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@StateDept “Listening Tour” Survey Leaks, So Here’s Your Million Dollar Word Cloud

Posted: 4:34 pm PT

 

Zachary Fryer-Biggs, Senior Pentagon Reporter covering national security for Jane’s obtained a copy of the internal survey sent out at the  as part of Secretary Tillerson’s “listening tour” through Insigniam.

And then John Hudson, who used to be with  and now the Foreign Affairs Correspondent for  writes that the survey feels like Office Space, so he came up with all sorts of GIFs (must see, by the way). We thanked John for the GIFs; frankly, we don’t know where to store our laughing teardrops.

John Hudson also asked the State Department for comments, but the now famous Mark Stroh — who is just doing his job — and whose press shop now refuses to acknowledge or respond to inquiries from this blog — came back with an exclamation point!

What if you can’t come up with a word cloud?  To borrow what FBI Director Comey said the other day on teevee, “Lordy, that would be really bad.” So we’ve decided that we all deserve a million dollar word cloud. Here you go. You’re welcome!

 

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With Reported Proposal to Cut 2,300 @StateDept Jobs, Tillerson Set to Survey Employees

Posted: 2:31 am ET

 

Via AP:

One U.S. diplomat said people were “enraged” by a report that indicated Tillerson is unhappy with how much the U.S. spends on housing and schooling for the families of employees overseas, even though those diplomats often serve in tough conditions. The diplomat added that staffers were told they could not, for now, fill empty jobs with the qualified spouses of diplomats — a long-running State initiative — because Tillerson aides “think it’s a ‘jobs program.’” “They’ve got it exactly backwards,” the diplomat said. “These are not jobs we’re creating to give spouses and partners work. They are jobs we desperately need filled, and we’re saving the U.S. government money and improving morale by hiring spouses.”

So the State Department ignored our question on the “corporate welfare” rumor but Tilleron’s aides apparently think family member employment is a “jobs program.” (Oy! That Rumor About Foreign Service Family Member Employment as “Corporate Welfare”).

On Wednesday, Secretary Tillerson is scheduled to address State Department employees at 10:30am ET. The event is available to watch live at . We understand that the “address” (not/not billed as a townhall) will be brief, and that apparently there will be no questions.

Last Monday, Secretary Tillerson also sent a mass email to all State Department employees asking for their “participation” to identify how they “are going about completing the Department of State’s mission.”

The email announced an online survey that will also go live from May 3 until 9 am (EDT) on Monday, May 15, 2017.

Employees are asked to participate with Tillerson’s email promising “Individual survey answers and comments will be treated as confidential.”  The survey will include the workforce “including employed family members, locally-engaged staff, and certain contractors.”

This would effectively exclude 70% of family members overseas who are currently employed outside U.S. missions and family members who are unemployed.

The final report will reportedly be available in May.

In addition to the survey, Secretary Tillerson’s email also told employees that some “300 individuals from both the Department and USAID in the United States and abroad will be interviewed.”  These individuals will reportedly be randomly selected. “The interview will take approximately one hour. Your candid assessments are invaluable. All interviews will be conducted privately and all responses will be treated as confidential,” Mr. Tillerson writes.

The chief diplomat who is widely reported as set to chop 2,300 positions from State and USAID expects “candid assessments?” And then he writes:

“We will be using the results of the survey and interviews as input to efficiency improvements as part of our larger efforts called for under E.O. 13781. I have no pre-conceived notions about how the Department or USAID should be organized for the future. My commitment on that first day was to deploy the talent and resources of the State Department in the most efficient way possible. In order to do that, we need your help in identifying processes that we all need improved.”

This is hilarious, excuse me.

Isn’t this like telling somebody — we’re gonna chop your arm, but first go ahead and tell us how to make an improved version of you?

The mass email ends with, “My regard for the men and women of the Department of State and USAID has only grown, as I experience every day the dedication and professionalism of our workforce. I hope that we can count on your help as we pursue our shared mission.”

Note that the State Department has about 75,000 employees worldwide, USAID has some 3,800.  So the State Department is interviewing 0.3 percent of the combined workforce, or if we don’t count the local staff, it would be about 1 percent of the direct-hire American workforce.

