USAID’s Job Cancellations Raise Questions About Its Staffing Future and Operations

Posted: 2:58 am ET

 

In early November, we blogged about USAID’s cancellation of all pre-employment offers for all USAID Foreign Service officer positions (see USAID Marks 56th Birthday With Job Cancellations For 97 “Valued Applicants”).

That cancellation email was sent on Tuesday, October 24, to all candidates that had received pre-employment offers.  We understand that FSO positions are advertised by technical “backstops.” This process is lengthy (1-2 years from application to start date) and expensive for the agency. So USAID has now revoked the pre-employment offers for all FSO candidates of multiple backstops.

Why is this expensive?  For those in the pre-employment stage, USAID had already paid for their recruitment, interviews, medical clearances, and security clearances. USAID pre-employment offers are conditional on medical and security clearances. In the past, candidates that complete both clearances join the next incoming C3 class, USAID’s equivalent to the State Department’s A-100 class for officers. We understand that the last C3 class was prior to the new Administration assuming office in January 2017.

So here are a few questions we received in this blog:

  • Is this part of the redesign strategy to merge State and USAID?
  • Given the lengthy and expensive application process, is USAID not planning to hire ANY new FSOs for another year, or two, or more?
  • This USAID decision seem to go against the spirit of the Senate’s September 7 proposed Foreign Operations Appropriations (PDF). Is this raising alarm bells for those interested in maintaining the staffing and operations of USAID?

Perhaps not alarm bells at the moment, but it has attracted congressional interests.  On November 9, the Senate Foreign Relations Ranking Member Ben Cardin (D-MD) sent this letter to USAID Administrator Mark Green requesting that he “immediately reverse this misguided decision”, and provide responses to several questions by Thursday, November 22. The letter notes:

Nearly ten years ago Congress challenged USAID to boost the capacity and expertise of its Foreign Service by authorizing the Development Leadership Initiative (DLI) from 2008 –2012. By authorizing the DLI, Congress made clear that having a capable and strong Foreign Service at USAID is essential for a successful foreign policy and national security approach. USAID’s decision to turn away seasoned development experts from the Foreign Service severely undermines U.S. foreign policy and national security goals. It is my understanding that USAlD’s internal guidance on the hiring freeze exempted any position “necessary to meet national security (including foreign relations) responsibilities.” It is difficult to believe that many of these Foreign Service positions do not meet the exemption threshold.

Senator Cardin also wanted the following questions answered:

  • Why is a hiring freeze still in place. and when does USAID expect to lift it?
  • Has USAID qualified any of these positions as national security related, and if so, why did USAID not grant exemptions to the freeze for these positions?
  • How many positions within USAID are exclusively for Foreign Service candidates? How many Foreign Service applicants has USAID accepted in 2017?
  • What does USAID mean that the positions were “cancelled”?
  • Do applicants for these USAID Foreign Service positions have the option to accept a non-Foreign Service post until the hiring freeze is lifted, and will it count towards any Foreign Service requirement or credit they may be pursuing as part of their Foreign Service career?
  • How many exemptions to the hiring freeze has the Agency made to date, both for Foreign Service and non-Foreign Service posts within the Agency?
  • How many open Foreign Service Limited positions are considered exempt from the hiring freeze. and can some ofthose positions be filled by some of the Foreign Service applicants who received the November 1, 2017 notice?
  • Will applicants who received the November 1. 2017 notice be permitted to apply for future foreign service assignments without restarting, from the beginning, the lengthy foreign service application process?
  • How many positions were ultimately created by the Development Leadership Initiative, and how many of those were subsequently “cancelled”?
Previously, on November 1, Ranking Member Nita Lowey of the House Appropriations Subcommittee on State, Foreign Operations, and Related Programs asked USAID Administrator Mark Green during a Subcommittee hearing to explain the job cancellationc.  It does not sound from Mr. Green’s response as if he understood the question or aware that jobs for candidates with pre-employment offers had been cancelled. “We’ve not eliminated positions, we’re still on a hiring freeze,” he said, but the federal hiring freeze has long been lifted; the one remaining is Tillerson’s hiring freeze. USAID is a separate agency, or maybe in practice, despite the absence of a “merge”, it’s not separate from State anymore. Administrator Green also said, “We’ve asked for an exception for this class and it was denied”, a response that appears to conflate the job cancellations in late October with an early 2017 USAID request to start a new class.
Click on image below to link to the video of the hearing starting at 1:24:10
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Waiting For Tillerson: Grievance Board’s Term Expired on 9/30, Members Down From 18 to 8

Posted: 2:52 am ET
Updated: 9:12 am PT

 

Update: After this blogpost was posted, we received the following from FSGB today:  “Secretary Tillerson appointed 11 members to the Board on November 3, 2017 – six former members were reappointed and five new members were appointed to their first terms on the Board. this yields a net increase of one Board member, bringing the total to 19 members. On the question of the website address: IRM is aware of the issue with the website and is researching a solution to resolve it. the current address is a temporary fix to allow us to stay online until IRM finds a permanent solution that will comply with the FAH.” The website has now been updated to reflect the members of the new Board.

