USAID “Poor” Morale Goes From 37% to 47%, Administrator Approval Rating Plummets From 78% to 58%

— Domani Spero
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The June 2014 Foreign Service Journal includes an item on the AFSA USAID survey.  The 23-question, electronic survey focused on concerns, commendations and assessments related to the USAID FSO experience in calendar year 2013.

The USAID VP writes that the survey results will be discussed with USAID Administrator Rajiv Shah and Special Representative for the Quadrennial Diplomacy and Development Review Tom Perriello to help in the formulation of USAID priorities.

Excerpt below:

Staff Morale 

The agency morale rating has dropped significantly. Thirty-seven percent of respondents rated agency morale “poor” in 2012; in 2013, 47 percent of respondents rated morale “poor.” The “good/fair” rating shows a corresponding drop, from 61 percent in 2012 to 51 percent for 2013.

A wide range of concerns were shared by respondents, such as: tension between more seasoned USAID employees and those who have entered within the last five years; an overburdened system with too many “initiatives;” lack of transparency and support from HR; and slow encroachment by State.

In a cross-comparison between questions on the new HR leadership and agency morale, a similarly high percentage of employees (61) rated the new HR leadership “poor” and also determined that morale had dropped.

USAID Administrator 

The “poor” rating for the Administrator (question 20) increased from 23 percent in 2012 to 41 percent in the 2013 survey. His overall approval rating (“fair, good, excellent”) for 2013 stands at 58 percent, also a significant drop from 2012 (78 percent). This decline is disturbing and will be pointed out to his office.

Many FSOs originally liked the new initiatives. However, the prevailing sentiment now is that they are too numerous to coordinate and accurately report on, and many do not come with funding. The comments also reflect a recurring theme that work outside of Africa appears to be a lower priority for the Administrator.

Working Conditions 

The survey indicates a significant perception that overall conditions at work are worsening (42 percent). This is not as bad as it was in 2011 (46 percent) or 2010 (55 percent); nevertheless, it is a setback since 2012, when only 36 percent thought conditions at work were deteriorating. Pay and bonus freezes, work space concerns due to consolidation and micromanagement of the field by Washington were some of the concerns highlighted this year, and are possible explanations for the increased rating.

AFSA reports that several important issues have been illuminated in this survey, including the following:

  • First is the tendency for more recent employees in the workforce to have different views than their colleagues from previous generations. The different characteristics of this new generation of workers are increasingly being discussed in the media. In terms of numbers, the millennials are the largest generation in American history and, with USAID’s recent mass hiring, the majority of our workforce now fall into this category.
  • A bonus of the Development Leadership Initiative program is that USAID has a unique opportunity to be a leader in this regard, simply by virtue of its large population of millennials. If we focus on their primary concerns—such as corporate culture, work-life balance, workplace flexibility, making a difference and being appreciated—we realize that they value the same things that are important to everyone!  The difference is that millennials are more likely to voice their thoughts and to change jobs if their needs are not fulfilled. How the agency handles this will determine whether USAID emerges as a government leader in such issues as work-life balance, as well as how it fares in employee retention.
  • After a brief upturn, morale has taken a slide back down. Comments suggest that this is related to various factors, including the sense of a disconnect with significant guidance related to HR processes, and a feeling that Washington does not understand the challenges that FSOs face daily.  Inequalities in benefits  between USAID and State further exacerbate the problem.

The AFSA USAID VP Sharon Wayne writes that “AFSA will continue to engage management on these issues. It is my hope that current leadership will choose to accept these results for what they are: valuable feedback on which to act to make this agency better.”

 

Related posts:

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US Embassy Abu Dhabi: A+ for Commercial Promotion, “Below Average Scores on Every Leadership Category”

— Domani Spero
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State/OIG has just posted online its inspection report of the US Embassy in Abu Dhabi and CG Dubai, United Arab Emirates. The mission is headed by career diplomat, Ambassador Michael H. Corbin and DCM Victor Hurtado who both arrived in July 2011.

Below are some of the key judgments extracted from the publicly available report:

  • The Ambassador’s focus on business development as the mission’s primary goal has contributed to an increase in U.S. exports and created a favorable image in business circles for both the Ambassador and the embassy.
  • Front office support for the bilateral military relationship has strengthened that valuable tie. The Ambassador has been a key facilitator in gaining the release of U.S. military equipment for the United Arab Emirates, including through effective congressional testimony.
  • The Ambassador’s focus on commercial promotion has de-emphasized other important U.S. interests, such as law enforcement and illicit finance that agencies at the mission are working to advance. The Ambassador received below average scores on every leadership category in OIG questionnaires.
  • The United Arab Emirates’ strategic location and stable environment has led to an expansion of U.S. Government agencies at the embassy, without a corresponding increase in management support positions. The National Security Decision Directive 38 process is not accomplishing its purpose of subjecting proposed staff increases to careful review.
  • The embassy’s Defense Support Division contract merits comprehensive review. Issues include cost, standards of service, possible expansion, duration, and the contract’s heavy reliance on mission assistance.
  • Demand for consular services at both Embassy Abu Dhabi and Consulate General Dubai has mushroomed in recent years. Both are making progress transitioning from small-scale to medium-sized, high productivity operations. Frequent requests for special handling of routine visa cases from the front office and other parts of the mission impede this process.

