USAID/OIG Takes First Stab in Autopsy of Tillerson’s State/USAID Redesign

Posted: 1:45 am ET

 

In response to last year’s congressional request, USAID/OIG reviewed “USAID’s process in developing its reform plans and its compliance with congressional notification requirements.” We believe this is the first official accounting available on what transpired during Tillerson’s Redesign project, but primarily on the USAID side. We’re looking forward to State/OIG’s review of the project on its side.

The March 8, 2018 USAID/OIG report titled “USAID’s Redesign Efforts Have Shifted Over Time” was publicly posted on March 9, 2018. This report was originally marked “Sensitive But Unclassified (SBU)” and when publicly released, some of the appendices were redacted apparently at the assertion of the State Department and USAID that these be withheld from public view (see Appendix D, E and F. “USAID and the State Department have asserted that these appendixes should be withheld from public release in their entirety under exemption (b)(5) of the Freedom of Information Act, 5 U.S.C. 552(b)(5). OIG has marked this material SBU in accordance with 22 CFR 212.7(c)(2), which states that the originator of a record is best able to make a determination regarding whether information in that record should be withheld”).

USAID/OIG’s task was to determine (1) how USAID developed its redesign plans pursuant to Executive Order 13781, which were addressed by describing both the events and actions taken by USAID to develop its reform plans and the assessments of USAID’s actions by those involved in the process, and (2) whether USAID complied to date with fiscal year 2017 appropriation requirements.

USAID/OIG  interviewed 42 officials from across USAID. Interviewees included USAID employees from the Administrator’s Office, members of the Transformation Task Team, employees across every bureau and independent office, and overseas mission directors. The report says that these individuals were selected because of their knowledge of specific portions of the redesign process. There was also a survey that includes all 83 USAID mission directors worldwide (27 of whom responded). USAID/OIG also interviewed six senior officials from the State Department involved in the joint redesign process “to corroborate USAID testimony and portray a more balanced, objective sequence of events leading to the reform plan submissions.”

USAID/OIG’s conclusion:

“Results of our point-in-time review indicate good intentions by USAID as well as the State Department. However, USAID’s limited involvement in the design of the listening survey, uncertainty about redesign direction and end goals, and disagreement and limited transparency on decisions related to the consolidation of functions and services raise questions about what has been achieved thus far and what is deemed actionable. Given the concerns raised by USAID personnel, transparency—as well as compliance with congressional notification requirements—could prove challenging as redesign plans turn into actions.”

The details below are excerpted from the report:

Redesign process was resource-intensive and ad hoc

  • During this nearly 3-month process, USAID reported contributing around 100 employees (mostly senior officials) spanning 21 of its 24 bureaus and independent offices. Ten employees were detailed full-time to the effort. These participants were 48 percent Civil Service employees, 28 percent Foreign Service employees, 7 percent political appointees, and 5 percent contractors.
  • The State Department was reported to have brought around 200 people into the process.
  • According to work stream leaders, the State Department’s initial guidance for the teams was to “think big” with “no guardrails,” but the lack of boundaries and explicit goals hindered progress. The looming question of whether USAID would merge into the State Department not only distracted teams but further confused the direction of the redesign process.
  • The initial lack of direction was viewed as a hindrance by representatives from all work streams.
  • Participants described the joint redesign process as “ad hoc.” Interviewees from both the State Department and USAID noted instances when leaders of the joint process seemed unsure of the next steps. For example, a senior State Department official involved in coleading a work stream said there was not a lot of preparation, and the work streams did not know what the final products would be.

Joint disjointed efforts and disagreements

  • USAID shared its supplemental plan with the State Department days before the OMB deadline. A senior State Department official stated that the State Department was not pleased with the supplemental plan, noting that some of USAID’s proposals should have been developed through the joint process. The State Department asked USAID to remove some of its proposals relating to humanitarian assistance, foreign policy, and strategic international financing because State Department’s decisions regarding these areas had not been finalized. In the end, the supplemental plan USAID submitted to OMB contained 15 proposals (appendix E), while the version previously submitted to the State Department had 21. The six removed supplemental proposals are shown in appendix F. A senior USAID official noted, however, that USAID let OMB know what the filtered and unfiltered supplemental plan looked like.
  • Interviewees from the work streams and various leadership positions noted disagreement on decisions related to consolidation of USAID and State Department functions and services. Members from the work streams at all levels stated that the ESC—tasked to resolve disagreements within the work streams—rarely did so and was often unable to reach consensus on major issues such as the consolidation of IT and management services, or how to divide humanitarian assistance and funding decisions between the State Department and USAID.
  • Even after some decisions were thought to have been made, USAID officials reported instances when the State Department would revisit the decisions, forcing USAID to defend what was already considered resolved. This rethinking of decisions led a number of interviewees from both USAID and the State Department to wonder whether there were strong advocates for consolidation of services within the State Department.
  • Officials familiar with ESC [Executive Steering Committee] also noted that the committee lacked a formal process to resolve disagreements, and opinions were often split along State Department and USAID lines. As a result, some decisions on consolidation were left on hold and remain undecided.

