NEA/SPP Language Divisions: From FSI to Wilson Blvd Rosslyn Until 2020

Posted: 3:01 am EDT
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Last week we blogged about the rumored move of two language divisions from FSI (see NEA and SPP Language Divisions Moving Out of the Foreign Service Institute?).  We understand that Ambassador Nancy McEldowney, the director of the Foreign Service Institute has announced — through a reply to the post on the Sounding Board — that the contract has now been signed.  Starting in the fall of 2016, NEA and SPP languages will hold classes at the former Boeing building on Wilson Boulevard in Rosslyn, Virginia.  This arrangement will reportedly last only until 2020, when these departments will move back to the FSI campus. New comments received:

Some of us took handshakes on jobs with language training expecting to drive from locations that aren’t metro accessible, and some parents will now have to drop kids off at FSI (or other) daycare; FSI’s solution is, right now, to “encourage students to consider the metro” and a promise to provide information on the Transit Subsidy.

This will be enormously convenient for people on TDY language orders who can live at one of the many direct bill properties in Rosslyn within a few blocks walk — but many of us are on DC assignments, not on per diem, and cannot rearrange our lives based on a change that wasn’t announced until we’d accepted handshakes.

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Building on Wilson Boulevard, Rosslyn (photo via the Arlington Economic Development)

One source told us that the building will also have a fitness center and that parents will still be permitted to use the FSI daycare center.  However, the lease apparently does not include a provision for parking for staff and students, although it looks like the newly leased building has 259 parking spaces.  Monthly parking in the area ranges from $135 to $150 a month.  The published solicitation only requires 24 parking spaces.

According to public records, the building has 12 stories. We were informed that the language school will occupy floors 1-8, but that other State entities are considering moving into the rest of the building. Which entities, we have no idea at this time.

FSI will now reportedly form “working groups” to address a number of the issues associated with the temporary facility, including transportation.  Most of the the anxieties we’ve heard related to this move could have been avoided if the “working groups” were created before the plans became final. But it looks like this is now a done deal.  If you’re one of the students who will be affected by this move, you may contact FSI and get yourself into one of these working groups. We hope that these groups will be able to come up with plans to help mitigate the disruptions to some FSI students and staff the next five years.

We were able to find the first notice of an FSI expansion space dated December 8, 2014.  The solicitation was posted on FedBiz this past July and modified on September 30, 2015.

Here are the requirement published via FedBiz (partial list from the announcement):

The Department has a requirement for a single building/facility to increase classroom space to support expanded training program requirements and increased enrollments in the coming years . The base requirement is approximately 75,000 usf; lobby space for security access control will be provided in addition if required by the specific building. Options for 20,000 usf are additionally included, exercisable within any contract period.

Time Frame: Fully finished training space, ready for occupancy, including services to support facility operations, must be delivered within six months of contract award and in no event later than six months after contract award. This contract will be for one five-year base period with five additional one-year options, and includes options for an additional 20,000 usf, exercisable within any contract year.

Training Facility Requirements: The facility must be housed in a single location, and may be comprised of one large area on a single floor, or be collocated on consecutive stacked floors in a single building. These floors must be kept secured and not accessible by occupants of other floors in the building. If warranted, additional building and /or lobby space may be required to screen and control access for the training facility. The Department may install perimeter security or intrusion detection systems as deemed necessary.

The training facility will have complete telecommunications, voice/data/video, with Wi-Fi and internet connectivity throughout the facility (see Requirements).

The training facility will have a minimum of 24 parking spaces on site or within immediate proximity to the site.  To accommodate staff/students who may use bicycles for transportation, the contractor should provide sixteen covered bicycle racks near or close to the 24 parking spaces.

Contractor will provide an additional requirement for 20,000 usf of classroom/training program space within six to twelve months of occupancy of this space if required by the Government pursuant to the option provisions of the contract. Anticipated hours of operation will be from 6:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m.

Facility and Services|  The contractor will provide the following:

158 Language Classrooms (180 usf each classroom) Each classroom shall have a smart board (TV), white board, bulletin/tack board and adequate lighting, modular tables with 5 chairs, 5 open cubbies for storage of student backpacks, purses, etc. and associated cabling for telecommunication capability. Must have adequate sound attenuation for classroom use. Paint, carpet, adequate HV/AC, and a locking door.

77 Language Instructor collaboration spaces. Each shared by 3 instructors (180 usf each space) Each instructor space shall have modular furniture with double  row overhead storage bins and task lighting, pull-out keyboard tray, rolling lockable under desk file cabinet, acceptable ceiling lighting, a locking door, and associated cabling for telecommunication capability. Paint, carpet, adequate HVAC.

