Parting Notes: Diplopundit, March 11, 2008-March 11, 2022

I did not realized the difficulty of writing the parting notes at the end of this blog’s journey (also see goodbye). I’ve put off writing for days and have instead worked on a stone pathway in my garden. It’s still unfinished but I’ve exhausted myself enough to sit down and write something today.
It felt as if after 5,110 days of running this blog, I’d ran out of things to say. Or perhaps it’s just that some things have changed and yet remained the same and that I’ve laughed myself silly for living in a simulation🤣! In any case, I will try to write down a few parting thoughts.

Social Media

When we started this blog over a decade ago, Foggy Bottom’s usage of social media was just getting its sea legs. Blogging was a source of excitement and anxiety (see Foreign Service Blogging: Tigers Have Teeth, Rather Sharp … Rawr!!!).
These days, we see folks, even self-identified high-ranking Foggy Bottom denizens, writing on their personal Twitter profile that their “tweets = personal views”. Do you remember in the old days (and in FSGB cases), being told that you are on duty 24/7? That is, you are on duty 24/7 until the government decides that you are not. That old political counselor who told his foreign counterpart that he had no personal opinion, only an official opinion would seem like a dinosaur these days.
Last year, two FS employees made the big news for social media posts, and one for reported participation in the Jan. 6 attack (remember – No Insurrectionists in America’s Diplomatic Service. How times have changed!
Twitter remains a dangerous sinkhole, official or otherwise. A tweet is immediate, and a retweets can travel quite a  distance rather quickly. For my readers who are in the FS, it still pays to be prudent what you tweet or retweet in your personal capacity, especially if you are self-identified as a U.S. diplomat.

Foreign Service Spouses

In 2009, I wrote Diplomatic Spouse Employment: A Drip in a Large Tin Roof.  Ten years later, do you seriously think that the prospects for spouse employment would be a lot different?
I’ve come to the sad conclusion that the lives of most FS spouses will continue to be challenging in the years to come. And their financial future will continue to be perilous. As American families become dual-income couples, the FS families will continue to be largely one employee working. Because it is not a priority, a majority of spouses will remain unable to work while overseas, thus, limiting their ability to prepare for their own retirement.  Time is a limited resource; once you’ve spent it, you won’t ever get it back. That applies to age and retirement accounts.
Don’t forget to attend the Retirement Seminar you say? What about if State starts allowing folks to take the retirement seminar upon tenure? Wouldn’t that make more sense for long term planning purposes?  Of course, spouses may only attend on “a space-available basis” as often the case with State. Drat that! Actually, it occurred to me that if more spouses have access to the retirement seminar, more employees may be forced to head for the exit.
While some agencies operating overseas have made provisions for spouses to be employed at certain jobs at US missions, it remains a hit or miss for State Department spouses.  Even when State can centrally fund jobs so they do not come out of post funds, State often doesn’t. One can blame Congress for consistently under funding diplomacy, but one can also recognize that jobs for spouses isn’t on any Secretary of State’s priority list, not even for retention purposes. Does State even know how many employees resign due to the inability of spouses to keep a career? Data not collected, hey? At some point in the future, it may be that only the independently wealthy can again afford to go overseas to represent our country.


In early 2014, State/OIG confirmed to this blog that the practice of preparing Inspector’s Evaluation Reports (IERs) ended in April 2013. Ambassador Pancho Huddle, who previously served as U.S. Ambassador to Tajikistan and spent five years as a senior OIG inspector at the State Department, told us then: “When OIG dumped their IERs, they dumped their ability to make a real difference.” And I totally agree. I remain convinced that it was wrong to end that practice.  All teeth, but no bite have repercussions.
Recently, after 11 years, State/OIG returned to US Embassy Luxembourg. The 2011 report detailed poor management issues and stated that two DCMs, two section chiefs, and other employees either curtailed or volunteered for service in Kabul or Baghdad. That political ambassador resigned. Once that report was released, it generated a media feeding frenzy.
The 2022 report did not indicate much of an improvement. Post’s authorized staff included 32 U.S. direct- hire employees. A staff turn over of 42 percent over a 2 ½- year period under another political ambassador did not prompt any noticeable reaction from the Department or the media. Of course, this time around, the OIG did not show up in Luxembourg until three months after the well-connected political ambassador had departed!
But seriously! The DGHR and Undersecretary for Management must know about the curtailments of almost half the mission. No one thought to ask what’s going on when post got to 25% staff curtailments? Or it didn’t matter? Or was it simply acceptable losses to keep an appointee in place? Moving people and household cost money. But who cares, right? It’s only taxpayers money.
In the last administration in particular, accountability was just a long, strange word to be admired. In several documented cases of bosses behaving badly, and many more not documented in public reports, nothing really happened. Remember IO? Protocol? Or when top State Department officials commented on a leaked IG report and attacked the OIG? Or when the OIG was fired under cover of darkness?
I must add that the current administration has now nominated a political appointee whose performance was blasted in an OIG report during a prior tenure.  I hate to say this but it is likely that political connections and consideration will win the day and this nominee will get confirmed by the U.S. Senate no matter what the OIG report said in 2015.
While, I’m thinking about accountability, perhaps Secretary Blinken busy as he is these days, should task one of his top lieutenants to see what should be done about the reported toxic workplace at the Office of Civil Rights (S/OCR). The office that leads global training on the prevention of workplace harassment and is tasked with investigating sexual harassment appears to be a problem in itself.  The OIG reportedly wasn’t interested in looking into various allegations in that office and did not respond to our inquiry. We’re hoping Congress can get the GAO to take a look.

