Tillerson Delivers to @StateDept’s Africa Bureau Its “Most Significant Management Challenge”

Posted: 12:25 am ET
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All Foreign Service posts in Africa receive post hardship differential, that is, an allowance meant to provide “additional compensation of up to 35 percent over basic compensation for the majority of employees officially stationed or detailed to a mission with extraordinarily difficult living conditions, excessive physical hardship, or notably unhealthful conditions.” More than half of all AF posts have been designated “Historically Difficult to Staff” meaning fewer than three at- grade/in-skill-code bids were received in three of the last four summer bidding cycles. Of all AF posts, 47 percent (24 posts) have also been designated ” Service Need Differential” that is, 20 percent hardship differential/standard 2 year tour of duty gets a 15 percent  bump in pay if employees agree to serve a third year.

According to State/OIG, the AF Bureau’s FY2017 staffing includes 1,147 American Direct Hire overseas, 572 local staff, 140 reemployed annuitants (retired Civil Service or Foreign Service employee rehired on an intermittent basis for no more than 1,040 hours during the year), and 14 rover-employees based overseas who go where they are needed. State/OIG also says that the AF bureau relies on 399 eligible family member employees for its overseas staffing. The 399 EFM employees are not specifically excluded from the State/OIG 1,147 count; we calculate that family member employees encumbering direct-hire positions constitute 34 percent, or a third of the bureau’s overseas workforce. If the 399 employes are in addition to the 1,147 count,  the number would be 25 percent, or a quarter of the bureau’s overseas workforce.

To be sure, staffing the AF Bureau’s posts has suffered from longstanding difficulties. Unfortunately for everyone with few exceptions,  the 69th Secretary of State sure made it worse.

On January 23, 2017, President Trump ordered a freeze on the hiring of Federal civilian employees to be applied across the board in the executive branch (see OMB Issues Initial Guidance For Federal Civilian Hiring Freeze (Read Memo); President Trump Freezes Federal Hiring Regardless of Funding Sources (Read Memo).

In April, while the OMB lifted the hiring freeze, the State Department with very few exceptions continued with its self-imposed freeze (see No thaw in sight for @StateDept hiring freeze until reorganization plan is “fully developed”).  On April 12, 2017, the State Department posted a statement indicating that the current hiring freeze guidance remained in effect particularly as it affected the hiring of Foreign Service family members (see Are #EFM positions literally about to become…extinct under #Tillerson’s watch?).

During the first week of August, amidst cascading bad press of his stewardship of the State Department, Secretary Tillerson quietly “approved an exemption to the hiring freeze that will allow the Department to fill a number of priority EFM positions that are currently vacant. This exemption gives posts authority to fill critical vacancies supporting security, safety and health responsibilities.”

The hiring freeze snared folks who transferred between January and July (FLO April data says 743 jobs were pending due to security clearance or hiring freeze). Deputy Secretary Sullivan told members of the press on August 8 that “almost 800 EFMs [that] have been approved since this – the hiring freeze was imposed.” So, that’s like everyone who’s been waiting since January. And we were all so happy to see folks granted the exemptions that we forgot to ask who’s the “bright” bulb who started this mess. And if these EFM jobs were finally filled in August (a month before the end of the fiscal year), these employees could not all show up to work the following week, given all the paperwork needed and security investigations required.

Freezing EFM jobs never made sense. We’re still floored that it lasted that long and no one told S “But that’s nuts!” Despite Mr. Tillerson slip of the tongue (“we’re styling as the redesign of the State Department”), we can’t imagine the “redesign” resulting in zero jobs for diplomatic spouses overseas, not only because EFM jobs  makes sense and help post morale, but also because it is the cheaper option.  Unless, of course, 1) the “employee-led” redesign teams are proposing that embassies hire third country nationals for mailroom, escort, fingerprinting, and all support services for post overseas, too (yes, we heard North Korean labor imports are way cheaper). Or 2) this is part of the strategery to reduce the FS workforce without going through a reduction-in-force, while maintaining a goal of a 3 for 1 in attrition.

In any case, as we’ve pointed out in May, when the EFMs leave posts during the transfer season, their positions would not have been filled (with very few exceptions) due to the hiring freeze; and they could not be hired at their next posts because of the same hiring freeze. And that’s exactly what happened. In the oral history of the State Department, this will be remembered as that time when the Secretary of State created/produced/delivered one bureau its “most significant management challenge.” We don’t think this is limited to just the AF Bureau but it’s the only one reported on by State/OIG at this time.

