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@StateDept Requires Insigniam to Provide Summary Report of Poignant Themes, Patterns, and Sentiments

Posted: 3:55 am ET

 

On May 9, we blogged about the State Department’s Insigniam contract awarded in late April (see @StateDept’s $1,086,250 Organizational Study: Multiple Contractors Interviewed But Only 1 Offer?). Last Friday, May 19, the State Department finally posted a two-page JUSTIFICATION AND APPROVAL FOR OTHER THAN FULL AND OPEN COMPETITION FAR Part 6.302-2 for the contract.

The J&A requires Insigniam to “provide the U.S. Department of State with a summary report of the poignant themes, patterns, and sentiments of the people of the Department of State and USAID regarding both organizations, State’s and USAID’s ability to fulfill its mission, and proposals and suggestions for how to improve the organizations and how each does their work.”

It also says that the contractor “shall use listening sessions in the forms of verbal interviews and online surveys to gather data on aspects of the Department and USAID such as workforce culture, technologies used, and where the work gets done. The study shall be expedited, and shall proceed without preconceived notions of the optimal end state for a high performing agency, or its associated staffing level.”

The J&A also notes that “a synopsis of the proposed contract actions will not be posted as authorized by the exception stated in FAR 5.202(b), in that after consultation with the Administrator –Federal Procurement Policy and the Administrator-SBA, advance notice is determined to be inappropriate and unreasonable.”

Excerpt from the J&A:

Identification of the agency and the contracting activity:

In accordance with Federal Acquisition Regulation (FAR) 6.302-2 in accordance with 41 the authority of 41 U.S.C. 253(c)(2), the Office of Acquisition Management proposes to award a Sole Source Contract to INSIGNIAM LLC to assist the Department in complying with the requirements of The Office of Management and Budget (OMB) issued a memorandum on April 12, 2017, entitled “Comprehensive Plan for Reforming the Federal Government and Reducing the Federal Civilian Workforce,” (M-17-22

The period of Performance for this effort is less than one year and the estimated value will not exceed $850,000 plus certain international travel expenses for the post visit.

A description of the supplies or services required to meet the agency’s needs:

The Department of State, the first Cabinet level agency, has a presence in over 160 countries around the globe, staffed by political appointees and members of the Foreign Service, Civil Service, and Locally Engaged Staff serving domestically and abroad at over 200 Embassies and consulates. Together with the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), the Department seeks to fulfill its mission in an efficient and effective manner. With a combination of over 85,000 employees and locally engaged staff, the organizations are large and complex.

The Office of Management and Budget (OMB) issued a memorandum on April 12, 2017, entitled “Comprehensive Plan for Reforming the Federal Government and Reducing the Federal Civilian Workforce,” (M-17-22), which requires all agencies to, among other things, begin taking immediate actions to develop an agency reform plan. This plan, the first draft of which is due to OMB on June 30, requires proposals to identify how to improve the efficiency, effectiveness, and accountability of the agency, focusing on fundamental scoping questions and on improvements to existing business processes.

Before determining what improvements to make or what activities to eliminate, as required by OMB, data must be collected to understand the range of activities and functions currently performed throughout the Department. The Department aims to have this data collected from a wide swath of the Department community so that all groups of community members are represented. The collection and presentation of the data will inform the new Department leadership of the current structure, culture, and workflow.

The contractor shall provide the U.S. Department of State with a summary report of the poignant themes, patterns, and sentiments of the people of the Department of State and USAID regarding both organizations, State’s and USAID’s ability to fulfill its mission, and proposals and suggestions for how to improve the organizations and how each does their work. The contractor shall use listening sessions in the forms of verbal interviews and online surveys to gather data on aspects of the Department and USAID such as workforce culture, technologies used, and where the work gets done. The study shall be expedited, and shall proceed without preconceived notions of the optimal end state for a high performing agency, or its associated staffing level.

☒ Urgency
Exclusive Licensing Agreement
Brand-Name

☒ Other information to support a sole-source buy:

OMB has mandated the first draft of which is due to OMB on June 30, requires proposals to identify how to improve the efficiency, effectiveness, and accountability of the agency, focusing on fundamental scoping questions and on improvements to existing business processes. The complexity involved with required information gathering as well as the development and coordination of the report does not allow for sufficient time to solicit for the necessary services.

A synopsis of the proposed contract actions will not be posted as authorized by the exception stated in FAR 5.202(b), in that after consultation with the Administrator –Federal Procurement Policy and the Administrator-SBA, advance notice is determined to be inappropriate and unreasonable.

