Q&A on QDDR, Now Includes Officially Cleared State Department Answers

Posted: 12:47 am EDT
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On August 13, we posted this: Q&A With QDDR’s Tom Perriello, Wait, What’s That? Whyohwhyohwhy?. Last Friday, Kathryn Schalow, the new director of the QDDR office sent us the long-awaited answers to our questions with a brief note saying, “As the new director of the QDDR office, I am excited to carry on the work of this office and look forward to working with everyone –both inside and outside the government – who wants to help with the implementation of the review’s recommendations.”  

The answers are published below in full:

#1.  QDDR/CSO: The 2010 QDDR transformed the Office of the Coordinator for Reconstruction and Stabilization (S/CRS) into the Bureau of Conflict and Stabilization Operations (CSO) to enhance efforts to prevent conflict, violent extremism, and mass atrocities. The 2015 QDDR says that “Some progress has been made in this area.”  I understand that CSO no longer has any mission element about stabilization and stabilization operations. It also remains heavy with contractors.  One could argue that the current CSO is not what was envisioned in QDDR I, so why should it continue to exists if it only duplicates other functions in the government? Can you elaborate more on what is CSOs new role going forward, and what makes it unique and distinct from the Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs’ Middle East Partnership Initiative (MEPI) and USAID’s Office of Transition Initiatives?  

The Bureau of Conflict and Stabilization Operations is one of many offices in State/USAID working to prevent, respond to, and stabilize conflict and crisis.  CSO maintains the specific goal of stability in its mission statement.  The Bureau advises the Secretary, Regional Bureaus and Ambassadors on diplomatic action to address conflict and prevent mass atrocities, violent extremism and political violence.  Central elements of CSO’s mission were reinforced as top priorities for the Department and USAID in the 2015 QDDR, specifically the policy priority to prevent and mitigate conflict and violent extremism.  Many elements within the State Department and USAID also work to support the Administration’s policy on this topic, including the Bureau for Democracy, Conflict, and Humanitarian Assistance (DCHA) at USAID, and the Bureaus of Counterterrorism (CT) and CSO at the State Department, as well as Special Envoy and Coordinator for Strategic Counterterrorism Communications Rashad Hussain.

#2. Innovation and Risks: The QDDR talks about “promoting innovation.” Innovation typically requires risk. Somebody quoted you saying something like the gotcha attitude of press and Congress contributes to risk aversion from State and USAID. But risks and risk aversion also comes from within the system.  I would point out as example the Center for Strategic Counterterrorism Communications previously headed by Ambassador Alberto Fernandez, and its controversial campaign “Think Again Turn Away” which afforded the USG a new way to disrupt the enemy online. Ambassador Fernandez was recently replaced by a political appointee with minimal comparable experience.  It also looks like CSCC will be folded into a new entity. So how do you encourage State/USAID employees “to err on the side of engagement and experimentation, rather than risk avoidance” when there are clear bureaucratic casualties for taking on risks?

The Department encourages informed risk taking and innovation, and the QDDR reports on a number of State and USAID initiatives to facilitate innovation and creativity in solving complex problems.  In particular, the Department’s Innovation Roundtable, the Consular Affairs Bureau’s 1CA Office and Teamwork@State initiatives, Public Diplomacy and eDiplomacy Innovations Funds, and USAID’s Global Development Lab demonstrate a commitment to fostering creativity and experimentation.  The 2015 QDDR (p. 56) highlights outcomes from these initiatives such as efficiency improvements at U.S. Embassy Mexico City’s American Citizen Services Unit or the LAUNCH open innovation platform founded by NASA, NIKE, USAID and State that is accelerating the market adoption of sustainable technologies.

Ambassador Fernandez retired from the State Department last spring, and  Rashad Hussain was chosen as his successor.   He has brought to the position his strong academic and professional background in national security, diplomatic experience engaging Muslim-majority countries as Special Envoy to the OIC, and published writings and engagement over the past decade on a range of CVE issues. Under his leadership, the Center for Strategic Counterterrorism Communications (CSCC) remains an innovative organization that works to counter ISIL’s appeal, including by helping other countries and NGOs expand their anti-ISIL messaging capacity within their own societies.  The recently-opened Sawab Center in the United Arab Emirates is one example.   The CSCC also continues to challenge online extremism on a number of social media platforms in multiple languages.  The CSCC remains a stand-alone office reporting to the Under Secretary for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs, and has expanded to include a new counter-ISIL cell to the Center’s operation.  

