Q&A on QDDR, Now Includes Officially Cleared State Department Answers

Posted: 12:47 am EDT
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On August 13, we posted this: Q&A With QDDR’s Tom Perriello, Wait, What’s That? Whyohwhyohwhy?. Last Friday, Kathryn Schalow, the new director of the QDDR office sent us the long-awaited answers to our questions with a brief note saying, “As the new director of the QDDR office, I am excited to carry on the work of this office and look forward to working with everyone –both inside and outside the government – who wants to help with the implementation of the review’s recommendations.”  

The answers are published below in full:

#1.  QDDR/CSO: The 2010 QDDR transformed the Office of the Coordinator for Reconstruction and Stabilization (S/CRS) into the Bureau of Conflict and Stabilization Operations (CSO) to enhance efforts to prevent conflict, violent extremism, and mass atrocities. The 2015 QDDR says that “Some progress has been made in this area.”  I understand that CSO no longer has any mission element about stabilization and stabilization operations. It also remains heavy with contractors.  One could argue that the current CSO is not what was envisioned in QDDR I, so why should it continue to exists if it only duplicates other functions in the government? Can you elaborate more on what is CSOs new role going forward, and what makes it unique and distinct from the Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs’ Middle East Partnership Initiative (MEPI) and USAID’s Office of Transition Initiatives?  

The Bureau of Conflict and Stabilization Operations is one of many offices in State/USAID working to prevent, respond to, and stabilize conflict and crisis.  CSO maintains the specific goal of stability in its mission statement.  The Bureau advises the Secretary, Regional Bureaus and Ambassadors on diplomatic action to address conflict and prevent mass atrocities, violent extremism and political violence.  Central elements of CSO’s mission were reinforced as top priorities for the Department and USAID in the 2015 QDDR, specifically the policy priority to prevent and mitigate conflict and violent extremism.  Many elements within the State Department and USAID also work to support the Administration’s policy on this topic, including the Bureau for Democracy, Conflict, and Humanitarian Assistance (DCHA) at USAID, and the Bureaus of Counterterrorism (CT) and CSO at the State Department, as well as Special Envoy and Coordinator for Strategic Counterterrorism Communications Rashad Hussain.

#2. Innovation and Risks: The QDDR talks about “promoting innovation.” Innovation typically requires risk. Somebody quoted you saying something like the gotcha attitude of press and Congress contributes to risk aversion from State and USAID. But risks and risk aversion also comes from within the system.  I would point out as example the Center for Strategic Counterterrorism Communications previously headed by Ambassador Alberto Fernandez, and its controversial campaign “Think Again Turn Away” which afforded the USG a new way to disrupt the enemy online. Ambassador Fernandez was recently replaced by a political appointee with minimal comparable experience.  It also looks like CSCC will be folded into a new entity. So how do you encourage State/USAID employees “to err on the side of engagement and experimentation, rather than risk avoidance” when there are clear bureaucratic casualties for taking on risks?

The Department encourages informed risk taking and innovation, and the QDDR reports on a number of State and USAID initiatives to facilitate innovation and creativity in solving complex problems.  In particular, the Department’s Innovation Roundtable, the Consular Affairs Bureau’s 1CA Office and Teamwork@State initiatives, Public Diplomacy and eDiplomacy Innovations Funds, and USAID’s Global Development Lab demonstrate a commitment to fostering creativity and experimentation.  The 2015 QDDR (p. 56) highlights outcomes from these initiatives such as efficiency improvements at U.S. Embassy Mexico City’s American Citizen Services Unit or the LAUNCH open innovation platform founded by NASA, NIKE, USAID and State that is accelerating the market adoption of sustainable technologies.

Ambassador Fernandez retired from the State Department last spring, and  Rashad Hussain was chosen as his successor.   He has brought to the position his strong academic and professional background in national security, diplomatic experience engaging Muslim-majority countries as Special Envoy to the OIC, and published writings and engagement over the past decade on a range of CVE issues. Under his leadership, the Center for Strategic Counterterrorism Communications (CSCC) remains an innovative organization that works to counter ISIL’s appeal, including by helping other countries and NGOs expand their anti-ISIL messaging capacity within their own societies.  The recently-opened Sawab Center in the United Arab Emirates is one example.   The CSCC also continues to challenge online extremism on a number of social media platforms in multiple languages.  The CSCC remains a stand-alone office reporting to the Under Secretary for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs, and has expanded to include a new counter-ISIL cell to the Center’s operation.  

