New Sounding Board Topic: “Please don’t share the Sounding Board with Al Kamen.”

Posted: 2:53 am EDT
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We have it in good authority that there is now a hopeless new Sounding Board topic that says, “Please don’t share the Sounding Board with Al Kamen.”

C’mon, folks. Don’t do this. People should be able to talk freely about rodents and critters with whoever they want, even Al. Like  the song goes … ♫ let it go, let it go,  don’t hold back, it’s only about the damn rats ♬

Oh, but there’s something else, please cover your eyes if you don’t want to see this but … last year somebody unearthed a Mike Causey column from the Washington Post that talks about … you guess it, rats.  The Ghost of DC says this was published on October 7th, 1968.

1968! That was before all of you were born.

But there’s good news.  An average rat’s life span is 2-3 years. The bad news? Apparently, according to Discover Magazine, a female rat can mate as many as 500 times with various males during a six-hour period of receptivity—a state she experiences about 15 times per year. Thus a pair of brown rats can produce as many as 2,000 descendants in a year if left to breed unchecked.  See  20 Things You Didn’t Know About… Rats

Ugh! So, clearly, the old plan from 1968 still works: the rats must be stopped now before the Government gets bogged down in another unwanted ground war. Sign-up sheets over there.

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AFSA Threatens to Sue State Department Over Ambassadors Credentials, Again

Updated on March 6, 10:13 pm PST with the “demonstrated competence” requirement in the FS Act of 1980.

— Domani Spero

Via WaPo’s Al Kamen:

The State Department employees union is demanding that the department turn over key documents on three embattled ambassadorial nominees — and all pending Obama administration nominees, both career Foreign Service and non-career folks — by Thursday evening or face a prompt lawsuit for the materials.

The documents, called “certificates of demonstrated competence,” essentially explain the rationale for nominating  each individual. The 28-member governing board of the American Foreign Service Association (AFSA) voted unanimously to demand the documents.

AFSA had filed a Freedom of Information Act request for the documents in July, but it has not received them.
[…]
Although the board was very concerned about those particular three nominees, “We’re not going to be satisfied with one or two small victories,”AFSA president Robert Silverman said in an interview. “We want the system to be fixed, it’s broken.”

With the certificates in hand, the board, probably by telephone vote, is expected to deal with those three nominees. On the other hand, if AFSA needs to go to court for the documents, it may not get them before the full Senate votes on the nominations.

On AFSA’s Facebook page, the news has yet to generate a wave of response from its membership. Besides over a dozen likes and a few short “bravos,” a couple of concerns were also posted:

One wrote: “While I appreciate the broader issue, and think that it is nice that the press is focused on the service of career diplomats, I wonder how much efforts like this will go to alienate senior leadership in the Department and Administration who might later be called on to advocate for OCP or other issues of concern for the rank and file. I agree the Service would benefit if a few more Ambassadorships went to career diplomats, but I doubt that the senators who right now might applaud the sideshow generated by a lawsuit will feel similarly disposed when a Republican administration is making its appointments.”

Another comment: “While I am concerned about the quality of our Ambassadors I am even more concerned that AFSA has chosen this matter as the defining issue on which to expend its political capital.  I understand your explanation that no publicity is bad publicity but if the choice is to put our support behind an initiative that will benefit a very select few versus a different initiative that will benefit all, i.e. OCP, then I would rather we back the latter. My fellow proletarians may disagree but this seems to me a much wiser use of resources.”

In responding to one FB comment, Mr. Silverman, the AFSA president wrote in part:

“I want to assure you that we are working very closely on this Chief of Mission Guidelines initiative with the senior leadership at State, other Administration and SFRC. That has been the focus since the initiative’s genesis in August. Informally senior State leaders applaud and support this initiative. And we are collaborating closely with State on our single biggest ask of Congress: the third tranche of OCP. From my perspective as AFSA’s president, this collaboration has never been closer. The unprecedented media attention also strengthens AFSA’s voice in general. The goal is to have it help with OCP, and the most urgent issue in front of us – the Senate holds on 1,300 FS members awaiting tenure and promotion.”

