Ex-Amb. to Estonia James D. Melville Writes Why He Quit

 

On June 29, U.S. Ambassador to Estonia James Melville announced on Facebook his intent to retire from the Foreign Service after 33 years of public service. See US Ambassador to Estonia James Melville Pens Resignation on FB Over Trump Policies.  On October 3, WaPo published his op-ed explaining his departure.

#

Advertisements

Tillerson’s COS Margaret Peterlin, and D/COS Christine Ciccone to Leave on 3/31

Posted: 2:50 am  ET

 

CNN reported late on March 13 that Tillerson’s chief of staff, Margaret Peterlin, and deputy chief of staff, Christine Ciccone, also submitted their resignations on Tuesday, according to two senior State Department officials. Both are expected to serve until Tillerson leaves on March 31.

 

We wrote about Tillerson’s inner circle at State last June, see Rex Tillerson’s Inner Circle Photo Album, Say Cheese Con Quezo!

Politico’ Nahal Toosi also reported these departures on March 14 and notes that “Many State staffers say the two were widely disliked for severely limiting access to the secretary, sidelining career diplomats and slowing down an already cumbersome decision-making process.” And that’s not an exhaustive list.

We’d like to know what happens to the staffers that Tillerson’s aides brought with them to Foggy Bottom now that they’re leaving. Are they leaving, too? Any personnel conversions to Civil Service or conversions to special government service (SGEs)? Curious minds would like to know.

#


@StateDept Ex-Employees Get Comedy Central’s The Opposition Treatment

Posted: 2:08 am ET

 

We’re late on this but a couple weeks back, Comedy Central’s Jordan Klepper sat down with former members of the State Department to discuss President Trump’s proposed budget cuts and his approach to diplomacy. Well, this is supposed to be funny but we’re crying, and not from laughing our heads off.

The former employees include two former press officers (Meaghan Monfort and Sri Kulkarni who is running for Congress in Texas and just advanced to the runoffs), David Rank (most recently CDA in Beijing), Gina Abercrombie-Winstanley (f0rmer U.S. Ambassador to Malta), Tom Countryman (former U/Secretary of State), and Michele Bond (former A/S for Consular Affairs).

#


U.S. Ambassador to Mexico Roberta Jacobson to Retire After 31 Years of Service

Posted: 3:53 am ET

 

#


Tom Shannon’s ‘Dear Friends and Colleagues’ Note Announcing His Foreign Service Retirement

Posted: 1:12 am ET

 

Congress first authorized the position of Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs in the Department of State Organization Act of July 30, 1959. Under Secretary Tom Shannon is the 22nd incumbent to the third highest ranking position in Foggy Bottom since 1959. He is only the 16th career diplomat to be appointed as “P”.  He was nominated by President Obama in September 2015 but he did not get confirmed until February 2016. He officially signed his appointment and assumed post in April 2016, so he’s barely two years on the job. We understand that he recently turned 60 years old and wants to set a new direction in his life but we should also note that he is five years short of the mandatory Foreign Service retirement age inscribed in the Foreign Service Act of 1980.

Signed “Warm Regards, Tom Shannon,” the following is the text of the note addressed to friends and colleagues sent by the Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs announcing his retirement from the Foreign Service and the State Department:

Yesterday I spoke with the Secretary and informed him of my decision to retire from the United States Foreign Service and the Department of State.  After more than 34 years of service to our great Republic, I have decided that it is time to step aside.  I do so confident in the next generation of Foreign Service leadership, and proud of what we have accomplished across four decades of American diplomacy.

My decision is personal, and driven by a desire to attend to my family, take stock of my life, and set a new direction for my remaining years.

The Secretary has asked me to stay on until my successor is named, and to ensure a smooth transition to the new Under Secretary for Political Affairs.  I have agreed to do so.

I want to express my profound gratitude to the Secretary and the President for the privilege of serving at the highest levels of the Department during this past year.  I have had the honor of serving under six presidents and ten secretaries of state.  All have been extraordinary public servants and great Americans.  As with each of you, my service has been defined by our oath of office and the commitment we make to protect and defend our Constitution, our institutions, and our values.  Underlying this commitment is our deep respect for the will of the American people and a determination to advance the interests and well-being of our nation by ensuring the success of our elected governments.  The sense of duty and obligation that this implies, and the discipline it imparts, has allowed the Department of State and its officers to serve successfully since the earliest days of our Republic.

