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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Thursday Inbox: Is it appropriate to send a retired general to be ambassador to USNATO?

From our inbox, a question about the recent nomination to NATO:

I don’t know Doug Lute.  And I have no reason to doubt that he is a smart and very accomplished person, who has earned the President’s trust.  However, that’s not the issue.  What *is* an issue is the fact that Lute is a military man.  And I think there need to be some probing questions asked asked about the appropriateness of sending a retired general to be ambassador USNATO.

The U.S. Ambassador to NATO is actually a shorthand title — s/he is the U.S. Permanent Representative to the North Atlantic Council (NAC).  The NAC is NATO’s political decision-making body.

The United States has, of course, had veterans in the USUN job before, but never, to the best of my knowledge, a retired career military person.  Indeed, the whole point of the North Atlantic Council is that it is run by civilians.  That’s why it is the top and sovereign body in NATO.

Those responsible for this appointment either don’t know or care about the history of NATO and why the NAC exists.

Sending a career military man to [USUN] USNATO is similar to, although different in degree, naming a Secretary of Defense who is a retired general.  In the United States, we have civilian control of the military.  These kinds of appointments blur that distinction in a dangerous way.

By the way — lest anyone make the argument that, since Lute is retired, we really should just ignore his whole military career and view him as a civilian, that is a laughable argument on two fronts:

(1) The only thing that makes him a candidate for any senior government job is that very military experience; and

(2) The White House even calls him *General* Lute in their announcement of the nomination!  So much for the civilian stuff.

A final note:

There is actually a quasi-counterpart to the North Atlantic Council for military reps at NATO — the NATO Military Committee.

Can one assume that, when the current 3-star who is the U.S. rep on the Military Committee leaves, he will be replaced by some just-retired FSO?  Of course, the answer is no.

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Below via history.state.gov | The Chief of Mission has the title of U.S. Permanent Representative on the Council of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, with the rank and status of Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary. Prior to 1 July 1967 the Representative on the Council of NATO was the Chief of the U.S. Mission to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization nad European Regional Organizations at Paris.

 

Since post was created, only five six of those appointed as ambassador to USNATO were career diplomats from the U.S. Foreign Service. One of those FSOs and the sole female appointee is Victoria Nuland, former State spokesperson and current nominee to be Assistant Secretary for the EUR Bureau. Update: One of our readers wrote to inform us that although Kurt Volker was a “non-career appointment” to the USNATO position he actually was a career FSO for a number of years. We understand that he was not in the Senior Foreign Service when appointed ambassador. Whether by mistake or oversight, both Volker and Nuland are listed by history.state.gov as non-career appointees.  Since Volker was in the FS and Nuland is currently in the FS (just promoted to FE-CM in 2012) we’re listing them both as FSOs in this blog post.

Only one previous appointee is a retired former military official – William Henry Draper Jr. who served during World War II as a major in the infantry, left and became a banker but stayed in the Army Reserves.  He later became a brigadier-general after World War II,  was promoted to major-general, and became the first under secretary of the Army from September 18, 1947 to February 28, 1949.

General Lute graduated from West Point in 1975 and left active duty in 2010.

Lieutenant General David R. Hogg is currently the United States Military Representative to the NATO Military Committee (USMILREP).

Updated to clarify details on Volker and Draper. Thanks to readers who helped!   

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