Top Official Walks In to a Task Force Responding to a Crisis — to Model Leadership

 

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Chief Mouser Larry Survives BoJo’s Cabinet #Reshuffle, Now on His Sixth Foreign Secretary

 

 

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Biden Nominates John Bass to be Under Secretary of State For Management

 

President Biden announced his intent to nominate former Ambassador John Bass to be the next Under Secretary of State for Management. The WH released the following brief bio:

John R. Bass, Nominee for Under Secretary of State for Management

John R. Bass, a career member of the Senior Foreign Service, class of Career Minister, currently is a Senior Advisor at the Department of State’s Foreign Service Institute. He has served as Ambassador to the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan, Ambassador to the Republic of Turkey, and Ambassador to the Republic of Georgia.  Previously, Bass focused, among other things, on supporting U.S. government efforts to mobilize allies and marshal resources to combat terrorism and instability in Iraq, Syria and Southwest Asia.  He served at seven U.S. Missions overseas including as Team Leader of Provincial Reconstruction Team – Baghdad at the American Embassy in Baghdad, Iraq.  In addition, he was the Executive Secretary of the State Department and held other senior leadership positions at the Department of State.  Bass earned an A.B. Cum Laude from Syracuse University. 

According to his online bios, Ambassador Bass began his diplomatic career in 1988 with early postings reportedly in Chad, Belgium, the Netherlands, and Italy.
In 1992, he was confirmed by the U.S. Senate for appointment as Foreign Service Officers of Class Four, Consular Officers and Secretaries in the Diplomatic Service of the United States of America.
In 1998, he went to work for Deputy Secretary of State Strobe Talbott (1994-2001) first as a special assistant for Europe and Eurasia and later as Talbott’s chief of staff in 2000 (presumably until Talbott’s departure from Foggy Bottom in 2001).
He served at the U.S. Embassy in Rome from 2002 to 2004.
From 2004 to 2005, Bass was a special advisor to Vice President Dick Cheney for Europe and Eurasia.
From 2005-2008, Bass was director of the State Department Operations Center during Condoleezza Rice’s tenure as secretary of state.
About 19 years after joining the Foreign Service, he was promoted into the Senior Foreign Service (SFS). In 2007, he was confirmed as a Career Members of the Senior Foreign Service of the United States of America, Class of Counselor.
He led the Baghdad Provincial Reconstruction Team (PRT) from 2008-2009.
President Obama nominated him as Ambassador to Georgia where he served from August 2009 to 2012.
In 2011, he was promoted within the Senior Foreign Service, Class of Minister-Counselor
He served as Special Assistant to the Secretary of State and Executive Secretary from 2012–2014, partly during Clinton’s tenure (2009-2013), and during Kerry’s tenure (2013-2017).
He served as Obama’s Ambassador to Turkey from 2014-2017
He served as  Trump’s Ambassador to Afghanistan from December 2017-January 2020.
Some 10 years after his promotion into the SFS, he was promoted within the Senior Foreign Service of the United States of America, Class of Career Minister in 2017.
In January 2020, he stepped down from a two-year tenure as Ambassador to Afghanistan.
We’re not sure where he went after Kabul but 18 months later, he was back in the news.
On July 21, 2021, President Biden announced his intent to nominate him as Under Secretary for Management at the State Department.
On August 18, the State Department sent him to Kabul to help with the evacuation (see @StateDept Sends M Nominee John Bass to Kabul to Leverage “Logistics Experience” in Evacuation).
As of this writing, his nomination (PN922 ) is pending at the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
There is no/no other position in Foggy Bottom that has a more significant impact on the lives of employees and family members than the Under Secretary of State for Management. Now, we know that press clips say this appointment is part of the Biden’s administration’s “efforts to revive a demoralized diplomatic corps.”   We’ve also heard some quarters argue that the nominee is a 7th floor denizen who has never served in the Bureau of Administration or any of the functional bureaus under M, etc. etc. Remains to be seen either way what impact he makes once he is in office; he will be facing not just morale issues but also a host of internal management challenges.
Some added perspective –Ambassador Bass is not the secretary of state’s BFF unlike his predecessor; one could consider that good news. Also, he’s been in the service for 33 years, so with few exceptions, he knows more than most people appointed as State/M. He won’t need six months getting to know the institution and learning all the acronyms! If confirmed, he would only be the third career diplomat appointed as Under Secretary for Management (the others being Ronald Ian Spiers who served as “M” from 1983–1989 and Patrick F. Kennedy  who served from 2007–2017).
Hey, three career appointees out of the total 16 appointees since 1953 is a record!
Also good news, Ambassador Bass doesn’t have an Operation Anvil baggage coming into the job currently encumbered by …. ah, what were they thinking?!

