Tillerson’s End of Year Confession: I Am Proud of Our Diplomacy #TigerTeamsin2018

Posted: 4:02 pm PT
Updated: 12/31 10:29 am PT

 

On December 28, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson published an op-ed in The New York Times, entitled “I Am Proud Of Our Diplomacy”. You may also read it here via state.gov.

On North Korea: A door to dialogue remains open, but we have made it clear that the regime must earn its way back to the negotiating table. Until denuclearization occurs, the pressure will continue.

Pakistan: We are prepared to partner with Pakistan to defeat terrorist organizations seeking safe havens, but Pakistan must demonstrate its desire to partner with us.

Russia: Absent a peaceful resolution of the Ukraine situation, which must begin with Russia’s adherence to the Minsk agreements, there cannot be business as usual with Russia.

Iran: We will continue to work with our allies and with Congress to explore options for addressing the nuclear deal’s many flaws, while building a like-minded effort to punish Iran for its violations of ballistic missile commitments and its destabilizing activities in the region.

On the redesign:

I am proud of what our State Department and Agency for International Development teams around the world have accomplished this year, and our progress will continue in 2018 and beyond. To that end, we have undertaken a redesign of the State Department to strengthen our teams’ ability to deliver on our mission.

Our redesign doesn’t involve simply shifting boxes on an organizational chart. Our changes must address root problems that lead to inefficiencies and frustrations. By making changes like streamlining our human resources and information technology systems, better aligning personnel and resources with America’s strategic priorities, and reforming duplicative processes, we are giving our people more opportunities to flourish professionally and spend more time confronting the global problems they have dedicated their careers to solving.

When I wake up each morning, my first thought is, “How can I and my colleagues at the State Department use diplomacy to prevent people around the world from being killed, wounded or deprived of their rights?” In spite of the challenges, I remain optimistic about the power of diplomacy to resolve conflicts and advance American interests. My confidence comes from the knowledge that our efforts are carried out daily by patriotic and dedicated State Department employees who make sacrifices to serve with patience and persistence and who, by advancing democratic values the world over, are protecting our citizens’ rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

Should we thank the new R Undersecretary Steve Goldstein for this? A bit underwhelming after a tumultuous year around the world, and a year of ‘what the heck’ is going on in Foggy Bottom. Folks can be forgiven if you let out a deep sigh. We did, too.  Tillerson did not mention them in his op-ed but we’re hearing about the “tiger teams” and the “keystone projects” that are in some of our readers’ future as 2018 marches in.

Rawr!

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Burn Bag: The Foreign Service Should Thank Rex Tillerson

Note: We received the following letter as a submission to the Burn Bag. As most of our readers know, the Burn Bag submissions are by design short (though not always sweet) but we’ve decided that this letter merits an exception because it provides our readers a perspective that’s different from the currently prevailing one.

We do not know the identity of the writer but we have a few things that we can share with our readers. S/he is an FS-03 Foreign Service Officer who said s/he was dismayed by the latest public resignation that got so much media attention. S/he has previously served overseas in Asia and also in D.C. where s/he staffed various Department principals, witnessing first hand some of State’s long-standing problems. The writer understands that it would be better to attach her/his name to this piece, but wants to remain anonymous because his/her letter “is not about me, it is about showing that the Foreign Service is multi-dimensional and should not only be defined by Shackelford’s resignation letter.” For those interested, the Shackelford letter is here. Both letters are presented without comments. You are welcome to use the blog’s comment section for civil discussion. 

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The Foreign Service Should Thank Rex Tillerson

In his book Political Order and Political Decay, Francis Fukuyama makes a powerful argument that the “quality of the American government has been deteriorating steadily for more than a generation.” This is in stark contrast to alarmist news articles asserting that the State Department’s current problems began on the day of Donald Trump’s inauguration. Leading the most recent and vocal charge, Foreign Service Officer Elizabeth Shackelford’s much publicized resignation letter has been touted as a symbol of plunging morale and dysfunction within the Department. Shackelford follows the narrative that Secretary Tillerson wants to gut State and diminish the role of diplomacy. Yet underlying these assertions is a misconception of what a healthy State Department looks like. They also fail to grasp interagency dynamics that outlast successive administrations.

