American Academy of Diplomacy Opposes Nomination of Stephen Akard as @StateDept Personnel Chief

Posted: 2:10 am ET
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In a letter to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee (SFRC) Chairman Bob Corker and Ranking Member Ben Cardin, released publicly on October 30, the American Academy of Diplomacy (AAD) requests that the senators oppose the nomination of Stephen Akard to be Director General of the Foreign Service:

The American Academy of Diplomacy requests that you oppose the nomination of Stephen Akard to serve as Director General of the Foreign Service and Director of Human Resources at the State Department. We have concluded that voicing our concerns with Mr. Akard’s nomination is required if the Academy is to meet its most important mission: to promote and protect America’s interests in a dangerous world by supporting an effective American diplomacy based on a strong Foreign Service and a strong Civil Service.

It looks like the AAD requested to meet with the nominee but had not been successful. The letter authored by former senior diplomats Ambassadors Tom Pickering and Ronald Neumann on behalf of the group says about Mr. Akard, “We hold no personal animus toward him.”  But added that ” … we have concluded that Mr. Akard lacks the necessary professional background to be the Director General of the Foreign Service and Director of Human Resources at the State Department. His confirmation would be contrary to Congress’s long standing intent and desire to create a professional American diplomatic service based on merit.

The letter further adds: “While Mr. Akard is technically eligible for the position, to confirm someone who had less than a decade in the Foreign Service would be like making a former Army Captain the Chief of Staff of the Army, the equivalent of a four-star general.”

The full letter is available to read here (pdf).

We’ve previously blogged about the Akard appointment on October 17 (see Trump’s Pick For @StateDept Personnel Chief Gets the Ultimate “Stretch” Assignment).

With the exception of noting this nomination on Twitter, and separately urging FS members “to embrace their roles as stewards of the institution”, we have not seen any public position on this nomination by the American Foreign Service Association (AFSA), the professional association and labor union of the Foreign Service since 1924.

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House Foreign Affairs Committee Holds Hearing on @StateDept ReDesign With Tillerson Oops, Sullivan

Posted: 2:24 am ET
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On Tuesday, September 26, the House Foreign Affairs Committee is holding a hearing on the State Department’s redesign efforts. You’d think that the chief sponsor of this entire endeavor, Secretary Tillerson would be at the hearing to answer questions from congressional representatives. But it looks like Mr. Tillerson is meeting the Holy See Secretary for Relations with States Paul Gallagher at the Department of State at 10:25 a.m.. That leaves his Deputy John  Sullivan as “it” for the hot seat instead.

Chairman Royce on the hearing: “This hearing is the latest in our ongoing oversight of the State Department’s vital work. It will allow members to raise important questions about the State Department’s redesign plan, and help inform the committee’s efforts to authorize State Department functions.”

The American Academy of Diplomacy previously wrote to Secretary Tillerson requesting that the reorganization plan be made public and was refused (see Former Senior Diplomats Urge Tillerson to Make Public @StateDept’s Reorganization Plan).  The group has now written a new letter addressed to the House Foreign Affairs Committee expressing its support for the “sensible streamlining and the elimination of offices and positions in order to promote effective diplomacy.” It also tells HFAC that it believes that “the Administration should reconsider the decision to declare its plan for reorganization “pre-decisional.” The Congress should ask that the plans to date and those to be considered be made available for public comment.” More:

The Academy believes certain principles should guide the reorganization.
–Change only those things which will strengthen U.S. diplomacy.
–People are more important than programs. Programs can be rebuild quickly. Getting a senior Foreign Service takes 5 to 20 years.
–As a rule, front-line personnel should be increased, although there are Embassies where there are more people, including those from other agencies, than U.S. interests require

It points out that the Foreign Service has a built-in RIF in its system:

The Foreign Service, as up-or-out service, loses about 300 – 400 FSOs and Specialists each year by selection out for low ranking, expiration of time in class, failure to pass over a promotion threshold or reaching the mandatory retirement age of 65. Only Foreign Service personnel are subject to world-wide availability. With their experience, capabilities and languages, they can be sent anywhere, anytime to meet America’s foreign policy objectives. Over the last 12 years the largest personnel increases have been the additions of Civil Service personnel in State’s Regional and, particularly, Functional Bureaus.

And there is this interesting request for clarity on potential appointees; are there talks that DGHR would be filled by a political appointee?

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.

The group also writes that it “encourage the Congress to press hard for clarity about the objectives of this reorganization process: is the goal increasing effectiveness or rationalizing budget decisions?”

Read the letter below or click here (PDF).