The inspection took place in Washington, DC, September 3–23, 2013, and in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, between October 19 and November 7, 2013. Ambassador Marianne Myles (team leader), Michael Hurley (deputy team leader), Alison Barkley, Beatrice Camp, Roger Cohen, David Davison, Shawn O’Reilly, Keith Powell II, Richard Sypher, Joyce Wong, and Roman Zawada conducted the inspection.

Below are additional details that need a highlighter:

Staffing Quadrupled in Last 10 Years

Staffing for Mission UAE, which consists of Embassy Abu Dhabi and Consulate General Dubai, has quadrupled from 80 to 325 Americans in the last 10 years. More than 30 non-Department of State (Department) offices and agencies are present in country, and the mission houses 14 regional offices that cover the Middle East and other areas. The chancery is less than 10 years old but faces major space and infrastructure challenges. By 2017, the mission may also need to provide management support for 90 or more FMS personnel now supported by a private contractor that runs the Defense Support Division (DSD).

Mission UAE supported 1,605 temporary duty visitors and 63 VIP visitors in 2012, and the heavy visitor workload takes a toll on staff morale. All locally employed (LE) staff members are third country nationals, many from South Asia.

Mission Morale Is Poor

Morale and the housing program received the lowest scores on OIG questionnaires by a wide margin. Many complaints are caused by Abu Dhabi and Dubai being understaffed in management sections, lengthy initial stays in temporary quarters, and the location of the Al-Reef housing compound. Understaffing has a cascading effect on housing maintenance, personnel, and financial services, and subsequently on morale. Abu Dhabi and Dubai are not hardship differential posts but do receive a 25 percent cost of living allowance.

This is the second inspection conducted by State/OIG in less than 5 years. In the OIG inspection of 2010, the report noted a major challenge in  managing the unique and complex task of supporting one of the world’s largest foreign military sales accounts, amounting to some $15 billion. According to this latest OIG report, that contract is now valued at $34 million over 5 years. It appears that the challenge has not abated. Excerpt below:

Defense Support Division Contract 

Embassy Abu Dhabi and the Department determined that the existing ICASS support platform could not handle a large and rapid influx of FMS personnel and in 2011 created the DSD platform to augment embassy services. The DSD contract provides traditional ICASS administrative support services to approximately 90 FMS personnel; most of them arrived in 2012 and 2013. That number is expected to increase. The contract is for approximately $34 million over 5 years. The UAE Government pays for the contract. The embassy is responsible for overseeing it.
[…]
According to a March 2011 memorandum of understanding between the embassy and the Department of Defense, the Ambassador is responsible for ensuring that the quality, quantity, and cost of support provided by the contractor matches the support provided to embassy staff through ICASS. The Ambassador is also responsible for reviewing performance standards to assess the services provided by DSD. At the time of the inspection, no cost audit had been planned or performed.
[…]
Extensive interviews with staff indicate that embassy leadership and staff members do not fully understand the DSD support arrangement. The embassy has received no firm estimate of the numbers of future FMS personnel who will need support, where they will be located, and what support they will require. The Department has received personnel projections and estimates, but has not shared them with the embassy.

The air show has already made huge news with multiple announcements of civil aviation deals between the U.S. and #UAE topping $100 billion. These record contracts underline the partnership and the already strong bonds that exist between the U.S. and the UAE overall and in the commercial/private business sector. (Photo via US Embassy UAE/FB)

Dubai Air Show 2013 | The air show has already made huge news with multiple announcements of civil aviation deals between the U.S. and #UAE topping $100 billion. These record contracts underline the partnership and the already strong bonds that exist between the U.S. and the UAE overall and in the commercial/private business sector.
(Photo via US Embassy UAE/FB)

 

Visa Referrals Violations

The steady stream of inquiries from other parts of the mission for updates and special handling of otherwise routine visa cases hampers efforts in both Abu Dhabi and Dubai to provide efficient services for all consular clients and are in direct violation of Department regulations. The OIG team observed many examples of these inquiries via phone and email during the inspection. 

Pressure to handle routine nonimmigrant visa cases in a special or expedited fashion has the effect of slowing down the entire standard process in both locations, undermining cooperation and trust between the consular sections and other parts of the mission, and creating an appearance of impropriety. Responding to these inquiries, often from multiple sources relating to a single case, distracts consular chiefs from managing the day-to-day operations of the sections. These inquiries are being made in violation of 9 FAM Appendix K, which permits advocacy only through a formal referral process. Both consular sections should familiarize all staff with this policy.

 

Psst — A Special Mention on Gifts

Embassy Abu Dhabi has not designated a gifts officer or standard operating procedures for disposition of gifts, as required by Department regulations. Per 3 FAM 4122.1, the gifts officer is the embassy management officer. Because gifts are used and disposed of in accordance with Department regulations governing property management and disposal, management offices often delegate this role to the general services office. The absence of a clear standard operating procedure for gifts disposition places gift recipients at risk of ethics violations.

