Protecting Diplomats Post-Embassy Attacks: More Fortresses or Rethinking Fortresses?

The Skeptical Bureaucrat in his blog points out that the USG investment in new, secure, embassy buildings paid off very big for those employees who were inside the safe havens in Tunis, Khartoum, and Sanaa during the embassy attacks several days ago.  He writes:

Where the host government fulfilled its obligation to protect the integrity of diplomatic premises, the mobs were kept back. Where the host government did not do so, our missions had to rely on physical barriers – their walls, doors and windows – to keep the mobs outside.

Physical barriers themselves are not absolute protection, of course, but are there just to delay the attackers until the host government acts, if it ever does.You cannot keep people out of embassy compounds for long if the local authorities don’t show up. However, you can keep people out of your embassy office building for a good long time, maybe even long enough for them to give up and leave, if the building was built for that purpose.

Of course, if it were more than a mob attack, people may not just give up and leave; or may do so only after there is considerable damage in life and property.

In the aftermath of the Benghazi attack and several breaches into our embassy compounds, diplomatic security will be in the front burner once more.  Like Yogi Berra says, it’s dejavu all over again. The 1998 East Africa embassy bombings happened in an off election year (but during the Lewinsky scandal), the Benghazi attack happened right smack in the middle of a presidential election. So while there will be calls for resignations, investigations and whatnots, this year, it will be louder than usual.

There will be calls for more secure embassy facilities in addition to the now standard requirement for 100-foot setback from vehicular traffic and nine-foot-tall walls.  Former Ambassador Edward P. Djerejian once said, ‘O.K., we built a 16-foot wall, but there is such a thing as a 17-foot ladder.’  As we’ve seen this past weeks on live tv, the 100-foot setback and nine-foot walls were not a deterrent to rioters who scrambled quickly up those walls and spread easily to wreck havoc inside the compound.

Before the embassy attacks happened, the new 1 billion US Embassy in London reportedly inspired by English architecture, was already planned to include a moat, er, reflecting pool to “prevent the possibility of a vehicle getting to the embassy to cause damage.” Take a look. Somebody must have already calculated the upkeep and utilities for a building such as this, but we have not seen the figures.  For more on the new embassies, read  former FSO, Dave Seminara’s piece in The Washington Diplomat, America’s Embassy Building Boom Fortifies Diplomacy, Security Abroad from April this year.

Aerial view of the new Embassy building © KieranTimberlake/studio amd via US Embassy London/Flickr

Continuing on this road, the next stop might be a concentric fortress for an embassy needing the very best protection.  As with the concentric castles of the 12th century, the concentric embassy will be surrounded by a moat and entrance will be by drawbridge. It will be protected by an inner wall built of thick stone with towers positioned at intervals, and another lower stone wall that’s just as thick.  Apparently, in the old days, the space between the two walls was known as the ‘death hole’ because those trapped within the walls certainly die from being picked by archers one by one.

The Krak des Chevaliers as it was in the Middle-Ages. From Guillaume Rey : Étude sur les monuments de l’architecture militaire des croisés en Syrie et dans l’île de Chypre (1871). Via Wikipedia

Finally, we promised not to fall off our chair if there will be calls for our diplomats to get more weapons training in addition to a week of crash and bang for those going to war zones and dangerous assignments. Or for our diplomats to be armed.

While we wait for the results of the yet to meet Pickering Accountability Review Board, we must note that the Benghazi office or as The Skeptical Bureaucrat calls it, the Non-Standard, Un-Fortress, Not-A-Consulate In Benghazi, is not even a typical new embassy compound. But it’s not by far, the only one. We have an American Presence Post and Consulates with one or two or a few American officers holding offices at rented floors in commercial buildings.  How do you turn those rented floors into fortresses?

Anthony C. E. Quainton, a former assistant secretary of state for diplomatic security says, “You can protect people where they work by building more fortified embassies. […] But how do you protect them all the time, in all places?”

That’s a great question — how do you protect them all the time, in all places?