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Former Senior Diplomats Urge Tillerson to Make Public @StateDept’s Reorganization Plan

Posted: 2:14 pm PT
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On September 18, the American Academy of Diplomacy released a letter from Ambassadors Thomas Pickering and Ronald Neumann asking that Secretary Tillerson make to the State Department’s reorganization plan public.  Below is the text of the letter, the full letter is posted at www.academyofdiplomacy.org.

We understand that the State Department reorganization plan forwarded to OMB has been deemed “pre-decisional” and will therefore not be made public.

On behalf of the Board of the American Academy of Diplomacy, a non-partisan and non-governmental organization comprising senior former career and non-career diplomatic practitioners, we ask that you reconsider this decision and make your recommendations available for public comment.  The Academy, whose only interest is in strengthening American diplomacy, is already on record supporting many needed changes in the State Department’s structure and staffing.  Indeed, we would hope to make the Academy’s extensive experience available and relevant to any conversations about the future of the Department so that we might be able to support the outcome of this process, just as we supported your decision on reducing special envoys.  We cannot do so if your vision and plans remain publicly unavailable.

As the recent report prepared by your consultants very properly highlighted, the Civil Service and Foreign Service employees who work for you are patriotic, dedicated, public servants.  Many have gone in harm’s way and more will do so.  For nearly eight months these employees, and many of their families, have lived in a state of suspended animation, not knowing how reorganization will affect their lives and careers.  In light of their sacrifices for our Country, it strikes us as unfair to ask them to remain in this limbo for additional months while the Administration considers in private your recommendations for change.

Keeping your decisions from public view will only fuel the suspicion and low morale which now affects so many in the Department.  We ask that you be transparent with those most affected by your efforts to build efficiency and expertise.  Not doing so prejudices their future support.  Your leadership and America’s diplomacy would be better served by allowing public comment.  It is on that basis that we respectfully ask that you reconsider this decision.

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Related to this, Politico reported last week that “as part of his plan to restructure the State Department, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson is pledging not to concentrate more power in his own hands — for now.” See Tillerson vows State Dept. redesign won’t concentrate power in his hands. Click here or image below to see the State Department-USAID Redesign Overview Capitol Hill Brief via Politico’s Nahal Toosi. Note the slide titled “What Redesign is Not.” There is no intention at this time to dismantle State or USAID at this time. Whewww! That’s a relief, hey?

Click on image to view the document.

Click on image to view the document: Redesign Overview Capitol Hill Brief, September 2017 via Politico

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Former Top Diplomats Make a Case For Sensible Funding of the State Department Budget

Posted: 2:21 am ET
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In light of the Trump Administration’s proposed FY18 budget, the American Academy of Diplomacy and the Council of American Ambassadors wrote a joint letter to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Kentucky) to make a case for sensible State Department funding in the federal budget.  The letter was signed by Ambassador Thomas R. Pickering, AAD Chairman; Ambassador Ronald E. Neumann, AAD President; Ambassador Bruce S. Gelb, CAA Chairman; and Ambassador William J. vanden Heuvel CAA Chairman Emeritus. We understand that identical letters were also sent to Senators Cardin, Corker, Graham, Leahy and Schumer in the Senate, and Representatives Engel, Lowey, McCarthy, Pelosi, Rogers, and Royce in the House.

Sept 14, 2012: Thousands of protestors attacked the U.S. Embassy in Khartoum, Sudan, setting fire to the Consular Section entrance, and causing extensive damage. (Source: U.S. State Department/DS)

Below is the text of the letter AAD/CAA sent to the Hill:

On behalf of the American Academy of Diplomacy (AAD) and the Council of American Ambassadors (CAA), we believe the proposed magnitude of the cuts to the State Department budget pose serious risks to American security. After the military defeat of the Islamic State, intensive diplomatic efforts in Iraq and Syria will be essential to stabilization, without which the radical movements that we now contest will reappear. Afghanistan requires the same attention.

As a general principle, diplomacy is far less costly than war to achieve our national purposes. Diplomacy is most often the first line of America’s defense. When the Islamic State suddenly appeared in Mali, it was our Embassy that was able to recommend action based on knowing the difference between terrorists and local political actors who needed support. When Ebola in West Africa threatened a worldwide pandemic, it was our Foreign Service that remained in place to establish the bases for and support the multi-agency health efforts deployed to stop the disease outbreak. It is to our embassies that American citizens turn for security and evacuation abroad.

Our embassies’ commercial work supports US companies and citizen entrepreneurs in selling abroad. This creates thousands of American jobs. Every dollar spent on this work returns hundreds in sales. Peacekeeping and political missions are mandated by the Security Council where our veto power can ensure when, where, how many, and what kind of peacekeepers used in a mission support US interests. Peacekeeping forces are deployed in fragile, sometimes prolonged, circumstances, where the US would not want to use US forces. UN organized troops cost the US taxpayer only about one-eighth the cost of sending US troops. Our contributions to refugees and development are critical to avoid humanitarian crises from spiraling into conflicts that would draw in the United States and promote violent extremism. Budget cuts of the amounts contemplated endanger basic US security interests.

