Trump’s Pick For @StateDept Personnel Chief Gets the Ultimate “Stretch” Assignment

Posted: 12:01 am PT
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On October 10, President Trump announced his intent to nominate former FSO Stephen Akard to be the next Director General of the Foreign Service. This position is typically not just the Director General of the Foreign Service but also the head of Human Resources for the State Department (DGHR).

Stephen Akard of Indiana to be Director General of the Foreign Service, Department of State. Mr. Akard has served as a senior advisor in the Office of the Under Secretary for Economic Growth, U.S. Department of State since January, 2017. Previously, he was chief of staff, vice president and general counsel, and director of international development for the Indiana Economic Development Corporation from 2005 -2017. From 1997 to 2005, Mr. Akard was an officer in the foreign service at the Department of State, with assignments in India, Belgium, and as a special assistant in the Executive Secretariat. He earned his B.A., M.B.A., and J.D. degrees from Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis(IUPUI). While at the State Department, Mr. Akard received two Meritorious Honor awards. He also received a distinguished alumni award from IUPUI in 2000.

According to its website, “the Indiana Economic Development Corporation (IEDC) is the State of Indiana’s lead economic development agency. The IEDC was officially established in February 2005 to replace the former Department of Commerce. In order to respond quickly to the needs of businesses, the IEDC operates like a business. Led by Indiana Secretary of Commerce Jim Schellinger and IEDC President Elaine Bedel, the IEDC is organized as a public private partnership governed by a board of directors.” The IEDC Board of Directors is chaired by the Indiana Governor. Mr. Akard has previously traveled with then Governor Mike Pence in trade missions to: Japan, Germany, Israel, Japan, and China (not an exhaustive list).

The Kelley School of Business at Indiana University lists Mr. Akard as part of the Advisory Board and has additional details of his prior assignments in the State Department; it does not mention being “a special assistant in the Executive Secretariat” as the WH-released bio, but as “a special assistant to Secretary of State Colin Powell”:

Akard oversees Indiana’s overseas economic development offices and works to attract international investors to the state as vice president and general counsel for the Indiana Economic Development Corporation (IEDC). Previously, Akard served as a career foreign service officer with the U.S. Department of State, holding positions as a special assistant to Secretary of State Colin Powell; political officer at the U.S. Embassy in Brussels, Belgium; and as a consular officer at the U.S. Consulate General in Mumbai.

Mr. Akard’s name appears on congress.gov’s list of appointees as Consular Officers and Secretaries in the Diplomatic Service of the United States of America submitted in October 1997, and confirmed by Senate voice vote on March 6, 1998 (see PN793). He is also on a list of Foreign Service Officers of Class Four, Consular Officers confirmed by Senate voice vote on July 11, 2001 (see PN508). If there are other records, we have so far been unable to locate them.

The May 1998 issue of State Magazine also noted Mr. Akard’s pre-assignment training to Mumbai, India, as was the practice in those days, but that’s about it from State’s official rag.  Talented and up and coming FSOs typically do end up as special assistants to the secretary of state, the top ranks at the State Department or the Executive Secretariat; or it used to be that way, not sure if they’re asking for blood oath these days.  Secretary Powell left State in January 2005, and he was succeeded by Secretary Condi Rice in 2005. We have not been able to find a notice of Mr. Akard’s 2005 departure from the Foreign Service but it looks like he joined the Indiana Economic Development Corporation (IEDC) on the same year that he left the Foreign Service.  We understand that he left the Service because “he was offered a great job working for Indiana.”  Somebody who knew him way back when told us “he is a super nice guy.”

Mr. Akard would not be the first member of the Foreign Service to resign from the Service and return to Foggy Bottom under a new appointment. The most recent example is the current Assistant Secretary for Consular Affairs Carl Risch (see Ex-FSO Who Once Advocated Moving Visas to DHS May be the Next Asst Secretary For Consular Affairs).  Both the afsa.org tracker and history.state.gov lists Mr. Risch as a non-career appointee. If Mr. Risch who served approximately three years, and one overseas tour is considered a non-career appointee, would Mr. Akard who served eight years with two overseas, and department tours also be considered a non-career political appointee? More importantly, is Mr. Akard considered a former career member of the Foreign Service?

