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.

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

Posted: 12:14 am ET

 

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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.

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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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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.

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

Posted: 12:15 am ET
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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.”

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AFSA Shouts “Fire!” and a @StateDept Spox on Background Asks, “Fire, What Fire?”

Posted: 2:58 pm PT
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The piece below, in case you have not read it yet, is an advance copy of AFSA President Barbara Stephenson’s opinion essay on the depletion of the Foreign Service career ranks. Not NYT or the Washington Post but for a December 2017 column in the Foreign Service Journal, the group’s trade publication with a reported circulation of 17,500 and approximately 35,000 readers (this column was also circulated via an email marketing service). We’ve been watching the departures from the State Department since January, and this is the first time we’re seeing these numbers. And frankly, the first time we’re hearing the alarm from the “voice of the Foreign Service.” We have some thoughts below after the piece.

 

Time to Ask Why
December 2017 Foreign Service Journal
President’s Views

By AFSA President Ambassador Barbara Stephenson

I begin with a reminder that we, the members of the career Foreign Service, have an obligation as stewards of our institution to be effective advocates for why diplomacy matters. That requires some skill in explaining how diplomacy works.

While raising awareness of and appreciation for the Foreign Service is a longstanding goal, one AFSA has pursued with renewed vigor and impact over the past couple years, the need to make the case for the Foreign Service with fellow Americans and our elected representatives has taken on a new urgency. The cover of the Time magazine that arrived as I was writing this column jarred me with its graphic of wrecking balls and warning of “dismantling government as we know it.”

While I do my best, as principal advocate for our institution and as a seasoned American diplomat, to model responsible, civil discourse, there is simply no denying the warning signs that point to mounting threats to our institution—and to the global leadership that depends on us.

There is no denying that our leadership ranks are being depleted at a dizzying speed, due in part to the decision to slash promotion numbers by more than half. The Foreign Service officer corps at State has lost 60 percent of its Career Ambassadors since January. Ranks of Career Ministers, our three-star equivalents, are down from 33 to 19. The ranks of our two-star Minister Counselors have fallen from 431 right after Labor Day to 369 today—and are still falling. 

These numbers are hard to square with the stated agenda of making State and the Foreign Service stronger. Were the U.S. military to face such a decapitation of its leadership ranks, I would expect a public outcry. Like the military, the Foreign Service recruits officers at entry level and grows them into seasoned leaders over decades. The talent being shown the door now is not only our top talent, but also talent that cannot be replicated overnight. The rapid loss of so many senior officers has a serious, immediate, and tangible effect on the capacity of the United States to shape world events.

Meanwhile, the self-imposed hiring freeze is taking its toll at the entry level. Intake into the Foreign Service at State will drop from 366 in 2016 to around 100 new entry-level officers joining A100 in 2018 (including 60 Pickering and Rangel Fellows).

Not surprisingly, given the blocked entry path, interest in joining the Foreign Service is plummeting. I wrote with pride in my March 2016 column that “more than 17,000 people applied to take the Foreign Service Officer Test last year,” citing interest in joining the Foreign Service as a key indicator of the health of the institution. What does it tell us, then, that we are on track to have fewer than half as many people take the Foreign Service Officer Test this year?

As the shape and extent of the staffing cuts to the Foreign Service at State become clearer, I believe we must shine a light on these disturbing trends and ask “why?” and “to what end?”   

Congress rejected drastic cuts to State and USAID funding. The Senate labeled the proposed cuts a “doctrine of retreat” and directed that appropriated funds “shall support” staffing State at not less than Sept. 30, 2016, levels, and further directed that “The Secretary of State shall continue A-100 entry-level classes for FSOs in a manner similar to prior years.”

Given this clear congressional intent, we have to ask: Why such a focus on slashing staffing at State? Why such a focus on decapitating leadership? How do these actions serve the stated agenda of making the State Department stronger?

Remember, nine in ten Americans favor a strong global leadership role for our great country, and we know from personal experience that such leadership is unthinkable without a strong professional Foreign Service deployed around the world protecting and defending America’s people, interests and values.  Where then, does the impetus come from to weaken the American Foreign Service?  Where is the mandate to pull the Foreign Service team from the field and forfeit the game to our adversaries?

