@StateDept’s Blackhole of Pain Inside the Bureau of Medical Services (MED)

Posted: 12:46 am  PT

 

We previously blogged about the ongoing problems encountered by Foreign Service families with special needs children when dealing with the State Department’s Bureau of Medical Services (MED) (see @StateDept’s Mental Health Services Drive Employees with Special Needs #FSKids Nuts).  Note that as employees prepare for the summer job rotation, MED will be reviewing the medical clearances of employees and family members in preparation for their transfer.  Whatever is the number that is now stuck in MED’s labyrinth, expect that number to go up with the upcoming rotations as kids with special needs are snared in the system that is supposed to help but instead has caused so much disruption and pain.

We understand that medical clearance decisions can be appealed to a panel of three doctors. But we’ve been informed that one of the three in this review panel is the reviewing officer of the the other two. We’d like to know how many cases that come before this review panel are decided in complete agreement by all panel members, and how many cases are decided by the two panel members against the decision of the third panel member/rating official? Perhaps something for the congressional oversight panels to look into? Or something to FOIA if this is going the class action route.

Congress should also look into State’s Medical Services perspective on risk. Would it surprise us all if State/MED doesn’t want to take any? State/MED’s mission is “to safeguard and promote the health and well-being of America’s diplomatic community.”  Does that mean keep everyone with the slightest issue inside the United States instead of sending them on overseas assignments? Bad things can happen just the same in the United States – but of course, MED won’t be responsible when employees are on domestic assignments. It is responsible once employees/family members are overseas. So again, what is State/MED’s perspective on risk, and how much does this inform its decision on the medical clearances issued to FS employees, spouses and their kids?

FP’s Robbie Gramer recently had a lengthy piece on FS families in State’s medical labyrinth. It is quite a read, and don’t miss the quotes.

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Diplomatic Spouse Martin Cooke Rescues Drowning Tourist in Western Australia

Posted: 2:27 am  ET

 

Western Australia’s Esperance Express reported in early March that “brave actions saved the life of a drowning tourist” after he was caught in a rip current at Twilight Cove in Western Australia.

Around 4:30pm on Sunday March 4, 2018, American tourist Martin Cooke was swimming when he spotted a man waving in distress.

“I saw a guy waving and at first I thought he was just having fun, waving at somebody else, but then I noticed that a guy a little distance from him was signalling all kinds of trouble,” Mr Cooke said.
“So I swam out to that guy as quick as I could, and by the time I got out to him he was under, so I just grabbed him by the shirt and pulled him above the water.

 

Martin Cooke is the spouse of American Consul General Rachel Cooke who was on official visit in the area. Esperance located on the south east coast of Western Australia is under U.S. Consulate General Perth‘s consular district.  According to its website, the first U.S. consular official in Western Australia was posted to Fremantle in 1886, with the first Consul General appointed to the State’s capital of Perth in 1937.  Western Australia is the country’s biggest state and occupies the entire western third of the country, with a population of approximately 2.6 million. The consular district of Western Australia has around 15,000 U.S. citizens at any one time.

About that day of the incident, Martin said: “[T]hat’s what we were doing in Esperance. She went to work there and in the nearby town of Albany the week of March 5th, and we went down early to enjoy the weekend since we’d never been there before. We were out at a beach near town when I pulled Francis from the water — he and his friends were having a tough time in the strong current, and I was lucky to be in the right place at the right time. He also lives in Perth and we’re in touch via email now — we plan to meet up with him and his family soon to catch up.”

Martin whose background is IT has been a diplomatic spouse for 16 years. He told us, “I’ve been lucky to be able to continue in that line of work for most of my time as an EFM — that included [tours] in Kyrgyzstan, Malaysia, Kabul, Tajikistan, and then in Herat in western Afghanistan.” He was “the very first EFM in a field location in a war zone ever.” While his FSO did back-to-back assignments in DC, Martin was also able to work with the content management team at the Washington Post.

He is currently into drone photography and videography. Check out his gorgeous photos from  Esperance and please give Consulate  Perth’s Facebook page some love.

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@StateDept’s Secret ‘Hellz Yeah’ Employee-Led Organizational Revolution Study

Posted: 2:50 pm PT
 

 

A lot has been written about former Secretary of State Rex Tillerson’s “Redesign” initiative at the State Department. What is less known is a parallel project, a purported employee-led organizational revolution study that until this week was not revealed. While the controversial and unpopular “Redesign” boasts over 300 interviews from the potential pool of 25,000 U.S. direct hire employees and over 30,000 survey respondents from a 75,000 global workforce, the “Hellz Yeah” employee-led organizational revolution drew responses from what is said to be 33,300 secret interviews within the organization. The results of those interviews have been under lock and key and, until recently, only a handful of individuals were given access to the consolidated report.