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@StateDept Targets Umbrella Schools For Homeschooling Foreign Service Families

Posted: 4:18 am ET

 

An umbrella school is an alternative education school which serves to oversee the homeschooling of children to fulfill government educational requirements.  Umbrella or cover schools can provide options that homeschoolers might not have on their own, including field trips, resources, team sports opportunities, and tutoring. They also have widely different requirements regarding curricula, record-keeping, and even religious affiliation.

On May 15, the State Department issued an “Educational Allowance Home Study Payment Guidance” which says “indirect or third party service provider fees, such as umbrella school/cover schools not providing direct instruction, course, or accredited virtual education, are not reimbursable fees or recognized as advisory fees.” Any supplementary or gifted and talented instruction fees are included in this restriction.

The new guidance further states:

An educational provider receiving payment as a result of an education allowance must be providing the course teaching and evaluations directly to the student. The course of study provided by the educational provider may be online, by correspondence, or through other appropriate materials. Indirect or third party service provider fees, such as umbrella school/cover schools not providing direct instruction, course, or accredited virtual education, are not reimbursable fees or recognized as advisory fees (this also applies for any supplementary or gifted and talented instruction). However, a parent can elect to pay them as a personal expense. Third party service providers billing for the direct educational providers’ fees may only be paid directly by the FMO or reimbursed to the officer as described below. Agreements, rules, procedures, or contracts (if completed) between the officer, third party service providers, and/or the school must be made available to Post as part of any claim for reimbursement or request for direct payment.

Prior to this guidance, the State Department pays the homeschooling allowance for the Foreign Service child to the umbrella school. The school can then use it for school items for the child or reimburse parents for the school items they purchased. By restricting the use of umbrella schools, post’s Financial Management Officer (FMO) now becomes the “decider” for the FS child’s homeschool allowance. Foreign Service families can still homeschool but the FMO at post has to okay each and every purchase expenditure. Parents have to take their receipts to the FMO and hope that he/she will reimburse them for that specific math curriculum.

We don’t know how much the State Department is saving by going after umbrella schools. At some posts, homeschooling may be the family’s only educational option. And at other posts, there may not be an FMO and this could become one more collateral duty for the Management Officer.

We should note that Foreign Service families can only choose from three educational methods for their kids: 1) school at post, 2) school away from post, and 3) home study/private instruction. Guess which one is the cheapest.

So a hiring freeze for family members with very few exceptions, and now, we’re asked why the State Department is picking on homeschoolers?  What should we make of this? They’re absolutely not saying parents can’t homeschool their kids.  They’ll just make the process burdensome enough, as a way to rein in the cost?

In late April, Bloomberg reported that “Tillerson was taken aback when he arrived on the job to see how much money the State Department was spending on housing and schooling for the families of diplomats living overseas.”

When we look back at that reporting and then look at this new guidance, we get a sense that this is just the opening salvo in a one sided fight projected to inflict deep cuts at the State Department. This is just the first cut but the axe is out.

 

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@StateDept’s $1,086,250 Organizational Study: Multiple Contractors Interviewed But Only 1 Offer?

Posted: 1:54 am ET
Updated: May 12, 1:02 pm PT

 

Via CBS News:

The State Department will be spending at least $1,086,250 for the “listening tour” that Secretary of State Rex Tillerson launched Wednesday morning.

The department has contracted Insigniam, a private consulting firm, to conduct the review in a project they are calling the “Department of State organizational study.” The State Department has not replied to requests for comment on the review’s price tag and their decision to use Insigniam to carry out this review.

Tillerson and the Insigniam co-founder Nathan Owen Rosenberg served on the Boy Scouts of America board together in 2011. The State Department has not replied to requests for comment on the review’s price tag and their decision to use Insigniam to carry out this review.

After Bloomberg broke the news on April 27 that Secretary Tillerson is seeking a 9% workforce cut and has hired the consulting company Insigniam to conduct a survey, we started looking for the contract awarded. We wanted to see the scope of work and the statement of work requirement included in this contract. We were able to find a $60M Professional Staffing Support Contract awarded on April 5, an Intent to Sole Source $34K Representational Furnishings on April 24  on FedBizOpps where federal business opportunities are typically posted, but not this one.

We understand that Insigniam was elected under a “sole source” contract. On May 1st, we emailed the State Department’s Bureau of Public Affairs for information on how and when this contract was awarded since we have not been able to find  the agency’s sole source justification for the job. As of this writing, the State Department has neither acknowledged nor responded to our inquiry.