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AFSA says that the Foreign Service officer corps “has lost 60 percent of its Career Ambassadors since January.” We winced when we saw that one. Not all career diplomats attain this rank; in fact, only a handful of individuals are nominated by the President to become Career Ambassadors but this is the very top rank of the Foreign Service, equivalent to a four-star general. Imagine if the Pentagon lost 60 percent of its 0-10 but way, way worse because the Foreign Service is a much smaller service, and the loss of one or two officials have significant impact to the leadership ranks.

When we saw the AFSA message Tuesday night, we noticed that social media started latching on to the 60 percent loss.  AFSA could have used actual numbers as it did with the break down of the second and third top ranks in the FS, but for its own reason, it used the percentage instead of actual numbers for the career ambassadors. So that caused a mild feeding frenzy that’s not helpful because when folks realize that 60 percent is really 3 out of 5 career ambassadors, they won’t be happy.

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Top U.S. Diplomat in China David Rank Resigns Over #ParisAgreement Withdrawal

Posted: 3:22 am ET
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Reports broke on Twitter on Monday that David Rank, the chargé d’affaires of the US Embassy in Beijing, has left the State Department over the Trump administration’s decision to quit the 2015 Paris agreement to fight climate change.  Reuters later confirmed his resignation citing the spokesperson from the EAP Bureau:

“He has retired from the foreign service,” said Anna Richey-Allen, a spokeswoman for the department’s East Asia Bureau. “Mr Rank has made a personal decision. We appreciate his years of dedicated service to the State Department.”
[…]
A senior US official confirmed the account given in the tweets but added that after Rank announced his intention to retire on Monday in Beijing, he was told by the State Department to leave his post immediately.

David H. Rank is the Chargé d’affaires at the U.S. Embassy Beijing. He assumed the position when Ambassador Max Baucus departed post.  Prior to assuming the position of Deputy Chief of Mission at the U.S. Embassy Beijing in January 2016, he served as the Director of the State Department’s Office of Afghanistan Affairs and as a Senior Advisor to the Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan.  From 2011-2012, Dave was the Political Counselor at the U.S. Embassy in Kabul, Afghanistan.

Since joining the State Department in 1990, he has also served in Washington, DC; Beijing, Taipei, Shanghai, Athens and Port Louis, Mauritius.  In Washington, he worked in the Office of Korean Affairs, served as the Special Assistant to the Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs, and was a Dean Rusk Fellow at the Georgetown University School of Foreign Service’s Institute for the Study of Diplomacy.

Dave has received numerous Superior Honor and Meritorious Honor Awards, as well as the American Foreign Service Association’s Sinclaire Award for the study of languages and their associated cultures (Greek, 2004).  In 2015 he received the State Department’s Distinguished Honor Award for his role in securing the return of the only American service member held by the enemy in Afghanistan. Dave speaks Mandarin Chinese, French, Dari and Greek.  He and his wife, Mary, have three children – Mary Margaret, Robert and Ellen.

If true that his resignation is over the Paris Agreement withdrawal, this would be the first resignation by a career Foreign Service officer over a policy disagreement.  In March 2017, a Foreign Service specialist, DS Agent TJ Lunardi resigned over his belief that President Trump is “a threat to our constitutional order” (see Diplomatic Security Agent With 17-Year Service Resigns Over Trump). If there are other resignations we should know about, email us!

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DGHR Arnold Chacón Steps Down, One More @StateDept Office Goes Vacant

Posted: 2:41 am ET
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We’ve learned from our sources late Friday that Ambassador Arnold Chacón, the Director General of the Foreign Service and Director of Human Resources at the State Department has tendered his resignation. Ambassador Chacón, a member of the Career Senior Foreign Service, was sworn in on December 22, 2014. He heads the bureau with 800 Civil and Foreign Service employees “who carry out the full range of human resources activities essential to recruiting, retaining and sustaining” the State Department’s 75,000+ workforce.  Prior to his appointment as DGHR, he served as the U.S. Ambassador to Guatemala from 2011-2014. He previously served as Deputy Chief of Mission at Embassy Madrid from 2008-2011, and has served as the Department of State’s Deputy Executive Secretary.