Wendy Chamberlain, our former Ambassador to Pakistan and Lao People’s Democratic Republic and the current
President of the Middle East Institute has this piece in HuffPo:

In this brave new context the 1961 Vienna Conventions, based on the premise of the equality of sovereign states, seem quaint to say the least, particularly Article 22 which guarantees the inviolability of diplomatic facilities. Clearly we must not abandon the mission even though these newly emerging nations do not have the wherewithal to provide such security.
In transitional regions, we must rely on smaller, more agile missions, granting the ambassador greater control over the nature and size of his or her staff. While not minimizing the importance of personal contact, and the unspoken message our presence sends, we should engage NGOs and local platforms and deploy electrons in lieu of bodies whenever possible. We must be more Sun Tzu than Clausewitz, less bulky and bureaucratic, with the budgetary flexibility to change direction when need be and less reliant on embassy fortresses to secure our assets, even as we work to assist central authorities to build their security infrastructure. And perhaps it is time to take another look at our increasingly militaristic approach to international relations, driven to some degree by the fact that our enormously talented, competent military and its neatly measureable operational successes are politically easier to fund than the long, often messy slog of brick-making for building the foundations of civil society.

The ever sharp Chas Freeman, our former US Ambassador to Saudi Arabia, former Assistant Secretary of Defense and almost National Intel Council chair (until his nomination was derailed) has some thoughts about how to make our diplomats safer, and it has less to do with fortress embassies:

In his speech to the UNGA, Egyptian President Morsi recognized the “duty” of the receiving state to protect the diplomats assigned to it.  This is a useful reminder of an ancient truth. The farther we move into self-protection through the transformation of embassies into fortifications and motorcades into armadas, the more we undercut both the traditions and the effectiveness of diplomacy.  Diplomats add very little value if they mimic military invaders, cower behind walls, are inaccessible to local people, and venture forth only in armed convoys.  (I won’t visit U.S. embassies myself anymore.  It’s just too much hassle.  Then, too, as a onetime professional diplomat and proud American, I’m embarrassed by the zero-risk mentality on display.)

In procedural, if not in substantive terms, diplomacy is an inherently consensual and reciprocal, not a coercive or combatant activity.  We should be thinking hard about how to return the responsibility for the protection of diplomats as much as possible to the host nation, where it belongs.  If a host nation cannot or will not discharge that duty, we would be well advised to end or severely to limit our presence there, impose reciprocal restrictions on its representation here, enlist others in punitive sanctions against it, and plan to communicate with it by Skype, etc. or in neutral third countries rather than face-to-face.

It is truly striking (though not surprising in the midst of a presidential election and given the role of talk radio in dumbing down our national dialogue) that debate here focuses so singlemindedly on how we can protect ourselves or — as many Americans argue — arm our diplomats to blow away those who appear to threaten them.  We should be attempting to strengthen the host nation obligation to protect diplomats that is implicit in the Vienna Conventions, find ways to enforce this obligation, and criminalize or assign liability under international law for failing to discharge it, not designing more elaborately crenelated crusader castles for our diplomatic outposts in the Middle East or elsewhere.

By taking up the gun and relying on the parapet rather than the security services of the host and the law to protect us, we are inadvertently endorsing the notion that there can be no safety in the rule of law.  In an odd way, by building fortresses and preparing to blaze away at those who display anger as they approach us, we encourage the very violence we should be attempting to preclude.  Our obsessions with monopolizing security responsibilities for our installations and personnel unintentionally contributes to the irresponsibility of receiving-state governments, degrades the idea of the sanctity of envoys, and erodes the prospects for rule-based order internationally.  To make our diplomats safer, we need better diplomacy vis-à-vis foreign nations and international organizations much more than we need higher bastions.

The Inman Report of the Secretary of State’s Advisory Panel on Overseas Security following the Marine barracks bombing and the April 1983 US Embassy bombing in Beirut, Lebanon, has been influential in setting security standards, not just with the embassy design, but also with physical and residential security, training, use of armored vehicles, etc. The idea of an accountability board as a “board of inquiry […] convened in the event of a security incident involving loss of life, grievous injury or massive property destruction due to terrorist or other violence” also originates from the Inman Commission.

The Crowe Accountability Review Board following the 1998 twin embassy bombings in Kenya and Tanzania “observed that many of the problems identified in that landmark report [Inman] persist..”  It faults “the collective failure of the US government over the past decade to provide adequate resources to reduce the vulnerability of US diplomatic missions to terrorist attacks in most countries around the world. Responsibility for this failure can be attributed to several Administrations and their agencies, including the Department of State, the National Security Council, and the Office of Management and Budget, as well as the US Congress.”

