Tillerson Announces “Immediate Changes” From Redesign, USAID is Now in the GAL – Yay?

Posted: 1:48 pm ET
Updated: 2:23 pm PT


On December 12, Secretary Tillerson held a town hall meeting, and announced several changes. The State Department then released an announcement with the changes Tillerson talked about in his Town Hall. The feedback we’ve heard so far in this blog and elsewhere  is “tone deaf.” We will update with comments later.

As Secretary Tillerson announced in his Town Hall today, these are the immediate changes resulting from the Redesign work:

Expanded Opportunities for Eligible Family Members

We are lifting the hiring freeze for 2018 EFMs and providing the bureaus with greater placement flexibility. We are also expanding the number of EPAPs and supporting them with increased training.

We are committed to supporting our employees and their families as they balance their service with the needs of family life.

To take care of our people, we will:

–Diversify and improve the quality of professional opportunities for Eligible Family Members by increasing the number of EPAP positions, from 250 to 400.

–Support EFMs in EPAP positions by offering increased training opportunities for them at the Foreign Service Institute.

Comment: The hiring freeze for EFMs never made sense; so no one get cookies for lifting this freeze, okay?! The increase in the number of EPAP positions is good news for spouses but that still remains a drop in a bucket. To read more about EFM employment numbers, see Snapshot: Geographic Distribution of Family Member UnEmployment Overseas #notajobsprogram; also Unemployment Status of @StateDept Family Members Overseas (4/2017) #ThanksTillerson. If they’re increasing training opportunities only for “EFMs in EPAP” positions, this would hardly make a dent. EFMs can request training at FSI if they have a job to fill.  The Department of State is authorized to provide functional training to family members of U.S. Government direct-hire personnel anticipating an overseas assignment (section 704 of the Foreign Service Act of 1980).

Functional training in Consular, General Services Operations, Facility Management, Human Resource Management, and Financial Management for prospective employment can be requested by family members and are available on a space available basis. If there’s no space, that’s it. If a spouse get to post, and a job opens in one of these sections, but he/she had no training, then that’s it. Post seldom has money to send an EFM back to D.C. to get training.   The 150 new EPAP positions will certainly make a difference to the spouses who will get these jobs, but in the grand scheme of things, it’s a continuation of limited EFM job initiatives in the past. But the State Department can then claim to doing something about it but without really fixing the core issue of spouse employment: Foreign Service employees, like the rest of the United States, have increasingly come from two-career households. 

Cloud-Based Email and Collaboration

The project that we believe will have the greatest long-term impact on how we deliver on mission is putting the Department and USAID on the cloud. Cloud computing will allow employees to do their work more easily from any location, improve our cyber security in the long-term, and streamline our work processes by having everyone on a single system. The Department and USAID will be rolling this out over the coming months depending on location and other factors.

We operate in fast-changing environments that have become more complex and unpredictable.

The State Department has too many different collaboration platforms, undermining our agility, engagement, and impact.

That’s why we’re moving from 20 collaboration platforms and approximately 50 cloud-based platforms to one secure cloud-based email and collaboration platform to enable you to work anywhere, anytime with peers and partners around the world.

Increased Flexibilities for Employees who are on Medical Evacuations

We have harmonized our medevac policy with USAID to allow temporary telework when employees are medically evacuated from Post. Employees will no longer be faced with using all their leave or going on leave without pay when required to leave Post. This will really help working families.

We are committed to supporting our employees and their families as they balance their service with the needs of family life. To take care of our people, we will allow all internationally assigned employees to be eligible for a short-term telework arrangement during a period of Medical Evacuations , something particularly important to many on maternity/paternity leave.

Streamlined Security Clearance Process

A new cloud-based case management system for clearance requests will help reduce the wait time for all Foreign Service, Civil Service and EFM employees. Additionally, interns will be able to come to work with an interim clearance.

Interim security clearances for interns are now allowable per a new policy implemented on November 15. 3,000 interns investigated annually no longer have to wait for a full security clearance and may report to work faster.

At USAID, the length of time it takes to complete security clearances is already within the goals set by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence so there is no need to change USAID’s clearance process.

At State we will acquire a new cloud-based case management system for clearance requests which will help reduce the wait time for all Foreign Service, Civil Service and EFM employees

At the Department Top Secret investigations take 163 days – we will reduce that by 25% to 122 days.

At the Department, reinvestigations take 202 days – we will reduce that by 25% to 152 days.

Simplified Permanent Change of Station Travel Process

Right now USAID uses five internet portals and Foreign Service Officers at State use six when they’re undergoing a permanent change of station. We are streamlining everything down to one centralized portal where all changes can be completed in one place.

Relocating is fundamental to the work we do. Having centralized information for something our staff does is critical.

Today we’re moving from many different PCS-related web sites across State and USAID to one online PCS travel portal to make it much easier for employees to manage their relocations from one post to another.

The site will allow employees to better manage their transfer and gain visibility into the process flow.

Improved TDY Travel (Regular Business Travel) Options and Experience

Starting this month, we’re making many changes to TDY travel such as a single log-on, standardized baggage policies, and more, that will simplify how we get where we need to go.

Inefficient travel processes result in frustration and lost staff time – for example, you and your colleagues spend over 144,000 hours/year just researching the various airline baggage policies alone.

To make it easier for you to do your job and advance the mission, we will: ◦Expand the online travel booking option to many of you who currently do not have that option overseas.