US public diplomacy fights radicalism. Educational exchanges over the years have enabled hundreds of thousands of foreign students truly to understand Americans and American culture. This is far more effective in countering radical propaganda than social media. The American Immigration Law Foundation estimates that 46 current and 165 former heads of government are US graduates.

These few examples should show why so many American military leaders are deeply opposed to the current budget proposals. They recognize that when diplomacy is not permitted to do its job the chances of Americans dying in war increase. When the number of employees in military commissaries or military bands exceeds the number of US diplomats, the current budget proposal is indeed not a cost-effective way to protect America and its interests.

The Academy, representing the most experienced and distinguished former American diplomats, both career and non-career, and the Council have never opposed all cuts to the State Department budget. The Academy’s detailed study American Diplomacy at Risk (2015) proposed many reductions. We believe streamlining is possible, and we can make proposals to that end. However, the current budget proposals will damage American national security and should be rejected.

The original letter is here: Letter re Proposed DOS Budget Cuts – Senator McConnell.

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Related posts:

 

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Top Diplomats Oppose Lateral Entry Program to the MidLevels in the Foreign Service

Posted: 1:28 am ET
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Last month,  the American Academy of Diplomacy (AAD) sent a letter to SFRC Chairman Bob Corker (R-Tenn) to register its strong opposition to the provision in the draft FY 2017 State Department Authorization Bill (Section 207) mandating a program for lateral entry into the Foreign Service at the middle and higher ranks. Below is an excerpt:

— The provision will damage American security interests by undermining the professional nature of the U.S. Foreign Service. Professionalism is as necessary for diplomacy as for the military.

— The provision will subject the Foreign Service to unprecedented politicization to the detriment of our nation’s security.

— At a time when we ask Foreign Services Officers to risk life and limb in assignments from Afghanistan to Africa, the provision would allow entry into the Service at ranks equivalent to Major, Lt. Colonel and Colonel without earning that distinction by actual service and without accumulating the experience to support their status.
[….]
The Academy’s mission is to promote a strong American diplomacy, which today is needed more than ever to support and protect America’s interests. Our most recent report, American Diplomacy at Risk, called for an effective American diplomacy based on a strong State Department founded on strong Foreign and Civil Services. We called for robust funding of diplomacy and we highlighted the need to enhance a professional Foreign Service, not diminish it as this proposed provision will do. The need for a professional Service has been affirmed repeatedly in legislation for nearly 100 years. It will be even more needed in the global world of tomorrow.

The letter signed by AAD Chairman Thomas Pickering, Vice Chairman Marc Grossman, and President Ronald Neumann, was also sent to Senators Cardin and McCain and Representatives Engel and Royce.

The Academy of American Diplomacy founded in 1983 is a non-profit organization whose active membership is limited to men and women who have held positions of high responsibility in crafting and implementing American foreign policy. Last year, it issued the report, American Diplomacy at Risk available to read here (PDF).

Read the letter in full below:

 

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American Diplomacy at Risk: Increased Politicization of the State Department — That Ain’t Funny Any-Moooo!

Posted: 2:12 am EDT
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The American Academy of Diplomacy (www.academyofdiplomacy.org) recently released its report called “American Diplomacy at Risk,” that highlights serious problems and call for important changes in the way the State Department manages American diplomacy. The report notes that there are too many short-term political appointees too deep in the system. For example, eight of the 10 most senior foreign policy officials at State are non-career. The use of Special Representatives, Envoys, and Advisors has also skyrocketed; there are now 57 of these single-issue “tsars” that directly reports to the Secretary (also see  While You Were Sleeping, the State Dept’s Specials in This “Bureau” Proliferated Like Mushroom).

There is an increasingly politicized appointment and policy process in the State Department, resulting in a steady decrease in the use of diplomacy professionals with current field experience and long-term perspective in making and implementing policy. This is reversing a century-long effort to create a merit-based system that valued high professionalism. It is both ironic and tragic that the US is now moving away from the principles of a career professional Foreign Service based on “admission through impartial and rigorous examination” (as stated in the Act), promotion on merit, and advice to the political level based on extensive experience, much of it overseas, as well as impartial judgment at a time when we need it most.
[…]
The president and the Secretary of State should systematically include career diplomats in the most senior of State’s leadership positions because they provide a perspective gained through years of experience and diplomatic practice, thus assuring the best available advice and support.

