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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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US Embassy Ukraine Chargé d’Affaires Bill Taylor to Leave Kyiv at End of Year

 

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U.S. Senate Joins House, Passes Resolution Recognizing the Armenian Genocide

 

On October 29, the U.S. House of Representatives voted 405-11 agreeing to H.Res. 296 “Affirming the United States record on the Armenian Genocide”. October 29 is also Turkey’s Republic Day, the 96th anniversary commemorating the proclamation of the Republic of Turkey in 1923.
On December 12, the U.S. Senate also passed S.Res.150 “Expressing the sense of the Senate that it is the policy of the United States to commemorate the Armenian Genocide through official recognition and remembrance.” The Resolution was agreed to in Senate without amendment and passed by unanimous consent.

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U.S. Senate Confirms John Sullivan as U.S. Ambassador to the Russian Federation

 

 

PN1232: John Joseph Sullivan, of Maryland, to be Ambassador to the Russian Federation
— By unanimous consent agreement, vote 12/11/2019.
— Cloture invoked in Senate by Yea-Nay Vote. 69 – 25. Record Vote Number: 392
— Considered by Senate.
— By unanimous consent agreement, debate and vote 12/12/2019.

 

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USEU Gordon Sondland’s Home Renovation in Brussels: Much Higher Than First Reported

 

WaPo and Vanity Fair both reported about the renovation at the Chief of Mission Residence in Brussels, the official residence of the US Ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland. Excerpt via Vanity Fair:

A sampling of State Department contracts reveals that since September 2018—just a few months after Sondland’s Senate confirmation—the embassy in Brussels has been awarded $95,109 for a pergola, $13,301 for a pool-Jacuzzi heating system, $33,625 on wooden household furniture, $208,683 on a professional kitchen remodel, and two bathroom renovations, one costing $53,809 and the other $82,354. Additionally, the State Department spent $103,748 on a hotel, to ostensibly serve as an alternate residence to the embassy while the building undergoes renovations for months of September and October of this year. (In a statement, a spokesperson for the State Department confirmed that updates to the residence had been funded in 2019 “as part of its regular 17-year cycle of reviewing and refreshing furnishings and interior décor in representational residences.”)

WaPo’s reporting estimates the renovations at nearly $1 million including a $209,000 professional kitchen, and a $223,000 family kitchen. The actual obligation may  actually be higher than first reported.
A sourced familiar with the matter told us that the Chief of Mission Residence (CMR) was built in 1990 so one’s guesstimate is that the residence is  due for renovation as one of those “representational spaces.” The first contracts were awarded in September 2018, just two months after Sondland got to Brussels. (Sondland was confirmed via voice vote on June 28, 2018). Folks who understand how funding in government works can see that this “wasn’t all his initiative.” But .. because there’s always a but,  we understand from our source that the great bulk of the project items were added “more recently.” The Bureau of Overseas Building Operations  (OBO) reportedly approved all of it and the Office of Acquisition Management (State/AQM) awarded the contracts.
So a fairly modest renovation project was amped up until the contract award to an 8A firm reached $2.5 million?  More? Our source also told us, “Whether that much renovation was needed, or exactly how lavish is too lavish for a representational residence, I can’t say.”
Definitive Contract 19AQMM19C0088 is a Fixed Price Federal Contract Award. It was awarded to Pono Aina Management LLC of Oklahoma on Jun 12, 2019. The definitive contract is funded by the Bureau of Overseas Building Operations (DOS). The potential value of the award is $2,504,000 with potential end date of June 11, 2020. The solicitation procedure is marked “simplified acquisition” and  the set-aside type is marked “8(A) Sole Source.”

New U.S. Ambassador Ken Howery Presents His Credentials to King Carl XVI Gustaf of Sweden

 

State/EUR’s Philip Reeker on the Hill Despite Bulatao’s Letter Not to Testify

 

It is Saturday, but Acting Assistant Secretary for the Bureau of European and Eurasian Affairs Philip Reeker is on the Hill for a deposition in the impeachment inquiry. On Friday, the Undersecretary for Management Brian Bulatao reportedly sent a letter to Ambassador Reeker’s lawyer ordering him not/not to testify.

Below is his official bio via state.gov:

Ambassador Philip T. Reeker is the Acting Assistant Secretary of European and Eurasian Affairs since March 18.

Prior to his appointment, Ambassador Reeker assumed his duties as the USEUCOM Civilian Deputy and POLAD November 2017 and will continue to serve in this position until May 31, 2019. Prior to that he served as the United States Consul General in Milan, covering northern Italy beginning in September 2014. From July 2011 through 2013, Ambassador Reeker served as Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs focused on the Balkans, Central Europe, and Holocaust Issues.

He was U.S. Ambassador to Macedonia from 2008 to 2011, and Deputy State Department Spokesman/Deputy Assistant Secretary for Public Affairs, under Secretaries of State Albright and Powell (2000-2004). Previous assignments also include: Minister Counselor for Public Affairs under Ambassador Ryan Crocker at the U.S. Embassy in Iraq (2007-2008); Deputy Chief of Mission in Budapest (2004-2007); and Director of Press Relations at the State Department (1999-2000). He was Spokesman for the Special Envoy for Kosovo, Ambassador Christopher Hill. Ambassador Reeker joined the Foreign Service in 1992, and served earlier tours in Budapest, Hungary and Skopje, Macedonia.

Ambassador Reeker is the 2013 Recipient of the Robert C. Frasure Memorial Award for “his commitment to peace and the alleviation of human suffering caused by war or civil injustice” in the Balkans; the National Albanian American Council presented Ambassador Reeker with its “Hands of Hope Award” the same year. He received the Edward R. Murrow Award for Excellence in Public Diplomacy in 2003, and several State Department Superior Honor Awards.

