Foreign Service Institute Rolls Out Pompeo’s Pursuit – A ‘One Team’ Four-Day Pilot Course For “Everyone”

Last week, Secretary Pompeo announced to agency employees that the Foreign Service Institute has launched its very first “One Team” pilot course.  Apparently, this new course is a four-day pilot  and “builds upon the ideas” expressed in the recently rolled out Professional Ethos. The purpose is  “to unite new employees around the “One Team, One Mission, One Future” vision and the unique history of the Department.”
The “One Team” course will reportedly supplement existing training to provide a common experience for new employees. According to Secretary Pompeo, “For the first time, Foreign Service, Civil Service, Limited Non-Career Appointments, and political appointees will all learn side-by-side. Everyone will grow as one team together”.

In developing the One Team course, we drew heavily from your thoughts on what new Department employees should know and understand about the Department, especially the importance of working together. As a result, the course will:

    • Explore the guiding principles of the Department, including our Professional Ethos;
    • Help employees connect their efforts and that of their colleagues to the Department’s mission;
    • Analyze how the Department’s work connects to the National Security Strategy, and the Department’s other strategic planning mechanisms;
    • Examine the meaning of the Oath of Office;
    • Investigate how the Department’s work directly benefits the American public; and
    • Inform our team about key accomplishments and personnel in the Department’s history that spans more than 230 years.
Supposedly, this course is “light on lectures” but full of “hands-on” engagement with the goal of “helping participants see how they each contribute” to the collective success as an organization.
There are reportedly 85 employees currently enrolled in the pilot course at FSI.  They are expected to provide feedback so the course can be “refined” for “several more trial runs this fall and in early 2020.”
Secretary Pompeo also told State Department employees that the goal is “to finalize the course and begin ramping it up next year to accommodate the roughly 1,600-1,800 new employees that the Department onboards every year.” He also said that “This critical investment will ensure that each one of our future colleagues is best prepared to join our efforts as champions of American diplomacy.”
We can’t tell right now how expensive is this project. Presumably, not as expensive as Rex Tillerson’s redesign project but one never know.  If you’re taking the course, we’re looking forward to hearing your assessment of the course, as well as assessment of the identified learning goals. Is this effective indoctrination, or a waste of dime and time? Are students in a bubble wrap or are they allowed to question the misalignment of stated values and actual practice we can see with our very stable faculties every day? Are trainers able to reconcile the gap between the stated professional ethos and reality? Is the State Department making this course mandatory for the leadership  at the Bureau of International Organizations, for starters or as refreshers?
There is also one glaring omission in the target audience for this course – the largest employee group in the State Department: not Foreign Service, not Civil Service, not Limited Non-Career Appointments, and not political appointees but it’s local employees, spanning over 275 posts, and totaling more than all other employee groups combined.  They do not appear to be included in this training “to unite new employees around the “One Team, One Mission, One Future” vision and the unique history of the Department.” These folks, almost all foreign nationals, often touted as the backbone of the State Department’s overseas presence, do not need to be champions of American diplomacy, do they?
Nothing shouts “One Team” louder than excluding local employees from this supposedly common, and unifying experience for new employees. This “One Team” training is in person right now, we can’t imagine State expending dollars to bring in LE employees from overseas to Washington, D.C. Although, one can make the case that if this is as important as they say it is, then doesn’t it make sense that all employees in the organization are trained and imbued with its specific point of view, and guiding principles? Are they considering an online course? web-based courses?
In any case, when the secretary says that this will help “everyone to grow as one team together”, everyone doesn’t really mean everyone, just all direct-hire American employees. But don’t fret, the $10,000 “One Team” Award is available for uh … Everyone. Even contractors. Oops, uh wait, what’s that?

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Inbox: Another example of top-notch FSI communications strategy?

Posted: 12:57 am  ET
[twitter-follow screen_name=’Diplopundit’]

 

We received the following in our inbox on Friday, February 4, 2017:

“Rumor is spreading like wildfire that on Friday afternoon at an administrative staff meeting FSI language school management announced that all language immersion trips planned for this spring would be cancelled. No one has yet bothered to tell the students or teachers who have already purchased non-refundable airline tickets for trips that have been planned and approved by language division supervisors since last year. The cancellations seems to be based on lack of FSI funds to pay per diem to accompanying teachers, but it is not clear whether students will still be permitted to travel on self-directed immersion trips. Some students are frantically trying to get flights and hotels refunded under travel insurance policies, but this is not likely to be a covered circumstance.