Via State/OIG (PDF):

Four previous OIG reports over the past 20 years have highlighted challenges in staffing AF’s overseas posts. OIG found that these challenges persist, despite reforms to Foreign Service bidding and career development processes intended to promote service in hardship posts and bolster bureau efforts to improve recruitment. Hardships at AF’s overseas posts include ethnic violence, deteriorating local infrastructure, evacuations, health risks, high crime, limited recreation opportunities, physical isolation, political instability, pollution, poor medical facilities, severe climates, and substandard schools. All 51 AF posts receive post hardship differential, 27 posts were included in the Historically Difficult to Staff program, and 24 were Service Need Differential posts.

AF’s difficulties in filling its overseas positions were profound. For the 2017 summer bidding season, AF attracted, at most, only one Foreign Service bidder on 37 percent of its positions, leaving 143 of 385 total positions potentially unfilled. The bureau used a broad range of alternative and sometimes costly personnel mechanisms to fill vacancies and short-term gaps. It relied on 399 eligible family member employees, a roster of 140 reemployed annuitants, 14 rovers based overseas, and approximately 50 senior locally employed staff members to fill staffing gaps and support essential services. AF also filled about 25 percent of its 2017 positions with entry-level employees. AF overseas management officers who responded to an OIG survey cited concerns about eligible family member employment as their most significant management challenge. Because of the Department-wide hiring freeze, these positions could not be filled as they became vacant. These vacancies are of concern because, as explained by the Government Accountability Office in 2009, staffing and experience gaps place at risk diplomatic readiness, particularly for high-threat environments such as those in which AF operates.

For readers who are not familiar with the Foreign Service and spouse employment — say you and your spouse arrived at a 2-year assignment at a post in Africa in late October 2016. You found an embassy job in December 2016 but was not officially hired prior to January 22, 2017, so you would have been included in the hiring freeze. When the EFM exemptions were granted on August 4, you would have already waited some eight months to start on that embassy job. Wait, but you needed a security clearance or an interim security clearance which could also take a few weeks to 90 days (or longer). By the time you officially start work, you have some 12-14 months to do the job (maybe less). And then you move on to your next  post and do this process all over again. Now, imagine doing this every 2-3 years, that’s the arc of the working life of a diplomatic spouse.

Photo of the Day: Excuse me? Who is this person, and why is he redesigning my playtime?

Posted: 2:32 am ET
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Via state.gov:

Secretary Tillerson Greets Staff and Families at U.S. Embassy Riyadh
U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson greets U.S. Embassy staff and their families at the U.S. Embassy in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, on October 22, 2017. [State Department Photo/ Public Domain]

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Tillerson Talks About the Styled Redesign and Expected “Quick Wins” in 2018

Posted: 2:21 am ET
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Excerpt from Rex W. Tillerson’s Remarks to Staff and Families at U.S. Embassy Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, October 22, 2017:

But a real – a real honor to be here. I do want to say a real quick word because I know there’s a lot of interest in what we’re doing back home with what we’re styling as the redesign of the State Department. And this is very much a bottom-up, a bottom-up, employee – your colleagues – led initiative. Many of you, I hope, participated early on when we had the listening tour, we called it, exercise. We had over 35,000 of your colleagues, and I’m sure many of you responded to the survey that was conducted early on. We had 300 face-to-face interviews with various members of the State Department at all types of positions and including people out in mission.

And this was so that I could get some baseline understanding of what are the issues that you’re faced with, what are the challenges, what are things we can do to help you get your work done more effectively and more efficiently. So out of that we’ve created a number of working teams. There are five core teams that are working on a number of work processes and addressing all kinds of issues, from hardware issues like our IT systems, which I know everyone knows we need some upgrading to, and other ways that we can make you efficient. But we’re looking also at how we train people for assignment, lengths of assignment, how do we allow you to contribute more, what are the obstacles to getting your work done, what are the interface issues, how can we clear some of the obstacles out for you. So this is very much led by your colleagues, and then my role is to try to clear and do some blocking and tackling for all of that effort as well.

