State/OIG: US Embassy Iceland Focuses on “Rebuilding Staff Morale” Following Pol Ambo’s Tenure

 

State/OIG conducted its inspection of the US Embassy in Iceland from March 15 to June 28, 2021. That’s about three months since Trump’s political ambassador had left post. The report says “Despite several months having elapsed since his departure, OIG found at the time of the inspection that embassy staff were still recovering from what they described as a threatening and intimidating environment created by the former Ambassador.”
Surely, the mothership knew what was happening in Reykjavik from 2019-2021? No? But State/OIG says that the relationship became “so strained at one point during his tenure that the then-Undersecretary for Political Affairs instructed the Bureau of European and Eurasian Affairs (EUR) to work directly with the Icelandic Ministry of Foreign Affairs to ensure proper management of the bilateral relationship.”
Oh, dear! Is this the same P (and D) who did their song and dance during the IO debacle?
State/OIG did not undertake this inspection until March 2021. We have not been able to find Iceland on its Work Plans for 2019-2020, 2020-2021, or 2021-2022. Previous to this report, we have been able to find one other report on Iceland dated February 2011. Makes one wonder why the OIG only inspected post on March 2021 and not earlier. We should add that posts are typically inspected once every five years, although that five year gap doesn’t seem to be happening anywhere anymore.
The thing though– State/OIG only inspects a small portion of overseas posts every year. We know this post is not a unique case but for posts not inspected earlier this year, whatever happened in the previous 2-3 years will be stale bread except in government corridors and nightmares.
At the time of the inspection, Embassy Reykjavik’s authorized staff included 16 U.S. direct hire staff (including 3 who worked for DOD), 55 locally employed (LE) staff, and 1 eligible family member.
Via State/OIG:

(U) The Chargé d’Affaires, ad interim (Chargé), a career member of the Senior Foreign Service, arrived at Embassy Reykjavik for a temporary duty assignment on January 24, 2021, 4 days after the departure of the former Ambassador. Previously, the Chargé served as Deputy Chief of Mission (DCM) at the U.S. Mission to the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe from 2017 to 2020, serving as Chargé and acting Representative for the first 2 years. His career also included tours of duty as the Deputy Executive Secretary of the Department and Director of the Department’s Operations Center.
[…]
(U) Embassy Leadership Focused on Rebuilding Staff Morale and Normalizing Embassy Operations

(U) OIG found that the Chargé and DCM were focused on rebuilding staff morale and normalizing embassy operations following the former Ambassador’s tenure, a noncareer appointee who served from June 2019 to January 2021. Despite several months having elapsed since his departure, OIG found at the time of the inspection that embassy staff were still recovering from what they described as a threatening and intimidating environment created by the former Ambassador. For example, staff reported to OIG multiple instances in which the former Ambassador had threatened to sue Department officials and embassy staff who expressed disagreement with him, questioned his wishes, or were perceived to be “disloyal” to him. In addition, many employees reported to OIG that the former Ambassador threatened reprisal against employees who communicated with Department officials in Washington while conducting their official duties.

(U) During the inspection, OIG found that the Chargé and DCM were modeling leadership and management principles in 3 Foreign Affairs Manual (FAM) 1214 to establish a positive, inclusive, and supportive tone for the embassy. In interviews and questionnaires, embassy staff consistently noted the positive and supportive work environment the Chargé and the DCM fostered, following the departure of the former Ambassador. Staff cited the leadership team’s care and support for both U.S. direct-hire and LE staff, their open and inclusive approach, and empowerment of and trust in staff members to do their jobs, consistent with 3 FAM 1214b. For example, the Chargé held a town hall on his first day emphasizing a return to normal operations. In addition, the DCM contacted the Regional Medical Officer/Psychologist, based in London, to help assess morale and develop actions to address employee concerns. 4