#3. Engagement with American Public: The QDDR says:  “Make citizen engagement part of the job. Every Foreign Service employee in the Department and USAID will be required to spend time engaging directly with the American people.” Are you aware that there are over 500 blogs run by Foreign Service employees and family members that could potentially help with engagement with the American public? Isn’t it time for these blogs to be formally adopted so that they remain authentic voices of experience without their existence subjected to the good graces of their superiors here or there?

One of our goals is to expand our communication with fellow Americans so that they gain a better understanding of the Department’s and USAID’s work and how it affects them.  The Hometown Diplomats program, started in 2002, is the main way we conduct these dialogues with the American people.  More than 1200 Department employees – both Foreign and Civil Service – have met with high school and college students, social and professional organizations, and media in their hometowns.  So far in 2015 we have organized 56 Hometown Diplomat engagements.  The 2015 QDDR has a number of recommendations for boosting the Hometown Diplomats program, as well as creating new outreach initiatives.  For instance, technology and social media expand opportunities for employees at overseas posts and in Washington to engage the American people and help educate young Americans about global issues and how U.S. diplomacy and development improve Americans’ lives.  The Bureau of Public Affairs has already begun a program of virtual Hometown Diplomats speaking from post via videoconference to domestic audiences, and the preliminary feedback is positive.  This year we have held four virtual Hometown Diplomat events from overseas posts that reached almost 300 Americans.

The Department encourages employees, in both their official and personal capacities, to undertake activities, including public communications, devoted to increasing public study and understanding of the nation’s foreign relations.  The private blogs of employees can be an important contributor to this effort and they have a role in informing the public about the work and experiences of our officers and their families.  The private blogs and social media posts of employees that do not discuss official Departmental policy or actions do not need formal Department adoption (or review) to be part of the broader conversation about U.S. foreign policy.

#4. Eligible Family Members:  The State Department has talked about expanding opportunities for eligible family members for a long time now and I regret that I have not seen this promise go very far. There are a couple of things that could help eligible family members — 1) portability of security clearance, so that they need not have to wait for 6-12 months just to get clearances reinstated; and 2) internship to gain experience from functional bureaus or section overseas. Why are we not doing these?  And by the way, we’re now in the 21st century and FS spouses still do not have online access to State Department resources that assist them in researching assignments and bids overseas. Employees are already afforded remote access, why is that not possible for family members? Wouldn’t taking care of people start with affording family members access to information that would help them plan their lives every three years?

Work life balance and the wellbeing of our Foreign Service families is of paramount importance to the Department.   Programs such as the Expanded Professional Associates Program (EPAP) and the Global Employment Initiative are increasing the number of jobs for eligible family members and receive positive reviews from FSOs and family members.  The QDDR commits us to expanding these programs even further and making them easier to access through a single portal; creating a database to assist EFMs and employers to connect and take advantage of EFM Non-Competition Eligibility earned overseas; and identifying ways to address the challenges with security clearance.  This QDDR also commits State and USAID to “continue pursuing mechanisms to facilitate the security clearance process for EFMs so they can begin work at post without lengthy delays.”

The Department has two great sources of information to help employees and their families research post conditions, schools and employment opportunities – both are completely accessible to EFMs.  The Overseas Briefing Center manages an extensive comprehensive public website that provides information about preparing for life at overseas posts, the logistical requirements of moving, and much more.  EFMs are able to readily receive post-specific material electronically by sending a simple email request to the Overseas Briefing Center.  Overseas Briefing Center personnel also engage with EFMs by email, phone, and through social media to offer suggestions and guidance on obtaining resources and resolving questions related to relocating and living overseas.  Secondly, the public website of the Family Liaison Office provides extensive resources to help FS spouses interested in pursuing employment overseas – either within a US Embassy or Consulate or on the local economy.