We make a number of specific recommendations in the full report to recognize the importance and value of the contributions made by Foreign Service professionals. Details and rationales are in the report. Of these, the most important include:

• Ensuring that a senior FSO occupies one of the two deputy secretary positions, the undersecretary for political affairs and the director of the Foreign Service Institute (FSI);

• Changing the Deputy Secretary’s committee inside State that recommends ambassadorial nominations to the Secretary (the “D” committee) to include a majority of active duty or recently retired FSOs;

• Obeying the law (the Act) on ambassadorial nominations as “normally from the career Foreign Service” and “without regard to political campaign contributions,” thereby limiting the number of non-career appointees to no more than 10 percent;

• Restoring the stature of the Director General (DG) of the Foreign Service and Director of Human Resources (HR), by appointing highly respected senior officers to these positions, reflecting the intent of the law and their importance in managing the personnel system of the Foreign and Civil Service;

• Limiting the number of non-career staff in bureau front offices and limiting the size of special envoy staffs while blending them into normal bureau operations, unless special circumstances dictate otherwise.

SPOT AN FSO

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodríguez, flanked by their respective advisers, sit together on April 9, 2015, in Panama City, Panama, during a bilateral meeting - the first between officials at their level since 1958 - on the sidelines of the Summit of the Americas. [State Department photo/ Public Domain

CUBA: U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodríguez, flanked by their respective advisers, sit together on April 9, 2015, in Panama City, Panama, during a bilateral meeting – the first between officials at their level since 1958 – on the sidelines of the Summit of the Americas. [State Department photo/ Public Domain

16393128143_d7efaf5a49_z

IRAN:  U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, U.S. Under Secretary for Political Affairs Wendy Sherman, and senior advisers watch President Barack Obama hold a news conference from the Rose Garden at the White House backstage at the École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne before he addressed reporters in Switzerland on April 2, 2015. [State Department photo/ Public Domain]

The AAD report looks in two directions. “One is at the politicization of the policy and appointment process and management’s effort to nullify the law—the Foreign Service Act of 1980 (“the Act”)— both of which reduce the role of a professional Foreign Service. We strongly believe this weakens the nation and the State Department and must be reversed and resisted.  A second focus is on key improvements for both the Civil and Foreign Service to strengthen professional education and the formation and quality of these careers.”

The report also makes two central recommendations:

1. The Secretary and the State Department should continue to press the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) and Congress for resources—positions, people and the funds needed to support them—to restore to American diplomacy the ability to play its critical role in the country’s national security.

2. The Department must define the respective and distinctive roles of the Foreign Service and Civil Services to clarify their complementary functions, in accordance with legislative language.

The rest of the recommendations are summarized under five headings: reversing the politicization of the policy process; ending efforts to nullify the Foreign Service Act of 1980; improving personnel development and education; meeting the challenges of the Civil Service; and optimizing workforce development.

Click here to view the abridged report.

Click here to view the full report.

For a consolidated list of recommendations, click here.

A side note, there wasn’t a lot of coverage when this report was publicly released on April 1, 2015.  WaPo’s Joe Davidson did write about it in Foreign Service officers fear State Dept. wants to define them away. The comments section over in WaPo will give you an idea about the perception of the American public, and will, undoubtedly make FS members frustrated or even upset. But no matter how mad you may get, if you must respond online, we caution for a tempered response like one made by retired FSO James Schumaker. And do please stay away from “Did you pass the FSO exam?,” as a response; that will not win friends nor influence people.

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Academy of Diplomacy’s Pickering and Neumann Warns Secretary Kerry About Risk Avoidance At All Cost

— Domani Spero
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The American Academy of Diplomacy’s chairman, Ambassador  Thomas Pickering and its president, Ambassador Ronald Neuman wrote a letter last week to Secretary Kerry urging his “support to get America’s diplomats into the field and back into contact with local societies.” The group is concerned that the demand that civilian officers operate “at or near zero risk” undermines the effectiveness of American diplomacy and America’s national security interests.

Excerpt below:

As terrorist attacks have grown, security restrictions have become more intense. This has been necessary but is now too dominant in decision making. Many of us have run critical threat posts. We have no illusions about the need to calculate and mitigate risk. But ultimately we must all judge the relative risks of any action against its benefits to the national interest. What we see happening in far too many places are decisions reflecting Washington guidance to avoid risk at all cost. This approach is spreading from critical threat posts to other less threatened posts and personnel, creating a chilling effect for our diplomats attempting to carry out their missions through travel and contacts across a wider range of security environments.