The Foreign Service Grievance Board has 18 members.  The two-year appointment of 10 of 18 members expired on September 30, 2017. Secretary Tillerson needs to appoint new members of the Board. He is reportedly “considering appointments to the Board” but six weeks later, he has yet to announced his decision.

A quick background on the Foreign Service Grievance Board (FSGB) via fsgb.gov:

On March 26, 1976 Congress amended the Foreign Service Act of 1946 to establish a permanent grievance system.  Although it retained many of the procedures of the earlier, interim system, the statutory system carried additional functions and authority.  In particular, the new Board could order the suspension of agency actions pending the Board’s decision in cases involving the separation or disciplining of an employee if it considered such action warranted.  Further, the Board’s recommendations to an agency head could be rejected only if they “would be contrary to law, would adversely affect the foreign policy or security of the United States, or would substantially impair the efficiency of the service.”

Under Section 1105 of the Foreign Service Act of 1980, as amended (the Act), Congress established the Foreign Service Grievance Board, which consists of no fewer than five members who are independent, distinguished citizens of the United States. Well known for their integrity, they are not employees of the foreign affairs agencies or members of the Service. Each member, including the Chairperson, is appointed by the Secretary of State for a term of two years, subject to renewal. Appointments are made from nominees approved in writing by the agencies served by the Board and the exclusive representative for each such agency. The Chairperson may select one member as a deputy who, in the absence of the Chair, may assume the duties and responsibilities of that position. The Chair also selects an Executive Secretary, who is responsible to the Board through the Chairperson.

The grievance system underwent further change pursuant to the Foreign Service Act of 1980 and implementing regulations which went into effect on June 11, 1984.  The Foreign Commercial Service of the Department of Commerce and the Foreign Agricultural Service of the Department of Agriculture were added to the agencies already covered.

Through the years the makeup of the Board has changed from the initial nine members to a membership of 18.  Board members are appointed by the Secretary of State and the innovative mix of an almost equal number of professional arbitrators and of other members having Foreign Service experience has remained constant.

According to the FSGB, the terms of the Chairman and Deputy Chair expired on October 1, 2017, and the Board awaits the Secretary’s appointment of a new Chair.

In 2014, the average time for the disposition of an FSGB case from time of filing to Board decision, withdrawal or dismissal was 41 weeks. In 2015, it went down to 34 weeks, and in 2016 that time was up to 39 weeks.  The length of time for disposition of FSGB cases will likely go up again given that the members are down to its last eight members, they have no chairperson until one is appointed, and new members have yet to be appointed six weeks since the last Board’s appointment ended.

Below is the announcement from the FSGB:

Until October 1, the Foreign Service Grievance Board consisted of 18 members, appointed by the Secretary of State to two-year terms.  The terms of ten FSGB members, including the Chairperson, expired on September 30, 2017.  The Secretary of State is considering appointments to the Board, but has not yet announced his decision.  Until the appointments are announced, the remaining eight Board members, with the aid of their staff, will continue to work on resolving the cases before the Board to the extent allowed by time constraints and the limits of the Board’s authority under the Foreign Service Act.  Parties to grievance cases before the Board should adhere to all case processing deadlines, communicating with the adjudication panels through the Board Special Assistant assigned to their cases.  Grievants filing cases in this interim period will receive specific guidance after the grievance is filed. 

The Board requests patience, as case processing times will likely increase due to the reduced number of Board members able to rule on grievances.  Parties will be notified of changes to panel membership when such a change becomes necessary.

Also hey, what’s the deal with FSGB’s new URL –https://regionals.service-now.com/fsgb_public?

State Department websites are supposed to have a .gov in their URLs and are prohibited from using .com.  Per 5 FAH 8 H-342.3-2 Required Domain Names “Department public websites must use a state.gov domain name or .gov according to the naming convention for posts. The top-level name .com is strictly prohibited.”

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First @StateDept Postpones Annual Retirement Ceremony, Then Postpones Annual Awards Ceremony

Posted: 2:19 am ET

 

Each fall, usually in November, and tentatively scheduled for Friday, November 17, 2017 this year, the Secretary of State hosts the annual retirement ceremony. Invitations usually go out out in the first half of October to State Department Civil Service and Foreign Service employees who retires between September 1 the year before and August 31 of the current year. Employees who retire after August 31, 2017 for instance will be invited to next year’s ceremony (fall of 2018).

On October 23, State/HR sent out an email announcement informing recipients that the Secretary’s Annual Retirement Ceremony has been changed. “Regrettably, the tentative date for the Retirement Ceremony has been preempted by another event.” This year’s ceremony is now reportedly scheduled for Thursday, December 7. The invitations to the honorees were supposedly mailed out the first week of November.

The State Department’s public schedule for November 17 is listed as follows:

9:45 a.m. Secretary Tillerson delivers remarks at the Ministerial on Trade, Security, and Governance in Africa, at the Department of State.

11:30 a.m. Secretary Tillerson participates in a Family Photo, at the Department of State.

4:30 p.m. Secretary Tillerson meets with President Donald Trump, at the White House.