Thursday night is reportedly the deadline.  It’ll be an interesting night, or maybe not.

If the State Department releases these “certificates of demonstrated competence” on “all pending Obama administration nominees,” it will, no doubt, be a media field day. We could be wrong, but we don’t think State will roll over a threat that easily.  If it does’t, AFSA will, of course, have to go to court. It won’t be for the first time.  Since we don’t have a drive-thru court, this will certainty take time winding through the federal district court. By the time a hearing is in sight or folks need to appear in court, the ambassadorial nominees potentially would already be confirmed and off to post.

We have not been able to find anything on these “certificates of demonstrated competence” — not in the FAM or anywhere else in state.gov.  Not even in history.state.gov but it is in the FS Act of 1980:(h/t to M!)

Section 304 (4)
(4) The President shall provide the Committee on Foreign Relations of the Senate, with each nomination for an appointment as a chief of mission, a report on the demonstrated competence of the nominee to perform the duties of the position in which he or she is to serve.

Also,  a little digging in ADST’s oral history project gave us an idea on what maybe in these “certificates.” Below is an excerpt from the ADST interview of Charles A. Schmitz who served in the State Department from 1964 to the early 1990’s. He worked in the Director General’s Office from 1976-1978 and served as AFSA Vice President in 1990 when the association took the State Department to court for these “certificates.” Excerpt below, read the full interview here (pdf).

The State Department, in a most conniving, almost criminal way, connived to keep from the public view the description of how bad a lot of these appointees were, in violation of the law. The law requires the State Department to issue a certificate of demonstrated competence for every ambassadorial appointee.
[…]
It is in the Foreign Service Act. It is much ignored, by the way. Pell required it to be written into the law, but then quit taking it seriously. Therefore, the certificate was produced in name only. It was not a certificate of competency at all. It was a brief, usually one page, description of what the person had done. A typical example was of the model…Mr. so-and-so has been a pillar of his community, a successful businessman in running his used car dealership and therefore would make an excellent ambassador of the United States to Spain. It was so bad that these things were not even carefully done. They had typos in them. In one case the last line naming the country was the wrong country.
[…]
Nobody noticed it because they classified it. There is a little operation in the State Department that produced these things. They were not really State Department people, they were White House people sent over to write these things. There were two of them. They then sent them as confidential documents to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. That is why we sued him. We said that you can not classify somebody’s resume. Under the National Security Act involving classification this is a violation of the act. We, of course, argued that point until we were blue in the face for months and months with the State Department in negotiations. They refused to move on it, so AFSA sued the Secretary of State in the Federal District Court. Before the matter came to hearing, the State Department compromised and provided AFSA all of the documents which it had withheld until that point. It undertook to provide us the documents as the law should require and denied having done anything wrong.
[…]
These things turned out to be laughable in practice. They were slipshod, superficially done, just marking the boxes So we had to expose that in some fashion. And that was important that it was exposed and ultimately, as I said before, what caused a certain amount of embarrassment. This didn’t defeat any of those nominees, but it may have had some effect on other potential appointees, or the nominators anyway who realized it wasn’t going to be just a free ride to nominate anybody as ambassador.

Remember Battlestar Galactica’s “All this has happened before, and all of it will happen again?”  

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37 Former Ambassadors Urge Appointment of a Career Diplomat to State Dept’s Public Diplomacy Bureau

A group of 51 retired senior foreign affairs professionals including 37 former ambassadors recently wrote a letter to the Secretary of State urging that  “a career foreign affairs professional be appointed as the next Under Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs.” Below is an excerpt from the letter.  The full text of the letter is at the end of this post:

A career foreign affairs professional, with years of overseas and Washington experience, is more likely to understand the larger world context and how public diplomacy can help achieve America’s policy goals.   
[…]
The President’s and your public engagements are among our country’s greatest diplomatic assets.  You have over a thousand skilled, culturally-aware, and language-trained public diplomacy officers ready to leverage advanced technology and person-to-person communications skills in order to change foreign outcomes in America’s favor.  All they need is truly professional, experienced leadership.