 

Goodbye to All That — MEPI, R&R Travel Benefit

The State/OIG report recommends that the Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs (NEA) close the Middle East Partnership Initiative regional office in Abu Dhabi.  Apparently, in October 2012, the UAE government directed MEPI to end all grants within the country. With the suspension of grants in the UAE and increased restrictions elsewhere, the OIG team questions the justification for a regional MEPI office in Abu Dhabi. State/OIG notes that closure of the MEPI office would save approximately $1.5 million.

State/OIG also recommends that the Bureau of Administration eliminate the rest and recuperation travel benefit for personnel posted in Embassy Abu Dhabi and Consulate General Dubai. Elimination of R&Rs would save $260,000 on rest and recuperation travel cost.

Abu Dhabi and Dubai are non-differential posts, which normally would not qualify them for rest and recuperation travel. In May 2012, the Bureau of Administration’s Office of Allowances analyzed hardship differential questionnaires from embassies and consulate generals worldwide. It used a 12-point scoring system to determine rest and recuperation eligibility. One-hundred eighty-one missions were recertified as eligible. Another 23 missions not receiving a hardship differential, including Abu Dhabi and Dubai, were examined further using the 12-point scoring system. This analysis determined that neither Abu Dhabi nor Dubai was qualified. Abu Dhabi met the rest and recuperation criteria for only 2 of the 12 factors (climate and unusual personal hazards), and Dubai for only 3 (climate, unusual personal hazards, and communicable diseases). The allowances office recommended to the Assistant Secretary for Administration that Abu Dhabi and Dubai cease the authorization of rest and recuperation travel. 

The Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs countered this decision with memoranda from Abu Dhabi and Dubai detailing social/cultural/gender isolation, geographic isolation, climate, health conditions, and similar issues. Inspectors noted that, with the exception of climate, the post report for the United Arab Emirates addresses none of these elements. The Bureau of Administration concurred with the Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs and retained rest and recuperation travel for Abu Dhabi and Dubai.   A review of the rest and recuperation destinations indicates that Dubai remains a “regional rest break” location for employees based in Kabul. There is no justification for continuing this benefit for employees assigned to Abu Dhabi or Dubai. In FY 2013, the mission spent $260,000 on rest and recuperation travel. 

 

Front Office Leadership and Management

The report says that its most significant recommendations concern needed leadership in establishing clear priorities for the whole mission and managing growth. But there are other stuff, too. Excerpt on front office leadership and management below:

DCM Gets a Nice Mention

The DCM is respected for his sound judgment, fairness, and ability to resolve issues. He has sought to clarify the Ambassador’s goals and objectives and help section chiefs and agency heads understand them. He is engaged and has hands-on knowledge of almost every issue and problem, with one person stating what many expressed in different ways: he is the “glue that holds the place together.” Senior staff members express appreciation for his open-door policy and the access it provides.   Nevertheless, the DCM needs to focus greater attention on LE staff support, mentoring of first- and second-tour employees, housing, mission expansion, office space, and the DSD contract.

Chief of Mission  — Thumbs Up

The Ambassador has accomplished much in support of the President’s National Export Initiative. He has made significant contributions to increased U.S. exports to the UAE as evidenced by his nomination for the 2013 Charles E. Cobb Award for Initiative and Success in Trade Development. He interfaces with Fortune 500 firms and has won particular praise for the assistance he has provided to smaller companies that are less certain of how to conduct business in the region. Heads of agencies with significant trade and business advocacy responsibilities characterize the Ambassador as the most engaged chief of mission with whom they have ever worked. The Ambassador has been a key player in promoting government-to-government economic dialogue and receives high marks from the local American Chamber of Commerce for including private-sector considerations at that forum. He attends dozens of trade shows and assemblies. He is generous in introducing newer U.S. companies to UAE officials.

Chief of Mission  — Thumbs Down

The Ambassador has not focused sufficiently on his staff and the internal workings of the embassy. In OIG-administered questionnaires, his staff rated him below average in every leadership category. Segments of the embassy community, including first- and second-tour employees and LE staff, feel under-supported. Staff members reported their belief that the Ambassador does not spend enough time in the embassy and is disengaged from the community. Both Department and non-Department staff members assert the Ambassador does not have a full grasp of the mandate of their office or agency. Several employees reported that the Ambassador has never visited their offices. These factors, as measured by OIG’s questionnaires and confirmed by OIG interviews at the embassy, contribute to poor morale. A systemic analysis of the underpinnings and potential impacts of these concerns is beyond the scope of this inspection. However, these results suggest the need for a more methodical review.
[…]
The Ambassador’s focus on business has left other elements of the mission somewhat adrift. Law enforcement, illicit finance, civil society, human rights, and other policy concerns receive relatively little attention. The law enforcement working group met only once in 2013, and no agenda or minutes are on file. There has been no formal illicit finance working group since the arrival of the Ambassador and the deputy chief of mission (DCM), despite the presence of more than five agencies with responsibility for sanctions, money laundering, and similar programs. The front office needs to pay greater attention to this cluster of issues.

