Jason Bourne! Meet Diplomat Alex Baines, Our New Favorite Fictional Hero). He’s back with a new book Secrets of State and a new protagonist, former FSO Sam Trainor.

The new book is dedicated to Matthew’s late father, Michael Palmer, MD, the author of Miracle Cure, Critical Judgment, Silent Treatment, Natural Causes, Extreme Measures, Flashback, Side Effects, and The Sisterhood, to name a few. Michael Palmer’s books have been translated into thirty languages. The 1991 thriller Extreme Measures starring Hugh Grant, Sarah Jessica Parker, and Gene Hackman  is based on his novel of the same name.

Matt Palmer will be at Politics and Prose on Monday, June 1, 2015 at 7 pm. (5015 Connecticut Ave NW, Washington, DC 20008 | (202) 364-1919 • Hours and Directions). 

 

SECRETS OF STATE

(book cover by G.P. Putnam’s Sons)

SECRETS OF STATE

by Matthew Palmer
G.P. Putnam’s Sons
Publication date: May 26, 2015
Price: $26.95
Hardcover ISBN: 978-0-399-165719
eBook ISBN: 978-1-101-626375

Here is a brief clip from his publishing house:

After many years, Sam Trainor has left his Foreign Service job, trading his place as a South Asia analyst for the U.S. government for the same desk at Argus Security, a Beltway Bandit consulting firm. The reason for the move is simple: bypassed for promotion, Trainor, brilliant but a bit unbridled, knew his government career was dead in the water. Though none to comfortable with the reality that consultants have taken over far too much power in the running of the government, he sees the writing on the wall. And why not do the same work for twice the pay?

But working for Argus is different in ways that have nothing to do with salary. No longer sworn to uphold the constitution of the United States, Trainor now answers to corporate masters. So his options are less straightforward when he stumbles upon some Intel that points to a plan to upend the tenuous balance between India and Pakistan. Complicating things, one of the participants in the intercepted phone conversation is Vanalika Chandra, political counselor at the Indian Embassy in Washington—and, not incidentally, Trainor’s adulterous lover. For the veteran analyst, nothing about this sits right.

As Trainor and his team dig deeper for the source of this dangerous misinformation, it quickly becomes apparent that, left unchecked, it could lead to nuclear war. As the riveting plot unfolds—from the Beltway and the Pentagon to Mumbai and Lahore—Trainor will come to the troubling conclusion that his employer’s involvement—and motives—may not align with his own hard won view of the way the global politics should be conducted. And as the clock ticks, he must suss out a truth that will prevent the world from changing forever.

Matthew Palmer is a twenty-year veteran of the U.S. Foreign Service, currently serving as the Director of Multilateral Affairs in the State Department’s Bureau of Asian and Pacific Affairs. A life member of the Council on Foreign Relations, he has worked as a diplomat around the world. While on the Secretary of State’s Policy Planning Staff, Palmer helped design and implement the Kimberley Process for certifying African diamonds as “conflict free,” expertise he drew on in writing his debut novel, The American Mission.

His third book already has a title —  The Wolf of Sarajevo.  It is set in the Balkans where he spent a good chunk of his Foreign Service career.

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USAID’s Arab Spring Challenges in Egypt, Tunisia, Libya, Yemen: The State Department, It’s No.2 Challenge

Posted: 12:10 am EDT
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USAID’s Office of Inspector General (OIG) conducted a survey (pdf) to identify the challenges USAID faced during the early transition period (December 2010-June 2014) in Egypt, Tunisia, Libya, and Yemen. USAID/OIG identified and interviewed 31 key USAID officials from various parts of the organization who have worked on activities in these countries.It also administered a questionnaire to supplement the information gathered from the interviews. Together, 70 employees from USAID were either interviewed or responded to the questionnaire. It notes that the while the survey collected the perspectives of a number of USAID employees, it is not statistically representative of each office or USAID as a whole.

The highest addressee on this report is USAID/Middle East Bureau Assistant Administrator, Paige Alexander. It includes no State Department official nor congressional entities.