Suite with 20 student consultation rooms at 50 usf each and 200 circulation space/hallway. Each consultation room shall have a small table and 2 chairs. Paint, carpet, adequate lighting, adequate HV/AC, and a locking suite door(s). Interior consultation room doors should not have locks, and should be windowed to permit visibility into room.

One (1) Distance Learning classroom/delivery classroom with DVC capability with associated cabling for telecommunication/video capability; modular tables and chairs. Paint, carpet, adequate HV/AC, and a locking door.

Four (4) gaming/simulation rooms at 350 usf each, with modular tables and chairs; with one (1) control room at 200 usf; both with associated cabling for telecommunication/video capability.

One (1) DVC classroom and control room with associated cabling for telecommunication/video capability; modular tables and chairs.

Two (2) Active Learning classrooms at 1,000 usf each. Shall have a smart board, computer projection with drop down screen, adequate lighting, modular tables with 40 chairs, podium, and associated cabling for telecommunication capability.

Two (2) Quiet Study Rooms for students each about 300 usf, with tables/chairs.Paint, carpet, good lighting, adequate HV/AC.

Lactation Room – Sink with running water, garbage disposal, refrigerator, modular furniture with partitions and shelving, electrical outlets for pumping equipment and ten chairs. Paint, carpet, acceptable lighting, adequate HV/AC, and a locking door.

Ten (10) pantries (about 230 usf each with refrigerators, Microwaves, sinks with garbage disposals, vending machines with hot/cold drinks and healthy snacks). Located in an open central place. Paint, carpet, good lighting, adequate HV/AC.

Note that USF refers to useable square footage. [When a tenant occupies a full-floor, the usable square feet amount extends to everything inside the boundaries of the building floor, minus stairwells and elevator shafts. This can include non-usable areas like janitorial closets, or mechanical and electrical rooms. It also encompasses private bathrooms and floor common areas, like kitchenettes, hallways, and reception areas that are specific to that floor’s use (via].

The requirements include a Language Program Management Suite, a Training Computer Server Area, a Registration/IT Support Area,  a DS Processing Area, and an SLS Senior Dean Consultation Suite, among those listed. We have not been able to locate a requirement for a language lab in the solicitation.

The contract requirement also includes a “Facility Manager, who shall have primary responsibility for the operation and maintenance of the facility on a day–to–day basis and who shall be the primary point of contact for the government on all matters relating to the use of the facility by the government during the period of performance of the contract, and eight full time administrative staff to support the daily classroom functions during operating hours.

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NEA and SPP Language Divisions Moving Out of the Foreign Service Institute?

Posted: 12:47 am EDT
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The Foreign Service Institute is located at the George P. Shultz National Foreign Affairs Training Center (NFATC) in Arlington, Virginia.  An expansion of facilities on FSI’s 72-acre campus in 2010 added 100 classrooms. About 2,000 students are on campus daily.

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It looks like that expansion is not enough.  There is apparently a lot of rumors circulating that the SPP and NEA language divisions will be moving out of SA-42 (FSI) to “a new space somewhere along the Orange line.”  We understand that this topic has lighted up the Secretary’s Sounding Board, never mind that JK is traveling.

This rumored move, if true, would reportedly affect 1) the Division of Near East Central, and South Asian Languages (FSI/SLS/NEA) which directs, designs and conducts proficiency-based language training for Arabic, Near Eastern, Turkic, Central and South Asian languages; and 2) the Division of Slavic, Pashto, and Persian Languages (FSI/SLS/SPP) which directs, designs, and conducts proficiency-based language training for all Slavic languages including Bosnian, Bulgarian, Serbo-Croatian, Czech, Macedonian, Polish, Russian, Serbian, Slovak, Slovenian, and Ukrainian, Pashto and Persian languages including Dari, Tajiki, and Farsi.

