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Notable Details From Tillerson’s Congressional Appearances on FY18 Budget Request

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Posted: 2:55 am ET

 

Secretary Tillerson appeared on the Hill for hearings on the FY2018 State Department Budget Request, the first under the Trump Administration. On June 13, he appeared before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee (see video here), and later that same day, he was before the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on State, Foreign Operations, and Related Programs (see video here). On June 14, Secretary Tillerson also appeared before the full House Foreign Relations Committee (HFAC) to talk about the Trump budget request for the State Department.  During the HFAC hearing, Representative Eliot Engel told Secretary Tillerson that “a member of your staff informed my staff that the reorganization you’re planning  of the State Department will require statutory changes ….”

Should be interesting to find out what kind of changes Tillerson is seeking from Congress in restructuring the agency.  Are we going to see the merging of some functional bureaus? Geographical bureaus realigned to mirror DOD’s combatant commands? Post closures? A new under secretary position swapped for a different one? A brand new mascot to improve morale?

Below are some details from Mr. Tillerson’s testimonies (all in quotation marks) with a few comments of our own.

#1. Reorganization Objective

“I think when this is all said and done, our objective is to enable the people – our Foreign Service officers, our civil servants, our people in our missions, foreign nationals – to deliver on mission with greater efficiency and effectiveness. And in effect, we’re going to get an uplift in effort delivered to the mission.”
— June 13, Senate Appropriations Sub-Committee

#2. Themes and Organizational Boxes

“…Several themes emerged, and I think the overarching theme, obviously though, is the extraordinary dedication and patriotism of the men and women in the State Department and USAID and why they undertake a career like this. And that is a strength that we will build upon. What we heard from a number of people is they are dedicated to this broad mission of representing America’s interests around the world, but from time to time – not just now, but historically as well – there have been mixed messages within the department, between the department and USAID, between the State Department and embassies, missions themselves. So a greater clarity around how the mission is defined and how direction is given.”
–June 13, SFRC

“So most of the themes have to do with – and this was the nature, though, of what we wanted to engage people with – is not, “Is this the right objective or are these the right organizational boxes?” Tell us how you get your work done, and tell us what gets in the way of you getting your work done, and what frustrates you, because that translates to inefficiency and ineffectiveness. As I said, we have no preconceived notions going in. It would have been very easy to approach this, take the organization chart, start collapsing boxes, start making it flatter in an uninformed way. I don’t have any number in mind as to what the efficiency will be, whether it is going to be 10 percent, whether it’s going to be 25, 30; we’re going to let the redesign drive what those efficiencies will be. That’s my experience in doing this in very large organizations both in the private sector and in the nonprofit sector where I’ve taken a similar approach. At the end of it, we capture significant efficiencies, but let’s let the work of the redesign drive that, not go in and say, “I’m looking for 20 percent.” Because those generally are not sustainable changes then.”
–June 13, SFRC

#3. Performance and Accountability

“We also heard a theme that they do not feel that people are held accountable for their work at the State Department, that poor performers are not dealt with. And the people in the State Department know who is getting the work done and who is not getting the work done, and it’s demoralizing to them when they see that we don’t deal with those who are not delivering on their responsibilities. That gets to how we praise performance, how we give people feedback, how we work to improve their performance, so we have a number of human resources processes that we believe can be improved, and a number of leadership areas that need to be addressed.”
–June 13, SFRC

 

#4. Surveys Completed – 35,000 (out of 84,048 overall staffing for State and USAID)

“We have just completed collecting information on our organizational processes and culture through a survey that was made available to every one of our State and USAID colleagues. Over 35,000 surveys were completed, and we also held in-person listening sessions with approximately 300 individuals to obtain their perspective on what we do and how we do it. I met personally with dozens of team members who spoke candidly about their experiences. From this feedback we have been able to get a clearer overall view of our organization. We have no preconceived outcomes, and our discussions of the goals, priorities, and direction of the State Department and USAID are not token exercises.”
–June 13, Senate Appropriations Sub-Committee

NOTE: How do we reconcile Tillerson’s “we have no preconceived outcomes” with #10 “by the end of Fiscal ’18, we think we’ll be down about 8 percent overall” before his reorganization study/listening tour is even done?

