Trump’s Pick For @StateDept Personnel Chief Gets the Ultimate “Stretch” Assignment

Posted: 12:01 am PT
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On October 10, President Trump announced his intent to nominate former FSO Stephen Akard to be the next Director General of the Foreign Service. This position is typically not just the Director General of the Foreign Service but also the head of Human Resources for the State Department (DGHR).

Stephen Akard of Indiana to be Director General of the Foreign Service, Department of State. Mr. Akard has served as a senior advisor in the Office of the Under Secretary for Economic Growth, U.S. Department of State since January, 2017. Previously, he was chief of staff, vice president and general counsel, and director of international development for the Indiana Economic Development Corporation from 2005 -2017. From 1997 to 2005, Mr. Akard was an officer in the foreign service at the Department of State, with assignments in India, Belgium, and as a special assistant in the Executive Secretariat. He earned his B.A., M.B.A., and J.D. degrees from Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis(IUPUI). While at the State Department, Mr. Akard received two Meritorious Honor awards. He also received a distinguished alumni award from IUPUI in 2000.

According to its website, “the Indiana Economic Development Corporation (IEDC) is the State of Indiana’s lead economic development agency. The IEDC was officially established in February 2005 to replace the former Department of Commerce. In order to respond quickly to the needs of businesses, the IEDC operates like a business. Led by Indiana Secretary of Commerce Jim Schellinger and IEDC President Elaine Bedel, the IEDC is organized as a public private partnership governed by a board of directors.” The IEDC Board of Directors is chaired by the Indiana Governor. Mr. Akard has previously traveled with then Governor Mike Pence in trade missions to: Japan, Germany, Israel, Japan, and China (not an exhaustive list).

The Kelley School of Business at Indiana University lists Mr. Akard as part of the Advisory Board and has additional details of his prior assignments in the State Department; it does not mention being “a special assistant in the Executive Secretariat” as the WH-released bio, but as “a special assistant to Secretary of State Colin Powell”:

Akard oversees Indiana’s overseas economic development offices and works to attract international investors to the state as vice president and general counsel for the Indiana Economic Development Corporation (IEDC). Previously, Akard served as a career foreign service officer with the U.S. Department of State, holding positions as a special assistant to Secretary of State Colin Powell; political officer at the U.S. Embassy in Brussels, Belgium; and as a consular officer at the U.S. Consulate General in Mumbai.

Mr. Akard’s name appears on congress.gov’s list of appointees as Consular Officers and Secretaries in the Diplomatic Service of the United States of America submitted in October 1997, and confirmed by Senate voice vote on March 6, 1998 (see PN793). He is also on a list of Foreign Service Officers of Class Four, Consular Officers confirmed by Senate voice vote on July 11, 2001 (see PN508). If there are other records, we have so far been unable to locate them.

The May 1998 issue of State Magazine also noted Mr. Akard’s pre-assignment training to Mumbai, India, as was the practice in those days, but that’s about it from State’s official rag.  Talented and up and coming FSOs typically do end up as special assistants to the secretary of state, the top ranks at the State Department or the Executive Secretariat; or it used to be that way, not sure if they’re asking for blood oath these days.  Secretary Powell left State in January 2005, and he was succeeded by Secretary Condi Rice in 2005. We have not been able to find a notice of Mr. Akard’s 2005 departure from the Foreign Service but it looks like he joined the Indiana Economic Development Corporation (IEDC) on the same year that he left the Foreign Service.  We understand that he left the Service because “he was offered a great job working for Indiana.”  Somebody who knew him way back when told us “he is a super nice guy.”

Mr. Akard would not be the first member of the Foreign Service to resign from the Service and return to Foggy Bottom under a new appointment. The most recent example is the current Assistant Secretary for Consular Affairs Carl Risch (see Ex-FSO Who Once Advocated Moving Visas to DHS May be the Next Asst Secretary For Consular Affairs).  Both the afsa.org tracker and history.state.gov lists Mr. Risch as a non-career appointee. If Mr. Risch who served approximately three years, and one overseas tour is considered a non-career appointee, would Mr. Akard who served eight years with two overseas, and department tours also be considered a non-career political appointee? More importantly, is Mr. Akard considered a former career member of the Foreign Service?

Below is the relevant part of Section 208 of the Foreign Service Act of 1980 (22 U.S.C. 3928) is amended to read as follows:

§3928. Director General of Foreign Service

The President shall appoint, by and with the advice and consent of the Senate, a Director General of the Foreign Service, who shall be a current or former career member of the Foreign Service. The Director General should assist the Secretary of State in the management of the Service and perform such functions as the Secretary of State may prescribe.

