Inbox: What’s going on at the Frankfurt Regional Diplomatic Courier Office?

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— A deteriorating situation in April 2021
— Historically low morale

The U.S. Diplomatic Courier Service (DS/C/DC) provides safe, secure, and expeditious delivery of classified, sensitive, and other approved material to and between U.S. diplomatic missions, the Department, and other customers it serves. According to the State Department, it has more than 100 diplomatic couriers in the service. DS/C/DC has regional divisions in Washington, D.C., Miami, Bangkok, and Frankfurt and courier hubs in Abidjan, Dakar, Manama, Pretoria, Sao Paulo, and Seoul.

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Inbox: Are there treatments that work? #HavanaSyndrome

Note: We received the note below from a Foreign Service employee who asked not to be identified. The sender gave us permission to publish this note as long as we remove potential identifying information related to specific posts and dates. We are wondering how many more out there similarly had to deal with a non-responsive  Bureau of Medical Services whose mission is “to promote and safeguard the health and well-being of America’s diplomatic community.” How many are in limbo about their condition? How many never heard from anyone about what the next steps should be?
–DS
I brought up my symptoms to the Health Unit (HU) where I was posted, and asked to receive an assessment for those symptoms even though my “attack” did not happen within the time frame specified in the Management Notice that went out via all HUs around the world. I was given the assessment, and several of my symptoms were identified as being similar to the Havana syndrome symptoms that began after my 26 months in Post Z (2008 – 2010): sudden onset of chronic insomnia, loss of smell, difficulty concentrating, and tinnitus/loss of hearing. The results of my assessment were sent to State/MED over a year ago, and I requested the HU at Post to indicate I would like a follow up. Since then I have had no communications from MED on this, despite having sent emails to various different persons in MED asking what the next steps were.  
I continue to have these symptoms. I was medevac’d from one post whose HU thought it was PTSD from Baghdad; I tried to explain I had been taking OTC sleep aids since 2009 in Post Z and that slowly but surely their efficacy had diminished. I thought I had just spontaneously developed the condition because of stress or pollution in Country Z. Unfortunately, the various symptoms have had a significant quality of life impact, both professionally and personally, and at this point I am very frustrated with State and MED for the lack of follow up. At the very least I would like to have additional assessments to see if my brain shows the patterns that our colleagues in Moscow, Havana, and Guangzhou also exhibit. I would also like to have available to me whatever resources are available from State to help work through some of these symptoms. Are there treatments that work? It would be great to get some relief.

 

 


 

 

Inbox: Respect For Our Colleagues

We received the following from “Outrage Colleague”:
The recent outrage on an online forum about the harassment of our fellow diplomats at the border is too little too late.
|> Front offices and OFM of course are aware of the treatment by CBP and foreign governments of our non American born and non-white heritage colleagues. Little has been done, when actions been taken, teams move on and old habits return.
|> Expeditors used in multiple embassies and missions are a poor excuse for unwillingness to stand up to foreign governments to this treatment.
|> There is no EEO Channel for our colleagues to report these issues to. When they report them to Management the solution is often assignment of an expeditor or a security staff member or a call to a low level official. The treatment continues and the colleague is made to feel even more different. We continue to fund programs related to aviation, security, and justice in the host nation.
|> There has been démarches for LGBTI accreditation issues yet, I don’t recall seeing an instruction on this issue, not even once.
|> This is rampant in the Middle East, Europe, Africa, and WHA and it impacts people of color, people of Hispanic heritage, people of Arab descent, and women.  
Enough.