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Trump Administration Plans @StateDept-@USAID Merger and Deep Program Cuts

Posted: 2:49 am ET

 

The FP exclusive says that the Trump administration is planning to merge USAID into the State Department, and imposed deep cuts on USAID programs.  Apparently, senior USAID officials have “told staff that the agency is attempting to cope with the steep cuts by prioritizing its field offices abroad over its offices in Washington. Nonetheless, the agency still anticipates that the budget proposal will necessitate eliminating 30 to 35 of its field missions while cutting its regional bureaus by roughly 65 percent. USAID currently operates in about 100 countries.” Also this:

“That will end the technical expertise of USAID, and in my view, it will be an unmitigated disaster for the longer term,” said Andrew Natsios, the former USAID Administrator under President George W. Bush. “I predict we will pay the price. We will pay the price for the poorly thought out and ill-considered organization changes that we’re making, and cuts in spending as well.”

The article talks about reorganization but does not talk about a reduction in force, which we think is inevitable if this budget is approved.  If this administration slashes in half or eliminate entire USAID programs, what is there left to do for staffers?  In the 1990’s when State and USAID went through similar cuts, USAID lost about 2,000 jobs. By 1996, WaPo reported that USAID’s overall work force “has been reduced from 11,500 to 8,700 and is heading down to 8,000.” The number did not include a breakdown but we are presuming that this overall number included local employees overseas. See The Last Time @StateDept Had a 27% Budget Cut, Congress Killed ACDA and USIA.

A white paper submitted to the then Obama-Biden Transition in 2008 noted the staffing woes with USAID:

The number of employees at USAID has dropped from 4,300 in 1975, to 3,600 in 1985, to 3,000 in 1995. As of September 2007, USAID was staffed with 2,417 direct hire staff (1,324 foreign service officers and 1,093 civil servants) and 908 staff with limited appointments (628 personal services contractors and 280 Pasas, Rasas, and others). In addition, the agency employed 4,557 Foreign Service nationals at missions overseas. While staffing levels have declined, program responsibility has increased from approximately $8 billion in 1995 to approximately $13 billion in 2007 (in 2005 dollars). USAID has set a target of a contracting officer managing a range of $10-14 million per year, but the current level is at an average of $57 million.

There are inadequate numbers of experienced career officers; as a result, management oversight of programs is at risk. Fifty percent of Foreign Service officers were hired in the last 7 years. One hundred percent of Senior Foreign Service officers will be eligible to retire in 2009. Of 12 Career Ministers, six will reach the mandatory retirement age of 65 in 2010. Mid-career Foreign Service officers in their mid-40s have less than 12 years of service. Until 2007, 70-80 members of the Foreign Service would leave the service annually, 85% for retirement; that rate has fallen to 45-55%. Of 122 new hires in 2007, only 10% were experienced mid-career hires.
[…]
DOD maintains a 10% float (for training and placing staff in other agencies and organizations). AID has float of 1⁄2 of a percent, little training, and is unable to take opportunities for placing staff in other agencies and organizations.

In 2016, the USAID workforce composition is as follows:

[T]he Agency’s mission was supported by 3,893 U.S. direct hire employees, of which 1,896 are Foreign Service Officers and 253 are Foreign Service Limited, and 1,744 are in the Civil Service. Additional support came from 4,600 Foreign Service Nationals, and 1,104 other non-direct hire employees (not counting institutional support contractors). Of these employees, 3,163 are based in Washington, D.C., and 6,434 are deployed overseas. These totals include employees from the Office of Inspector General.*

Folding USAID into State would most likely require congressional approval, but the work to get there is most probably already underway.  When USIA was folded into State, a new PD cone was created; does this mean a Development cone will soon be added to the Foreign Service career tracks?  Will the USAID development professionals move to State or will they find they find their way elsewhere?  The already stressful transfer season this summer just got tons harder.

Also see Former Director of Foreign Disaster Assistance (USAID/OFDA) Jeremy Konyndyk Twitter thread below on why this is such a short-sighted idea.

FY18 Budget Control Levels via Adam Griffiths, Foreign Policy:

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How are you dealing with Foggy Bottom’s bad jujus?

Posted: 2:45 am ET

 

How are you dealing with the bad vibes, and negative energy in the Foggiest Bottom these days?  We don’t care what a billionaire says, but health is wealth, so guard it fiercely and faithfully. Will the Deployment Stress Management Program soon include employees on domestic assignments? That is, until that gets gutted, too.  Sigh! If you have coping strategies you want to share, contact us via our Foggy Bottom nightingale line.