(Pub. L. 96–465, title I, §208, Oct. 17, 1980, 94 Stat. 2080Pub. L. 103–236, title I, §163, Apr. 30, 1994, 108 Stat. 411.)

Last month, the Academy of American Diplomacy wrote a letter (PDF) to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee that includes the following part that we thought curious at that time.:

We believe the key positions of the Under Secretary for Political Affairs, the Director General, and the Dean of the Foreign Service Institute should be career Foreign Service Officers. The Director General, a position established by the Act, should be appointed from those that have the senior experience and personal standing to guide the long-term future of the staff needed for effective diplomacy. We respectfully ask that Congress get clarification as to whether it is the Department’s intention to nominate an appropriately senior serving or retired Foreign Service Officer for the position of Director General.

So now we know why the group of former senior diplomats sought that clarification.

One source points out that a “career member of the Foreign Service” is anyone who has been appointed as such, meaning “any tenured Foreign Service member.” The source also said that Mr. Akard’s appointment “though troubling in that his FS experience is limited and he clearly chose not to make it his career – would not violate” the Foreign Service Act.

Another keen observer of the Foreign Service explains that the Foreign Service Act of 1980 says “current or former career member” but he/she is not aware that anyone has previously tried to define those terms. Does that mean any former tenured member of the service? Does that mean any current FS member regardless of rank? Does that mean any member of the FS who retired, resigned, or anyone who voluntarily left for other reasons? And if an appointee is considered a former career member, does that mean the appointment is subject to the reappointment regs under the Foreign Affairs Manual, and also subject to its limitations?

Folks we talked to notes that the Akard appointment, if confirmed by the Senate, would certainly end the interpretation and practice that the Director General position be a senior career Foreign Service Officer of distinction.  To be clear, the language of FSA of 1980 does not destinguish between foreign service officers and foreign service specialists or make any mention of ranks.  But the observer points out that the spirit of Section 208 suggests that the intent was that the Director General be a senior Foreign Service Officer, active or retired, but someone who served a full career, to enable him/her to “assist” the Secretary of State in the “management of the Service.” A full career typically would mean service of at least 20 years. This point appears to be true in tradition and practice when we look at the appointees to the DGHR position going back to 1946 — all are senior career FSOs with significant experience. Prior appointees to this position include Ambassador Nancy Jo Powell who was appointed four times as ambassador prior to her appointment as DGHR; Ambassador Anthony Cecil Eden Quainton was also a four-time ambassador and twice an assistant secretary; Ambassador Alfred Leroy Atherton Jr. was NEA Assistant Secretary and twice an ambassador; Ambassador Nathaniel Davis was three times an ambassador before becoming DGHR; Ambassador Waldemar John Gallman was ambassador to Poland, South Africa, and Iraq before becoming DGHR, and on and on.

One could argue that the career diplomats previously appointed as DHGR were primarily diplomats and not personnel/organizational development experts. But it does not appear that the current nominee has personnel or organizational development expertise either to compensate for the gaps in his diplomatic/organizational experience: a former FSO who previously worked one tour (normally two years for junior officers) as a political officer, and another tour as a consular officer, if confirmed by the U.S. Senate, will need to manage a 75,000 global workforce that is facing not only funding cuts, demoralization, but also organizational transformation.

To borrow the Foreign Service parlance, this is the ultimate “stretch” assignment but it is likely that this nomination will get confirmed by the Senate. While the Senate’s confirmation process has at times been described as a “knife fight”, no executive nominations have been returned to this President or disapproved by the Senate during the current Congress. Senator Corker still runs the SFRC, but despite the tit-for-tat on Twitter with POTUS, the confirmation process has been humming along. We’ll be in the lookout for Mr. Akard’s confirmation hearing.

A side note here — for the first time, the White House this year has reportedly refused to submit an FSO’s name recommended for promotion by the Promotion Board for Senate confirmation this year. We understand that this specific case is winding through the grievance process, but we suspect that it could also end up in litigation. That case could have repercussions for Foreign Service members whose promotions and appointments are subject to White House concurrence and Senate confirmation.

Below via history.state.gov:

Congress created the position of Director General of the Foreign Service in the Foreign Service Act of 1946 (P.L. 79-726; 60 Stat. 1000). Between 1946 and 1980, the Secretary of State designated the Directors General, who held rank equivalent to an Assistant Secretary of State. The Director General became a Presidential appointee, subject to the advice and consent of the Senate, under the Foreign Service Act of 1980 (Oct 17, 1980; P.L. 96-465; 94 Stat. 2071). Since Nov 23, 1975, under a Departmental administrative action, they have concurrently held the title of Director of the Bureau of Personnel.

 

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