(U) Execution of Foreign Policy Goals and Objectives (U) At the time of the inspection, OIG found the embassy was focused on rebuilding its relationship with the Government of Iceland following a deterioration of that relationship under the former Ambassador, which became so strained at one point during his tenure that the then-Undersecretary for Political Affairs instructed the Bureau of European and Eurasian Affairs (EUR) to work directly with the Icelandic Ministry of Foreign Affairs to ensure proper management of the bilateral relationship. This action attempted to mitigate the negative impact of the former Ambassador’s frequent failure to respect diplomatic protocol or to coordinate with the Icelandic Government on policy initiatives and press statements touching on sensitive defense-related subjects. For example, the former Ambassador’s post on the embassy’s Facebook page indicated that the United States was investing more than $170 million on various projects and programs in Iceland, as part of a long-term plan to strengthen U.S.-Icelandic cooperation. This and other uncoordinated statements by the former Ambassador generated public controversy in Iceland.

(U) Upon his arrival in January 2021, the Chargé met with senior government officials to improve the diplomatic engagement between the embassy and the Icelandic Government, consistent with his responsibilities under 3 FAM 1427 and 2 FAM 111.1-2 to promote cordial relations with the host country. OIG noted that the public statements issued by senior Icelandic Government officials, both when the Chargé arrived and following his introductory meetings with senior government officials, reflected the host government’s appreciation for the restoration of respect for diplomatic protocol and procedure in the embassy’s conduct of the bilateral relationship.
[…]
(U) Local Compensation Plan Did Not Comply With Icelandic Labor Law (U) The embassy’s local compensation plan21 did not fully reflect Icelandic prevailing wage rates and compensation practices, as required by 3 FAM 7512.3. Specifically, the local compensation plan did not follow the collective bargaining agreement22 applicable to Icelandic employees regarding the standard work week, annual leave, the transfer of leave rights between employers, and standby shift rates. In addition, OIG found that the embassy had not provided annual increases in the summer and winter and salary supplements since 2009 despite these benefits being required by the collective bargaining agreement. Standards in 3 FAH-2 H131.3a(1) require embassies to implement a local compensation plan and review it at least annually. OIG found the embassy told the Bureau of Global Talent Management’s Office of Overseas Employment (GTM/OE) of its concerns with the local compensation plan in its 2019 Local Compensation Questionnaire submission.23
[…]
(U) Embassy Did Not Conduct Seismic Evaluations for Leased Residences (U) Embassy Reykjavik did not conduct seismic safety assessments for 11 of its 15 leased residential units, as required by Department standards. The Bureau of Overseas Buildings Operations (OBO) lists Iceland in zone 4, which is considered a very high seismic zone. In 2018, OBO performed a seismic assessment of the embassy’s residences. This report was delivered to Embassy Reykjavik in November 2020. The embassy has since replaced 11 residences, none of which have been assessed by an OBO-approved structural engineer, as required in 15 FAM 252.6f. According to embassy staff, the embassy did not take immediate action in November 2020 due to other priorities assigned by the former Ambassador. The embassy liaised with OBO on establishing a local contract for seismic assessments but had not completed the work by the end of the inspection. Leasing properties without performing seismic safety assessments poses significant risk to the life and safety of occupants.

###

U.S. Ambassadors in the News: Iceland, United Kingdom, Eswatini, Zimbabwe, South Korea

ICELAND

UNITED KINGDOM

ESWATINI (SWAZILAND)

ZIMBABWE

SOUTH KOREA

 

Where Americans Are Not Welcome Due to USA’s Epic Failure in Containing COVID-19 Infections #RealPostoftheMonth

 

Confirmations: Gilbert (NZ), Barber (Iceland), Hyatt (Palau), Palmer (Malawi), Heflin (Cabo Verde), Chacon (DGHR)

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

 

Late Friday, December 12, the U.S. Senate confirmed by voice vote the following ambassadorial nominees:

  • Mark Gilbert – to be Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the United States of America to New Zealand, and to serve concurrently and without additional compensation as Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the United States of America to the Independent State of Samoa;
  • Robert C. Barber – to be Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the United States of America to the Republic of Iceland;
  • Amy Jane Hyatt – to be Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the United States of America to the Republic of Palau;
  • Virginia E. Palmer – to be Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the United States of America to the Republic of Malawi;
  • Donald L. Heflin – to be Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the United States of America to the Republic of Cabo Verde;
  • Arnold A. Chacon – to be Director General of the Foreign Service;

The Senate also confirmed David Nathan Saperstein, to be Ambassador at Large for International Religious Freedom in a 61-36 vote.

Two members of the Broadcasting Board of Governors were also confirmed:

  • Michael W. Kempner – to be a Member of the Broadcasting Board of Governors for a term expiring August 13, 2015;
  • Leon Aron – to be a Member of the Broadcasting Board of Governors for a term expiring August 13, 2016

 

* * *

 

 

 

 

 

White House Petition: Appoint Chris Holmes as U.S. Ambassador to Iceland

— Domani Spero

On February 14, A.P. from Los Angeles started a White House petition to appoint Chris Holmes the U.S. Ambassador to Iceland. The petition currently has 186 signatures.  Apparently Mr. Holmes has been to Iceland “a bunch of times” and “knows the best bars.” A good an endorsement as any.  Over on Twitter, one of the endorsers tweets, “Chris Holmes is the chillist perfect 4 da job.” Another tweets, “Love Iceland, love mad scientist werewolf Chris Holmes. Holmes for US Ambassador to Iceland.” 

Screen Shot 2014-02-23
Who is Chris Holmes? Below via FB:

On Chris Holmes: released his major label debut Dan Loves Patti under his Yum Yum moniker, an album that Rolling Stone said “more than holds it own in comparison with influences as the Beatles, and Beach Boys circa Pet Sounds.” He has since toured and recorded with The Smashing Pumpkins and Felix da Housecat, co-produced tracks for P. Diddy, worked on Billy Corgan’s solo album and written with Rachael Yamagata and Mandy Moore. Also an established DJ, Holmes appeared on URB’s “Next 100” list and was handpicked by Sir Paul McCartney to open for him at 2009’s Coachella Fest and to tour the world with him in 2011. In addition Chris has toured with Radiohead, Atoms for Peace, and Daft Punk.

Active links added above. To read more, see LAT’s Chris Holmes marches to his own extraterrestrial drummer and Six degrees of Chris Holmes: Obama neighbor, Beck sideman, more. The LA Times also writes that “Indeed, there proved so many fascinating instances of Holmes’ notable connections that, quite simply, they wouldn’t fit in a single article.”  And this:

While a student the University of Chicago, Holmes lived across the street from a then-unknown Barack Obama. “He was a really nice guy,” Holmes recalls. “I first met him when a bunch of professors had a party next door.   They were like, ‘This is Barack -– he lives a couple houses down the cul-de-sac.’ I was the weird dude of the neighborhood, always lighting off fireworks and doing crazy things, and he’d always just be sitting on his porch, smoking and thinking. He was such a chain smoker, we nicknamed him ‘Smoking Guy’ after the character on ‘The X-Files.’

So he knew President Obama back when, he’s been to Iceland a bunch of times, and he knows the best bars. He is already on Twitter as @ashtarchris and on Instagram, where a week ago he posted this with a note that says, “C’mon. We can do better.”

 * * *

Enhanced by Zemanta

Got Tired of Laughing — SFRC Confirmation Hearings Now on Audio Only?

— Domani Spero

“Is there a rule ambassadors can’t have set foot in the countries they are going to ambassador? Would it ruin the surprise?” Jon Stewart asked with sort of a straight face.  Then he did double jabs on the corrupt practice of awarding ambassadorships to political donors and bundlers.  This was funny sad, really — well, maybe more sad than funny for Mr. Stewart’s subjects. If you missed the laughs, see below:

Yeah, bet you didn’t know that Iceland cost more than Argentina in the ambo sweeps.  Sure, Argentina has horses, wine, and tango, but Iceland has Westeros, folks.

