State/OIG Report on US Embassy Estonia Gets a “D” For Um … Dazzle?

Posted: 2:09 am  EDT
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The Office of the Inspector General inspected the U.S. Embassy in Tallinn, Estonia from October 3–22, 2014.  It released its inspection report  on June 18, 2015.

Inspection of Embassy Tallinn, Estonia
Posted On: June 18, 2015 Report Date: June 2015
Report Number: ISP-I-15-23A
Report: application/pdf icon isp-i-15-23a.pdf

Quick look at post fro the IG report:

Missionwide staffing is 42 U.S. direct-hire employees, including 27 Department U.S. direct-hire employees. The FY 2014 missionwide budget was $8.9 million. Other agencies represented at the mission include elements of the U.S. Departments of Defense, Justice, and Homeland Security. A small number of U.S. military personnel on rotation to Estonia fall under chief of mission authority. The mission has no consulates. The mission’s FY 2015 request for foreign assistance funds totaled $3.6 million for Estonian military stabilization operations and security sector reform ($2.4 million for foreign military funding and $1.2 million for international military education and training). Embassy Tallinn’s missionwide budget for FY 2014 was approximately $8.9 million. Department staffing was 27 U.S. direct-hire employees and 85 locally employed (LE) staff members.

Excerpt from key findings:

  • The Ambassador and the deputy chief of mission provide appropriate oversight to the country team, and U.S. Department of State sections, in accordance with Section 207(a) of the Foreign Service Act of 1980. However, stronger leadership from the Ambassador and his greater adherence to Department of State rules and regulations are necessary.
  • The political/economic section is staffed adequately to carry out its policy advocacy and reporting responsibilities but needs to adjust local staff portfolios and the language requirements of its U.S. officers to maximize resources.
  • The public affairs section is central to mission efforts to carry out Integrated Country Strategy objectives, using traditional public diplomacy tools, media engagement, social media, and regional outreach to amplify policy messages.
  • The embassy’s consular warden system has not been reviewed, activated, or tested since at least 2011. Worldwide tensions increase the need for an effective warden system with the flexibility to meet multiple contingencies, including the potential interruption of electronic messaging capability.
  • The aging chancery does not meet—and cannot be retrofitted to meet—even the most basic security standards, and numerous infrastructure deficiencies need to be addressed if the embassy is to remain at its present location.
  • The telecommunications and power cabling infrastructure throughout the chancery is disorganized and largely undocumented, which limits the ability of information management staff to carry out their duties.
  • The embassy needs a comprehensive training plan for locally employed staff that reflects priority training needs.
  • Internal management controls need to be strengthened, with particular attention to separation of duties, documenting processes and standard operating procedures, clarifying backup duties, and reassessing organization structure.

Here is what Section 207(a) of the Foreign Service Act of 1980 says:

excerpt from Foreign Service Act of 1980

 

Quite impressive, yo!

The ambassador is popular with the Estonian public, helped sold Javelin missiles worth $50–$60 million, met so infrequently with senior Estonian Government officials but succeeded, nonetheless, to get Estonia to accept one Gitmo detainee. This report reminds us of those evaluation reports where the drafter attempts walking on water. Excerpts:

  • The Ambassador’s interpersonal skills have enabled him to participate effectively in public affairs and other programing in several parts of the country and have garnered him personal popularity with the Estonian public.
  • His support for the military includes advocacy for U.S. military sales. His efforts have helped secure a sale to the Estonian Government of U.S. Javelin missiles worth $50–$60 million.
  • The Ambassador, however, has not established strong relationships at the Government of Estonia’s ministerial level. In his 2 years as Chief of Mission, he has met infrequently with the Prime Minister or other ministers in the cabinet (less than 12 times during his 24 months in the embassy, in addition to initial courtesy calls or accompanying visitors and at public events). … Despite the infrequency of his meetings with senior Estonian Government officials, the Ambassador successfully led the effort to obtain the government’s acceptance of a Guantanamo detainee—an impressive achievement given the small size of the country and the government’s reluctance.

On getting the Estonians to “yes,” how did he do it? The IG report did not say, which would have been really helpful given how many Gitmo detainees we still need to place elsewhere.

On leadership, the IG report says:

The most significant findings concern the need for stronger leadership from the Ambassador and his greater adherence to ethics principles, Equal Employment Opportunity (EEO) guidelines, and security policies.

Buried in the report is this:

[T]he embassy staff rated the Ambassador below average in leadership categories, including vision, engagement, fairness, and ethics. Segments of the mission community, including some U.S. direct-hire and LE female employees told the OIG team that they feel undervalued. .. Some American and LE staff members gave examples of preferential treatment that the Ambassador afforded to specific employees and interns. It is imperative that the Ambassador reverse these perceptions; he indicated that he is willing to work hard to do so, and he began the process by apologizing to his staff before the inspection team’s departure.