We don’t know which of the above pre-empted the event last week or if somebody else had some private ceremony at the State Department venue. We’re told this has to be done during the day to avoid overtime payment.  In any case, we’ll have to watch out what happens on December 7 and see if they can round up enough people for Tillerson’s first retirement ceremony.

On November 14, a notification also went out from State/HR that the 2017 Department Annual Awards Ceremony has been rescheduled:

The Secretary’s travel demands will make it impossible for him to preside over the Department Awards ceremony scheduled tentatively for November 21, 2017. We expect to reschedule the event for a date in the near future. The Secretary would like very much to present these awards himself and asks that we try to find a date and time that fits with his calendar. We will be in touch as soon as we have any information on the plans for the ceremony.

A howler arrived in our inbox:

The Secretary postponed State’s annual awards ceremony on short notice. Individuals understand the priority of world affairs and how a crisis takes precedence over a ceremony, however, that is precisely when another senior officer conducts the ceremony. That’s great the Secretary himself wants to be there, but the show must go on. Many (if not most) individuals receiving these prestigious awards had family traveling to DC to be present. The awards are a big deal and it is Thanksgiving weekend. Now all the travel plans are wasted, money is lost (who buys non-refundable tickets?) and Thanksgiving reunions are ruined.

It’s almost like the Secretary and his top team seek out every opportunity to destroy morale amongst his staff.

Perhaps Mr. Tillerson isn’t used to thinking about these things. But see, if he has counsel at the top besides the denizens of the “God Pod”, that individual would have anticipated this. The awardees are not just coming from next door, or within driving distance, and their families do not live in Washington, D.C. Anyone with a slight interest in the Foreign Service should know that. It is understandable that the Secretary has lots of responsibilities, but State could have used his deputy, or if he, too, is traveling, they could certainly use “P” to do this on Mr. Tillerson’s behalf. Of course, if advisors at the top are as blind as the secretary, this is what you get, which only alienates the building more.

Should be interesting to see where Secretary Tillerson’s travel take him this Thanksgiving week.

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A Look Back at @StateDept Staffing Efforts: Powell’s Diplomatic Readiness Initiative, Clinton’s Diplomacy 3.0

Posted 12:15 pm PT

 

Apparently, Secretary Tillerson sent a letter to Senator Corker with a chart showing that there are 2K more FSOs today than in 2008. Well, not because of anything special he did after he came into office in February 2017 but due to concerted efforts that started in 2001 and slowed down in 2012.

Lets’ rewind to 1993, two years after the dissolution of the Soviet Union and see what happened at the State Department. Read The Last Time @StateDept Had a 27% Budget Cut, Congress Killed ACDA and USIA.

In 2001, Secretary Colin Powell arrived in Foggy Bottom and made staffing the agency a priority.  He secured funding for his Diplomatic Readiness Initiative (DRI) which added 1,000 new positions to improve the Department’s diplomatic capacity and restore workforce capabilities. According to the State Department, “the DRI blueprint addressed new foreign policy initiatives, emerging priorities, and staffing deficits caused by the downsizing requirements of the mid-1990’s.”

On March 20, 2003, the United States invaded Iraq.

The State Department notes that “Staffing demands of Department operations in Iraq and Afghanistan diverted human resources and created vacancies at many other posts around the world. The growth of language- designated positions (LDPs) from roughly 3,000 in 2003 to over 4,270 in 2015 increased the Department’s training needs and diverted even more human resources.” 

So despite the DRI gains from 2002 to 2004, those positions were reportedly eroded through 2008.

Secretary Hillary Clinton came into office in January 2009. Early in her tenure, she promoted Diplomacy 3.0:

“Diplomacy 3.0” represents the three essential pillars of U.S. foreign policy: diplomacy, development, and defense. With Diplomacy 3.0, we are building diplomatic readiness, ensuring that diplomacy is again ready and able to address our nation’s growing and increasingly complex foreign policy challenges. To meet our expanding mission, we need Foreign Service personnel prepared to engage on a growing list of complex global issues from stabilization and reconstruction, to terrorism and international crime, to nuclear nonproliferation and the environment. Our diplomats also must be prepared to engage foreign audiences directly in their own languages, languages that may well require two or more years of study. To meet these needs, Secretary Clinton envisions a multi-year hiring plan that increases the Department’s Foreign Service by 25 percent. Meeting an expanding mission and properly staffing overseas posts, many of which are either difficult or dangerous, requires more personnel trained in the various skills demanded of the 21st Century’s smart diplomacy.

The State Department notes that it made significant gains during Diplomacy 3.0 through FY 2012 in addressing known challenges, such as staffing gaps and improving the language proficiency of the Foreign Service corps.  During the first two years of D3.0 hiring (2009 and 2010), the Department made significant progress in enhancing its language capabilities, filling key overseas vacancies, and providing resources for critical new strategic priorities through unprecedented levels of hiring. It further notes the following:

Diplomacy 3.0 (D3.0) increased the Department’s Foreign Service position base by 23 percent and the Civil Service (CS) by ten percent through FY 2013. However, much of this growth was attributable to increases in fee-funded Consular and Security positions. Without these positions, net FS position growth was roughly 13 percent.