 

Tara Sonenshine, the incumbent of what is known as the “R” bureau  was appointed on April 5, 2012 and reported to be leaving post early this summer. This position was created on October 1, 1999 after the abolishment of the United States Information Agency. The Under Secretary oversees three bureaus at the Department of State: Educational and Cultural Affairs, Public Affairs, and International Information Programs.

Matt Armstrong’s Mountainrunner posted a backgrounder on this position: R we there yet? A look at the Under Secretary for Public Diplomacy (and Public Affairs) in January 2012.

No career diplomat has ever been appointed to this position (via history.state.gov):

  1. Evelyn Simonowitz Lieberman (1999-2001)
  2. Charlotte L. Beers (2001-2003)
  3. Margaret DeBardeleben Tutwiler (2003-2004)
  4. Karen P. Hughes (2005-2007)
  5. James K. Glassman (2008-2009)
  6. Judith A. McHale (2009-2011)
  7. Tara D. Sonenshine (2012-)

The ambassadors’ letter and the reportedly forthcoming “scathing” OIG report on the IIP Bureau might just be the nudge to move this bureau under a career professional. But that remains to be seen.

If you haven’t read that OIG report, that’s because it has apparently been floating around for months but has yet to be released to the public.  Somebody got tired of waiting, of course, and leaked a portion of it to WaPo’s Al Kamen:

“The unredacted version of a new IG report on the state of the Bureau of International Information Programs the modern successor to the USIA and a part of the underscretary’s portfolio, says that “leadership fostered an atmosphere of secrecy, suspicion and uncertainty” and where staff “describe the . . . atmosphere as toxic and leadership’s tolerance of dissenting views as non-existent.”

There’s a “pervasive perception of cronyism,” the 50-page draft report says, “aggravating the serious morale problem.” But before you think the place needs a good old-fashioned reorganization, staffers already talk about what the report calls “reorganization fatigue,” for the constant prior reorganizations.”

Below is the text of the letter sent to Secretary Kerry.  The signatories include John R. Beyrle, Director, U.S. Russia Foundation, and former Ambassador to Russia and Bulgaria; Barbara K. Bodine, former Ambassador to Yemen; Edward Brynn, former Ambassador to Burkina Faso and Ghana, and Acting Historian of the Department of State;  Brian Carlson, former Ambassador to Latvia and Public Affairs Officer (PAO) in Spain, Norway, and Bulgaria; John Campbell, Ambassador (Retired), Ralph Bunche Senior Fellow for Africa Policy Studies, Council on Foreign Relations; Walter L. Cutler, former Ambassador to Saudi Arabia, Tunisia, and Zaire; John Evans, former Ambassador to Armenia; Linda Jewell, former Ambassador to Ecuador;  Robert Finn, former Ambassador to Afghanistan and Tajikistan.

It also includes Richard LeBaron, former Ambassador to Kuwait and Founding Coordinator of the Center for Strategic Counterterrorism Communications and Thomas R. Pickering, former Ambassador to Nigeria, Jordan, El Salvador, Israel, the United Nations, India, and Russia, and Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs. Full text below:

We urge that a career foreign affairs professional be appointed as the next Under Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs.  Such an appointment would support your efforts fully to integrate public diplomacy into U.S. foreign affairs.

No career professional has served as Under Secretary for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs.  Coincidentally or not, today there is a wide consensus that U.S. perspectives are less well understood abroad, and people-to-people exchanges are less robust than they should be.  In today’s globalizing but still threatening world, and as our military forces abroad are drawn down, it is more important than ever that America strengthen its “soft power.”  For this, public diplomacy is an essential and powerful tool.