So the work’s underway. We’re going to be saying more here as we get towards the end of the year. We have some what we’re calling quick – we believe they’re quick wins and things that we’ll be able to do right away and implement throughout 2018 that we hope you’re going to see the effects of that are going to make your work easier, more efficient. And ultimately, the objective is that you have a very fulfilling, rewarding career. You’ve dedicated yourself. This is what you want to do. We want to allow you to be successful and to have a very fulfilling career and realize all of your own aspirations as well. So it’s something that I’m quite committed to, and we have a great team of folks back home helping us, your colleagues helping us in that regard as well.

Read the full remarks here.

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Retired Navy Rear Admiral Kenneth J. Braithwaite to be U.S. Ambassador to Norway

Posted: 1:35 am ET
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On October 19, President Trump announced his intent to nominate Kenneth J. Braithwaite to be the next ambassador to Norway. The WH released the following brief bio:

Kenneth J. Braithwaite of Pennsylvania to be Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the United States of America to the Kingdom of Norway. Mr. Braithwaite, a distinguished 27-year veteran of the U.S. Navy and U.S. Navy Reserve, currently serves as Group Senior Vice President for Vizient, a healthcare strategy and performance improvement company. He completed his military service in 2011 as the Navy’s Vice Chief of Information. Immediately prior, he served as Commanding Officer, Joint Public Affairs Expeditionary Support Element (Reserve), Joint Forces Command. In that role, he deployed to Pakistan as the overall Director of Strategic Communications supporting work of the American Embassy. Earlier, Mr. Braithwaite served as Commanding Officer, Navy Combat Camera deployed in combat operations to Iraq. He also served as Executive Director, Delaware Valley Healthcare Council; Vice President, Government Affairs, Ascension Health and State Director to U.S. Senator Arlen Specter (R-PA). Mr. Braithwaite received his B.S degree from the U.S. Naval Academy, his pilot wings as a Naval Aviator and an M.G.A from the University of Pennsylvania.

Almost 80 percent of ambassadors nominated for this post are political non-career appointees.  The U.S. Navy provides a more detailed bio for Trump’s second rear admiral appointee (also see Retired Navy Rear Admiral Edward Masso to be Ambassador to Estonia):

In his final assignment as the Navy’s Vice Chief of Information Rear Adm. (ret) Kenneth J. Braithwaite served as the principal Navy Reserve liaison and advisor to the Chief of Information having responsibility for formulating strategic communications counsel to the leadership of the Department of the Navy. Concurrently, he served as the head of the Navy Reserve (NR) Public Affairs program and as an adjunct advisor to the Commander, Navy Reserve Force.

A 1984 graduate of the United States Naval Academy, Braithwaite was designated a naval aviator in April 1986. His first operational assignment was to Patrol Squadron 17, NAS Barbers Point, Hawaii. He flew anti-submarine missions tracking adversary submarines throughout the Western Pacific and Indian Ocean regions.

In April 1988, Braithwaite was selected for redesignation as a public affairs officer (PAO) with his initial tour aboard the aircraft carrier USS America (CV-66). He had additional duty as PAO to Commander Carrier Group 2 and Commander, Striking Force 6th Fleet. He made both a North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) Force deployment to the North Atlantic operating above the Arctic Circle and a Mediterranean /Indian Ocean cruise where the battle group responded to tensions in the Persian Gulf. In 1990 he was assigned to the staff of Commander, Naval Base Philadelphia as chief of Public Affairs.

Braithwaite left active duty in 1993 and immediately resumed naval service in the reserve where he served with numerous commands from Boston to Norfolk. Additionally during this time he earned a master’s degree in Government Administration in April 1995 with honors from the University of Pennsylvania.

In October 2001, Braithwaite assumed command of NR Fleet Combat Camera Atlantic at Naval Air Station Willow Grove, Pa. During this tour the command was tasked with providing support to the Joint Task Force (JTF) Commander, Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. In March 2003 Braithwaite deployed for Operation Iraqi Freedom with a portion of his command in support of naval operations to capture the port of Umm Qasr. Following this tour he served as commanding officer of Navy Office of Information New York 102.