D3.0 achieved about half its goal of a 25% leap (fee-funded positions excepted) but FY2011 marked a dramatic shift in the immediate funding environment. Then came the sequestration funding cuts enacted during FY 2013 and with that, the Department’s budget decreased and along with it, the robust hiring from the initial D3.0 years suffered. In 2012, we blogged that D3.0 was expected to conclude in FY2023 (see Foreign Service Staffing Gaps, and Oh, Diplomacy 3.0 Hiring Initiative to Conclude in FY2023).

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@StateDept Diplomat: Why would any woman in her right mind choose to report harassment? See me? #MeToo

Posted: 1:31 am ET

 

The following came to us from a Foreign Service Officer who said she is in the middle of an Equal Employment Opportunity (EEO) complaint, has already waited 16 months to get her appeal heard, and now, could face firing from the State Department.  We are republishing below the entire text:

#MeToo In the wake of the Weinstein allegations and the blessed floodgates they have opened, many people have asked why more women don’t report sexual harassment and assault, and called upon women to do so in order to out the harassers and protect other women from them. I offer my story fighting harassment and bullying at the U.S. Department of State as an example of the huge cost women can pay when they have the courage to take a stand. It is a story of a system that is designed to silence and indeed, punish those who come forward, while protecting the institution and the abusers at all costs.

I have served as a dedicated and decorated Foreign Service officer in the Department of State since May 2011 when I left my practice as a litigation attorney to serve my country. My first tour was in Port-au-Prince, Haiti where I worked with the Haitian parliament and political parties to improve their electoral system, including supporting women seeking and serving in elected office, as well as strengthening the rule of law, improving democratic processes, and protecting human rights. I was awarded the Department of State’s Meritorious Honor Award for my work advancing women’s rights in Haiti in 2013, called a “rising star” by my supervisors, and recommended for immediate tenure and promotion. On the strength of those recommendations, I was tenured on my first try in the fall of 2014 after only serving one overseas assignment – a rarity in the Foreign Service.

In early 2015 I was sent to a small Consulate in Latin America to serve as a vice consul adjudicating visas for my second tour. I eagerly threw myself into my new work. After less than 120 days, in May 2015 the Department of State medically evacuated me back to the United States and curtailed my assignment. Why? Because I was suffering from severe physical and mental health issues stemming from a months-long concerted campaign to harass, bully, and intimidate me on the basis of my gender. I filed an Equal Employment Opportunity (EEO) complaint with the Department of State, returned to Washington, D.C. and tried to move on with my life professionally and personally.

Little did I know the harassment, bullying, intimidation, and retaliation had only just begun. Over the course of the summer and fall of 2015 the individuals I had filed my EEO complaint against engaged in numerous acts of retaliation against me, including writing and filing a false, defamatory, negative performance review which to this day remains in my official employment file and has led to the complete ruin of my career at the Department of State. They also spread vicious, false, and defamatory rumors about me, stating that I had been forced to leave Post because I was having an affair with a married American working at the Consulate – an absolute falsehood. Finally, they refused to ship home all of my personal belongings that I had had to leave behind when I was quickly evacuated from the Consulate. After months of delay, all of my things arrived in D.C. covered in toxic mold – tens of thousands of dollars of personal property and memories destroyed. I filed an amended EEO complaint alleging that these actions were all taken in retaliation for filing my first EEO complaint and retained an attorney.

The Department assigned my case to an outside investigator in early 2016. I submitted hundreds of pages of affidavits, briefs, and exhibits detailing the harassment and bullying as well as the concerted and ongoing campaign of retaliation against me. The six individuals I accused submitted virtually identical and brief statements categorically denying all of my allegations and offering absolutely zero corroborating evidence. The investigator failed to interview any of the additional witnesses we proffered and issued a brief report denying my claims and failing to include or address much of the evidence I had proffered.

In July of 2016 I filed an appeal with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and was told by my attorney that it would be at least six to nine months before an administrative judge was assigned to my case due to the backlog of EEOC complaints and lack of sufficient resources to timely adjudicate them. After 16 months, an administrative judge was finally assigned to my appeal at the end of October 2017. But it is likely too late for her to help me.

In the intervening time, the State Department has refused to remove the false, negative, defamatory performance review filed in retaliation against me from my official performance file – stating that they could not do so unless and until ordered by a judge. I have been up for promotion two times since that review was placed in my file in November of 2015. Each time the promotion boards have denied me promotion and issued a letter stating that I was “low-ranked” in the bottom two percent of officers in my grade and cone. As explanation, each letter quoted extensively from the 2015 false, negative, defamatory review filed in retaliation for my EEO complaint, citing this review as the reason for my low ranking.

On November 8, I received notification that because of these consecutive low-rankings I had been referred for “selection out” of the Foreign Service, a polite way of saying I had been referred to a Board for firing. That Board will meet sometime before the end of 2017 and decide whether or not to fire me. The rules state that the Board will not accept any additional evidence or witness testimony and will make its decision instead based solely on my written performance file which includes the false, negative, defamatory, review filed in 2015 in retaliation for my EEO complaint.