Another example of top-notch FSI communications strategy. No one has bothered to tell the affected parties, but half the administrative staff at FSI heard about it.”

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2013 Mathilda W. Sinclaire Language Awardees

— Domani Spero

According to AFSA, a generous bequest from retired Foreign Service officer Mathilda W. Sinclaire established a program since 1982 honoring Foreign Service employees who excel in the study of hard languages.  The purpose of Ms. Sinclaire’s bequest was to “promote and reward superior achievement by career officers of the Foreign Service […] while studying one of the Category III or IV languages under the auspices of the Foreign Service Institute.” The guidelines were reportedly amended and updated in October 2001 to expand eligibility for the awards to any career and career-conditional member of the Foreign Service from the Department of State, USAID, FCS, FAS, BBG and APHIS.  The 10 winners of the 2013 Mathilda W. Sinclaire Language Awards are as follows:

  • Miriam R. Asnes – Arabic
  • Sonnet A. Frisbee – Czech
  • Paul F. Narain – Greek
  • Jacob M. Rocca – Hebrew
  • Timothy Shriver – Hungarian
  • Robert Silberstein – Lithuanian
  • Alan J. Smith – Russian
  • Adam T. Stevens – Vietnamese
  • Matthew Wilson – Bulgarian
  • Bryan G. Wockley – Persian/Dari/Afghan

 

We received an email on this noting … “all but one of whom appear to be men. What’s with that?”  We looked at the list of winners from the previous four years and must note that in 2012 seven of the ten awardees were female.

2012: Anne Casper (Kinyarwanda), Vanna Chan (Lithuanian), Rebecca Danis (Pashto), Spencer Fields (Albanian), Christina Le (Greek), Dan McCandless (Dari), Robert Mearkle (Arabic), Nina Murray (Lithuanian), Roshni Nirody (Japanese), Kristen Pisani (Greek) M/F -3/7

2011: Nancy Abella (Dari), Eric Collings (Uzbek), Sarah Grow (Persian/Farsi), James Hallock (Mandarin), Rebecca Hunter (Albanian), Theresa Mangione (Vietnamese), E. Jerome Ryan, Jr. (Japanese), David Vincent Salvo (Serbian/Croatian). M/F-4/4

2010: Daniel Heath Bailey (Latvian), Eric M. Frater (Vietnamese), Melanie Harris Higgins (Indonesian), Bradley Hurst (Hungarian), Andrew J. Partin (Georgian), Daniel Rakove (Mongolian), Stuart Madgett Smith (Greek), Thomas Venner (Tagalog), Vaida Vidugiris (Greek). M/F-7/2

2009: Joshua Baker (Arabic), Laura Brown (Arabic), Zachary Harkenride (Dari), Vincent Traverso (Dari), Meredith Rubin (Icelandic), William M. Coleman (Japanese), Alan Clark (Mandarin Chinese), Scott Hansen (Mandarin Chinese), Denise Shen (Mandarin Chinese), Alfred Boll (Serbian), Adam Hantman (Thai). (Laura Brown was a previous winner for Bosnian in 2003.) M/F-8/2

Arabic as official language

Arabic as official language (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

It looks like candidates to the Sinclaire Language Awards may be nominated by the language-training supervisors at the FSI School of Language, the language instructors at field schools, or post language officers. According to AFSA’s website, winners are selected by a committee comprising the Dean of the FSI School of Language Studies (or designee), members of the AFSA Governing Board, AFSA Awards Committee and general AFSA membership. Each winner receives a check for $1,000 and a certificate of recognition signed by the AFSA President and the chair of the AFSA Awards committee.

The nomination requires the submission of DS‐651 Language Training Report or DS ‐1354 Language Proficiency Report if appropriate. In addition to the submission of the S/R (speaking/reading) scores, it also requires a nominating statement (not to exceed one page); and, of course, somebody who’s willing to write up and submit the nomination.