Braithwaite served as Commander, Joint Public Affairs Support Element-Reserve (JPASE-R) from October of 2004 to October 2007. In this role he commanded a 50-person joint public affairs expeditionary unit that was forward deployed to support Joint Combatant Commanders in time of conflict. While in command and following the devastating earthquake in Pakistan in 2005, Braithwaite was deployed to Pakistan as part of the Joint Task Force for Disaster Assistance serving as the director of Strategic Communications working for both the JTF Commander and the U.S. Ambassador in Islamabad.

His decorations include the Defense Meritorious Service Medal (with oak leaf cluster), Meritorious Service Medal, Navy Commendation Medal (5) with Combat “V”, Navy Achievement Medal, Combat Action Ribbon and numerous campaign and service medals.

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Avoidable Mess: U.S. to Help Chad After “Important Partner” Withdraws Troops From Niger Following Visa Sanctions

Posted: 3:33 am ET
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On September 24, President Trump announced new security measures that establish minimum requirements for international cooperation to support U.S. visa and immigration vetting and new visa restrictions for eight countries, including Chad. See Trump Announces New Visa Restrictions For Chad, Iran, Libya, North Korea, Syria, Venezuela, Yemen, Somalia:.

Chad – Although it is an important partner, especially in the fight against terrorists, the government in Chad does not adequately share public-safety and terrorism-related information, and several terrorist groups are active within Chad or in the surrounding region, including elements of Boko Haram, ISIS-West Africa, and al-Qa’ida in the Islamic Maghreb. Accordingly, the entry into the United States of nationals of Chad, as immigrants, and as nonimmigrants on business (B-1), tourist (B-2), and business/tourist (B-1/B-2) visas, is suspended.

Via BuzzFeed: Experts from the State Department to humanitarian organizations were stunned when the Chad was added to the travel ban in late September. The country is home to a US military facility and just hosted an annual 20-nation military exercise with the US military’s Africa Command to strengthen local forces to fight extremist insurgents. Chad’s capital, N’Djamena, is the headquarters of the five-country Multinational Joint Task Force battling Boko Haram.

What kind of visa numbers do we have for Chad? For temporary nonimmigrant visas the last five fiscal years, see below via travel.state.gov:

FY2016: 1,355 | FY2015: 1,352 | FY2014: 1,294 |  FY2013: 731 |  FY2012: 624

So given Chad’s counterterrorism cooperation, and the carved out already given to Iraq in the September 24 order, why was Chad included in the visa restrictions?  FP proposes this:

One possible explanation for this discrepancy, which would be preposterous in any administration except this one, is that the architects of the ban, having repeatedly heard the phrases “Boko Haram” and “Lake Chad” in the same sentence, assumed that Chad must be the epicenter of Boko Haram. (Lake Chad in fact lies on the border of Chad and three other countries, and Boko Haram is mostly confined to northern Nigeria, northern Cameroon, and southeastern Niger.)
[…]
In the wake of the new travel ban announcement on Sept. 24, Chad has withdrawn hundreds of troops from neighboring Niger, where up to 2,000 of its soldiers were part of a coalition battling Boko Haram. The Chadian government has not yet offered an official explanation for the pullout, but Communications Minister Madeleine Alingué condemned Chad’s inclusion on the travel ban, saying that it “seriously undermines” the “good relations between the two countries, notably in the fight against terrorism.”
[…]
The Chadian president is likely betting that with his forces withdrawn from Niger, the Trump administration will quickly come to appreciate his country’s security contributions and remove it from the list.

But it turns out — Chad had simply run out of passport paper!

AP’s Josh Lederman writes that Chad lacked the passport paper and offered to furnish the U.S. with a pre-existing sample of the same type of passport, but it was not enough to persuade DHS.  A congressional official told the AP that DHS working with the White House “pushed Chad onto the list without significant input from the State Department or the Defense Department.” 

Without significant input from agencies with people on the ground in Chad. If we were in Chad’s shoes, wouldn’t we do exactly the same? Obviously, being called an “important partner” does not make up for having your citizens banned from traveling to the other country. The action telegraphed careless disregard of the relationship, and Chad most likely, will not forget this easily. “Remember that time when the U.S. put Chad on the visa sanctions list while we have 2,000 soldiers fighting in Niger?” Yep, they’ll remember. We actually would like to know who among the local contacts showed up for the new embassy dedication, by the way (see @StateDept Dedicates New $225M U.S. Embassy in N’Djamena, Chad).

