PSA For New Ambassadors Preparing to Ditch Their DCMs, Yo – Be Careful What You Wish For

Posted: 1:53 am ET

 

Remember in 2011 when we posted about the search queries in our blog for “Ambassador window of time to ask DCM to leave” and “When can the ambassador ask the DCM to leave”? (see Which Ambassador is planning to unload his/her DCM shortly and other curtailment news).

The Ambassador-DCM relationship is among the most important in determining the success of a diplomatic mission. At some point if it doesn’t work, a former DCM and now retired FSO who spoke from experience told us, “it’s better to move on.”  But that’s altogether different from not even giving the new working relationship a chance to work.

We have it in good authority that a reminder is needed about tossing out a deputy ambassador without considering the consequences. Below is a post from 2011 that we are reposting as a Public Service Announcement for the newbies:

In diplo-speak, the query is about curtailment which means shortening an employee’s tour of duty from his or her assignment. It may include the employee’s immediate departure from a bureau or post.  In this instance, possibly that of the deputy chief of mission in some unknown embassy (where about a third of total posts are encumbered by political ambassadors).

The Foreign Affairs Manual, fondly known as the FAM says that curtailment is an assignment action, not a disciplinary one. Ha-ha! Oops, did I laugh out loud? Hookay, it may not be a disciplinary one but it follows the employee around, kind of like a dark cloud that follows Eeyore all over the place.

Now on to the law of unintended consequences —

Remember the U.S. Ambassador to Denmark who according to the OIG report asked her DCM to leave post in January 2010?  That resulted in a DCM staffing gap of 9 months. That’s 270 days where the chief of mission (that is, the ambassador) even with an acting DCM may be forced to function as her/his own executive officer dealing with the nuts and bolts of running an embassy.

The regs says that the ambassador can initiate an involuntary curtailment, which gives the chief of mission wide authority over this matter.  In fact, one political ambassador went though five DCMs during his tenure as George W’s ambo in paradise. The whole two Bush terms. We even wrote a tanka about it.  Another political ambassador went through seven permanent and temporary DCMs in less than one presidential term.  Only one served more than six months! That one deserves a super tanka, I know, just haven’t got around to writing it.

Anyway, kicking out the embassy’s #2 officer may seem easy enough – he/she is not your relative and the USG pays for him/her to be relocated elsewhere but we must point out something kinda important here. See, State Department assignments are usually arranged so that folks have assignments a year before they move or rotate to their new posts. Which means, when the chief of mission unloads a staffer, particularly in the higher ranks, there isn’t anyone waiting in the wings to take over at a moment’s notice. Except sometimes, the mothership sends in a retired Foreign Service Office to be temp DCM. Which is fine and all, except what happens if you don’t like him/her, too? I imagine that’s how you could end up as a record holder of sorts or in the top list of folks who should get Bob Sutton’s book for Christmas. And that’s not something you really want to hang on your wall next to that stuffed moose head, trust me.

So like Eminem sings it —

….be careful what you wish for

cause you just might get it and if you get it

then you just might not know what to do wit’ it ….

You’re welcome!

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@StateDept Appoints Andrew Schofer as U.S. Co-Chair of the OSCE Minsk Group #NagornoKarabakh

Posted: 12:06 am  ET
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On August 28, the State Department announced the appointment of career diplomat Andrew Schofer to be the next U.S. Co-Chair of the OSCE Minsk Group.

The United States is pleased to announce the appointment of Mr. Andrew Schofer as the next U.S. Co-Chair of the OSCE Minsk Group for Nagorno-Karabakh. Mr. Schofer brings extensive experience in Europe and International Organizations to the position, and most recently served as Chargé d’ Affaires, a.i. for the U.S. Mission to International Organizations in Vienna (UNVIE). From August 2015 until January 2017, he served as the Deputy Chief of Mission at UNVIE. From August 2014 to August 2015, he served as the Counselor for IAEA Affairs at UNVIE. Prior to his assignments in Vienna, Mr. Schofer served as Deputy Chief of Mission at the U.S. Embassy in Nicosia, Cyprus from 2011 to 2014, and has also worked overseas at the U.S. Embassies in Kuwait City, Kuwait; Manama, Bahrain; and Moscow, Russia. Mr. Schofer’s Washington assignments included postings on the Iraq Desk in the Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs, and as Special Assistant to the Under Secretary for Political Affairs, where he was primarily responsible for the Middle East and Counterterrorism portfolios.

The United States remains firmly committed to the Minsk Group Process and helping the sides reach a lasting and peaceful settlement to the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. As expressed in the June 19 and July 6 statements, the United States supports a just settlement that must be based on international law, which includes the Helsinki Final Act; in particular, the principles of non-use of force, territorial integrity, and self-determination. Andrew Schofer looks forward to helping the sides achieve this goal.

We have informed the governments of Armenia and Azerbaijan of Andrew Schofer’s appointment. Andrew Schofer will assume his new position effective immediately.

 

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Burn Bag: A DCM Gets Kicked Out For Sexual Harassment

Via Burn Bag:

The DCM at a large post was kicked out for sexual harassment.  This was a long time coming so big props to whoever caused powers that be to take the problem seriously.  But the bigger question remains – how does someone who has existed on a diet of inappropriate and abuse (sic) behavior for years get selected to lead this mission?  Shouldn’t a couple EEO complaints trigger some more expansive 360s?

srene

 

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Related posts:

 

 

 

@StateDept Updates FAM For Reporting Domestic Violence — See What’s Missing?