In the chaos following the presidential pink tweet that saw the firing of the 69th secretary of state and the departure of his top lieutenants, a few individuals discovered the secret study in an unlocked vault on the 7th Floor. The following are from our interviews with three employees who were among the first to read the contents of the secret interviews. For obvious reasons, our sources did not want to be identified publicly but they were willing to speak to us on background. They all described the discovery of the secret interviews as shocking. Our sources said “shocking” because they all said that they had never seen a previous study in which employees actively contributed to the retreat or destruction of their own institution under the guise of improving its operation. One source asked, “Who the hell does that?” Another source worry that incoming Secretary Pompey may use this as an excuse for a new top-town restructuring and cultural reorganization of the agency.

 

 

Controversial Proposals

One of the more controversial proposals that previously leaked was the transfer of the visa function from State to DHS.  One respondent reportedly asked, “How is it that Dennis Rodman gets to sit down with Kim Jong Un smoking cigars while I have to interview 120 visa applicants a day for 2-4 years?” Another one said, “I did not sign up to be a visa stamper; I was top of my class and expected to be doing multi-lateral negotiations in Europe after A-100. Instead they sent me to Nigeria. Nigeria!” Yet another respondent said, “What Jared can do, I can do better”, admitting that he did not particularly like consular work as visa applicants not only have spit on him three times through the glass window but have also breast-fed screaming babies multiple times at his interview window.

A majority of those advocating this change pointed out that most new diplomats did not sign up for consular work and questioned why they were not allowed to conduct arms control negotiations or advance our nuclear nonproliferation policy on their first tours. They think that the new era of “America First” in public and foreign policies should also bring a new era in diplomatic hierarchy. One respondent lamented, “The only person who has fun at this post is the ambassador.”  

Dashboard Initiative: KSALs Leaderboard (Knowledge, Skills, Ability, and Loyalty) 

We can report further on the reasons why so many offices have been  left vacant at the upper echelons of the State Department. The secret study reportedly indicates that this, too, was an idea put forward by employees actively engaged in keeping their agency “nimble” and “agile.” The reasoning appears to be that by not appointing Senate-confirmed individuals to these high level positions, the entire agency operation can be controlled from the dashboard in the secretary of state’s office.

A majority of the respondents purportedly suggested that the “S” dashboard be color-coded for efficiency.  Acting assistant secretaries and office directors who speak out of turn in meetings and public appearances are buzzed with a red button, while those with harmless opinions are buzzed with a yellow button, and those with favorable views to everything proposed by the Administration are buzzed with a green button. The buzzes are then tallied weekly. Those with too many red buzzes on their records will be replaced by individuals on the waitlist who are anxious to demonstrate their KSALs to get ahead, that is, knowledge, skills, ability, and loyalty. Those of particular distinction in service and loyalty (e.g. those willing to throw their colleagues and staff members under speeding buses) will be short-listed for creative new positions of great honor and responsibility.

Of particular note in this study is that a significant portion of the respondents proposed the use of Veritaserum, a colorless, odourless potion that is practically indistinguishable from water to ensure that all employees old and new are forced “to answer sincerely and truthfully any question they are presented with.”

One of our three sources told us that the “Dashboard Initiative” envisioned to promote an “agile” and “nimble” organization in Foggy Bottom was beta-tested for several months with notable success but there was unresolved debate on who will have access to the “S” dashboard. Also, questions were raised about how to deploy the initiative to the wider organization, with top aides additionally arguing for the creation of a “leaderboard” to enhance the initiative and with dual-function as a replacement for the now defunct “Secretary’s Sounding Board. “Agile and nimble won’t mean a lot if the effect is not immediate,” one argued.”It should be simple like baseball, three strikes and you’re out,” added  another helpfully.

According to two sources, the secret study indicates that the organizers could not agree on the finer details of the “Dashboard Initiative”. The initial plan reportedly was to send it down to the employees to promote the perception of crowdsourced-decision making while top officials figure out what to do with it; no one has any idea what happens now.