DCMs as CDAs

In the old days, when the ambassador left office, the deputy chief of mission (DCM) routinely stepped in as charge d’affairs (CDA) (the accredited diplomat who serves as the embassy’s chief of mission in the absence of the ambassador or until a new ambassador arrives). This is how DCMs got their experience in leading the mission; it also allowed section chiefs to be acting DCMs and afford them the experience of running the embassy.
In the last few years we’ve observed a change in this routine practice.  In some cases, the State Department recalls retired FSOs to work as CDAs; in other cases, Foggy Bottom officials are sent out to manage the embassy until a nominee is confirmed by the U.S. Senate. What signal does this send to the active service members? We are aware of a few cases when DCMs who stepped in as CDAs were not functioning as expected (micromanagement, staff threatening curtailments, etc). It may be that in those case, Foggy Bottom had to send somebody to help steer the ship, but if DCMs are no longer afforded the traditional practice of becoming CDAs, when should they learn how to become COMs?

Assaults and Harassment

Readers following this blog are aware of the series of blogposts we wrote about sexual harassment and assaults in the Foreign Service. Those posts were some of the most difficult stories I had to write. Probably half the stories I heard did not make it to the blog because the survivors wanted me to hear their stories but did not want to share them publicly.
In the fall of 2016, we blogged that the Department’s Sexual Assault Reporting Procedure Appears to Be a Black Hole of Grief. In November of that year, the Department finally directed a task force to create a new section in the Foreign Affairs Manual for sexual assault (see U/S For Management Directs Task Force to Create New Sexual Assault FAM Guidance).
In 2017, the Department released a new section of the FAM addressing sexual assault reporting procedures (see @StateDept Releases New Sexual Assault Guidance For COM Personnel & Facilities Outside the United States). 3 FAM 1700 is far from perfect but sexual assault reporting wasn’t even in the FAM previously, so this was a start. If this blog played a role in lighting a fire under State to get that done, I am satisfied. The Department sent us a note at that time “to make absolutely sure” that we have seen it and gave us an “officially provided” copy of the new section.
In 2020, State/OIG released the long-awaited report on the Department’s handling of  sexual harassment reports. It was distressing to read. Both the investigations conducted vs the reported complaints and the underreporting are striking. Of the 24 cases where misconduct allegations including sexual assaults were substantiated, we have no idea how many perpetrators were criminally charged.
While I’m writing about this, a quick reminder that every COM facility with an assigned FS Medical Specialist should have at least three Sexual Assault Evidence Collection Kit (SAEC Kit) per 3 FAM 1700. Make sure your post have them.

Funny Bone Gone

Our 14 years of blogging about the State Department and the Foreign Service included poking fun at the Foggiest Bottom here, here, here  here, and here. But only once did I received an official  take down request (see Aww — @StateDept Sends Official Take Down Request For April Fools’ Day Cable). In April 1, 2017, I wrote, Inside @StateDept: Leaked Cable Provides Guidance For ‘America First’ Cost Savings Initiatives. Apparently, it wasn’t funny at all for the 7th Floor people. Poor things, they could not find their tickle bones.
Now, poor me, I’ve misplaced my funny bone after the back to back performances of T-Rex and the Mikey Po. You, too?

And finally …

When I started blogging in 2008,  some readers told me they read this blog in secret; that no one in their offices would admit to reading the blog. Not sure what was the penalty if caught reading the blog then. Years later, I would get occasional notes from individuals telling me that they had informed this office or that office that they have reported their complaints to this blog. Goodness me! I’ve almost always pass up on those stories because there are processes in place that exist for a reason, and frankly, I did not appreciate being used as a “We told the witch, watch out!” warning. How times changed!
I hope our readers join us in sending thanks to our diplomatic employees and their families. Thank you for your dedication to our country and for your willingness to serve in often difficult and dangerous places. Thank you, also, to the foreign service national employees whose support is essential to our overseas operations. I understand and appreciate the hardships you face and the sacrifices you all make. I am sad to leave but you have my deep respect and admiration.