Below is an excerpt:

In 2013 OIG conducted a performance audit of USAID/Egypt’s economic growth project1 and found that the changes of the Arab Spring severely affected the project’s progress. Approximately midway through implementation, the project had not made significant progress in seven of the ten tasks in the original plan mainly because of changes in the Egyptian Government’s counterparts and priorities. To adapt to the environment, the project adjusted its plan and identified three new areas of work to focus on. In another audit that year,2 OIG found similar challenges at USAID/Yemen when one of that mission’s main projects had to adjust its approach after the Arab Spring started (page 16).

Beyond project delays, we found a host of other challenges common to all four countries that revolve around three broad categories:

  1. Security
  2. Increased influence from the State Department
  3. Host-countryreadiness

1. Security.

One of the most commonly cited challenges was the difficulty of operating in a volatile environment. Security dictated many aspects of USAID’s operations after the Arab Spring started, and it was not uncommon for activities to be delayed or cancelled because of security issues.
[…]
In addition to access, security also disrupted operations because employees were evacuated from the different countries. U.S. direct-hire employees at USAID/Egypt were evacuated twice in 3 years. In USAID/Yemen, employees were evacuated twice in 3 years for periods of up to 6 months.3 In our survey, 76 percent of the respondents agreed that evacuations made managing projects more difficult.
[…]
Because of the precarious security situations, strict limits were placed on the number of U.S. direct hires who were allowed to be in each country. Employees said the Agency did not have enough staff to support the number of activities. This problem was particularly pronounced in Tunisia and Libya, where for extended periods, USAID had only one permanent employee in each country

2. Increased Influence From State Department.

According to our survey results, the majority of respondents (87 percent) believed that since the Arab Spring the State Department has increased its influence over USAID programs (Figure 3). While USAID did not have activities in Libya and Tunisia before the Arab Spring, staff working in these countries afterward discussed situations in which the State Department had significant influence over USAID’s work. A respondent from Tunisia wrote, “Everything has been driven by an embassy that does not seem to feel USAID is anything other than an implementer of whatever they want to do.”

Screen Shot 2015-05-27 at 6.56.05 PM

While there is broad interagency guidance on State’s role in politically sensitive environments, the specifics of how USAID should adapt its operations were not entirely clear to Agency employees and presented a number of challenges to USAID’s operations. In Yemen, the department’s influence seemed to be less of an issue (page 17), but for the remaining countries, it was a major concern. As one survey respondent from Egypt wrote:

[State’s control] makes long-term planning incredibly difficult and severely constrains USAID’s ability to design and execute technically sound development projects. A path forward is agreed, steps taken to design activities and select implementation mechanisms, and then we are abruptly asked to change the approach.

State’s involvement introduced a new layer of review and slowed down operations. USAID employees needed to dedicate additional time to build consensus and gain approval from people outside the Agency.

USAID employees also described challenges occurring when State employees, unfamiliar with the Agency and its different types of procurement, made requests that were difficult to accommodate under USAID procedures. One respondent wrote that State “think[s] programs can be stopped and started at will and that we can intervene and direct partners in a manner that goes far beyond the substantial involvement we are allowed as project managers.”

Beyond operational challenges, many people we interviewed expressed frustration over the State Department’s increased role, particularly when State’s direction diverted USAID programming from planned development priorities and goals. This was an especially contentious issue at USAID/Egypt (page 7).

This difference in perspectives caused some to question State’s expertise in development assistance, particularly in transitional situations. A USAID official explained that countries in turmoil presented unique challenges and dynamics, and embassies may not have experts in this area. Others said USAID was taking direction from State advisers who were often political appointees without backgrounds in development.
[…]
State was not the sole source of pressure; employees said other federal entities such as the National Security Council and even the White House had increased their scrutiny of USAID since the start of the Arab Spring. As a result, mission officials had to deal with new levels of bureaucracy and were responding constantly to different requests and demands from outside the Agency.

3. Host-Country Readiness.

In each of the four countries, employees reported problems stemming from award recipients’ ability to implement assistance programs. According to one employee, local capacity in Libya was a major problem because the country did not have a strong workforce. Moreover, local implementers had not developed the necessary technical capacity because development assistance was not a priority in Libya under Muammar Qadhafi’s closed, oil-rich regime. Activities in Tunisia and Yemen encountered similar issues because neither have had long histories of receiving foreign development assistance. In Egypt, employees reported that some of the nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) working on the mission’s democracy and governance program also lacked sufficient capacity.