Three contracts

We have since learned of three transactions (thanks Z!) issued to Insigniam LLC, a company based in Pennsylvania’s 2nd congressional district (PA02). The first contract SAQMMA17C0157 dated April 25, 2017 is valued at $850,000. The second contract SAQMMA17C0157 dated April 28, 2017 is valued at $236,250.  The third contract SAQMMA17C0157 is dated April 29, 2017 and does not have an obligated value. The third contract’s “Reason for Modification” is listed as “M: Other Administrative Action.”  All three contracts list May 30, 2017 as the “current” and “ultimate” completion date.

click on image to see the contracts via usaspending.gov

The funding for these contracts have been requested through the Bureau of Administration (State/A) but the Contracting Office is the State Department’s Acquisitions office (AQMMA). This is a definitive, firm fixed price contract.  The cost or pricing data is listed as “W: Not Obtained — Waived.”  The contract description says “Department of State Organizational Study.”

Multiple contractors interviewed but only 1 offer?

Under Competition Information, usaspending.gov lists this contract as “not competed”; the reason for the non-competition is listed as “Urgency.” This section also saysNumber of Offers Received: 1.”

The State Department apparently told CBS News that “they interviewed multiple contractors for the project before selecting Insigniam.”

“Of the proposals reviewed, Insigniam’s was the most cost-effective for the expertise, scope, and timeline needed, including its ability to survey and provide analysis of large organizations,” a State Department official told CBS News.  

So the State Department interviewed multiple contractors but those companies did not compete for this contract? And only one offer was received?

The company is listed on usaspending.gov as a partnership with 49 employees and an annual revenue of $12.7M.  The contracting officer determined it as a “small business”, “woman owned” and a “self-certified disadvantage business.” Under competition information, however, these contracts indicate “no set aside used” and “no preference used.”

The GSA confirmed to us that “the agency will dictate whether they are required to use GSA schedules or directly from a vendor. GSA has no say in how a customer orders needed materials or services.”

We are aware of only one previous organizational study conducted at the State Department (if there’s more, let us know!). There was  a study focused on the Foreign Service and was based on three management conferences held by the Department in 1965. It was conducted by Professor Chris Argyris of Yale University.  There were a few others through the years; we’ll try and see if we can find a good list to post here. 

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Snapshot: Geographic Distribution of Family Member UnEmployment Overseas #notajobsprogram

Posted: 2:01 am ET

 

Via state.gov/flo

A couple of things we’d like to note here. One, the State Department’s “listening tour” survey only includes “employed family members.” If the survey only includes employment inside/outside U.S. missions, that would include 44% of family members overseas and excludes more than half the family member overseas population. If it only  includes current employment inside U.S. missions, that effectively excludes 70% of family members overseas. Family members may be employed at one post and be unemployed at the next one. A prior job at one embassy is not an assurance that that they will have jobs at the next one.

Two, the regional bureaus where we find the highest number of family members employed at U.S. missions are in areas that are challenging and have traditionally been hard to staff:

1) SCA/South Central Asia (includes Afghanistan, Pakistan, Bangladesh)

2) AF/African Affairs, (oh, where do we start?)

3) NEA/Near Eastern Affairs (includes Iraq, Egypt, Lebanon).

According to the November 2016 data, about 300 positions in SCA, 560 positions in AF, and almost 400 positions in NEA are eligible family member positions.  When these EFMs leave their posts during the upcoming transfer season, these positions will not be filled (with very few exceptions) due to the hiring freeze; and they can’t be hired at their next posts because of the same hiring freeze.

Embassies and consulates will have to make do without their RSO Security Assistant/Escorts (escorts all non-cleared laborers and other service personnel in or adjacent to controlled access areas (CAAs) where classified materials is stored, handled, processes, or discussed), without Mailroom Clerks (who run the unclassified mail and diplomatic pouch facility at post), without Make Ready Coordinators (who prepare vacant housing units for occupancy), and without Residential Security Coordinators (who conducts security surveys, and coordinate/verifies residential security upgrade work is scheduled and completed, and ensures residential security hardware is installed properly and functioning) — to name a few of the jobs that EFMs perform overseas. The jobs will still need to be done but if folks think that the USG will be saving money, then these folks have a lot to learn.

Imagine the Regional Security Officers (RSO) doing the security escort jobs until the hiring freeze is lifted.

Or let’s have the Information Management Officer do mailroom clerk duty until the hiring freeze is done.

Instead of paying $13/hour for an EFM to do the job, the USG will be paying premium pay for a US-direct hire employee to do the same job. And no, you can’t outsource these jobs to Third Country Nationals from Nepal or to an Indian BPO. The end.

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Related posts:

 

 

@StateDept “Listening Tour” Survey Leaks, So Here’s Your Million Dollar Word Cloud

Posted: 4:34 pm PT

 

Zachary Fryer-Biggs, Senior Pentagon Reporter covering national security for Jane’s obtained a copy of the internal survey sent out at the  as part of Secretary Tillerson’s “listening tour” through Insigniam.