Following the release of the Crowe Report, there were changes in work place security including co-location of US agencies in the host country, additional funding for capital building programs, better crisis management and procedures including Crisis Management Exercise conducted regularly in our posts overseas.

The Crowe ARB in 1999 also recommended that the Department look specifically at reducing the number of diplomatic missions by establishing regional embassies located in less threatened and vulnerable countries with Ambassadors accredited to several governments. The State Department did exactly the opposite, of course, by opening missions not only in vulnerable countries but in the middle of war zones.

It is too early to tell how the Pickering ARB will impact the conduct of diplomacy abroad or the life of USG employees overseas.  We’re sure there will be changes, we just don’t know if there will be more fortresses in the future or less.






Mission Accomplished: Iraq gets a $52.1 billion surplus and all we got was a lousy $13.4 trillion debt

A new Government Accountability Office report says that its analysis of Iraqi government data showed that Iraq generated an estimated cumulative budget surplus of $52.1 billion through the end of 2009.

Since 2003, the United States has reported obligating $642 billion for U.S. military operations in Iraq and provided about $24 billion for training, equipment, and other services for Iraqi security forces.

GAO believes that Congress should consider Iraq’s available financial resources when reviewing the administration’s fiscal year 2011 budget request and any future funding requests for securing and stabilizing Iraq. Also, GAO recommends that the Departments of State and the Treasury work with the Iraqi government to further identify available resources.

There’s more:

According to State and DOD officials, the United States and Iraq have not yet defined their longer-term security relationship. However, the United States and Iraq signed two bilateral agreements in November 2008 that set the stage for Iraq to assume a greater role in providing for its own security and for cooperation between the two countries. The U.S.-Iraq Security Agreement requires the withdrawal of U.S. forces in Iraq by December 31, 2011, and governs their presence in the interim. Within the security agreement, the Iraqi government requests the temporary assistance of U.S. forces to support its efforts to maintain security and stability in Iraq.

According to DOD and State officials, the U.S. and Iraqi governments may amend the security agreement by mutual agreement. Such amendments could include an extension of the withdrawal timetable or an authorization of a residual U.S. force to continue training the Iraqi security forces after 2011.

Excuse me — I had to this  Smiley or I’d be weeping silly here.

Dan Froomkin from HuffPo adds some more details, in case, we suffer from short term memory:

The report makes a direct link between U.S. government spending — including $642 billion on U.S. military operations there and $24 billion for training and equipping the Iraqi security forces — and Iraq’s cumulative surplus of $52.1 billion through the end of 2009.
For comparison purposes, Iraq’s annual gross domestic product is $65.8 billion. Meanwhile, the U.S. national debt has soared from $6.4 trillion to $13.4 trillion since former president George W. Bush invaded Iraq and decided to borrow the money for wars and slash taxes.
Days after the invasion began, Bush-era deputy defense secretary Paul Wolfowitz famously told Congress that Iraq could “really finance its own reconstruction and relatively soon.”
The GAO now reports: “Iraq’s large oil reserves offer the government the potential to contribute to the country’s current and future security and stabilization requirements. Oil revenues account for over 50 percent of the country’s gross domestic product and about 90 percent of the government’s revenues.”

Meanwhile, Joseph E. Stiglitz, a Nobel Prize-winning professor at Columbia University, and Harvard public policy expert Linda J. Bilmes, estimate that the true cost of the Iraq war to American taxpayers is more than $3 trillion.

Active links added above. Continue reading Iraq Posting Massive Surplus Thanks To U.S. Taxpayers

In related news, McClatchy is reporting that “The Obama administration, which has asked Congress to approve $2 billion for training and equipping Iraqi military and police in the 2011 fiscal year, said carrying out the GAO recommendation could put Iraq at financial risk and jeopardize U.S. interests in a country where it’s spent, by the report’s calculation, $642 billion in military operations since 2003.”