Below is the relevant part of Section 208 of the Foreign Service Act of 1980 (22 U.S.C. 3928) is amended to read as follows:

§3928. Director General of Foreign Service

The President shall appoint, by and with the advice and consent of the Senate, a Director General of the Foreign Service, who shall be a current or former career member of the Foreign Service. The Director General should assist the Secretary of State in the management of the Service and perform such functions as the Secretary of State may prescribe.

(Pub. L. 96–465, title I, §208, Oct. 17, 1980, 94 Stat. 2080Pub. L. 103–236, title I, §163, Apr. 30, 1994, 108 Stat. 411.)

Last month, the Academy of American Diplomacy wrote a letter (PDF) to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee that includes the following part that we thought curious at that time.:

We believe the key positions of the Under Secretary for Political Affairs, the Director General, and the Dean of the Foreign Service Institute should be career Foreign Service Officers. The Director General, a position established by the Act, should be appointed from those that have the senior experience and personal standing to guide the long-term future of the staff needed for effective diplomacy. We respectfully ask that Congress get clarification as to whether it is the Department’s intention to nominate an appropriately senior serving or retired Foreign Service Officer for the position of Director General.

So now we know why the group of former senior diplomats sought that clarification.

One source points out that a “career member of the Foreign Service” is anyone who has been appointed as such, meaning “any tenured Foreign Service member.” The source also said that Mr. Akard’s appointment “though troubling in that his FS experience is limited and he clearly chose not to make it his career – would not violate” the Foreign Service Act.

Another keen observer of the Foreign Service explains that the Foreign Service Act of 1980 says “current or former career member” but he/she is not aware that anyone has previously tried to define those terms. Does that mean any former tenured member of the service? Does that mean any current FS member regardless of rank? Does that mean any member of the FS who retired, resigned, or anyone who voluntarily left for other reasons? And if an appointee is considered a former career member, does that mean the appointment is subject to the reappointment regs under the Foreign Affairs Manual, and also subject to its limitations?

Folks we talked to notes that the Akard appointment, if confirmed by the Senate, would certainly end the interpretation and practice that the Director General position be a senior career Foreign Service Officer of distinction.  To be clear, the language of FSA of 1980 does not destinguish between foreign service officers and foreign service specialists or make any mention of ranks.  But the observer points out that the spirit of Section 208 suggests that the intent was that the Director General be a senior Foreign Service Officer, active or retired, but someone who served a full career, to enable him/her to “assist” the Secretary of State in the “management of the Service.” A full career typically would mean service of at least 20 years. This point appears to be true in tradition and practice when we look at the appointees to the DGHR position going back to 1946 — all are senior career FSOs with significant experience. Prior appointees to this position include Ambassador Nancy Jo Powell who was appointed four times as ambassador prior to her appointment as DGHR; Ambassador Anthony Cecil Eden Quainton was also a four-time ambassador and twice an assistant secretary; Ambassador Alfred Leroy Atherton Jr. was NEA Assistant Secretary and twice an ambassador; Ambassador Nathaniel Davis was three times an ambassador before becoming DGHR; Ambassador Waldemar John Gallman was ambassador to Poland, South Africa, and Iraq before becoming DGHR, and on and on.

One could argue that the career diplomats previously appointed as DHGR were primarily diplomats and not personnel/organizational development experts. But it does not appear that the current nominee has personnel or organizational development expertise either to compensate for the gaps in his diplomatic/organizational experience: a former FSO who previously worked one tour (normally two years for junior officers) as a political officer, and another tour as a consular officer, if confirmed by the U.S. Senate, will need to manage a 75,000 global workforce that is facing not only funding cuts, demoralization, but also organizational transformation.

To borrow the Foreign Service parlance, this is the ultimate “stretch” assignment but it is likely that this nomination will get confirmed by the Senate. While the Senate’s confirmation process has at times been described as a “knife fight”, no executive nominations have been returned to this President or disapproved by the Senate during the current Congress. Senator Corker still runs the SFRC, but despite the tit-for-tat on Twitter with POTUS, the confirmation process has been humming along. We’ll be in the lookout for Mr. Akard’s confirmation hearing.