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Colin Powell Is Done Talking About Hillary Clinton’s Emails, So Let’s Take A Trip Down @StateDept Tech Lane

Posted: 1:27 am ET

 

After making waves for saying “Her people have been trying to pin it on me,” former Secretary of State Colin Powell is done talking about former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s emails and is not commenting anymore on it.

For those too young to remember this  — there was a time, not too long ago when the State Department communicated via teletype machines (with paper tape), similar to the one below.   You draft your cables on a Wang computer, give it to the local secretary to convert the document, and then she (almost always a she) runs it through the teletype machine for transmission to Main State and other diplomatic posts overseas.  If I remember right,  State had some creative IT folks who hooked up a DOS computer to the teletype machine so conversion was possible.  You still had to print it out and it still took a lot of trees.

Image via Open Tech School

 

When Colin Powell came to the State Department in 2001, the State Department was still using the Wang machine similar to the one below. They were either stand alone machines or were connected via a local area network and hooked up to a gigantic magnetic disc.  If post was lucky, it got one computer also hook up for email. Otherwise, you have a Selectric typewriter and a weekly diplomatic pouch.

Via Pinterest

Here is retired FSO Pater Van Buren with a look at technology at State during the Powell era.

When the rest of the world was working on PCs and using then-modern software in their offices, State clung to an old, clunky mainframe system made by the now-defunct company WANG. WANG’s version of a word processor was only a basic text editor with no font or formatting tools. Spell check was an option many locations did not have installed. IBM had bid on a contract to move State to PCs in 1990, but was rejected in favor of a renewal of the WANG mainframes.
[…]
Until Powell demanded the change, internet at State was limited to stand-alone, dial up access that had to be procured locally. Offices had, if they were lucky, one stand alone PC off in the corner connected to a noisy modem. If you wanted to use it, you needed in most cases to stand in line and wait your turn.
[…]
The way I see it, there’s about a 99.9 percent probability that he discussed his signature accomplishment at State with her, and cited his own limited, almost experimental, use of an AOL email account, as an example of how to break down the technical, security, bureaucratic, and cultural barriers that still plague the State Department today.

Read in full below:

 

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Congress Eyes @StateDept’s Special Envoys, Representatives, Advisors, and Coordinators

Posted: 2:27 am EDT

 

In June this year, Senator Bob Corker [R-TN] introduced Senate bill S. 1635: Department of State Operations Authorization and Embassy Security Act, Fiscal Year 2016.  On June 18, the SFRC issued a report to the full chamber and the bill was placed on Senate Legislative Calendar (Calendar No. 123). Only about 1 in 4 bills are reported out of committee. Govtrack also notes that only about 21% of bills that made it past committee in 2013–2015 were enacted. It gave this bill a 44% chance of being enacted.

While S.1635 may not be going anywhere right now, we know that Congress, at least, is eyeing with interest the mushrooming population of Foggy Bottom’s special reps, special envoy, advisors and coordinators. If this bill passes, the secretary of state will be asked to account for these 7th Floor denizens. Here is the relevant section of the bill:

204. Special envoys, representatives, advisors, and coordinators

Not later than 90 days after the date of the enactment of this Act, the Secretary shall submit a report to the appropriate congressional committees on special envoys, representatives, advisors, and coordinators of the Department, which shall include—

(1) a tabulation of the current names, ranks, positions, and responsibilities of all special envoy, representative, advisor, and coordinator positions at the Department, with a separate accounting of all such positions at the level of Assistant Secretary (or equivalent) or above; and

(2) for each position identified pursuant to paragraph (1)—

(A) the date on which the position was created;

(B) the mechanism by which the position was created, including the authority under which the position was created;

(C) the positions authorized under section 1(d) of the State Department Basic Authorities Act of 1956 (22 U.S.C. 2651a(d));

(D) a description of whether, and the extent to which, the responsibilities assigned to the position duplicate the responsibilities of other current officials within the Department, including other special envoys, representatives, and advisors;

(E) which current official within the Department would be assigned the responsibilities of the position in the absence of the position;

(F) to which current official within the Department the position directly reports;

(G) the total number of staff assigned to support the position; and

(H) with the exception of those created by statute, a detailed explanation of the necessity of the position to the effective conduct of the foreign affairs of the United States.