One source later told us that Ambassador Chacón’s email recalled that he had tendered his resignation January 20, and that it had been accepted as of June 1 (also see Patrick Kennedy, Other Officials Step Down – Yo! That’s Not the “Entire” Senior ManagementRecipe For Disaster Transition @StateDept: Situation AltNormal, All Fucked Up).

Ambassador Chacón reportedly talked about “looking forward to a next assignment.” Since he is a career diplomat, it is likely that he will rotate to a new assignment after he steps down as DGHR. Whether he gets another ambassadorial apost or another State Department assignment remains to be seen.

Since there is no public announcement on who will succeed Ambassador Chacón, we are presuming at this time that the next highest ranking official at his office will be in an acting capacity until a new nominee is announced and confirmed by the Senate. That appears right now to be Ambassador Jo Ellen Powell who is the Principal Deputy Secretary of State (PDAS) at the DGHR’s office. Prior to her appointment at DGHR, she was the U.S. Ambassador to Mauritania from 2010-2013. Her other prior assignments include serving as Director of the Office of Employee Relations and assignments in the Executive Secretariat and the European Bureau Executive Office.

Perhaps, the notable thing here is that Ambassador Chacón steps down from his post (as did other career officials who were let go last February), with no successor officially identified or nominated (also see Patrick Kennedy, Other Officials Step Down – Yo! That’s Not the “Entire” Senior ManagementRecipe For Disaster Transition @StateDept: Situation AltNormal, All Fucked Up).  Given that a long list of top posts at the State Department has been vacant since February, a Senate-confirmed DGHR position could remain empty for months.

So now the State Department not only has no DGHR who manages personnel and assignments, its Under Secretary for Management slot also remains vacant.  Folks, we gotta ask — who’s going to be Assistant Secretary for personnel and everything — the new Deputy Secretary of State John Sullivan, or Secretary Tillerson’s chief of staff Margaret Peterlin? This is a chief of staff so enigmatic, the State Department has kept her biographic page in Morse code (one looong dash, one dot). See Bloomberg’s profile of Tillerson’s “enigmatic” chief of staff.

With the State Department reorganization gearing up between June and September, and with workforce reduction looming large in Foggy Bottom and at overseas posts (with a real potential for a reduction-in-force), it is nuts to remove the top HR official and one of the last Senate-confirmed officials still at post — with no successor in the pipeline. We gotta wonder, what were they thinking?

…—…

 

 

Diplomatic Security Agent With 17-Year Service Resigns Over Trump

Posted: 12:36 am ET
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According to Government Executive more than one in four federal workers, or 28 percent, will definitely or possibly consider leaving their jobs after Jan. 20 when Trump is sworn into office and becomes leader of the executive branch, according to a new Government Business Council/GovExec.com poll. Sixty-five percent of feds say they will not consider ending their federal service.

Fear that the Trump Administration will trample on the Constitution and damage the political and moral fabric of our nation apparently prompted one Diplomatic Security agent to resign. There are approximately 2,000 Diplomatic Security agents. The State Department estimates that security officers will have the largest number of attrition for Foreign Service Specialist from FY2016-2020.

The letter below is by Supervisory DSS Agent TJ Lunardi, a career member of the Foreign Service who until last week was posted overseas.  In a note to friends he shared his resignation letter with, Mr. Lunardi writes that he is sharing it in the hope that friends “might understand and respect” his choice, even if they “do not agree or support it”.  Further, he writes, “the letter makes clear that, for me, this is not a question of politics or party, but one of personal adherence to the values I hold most dear”.  We understand that this resignation letter was submitted to the State Department on January 19, 2017. A blog pal shared with us the letter which has been shared internally within the department.  We’ve reached out to Mr. Lunardi who confirmed his authorship and expressed no objection with the publication of the letter in this blog.  Mr. Lunardi’s resignation was effective on March 4, 2017.