And then John Hudson, who used to be with  and now the Foreign Affairs Correspondent for  writes that the survey feels like Office Space, so he came up with all sorts of GIFs (must see, by the way). We thanked John for the GIFs; frankly, we don’t know where to store our laughing teardrops.

John Hudson also asked the State Department for comments, but the now famous Mark Stroh — who is just doing his job — and whose press shop now refuses to acknowledge or respond to inquiries from this blog — came back with an exclamation point!

What if you can’t come up with a word cloud?  To borrow what FBI Director Comey said the other day on teevee, “Lordy, that would be really bad.” So we’ve decided that we all deserve a million dollar word cloud. Here you go. You’re welcome!

 

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Oy! That Rumor About Foreign Service Family Member Employment as “Corporate Welfare”

Posted: 1:39 am ET

 

We posted recently about the hiring freeze, the jobs for diplomatic spouses, and the worries that these jobs could soon be filled not by the U.S. citizen spouses of USG employees overseas but by locally hired employees (see Are #EFM positions literally about to become…extinct under #Tillerson’s watch?).

We have since learned that the Foreign Service community has been roiled by a rumor that the top diplomat of the United States has allegedly called the employment of Foreign Service family members as “corporate welfare” and allegedly said to one of his deputies that this practice is going to stop.

The secretary of state is surrounded by a small number of inner circle staffers like Margaret Peterlin, Christine Ciccone, Matt Mowers and Bill Ingle but his top deputies are currently nowhere in sight in Foggy Bottom as he has no confirmed deputy. Where did this rumor come from?  Was this overheard in the cafeteria, by the water coolers, in Foggy Bottom’s sparkling bathrooms?  We have not been able to trace the origin of this alleged quote, or locate a first hand account of who heard exactly what when.  But since the rumor has raced like wildfire fire within the State Department, and has a potential deleterious effect on morale, we’ve asked the Bureau of Public Affairs via email, and on Twitter to comment about this alleged quote. Unfortunately, we got crickets; we got no acknowledgement that they even received our multiple inquiries, and we’ve seen no response to-date.

Not even smoke signals! Dear Public Affairs, please blink if you’re being held hostage …

via reactiongifs.com

We’ve also asked the Family Liaison Office (FLO), the institutional advocate for Foreign Service family members. The FLO folks also did not respond to our inquiry. Finally, we’ve asked the Director General of the Foreign Service via email. We got a canned response thanking us for our inquiry and advising us that if a response is required, we’ll hear from DGHR within 10 days. Yippee! The DGHR’s office did bother to set up an auto-response and we’re holding our breath for a real response!

H-e-l-p … g-u-l-p …we’re still holding our breath!

Dual Career Households

Foreign Service spouses have similar challenges to military spouses in maintaining dual careers while following their spouses during assignments — have you ever heard our top generals call the jobs for military spouses  “corporate welfare?” Of course not. Why? Because dual career households have been trending up since 1970.  According to a Pew Research Center analysis of Current Population Survey data in 2015, the share of two-parent households in which both parents work full time now stands at 46%, up from 31% in 1970.  “At the same time, the share with a father who works full time and a mother who doesn’t work outside the home has declined considerably; 26% of two-parent households today fit this description, compared with 46% in 1970.” 

So, we were counting on the State Department to set the record straight on what this secretary of state thinks about the family members who serve overseas with our diplomats.  We are unable to say whether this quote is real or not, whether he said this or not but we can tell you that the rumor is doing the rounds and upsetting a whole lot of people.  Anecdotal evidence suggests that a good number of folks within the organization also believe this to be true.

Rumors Uninterrupted. Why?

Well, there are a few reasons we can think of.  One, the White House has now lifted the hiring freeze, but there is no thaw in sight for the State Department until the reorganization plan is approved (see No thaw in sight for @StateDept hiring freeze until reorganization plan is “fully developed”).  Two, we’re hearing all sorts of news about gutting State and USAID budgets and staffing but we have yet to hear about the Secretary of State actually talking to his people in Foggy Bottom or defending the agency that he now leads. And then there’s this: there are apparently over 70 exceptions to the hiring freeze for EFM jobs that have been requested. Only 6 EFM positions for the Priority Staffing Posts (like Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan) were reportedly approved by Secretary Tillerson.  PSPs are important to watch as EFMs can only accompany their employee-spouse if they have a job at post. If State only grants exceptions to EFM jobs at PSP posts on the rarest of cases, will employees break their assignments when their EFMs are unable to accompany them?