The demand that civilian officers operate at or near zero risk undermines the effectiveness of American diplomacy and, by extension, America’s national security interests. Engaging with the local population and its leaders is crucial to the knowledge essential to sound policy. Failure to do so adequately is a short-term loss for the conduct of diplomacy and a long-term loss for policy formulation. We support the view taken by senior Department officials who have acknowledged the need for accepting prudent risk in the conduct of diplomacy. However, we believe that your own leadership must be engaged to reinforce these statements and the concrete actions need to convey to the field some acceptance of measured risk taking.

The Academy urge more training on risk management not just for officers but also for Chiefs of Mission:

Foreign Service Officers accept worldwide assignment and that includes a measure of risk; that idea needs reinforcement. More tradecraft training for officers borrowing from the best the US government has to offer may be useful. Greater education in risk management certainly is needed for Chiefs of Mission who must be empowered to make critical decisions. Chiefs of Mission are already charged with securing their staffs but need much more training in how to make security judgments. More resources need to be devoted to all these areas. Security officers need to believe that their task is to enable mission performance as safely as possible but not to avoid all risk.

The group believes that “a focused conversation with Congress is required to gain acceptance for the realities of the decisions needed” and tells Secretary Kerry that it is prepared to help in a dialogue with Congress but needs a “specific direction” from the secretary of state for current practices to change.

The American Academy of Diplomacy is currently working on a major study of what is needed to improve the professionalism of American diplomacy and the capacity of Foreign Service Officers.

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Former AFSA Presidents to SFRC: Delay Approval for FSO Dana Smith as Qatar Ambassador

— Domani Spero
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Eleven former presidents of the American Foreign Service Association (AFSA), the professional association of the United States Foreign Service have written to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee (SFRC) requesting that the Committee postpone consideration of FSO Dana Shell Smith’s nomination as ambassador to Qatar until the Foreign Service Grievance Board (FSGB) has made a decision in the case related to Ms. Smith and another senior FSO, Susan Johnson.  Ms. Johnson, the immediate former president of AFSA served two terms from 2009-2013.

The letter says that the former AFSA presidents, which includes seven former ambassadors, “firmly believe that Ms. Smith  has not demonstrated the judgment or temperament to shoulder the responsibilities of Chief of Mission.” 

Ouchy!

It adds that “Ms. Smith’s actions are central to a formal Grievance brought against the Department of State by Ms. Susan R. Johnson, also a Senior Foreign Service Officer and President of AFSA at the time she co-authored an op-ed that stimulated negative Department reaction.

image via cspan

Excerpt from the letter:

 Ms. Smith and Ms. Valerie C. Fowler, then Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary and Deputy Assistant Secretary respectively, misusing their official positions and authority over senior assignments and career advancement in order to convey personal views, authored a factually incorrect letter-petition sent through State Department e mail to other FSOs in senior positions, publicly attacking Ms. Johnson on an ad hominem basis for the op-ed she co-authored about the declining role of the Foreign Service.

Senior levels of the Department declined to acknowledge the behavior of Ms. Smith and Ms. Fowler as improper, unprofessional and unprecedented.    Instead the Department condoned the impropriety and compounded the Grievance by nominating one of authors of the ad hominem letter to the senior Foreign Service promotion board which reviewed and did not recommend Ms. Johnson for promotion.   This nomination, the letter-petition and the Department’s inaction may have tainted the board and denied Ms. Johnson a fair promotion review.  Individually and collectively, these actions send a chilling message that speaking out about or questioning personnel policies that lead to the weakening of the Foreign Service as a professional cadre may put careers at risk.

Valerie C. Fowler named above is now the Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary for Public Affairs in the R Bureau. PDASes do not need Senate confirmations. As an aside, have you noticed that the R Bureau now has 15 senior officials, all non-career appointees except for five FSOs?

According to her LinkedIn profile, Ms. Johnson is currently a senior fellow at the Academy of American Diplomacy where she is working on the latest AAD study-report on strengthening Foreign Service professionalism. The April 2013 op-ed referred to in the letter to the Senate is online at WaPo (see “Presidents are breaking the U.S. Foreign Service).” That op-ed piece was authored by Ms. Johnson who was then AFSA president, Ronald E. Neumann, a former U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan and president of the American Academy of Diplomacy, and  Thomas R. Pickering, a former undersecretary of state, and chairman of the AAD board.

The Senate letter was from the following former AFSA presidents: Ambassador Thomas Boyatt, Ambassador William Harrop, Ambassador Alphonse La Porta, Ambassador Theodore Eliot, Ambassador Dennis Hays,  Ambassador J. Anthony Holmes, Ambassador John Limbert, and senior  FSOs F. Allen “Tex” Harris, Theodore Wilkinson, Marshall Adair, and Kenneth Bleakley. Their letter specifically requests that consideration be postponed “until the Foreign Service Grievance Board has made a decision in the case and forwarded the file to the Committee.”