Posted: 12:19 am ET
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We recently blogged about a diplomat from the Permanent Mission of Germany to the United Nations in New York who is accused of punching his wife but is shielded from arrest by diplomatic immunity (see Manhattan DA Wants Diplomatic Immunity For UN German Diplomat Revoked). How do diplomatic missions handle cases of domestic abuse? According to the AP, the German Foreign Ministry spokesman declined to comment on the allegations and said he wasn’t aware of any request to lift the diplomat’s immunity.

In July 2016, the State Department updated its Foreign Affairs Manual for reporting domestic violence. First, let’s note that the words used in this update is not/not “must” which is mandatory but “should” which simply implies recommendation and advice. “Any person who suspects an employee is involved in domestic violence should report such information…”  Also, let’s note that if the initial report is substantiated, all eight possible actions cited in the updated regs uses the word “may,” which means they’re all recommended optional actions.  For instance, if a report is substantiated, Diplomatic Security “may” refer information to the Bureau of Human Resources (HR) for disciplinary action. Or it may not.

Second, according to 3 FAM 1810,  the Chief of Mission or Principal Officer overseas is responsible for designating a family advocacy officer (FAO) at post, normally the deputy chief of mission (DCM), or the second-in-command at posts where there is no DCM.  Here’s a question: What happens if the perpetrator of domestic violence is the Chief of Mission or the Principal Officer? The DCM, who reports to the ambassador, picks up the phone and convenes the family advocacy team at post which includes the Foreign Service Medical Officer (FSMO), and the Regional Security Officer (RSO). Then one of them calls up the State Department to report the abusive ambassador because the regs say they should?  (Apparently, although not listed, the Regional Medical Officer/Psychiatrist (RMO/P) could also be part of the advocacy team at post).

A DCM would not wash his/her hands on something disgraceful as this, would he/would she? The Medical Officer would not suddenly go on vacation somewhere, right? It would not take um … weeks for Foggy Bottom’s Family Advocacy Committee to provide guidance to post, right?

And, of course, the embassy’s family advocacy folks would protect the ambassador’s spouse because it’s the right thing to do, RIGHT?

Domestic violence affects all people regardless of age, socio-economic status, sexual orientation, gender, race, religion, or nationality. Despite what you might think, the Foreign Service is not an exception.  Physical violence is often accompanied by emotionally abusive and controlling behavior as part of a much larger, systematic pattern of dominance and control. Domestic violence can result not only in physical injury but also psychological trauma, even death.

And yet, the Foreign Affairs Manual appears to be written by folks who could not seem to contemplate that a chief of mission (COM) can cause physical and mental injury to his/her spouse.  Embassies are not democracies; this FAM update offers no protection to the spouse of the most senior official at an embassy. Its language is all bark, and the bite for everyone else — like most things in the Foreign Service —  falls into the “it depends” bucket.

Below is an excerpt from the FAM:

3 FAM 1815  DOMESTIC VIOLENCE
3 FAM 1815.1  Reporting Domestic Violence
(CT:PER-824;   07-19-2016)
(Uniform State/USAID/Commerce/USDA/and Other Participating Agencies)
(Applies to All Civil Service Employees, Foreign Service Employees, and Locally Employed Staff)

a. Domestic violence can often involve criminal misconduct (e.g., assault, battery, rape) and the Department considers it notoriously disgraceful conduct (see 3 FAM 4139.14).  As such, it is grounds for taking disciplinary action against an employee.  Any supervisor or other management official who is aware of incidents or allegations, which may serve as grounds for disciplinary action against an employee, is responsible for taking action on or reporting such incidents or allegations (see 3 FAM 4322.1).

b. In cases where there is evidence or allegations of criminal misconduct, as noted in paragraph a of this section, the Office of Special Investigations(DS/DO/OSI) will coordinate with the Department of Justice and/or U.S. Attorney’s office to determine if the actions reported warrant criminal prosecution.

c.   At post, any person who suspects an employee is involved in domestic violence should report such information to the family advocacy officer (FAO) at post.  The FAO must take the actions required by this section.

d. At the Department locations in the United States, any person who suspects an employee is involved in domestic violence should report such information to DS/DO/OSI.

3 FAM 1815.2  Post Action and Department Guidance
(CT:PER-824;   07-19-2016)
(Uniform State/USAID/Commerce/USDA/and Other Participating Agencies)
(Applies to All Civil Service Employees, Foreign Service Employees, and Locally Employed Staff)

a. Upon receiving a report or obtaining information pertaining to a suspected case of domestic violence, the family advocacy officer (FAO) must immediately consult with the family advocacy team at post.  The family advocacy team must immediately assess and address any health and safety concerns for the victim and the victim’s children, if any.  Where necessary, promptly schedule with the Foreign Service medical officer (FSMO) medical and/or mental health examinations and/or consultations for persons covered under the Department’s medical program.  Prompt and accurate recording of medical information, interviews and, when possible, the collection of physical evidence and photographs documenting physical injuries is critical in all cases.

b. A member of the family advocacy team must immediately contact the Office of Special Investigations (DS/DO/OSI) telephonically and provide, normally within 24 hours, an initial written report containing available information.  The Bureau of Diplomatic Security (DS) is to share such information with the Family Advocacy Committee.