A career foreign affairs professional, with years of overseas and Washington experience, is more likely to understand the larger world context and how public diplomacy can help achieve America’s policy goals.  And it is challenging to direct and energize public diplomacy if the leadership  has brief tours or vacancies are lengthy.  Prior to the incumbent Under Secretary for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs, leaving after just over a year in office, the previous four served, on average, nearly two years.  By comparison, the previous four Under Secretaries for Political Affairs, all career professionals, served, on average, nearly three-and-one-half years.  The U.S. Advisory Commission on Public Diplomacy reports that the position of Under Secretary for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs has been vacant more than 30% of the time since it was created in 1999.  The position of Under Secretary for Political Affairs has been vacant only 5% of that time.

Studies by the Defense Science Board, RAND, and other independent groups have found that America’s engagement with foreign publics succeeds best when led by experienced officials having the authority to establish priorities, assign responsibilities, transfer funds, and concur in senior appointments.  Leaders must have direct access to you and the President on critical communication issues as policies are formulated and implemented.

When done well, public diplomacy works.  Large numbers of foreign heads of government, legislators, and social, economic, and political leaders — many of them America’s staunch allies and stalwart friends — have participated in U.S. public diplomacy programs.  The University of Southern California recently reported that of individuals exposed to U.S. public diplomacy, 79 percent have used what they learned to bring about positive change in their own communities by running for political office, organizing a civil society group, doing volunteer work, and starting a new business or other projects.  Fully 94 percent say the exposure has increased their understanding of U.S. foreign policy, and America’s people, society, and values.

The President’s and your public engagements are among our country’s greatest diplomatic assets.  You have over a thousand skilled, culturally-aware, and language-trained public diplomacy officers ready to leverage advanced technology and person-to-person communications skills in order to change foreign outcomes in America’s favor.  All they need is truly professional, experienced leadership.

End text/

 

We’ll see if anything happens.  In the meantime, we’re looking forward to reading that IG report.  We hope it comes out before the end of summer.

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Haiti Says G’bye to Ambassador Merten While AP Complains About the $1.8 Billion Reconstruction Promise

Last Friday, Ambassador Kenneth Merten concluded his assignment as U.S. Ambassador to Haiti. They must really like him over there. The Embassy had somebody sketched him and his family over in FB; rather cute.

Via US Embassy Haiti/FB

“Today, we bid adieu to Ambassador Kenneth Merten and his family after a three-year term as U.S. Ambassador to Haiti. With his deep knowledge of the country, Ambassador Merten has strengthened Haitian-American relations and led U.S. Government assistance to the Government and people of Haiti through the good times and the bad. He has worked to support the take-off of Haiti, pou ayiti ka dekole, strongly encouraging investments and job creation in the country, particularly with the construction of the Caracol Northern Industrial Park. We salute Ambassador Merten’s commitment and dedication to Haiti. Embassy Port-au-Prince wishes all the best to the Merten family and we look forward to the arrival of our next Ambassador.”

Last week, Haiti President Michel Martelly awarded the outgoing ambassador with the National Order of Honour and Merit. The award, with the grade of Grand Cross, was given to Ambassador Merten at a ceremony in Port-au-Prince’s National Palace.

You might remember that last year, Ambassador Merten was also the recipient of the 2011 Ryan C. Crocker Award for Outstanding Leadership in Expeditionary Diplomacy. “This award recognizes those U.S. diplomats who excel in the most challenging leadership positions overseas. The Selection Committee commended Ambassador Merten for his extraordinary leadership of the unprecedented U.S. government response to the 2010 Haiti earthquake, which involved over 22,000 US military in Haiti and thousands of civilian personnel from numerous U.S. government agencies. His capable leadership saved lives and embodies the highest virtues of public service and crisis management.”

Then less that 24 hours of his departure from Haiti, the Associated Press published a lengthy report complaining about the Haiti reconstruction (see US pledge to rebuild Haiti not being met).  What’s wrong with you, AP?

The Associated Press also says that “the fruits of an ambitious, $1.8 billion U.S. reconstruction promise are hard to find.”