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Biden to Nominate @ColumbiaLaw’s Sarah H. Cleveland to be @StateDept Legal Adviser

 

President Biden recently announced his intent to nominate Sarah H. Cleveland to be the next Legal Adviser of the State Department. The WH released the following brief bio:

Sarah H. Cleveland, Nominee for Legal Adviser of the Department of State

Sarah H. Cleveland is an American law professor and expert in international law and the constitutional law of U.S. foreign relations.  A native of Alabama, she holds the Louis Henkin Chair in Human and Constitutional Rights and is Faculty Co-Director of the Human Rights Institute at Columbia Law School. She previously served as the Co-Coordinating Reporter of the American Law Institute’s Restatement (Fourth) of the Foreign Relations Law of the United States (2018), and as Counselor on International Law to the Legal Adviser of the U.S. Department of State.  She was nominated by the U.S. government and served as an independent expert on the United Nations Human Rights Committee (2015-18) and the Venice Commission of the Council of Europe (2013-19). Cleveland began her career as a Skadden Fellow representing migrant farmworkers with Florida Legal Services, and then joined the faculty at the University of Texas School of Law. The author of numerous publications, she also has taught at Oxford, Harvard, Michigan, Sciences Po Paris, Paris II Panthéon-Assas, and the European University Institute, Florence.  She earned a Bachelor’s Degree with honors at Brown University (Junior Phi Beta Kappa); a Master’s Degree at Oxford University, where she studied as a Rhodes Scholar; and a J.D. at Yale University Law School.  She clerked for Judge Louis F. Oberdorfer on the United States District Court for the District of Columbia, and then for Supreme Court Justice Harry A. Blackmun.

Related posts:

How soon before somebody needs to spend more time with the family?

 

Related: WaPo: Surprise, Panic and Fateful Choices, the Fall of Kabul

 

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Blinken Talks the Talk on Unexplained Health Incidents, Where’s the Walk? #HavanaSyndrome

 

During the August 18 State Department Press Briefing, a reporter asked about the Unexplained Health Incidents  (UHI) also known as the Havana Syndrome that was reported at the US Mission in Germany. Below is the exchange:

QUESTION: Can you – one non-Afghan question, please? I – thank you. I’m seeing reports that there are some cases of Havana – so-called Havana Syndrome in Berlin, at the embassy in Berlin. Can you speak to that? Are you aware of it? What is the State Department doing to protect its staff?

MR PRICE: So, I am – I have seen these reports, of course. This is something that we vigorously investigate, the so-called anomalous health incidents or unexplained health incidents in coordination with our partners across the government. Any employees who have reported a possible unexplained health incident, they have received immediate and appropriate attention and care.

These health incidents I can tell you have been a top priority for Secretary Blinken. I think I mentioned this before, but he proactively requested two sets of briefings during the transition. This was one of them, because even before he was Secretary of State, he wanted to know precisely what we knew, what this department knew at the time, and what we were doing to respond to this.