In an example of unqualified assertions, former Counselor of the Department Eliot Cohen penned a recent op-ed skewering Secretary Tillerson’s redesign efforts as “management-jargon-laden reforms…that demoralized the Foreign Service.” I cannot argue with the recognition of a demoralized Foreign Service. Change is hard and selling it to our community of stakeholders has never been easy. Secretary Tillerson and his team have thus far failed to communicate the redesign’s benefits, but honestly, in the current politicized environment, would they have been able to? If the Foreign Service wants to reclaim our standing as non-partisan professionals, we should look at the problems the redesign is meant to address and work to shape the discussion, rather than opt out or disrupt from within.

Secretary Tillerson started his redesign by asking a simple question “what is the Department of State’s mission, and how can it best achieve goals and objectives?” While this can easily be dismissed as Diplomacy 101, it is a necessary question to ask. Unlike the military, the State Department operates at the behest of our political leadership and Congress. Inherent to both are special interests groups that back them. So while politicians breathe new life and ideas into the bureaucracy, over time they have also contributed to a dilution of State’s mission – heaping pet projects and cumbersome reports onto a Department unable to handle them. The result has been an erosion of State’s autonomy and increasing overlap between conflicting priorities. Every year we process over 300 congressionally mandated reports on topics ranging from intellectual property and labor issues to democracy promotion and counterterrorist financing. All of these issues have merit, yet how can an embassy advance broader U.S. interests when it has officers asking host governments to pass laws strengthening IPR protection, counterterrorist financing, and trafficking in persons all at the same time? The outward message gets diluted. If everything is a priority, nothing is.

The energy and zeal with which dedicated foreign and civil servants advance the various issues in their portfolio should be commended. Likewise, it is important to understand their frustration when a new administration determines that their work is no longer a priority. That said, creating a more streamlined, mission focused State Department will necessarily leave some stakeholders disillusioned. As we have seen, even the prospect of change has riled a bureaucracy that has grown accustomed to protecting its budgets and issue areas at the expense of broader coherency and efficiency. As a low-level FS-03, I do not claim to know what the Department’s priorities should be. But it is healthy for the Secretary to ask questions on whether we should promote democracy over institution building or freedom over good governance.

Shackelford’s assertion that high-level departures and resignations over the past year have handicapped U.S. diplomacy is misguided. For nearly a decade there has been a group of senior FSOs that have traded ambassadorships and leadership positions amongst each other, effectively blocking much needed generational change. While these FSOs all served with distinction and the way they were pushed out was unbecoming of their decades of service, we should not mourn their loss.

Cohen claims that Secretary Tillerson’s “incapacity at finding and pushing through appointees” crippled his effectiveness. And to that I ask, would Cohen prefer self-serving political hacks instead? While congressional and political oversight prevents bureaucracies from “running amuck,” political patronage has the opposite effect, usually serving to advance narrow short-term interests. In the United States political loyalty is rewarded with positions in government, often (but not always) to the detriment of bureaucratic autonomy and the ability to create long-term strategy. The fact that Secretary Tillerson chose to rely on FSOs in acting positions, elevating their status and providing them increased stature, demonstrates the value he places on their experience and expertise. When pundits complain about a leadership vacuum at the State Department, I have to wonder: where is the Foreign Service Association in standing up for career FSOs like Susan Thornton and Francisco Pamieri who have successfully led their respective bureaus?

So why, if Secretary Tillerson wants to reform the Department, has he enthusiastically embraced a 30% budget cut? Let’s start by looking at the role congress plays in forcing pet projects on the Department and reducing bureaucratic efficiency with a maze of regulations and mandated reports. Congressional micro-management has decreased State’s effectiveness, forcing skilled bureaucrats to spend time on creativity stifling administrative work rather than formulating policy and strategy. Funds for pet projects are cheered at the time they are allocated, but it takes people, time, and money to spend money. Once an initiative is introduced it becomes embedded in the bureaucracy and takes on a momentum that is difficult to reign in. Temporarily cutting funds is one of the best ways to force difficult decisions. It also helps signal to special interest groups that the Department is going to be prudent in deciding which issues it will take on.