Revisiting the Global Repositioning Dance er Program

You remember Condi Rice’s Global Repositioning Program? Of course, you do! Most especially if you were in the middle of language training and suddenly heard that you’ve been repositioned. Well, it wasn’t you, really. It wasn’t personal.  One day you were learning Dutch, the next thing you know that position in Brussels had been moved to Shanghai. What were they thinking? Heck if I know! I understand that you end up taking that GSO position in Country X?  Really, they did not speak Dutch there?  I also heard that you absolutely refused to talk about that “learning” experience? I’m really sorry it went down like that. Don’t you just hate it when you get a program with a nice name and no juice to fire up the truck? How do you get from point A to point B is beyond me.   
Anyway, I see that the OIG has posted some new reports online. I was actually looking at the compliance follow-up review of US Mission Brazil (not as riveting as the 2008 report, I tell you) when sitting under it is another report on the OIG inspection of US Embassy Brussels from 2009. I scrolled through the report and what do you know – the report actually talked aboutt the GRP (also known as the Foreign Service’s Half-Baked Fiasco)! Excerpt below:         
Officer losses due to the Global Repositioning Program (GRP) initiative hit the political and economic sections particularly hard and caused their consolidation. The new joint section is responding well to the ongoing integration process, but reporting has been reduced.
Embassy Brussels has been forced to reduce its work on economic and political issues since the 2004 inspection. The GRP, which shifted Foreign Service resources to posts in China, India, and elsewhere, eliminated two political and economic officer positions in Belgium. The downsizing no longer justified separate economic and political sections, each of which had been led by an FS-01 counselor. The Embassy combined the two sections under a single political-economic counselor at the FS-01 level in 2008 and eliminated the second FS-01 position.
In addition to the counselor, two political officers, an economic officer, and two LE staff members make up the political-economic section, augmented by frequent short-term interns. The Embassy has recommended in its MSP, the addition of a third LE position to help its efforts in furthering bilateral cooperation in counterterrorism and terrorist financing, and in fostering Belgian development assistance to Afghanistan and Africa. The OIG team sees merit in this request. Once an entry-level officer (ELO) position is restored to the section in the summer of 2009, it will return to roughly the right size. Another ELO is expected in the summer of 2010.
So – just to get this straight in my head – two political and economic officer positions in Belgium were repositioned a couple or so years back. One position was restored to Brussels in 2009. Another one will be restored in the summer of 2010. How many other posts out there that lost officers under the GRP have now regained those officer positions?    
I do wonder – what do you call this kind of fun exercise? There must be a word appropriate for such programs, they roll on, then they roll back (or roll of the cliff). Would “ro-ro” programs be acceptable?          
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US Foreign AID: Developmentally Disabled?

Kemater Alm (Austria) in September 2003. A cow...Image via Wikipedia

Remember Senator Leahy calling USAID “a check-writing agency” in Ken Dilanian’s article in USA TODAY? Well, here is Ken Silverstein, the Washington Editor for Harper’s Magazine in this month’s issue:

“Staff and budget cuts, which began in the 1980’s and accelerated under the Bush Administration, transformed USAID from an agency that ran its own development projects into a pass-through for taxpayer money to private companies and nonprofits, many of which seems to exist only to garner government contracts.”

Nothing more than a check-signing agency? A pass-through as in “transit”? Why not a water trough, given all the goats and cows that drink from it? duit

Ken Silverstein pens Developmentally Disabled: Why foreign aid to Afghanistan stays in America in the September issue of the magazine. It is a shocking catalog of what has been done in the name of development. And he’s only talking about Afghanistan, where $7.9 million billion has been allocated in the last 7 years and where he said “much of this money […] never made it to Afghanistan, largely because half of all USAID funds end up being spent on American companies.”

According to this piece, USAID hired a contractor in 2002 to conduct an assessment of Afghanistan’s infrastructure need, “essentially allowing the company to determine the need for projects on which it would later bid.” It seems that road building is a popular project in Afghanistan. Silverstein writes that 20% of USAID funding in the country is allocated to road building. So I went and look it up. Here is the lowdown: in FY2002 – FY2006 Obligations, roads accounted for 24% of the money in Afghanistan. But in FY2007 – FY2008, roads accounted for 30% of the total budget request – just $763 million and change. In fact, according to SIGAR’s report to Congress, USAID is overseeing the Ring Road project, which is working to rehabilitate the Afghan roadway system. When completed, approximately 60% of Afghans will live within 50 km of the Ring Road. As of September 2008, more than 1,650 miles of road had been constructed or rehabilitated with support from USAID.