#5. Eliminating Obstacles

“Well, that’s what the entire redesign exercise is about, is understanding better how the work gets done. What we’ve learned out of this listening exercise is the – our colleagues in the State Department and USAID can already identify a number of obstacles to them getting their work done efficiently and effectively. If we eliminate some of those obstacles, it’s like getting another half a person, because they have their time available now to direct it at delivery on mission, as opposed to managing some internal process that’s not directly delivering on mission. I just use that as an example.”
–June 13, Senate Appropriations Sub-Committee

#6. Redesign Timeframe

“I think we will finalize the listening report here in the next few weeks, and we’re going to make that available so people can see that. Out of that report, though, there are about 13 themes that emerged and these were extremely valuable to begin to help us focus on where are the greatest opportunities to remove obstacles for people, because that’s really what this is about, is how do we allow people to get their work done more effectively and more efficiently? And we will be going after the redesign. Some of this is internal processes, some of it is structural, some of it are constraints that, quite frankly, Congress puts on us through some of the appropriation structures. And I understand all well-intended to ensure accountability and oversight, but it ends up adding a lot of layers. So we’re going to be getting at that. We hope to have the way forward, the next step framed here in the kind of August timeframe, so that we can then begin the redesign process itself September. I’m hoping we can have all of that concluded by the end of the calendar year, and then ’18 will be a year of how do we implement this now? How do we effect the change and begin to get that into place?”
–June 13, Senate Appropriations Sub-Committee


#7. Implementation in 2018

“I’ll get a final report. I’m interviewing a couple of individuals who will come in and help us now with the next stage, which is the redesign effort itself, which will be – which will involve the colleagues in the State Department and USAID. That effort likely we’ll have that framed over the course of the summer. The effort itself will likely get underway sometime in August, September timeframe when we have our pathway for the process, how we want to engage our colleagues, how we want to get at various elements and themes that emerged from the listening session. Now, some of this is work process, some of it is how we handle people, some of it is how decisions are made. It’s a very broad set of issues which were quite informative. So we’ve got to map out how do we want to get at each of those, but the work itself will start towards the end of the year. Hopefully, we will have some clarity around what that looks like by the end of this year; early next year, we’ll begin implementation.”
–June 13, SFRC

 

#8. Who’s coming to Foggy Bottom?

“… Having done this in the private sector once or twice and in a big nonprofit once, there is a process that I know has delivered for me in the past. So we just concluded this listening effort, which will inform us and shape how we feel we need to now attack the redesign and the way forward. Now, I’ve interviewed a couple of individuals to come in and help me lead that effort.”
–June 13, Senate Appropriations Sub-Committee

#9. Institutionalizing Change

“Well, I think that perhaps the difference in how we’re thinking about this, not a – just is what people think about things differently. The effort that we’re undertaking is to institutionalize change so that it stays and we capture, now and forevermore, these efficiencies.”
–June 13, SFRC

#10. State Department Workforce Projected to be ⬇︎8% by End of FY18 — 1:3 Replacement

“We actually are up about 50 Foreign Service officers from the start of the year, about a half a percent. The effect will come later, as what we’re doing is just allowing normal attrition to bring the numbers down. And as we look forward, we know we’ve got to continue to replenish our Foreign Service officer corps, so we are still interviewing people. And as we look ahead, we’ll probably be looking at a one-for-three kind of replacement. But the Foreign Service, if you – if we look further out, and I think we’ve said this publicly – by the end of Fiscal ’18, we think we’ll be down about 8 percent overall on the permanent State Department Foreign Service/Civil Service. Foreign Service is actually only going to be down about 4 percent; civil servants are going to be down about 12. So it’s being managed in a deliberate way, but being very mindful of not diminishing the strength of our Foreign Service officers.”
–June 13, SFRC