Asserting that the Department’s decline started on January 20, 2017 makes it easy to forget the neglect of previous Secretaries and helps us brush off the necessary, but painful, changes Secretary Tillerson is trying to push through. It also serves to absolve the bureaucracy for its complicity in facilitating State’s declining influence. I witnessed our collective failings first hand staffing Department principals. Information memos often came up with boilerplate jargon, offering no useful insights or recommendations. Briefing checklists were full of platitudes but lacked tangible goals the principal needed to achieve during his/her meeting. It is no wonder Secretary Tillerson expanded the policy planning staff.

I do not know if Secretary Tillerson’s redesign will be successful. I do not know if he is adopting the right approach or tactics. What I do know is that if the State Department continues on the same course it will permanently cede influence to political appointees at the NSC and their backers at partisan Washington think tanks. I also know that if the Foreign Service gets mired in partisan rhetoric and the political buzzwords of the day, it will lose any remaining support it has in congress and with the American public.

The American people need career diplomats, not only to develop policy and strategy, but also to help conserve and pass down to future administrations the democratic values and diplomatic traditions that have made this country great. Sadly, our ability to deliver on this mission has been in decline for decades – a bloated NSC is just one example how State has failed to provide the executive branch with what it needs. Stemming this institutional decay will require a Secretary willing to take political punches and a bureaucracy ready to suffer through a period of painful change. Self-serving resignation letters full of unqualified assertions are not bold statements. They are an abdication of responsibility that reinforces stereotypes of the State Department as a “deep state” bureaucracy acting outside the interests of the American people. Nothing could be further from the truth.

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Tillerson Issues New Personnel Actions, But What’s That About Lifting the EFM Hiring Freeze?

Posted: 1:33 am ET

 

On Monday, December 18, the State Department reportedly announced that Secretary Tillerson approved a number of additional personnel actions as follows:

#1. An A-100 class with a start date of March 19, 2018

#2. A Specialist Class  with a start date of April 2, 2018

#3. Resumption of Civill Service lateral movement within the Department  beginning January 7, 2018

#4. Resumption of internal Civil Service competitive promotions beginning January 7, 2018

#5. Approval of 30 new Presidential Management Fellows (PMF) hires from the 2016/2017 PMF cohorts

#6. Approval of an additional 20 PMF hires from the 2018 cohort

#7. Conversion of 20 pathways interns to full-time Civil Service permanent positions

In related news, on December 12, Tillerson announced several immediate changes attributed to the redesign at the State Department (see Tillerson Announces “Immediate Changes” From Redesign, USAID is Now in the GAL – Yay?).  The number one item on the list of “wins” was the “Expanded Opportunities for Eligible Family Members” and the announcement that the State Department was “lifting the hiring freeze for 2018 EFMs and providing the bureaus with greater placement flexibility.”

We have since learned from two sources that “lifting” the hiring freeze actually means a 50% lift. We understand that Bureaus will be allowed to fill 50% of their EFM jobs, and they will have the authority to make those decisions themselves, instead of those requests going all the way up the godpod.

Also it turns out USAID is also already in the GAL (the last item on Tillerson’s list of immediate changes)? What’s that?  Tillerson’s inner circle celebrating the town hall should not do a happy dance? And no cookies either?

But seriously — what process did the redesign teams go through that resulted in this decision to lift, excuse me, lift the hiring freeze for 50% of 2018 EFMs?

What kind of study are they conducting regarding the rest of the EFM jobs?

What was the decision process for imposing this freeze in the first place, we’d really like to know.

Because unless Tillerson is planning on some post closures, these EFM jobs are needed at our overseas posts whether there’s a redesign or not, whether it’s now or later. The work will still be there: community liaison, mailroom clerk, security escort, security office assistant, general service assistant, etc. Are they going to come back after the “redesign” is completed and say go ahead, you may now hire the other 50% because we’ve figured out posts need them afterall? Or are they going to lift the other 50% the next time Tillerson gets into a dire press patch, and needs another “win”.

So you know, it’s good that 50% of diplomatic spouses waiting for jobs overseas will now be able to fill some jobs but this still doesn’t make sense. To us, this still feels capricious.

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Remember When the Fight For Reform Used to be Normal in the Foreign Service

Posted: 2:31 am ET

 

All this talk about reorganization …. a retired FSO recently told us that the last time there was a grass roots, officer led call for action for changes in the Foreign Service was in 1999. The officer remembered “stealth RIF of FSOs, expansion of GS and political appointees and virtually no attention to the institution itself and its longstanding, multiple problems.”