A side note here — for the first time, the White House this year has reportedly refused to submit an FSO’s name recommended for promotion by the Promotion Board for Senate confirmation this year. We understand that this specific case is winding through the grievance process, but we suspect that it could also end up in litigation. That case could have repercussions for Foreign Service members whose promotions and appointments are subject to White House concurrence and Senate confirmation.

Below via history.state.gov:

Congress created the position of Director General of the Foreign Service in the Foreign Service Act of 1946 (P.L. 79-726; 60 Stat. 1000). Between 1946 and 1980, the Secretary of State designated the Directors General, who held rank equivalent to an Assistant Secretary of State. The Director General became a Presidential appointee, subject to the advice and consent of the Senate, under the Foreign Service Act of 1980 (Oct 17, 1980; P.L. 96-465; 94 Stat. 2071). Since Nov 23, 1975, under a Departmental administrative action, they have concurrently held the title of Director of the Bureau of Personnel.

 

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Senate Confirms Callista Gingrich as U.S. Ambassador to the Holy See

Posted: 1:53 am ET
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For a short while on Monday, Callista Gingrich was trending on Twitter. It turned out that the U.S. Senate finally voted on her nomination as U.S. Ambassador to the Vatican. She got the nod in a 70-23 vote. Was there ever any doubt that the U.S. Senate would not confirm the spouse of the former Speaker of the House?

Of course, Twitter blew up when news of her nomination came out, also when she was actually nominated, and when she had her confirmation hearing, and Monday was no different when the Senate finally confirmed her. Given the notoriety of these lovebirds, we suspect that news will follow wherever Ambassador Gingrich and Newt, her husband and former Speaker of the House go. Except now, the Klieg lights will be more intense as she speaks for the United States Government in the Holy See, and as Newt tags along.

Instead of a search result returning “spouse of a U.S. politician”, her Wikipedia page has been updated on the date of her Senate confirmation to indicate that she is the United States Ambassador to the Holy See (Designate), with taking office still marked “TBD.” We can totally understand a woman reinventing herself. She could have asked for any other job in this administration, but she picked a diplomatic post. From now on, she will be known as Ambassador Gingrich, and not just Newt’s third wife. 

Of course, her nomination will be accepted there. Diplomatic courtesy requires that before the United States appoints a new chief of diplomatic mission to represent it in another state, it must be first ascertained whether the proposed appointee –in this case, Mrs. Gingrich — is acceptable to the receiving state, the Holy See. The acquiescence of the Vatican is signified by its granting agrément to the appointment. Her nomination would not have been made public had the Vatican did not find her nomination acceptable. It is unusual for an agrément to be refused, but it occasionally happens, as in the case of the French Ambassador nominee who was reportedly rejected because he was gay.

YOU KNOW WHO ELSE IS BACK? The sharp tongued- Princess Sparkle Pony is on Twitter.

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Trump to Nominate Yleem D. S. Poblete to be Asst Secretary For Verification and Compliance

Posted: 3:14 am ET
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On October 10, President Trump announced his intent to nominate Yleem D. S. Poblete to be the next Assistant Secretary of State, Verification and Compliance. The office’s name is actually the Bureau of Arms Control, Verification and Compliance (AVC). If Arms Control was separated from AVC, the state.gov website does not reflect that as of this writing. The WH released the following brief bio:

Yleem D. S. Poblete of Virginia to be an Assistant Secretary of State, Verification and Compliance. Dr. Poblete is currently a senior advisor at the Department of State. She has also served more than two decades on the staff of the Committee on Foreign Affairs of the U.S. House of Representatives, including as its chief of staff and staff director – the first Hispanic female to serve in that post. Dr. Poblete is broadly knowledgeable regarding proliferation matters, the International Atomic Energy Agency, nuclear agreements, sanctions and export controls, security assistance and arms sales. During her service on the Foreign Affairs Committee, she was the principal staff member on initiatives to address threats posed by Iran, North Korea, and Syria. She has been a frequent guest lecturer at the National Intelligence University. She has also been the co-owner of Poblete Analysis Group, a fellow at The Catholic University of America, and a foreign policy analyst for United States Government projects at the Hudson Institute. Dr. Poblete earned a B.A. from Saint Thomas University, an M.A. magna cum laude from the University of Miami, and a Ph.D. from The Catholic University of America.