The Department of State is committed to increasing the accessibility and usability of Department information for all Foreign Affairs agency employees and their families.  The Foreign Affairs Network 3.0 (FAN3), developed under the Department’s Bureau of Information Resource Management will allow eligible family members to access appropriate State systems using existing credentials.   This will greatly facilitate EFM access to Department networks.

#5. Foreign Assistance: One of the criticisms I’ve heard about QDDR is how it did not even address the reality that the United States has far too many foreign assistance programs — “an uncoordinated diaspora of offices and agencies scattered around the bureaucratic universe in D.C. from the Justice Department to the DoD to the Commerce Department to the Export-Import Bank to the Treasury Department and beyond, to the bewilderment of anyone the United States does business with overseas.” What do you say to that? 

The number and variety of assistance programs is actually a great strength.  The number of U.S. foreign assistance programs is large because there is a broad diversity in need, and specific departments and agencies are best placed to deliver the specialized assistance that is required.  For example, USAID is advancing a new model of development that combines local ownership, private investment, and multi-stakeholder partnerships to provide assistance that is coordinated with investments by national/regional/local governments, the private sector, and multilateral development banks.  These efforts complement, and are coordinated with, the assistance activities carried out by other U.S. government agencies, such as the Millennium Challenge Corporation, the Treasury Department, and the Overseas Private Investment Corporation.

Although interagency coordination can be complex and difficult, the 2015 QDDR builds on recommendations from the 2010 QDDR to improve coordination of assistance by creating Integrated Country Strategies (ICS) and making clear that at posts abroad the Ambassador has oversight over assistance efforts.  The ICS serves as an overarching strategy that encapsulates U.S. government policy priorities, objectives, and the means by which diplomatic engagement, foreign assistance, and other tools will be used to achieve them.  The development of the ICS involves all agencies in the country under Chief of Mission authority and, as such, incorporates a “whole of government” approach to guide U.S. government activities in each country.  The result improves coordination not just for foreign assistance programs, but for our entire overseas interagency presence (see p 61).

#6. Data Collection: Somebody called the second set of “three Ds” — data, diagnostics, and design as the “most revolutionary, disruptive element of QDDR II.” I can see development subjected to these three Ds, but how do you propose to do this with diplomacy where successful engagements are based on national interests and the human element and not necessarily data driven? Also data is only as good as its collector. How will data be collected?

One of the QDDR priorities is to ensure that Department and USAID employees have greater access to, and are better utilizing, the vast amounts of data and information available today.  We want diplomats in the field and in Washington to be better informed through a variety of internal and external data sources.  We want to better empower and prepare our employees by giving them new tools to better understand the issues they work on and to identify new opportunities for engagement.   In many instances our policy is data-driven and similarly, there is benefit to having diplomats who are data-informed.  For example, the U.S. Global AIDS Coordinator combines epidemiological evidence, expenditure data, and local information to determine where PEPFAR (President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief) resources can have the greatest impact.  More broadly, State and USAID are implementing the President’s Open Government Initiative through tools such as the Foreign Assistance Dashboard.

Data are collected from a variety of sources, including governments, international organizations, academia, NGOs and the private sector.  We want to lower barriers to information access, provide standardized platforms and better disseminate the data we have.  USAID’s Global Development Lab and the agency’s data policies including the Open Data Policy, the Department’s Enterprise Data Quality Initiative, global partnerships including GODAN, and community-engagement based programs such as MapGive have each demonstrated progress in increasing the accessibility and usability of high-quality data.  These efforts ensure that we have the infrastructure in place to leverage the information at hand.  The QDDR recommends bringing additional organizational support to efforts like these – as well as adding new programs to the mix.

#7. Institutional WeaknessesSome quarters look at the State Department and points at several institutional weaknesses today: 1) the predominance of domestic 9-5 HQ staff with little or no real field experience, foreign language and other cultural insight, and 2) the rampant politicization and bureaucratic layering by short term office holders with little or no knowledge of the State Department and less interest in its relevance as a national institution. How does the QDDR address these weaknesses? How does the QDDR propose to recreate a national diplomatic service based on a common core of shared capabilities and understanding of 21st century strategic geopolitical challenges and appropriate longer term responses? 