c.  The Family Advocacy Committee assesses the information and provides guidance to post.  Each case of suspected domestic violence must be handled on a case-by-case basis, depending upon the nature of the allegations.  If the initial report is unsubstantiated or if the allegations do not constitute domestic violence, no further action is required.  The matter is considered closed and the files are annotated accordingly.

d. If the initial report is substantiated, action may include one or more of the following:

(1)  Post may call upon local authorities or resources in certain cases;

(2)  DS may dispatch an investigative team to post, and a criminal investigation may be undertaken;

(3)  DS may coordinate with the cognizant legal authorities about prosecution of the case;

(4)  Post may be asked to conduct follow-up inquiries and interviews;

(5)  Post may be asked to call upon shelter and child protection resources or find alternative shelter within the post community for the victim and any children;

(6)  The FSMO may be asked to determine whether counseling or other medical services are needed and recommend a treatment plan.  If required treatment is not available at post, medical evacuation or curtailment of the employee may be considered or ordered;

(7)  The Family Advocacy Committee may coordinate referrals to crime victim assistance programs specializing in domestic violence and crime victim compensation programs; and

(8)  DS may refer information to the Bureau of Human Resources (HR) for disciplinary action.

Per 3 FAM 1810 domestic violence is any act or threat of imminent violence against a victim (other than a child) that results or threatens to result in physical or mental injury to the victim that is committed by a: (1)  Spouse or former spouse of the victim; (2)  Person with whom the victim shares a child in common; (3)  Person who is co-habitating with or has co-habitated with the victim; (4)  Person residing in the household; or (5)  Any person who has a relationship with the victim and has access to the victim’s household.

Below is Leslie Morgan Steiner talking about “crazy love” via TED — that is, madly in love with a man who routinely abused her and threatened her life. Steiner tells the story of her relationship, correcting misconceptions many people hold about victims of domestic violence, and explaining how we can all help break the silence.

 

Related items:

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Whoa! What happened to these Foreign Service Grievance Board (FSGB) files? (Updated)

Posted: 3:26 am ET
Updated: 2:53 pm PT (see below)
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An interesting excerpt from an FSGB case:

Grievant “contends that she should not be held to a higher stand (sic) than senior Department officials and a DCM. In two of those cases, very high-ranking officials were found to have been less than candid with the Deputy Secretary of State about their relationships and not to have followed his instructions to “knock it off.””
[…]
FSGB: “However, we find it difficult to conclude that she should be held to a standard higher than that imposed on two of the Department’s most senior managers (Employees 2005-103 and 2005-104), who were both charged, unlike grievant, with lack of candor; who failed to heed direct instructions from the Deputy Secretary of State; and whose conduct led to several complaints being lodged with the Director General of the Foreign Service, as well as curtailments from the office in which they worked. Likewise, we do not agree that grievant, an FS-02, should be punished more harshly than the employee charged in FSGB Case No. 2003- 045, who was, at least during part of the conduct at issue, a Deputy Chief of Mission and thus presumably senior to grievant in the instant case, in both rank and responsibility.”

That perked our interest. So we went looking for FSGB cases 2005-103, 2005-104 and FSGB Case No.2003- 045 using the search and browse function at fsgb.gov.  And lo, and behold, all these files (Record of Proceeding) are missing from the FSGB website (the FSGB case is online, but search function failed to locate it, see explanation below).  We’ve asked the FSGB what happened to these files and why they are not online. We will update this post if/when we get a response.

The Deputy Secretary of State in 2005 is either Richard Armitage who served from March 26, 2001 to February 22, 2005 or Robert Zoellick who served from February 22, 2005 to July 7, 2006, both under President George W. Bush. The Director General of the Foreign Service at that time is W. Robert Pearson who served from October 7, 2003 – February 27, 2006.

Update 2:53 pm PT

In response to our query, FSGB said that the first two numbers we cited (Employees 2005-103 and 2005-104) are not FSGB numbers but numbers assigned by the State Department to employees who faced some sort of discipline; these discipline cases were later presented to the Foreign Service Grievance Board as comparators.  The FSGB website only includes decisions and orders from the Board. It adds:

“We try to post all our decisions and orders online. Sometimes we learn something was missed due to an administrative error, and then we post it as soon as possible when the problem is brought to our attention. We also are reviewing each year’s cases systematically to ensure there are no gaps. We welcome your bringing to our attention any gaps you identify. Please note, however, that a skipped number does not necessarily mean there is something that we are not posting; it could mean that an appeal was withdrawn very early or consolidated with another appeal and given the other appeal’s number before issuance of a decision.”

As to FSGB Case No. 2003-045, it is online and the Board provided us the link here

 

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Related item:
State-13: Foreign Service Grievance Board Records

 

 

 

U.S. Embassy Minsk: A Visit to the Chernobyl Alienation Zone in Gomel Oblast

Posted: 2:59 am ET
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Next week the world will mark the 30th year since the Chernobyl disaster, a catastrophic nuclear accident that occurred on April 26, 1986 at the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant in the town of Pripyat, in Ukraine. From 1986 to 2000, 350,400 people were reportedly evacuated and resettled from the most severely contaminated areas of Belarus, Russia, and Ukraine. About 60% of the fallout is said to have landed in Belarus.