NOTE: On May 10, careers.state.gov posted this note in the forum: “The Office of Recruitment, Examination and Employment sent letters to all candidates on the Generalist registers notifying them of the opportunity to join the Consular Fellows Program. This program is a priority initiative for the US Department of State in the coming years and we encourage all of our qualified candidates to consider joining the Foreign Service to fill this important role.”  HR is telling FSO candidates waiting to be called to a class (career tracks) that they can join the Consular Fellow Program (non-career track, 60 months tenure). Why would anyone want to do that?  This tells us that State has hiring authority for the CF program, but may not have one for the career candidates. Also see #14 below.

#11. Staffing the Top Ranks of the State Department

“We’re at about, I would say, the 50 percent mark in terms of undersecretaries/assistant secretaries. In terms of people that have been identified, names are actually being submitted so they can begin to work their way through the White House PPO process, but also, for a lot of people, they have to get this paperwork behind them. And I would tell you that is no small challenge. As I check on the status of various people we have recommended and nominated to the White House, what I’m finding is more o[en than not it’s the paperwork that is slowing them down. In my own case, I had to hire eight people to help me get mine done. Most people can’t afford to hire eight people to help them get their paperwork done, so it takes a very long time. But we’re about 50 percent of the way through, and we have other names that are in process. What we’re doing, we try to get the candidate list of people we think are – would be useful to talk to down to a couple, and then we actually interview them face to face and then make a decision and submit them. So this is a pretty active process. It’s one I sit down with the people that are helping me coordinate it about every 10 days just to see where are we, make decisions on other people. If we’re hearing feedback, we talk to folks, maybe they don’t want to do it after all. So it’s moving, and that’s about where we are within the State Department and the bureaus.”
–June 13, SFRC

RELATED POSTS: 
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Who Will Be Acting Secretary of State Pending Rex Tillerson’s Confirmation? (Updated);
Tillerson/Priebus Standoff on Ambassadorships, Plus Rumored Names/Posts (Updated);
Snapshot: @StateDept Presidential Appointee Positions Requiring Senate Confirmation;
Is Foggy Bottom’s T-Rex as Stealthy and Cunning as His Theropod Namesake?;
Rex Tillerson’s Inner Circle Photo Album, Say Cheese Con Quezo!

 

#12. No firing program planned

“We’re not going to have to fire anyone. This is all being done through the hiring freeze, normal attrition, with a very limited, if needed – because we haven’t determined whether we’ll even need it – a very limited buyout program between the end of this year and next. So there is no firing program planned.”
–June 13, Senate Appropriations Sub-Committee

Note: The last time the State Department suffered through a 27% budget cut between 1993-1996, the agency trimmed more than 1,100 jobs at the State Department, 600 jobs at  the U.S. Information Agency (USIA), and shuttered consulates in 26 foreign cities. USAID lost about 2,000 jobs and closed 28 aid missions abroad (see The Last Time @StateDept Had a 27% Budget Cut, Congress Killed ACDA and USIA).  We understand that there are plans to close the U.S. Consulate General in Basrah, Iraq, as well as several smaller posts. If those plans are implemented, how can the State Department avoid a firing program? In the case of Basrah, will American employees simply be relocated to other posts, and will local employees simply be absorbed by Baghdad and other posts in the region? (see U.S. Consulate General #Basrah, Iraq: Six-Year Old Diplomatic Outpost Faces Closure).


#13. EFM Hiring Freeze

“State Department family members that are eligible to be hired in mission – we have a waiver process in place for that, and I have approved a number. The freeze does extend, in answer to your question, to all of those. But where we have critical missions, like in Iraq, Pakistan, Afghanistan, where we really need these positions filled by family members who are willing to go to those tough locations, I have been providing waivers in those circumstances.”
–June 13, SFRC

NOTE: We’ve blogged previously about the hiring freeze and EFM jobs. According to the November 2016 data, there are about 300 EFM positions in SCA (bureau covers AfghanistanPakistanBangladesh), 560 positions in AF, and almost 400 positions in NEA (bureau covers IraqEgyptLebanon). Back in April, we were hearing that some 70+ EFM waivers were requested. At that time, we understand that Tillerson only granted waivers for 6 EFM positions, and all are for priority posts. Since the State Department’s Public Affairs office refuses to answer routine questions from this blog, we’re hoping that congressional reps will ask follow-up Questions For the Record (QFRs).