#3. Engagement with American Public: The QDDR says:  “Make citizen engagement part of the job. Every Foreign Service employee in the Department and USAID will be required to spend time engaging directly with the American people.” Are you aware that there are over 500 blogs run by Foreign Service employees and family members that could potentially help with engagement with the American public? Isn’t it time for these blogs to be formally adopted so that they remain authentic voices of experience without their existence subjected to the good graces of their superiors here or there?

One of our goals is to expand our communication with fellow Americans so that they gain a better understanding of the Department’s and USAID’s work and how it affects them.  The Hometown Diplomats program, started in 2002, is the main way we conduct these dialogues with the American people.  More than 1200 Department employees – both Foreign and Civil Service – have met with high school and college students, social and professional organizations, and media in their hometowns.  So far in 2015 we have organized 56 Hometown Diplomat engagements.  The 2015 QDDR has a number of recommendations for boosting the Hometown Diplomats program, as well as creating new outreach initiatives.  For instance, technology and social media expand opportunities for employees at overseas posts and in Washington to engage the American people and help educate young Americans about global issues and how U.S. diplomacy and development improve Americans’ lives.  The Bureau of Public Affairs has already begun a program of virtual Hometown Diplomats speaking from post via videoconference to domestic audiences, and the preliminary feedback is positive.  This year we have held four virtual Hometown Diplomat events from overseas posts that reached almost 300 Americans.

The Department encourages employees, in both their official and personal capacities, to undertake activities, including public communications, devoted to increasing public study and understanding of the nation’s foreign relations.  The private blogs of employees can be an important contributor to this effort and they have a role in informing the public about the work and experiences of our officers and their families.  The private blogs and social media posts of employees that do not discuss official Departmental policy or actions do not need formal Department adoption (or review) to be part of the broader conversation about U.S. foreign policy.

#4. Eligible Family Members:  The State Department has talked about expanding opportunities for eligible family members for a long time now and I regret that I have not seen this promise go very far. There are a couple of things that could help eligible family members — 1) portability of security clearance, so that they need not have to wait for 6-12 months just to get clearances reinstated; and 2) internship to gain experience from functional bureaus or section overseas. Why are we not doing these?  And by the way, we’re now in the 21st century and FS spouses still do not have online access to State Department resources that assist them in researching assignments and bids overseas. Employees are already afforded remote access, why is that not possible for family members? Wouldn’t taking care of people start with affording family members access to information that would help them plan their lives every three years?

Work life balance and the wellbeing of our Foreign Service families is of paramount importance to the Department.   Programs such as the Expanded Professional Associates Program (EPAP) and the Global Employment Initiative are increasing the number of jobs for eligible family members and receive positive reviews from FSOs and family members.  The QDDR commits us to expanding these programs even further and making them easier to access through a single portal; creating a database to assist EFMs and employers to connect and take advantage of EFM Non-Competition Eligibility earned overseas; and identifying ways to address the challenges with security clearance.  This QDDR also commits State and USAID to “continue pursuing mechanisms to facilitate the security clearance process for EFMs so they can begin work at post without lengthy delays.”

The Department has two great sources of information to help employees and their families research post conditions, schools and employment opportunities – both are completely accessible to EFMs.  The Overseas Briefing Center manages an extensive comprehensive public website that provides information about preparing for life at overseas posts, the logistical requirements of moving, and much more.  EFMs are able to readily receive post-specific material electronically by sending a simple email request to the Overseas Briefing Center.  Overseas Briefing Center personnel also engage with EFMs by email, phone, and through social media to offer suggestions and guidance on obtaining resources and resolving questions related to relocating and living overseas.  Secondly, the public website of the Family Liaison Office provides extensive resources to help FS spouses interested in pursuing employment overseas – either within a US Embassy or Consulate or on the local economy.