Pesky Stuff — Leading by Example

Speeding Fines | “One result of the Ambassador’s frequent trips to Dubai and his crowded schedule is a large number of speeding fines on his vehicle. The mission has asked the host government to reduce or eliminate these fines in both Abu Dhabi’s and Dubai’s jurisdictions. This practice is contrary to Department and mission policy.”

Inappropriate Use of USG Resources |  “The Ambassador has requested that Consulate General Dubai pay personal expediting services with the consulate general’s government credit card for his convenience. Though he reimbursed all personal expediting services, he benefited from the corporate rate and inappropriately used government resources for personal purposes.”

In 2010, the OIG report on UAE said that then COM Richard Olson (now ambassador to Pakistan) and DCM Douglas C. Greene both scored “a perfect five (on a scale of one to five) on the OIG “leadership qualities” confidential survey among non-Department agency heads before the inspection.”  Links to both reports are listed under related items.

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Related items:

-05/31/14   Inspection of Embassy Abu Dhabi and Consulate General Dubai, United Arab Emirates (ISP-I-14-11A)  [468 Kb]

OIG Report No. ISP-I-10-62A – Inspection of Embassy Abu Dhabi & CG Dubai, United Arab Emirates – June 2010 

 

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QDDR II Walks Into a Bar and Asks, What Happened to the Bureau of Conflict and Stabilization Operations?

— Domani Spero

The State Department says that the Quadrennial Diplomacy and Development Review (QDDR) is “a sweeping assessment of how the Department of State and the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) can become more efficient, accountable, and effective in a world in which rising powers, growing instability, and technological transformation create new threats, but also new opportunities.” 

In July 2009, Secretary Clinton announced that the State Department, for the first time ever, will conduct a QDDR. The report from a 17-month review was released in December 2010.

Yesterday, Secretary Kerry, joined by Deputy Secretary of State for Management and Resources Heather Higginbottom, USAID Administrator Rajiv Shah, and recently appointed Special Representative for the QDDR, Thomas Perriello launched the State/USAID review process for the second Quadrennial Diplomacy and Development Review (QDDR II). Special Rep Thomas Perriello was appointed top QDDR II honcho by Secretary Kerry in February 2014. Previously, Mr. Perrielo served as the congressman from Virginia’s fifth district, and most recently served as CEO of the Center for American Progress.

Secretary of State John Kerry delivers remarks at the public launch of the Department of State and U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) review process for the second Quadrennial Diplomacy and Development Review (QDDR) April 22, 2014 (state.gov photo)

Secretary of State John Kerry delivers remarks at the public launch of the Department of State and U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) review process for the second Quadrennial Diplomacy and Development Review (QDDR) April 22, 2014
(state.gov photo)

Also yesterday at the DPB, the State Department spokesperson Jen Psaki said that The 2014 QDDR builds on the foundation established by the 2010 review as a part of Department and USAID’s processes of continuous improvement.” And because AP’s Matthew Lee was in attendance, it was quite a show (see Erik Wemple’s AP reporter scorches State Department spokeswoman on Hillary Clinton initiative over at WaPo).

We understand that the Deputy Secretary will also host a QDDR II Town Hall meeting in Foggy Bottom today.  Perhaps somebody could ask how the State Department is going to fix QDDR I’s offspring, the Bureau of Conflict and Stabilization Operations?

Why fix it? Well, in March 2014, State/OIG posted its inspection report (pdf) of the Bureau of Conflict and Stabilization Operations (CSO). It looks like a huge mess and may need more than therapy.

The CSO was created in November 2011, as directed by the 2010 Quadrennial Diplomacy and Development Review (QDDR), to replace S/CRS and be “the institutional locus for policy and operational solutions for crisis, conflict, and instability” as a whole of government endeavor.  CSO is one of eight bureaus and offices that report to the Under Secretary for Civilian Security, Democracy, and Human Rights. The Under Secretary position was vacant for much of 2013— the second half of CSO’s 2-year existence.  Below are some of the OIG report’s key judgments:

  • The mission of the Bureau of Conflict and Stabilization Operations remains unclear to some of its staff and to many in the Department and the interagency. The bureau was established in 2011 but there remains a lack of consensus on whether coordination, analysis, or operations should dominate its mission.
  • The bureau does an inadequate job managing its large contingent of contractors. The inspection uncovered weaknesses in oversight, performance of inherently governmental functions, and incomplete contracting officer’s representative files. [Redacted] (b) (5)
  • Bureau practices violate basic Department regulations and procedures in several areas, including security, travel and hiring. Procedural and physical security programs require prompt attention.