The Honorable John F. Kerry
Secretary of State
Department of State
2201 C Street, Northwest
Washington, District of Columbia 20520

Dear Mr. Secretary:

With deep regret, I must resign from my position as a Supervisory Special Agent of the Diplomatic Security Service.  I cannot in good conscience serve in the Department of State under the incoming President, a man I believe to be a threat to our constitutional order.

For the last 17 years – the entirety of my professional life – I have been proud to work for the American people as a member of the Foreign Service.  Without hesitation, I have done so under Presidents of both parties.  Whether in Baghdad or Berlin, Washington or now in Kyiv, it has been an honor to carry the Diplomatic Security badge, a symbol of the special trust and confidence reposed in me by our fellow citizens to enforce our laws and defend our country’s values and interests.  I love this Department, which has been my home, and the extraordinary men and women in it, so many of whom have become like family.

But I take nothing more seriously than my oath to support and defend the Constitution, to bear it true faith and allegiance, to well and faithfully discharge the duties of my office.  Throughout my career, these obligations have guided my every action in service of our country.  They are what compel me now to resign.

As an American, it is an article of my political faith that our Constitution binds the government and its leaders – and by extension all of us in public service – to guarantee certain unalienable rights:  freedom of speech, freedom of the press, freedom of religion, due process, and equal protection of the laws, among others.  In his words and his deeds, Mr. Trump has demonstrated repeatedly that he little understands and less respects these tenets of our civic creed.  He has threatened the independent media.  He has called for the imposition of religious tests and the commission of war crimes.  He has incited hatred and violence.  He has mocked and bullied the most vulnerable among us.  He has empowered racists and emboldened bigots.  He has made open league with a despot who seeks to harm our national interests.  He disregards and distorts the truth for no other apparent purpose than to maintain his followers in a frenzy of confusion and anger.  These are not the acts of a liberal democratic leader.  They point the way to authoritarianism, the slippery path to tyranny.

I have thus concluded that defending the Constitution and performing the duties of my office in an Executive Branch under Mr. Trump are incompatible.  An honest adherence to my oath dictates that I withhold support from such a man and from the administration he will head.  For me this is not a career choice, not something I would desire under normal circumstances.  It is among the most difficult and painful decisions of my life.  Nonetheless, it is a moral and ethical necessity in the face of someone I judge to be so clearly inimical to the values I have sworn to protect.

Some may counter that the threat posed by Mr. Trump calls for people of conscience to remain in the Department, to blunt his excesses, to resist his agenda.  This may be a legitimate course for others, but I fear I lack the capacity for such a compromise.  Tyranny encroaches when met with silence, and the graveyard of failed democracies is littered with the epitaphs of those who believed collaboration could moderate the evil of authoritarianism.  Knowing these lessons, I cannot allow tacit accommodation of Mr. Trump’s administration to make me complicit in his assault on our Republic.

It is my fervent hope I will be proven wrong, that Mr. Trump will govern wisely, lawfully, and with respect for the Constitution – all of it, and not simply the parts convenient to his purposes.  Unless and until he does, however, my place is with those who will oppose him, not those charged to carry out his policies.  My oath, my honor, and my conscience demand nothing less of me, even if my heart wishes it could be otherwise.

Traveling the world with the Foreign Service, I have been blessed with the opportunity to reflect on how the fragile nation bequeathed by our Founders has grown to become a beacon of hope and progress, a bulwark against despotism.  I am convinced it is the decency of our citizens, and their willingness to put our ideals ahead of their wants, that has made this country both great and fundamentally good.  On the battlefields of Bunker Hill and Bastogne, in the jail cells of Occoquan, on Pettus Bridge and Christopher Street – ordinary citizens have written our extraordinary story through sacrifice and an unwavering faith in our constitutional principles.

The survival of our grand experiment in democracy once again depends on such acts of courage.  And so I close with a citizen’s request to my friends and colleagues who remain in the Department:  Remember and keep always before you the belief in our shared values which inspired you to serve the American people.  Whenever you can, rise above the all-consuming daily bureaucratic scrum so that its rigors do not distract from an incremental acceptance of the morally unacceptable.  Should the decisive moment come, hear and heed the call of conscience.

Through whatever trials lie ahead, I pray Providence will preserve the people and the Constitution of the United States.

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