The Department of State is committed to increasing the accessibility and usability of Department information for all Foreign Affairs agency employees and their families.  The Foreign Affairs Network 3.0 (FAN3), developed under the Department’s Bureau of Information Resource Management will allow eligible family members to access appropriate State systems using existing credentials.   This will greatly facilitate EFM access to Department networks.

#5. Foreign Assistance: One of the criticisms I’ve heard about QDDR is how it did not even address the reality that the United States has far too many foreign assistance programs — “an uncoordinated diaspora of offices and agencies scattered around the bureaucratic universe in D.C. from the Justice Department to the DoD to the Commerce Department to the Export-Import Bank to the Treasury Department and beyond, to the bewilderment of anyone the United States does business with overseas.” What do you say to that? 

The number and variety of assistance programs is actually a great strength.  The number of U.S. foreign assistance programs is large because there is a broad diversity in need, and specific departments and agencies are best placed to deliver the specialized assistance that is required.  For example, USAID is advancing a new model of development that combines local ownership, private investment, and multi-stakeholder partnerships to provide assistance that is coordinated with investments by national/regional/local governments, the private sector, and multilateral development banks.  These efforts complement, and are coordinated with, the assistance activities carried out by other U.S. government agencies, such as the Millennium Challenge Corporation, the Treasury Department, and the Overseas Private Investment Corporation.

Although interagency coordination can be complex and difficult, the 2015 QDDR builds on recommendations from the 2010 QDDR to improve coordination of assistance by creating Integrated Country Strategies (ICS) and making clear that at posts abroad the Ambassador has oversight over assistance efforts.  The ICS serves as an overarching strategy that encapsulates U.S. government policy priorities, objectives, and the means by which diplomatic engagement, foreign assistance, and other tools will be used to achieve them.  The development of the ICS involves all agencies in the country under Chief of Mission authority and, as such, incorporates a “whole of government” approach to guide U.S. government activities in each country.  The result improves coordination not just for foreign assistance programs, but for our entire overseas interagency presence (see p 61).

#6. Data Collection: Somebody called the second set of “three Ds” — data, diagnostics, and design as the “most revolutionary, disruptive element of QDDR II.” I can see development subjected to these three Ds, but how do you propose to do this with diplomacy where successful engagements are based on national interests and the human element and not necessarily data driven? Also data is only as good as its collector. How will data be collected?

One of the QDDR priorities is to ensure that Department and USAID employees have greater access to, and are better utilizing, the vast amounts of data and information available today.  We want diplomats in the field and in Washington to be better informed through a variety of internal and external data sources.  We want to better empower and prepare our employees by giving them new tools to better understand the issues they work on and to identify new opportunities for engagement.   In many instances our policy is data-driven and similarly, there is benefit to having diplomats who are data-informed.  For example, the U.S. Global AIDS Coordinator combines epidemiological evidence, expenditure data, and local information to determine where PEPFAR (President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief) resources can have the greatest impact.  More broadly, State and USAID are implementing the President’s Open Government Initiative through tools such as the Foreign Assistance Dashboard.

Data are collected from a variety of sources, including governments, international organizations, academia, NGOs and the private sector.  We want to lower barriers to information access, provide standardized platforms and better disseminate the data we have.  USAID’s Global Development Lab and the agency’s data policies including the Open Data Policy, the Department’s Enterprise Data Quality Initiative, global partnerships including GODAN, and community-engagement based programs such as MapGive have each demonstrated progress in increasing the accessibility and usability of high-quality data.  These efforts ensure that we have the infrastructure in place to leverage the information at hand.  The QDDR recommends bringing additional organizational support to efforts like these – as well as adding new programs to the mix.

#7. Institutional WeaknessesSome quarters look at the State Department and points at several institutional weaknesses today: 1) the predominance of domestic 9-5 HQ staff with little or no real field experience, foreign language and other cultural insight, and 2) the rampant politicization and bureaucratic layering by short term office holders with little or no knowledge of the State Department and less interest in its relevance as a national institution. How does the QDDR address these weaknesses? How does the QDDR propose to recreate a national diplomatic service based on a common core of shared capabilities and understanding of 21st century strategic geopolitical challenges and appropriate longer term responses? 