USAID not part of listening survey decision

  • According to a top USAID official, the decision to administer a survey was made by the State Department alone, and USAID had little say as to whether it should participate or how the survey would be administered. USAID was not part of the contracting process with Insigniam and was brought in after most of the details were decided. The week following the issuance of OMB’s memorandum guidance, Insigniam engaged State Department and USAID officials to provide input into developing the listening survey questions but gave them less than 2 business days to provide feedback. A small group of senior USAID officials worked over the weekend to compile suggestions and submitted it by the requested deadline. Despite this effort, USAID officials did not feel their input was sufficiently incorporated into the survey. 

Questions about data integrity

  • Questions of data integrity were raised, including projected cost savings of $5 billion that would be realized with the proposed reforms—projections several USAID officials characterized as unrealistic. For example, one senior USAID official stated that the contractor responsible for compiling work stream data did not adequately understand USAID and State Department processes before applying assumptions.

 

  • The data and analysis behind the listening survey were also closely held. USAID officials reported requesting and being denied access to the complete, “raw” survey data, which is owned by the State Department. Some interviewees noted that without access to data, it would be difficult to interpret the magnitude of some of the issues identified in the listening survey.
  • This concern with data integrity was consistent throughout our interviews. For example, a senior USAID official stated that Deloitte—who was compiling data for work stream decision making—did not obtain an adequate understanding of processes before applying assumptions to them. Other work stream participants said that because data came from different systems in USAID and the State Department, it was difficult to accurately compare scenarios between agencies. According to several interviewees familiar with the data, the process had poor quality assurance. For example, documents were kept on a shared server with no version control. Moreover, interviewees noted that much of the decision-making information for the work streams was “experiential”—based on the backgrounds of people in the subgroup rather than hard data.
  • In addition, interviewees from both the State Department and USAID questioned Insigniam’s recommendation to move the State Department’s Bureau of Consular Affairs to the Department of Homeland Security—a recommendation some claimed was unlikely to have been based on data from the listening survey. This prompted a number of those involved in the reform process to question how survey input had been processed and the validity of the rest of Insigniam’s takeaways.

(NOTE: A source previously informed us that only 5-6 individuals have access to the raw data; and that the survey data is in a proprietary system run by Insigniam. Data collected paid for by taxpayer money is in a proprietary system. We were also told that if we want the data, we have to make an FOIA request to the Transformation Management Office, but our source doubts that State will just hand over the data).

Concerns about inclusiveness and transparency

  • A number of interviewees, including some mission directors and heads of bureaus and independent offices, felt the redesign process was not only exclusive, but also lacked transparency. According to senior USAID staff, OMB instructed the Agency to keep a close hold on the details of the redesign. While some mission directors noted that biweekly calls with bureau leadership, agency announcements, and direct outreach kept them informed of the redesign process as it occurred, field-based officials expressed dismay and disillusionment with what seemed to be a headquarters-focused process.

Mission closures and congressional notifications

  • [W]hile mission closings remain under consideration, some actions taken by USAID raised questions about compliance with notification requirements to Congress. To meet the congressional notification requirement, USAID must notify the Committees on Appropriations before closing a mission or reorganizing an office. The Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2017, Section 7034, requires congressional notification “prior to implementing any reorganization of the Department of State or the United States Agency for International Development, including any action taken pursuant to the March 31, 2017, Executive Order 13781.”
  • Specific mention of USAID’s offices in Albania, India, and Jamaica as candidates for the chopping block.