But there’s more. The following bulleted items are extracted from the OIG report:

Leadership: Leading By Example

  • The Assistant Secretary’s leadership resulted in some progress toward establishing new directions for the bureau in a short time. There have been internal costs, however, as CSO struggles from a lack of directional clarity, lack of transparency, micromanagement, and re-organizational fatigue. The turnover of 54 percent of CSO staff between February 2012 and August 2013 created widespread internal suspicion and job insecurity in addition to confusion in the Department and the interagency.
  • The new noncareer leadership arrived with fresh models and analytics for conflict prevention and intervention, but some of them lacked basic understanding of the roles, responsibilities, and workings of the Department, especially of the regional and functional bureaus they are tasked to support.
  • The Assistant Secretary sought to demonstrate the bureau’s value to senior leaders in the Department and Congress in the bureau’s first year of operation. His early focus has been for CSO to operate where it can, rather than where it should. Relatively few of the bureau’s engagements to date have been in places or on issues of significant foreign policy importance.
  • In addition, the Assistant Secretary and several of his deputies promote a culture of bending and evading rules. For example, the OIG team heard in multiple interviews that CSO leadership loosely interpreted the level of bureau or embassy support for certain of its activities, arguing that doing so is justified by the urgent nature of its work and need to build a more innovative and agile bureau. Interviewees gave examples of disregard for the Department’s procedures, This laxity contributed to low staff scores for morale and leadership of some in the front office. The perceived CSO attitude that it does not have to follow [Redacted] (b) (5) rules is cited by some bureaus and ambassadors as reasons they seek to avoid working with CSO. The Assistant Secretary needs to lead by example and ensure that the deputies do the same.

Top-Heavy Bureau, Staffing “Churn” and Curtailments

  • Since the establishment of CSO, there have been curtailments in six of its 15 Foreign Service positions. The bureau had not been active in recruiting Foreign Service officers in the past, but for the past cycle it actively campaigned for candidates with some success.  Upon the departure of the remaining Foreign Service DAS, there will be no Senior Foreign Service officer in the front office.
  • Athough the bureau is new and its organizational structure in frequent motion, CSO has many relatively new, talented, and dedicated, staff who frequently impress bureaus and embassies when deployed. The staff includes Foreign Service, Civil Service , fellows, and contractors. They function in a chaotic atmosphere and sometimes lack familiarity with their portfolios and the Department.
  • The CSO front office promotes turnover among its staff to foster innovation. This philosophy creates considerable job insecurity and uncertainty. According to one study, 54 percent of CSO’s staff (direct hire and contractor) has turned over since the reorganization. The human resources team has started conducting exit interviews with departing staff to determine their reasons for leaving CSO.
  • Overseas deployments of 6 months or longer offer both opportunities and heavy responsibilities. Deployment burnout is evident as reported in interviews with staff and personal questionnaires, and the OIG team questions how long this model can endure.
  • The bureau is top-heavy. Its front office comprises the Assistant Secretary, a Civil Service Senior Executive Service principal deputy assistant secretary, two noncareer deputy assistant secretaries (DAS), a Senior Foreign Service DAS for administration, and two GS-15 senior advisors. In addition to the four DASes and two front office GS-15 advisors, CSO has 21 GS-15 and FS-01 positions.

The Traveling Band of Conflict Mitigators to Honduras, Nigeria Plus Conferences/Meetings in the UK, Belgium, and Switzerland — Oh, My!

  • In Honduras, CSO estimates the budget for its 2-year anti-violence program at $2 million. Six CSO staff in Washington support the program. According to CSO data, in FY 2013, 28 CSO staff members made 58 trips to Honduras, collectively spending 2,837 days there, at a cost of approximately $450,000. By contrast, USAID’s Office of Transition Initiatives employs one staff member in Washington and two in Honduras to oversee a similar but larger $12 million program.
  • In Nigeria, CSO estimates that its anti-violence program in the Niger Delta region will cost $5.6 million. The central component is a television series that will advocate nonviolent ways to address grievances. CSO estimates it will broadcast one hour of programming a week for 13 weeks. It hopes to complement the television series with support to community groups and local governments. CSO envisions maintaining three Washington-based staff members on long-term temporary duty assignments in Nigeria in FY2014 and hiring two more staff locally. It expects to devote up to eight staff—four to five full-time—in Washington to support the program. In August 2013, to prepare for the program and begin implementing it, CSO travelers spent 578 days in Nigeria at a cost in excess of $111,000.
  • Many CSO employees commented in OIG personal questionnaires and interviews that some front office travel to conferences and meetings, especially to Europe, appeared to be linked more to personal interests than to the bureau’s mission. During FY 2013, CSO employees took 17 trips to the United Kingdom, 7 trips to Belgium, and 6 trips to Switzerland. In one case, the PDAS and two other DASes were in London at the same time for different meetings.
  • Justifications provided in the approved requests for travel authorization and invitational travel often do not contain sufficient detail to link the trips directly to CSO goals. According to 14 FAM 533.4-1, authorizing officials must ensure that conference travel is necessary to accomplish agency goals. Likewise, Department policy on gifts of invitational travel in 2 FAM 962.1-8e (1) (b) states that travel must relate to an employee’s official duties and represent priority use of the traveling employee’s time. Without adequate justification, funds and staff time devoted to travel and trip support could be wasted. More transparency in the travel approval process also could increase staff understanding of the purpose of travel.

Morale needs duct tape over there!