By contrast, every individual I accused in my EEO complaint has been promoted and continues to serve at increasingly high ranks in the Foreign Service. They have faced absolutely zero consequences for their unlawful harassment, bullying, and retaliation against me – while I have suffered greatly for coming forward and reporting their unlawful actions and am about to pay the ultimate price: the loss of my job and livelihood.

I followed the rules. I worked within the system to come forward and report the harassment, bullying, and retaliation I have faced and continue to face. I continued to serve my country and work hard to represent the United States throughout this time. In fact, I have continued to receive awards for my work – most recently in September 2017. Yet I have paid and continue to pay dearly for my decision to come forward. So to those who ask why more women don’t come forward, I ask “why would any woman in her right mind choose to report harassment in the workplace when this is the result?”

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Inbox: Feast-or-Famine Games Being Played With State Staffing Levels

Posted: 1:33 am ET
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From our inbox this week:

I agree with AFSA that the house is on fire, but the question is what to do about it?  To use the fire analogy, you have to remove the fuel, the oxygen, or the heat to put out a fire.  So, what should be done to extinguish the current situation?  I certainly appreciate Ambassador Stephenson’s pointing out that there is indeed a fire, and I hope she will promote some constructive ways it can be put out.

From my perspective as an 02 generalist who has been in the Department for 10 years, staffing has never been constant.  I came in after Secretary Powell’s Diplomatic Readiness Initiative, which was needed because of the hiring freeze under Secretary Albright.  Colleagues hired under the DRI saw accelerated promotions to fill the ranks out where too many vacancies existed.  After I joined State, Secretary Clinton started the Diplomacy 3.0 accelerated hiring, which resulted in the much-discussed Pig in the Python.  Now, we are seeing a strategy to reduce jobs at the top, limit hiring of new employees, and encourage early retirement through a $25k incentive.  This is no way to run any kind of organization, public or private!  The feast-or-famine games being played with State staffing levels over the years distort careers and upturn lives.  Because of the DRI, employees with too little experience were placed in positions they were ill prepared for.  Because of the current situation, I know of some good, experienced officers who opened their windows to join the Senior Foreign Service (before Trump’s election), who are now facing an early exit from State with the reduced promotion numbers.  How in the world can people plan their careers?   How can State train and develop the next set of leaders?  How can we recruit the best and brightest to public service that is not related to the military or homeland security?  Again, this is no way to run a professional organization.

Although I certainly agree that reforms at State are needed, I strongly disagree with the approach that the supposed employee-led redesign has been enacted.  Reducing staffing levels to meet some arbitrary goal only serves to weaken the organization and create unintentional distortions.  (Side note: And the EFM hiring freeze, I mean EFM managed hiring process, is literally tearing apart families.)  Perhaps the solution is to have more Congressional oversight, at least as far as staffing levels are concerned.  I know of no one who welcomes more Congressional oversight, but I am frustrated with the yo-yo like nature that staffing at State has been treated.

The State Department will get through this latest challenge, I have no doubt.  The question is just how long it will take to recover, and how many good people will be sacrificed along the way.

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Tillerson’s Staff Reduction Plan Threatens Gains in Bridging @StateDept Language Gaps

Posted: 4:03 am ET
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The ability to speak and read foreign languages is a key Foreign Service competency. All FS Officers (Generalists) and some FS Specialists are required to reach general professional (3/3) proficiency in at least one foreign language during their careers. In 2016, the State Department said that its  success in staffing positions with officers with the required language proficiency was due, in great part, to the increased resources received in the Diplomacy 3.0 initiative.

Last year, the agency developed a plan to continue to bridge its language gaps — to “continue to expand the training complement, as resources are made available to enhance foreign language skills.” The Department said that it’s language requirements “are much greater today than before 9/11″ but it also noted that the budget environment threatens to reduce the significant progress the Department has made. Even before Rex Tillerson happened to the State Department, the agency already warned last year that “without funds to hire staff above attrition, the Department is not likely to make significant progress in increasing the number of LDPs [language designated positions] filled with fully qualified officers.”

A good number of our readers already know about language training in the State Department, but we also have readers who are not familiar with it, so this part is an explainer. The State Department’s Foreign Service Institute (FSI) grouped languages into four broad categories based on their difficulty to learn:

Category I Languages include the most English-like or the easiest languages for native speakers of English to learn. Included in this category are the Romance languages, such as Spanish and Portuguese, as well as other Western European languages, such as Swedish and Dutch. On average, these languages require 24 to 30 weeks of full-time study to achieve the 3/3 proficiency level.

Category II Languages generally take 36 weeks of full-time study to achieve the 3/3 proficiency level. Included in this category are Indonesian, Swahili, and German, among others.

Category III Languages generally require 44 weeks of full-time study to achieve a 3/3. These languages are substantially harder to learn because they are less like English. Among the Category III languages are Hindi, Dari, Persian, Russian, and Urdu.