On the EEO program, the report says, “The EEO program at Embassy Tallinn requires attention by embassy leadership.” Oy! What happened?

Non-review of visa issuances/refusals:

The DCM has not met requirements in 9 FAM 41.113 and 9 FAM 41.121 to review nonimmigrant visa issuances and refusals. The most recent regional consular officer report for Tallinn, dated January 2014, states that “[t]he DCM did not meet adjudication review standards…since the last regional officer report visit [in May 2013].” A Bureau of Consular Affairs preinspection report found that standards had also not been met between May 1 and July 30, 2014. The DCM’s review of visa adjudications at single officer embassies is especially important, as no other person provides required oversight and quality control.

Things that happen just before the OIG starts work, or leave post:

  • The Ambassador’s efforts to establish an overall strategic vision, in accordance with 3 Foreign Affairs Manual (FAM) 1214, have not been successful. Few of Embassy Tallinn’s senior leaders can articulate the Ambassador’s overall strategic vision or identify the top priorities contained therein, despite an off-site planning session held just days before the start of the inspection. The Ambassador held the previous planning off site almost 2 years earlier—too long ago to enable employees to have a lasting awareness of his goals and direction. A clear shared vision—key to coordinated team work and productivity—is missing. Greater communication is needed. No structured effort exists to inform the mission employees, including LE staff members, of the outcome of the planning session, which has left a large part of the embassy team uninformed.
  • At the start of the inspection no program was in place for mentoring the mission’s two first- and second-tour (FAST) employees, and some mid-level officers stated that they would welcome mentoring on career development issues. The DCM structured a FAST program and scheduled initial mentoring sessions prior to the inspection team’s departure.

Counsel from EUR/Office of the Legal Adviser?

Elsewhere on the report, it says that “the OIG team identified instances in which the Ambassador did not appear to adhere to established Department rules and regulations. Each instance was small, but collectively they suggest his disregard for adherence to the rules.” It recommends that EUR, in coordination with the Office of the Legal Adviser, should counsel the Embassy Tallinn Ambassador concerning ways to avoid breaches of Department of State rules and regulations.


What the hey?  

[T] he Ambassador has been involved only marginally in efforts that would identify potential opportunities in Estonia for U.S. businesses, as outlined in 18 FAM 015. He agreed to increase efforts in that area, as well as not to pursue Estonian export interests that would not directly result in U.S. jobs.

The IG inspectors cited Section 207(a) of the Foreign Service Act of 1980 on its key findings but forgot Section 207 (c) of the Act?


Oh darn, we almost forgot —  whatabout curtailments?  

Read more about that in U.S. Embassy of Curtailments.


Recusals, anyone?

Embassy Tallinn’s chief of mission is Jeffrey Levine. Prior to his appointment  as ambassador to Estonia, he was the State Department’s director of Recruitment, Examination and Employment from 2010-2012 (HR/REE).

The OIG team who inspected the mission was headed by Marianne Myles who was previously Ambassador to Cape Verde (2008-2010). Prior to her appointment to Cape Verde, she, too was the director of the State Department’s Office of Recruitment, Examination and Employment (HR/REE). She was also Director of Policy Coordination for the Foreign Service’s Director General (DG/HR).

A side note here, HR/REE had three directors spanning at least  six years who went directly from HR to an ambassadorship. (Luis Arreaga, the HR/REE director from 2008-2010 was appointed Ambassador to Iceland from 2010-2013).  This is an extremely small club to belong to.

So we asked Mr. Linick’s office about its recusal policy. Wasn’t IG Linick concerned about potential conflict of interest in this instance? We also asked if there has ever been an instance when OIG inspectors who are/were FS members recused themselves when there is potential or appearance of conflict of interest?

Over the weekend, we received the OIG’s response to our inquiry.  Repeated below in its entirety:

OIG strictly follows the  independence standards established by the Council of the Inspectors General on Integrity and Efficiency (CIGIE).    In order to ensure each inspector is free, both in fact and appearance, from personal, external, and organizational impairments to independence, OIG has a rigorous conflict review within the Office of Inspections (ISP).

Pursuant to this policy, prior to an inspection, every member of the inspection team must review a staffing chart with every employee of the inspected entity, and report, in writing, all prior professional and personal relationships with any such individual.  ISP management  and the Office of General Counsel carefully review this information to ensure that all ISP teams’ members are independent and free from real or apparent conflicts of interest.  This process happens  early in the inspection process as ISP assigns staff to individual teams.   If any such conflicts are identified, ISP takes action to mitigate the conflict, which could include removing a team member from a team.  OIG  provides training to all inspectors on CIGIE independence standards and how to avoid conflicts of interest.