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Video of the Day: 69th Secretary of State Says, “I checked. I’m fully intact.”

Posted: 2:16 am ET
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Holy caramba!  The world is falling apart, and here is the 69th Secretary of State. We feel sorry for us and the historians at history.state.gov but this is a remarkable moment. How low have we fallen … uh, that’s not a question. He also talked about other stuff, but obviously, we can’t remember what he said, or even if we can remember what our top diplomat said … what the heeeey, it’s pretzel day, every day these days.

AND NOW THIS —

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Trump Nominates Career Diplomat Lisa A. Johnson to be U.S. Ambassador to Namibia

Posted: 2:16 am ET
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On October 5, President Trump announced his intent to nominate career diplomat Lisa A. Johnson to be the next U.S. Ambassador to Namibia. The WH released the following brief bio:

Lisa A. Johnson of Washington to be Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the United States of America to the Republic of Namibia.Ms. Johnson, a career member of the Senior Foreign Service, class of Counselor, has served as an American diplomat since 1992. She is currently Chargé d’ Affaires at U.S. Embassy Nassau. As a senior official at the State Department, National Security Council, and Vice President’s Office, Ms. Johnson demonstrated leadership of interagency teams, crisis management expertise, and a breadth of experience. She has served at six U.S. Missions overseas, including two in Africa. Ms. Johnson earned a M.S. from the National War College, a M.I.A. from Columbia University, and an A.B. from Stanford University. Her languages are French and Portuguese.

Career diplomat Lisa A. Johnson assumed office as Chargè d’Affaires at the US Embassy in Nassau  in July 2014 after the departure of career diplomat John W. Dinkelman who served as CDA from November 2011 until July 2014 following the departure of Ambassador Nicole Avant in 2011. In May this year, Trump nominated the first U.S. Ambassador for the Bahamas since 2011 (see Trump to Nominate San Diego Developer “Papa” Doug Manchester to be Ambassador to The Bahamas). The nomination has been cleared in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and currently pending in the Executive Calendar.

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U.S. Laughing Stock Gets a Trump Rally, Offsets National Debt

Posted: 2:50 am ET
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AND NOW THIS —

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SecState Who Was Called a Dog, Reportedly Called POTUS an “F-ing Moron” #RealLife

Posted: 4:10 am ET
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Less than 48 hours after Secretary Tillerson was called Donald Trump’s dog (see WaPo’s Dana Milbank Goes Scooby-Doo Slap-A-Lympics on Tillerson – Holy Bow Wow!), NBC News was out with a scoop where Secretary Tillerson was reported to have called POTUS a  “moron” this past summer (see Tillerson’s Fury at Trump Required an Intervention From Pence). So then Mr. Tillerson, fourth in line to the throne, excuse me, the presidency, came out to speak to his long lost friends in the media in Foggy Bottom.

He starts with expressing his commitment to the success of President Trump:

There were some news reports this morning that I want to address. First, my commitment to the success of our President and our country is as strong as it was the day I accepted his offer to serve as Secretary of State. President Trump’s “America first” agenda has given voice to millions who felt completely abandoned by the political status quo and who felt their interests came second to those of other countries. President Trump’s foreign policy goals break the mold of what people traditionally think is achievable on behalf of our country.

He spent a paragraph of his remarks addressing the “erroneous” reporting involving the VP though he did not talk about that Nikki Haley part of the report helpfully provided on the record by his comm advisor:

To address a few specifics that have been erroneously reported this morning, the Vice President has never had to persuade me to remain the Secretary of State because I have never considered leaving this post. I value the friendship and the counsel of the Vice President and I admire his leadership within President Trump’s administration to address the many important agendas of President Trump, both from a foreign policy perspective and a diplomatic – I’m sorry, a domestic objective.

This presser is clearly intended for an audience of one. His  speechwriters get points for calling POTUS “smart” and remembering to include the “America First” slogan:

Let me tell you what I’ve learned about this President, whom I did not know before taking this office. He loves his country. He puts Americans and America first. He’s smart. He demands results wherever he goes, and he holds those around him accountable for whether they’ve done the job he’s asked them to do. Accountability is one of the bedrock values the President and I share.