People are apparently not happy about this rumored move. Some are posting questions on the Board, and hoping to find some clarity on what to expect next. Here are some of the employees’ concerns over the future of language training at FSI:

  • Looking for transparency:  “Given the massive number of employees this change will impact, both students and instructors, can we get a little transparency on what’s going on?”  One commenter writes that many find it “odd that language studies, arguably the priority purpose of FSI, would see such a huge change with little to no public discussion or outreach from FSI.”
  • Long-term vs. short-term: Why was the decision made to move long-term language studies (9-12 months in length in many cases) instead of short-term and intermittent courses (leadership, regional training, stability operations, area studies, world languages, etc.)?
  • Co-location: Will the new facilities be co-located with language division administration? This is a big deal in the event that a student has to make changes with class assignment).
  • Transportation/Commute/Parking : How will people commute to the new facilities? Is there a bus? Is there equally priced parking available nearby? Concerns that transportation issue affect not just students but also many of the language instructors and staff who live quite far from FSI and even further from Rosslyn, where there is a shuttle.
  • Language Lab/Tools: Are the language learning tools available at the new facilities? Language labs are a big part of reaching proficiency standards, will students have to go back to FSI in order to access labs?
  • Daycare: For personnel with kids, employees are interested whether they will have access to daycare. When transferring or rotating assignments, Foreign Service personnel with young kids rely heavily on the availability of reliable and accessible childcare at FSI. “The provision of childcare has always helped alleviate some of the stresses associated with the rigors of intensively learning a new language.” Depending on the new location, there is also the potential for disruption in the Oakwood housing program.
  • Town Hall: One requested a town hall meeting with the FSI administration for current and future students in the languages affected “so people can ask questions and get more information as they begin to plan for language training.”

 

We should note that both the NEA and SPP language divisions are part of FSI’s School of Language Studies (SLS). The School of Language Studies (SLS), with 684 staff members, 3 overseas schools, and 11 regional language programs, offers training and testing in more than 70 languages.   According to the OIG, SLS is the largest of FSI’s schools, with a base budget of $33.5 million in FY 2012 and a total budget of $46.7 million, which includes $5.5 million in reimbursements from other agencies.

In December 2012, SLS had 684 staff members: 374 direct-hire employees and 310 full-time equivalent contractors. SLS is managed by a dean and two associate deans and is composed of a testing division, five language divisions, a Curriculum and Staff Development division, and an administrative section. SLS trains employees of the Department, USAID, and other agencies in 70 languages ranging from Spanish to super hard languages such as Korean.

In any case, there is a slow train for consolidation humming in the State Department. One of Diplomatic Security’s arguments for building the FASTC in Virginia instead of Georgia is so all the training programs can be in one location.  Just recently, the IRM training located in Warrenton, VA had also been moved to the FSI campus. If the NEA/SPP move is true, is this SLS’ initial move at dispersing its divisions?

If true, the question then becomes “why”?

The most recent OIG inspection of FSI is dated March 2013. That report notes that “SLS needs organizational and programmatic changes to strengthen pedagogy, coordination, and strategic planning. Outside review of a portion of recorded language test samples and other steps are required to address the inherent conflict of interest of SLS instructors serving as testers.” The report made 79 recommendations and 23 informal recommendations, however, we could not locate one specifically related to NEA/SPP, or the school’s expansion or spin off location outside of FSI.

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Amb. Charles Ray: America Needs a Professional Foreign Service (via FSJ)

Posted: 12:18 am EDT
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Charles A. Ray retired from the Foreign Service in 2012 after a 30-year career that included ambassadorships to Cambodia and Zimbabwe. Ambassador Ray also served as deputy assistant secretary of defense for prisoners of war/missing personnel affairs, deputy chief of mission in Freetown and consul general in Ho Chi Minh City, among many other assignments. Prior to joining the Foreign Service, Amb. Ray spent 20 years in the U.S. Army. He was the first chair of AFSA’s Committee on the Foreign Service Profession and Ethics, and does freelance writing and speaking. He blogs at http://charlesaray.blogspot.com; his Amazon author page is here. Below is an excerpt from FSJ:

Via Speaking Out, Foreign Service Journal, July/August 2015:

If the Foreign Service is to adequately serve the American people now and in the future, it is imperative that it become the professional service intended by legislation over the past 91 years. This is not an easy task. It requires political will from elected leadership to provide the necessary direction and resources. It also requires action on the part of every member of the Foreign Service.

Here are some of the actions I believe are necessary.

Establish a system of professional education for the Foreign Service. Develop a long-term academic training program in diplomacy—either at the Foreign Service Institute or through a cooperative agreement with a university or universities in the Washington, D.C., area—designed to prepare members of the Foreign Service for senior diplomatic responsibilities.

There should be training opportunities post-tenuring and at the mid-level designed to increase individual skills in primary career tracks, while also offering education in diplomacy and leadership.

Every member of the Foreign Service should be required to complete a year of academic study relevant to his or her career track before being eligible for promotion to the Senior Foreign Service.