MDSGA Initiative: Make Diplomatic Spouses Great Again

As with the Redesign, a select number of diplomatic spouses were also interviewed. Our second source, an FSO who has been married to the same spouse for twenty-four years expressed shock at the interview results from eligible family members. Fifty-one percent of these interviewees (214 in actual numbers) implored the agency’s leadership to strike down the 1972 Spouse Directive stating that diplomatic spouses are their own persons, and could not be forced to provide free labor for diplomatic missions overseas.

One respondent reportedly complained, “What’s the use of being a senior spouse if you can’t round up junior spouses to help you do the necessary work of supporting the mission overseas?” At least five respondents proposed that the Department bring back the rating system that includes diplomatic spouses in the performance evaluations of employees. “Some spouses are just way too independent, living their own lives away from the mission,” complained one senior spouse. “Junior spouses should be trained to be respectful of the senior spouses, and should be put in tiger teams to support the highest ranking spouses in the mission,” added another.

A majority of respondents apparently also suggested that the agency freeze all available jobs for spouses so women in particular would not have an excuse to work outside the home. The rationale appears to be that the longer the spouses are unable to work, the more they will appreciate not having to work. These respondents were confident that “this will result in more happiness and contentment in the mission.”

“The availability of work to some spouses but not to others leads to envy and discontent,” was one of the study’s conclusion. By removing the available jobs for spouses altogether, according to the summary of the interviews, “There will be less stress, less competition and better quality of life.”

One topic that the respondents proposed that did appear to result in policy change was how the Professional Associates program for spouses are filled. The secret study reportedly indicates that respondents suggested should it become necessary to lift the hiring freeze, Professional Associates jobs in particular should have the highest standards possible in terms of experience and educational experience.

The interviewers asked if this would not make it harder for diplomatic spouses to fill these professional jobs and 50.9% of respondents declared that while that might be the case, they think that this would make the organizational more “nimble” and “stronger.” “I may not actually qualify for these jobs under the proposed new standards” one respondent said without blinking an eye,“but I totally support the secretary’s and his aides efforts to professionalize the spouses’ jobs,” she added. When the interviewer pointed out that the job requirements are more stringent than the requirements for officers and specialists, one spouse dismissed the matter. “We want the very best of the best, even spouses, why is that so difficult to understand?”

Gamespot Initiative: Rewards and Promotions

All three sources told us that the most controversial idea to come out of the ‘Hellz Yeah’ secret study has the potential to “disrupt” the career services. The summary of the study indicates that majority of the employees think that the current rewards and promotion systems are faulty and are easily influenced or manipulated “by correct grammar” and “charming but exhausting narratives.” 

Apparently, the secret study’s main suggestion was to transition the entire agency into a point system for rewards and promotions; reward points for management issues, and promotion points for policy issues. For instance, higher reward points would earn employees better housing, better schools for dependents, improved health benefits, retirement benefits for spouses and travel arrangements that exempt them from “Fly America” and allow for better travel connections, best air carriers, and exceptional hotel and pet accommodations.

Similarly, higher promotion points over policy matters would earn employees progressively senior positions, the best housing in the embassy pool, larger offices with windows, newer furniture, up to $5,000 in decoration expense, Internet download privileges, personalized stationery, pens, and water bottles, and most importantly for those assigned overseas, armed official chauffeurs who already passed the Armored Vehicle Driver Training.

A focus group of carefully selected employees produced some intense discussions about how employees  can earn points, how many points are required to “level up”, and what time frame might be required to “boot out” deadwood employes who are not actively earning reward and promotion points. One respondent said, “If they’re not in the game, they should be out!”

A few respondents also wanted to know — if a senior bureau official says “I’ve succeeded in ousting five detailees from my office prior to the secretary’s arrival” — should reward points be higher if the ousted detailees were in the middle of their assignments, than if they were at the end of their detail? What if an employee is able to provide a list of the former administration’s “holdovers”?  The respondents wanted to know what number would be enough to merit a level up for a corner office or a house with a gazebo and a jacuzzi? What if an employee is able to provide proof through secret social media posts that his colleagues “are not fully on board” with the Administration’s agenda? The respondents wanted confirmation that reward points are higher for Facebook posts than Twitter or Instagram posts.

Under this controversial employee-led proposal, diplomatic officials who get out of their comfort zone to publicly support pre-emptive strikes against XYZ countries or invade ABC countries for their oil will always get the highest promotion points. Officials who appear in government-run radio and television programs get extra promotion points. Employees with at least 2K social media followers and who actively amplify official messages from the Voice of American Truth in their private capacities also get extra promotion points.