Category IV Languages are the most difficult languages for English speakers to learn. This category includes Arabic, Chinese, Japanese, and Korean, which require training for roughly 88 weeks, including a ten-month language immersion in country, to obtain the general professional (3/3) proficiency level.

The general professional (3/3) proficiency level means being able to use the language with sufficient ability participate in most formal and informal discussion on practical, social, and professional topics. It means being able to conceptualize and hypothesize. An 0/0 in speaking/reading indicates only a cursory level knowledge of the language while a 5/5 proficiency means highly articulate, well-educated, native-speaker proficiency. If you want to send a diplomat to a radio station to better explain U.S. foreign policy to host country nationals, you don’t send somebody with “basic” language skills. If you send a DSS agent to a high threat post without appropriate language training, it can limit not just his/her communication with the local guard force but also situational awareness and his/her ability to protect the mission.

The State Department defines priority languages as languages that are of critical importance to U.S. foreign policy, languages that are experiencing severe shortages or staffing gaps, or present specific challenges in recruiting and training.  So for example, Mandarin Chinese, Dari, Farsi, Pashto, Hindi, Urdu, Korean, and Arabic—all are languages spoken in China, Iran, India, Korea, and throughout the Near East—and are considered priority languages.

It took the State Department 12 years to get from 303 to 475 Chinese Mandarin speakers. Persian-Iranian speakers increased from 14 in FY2003 to 44 in FY2015, an increase of 214.3%. Persian-Afghan speakers went from 12 in 2003 to 85 in 2015, a 608% increase. Hindi speakers went from 12 to 75 or a 525% increase. The State Department’s Arabic speakers increased 47% between 2003-2015, from 232 to 341. Let’s not forget Korean speakers, where State had 76 3/3 speakers in 2003 and 102 in 2015.

In 2013, State/OIG estimated training students to the 3/3 level in easier world languages such as Spanish can cost $105,000 while training students in hard languages such as Russian can cost $180,000. Training in super hard languages such as Chinese and Arabic can cost up to $480,000 per student.  Students learning super hard languages to the 3/3 level generally spend one year domestically at the Foreign Service Institute (FSI) and then a second year at an overseas training facility.  The OIG’s estimates were reportedly developed based on the FSI weekly tuition rate, the standard number of weeks for 3/3 raining, the salary of a midlevel FSO, benefits based on Congressional Budget Office  figures, and per diem based on 14FAM 575.3 and Federal Travel Regulations. Cost estimates for super-hard languages were developed using the above methodology for the  domestic portion of training and data provided byEmbassy Beijing and NEA and data in State’s standard overseas support cost model for the overseas  portion of language training.

Is we use the OIG cost estimate of $480K to train a student in super hard language, it means U.S. taxpayers already spent $48M to train 102 diplomats to speak Korean.  We don’t know who are planning to take the buyouts, but let’s say for the sake of argument that all 102 Korean speakers take Tillerson’s buyouts. That’s $48M down the drain. How about the $163M taxpayers already spent on 341 Arabic speakers? Or the $228M spent to train 475 Chinese Mandarin speakers? Or $84M already expended the last twelve years to train 175 Japanese speakers?

What happens when they leave? Does the State Department then hire contractors on an “as needed” basis to track and report the goings on in the Korean peninsula and everywhere else where the U.S is planning to shrink its presence?

It is important to underscore that these gains in the Foreign Service’s language capacity did not happen overnight. And when people leave, as projected in Mr. Tillerson’s reported plan, replenishing their ranks, skills and experience will not happen overnight. Congress can appropriate new funds in the future, of course, but there is no currency that can buy the U.S. time.

  Related post:

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@StateDept Awards $2,105,663 Contract For Efficiency Task Force Support #Redesign

Posted: 12:58 am ET
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According to a July 2017 NYT report, Mr. Tillerson had hired Deloitte and Insigniam to help oversee the State Department’s reorganization.

If you click on Award ID GS00Q09BGD0018 displayed below via USAspending.gov that shows $2,105,663.00, it will take you to SAQMMA16F1155 dated June 30, 2017 with an obligated amount of $2,105,663.00. The contract awarded to Deloitte Consulting LLP includes the following details for Deloitte:

Product or Service Code | D318: IT AND TELECOM- INTEGRATED HARDWARE/SOFTWARE/SERVICES SOLUTIONS, PREDOMINANTLY SERVICES

Principal NAICS Code | 541512: COMPUTER SYSTEMS DESIGN SERVICES

Under contract information for SAQMMA16F1155, USASpending notes “THIS TASK ORDER PROVIDES SUPPORT FOR A DEPARTMENT OF STATE EFFICIENCY TASK FORCE. IGF::OT::IGF”

If we add this to the $1,086,250 for the organizational study that the State Department previously spent, the cost for Tillerson’s redesign is now $3,191,913.00.

As of this writing, we have not been able to locate the SAQMMA16F1155 documents on fedbiz.gov. The following clips are extracted from USAspending.gov where bare bones contract information is typically published. Click on the image for a larger view.