The Department and USAID’s greatest asset is human capital.  Our employees, whether Civil Service, Foreign Service, non-career appointees, or contractors, are the foundation upon which our institutions stand and the source of our achievements.

The QDDR endorses a common training core, called Diplomatic Mastery, for all incoming  Foreign Service generalists, starting from the orientation (“A-100”) course, and continuing in the first two tours, as an additional prerequisite for tenure (along with proficiency in a foreign language).  Diplomatic Mastery will include subject areas such as diplomatic history, negotiating skills, and building esprit de corps.  A new curriculum will also be made available to Foreign Service Specialists and Civil Service employees.  FSI has been developing in-depth, interactive modules to be used overseas for this and other training purposes.

In March 2014 Secretary Kerry introduced a new set of Leadership and Management Principles to serve as a standard for all Department employees (3 FAM 1214).  The QDDR complements and supports these principles by recommending strengthened mandatory leadership training, increasing accountability, as well as expanding long-term training opportunities and excursion tours at mid- and senior-levels of the Foreign and Civil Services.  These assignments outside the Department will increase expertise and experience through time at a university, in the private sector, at an NGO, or with other U.S. government agencies.   This will allow the Department and USAID to make their organizations more flexible and adaptive, with a more agile and mobile workforce.

#8: QDDR Operation: I remember that you sent out a solicitation of ideas and suggestions for QDDR II and I’m curious at the kind of response you got. Can you also elaborate the process of putting together QDDR II? Finally, the success of QDDR II will be on implementation. Who’s leading the effort and what role will you and the QDDR office have on that? Unless I’m mistaken, the QDDR implementers are also not career officials, what happens when they depart their positions? Who will shepherd these changes to their expected completion?

Secretary Kerry launched the second QDDR process in April 2014 and tasked us with creating a “blueprint for the next generation of American diplomacy.”  The report was co-chaired by the Deputy Secretary for Management and Resources, Heather Higginbottom, and USAID Acting Administrator Alfonso Lenhardt.  The impact of this QDDR will depend on its implementation and Deputy Secretary Higginbottom is overseeing implementation of the QDDR as a whole, with action on particular recommendations being driven by a range of senior leaders across the Department.  The QDDR office is currently staffed by a dedicated team of career FSOs and Civil Service employees, who are facilitating and monitoring the implementation of the report’s recommendations. Individuals throughout State and USAID – in dozens of bureaus and offices – are involved in the implementation.

Over the course of the year-long research and drafting process, we solicited ideas and suggestions through a variety of forums, and we were very pleased with the response and the interest that people took throughout the process.   For example, we conducted a QDDR Sounding Board Challenge, garnering 200 ideas and 1,900 votes from over 4,700 viewers, at all levels at the Department.  We also conducted meetings with stakeholders from throughout the Department and USAID, the interagency, Congress, and NGOs.  With this input and guidance from senior leaders at State and USAID, including an Executive Committee (listed at the back of the report), we determined the policy and operational priorities to highlight.  The Secretary also asked us to produce a report that was shorter and more tightly focused than the first QDDR, and we met that objective.

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We should note that Tom Perriello was appointed Special Representative for the Quadrennial Diplomacy and Development Review (QDDR) in February 2014, and was the original recipient of our questions. On July 6, 2015, he was appointed Special Envoy for the Great Lakes Region and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. He succeeds former Senator Russ Feingold in that position. No one has yet been announced as Special Representative for the QDDR as of this writing; the next report is not due for another four years.

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USAID “Poor” Morale Goes From 37% to 47%, Administrator Approval Rating Plummets From 78% to 58%

— Domani Spero
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The June 2014 Foreign Service Journal includes an item on the AFSA USAID survey.  The 23-question, electronic survey focused on concerns, commendations and assessments related to the USAID FSO experience in calendar year 2013.

The USAID VP writes that the survey results will be discussed with USAID Administrator Rajiv Shah and Special Representative for the Quadrennial Diplomacy and Development Review Tom Perriello to help in the formulation of USAID priorities.

Excerpt below:

Staff Morale 

The agency morale rating has dropped significantly. Thirty-seven percent of respondents rated agency morale “poor” in 2012; in 2013, 47 percent of respondents rated morale “poor.” The “good/fair” rating shows a corresponding drop, from 61 percent in 2012 to 51 percent for 2013.