These EFM jobs, almost all requiring security clearance range from Community Liaison Officers tasked with morale and family member issues to security escorts, minders for the janitorial or repair staff, to mailroom clerks who process mail and diplomatic pouches, to security clerks who process security badges and do other clerical work.  With few exceptions like consular associates who work in the visa sections and professional associates, most of these EFM jobs are  clerical in nature and require no more than a high school education. Some 80% of diplomatic spouses have college degrees but only 29% works inside U.S. missions overseas, 14% works in the local economy and a whopping 57% are not employed.

Let’s pause here for a moment to note that the 57% for the State Department more than double the Pew Research Center analysis of Current Population Survey data from 2015 for two-parent households where the wife does not work outside the home.

Hard Choices Ahead

If the EFM job freeze becomes indefinite, we anticipate that some families with financial obligations for college tuitions or other family obligations may opt for voluntary separation to enable the EFM to keep her/his Civil Service job or stay stateside to keep her/his private sector job. More senior  spouses may also have particular concerns about having jobs/keeping their jobs so we may see an increase in voluntary unaccompanied tours and family separations. Is that something the State Department really wants to do?

Given that the summer rotation is coming up between June and August, how is the State Department going to remedy the staffing gaps at various locations while the EFM hiring freeze is on?  We’ve also asked the State Department this question, but we did not hear anything back, not even a buzz-buzz.  Do you think there is even a plan?

We should note that not all rotations are created equal.  There are posts that may have a light staff rotation this year, while other posts have larger staff turnovers.  Small posts may be hit particularly hard.  Sections with one FSO supported by a couple of EFMs could potentially lose both EFM staffers and be unable to hire new ones because of the hiring freeze.  Meanwhile, the work requirements including all congressionally mandated reporting go on.

One source told us that the main option for his/her post during rotation is to suck up the extra work, and even temporarily reassign the existing staff to higher priority projects. Which means somethings will not/not get done.  There are already posts where one officer has two-three collateral duties, so those are not going to get any better. Visa officers may need to collect fingerprints as well as conduct visa interviews. Unless their jobs get handed over to DHS (yes, there are rumors on that, too!).   Regional Security Officers may need to process embassy badges, and answer their own phones, as well as attend to mission security, supervise the local guards, review contracts, etc.

An Aside — on Rumors

We once wrote about rumors in a dysfunctional embassy.  It now applies to the State Department.  Rumors express and gratify “the emotional needs of the community.” It occupies the space when that need is not meet, and particularly when there is deficient communication between the front office and the rest of the mission.  In the current environment, the rampant rumors circulating within the State Department is indicative of Mr. Tillerson’s deficient communication with his employees.

If State Really Cares About the Costs

In any case, if the State Department no longer even pretends to care that FS spouses are under-employed or not employed overseas, it still ought to care about costs. These are support employees who already have their security clearances, and require no separate housing. It is estimated that there are about 5,000 EFMs who would qualify for the Foreign Service  Family Reserve Corps. A few years ago, we noted that majority of EFMs employed at US mission, at the minimum, have a “Secret” level clearance. The average cost to process a SECRET clearance has been reported to run from several hundred dollars to $3,000, depending on individual factors. We suspect that the cost is higher for FS members due to overseas travels and multiple relocations.  The average cost to process a TOP SECRET clearance is between $3,000 and about $15,000, depending on individual factors. If State gets rid of EFM jobs (already cheap labor compared to direct-hire), the work will still be there.  Or is it planning on hiring contractors to bridge the gap? If yes, these contractors would all have to get through the security clearance process themselves.  State still has to fund contractors’ travel and housing, etc. How would that be cheaper?  Or … if not, who will do all the work?

Tillerson’s 9% Cut and a Troubling Nugget

The latest news from Bloomberg talks about Tillerson reportedly seeking a 9% cut in State Department staffing with majority of the job cuts, about 1,700, through attrition, while the remaining 600 will be done via buyouts (we’ll have to write about this separately).   Oh, and he’ll be on a “listening tour” sometime soon.  Note that during the slash and burn in the 1990’s, the State Department “trimmed” more than 1,100 jobs at the State Department, 600 jobs at  the U.S. Information Agency (USIA), and had identified for elimination about 2,000 jobs at the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID).

The Bloomberg report also has this troubling nugget:

“Tillerson was taken aback when he arrived on the job to see how much money the State Department was spending on housing and schooling for the families of diplomats living overseas, according to one person familiar with his thinking.”

So next, we’re gonna to be talking about those houses with concertina wire on top of 18 foot walls?

