High Risk Pregnancy Overseas: State/MED’s SOP Took Precedence Over the FAM? No Shit, Sherlock!

— Domani Spero
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The Foreign Affairs Manual says that it is the general policy of the Department of State “to  provide all medical program participants with the best medical care possible at post. In a situation where local medical facilities are inadequate to provide required services, travel to locations where such services can be obtained may be authorized.” (see 16 FAM 311).  Elsewhere on the same regs, the FAM says  that “a pregnant patient who is abroad under U.S. Government authorization is strongly encouraged to have her delivery in the United States. The patient may depart from post approximately 45 days prior to the expected date of delivery and is expected to return to post within 45 days after delivery, subject to medical clearance or approval.” (see 16 FAM 315.2 Travel for Obstetrical Care).

A grievance case involving a high risk pregnancy of a Foreign Service spouse was recently decided by the Foreign Service Grievance Board (FSGB).  This is one case where you kind of want to bang your head on the wall. The FAM gets the last word in the Foreign Service, but in this case (and we don’t know how many more), the State Department  ditched the relevant citation on the Foreign Affairs Manual in favor of a longstanding practice on its Standard Operating Procedure (SOP). Specifically, the Department’s Office of Medical Services (MED)  SOP. So basically, MED relied on its interpretation of the regulations contained on its SOP instead of the clear language included in the FAM.

No shit, Sherlock!

Excerpt below from FSGB Case No. 2014-007.

SUMMARY: During grievant’s tour in his spouse became pregnant. She had had five previous pregnancies, none of which resulted in a viable birth. The post medical team (FSMP) and the State Department Office of Medical Services (MED) both agreed that this was a very high-risk pregnancy and that the preferred option was that the spouse return to the U.S. as soon as possible for a special procedure and stay under the care of a single obstetrician specializing in high-risk care for the remainder of her pregnancy. Although MED authorized a 14-day medical evacuation for the procedure, it advised grievant that, under its longstanding practice, it could not authorize further medical evacuation per diem under 16 FAM 317.1(c) prior to the 24th week of gestation. MED instead directed grievant to seek the much lower Separate Maintenance Allowance (SMA).

Grievant claimed that the regulation itself stated only that per diem for complicated obstetrical care could be provided for up to 180 days, and therefore permitted his spouse to receive such per diem beginning in approximately the 10th week of pregnancy, when she returned to the U.S. for treatment. He also claimed that he was entitled to have his airline ticket paid for by the agency as a non-medical attendant when he accompanied his wife back to the U.S., since her condition precluded her from carrying her own bags.

The Board concluded that the agency’s regulation was not ambiguous, and that any clarification meant to be provided by the agency’s longstanding practice was both plainly erroneous and inconsistent with the agency’s own regulations, and arbitrary and capricious. We, therefore, did not accord any deference to the agency’s interpretation of its regulations by virtue of this practice, and relied instead on the language of the regulation itself.

Here is the FAM section on Complicated obstetrical care:

16 FAM 317.1(c):  If the Medical Director or designee or the FSMP [Foreign Service Medical Provider] at post determines that there are medical complications necessitating early departure from post or delayed return to post, per diem at the rates described in 16 FAM 316.1, may be extended, as necessary, from 90 days for up to a total of 180 days.  

More from the Record of Proceeding:

When FSMP contacted MED in Washington, DC, they were given the response that MED does not medevac for obstetrical care until after the 24th week of gestation. The 24th week of gestation is when the medical world deems a fetus viable outside of the womb. Grievant claims both FSMP and the post’s Human Resources (HR) reviewed the FAM and other MED documents to determine how MED handles high risk pregnancies at a hardship post and could not find any reference that limited a high risk pregnancy to the 24 weeks claimed by MED.

Grievant claims he contacted the head of MED and asked for an explanation as to why MED was not following 16 FAM 317.1(c), which allowed for medevac for high risk pregnancies. M/MED/FP responded with the following in an e-mail dated August 27, 2013:

This issue of how early a woman can be medevac’d for delivery comes up regularly. So does the situation of cervical cerclage – up to 80,000 procedures are done in the U.S. per year. While not in the FAM, MED has a long standing internal SOP that the earliest we will medevac a mother for obstetrical delivery is at 24 weeks gestation. 

Grievant claims that his spouse’s pregnancy was high-risk enough to qualify for medical evacuation prior to the 24 weeks’ gestation. Grievant also argues that every medical professional in and in Washington, including MED staff, agreed. Grievant argues that MED’s justification for how they choose which pregnancy to deem OB-medevac-worthy for high risk is ambiguous. Grievant takes issue with MED imposing internal rules that are not published in the FAM. Grievant claims that the alternatives offered by MED were not in accordance with 16 FAM 317.1(c).

What was the official State Department position?

The agency asserts that grievant’s wife was medevac’d to Washington, DC, to receive obstetrical care. MED did not believe there were medical complications necessitating early departure from post or delayed return to post. Thus, the agency claims, 16 FAM 317.1(c) does not apply to her situation.

Did it not matter that the FSO’s wife “had had five previous pregnancies, none of which resulted in a viable birth?”  The Department also made the following argument:

The agency further argues that, in any event, although not compelled by law, the Department’s Office of Medical Services (MED) has a longstanding internal Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) that the earliest MED will authorize a medevac of a pregnant woman for delivery, even in the case of complicated pregnancies, is 24 weeks’ gestational age. This SOP, MED asserts, is based on the medical community’s widely accepted recognition that the gestational age for fetal viability is 24 weeks. 

Ugh!