Standardize baggage policies (2 bags/50 pounds) and align domestic carrier travel policies across State and USAID.

We expect this to improve the experience of our employees by reducing the various airline baggage policies research time by 90% and by allowing two bags/50 pounds each for all TDY travel.

Integrated USAID and State Global Address List

State and USAID are now connected through a common global address list for email. This initiative is projected to save 34,000 hours each year by easing the burden on our employees and eliminating the need for them to search across agency for the simple yet crucial task of contacting the people you need as quickly as possible.


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New Ambassador Stephen King Presents His Credentials in Prague

Posted: 3:44 am ET



In related news, they loved Stephen King over there, but the other Stephen King.


Question of the Day: Do you personally agree with the President’s decision?

Posted: 3:27 am ET


Via Special Briefing with David M. Satterfield
Acting Assistant Secretary, Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs
December 7, 2017

QUESTION: As a veteran diplomat and representative of NEA, do you personally agree with the President’s decision?

AMBASSADOR SATTERFIELD: Oh, now. I am an employee of the U.S. Government. I am a Foreign Service officer. We all – and I speak of my boss, the Secretary, and the other principals in the U.S. Government – we are all part of this team. This is a decision which we will work our best to execute and advance.


Bragging rights: when beating your own drum helps (or hurts)

By Patrick Heck | He is a PhD candidate in social psychology at Brown University in Rhode Island, where he studies the Self, social judgment and decision making, and prosocial behavior. Via Creative Commons Attribution-No Derivatives

Social observers are particularly attuned to braggadocio. What do you think of a person who claims to be a better driver, performer or lover than average? Is this person better described as confident or cocky; self-important or honest? Would you put your health or safety in their hands? And what about the opposite type of person, who claims to be worse than others? Would you hire this person for a job? In what field?

Social scientists have been asking for decades whether boastful, self-aggrandising beliefs and behaviours are beneficial to those who make such claims. According to one school of thought, claiming to be better than others feels good, and when we feel good, we are happier and better adjusted. This argument suggests that bragging to others can satisfy the motive to craft and maintain a positive self-image. According to another line of research, however, consistently viewing oneself as superior entails a distortion of reality. Inaccurate individuals with low self-knowledge have weaker relationships and a tendency to make riskier decisions than their accurate, self-aware counterparts.

Together with Joachim Krueger at Brown University in Rhode Island, I recently proposed a middle ground: braggadocio could be a double-edged sword. In our paper in the journal Social Psychology, we argue that thinking you are better than average (and bragging to others about it) can damage some aspects of your reputation but boost others. Bragging can help or harm depending upon your goals – so you’d do well to know what you want to accomplish before tooting your own horn.

To test how observers respond to braggadocio and humility, we recruited nearly 400 volunteers and asked them to rate a series of target individuals along the two major dimensions of social perception: competence, including rationality, intelligence and naiveté, and morality, including ethics, trustworthiness and selfishness. Some of the targets were defined as performing better or worse than average without making claims Some claimed to be better or worse than average without any evidence. Others both made a claim about themselves (‘I did better/worse than average’) while researchers revealed their scores.

The results demonstrated several detrimental effects of boasting, although we observed some surprising benefits too. Perhaps the most interesting finding was what we call the ‘humility paradox’. In the absence of evidence (ie, a test score), bragging to be better than average boosted a target’s reputation as competent, but diminished their reputation as moral. Conversely, those who remained humble by claiming to be worse than average were rated as more moral and less competent than the braggarts. The paradox suggests that when deciding whether or not to boast about your performance, keen decision-makers might first stop to consider which aspect of reputation they are most interested in emphasising or protecting.

The results were especially nuanced when test subjects rated targets whose claims were either validated or violated by objective evidence (their actual test performance). For moral reputations, humility remained a beneficial strategy even when a target performed well. Across the board, participants rated targets who claimed to be worse than average as more moral than targets who claimed to be better than average, regardless of their actual performance. In the domain of morality, humility pays.

For perceived competence, evidence mattered. The absolute worst thing a target could do was to claim superiority (‘I am better than average’) when the evidence proved him wrong (‘Harry actually scored below average on the test’).

There was, to be sure, some strategic benefit to making a boastful claim: targets who claimed to be better than average were seen as quite competent either when:

(a) evidence supported this claim; or

(b) no evidence was available.

In other words, boasting appeared to benefit a target’s reputation as competent, so long as contradictory evidence was never revealed.

As is the case with most experiments in social psychology, these studies were conducted in a contrived laboratory setting, and carry several limitations. All our participants lived in the United States, although we know that cultural background can encourage or discourage boasting. Similarly, all the targets that our participants rated had male names in order to rule out any confounding effects of gender, even though we know that the gender of observers and targets plays an important role in social perception. Culture and gender are two variables we would like to incorporate in future studies on the nature and perception of bragging.

Despite these limitations, the results of our studies suggest a few strategies for daily life: in situations where your competence is of critical interest (such as a job interview or debate), claiming to be better than the other candidates could be beneficial, so long as contradictory evidence will never come to light. But in situations where your reputation as a warm or moral person is put to the test (say, while networking or on a date), it appears that humility is the best strategy, even if you truly have something to brag about. Aeon counter – do not remove

Patrick Heck

This article was originally published at Aeon and has been republished under Creative Commons.