Non-notification and violation of FY2017 appropriations legislation

  • In the case of USAID/RDMA [Regional Development Mission for Asia], our analyses of USAID’s actions were less conclusive and raised questions about compliance with notification requirements to Congress. On August 17, 2017, the Acting Deputy Administrator requested from the Asia Bureau and USAID/RDMA a closure plan for the regional mission. The closure plan would outline the timing, funding, and staff reductions for a 2019 closure date. It was noted that the closure plan was for discussion purposes only, and USAID leadership would consult with the State Department to ensure that any future decisions would be in line with overall U.S. foreign assistance and foreign policy strategy.
  • [O]n August 18, 2017, the Agency removed six Foreign Service Officer Bangkok positions from a previously announced bid list. The Agency also informed the U.S. Embassy Bangkok, counterparts in the State Department’s East Asia/Pacific Bureau, and USAID leadership in the Bureaus of Democracy, Conflict, and Humanitarian Assistance and Global Health of a planned closure of USAID/RDMA’s activities. USAID leadership noted that they were given until the end of 2019 to complete the actual phaseout. Our best assessment is that the totality of the Agency’s actions relating to USAID/RDMA— without notifying Congress—violated the spirit of the FY 2017 appropriations legislation. 13

Aspirational savings of $5 to $10 Billion: not based on analysis, “came out of nowhere”

  • According to the joint plan, the proposed reforms would yield $5 billion in savings (link inserted) over a 5-year period; however, this amount did not factor the investment costs of $2.8 billion over that same period, which would result in net savings of $2.2 billion. These projections were characterized as unrealistic by several USAID officials. A senior USAID official involved in reviewing data stated that the $5 billion projection was unrealistic given the process used by the State Department and USAID to gather and analyze information. The official stated that the State Department’s reported aspirational savings of $10 billion was not based on analysis, but rather “came out of nowhere.”

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Snapshot: Bureau of South and Central Asian Affairs Org Structure (As of Nov 2017)

Posted: 3:38 am ET

 

Via State/OIG:

[click on image for a larger view]

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Watch Out For the 90-Day Rule: Mandatory Retirement For Former Presidential Appointees

Posted: 12:54 am ET

 

Yo!

3 FAM 6215
MANDATORY RETIREMENT OF FORMER PRESIDENTIAL APPOINTEES
(CT:PER-594;   03-06-2007)
(State only)
(Applies to Foreign Service Employees)

a. Career members of the Service who have completed Presidential assignments under section 302(b) of the Act, and who have not been reassigned within 90 days after the termination of such assignment, plus any period of authorized leave, shall be retired as provided in section 813 of the Act.  For purposes of this section, a reassignment includes the following:

(1)  An assignment to an established position for a period of at least six months pursuant to the established assignments process (including an assignment that has been approved in principle by the appropriate assignments panel);

(2)  Any assignment pursuant to section 503 of the Foreign Service Act of 1980, as amended;

(3)  A detail (reimbursable or nonreimbursable) to another U.S. Government agency or to an international organization;

(4)  A transfer to an international organization pursuant to 5 U.S.C. sections 3581 through 3584; or

(5)  A pending recommendation to the President that the former appointee be nominated for a subsequent Presidential appointment to a specific position.

b. Except as provided for in paragraph c of this section, a reassignment does not include an assignment to a Department bureau in “overcomplement” status or to a designated “Y” tour position.

c.  The Director General may determine that appointees who have medical conditions that require assignment to “medical overcomplement” status are reassigned for purposes of Section 813 of the Foreign Service Act.

d. To the maximum extent possible, former appointees who appear not likely to be reassigned and thus subject to mandatory retirement under section 813 of the Act will be so notified in writing by the Director General not later than 30 days prior to the expiration of the 90-day reassignment period.

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A Look at @StateDept Staffing Losses Between FY2016-FY2017 #ThisCouldGetWorse

Posted: 12:28 pm PT
Updated: Feb 13, 2:02 pm PT

 

We’ve written previously about staffing and attrition at the State Department in this blog. We’ve decided to put the staffing numbers in FY16 and FY17 next to each other for comparison. The numbers are publicly released by State/HR, and links are provided below.

Since the State Department had also released an update of its staffing numbers dated December 31, 2017 for the first quarter of FY2018, we’ve added that in the table below.

FY2016 saw a high water mark in the total number of State Department employees worldwide at 75,231.  There were 13,980 Foreign Service employees (officers and specialists), 11,147 Civil Service employees and 50,104 locally employed (LE) staff members at 275 overseas posts.

The Trump Administration took office on January 20, 2017. On February 1, 2017, Rex W. Tillerson was sworn in as the 69th Secretary of State. With the exception of the month of January, note that Secretary Tillerson was at the helm at State for eight months in FY2017 (February-September 30, 2017), and the first three months of FY2018 (October 2017-December 2017).

With 75,231 overall number as our marker, we find that the State Department overall was reduced by 351 employees at the end of FY2017.  On the first quarter of FY18, this number was reduced further by 476 employees.  Between September 30, 2016, and December 31, 2017 — 15 months — the agency was reduced  overall by 827 employees (including LE employees).