The ROP states that MED personnel communicating with both grievant and the post FSMP repeatedly relied on the SOP that no medevac would be provided prior to the 24th week of pregnancy as the basis for their guidance. They did not cite grievant’s wife’s particular medical circumstances as the rationale for denying an earlier continuous medevac.

You might remember that the last time MED failed to use common sense, the State Department ended up as a target of a class action lawsuit.

Here is the Board’s view:

It is the Board’s view that 16 FAM 317.1(c) is not ambiguous. It provides for the Medical Director or designee or the FSMP at post to determine if there is a complication requiring early departure or a delayed return, and authorizes up to 180 days’ per diem when such a determination is made. The entire context of the provision is to define what benefits are provided when based upon medical needs, and the provision appears to reflect the individualized medical decision making required in the case of complicated obstetrical care. Although the preceding provision, 16 FAM 317.1(b),8 places a set 45-day limit for per diem both before and after an uncomplicated pregnancy and birth, that limit is also, by all appearances, based on medical analysis of normal pregnancies and deliveries, which lend themselves to such generalizations. Airlines do not allow pregnant women to travel less than 45 days before birth, because of the risks involved. 16 FAM 317.1(b) recognizes and incorporates that medical evaluation under the circumstances of a normal pregnancy. Although not stated explicitly in the record, we assume that the 45 days of per diem permitted after delivery also reflects a medical assessment of recovery times under normal circumstances, which, because they are normal, can be generalized.
[…]
In the Board’s view, the longstanding practice is also arbitrary and capricious and an abuse of discretion. As stated by MED, the rationale for the 24-week practice is that a fetus is generally not considered viable before the 24th week of pregnancy. It is not based on, and does not take into consideration, whether the mother’s need for medical care can be provided safely at post prior to the 24th week, or whether the medical care needed by any fetus of less than 24 weeks to come to full term as a healthy baby can safely be provided at post. It is difficult to see any link at all between the rationale offered by State/MED with the recognition of medical needs established in the regulations.

It is the Board’s conclusion that 16 FAM 317.1(c) is not ambiguous, and that any clarification meant to be provided by the Department’s longstanding practice of requiring the 24-week waiting period in cases of complicated pregnancies is both plainly erroneous and inconsistent with the Department’s own regulations, and arbitrary and capricious. We, therefore, do not accord any deference to the Department’s interpretation of its regulations by virtue of this practice, and rely instead on the regulation itself.

To the extent that the agency is arguing that the SOP is freestanding and applies by its own terms, apart from 16 FAM 317.1(c), again, we conclude that the agency is in error. By the same analysis as outlined above, the SOP conflicts with the provision of the published regulations of the agency. An SOP may not take precedence over a regulation with which it is in conflict.

The Board’s conclusion, based on the record, is that this was a high-risk pregnancy, with risks to both the mother and the fetus, and that the necessary obstetrical care was in the U.S. Under these circumstances, medical evacuation per diem should have been authorized beginning upon the return of grievant’s wife to the U.S., and continuing for 180 days.

Doesn’t it makes you wonder how many high risk pregnant women on USG orders overseas were affected by this longstanding internal Standard Operating Procedure (SOP)?  If planning on getting pregnant overseas, read the redacted ROP below:

 

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Howard v. Kerry: USCG Naples EEO Case Now a Civil Lawsuit in Federal Court

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— Domani Spero

Kerry Howard’s allegations against the former Consul General in Naples made the news last year (see NYPost – State Department swept sex scandals under the rug and Whistleblower accuses consul general of trysts with subordinates and hookers).

Kerry Howard’s LinkedIn profile indicates that she has been in Naples, Italy since January 2008.  The court document also says that she is the spouse of an FSO who was employed as Consulate General Naples’ Community Liaison Officer from February 2010 to May 2012.  Ms. Howard has now filed a lawsuit against Secretary of State John Kerry in the Eastern District of New York (Case 2:14-cv-00194-ADS-AKT):

“Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 forbids employment discrimination based on race, color, religion,  sex or national origin. (42 USC 2000e-2(a)  and its anti retaliation provision forbids discrimination against an employee or job applicant who inter alia has “made a charge,  assisted or participated in a Title VII proceeding or investigation. Section 2000e-3(a)

An employer which creates or tolerates a work environment  permeated with discriminatory intimidation,  ridicule and insult that is sufficiently severe or pervasive to alter the terms and conditions of an individual’s employment and which creates an abusive work environment is in violation of Title VII.”

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The NYPost currently has a screaming headline that runs, American diplomat ran consulate like party pad: suit. The report says that the official “has since been reassigned from the Italian post to a position at the Air War College in Montgomery, Alabama, which is also administered by the State Department.” Huh?

While the lawsuit is against Secretary Kerry as head of the agency, if this go to trial, there presumably will be a long list of witnesses from the who’s who at USCG Naples and US Embassy Rome a the time when this incident is alleged to have occured.  The court filing includes the names and positions of several officers in Naples, Rome and the State Department, including the then Deputy Chief of Mission in Rome, the then FLO director, and an FS couple who was alleged to have been “blacklisted” for services at post and alleged to have been subsequently “involuntarily curtailed” from Naples.

Remember last summer’s CBS scoop on allegations by OIG investigator Aurelia Fedenisn over interference of politically delicate investigations at the State Department?  According to NYT,   that report became public as a result of  … that’s right, another civil suit, this one filed in 2011 by Richard P. Higbie, a diplomatic security agent who accused the State Department of blocking his career. “His lawyers sought the department’s internal documents after Aurelia Fedenisn, a former investigator who worked on the inspector general’s report, complained that the final draft had been toned down.”   We can’t imagine what stuff will come out of this case which includes allegation that the State Department “indifference” to a senior official’s misconduct  “gave consent to the creation of working conditions for women which could be so difficult, unpleasant or intolerable that a reasonable person would feel compelled to resign.”  