A wide range of concerns were shared by respondents, such as: tension between more seasoned USAID employees and those who have entered within the last five years; an overburdened system with too many “initiatives;” lack of transparency and support from HR; and slow encroachment by State.

In a cross-comparison between questions on the new HR leadership and agency morale, a similarly high percentage of employees (61) rated the new HR leadership “poor” and also determined that morale had dropped.

USAID Administrator 

The “poor” rating for the Administrator (question 20) increased from 23 percent in 2012 to 41 percent in the 2013 survey. His overall approval rating (“fair, good, excellent”) for 2013 stands at 58 percent, also a significant drop from 2012 (78 percent). This decline is disturbing and will be pointed out to his office.

Many FSOs originally liked the new initiatives. However, the prevailing sentiment now is that they are too numerous to coordinate and accurately report on, and many do not come with funding. The comments also reflect a recurring theme that work outside of Africa appears to be a lower priority for the Administrator.

Working Conditions 

The survey indicates a significant perception that overall conditions at work are worsening (42 percent). This is not as bad as it was in 2011 (46 percent) or 2010 (55 percent); nevertheless, it is a setback since 2012, when only 36 percent thought conditions at work were deteriorating. Pay and bonus freezes, work space concerns due to consolidation and micromanagement of the field by Washington were some of the concerns highlighted this year, and are possible explanations for the increased rating.

AFSA reports that several important issues have been illuminated in this survey, including the following:

  • First is the tendency for more recent employees in the workforce to have different views than their colleagues from previous generations. The different characteristics of this new generation of workers are increasingly being discussed in the media. In terms of numbers, the millennials are the largest generation in American history and, with USAID’s recent mass hiring, the majority of our workforce now fall into this category.
  • A bonus of the Development Leadership Initiative program is that USAID has a unique opportunity to be a leader in this regard, simply by virtue of its large population of millennials. If we focus on their primary concerns—such as corporate culture, work-life balance, workplace flexibility, making a difference and being appreciated—we realize that they value the same things that are important to everyone!  The difference is that millennials are more likely to voice their thoughts and to change jobs if their needs are not fulfilled. How the agency handles this will determine whether USAID emerges as a government leader in such issues as work-life balance, as well as how it fares in employee retention.
  • After a brief upturn, morale has taken a slide back down. Comments suggest that this is related to various factors, including the sense of a disconnect with significant guidance related to HR processes, and a feeling that Washington does not understand the challenges that FSOs face daily.  Inequalities in benefits  between USAID and State further exacerbate the problem.

The AFSA USAID VP Sharon Wayne writes that “AFSA will continue to engage management on these issues. It is my hope that current leadership will choose to accept these results for what they are: valuable feedback on which to act to make this agency better.”

 

Related posts:

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How to Join the U.S. Diplomatic Service Without Taking the Foreign Service Exam

— Domani Spero
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Yup, it can be done, if you have some expertise lacking in the Foreign Service, say a nuclear physicist needed in Japan. Or  we imagine, if you’re a tattoo artist who can decipher ISIS tattoos, there maybe work for you (seriously, is there?).  It can also happen if you or your folks know the right people in WashDC.  Or technically, if you’re in the right spot at the right moment, and there is an “urgent need,” it just might be you.

The State Department has updated the categories of non-Foreign Service employees it is able to assign to diplomatic missions overseas this past spring, adding ” Urgent, Limited Need” as a seventh category to the list. Foreign Affairs Manual 3 FAM 2293 (pdf) spells out the rules for appointing not just Department Civil Service employees but also “other individuals” from outside the Foreign Service under a limited non-career appointment (LNA). This is how post may end up with a political ambassador’s chief of staff who has never worked in the Foreign Service, or a speechwriter who is not a Foreign Service officer. Or how posts overseas get their Security Protective Specialists (SPS) who are all hired under LNAs.