If the Secretary of State is only issuing EFM waivers to family members accompanying FS employees to critical missions like Iraq, Pakistan, and Afghanistan, he’s basically ignoring the potential fallout of this decision to smaller posts, or posts with high turn-over this transfer season.

Posts typically depend on EFMs to provide support in consular sections, facilities management, security, health unit, vetting, grants, etc. When post has only about a dozen Direct Hire (DH) American employees, this support is just as critical to these mission.  So when these EFMs leave their posts during the ongoing transfer season, these positions will not be filled due to the hiring freeze; and they can’t be hired at their next posts because of the same hiring freeze. When posts are unable to hire EFMs, these jobs still need to be done, so DH employees will need to do their jobs and the EFM jobs. And if there are other gaps in staffing, folks could be wearing three-four hats.  Until when? Potentially until Tillerson lifts the freeze. Which won’t happen until the reorganization plan is “fully developed.” Which may not happen until fall or end of the calendar year. Maybe he’ll wait until early 2018 when the plan is implemented?  Oh, who knows? Does he even care?

READ MORE:
Snapshot: Geographic Distribution of Family Member UnEmployment Overseas;
Oy! That Rumor About Foreign Service Family Member Employment as “Corporate Welfare”;
Are #EFM positions literally about to become…extinct under #Tillerson’s watch?;
No thaw in sight for @StateDept hiring freeze until reorganization plan is “fully developed”

 

#14. Rangel and Pickering Fellows

“I don’t think we’ve frozen the Rangel and Pickering programs in terms of people that are in process. We’re continuing and we’re going to continue to take applicants as well. But let me follow up with you because I don’t think there’s a full freeze in place of those.”
–June 13, SFRC

“There is no freeze. The structure of the program Rangle-Pickering which is very important to us, and we have every intention of continuing it. The obligation and the contract that the young people and others engage with us when we fund their tuition and for their graduate studies is that we confirm that we offer them a position in Consular Affairs. That is confirmed and it’s a five-year commitment on their part to serve. We then say, we will put you on the list for consideration for the next A-100 Foreign Service class.  We are holding the next A-100 Foreign Service class because quite frankly right now our Foreign Service officer staffing were actually up about 50 people from the beginning of the year with our expected manning — which we’re looking at an 8% reduction by the end of fiscal 2018 — in order for us to have time to manage how we want that to occur so that we do not diminish the strength of the Foreign Service corps. We are holding the next A-100 class so nothing has been frozen and we want people to continue to apply and they’re all offered a position in Consular Affairs. And that is no change from the past. There’s never been a guarantee that anyone would have a clearer offer or pathway to the Foreign Service that would be considered for Foreign Service based upon the work they completed but they always have an offer to go to work in Consular Affairs.”
–June 14, HFAC in response to Congressman Meeks

Note: The Charles B. Rangel Fellows and the Thomas R. Pickering Fellows are two of the nine fellowship programs under the State Department’s  Diplomacy Fellows Program (DFP) designed to advance eligible candidates to the Foreign Service Oral Assessment for the competitive selection of entry level Foreign Service Officer Candidates.  The careers.state.gov website states  “We are not currently accepting applications for the Diplomacy Fellows Program.”  Also see the DPB of June 15, 2017.  A total of 31 members signed a letter to Tillerson calling on the Secretary of State to exempt the Rangel and Pickering Fellows from the State Department hiring freeze.

The Secretary told Congress that the State Department is holding the next A-100 class but the classes for July and September have not been confirmed. The next FSO/Generalist class is scheduled to start on July 10.  As of June 8, 2017, careers.state.gov is telling applicants “Still no decision has been taken regarding A-100 classes for Foreign Service Specialist and Generalist candidates this year.” There has been no recent update on start dates as far as we could tell.