Since there may not be EFM jobs for diplomatic spouses, and we could soon be back to the old days when American diplomats are accompanied overseas by stay-at-home spouses who make no demands on having careers of their own, who’s to say when dependents’ schooling will next be upgraded to allow only homeschooling, when travel will be made only by paddle boats,  and diplomatic housing will be reduced to yurts?

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NOTE: There are a few EFMs who are hired in Civil Service positions and allowed to telecommute from their locations overseas once they go abroad with their spouses . They’re officially on DETO status (domestic employee telecommuting overseas).  We understand that last year,  one bureau had “pushed out” its EFM employees on DETO status. The employees either had to resign their CS jobs or return to DC to report to work.  In these DETO cases, the spouses can either stay at post with no jobs, or return to Washington, D.C. and endure the family separation. While this predates Tillerson’s arrival, we’d like to see how many other bureaus have now done away with DETO employees. Email us.

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#ThrowbackThursday: Secretary of State Holds Town Hall With @StateDept Employees

Posted: 1:36 pm ET

The photograph below was taken on May 30, 2013, about four months into Secretary John Kerry’s tenure as the 68th Secretary of State.  Secretary Rex Tillerson assumed office on February 1, 2017 as the 69th Secretary of State. So we’re going to start our watch on when Secretary Tillerson will actually hold his first town hall and answer questions from his demoralized employees. Or is that though terrifying to Mr. Tillerson’s handlers?

Via state.gov:

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry responds to a question from a Department employee during a town hall meeting at the U.S. Department of State in Washington, D.C., on May 30, 2013. [State Department photo/ Public Domain]

 Meanwhile, the current Secretary of State apparently has big plans for the State Department but his employees first learned about it from the New York Times instead of hearing it directly from their new boss.  Now we’re hearing that a wave of consultants have descended down USS Foggy Bottom to map out eeeeeverything!

“The first step was to find out where the Titanic was, and then it was to map out where everything else is,” Mr. Hammond said, likening the department’s organizational structure to a sunken ocean liner and its seabed surroundings. “I think we’re still in the process of mapping out the entire ocean floor so that we understand the full picture.” 

 

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No thaw in sight for @StateDept hiring freeze until reorganization plan is “fully developed”

Posted: 4:17 pm ET

 

Via the Daily Press Briefing | April 13, 2017:

QUESTION: There is an internal memo that went around as well as something that was updated online that even though the OMB lifted the hiring freeze, the federal hiring freeze, that the Secretary Tillerson, that the State Department was going to maintain its hiring freeze. Do you know what led to that decision?

MR TONER: Sure. So OMB —

QUESTION: And what is it about?

MR TONER: Okay. So the OMB on Wednesday announced the lifting of the hiring freeze, as you noted, and provided also extensive further guidance to all the various federal agencies on the implementation of and requirements pursuant to the OMB memorandum which is called, I think, Comprehensive Plan for Reforming the Federal Government and Reducing the Federal Civilian Workforce, which is a mouthful. I apologize.

QUESTION: Yeah.

MR TONER: And this document, this memo, provides guidance on new requirements on the presidential memorandum that was initially issued on January 23rd.

QUESTION: Correct.

MR TONER: This was the one that issued the hiring freeze, as well as the executive order issued on March 13th that required a comprehensive plan to reorganize all the executive branch departments and agencies.

So as part of that process, the department and this Secretary are going to be undertaking a reorganization later in the year, and the decision was taken that the hiring freeze will continue until that plan is fully developed and agreement is reached on its implementation.

And this is just part of prudent planning. We can’t be onboarding people when we don’t know what our reorganization is ultimately going to look at – look like. But until then – and this is an important point – the Secretary does retain authority to waive the ruling – or the hiring freeze and will do so in instances where national security interests and the department’s core mission and responsibilities require. So he does —

QUESTION: So it doesn’t break any federal law that he’s done this?

MR TONER: It does not. It’s his decision to maintain this hiring freeze.

QUESTION: Even though that – even though the Congress has – the appropriations has approved money for it, or even if the Congress has said that that’s fine to lift it. So there is a law, a federal law, that if appropriations has moved on some kind of spending or whatever —

MR TONER: Right.

QUESTION: — and he says, “No, I’m not going to touch that,” isn’t that against a law?

MR TONER: My understanding is that he has the jurisdiction to – basically to keep this freeze in place as we go about this presidentially mandated reorganization.

QUESTION: Are we talking about Civil and Foreign Service officers, political appointees? What —

MR TONER: Across the board.

QUESTION: So he’s – wait a minute. So he’s not going to hire any political appointees —

MR TONER: I —

QUESTION: — before the reorg?

MR TONER: I believe it’s a hiring freeze across the board. I don’t know about political appointees. I’ll check on that.