3 FAM 2293 TYPES OF LIMITED NONCAREER APPOINTMENTS UNDER SECTION 303 OF THE FOREIGN SERVICE ACT (CT:PER-726; 04-18-2014) (State Only) (Applies to Foreign Service and Civil Service employees)

a. Consistent with Section 502 of the Foreign Service Act (22 U.S.C. 3982), the Department’s goal is to ensure that positions designated as Foreign Service positions are filled by assignment of career and career-conditional members of the Foreign Service.

b. Pursuant to Sections 303 and 309 of the Foreign Service Act, the Department appoints Civil Service employees and other individuals from outside the Foreign Service to LNAs as:

(1) Hard-to-Fill (HTF) Candidates: Positions that have not attracted sufficient bidders through the Foreign Service assignments process and thus may be filled by Department Civil Service employees. The procedures and eligibility requirements applicable to HTF positions as well as the scope and frequency of available positions may vary from year to year. Each HTF program will be announced by an ALDAC after consultation with the Foreign Service’s exclusive representative;

(2) Expert Candidates: For these positions, bureaus are to request temporary FTE from the Office of Resource Management (HR/RMA) before presenting an Action Memorandum to the Director, HR/CDA. For example, expert LNAs include, but are not limited to, positions that cannot normally be filled with Foreign Service personnel, such as certain attorney positions at embassies and missions that are filled by lawyers from the Office of the Legal Adviser, and a nuclear physicist position that was temporarily required in Japan.

(3) Developmental Assignment Candidates: These assignments provide experience and exposure to Foreign Service operations for Civil Service personnel through two methods–bureau candidate only advertised positions, for example, A Bureau positions at ELSO and Overseas Development Program positions advertised via CS merit promotion announcements.

(4) Volunteer Cable Candidates: Volunteer cables are sent, as agreed annually with the exclusive representative in the Bidding Instructions, when there are no qualified bidders for a vacancy that has been advertised. The regional bureaus initiate the volunteer cable exercise as a request to HR/CDA to send such a cable based on Foreign Service need. If a Civil Service candidate is selected, the Director General must prepare a Certificate of Need in accordance with 3 FAM 2295 (see also 3 FAM Exhibit 2295 for an example of this certificate);

(5) Schedule C and Other Outside-Hire Candidates: These appointments include, but are not limited to, chief-of-mission office management specialists, eligible family members, and other outside hires;

(6) Exceptional Circumstance Candidates: The Department’s Director General of the Foreign Service and Director of Human Resources (Director General) may designate certain positions to be filled under an “exceptional circumstance” category (see 3 FAM 2294 below).

(7) Urgent, Limited Need: These limited non-career appointments support specific or exceptional mission-critical needs that existing Foreign Service personnel cannot meet. These needs are considered to be of limited duration, not justifying the creation of a new category of a career Foreign Service employee. HR/RMA will authorize the FTE for these positions. Every two years, the Director General or designee will review each category of LNA falling under this paragraph in consultation with the Foreign Service’s exclusive representative, to determine whether the specific need still exists and existing Foreign Service personnel cannot meet the need.

NOTE: The seven categories in 3 FAM 2293, subparagraphs b(1) through b(7), are the only categories by which a Civil Service employee or other individual from outside the Foreign Service may be appointed to the Foreign Service pursuant to an LNA under Section 303 of the Foreign Service Act. The Department’s procedures for appointing Civil Service employees and other individuals from outside the Foreign Service as LNAs outside these categories are subject to negotiations between the Department and the Foreign Service’s exclusive representative, prior to institution of further categories.

 

The regulations note that “In the event that no bids for exceptional circumstance positions are received from members of the Foreign Service after the positions have been advertised for the required 15 working days, or the Director General determines that the member(s) of the Foreign Service whose bid is (are) not suited to the assignment, the Department may select a Department Civil Service employee or other candidate for appointment to an LNA for assignment to this position, based on a Certificate of Need signed by the Director General in accordance with 3 FAM 2295.”