On Egypt:  More than 85 percent of the employees surveyed who worked on activities related to USAID/Egypt agreed that the State Department had increased its influence over USAID programs since the start of the Arab Spring (Figure 5). A number of respondents said State steered Agency programs to address political rather than development needs. This dynamic had a profound effect on the mission’s ability to follow USAID’s guidance on designing and implementing developmentally sound projects. […] Some mission officials questioned the value of adhering to USAID’s project design procedures when the State Department had already decided a project’s fate. […] In this example, State’s desire to award education scholarships to women in Egypt was difficult to justify because university enrollment data showed that higher education enrollment and graduation rates for women are slightly higher than for men.  […] With so many differing voices and perspectives, USAID employees said they were not getting clear, consistent guidance. They described the situation as having “too many cooks in the kitchen.” One survey respondent wrote:

State (or White House) has had a very difficult time making decisions on USAID programming for Egypt . . . so USAID has been paralyzed and sent through twists and turns. State/White House difficulties in decisions may be expected given the fluid situation, but there has been excessive indecision, and mixed signals to USAID.

On Tunisia: The State Department placed strict restrictions on the number of USAID employees allowed to be in-country. As a result, most Agency activities were managed from Washington, D.C. … [O]ne survey respondent wrote, “I have been working on Tunisia for nearly 3 years now, and have designed programs to be carried out there, but I’ve never been. I don’t feel like I have been able to do my job to the best of my ability without that understanding of the situation on the ground.”

On Libya: The attacks in Benghazi on September 11, 2012, had a profound impact on USAID operations in Libya. According to one interviewee, after the attacks USAID did not want to attract too much political attention and put a number of Agency activities in Libya on hold. The period of inactivity lasted from September 2012 to September 2013. It was not until October 2013, after Prime Minister Ali Zeidan was abducted, that the U.S. Government refocused attention on Libya and funding for activities picked up again.

Before the attacks, USAID had five employees in the country; afterward, only one was allowed to remain. Although his main priority then was to manage USAID/OTI projects in Libya, he also was asked to oversee four to five additional activities managed out of Washington—a stretch for any employee. As one survey respondent wrote, “The lack of people in the field in Libya (small footprint) means that DC overwhelms the field. People in the field are worked ragged.”

On Yemen: USAID/Yemen did not suffer from the challenges of unclear strategy that other USAID missions did in the region; 70 percent of respondents who worked on activities in Yemen believed that the Agency had a clear strategy for its post-Arab Spring activities (Figure 12). This is a stark contrast to responses related to USAID/Egypt, where only 22 percent believed that USAID had a clear strategy. …[O]ur survey also found a strong working relationship between USAID/Yemen and the State Department; the two often agreed on what needed to be done. […] Some respondents said the collaborative atmosphere was due to individual personalities and strong working relationships between USAID and State officials. One employee said because employees of both organizations lived and worked together in the close quarters, communication flowed freely as perspectives could be exchanged easily. …[O]ne senior USAID/Yemen official said, some of what needed to be done was so obvious that it was difficult for the two agencies not to agree.

Lessons Learned

The report offers 15 lessons learned including the development of a USAID transition plan at the country level, even if it may change. USAID/OIG says that by having a short-term transition plan, the Agency “would have a better platform to articulate its strategy, particularly when it disagrees with the decisions of other federal entities.”It also lists the following:

  • Resist the urge to implement large development projects that require the support of host governments immediately after a transition.
  • Prepare mission-level plans with Foreign Service Nationals (FSNs)—locally hired USAID employees who are not U.S. citizens—in case U.S. direct hires are evacuated. Evacuation of U.S. staff can be abrupt with only a few hours’ notice. People we interviewed recommended that U.S. staff develop plans with the mission’s FSN staff ahead of time, outlining roles, responsibilities, and modes of operation to prevent a standstill in operations in the event of an evacuation.
  • Get things in writing. When working in environments where USAID is getting input and instructions from organizations that are not familiar with Agency procedures, decisions made outside of USAID may be documented poorly. In such circumstances, it is important to remember to get things in writing.
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Burn Bag: Dissent Awards — How low can we go?

Via Burn Bag:

 

Well, how about this:  Dissent Awards without any real dissent.  In fact, three out of four don’t have any and it’s a reach for the entry-level one! How low can we go?

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