 

 

Related posts:

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@StateDept to Offer Buyouts to First 641 Employees Who Agree to Leave by April 2018 #$25M

Posted: 12:15 am ET
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In case you have not seen this yet, the NYT reported on November 10 that the State Department will soon offer a $25,000 buyout to diplomats and staff members who quit or take early retirements by April. We think the payout number is $40K, see our comment below:

The decision is part of Secretary of State Rex W. Tillerson’s continuing effort to cut the ranks of diplomats and Civil Service officers despite bipartisan resistance in Congress. Mr. Tillerson’s goal is to reduce a department of nearly 25,000 full-time American employees by 8 percent, which amounts to 1,982 people.

To reach that number, he has already frozen hiring, reduced promotions, asked some senior employees to perform clerical duties that are normally relegated to lower-level staff members, refused to fill many ambassadorships and senior leadership jobs, and fired top diplomats from coveted posts while offering low-level assignments in their place. Those efforts have crippled morale worl

Still, State Department accountants have told Mr. Tillerson that only about 1,341 people are expected to retire or quit by the end of September 2018, the date by which Mr. Tillerson has promised to complete the first round of cuts.

Indeed, rumors of a buyout have reduced the number of departures expected this year. So $25,000 will be given to the first 641 employees who agree to leave by April, a representative from the State Department confirmed on Friday.
[…]
Asked about the many vacancies at the State Department, Mr. Trump said in an interview with Laura Ingraham of Fox News: “You know, don’t forget, I’m a businessperson and I tell my people, ‘When you don’t need to fill slots, don’t fill them.’ But we have some people that I’m not happy with there.”

Pressed about critical positions like the assistant secretary of state, Mr. Trump responded in a statement that has since reverberated around the State Department. “The one that matters is me,” he said. “I’m the only one that matters because, when it comes to it, that’s what the policy is going to be.”

See the link to the full article below.

As far as we know, this POTUS has never been anywhere near Foggy Bottom since his election. Based on the archive of his tweets, he also tweeted only nine times about the State Department between 2014-2016. So when he said in that Ingraham interview that But we have some people that I’m not happy with there” — we have to wonder who are the “some people” he was referring to, and why was he “not happy.”

Given his lack of direct interactions with the employees of the State Department, we can only point to one incident that happened very early in his administration that may account for this “unhappiness.”  Back in February, we blogged about our concern related to the leaked dissent memo over Trump’s travel ban (see Dissent Channel: Draft Memo Over #MuslimBan Leaks – Now What?).  We wrote then that the leak will probably cause the greatest crisis of confidence between the new President and the Foreign Service since 1971 (see Dissent Channel Leak: Who Gains the Most From Flogging the Laundry Like This?).  In that 1971 case, President Nixon apparently instructed Secretary Rogers to fire all 50 FSOs who signed a letter protesting an anticipated invasion of Cambodia. We are not aware of similar known instruction from this president but watching the news coming out of Foggy Bottom this past several months, one cannot help but wonder what function that leaked dissent memo had in the decision not to staff the agency at its upper ranks, and the reorganization that the new secretary of state has now embarked on (FOIA ninjas, here’s a case for you!).

Trump’s 2018 Budget requested $25.6 billion in base funding for the Department of State and USAID, a $10.1 billion or 28 percent reduction from the 2017 annualized CR level. The Budget also requested $12.0 billion as Overseas Contingency Operations funding for extraordinary costs, primarily in war areas like Syria, Iraq, and Afghanistan, for an agency total of $37.6 billion. Note that the FY18 request under “Voluntary Separation Incentive Payments” include “Section 3523 of Title 5, U.S. Code shall be applied with respect to funds made available by this Act by substituting “$40,000” for “$25,000″ in subsection (b)(3)(B) of such section.”  (Read 5 U.S. Code 3523).

In September this year, the Senate Appropriations Committee approved “a $51.35 billion appropriations bill to strengthen federal programs and operations that support national security and American values abroad.”  The minority announcement notes that the allocation is $10.7 billion above the President’s request as scored by CBO, but it is $1.9 billion below the fiscal year 2017 enacted level. We expect this will pass due to bipartisan support.  Despite the reduced request by the Trump Administration, Congress reaffirmed its primary role in appropriating funds and gave the State Department more money than was requested.

And yet, the State Department is going forward with shrinking its American workforce by 8 percent. NYT put the reduction in number at 1,982 employees. The NYT report also says the first 641 employees who agree to leave by April will get $25K. The budget request actually increases the buyout amount to $40K. If our math is right, that means a total payout of about $25.6 million.

See: @StateDept/USAID Staffing Cut and Attrition: A Look at Real Numbers and Projected Attrition, our calculations at 600 missed by 41 employees for the buyout.

We remember reading, in the aftermath of the dissent memo leak that the Democratic Members of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs reminded the Trump Administration that State Department personnel who dissent from policy are protected by law and sought assurances that State Department personnel would not be subject to harassment or retribution for offering dissenting viewpoints.

But who’s going to protect an entire agency in what now looks glaringly like collective punishment?

A career ambassador who left the Service the last couple of years told us recently, “Until now, I’ve kept an open mind and a stiff upper lip. But now I’m ready to conclude that they really are working incrementally [to] fuck the traditional Foreign Service.”