He has set clear goals for what we call here the Health Incident Response Task Force to – number one, to strengthen the communication with our workforce, of course, to provide care for affected employees and their family members, and to do what we can to protect against these incidents working together with the interagency, and, of course, to find the cause of what has been afflicting these members of our team. He noted to the workforce – I guess it was a couple weeks ago now – that there is nothing that we take more seriously than the health of our workforce.

And that’s why there is a major effort underway in this department, there is a major effort underway across the interagency to determine the cause and to, of course, provide the level of care, the level of communication, the level of feedback that our employees need and deserve. This is a priority. Ambassador Spratlen, as you know, the – Secretary Blinken named her as the head of the task force. She works very closely with the Deputy Secretary for Management and Resources Brian McKeon on this. They are working very closely in turn with Secretary Blinken. We’ll continue to do that. We’ll continue to work with our interagency partners to ensure that our employees, both those who have been affected by this have what they need, and those who are serving around the world, that we’re doing everything we can to ensure their safety.

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NBC News subsequently reported that at least two U.S. diplomats will be medevaced from Vietnam due to UHI which occurred on the weekend ahead of Vice President Kamala Harris’ visit.
The State Department spox has previously mentioned on March 12, and again on July 19, that this is a top priority for Secretary Blinken and that the secretary has requested briefings regarding these incidents even during the transition.
One employee who was injured in these unexplained health incidents recently told this blog: “He has utterly failed in basic leadership 101 on this issue.”
The employee was referring to Secretary Blinken.
On August 2, a CNN headline blares “Havana Syndrome stokes fear and frustration among diplomats over response from State Department.

…frustration is rising among rank-and-file staffers and diplomats over what multiple officials say has been a tepid response by the department. Of particular concern is a lack of information from leadership, including what some say has been a hands-off approach from Secretary of State Tony Blinken who has yet to meet with any of the State Department victims despite saying he would prioritize the incidents.

On August 5, Secretary Blinken sent a memo to State Department employees saying in part “What I can tell you is that this is a top priority for me, the State Department, and leaders across the U.S. government.” CNN’s Natasha Bertrand tweeted that memo the same day.
Obviously, the Blinken memo to the troops was not a coincidence but a reaction to the CNN report three days earlier.
So the top leadership in Foggy Bottom is sensitive to media splashes, who knew? But managing perception can only go so far. How many more times can Secretary Blinken claim this as a “top priority” for him without ever meeting the victims of these incidents? Or addressing his employees directly in a town hall, for that matter? August 26 was the 6-month anniversary of his assumption as secretary of state; he’s no longer in the transition phase.
Folks might ask, but does Secretary Blinken really have to meet these people though? Or does he really need to meet anxious employees shipping out overseas where they and their loves ones could potentially be subjected to similar attacks? Why can’t Deputy Secretary Brian McKeon just talk to these folks? Mr. McKeon, after all, is the Deputy Secretary for Management and Resources.
Yes, Virginia. Secretary Blinken really do need to meet with his people and we’ll tell you why. Because Brian McKeon is not the Secretary of State. That’s why.
It is alleged also that the State Department is “withholding so much unclassified info” related to these attacks that often employees only hear things from the media; they aren’t hearing relevant information directly from State.
But .. but .. there’s Afghanistan, and Haiti, and Russia, and Ukraine, Eswatini, China …. on and on and on …. it never stops.
If Secretary Blinken is waiting for a break from foreign headaches and chaos before dealing with these serious concerns within the ranks, his staff could be waiting forever, y’all.
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A Third of U.S. Diplomats Eyeing the Exits? An FSO Responds

 