In a 19-page complaint demanding jury trial, Ms. Howard asks for reinstatement, full value of compensation and provide the retroactive benefits including those incident to full year service rights to other government positions she would have received had she not been the victim of unlawful discrimination,” compensatory and liquidated damages in the amount of $300,000, and the costs and expenses of litigation including reasonable attorney’s fees and witness fees.

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US Embassy Manila: George Anikow, Diplomatic Spouse Killed in Early Morning Altercation

Citing the Information Officer of the US Embassy in Manila Tina Malone, Rappler.com reported that the husband of an American Embassy employee was killed in Makati City, in the Philippines on Saturday, November 24.  Ms. Malone declined to disclose more details about the incident but did say that the Philippine National Police (PNP) have suspects in custody and that “The US Embassy appreciates the cooperation of the Philippine authorities, and will work closely with the PNP in their investigation.”

An ABS-CBN report identified the victim as George Anikow, who was allegedly killed by 4 suspects at around 4 am, Saturday, in front of the gate of Bel-Air Subdivision.  Elsewhere local reports also indicate that US embassy press attache Tina Malone confirmed the incident but refused to give out the name of the victim for “privacy reasons.” Various news reports spelled the victim’s name as Anico.

The alleged attackers, young men who reportedly come from well-off Filipino families, ranged in age from 22 to 28 and are publicly named by the news report here.

The Philippine Daily Inquirer also reported this incident:

George Anikow, 41, an inactive US marine officer, died on Saturday morning after he was mauled and fatally stabbed at the back and left shoulder in an event so random he and the other men hardly knew each other, Senior Supt. Manuel Lukban, Makati police chief, said in an interview.
[…]
The victim, a dependent of one of the officers of the US Embassy, was awaiting order from the US Marine to be called to duty, the police said.

Lukban said the Makati police opted to file murder, a non-bailable offense, instead of homicide since the attackers chased the victim “with the intent to kill.”

We emailed the US Embassy Manila last night but have yet to receive a response (which may or may not come).  We’ve also seen the public affairs arms of embassies do this often enough citing “privacy reasons” for the deceased in refusing to release or confirm the identity of victims.  They ought to know better than that since the privacy rules no longer cover the dead. Would be a lot more understandable if they decline to provide details due to sensitivity to the next of kin rather than privacy rules.

While we have been unable to confirm this, it looks like the FSO in this case is a first tour officer on a consular assignment to the US Embassy in Manila.  Public records also indicate that the US Embassy in Manila back in August solicited a quotation for a service apartment for this FSO and her family (spouse,  three children 12, 10 and 6 and a 50 lb Labrador) for 40 nights ending on September 24, 2012. Which seems to indicate they were in temporary housing until late September.  And if that’s the case, then they have just moved in to Bel-Air within the last two months, a private subdivision and gated community in Makati where the victim was reportedly a resident.

The latest Crime and Security Report issued by the Regional Security Office of the US Embassy says that crime is a significant concern in urban areas of the Philippines. Typical criminal acts include pick pocketing, confidence schemes, acquaintance scams, and, in some cases, credit card fraud. It also says that carjacking, kidnappings, robberies, and violent assaults sporadically occur throughout metro Manila and elsewhere in the Philippines.

 

 

 

 

The Foreign Service is like your husband’s crazy college girlfriend … Va Va Voom — oh, but …

One of our favorite Foreign Service writers, Kelly of Well, That Was Different has her blog fingers right on the button on this.   When the Foreign Affairs Fudge Factory (by John Franklin Campbell) or The Theory of Public Bureaucracy (Politics, Personality, and Organization in the State Department)  (by Donald Warwick) ever gets updated for the 21st century, there definitely needs to be a section for the crazy old girlfriend’s schizophrenic outbursts and not too endearing qualities. Kelly writes:

The Foreign Service is like your husband’s (‘scuse the masculine, but that’s how it is for us) crazy college girlfriend. She is sexy as hell, which is how she seduced your husband in his young and foolish student days. But, she is also bipolar and totally narcissistic.

She can be really nice when she wants to be, or more accurately, when it’s in her interest to do so. Every couple of years, she comes knocking at the door, all charming and cute, with slick promises of promotion, money, and other goodies, and chances are, your husband will be suckered once again.

She even has long periods of sanity sometimes—at least I think I remember one of those. (It lasted about 8 years.)

The manic phases are interesting. Sometimes, she even gets a wild hair and builds a huge mansion in, like, the worst neighborhood on the planet, then expects everyone to be totally excited to work and live there.

But look out when she is on a downswing. You are just cannon fodder then, and she’ll be seriously pissed if you don’t toe the line. She gets especially cranky when she’s running out of money, or someone is giving her a hard time. She doesn’t take criticism very well. In fact, her general approach is to deny that there is a problem. Being basically insane, she may actually believe this to be true.

 

Tee-he! Can’t help but appreciate the sustained simile.  Continue reading In Which I Am Shocked To Discover That I No Longer Absolutely Loathe Foreign Service Bidding.

 

 

 

Michael Makalou, Former Diplomat Sentenced to 12 Months for Assault of Wife with a Dangerous Weapon

We almost missed this announcement from USDOJ from June 22, 2012 about the sentencing of a former Political Officer for assaulting his wife while posted at the US Embassy in Senegal back in 2011 .  See U.S. Diplomat Indicted on Domestic Battery Charges for Assault with a Dangerous Weapon. The 2011 statement from USDOJ indicated that the FSO (now former FSO) faced a maximum penalty of 10 years or 120 months in prison.