The DHS/WH architects of these visa bans/sanctions really are the best people with the best brains, hey?

Federal court has now issued a TRO for the latest travel restrictions that includes Chad. So basically, a carefully constructed bilateral relationship ends up in a mess, and it was all for nothing.

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@StateDept Dedicates New $225M U.S. Embassy in N’Djamena, Chad

Posted: 3:25 am ET
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On October 16, the State Department announced that “In an important symbol of our enduring partnership with the people of the Republic of Chad, U.S. Ambassador Geeta Pasi, Acting Director of the Bureau of Overseas Buildings Operations Ambassador William Moser, and Chadian Government officials dedicated the new U.S. Embassy in N’Djamena.”  We don’t know how many local officials attended as there appears to be no official photographs released of the embassy dedication (also see Trump Announces New Visa Restrictions For Chad, Iran, Libya, North Korea, Syria, Venezuela, Yemen, Somalia).

According to State/OBO the new U.S. Embassy compound in Chad’s capital city of N’Djamena is situated on a 12-acre site in the Chagoua neighborhood, several kilometers southeast of downtown. The multi-building complex includes a chancery office building, a Marine Security Guard residence, support buildings and facilities for the Embassy community.

Via state.gov/OBO

The following details via the State Department’s Bureau of Overseas Buildings Operations (State/OBO):

      • The facilities meet all Department standards for security and life safety, and provide functional office space for Embassy staff.
      • The building’s scale, massing, and materials anchor the compound in this prominent, developing location within the city, and foster a sense of community and place.
      • The project was awarded in early 2014 and construction completed in spring 2017.
      • The site and building design provide shelter and relief from heat and sand storms, and seasonal rains.
      • A regionally-relevant color palette carried throughout the compound structures gives the Embassy a visual and cultural connection to the host nation.
      • An exterior space provides sufficient space to accommodate representational events.
      • The high performance interior offers an open-plan office, allowing delineation of work groups while providing continuous support for the workplace.
      • New and expanded civil infrastructure within and outside the complex includes new roads, sidewalks, lighting, landscaping, and storm water management.
      • A sculpted perimeter wall provides a secure perimeter and a well-lit public gathering space outside the complex, adjacent to the main entry.
      • An estimated 800 workers from the region—largely from Chad—are involved in the construction of the new Embassy

As with NEC Nouakchott, NEC N’Djamena is built for sustainability according to State/OBO:

  • The project is registered with the U.S. Green Building Council for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED®) certification, and has met LEED® Gold certification.
  • The energy-efficient building design uses passive strategies, energy-efficient lighting, building controls, renewable energy systems, and HVAC systems projected to decrease energy use by 51%.
  • A pierced sunscreen shades the building, reducing heat gain, while water features collect and channel storm water in a way that celebrates the rainy season.
  • A multi-colored fiber-cement paneling system provides a cost-effective, thermally-efficient, and durable exterior.
  • Photovoltaic solar power arrays on-site are designed to offset 15% of the Chancery’s energy costs.
  • The compound is designed to minimize use of the local domestic water through efficient plumbing fixtures and equipment. All of the facility’s wastewater will be treated on-site and used to meet all of the site’s irrigation demand.
  • The facility is designed to provide a healthy indoor working environment through the use of low-emitting materials, air monitoring and comfort controls, as well as chemical and pollutant source controls.

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@StateDept Dedicates New $181M U.S. Embassy Mauritania in the “Place of the Winds

Posted: 2:58 am ET
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According to the State Department’s Bureau of Overseas Buildings Operations (State/OBO), the new U.S. Embassy compound in Nouakchott, Mauritania is situated on a 10.5-acre site in the Tevragh Zeina district of the capital city.  The new embassy compound includes a chancery, support buildings and facilities for the embassy community.