In any case, Congress must have gotten tired of laughing. The last time we checked, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee only had the audio up on its website for the latest confirmation hearings.  We hope this was because of the snow that week or some glitch and nothing like the remove the Marine Corps Times from the newsstands sort of thing.  Because that would not be cool.

Screen Shot 2014-02-22

* * *

Enhanced by Zemanta

Senator John McCain’s “No More Questions” at the Senate Confirmation Hearing Gets a GIF

|| >We’re running our crowdfunding project from January 1 to February 15, 2014. If you want to keep us around, see Help Diplopundit Continue the Chase—Crowdfunding for 2014 via RocketHub <||

 

— Domani Spero

We have not been paying attention to the Senate confirmation hearings at the SFRC.  I mean, these folks get nominated, grilled lightly or well done by the senators and with very few exceptions, they get confirmed. Unless, a senator or two puts  a hold on the nomination, but more often than not, for the wrong, unrelated reason. Yeah, it gets boring after a while.  Anyway, on January 16, the nominees for ambassadorships to the Republic of Iceland, the Kingdom of Norway and to Hungary appeared before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee (see the SFRC hearing page here) for their confirmation hearing.

By now, you have already heard about the feedback from Norway on what transpired during the hearing. If you haven’t, click here and here. News in English Norway reports that as local media put it, “the wealthy Greek-American businessman who’s been nominated to be the next US ambassador to Norway “tråkket i salaten” (trampled through the salad bowl) at his recent US Senate confirmation hearing. George J Tsunis’ confusion over Norway’s form of government and who’s actually in it was sparking reaction in Norway on Thursday.” Read all that here. And it’s all over the Internets now.

The nominee “trampled  through the salad bowl” after questioning by Senator McCain.  Here is the senior Senator from Arizona during the hearing with his gif-able moment.

SFRC_SenMc01232014

* * *

Enhanced by Zemanta

Zombies Invade Reykjavik or What Are You Doing With Young Zombies in Your Host Country

Via US Embassy Reykjavik:

The U.S. Embassy, Skjárinn and BíóParadís cooperated to present a zombie party and special screening of the first episode of Season 3 of the U.S. television series The Walking Dead. Ambassador Arreaga and other embassy staff joined a large group of zombie enthusiasts who organized a “Zombie Walk” from Hlemmur to BioParadis. At BioParadis, the ambassador presented awards to the Best Dressed, Bloodiest and Scariest zombies.

Photo via US Embassy Iceland/FB

Ambassador Arreaga during the zombie walk; see, even zombies need eyeglasses!
Photo via US Embassy Iceland/FB

Ambassador Arreaga in his non-zombie get-upPhoto via US Embassy Iceland/FB

Ambassador Arreaga in his professional get-up before his brain was eaten by zombies
Photo via US Embassy Iceland/FB

More photos of Zombies Invade Reykjavik (46 photos).  Ambassador Arreaga also posted about the zombie incident on his blog here.

“In one of the more unusual and perhaps the most fun activities in my foreign service career, Mary and I joined a group of Icelandic zombies on a “walk” from the Hlemmur bus station to Bíó Paradís where we had a chance to watch the first chapter of the third season of “The Walking Dead” a highly successful American television series.”

The event was held by the embassy for a group of young Icelandic zombies in partnership with SkjárEinn, cable television provider of the show, and Bíó Paradís, an independent cinema in downtown Reykjavik.

It looks like they had fun! But think about that for a moment. The targeted demographics are young Icelandic zombies.  Now, the next ALDAC cable going out of Foggy Bottom will be asking this question:  What are you doing with the young zombies in your host country? We hope you have a handy response.

sig4