 

 

Madeleine K. Albright was secretary of state from 1997 to 2001. She  recently wrote an op-ed about the “hollowing out” of the State Department (see WaPo: The national security emergency we’re not talking about).  Yay! What short memories we have.  We should also note that Warren Christopher who preceded Albright served as secretary of state from 1993-1997 and managed the then unprecedented 27% budget and staffing cuts at the State Department (see The Last Time @StateDept Had a 27% Budget Cut, Congress Killed ACDA and USIA).

As the retired FSO shared the story, a small group of concerned active officers came together and the result was a letter drafted “when the talk became tiresome.”  The letter we’re sharing below appeared as a Department Notice (Thanks X!), was reworked numerous times and eventually gained over 1,500 signatures from ambassadors to secretaries. This was the days before social media, and without the Sounding Board. The FSOs involved sent out the letter via emails and collected signatures at the entrance of the cafeteria in Foggy Bottom.  One FSO subsequently added a crossed but clipped blue ribbon, which by the time the new Secretary of State arrived had spread throughout the Department.  The FSO explained that the ribbon meant “No more blue ribbon panels!”, of which there had already been far too many and no action.

All of this had apparently been timed to be able to address the still unknown next Secretary of State (who turned out to be Colin Powell).  He was met by a sea of clipped blue ribbons the day he arrived and we were told that the movement was one of the things that caused him to announce that he intended to be a COO as well as be CEO of the Department. We understand that two things derailed the effort: 1) one of Powell’s senior manager’s fixation/fear of the strategic in favor of smaller, tactical fixes wherever opportunities presented themselves, and 2) 9/11 happened which set the stage for the real future decline of the Foreign Service and the Department.

The retired FSO said: “The point is that no serious or worthwhile “reform” effort has ever moved forward with any success without active duty initiation and demands, and the fact that there has been none such since the last century is more sadly symptomatic than anything else.  But maybe if today’s officers even have a vague sense that such is both possible and part of their job as officers, maybe there are a few who could still step forward.  At least they should know that such action USED to be normal in the Foreign Service.”

For folks who want to read up on organizational history and behavior, also check out A Theory of Public Bureaucracy: Politics, Personality, and Organization in the State Department.  The books is from 1979 but still worth a read and affords a window into understanding an organization that changes and remains the same all at the same time.

 

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USAID Anticipates @StateDept Hiring Freeze Will Last At Least Through End of FY2018

Posted: 1:52 am ET

 

Secretary Tillerson is scheduled to hold a Town Hall at the State Department on Tuesday, December 12, 2017, at 10:00 a.m. EST in the Dean Acheson Auditorium. According to the notice that went out, the Secretary “will provide an overview of the past year and will discuss how the Redesign will better enable you to do our job going forward.”  Questions are pre-screened. Employees interested in asking the Secretary a question, are asked to submit them by noon EST on Monday, December 11, 2017.

Employees are instructed to plan on arriving between 9:15 a.m.- 9:45 a.m. as seating in the Dean Acheson Auditorium is limited and available on a first-come, first-served basis. There will be overflow seating in the Loy Henderson Conference Room. For those unable to attend, the event will be carried live on BNET.

Meanwhile, we’ve learned that USAID had informed Congress that the State Department hiring freeze “remains in effect” and anticipates that “it will last at least until the end of Fiscal Year (FY) 2018” (end of fiscal year 2018 is September 30, 2018).

We have reported previously that USAID also told Congress that it is considering whether to seek waivers from the Secretary of State to fill additional positions “aligned with future workforce needs that are in line with the Redesign and the Administration’s policies.”  As of late November, it has yet to make a determination whether these USAID FSO positions “could qualify for an exception based on the national security criteria.” (see USAID Reinstates Pre-Employment Status of FSO Candidates After Congressional Interest).

The agency told Congress that it is authorized to employ “up to 1,850” Foreign Service officers. In 2017, it hired five (5) Payne Fellows as FSOs under the Congressionally-mandated fellowship, and filled eighteen (18) Foreign Service Limited (FSL) positions. FSL positions are non-career appointments hired for specific appointments. These are time limited and are reportedly not subject to the hiring freeze. Incumbent to these position do not receive credit toward any FS requirement if they are FSO candidates.