Via: The Chernobyl nuclear power plant is located ten kilometers from the border with Belarus. This neighborhood has identified extremely high pollution southern areas of Belarus by radioactive materials that were released from the destroyed nuclear reactor in 1996. Almost from the first day of the accident republic territory contaminated by fallout from that April 27 was extremely intense. By April 29 the wind bore radioactive dust from Chernobyl in Belarus and Russia. Due to heavy contamination was evacuated 24,725 people from the Belarusian villages and three districts of the Republic of Belarus was declared mandatory exclusion zone.

Click here to see the map of the predictive contamination in Belarus from 1986 until 2046.

From U.S. Embassy Minsk’s historical photos:

Screen Shot 2016-03-23

Deputy Chief of Mission Constance Phlipot visits the Chernobyl alienation zone in Gomel Oblast. February 2005

We should note the following about the US presence in Belarus via US Embassy Minsk: Due to restrictions imposed unilaterally by the Belarusian Government in 2008 on the number of U.S. diplomats allowed in Minsk, the American Embassy was forced to reduce its staff from 35 to five diplomats as well as withdraw its Ambassador. The number of U.S. diplomats was later increased to six in July 2014. The imposed reduction in staff has greatly impeded the Embassy’s ability to carry out mutually beneficial diplomatic programs and activities, including cultural and educational exchanges, assistance programs, and visa services.

 

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U.S. Embassy Havana: Post of the Hour Until POTUS is Wheel’s Up

Posted: 3:09 am EDT
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Via @USEmbCuba

The United States established diplomatic relations with the Republic of Cuba in 1902, opening the first U.S. Embassy in Havana in 1923.  The Embassy was closed in 1961 when the United States severed diplomatic relations.  During President Carter’s administration in 1977, the United States and Cuba signed an agreement establishing the U.S. Interests Section (USINT) in Havana, and the Cuban Interests Section in Washington, DC.  Under the formal protection of the Embassy of Switzerland, USINT operated out of the former U.S. Embassy building, which first opened in 1953.  On December 17, 2014, President Obama announced the intention to re-establish diplomatic relations with Cuba.  After six months of negotiations, the two nations officially renewed diplomatic relations on July 20, 2015, and USINT became U.S. Embassy Havana.

Photo from US Embassy Havana/FB

¡Feliz Día Internacional de la Mujer! Photo from US Embassy Havana/FB

Ambassador Jeffrey DeLaurentis (front row, right on couch) is a career member of the Senior Foreign Service, and the Chargé d’Affaires at the U.S. Embassy in Havana, Cuba.  Prior to taking up this position in August 2014, Ambassador DeLaurentis served for three years as the Alternate Representative for Special Political Affairs at the U.S. Mission to the United Nations.  Prior to that posting, he was Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for the Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs.

Scott Hamilton (front row, left on couch) is a career member of the Senior Foreign Service who assumed his current position as Deputy Chief of Mission at the U.S. Embassy in Havana on July 20, 2015.

ADST writes that one of the most daunting and stressful tasks a Foreign Service Officer abroad can face is supporting a visit by the President of the United States:

Concerns about security, cultural sensitivities, press coverage and political effectiveness turn such events into an all-encompassing, embassy-wide obsession from the day the idea of the visit is floated until “Wheels Up” when Air Force One departs. There’s plenty of drama, bruised egos, hurry-up-and-wait, and silliness in the planning and implementation of such a visit. The outcome can make or break a career.  A mark of a great FSO is the ability to support a presidential visit while maintaining a sense of courtesy and good humor, especially when demands from everyone from the pre-advance team to the press pool verge on the ridiculous.

And what do you do when the White House press advance team is “as prickly as a hedgehog?”  Click here and read more: What Goes on Behind the Scenes When POTUS Comes to Town.

President Obama arrived at Jose Marti International Airport in Havana on Sunday, March 20, 4:50 p.m  and did a meet-and-greet at U.S. Embassy at 5:50 p.m.

Schedule for POTUS on Monday, March 21 (via usatoday):

• Wreath-laying and tour at the José Marti Memorial, 10:20 a.m.
• Official welcoming ceremony, Palace of the Revolution, 11 a.m.
• One-on-one meeting with Cuban President Raul Castro, 11:30 a.m.
• Expanded meeting between U.S. and Cuban officials, 1 p.m.
• Statements to the press by Presidents Obama and Castro, 1:50 p.m.
• Entrepreneurship summit, 3:45 p.m.
• State Dinner at the Palace of the Revolution, 7:25 p.m.

For Tuesday, March 22:

• Address to the Cuban people at El Gran Teatro de Havana, morning
• Meeting with dissidents and civil society leaders, morning
• Baseball have between the Tampa Bay Rays at Cuban National Team at Estadio Latinoamericano, 2 p.m.
• Departure from Jose Marti International Airport en route to Buenos Aires, Argentina, afternoon

 

 

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What happens when you contravene the worldwide nonimmigrant visa referral policy? It depends.

Posted: 4:08  am EDT
Updated: 2:29 pm EDT
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Our State Department friends have a favorite response to most questions. “It depends.”

About 10 years ago, State/OIG conducted a review of the Visa Referral Process in Nonimmigrant Visa Adjudication.