The department should create a true “training float” of 10 to 15 percent above the level required to staff all authorized positions, to allow Foreign Service personnel to take long-term training without posts and bureaus having to suffer long gaps. This will require a commitment by the department’s leadership not to use these positions to meet future manpower requirements—a practice that consumed the two previous authorizations.

Ensure opportunities for professional development through assignments. In coordination with the White House, the department should ensure that an adequate number of senior positions (assistant secretary, ambassador, deputy assistant secretary, etc.) are designated to be filled by Foreign Service personnel.

Priority should also be given to assignment of Foreign Service personnel to lower-level positions, such as regional office directors and desk officers, as much as possible.

Reconcile the differences between Foreign Service and Civil Service personnel systems. The department must recognize that while both are essential to the success of our mission, the Foreign Service and Civil Service personnel systems are inherently different.

Attempts to obliterate the differences benefit neither, and do not contribute to national security in any meaningful way. Action needs to be taken to improve career prospects within both systems.

Consideration should be given to creating a position of Director of Human Resources responsible for Civil Service personnel, and having the Director General of the Foreign Service responsible only for Foreign Service personnel, as envisioned by the 1946 Act that created the position.

In addition, the Director General should be given more authority over discipline and career development of Foreign Service personnel.

Establish a formal code of ethics for the Foreign Service. An essential element of any career personnel system is a mechanism to provide basic standards and rules and to protect it from political abuse.

The American Foreign Service Association established a Committee on the Foreign Service Profession and Ethics in 2012 with the primary mission to develop such a code. I had the honor of being the first chair of the PEC and am happy to report that significant progress has been made on this during the past three years.

Working with the Institute of Global Ethics, the PEC conducted a worldwide survey of Foreign Service personnel and then began creating a draft code. Information on the PEC’s work can be found on AFSA’s website at www.afsa.org/ethics. Details on the results of the survey on professionalism and ethics can be found at www.bit.ly/1L1LoJq.

Read in full here.

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Post Evacuations FY2013, FY2014, Plus Consular Emergencies Funding Request for FY2016

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The Crisis Management Training office out of FSI has a running tally of posts evacuated in the last two decades but it’s not available to the public. The 2016 budget justification for USAID and the State Department does include a list of posts that went on evac status in FY2013 and FY2014. I think I’ve covered all the post evacution on this list except for the one in Los Cabos, Mexico (how did I miss that?)

Also note that in June 2014, Embassy Baghdad personnel were “temporarily relocated” both to the  Consulate Generals in Basra and Erbil and to the Iraq Support Unit in Amman, Jordan but that personnel movement does not appear to be considered an “evacuation.” Might that be because Iraq constitute a different/separate congressional funding request?

Fiscal Year 2013 Evacuations (October 2012-September 2013)

  1. Adana, Turkey
  2. Algiers, Algeria
  3. Bamako, Mali
  4. Bangui, Central African Republic
  5. Beirut, Lebanon
  6. Cairo, Egypt
  7. Lahore, Pakistan
  8. Niamey, Niger
  9. Sanaa, Yemen
  10. Tripoli, Libya

Fiscal Year 2014 Evacuations (October 2013-September 2014)

  1. Juba, South Sudan
  2. Kyiv, Ukraine
  3. Tripoli, Libya
  4. Monrovia, Liberia
  5. Freetown, Sierra Leone
  6. Maseru, Lesotho
  7. Sanaa, Yemen
  8. Los Cabos, Mexico

Extracted from the 2016 budget request for USAID and the State Department:

EDCS funding is heavily influenced by unpredictable evacuations that may occur as a result of natural disasters, epidemics, terrorist acts, and civil unrest. Recent demands include Sierra time Leone’s Ebola-related emergency evacuation and the evacuation of the embassy in Ukraine due to the ongoing conflict.

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EDCS also funds certain activities relating to the conduct of foreign affairs by senior Administration officials. These activities generally take place in connection with the U.S. hosting of U.S. Government-sponsored conferences, such as the UN and OAS General Assemblies, the G-20 Summit, the Nuclear Security Summit, the U.S.-China Strategic and Economic Dialogue, the Asian-Pacific Economic (APEC) Summit, and the NATO Summit. In FY 2014, the U.S. hosted the U.S. – Africa Leaders’ Summit. In FY 2015, the U.S. will begin the two-year Chairmanship of the Arctic Council. In FY 2016, the Department will host the Nuclear Security Summit.

Other EDCS activities include presidential, vice presidential, and congressional delegation travel overseas; official visits and official gifts for foreign dignitaries; representation requirements of senior Department officials; rewards for information on international terrorism, narcotics trafficking, transnational organized crime, and war crimes; as well as the expansion of publicity efforts.