@StateDept Inspector General Vacancy Now at 657 Days and Counting


By the time you’re reading this, it would be 657 days since the State Department had a Senate-confirmed Inspector General. Despite the beating that office suffered during the previous administration, the current administration does not seem to be in any great hurry to nominate an Inspector General for the State Department.
IG Quick Facts:

IG Independence | Congress created OIGs to strike a workable balance for IGs and agency principals. This balance is accomplished through a number of provisions of the IG Act.

The IG Act specifically prohibits agency management officials from supervising the IG. This organizational independence helps limit the potential for conflicts of interest when an audit or investigative function is placed under the authority of the official whose programs are being scrutinized. The IG Act insulates IGs against reprisal and promotes independent and objective reporting. Additionally, the IG Act promotes independence through individual reporting of OIG budgets. For example, Section 6(g) requires OIG’s requested budget to be separately identified within the Department of State’s budget. Section 6(g)(3) authorizes OIG to comment to Congress on the sufficiency of its budget if the amount proposed in the President’s budget would substantially inhibit the IG from performing the duties of the office. Additionally, the Department of State Authorities Act, Fiscal Year 2017, requires annual certification by the Secretary that the Department has ensured the integrity and independence of OIG’s network, information systems, and files.

IG Access to Agency Principal | The IG is required to have direct and prompt access to the agency principal when necessary to perform his or her functions and responsibilities. This helps ensure that the agency principal is directly and promptly alerted to serious problems and abuses within the agency. Conversely, the Department of State is required to submit to OIG—within 5 business days of becoming aware of the allegation—a report of any allegation of (1) waste, fraud, or abuse in a Department program or operation; (2) criminal or serious misconduct on the part of a Department employee at the FS1, GS-15, or GM-15 level or higher; (3) criminal misconduct on the part of a Department employee at any level; and (4) serious, noncriminal misconduct on the part of any Department employee who is authorized to carry a weapon, make arrests, or conduct searches.

IG Reporting Obligations | The IG Act creates a dual-reporting obligation for IGs—to keep both Congress and the agency principal fully and currently informed about deficiencies in agency programs and operations.

Unfortunately, the Quick Facts does not include what can be done when the agency principal gets the IG fired for no reason beyond the office conducting oversight investigations that made the IG “a bad actor” in the eyes of the principal and his cronies.
The last time there was a lengthy vacancy at the IG, it was for almost 2,000 days or 5.4 years (see After 1,989 Day-Vacancy — President Obama Nominates Steve Linick as State Dept Inspector General).
Harold W. Geisel served as Acting IG from 2008-2013. Steve Linick served from 2013-2020. After Linick’s firing, Stephen Akard served as Acting IG for three months, Diana Shaw was Acting IG for a month, and Matthew Klimow served as Acting IG from August-December 2020. Diana Shaw once again became Acting IG for the State Department in December 2020 and continues to serve in that role to-date.
Congressional members made lots of noises, of course, after the Linick firing. They even conducted hearings. Which did not amount to anything really. Nothing happened besides a bad news cycle for Mikey Po so what could possibly dissuade any agency principal from doing exactly the same thing?
Defense (2,245 days) and OPM (2,204 days) currently have longer IG vacancies than State but the WH has previously announced the nominees for those agencies and they are currently awaiting confirmation. Whereas State (and Treasury) have been forgotten by the time lords.
We hope this isn’t a purposeful omission that could last the entire Blinken tenure.
It also occurred to us that one can avoid all the messiness of firing an IG by not appointing one.

@StateDept Issues Guidance For Ukraine Land Border Crossings


On March 1, the State Department issued new guidance on land border crossings for U.S. citizens departing Ukraine.

U.S. citizens wishing to depart Ukraine by land have several options, listed below. We understand that most border crossings into Poland and all main crossing points into Moldova are severely backed up and some are experiencing extremely long wait times (well over 30 hours in some cases). We recommend that, if possible, U.S. citizens consider redirecting to border crossings with Hungary, Romania, and Slovakia, which are currently experiencing lower wait times to cross.