They’re Making a List, and Checking It Twice #ManOhManOhMan

When you hear that lists sent to DCM Committees have been adjusted by gender for those appointees who are insisting on a man (!) as their Deputy Chief of Mission (DCM) or Deputy Assistant Secretary (DAS). And you’re still waiting for anyone at DGHR to inform everyone that no committee will entertain any list that promotes, assists, or enables sex discrimination in violation of Title VII.

via giphy

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Inbox: “State Department absolutely deserves to have a trial by media”

Posted: 1:31 am ET

 

In response to our recent post, Congress Seeks Info on @StateDept Senior Executives Who Are Subjects of Multiple Complaints, we received an email from a reader who gave us permission to share the following, purposely stripped of specific details for obvious reasons:

“I want to comment on your post about the letter Congressman Cummings wrote to Secretary Tillerson. I filed an EEO complaint against the agency and have suffered immensely in my professional and personal life. What struck out to me from your post was this: “victims with no real recourse for redress may decide that talking to the Hill or the press is the only action left for them, no matter the personal consequences.” I can tell you that going to Congress or the press is absolutely something I’m pondering, and it’s precisely for the reason you stated. There is no real recourse or redress. There is zero accountability. The State Department absolutely deserves to have a trial by media. I probably won’t be the one to lead the charge. The State Department has caused enough damage in my life, but it definitely needs to be accountable to SOMEONE. I hope a new era is on the horizon, but I won’t be holding my breath.”

 

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Inbox: Feast-or-Famine Games Being Played With State Staffing Levels

Posted: 1:33 am ET
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From our inbox this week:

I agree with AFSA that the house is on fire, but the question is what to do about it?  To use the fire analogy, you have to remove the fuel, the oxygen, or the heat to put out a fire.  So, what should be done to extinguish the current situation?  I certainly appreciate Ambassador Stephenson’s pointing out that there is indeed a fire, and I hope she will promote some constructive ways it can be put out.

From my perspective as an 02 generalist who has been in the Department for 10 years, staffing has never been constant.  I came in after Secretary Powell’s Diplomatic Readiness Initiative, which was needed because of the hiring freeze under Secretary Albright.  Colleagues hired under the DRI saw accelerated promotions to fill the ranks out where too many vacancies existed.  After I joined State, Secretary Clinton started the Diplomacy 3.0 accelerated hiring, which resulted in the much-discussed Pig in the Python.  Now, we are seeing a strategy to reduce jobs at the top, limit hiring of new employees, and encourage early retirement through a $25k incentive.  This is no way to run any kind of organization, public or private!  The feast-or-famine games being played with State staffing levels over the years distort careers and upturn lives.  Because of the DRI, employees with too little experience were placed in positions they were ill prepared for.  Because of the current situation, I know of some good, experienced officers who opened their windows to join the Senior Foreign Service (before Trump’s election), who are now facing an early exit from State with the reduced promotion numbers.  How in the world can people plan their careers?   How can State train and develop the next set of leaders?  How can we recruit the best and brightest to public service that is not related to the military or homeland security?  Again, this is no way to run a professional organization.

Although I certainly agree that reforms at State are needed, I strongly disagree with the approach that the supposed employee-led redesign has been enacted.  Reducing staffing levels to meet some arbitrary goal only serves to weaken the organization and create unintentional distortions.  (Side note: And the EFM hiring freeze, I mean EFM managed hiring process, is literally tearing apart families.)  Perhaps the solution is to have more Congressional oversight, at least as far as staffing levels are concerned.  I know of no one who welcomes more Congressional oversight, but I am frustrated with the yo-yo like nature that staffing at State has been treated.

The State Department will get through this latest challenge, I have no doubt.  The question is just how long it will take to recover, and how many good people will be sacrificed along the way.

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Inbox: A belief that there’s no place for a female in Diplomatic Security agent ranks especially at HTPs?