 

Burn Bag: Conal Rectification? Dear Consular Affairs, This Sounds Painful

 Via Burn Bag:

 “It’s amazing there hasn’t been a mutiny in the CA training at FSI this year given the behavior of some of the leadership.  There’s a broad consensus that the way they treat officers in training is right out of Full Metal Jacket.  Disparaging, disrespectful, amateurish, and completely undermining of moral[e]. Not to mention doing nothing to advance the goal of training competent, empowered consular officers.  If that’s what CA thinks is what 1CA means I imagine there will be a lot of Consular officers who will be seeking conal rectification….”

Via reactiongifs.com

Via reactiongifs.com

 

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State Dept’s Leadership and Mgt School Needs Some Leadership, And It’s Not Alone

State/OIG recently released its inspection of the State Department’s Foreign Service Institute. It is a chunky report with over 80 pages.  It reviewed the school’s executive direction but also FSI’s various schools. On of the schools reviewed is its Leadership and Management School (FSI/LMS) which is headed by Carol A. Rodley, the dean since November 2011 and a former US Ambassador to Cambodia.  The associate dean is Gail E. Neelon, a civil service official who assumed office in July 2008.

Here is the irony of the day:  the LMS dean’s “tenure has taken a toll on morale.” Excerpt from the IG report’s pretty sparse discussion about the management and leadership issues at the school:

Led by a Foreign Service dean and a Civil Service associate dean, LMS has 4 divisions and 48 staff members, of which 44 are direct-hire employees and 4 are full-time equivalent contractors. The school had an FY 2012 base budget of $2.4 million and a total budget of $3.6 million, which includes $473,000 in reimbursements. LMS is a small but important component of FSI, responsible for teaching leadership skills to senior and mid-level officers. When OIG inspected FSI in 1999, leadership training consisted of a few courses in SPAS. LMS was created in 2000 as part of the Department’s increased emphasis on leadership. It delivers well-received leadership training mandatory for Department employees at various stages in their careers.

Participants praised LMS courses highly. However, the dean’s directive leadership style was criticized by school staff. Although the dean met the FSI front office’s request to attend to management issues left unresolved during an extended period between deans, her tenure has taken a toll on morale. (b)(5)(b)(6) she has taken some steps to be more accessible to staff members and acknowledge them and their work.
[…]
Paper Flow in the Dean’s Office: In April 2012, most LMS staff members complained to the OIG team about the lack of timely actions from the dean’s office on paperwork, pointing to delays, missed deadlines, and unanswered mail. To meet a proposed inspection recommendation, LMS implemented a new system for tracking requests for clearances and approvals.

Read the whole report here: Inspection of the Foreign Service Institute (ISP-I-13-22)

Leadership and management have supposedly been elevated in importance since the tenure of Secretary Powell but in the many nook and crannies of the bureaucracy, it is just a shiny object that is talked about, often admired for its qualities but does not really merit serious attention.

In June 2010, the OIG sent a memo on the need to improved post leadership to the Executive Secretariat of the State Department (at that time Stephen Mull was S/ES; he is now the US Ambassador to Warsaw):

Office of Inspector General (OIG) inspections over the past 4 years have shown that while a majority of posts and bureaus are well run, leadership in a small but significant minority needs to be improved. In a recent OIG survey of employees who are serving or have served in high stress/high threat posts, 45 percent of the respondents cited post leadership as a cause of stress for them or their colleagues. An inspection of the Bureau of African Affairs identified leadership as a problem in certain posts overseas as well as in the bureau itself under its previous management. OIG has found problems in posts in every region, under both career and political ambassadors. The results of poor leadership include reduced productivity and effectiveness, low morale, stress, and curtailments.
[…]
OIG believes that it is the responsibility of the Department to conduct its own assessments, based in part on input from staff and to do so every year, especially at one­ year-tour posts. In many cases, the knowledge that the leaders would be assessed annually would cause them to be more sensitive to how they lead staff. The annual assessment would allow for the early identification of problems and for remedial action in time to have an effect on the management and operations of a post or bureau under each leadership team. In some cases, leaders and mid-level managers will be unable or unwilling to change. In more cases, OIG believes that leaders would be receptive to counseling and training to help them become more effective. These assessments would also provide better support for annual evaluations and help the chief of mission and deputy chief of mission selection committees make better informed recommendations and decisions.