For context, in 2016, the USAID workforce composition is as follows:

[T]he Agency’s mission was supported by 3,893 U.S. direct hire employees, of which 1,896 are Foreign Service Officers and 253 are Foreign Service Limited, and 1,744 are in the Civil Service. Additional support came from 4,600 Foreign Service Nationals, and 1,104 other non-direct hire employees (not counting institutional support contractors). Of these employees, 3,163 are based in Washington, D.C., and 6,434 are deployed overseas. These totals include employees from the Office of Inspector General.*

In 2009, USAID also launched its Development Leadership Initiative (DLI) which created 820 positions over three years. While USAID recently told Congress that none of the DLI positions have been cancelled, we have yet to learn what kind of staff shrinkage is in the future for our country’s development professionals. Maybe Mr. Tillerson’s Town Hall will answer this and a host of other questions tomorrow.

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USAID Reinstates Pre-Employment Status of FSO Candidates After Congressional Interest

Posted: 8:46 am PT

 

We previously blogged about USAID’s cancellation of all pre-employment offers for USAID Foreign Service officer positions (see USAID Marks 56th Birthday With Job Cancellations For 97 “Valued Applicants”USAID’s Job Cancellations Raise Questions About Its Staffing Future and Operations. We understand that yesterday, several USAID FSO candidates have received the message below that supersedes the job cancellation notification issued in October:

Thank you for your continued interest in the position of Foreign Service Officer at the United States Agency for International Development (USAID).  We recognize that you have invested a great deal of time and effort in the application process, and we appreciate your patience.  After further review, USAID is pleased to inform you that the Foreign Service Center in USAID’s Office of Human Capital and Talent Management (HCTM) has reinstated you as an active applicant to the Career Candidate Corps (C3) Program of the USAID Foreign Service.  This letter supersedes the correspondence sent to you on October 24, 2017, regarding your pre-employment status with the C3 Program.
 
Please note that, at the direction of the Secretary of State, USAID continues to implement a hiring freeze.  The Agency is reviewing its Foreign Service Officer workforce needs in line with the Administration’s foreign policy and development objectives under our Redesign, and we cannot predict at this time when the hiring of C3 Foreign Service Officers will resume.  As stated in your pre-employment letter, this reinstatement as an active applicant for the C3 Program in no way constitutes a guarantee of employment with USAID.
 
If you have questions regarding the status of your application, please email the Foreign Service Center at XXX.

 

report from devex in late October said that 97 foreign service applicants who were already in the U.S. Agency for International Development’s pre-employment process received emails informing them that the positions they applied for no longer exist.  We’ve now learned that there were actually 178 Foreign Service candidates in the pre-acceptance stage who received cancellation notices. USAID, however, told Congress that “USAID cancelled the recruitment action, not any of the positions.”

So now USAID is notifying affected individuals that their previously cancelled FSO candidacies are active again but that their reinstatement as an active applicant “in no way constitutes a guarantee of employment with USAID.”

USAID also told Congress it is considering whether to seek waivers from the Secretary of State to fill additional positions “aligned with future workforce needs that are in line with the Redesign and the Administration’s policies.”  Apparently, it has yet to make a determination whether these USAID FSO positions “could qualify for an exception based on the national security criteria.”

A Tillerson aide has touted that the secretary of state has granted 2,300 hiring freeze exemptions. It looks like USAID was granted 25 exemptions from June to November 2017 for Foreign Service, Civil Service and Eligible Family Member posts. That’s in addition to five FSOs hired in FY17 under the Congressionally-mandated Donald M. Payne International Development Graduate Fellowship Program.

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@StateDept Spox Explains Why Maliz Beams Left the Counselor Post – Oh, Lordy!

Posted: 2:26 am ET

 

As best we could tell, Secretary Tillerson first talked about the redesign at his agency as an “employee-led” effort on August 9, 2017 at a quick stop at the U.S. Embassy in Malaysia:

We’ve taken that information now and we’ve set up a number of work teams. Now this whole effort is led by the employees of the State Department, your colleagues. We have a steering team that helps guide them that’s chaired by Deputy Secretary Sullivan. But we really are wanting this to be an employee-led redesign effort, and it’s all about looking at how we get our work done. 