  • OIG’s pre-inspection survey results reflected lower than normal morale among bureau staff, in terms of both personal and office morale. Ninety-six percent of CSO staff who completed personal questionnaires responded to questions on morale. The bureau average for office morale was 2.75 and for personal morale 3.09, on a 5-point scale. Bureau leadership sought to attribute these low scores to dissatisfaction among former S/CRS staff who, due to reorganization and other changes, perceived themselves as marginalized in the new bureau. The OIG team found that dissatisfaction was more widespread than this explanation suggested.
  • Comments on morale in the personal questionnaires cited many factors behind low bureau morale. The most common included cramped office space/lack of privacy (cited by 20 percent of the respondents); too many reorganizations and physical moves; pressure from senior management (including the Assistant Secretary and deputies) to bend, force, or evade Department regulations and hire favored candidates; top management’s philosophy of “churn” to prevent people staying in CSO for more than 3 years; lack of clear communication or inconsistent application of policies; shifting priorities; fear of retribution from senior management; and the residual impact of the reorganization and layoffs during the creation of CSO.
  • The status of the former S/CRS staff and the impact the reorganization had on them merits attention. Although some have been promoted to leadership positions, surveys and interviews with other S/CRS staff indicate they feel they are treated shabbily, are encouraged to leave because they no longer fit the organization’s new needs, and are not valued. CSO leadership needs to find ways to address these perceptions.

Integrated Not Replicated — Really?

  • Several Department offices and other agencies work on issues similar to CSO’s. For example, the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor promotes democracy and the rule of law, including free and fair elections. The Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement trains police. The Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs’ Middle East Partnership Initiative manages programs that support democratic transition in the region. USAID has experience, infrastructure, and programs in place in most nations facing conflict.
  • USAID’s Office of Transition Initiatives has a mission statement almost identical to that of CSO. CSO and the Office of Transition Initiatives have worked together on several engagements with the participation of staff from both. The QDDR acknowledged that the capabilities of USAID and the Department often overlap. But their efforts must be integrated, not replicated. When asked about the imperative to engage in program activities overseas, many CSO staff told the OIG team that the bureau needs to implement overseas programs to be considered relevant and influential within the Department and interagency.

These are all troubling items, of course, and there’s more but this report is frankly, depressing to read. We should note that another disturbing content of the State/OIG report is the significant number of Equal Employment Opportunity (EEO) complaints within CSO in the last year. The per capita rate of informal complaints from direct-hire employees according to State/OIG is five times the Department average. So the bureau tasked with “operational solutions for crisis, conflict, and instability” not only had a 54 percent turnover (see page 8) since reorganization, it also has five times the agency’s average in informal EEO complaints.

Maybe this sounds crazy — but we think that the bureau with “Stability Operations” on its name ought to have stability, steadiness and firmness in its operation before it starts “fixing”, “mitigating” or what have you in conflict areas.

Perhaps QDDR II will provide an opportunity to do just that?

If not, there’s always QDDR III in 2018.

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Earth Embassy Ganymede Administrative Notice #04-010103: Morale, WD-40, Duct Tape

— Domani Spero

Originally posted in Diplopundit on April 18, 2013. Republished today for a very good reason.

Administrative Notice #05-011300: Morale

It has come to management’s attention that there has been a lot of chatter and hyperspace email about morale and safety at this outpost.  This notice serves as a reminder to everyone under Ganymede outpost authority that discussion about morale is an unproductive use of work time. Morale is self-esteem in action; individuals who perceived that morale is lacking may need help in improving their self-esteem. Please make every effort to schedule an appointment to see the quadrant psychiatrist.

Ganymede management fully believes, like the 34th American President Dwight Eisenhower, that the best morale exist when you never hear the word mentioned. In that sprit, management formally informs all departments and employees that morale is not/not an issue and is not/not a subject to be discussed in hypermail, text, video, radio, verbal or any alternate manner of communication within and outside the mission.  Anyone caught peddling these stories will be subject to disciplinary action, including but not limited to curtailment of current assignment or a lengthy TDY to the outermost prograde moon of Carpo.

In an effort to be responsive to all concerns, below are some FAQs that the section  had the pleasure of addressing the last 12 moons. We hope that the answers are useful to you and your families and help alleviate persistent concerns.

English: WD-40

English: WD-40 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS
EaEmbassy Ganymede

Is Ganymede a family-friendly post?

Absolutely. It is the most family-friendly assignment in the quadrant with excellent schools and some of the best apartments available in the sector. Living conditions are approximated to be similar to the home planet and the quality of life is super-excellent.  Consistent demand for assignments to this outpost has repeatedly resulted in a long wait list at every rotation cycle.

I’ve been thinking of asking for a transfer to Ganymede.  But I heard that life there is a big joke … I don’t get what’s the joke.

Life in Ganymede is not/not a big joke. Once you understand that Ganymede is too big to fail, you’ll find your groove. This is the place where you want to be.  No other outpost will afford you the challenges and opportunities to excel and earn a fast-tracked promotion.

How safe is Ganymede given that riots are breaking out in all parts of the hostplanet:

Safe. Very safe, if you’re careful.

Ganymedeans breached the outpost walls, they can do it again, should I worry?

There’s no reason to worry.  Ganymedeans are not/not anti-Earthlings, anti-humans or what have you.  They were blowing off steam. Period. Now that they have, things should return to normal. If you think things have not returned to normal, give it time; things should return to normal. Soon.