Tillerson appears to be saying there’s no assurance for the diplomacy fellows to get a spot in A-100 class (career appointment) but that there was always an offer  for them to go work for Consular Affairs. What? That can’t be right. He did not specifically mentioned Consular Fellows but since he also talked about Consular Affairs and a 5-year commitment, we suspect that this is the program he is talking about.

Consular Fellows are hired via limited non-career appointments (LNAs). The Consular Fellow LNA appointment is for 5 years, but may be terminated at any time based on performance and/or needs of the Service. These are paid, non-career positions. The Consular Fellows program, similar to its predecessor, the Consular Adjudicator Limited Non-Career Appointment (CA LNA) program, is not/not an alternate entry method to the Foreign Service or the U.S. Department of State, i.e. this service does not lead to onward employment at the U.S. Department of State or with the U.S. government.  See more here: https://careers.state.gov/work/foreign-service/consular-fellows.

If the Consular Fellows Program will be the hiring priority initiative this year and in the coming years, before long the Foreign Service will be encumbered by career Foreign Service officers/specialists (1:3 hiring to attrition) and non-career Consular Fellows on a 60 month limited appointment who can only do consular tours.  At some point, unless there is a correction, the Foreign Service will again be divided into career diplomatic employees, and a consular corps with a limited career track that does not go beyond 5 years. That’s the future we’re reading.

HIRING: We’ve blogged previously about this here:
@StateDept Gets Exemption From Trump Federal Hiring Freeze, March Classes Are On;
Snapshot: Historical and Projected Foreign Service Attrition;
With Zero Information From @StateDept, Foreign Service Candidates Remain in Limbo;
OMB Issues Initial Guidance For Federal Civilian Hiring Freeze (Read Memo);
President Trump Freezes Federal Hiring Regardless of Funding Sources (Read Memo);
@StateDept Sends Out Job Offers to Prospective FSOs For March 6 Class But — Will There Be Jobs?

 

#15. Safety as the Highest Priority

“We’ve made the safety of not just our State Department employees but Americans broadly our highest priority, certainly as it relates to our embassy presence, our consular office presence, and our missions around the world. If you examine the security elements of the budget, our budget for Diplomatic Security is actually up 11 percent, year on year. Where we have reductions has to do with some of the construction, the buildings, part of the budget for embassies and other facilities. Part of that we’ll manage with some multiyear commitments across ’17 to ’18, and some of this has to do with just our ability to move projects along promptly. We are clearly committed to the Benghazi ARB recommendations, and I’m monitoring those carefully. We have some gaps we need to close. The OIG has helped us identify some of those. We’re going to stay on top of those. If there were more funds there, we would simply try to step up more activity on some of the building and maintenance issues. So most of the reduction is in building and maintenance efforts, which we believe are manageable, at least through Fiscal Year ’18.”
–June 13, SFRC

#16. Security and Embassy Construction – Back to Standard Design

“The current budget around security, both security services as well as embassy construction will allow us to maintain our program pretty much through 2018. We will begin to have planning difficulties in 19 at this level and we’re in discussions with OMB about that. And I think to your points about the execution against embassy construction, it really is an execution issue and I agree we need to get back to standard designs, fear scope changes, we don’t need to be unique every place. Plus I’m a fit for purpose guy and we ned to build what’s needed first to deliver the mission.”
— June 14, HFAC

#17. Money Spent Not/Not Indicator of U.S. Commitment 

“I am listening to what my people tell me are the challenges facing them and how we can produce a more efficient and effective State Department and USAID. And we will work as a team and with the Congress to improve both organizations. Throughout my career, I have never believed, nor have I experienced, that the level of funding devoted to a goal is the most important factor in achieving it. Our budget will never be determined – will never determine our ability to be effective; our people will.”
–June 13, Appropriations Sub-Committee