We are interested in tracking down the organizers of this employee-led organizational revolution study, as well as identifying potential commonalities between the “Hellz Yeah” study and other recent blue ribbon studies and surveys previously conducted. We’ve formally requested the 5,000-page study and its associated raw data. As of today, April 1, we have not heard from any of our 7th Floor contacts. We understand that Easter Sunday and April Fools’ Day festivities may be keeping them occupied. We will do a follow-up post if/when we hear from their April 1 Task Force.

 

Diplomacy: A Rusting Tool of American Statecraft

by Ambassador Chas W. Freeman, Jr. (USFS, Ret.)
Senior Fellow, the Watson Institute for International and Public Affairs, Brown University, Washington, DC and Cambridge, Massachusetts, February, 2018 

Diplomacy: A Rusting Tool of American Statecraft
A Lecture to programs on Statecraft at American University, Harvard, and MIT [Republished with permission. The original text is available here]

I am here to talk about diplomacy.  This may seem an odd moment to broach the subject.  Our president has told us that it doesn’t matter that his administration is not staffed to do it, because “I’m the only one who matters.”  In other words, “l’état c’est moi.”

Now that it’s got that straight, the United States Department of State has set about dismantling itself.  Meanwhile, the Foreign Service of the United States is dejectedly withering away.  Our ever-flatulent media seem unconvinced that Americans will miss either institution.

I suspect they’re wrong about that.  Diplomacy is an instrument of statecraft that Americans have not been educated to understand and whose history they do not know.  It is not about “making nice.”  Nor is it just a delaying tactic before we send in the Marines.

Diplomacy is a political performing art that informs and determines the decisions of other states and peoples.  It shapes their perceptions and calculations so that they do what we want them to do because they come to see doing so as in their own best interest.  Diplomacy influences the policies and behavior of states and peoples through measures short of war, though it does not shrink from war as a diversion or last resort.  It is normally but not always overtly non-coercive.  It succeeds best when it embraces humility and respects and preserves the dignity of those to whom it is applied.  As the Chinese philosopher, Laozi put it:  “A leader is best when people barely know he exists.  When his work is done, his aim fulfilled, they will say, we did it ourselves.”

Napoleon called diplomacy, “the police in grand costume” but it is usually not much to look at.  It seldom involves blowing things up, most of its action is unseen, and it is relatively inexpensive.  Diplomacy’s greatest triumphs tend to be preventing things from happening.  But it’s hard to prove they wouldn’t have occurred, absent diplomacy.  So diplomats are more often blamed for what did happen than credited for what didn’t.  Diplomats are even worse than sailors at marching.  Diplomacy stages no parades in which ambassadors and their political masters can strut among baton-twirling majorettes or wave to adoring crowds.   Nor, for the most part, does it justify expensive programs that generate the pork and patronage that nourish politics

All this makes diplomacy both obscure and of little or no direct interest to the central institutions in contemporary Washington’s foreign policy.  As any foreign embassy will tell you, the U.S. Department of Defense and other elements of the military-industrial-congressional complex now dominate the policy process.  Both are heavily invested in theories of coercive interaction between states.  Both favor strategic and tactical doctrines that justify expensive weapons systems and well-paid people to use them.  Activities that cost little and lack drama do not intrigue them.  They see diplomats as the clean-up squad to be deployed after they have demolished other societies, not as peers who can help impose our will without fighting.

U.S. foreign policy is heavily militarized in theory, practice, and staffing.  No one has bankrolled the development of professional diplomatic doctrine, meaning a body of interrelated operational concepts describing how to influence the behavior of other states and people by mostly non-violent means.  So there is no diplomatic equivalent of military doctrine, the pretensions of some scholars of international relations (IR) theory notwithstanding.  This is a very big gap in American statecraft that the growing literature on conflict management has yet to fill.  The absence of diplomatic doctrine to complement military science eliminates most options short of the raw pressure of sanctions or the use of force.  It thereby increases the probability of armed conflict, with all its unpredictable human and financial consequences.

Working out a diplomatic doctrine with which to train professional diplomats could have major advantages.  Diplomatic performance might then continually improve, as military performance does, as experience emended doctrine.   But developing diplomatic doctrine would require acceptance that our country has a need for someone other than dilettantes and amateurs to conduct its foreign relations.  Our politicians, who love the spoils system, seem firmly convinced that, between them, wealthy donors and campaign gerbils can meet most of our needs in foreign affairs, with the military meeting the rest.  The Department of State, which would be the logical government agency to fund an effort at the development of tradecraft and doctrine, is usually led by diplomatic novices.  It is also the perennial runt at the federal budgetary teat.