However, the FAM does not explain fully how the “Urgent, Limited Need” or ULN appointments will be handled. Will these positions be advertised or will it be as painless as the Director General (DGHR) designating the positions as ULNs?  The brief explanation under this category says that “These needs are considered to be of limited duration, not justifying the creation of a new category of a career Foreign Service employee.” And yet, it also says that the DGHR will review LNAs under this category every two years.  How many reviews will be required before a determination needs to be done to justify a regular position?  Will the DGHR similarly be required to issue a “Certificate of Need?” Currently, the FAM only says that a “Certificate of Need” is required when the Department fills a position with an exceptional circumstance candidate or fills a volunteer cable position with a Civil Service employee, but silent when the position is filled under the “Urgent, Limited Need” category.

Most important of all, who is tasked with making a determination that an Urgent, Limited Need exists — the 7th floor, the functional bureau, the regional bureau, post management, the ambassador, a special envoy, a special rep, any top gun in the alphabet soup?

Or would your fairy godfather works just as well?

We must note that according to the regs, LNAs are normally limited to the duration of the specific assignment for which the candidate is hired and normally may not exceed five years in duration. But — the DGHR may propose to extend the limited appointment beyond five years.  Similarly, only the DGHR is tasked with the issuance of a “Certificate of Need.” We are sure that DGHR has the statistics on how many LNAs have been hired under these seven different categories, or for that matter, how is it that two decades on, the temporary Hard-To-Fill category has now become part of normal staffing, but —  those numbers are not for public consumption.

We suspect that Schedule C hires, as well as candidates for Exceptional Circumstance and Urgent, Limited Need categories need not have to bother with usajobs.gov like regular people; that’s the job site for applicants who do not know anybody traveling on the special lanes. And really, if you have the right names on your digital Rolodex, this system works perfectly in your favor.  Ugh! Why bother filling out the KSAs (knowledge, skill, ability) when you can take the short cut.

These new changes bear paying attention to in light of news that a son of a Democratic donor, who was a former WH volunteer snared in the Cartagena Prostitution Scandal is now a full-time policy adviser in the Office on Global Women’s Issues for the U.S. State Department.

We can imagine a time in the future when Schedule C and other non-career appointees may proliferate at the Front Office level. It’s already happening at HQ level, how long before it starts showing up at missions X, Y and Z. Who’s going to say “no” if a political ambassador ask that his/her chief of staff or social media advisor, or speechwriter be designated as a Schedule C or an “Urgent, Limited Need” position?

For those not too familiar with staffing lingo, Schedule C positions are excepted from the competitive service because “they have policy-determining responsibilities or require the incumbent to serve in a confidential relationship to a key official.” According to OPM, appointments to Schedule C positions require advance approval from the White House Office of Presidential Personnel and OPM, but appointments may be made without competition. OPM does not review the qualifications of a Schedule C appointee — final authority on this matter rests with the appointing official.

Are we wrong to presume that final authority on the hiring of Urgent, Limited Need appointee also rests with the appointing official?

Now, we think this is a challenge for the Foreign Service — FS personnel is worldwide available, which means they can be sent anywhere in the world where they are needed. In practice, with the exception of the first two tours upon entering the Service, employees typically only go where they “bid” to go; they are not “directed” or “forced” to go anywhere they don’t want to go.  Even employees who pick assignments in the war zones are volunteers (or voluntold). Better to have volunteers than draftees.

But the world is changing right before our eyes, and the State Department’s personnel and org systems are not changing fast enough to adapt to the needs of our times.  We are convinced that ULN is not going to be the last category on the FAM list and that the State Department will continue to expand the categories of non-career personnel “joining” the Foreign Service under an excuse of not having enough qualified people to send there, wherever there may be. Whether that is actually true or not is hard to say.

For instance, Diplomatic Security’s High Threat directorate reportedly has gaps in its staffing. That’s totally expected given that assignments are dole out a year in advance. What about standing up a new office with the Global Coalition Against ISIL under General Allen?

Not long ago, we’ve heard that several rounds of directed assignments weren’t enough to fill all the vacancies on the S Detail.  Is that reflective of service discipline?  Perhaps. But if you have difficulty filling in the slots for the Secretary’s security detail, one has to start asking the hard questions. And ‘would these positions qualify for urgent, limited need category,’ should not be the main question. Go do a root cause exercise.

We’ve also heard that Office Management Specialists (OMS) has a high attrition rate and that a good number of Civil Service OMS are in the front offices at embassies overseas instead of FS OMS. But surely, you’ve all heard about the FS OMS complaints of lack of a career path?  Go do a root cause exercise.