Of course, no one expects USAID employees to actually do the building of roads; it’s not an inherent government function. So the professional road builders were called in, just like the school builders were called in, as well as experts in power, alternative agriculture, democracy, rule of law, etc. etc. etc.

This will make you cringe as a taxpayer; cover your eyes if you don’t want to get mad:

Some items Silverstein cited in this article would make any taxpayer cringe, understandably and may make you want to throw shoes at your computer monitor:

  • The Kandahar-Kabul-Heart highway was a project originally estimated at $155 million. By the time it was completed, a year later than contracted, it cost $730 million.
  • A nonprofit group contracted to build 60 schools and clinics completed nine and 19 months later, the company had “pulled all of its officials […] before USAID’s Office of Inspector General could audit the project.”
  • Silverstein calls “Technical Assistance” a code for “near-mandatory consulting programs.” USAID consultants can earn up to $1,000 a day, and the total annual cost of one contract employee can reach $500,000.
  • Tragicomic results: Silverstein says that experts sent did not bother to confer with counterparts on the ground. A company was contracted to rebuild Afghanistan’s agricultural economy including repair and upgrade of the irrigation canals in Helmand Province. Helmand, of course, is the world’s largest opium-producing region, responsible for 42% of the world’s total production. Silverstein concludes that “in effect, USAID helped finance a surge in the world’s heroin supply.”

The last item is too funny; if only it does not make me want to bang my head on my newly painted wall and scream waaa!

And that’s not even the best part – Silverstein writes that “Many firms responsible for the problems in Afghanistan continue to win contracts” and that one company is actually is hiring for the position of “chief of party” for an anticipated USAID project. No language proficiency in Dari or Pashto, or experience in the region needed. But apparently the company had the good sense to require fluency in English. {Oh, holy mother of goat and all her fancy nephews!}

Harper’s Online is only available to subscribers. You may read the issue highlights here (see page 2) or if you have a subscription to Harper’s you may access the full article here (see page 68).

As an aside – SIGAR told Congress in July it is examining how USAID provides oversight of contracts for Afghanistan reconstruction. Auditors are reviewing USAID’s current contract files as well as prior work done by the Government Accountability Office (GAO), the USAID Office of the Inspector General (USAID OIG), and the Commission on Wartime Contracting concerning USAID contract oversight and project requirement issues. Its auditors are also reviewing the contracts that U.S. agencies have with one of the companies mentioned in Silverstein’s report. The audit, which is assessing the agencies’ oversight of the contractor as well as contractor performance, is scheduled for completion during the third quarter of 2009.

Who has the cojones to clean this up?

I supposed if you follow the money, and you look under enough rocks you would eventually end up at the root cause of this problem. You might even be able to bring some of that money back and start reconstruction at home, you know. But I just don’t know who has the cojones to clean this up.

Secretary Clinton’s QDDR help do the job?

President Obama has recently signed Presidential Study Directive authorizing a U.S. government-wide review of global development policy. The review is co-chaired by National Security Advisor Gen. Jim Jones and the chairman of the National Economic Council Larry Summers according to this report. Review is not action, but it’s a good place to start providing that they allow themselves to look at the brutal facts, the numbers game and who’s feeding from this trough.


Updated: SIGAR info added.

State’s “T” Bureau: Where Restructuring Was “Easy” as Pie…

And Condi’s transformational diplomacy went kaplunk

Well, I guess the marching order was to “restructure” so they did. Nobody said it had to be coherent or needed an end state. “Just do it!” Like the ad campaign says. 400 employees were reportedly impacted – but heck — you don’t have to agree with it, just move wherever they want you to move your desk, right? There were complaints that staff decisions were politically motivated – aw — I mean, really!

is the 2005 on-the-record briefing on the Reorganization of the Bureaus to Better Address the Threat From Weapons and Mass Destruction and to Promote Democracy: “It had to be done right because it is absolutely essential, as part of what the Secretary calls transformational diplomacy, that we readjust the structure of the State Department bureaus in order to be able to best contribute to the national security agenda that has been set by the President.”