Posted: 3:24 am ET
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We recently posted a report out of Diplomatic Security’s BSAC training (see Diplomatic Security’s Basic Special Agent (BSAC) Training: Sexual Harassment Alert!, We received the following comment in our mailbox that we think many will find just as troubling:

“In response to the DS BSAC Sexual Harassment allegations, the  ‘militarization’ of DS post-Benghazi, such as with high threat training requirements (duplicated from U.S. military training), has made many mid and senior-level male agents believe that there is no place for a female in DS agent ranks, especially at high threat posts. These same male agents are the future DS leadership unfortunately. The vast majority of DSS male agents are professional and respectful in the workplace however the chauvinistic attitude is prevalent, and is actually coming from the attitude from the mid and senior level guys (01s to OCs) who are managers and not DS leadership.  DS leadership is responsible to stop it, and that can only be done by setting the offenders publicly accountable and placing professional agents in senior leadership positions.”

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A Global Force: Agent Profile brochure says that “For women who choose Diplomatic Security as a career, there are no limits to how far you can go.”  Also that “Diversity is one of the greatest strengths of Diplomatic Security.”  

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Inbox: “Be careful what you wish for, you might get it.”

Posted: 12:19 am  ET
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We received the following in our inbox:

Be careful what you wish for, you might get it.

Be careful what you complain about, somebody might listen.

One month in, the new Administration already provides unprecedented opportunities for foreign policy professionals to demonstrate their value to the American people.

Non-career Ambassadors overseas – they’re all gone, with only a handful on the way.  If you’re the chargé d’affaires, you’re in
charge.  Take charge!

In Washington, the Obama White House’s overstaffed National Security Council is no more; good riddance.  Too many political appointees at State, at lower and lower levels?  They’re all gone, with not even a new “D” en route.  If you’re in charge, take charge!

That means demonstrating to President Trump your loyalty to whatever he determines is U.S. foreign policy.  Career diplomats in the Foreign Service, and career professionals in the Civil Service, should pick up the baton, get to work, and not wait for further appointments, unless specifically advised to the contrary.  Fill the vacuum on your own.

This is career public servants’ opportunity.  Thank you.

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Inbox: Female Diplomatic Security Agent Pens a Note on Sexual Harassment and Career Suicide

Posted: 3:16 am ET
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Last Monday, we posted A Joke That Wasn’t, and a State Department Dialogue That Is Long Overdue. There are a couple of public comments on the thread (see left side-bar) and also private ones.  Thank you all for taking the time to write. The item below is from an email sent by a female Diplomatic Security agent. We are publishing it here with her permission:

As a female DS agent, your article raised a lot of issues that we, as female agents, secretly discuss, but rarely report officially. It seems strange that a group of trained federal investigators could be so apprehensive to report these issues, but within DS, a male-dominated profession, it is career suicide to raise the flag and contest misogynistic behaviors. I know quite a few female agents who have been sexually harassed by their colleagues, but were too afraid to report the behavior. Most of these women end up leaving DS and passing the issues off to the younger generation of female agents. The few female DS agents who made the decision to file an OCR and EEO complaint against other DS agents end up looking for new jobs. 

Filing a complaint is particularly hard for female agents — they know that their DS colleagues would be the ones looking into the allegations. The same colleagues that are supposed to keep the diplomatic community safe, but instead, make fun of women who report sexual assaults behind their backs. 
This is a huge issue within DS and will not go away unless an outside entity pushes for a cultural shift within DS.

 

The State Department’s sexual harassment policy is posted here.
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Inbox: A Note From an Unarmed Diplomat

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–Domani Spero

We received the following via email from an “unarmed diplomat” who wrote, “I knew Sean, so this is personal with me.”

“I am not surprised that State ignored post’s requests for security.  I am even less surprised that Amb. Stevens wanted to put his “boots on the ground” there – which meant that others had to follow him there.  Beginning with Condi Rice this notion that diplomats could do “expeditionary diplomacy” has been increasingly ill-advised and terrifying.  Diplomats, unlike the military, are neither trained nor equipped to be in the middle of armed insurrection, yet the path to promotion is through such assignments.  So long as promotions and onward assignments are linked to danger posts, then there will be pressure for State personnel to be in those places and for warnings and trip lines to be ignored.  So long as danger is a “glorified career cone” (so to speak) then career ambassadors will push to be in such places, dragging their staff along.”

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