WaPo’s Federal Eye has additional details of this “family” feud:

State did not permit interviews with Smith and Fowler. Doug Frantz,  an assistant secretary of state, said the letter asking the committee to delay action on Smith “contained errors.”  He noted that Johnson’s grievance “was filed subsequent to Ms. Smith’s nomination.” He added that Johnson could have requested Fowler’s recusal from the board, but did not.

Though the letter from Smith, Fowler and the others to Johnson was sent by government e-mail, Frantz said it “was intended to be a private communication from AFSA members to the head of their association.” It’s not private now.

We should note that Douglas Frantz was appointed Assistant Secretary for the Bureau of Public Affairs in 2013. Prior to Ms. Smith’s nomination as ambassador to Qatar, she was Mr. Frantz’s top deputy as Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of State in the Bureau of Public Affairs (2011-2014).

Also, the average time for consideration of a Foreign Service grievance from time of  filing to a Board decision was 41 weeks in 2011 and 33 weeks in 2012.

This could take a whole tour …

Or … maybe not.

Today, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee (SFRC) cleared Ms. Smith’s nomination for the Senate’s full vote.  Unless a Senate hold suddenly materialize, we anticipate that this nominee and a whole slew of ambassadorial nominees will be confirmed as Congress runs off to its summer vacation in August.

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 2014 Call for Entries: Books of Distinction Award on the Practice of American Diplomacy

— Domani Spero
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Passing this along via the American Academy of Diplomacy — calling for entries to the 2014 Douglas Dillon Award for Books of Distinction on the Practice of American Diplomacy:

Since 1995, the American Academy of Diplomacy has celebrated distinguished writing about US diplomatic efforts and achievements with an annual award. Last year the prize went to John Taliaferro’s biography of Secretary of State John Hay, All the Great Prizes, published by Simon & Schuster.

The deadline for submission of nominations for this year’s award is Friday, August 15, 2014. A committee of Academy members will review nominated books and determine the winner, with concurrence by the Academy’s Board of Directors. The award for the winning entry this year includes a cash prize of $5,000. The awards are customarily presented at the Academy’s Annual Awards Luncheon ceremony in the Benjamin Franklin Room at the US Department of State in the late fall.

Eligibility Requirements

Eligibility is limited to books written by American citizens and published in the United States within the period of September 1, 2013 to August 15, 2014. The Academy seeks to honor books, and their authors, dealing with the practice of American diplomacy with emphasis on the way US foreign policy is developed and carried out, rather than international theory, studies of broad foreign policy issues, or analyses of intelligence and security operations. Biographies, autobiographies, and personal memoirs that relate to diplomatic practice and process are welcome. Both official diplomatic relations between governments and non-official “Track Two” and other activities that supplement government-to-government diplomacy fall within the scope of this competition. We are particularly interested in books that focus on the opportunities diplomacy offers as well as its limitations.

Publishers should submit five (5) review copies to the following address:

American Academy of Diplomacy
Attn: Aimee Stoltz
1200 18th Street, NW Suite 902
Washington, D.C. 20036
Telephone: 202-331-3721
Email: astoltz@academyofdiplomacy.org

 

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Don’t name your sibling charge d’affaires and other zero warranty advice for the road

— By Domani Spero

Late last Friday, the WH released the names of individuals who President Obama intends to nominate as ambassadors to a few cushy appointments in Belgium, Australia, Chile and some not so cushy ones like Cote d’Ivoire, Lebanon, the Lao Republic and others. A week previously, President Obama also announced his nominees for our posts in Spain, Germany, and Denmark.

There’s just enough time for the Senate to hold confirmation hearings before it goes on a summer break. No Paris, London, Tokyo, Luxembourg yet, but they sure will come before much longer.

It  is funny-ha-ha to see the elephant crowd deride the Obama appointments of “bundlers” to ambassadorial posts. We should recall that not too long ago, the donkey crowd also once derided the Bush ambassadorial appointments of “pioneers,” “rangers,” and “super rangers” after two prior elections.

Screen Shot 2013-06-22

Click image to go to AFSA’s Ambassador List

Meanwhile, the American Foreign Service Association (AFSA) continues to appeal for a bipartisan commitment to a more professional, better trained and better resourced diplomatic service. It also argues that “the appointment of non-career individuals, however accomplished in their own field, to lead America’s important diplomatic missions abroad should be exceptional and circumscribed, not the routine practice it has become over the last three decades.”

Not bad arguments, of course, except that they’re talking to the wall.