There are assaults reported daily, it sounds like traveling around the hostplanet has become extremely dangerous. Is that perception correct?

Ganymede is the largest moon in this sector. Like any large, densely inhabited city on Earth (e.g. New York City, New Delhi, Bogota, Buenos Aires), crime is ever present. This is not/not unique to this outpost.  Travel in pairs if needed, and bring your stun gun, if necessary.

The Manager for Planetary Services reportedly quit over extreme bureaucratic bullying, is this true?

Absolutely not. The manager quit because the official got too old for the job. Other employers in this sector throw old officials out the airlock. Fortunately, EaEmbassy Ganymede has a generous separation package specifically for older workers traveling back to the home planet.

There are rumors and allegations that some of the top Ganymede officials have, on several occasions, pushed and bossed around subordinates and threatened them with penalties. How accurate are these stories?

Have you ever heard of American poet, Robert Frost?  He said that the reason why worry kills more people than work is that more people worry than work.  Isn’t that an excellent point?  Stop listening to rumors. Stop worrying. All our top Ganymede officials were handpicked and subjected to a battery of reviews and 360 feedbacks from friends, peers, and colleagues. All with spectacular results. They are all as lovable and huggable as Alaskan polar bears.

I used to have an open mind, then I got to Ganymede and my brains kept falling out. What am I doing wrong?

To keep an open mind, a person needs only two tools: WD-40 and duct tape. If it doesn’t move and it should, use WD-40. If it moves and shouldn’t, use the tape. This works even in Ganymede.

I am terribly upset that my concerns have not been taken seriously.  How do I set a laser printer to stun?

The management office works hard to address all of your concerns and aims to make every assignment to Ganymede a satisfying one.   Unfortunately, all laser printer at post at this time do not have a stun setting.  However, the procurement section is exploring the possibility of adding a stun setting to all laser printers with end of year funding.

 

Note that this is from a work in progress.  Names, characters, places, and incidents are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously.  Any resemblance to actual events, locales, or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.

Morale is self-esteem in action,  is a quote by Avery Weisman; WD-40 and laser printer quips are found items around the net.

Ugh! Just saw that the Russians are interested on Ganymede, now.  Well, dammit, I am not changing my fictional embassy’s name again, so don’t write to complain about that.

 

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Top Ten Signs Your Embassy Might Be Dysfunctional … or Just Plain Dreadful

1.  Mission Favorites.  Mission staffer’s favorite movie is “Under Siege” but not/not because they’re die-hard fans of Steven Seagal.  The mission’s theme song is  “Front Office in a Bubble” to the tune of Jim Croce’s Time in a Bottle and it’s not because they want to save time in the bubble and spend them with you.

2.  Voluntold.  When the Front Office holds a meeting on morale participants had to be voluntold so there are real people in the room and not just left over cardboard cut-outs of Mitt Romney and Barack Obama from election past.

3.  Liquor Store Run.  Every town hall meeting causes a minor run on the commissary liquor store. This is not necessarily bad as it improves the commissary’s bottom line but, but when employees get up with a hangover the day after every town hall meeting, that is never a good sign.

4.  Not So Cute Nicknames.  Front Office executives and senior managers get nicknames that are neither cute nor fit for polite conversation. The nicknames are occasionally funny, that is, funny to everyone except to those they have been assigned to.

5.  Suck  It Up Buttercup.  The embassy’s motto of DMWL or “doing more with less” has been replaced with SIUB or “suck it up buttercup.”  If employees have legitimate concerns that are impairing their ability to do the work they are sent to do and you tell them to suck it up, what kind of manager does that make you?

6.  Hamsters on Wheels.  Mission staffers ask questions about crisis preparedness in various re-iterations, repeats, rinses, then do over again and again like hamsters on a wheel.  When employees kept repeating the same questions over and over it means 1) they’re not getting the answers they need or 2) they do not believe what you’re telling them.  In which case, they’ll keep asking those questions until they’re satisfied with the answer.

7.  Rumor Has It.  The rumor factory has taken over the embassy compound like the pink slime from Ghostbusters. Rumors express and gratify “the emotional needs of the community.” It occupies the space when that need is not meet, and particularly when there is deficient communication between the front office and the rest of the mission.

8. Humor-less.  It’s been a long time since anyone at post had a real good laugh. Once humor becomes the missing link in the chain of command, then that is a sign of not good things to come.  Employees who are unhappy, demoralized, despondent, frustrated, angry have a hard time laughing at anything unless they are laughing at their senior managers.

9. Post Trends. El Jefe of one of the largest sections at post is suddenly retiring. The resident regional psychiatrist also curtails and retires.  And just about everyone has a curtailment plan.  The non-resident regional psychiatrist posted across the globe has been told he/she is spending way too much time at post. The community liaison officer shows up at Country Team meetings wearing a mockingjay pin. (In The Hunger Games, the mockingjay is a symbol of rebellion and hope among the districts). Uh-oh, trends — the not so subtle and the crafty. And don’t even think about making mocking jay pins illegal.