The Department and USAID’s greatest asset is human capital.  Our employees, whether Civil Service, Foreign Service, non-career appointees, or contractors, are the foundation upon which our institutions stand and the source of our achievements.

The QDDR endorses a common training core, called Diplomatic Mastery, for all incoming  Foreign Service generalists, starting from the orientation (“A-100”) course, and continuing in the first two tours, as an additional prerequisite for tenure (along with proficiency in a foreign language).  Diplomatic Mastery will include subject areas such as diplomatic history, negotiating skills, and building esprit de corps.  A new curriculum will also be made available to Foreign Service Specialists and Civil Service employees.  FSI has been developing in-depth, interactive modules to be used overseas for this and other training purposes.

In March 2014 Secretary Kerry introduced a new set of Leadership and Management Principles to serve as a standard for all Department employees (3 FAM 1214).  The QDDR complements and supports these principles by recommending strengthened mandatory leadership training, increasing accountability, as well as expanding long-term training opportunities and excursion tours at mid- and senior-levels of the Foreign and Civil Services.  These assignments outside the Department will increase expertise and experience through time at a university, in the private sector, at an NGO, or with other U.S. government agencies.   This will allow the Department and USAID to make their organizations more flexible and adaptive, with a more agile and mobile workforce.

#8: QDDR Operation: I remember that you sent out a solicitation of ideas and suggestions for QDDR II and I’m curious at the kind of response you got. Can you also elaborate the process of putting together QDDR II? Finally, the success of QDDR II will be on implementation. Who’s leading the effort and what role will you and the QDDR office have on that? Unless I’m mistaken, the QDDR implementers are also not career officials, what happens when they depart their positions? Who will shepherd these changes to their expected completion?

Secretary Kerry launched the second QDDR process in April 2014 and tasked us with creating a “blueprint for the next generation of American diplomacy.”  The report was co-chaired by the Deputy Secretary for Management and Resources, Heather Higginbottom, and USAID Acting Administrator Alfonso Lenhardt.  The impact of this QDDR will depend on its implementation and Deputy Secretary Higginbottom is overseeing implementation of the QDDR as a whole, with action on particular recommendations being driven by a range of senior leaders across the Department.  The QDDR office is currently staffed by a dedicated team of career FSOs and Civil Service employees, who are facilitating and monitoring the implementation of the report’s recommendations. Individuals throughout State and USAID – in dozens of bureaus and offices – are involved in the implementation.

Over the course of the year-long research and drafting process, we solicited ideas and suggestions through a variety of forums, and we were very pleased with the response and the interest that people took throughout the process.   For example, we conducted a QDDR Sounding Board Challenge, garnering 200 ideas and 1,900 votes from over 4,700 viewers, at all levels at the Department.  We also conducted meetings with stakeholders from throughout the Department and USAID, the interagency, Congress, and NGOs.  With this input and guidance from senior leaders at State and USAID, including an Executive Committee (listed at the back of the report), we determined the policy and operational priorities to highlight.  The Secretary also asked us to produce a report that was shorter and more tightly focused than the first QDDR, and we met that objective.

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We should note that Tom Perriello was appointed Special Representative for the Quadrennial Diplomacy and Development Review (QDDR) in February 2014, and was the original recipient of our questions. On July 6, 2015, he was appointed Special Envoy for the Great Lakes Region and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. He succeeds former Senator Russ Feingold in that position. No one has yet been announced as Special Representative for the QDDR as of this writing; the next report is not due for another four years.

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Why didn’t the State Dept have a permanent IG from 2008-2013? Late, but a senator wants to know.

Posted: 12:13  am EDT
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Senate Judiciary Committee chairman Chuck Grassley has been keeping the records folks awake in Foggy Bottom. Last week, he directed his attention on the missing permanent IG at the State Department from 2008-2013. Over two years late but this gotta be good.