Below is a piece by Zed Tarar, a career member of the U.S. Foreign Service currently serving in London. This was published on Medium with the following Disclaimer: “Zed Tarar is a career U.S. diplomat. The views expressed here are his own and do not reflect those of his employer or the U.S. government.”
Excerpt below from Analysis | A third of U.S. diplomats are eyeing the exits:
….While the headaches of finding fulfilling postings with progressively greater responsibility are well understood and documented, the knock-on effects are less discussed. When employees feel that rewards are unlinked to performance and recognition processes lack fairness and transparency, they leave, according to research. Here again the Viewpoint Survey paints a striking picture, stretching back to at least 2010 and remaining consistent: only two in five State employees believe promotions are based on merit. Such a staggering loss of confidence in the most basic talent management principle should give senior leaders pause. Yet, the diplomatic service maintains the same promotion and assignment system designed in the early 1980s, save for a few cosmetic changes and a move to managing paperwork on the cloud. Career diplomats will be quick to clarify that the issue is fairness and transparency. Knowing a better-suited colleague is headed to the job you wanted in Senegal is welcome; what “crushes morale” is the apparent randomness of postings and seeing poor performers given increasing responsibility and high-profile assignments.
[…]
If the 2,800 survey respondents in the retention study are to be believed, we may finally have a measurable negative consequence. Should up to a third of serving diplomats leave public service in the next few years, it may finally spur senior leadership within State to implement the organizational reforms needed. As it stands, the study’s findings seems to be attracting little attention from the top echelons of the department: a recent piece in Politico notes, “a senior State Department official responded that frustrations about promotions notwithstanding, only about 3 percent of these officials actually end up leaving the department annually.” In other words: how bad can it really be if people are choosing to stay?
Read more below:

FSGB: A Separation For Cause Case That Will Make You Weep

The FSGB Annual Report for 2020 includes a brief summary of a separation for cause case:
“In FSGB Case No. 2019-034, the Board found that the agency did not establish cause to separate the charged employee from the Foreign Service because the Deciding Official did not consider evidence of personality problems or more serious mental issues as a mitigating circumstance in determining whether separation was appropriate, as required by the Douglas Factors.2 The employee in the case was charged with improper personal conduct with a pattern of unprofessional and inappropriate conduct toward colleagues. The agency’s Bureau of Medical Services determined that the charged employee exhibited behavior or symptoms that impaired his reliability, judgment, or trustworthiness which was reported to management in a report of security investigation. The Deciding Official did not take into consideration those findings when proposing separation. The agency filed a motion for reconsideration which was ultimately denied. The Board suggested that the Department consider whether the charged employee was eligible for disability retirement.”
Excerpts below from the Record of Proceeding (ROP) posted via FSGB (multiple files related to this case).
FSGB Case No. 2019-034/July 2, 2020:

Held – The Board found that the Department of State (the “Department” or “agency”) did not establish cause to separate the charged employee from the Foreign Service because the Deciding Official (“DO”) did not consider evidence of his personality problems as a mitigating circumstance. The Board was persuaded by evidence in the record that the agency should exercise its authority to initiate, as an alternative to separation, the option of a disability retirement, pursuant to 3 FAM 6164.3(a).

Case Summary – The Department charged the employee with Improper Personal Conduct based upon a pattern of unprofessional and inappropriate conduct toward colleagues, primarily hundreds of unwanted emails and text messages with sexual content. The Department’s Bureau of Medical Services (“MED”) had conducted a mental health evaluation of the charged employee and concluded that “to a reasonable degree of certainty,” the charged employee exhibited “behavior or symptoms (which may not rise to the level of formal diagnosis) of an emotional, mental or personality condition that may impair his reliability, judgment or trustworthiness.”

The DO determined that the charged employee committed the charged offenses and that there were no mitigating circumstances. In finding no mitigating circumstances, the DO attested in the separation hearing that she did not take into consideration either the charged employee’s emotional, mental or personality condition that MED identified or the charged employee’s emails to coworkers that included references to his communications with divine beings as well as references to his own possible mental illness. The DO notified the charged employee of her proposal to separate him from the Foreign Service and provided him the opportunity to reply in person or in writing. The DO recommended separating the charged employee to promote the efficiency of the Service. The charged employee did not respond in person or in writing to the DO’s notification of her proposal to separate him from the Service recommendation or participate in the separation hearing.