Regarding the Tallin inspection, OIG followed its standard procedure in reviewing input from Ambassador Myles regarding any relationships with employees in Embassy Tallinn and concluded her participation in the inspection was appropriate under CIGIE standards and OIG policy.

So there you go.

We must note that for years, the names of the OIG inspection team members were redacted from these publicly released OIG reports. We have railed about those redactions for various reasons. In 2013, when Steve Linick assumed charge of the OIG — the first Senate-confirmed IG since the 2007 resignation of Howard J. Krongard —  one of his first actions was to release the names of the inspectors with the publicly available reports. We have not forgotten that.

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State Dept Restores Blog, But All’s Not Well – Whatareyougoingtodoaboutit?

When I left to run errands around noon yesterday, Jen’s blog, The Dinoia Family has been restored in the blog roll of careers.state.gov.

By the time I was back online briefly late afternoon, there’s this note from  Jeffrey Levine, the outgoing Director of Recruitment, Examination and Employment(HR/REE).  Mr. Levine is also President Obama’s nominee to be the next Ambassador to Estonia.

To our Bloggers:
As you can see, we have re-linked to Jen Dinoia’s blog and sincerely regret any offense we caused. We appreciate all your efforts to share your personal Foreign Service experiences (writ large) and are pleased to offer them a wider audience. We will certainly try to be more sensitive in future decisions regarding placements. Thanks again for your efforts and your service.
– Jeff Levine, Director of Recruitment, Examination and Employment

WaPo has already picked up this blog restoration story, and has updated its article with Mr. Levine’s note and a quote from the State Dept’s spokesman Mark Toner:

Earlier, in a statement to The Post, State Department spokesman Mark C. Toner said the blog “has been restored” on the State Department’s recruitment page. “It had been taken down as part of a periodic effort by a contractor to review and freshen the blog links on the site.”

But the statement was at odds with what Dinoia was told in an e-mail early this week by a recruiting and marketing consultant for the agency when she discovered her blog had been removed from the State Department blogroll.

So this tempest should be done already, yes? I think – folks of a certain pay grade over at Foggy Bottom are betting that if Nipplegate, to borrow the term from another blogger, can be the FS bloggers’ quick win, then it will go swiftly away by the next news cycle.  The less than 24-hour restore time is quite amazing, but then, that’s the idea of a rapid response; so folks stop blogging about nipples already and you over there can stop snickering, too.

Hold on … not so fast, I’m trying to catch my breath here.

First, an FSO who commented in this blog politely writes, “I don’t get how “censorship” was introduces into Ms. Dinoia’s case. No one is telling her to stop talking. She was taken off a blog roll.”

And I have to agree he has a point.  It is the State Department’s blog. And like the blog roll I have in Diplopundit’s side bar, I have my bloggy reasons for selecting the links I’ve put up there.   Jen herself writes:

“No, it’s not my list.  Yes, they can update the list anytime they want.  However, they came to me.  They asked me to participate and I felt a little notice or a reasonable explanation as to why I was removed was not out of the question.”

So while “nipple” may have been the offending word, no one from the State Department actually told Jen to stop blogging about nipples, no one actually censored or prevented her from exercising her right to free speech. I should make that clear.  Will you buy that? Okay, fine, let’s not call it censorship.  They just ditched her blog, a catalog of a Foreign Service life that is so personal it would not — what’s the word? resonate. Would not resonate. More than being removed from the blog roll, I think that’s the one that was most hurtful.

FS spouses who at one time or another have heard themselves referred to as “just a spouse” were struck by online lightning. And so, the reactions were immediate and not at all surprising.

But we also know that even if we don’t call this incident an act of censorship by the State Department, the State Department has selectively censored blogs for various reasons.  They refused to call it censorship, of course, because that is such a bad word.  Censorship is something that Iran, or China or North Korea does, but not the oldest cabinet agency of the United States.  Such BS. They clubbed this one twice. Twice. Others do not need more career-aches, so will not be dragged across this blog.

And because the State Department does not do censorship, it will not tell FSOs in writing to shut down their blogs (Van Buren excepted). Adverse actions are paperless, warnings are behind closed doors, and in its wake, some folks were nudged into retirement, some assignments broken, spouses scared out of their wits on what this would do the careers of their loved ones. And the “chilling effect” is just that, chiiillllll out! One could vigorously argue that if you don’t like the free speech restrictions imposed on you, then you can find a job elsewhere. I imagine that’s a similar argument given to women who complained of discrimination not too long ago and we know how that turned out.