Via USDOJ:

Former State Department Employee Sentenced to 12 Months in Prison for Assaulting His Wife with a Dangerous Weapon

Michael Makalou, 41, a former State Department employee, was sentenced today to 12 months in prison for assaulting his wife with a dangerous weapon with intent to do bodily harm, announced Assistant Attorney General Lanny A. Breuer of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division and U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia Neil H. MacBride.

Makalou was sentenced today by U.S. District Judge James C. Cacheris in the Eastern District of Virginia.   Makalou was indicted in October 2011 and was found guilty on Feb. 8, 2012, following a two-day bench trial.

According to court documents, Makalou resided with his wife and children in Dakar, Senegal, and worked as a political officer at the U.S. Embassy in Dakar.  A s determined by the court in its finding of guilt, on Aug. 13, 2011, Makalou attacked his wife.   Without provocation, Makalou repeatedly punched, choked, kicked and dragged his wife in their home, ultimately striking her in the head with a large plastic dollhouse weighing approximately 10 pounds, causing his wife to lose consciousness.   This assault lasted approximately 6 hours.   The victim suffered multiple injuries, including contusions, lacerations and a concussion.

The case was prosecuted by Trial Attorney Sarah Chang of the Criminal Division’s Human Rights and Special Prosecutions Section and Assistant U.S. Attorney Rebeca H. Bellows of the Eastern District of Virginia.   The case was investigated by the Bureau of Diplomatic Security of the U.S. Department of State.

Domani Spero

Why the FS Should Be More Like the Army — Esprit de Corps, Taking Care of Troops … Hey, That Includes EFMs, Right?

The November 2011 issue of the Foreign Service Journal includes a Speaking Out column by Jon P. Dorschner on Why the Foreign Service Should Be More Like the Army. Don’t worry, it’s not about pumping more testosterone on the Service that’s already “deployed” as “boots on the ground” without uniforms in various “expeditionary” war zones.

Excerpts below on some basic ideas and concepts that he wrote could benefit the Foreign Service plus, our comments, of course! Mr. Dorschner recently retired from the Foreign Service after a 27-year career that included two years on the faculty at West Point, a year with a Provincial Reconstruction Team in Iraq, and a stint as political-military adviser in the Bureau of South Asian Affairs, among many other assignments. His last posting was as an economic officer in
Berlin.

Excerpts from Mr. Dorschner:

Esprit de Corps
[T]he social base of the Army is broad. Elites are largely absent, and personnel come from a wide variety of social backgrounds. In that sense, the Army is representative of the general American population. I have never heard esprit de corps mentioned in the Foreign Service context. Instead, the Foreign Service emphasizes individuality over collegiality, exclusivity over inclusiveness.

This is a hangover from its earlier history, when its membership was largely restricted to East Coast elites who were “male, pale and Yale.”
[…]
Yet class prejudices still linger and the Foreign Service often continues to connote elitism. What individual officers bring in the form of social class, elite education and family connections can still play a big role in placement and career advancement.

There are several fissures in the Foreign Service whether you want to acknowledge them or not. Just a sampling:

Foreign Service vs. the Civil Service. If you doubt that, read the rants here.

FS officers with their conal designations vs. the FS specialists and their specializations

Political cone officers vs. all other cone-officers

Consular Officers vs. “Just EFM” Consular Associates

Eligible Family Members vs. Foreign Service Nationals

Not surprisingly, esprit de corps is not found anywhere in the Promotion Precepts that will be in effect for the 2010-2011, 2011-2012 and 2012-2013 rating cycles. These precepts are the core precepts which provide the guidelines by which Selection Boards determine the tenure and promotability of U.S. Foreign Service employees.

More from Mr. Dorschner:

The Mission Comes First
The goal comes first and units are told to work cohesively to ensure successful completion of the mission. Individuals who showboat and subordinate the mission to their individual ambition do not do well and are singled out for correction. By contrast, the Foreign Service spends little or no time explaining to its members why they are doing what they are doing. Instead, duties are often performed mechanically. The mission becomes subordinate to the procedures. This is a common curse of bureaucratic organizations, and State Department bureaucracy is legendary.
[…]
Just as takes place in the Army, Foreign Service personnel should be told how their efforts fit into broader U.S. foreign policy and how their hard work and sacrifice benefit the nation. Otherwise, there is often no sense that a mission has been accomplished.

Officers are expected to follow instructions and not ask too many questions, huh? Some time back, a first tour officer designated as a visa line chief told a second tour officer which window she should sit when she conducts her interviews.  The second tour officer, having recently arrived from a visa mill post asked why? No particular reason. The visa line chief wanted to exercise the boss muscle. And having just spent two years at a visa mill post, where the Consul General occasionally conducts visa interviews with the junior officers, Ms.Second Tour Officer inquired how come their own Consul General never conducts visa interviews with them. Apparently, this did not please the boss.  She was eventually counseled for the things she was not doing right. Perhaps it was for asking too many questions, for refusing to change interview windows, for talking loud and scaring the cucarachas, for telling Halloween jokes when it wasn’t Halloween and scaring the FSNs, who knows? She was lucky she did not get involuntarily curtailed for [fill in the blank], the guy next door was curtailed, for reportedly asking too many questions and telling a shooty-shooty joke. [Thanks A. for the story].

I’m sure others out there have more interesting stories about mission first, or not.  You can also read about bureaucracy (and wet paint) from Eduardo Galeano’s Book of Embraces. A most delightful rendition of the function of a mission within a bureaucracy. [Thanks M. for sharing the book]

Also from Mr. Dorschner:

Transparency
Foreign Service members who serve repeatedly in hardship posts are not provided a career advantage. Those who demonstrate dedication, hard work and technical expertise are not necessarily rewarded with regular promotions or choice assignments. This vagueness leads to accusations that “it is not what you know but who you know,” and erodes morale.