The notion that this practice of appointing mega donors as ambassadors is going to end soon or later (when there’s a new administration) is rather absurd.  The reality is both political parties have an interest in perpetuating this practice. So the people who can put a stop to it, will not stop it.

The American Foreign Service Association statistics on ambassadorial appointments indicate that Presidents Carter and Clinton appointed 26.73% and 27.82% political ambassadors respectively, the lowest in the group.  President Carter has the most number of career appointees at 73.27%.  President Ford who was only in office from August 1974-January 1977 topped the appointment of political ambassadors at 38.2%.  President Bush (41), President Bush (43) and President Obama all have political ambassadorial appointees hovering slightly above the 30 percent mark.  (The AFSA stats did not include a tally of President Reagan’s appointments as of this writing).

It must be said that both parties are equal opportunist during elections.  And the results when it comes to ambassadorial appointments following every election reflect that.

Nixon. Remember former President Nixon’s grand jury testimony unsealed in 2011 where he talked about  the selling of ambassadorships? (see Nixon’s 1975 Grand Jury Testimony: No selling of ambassadorships, but gave a price tag of $250K in 1971).

“I would say, looking at the smaller countries like Luxembourg, that Pearl Mesta wasn’t sent to Luxembourg because she had big bosoms. Pearl Mesta went to Luxembourg because she made a good contribution. But may I say she was a very good ambassador in Luxembourg. And when you talk about selling ambassadorships, I don’t want the record of this Grand Jury 11 even to indicate that people of wealth, because they do make contributions, therefore should be barred from being ambassadors.

The record should clearly indicate that certainly no commitment, no sale of ambassadorships should be made, but, on the other hand, the fact that an individual has proved himself on the American scene, has proved himself by legitimately building a great fortune, rather than being a disqualifier is a factor that can be considered and should be considered in determining whether he should get a position.”

In the face of this long and persistent tradition, we think that an outside group such as, perhaps the American Academy of Diplomacy or a similar entity should consider rating ambassadorial nominees as “well qualified,” “qualified” or “not qualified” before they are confirmed. This is what the American Bar Association has done in over five decades when it comes to judicial nominees and it has shown some influence in the Senate confirmation process.  It will not stop presidents from nominating top donors to plum ambassadorships, but perhaps it will encourage more scrupulous care on the vetting of nominees at the WH and at the Senate during their confirmation hearings.

In the absence of that, political ambassadors ought to follow a few straight-forward rules when going overseas — provided unsolicited below with zero warranty, of course:   (Also see WhirledView: A Primer for first-time U.S. political appointee ambassadors)

1.  First, do no harm.

The governing rule of diplomats, like that of doctors, must be ‘first, do no harm’.  When you get into a tough situation, and you will, whatever you do, do not make it worse.  If your post is working well, be a good steward of the mission. If it’s working badly, try your darnest to make it better.  If you don’t like your DCM, think hard before you kick him/her out and ask for a replacement. And whatever you do, do not/do not ask for a replacement DCM every six months; it won’t end well. (See Which Ambassador is planning to unload his/her DCM shortly and other curtailment news).


2.  Try not to be too memorable that you live on in embassy and host country lore.

Retired FSO George West recalls that “President Truman, in his infinite wisdom and on the advice of his wife, sent Perle Mesta to Luxembourg.”  She was known as “The Hostess with the Mostest” and the inspiration of the Irving Berlin musical ‘Call Me Madam.’  To read more about that appointment in 1948-1950, click here for Mr. West’s oral history.

Remember when? Host countries have long memories.  According to Robert Fritts who was previously our ambassador to Ghana and Rwanda:

“I heard lots of unflattering Luxembourg anecdotes, for example, about Perle Mesta, who had been appointed by President Truman. She also lived on in embassy lore as having named her resident sister rather than the DCM as charge d’affaires a.i. when she left post on one her frequent absences. It got straightened out, but the Luxembourgers never forgot it.”


3.  Not all projects are created equal

President Bush’s Ambassador to Italy, Ronald P. Spogli marked his tenure in Rome in a most tangible way. He presided over the wine cellar construction at the Villa Taverna, the 16th century residence in Rome that has served as home for our ambassadors in Italy for the last 75 years. The project which cost over a million dollars was funded and supported by Italian wineries. (See More on Embassy Rome’s Donated $1.1 Million Wine Cellar).

One of the 2009 ambassadorial appointees during President Obama’s first term in office is Bruce Oreck who went to Finland.  He made the renovation of the US Embassy in Helsinki his top project. His persistence “revived a stalled project to renovate the antiquated and unsafe chancery buildings.” (See US Embassy Helsinki: Ambassador Bruce “Biceps” Oreck Launches Innovation Center).