By law neither an ambassador nor a DCM can direct a consular officer to issue a particular visa. Even the Secretary of State has no authority to override a consular officer’s deci­ sion, pursuant to the Immigration and Nationality Act, 8 USC 1104. Recognizing the importance of the visa process both as a bilateral diplomatic issue and as a legitimate diplomatic tool for achieving U.S. aims, and considering the importance of providing as much information as possible to consular officers, the Department has long understood the need for a policy and system to allow all elements of the mission to benefit from the visa system and to protect consular officers from inappropriate pressure. After September 11, 2001, this system has been signifi­ cantly strengthened.
[…]
Based on the results of the survey, observations in the field, and discussions in Washington, OIG concluded that most ambassadors and DCMs appear to under­ stand the importance of their personal oversight of the referral system and that there are serious repercussions, including removal from post, in the most egregious cases of abuse. While Department oversight of referral systems is important, entrusting chiefs of mission with local supervision and responsibility is still appro­ priate and necessary, just as the Department entrusts chiefs of mission with the lives of all employees and dependents in their missions, the management of top secret information, and the conduct of key bilateral relations with the host country.
[…]
Clearly most missions’ front offices are overseeing the referral system as intended by the Department, sometimes after a little persuasion. For example, an officer at a post that was having problems said, “Our recent OIG inspection was helpful in making the front office realize the impact of their interventions with us and the appearance of undue influence. Despite our education of the front office, they have been incredulous that their good causes may pose us problems under the law.” One of the areas of emphasis for OIG inspection teams is border security readiness, which includes oversight of the referral program.

The survey, however, did reveal some disillusionment with the available recourses in those instances when the front office was itself exerting undue influ­ence. One officer at a post in the Near East said, “In general the consular section feels pressure to act simply as a rubber stamp to visa referrals by chiefs of section and above.” Another stated,“The front office is the only section that has ever tried to influence decisions in referral cases. If I were to refuse the case, then I would be hurt in the employee evaluation report (EER) process as my rater is the DCM and the Ambassador is the reviewing officer.”

It’s an instructive read from 2005, see in full here (PDF).

Let’s fast forward to two cases in 2015 specifically mentioned by State/OIG. The following is from the State/OIG inspection report of the U.S. Embassy in Tajikistan (PDF). The IG report lists Susan M. Elliott as COM, and Robert G. Burgess as DCM.

The Offices of Visa Services and Fraud Prevention Programs, the Consular Integrity Division, and the front office of the Bureau of Consular Affairs all expressed concern about the embassy’s contravention of the worldwide visa referral policy. In the latter half of 2013, the Ambassador in seven cases and the DCM in two cases contravened the worldwide nonimmigrant visa referral policy by submitting noncompliant referrals and improperly advocating for issuance.

Complications arising from noncompliance with the policy led to deteriorating relations between the consular officer and other embassy offices, perceptions of intimidation and isolation, and increased involvement of and intervention by various offices in the Bureau of Consular Affairs. In response to revised guidance from the Bureau of Consular Affairs on referral policy, dated January 13, 2014, Embassy Dushanbe issued a management notice on January 17, 2014. On October 15 and 17, 2014, the embassy conducted briefings for referring officers and obtained current compliance agreements reflecting the revised policy guidance. The OIG team met with the front office and the consular officer, and they confirm that they understand and are committed to continuing to comply with the policy going forward.

How is it that this consular officer did not get the Barbara Watson Award for demonstrating courage?

C’mon!

The “Worldwide Visa Referral Policy Problems” below is from the State/OIG report of the U.S. Embassy in Armenia (see PDF). According to the IG report, the ambassador at that time was John Heffern:

In at least 15 documented cases, the Ambassador contravened the worldwide nonimmigrant visa referral policy (9 FAM Appendix K, Exhibit I) by contacting the consular chief to communicate information about visa applicants instead of providing referral forms for the applicants. The referral policy states, “Referrals are the only allowed mechanism to advocate for or assist visa applicants prior to visa adjudication.” Some of the cases involved previously refused applicants. Referral policy permits requesting assistance via referral on behalf of previously refused applicants only in extremely limited circumstances. Few, if any, of the violations involved applicants who would have been eligible for visa referrals. The consular chief did not take adequate steps to stop the Ambassador’s inappropriate communications or to report them to the Department, as required by Department referral polices.
[…]
The embassy provides no formal, detailed briefing (“referral school”) as recommended in the worldwide policy. The consular chief gives informal referral briefings on an individual basis to new arrivals at the embassy. Lack of a formal understanding of the referral policy and process can cause misunderstanding or abuse.

Wow! And the consular section chief got harshly treated by the … the um alphabet, which did not quite line up to say he/she was at fault but you get the idea.

It is not clear what kind of repercussions are suffered by chiefs of mission who contraven the worldwide nonimmigrant visa referral policy.   According to a FAM update last November 2015, Consular Affairs has now added a NIV Referral Program Ombudsman (see 9 FAM 601.8-8(C).

Oh, wait, there’s more.

There’s an FSGB case where an FP-03 Diplomatic Security (DS) Special Agent (SA) with the Department of State (Department) was warned that there were strict prohibitions against anyone attempting to influence the visa process. The State Department later proposed to suspend him for four days on a charge of Misuse of Position. The proposal was sustained by the Grievance Board on March 3, 2015.