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AFSA Shouts “Fire!” and a @StateDept Spox on Background Asks, “Fire, What Fire?”

Posted: 2:58 pm PT
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The piece below, in case you have not read it yet, is an advance copy of AFSA President Barbara Stephenson’s opinion essay on the depletion of the Foreign Service career ranks. Not NYT or the Washington Post but for a December 2017 column in the Foreign Service Journal, the group’s trade publication with a reported circulation of 17,500 and approximately 35,000 readers (this column was also circulated via an email marketing service). We’ve been watching the departures from the State Department since January, and this is the first time we’re seeing these numbers. And frankly, the first time we’re hearing the alarm from the “voice of the Foreign Service.” We have some thoughts below after the piece.

 

Time to Ask Why
December 2017 Foreign Service Journal
President’s Views

By AFSA President Ambassador Barbara Stephenson

I begin with a reminder that we, the members of the career Foreign Service, have an obligation as stewards of our institution to be effective advocates for why diplomacy matters. That requires some skill in explaining how diplomacy works.

While raising awareness of and appreciation for the Foreign Service is a longstanding goal, one AFSA has pursued with renewed vigor and impact over the past couple years, the need to make the case for the Foreign Service with fellow Americans and our elected representatives has taken on a new urgency. The cover of the Time magazine that arrived as I was writing this column jarred me with its graphic of wrecking balls and warning of “dismantling government as we know it.”

While I do my best, as principal advocate for our institution and as a seasoned American diplomat, to model responsible, civil discourse, there is simply no denying the warning signs that point to mounting threats to our institution—and to the global leadership that depends on us.

There is no denying that our leadership ranks are being depleted at a dizzying speed, due in part to the decision to slash promotion numbers by more than half. The Foreign Service officer corps at State has lost 60 percent of its Career Ambassadors since January. Ranks of Career Ministers, our three-star equivalents, are down from 33 to 19. The ranks of our two-star Minister Counselors have fallen from 431 right after Labor Day to 369 today—and are still falling. 

These numbers are hard to square with the stated agenda of making State and the Foreign Service stronger. Were the U.S. military to face such a decapitation of its leadership ranks, I would expect a public outcry. Like the military, the Foreign Service recruits officers at entry level and grows them into seasoned leaders over decades. The talent being shown the door now is not only our top talent, but also talent that cannot be replicated overnight. The rapid loss of so many senior officers has a serious, immediate, and tangible effect on the capacity of the United States to shape world events.

Meanwhile, the self-imposed hiring freeze is taking its toll at the entry level. Intake into the Foreign Service at State will drop from 366 in 2016 to around 100 new entry-level officers joining A100 in 2018 (including 60 Pickering and Rangel Fellows).

Not surprisingly, given the blocked entry path, interest in joining the Foreign Service is plummeting. I wrote with pride in my March 2016 column that “more than 17,000 people applied to take the Foreign Service Officer Test last year,” citing interest in joining the Foreign Service as a key indicator of the health of the institution. What does it tell us, then, that we are on track to have fewer than half as many people take the Foreign Service Officer Test this year?

As the shape and extent of the staffing cuts to the Foreign Service at State become clearer, I believe we must shine a light on these disturbing trends and ask “why?” and “to what end?”   

Congress rejected drastic cuts to State and USAID funding. The Senate labeled the proposed cuts a “doctrine of retreat” and directed that appropriated funds “shall support” staffing State at not less than Sept. 30, 2016, levels, and further directed that “The Secretary of State shall continue A-100 entry-level classes for FSOs in a manner similar to prior years.”

Given this clear congressional intent, we have to ask: Why such a focus on slashing staffing at State? Why such a focus on decapitating leadership? How do these actions serve the stated agenda of making the State Department stronger?

Remember, nine in ten Americans favor a strong global leadership role for our great country, and we know from personal experience that such leadership is unthinkable without a strong professional Foreign Service deployed around the world protecting and defending America’s people, interests and values.  Where then, does the impetus come from to weaken the American Foreign Service?  Where is the mandate to pull the Foreign Service team from the field and forfeit the game to our adversaries?

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AFSA says that the Foreign Service officer corps “has lost 60 percent of its Career Ambassadors since January.” We winced when we saw that one. Not all career diplomats attain this rank; in fact, only a handful of individuals are nominated by the President to become Career Ambassadors but this is the very top rank of the Foreign Service, equivalent to a four-star general. Imagine if the Pentagon lost 60 percent of its 0-10 but way, way worse because the Foreign Service is a much smaller service, and the loss of one or two officials have significant impact to the leadership ranks.

When we saw the AFSA message Tuesday night, we noticed that social media started latching on to the 60 percent loss.  AFSA could have used actual numbers as it did with the break down of the second and third top ranks in the FS, but for its own reason, it used the percentage instead of actual numbers for the career ambassadors. So that caused a mild feeding frenzy that’s not helpful because when folks realize that 60 percent is really 3 out of 5 career ambassadors, they won’t be happy.

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