Sigh ;> A funny thing happened on the inkway to the history books.  The GAO
just came out with  its assessment of the restructuring of the Nonproliferation,
Arms Control, and Verification and Compliance bureaus in 2005.  Below is a
summary of its finding:

State cannot demonstrate that the 2005-2006 restructuring of its Nonproliferation, Arms Control, and Verification and Compliance bureaus achieved all of its objectives because it did not clearly define the objectives and lacked metrics to assess them. State’s objectives were to enable it to better focus on post -September 11 challenges; reduce bureaucratic inefficiencies and top-heavy management; and eliminate overlap. State sought to achieve its first objective by creating new offices and roles to address terrorism and counterproliferation issues.
To meet its second objective, State merged three bureaus having 30 offices and functions into two bureaus having 26 offices and functions and freed up staff slots for these new roles, but problems with workload mismatches persisted after the reorganization as State employees noted it left some offices overworked and some offices underworked. State cannot demonstrate that it met its third objective, reducing top-heavy management, as its goals were undefined. Although it reduced the number of senior executives from 27 to 20 and reduced office directorships, the overall number of higher-ranking employees increased from 91 to 100 and executive office staff increased from 44 to 50.
Moreover, concerns about mission overlap persist, in part because bureau roles remain undefined in the FAM. State’s reorganization addressed few of the key practices for organizational mergers and transformations that GAO developed in 2002. These practices are found to be at the center of successful mergers and transformations. As illustrated below, State generally addressed one key practice, partially addressed two, and did not address the remaining five. For example, State did not address establishing coherent mission and strategic goals because it did not define an end state with measurable goals, nor did it devise a means to gauge progress toward such goals or assess the results of actions taken. As a result, State lacks reasonable assurance that the reorganization achieved its objectives or that it can identify any lessons learned.

The GAO’s damning assessment of the reorganization process includes the following on State’s unsystematic approach and its contribution to staff and employee group concerns:

Instead of using the above [GAO identified] practices to plan, implement, and assess the results of the restructuring, State reorganized the bureaus unsystematically, contributing to staff and employee group criticisms of the process and suspicions that some staff decisions had been politically motivated. State officials told us that they spent most of their time in the months before September 2005 developing the organizational structure for the new bureau and little time planning to implement the reorganization. In the wake of the reorganization, some ISN staff stated they perceived morale within their bureau to be lower. According to State data, attrition rates rose to levels higher than the average for State’s civil service as a whole.
To implement the reorganization, the T human resource office furnished an informal implementation guide to the SMP at the panel’s request. This paper envisioned a reorganization directed by the Bureau of Human Resources and the T bureaus’ human resource office, while the SMP would serve as an advisory body that would recommend specific actions, such as decisions on acting directors, staffing levels, and other details for the new ISN offices. Instead, according to a senior T official, the SMP made its own implementing decisions and reduced HR’s and the T bureaus’ human resource office’s roles to ensuring that State followed all applicable legal and regulatory requirements.
State officials and employees expressed concerns about the SMP’s direction and conduct of the reorganization even before the panel made its first public announcement about the reorganization on September 28, 2005. While the Office of the Legal Advisor and HR stated that the SMP could direct the reorganization, some officials in HR and the T bureaus’ human resource office disagreed with this decision.38 According to T bureau officials, they were concerned that the panel’s members were not sufficiently knowledgeable about change and personnel management principles. On September 29, 2005—the day after the SMP sent out its summary of the reorganization procedures—a senior T bureaus’ official with human resource responsibilities sent an e-mail to the SMP stating that it was not following sound personnel management principles.39 The email also stated that the SMP had ignored or misinterpreted her office’s recommendations, advice, and suggestions to the extent that the office had been unable to contribute meaningfully to the reorganization process.
Some ISN employees and AFSA officials also criticized the SMP’s decisions after it publicly announced its reorganization procedures and named acting office directors in September 2005. Eleven ISN employees wrote a memorandum to the Undersecretary for Management and the Director General of the Foreign Service in October 2005, stating that morale was poor within the new ISN bureau. 40 Moreover, these employees stated that the SMP’s selections for acting office directors (which resulted in passing over several experienced officials for these positions) reinforced their doubts about the impartiality of the process, as did the lack of career officials or representatives from the T bureaus’ human resource office, HR, and the Office of the Legal Advisor. They also expressed concern about other aspects of the process, such as the requirement to express workforce preferences without first having concrete position and office mission descriptions, position grades, or the names of permanent office directors or deputies. The employees asked the Undersecretary for Management and the Director General of the Foreign Service to suspend the reorganization until a comprehensive staffing plan had been developed and add career civil service or FSOs and HR staff to the SMP, among other actions. AFSA expressed similar concerns in a November 2005 letter to the Secretary of State and noted that the reorganization could result in the potential downgrade or elimination of Foreign Service-designated positions. It also requested, among other things, that State form an independent panel to review all proposed reorganization decisions related to Equal Employment Opportunity concerns and allegations of prohibited personnel practices. In response to these concerns, State named a career official to the SMP, and included representatives of the HR bureau and the Office of the Legal Advisor in the SMP’s discussions, and agreed to have HR review the position descriptions of the acting office directors and prepare new position descriptions where necessary.
The lack of confidence in the reorganization may have adversely affected staff morale and may have contributed to increased ISN civil service attrition rates that immediately followed the reorganization, according to current and former State officials and documents. Twelve percent of ISN’s full-time civil service employees retired or otherwise left the bureau in fiscal 2006, the highest level for the bureau and its predecessors from fiscal year 2004 to fiscal year 2008. In contrast, State’s overall civil service attrition rate during the same period averaged about 8 percent.