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As of September 18, the State Department has officially listed 59 special advisors, envoys, and representatives. The list below is extracted from the state.gov list here but it’s not a complete list.  We’ve counted at least 69 appointees in this category.  We’ve added and highlighted in blue the appointments that had been announced but not added to the official list.  Entries without hyperlinks are copied as-is from the State Department list.  Hey, we’re still missing entries under FJ, K, U, V, W, X, Y, Z!

 

State Department’s Special Envoys, Representatives, Advisors, and Coordinators

A

Afghanistan and Pakistan, Special Representative
Arctic, Special Representive
Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC), U.S. Senior Official

B

Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention (BWC) Issues, Special Representative
Burma, Special Representative and Policy Coordinator

C

Center for Strategic Counterterrorism, Special Envoy and Coordinator
Central African Republic, Special Representative
Civil Society and Emerging Democracies, Senior Advisor
Climate Change, Special Envoy
Closure of the Guantanamo Detention Facility, Special Envoy
[Colombia Peace Process, Special Envoy]
Conference on Disarmament, Permanent Representative
Commercial and Business Affairs, Special Representative
[Counterterrorism, Coordinator]
Cyber Issues, Coordinator

D

Department Spokesperson

E

[Ebola Response, Special Coordinator]

F

G

Global Coalition against ISIL, Special Presidential Envoy
Global Food Security, Special Representative
Global Health Diplomacy, Special Representative
Global Intergovernmental Affairs, Special Representative
Global Partnerships, Special Representative
Global Women’s Issues, Ambassador-at-Large
Global Youth Issues, Special Advisor
Great Lakes Region and the D.R.C., Special Envoy

H

Haiti, Special Coordinator
Holocaust Issues, Special Adviser
Holocaust Issues, Special Envoy
[Hostage Affairs, Special Presidential Envoy]
[Human Rights of LGBT Persons, Special Envoy]

I

[International Civil Aviation Organization, U.S. Representative]
International Communications and Information Policy, Coordinator

International Disability Rights, Special Advisor
International Energy Affairs, Special Envoy and Coordinator
International Information Programs, Coordinator
International Information Technology Diplomacy, Senior Coordinator
International Labor Affairs, Special Representative
International Religious Freedom, Ambassador-at-Large
[Iran Nuclear Implementation, Lead Coordinator]
Israel and the Palestinian Authority, U.S. Security Coordinator
Israeli-Palestinian Negotiations, Special Envoy

J
K
L

[Libya, Special Envoy]

M

Monitoring and Combating Anti-Semitism, Special Envoy
Mujahideen el Khalq Resettlement, Special Advisor
Muslim Communities, Special Representative
[Middle East Transitions, Special Coordinator]

N

Nonproliferation and Arms Control, Special Advisor 
Northern Ireland Issues, Personal Representative
North Korean Human Rights Issues, Special Envoy
North Korea Policy, Special Representative
Nuclear Nonproliferation, Special Representative of the President

O

Office of the Special Envoy for Israeli-Palistinian Negotiations
Organization of Eastern Caribbean States, Special Representative
Organization of Islamic Cooperation, Special Envoy

P

Partner Engagement on Syria Foreign Fighters, Senior Advisor
Promote Religious Freedom of Religious Minorities in the Near East and South Central Asia, Special Envoy

Q
Quadrennial Diplomacy and Development Review, Special Representative

R

Religion and Global Affairs, Special Representative

S

Sanctions Policy, Coordinator
Science and Technology, Special Advisor

Secretary Initiatives, Special Advisor
[Security Negotiations and Agreements, Senior Advisor
]
Senior Advisor to the Secretary
Six-Party Talks, Special Envoy
Somalia, Special Representative
Sudan and South Sudan, Special Envoy
Syria, Special Envoy

T

Threat Reduction Programs, Coordinator 
Tibetan Issues, Special Coordinator
Transparency Coordinator

U

V

W

X

Y

Z

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Special suggestions to complete this list:

F – FOIA, Special Expert Advisor
J – Japan-U.S. Cyber Dialogue, Special Advisor
K –  Kenya and Djibouti Refugee Situation, Special Advisor
U –  University Youth Events (Domestic), Senior Advisor
V-  Venezuela-Colombia Border Dispute, Special Representative
W – Weapons, Autonomous, Presidential Special Envoy
X-  Xenon Gas Release, Special Advisor
Y – Yemen Stabilization After Saudi Coalition Bombings, Special Envoy 
Z – Zamunda, Special Envoy to the Royal Kingdom