The Board found the Department did not establish cause to separate the charged employee because the DO did not consider the so-called Douglas Factor #11 on the agency’s checklist that relates to mitigating circumstances surrounding personality problems, and did not exercise the agency’s authority under 3 FAM 6164.3(a) to initiate a disability retirement on behalf of the charged employee as an alternative to disciplinary action.

Background via FSGB Case No. 2019-034R/September 24, 2020

Prior to the conduct that gave rise to the Department’s proposal to separate the charged  employee, he had 19 years of distinguished service.

In March 2015, the Department issued a Letter of Reprimand to the charged employee on  a charge of Improper Personal Conduct (“IPC”) for allegedly making “unwelcome comments of an inappropriate and sexual nature” to an intern at post. In January 2016, the charged employee was alleged to have engaged in sexual harassment. The Ambassador involuntarily curtailed the charged employee from an overseas post in February 2016. After his curtailment, the charged employee sent numerous personal emails to a former post colleague that she foundoffensive. Despite her request that he stop sending her messages, he continued to do so. Consequently, the former colleague filed a request for a protective order with a court and the request was granted.

The FSGB filing does not indicate what treatment resulted from MED’s evaluation.

— In January 2018, the DS Office REDACTED issued another ROI (involving different preliminary allegations), finding, inter alia, that the charged employee had demonstrated a predilection for self-aggrandizement, and had indicated his belief of hearing voices and instructions from God, the Devil, and the Virgin Mary.

— In October 2018, the charged employee’s security clearance was revoked.

— On March 21, 2019, the Director General of the Foreign Service and Director of the Bureau of Human Resources3 (the “DG”) notified the charged employee that the Department proposed to separate him for cause to promote the efficiency of the Service. The charged employee was charged with IPC based upon 87 specifications of unprofessional and inappropriate conduct and comments toward colleagues, primarily in emails and text messages with sexual content. The separation proposal was not based upon the charged employee’s loss of security clearance.

— Although the charged employee was offered an opportunity to provide an oral or written response to the DG’s March 21, 2019 proposal, he did not provide a response.

(Also see Secretary Mike Pompeo Swears-In New DGHR Carol Perez on March 15, 2019)

On June 20, 2019, the DG completed the so-called Douglas Factors Checklist, a compilation of aggravating and mitigating factors drawn from 3 FAM 4137 and from the decision of the Merit Systems Protection Board (the “MSPB”) in Douglas v. Veterans Administration, 5 MSPB 313 (1981). On that Checklist, the DG wrote “none” next to so-called Douglas Factor #11, “Mitigating circumstances surrounding the offense, such as unusual job tensions, personality problems . . . .”

(Also see  Snapshot: Douglas Factors)
(Also see 3 FAM 4138)

On August 18, 2019, the Department filed a Separation for Cause Proposal with the Board. The charged employee did not file a response to the proposal or participate in the hearing that the Board conducted by telephone on May 14, 2020. AFSA participated as amicus curiae.

The Board issued its Decision on July 2, 2020, finding that the Department had established by a preponderance of the evidence that the charged employee had engaged in the unprofessional and inappropriate conduct of which he was accused and that the charged employee’s conduct had a nexus to the efficiency of the Service. However, the Decision concluded that the Department had not established cause for separation of the charged employee when the DG did not comply with 3 FAM 4138 because she did not consider the Department’s version of Douglas Factor #11:

 Mitigating circumstances surrounding the offense, such as unusual job tensions, personality problems, harassment or bad faith, malice or provocation on the part of other(s) involved in the matter.

The Decision noted that the DG had written the word “none” next to Factor #11, yet in her testimony at the May 14, 2020 hearing, she opined that the charged employee “had abnormal behavior,” and that it was obvious “his behavior was not normal.”