Oops … and this!

While I’m new to Washington, I have learned that there are some who try to sow dissension to advance their own agenda by tearing others apart in an effort to undermine President Trump’s own agenda. I do not and I will not operate that way, and the same applies to everyone on my team here at the State Department.

His full statement is here.

Congrats to Tillerson’s speechwriters. It worked!

Click here for the State Department spox Heather Nauert who officially denied from the podium that the Secretary of State called the President of the United States a “moron.”  For the record, the reporter  said “My source didn’t just say he called him a moron. He said he called him an f-ing moron.” 

We’d like to know what kind of talking points Public Affairs is sending out to the field so our diplomats overseas can respond to their host countries’ inquiries, and whether they’re allowed to wear brown paper bags over their heads.

One reporter asked during the Daily Press Briefing, “Tillerson’s own spokesperson came out and walked back information that he had given to that story that apparently wasn’t accurate. And he said that he spoke out of line about conversations that he was not privy to. So that seems to me that he contributed inaccurate information to that story. On another occasion he denied conversations had happened between the State Department and the White House that multiple sources told us did happen, including a White House source. So how can we believe what the State Department says did or did not happen when Tillerson’s own spokesperson seems to be putting information out there that is not necessarily accurate?”

The spox’s response: “Honesty, being forthright, integrity is something that the Secretary has spoken to often. That is a value that he holds very close and very dear.[…] My colleague issued some tweets in response to that. I think I certainly share his sentiment in that he regrets those. His statement say that he spoke out of line about conversations he wasn’t privy to.”

The reporter pursued the question: “But if he’s giving information to a reporter that is categorically false on what seems to be now two occasions, how does the Secretary feel about his own spokesperson?”

The spox’s response:  “I have not asked the Secretary that question.”

Um … “why not?”

AND NOW THIS —

We all know that this is not going to be the end of this exhausting drama. We’re just gonna stock on this shirt in our bunker so we’ll have a permanently screaming owl on our chest 24/7 from hereon (via Amazon Affiliate).

 

WaPo’s Dana Milbank Goes Scooby-Doo Slap-A-Lympics on Tillerson – Holy Bow Wow!

Posted: 3:41 am ET
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I know,  I know, the world is ending again this month, so what the heck, here is a cute one for all dog lovers and pals out there.

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What POTUS told “our wonderful Secretary of State” (and all) about Rocket Man

Posted: 12:12 am ET
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AND NOW THIS —

😭 😭 😭  😭 😭 😭  😭 😭 😭  😭 😭 😭  😭 😭 😭

VPOTUS Swears-In “Canadian Ambassador Craft” at the White House. No Kidding.

Posted: 2:06 am ET
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On September 26, Vice president Pence sworn-in Kelly Craft as the new U.S. Ambassador to Canada. The ceremony held at the Indian Treat Room was a well attended event with EPA’s Scott Pruitt, NORAD’s General Lori Robinson, and a huge contingent from Kentucky.

Over at whitehouse.gov, this is the headline:

Can somebody please tell the White House’s comm people that the U.S. Ambassador to Canada is not/not the “Canadian Ambassador”?

Any “Canadian Ambassador” is a Canadian who represents Canada.

In the United States, that is Canadian Ambassador David MacNaughton whose office is at 501 Pennsylvania Avenue, N.W., Washington, D.C., U.S.A., 20001.

To make this easier to remember, the “Canadian Ambassador’s” big boss is Canada’s “dreamboat” Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. Ambassador Craft’s big boss resides in the White House, but her immediate boss will be the WHA Assistant Secretary, unless they’ve demolished all the bureaucratic bridges as we knew them.

In related news, did you hear about the 220% duty slapped on Canadian company, Bombardier?  One reader sent us this note, “I do not understand how the Trump Administration could impose a significant tariff hike on Canadian company Bombardier one day before swearing in the new “Canadian (sic) Ambassador” at the White House.”

There’s nothing to understand. Fragmentation is now the rule not the exception.

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