Related post:
While You Were Sleeping, the State Dept’s Specials in This “Bureau” Proliferated Like Mushroom

Snapshot: US Embassy Kabul Capital Investments, FY2002-March 2015 Now at $2.17Billion

Posted: 2:45 am EDT

Via GAO-15-410 (pdf):

State’s past and planned capital construction investments in Kabul from 2002 through March 2015 total $2.17 billion in project funding, which includes awarded construction contracts and other costs State incurs that are not part of those contracts. Examples of other State project costs include federal project supervision, construction security, security equipment, and project contingencies.12 Figure 3 shows these investments.

US Embassy Kabul Capital Projects FY2002-2015

US Embassy Kabul Capital Projects FY2002-2015 Past and Planned Capital Investments (via GAO) | click image for larger view

 

In fiscal years 2009 and 2010, State awarded two contracts originally worth $625.4 million in total to meet growing facility requirements at the U.S. embassy in Kabul. The first contract, awarded to Contractor 1 in September 2009 for $209.4 million, was for the design and construction of temporary and permanent structures to include

  • temporary offices and housing,
  • office annex A,
  • apartment building 1,
  • cafeteria and recreation center,
  • perimeter security and compound access facilities,
  • warehouse addition, and
  • utility building.The second contract, awarded to Contractor 2 in September 2010 for $416 million, was for the design and construction of:
  • office annex B,
  • apartment buildings 2 and 3,
  • expansion of existing apartment building 4,
  • compound access and perimeter security facilities, and parking facilities—to include a vehicle maintenance facility.

    State’s plans called for sequencing construction under the two contracts and demolishing older temporary facilities to make space available for new facilities. State’s plans also entailed acquiring the Afghan Ministry of Public Health site adjacent to the compound to build parking facilities for approximately 400 embassy vehicles. In September 2011, after the U.S. and Afghan governments did not reach agreement to transfer that site, State had to remove the parking and vehicle maintenance facilities from the project.

    In September 2011, State partially terminated elements of the first contract—specifically the permanent facilities, including office annex A and apartment building 1—for the convenience of the U.S. government, in part, due to concerns about contractor performance and schedule delays. Contractor 1 completed the temporary offices and housing units, but in September 2011, State transferred contract requirements for the permanent facilities not begun by Contractor 1 to Contractor 2’s contract.

    The estimated completion of project has now been moved from summer 2014 to fall 2017.

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Homework for the Next Secretary of State: Revamping the Foreign Service

In November 2011, I posted an excerpt from an article in the Foreign Service Journal by Jon P. Dorschner * on Why the Foreign Service Should Be More Like the Army (see Why the FS Should Be More Like the Army — Esprit de Corps, Taking Care of Troops … Hey, That Includes EFMs, Right?). Below is his guest post on revamping the United States Foreign Service.  This is a good time to think about these things as the Foreign Service is facing unprecedented challenges.  Not just due to the graying workforce.  The Partnership for Public Service projected the 4,682 of State Department and USAID employees are retirement eligible in FY2012.  But also the exponential increase of hardship and unaccompanied assignments.  And by this time next year, there will be a new Secretary of State in Foggy Bottom.  Will he/she do the hard work of fixing all that’s not well in our diplomatic service? – DS

Revamping the Foreign Service

by Jon P. Dorschner, PhD

Identifying the Problems

In my November 2011 Speaking Out piece “Why the Foreign Service Should Be More Like the Army,” I laid out a number of institutional and cultural shortcomings that need to be addressed.  I noted that the Service lacks an Esprit de Corps and that within the Foreign Service culture there is little or no encouragement for supervisors to “take care of the troops,” and their families.

I also pointed out that Foreign Service Officers (FSOs) often have little or no sense of mission or purpose regarding the job they are performing, and that an egoistic obsession with status, hierarchy, assignments and promotions subordinates the mission to personal concerns.  As a result, there is a pervasive attitude that every officer should “look out for number one.”  Because of the internalized and all-pervasive emphasis on competition, FSOs often view their fellow officers as competitors rather than colleagues.  The Service becomes divided into “in groups” and “out groups,” “fast trackers” and “slow trackers.”  This makes it difficult to cooperate to achieve defined objectives.