QUESTION: Could you check on that? So what are you – yeah, I mean —

MR TONER: I can check on that.

QUESTION: That would – essentially, if that’s true, what you’re saying, that there’s a hiring freeze across the board, that you would not be hiring any assistant secretaries —

MR TONER: I will check on political appointments. I’m not sure about political appointments.

QUESTION: — under secretaries, a deputy secretary of state.

MR TONER: Yeah, I’m not sure about political appointments.

QUESTION: That can’t be right.

MR TONER: Yeah, I’ll check on that.

QUESTION: So effectively he’s put this on, the freeze, until he’s done the reorganization. Have those plans actually started? And how are they going to be fleshed out? Does —

MR TONER: I believe they have started. As to how they’re going to be fleshed out, I don’t have any more details.

QUESTION: I mean, it’s going to go on for the rest of the year?

MR TONER: I don’t know if there’s a time, date. I don’t have any kind of timeframe for you. If I get one, I’ll let you know.

QUESTION: And I gather that he would have got White House or congressional approval for this?

MR TONER: Yes, I would imagine he would.

QUESTION: I just want to point out something that —

MR TONER: On the political appointees, though, it’s a good question.

QUESTION: Yeah, no, because I mean Foreign Minister Lavrov even said yesterday that – I mean, we can consider the source, but other diplomats from other —

MR TONER: No, I’m not responding, I’m just —

QUESTION: I understand, but other diplomats from other countries have also said that the lack of staff at the State Department has become an impediment to having interlocutors to deal with, whether it’s long-term foreign policy cooperation, short-term foreign policy crises. So I mean, I would really like some clarification on that. Because if you’re saying that there’s a hiring freeze across the board, I really would say that suggests that that will continue to be a problem.

MR TONER: It’s a fair question.

QUESTION: Related to this, though, Mark, you said that he has the – he retains authority to waive it, right?

MR TONER: Yeah, authority. Thank you. Yes, he does. Yeah. In instances where national security interests and the department’s core mission —

QUESTION: Has he?

MR TONER: — responsibilities – I would assume that political appointees in high positions would fall under the department’s core mission responsibilities.

QUESTION: Do you think that would apply to the – do you think that would apply to the newly nominated deputy? You think he’d get away with it?

MR TONER: I would think that would apply.

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Related posts:

Heritage: How to Make the State Department More Effective at Implementing U.S. Foreign Policy

Posted: 1:52 am ET

 

Via heritage.org:

In January 2017, the next President of the United States will enter office facing as daunting and diverse a set of challenges as any President in recent times. In order to address these challenges and threats, the next President will need more than new polices; he or she will need an effective and capable Department of State to implement his or her vision, including carrying out presidential instructions. The State Department, however, is not nearly as effective as it should be, to the detriment of American standing and effectiveness in the world. The Heritage Foundation’s Brett Schaefer details the steps that would better equip the State Department to focus on its traditional mission, and be of true value to future U.S. foreign policy.

Below is a quick excerpt:

When the President relies too often or too heavily on individual “czars” or “envoys” to address discrete issues, however, he risks undermining clarity and consistency of policy, distorting the importance of issues in the overall spectrum of U.S. foreign policy interests, and confusing both U.S. and foreign officials about the chain of command through the multiple lines of communication to the President.

Historically, the most prudent and effective approach is to allow the Secretary of State to be the chief foreign policy adviser and diplomat with appropriate input from other advisers and, when their equities are involved, other departments and agencies. To address this issue, the next Administration should:

  • Appoint the appropriate Secretary of State for the President.
  • Reduce the operational role of the NSC and place those responsibilities chiefly on Under and Assistant Secretaries of State. 
  • Return the Policy Planning Staff to its original purpose, or eliminate it. 
  • Refuse to accord cabinet rank to the U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations.
  • Curtail the use of special envoys and special representatives.
  • Ensure that all candidates for ambassadorial appointments are qualified.
  • Reinforce the authority of U.S. Ambassadors. 
  • Increase Foreign Service assignments from three to five years. 
  • Conduct an in-depth evaluation of standards, training, and qualifications for both the Foreign Service and Civil Service.