On October 5, 2010, a family friend of his (REDACTED), a (REDACTED) national, applied for a B1/B2 non-immigrant visa at the U.S. Embassy in REDACTED. His stated purpose for the visa request was to visit with grievant in the U.S.  When the application was denied, grievant sent an email on that same date from his State Department account to REDACTED, the Deputy Consular Section Chief in REDACTED voicing his disappointment that his friend’s visa application had been turned down. In the email, grievant asked for assistance, provided additional information on behalf of his friend and cited his own experience as a DS officer who had collaborated with consular officials investigating fraud cases. All of grievant’s emails contained his electronic signature and identified him as “Special Agent, REDACTED, U.S. Department of State, Bureau of Diplomatic Security.” In response to this email, re-interviewed and approved his visa application. REDACTED subsequently visited grievant in the US.

To make the long story short, grievant was investigated (PDF) by DS for his efforts to procure visa approvals for his friend.

The Department reviewed the DS report of investigation (ROI) and determined that between 2010 and 2012, grievant used official communication channels to contact consular officials in the U.S. Embassy in and identified himself as a DS Special Agent in order to influence favorable decisions on visa applications submitted by his friend. On December 2, 2014, grievant received notice of the Department’s proposal to suspend him for four days on a charge of Misuse of Position. The proposal was sustained on March 3, 2015.

So. Right.

It depends.

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State/OIG Inspects US Mission Japan: Oh, Heck, Where Do We Start?

Posted: 1:35 pm EDT
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State/OIG released it inspection report of the U.S. Embassy in Tokyo and its constituent posts.  The OIG made 65 recommendations intended to improve Embassy Tokyo’s operations and programs.  Mission Japan is headed by Ambassador Caroline Kennedy who arrived in November 2013, and her DCM,  Jason P. Hyland who arrived in June 2014. Mr. Hyland’s predecessor is not named in the report. Prior to this inspection, US Mission Japan was last reviewed in early 2008, and a report was issued in June 2008 (link to that report at the bottom of this post).

US Embassy Japan from diplomacy.state.gov

Let’s start with the key findings:

 The Department of State has not addressed security problems, including vulnerabilities which the Office of Inspector General identified in previous inspection reports.

 The role and authorities of the Ambassador’s chief of staff are not clearly defined, leading to confusion among staff as to her level of authority, and her role in internal embassy communications.

 The embassy’s focus on daily reporting of political and economic developments comes at the expense of building a broad network of contacts and providing in-depth analysis for policy formulation.

 The embassy is not coordinating reporting and diplomatic engagement across the mission. Constituent posts in Sapporo, Nagoya and Osaka-Kobe need to be brought up to the high standards set by posts in Fukuoka and Naha.

 The level of U.S. direct-hire staffing in the embassy’s political, economic, and consular sections is greater than workload warrants.

 The public affairs section faces major management challenges, but has begun to focus on educational exchanges and staffing adjustments to cope with the high visitor load and public outreach needs.

 American Presence Post Nagoya should cease offering routine consular services; consular operations in Fukuoka and Sapporo are inefficient.

 Although the embassy’s management section has made significant progress on cost containment, senior managers should pay greater attention to management controls over travel and official residence allowances.

 Office of Inspector General inspectors identified $122,665 in cost savings and $2,331,787 in funds put to better use during the inspection.

Overview of the mission:

Mission Japan is one of the U.S. Department of State’s (Department) most important missions in terms of its size and the U.S. interests for which it is responsible. The mission includes 13 U.S. Government agencies and 5 constituent posts: consulates general in Osaka-Kobe and Naha, consulates in Sapporo and Fukuoka, and an American Presence Post1 in Nagoya. The mission also includes the Foreign Service Institute language school in Yokohama. Headquarters of U.S. Forces Japan are located nearby at Yokota Air Base, and various U.S. military commands are located throughout the mainland and on Okinawa. The mission has 272 U.S. direct-hire employees and total employment of 727. In FY 2014, total funding for the mission, including other agencies, was $93.6 million. U.S. direct-hire employees were receiving a 25- to 35-percent cost-of-living allowance based on location at the time of the inspection.

Now, the good news:

  • Good Scores for Ethics | The Ambassador has made clear to the bureau’s executive office, the management officers at Embassy Tokyo, and her front office staff that she wants all her activities to be conducted in accordance with U.S. Government regulations. This was borne out by the fact that the highest score she received from staff members who completed a personal questionnaire was for her ethical behavior.
  • Hague Convention Accession | Japan is second only to Mexico in the number of children abducted from the United States. Japan’s accession to The Hague Convention on International Parental Child Abduction in 2014 was a significant development, due in no small part to Embassy Tokyo’s efforts to encourage Japan to join.
  • EFM Employment | A de facto work agreement with the Government of Japan allows family members to apply for work permits with strict rules governing employment. Twenty-seven eligible family members are employed inside the mission, and 34 eligible family members are employed outside the mission, mostly as English teachers.
  • RSO:  The Tokyo regional security office is responsible for the security and emergency preparedness of a large geographically dispersed diplomatic mission. In discussions and interviews with embassy staff members, the OIG team was told repeatedly that the regional security office is responsive to their needs. Accomplishments of the senior regional security officer include reinvigorating the law enforcement working group, updating and drafting missing or outdated security policies, and implementing modifications to the local guard contract that save the Department approximately $230,000 annually. The regional security office staff uniformly describes the senior regional security officer as a good mentor and communicator.
  • Cost Containment: In 2014, to contain cost, the embassy transferred 70 percent of its voucher processing to the Department’s regional voucher processing center. The cost to process a voucher in Japan is three times higher than at the regional center. The transfer resulted in the elimination of at least two voucher examiner positions.