Likewise, the Foreign Service seems to assume that everyone in the ranks wants to become an ambassador. Officers who do not aspire to enter the Senior Foreign Service are often regarded as slackers, rather than individuals with their own specific career goals and objectives who make a positive contribution.

“it is not what you know but who you know”

Well, if performance appraisals are meant to honestly show what folks know and how folks work, and are not just an exercise in artful, inflationary rhetoric, then why do folks need to tap what leaks from that infamous hush-hush “corridor reputation” pipe?  Pardon me? The EERs are needed for promotions but not for your next job? So for getting the next job, you need to tap the “who you know” network.  And if you’ve written somebody’s 360 review or put in a good word on behalf of somebody bidding at your post, you certainly can request that somebody to be your 360 reviewer or also ask him/her to put in a good word if you are bidding at his/her post. Tell me again that this is not an elite version of you scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours.

And seriously, when folks write their EERs about how great they are, cribbing occasionally from FSN or EFMs successes at work, doesn’t that make folks blush just a tad in the privacy of their own conscience?  The folks are thinking ….  um, what?  Not really? Sometimes? But no opportunity should get wasted on the road to promotion.

More from Mr. Dorschner:

A Rule Is a Rule
In contrast, the State Department issues rules and then almost immediately makes exceptions to them. There are limits on how long personnel can serve in Washington, D.C. Those who do not serve in hardship posts are supposed to face negative consequences. Those who do not fulfill their language requirements are supposed to pay the price.

Like the military, we must staff positions in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan that are dangerous and require separation from family. Everyone is supposed to pull their fair share, but for some reason it just doesn’t happen. There always seem to be people who are able to manipulate the system. They stay in Washington longer than they are supposed to and avoid hardship tours, yet continue to be promoted.
[…]
A rule is a rule and must be enforced. Otherwise, the perception grows that the institution is not interested in fairness.

Aha! And some even get to be ambassadors, like I said, without ever getting Baghdad dust on their shoes. Somebody please start a list of ambassadors who got their ambassadorships without the fast-tracked lanes through Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan.  While you’re at it, somebody please start a list of all senior officers who got mandatory retirement waivers, too.  If I were your HR person, I would put those lists up online.  For clarity sake, for goodness sake! Since I’m not your HR person, go write to DGdirect@state.gov and ask your top HR person about these; what national security excuse is there not to make this information available to the public?

Also from Mr. Dorschner:

Restrain That Ego!
West Point cadets with large egos, who constantly tell their peers that they will become generals and who seek as much “face time” as possible with officers, are known as “tools.” Being a tool is not a good thing. This does not mean that the military does not reward strong personalities, of course. Ambition is the first requirement for anyone aspiring to make the higher grades, after all. But the system teaches such individuals to rein in some of that egoistic behavior.
[…]
West Point cadets learn that the most egotistical general is not always the most successful, and that an effective institution must make room for different leadership styles.  Or, to put it another way: A little humility is not a bad thing. Perhaps the Foreign Service could benefit from a similar teaching model.

It is perhaps telling that Mr. Dorschner’s piece came soon after retirement. This reminds me of the Brits’ valedictory address, a final cable only this one is in the Speaking Out column in our diplomats’ trade publication.  Read it in full here.

But my most favorite part from Mr. Dorschner piece is saved for last. It’s the One Army idea of taking care of your troops.

Take Care of Your Troops
Officers and NCOs so egotistical and wrapped up in their own advancement that they do not show concern for the well being of their subordinates receive poor evaluations and do not progress in their careers. From the outset, Army personnel are taught this essential component of leadership. By contrast, concern for subordinates is not part of the State Department evaluation process. Nor is there much emphasis on families. Instead, officers are taught to look after themselves and their careers first and foremost. This can lead, rightly or wrongly, to a perception by subordinates that “successful” Foreign Service officers are those willing to do anything to get ahead, including letting down colleagues and disappointing subordinates.

These allegations arise out of the fact that such self-centered behavior is seldom punished in the Foreign Service. Selfishness and excessive egotism are not viewed as indicators of poor leadership and a lack of esprit de corps, but are often seen as the norm.

I’ll let you chew on that. But this brings us to one of this blog’s pet peeves — on the subject of EFMs –who by the way, I am told, should really be extra grateful for finding work at our embassies/consulates overseas.

Hey, did you hear about that EFM whose child had sudden dental issues — broke the tooth, or something? Anyway, she asked her boss, a first tour officer assigned as visa chief for leave so she can bring the child to the dentist one morning. Leave request denied. Because the EFM/Consular Associate should have known better than schedule a dental appointment during visa hours when she was needed at the window; to take saliva samples or something.  Can blame the first tour officer for lack of compassion but the larger blame belongs to the consular manager for absence of leadership by example.  This is not how you take care of the troops, even if you’re paying the EFM gazillion dollars to get a security clearance and for the opportunity to contribute to her Social Security. [Thanks L. for the story].

Most jobs for spouses and partners in the Foreign Service are located in consular sections. It must be said that some consular managers do know what it means to take care of their troops, not just their FSOs, but also their EFMS and FSNs. But others have no effing clue. Unfortunately, those who have no idea how to take care of the troops as well, are also given leadership and managerial gigs they try hard to fail. One section chief was huge, huge on outreach to help junior officers develop some important skills until the boss got an award of some sort for that. With that box checked and the next assignment in the bag, the next group of junior officers who arrived at post, poor sods, were all left on their own to  figure out how to do outreach. A great example of taking care of your troops as long as you get something out of it. And then the end. That kind of example, unfortunately rubs off on the more impressionable troops, sometimes. [Thanks E. for the chieftain story].