[…]

In the instant case, the Department failed to establish cause for separation by a preponderance of the evidence because the Deciding Official (in this case the DG) had failed to consider a significant relevant factor, i.e., Douglas Factor #11 as embodied in the Department’s Douglas Factors Worksheet, which the Department applies in determining whether to propose separation of an employee or a disciplinary penalty.10
In a separate FSGB document: 2019-034 – 07-02-2020:

In her testimony at the May 14, 2020 hearing, however, when asked whether concerns were raised in her mind in relation to the DS decision to revoke the charged employee’s security clearance due to several factors, including psychological conditions, the DG opined that the charged employee “had abnormal behavior,” and that it was obvious “his behavior was not normal.” The DG added, however, that she did not consider personality problems as a mitigating circumstance for the charged employee because she is not a medical professional, thus not in a position to understand if he had a personality defect for “his entire life.” She pointed out that DS ROI #2 indicated that there were allegations that the charged employee had a recurring pattern of sexual harassment, beginning during his college years, but she had no evidence of that conduct in the record to consider. The DG emphasized that in cases of threats to employees in the workforce, it is DS that makes decisions about what they would like to do in terms of an employee’s ability to access agency facilities and information. She also stressed that she had no access to the Department’s Bureau of Medical Services (“MED”) Memorandum of Opinion concerning the charged employee to which DS referred in ROI

Diplomatic Security’s two Reports of Investigation (ROIs)

The Board found that two Reports of Investigation (“ROIs”) issued by the Department’s Bureau of Diplomatic Security (“DS”) contained sufficient information for the DG to deduce that the charged employee had, at least, personality problems and that the emails and text messages the charged employee sent to former colleagues, which formed the basis of the separation proposal, indicated that he had personality problems and possibly more serious mental impairment or illness. The Decision noted that Douglas Factor #11 required the DG to consider and weigh the charged employee’s apparent personality problems in determining the appropriate discipline.

The DG’s failure to consider personality problems as a mitigating factor was the basis for our conclusion that the Department had not established cause for separation.

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@StateDept Sends M Nominee John Bass to Kabul to Leverage “Logistics Experience” in Evacuation

 

 

Via State Department, August 17:

— We’ve now completed our drawdown to the core diplomatic presence we need, and at this time we will no longer – at this time no longer need to facilitate departures for our embassy personnel.

— All remaining embassy staff will be assisting departures from Afghanistan, and the department is surging resources and Consular Affairs personnel to augment the relocation of American citizens and Afghan special immigrants – special immigrants, and elsewhere adding personnel to assist with P-1/P-2 adjudication processing.

— We’ve successfully relocated many of our locally employed staff and are in direct contact with the remainder to determine who is interested in relocation and the process for doing so.

— Ambassador John Bass – a seasoned career diplomat and former ambassador to Afghanistan, Turkey, and Georgia – is heading to Kabul today to lead logistics coordination and consular efforts. A career member of the Senior Foreign Service, Ambassador Bass brings decades of experience from service at seven U.S. missions overseas and in leadership positions, including executive secretary, here in Washington. Ambassador Wilson, who has remained in Kabul, will continue to lead our diplomatic engagement.

So this is a massive logistical undertaking. The – our presence, our diplomatic presence in Kabul, this is a focus of theirs. Obviously, there is a lot of other important business that needs to get done from management to engagements with the – with Afghans. And so what Ambassador Bass will be doing is overseeing the logistics of this rather large, rather ambitious, expansive operation. He’ll be using and leveraging his managerial expertise and logistics experience to help Ambassador Wilson and the broader Embassy Kabul management team with this challenge.

He is going there to work on the nuts and bolts of this, just given how logistically challenging this is.

In July, President Biden nominated Ambassador Bass, a career member of the Senior Foreign Service to be the next Under Secretary of State (Management). If confirmed, he would succeed Pompeo BFF Brian J. Bulatao. The nomination is pending in the SFRC as of this writing.

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