FY2017 did see six, that’s right, six new FS specialists, and 256 LE staffers added to its rolls (see That FSS Number for additional discussion on that six FSS gains). Note that LE staffers are generally host country nationals paid in local compensation plans with non-dollarized salaries.

Data also shows that there were 68 more FS/CS employees overseas. We interpret this to mean 68 more FS/CS employees assigned overseas, and not/not necessarily new hires. The FSO ranks were reduced by 107 officers, and the Civil Service corps was reduced by 500 out of a total of 25,127 American employees by September 2017. The Foreign Service was further reduced by 197 employees, and the Civil Service reduced by 144 employees by December 31, 2017.

Tillerson on Track

Mr. Tillerson goal is reportedly to reduce the department’s full-time American employees by 8 percent by the end of September 2018, the date by which Mr. Tillerson has purportedly promised to complete the first round of cuts. A November 2017 report  calculated the 8 percent as 1,982 people with 1,341 expected to retire or quit, and 641 employees expected to take buyouts. The data below indicates that the State Department’s American FS/CS employees at 25,127 in FY2016 was reduced by 948 employees by December 31, 2017, a reduction of 3.8 percent.  If the buyouts, as reported, occurs in April 2018, Tillerson would be at 6.3 percent reduction by spring, with five months to get to the remaining 1.7 percent to make his 8 percent target by September 30. And this is just the first round.

Projected Attrition

In 2016, the State Department already projected that between FY 2016 and FY 2020, close to 5,400 career FS and CS employees (21 percent) will leave the Department due to various types of attrition (non-retirements, retirements, voluntary, involuntary). That’s an average of 1,080 reduction each fiscal year from FY2016-FY2020.  Even without a threat of staff reduction, it was already anticipated that the State Department was going to shrink by 1,080 employees every year until 2020.  We think that part of this estimate has to do with the graying of the federal service, and the mandatory age retirement for the Foreign Service, but also because of the built-in RIF in the Foreign Service with its “up or out” system. Anytime we hear the State Department trimming its promotion numbers, we also anticipate more departures for people who could not get promoted.

It’s Not a RIF, Just Shrinking the Promotion Numbers

Tillerson made the staff reduction his own by announcing a staffing cut and a buyout. This was obviously a mistake, but what do we know? What this signals to us is a lack of understanding of how the system was intended to work most especially in the Foreign Service. This is a mistake that he could have easily avoided had he not walled himself away from career people who knew the building and the system that he was trying to redesign.

Yes, the reduction in State Department workforce was in the stars whether Tillerson became Secretary of State or not. There is a regular brain drain because the Foreign Service is an “up or out” system. Some diplomats who are at the prime of their careers but are not promoted are often forced to leave.  But to get more people to leave, Tillerson does not even need to announce a RIF, he only need to shrink the promotion numbers. A source familiar with the numbers told us that in 2017, 41 FSOs were promoted from FS01 to the Senior Foreign Service (SFS), down from an average over the past five years of 101, or a 60% decrease. Across the Foreign Service, we understand that the average decrease in promotion numbers is about 30% percent.

In the rules books, the Director General of the Foreign Service is supposed to determine the number of promotions of members of the Foreign Service reviewed by the selection boards by “taking into account such factors as vacancies, availability of funds, estimated attrition, projected needs of the Service, and the need for retention of expertise and experience.” This decisions is based on “a systematic, long-term projection of personnel flows and needs designed to provide: (1)  A regular, predictable flow of recruitment into the Service; (2)  Effective career development to meet Service needs; and (3)  A regular, predictable flow of talent upwards through the ranks and into the SFS.”

The State Department does not even have a Senate-confirmed DGHR. The last Senate confirmed Director General Arnold Chacon left his post in June 2017 (see DGHR Arnold Chacón Steps Down, One More @StateDept Office Goes Vacant). Bill Todd who is the Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary is now acting Director General of the Foreign Service & acting Director of Human Resources, as well as “M” Coordinator. The Trump Administration has nominated ex-FSO  Stephen Akard to be the next DGHR (see Ten Ex-Directors General Call on the SFRC to Oppose Stephen Akard’s Confirmation).

Burning Both Ends of the Candle

The surprise is not that people are leaving, it is that people that you don’t expect to leave now are leaving or have left. An ambassador who retires in the middle of a three-year tenure. The highest ranking female diplomat who potentially could have been “P” retired. A senior diplomat retiring while at the pinnacle of his diplomatic career five years short of mandatory age retirement. A talented diplomat calling it quits while there’s a whole new world yet to be explored. The highest numbers of departures are occurring at the Minister Counselor level, and at the FS01s and below level (PDF). That said, these numbers as released and shown below, are still within the previously projected attrition numbers for FY2017. The FY2018 numbers is the one we’re anxious to see.