Under Strengthening the State Department’s Traditional Bilateral and Multilateral Diplomacy, the author proposes  the following:

  • Establish an Under Secretary for Multilateral Affairs. 
  • Shift the responsibilities of most functional bureaus to the Under Secretary for Bilateral Affairs and the Under Secretary for Multilateral Affairs.
  • Rename the Bureau of Economic and Business Affairs as the Bureau for Economic Development. The new bureau should encompass USAID; many of the current responsibilities of the current Bureau of Economic and Business Affairs; and primary responsibility (currently led by the Department of the Treasury) for U.S. policy at the World Bank and the regional development banks.
  • Eliminate the Under Secretary for Civilian Security, Democracy, and Human Rights.
  • Eliminate the position of Deputy Secretary for Management and Resources.
  • Merge complementary offices and bureaus and emphasize their overarching purpose.
  • Reconsider lines of authority for non-U.N. multilateral organizations. 
  • Treat former U.S. territories as the independent nations they have become.

 

There’s a lot more!  The full report is available to read online here. Also available to read below or to download as PDF:

 

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Matt Armstrong: No, we do not need to revive the U.S. Information Agency

Posted: 3:55 am EDT

 

Matt Armstrong (@mountainrunner) is a lecturer on public diplomacy and international media. He is writing a book on how the White House, State Department, Congress, and the media fought, struggled, and ultimately collaborated in 1917-1948 to establish U.S. “public diplomacy.” In 2011, he served as executive director of the U.S. Advisory Commission on Public Diplomacy. He was nominated and confirmed as a member of the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG) on August 1, 2013.  He blogs sometimes at mountainrunner.us. He recently wrote, No, we do not need to revive the U.S. Information Agency for War on The Rocks.  Below is an excerpt. He says that the views expressed in this piece are his own, so don’t blame anyone else.

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More than once in the past decade or more, I guarantee that you have heard — or read — someone declare the United States would be better off today if the U.S. Information Agency (USIA) were still around and how without it, the United States was robbed of the ability to properly engage in information warfare today. Some of these discussions have been in Congress and at least one bill was introduced in recent years to try to recreate a limited USIA. However, laments about USIA are really a coded way of saying that we lack a strategy, an organizing principle, and empowered individuals to execute information warfare today.
[…]
In 1999, the “peace dividend” needed more money, and either USAID or USIA was going to help fund it. While USAID’s chief fought for his agency, USIA’s did not. But why was USIA even on the chopping block? Partly because of the incomplete, or tainted, knowledge of its role (primary credit goes to Fulbright), but also partly because USIA’s narrative, its raison d’être, had failed to adapt to the new normal, which would have been a lot like its early years.

Abolishing USIA was messy. Parts went to State, mostly under the purpose-built office of the Under Secretary for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs, but not all. And the broadcasting portion was spun off into a separate federal agency, the Broadcasting Board of Governors. A 2000 report on the status of the so-called merger captured part of the culture clash. While accounting at USIA served the mission and the field, at State, former USIA employees saw “accounting is an end itself.”
[…]
If we truly want to recreate USIA, the public affairs officers and their sections at our Embassies and Consulates would go to the new agency. The libraries and America’s Corners and all the similar programs would be moved, and likely moved out from behind fortress walls where some are invite-only, if they are accessible at all. The Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs would also leave State. The Under Secretary for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs would be abolished, though the Bureau of Public Affairs would remain in the department. The Broadcasting Board of Governors would be merged with this new entity as well. Perhaps most important of all, the Defense Department would defer to this new agency in its public communications, as would USAID and other agencies. Obviously such a reorganization is not going to happen.

We must remember that USIA operated in a simpler time of limited information flows and limited government communications. It virtually owned access to many foreign media markets, markets where the only “competition” was local government propaganda or silence.

Perhaps State could revamp itself. It is worth noting here that the title “public affairs officer” used by State and the United States Information Service were created in 1917 by the foreign section of the Committee for Public Information because State refused to do “public diplomacy” abroad. Nelson Rockefeller’s Coordinator for Inter-American Affairs was established prior to Pearl Harbor as a USIA-like organization focused on Latin America because State refused to respond to FDR’s requests and engage the public. In 1953, State was all too eager to dump the responsibilities of engaging foreign publics directly in the interest of “streamlining.” And in 1999 through today, we see how poorly State integrates, funds, and prioritizes “public diplomacy” into its operations. Even the title of the public diplomacy chief is discordant: “Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs.”

The lesson here is that each successful change followed a clearly defined and articulated requirement to fulfill a strategic purpose. Consolidation, or dis-aggregation, is not a strategy and it will not conjure up a strategy. In today’s noisy communications environment, we need coordination that comes not from a supremely empowered individual or central organization, but comes from a clear mission and purpose. USIA is held out as a symbol of our success to organize for information warfare, but it really was part of a larger effort. And ultimately, it came to reflect the segregation of “public diplomacy” from “diplomacy” that remains today. Today is not yesterday, so let’s stop looking at a mid-twentieth century solution for a 21st century problem.

Read in full here via War on The Rocks.

Click here for the end notes.

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