The previously Senate-confirmed OIG for the State Department was Howard J. Krongard who announced his resignation on December 7, 2007 and left post on January 15, 2008.  President Obama nominated the current IG Steve Linick in June 2013. The U.S. Senate confirmed his nomination on September 17, 2013 and Mr. Linick officially started work at the State Department on September 30, 2013.  (By the way, on October 1, the federal government went on shutdown and Mr. Linick’s office was one of the very few offices at the State Department whose employees were put on furlough).  The vacancy at the IG’s office lasted more than five years before President Obama’s nominee finally took office.  (See Senate Confirms Steve Linick; State Dept Finally Gets an Inspector General After 2,066 DaysAfter 1,989 Day-Vacancy — President Obama Nominates Steve Linick as State Dept Inspector General).

In any case, Senator Grassley now wants to know why the IG vacancy at the State Department lasted, by official count, 2,071 straight days. Late but okay, we’d like to know, too.  The senator wrote a letter to Michael E. Horowitz, the Chair of Council of the Inspectors General on Integrity and Efficiency (CIGIE) and to Secretary Kerry. Excerpt below:

Congress needs a better understanding of how and why the State Department lacked a permanent IG who could serve as an independent watchdog for 2,071 straight days. Accordingly, please respond to the following by September 11, 2015:

CIGIE Chair Horowitz: Assuming that CIGIE prepared a list of recommended candidates to fill the IG vacancy at the State Department created upon the departure of former IG Howard Krongard in 2008:

a. Who were the candidates?
b. When were they recommended?
c. Who sent the slate of recommendations from CIGIE to the White House?
d. Who received the slate of recommendations at the White House from CIGIE?

e. What was the response, if any, from the White House regarding the slate of candidates?
f. Who, if anyone, at CIGIE received the White House’s response?
g. When and how was any such response from the White House received?

h. Please provide all records from any CIGIE official at the time relating to communications with the White House about the IG vacancy or potential candidates to fill the vacancy.
i. Did CIGIE provide candidate names to the State Department? If so, please provide the Committee with all records from any CIGIE official at the time relating to communications with the State Department about the IG vacancy or potential candidates to fill the vacancy.

Secretary Kerry: Please provide the Committee with all State Department records related to the IG vacancy or potential candidates to fill the vacancy, including communications between and among former Secretary Clinton, her senior staff, or any State Department personnel, any CIGIE official, or any White House official.

In the letter’s footnotes, Senator Grassley cites the testimony of POGO’s Danielle Brian on “Watchdogs needed: Top Government Investigator Positions Unfilled for Years, June 3, 2015.”  POGO has previously questioned the independence of the State Department’s acting IG. POGO also published a letter from “very concerned employees” (pdf) dated January 12, 2008 sounding the alarm on the appointment of an acting IG. Senator Grassley is listed as one of the addresses of that letter.

Senator Grassley’s IG vacancy letter cites two cases:

1) The “appearance of undue influence and favoritism” in departmental investigations of three allegations related to Diplomatic Security investigations (see Review of Selected Internal Investigations Conducted by the Bureau of Diplomatic Security | January 2015 (pdf).

[ As an aside — the original OIG draft/report on DS investigations dates back to 2012 and was made part of the Higbie v. Kerry, a title VII employment discrimination case in Texas. That case was subsequently dismissed by the district court and affirmed by the Court of Appeals (pdf) in March 2015.  But in 2013, the government sought to exclude the “improperly obtained documents” that Higbie obtained via a subpoena from a retired OIG employee, Aurelia Fedenisn. The government asserted that the documents, including the draft report, were improperly retained by Fedenisn after her employment ended in 2012.  We’re reminded of this case in relation to the IG vacancy because the Washington Examiner recently reported that the then acting IG had sought to keep early drafts of a controversial OIG report under wraps in the Higbie case in federal court in 2013. Note that the contents of that draft report have already circulated and were reported on by the press in June 2013].

2) Allegations related to “protected disclosures” at  the U.S. Consulate General in Naples Italy, a case currently in the court system  (see Howard v. Kerry: Court Denies Motion to Dismiss One Retaliation Claim.

Senator Grassley’s letter is available to read here: 2015-08-27 Grassley | CEG to CIGIE and State Dept (IG Vacancy)

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