Note that conditions at each border can change very quickly and wait times can increase at any time without warning. Be prepared to wait for many hours to cross:

    • Have extra batteries and power banks for your mobile phones.
    • Bring enough food and water for at least two days.
    • Stock up on diapers and baby food, if applicable.
    • Bring blankets, sleeping bags, warm clothes.
    • Ensure enough pet food if you are with your pet.
    • Bring hard copies of important documents (birth certificates, passports [even if expired], any other identification) and don’t rely on cell phones and computer batteries.
    • Book accommodations prior to arrival, as many hotels near the borders are already booked.

Local authorities in Romania, Poland, and Moldova have reception centers immediately beyond most border crossings, where you can find food, temporary lodging, clothes, and transportation to the next bigger town.

Specific info on entering neighboring countries from Ukraine

Read more here.







US Embassy Local Employees in the News #Ukraine #Yemen #Belarus







US Embassy Moscow Now on “Authorized Departure” For Non-Emergency Staff and USG Family Members


On February 28, 2022, the State Department also announced the US Embassy Moscow is now under an “authorized departure” order for non-emergency staff and USG family members.

The U.S. Department of State has suspended operations at our Embassy in Minsk, Belarus and authorized the voluntary departure (“authorized departure”) of non-emergency employees and family members at our Embassy in Moscow, Russia. We took these steps due to security and safety issues stemming from the unprovoked and unjustified attack by Russian military forces in Ukraine. The Department of State continually adjusts its posture at embassies and consulates throughout the world in line with its mission, the local security environment, and the health situation. We ultimately have no higher priority than the safety and security of U.S. citizens, and that includes our U.S. government personnel and their dependents serving around the world.

Also on February 28, the State Department issued an updated Level 4-Do Not Travel Advisory for Russia citing the Russian military forces attack in Ukraine, the potential harassment of American citizens, and limited flights out of the country among other things, and urge their departure from Russia while commercial flights are still available.

Do not travel to Russia due to the unprovoked and unjustified attack by Russian military forces in Ukraine, the potential for harassment against U.S. citizens by Russian government security officials, the embassy’s limited ability to assist U.S. citizens in Russia, COVID-19 and related entry restrictions, terrorism, limited flights into and out of Russia, and the arbitrary enforcement of local law.  U.S. citizens should consider departing Russia immediately via commercial options still available.

Due to Russia’s further invasion of Ukraine, an increasing number of airlines are cancelling flights into and out of Russia, and numerous countries have closed their airspace to Russian airlines.  In addition, air space around southern Russia is restricted and a number of airports in the area have closed.  U.S. citizens located in or considering travel to the districts of the Russian Federation immediately bordering Ukraine should be aware that the situation along the border is dangerous and unpredictable. 

Given the ongoing armed conflict, U.S. citizens are strongly advised against traveling by land from Russia to Ukraine.  In addition, there is the potential throughout Russia of harassment towards foreigners, including through regulations targeted specifically against foreigners.  Given the ongoing armed conflict and the potentially significant impact on international travel options, U.S. citizens should consider departing Russia immediately via commercial options still available.

The Advisory notes that the embassy’s ability to provide routine or emergency assistance to Americans is severely limited, as well as the voluntary evacuation of non-emergency personnel and USG family members from the country:

The U.S. government’s ability to provide routine or emergency services to U.S. citizens in Russia is severely limited, particularly in areas far from the U.S. Embassy in Moscow due to Russian government limitations on U.S. staffing and travel, and the ongoing suspensions of operations, including consular services, at U.S. consulates.

On February 28, the Department of State authorized the voluntary departure of eligible family members and non-emergency personnel from U.S. Embassy Moscow.

Also on February 28, @USUN Spokesperson Olivia Dalton issued a statement on the expulsion of 12 Russians reportedly intelligence operatives at the Russian Mission at the United Nations for “engaging in espionage activities that are adverse to our national security:”

The United States has informed the United Nations and the Russian Permanent Mission to the United Nations that we are beginning the process of expelling twelve intelligence operatives from the Russian Mission who have abused their privileges of residency in the United States by engaging in espionage activities that are adverse to our national security. We are taking this action in accordance with the UN Headquarters Agreement. This action has been in development for several months.


@StateDept Suspends Operations at the US Embassy in Minsk, Belarus


On February 28, 2022, the State Department announced the suspension of operations at the US Embassy in Minsk, Belarus:

The U.S. Department of State has suspended operations at our Embassy in Minsk, Belarus and authorized the voluntary departure (“authorized departure”) of non-emergency employees and family members at our Embassy in Moscow, Russia. We took these steps due to security and safety issues stemming from the unprovoked and unjustified attack by Russian military forces in Ukraine. The Department of State continually adjusts its posture at embassies and consulates throughout the world in line with its mission, the local security environment, and the health situation. We ultimately have no higher priority than the safety and security of U.S. citizens, and that includes our U.S. government personnel and their dependents serving around the world.