These deeply engrained aspects of Foreign Service culture have developed over centuries.  I would argue that they are now completely out of date and have resulted in an organization more qualified to deal with the challenges of the 19th Century rather than the 21st.  To revamp the Foreign Service and make it into an effective organization that can best serve the national interests, these detrimental cultural practices will have to be eliminated or changed.  This will not take place, however, without a long-term and thorough rebuilding of a basic mindset that requires a lot of time, and most likely a change of generations.

Making Institutional Changes

While deeply rooted problems are difficult to overcome, the State Department can take steps to set the process in motion.  State Department management can begin by acknowledging that these shortcomings exist.  All too often, persons at the senior level are those who have made the effort to adjust to the system and have personally benefited from it.  Their natural inclination is to embrace the status quo and resist change.  This often involves denying that problems exist and instead decrying the naïve younger generation and blaming the problem on “complainers and misfits.”

As a result, the State Department’s periodic efforts at “reform” have often been met with a justified sense of cynicism.  To overcome this, State Department senior managers would have to express a determination to deal with deeply rooted problems by initiating necessary institutional changes.  Once the Department initiates institutional changes, it must follow through to ensure their actual implementation.  Far too often, the State Department announces ambitious reform programs, but fails to follow through once elites with vested interests begin to protest and pull their weight.  With determination, institutional changes will over the course of time become the new norms, and a new institutional culture will emerge.

Regional Specialization

The Foreign Service has long propagated the myth that we are all “generalists,” available for worldwide service.  At present, there are few Foreign Service Officers that do not have quite specific regional and functional specializations.  The current system does not sufficiently reward this specialization.  Regional specialization should no longer be discouraged but made a central tenet of a revamped Foreign Service.  To function well in extremely complex cultures FSOs must spend years mastering cultural subtleties and acquiring fluency in often-difficult languages.  Those who make the considerable effort to acquire these essential skills should be assured of reward.  The age of the Foreign Service generalist has long passed.  To be truly effective in today’s world, FSOs must have a regional specialization that requires them to acquire in-depth background, experience and linguistic skill.

Every officer should be certified in a region and formally assigned to the “home bureau” that oversees his/her region.  While he/she will naturally take occasional assignments outside of the region of specialization, especially while in Washington, this tie to the home bureau will be career long.  The majority of an officer’s assignments will be within his/her home bureau.

Every officer’s “home bureau” should be formally noted in his/her personnel file.  Regional specialization will be a common designation and will be an adjunct to the current conal designations.  Officers entering the service will be given a requisite amount of time to acquire regional specialization, including designated time for language and academic training at the Foreign Service Institute or within the region.  Regional specialization would have to be completed prior to tenure.

To gain regional specialization, an officer should earn a minimum 3/3 score on a regional language test, take specified classes on the region at FSI, and serve a requisite number of tours in the region.  Upon entry, officers would select their region of specialization.  Bureaus would be encouraged to recruit officers.  After the selection process is complete, the new officer would join his/her bureau and select initial assignments only in that region.

Rewards for Seniority

There is far too much individual focus by FSOs on winning the next promotion.  Too much time is spent trying to get promoted to the next highest rank to the detriment of diplomacy.  To put a stop to this obsession, the State Department should implement a three-track career path.  A small minority would state at the outset of their career that they aspire to join the Senior Foreign Service.  The vast majority would retire at FS1, and a small group would be selected out for poor performance.

To make this three-track system work, the State Department must guarantee tenured officers that they will retire at the grade of FS1 as long as they do not have a negative EER over the course of their career.  The State Department would do this by implementing a seniority system.  It would set specified limits for officers to remain in grade.  Once they reach the limit, they would be automatically promoted to the next highest grade if they did not have a negative EER in their file.

This will make explicit what is already informally acknowledged within the Foreign Service, that there are two classes of officers, those who aspire to the Senior Foreign Service and those who do not.  It would also acknowledge that not every officer intends to make the Foreign Service his/her sole career.  Officers would then self-select early, with those aspiring to the Senior Foreign Service quickly differentiating between their competitors, and those who do not “pose a threat.”  This would eliminate much of the tension generated by competition for promotion and make it easier for a collegial culture to develop that would allow officers to work together to solve problems.