  • Known as the “Place of the Winds,” the capital city of Nouakchott is located on the west coast of Mauritania where the Sahara Desert meets the Atlantic Ocean. With its unique location, the city is susceptible to seasonal winds from the Harmattan – battering it with harsh Sahara sand – and winds from the Atlantic Ocean – bringing in salty and humid air.
  • The design for the new Embassy draws inspiration from Islamic architecture, including Chinguetti, a UNESCO World Heritage Site located in central Mauritania. More than half of the entire façade of the new Chancery features a perforated latticework copper, resembling a modern interpretation of a traditional mashrabiya – an element of Arabic architecture dating back to the Middle Ages that provides screening and shading from the harsh desert sun.
  • Copper represents a natural choice as it is one of Mauritania’s leading exports and it is a proven material that can withstand Noukachott’s environmental challenges.
  • A gallery space provides a place for large gatherings, events, lounge areas, and cafeteria seating.
  • Visitors to the Embassy will be invited through a gateway plaza with integrated site lighting, artwork,and plantings. Walkway patterns and stones are based on local textile methods and materials.
  • Construction began in June 2014 and was completed in early 2017.
  • An estimated 600 workers were involved in the construction of the new Embassy.

According to OBO, the new embassy is built for sustainability, and this is well and good, but we often wonder what kind of problems does post get in locating service personnel/contractors for maintenance of these buildings, the wind-powered turbine or even a wastewater treatment plant in country?

  • The new Embassy design is targeting Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design (LEED®) Silver Certification by the U.S. Green Building Council.
  • Emissions-free power is produced from a 185 kilowatt (kW) photovoltaic array, as well as a 50 kW wind turbine – the Department’s first major wind-powered turbine for an American Embassy.
  • The new embassy is projected to reduce energy costs by 30% through light-emitting diode (LED) site lighting; dedicated heat recovery chillers; electric traction elevators; and variable frequency drives from pumps, fans, and motors.
  • Water from an on-site wastewater treatment plant will be reused to irrigate site plantings, which are carefully selected to reduce the required amount of irrigation.

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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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Senate Confirms Callista Gingrich as U.S. Ambassador to the Holy See

Posted: 1:53 am ET
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For a short while on Monday, Callista Gingrich was trending on Twitter. It turned out that the U.S. Senate finally voted on her nomination as U.S. Ambassador to the Vatican. She got the nod in a 70-23 vote. Was there ever any doubt that the U.S. Senate would not confirm the spouse of the former Speaker of the House?

Of course, Twitter blew up when news of her nomination came out, also when she was actually nominated, and when she had her confirmation hearing, and Monday was no different when the Senate finally confirmed her. Given the notoriety of these lovebirds, we suspect that news will follow wherever Ambassador Gingrich and Newt, her husband and former Speaker of the House go. Except now, the Klieg lights will be more intense as she speaks for the United States Government in the Holy See, and as Newt tags along.

Instead of a search result returning “spouse of a U.S. politician”, her Wikipedia page has been updated on the date of her Senate confirmation to indicate that she is the United States Ambassador to the Holy See (Designate), with taking office still marked “TBD.” We can totally understand a woman reinventing herself. She could have asked for any other job in this administration, but she picked a diplomatic post. From now on, she will be known as Ambassador Gingrich, and not just Newt’s third wife. 

Of course, her nomination will be accepted there. Diplomatic courtesy requires that before the United States appoints a new chief of diplomatic mission to represent it in another state, it must be first ascertained whether the proposed appointee –in this case, Mrs. Gingrich — is acceptable to the receiving state, the Holy See. The acquiescence of the Vatican is signified by its granting agrément to the appointment. Her nomination would not have been made public had the Vatican did not find her nomination acceptable. It is unusual for an agrément to be refused, but it occasionally happens, as in the case of the French Ambassador nominee who was reportedly rejected because he was gay.

YOU KNOW WHO ELSE IS BACK? The sharp tongued- Princess Sparkle Pony is on Twitter.

Related posts:

 

@StateDept Cancels Ongoing #DiversityVisa Registration, Launches New Registration Oct.18-Nov.22

Posted: 3:14 pm PT
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On October 12, we blogged that the diversity visa website (https://www.dvlottery.state.gov/) has been down for maintenance since at least Sunday, October 8 (see Diversity Visa Lottery Registration Opens 10/3-11/7 – Site Now Down For Maintenance!). The Bureau of Consular Affairs which runs the program has now put up a new announcement:

With the exception of the notice posted on https://www.dvlottery.state.gov there are no FAQs on the website.  The US Embassy in Ecuador, however, helpfully posted the following FAQ:

Q: What can you tell us about the technical issue? Were entries lost? Was this a hacking attempt?
The technical issue was a failure to properly account for country of eligibility if the entrant was selecting a country of eligibility other than his/her place of birth, which is permitted in certain limited circumstances. This was not a result of any outside interference or hacking attempt.