Further it has some more troubling details:

  • On July 21, Less than 12 percent of the reconstruction money sent to Haiti after the earthquake has gone toward energy, shelter, ports or other infrastructure. At least a third, $329 million, went to projects that were awarded before the 2010 catastrophe and had little to do with the recovery — such as HIV/AIDS programs.
  • Half of the $1.8 billion the U.S. promised for rebuilding is still in the Treasury, its disbursement stymied by an understaffed U.S. Embassy in Port-au-Prince in the months after the quake and by a Haitian government that was barely functional for more than a year.

The AP report also cites major frustration for watchdogs of the U.S. effort for the lack of transparency over how the millions of dollars are being spent.

From interviews to records requests, efforts to track spending in Haiti by members of Congress, university researchers and news organizations have sometimes been met with resistance and even, in some cases, outright refusals.

Even when US contractors were willing to release the information on the Haiti reconstruction, apparently they become unreleasable because the information is considered “proprietary” by their funder. And who is the funder? USAID. To my last recollection, USAID is still run by the U.S. government, and funded by U.S. taxpayers.

For the AP to released this report on the 21st is just mean, that’s a weekend for goodness sake!

But you gotta do what you gotta do. Thomas C. Adams who serves as Haiti Special Coordinator at the U.S. Department of State, and Mark Feierstein who serves as Assistant Administrator for Latin America and the Caribbean at the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), probably did not get much sleep trying to make sure that their blog post on Haiti makes it to DipNote on the day the AP report came out; and it did.

On July 21, they jointly blogged about the Progress in Haiti.

And — poor guy, Ambassador Merten’s luggage was barely out of the Reagan National Airport when he had to pen an op-ed for the Miami Herald saying “I am proud that the work we have done, and continue to do, helps Haitians build a stronger foundation for a prosperous future.”

Also this:

As I leave Haiti, I am encouraged. Haiti has reported a 21-percent increase in foreign direct investment since 2010. In the north, I saw the completion of the first factory buildings and modern power plant at the Caracol Industrial Park. There is palpable enthusiasm in the community for the jobs this park will bring, adding more factories over the coming months and years. Anchored by a $78 million investment from Korean apparel manufacturer Sae-A Co., Ltd., the park has the potential to create more than 60,000 jobs.

[Potential rosy picture. 🙄 ].

Oh, wait, a blog friend pointed us to this piece in NYT –  is he touting the same Sae-A Trading, a South Korean clothing manufacturer and major supplier to American retailers like Walmart and Gap Inc.? The company that’s been called ““one of the major labor violators”?

[T]hanks to a deal that Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton helped broker, Sae-A looked forward to tax exemptions, duty-free access to the United States, abundant cheap labor, factory sheds, a power plant, a new port and an expatriate residence outfitted with special kimchi refrigerators.
[…]
The developers — the Haitian government, the State Department and the Inter-American Development Bank — chose Sae-A despite its troubled labor relations in Guatemala, where the company closed its flagship factory last year after threatening to move jobs out of the country during an acrimonious dispute with its union.

Before the Haiti deal was sealed, the A.F.L.-C.I.O. urged American and international officials to reconsider, given what it described in a detailed memo as Sae-A’s egregious antiunion repression, including “acts of violence and intimidation” in Guatemala, where Homero Fuentes, who monitors factories for American retailers, calls Sae-A “one of the major labor violators.”

Continue reading Earthquake Relief Where Haiti Wasn’t Broken.

You think Ambassador Merten deserves a double 🙄 here for touting that company in his op-ed and not mentioning the um, labor issue? Okay, here you go –

🙄

🙄

In related news, Al Kamen writes that Rajiv Chandrasekaran’s book, “Little America,” apparently “has sparked a scramble in the Kabul embassy compound to compile “success stories” for publication to counter the book’s analysis.”

SO LISTEN UP!

If you’re the smarty person who leaked that nugget to Al Kamen, they better not find out who you are; or you will be compiling “success stories” until 2024.

Domani Spero