But back in July, an unnamed State Department spokesperson appeared on the July 17, 2017 Foreign Policy piece Tillerson to Shutter State Department War Crimes Office, talking about the “employee-led redesign initiative.”

So, it’s quite hilarious to read the State Department spokesperson’s response during the Daily Press Briefing of November 27 when asked about the departure of Maliz Beams.

Keep in mind that Maliz Beams did not join the State Department until August 17, 2017 (see Former Voya Financial CEO Maliz Beams Reportedly Appointed @StateDept Counselor@StateDept Now Has an Official Bio For New Counselor of the State Department Maliz E. Beams).

When asked why Ms. Beams left her post, Official Spokesperson Heather Nauert said “She said to me that she came here to set the vision for the redesign.” Further Ms. Nauert said, “She sets the vision. She’s done that for this organization. She feels that she’s accomplished that in setting the vision. She said to me, quote, “I feel good about it.”

A member of the press corps was quick to ask a fairly simple follow-up question – “in a sentence, what is the vision that she has set for the redesign?” The official response is a pretzels demo:

“Well, one of the things that we’ve said is that this is an employee-driven process. And a lot of folks made fun of this, but asking employees what they want, what changes they want, is something that is new and something that is significant, and that is something that they have been able to do to determine where there are redundancies. And that’s one of the ways that we will do that.”

Is Ms. Nauert suggesting that the “employee-driven” or employee-led” process was Ms. Beams’ vision for the redesign? And if so, how was Ms. Beams able to do this when a month before she joined the State Department, an unnamed spokesperson was already talking about the redesign in those same terms?

If the spox was not suggesting that the “employee-driven process” was Ms. Beams’ vision at the State Department, what the heck was she talking about. What was the vision-setting that Ms. Beams accomplished at the agency during her three-month tenure?

Excerpt from the transcript:

QUESTION: Why did Maliz Beams leave her post as counselor of the department?

MS NAUERT: So Maliz Beams was brought in to help pull together the redesign. That’s one of the things that the Secretary said is important to him and important to the State Department. And frankly, when you ask people here, the rank and file, what they think about the redesign, while our communications have not been fantastic – I will admit that – the – they support by and large the efforts of the redesign, acknowledging that the State Department can become more efficient and operate more effectively with the redesign.

Maliz Beams – I spoke with her earlier today at length. I was there yesterday when she announced to senior staff that she would be leaving the State Department. Maliz made the decision to resign from the State Department. She said to me that she came here to set the vision for the redesign. She has done this for many companies. She’s had a 30-year career in this line of work. She sets the vision. She’s done that for this organization. She feels that she’s accomplished that in setting the vision. She said to me, quote, “I feel good about it.” So now is the time when she decided that she wanted to step back and that it was the time for the State Department to be able to pick it up from here.

We are in phase three of the redesign right now. There are 70 initiatives that she helped enable to prepare to launch. Those initiatives are being chaired by some of our top career people who have been here for many, many years, included among them names and faces you will know: Ambassador Bill Todd, also Ambassador Marcia Bernicat from Bangladesh. They are involved in these 70 initiatives. They are people that the building knows, they are people that the building trust, they are people who love this institution. I can tell you that the Secretary is expected to speak with staff here at the State Department sometime in the near future. I don’t have a date for that just yet. And then we have our new under secretary for public diplomacy and political affairs, who will be handling some of the communications going forward.

QUESTION: She was not asked or encouraged to leave?

MS NAUERT: She made the decision to step down.

QUESTION: No, no. She couldn’t make the decision to step down after having been encouraged to consider whether to step down?

MS NAUERT: She made the decision to step down.

QUESTION: But was not encouraged or asked to step down?

MS NAUERT: Not to my knowledge. I was not in the meeting at the time, but I spoke with her. I also spoke with our deputy secretary and others about this, and this was her decision.

QUESTION: Heather, in a sentence, what is the vision that she has set for the redesign?