Q: How many entries had been received before this technical issue?
Due to technical issues, we are unable to reliably estimate how many valid entries were received at this time. In order to protect the integrity of the process and ensure a fair opportunity to all entrants, we are restarting the entry period now.

Q: How many DV entries does the Department expect for DV-2019?
In DV-2018, the last year for which numbers are available, we received more than 14 million entries from principal applicants.

Q: How will the Department notify applicants whose entries are not valid? 

The Department will send an automated email notification to each Diversity Visa entrant from whom an entry was received before October 18, 2017, using the email address provided on the lottery entry form, directing the entrant to check the website dvlottery.state.gov for an important announcement.  We will also work through our embassies and consulates to inform potential entrants of the situation and new registration period using social media and local media outlets.

Since this program, presumably was the same program used in last year’s lottery, why would the “technical issue” that failed “to properly account for country of eligibility if the entrant was selecting a country of eligibility other than his/her place of birth” only surface now?  Did CA switched contractor between last year and this year’s lottery roll out? Did contractor perform system programming change after the last lottery but before the current one opened on October 3, 2017?

What we don’t understand is if this is a technical issue now, why was this not a technical issue last year if they’re using the same program?

This is not the first time that a “technical issue” happened with diversity visa lottery program.

We were reminded recently that the May 2015 DV lottery site crashed when people were trying to check lottery results. But the really big one happened much earlier in 2011 when Consular Affairs ran the FY2012 lottery, and it turned out the lottery results were not even random, so CA had to nullify the visa lottery results and ran the lottery again.  The nullification resulted in a lawsuit against the Department of State. That lawsuit was eventually dismissed by the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia on July 14, 2011.

The State/OIG did review that FY2012 DV debacle, and since we’re not clear how the current technical issue occurred, we’ll revisit the 2011 case:

The OIG team found three problems that led to this failure, all of which stem from the lack of adherence to sound project management and systems development principles. First, CA’s Office of Consular Systems and Technology (CST) implemented a system programming change without performing adequate testing. Second, CST changed contract task orders without notifying the Office of Acquisition Management (AQM). Third, CST management failed to adequately discuss the changes with all stakeholders and thus did not fully understand how overseas consular officers administer the DV program.

Also this:

The primary reason for the DV 2012 program failure was that CST did not adequately test the new computer program for the random selection of potential DV program participants. Section 203(c) of the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA), as amended,3 limits the number of DVs that may be available by both region and country. Therefore, 22 CFR § 42.33(c) requires that selection be based on random rank-ordering of participants by region through a computer program designed for this purpose. When participants submit their records, the computer program assigns a sequential number to each record based on the participant’s region. Subsequently, the selection process uses the sequential numbers to randomly rank-order the participants’ records. CST management decided in November 2010 not to use the commercial off—the—shelf statistics analysis program that it had used successfully for random rank—ordering in numerous previous years. Instead, CST management asked one of its contractors to develop a program. This new computer program had a coding error that produced a nonrandom rank-ordering and thus failed to meet INA requirements. The program not only selected 98 percent of the applicants from the first two dates of the allowed submission dates, it also selected multiple individuals from the same families.

According to CST management and the contractor staff who developed the new DV computer program, testing scenarios were limited to validating that all geographic regions were assigned the correct numerical limitation and that the total number of selectees to be drawn was accurate. In addition, the development, testing, and production implementation of the program were done exclusively by one contracting company that, due to poor planning and failure to consult with all DV stakeholders, did not have adequate information to create a complete test plan for the computer program. Key stakeholders such as CST’s independent validation and verification team, the Visa Office, and the contractor that operated and managed the legacy computer program were not involved in planning and implementing the new computer program.
[…]
Principals in the Visa Office were not aware that changes had been made to the computer program until after it failed and the results had to be voided. CST management further stated that it is not clear to them which office is responsible for administering the DV program.

Read the full report here: https://oig.state.gov/system/files/176330.pdf.

So again, did the Consular Affairs contractor perform system programming changes after last year’s lottery but before the current one opened on the 3rd of October?

If that did not happen, and CA is using the same system, how did CA principals become aware that the system is failing “to properly account for country of eligibility if the entrant was selecting a country of eligibility other than his/her place of birth?”

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