And the not so good news, oh where do we start?

  • Leadership | A non-career Ambassador with wide experience in nongovernmental and publishing industries leads Embassy Tokyo. She sees the strengthening of mutual understanding between the Japanese and the American people and the deepening of the security alliance as her prime responsibilities. The Ambassador does not have extensive experience leading and managing an institution the size of the U.S. Mission to Japan. She relies upon two key senior staff members—her non-career chief of staff and a career Senior Foreign Service deputy chief of mission (DCM)—to make sure that Embassy Tokyo and its constituent posts receive the resources and guidance they need to conduct day-to-day operations. The chief of staff, who has extensive experience in public relations and has worked with the Ambassador over a period of years, organizes special projects for the Ambassador, coordinates functions within the embassy, and oversees embassy staff interactions with the Ambassador. The DCM, who arrived in Tokyo 6 months before the start of the onsite inspection process, focuses on internal management of the embassy and coordination with the constituent posts.
  • Communication Between the Front Office and Embassy Sections Needs Improvement.
  • High Visibility Ambassador Puts a Strain on Some Embassy Elements
  • Role of Chief of Staff Needs Refinement
  • The Deputy Chief of Mission Should be More Proactive in Exercising Leadership

The leadership section does not include discussion on training, mentoring, and professional development of First and Second Tour (FAST) officers, or mission morale. The report says that “four of seven officers in the public affairs section assigned to Tokyo have left post before their tour end date.”  There’s a term for that; it’s called curtailment.  A non-career chief of staff, a PR person, who has a large sway in the functioning of this embassy is not named in this report.  And just before the arrival of the inspectors, the front office apparently had made some headway on improving communication by holding a town hall meeting to unveil the revised memo outlining the activities the Ambassador would undertake. The report is not clear if this is the ambassador’s first town hall meeting with embassy staff.

Political Section:

  • Minister Counselor Positions Under-Ranked
  • Economic Section Has Too Many Supervisors
  • Economic Section Portfolios Organized Poorly
  • Excess Staff in the Political and Economic Sections
  • Law Enforcement Working Group Lacks Political Context

Econ Section

  • Reporting and Advocacy Needed on Structural Reform
  • Economic Section Not Keeping Proper Records and Files
  • Embassy Tokyo does not have a current records management policy and does not enforce Department and Federal regulations on records management.

  • The economic section’s reporting relies heavily on media sources. On some policy developments, the OIG team found that embassy reporting did not add value to more timely reporting by the international press. Reporting was mostly single-sourced and did not evidence a range of contacts among Japanese business leaders, legislators or staff, political parties, academia, or other economic leaders or decision makers, as intended by 2 FAM 113.1 c (10) and (11).

Consular Section

  • Consular Officer Staffing Is Excessive
  • No Coordination of Consular Social Media
  • Inefficient Consular Operations in Fukuoka and Sapporo

Note that citizens of some countries including Japan, who are traveling to the U.S. for 90 days less for business or tourism may not need a visa as they are eligible for the Visa Waiver Program (VWP). This report says that Tokyo’s consular section, with 14 officers, has more officer positions than other consular operations of similar workload, with a high proportion of managers to entry-level officers.

Management Section:

  • Inconsistencies in Billing Methods Creates Confusion
  • Cashiering Violation and Fiscal Irregularity
  • Class B Cashier’s Cash Advance is Excessive
  • Salaries Inappropriately Paid Directly to Official Residence Expense Staff (this is a pretty common subject in OIG reports)
  • Position Descriptions Are Inaccurate
  • Delays in Processing Within-Grade Increases
  • In-House Post Language Program Is Not Cost Effective
  • No In-House Equal Employment Opportunity Training Provided to Staff
  • Allegations of Sexual Harassment Not Reported to the Office of Civil Rights
  • Unauthorized Use of Motor Pool Shuttle Services
  • Living Quarters Allowance Not in Compliance with the Foreign Affairs Manual
  • No Emergency Backup Generators at Some Constituent Posts
  • The Department’s Office of Fire Safety conducted visits in 2014. The report identified 83 deficiencies of which the mission has corrected 53.
  • Locally Developed Software Applications Not in Compliance
  • Emergency Communication Does Not Meet Department Standards
  • No Logs of Network Maintenance
  • Premium Class Train Travel Policy Does Not Comply with Department Regulations
  • Extra Travel Costs Inappropriately Approved for Using Indirect Routes
  • USCG Naha: Inappropriate Use of Official Residence Expense Funds Instead of Representation Funds

Public Affairs

The OIG report says that in the past 8 months, four of seven officers in the public affairs section assigned to Tokyo have left post before their tour end date. That’s called curtailment. Unless they were all medevaced.