MS NAUERT: Well, one of the things that we’ve said is that this is an employee-driven process. And a lot of folks made fun of this, but asking employees what they want, what changes they want, is something that is new and something that is significant, and that is something that they have been able to do to determine where there are redundancies. And that’s one of the ways that we will do that. Among the other things in the redesign that has been highlighted as important to this department and it may seem kind of dopey to a lot of folks who have great computers and comms like you all do, but to get a better computer system in place. I cannot stress —

QUESTION: A better commuter system?

MS NAUERT: Computer system.

QUESTION: Oh, oh, oh. Because I was going to go all in on the better commuter system. (Laughter.) The Metro is awful.

MS NAUERT: It is extremely frustrating when you are trying to respond to press questions, for example. How many times have you all heard from me or from Robert or Robert’s predecessor, Mark Stroh, when our comms are down for a very long time? It is embarrassing. We can’t get to you, you can’t get to us. Well, imagine if we need to reach folks around the world. So that has been a problem. And that’s one of the things that the Secretary and Maliz Beams has identified as being something that we want to make more efficient and better. Okay.

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Tillerson Delivers Remarks at the Redesign Leadership Gathering #AllTheHappyPeople

Posted: 1:20 pm PT

 

Via state.gov

Secretary Tillerson was over at the Foreign Service Institute on November 29 and apparently delivered the opening remarks at the Redesign Leadership Gathering.  We don’t know what he said over there since the Bureau of Public Affairs has not seen it fit to post the transcript of his official remarks online.

Secretary Tillerson Delivers Opening Remarks at the Redesign Leadership Gathering | U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson delivered opening remarks at the Redesign Leadership Gathering at the Foreign Service Institute in Arlington, Virginia on November 29, 2017. [State Department Photo/ Public Domain]

 [for full visual effect, click on image above or here for a larger view]

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Tillerson’s Redesign Chief Leaves Office After Three Months, Meet the New Redesigner-in-Chief

Posted: 3:19 am ET

 

We blogged about Maliz Beams’ appointment back in August (see Former Voya Financial CEO Maliz Beams Reportedly Appointed @StateDept Counselor) and again when her official bio finally showed up on state.gov (see @StateDept Now Has an Official Bio For New Counselor of the State Department Maliz E. Beams).

On November 27, a State Department spokesperson confirmed to the press that Maliz Beams who was appointed Counselor of the State Department on August 17, 2017 and tasked with leading Tillerson’s redesign efforts “is stepping away from her role here at the Department of State and is returning to her home in Boston.”

In addition to the names mentioned in the BuzzFeed piece below, prior to Ms. Beams arrival at State, the redesign efforts was managed by an FSO brought back from overseas. At another point, an ambassador’s spouse was also brought in to work the redesign beat. Did we miss anyone?

The State Department statement notes that “Effective immediately, Christine Ciccone will step in to lead the redesign effort and manage its daily activities.”

BuzzFeed quotes Thomas Hill of the Brookings Institution and a former Republican staffer on the House Foreign Affairs Committee (HFAC) saying that “Beams’ departure is disappointing because she did at least have private sector experience in redesigning major organizations” and that “Now she’s being replaced by someone with very little experience with agency reform or the State Department.”

Christine Ciccone is officially Tillerson’s  Deputy Chief of Staff. Prior to landing at the State Department, she was the chief operating officer of Jeb Bush’s failed 2016 presidential campaign. She resigned late in 2015 when the Bush campaign underwent a downsizing according to the Daily Wire.  Ciccone also worked in George W. Bush’s presidential administration as special assistant to the president and before that was a longtime Senate staffer. In 2014, she headed a newly formed entity SGR LLC, Government Relations & Lobbying, a sister firm of Sphere Consulting LLC. (See Bush chief operating officer departs campaignJeb team’s chief operating officer quits. WaPo recently reported about SGR LLC).

So now Ms. Ciccone is double hatted as Deputy Chief of Staff and Redesigner-in-Chief, and Brian Hook is S/P and the all bureaus-in-one hat. We can’t wait for the next Hill briefing and the new redesign slides!

U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, joined by U.S. Senator Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, left, and Deputy Chief of Staff Christine Ciccone, prepare for a meeting with U.S./Alaska Permanent Participants to the Arctic Council in Fairbanks, Alaska, on May 10, 2017. [U.S. Air Force photo / Public Domain]

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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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