In some consular sections, EFMs get their performance reviews late or never, get awards or never. Because hey, they’re “just EFMs” — no matter how great they are, how hard they work, they can’t get promoted, anyway. So why waste time writing up their EERs or bother with awards?

Not making this up, you guys.  The OIG has actually a catalog of how the State Department take care of its troops particularly its EFMs or eligible family members and partners:

At the US Embassy in the Dominican Republic:

In most instances, American and LE staff evaluation reports and work requirements statements are being completed within the appropriate time frame, but many of the 34 EFM evaluations were not. The EFMs believe that they are being overlooked, Supervisors claim that reminder notices are not sent to them. However, some supervisors were reminded but still did not prepare evaluations by the required due date. Some evaluations were still outstanding at the time of the inspection.

At the US Embassy in Germany:

In some instances, supervisors fail to provide EFMs with evaluation reports within the appropriate time frame or do not complete them at all. EFM evaluations are not tracked with the same regard as American
officers and local staff, [REDACTED]

Department guidelines do not currently require supervisors to complete performance evaluations for EFMs. This confusion is even found in the mission’s human resources office, where one supervisor left his position without preparing evaluations for seven EFMs. OIG teams have also found this problem at other inspected posts. This lack of clarity may affect the 2,687 EFMs employed worldwide. It is a detriment to EFMs not to receive an evaluation and impacts their prospective employment.

Also in its Berlin report, the OIG explains why EFMs are cheap, affordable resources, they are practically a sale. Add to that the fact that they all live in a captive labor pool.

Because they are hired under differing salary schedules and differing authorities, EFMs receive lower salaries than local staff performing comparable duties. They accrue 4 hours of annual leave and sick leave per pay period while their counterparts receive 6 weeks’ vacation and unlimited sick leave. The salaries of EFMs from foreign affairs agencies include Washington, DC, locality pay but not the cost-of-living adjustment their spouses receive. Spouses from non-foreign affairs agencies receive neither locality pay  nor the cost-of-living allowance. London and Tokyo have been granted an exception to the rule that  employed EFMs are ineligible for cost-of-living allowances.

At the US Embassy in India:

A major impediment to optimizing the contributions of professional associates is the lack of training requirements, and suggested or desired training sometimes comes at personal expense. Distance learning courses are not sufficient in all cases. While there is no cost for FSI courses, the Department does not pay per diem, and the employee must take training during home leave, rest and recuperation, or personal travel. The Department acknowledges that these options may not be feasible for many individuals. Professional associates who have not yet traveled to post to begin employment do not receive salary for time spent in training. Although it is understandable that the Department wants to allocate shrinking training funds to permanent employees, this policy comes at the expense of equipping professional associates to perform as effectively as possible. The Department may want to explore alternatives to the current policy.

At the US Embassy in Pakistan:

Neither of the consular EFMs in Islamabad has work requirements statements or has received a performance evaluation.

EFM personnel files included job announcements, position descriptions, and resumes, but did not include EFM work requirements or evaluations. The OIG team made an informal recommendation that work requirements and evaluations be prepared for all EFMs.

At the US Embassy in Afghanistan, several anomalies, including nepotism “reviews”:

The OIG team found several other anomalies: an occasional lack of EFM personnel files, missing EFM work requirements statements, inappropriate procedures to document the superior qualification rate process, and, in one instance, a position description that had not been updated when the employee was assigned to another EFM position. Finally, the selection process could be improved.

Although the Embassy has been requesting the requisite nepotism reviews from the Bureau of Human Resources, the inspectors found that the information the Embassy provided to the Bureau of Human Resources has not been comprehensive or detailed enough for some positions, including those involving EFMs of senior-level officers. The Embassy does not have a standard formal process for developing the information that is needed to conduct the nepotism reviews. A standard checklist that applies to all nepotism reviews, especially those for spouses of senior-level officers and section heads, is a useful tool.

Oops, that’s a long section on taking care of the troops.  But that’s all good. If you sleep with your EFMs at night, this should make you wonder why the State Department and its hiring, rating, supervising officers do not treat them better? And oh, have you sat in some of those job interviews they conduct with EFMs? Goodness gracious, some of those folks have no idea they could be taken to the EEOC for asking illegal interview questions.  Might you also wonder what you can do to improve their bureaucratic treatment?  Please wonder.  And if you are the FSO, the next EFM denied leave, passed up for performance evaluation, or training (what training?), subjected to inappropriate job interview questions, etc., etc, could be your very own family member. Think about it.

 

Domani Spero

 

 

Who "disappeared" Kolbi of "A Daring Adventure" into thin air?

In October 2009, I wrote about the disappearance of Madam le Consul. Now, barely seven months later, another Foreign Service blogger and her blog have disappeared. And just as suddenly.

I wonder if Kolbi and her blog have “decided to spend more time with the family.” Yeah, right; that must be it. And I’ll buy THAT when you give me that bridge to nowhere.

Kolbi of A Daring Adventure is not available to answer questions at this time. She’s not returning emails; I doubt if she’d be available even for Oprah.

My first tip came from NDS asking if it was just him or if Kolbi’s blog had suddenly vanished. So I checked. Nada. Twitter and FB. Yok. Very interesting. I know I did not imagine her existence. I read her post just the day before. So between Thursday and Friday, the blog (and the blogger) disappeared into thin air. Not a technical glitch, unless Typepad, Twitter and FB are in cahoots now or were pulled down by evil hackers at the same time. Oh, but I can access all my accounts there except in Typepad where I no longer have one. So. Definitely. Not a technical glitch. It’s like she was never here, except that you can still find her in the cache files.