Leadership of foreign policy by untrained neophytes was to a great extent  the American norm even during the Cold War, when the United States led the world outside the Soviet camp and  deployed unmatched political attractiveness and economic clout.  Now retired and active duty military officers have been added to the diplomatic management mix.  They are experts in the application of violence, not peaceable statecraft, to foreign societies.  How is this likely to work out in the new world disorder?  As the late Deng Xiaoping said, “practice is the sole criterion of truth.”  So we’ll see.  But while we wait for the outcome, there is still time to consider the potential of diplomacy as an instrument of statecraft.

The basis of diplomacy is empathy for the views of others.  It is most effective when grounded in a sophisticated understanding of another’s language, culture, feelings, and intellectual habits. Empathy inhibits killing.  It is not a character trait we expect or desire our soldiers, sailors, airmen, and marines to have.

Language and area training plus practical experience are what enable diplomats to imagine the viewpoint of foreign leaders, to see the world as they do, to analyze trends and events as they would, and to evaluate the pros and cons of actions as they might.  A competent diplomat can use such insights to make arguments that foreign leaders find persuasive.  A diplomat schooled in strategy can determine what circumstances are required to persuade foreign leaders that doing what the diplomat wants them to do is not yielding to superior power but deciding on their own to do what is in their nation’s best interest.

Empathy does not, of course, imply alignment or agreement with the viewpoints of others, just understanding of them.  It is not the same as sympathy, which identifies with others’ perspectives.  Sometimes the aim of diplomacy is to persuade a foreign country to continue to adhere to established policies, because they are beneficial.  But more commonly, it is to change the policies, behavior, and practices of other countries or individuals, not to affirm or endorse them.  To succeed, diplomats must cleave to their own side’s interests, convictions, and policy positions even as they grasp the motivations and reasoning processes of those whose positions they seek to change.  But they must also be able to see their country and its actions as others see them and accept these views as an operational reality to be acknowledged and dealt with rather than denounced as irrational or duplicitous.

To help policy-makers formulate policies and actions that have a real chance of influencing a particular foreign country’s decisions, diplomats habitually find themselves called upon to explain how and why that country’s history and circumstances make it see things and act the way it does.  In the United States, most men and women in senior foreign policy positions did not work their way up the ranks.  They are much more familiar with domestic interest groups and their views than with foreign societies and how they work.  Explanation of foreign positions is easily mistaken for advocacy of them, especially by people inclined to dismiss outlandish views that contradict their prejudices as inherently irrational or malicious.

It’s good domestic politics to pound the policy table in support of popular narratives and nationalist postures and to reject foreign positions on issues as irrational, disingenuous, or malevolent.  But diplomats can’t do that if they are to remain true to their calling.  In a policy process driven more by how things will look to potential domestic critics than by a determination actually to change the behavior of foreigners, diplomats are easily marginalized.  But when they are backed by strong-minded leaders who want results abroad, they can accomplish a great deal that military intervention cannot.

Let me give a couple of examples of how U.S. diplomacy has rearranged other states’ and people’s appraisals of their strategic circumstances and caused them to decide to adopt courses of action favored by the United States.  These examples show both the complexities with which diplomacy must deal and its limitations in terms of its ability to secure assured outcomes.

 

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Digital Media Publisher Seeks Finance Editor #EFMJobs #EUR #Telecommuting

Posted: 4:18 am ET

 

SmartBrief is a digital media publisher of targeted business news and information by industry. It publishes more than 200 niche e-mail newsletters in partnership with leading trade associations and professional societies. One of its directors who manages a team of business news writers/editors reached out to us because he was looking for talent in time zones outside the United States and at diplomatic spouses in particular as a potential talent pool.  We’re sharing a job post for a full time job below (we are not paid to do this, we’re looking at the possibility of expanding on job leads in the future as a service to our EFM readers).  We may be able to share job leads for part-time jobs in the future if there is a good response. Check this out and send us feedback when you can.

Finance Editor (Overnight)

Job Description
SmartBrief seeks full-time finance editor — midnight to 8 a.m. EST weekdays

Can you condense the day’s most important news into a roundup of two-sentence summaries?

Can you work with association and corporate clients to deliver quality newsletters that keep their industries informed?

Can you meet multiple daily deadlines?

Then you’re the person for us!

SmartBrief is seeking a full-time finance editor for daily email newsletters covering global financial news. Candidates would need to be available to work between midnight and 8 a.m. EST Monday through Friday.