(Read Implementation of a Process to Assess and Improve Leadership and Management of Department of State Posts and Bureaus, ISP-1-10-68)

The 2010 OIG memo cc’ed P: Mr. Burns, who is now one of the Deputy Secretaries; HR – Ms. Powell (who is currently the US Ambassador to India),  MED – Mr. Yun, DS – Mr. Boswell (who got recently eaten by the Benghazi troll) and FSI – Ms. Whiteside (who we learned recently retired after a long tenure at FSI) .

On September 19, 2012, the OIG once again reminded State Management about this same boring topic on leadership with a memo not to the Executive Secretariat but this time to the Under Secretary for Management Patrick Kennedy:

OIG’s FY 2012 inspections found that while 75 percent of ambassadors, deputy chiefs of mission, and principal officers are doing a good to excellent job, 25 percent have weaknesses that, in most cases, have a significant impact on the effectiveness and morale of their posts and certainly warrant intervention by the Department.

One reason for a high percentage of posts requiring leadership attention in the past year is that a number of posts were selected for inspection because OIG received specific indications of weak leadership.
[…]
OIG therefore reiterates the importance it places on adopting an effective assessment and performance improvement system for ambassadors, deputy chiefs of mission, and principal officers. OIG continues to believe that a confidential survey of personnel at post is an.essential element of such a system.

The September 2012 memo only cc’ed two individuals:  DGHR-Linda Thomas-Greenfield (currently the top HR person for the Foreign Service and rumored to be the next A/S for the AF BUreau) and S/ES -Stephen Mull (currently the U.S. Ambassador to Poland).

Read: Memorandum Report, Improving Leadership at Posts and Bureaus (ISP-I-12-48)

The September 2012 OIG memo was careful to point out that “the 75 percent 25 percent figures apply to the posts OIG inspected and not necessarily to the Department as a whole.”

Well, thank heavens for that!

Had the State Department actually adopted an effective assessment and performance improvement system for ambassadors, dcms and principal officers, Diplopundit would probably be a pretty booooring blog.  Perhaps we would be writing fake April Fool’s news  or doodling ourselves to death here  …. but so far there’s been a huge throve of materials to cover ….

 

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State/OIG: US Mission Vietnam — One Mission, One Team, Well, Sort Of

Several weeks back, State/OIG released its inspection report of the US Embassy Hanoi and Consulate General Ho Chi Minh City in Vietnam. The US Ambassador to Vietnam is career diplomat, David Shear who arrived at post in August 2011. The Consul General at Ho Chi Minh City is An T. Le who arrived at post in August 2010. The Consular Chief in Hanoi is Deborah Fairman who arrived at Embassy Hanoi in August 2009 and became section chief in July 2011, according to the OIG report. The Consular Chief at CG Ho Chi Minh City is not named in the report.

The inspection took place in Washington, DC, between September 7 and 27, 2011; in Hanoi, Vietnam, between October 20 and November 2, 2011, and between November 19 and 21, 2011; and in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam, between November 2 and 18, 2011. The names of the members of the inspection team have been redacted.

U.S. Ambassador David Shear opens safe medicine exhibition in Hanoi
(Photo from USAID Vietnam/Flickr)

Some of the key judgments, so very well couched you got to read between the lines:

  • The Ambassador in Hanoi, the consul general in Ho Chi Minh City, and their respective deputies, should be at the forefront of an effort to more effectively coordinate embassy and consulate general operations. Increasing and formalizing regular, planned working visits of American and local employees between the two posts are a necessary step.
  • Embassy Hanoi’s reporting is generally comprehensive and of high quality, although staffing gaps and the loss of a position have adversely affected Hanoi’s output. Consulate General Ho Chi Minh City has not reported frequently enough or in sufficient detail on the official activities, meetings and policy views of the consul general.
  • Overall management operations at Embassy Hanoi and Consulate General Ho Chi Minh City are effective, although stronger cooperation and teamwork between the two are necessary.
  • The need for heightened involvement by embassy management in the mission’s management controls program is evident. Management control procedures at both Embassy Hanoi and Consulate General Ho Chi Minh City need to be carefully reviewed to ensure that employees at every level are fully aware of their responsibility for ensuring that controls are in place to protect assets and to avoid any perception of conflict of interest.