The Senior Foreign Service would be limited formally to only five percent of total personnel.  Since FSOs would be informed upon entry that they have only a five percent chance of entering the senior ranks, and that they can expect to retire at FS1’s, they could make reasonably informed career decisions early in their careers.  This obvious transparency would also eliminate considerable uncertainty and anxiety.

The days when individuals spent their entire adult lives in one job are long gone.  The vast majority of individuals expect to pursue multiple careers over the course of their lives.  Those who aspire to join the Senior Foreign Service are making an unusual career choice that requires an inordinate amount of dedication and hard work.  The Foreign Service should acknowledge these realities and work to remove any stigma currently attached to those “on the slow track.”

We should retain the up or out system, but it should be applied only when officers show a consistent pattern of negative performance as documented in EER’s.  Officers who demonstrate such a pattern should be selected out regardless of their seniority.  Officers who have been promoted to FS1 on the basis of seniority and have too much time in grade will be required to retire and not allowed to compete for entry into the Foreign Service.  If all tenured officers have a reasonable expectation of retiring at the grade of FS1, they will no longer spend so much time lobbying for assignments and promotion and can concentrate on doing their job.

Rewards for Hardship

I would define a hardship post as those with a hardship differential of 20 percent or more.  A large number of the world’s countries fall into this category, including war zones and those posts that do not allow families.  No FSO can claim to have a viable view of today’s world without on the ground experience in a hardship post.

Any FSO who serves in a hardship post would be awarded points that give him/her a leg-up over those with no hardship service when bidding on their next post.  No officer would be promoted into the Senior Foreign Service who has not served in a hardship post.  Officers would not be allowed to serve more than six consecutive years in non-differential posts.  Likewise, any officer who has served six or more consecutive years in hardship posts should be guaranteed an assignment in a non-hardship post if he/she so desires.  These should be hard and fast rules that are spelled out to every officer the day he/she joins the Foreign Service.

At present those who serve most of their careers in regions with many hardship posts (Africa, Asia, Latin America) are not guaranteed an assignment in a non-differential post regardless of how many hardship tours they have under their belt.  At the same time, there are individuals who spend little or no time in hardship posts over the course of their career.  This is inherently unfair and cannot be allowed to continue.  Those interested in joining the Foreign Service should be told before applying that it will require hardship post service, with no exceptions.  Those who do not want to undertake such service would then be free to opt for another career.

Put An End to Lobbying

The lack of transparency in the assignments process is one of the biggest injustices currently plaguing the Foreign Service.  This is because most officers are now convinced that assignments are made on the basis of lobbying rather than qualification.  As a result, there is far too much emphasis on lobbying for the next assignment.  This encourages the cultivation of exclusive “clubs” that ensure choice assignments for their members, and keep well-qualified candidates from serving in highly desirable locations and jobs.  It would be easy to provide transparency.  Simply end the current practice of obtaining jobs through lobbying.

When bureaus are filling their assignments, they would make an initial short-list of applicants based solely on their written personnel files, the regional specialization of the candidate, and the points awarded the candidate for his/her hardship service.  Only after the short list has been determined, would the bureau interview the qualified candidates and select the best person for the assignment based on their ability to do the job.

At no point in the process would bidders be allowed to lobby the bureaus either in writing, by e-mail, or through phone calls.  No bidder would be allowed to have senior ranking officers make entreaties on his/her behalf to “rig the assignment.”  Bureaus would not be allowed to select candidates before the bidding season or to contact candidates before the short list has been determined.  Bureaus would not be allowed to talk about assignments with officers outside of the bidding season.  Officers who attempted to buck the system by ignoring these regulations would face disciplinary action, including notes in the personnel file.

In any case, the implementation of regional specialization and the formalization of all officers’ relationship with their home bureaus would take much of the anxiety out of the bidding season and make the assignment process much simpler and smoother.  Officers serving in their home bureau throughout their career would be known quantities.  Officers without regional certification would only be considered if there are no regionally certified bidders on the position.  No one would be allowed to serve in a language -designated position without the required language.  There would be no exceptions.

* * *
About Jon P. Dorschner: A native of Tucson, Arizona, Jon P. Dorschner earned a PhD. in South Asian studies from the University of Arizona.  He currently teaches South Asian Studies and International Relations at his alma mater, and publishes articles and books on South Asian subjects. He was a career Foreign Service Officer for 27 years (1983 -2011).    A Political Officer, Dr. Dorschner’s career specialties were internal politics and political/military affairs.  He served in Germany, India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Nigeria, the United States Military Academy at West Point and Washington. From 2003-2007 he headed the Internal Politics Unit at the U.S. Embassy in New Delhi, India.  In 2007-2008 Dr. Dorschner completed a one-year assignment on an Italian Provincial Reconstruction Team (PRT) in Tallil, Iraq.  From 2009-2011 he served as an Economic Officer, in Berlin, Germany.