“….That long list of challenges on that board over there have been around for a while. The level of spending we’ve been carrying out hasn’t solved them. I go back to my view that I don’t think the money we spend is necessarily an indicator of our commitment. I think how we go about it – and we’ve got to take some new approaches to begin to address some of these very daunting challenges. The aid and the support and what we can bring to the issue is important. I’m not in any way diminishing that. But I don’t – I think if we equate the budget level to somehow some level of commitment or some level of expected success, I think we’re really undercutting and selling short people’s intellectual capacity to bring different approaches to these problems.”
–June 13, Senate Appropriations Sub-Committee

 

#18. Refugees

“I would take exception to the comment that we’re walking away from our responsibilities in that region with all of the men and women in uniform we have fighting and the State Department diplomatic resources we have to get at the reason the refugees are in Jordan. And I would tell you in working with the region, they all understand – Turkey, Jordan, others understand – we’d like the refugees to stay close to their homes so they can go back. Having them come all the way to the United States doesn’t – may not achieve that. So our approach on the significant problem of refugee migration locally is to solve the problem that allows people to go home. We have already seen some success in the liberation of Mosul and other cities. We hope to replicate that kind of success in Syria where we have come behind the military quickly when they liberate an area, create a secure zone, restore power and water, restore hospitals, restore schools. We have close to 40,000 children back in school in East Mosul already. People will come back if we create the conditions. So we really want refugees to return; it’s not the objective to have Jordan have to house those refugees now and forevermore.”
–June 13, SFRC

#19. Russia Sanctions

“I think it is important that we be given sufficient flexibility to achieve the Minsk objectives. It is very possible that the Government of Ukraine and the Government of Russia could to come to a satisfactory resolution through some structure other than Minsk that would achieve the objectives  of Minsk which we’re committed to. So my caution is I would not want ourselves handcuffed to Minsk if it turns out the parties decides to settle this through a different agreement.”
— June 14, HFAC

#20. Russian Dachas and Irritants 

“So we segmented the big issues from this list of what I call the irritants. The dachas are on that list. We have things on the list, such as trying to get the permits for our consular office in St. Petersburg. We’ve got issues with harassment of our embassy employees in Moscow. We have a list of things; they have a list of things. I don’t want to suggest to you this is some kind of a bartering deal. It’s more, let’s start working on some of the smalls and see if we can solve them. As to the dachas, these two properties have been in ownership of the Russians dating back to the Soviet Union – 1971. They’ve owned these properties and have used these properties for a very long time. They were transferred to the Russian Federation Government for $1 at the breakup of the Soviet Union. We have continued to allow them to use these properties, and they have used these properties continuously for all that time. President Obama, in response to the interference with the election, expelled the 35 Russian diplomats and seized these two properties. What we’re working through with them in this conversation is: Under what terms and conditions would we be, would we allow them to access the properties again for recreational purpose? We’ve not taken the properties from them; they still belong to them. So we’re not going to seize properties that are theirs and remove their — but we are talking about under what conditions would we allow you to use them for recreational purposes, which is what they have asked.”
–June 13, SFRC

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U.S. Consulate General #Basrah, Iraq: Six-Year Old Diplomatic Outpost Faces Closure

Posted: 2:12 pm PT

 

Next month, the U.S. Consulate General in Basrah, Iraq would mark its sixth anniversary as the United States diplomatic outpost in the country’s southern-most province near the border with Kuwait.

Located adjacent to the Basrah International Airport, ConGen Basrah serves the four provinces of Iraq’s southern region: Basrah, Muthanna, Dhi Qar, and Maysan.  The office consists of an executive office, headed by the Consul General, and sections covering economic and commercial affairs, political affairs, public diplomacy, and issues concerning rule of law, border enforcement (both coastal and land/sea), police development, regional security and regional affairs, management, and U.S. development programs managed by the U.S. Agency for International Development. It provides limited consular services to emergency American citizen issues but does not does provide visa services or non-emergency American citizen services, both of which are provided by the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad.