Tillerson’s staff reduction is not even the most glaring problem he gave himself. Basically, Tillerson’s State Department is burning both ends of the candle. The diplomatic ranks were reduced by 225 in December 31 last year but State will reportedly only hire a hundred in FY2018. There are rumors of only hiring at 3 for 1 to attrition. If this is the plan, Tillerson will surely shrink the diplomatic service but by not ensuring a smooth flow of new blood into the Service, he will put the institution and its people at risk. For instance, there are about 2,000 Diplomatic Security agents. Let’s say 21 percent or 420 agents leave the agency between now and 2020, and the State Department hires 140 new agents during the same period. The work will still be there, it will just remain unfilled or the positions get eliminated. A three-person security office could shrink to two, to one, or none. In the meantime, the United States has 275 posts overseas, including high threat/high risk priority posts that require those security agents.  What happens then? Are we going to see more contractors? Since contractor numbers are typically not released by the State Department, we won’t have any idea how many will supplement the agency’s workforce domestically and overseas.

The Foreign Service Specialists (FSS) Count

So if we look at the first table below (thanks JR), note that the total Foreign Service Specialists (FSSs) number is 5,821. A State Department release in November 29, 2017 confirms the 5,821 figure. But this figure as you can see here (PDF) includes Consular Fellow gains (previously known as Consular Adjudicators) in FY2017 (231), FY2016 (141), FY2015 (70), FY2014 (35) and FY2013 (37). The numbers are not clear from FY13 and FY14 because the counts were not done at the end of the fiscal year but midyear and end of the year. As best we can tell, the State Department HR Fact Sheet counts Consular Fellows as part of its FSS count in fiscal years 2015-2017.

The result is that the career FSS count is artificially inflated by the inclusion of the Consular Fellows in the count. While the first table below shows an FSS gain of six specialists, in reality, the CF inclusion in the count hides the career FSS losses in the last three fiscal years that ended. Why does that count matter? Because the Consular Fellow LNA appointments max out at 60 months.

11/29/17  Department of State Facts About Our Most Valuable Asset – Our People (September 30, 2017 Counts) 

Consular Fellows are hired via limited non-career appointments (LNAs). The Consular Fellows program, similar to its predecessor, the Consular Adjudicator Limited Non-Career Appointment (CA LNA) program, is 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. In fact state.gov notes that Consular Fellows are welcome to apply to become Foreign Service Specialists, Foreign Service Generalists, or Civil Service employees, but they must complete the standard application and assessment processes. So for Congressional folks keeping track of the career Foreign Service numbers, this would be a notable distinction.

Trump’s 2019 Budget and the Next 27% Cut

Trump’s fiscal 2019 proposed budget includes a 27% cut to the State Department. This potentially could get a lot worse; when the Administration starts shrinking programs, and priorities at this rate, it will inevitably create a cascading effect impacting overseas presence and personnel. State Department officials may say no post closures, and no reduction-in-force now but we probably will see those down the road, even if not immediately.  Remember when State was shrunk in the early 1990’s? It took a while before people could start picking up the pieces, and the replenishment for the workforce did not happen until almost a decade later. (see The Last Time @StateDept Had a 27% Budget Cut, Congress Killed ACDA and USIA).

Still, we have to remind ourselves that the budget proposal is just that, a proposal, and that Congress has the power of the purse. Is it foolish to hang our hopes on our elected reps?

HR Fact Sheet as of December 31, 2017 (PDF)

HR Fact Sheet as of 9/30/2017 (PDF)
Oops, looks like this file was subsequently removed after post went up.
See copy via the Internet Archive

HR Fact Sheet as of 9/30/2016 (Archived PDF)

HR Fact Sheet as of 9/30/2015 (PDF)

Below is a bonus chart with the FY2015 staffing numbers (yellow column#1), and the gains/losses between September 2015 to December 2017 (yellow column ##2). We’re sure that Mr. Tillerson’s aides would say that yes, there are staffing losses but look, the State Department’s overall workforce is still larger at the end of 2017 when compared to 2015. And that is true. Except that if you look closely at the numbers, you will quickly note that the gains of 1,346 employees are all LE staffers on local compensation.