A former blogger who was similarly pushed into the deep end of the freezer only has this to say, “Tigers are known omnivores – they even eat durian –  and FS spouses.”  

Certainly not a comforting thought.  The big mystery is what happened to Kolbi and her blog? If she can blog or do FB or Twitter, don’t you think she’d have said something already? It’s not like we’re behind the great firewall. I simply do not buy it that she walked away on her own into thin air. So you can call the following speculations, all you want… It may be that you may never find out what happened to her; until the memoirs of disappeared bloggers come out in 2075. So–


#1. Did Kolbi pull down her own blog?

This is always a possibility. The Hegemonist — remember, he went packing in June last year and never came back?  If you click on “A Daring Adventure” it looks like Kolbi just went underground and you need a password. But here’s the deal with Typepad, it also behaves like that when a blog is deleted.  Kolbi sent out a call for the weekly roundup this past Wednesday. She posted that Oakwood thingy this past Thursday. If she just went underground, why would she do that without a heads up to her online friends and readers? And she’s not answering emails. If she did this voluntarily without an ax over her head or her husband’s — why would she do a weekly call up on Wednesday, then decide to shut down the blog two days later? Like MLC, Kolbi was big on doing the right thing, she would not close shop without a proper goodbye. Do you really think Kolbi just woke up on a Friday and decided it’s time to pack up online and go? And PUFF, went just like that?

#2. Was Kolbi (and her blog) abducted by Martians?

Okay, we’ve considered this, as we always do whenever an FS blog disappears and makes everyone jumpy. But — hey, Kolbi just got to WashDC from Texas.  Why would the Martians wait until she get to WDC to abduct her?  Also, I cannot imagine that she’d be scared silly or easily, not even by aliens from space. Nope, it’s not like her to just go quietly into the night with those space guys with funny ears. I could actually imagine her screaming so loud it would reach the 7th Floor of Foggy Bottom. But no screams. Why?

#3. Is Kolbi in an undisclosed location?

The last thing we all know for sure — Kolbi drove from Texas to DC, got to DC and checked into Oakwood. Yea, the place that’s not a hotel. And she blogged about it. And then sometime after that she somehow disappeared online. Yep, GONE.  Just like that.  Did Kolbi go off to Tora-Bora like we suspected with MLC when she disappeared?  I doubt very much if Kolbi did that; the internet connection is iffy there, could not do the weekly roundup from inside those caves. Besides, she was supposed to go on language training then off to China.  Again, if she has decided on her own to disappear for a while, she would have left a note. She’s a diplomat’s wife and a teacher to her kids; of course, she knows it’s impolite to leave without a word! And she would not do this for no real reason.

#4. Did Diplomatic Security catch up with Kolbi?

And told her to zip it? Well, there is always that possibility. But see, DS is busy doing the civilian surge in Afghanistan right now and also the surge in Iraq due to the military draw down there. Are you telling me that somebody in that bureau is busy spending its limited resources hunting down Kolbi’s blog and shutting it down? I can’t. Um, actually —- maybe I can.

Oh. My. God!

What if they were after her blog cell and will soon be knocking on everyone’s blog that Kolbi ever mentioned in her weekly blog round up? Did you think about that, huh? If true, I’d like the OIG, GAO and Congress to investigate if bloggers were ever mirandized before they are placed inside those deep blue freezers. I would also like the Supremes to decide if employees are culpable for their spouses/partners brains, mouths and independent opinions.

#5. Did the X Affairs Bureau shut down Kolbi?

Did the good folks at the X Affairs Bureau issue a cease-and-desist order to gag Kolbi? But how could they do that?  First, besides being an independent blogger Kolbi is a stay at home mom who homeschools her kids. The magic word is “independent.” She does not work for the State Department. Second, she’s only considered an “eligible family member” because her husband works over there. Whatever she’s eligible for, she could not visit the big house without a security escort. Third, she does not work for the Secretary of State or anyone in the lower floors. She is, in fact, one of the 10,000 diplomatic spouses/partners who follow their employee spouses on assignments overseas but are not officially employed by the US Government. Four, she does not work for the State Department. Get it?

So how can anyone just shut her down? It’s beyond comprehension, right?

Overseas — if a spouse drink too much ouzo and do not quit when told, the chief of mission can ship the employee and the spouse back to the US until she cleans up.  It’s called involuntary curtailment. You don’t have to like it, you normally don’t have a say about it. They put you on the plane and off you go. Your stuff eventually follows and find you wherever they park you.

So here, a most important question presents itself.  Obviously, spouses like Kolbi cannot be fired. So how do you control spouses like her so she walks the fine white line or make spouses stop blogging or doing whatever it is that displeases the minor gods and the heavens. Well, let’s see. You can go ahead and tell the spouse directly to stop whatever she’s doing that you do not like.  Of course, like any American, she and others like her would simply ask if you’re trying to infringe on their first amendment rights. And, of course, you’re not trying to do that, right? — so they tell you off and you back off. You’d think of firing the spouse but since she actually receives no salary from you, that would not really work out either. But, surely there must be something you can do. …. right? For instance — the big office can haul the employee-spouse and threaten his EER, the basis for climbing the ladder in the Service. I’m not saying that’s what happened with Kolbi, of course; only that they can do that. Or can they?