  • Embassy’s 11-person Media Analysis and Translation Team Lacks a Clear Mandate | Without a survey of the MATT’s customers, the embassy cannot confirm who—if anyone—is reading its products or justify the $1.25-million annual cost of operating the MATT.
  • Social Media Lacks Coordination| Several LE staff members work separately with social media, resulting in a multiplicity of uncoordinated messages
  • Grants Management Not in Compliance
  • No Public Diplomacy Strategy
  • The public affairs section was told to take a 26-percent cut. This reduced the public diplomacy allotment from $11.5 million in FY 2011 to $8.6 million in FY 2012. Even at that reduced rate, Mission Japan’s public affairs budget was still the largest in the Bureau of East Asian and Pacific Affairs. As a result of these budget cuts, the public affairs section eliminated 17 LE staff positions. The public affairs section allocated 68 percent of its FY 2014 budget of $8.5 million to LE staff salaries. According to the Under Secretary for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs, this is high by world standards. […]The Ambassador selected the country public affairs officer, who arrived in Tokyo in August 2014, to stabilize the public affairs section, end the curtailments, define LE staff duties in order to clarify the new distribution of duties following the 2012 staff cuts, bring transparency to personnel decisions, and get the entire staff’s commitment to move forward. Since the public affairs officer’s arrival, the public affairs section has had considerable success, particularly with programs on educational exchange and women’s issues

A few more items with notable details extracted from the report:

Commercial Email Usage |  In the course of its inspection, OIG received reports concerning embassy staff use of private email accounts to conduct official business. On the basis of these reports, OIG’s Office of Evaluations and Special Projects conducted a review and confirmed that senior embassy staff, including the Ambassador, used personal email accounts to send and receive messages containing official business.

Employee Evaluation Reports do not Reflect Demonstrated Weaknesses | The OIG team reviewed a range of Department employee evaluations written by managers at the U.S. Mission to Japan. They found several examples of evaluations that did not reveal any indication of serious weaknesses, even though the rated officers had required in-depth management and or discipline by their supervisors and had absorbed time and resources from senior embassy officers. The DCM, having been at post only 6 months, has not yet produced employee evaluations. The inspectors advised him to make clear to rating officers that employee evaluations must present an accurate record of each staff member’s strengths and a realistic area for improvement.

Yokohama Language Program Cost-Benefit Analysis Lacking | To provide Japanese-language instruction in Yokohama, it costs the Department an estimated $2.3 million per year. The total cost of operating the school, factoring out fixed expenses, such as leasing residences for the students, post allowance, education allowance, the school director’s salary and benefits, and other sunk costs, is $1 million per year. This translates into a per-student cost of from $83,583 to $200,599 for a student body of from 5 to 12 students. The Department could be incurring higher costs for providing language services.

No Justification for Paying Post Allowance to Family Member Appointees | Worldwide, Embassies London and Tokyo are the only two authorized to pay post allowance to family member appointees. In 2001, the Department granted them an exception on the basis of their inability to recruit individuals for family member positions because of lower salaries and wages, in accordance with 3 FAM 8218.1 c. In Japan, these adverse employment conditions no longer exist. Except for security escort positions, the embassy has had no difficulty filling family member positions. It also has been able to fill some of its LE staff vacancies with eligible family members when they meet all position requirements. The cost impact to the embassy of providing the post allowance to nine full-time family members is $59,190, annually.

Consulate General Naha Not Benefiting from Zero Cost Leasing Offer | In February 2010, the Open Source Center located on the U.S. Army’s Torii Station offered four Government-owned houses located on Kadena Air Base to Consulate General Naha at zero leasing costs. Consulate General Naha has not fully considered this offer. The OIG team estimates accepting the Open Source Center’s offer would save leasing costs of $110,665 per year. The embassy would continue to fund utility and make-ready costs. In Naha, U.S. direct hires already use base services, including the commissary, Post Exchange, and other support services. U.S. direct-hire dependents attend Department of Defense schools. According to 15 FAM 228 b, housing selection should achieve maximum cost benefit to the U.S. Government, and every effort should be made to lease appropriate housing with terms that reflect the likelihood of the housing unit remaining in posts inventory, with lease terms of 5 years or more whenever appropriate.

Private Domestic Staff Inappropriately Housed in U.S. Government-Owned Facility | The embassy continues to house private domestic staff of U.S. direct-hire officers in a separate U.S. Government-owned facility (the former U.S. Marine Dormitory) despite a 2008 Office of Legal Counsel’s opinion cautioning that the legality of operating living quarters for private domestic servants of U.S. Government employees on U.S. Government premises is highly doubtful under Federal appropriations/employment law. The presence of such facilities on U.S. Government-controlled real property also raises liability issues under employment law and tort law. The embassy raised concerns about prior fraudulent domestic staff employment contracts, use of appropriated funds to maintain the facility and collection of utilities reimbursements through the employees association as a probable violation of appropriation law. At the time of inspection, 42 domestic staff resided in the 31-room U.S. Government-owned building designated for domestic staff. According to 15 FAM 244, post personnel may house full-time domestic staff in their own U.S. Government-provided quarters if space is available and approved by the regional security officer. The estimated cost of maintaining the facility is $60,000 per year.

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Related items:

OIG_ISP-i-15-35a JAPAN Aug 25, 2015

OIG – U.S. Embassy Tokyo, Japan and Constituent Posts June 2008

U.S. flag goes up in Cuba: “What matters is this – that we all belong to the sea between us.”

Posted: 4:37 am EDT
Updated: 1:06 pm EDT
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Maine poet Richard Blanco who was born to a Cuban exile family and read at President Obama’s second inauguration will read a poem commemorating the reopening of the US Embassy in Havana on August 14. Its title is “Matters Of The Sea” or “Cosas Del Mar,” and its first line goes, “The sea doesn’t matter. What matters is this – that we all belong to the sea between us.” Looking forward to reading it in Spanish!
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