    U.S. Consul General Le An at Long An Province during a visit to USAID flood relief beneficiaries
    (Photo from USAID Vietnam/Flickr)

Ambassador Shear arrived at post about couple months before this OIG inspection.  The previous Chief of Mission at US Embassy Hanoi was career FSO, Michael W. Michalak who left post on February 14, 2011. Some of the finer points from the report:

  • The Ambassador also has engaged decisively with the embassy’s sole constituent post: the large and influential Consulate General Ho Chi Minh City (formerly Saigon). On his introductory visit to Ho Chi Minh City, the Ambassador stressed to the American and Vietnamese staff that, as Chief of Mission, he values the important role of the consulate general and expects the embassy and consulate general staffs to function as “one mission, one team.” His message was especially welcome in view of a number of legacy issues, including Ho Chi Minh City’s continuing role as the economic and commercial hub of the entire country, the persistent cultural and historical differences between Vietnam’s North and South, and the symbolic significance that today’s consulate general is located on the site of the former embassy.
  • Embassy Hanoi and Consulate General Ho Chi Minh City, until recently, have operated more like two, separate missions than one, cohesive entity. The embassy has not provided, nor has the consulate general sought, regular guidance as to how the two posts can best operate together. With the arrival of new staff in summer 2011, both the embassy and the consulate general have started thinking about ways to project a “one mission, one team” face to the government and people of Vietnam and to the respective mission staffs. A necessary step to improving the mission’s cohesiveness will be increasing and formalizing a process whereby American and local employees conduct working visits between the two posts, for consultations and training.

There is no “I” in team, and hey, what about those pol reports?

  • The consul general is fluent in Vietnamese and has a deep understanding of the host country’s culture and norms. However, he only infrequently writes cables regarding his meetings outside the consulate general. It is important that he include other officers in all meetings related to political and economic affairs, human rights, the environment, energy, adoption concerns, treatment of minorities, and other matters relevant to their respective portfolios. The expertise of these officers should be called upon, even if it means relying on interpreters in some situations. (The Vietnamese language is notoriously difficult; even language-qualified officers sometimes require assistance from native speakers in unscripted situations.) The officers could act as note takers, and write cables or provide other information coming out of these meetings. In a closely controlled political environment such as Vietnam, no post official, including the consul general himself, should meet with Vietnamese officials unaccompanied. As an added benefit, in a culture that venerates seniority and status, including officers in meetings would enhance their ability to develop contacts and follow up independently on important issues.
  • The consulate general has produced some valuable and insightful reporting, but generally there is far less reporting than would be expected of a post of its size. Material provided by a consulate general often ends up in cables from the embassy, and there is a vibrant, informal exchange between the respective political and economic sections. More telling, however, is the lack of emphasis upon reporting by the consul general, who does not routinely report on his own activities nor provide comprehensive readouts. For example, a single cable reported on his visits to 6 provinces over the course of 7 months. This disinclination both eliminated a major source of reporting, as compared to previous years, and undercut the ability of other officers to follow up on his meetings. The inspection team counseled the consul general and his deputy to follow standard reporting practices.

iPads with no wi-fi, because folks will, of course pay for 4G in Vietnam – wait, what?!

  • For security reasons, there is no wireless Internet access at the embassy’s American Center, which limits the usefulness of the its new iPads. The OIG team discussed this situation with the embassy’s information management (IM) section, but due to the technical complexity of the issues, no decisions had been made by the end of the inspection. It is important that the mission continue to research ways to resolve these issues and still comply with Department regulations in 5 FAM 790-792.

VietNamNet has a pretty straightforward explanation – the new iPad has the advantage of having a 4G connection. However, that advantage has no use in Vietnam, where no mobile network has provided 4G services. So if you can’t use the new iPads at the American Center because there is no wireless access and there is no 4G service in Vietnam, the embassy clearly bought itself some pretty expensive mousepads.

The OIG inspectors, blessed their hearts recommends “that Embassy Hanoi explore the feasibility of establishing wireless Internet access or otherwise maximizing the usability of the Hanoi American Center’s iPads.”

Visa Referral System for national interests and who else?