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State Dept Declares Inspector General Office “Non-Essential”, Furloughs All Staffers Except a Handful (Corrected)

— By Domani Spero

 

The State Department Under Secretary for Management Patrick Kennedy sent a letter to employees on September 30 reiterating, that “Department offices, bureaus, and State elements at our posts overseas will continue to function for a limited period of time.

In the September 30 Daily Press Briefing (DPB), State Department was going to stay open despite the shutdown.  (See Shutdown News:  State Department Stays Open and Operational. For Now.)

The MGT memo and the October 1 DPB now indicates that “a small number of offices” will be impacted initially by the shutdown.

When pressed for the affected offices, Ms. Psaki promised to get “a specific list.” But she added that “the way that it’s categorized, the impacted offices are those that operate with one-year funds that do not have available carryover funds to sustain operations. So they don’t have funds from the previous fiscal year and they are on one-year funding mechanisms.”

QUESTION: I’m just concerned, when you said they’ll be – continue to function for a time, I know you wouldn’t give weeks or days. But if I’m overseas and I need to see somebody at the embassy, I better get myself there right away?
[…]
QUESTION: What does “for a time” mean? I mean, “for a time” could be anything, correct?

MS. PSAKI: Well, I think I separated —

QUESTION: I mean, you said —

MS. PSAKI: Let me just finish. I separated out that as – the consular services as – I think as I said, since consular operations are fee-funded, there is significantly less chance at any point those individuals will be furloughed. And passport and consular services are fee-funded, which means they pay for themselves. So obviously, those operations will continue. Now, we can’t predict how long this will continue, so I’m just conveying that we’re taking it day by day.

We were looking for some clarity like this:

“SIGAR’s FY 2013 Appropriations provided $48.04M (post sequestration)5 in funds as multi-year funds. At present, SIGAR is projecting a carryover of$7.9M in unobligated funding to FY 2014, which will remain available through September 30, 2014. SIGAR will use this funding to delay the large disruption a lapse in funding would cause to SIGAR’s employees and operations. SIGAR projects the available funding will sustain current operations through December I, 2013 (61 days).”

We hope such clarity is forthcoming from the podium but we’re not holding our breath.  So folks will be left guessing how long the carryover funds will last for the rest of the agency.

In any case, Ms. Psaki was also asked about furloughed employees:

QUESTION: Were there any employees that, let’s say, came today and had to leave after four hours, like was suggested by some?

MS. PSAKI: Well, again, I referred to just a minimal number impacted by one-year funded programs. But the vast majority of employees reported to work today, are here today. Given that we are part of – we are a national security agency and we represent American interests around the world, that’s where our staffing levels are at this point.

QUESTION: So it’s safe to assume that some people did come to work, spent two or three hours, and then were asked to go home?

MS. PSAKI: I did not imply that. I think there’s a small, minimal number that are impacted by the one-year programs. That’s – beyond that, I don’t have specific numbers.

We just don’t understand this.  How hard is it to admit that yes, some employees had been furloughed?  Here’s what we’ve learned so far:

The State Department’s Office of Inspector General (State/OIG) has approximately 50 200 employees.  In one of its six offices (Inspection, Audit, Investigation, General Counsel, Public Affairs and EX) four out of approximately 50 employees were declared “excepted.”  The rest were given letters notifying them that they had been furloughed. So on Tuesday, the first day of the shutdown, the State/OIG employees worked no more than four hours to “shutdown” then went home for an undetermined period of time.  We understand that all inspections (save one already in the field) have been suspended.

That’s right.  The office entrusted with ensuring that waste, fraud, and abuse does not occur within the Department was deemed “non-essential” and sent home without pay.  (Also see Senate Confirms Steve Linick; State Dept Finally Gets an Inspector General After 2,066 Days).

Correction:  State/OIG’s Inspection branch has approximately 65 employees; adding the number of staffers from Audit, Investigation and other units we are told totals approximately 200 employees. One branch has four employees designated as “excepted” out of 50 employees.  We are guesstimating that about 10-12% of the total IG staff has been declared “excepted.” We will update the numbers if we get further clarification, officially or unofficially.  The blogpost title has been corrected.  

