US Embassy Finland: Thinnest OIG Report Reveals Dysfunctional Relationship b/w Political Ambassador and DCM

 

The previous State/OIG Inspection Report of the US Embassy in Helsinki (PDF) is dated September 2011, 40 pages long, includes 22 recommendations and 38 informal recommendations. The newly released OIG Inspection Report of Embassy Helsinki at nine pages, including a list of four recommendations is probably the thinnest report we’ve ever read (PDF). The report notes that “The Ambassador and the DCM used their access to the senior levels of the Finnish Government to the benefit of the embassy’s foreign policy goals and objectives.” The report’s discussion on fopo goals and objectives occupied a third of a single page and we must admit, we’re not any wiser after reading it.
The Embassy Helsinki report dated December 2019 found four things:
    • Embassy leadership used their ready access to the senior-most levels of the Government of Finland to the benefit of U.S. foreign policy goals and objectives.
    • The Ambassador and the Deputy Chief of Mission did not manage conflict between them in an appropriate manner, which resulted in a breakdown of trust and communication that complicated the chain of command and contributed to a stressful work environment for Embassy Helsinki staff.
    • Lack of teamwork and communication between Consular Section leadership and staff had a negative effect on productivity and morale.
    • The embassy lacked policies for some information management support services.
The chief of mission is Ambassador Robert Pence , a political ambassador who arrived in May 2018, the DCM is identified as senior FSO Donna Welton who arrived in August 2016. Post’s new DCM is listed as Deputy Chief of Mission Ian Campbell.
The “longest” part of the report is on Executive Direction.

The Chief of Mission was a first-time, non-career Ambassador who arrived in May 2018. The Ambassador was the founder and Chairman of the Board of a commercial real estate development company. The Deputy Chief of Mission (DCM) was a career Senior Foreign Service officer who arrived in August 2016. A first-time DCM, she served as Chargé d’Affaires (Chargé) from January 2017 until the arrival of the current Ambassador in May 2018. She previously was detailed to the Department of Defense as the acting Director for Southeast Asia in the Office of the Secretary of Defense (Policy). During the inspection, the DCM was in the process of transferring to her onward assignment and was scheduled to depart Helsinki on June 1, 2019.

OIG found that neither the Ambassador nor the DCM fully modeled the Department of State’s (Department) leadership and management principles outlined in 3 Foreign Affairs Manual (FAM) 1214. Embassy staff told OIG that, initially, the two leaders worked reasonably well together. However, about 9 months into the Ambassador’s tenure, their working relationship deteriorated. In separate discussions with the Ambassador and the DCM, OIG noted that there was profound disagreement between the two about what led to the breakdown. OIG received information about various issues that contributed to the poor relationship, but ultimately concluded that neither the Ambassador nor the DCM managed the conflict in an appropriate manner, as called for in 3 FAM 1214b(9). According to embassy staff interviewed by OIG, the conflict led to a breakdown of trust and communication between the Ambassador and DCM that complicated the chain of command and decision-making. The conflict also contributed to creating a stressful work environment for embassy staff. For example, because of the dysfunctional relationship between the Ambassador and DCM, staff stated that it was not always apparent to whom they should report and who was making decisions on particular issues. Senior staff members described themselves as “caught in the middle.”

OIG discussed with the DCM her role in the conflict and, related to one particular issue, advised her that, even though she had been serving as the Chargé and was in command at the embassy in the Ambassador’s absence, it would have been prudent for her to have consulted with the Ambassador before signing off on what she acknowledged to be an important and potentially controversial action. At the time of the inspection, she agreed. OIG concluded that the DCM’s approach on this issue contributed to the troubled working relationship.

In discussions with the Ambassador about the conflict, he told OIG that, with the DCM departing in a few weeks and a new DCM scheduled to arrive at the end of June 2019, he was confident that employee morale would improve. However, based on OIG’s interviews with U.S. direct hire employees and LE staff, OIG advised the Ambassador that elements of his leadership and management style also contributed to the stressful workplace environment. OIG encouraged the Ambassador to:

      • Meet regularly, substantively, and face-to-face with individual Department section and other agency heads to provide performance feedback and to determine how the Front Office could assist each section and agency to achieve the embassy’s goals.
      • Document his general instructions to all staff regarding the issues he expected to come to him for approval and how he wanted the information formatted and provided to him.
      • “Walk the halls” to observe and interact with the various sections so that he could better understand the embassy’s functions and operations. • Meet regularly with the leaders of the LE Staff Committee to understand and address the unique concerns of the LE staff.
      • Solicit formal feedback on embassy-wide performance and morale to obtain information to formulate specific actions to address employee concerns.

OIG also provided the Ambassador with Department tools to help chiefs of mission lead their embassies. These tools included the Department’s morale survey that is used to solicit feedback from staff and identify issues that are negatively affecting morale.4