FS Blog: As Some Blogs Go Private, “The Slow Move East” Goes Public

Free speech has a timeboxImage by hey skinny via Flickr
This blog has been around a while but until recently has been a closed blog. Written by an “Arkansan on the move,” who is also an admitted Type A personality seeking temporary residence abroad. Looking for challenging work, intellectual stimulation, and good stories. Aquarian,” the blog sports a straight forward disclaimer:

The views and opinion I express are my own and do not in any way reflect those of the U.S. Government or any of its agencies or officials. All the information and materials I present, or link to, are in the public sphere and are fair game for public comment.


Her recent post,
Going Public, or How I Learned to Manage My Healthy Awareness of Diplomatic Security caught my attention and made me wonder if we are at the start of a wave of the coming Generation Next in the FS.  As Gen Next comes of age in the old bureaucracy (established in 1789 and almost as old as this country) they will be crucial in dragging this organization in words and deeds into the 21st century. It’s worth watching …

Excerpt from HD | The Slow Move East:


After seeing the shaming of a new FSO last January over her public blog, I’ve been thinking a lot about going public with this site, and what that might mean for me.

The simplest thing, of course, is that DS or Management just tells me to shut this down, with no further consequences.  That has happened to a few of my friends who maintained sites that were little more than travel blogs – certainly no policy discussions.  I don’t intend to weigh in much on the most pressing issues of FS life (like Digger admirably does) or the greater scope of State policy (such as Diplopundit does).  Frankly, I’m not experienced enough in State to be able to pick up on a lot of the nuances of the debates that rage on other, bigger blogs.  And I’m certainly not a subject matter expert in a technical field, like Madam Le Consul, so I doubt that any of my posts will catch my superiors’ eyes.

The shakedown of FSO Rookie really struck me as emblematic of the battle between the Old School State people and the newbies in the Department.  I certainly don’t want to disparage the old hands, who have knowledge and experience that will take me years to accumulate.  However, I think that things have changed in the Department, and those of us in the new generation don’t have quite the same point of view that our superiors have on a number of FS traditions.  This job is wonderful, but it’s not the only thing in my life – I’m not sacrificing my sanity and my personal life to uphold the self-imposed ideal of a US diplomat.  As programs like Pickering, PMF, and Rangel bring in a younger, more technologically connected, and more diverse set of FSOs, the face of our diplomatic corps is changing, as is our attitude towards the work-life balance, the way that we interact with and engage the world, and the values we hold dear.


This is a long way of saying that I’m opening up this blog as a way to stake out my position on free speech for federal employees and our right to talk about our lives in a mature, logical way online.  I understand the need to stay on message and the need to be secure.  Neither of those concerns should preclude me from writing generally about my job, its benefits and difficulties, and the joys and struggles of living overseas as an American with an unusual position in my host country’s society.

Video of the Week: The Future of the Internet

Vinton G. Cerf, vice president and Chief Evangelist for Google, discusses the past, present, and future of the Internet. Cerf predicts that Asia’s cultural influence will grow as the continent’s Internet penetration rates reach European levels. He says that, while IPv6 will provide enough Internet addresses to last through his lifetime, the implementation of IPv6 creates difficulties for the Internet in terms of compatibility, security, and broadcasting. Cerf describes the trends and opportunities of the Internet in the 21st century: the transformation of information consumers into information producers; the rise of social networking; the emergence of new economic systems in online games; the development of user-generated advertising content via streaming IPTV; and the transformation of mobile phones into multi-purpose devices that provide geographically indexed information. In Cerf’s view, the increasingly lower cost of storing and transporting bits fosters a new economics of digital information and the emergence of new Darwinian business models that challenge existing entities to “adapt or die.” As a result, Cerf says the Internet is an unprecedented and unpredictable innovation engine because its infrastructure enables people to invent new applications simply by writing new software on the edge of the network without having to ask for permission.

Video length: 1h 13min 15sec

From: Stanford University’s eCorner