We’ve recently learned that the State Department is now planning on closing the Consulate in Basrah.  One source told us that there is no timeline yet for the post closure. Our source estimates that with all the contract buy-outs, property, and local staffing issues to deal with, it could take half a year to shut things down. When we inquired if the memo circulated this past week was soliciting input or if this is a done deal, another source told us that this is pretty much a done deal as the security upgrade planned for this FY2017 had been cancelled. Not sure which construction/upgrade  project was cancelled but last year, a $4,885,950.00 contract for Basrah was awarded by State/OBO as one of its capital project in Iraq.

Whether this post is officially shuttered  this year or next year, we anticipate that this is only the first in the round of post closures that we understand for now includes over a dozen smaller posts spanning the globe.

U.S. Ambassador James F. Jeffrey officially opens the U.S. Consulate General in Basrah, Iraq, with Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs Jeffrey D. Feltman on July 5, 2011. Includes sound bites from Maj. Gen. Eddy Spurgin – commander, 36th Infantry Division/U.S. Division-South and Piper Campbell, the Consul General at Consulate Basra.

The State/OIG report on Inspection of Embassy Baghdad and Constituent Posts, Iraq in May 2013 notes the following:

The Government of Iraq would like to reclaim the 108-acre compound that houses the U.S. consulate general—a former British forward operating base 12 miles from Basrah on an Iraqi military compound adjacent to the international airport. The embassy is committed to maintain a presence in the south of Iraq, not least because it is the largest source of new oil to market in the world, and many U.S. companies are pursuing commercial opportunities there. The local government supports a U.S. presence, and the Government of Iraq committed in a 2004 bilateral agreement to provide a permanent site for consulate operations. To date, however, there has been no progress identifying a future site. The U.S. Government does not have a land use agreement for the current compound. The consulate general’s hold on the property remains tenuous.

At the time of the inspection, the Department was completing a $150 million interim construction project to provide basic security and infrastructure upgrades, but the facility and its isolated location are not suitable for a diplomatic mission on more than a temporary basis. Employees live in deteriorating containerized housing units; the compound has no central generator grid or access to city power; all supplies, including food, have to be trucked to the compound; and the security support needed to interact with contacts in Basrah City is costly. Operating costs to maintain the current, oversized facility and its hundreds of guards and life support staff are approximately $100 million per year. The Department has not given priority to or identified funding for a purpose-built facility.

Basrah’s ability to sustain operations is fragile under the best of circumstances because of its location at the end of a supply chain beset by shipping delays, security concerns, and the difficulty in recruiting and retaining U.S. direct-hire staff. As long as the consulate general occupies a sprawling compound that requires nearly 1,200 support staff, efforts to reduce costs and develop a long-term diplomatic presence commensurate with U.S. interests will remain on hold. If the Department cannot decide soon on Basrah’s future, it will at the very least have to fund interim upgrades to make facilities livable.
[…]
At BDSC and Consulate General Basrah, employees live in cramped containerized housing units. Currently, most employees occupy their own unit with a bathroom but no cooking facilities. No long-term plan exists to bring housing closer to Department standards. The need for better long-term housing, addressed in a recommendation earlier in this report, is acute.

The 2013 OIG report recommended that “Embassy Baghdad, in coordination with the Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs, should decide on the size and the nature of the diplomatic platform needed in Basrah.”

It appears that the Tillerson State Department has now decided that the United States does not need a diplomatic platform in Basrah.

Note that ConGen Basrah went from 81 direct-hire Americans and 1,102 contractors in January 2012 to 75 direct-hire Americans and 986 contractors in January 2013. In January 2014, the latest publicly available data via State/OIG, the direct-hire number was 46, while contractors were at 657.

According to the Foreign Affairs Manual, a proposal to open, close, or change the status of a post normally is made and recommended by the assistant secretary for the appropriate regional bureau.  […] The final decision to open, close, or change the status of a diplomatic mission is made by the President.  The final decision to open, close, or change the status of a consular post, consular agency, branch, or special office is made by the Under Secretary for Management.

Wait, the State Department is still missing its Under Secretary for Management.

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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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