If the QDDR should have some concrete utility this year, it ought to take a look foremost at the personnel systems of the State Department and how it can make the institution stronger and adapt to the needs of our times.  And perhaps the time has come to seriously look at a unitary personnel system that is agile, and flexible, if we want to see State as our lead foreign affairs agency in fact, not just in name.

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Congressional Research Service (CRS) Reports and Briefs — Published August 2014

— Domani Spero
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Note that some documents are web-accessible but most are in pdf formats.

-08/29/14   Latin America and the Caribbean: Key Issues for the 113th Congress  [598 Kb]
-08/29/14   Organization of American States: Background and Issues for Congress  [433 Kb]
-08/29/14   Special Immigrant Juveniles: In Brief  [317 Kb]
-08/29/14   Taiwan: Major U.S. Arms Sales Since 1990  [646 Kb]
-08/28/14   The “1033 Program,” Department of Defense Support to Law Enforcement  [234 Kb]
-08/28/14   The Islamic State in Syria and Iraq: A Possible Threat to Jordan? – CRS Insights  [84 Kb]
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State Dept Asks A Most Important Question: Folks, the Internet Answers Are Not/Not Pretty

— Domani Spero
[twitter-follow screen_name=’Diplopundit’ ]

 

Last week, the official blog of the State Department posted the following on QDDR 2014:

The Quadrennial Diplomacy and Development Review (QDDR), initiated by Secretary Clinton, is an opportunity for State and USAID to look forward a generation at threats and opportunities, and ensure our capabilities, structures, and allocations of resources and personnel are maximizing our ability to advance.

Secretary Kerry has asked for the 2014 QDDR, the second iteration of this strategic review, to “be a blueprint for America’s success in this new world,” and “a product that guides a modern State Department and USAID and empowers our frontline diplomats and development professionals [to] get the job done.” As part of a process of continuous improvement, this QDDR will identify emerging policy and management priorities and the organizational capabilities needed to maximize the impact and efficiency of America’s diplomatic and development efforts.

At the request of Secretary Kerry, Special Representative Thomas Perriello joined the Department in February to conduct the 2014 QDDR and oversee its implementation. He is a former Member of Congress from Virginia who has worked extensively on transitional justice and conflict prevention overseas.  Deputy Secretary Heather Higginbottom and Administrator Raj Shah serve as co-chairs to foster a participatory process that engages State and USAID personnel, Congress, interagency partners, thought leaders, non-governmental organizations, the business community and the American public.

The State Department also posted the following video on the blog and in YouTube. Interested individuals are invited to send their ideas to QDDRideas@state.gov:

 

The State Department  then tweeted about it, and asked the Twitterverse about what it must think is a most important question.

 

The U.S. not only must right the world’s wrong, it must now also work on “improving the world?”

Oops! The AP’s Matt Lee tweeted what we were thinking.

 

A lucky thing the blog post and video went online on a holiday weekend. That said, the Internet, nonetheless, responded.  We’re sorry to report that the answers are not/not pretty. Below are the tamer selection:

 

 

 

 

Ouch!  This 21st Century public square is pretty wild. You never know who’s going to show up or what you’re gonna hear or who are going for the slug feast.  But a serious question; for purposes of the upcoming QDDR, how is this really helpful?

The current QDDR office is staffed with one special rep, Mr. Perriello, one deputy director, a staff assistant, two senior advisors and three policy analysts. This is the group tasked with engaging with State and USAID personnel, Congress, interagency partners, thought leaders, non-governmental organizations, and the business community. In addition, the same group presumably will have to comb through the submitted ideas the State Department is soliciting through QDDRideas@state.gov from the American public.  We’d like to see how much of the publicly generated ideas would make it to the QDDR 2014 report and how “a better job” would actually be measured.

We have to admit that our jaded slip maybe showing here but how come we feel as if this has a campaign flavor of sort? We’re almost afraid they’re going to ask us for $25 for a chance to have coffee with Mr. Perriello.  Sorry, that’s just us, sweet ones. If you’ve got ideas, they want it need it at QDDRideas@state.gov.

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