  • The consulate general executive office, including both American and local staff, frequently contact the consular section to pass on information about specific visa applicants. For instance, they might ask the section to review a case; tell why they believe an applicant is qualified; or ask the consular chief or another manager to conduct a second interview. These practices violate the Department’s worldwide referral policy, which mandates that no information on specific cases be passed to the section outside of formal referrals. It is appropriate for the executive office to forward relevant correspondence to the consular section, but it should not ask for special treatment of visa applicants or advocate on their behalf outside the referral system. Shortly before this inspection, the deputy principal officer told local staff to stop sending cases directly to the consular section.
  • There are several issues regarding the way the referral system is handled at the consulate general. Not all referrals indicate how that referral directly supports U.S. national interests; they also do not specify the nature and degree of contact the person making the referral has had with the applicant, as is required by 9 FAM Appendix K.
  • The inspectors counseled the consul general and the deputy principal officer on the Department’s referral policy. They suggested having cards printed, explaining that visa eligibility is determined by strict legal requirements and that the consulate general’s leaders cannot influence the decision. This card, which could be given to anyone inquiring about visas, also could refer applicants to the consulate general’s Web site for additional information. The consul general accepted this suggestion.
  • The mission’s referral policy is out-of-date. As stated above, the referral practices conflict with Department policy on what constitutes a legitimate referral. The consular officers at the consulate general have not been trained on the Department’s policy. Because compliance has been an issue, it will be important for the Ambassador to review a monthly report on all referral cases, including information on any email or other contacts that circumvent the policy.

Wait, wait, our memory may be foggy but at some point in 2009 or 2010, we understand that there was a notice that went out to all missions requiring that the chief of the consular section provide a copy of the Worldwide Visa Referral Policy to mission staff and conduct a referral briefing to each officer who is authorized to utilize the mission referral system, before that officer submits and/or approves any visa referrals.  Actually it is in  9 FAM APPENDIX K, 102 WORLDWIDE VISA REFERRAL POLICY.  Now, this is not optional; the regs even say that “If an officer has not attended a referral briefing and signed the Worldwide NIV Referral Policy Compliance Agreement, he or she may not authorize or approve a referral, regardless of his or her position.”

That includes everyone, including Chiefs of Missions and Consul Generals, no doubt.

If there’s one thing that the State Department is really good at, it is writing and sending cables.  So if these senior officers had to be counseled by the OIG on the Department’s worldwide referral policy what are we to think? That they don’t read their incoming cables? Or were folks aware of the referral policy but were too scared to rock the boat?

We don’t know this for sure but we imagine that Vietnam as a communist country is considered a critical threat post for human intelligence. So, if those visa referrals did not indicate how each directly supports U.S. national interest, how come no one is asked to review all of them?

Consular managers missing on the visa line

  • The mission has a policy called “self clearing” that permits experienced, entry-level officers to send, without a manager’s review, memoranda requesting revocation of a petition. Given the sensitivity of these memoranda and the need for consistency, a manager should review all of them before they are sent to the National Visa Center for transmission to the Department of Homeland Security.
  • Some officers indicated that managers spend little time on the visa line. The inspectors emphasized the importance of managers spending some time adjudicating on the line, both to understand any systemic problems and to regularly see the types of cases that officers encounter.

Ugh!  And where’s the lead by example and all that feel good stuff about holding self accountable and modeling the leadership tenets? This is the kind of thing that makes newbies get jaded rather quickly. “Lead by example” but what if they’re learning the bad example?

FSI language training fail or who the heck talks nuclear proliferation with visa applicants?

  • Consular officers also indicated the language training at the Foreign Service Institute did not help them conduct consular interviews; many were more comfortable talking about nuclear nonproliferation than about family relationships.
  • The criteria for designating language study for a particular position (per 13 FAM 221 b.(l)) is that “only those positions where language proficiency is essential, rather than merely helpful or convenient, should be designated…” Language training, although useful, is expensive and time consuming. As such, it should provide officers with the particular language skills needed to adequately perform their job.

Oh dear, like how difficult is this really – you ask, Bạn có bao nhiêu trẻ em? or Urani bao nhiêu bạn có trong căn nhà của bạn? You can just ask the visa applicant how many kids do you have or how much Uranium do you have in your house? Or what kind of heavy water do you use in your laundry? Or are you or anyone in your family ever employed by A.Q Khan? The possibilities are endless, so really there’s no need to have a consular-centric vocabulary to adequately perform a consular job.

Follow the leader, it works

  • The consul general in Ho Chi Minh City circumvented host government importation restrictions by bringing in a vehicle that was more than 5 years old. There have been no reported repercussions. The stated reason behind the importation was to encourage the host government to relax this importation requirement, but the matter has not gained any momentum. It has not been followed up with a diplomatic note, nor was the issue raised with the Office of Foreign Missions. No other exceptions to the rule have been attempted, though some officers were encouraged to also import vehicles older than 5 years.

And so there you have it …. and life goes on….

The names of the accountable, responsible principal officers are all in the OIG reports and a matter of public record.  We hope to save our reading folks time from having to dig them up.

Domani Spero

Related item:

Inspection of Embassy Hanoi and Consulate General Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam Report Number ISP-I-12-11A, February 2012