This is a TELECOMMUTING position. Candidates based in Europe are strongly encouraged to apply.

What we’re looking for: Someone who thrives in a fast-paced, deadline-intensive, newsroom-style work environment. The ideal candidate has worked as a finance writer or editor for a newspaper, trade journal or industry publication with multiple daily deadlines. Candidates with experience in corporate communications at a financial services firm will also be considered. Knowledge of industry trends and global financial regulatory reform initiatives would be a HUGE plus. Our briefs summarize the top stories of the day for dozens of industry associations, and our editors work with freelancers to shape that content.

Applicants will be asked to complete timed writing and editing tests.

Job Duties:

  • Identify news stories for inclusion in SmartBrief’s finance and business newsletters.
  • Edit news summaries for grammar, style and tone for a particular audience.
  • Use online publishing tools to create email newsletters and other content.
  • Manage relationships with associations, corporations and other business clients as well as freelance writers and other content providers.

Required Skills & Experience:

  • Proven writing and editing skills. Alternative: Three to five years of experience in a communications or research role with a news organization, consulting firm, trade association or other relevant group.
  • Ability to write and edit quickly and accurately on deadline.
  • Sophisticated understanding of how to find news and information on the Web.
  • Facility for using online publishing tools.
  • Knowledge of Associated Press style.
  • Strong interpersonal and communications skills.
  • Proven record of sharing responsibilities and managing multiple projects/deadlines simultaneously.

About SmartBrief:

Founded in 1999, SmartBrief is the leader in customized e-mail news services and reaches top-flight executives in a variety of markets, including advertising, retail, hospitality, telecom, health care and consumer packaged goods. We’re expanding rapidly and looking for exceptional, motivated individuals to join our team. At SmartBrief, employees enjoy an entrepreneurial work environment with accelerated advancement opportunities. SmartBrief is proud to be an equal opportunity employer.

Job Location
Telecommute (Candidates based in Europe are strongly encouraged to apply.), , United States
Position Type
Full-Time/Regular

See the original job post and application page here.

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Russia Expels U.S. Diplomats, Closes Consulate General @USinStPete

Posted: 12:53 pm PT

 

On March 26, the United States expelled 60 Russian diplomats and closed a Russian Consulate in Seattle over the poisoning of a former Russian spy and his daughter in Britain (see U.S. and 20+ Countries Expel Russian Diplomats Over UK Nerve Agent Attack).

On March 29, in an expected tit for tat move, Russia announced the expulsion of 60 American diplomats and the closure of the U.S. Consulate General in St. Petersburg. AP citing the Russian Foreign Ministry reports that “the U.S. diplomats, including 58 from the U.S. Embassy in Moscow and two from the U.S. consulate in Yekaterinburg, must leave Russia by April 5. It added that the U.S. must leave the consulate in St. Petersburg no later than Saturday.”

If Russia is not expelling U.S. diplomats from St. Petersburg, but closing the consulate there, this could mean that diplomats assigned to St. Pete potentially could move to Moscow, but 60 diplomats (and family members) will still be sent home.  We figured this was coming, some realities of diplomatic life: pack up with as little as 48 hours notice, for those with kids, pull children out of school, find new schools, arrange for shipment of pets, leave your household effects, move into transitional housing for an undetermined duration, etc.

Keep them in your thoughts. It will be a rough time for a while. For Foggy Bottom readers,  please check with AAFSW or the FLO, they may need volunteers to assist with the arrivals.

Here is a brief post history of @USinStPete:

St. Petersburg was the site of the original U.S. Mission to Russia, established in 1780, with Frances Dana as the Minister-designate. Dana spent three years in St. Petersburg, but his credentials were never accepted by the Russian Court. Thus the first Minister Plenipotentiary (Ambassador) of the United States in Russia, was John Quincy Adams, who presented his credentials to Tsar Alexander I on the 5th of November, 1809.

Adams served almost five years in St. Petersburg during the Napoleonic Wars. He finally left St. Petersburg because, as he wrote to President James Madison, he could not afford the expenses related to being Ambassador at Court. John Quincy Adams later became the Sixth President of the United States.

Another future President of the United States, James Buchanan, served in St. Petersburg as “Envoy Extraordinary and Minister Plenipotentiary” from 1832-1833.