 

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Clueless @StateDept: Come Up With Leadership Precepts? #LookIntheFAM

Posted: 1:45 am ET
 

 

Back in November, following the departure of Maliz Beams as State Department Counselor and redesigner-in-chief, the State Department released a statement on who takes over her role in leading the redesign efforts: “Effective immediately, Christine Ciccone will step in to lead the redesign effort and manage its daily activities.”

Politico recently reported about the State Department’s rebranding of Tillerson’s redesign; it will now be called “The Impact Initiative.” (see Tillerson’s #Redesign Gets Rebranded as “The Impact Initiative” or TII But Why Not TELII?).

We understand that Christine Ciccone is no longer leading the redesign effort. Career diplomat Dan B. Smith is reportedly now tapped as the head of The Impact Initiative. Ambassador Smith was previously a U.S. Ambassador to Greece. He was appointed Assistant Secretary of State for Intelligence and Research on February 14, 2014, and serves in that position to-date.

The Impact Initiative recently meet, and apparently the space aliens running the “leadership coalition” meeting (attended by a group of ambassadors, former ambassadors, and a few mid-levels) asked the senior officials to come up with “leadership precepts.” The group pointed out to the space aliens who landed in Foggy Bottom that the State Department already have them.

And the best news is — they’re already in the Foreign Affairs Manual!

We’ve previously written about this in 2014, but looks like the FAM cite was updated in 2015, so we’re republishing them below (see Leadership and Management Principles for State Department Employees).  

 

3 FAM 1214
Leadership and Management Principles for State Department Employees
(CT:PER-771; 06-03-2015)
(Uniform State/USAID/BBG/Commerce/Foreign Service Corps-USDA)
(Applies to Civil Service and Foreign Service Employees)

a. The Department relies on all employees to represent the U.S. Government in the course of carrying out its mission. The Foreign Service Core Precepts and the Office of Personnel Managements Executive Core Qualifications, in addition to existing Leadership and Management Tenets, such as those established by Consular Affairs, Diplomatic Security, Economic and Business Affairs, and Public Diplomacy, set clear expectations for their employees. Additionally, the Department as an institution embraces an overarching set of Leadership Principles. The established Department-wide Leadership Principles apply to and can be used by anyone, regardless of rank or employment status (e.g. Civil or Foreign Service, Locally Employed Staff, or contractors).

b. Supervisors and managers have a unique opportunity and responsibility to lead by example and foster the highest attainable degree of employee morale and productivity. However, you do not need to be a manager to be the leader. The following principles reflect the values the Department believes are important for all employees to cultivate:

(1) Model Integrity Hold yourself and others to the highest standards of conduct, performance, and ethics, especially when faced with difficult situations. Act in the interest of and protect the welfare of your team and organization. Generously share credit for the accomplishments of the organization. Take responsibility for yourself, your resources, your decisions, and your action;

(2) Plan Strategically Develop and promote attainable, shared short and long term goals with stakeholders for your project, program, team, or organization. Provide a clear focus, establish expectations, give direction, and monitor results. Seek consensus and unified effort by anticipating, preventing, and discouraging counter-productive confrontation;

(3) Be Decisive and Take Responsibility Provide clear and concise guidance, training, and support, and make effective use of resources. Grant employees ownership over their work. Take responsibility when mistakes are made and treat them as an opportunity to learn. Formally and informally recognize high quality performance;

(4) Communicate Express yourself clearly and effectively. Be approachable and listen actively. Offer and solicit constructive feedback from others. Be cognizant of the morale and attitude of your team. Anticipate varying points of view by soliciting input;

(5) Learn and Innovate Constantly Strive for personal and professional improvement. Display humility by acknowledging shortcomings and working continuously to improve your own skills and substantive knowledge. Foster an environment where fresh perspectives are encouraged and new ideas thrive. Promote a culture of creativity and exploration;

(6) Be Self-Aware Be open, sensitive to others, and value diversity. Be tuned in to the overall attitude and morale of the team and be proactive about understanding and soliciting varying points of view;

(7) Collaborate Establish constructive working relationships with all mission elements to further goals. Share best practices, quality procedures, and innovative ideas to eliminate redundancies and reduce costs. Create a sense of pride and mutual support through openness;

(8) Value and Develop People Empower others by encouraging personal and professional development through mentoring, coaching and other opportunities. Commit to developing the next generation. Cultivate talent to maximize strengths and mitigate mission-critical weaknesses;

(9) Manage Conflict – Encourage an atmosphere of open dialogue and trust. Embrace healthy competition and ideas. Anticipate, prevent, and discourage counter-productive confrontation. Follow courageously by dissenting respectfully when appropriate; and

(10) Foster Resilience Embrace new challenges and learn from them. Persist in the face of adversity. Take calculated risks, manage pressure, be flexible and acknowledge failures. Show empathy, strength, and encouragement to others in difficult times;

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Tillerson’s #Redesign Gets Rebranded as “The Impact Initiative” or TII But Why Not TELII?