Ambassador Reeker is a graduate of Yale University (1986), and received an MBA from the Thunderbird School of International Management in Arizona (1991). Born in Pennsylvania, Ambassador Reeker grew up in several U.S. cities and spent his high school years in Brisbane, Australia. His foreign languages are: Hungarian, Macedonian, Italian, and German.

The Giant Halkbank Octopus: New Episodes Coming Soon!

 

From our old post in 2017: Erdogan Rages Against the U.S. Ambassador to Ankara — What’s That About?

On March 19, 2016, Reza Zarrab an Iranian-Turkish citizen was arrested for allegedly engaging in hundreds of millions of dollars of transactions on behalf of the Government of Iran and Iranian entities as part of a scheme to evade U.S. sanctions (Download u.s._v._zarab_et_al_indictment.pdf).

On March 28, 2017, Mehmet Hakan Atilla, a Turkish banker was also arrested and charged for alleged conspiracies to violate the IEEPA and to commit bank fraud (Download US v. Mehmet Hakan Atilla complaint.pdf).

On September 6, 2017 DOJ announced the Superseding Indictment alleging that nine defendants (including a former Turkish Minister of the Economy (currently serving in Turkish Parliament), and a former General Manager Of Turkish Government-Owned Bank), “conspired to lie to U.S. Government officials about international financial transactions for the Government of Iran and used the U.S. financial system to launder bribes paid to conceal the scheme.”

In November 2017, NBC News also reported that Zarrab began cooperating with federal prosecutors in a money-laundering case.
According to avhal, the Turkish banker, Hakan Atilla served 32 months in prison in the United States for helping Iran evade U.S. sanctions, and was released on July 19 this year. On October 21, 2019, Turkey’s Finance and Treasury Minister Berat Albayrak (and Erdogan’s son-in-law) announced that the former Halkbank director has been appointed as the director general of Borsa Istanbul, Turkey’s main stock exchange.
On October 15, USDOJ announced that TÜRKİYE HALK BANKASI A.S., a/k/a “Halkbank,” was charged in a six-count Indictment with fraud, money laundering, and sanctions offenses related to the bank’s participation in a multibillion-dollar scheme to evade U.S. sanctions on Iran.
On October 24, Senator Ron Wyden of Oregon announced that he is launching an investigation into the Halkbank scandal.
Courthouse News Service Adam Klasfeld who has covered this case extensively notes in his October 22 report that “Turkey continued to hold three U.S. consulate workers in captivity with relative silence from the White House, and Halkbank kept an indictment at bay for more than two years, even after its ex-general manager Suleyman Aslan and executive Atilla had been charged with the multibillion-dollar conspiracy.”
Back in 2017, we thought this thriller which started out actually in 2013  (see the New Yorker’s Dexter Filkins piece, A Mysterious Case Involving Turkey, Iran, and Rudy Giuliani) — with a cargo plane from Accra, Ghana, which was diverted to Istanbul’s main international airport, because of fog, and three thousand pounds of gold bars — was going to unravel under the glare of sunlight, but here we are in 2019.  So now we wait for the next episodes.

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USEU Ambassador Gordon Sondland in the News: Drip …Drip … Drip…

 

U.S. Ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland, a Trump donor and a central figure in the Ukraine nightmare is scheduled to appear for a deposition on Thursday, October 17. As far as we could tell there are currently three streams of reporting concerning Sondland: Ukraine. the late breaking news of the renovation of the Chief of Mission Residence (CMR), in Brussels, and the reported ongoing boycott of his Portland-based hotel properties, Provenance Hotels. The Oregonian citing Oregon Public Broadcasting also said that “the popular local ice cream company Salt & Straw had severed its professional ties with Provenance, a chain of upscale hotels across the country, including six in Portland.”
We imagine that if his testimony is favorable to his boss, that we would likely see him tweeted as, oh, who knows … superman or the greatest ambassador ever. Or he could end up spending more time with his family. We should know soon.
WaPo on the $1 million official residence renovation:

The State Department defended the renovations, saying they were part of a “regular 17-year cycle of reviewing and refreshing furnishings and interior décor in representational residences.” The renovations were funded in April, after Sondland’s confirmation, a spokesman said. “Other minor renovations currently underway” were reviewed and approved by staff at the U.S. mission and funded in fiscal 2019, which began in October, after Sondland was confirmed.

Remember when a political ambassador was not pleased with the condition of the official residence mattress, or when embassy staff members spent several days to locate and purchase an umbrella for the official residence patio? Those were way cheaper than  a “family kitchen,” at a cost of just under $223,000. Not sure why he was not allowed to spend his own money. Anyone remember Ambassador Ronald Spogli and the $1.1M wine cellar donated to Villa Taverna in Rome? Also Ambassador Thomas Foley who reportedly spent $500,000 of his own money restoring the US ambassador’s residence in Phoenix Park in Dublin?
By the way, we’d like to know what other official residences are on State/OBO’s docket for renovations. These renovations are not unheard of but these are often scheduled years in advance. We’ve looked for the fiscal year projection for the USEU official residence in Brussels going back to FY2016, and so far have not been able to locate it.  But we see that the “major rehabilitation” of the Chief of Mission Residence Paris is on the expected to be awarded list for FY 2019. Cost for that should be interesting.

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Pence to Lead Ceasefire Delegation to Turkey, Erdogan on Ceasefire — Nah, But Come Visit!