During the turbulence of the revolution and civil war, Ambassador David R. Francis departed Russia on November 7, 1918, leaving Felix Cole to serve as Charge d’Affaires ad interim until the U.S. Embassy in Russia closed on September 14, 1919. By then, the ruling Bolsheviks had moved the country’s capital from Petrograd (the city’s name since the outbreak of the First World War) to Moscow, and the U.S. diplomatic presence in Peter’s City disappeared for over half a century.

The U.S. Mission was not restored until 1933, when the U.S. Embassy was opened in Moscow, the capital of the USSR.

The U.S. diplomatic presence was reestablished in Leningrad (as St. Petersburg was then called) in 1972, with the opening of a U.S. Consulate General.

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All Promotions Into/Within the Senior Foreign Service Must be Vetted by White House?

Posted: 1:23 am  ET

 

State/HR recently sent a Frequently Asked Questions to newly promoted OCs concerning the differences between being an FS-01, the highest rank in the regular Foreign Service, and as OC, the starter rank in the Senior Foreign Service. The FAQ talks about pay, bidding, EERs, benefits, and of course, promotions. And then there’s this question, and apparent answer:

Q: When are promotions from FS-01 to OC effective?
Answer: Promotion boards issue a list in the fall of officers “recommended” for promotion from FS-01 to OC, OC to MC and MC to CM. However, all promotions into and within the Senior Foreign Service must be vetted by the White House, confirmed by the Senate and attested by the President. This process can take several months. Promotions into and within the SFS are effective the first pay period following Presidential attestation. However, you may start bidding as an OC as soon as the promotion list is released by the board.

Yo! You know this is nuts, right? The White House can barely vet its own staffers, and it will now vet all promotions of FSOs into and within the Senior Foreign Service? With one exception that we are aware of (and we’ll write about that case separately), this WH vetting requirement is new, and yes, we remember the “improved” vetting required by the SFRC back in 2015 (SFRC Bullies Diplomats Up For Promotion to Self-Certify They Have Not Been Convicted of Any Crime).  Is the WH also vetting all senior promotions out of the Pentagon? Who’s going to be doing this and what does this vetting includes? Also whose great idea was this, pray tell?  Will State/HR and A/DGHR soon say that this vetting has always been done by the White House since the beginning of whatevs?

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U.S. and 20+ Countries Expel Russian Diplomats Over UK Nerve Agent Attack

Posted: 4:08 am  ET

 

 

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@StateDept INL Bureau Seeks Contractor as Foreign Service Assignments Officer

Posted: 2:42 am  ET
Update: 12:03 pm PT

 

According to a recent fedbiz announcement, the Office of Resource Management at the Bureau of International Narcotics, and Law Enforcement Affairs (INL/RM) is seeking a Personal Services Contractor who will be the bureau’s “Foreign Service Assignments Officer.” The contract is for one year with four option years.

So State is going to use contractors for assignments officers now?

We can’t recall Foreign Service Assignments Officer as contractors before. Is it far fetched to think of this as a glimpse of the future in Foggy Bottom?  CRS report from 2014 notes that OMB Circular A-76 distinguishes between the exercise of discretion per se, which it says does not make a function inherently governmental, and the exercise of “substantial discretion,” which it says makes a function inherently governmental.

And if the Foreign Service Assignments Officer position is deemed a commercial activity, that is, an activity not so intimately related to the public interest as to mandate performance by government personnel” (see CRS link to inherently government function below) how long before all bureau assignments officer are converted to PSC positions with one year contracts and four year options?

Update: We just got a note telling us that the INL Foreign Service Assignments officer has been a PSC since at least 2010. And that this position “serves in an advisory capacity, ensuring that INL’s program offices and front office understand HR rules and processes,and assists with how the offices conduct the FS assignments process within INL.” This position reportedly “makes no decisions, sets no policy, very non-governmental.”  Also that most bureaus do not have the PSC hiring authority, “so it’s quite unlikely that the function in other bureaus will be moving to contractors any time soon.” 

About INL: The Bureau has overall responsibility for the development, supervision, and implementation of international narcotics control assistance activities and for international criminal justice issues for the Department of State. The Foreign Service Assignments Officer (FSAO) will perform duties related to both domestic and foreign assignments, and will supplement existing staff during times of heavy workload, when staff shortages occur, or when expertise is required for specific projects.

About FSAO: The FSAO receives administrative direction from the Administrative Officer, but acts with a high degree of independence in planning, scheduling, and completing work, within the framework of delegated authority. Many assignments are self-initiated based on the FSAO’s assessment of post requirements and the means to meet them. As the primary liaison with post personnel, regional bureau staff, and office of Career Development and Assignments (HR/CDA) in the Bureau of Human Resources (HR), the FSAO has broad latitude in coordinating work efforts, and plays a key role in ensuring that posts operate effectively and in compliance with relevant regulations.

