US Embassy Dhaka: Persistent Staffing Gaps, Workload Stress, a Triple Stretch

 

In July 2016, the US Embassy in Bangladesh went on voluntary evacuation (U.S. Embassy Dhaka: Now on “Authorized Departure” For Family Members of USG Personnel). State/OIG conducted the inspection of U.S. Embassy Dhaka in Bangladesh from September 3, 2019, to January 28, 2020. The report released in June 2020 notes that “In 2016, following a terrorist attack in Dhaka, the Department decided to allow only adult dependents to accompany employees. Many American staff members told OIG this change made the embassy unattractive to Foreign Service employees with children.”
What OIG Found

The Ambassador and the Deputy Chief of Mission led Embassy Dhaka in a collaborative and professional manner. Staff described both leaders as energetic and approachable.

• The embassy had difficulty filling mid-level positions after the withdrawal of minor dependents following a 2016 terrorist attack. Many managerial positions had long staffing gaps that exacerbated workload pressures on the remaining staff.

• The Ambassador’s active outreach efforts advanced efforts to build political capital and goodwill. However, particularly given the staffing shortages throughout the embassy, the Ambassador contributed to the workload stress of embassy staff by not prioritizing demands he placed on employees to support these efforts.

• The Ambassador engaged extensively with Bangladeshi Government officials and led efforts by the international community to assist 900,000 Rohingya refugees who had fled Burma.

• Consular Section staff routinely worked long hours in an effort to manage a growing backlog of immigrant visa work.

• The embassy’s social media program did not comply with Department of State standards.

• The network cabling infrastructure in Embassy Dhaka’s unclassified server and telephone frame rooms was antiquated and did not comply with Department standards.

• Spotlights on Success: The Information Management Office created a tracking system for employee checks of the emergency and evacuation radio network that increased participation rates dramatically. In addition, the office created a travel request application that saved time for travelers and travel managers

[…]

At the time of the inspection, Embassy Dhaka had 139 authorized U.S direct-hire employees, of whom 66 worked for the Department of State (Department) and 73 worked for other agencies, including the U.S. Agency for International Development and the Departments of Defense, Justice, Health and Human Services, and Agriculture. The embassy also had 511 locally employed (LE) staff and 5 eligible family members. The embassy occupies two compounds, with the chancery having been built in 1988. The Department is planning to construct a new chancery and annexes during the next several years.

[…]

The embassy had difficulty in recent years filling mid-level positions. In the year prior to the inspection, several mid-level positions in different sections either had no assigned employee or had long gaps. For example, the embassy experienced a 30-month gap between Facility Managers, a 10-month gap between Public Affairs Officers, a 15-month gap between Information Management Specialists, a 34-month gap between the Management Section’s Office Management Specialists, and 24-month gaps in two of five Regional Security Office positions.

Excerpt from Embassy Dhaka’s response specific to the staffing gaps:

The Embassy appreciates mention of the staffing gaps identified on page three of the OIG Draft Report. However, the paragraph understates Post’s chronic and severe understaffing and its impact. In addition to the page three gaps, during the Ambassador’s tenure:

• The Front Office was short one OMS for seven months and had a four-month gap in the DCM position, filled only part of that time by an REA TDYer also serving as Acting Management Officer;

• Pol/Econ was without a Chief or Deputy for three months and the Acting Chief was also P/E Deputy, Econ Chief, and Labor Officer for three months. The incoming Refugee Coordinator broke his handshake causing gaps in that position;

• The Visa Chief position was vacant for 14 months; a ConOff position was vacant for five months; and the incoming Deputy Consular Chief who will replace her predecessor who departed during the October inspection has not yet arrived.

Additionally, Post was unable to fill numerous EFM positions in the Section due to the paucity of family members who chose to come to our then unaccompanied Post;

• The previous Management Officer curtailed in August 2019; the DCM recruited an REA officer to temporarily fill the position who was formally recalled to service in January 2020. The A/GSO EPAP departed in September 2019; her replacement is scheduled to arrive in summer 2020. The S/GSO left in May 2019; his replacement arrived four months later. The FMO arrived after a three-month gap. The ISO position has been empty since June 2019 and there is no replacement in the pipeline. Post has had no CLO since February 2019; the position was also vacant for 10 months until April 2018;

• The Deputy CAO – a second-tour Officer — filled the PAO position for 10 months; this was a triple stretch. The remaining two American positions were filled by Civil Servants in hard-to-fill positions; neither had served in a PD position or overseas.

With such substantial staffing gaps, during the tense and violent run up to national elections and the tumultuous aftermath, in times of heightened terrorist threat, and to support multiple VIP visits to Cox’s Bazar and the world’s largest refugee camp, some employees did occasionally work seven days a week. Post appreciated the strain on particular offices and officers and worked hard to burden share with our limited personnel resources. As is typical when new Chiefs of Mission arrive, the Ambassador accepted more invitations his first few months in order to promote crucial U.S. foreign policy objectives including the new Indo-Pacific Strategy, conduct high-profile advocacy over concerns for Bangladesh’s shrinking democratic space, press the Government of Bangladesh to address trafficking-in-persons issues, and protect human rights and voices of dissent in the aftermath of the hugely flawed national election. While the Front Office may not have been explicit in tying all outreach and travel to the ICS, the Ambassador was careful to accept engagement opportunities that furthered ICS objectives which are, as the OIG noted, displayed prominently throughout the Embassy. Further, the Embassy had and continues to have a strategic travel working group which develops quarterly travel schedules and plans.

OIG report says that in February the State Department agreed with Embassy Dhaka’s recommendation to return to fully accompanied status “which should help alleviate continuing staffing and related concerns by 2021, including by filling long-vacant EFM positions.”

Email of the Day: More … Gatekeeper Crap — “Mills has shaped a State Department-as-Hillaryland”

Posted: 3:10 am EDT
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Via foia.state.gov from Leopold v. State Department FOIA litigation:

Apparently there was some grumbling about the accessibility of the secretary of state to the career diplomats several months into HRC’s tenure. Al Kamen reported it, and later Ben Smith picked up the tidbit for Politico (this was in 2009 before he went to BuzzFeed):

 

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