So perhaps a project that fits a need to a T?   Somebody had already tried a Song and Verse Competition, to iffy results.  Another one had personally designed a health campaign, Let’s Live to unrealistic expectations.

4.  Uncle Sam is cheap, be prepared to spend out-of-pocket

In 2008, forbes.com had an article on ambassadors, primarily on the outgoing Bush Ambassador to London, Robert H. Tuttle.

America’s ambassador to Britain, Robert H. Tuttle, was hosting one of his last lavish breakfasts for guests at his residence near the U.S. embassy in London, the morning after Barack Obama’s election victory.
[…]
American ambassadors picked for desirable posts like London and Paris tend to be wealthy as they are expected to entertain guests more extravagantly than the State Department budget might allow. (Tuttle would no doubt have served highest-quality marmalade and croissants at his post-election breakfast last Wednesday, for instance.) “Ambassadors are given representational funds, but some have chosen to use personal funds to go into their own pockets,” an embassy spokesman said.

No one says why some have chosen to use personal funds.  Perhaps that’s because the official representational funds is nothing to write home about?  An NYT article in January 2013 says that “Deep pockets are an unofficial requirement for many postings” and that “in some capitals they can expect to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars a year on entertaining.”

“The expectation is so ingrained that Timothy J. Roemer, a former congressman, felt compelled to bring up his bank account when Mr. Obama named him ambassador to India. “I told the White House and the State Department early on, I can’t afford to do the job like that,” Mr. Roemer said.”

Not to mention the ambassador’s wife changing clothes three times a day. In Paris.

Harold Geisel, the State Department’s Acting Inspector General is a retired FSO. From 1986-1988, he was the management counselor at the US Embassy in Rome where he served under political ambassador Maxwell Rabb. Below from his oral history via ADST:

About two days into my posting I was up to see him and his wife Ruth was there as well. And he started crying to me about how he was, I think, $20- or $30,000 out-of-pocket on his representation. And I looked at him and I said, look Mr. Ambassador. You live in Villa Taverna, one of the most glorious houses in Rome that was once the summer residence of the Holy Fathers. You go all over Rome in a Cadillac limousine with a motorcycle escort to beat the traffic, you have one of the best cooks in Rome and you get a salary of $90,000 a year. I’ll tell you what. If you’re not happy with it, I’ll pay the $30,000 out-of-pocket and take your place. He looked at Ruth and the two of them just started laughing and laughing. And we were great friends ever since and we even became business partners in a partnership after Rome. You have to know the guy you’re talking to. I mean, there are guys who would have thrown your rear end right out of there on the spot.


5. Ambo call home

A WH official reportedly told an ambassador, “You cannot realistically expect the leader of the free world to stop everything to rescue you from bad guys.” Is the direct line to the president overrated?  When political appointees take the short cut to join the diplomatic service and represent the United States of America, even they, must follow the rules, and there are tons of them in/out of the Foreign Affairs Manual.  This includes the landline and other connections that hook them directly to the mother ship with its corresponding multiple hierarchies.  And the mother ship, like it or not, is in Foggy Bottom, not the White House, even if the latter is the appointing authority.  (see WH to US Ambassador to Malta: Don’t Expect Leader of the Free World to Stop Everything to Rescue You From Bad Guys).

6.  Ambassadors charm school maybe helpful but it’s not enough.

WaPo’s Emily Heil recently reported about the ambassadors charm school, currently in session with some quotes from former ambassadors including this one:

One former ambassador says “charm school” is a misnomer for a rigorously educational and informational session. “Trust me, it’s not about china and teacups,” the graduate said. “It’s about the belly of the beast. It’s ‘here’s how it all works.’ ”

Right.  The US Ambassador to France Charles Rivkin described by the 2012 OIG report as a “dynamic and visionary noncareer ambassador” told Nicholas Kralev in March 2013 that the formal preparation process to become ambassador “was not sufficient for the standards he set himself, and that he “interviewed dozens of former ambassadors, took a lot of notes and learned a lot.”

The former ambassador to Sweden Matthew Barzun (rumored to be the front runner as the next US Ambassador to London)  who also got good marks in the OIG inspection report in 2011 told the IG inspectors that although he took the Department’s course for new chiefs of mission, he feels that “it did not adequately prepare him for the work he faced upon his arrival at post.”

New ambassadors get about two weeks of training at the Foreign Service Institute, the State Department’s training facility in Arlington, Virginia.  Then FSI director Ruth Whiteside told Nicholas Kralev that there is no plan to extend the course and that “The expectation is that they (the ambassadors) will be doing individual consultations on their particular post, have briefings at various agencies and other preparations.” She added that FSI’s job is “to give them the maximum chance for success.”

In two weeks.

(o_o)