Wouldn’t you want to know who former Secretary of State Rice appointed to that Senior Management Panel (SMP) tasked with restructuring these bureaus? I think the GAO should start naming names; it is, after all, an agency tasked with providing accountability reports.

Back in 2006, Dean Rust, a 35-year veteran of
Arms Control and Disarmament Agency and State (who was acting deputy director of the office that dealt with nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty and International Atomic Energy Agency matters) did write about this one in Reorganization Run Amok, a must read if you want an excellent background on this restructuring effort.

My jaded brain assumes that exceptionally talented individuals must now be sharing their restructuring and reorganization talents from some corner offices earning VPs or directorship salaries. Fabulous, really! And no consequences for the mess left behind.

Still, considering that Gonzo did manage to find a job after leaving a higgledy-piggledy DOJ, I am convinced now more than ever that if there is ever a place where second chances can be a lucrative gig (and it might as well be in the bill of rights) — that is the United States of America. [According to Texas Tech Provost Bob Smith, Gonzales’ $100,000 paycheck is on-par with the amount paid to other university employees who are high performers with significant experience or expertise. Someone with a national presence and a long list of accomplishments would be hired at the full professor level,” Smith said.]

This is when I get fire ants in my pants — because really — where else but in the USA can radioactive blokes “re-invent” themselves time after time, counting on the public’s short memory and apathy, and rise again to wreck havoc once every few years — all in the name of serving the public like you and me? PS: No offense to the real public servants who gets restructured and realigned and reinvented and rightsized under whatever ice cream flavor is hot.

Related Items:

  • GAO-09-738: STATE DEPARTMENT Key Transformation Practices Could Have Helped in Restructuring Arms Control and Nonproliferation Bureaus | July 2009 | PDF

  • On-the-Record Briefing: Reorganization of the Bureaus to Better Address the Threat from Weapons and Mass Destruction and to Promote Democracy | 2005 | PDF

ProPublica on The Foreign Service’s ‘Half-Baked’ Fiasco

Alexandra Andrews of ProPublica (January 13, 2009 4:20 pm EST) on The Foreign Service’s ‘Half-Baked’ Fiasco:

As Hillary Clinton inches closer [1] to a new role as secretary of state, she’s set to inherit a troubled Foreign Service program initiated by her predecessor. The current issue of Foreign Service Journal takes a look at the initiative, a key component of Sec. Condoleezza Rice’s Transformational Democracy initiative, and concludes that its track record falls somewhere short of transformational [2] (PDF).

The Global Repositioning Program, started in 2005, was devised in order to address the disparity between the Foreign Service’s presence in developed and developing nations: Before the program was initiated, there was one Foreign Service officer in Germany for every 200,000 people, compared with one for every 25 million in India, and every 40 million in China.