The FSAO uses a high degree of expertise and independent judgment in developing, consulting, coordinating, and executing programs to achieve compliance with legal and regulatory requirements and organizational goals and objectives, and resolves all but the most complex and sensitive issues. Recommendations and decisions are assumed to be technically accurate, and work is reviewed in terms of the overall effectiveness of the efforts by management within INL/RM as well as by program office staff, post officials, and others who rely on the FSAO’s advice and support.

The announcement says that the purposes of the work “are to collaborate with management in the Department in providing prompt and effective administrative support of the assignment of FS personnel domestically and at INL positions at posts; support INL missions at posts in engaging their administrative and personnel resources as effectively as possible; liaise with relevant Bureaus and USG agencies to ensure that INL’s best interests are protected; and ensure that administrative and substantive policies are mutually compatible.”

  1. SOLICITATION NUMBER: PSC-18-016-INL
  2. ISSUANCE DATE: 03/13/2018
  3. CLOSING DATE: 03/27/2018
  4. TIME SPECIFIED FOR RECEIPT OF APPLICATIONS: 3:00 PM, EST
  5. POSITION TITLE: INL Foreign Service Assignments Officer
  6. MARKET VALUE: $114,590 – $148,967 (GS-14 Equivalent)
  7. PERIOD OF PERFORMANCE: One year from date of award, with four optional years
  8. PLACE OF PERFORMANCE: Washington, DC

Duties and Responsibilities:

  •   Manages the Foreign Service Assignments process, providing expert advice and guidance to senior Bureau managers on all aspects of Foreign Service position management, recruitment, assignment, and evaluation.
  •   Counsels Foreign Service staff on all assignment related questions and provides support and guidance to those individuals who have been offered positions within the Bureau.
  •   Coordinates all FS issues with the appropriate offices within the Bureau of Human Resources, e.g., HR/CDA and HR/PE, resolving issues pertaining to FS assignments and performance, and recommends ways to improve or streamline the process.
  •   Oversees suggestion and award, quality, and or productivity programs related to these activities. Analyzes and evaluates, on a quantitative or qualitative basis, the effectiveness of programs or operations in meeting established goals and objectives.
  •   Liaises with colleagues and professional contacts in other bureaus whose work and role are relevant to supporting INL, including but not limited to Diplomatic Security, the Office of Medical Services, HR/CDA, the Family Liaison Office, the Office of Foreign Missions, Office of Allowances, and others as required.
  •   Analyzes administrative processes and/or agency programs for the Executive Director, with particular emphasis on management and implementation of an effective program in meeting Foreign Service human resources goals and objectives for the Bureau and its worldwide operations.
  •   Identifies problem areas and opportunities for improvement and provides fully staffed recommendations to management, including the Assistant Secretary and Deputy Assistant Secretaries. This encompasses issues such as streamlining processes, assessing the feasibility of automated systems for meeting the Bureau’s HR responsibilities, standardizing operations, or collaborating with other organizations on mutual responsibilities, improved management practices or the impact of new or proposed legislation or regulations on HR programs.
  •  Communicates with colleagues, agency management, and other contacts outside the agency to gather and analyze information about these agency processes and programs.

 

Related item:

Definitions of “Inherently Governmental Function” in Federal Procurement Law and Guidance PDF | 2014

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Former Ambassador John Feeley’s Parting Shot: Why I could no longer serve this president

Posted: 4:25 am ET

 

Via WaPo:

I never meant for my decision to resign to be a public political statement. Sadly, it became one.

The details of how that happened are less important than the demoralizing take-away: When career public servants take an oath to communicate dissent only in protected channels, Trump administration officials do not protect that promise of privacy.

Leaking is not new in Washington. But leaking a sitting ambassador’s personal resignation letter to the president, as mine was, is something else. This was a painful indication that the current administration has little respect for those who have served the nation apolitically for decades. […] A part of my resignation letter that has not been quoted publicly reads: “I now return home, with no rank or title other than citizen, to continue my American journey.” What this means for me is still evolving.

As the grandson of migrant stock from New York City, an Eagle Scout, a Marine Corps veteran and someone who has spent his diplomatic career in Latin America, I am convinced that the president’s policies regarding migration are not only foolish and delusional but also anti-American.

Read in full below:

Here are a couple of goodbye videos from Panama:

 

Related posts:

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