Posted: 4:01 am ET

 

Via Politico’s Nahal Toosi:

“State Department officials say that talk of closing down entire wings of the department has been replaced with narrower plans to upgrade technology and improve training. Democratic and Republican leaders in Congress have declared dead on arrival a Tillerson-supported White House plan to cut State’s budget by 30 percent.
[…]
State Department staffers expect to receive an update as early as this week on a new phase in Tillerson’s organizational plans, according to senior department official. Out is the term “redesign” — which spawned confusion, dissent and leaks. The new stage is being called “The Impact Initiative,” which will implement changes that Tillerson has deemed achievable priorities in the face of bureaucratic and congressional hurdles. (Tillerson aides insist he’s not rebranding the overall effort, just moving from the poorly named “redesign” phase, which gathered ideas, to a new one that implements them.)
[…]
The senior State Department official said Tillerson also is planning to select someone to oversee the Impact Initiative but declined to say whom. (The Impact Initiative is shorthand for a longer moniker that Tillerson, an engineer by training, signed off on: “Leadership + Modernization = Greater Mission Impact.”)

Oh, dear, that longer moniker was worth the brainstorming.

Let’s see if they’re going to insist on hiring another outside overseer who will stick around for three exciting months.

Tillerson’s aides may not call TII or “The Impact Initiative” a rebranding effort but who are they actually kidding, pray tell?  TII can also be called ‘Tillerson Impact Initiative’ and they can even keep the same acronym, hey?!  It is what it is, a rebranding effort because very few are buying what they’re selling.

Actually, we’re curious why no one came up with calling this TELII or ‘The Employee-Led Impact Initiative.” Or ‘The Agile Employee Impact Initiative’ (TAEII). Or why settle with “greater” and not just call this ‘The Greatest Mission Impact Initiative’ (TGMII)?

Take it, it’s free. You’re welcome!

Tillerson will reportedly testify about the status of this new TII before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee at the end of February. Help us contain our excitement, please.

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@USAID Suspends Involvement in Tillerson’s Redesign Passion Project

Posted: 12:58 am ET

 

AND NOW THIS —

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@StateDept’s Mental Health Services Drive Employees with Special Needs #FSKids Nuts

Posted: 12:26 pm ET

 

The Department of Defense Education Activity (DoDEA) operates 168 schools in 8 districts located in 11 foreign countries, seven states, Guam, and Puerto Rico. All schools within DoDEA are fully accredited by U.S. accreditation agencies. Approximately 8,700 educators serve more than 73,000 DoDEA students. This is what it says on special education:

Special education is specially designed instruction, support, and services provided to students with an identified disability requiring an individually designed instructional program to meet their unique learning needs. The purpose of special education is to enable students to successfully develop to their fullest potential by providing a free appropriate public education in compliance with the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) as implemented by DoD Instruction 1342.12, “Provision of Early Intervention and Special Education Services to Eligible DoD Dependents.”

In DoDEA, special education and related services are available to eligible students, ages 3 through 21 years of age. To be eligible for special education: the child must have an identified disability; the disability must adversely (negatively) affect the child’s educational performance; and the child must require a specially designed instructional program. DoDEA recognizes clearly defined categories of disabilities with specific criteria for determining eligibility such as physical, communication, emotional and learning impairment, and development delay.

The State Department does not have its own schools so Foreign Service children go to local schools and avail of local school services. Is the State Department required to meet the requirements of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Improvement Act (IDEIA) with regard to the education of special needs children overseas? Here is what state.gov says:

No. The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) and its 2004 reauthorization, the Individuals with Disabilities Education Improvement Act (IDEIA), are federal funding laws ensuring a free and appropriate education to children with disabilities in the United States. IDEA/IDEIA governs how states and public agencies provide early intervention, special education and related services to eligible children and youth. While existing law does not require DOS to replicate what a public school would provide to a student in the United States, our goal is to approximate what a child would receive in a good US public school system. Per the Overseas Differentials and Allowances Act and the Department of State Standard Regulations (DSSR), the IDEA/IDEIA framework is the basis for the allowable reimbursable services for the Special Needs Education Allowance (SNEA). DOS is committed to assisting employees in meeting the necessary expenses incurred when deployed overseas in providing adequate education for their school-age children. The education allowances are designed to assist parents in defraying those costs necessary to obtain educational services which are ordinarily provided free of charge by public schools in the United States.