The program planned to transfer hundreds of Foreign Service jobs to emerging nations, mostly from positions in Washington, D.C., and Europe. Experts widely agree that a greater Foreign Service presence in emerging nations is crucial, but the State Department’s decision not to request additional funds to realize that goal was a “critical flaw,” reports the Journal.

Instead, a secretive group of ten senior staff members implemented a net-zero approach to repositioning existing resources: Eliminate a position here, create one there. But a simple-sounding process turned out to be anything but that. For one thing, the new positions were costlier, often requiring the elimination of two or three positions in the U.S. In addition, Foreign Service offices receiving new employees were given little warning or resources for extra office space, housing, vehicles, administration staff, etc. to support the new officer. Meanwhile, the offices losing staff saw no equivalent reduction in their workload.

Another key part of the plan – one-person posts in areas outside national capitals – hit a snag when they were designated as consulates, a term that carries a host of complicated legal issues. Only two of these positions have actually been put in place. A separate plan for virtual posts, monitored mainly through online communication, was dismissed by one officer as, “A joke. A Web site, nothing more.”

What the Journal describes as the “half-baked” program has sapped resources at a Foreign Service already hobbled by a cash crunch: The president of the American Foreign Service Association told Congress in July: “Unfunded mandates include 324 positions in Iraq, 150 in Afghanistan, 40 in the office to coordinate reconstruction efforts, [and] 100+ training positions to increase the number of Arabic speakers.” Contrast that with the $1 billion the U.S. has doled out for State Department security contractors [3] in Iraq.

It remains to be seen what the incoming secretary of state will do with the program, but its critics don’t expect it to last. They’ve called it “just the latest bumper sticker in a slogan-rich political environment, doomed to pass into oblivion once the administration ends.”

We’ll soon find out.

~ ~ ~

Here are some of my prior posts related to transformational diplomacy:

2009: Putting the Diplomacy House in Order

(Or Why Diplomacy Needs More Than a Penny)

The trials and tribulations of 2009 will be mainly on the home front. My Chinese crystal ball says that the new year of the Ox is a good time to settle domestic affairs and put our house in order. I think Ambassador Holmes’ piece in Foreign Affairs is a step in the right direction; can’t go forward unless we dare to look back.

In the January/February issue of Foreign Affairs, Ambassador
J. Anthony Holmes, the Cyrus Vance Fellow in Diplomatic Studies at the Council on Foreign Relations who was previously President of the American Foreign Service Association (AFSA) and U.S. Ambassador to Burkina Faso pens Where Are the Civilians? How to Rebuild the U.S. Foreign Service.

The title begs the follow up questions of “Who broke it?” And “Why was it broken?” Ambassador Holmes points out that DOD’s 2008 budget was over 24 times as large as the combined budgets of the State Department and USAID ($750 billion compared with $31 billion). And here is something that I did not know: The number of lawyers at the DOD is larger than the entire U.S. diplomatic corps.

Holy goat!

He catalogs “Condi’s False Hope” from transformational diplomacy to the creation and staffing of the Office of the Coordinator for Reconstruction and Stabilization which was created in 2004 and “had fewer than ten employees in mid-2008 to accomplish what Rice described as a vital component of her vision of a new diplomacy.”

He talks about “Green Zone Blues” and the politicization of the Foreign Service. Here’s the nugget that made me throw my new pair of Manolo Blahnik at my sullen, multi-system tee-vee:

In fact, the Bush administration had effectively engineered the dispute in an effort to publicly embarrass the diplomatic corps. By demanding that FSOs take on the unprecedented, open-ended, and fundamentally impossible challenge of nation building under fire without adequate training or funding, the White House was continuing a myopic tradition of shortchanging the civilian institutions of foreign policy while lavishing resources on the military. Furthermore, the Bush administration’s general efforts to stifle dissent and to reward those serving in Iraq with promotions and choice assignments has led to the unmistakable politicization of the Foreign Service.

Ah well, it’s not a pretty picture (unless you were politicized up) but deserves a good reading by FS professionals; most especially by the incoming administration who has the opportunity to apply the appropriate remedy not just Band-Aid solution to this problem. It’s the year of the Ox; it’s a good time to put this house in order.

Related Item:

Where Are the Civilians? How to Rebuild the U.S. Foreign Service
From Foreign Affairs, January/February 2009