One of the greatest honors I have been afforded during my career is the opportunity to have worked with all of you.  I am deeply grateful for your friendship and solidarity, and I have been humbled by your generosity of spirit, your courage in confronting the dangers and risks inherent in our profession, and your joyful embrace of a life spent far from home and hearth.

To be an American diplomat is a high calling.  I salute you all, and look forward to having the opportunity to say my farewells to you in the weeks to come.

#

Related posts:

Reactions:

 


Sam Bee’s Rescue Farm for Government Workers With Ex-FSO Elizabeth Shackelford

Posted: 12:14 am ET

 

#

Related post:

A Foreign Service Officer’s Parting Shot Gets Media Attention

 


U.S. Ambassador to Panama John Feeley Resigns From the Foreign Service Over Trump Policies

Posted: 4:59 am ET

 

The Foreign Service Act and appropriate personnel regulations require three (3) commitments from candidates for appointment to the Foreign Service: availability for worldwide assignment, willingness to accept out-of-function assignments, and observance of Foreign Service discipline with respect to public support of established United States policy – is a condition of employment with the Foreign Service.  That third commitment refers to this:

In the official performance of their duties as representatives of the United States Government, Foreign Service members may be called upon to support and defend policies with which they may not be personally in full agreement. On such occasions, normal standards of Foreign Service discipline will apply. Ample opportunity is provided within official channels for discussion and dissent with respect to the development and conduct of United States Foreign policy.

On January 12, the U.S. Ambassador to Panama John Feeley, a 28-year veteran of the Foreign Service did the honorable thing and tendered his resignation over Administration policies he is no longer able to support and defend. The Panama assignment is Ambassador Feeley’s first as chief of mission. He was on the second year of a three-year assignment.

Below is a brief summary of his long career in the diplomatic service:

John Feeley was sworn in as the U.S. Ambassador to Panama on January 15, 2016, and assumed his post in early February. He is a career diplomat who has focused much of his work on Latin American and Caribbean issues, both in Washington and in the region.

Ambassador Feeley most recently served as Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary for Western Hemisphere Affairs from 2012 to 2015, responsible for the daily management of regional policy implementation and the supervision of 50 diplomatic posts across the Americas.

Previously he was the State Department’s Summit of the Americas Coordinator, overseeing the substantive preparation for Secretary Clinton’s engagement in the 2012 Cartagena Summit, a role he reprised for Secretary Kerry during the 2015 Summit in Panama.

From 2009 to 2012, Ambassador Feeley served as deputy chief of mission and chargé d’affaires at the U.S. Embassy in Mexico City, where he managed a 37-agency country team that implemented the Merida Initiative. He has also been the Department’s Director for Central American Affairs and Deputy Director for Caribbean Affairs. From 2004 to 2006, Mr. Feeley served as a Deputy Executive Secretary in the Office of the Secretary of State, where he was responsible for managing information flow to Secretaries Powell and Rice, as well as coordinating their overseas travel.

A 2004 Distinguished Graduate of the National War College, Mr. Feeley’s overseas assignments include two tours in Mexico City, Santo Domingo, and Bogota.

Prior to joining the State Department in 1990, Mr. Feeley served on active military duty as a helicopter pilot in the United States Marine Corps. He is a graduate of Georgetown University’s School of Foreign Service and is married to retired career diplomat, Cherie Feeley. The Ambassador and his wife speak Spanish. The couple has two adult sons and one grandson.

#

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. 

* * *

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.

#


A Foreign Service Officer’s Parting Shot Gets Media Attention

Posted: 1:55 am ET

 

Foreign Service Officer Elizabeth Shackelford, a midlevel officer assigned as a Political Officer to U.S. Embassy Somalia based in Nairobi  resigned from the State Department on December 8. Her resignation letter (PDF) was published by Foreign Policy on December 10.

AND NOW THIS — check out this thread (click on date) for the online conversation.

#

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

Posted: 12:15 am ET
Follow @Diplopundit

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

See the link to the full article below.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

#