By contrast, the Office of the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR), also in the national security cone, has all its staff in Washington, DC and Afghanistan working normal.  That’s a staff of about 190 including 50 deployed to the war zone considered “”emergency essential” (EE) personnel.”

In any case, everything else is reportedly open and operational in the State Department including the Foreign Service Institute. It looks like State/OIG was the only exception, so the spokesperson’s “specific list” should be very short. Most other offices are apparently on two-year funding which we are told should last (unconfirmed officially) “until next week.”

AFSA’s update to members cited an unnamed Department management official conveying to HR employees that “there appeared to be enough funds to continue operations for approximately one pay period.”  Furthermore, the Department will reportedly try to provide ample notice (e.g. approximately 5 business days) to non-excepted employees before any emergency furlough. Also, bureaus (with exception of OIG) have not scrubbed their excepted/non-excepted lists nor notified any employees of their individual status.

(*O*)

What to do when different voices start delivering multiple démarches in your head?

– By Domani Spero

 

Below is the State Department’s High Stress Assignment Outbrief Implementation Guide – the FSI/MED Model.

Background of the High Stress Outbrief Program via fbo.gov

The High Stress Assignment Outbrief program was developed after the first groups of employees began coming back from assignments to Iraq and Afghanistan in 2002 and 2003 – posts that would have beenin evacuation status in more normal times. Returnees asserted that coming back from those posts wasn’t at all like coming back from a regular foreign affairs community assignment – that theDepartment needed to help with this particular transition in some way. Med’s Office of Mental Health Services asked the Foreign Service Institute’s Transition Center to assist in the development of a prototype training event, which was piloted in 2003. MED/Mental Health convened an Iraq Out-briefing Conference on July 29 & 30, 2004 at the Foreign Service Institute. The Outbrief program was reviewedand discussed by the full cadre of RMO/Ps, Dr. Robert Ursano and Dr. James McCarroll, from theUniformed Services University for Health Sciences, Dr. Carol North, Washington University (St. Louis),with guest presentations by (then) Director General of the Foreign Service Amb. Robert Pearson and others.

The program was endorsed by MED leadership and has run as a partnership between the FSI’sTransition Center and MED/Mental Health Services since then. All subsequent Directors General of the Foreign Service have mandated that all returnees from Iraq (and later Afghanistan) who have served for 90 days or longer be required to attend either a group or individual Outbrief upon return to CONUS.The realities of the Foreign Service assignment system brought complications – many officers had TDY-ed to Iraq or Afghanistan and were returning directly to their former posts. Others PCS-ed directly to follow-on assignments around the world. Clearly, a purely Washington-based program would not be effective in providing the service to all of our employees. Furthermore, many participants did not fit traditional Foreign Service employee profiles – special hiring authority hires (3161s), civil service employees, and third country nationals all stepped up to serve in those war zones. RMO/Ps were instructed to deliver Outbriefs at posts or during post visits, and to communicate the name of the Outbrief participant, date, and place back to the Transition Center for entry into the Department’sofficial training registration database to certify compliance.

Read more below:

 

I’ve requested help in understanding the usefulness of the Outbrief session and received a few responses below:

Comment #1: (from a twice-deployed employee)

“I have taken that half-day course twice in 2009 and 2013.  The class was almost the exact same.  They basically tell you to get sleep and try to adjust back and if needed, see someone.  The class I took in 2013 was 8 months after I returned because HR would not pay to send me to DC before home leave then I was in language training for six months.  If it was really important, HR would allow people to take it as early as possible otherwise, it must not be that important.”

Comment #2 (a State Department employee who served in Iraq and Pakistan)

“The description of the outbrief program seems reasonably accurate – although it’s been a while since I attended (in 2008 after Iraq, but not subsequently after Pakistan).  There’s a certain value to spending a bit of time (three hours?) with people that have been through similar experiences – probably including someone that you knew or at least shared acquaintances with.  It gives you a chance to talk with people who better understand your experiences.   It’s possible that some of our feedback made it back to decision makers in aggregated form.  For example, one of the themes of our discussion was that the Department (USG?) was doing itself no favors by sending warm bodies that lacked core qualifications (e.g. basic competence and a desire to be there.)  I think that the Department is now requesting 360s [360 degree feedback] for everyone that they send – although that may just be part of the general trend towards requesting 360s.  My memory is a bit hazy, but I think a key element was describing what other resources (e.g. clinical/therapeutic) might be available for those that needed them.”