Prior to 2013, we understand that the State department took a flexible, supportive approach that ensures support for dependents while creating maximum flexibility for Foreign Service employees to serve overseas. In October 2013, SNEA management was switched to the then newly created Child and Family Programs (CFP).

The Department’s Standardized Regulations or DSSR was also amended to state that “There must be a formal Individual Education Plan (IEP) or equivalent prepared by a professional medical or educational expert which delineates the educational services required to provide for the child’s special needs.  Reimbursement may only be for those services provided for in the IEP which are actually required, as opposed to those services which a parent or school may recommend as desirable.”

Between 2013 and early 2017, we were informed that “SNEA benefits are reined back dramatically.”  Previously authorized uses were  either denied or dramatically restricted.  One parent told us, “No explanations or justifications are provided for the change in policy despite many requests.  At the same time, parents are increasingly challenged by CFP staff, often rudely, about the way in which they plan to educate their children overseas.”  A direct suggestion that the parent curtail his/her assignment was not unheard of.

That suggestion may become more real for parents of approximately 1400 special needs children in the Foreign Service. We understand that in spring 2017, the Office of Allowances formally ruled that 1) based on DSSR language the only dependents who can receive SNEA are those specifically given a MED clearance that allows them to reside full time at post; and 2) No other clearance is sufficient (such as a Class 6 that allows for a child to reside at post outside of the school year in a boarding school situation).

What was the result of this official determination? Apparently, MED started “aggressively” issuing Class 5 clearances to children with educational, mental health and other disabilities even though there are many/many overseas posts where services have been and could be provided to successfully support such children.  It was reported to us that when challenged, MED doesn’t back down, claiming that their decisions are in the best interests of the child since “everyone knows” that only the “mildest” of special needs can be met in an overseas school situation.

Class 5 medical clearance means  domestic only assignment and it is supposedly issued “to those with complex medical conditions.”

For the FS employees with approximately 1400 special needs kids, a Class 5 medical clearance for a family members potentially means 1) DC/domestic assignments for the foreseeable future only; 2) an overseas assignment that leaves the family at home on a voluntary separation, or 3) back to back to back unaccompanied assignment to priority posts while the family stays behind in the United States on a voluntary separation.  We understand that not all these kids are given Class 5 clearance now but as their clearance gets reviewed, families anticipate that the numbers will continue to grow.

“It appears that any child deemed to have “moderate to severe” needs is being given a Class 5 at the time a MED clearance review is triggered.”

When we inquire about potential issues with the SNEA funds, our source speaking on background told us that SNEA has “always been under the administration of MED, and SNEA spending could only be reimbursed after approval by MED authorities.”  We were told that previously, in some cases SNEA was allowed to be used “for therapies that some would argue were either non-traditional or perhaps not fully established as effective” so the source said it is understandable to see the need to standardize the application of SNEA when the Child and Family Programs (CFP) was created and took over management of SNEA. But the source also said “it doesn’t explain the inflexibility CFP staff have employed since” when dealing with families with special needs FS kids.

Who’s doing this and why? Families are pointing at the MED/MHS (Mental Health Services), which oversees the Child and Family Programs (CFP) in the State Department’s MED org chart.  That office is headed by Dr. Kathy Gallardo, the former Deputy Director and now Director in MED/MHS. She reports to Dr. Charles Rosenfarb who is currently the Medical Director of the Bureau of Medical Services. Dr. Rosenfarb reports to the Under Secretary of Management, an office that sits currently vacant and is overseen by the “M Coordinator” and Acting DGHR Bill Todd, who in turn reports to somebody inside Secretary Tillerson’s 7th Floor bubble.

As to why? Well, no one seems exactly sure why. The State Department does not talk to this blog anymore for juvenile reasons but we cannot overlook the elephant in the room. The State Department is looking to cut cost across the board. We expect that it will be looking at everything and inside every cupboard to come up with its desired 37% cuts.  How many families will endure the separation with employees deploying overseas, and families staying behind because their special needs children are not authorized to be overseas?  Last year, Bloomberg  reported that Secretary Tillerson was 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.

So in the case of the special needs FS kids, the State Department is potentially hitting two birds with one big rock? Anyone at State/MED wants to chat, we’re happy to talk and update this post.

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

On the redesign:

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

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

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

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

Rawr!

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Burn Bag: The Foreign Service Should Thank Rex Tillerson

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

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

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The Foreign Service Should Thank Rex Tillerson

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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