Here is another FSO who blogged specifically about the larger picture:

What State did with Jen’s blog – and especially the response sent to her email – may have been insensitive and ill-advised, but it wasn’t censorship. Jen’s blog will live on and delight its readers whether State links to it or not. However, that doesn’t mean censorship isn’t a problem in the FS blogging world. People DO get pressured to stop blogging by bosses or coworkers. Their jobs, their livelihoods get threatened because of their blogs. Not mine thank god, at least not yet, but it happens. Those blogs go dark, and that’s where the censorship charge starts to be more realistically applied. THAT’s where the risk is. THAT’s where the battle is. Let’s not make a mountain out of a molehill when the mountain’s already there.

And she is right, of course. In fact, that mountain is right there – it’s called Peter Van Buren. Until he wrote that critical book, he was a respectable member of the Foreign Service community.  He followed the book clearance procedure in the regs, and State broke its own rules. Instead of admitting this mistake, it went after him. Instead of addressing the content of his book, it went after him. Since he is retiring in September, what other reason is there for pursuing him in such dedicated fashion except to make him a memorable example? He is by no means, the only one, he’s just the most public one willing to put up a fight.

The ACLU says that it is easy to defend freedom of speech when the message is something that many people find reasonable. I think that’s right on target.  But also when the speaker is cuddly, likeable, not abrasive as emery board — that defense is easy.

But of course, we cannot defend freedom of speech then pick and choose which parts of speech we want to protect. But … but, he writes about the dirtiest laundry, and he seems always angry and he uses such colorful, offensive language and etc. etc… and that all may be true but isn’t the defense of freedom of speech most critical when the message is one most people find disagreeable?  In Mr. Van Buren’s case, a message that most members of the Foreign Service find disagreeable.  Still, Mr. Van Buren’s protected speech is every FSO’s protected speech.

But you say, you’re nothing like him. Or you will never be like Peter Van Buren, described in one blog as “the most recent State Department “white blood cell” looking to do to some institutional housecleaning at Foggy Bottom.” I’m sure Mr. Van Buren did not imagine himself like this 20 years ago.  How can you see what life is like 20 years down the road? It bears repeating that what the State Department is doing to Mr. Van Buren, it can easily do to anyone in the Foreign Service. As Madam le Consul used to say, repeat, rinse.

So here’s some food for thought — if we were offended that the word “nipple” caused Jen’s blog to be ditched from the official blog list, shouldn’t all of us be concerned that State requires clearances for every blog post, every tweet, every sneeze coming from Mr. Van Buren, and Mr. Van Buren alone?

To paraphrase Chomsky — if you believe in freedom of speech, you believe in freedom of speech even for views you don’t like.

Mr. Van Buren’s late and sudden non-adherence to a shared social code of Foreign Service life never to wash dirty laundry in public, and for crossing the boundaries of polite expression so valued in the diplomatic service makes him an FSO-non grata in most parts of the Foreign Service community.  But if the members of the community are only willing to defend the views that they like, wouldn’t they, too, be guilty of censorship by consensus?

Domani Spero

Officially In: Jeffrey D. Levine – from HR to Estonia

On February 16, President Obama announced his intent to nominate Jeffrey D. Levine to the next Ambassador to the Republic of Estonia. The WH released the following brief bio:

Jeffrey D. Levine, a career member of the Senior Foreign Service, has served as the State Department’s Office Director of Recruitment, Examination and Employment since September 2010.  Prior to this position, he was Deputy Chief of Mission and Chargé d’affaires at the U.S. Embassy in Budapest, Hungary from 2007 to 2010.  From 2003 to 2006, he served as Deputy Chief of Mission in Sofia, Bulgaria.  Other overseas positions include: Management Counselor in Brasilia, Brazil (1999-2002); Management Officer in Nicosia, Cyprus (1995-1998); Consular/General Services Officer in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia (1988-1990); and Consular/Political Officer in Lima, Peru (1985-1987).  In Washington, Mr. Levine served as Special Assistant in the Office of the Under Secretary for Management (1994-1995), Hungary Desk Officer in the Office of Eastern European Affairs (1993-1994), and Watch Officer in the State Operations Center (1992-1993).

He holds a Bachelor’s Degree from Humboldt State University and a Master’s Degree from National Defense University.

US Embassy Tallinn was established on October 2, 1991, with Robert C. Frasure as Chargé d’Affaires ad interim, also subsequently commissioned as Ambassador. If confirmed, Mr. Levine would succeed career diplomat, Michael C. Polt who was appointed chief of mission to Tallinn by President Obama in 2009.

A nice coincidence of note — the most recent Office Director of Recruitment, Examination and Employment (HR/REE), that is, Mr. Levine’s predecessor was appointed Ambassador to Iceland in 2010. Another previous Office Director who served in HR/REE was appointed Ambassador to Cape Verde in 2008.  So just in the last five years or so, all career diplomats who served as top gun in REE went on to an ambassadorship.  That is a pretty darn good record.

 

Related item:

February 16, 2012 | President Obama Announces More Key Administration Posts