Comment #3 (somebody once posted in Iraq— added at 6:48 am PST)
The high stress outbrief  is, as you noted, just an example of CYA– look, we have a program! A couple of voluntary hours with some contractor at cozy FSI with no follow-up, and especially no mandatory individual session is worthless. Many symptoms of PTSD evolve over time, and many returning-to-DC-stresses only become apparent after you have in fact returned to work and gotten the lay of the land in a new office. Speaking out in front of a group is not a core FS trait, and not something any person with real problems does easily. Imperfect as it is, the military does require formal screening and a brief one-on-one session with a counselor. Follow up care (imperfect) is available. At State, you’re told to “get help” without much help in getting it. After all, MED is not responsible for healthcare in the U.S.
 
Still not sure? Check with officers who were MEDEVACed for anything, not necessarily PTSD, and see if any of them got any follow-on from MED other than a new, career-crushing clearance status.

One of our readers commenting on mental health support suggested the following:

“While I know it wouldn’t solve everything, I think that anyone coming out of a post with danger pay should have some sort of mandatory sessions with some sort of licensed therapist. That would take away the stigma of the therapy and maybe get some people some help before they take out their PTSD on themselves or someone else.”

 

Remember the US Embassy Malta road rage meltdown that made the news? (US Embassy Malta Gets a Viral Video But — Not the Kind You Want).  We don’t know this individual nor his story, or which post he previously came from. But assignments to European posts like Malta have typically gone to employees who did tours in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan.   We don’t know if this individual came from an AIP posts. Even if he did, it’s not an excuse for such a behavior, but it might help us understand his demeanor.  American diplomats normally do not go around looking for a fight.

Our concern is simple. We are sending people out to the war/danger zones.  The State Department touts its mandatory High Stress Outbrief, an educational program that only requires presentation/delivery skills from whoever delivers the program.  Less than 60 percent of returnees attend the program, and there are no consequences for non-compliance.  Who does the follow-up? Anybody?

Is it fair to say that the State Department does no follow-up beyond the Outbrief session and expects employees to simply self-report any mental health issue? And because no one fears the social stigma of seeking mental health help and nobody suffers from the fear of losing one’s security clearance over a mental health issue, everyone in the Service can be counted on to self-report if/when different voices start delivering multiple démarches in one’s head?

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State Dept’s Leadership and Mgt School Needs Some Leadership, And It’s Not Alone

State/OIG recently released its inspection of the State Department’s Foreign Service Institute. It is a chunky report with over 80 pages.  It reviewed the school’s executive direction but also FSI’s various schools. On of the schools reviewed is its Leadership and Management School (FSI/LMS) which is headed by Carol A. Rodley, the dean since November 2011 and a former US Ambassador to Cambodia.  The associate dean is Gail E. Neelon, a civil service official who assumed office in July 2008.

Here is the irony of the day:  the LMS dean’s “tenure has taken a toll on morale.” Excerpt from the IG report’s pretty sparse discussion about the management and leadership issues at the school:

Led by a Foreign Service dean and a Civil Service associate dean, LMS has 4 divisions and 48 staff members, of which 44 are direct-hire employees and 4 are full-time equivalent contractors. The school had an FY 2012 base budget of $2.4 million and a total budget of $3.6 million, which includes $473,000 in reimbursements. LMS is a small but important component of FSI, responsible for teaching leadership skills to senior and mid-level officers. When OIG inspected FSI in 1999, leadership training consisted of a few courses in SPAS. LMS was created in 2000 as part of the Department’s increased emphasis on leadership. It delivers well-received leadership training mandatory for Department employees at various stages in their careers.

Participants praised LMS courses highly. However, the dean’s directive leadership style was criticized by school staff. Although the dean met the FSI front office’s request to attend to management issues left unresolved during an extended period between deans, her tenure has taken a toll on morale. (b)(5)(b)(6) she has taken some steps to be more accessible to staff members and acknowledge them and their work.
[…]
Paper Flow in the Dean’s Office: In April 2012, most LMS staff members complained to the OIG team about the lack of timely actions from the dean’s office on paperwork, pointing to delays, missed deadlines, and unanswered mail. To meet a proposed inspection recommendation, LMS implemented a new system for tracking requests for clearances and approvals.