Um, wait – isn’t there’s something called the Spouse Directive from 1972? This one says spouses are their own persons and employees cannot be rated on the basis of their spouses’ behavior, mission contributions and place cards and tea talents. Ugh! Right! It simply means — the EER cannot say so and so should not be promoted because his wife is opinionated or because she cross swords with the Ambassador’s wife.  Holy mother of goat! I miss the good old days! It would have been so easy to say “shut your wife up or I’ll write it up in your EER.” Did I say I miss the good old days. I really do. Life is so much easier then.

Short of putting the employee-spouse before the firing squad — um, no guns, don’t worry. Oh, what am I saying? —  Only one state now allows the firing squad! I mean really what else can be done?  Um, I supposed you could opt for a silent firing squad — calmer, quieter and best of all, invisible bullets. Yep, no marks, not even bruises. Here’s what you do to somebody with a male spouse — you bring in the employee and tell her “dudette, if your husband doesn’t shut up from yakking out there, your career will be in serious jeopardy.” The employee goes home and tells her husband. Since husband loves the employee, he himself pulls off his own disappearance online, without a trace, without goodbyes, unable to explain anything, muzzled for good. No blood, no bullets, no mess.  And hey! Just as good as the good old days.

The WH says (h/t NDS) that “bloggers find themselves imprisoned in nations around the world.” I supposed one can actually be imprisoned in jails without bars. And no one would even know about it.  Not even the White House. Cuuuz, a thing like this would be considered an internal thingy.

So — be careful out there …this is dangerous bizness.

On a related note — this is probably a good time to check around your blog. Feel free to ignore, of course.

  • Get a disclaimer.
  • Scrub identifying information.  Be vague about your exact location, city, area where you live in your host country.
  • Read the regulations at least once. Maybe twice. Know what you’re getting into.
  • Be careful with pictures.  Not just your pictures but also of your employee spouse, family members, and FS friends. Your house, your pets, your shoes, etc. that can all obviously identify you and who you work for.  In the US, you are just like everyone else, I mean more or less. Overseas, you are the American or the spouse of a diplomat and can easily be identified. Most posts only has 1-2 RSOs, one Management Officer, one HRO, etc — so if you mention where you are, or where your spouse works, anyone with enough online savvy can easily look it up. Social engineering is also alive and well. If it works for identity thieves, it can also work for all the bad guys who are after a scalp or two.

That said, I offer one last thing to think about — base on a prior related experience.

Even when we want to help, and support the missing blogger — the simple act of helping (by writing about it) and offering support (by looking, searching, emailing about it) can sometimes have negative personal repercussions.

So here is a moral dilemma, of which I have no answer. How can you help when the very act of helping makes life more difficult to those you are trying to help?

Tiger, Tiger, Burning Bright or What happened to FS blog, "A Daring Adventure?"

Tiger, Tiger, Burning bright....Image by law_keven via Flickr

Our blog friend, NDS inquired if Kolbi’s “A Daring Adventure” blog has suddenly disappeared? Yep, it’s gone.  Don’t know who got her but these tigers have been known to slurp bloggers for snacks with their frappucino. But this was fast, much too fast — must be one terribly hungry tiger. All in the last 24 hours, too. If you happen to know the name of the tiger or its trainer, we would like to know. The problem is there are way too many tigers in the zoo. The owners may not always know who the tigers bite. But that they bite, is clearly not a rumor.

This left me scratching my head, of course. I think the last item Kolbi wrote about had to do with “Oakwood” and “We are not a hotel” thingy.  This is going to make me stay up all night – I thought these tigers only work overtime in China, Cuba and Ayran.

Double holy mother of goat!

It’s not only that these tigers are absolutely not nice.  They also bite a spouse who is not a paid employee of the big house! Krrrreeeeeeek. That’s me cracking my neck, trying to figure this out.  Ouch! What?  She stuck her head and made sounds and it was her fault?  Oh, I see — she’s not allowed to stick her head and have an opinion of her own because her husband works for the big house? Oh, that sucks! …… But, hey…. I thought that only happens in places where they forced women to wear those lovely burqas?      


Tiger, Tiger, Burning Bright

Don’t wander off here

Stay behind the dotted lines
There’s danger out there

Yes, tigers beyond these lines
And they―are trained hard to bite

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FS Blog: A Daring Adventure and the State Dept Weekly Blog Roundup

Kolbi of A Daring Adventure has moved her blog from iweb to typepad. Check out her new digs here:  http://adaringadventure.typepad.com/ ; much easier to navigate and has a faster load, too!
If you have not seen her State Department Weekly Blog Roundup, check out the culled weekly list here: http://adaringadventure.typepad.com/blog/blog-round-up.html. I know this is a lot of work, but I think it is appreciated by many as it facilitates better connections among the FS bloggers community. Thank you, Kolbi for all the time and attention you put into this every week!

She usually puts out a call for great blog posts during the week on Wednesdays. Reader submissions are solicited. Blog owners may also bring their recent posts to Kolbi’s attention for possible inclusion. She says, “I’m not trying to have this be a beauty or popularity contest… I honestly am trying to connect with blogs or posts I may not have seen on my own.  I need all the help I can get!”  

Which blog or blog post should you submit? Anything that tickles your fancy. Below is from her Wednesday call-up:

Has a State Department blog post from this week touched you?  Made you laugh?  Did you learn something from it?  Did you find it helpful in some way? Do you think its subject matter is important or compelling? Maybe it included some great pictures… or a great story… or maybe (like what happens in my home a lot!) you liked it enough that you showed your spouse/significant other/family/friends what it had to say.

If so, tell me, because I would love to know about it. And the blog’s author would love to hear that they were submitted! Add a comment… or, if you’d rather, feel free to email me at:jamesandkolbi(@)aol.com
Below are links to her previous blog roundups.