Read the whole report here: Inspection of the Foreign Service Institute (ISP-I-13-22)

Leadership and management have supposedly been elevated in importance since the tenure of Secretary Powell but in the many nook and crannies of the bureaucracy, it is just a shiny object that is talked about, often admired for its qualities but does not really merit serious attention.

In June 2010, the OIG sent a memo on the need to improved post leadership to the Executive Secretariat of the State Department (at that time Stephen Mull was S/ES; he is now the US Ambassador to Warsaw):

Office of Inspector General (OIG) inspections over the past 4 years have shown that while a majority of posts and bureaus are well run, leadership in a small but significant minority needs to be improved. In a recent OIG survey of employees who are serving or have served in high stress/high threat posts, 45 percent of the respondents cited post leadership as a cause of stress for them or their colleagues. An inspection of the Bureau of African Affairs identified leadership as a problem in certain posts overseas as well as in the bureau itself under its previous management. OIG has found problems in posts in every region, under both career and political ambassadors. The results of poor leadership include reduced productivity and effectiveness, low morale, stress, and curtailments.
[…]
OIG believes that it is the responsibility of the Department to conduct its own assessments, based in part on input from staff and to do so every year, especially at one­ year-tour posts. In many cases, the knowledge that the leaders would be assessed annually would cause them to be more sensitive to how they lead staff. The annual assessment would allow for the early identification of problems and for remedial action in time to have an effect on the management and operations of a post or bureau under each leadership team. In some cases, leaders and mid-level managers will be unable or unwilling to change. In more cases, OIG believes that leaders would be receptive to counseling and training to help them become more effective. These assessments would also provide better support for annual evaluations and help the chief of mission and deputy chief of mission selection committees make better informed recommendations and decisions.

(Read Implementation of a Process to Assess and Improve Leadership and Management of Department of State Posts and Bureaus, ISP-1-10-68)

The 2010 OIG memo cc’ed P: Mr. Burns, who is now one of the Deputy Secretaries; HR – Ms. Powell (who is currently the US Ambassador to India),  MED – Mr. Yun, DS – Mr. Boswell (who got recently eaten by the Benghazi troll) and FSI – Ms. Whiteside (who we learned recently retired after a long tenure at FSI) .

On September 19, 2012, the OIG once again reminded State Management about this same boring topic on leadership with a memo not to the Executive Secretariat but this time to the Under Secretary for Management Patrick Kennedy:

OIG’s FY 2012 inspections found that while 75 percent of ambassadors, deputy chiefs of mission, and principal officers are doing a good to excellent job, 25 percent have weaknesses that, in most cases, have a significant impact on the effectiveness and morale of their posts and certainly warrant intervention by the Department.

One reason for a high percentage of posts requiring leadership attention in the past year is that a number of posts were selected for inspection because OIG received specific indications of weak leadership.
[…]
OIG therefore reiterates the importance it places on adopting an effective assessment and performance improvement system for ambassadors, deputy chiefs of mission, and principal officers. OIG continues to believe that a confidential survey of personnel at post is an.essential element of such a system.

The September 2012 memo only cc’ed two individuals:  DGHR-Linda Thomas-Greenfield (currently the top HR person for the Foreign Service and rumored to be the next A/S for the AF BUreau) and S/ES -Stephen Mull (currently the U.S. Ambassador to Poland).

Read: Memorandum Report, Improving Leadership at Posts and Bureaus (ISP-I-12-48)

The September 2012 OIG memo was careful to point out that “the 75 percent 25 percent figures apply to the posts OIG inspected and not necessarily to the Department as a whole.”

Well, thank heavens for that!

Had the State Department actually adopted an effective assessment and performance improvement system for ambassadors, dcms and principal officers, Diplopundit would probably be a pretty booooring blog.  Perhaps we would be writing fake April Fool’s news  or doodling ourselves to death here  …. but so far there’s been a huge throve of materials to cover ….

 

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