10. Fan Mail.  Demoralized embassy employees in the Republic of Z send howlers to this blog.  Not one email or two email but emails from the parliament of owls.  Frankly, they are worse than those listed on Harry Potter’s Owl Post.  If you think being featured in this blog is bad, think about how much worse your morning can be when you end up in Al Kamen’s In The Loop column, widely read  by the chattering crowd inside the beltway and the Seventh Floor.

The end.

 

–DS  

 

 

 

US Embassy Bangui: 15% Danger Post With Terrifically Bad Trimmings, It’s Not Alone –Wassup Cairo?

State/OIG recently posted its inspection report of the US Embassy in Bangui, a 15% danger pay post, as well as a 35% COLA and 35% hardship differential pay assignment.  The inspection took place in Washington, DC, between September 10 and 28, 2012, and in Bangui, the Central African Republic, between November 5 and 12, 2012.

The diplomatic mission is headed by Ambassador Laurence D. Wohlers, a career diplomat.  The deputy chief of mission is Brennan M. Gilmore. The embassy temporarily suspended operations on December 28, 2012, as a result of the security situation in the country.  We’ve blogged about it here.

Here are the key findings from the OIG report:

  • The Department of State’s (Department) inability to staff Embassy Bangui adequately has prevented it from functioning as an effective mission.
  • Embassy Bangui, a 15-percent danger pay post, faces numerous threats
  • If the Department cannot adequately staff and protect the embassy, it needs to consider whether the risks to personnel in Bangui are justified or find another way to maintain diplomatic representation in the Central African Republic, such as regional accreditation from a nearby embassy.
  • Post leadership has not developed a sense of team and unity of purpose.
  • Embassy reporting is excellent and appreciated by Washington consumers.
  • Embassy Bangui is unable to provide sufficient administrative support in house and would benefit from more support from larger embassies in the region.
  • Information systems security and management is inadequate. There is no U.S. direct-hire information management employee at the embassy, and temporary support does not provide sufficient oversight.

Quick background of US Embassy Bangui via the OIG report:

The United States has had diplomatic relations with the Central African Republic since its independence from France in 1960. The U.S. embassy in Bangui was closed in 1997 and again in 2002 in response to political and physical insecurity. The embassy reopened in 2005, and a resident U.S. Ambassador was appointed in 2007.

Embassy Bangui is staffed by 7 U.S. direct hires, 2 local-hire Americans, and 35 locally employed (LE) staff members. One temporary liaison officer from the U.S. Army’s Africa Command represents the only other agency at the mission. The embassy’s total funding is $3.6 million. OIG conducted a management assessment review in 2004. At that time the American staff had been evacuated and only the LE staff was present.

Front Office Report Card:

The OIG report also details some of the Front Office shortcomings, primarily on leadership, morale and communication issues. No mention on how well or how badly the senior leadership did in their OIG questionnaires. Excerpt below from the IG report:

  • The Ambassador arrived in September 2010 and the deputy chief of mission (DCM) in July 2011. They constitute a team that is particularly strong in outreach and reporting and have successfully weathered a series of management challenges. They are not as successful when it comes to leadership and morale.
  • Despite the embassy’s small size, executive direction is more hierarchical than collegial. A weekly country team meeting provides the Ambassador an opportunity to inform the team on his recent contacts with senior government officials. The communication from the country team to the Ambassador is not as effective. Notwithstanding weekly, topical staff meetings and monthly town hall gatherings with LE staff, some of the American and LE staff members feel distanced from the front office.
  • The DCM has broad executive responsibilities. He supervises the reporting agenda assigned to the first-tour political/economic/consular officer. The officer meets weekly with the DCM and usually the Ambassador as well. The DCM is responsible primarily for military affairs, which include the U.S. Special Forces deployment to the eastern Central African Republic and a rotational U.S. Africa Command liaison officer position.
  • The Ambassador has been effective in his dealings outside the chancery but less so in leading and inspiring his team. In addition, the DCM is overextended. At a mission where security-imposed restrictions on mobility, a tropical climate, daunting health challenges, and a dearth of entertainment test morale in the best of circumstances, the front office has attempted to build better morale. Despite the planning activities discussed earlier, the staff has a poor sense of Embassy Bangui’s place in the larger U.S. diplomatic agenda in Africa and asserts that it is inadequately supported. The OIG team counseled post management to look for more ways to better connect with their employees.

16 TDYs in 20 Months and Other Management Challenges, Holy Smokes!

  • The embassy’s management challenges, however, are not being fully met. The embassy struggled to overhaul its operations after reopening, including doubling its U.S. direct-hire staff, and a major restructuring of LE staffing—all in the absence of a permanent management officer. Excessive dependence on temporary duty support (about 10 temporary duty personnel a month in the past year) has compromised effective use of embassy resources and increased the cost of operating the embassy. Another issue is the Department’s increasing dependence on automated management systems that impose a bureaucratic overhead on small posts with inexperienced staff.
  • Embassy Bangui is too small to have functional depth or to benefit from economies of scale. There are too few people trying to do too much. The U.S. direct-hire staff consists of one management officer and one entry-level general services officer. Because the embassy has been chronically unable to recruit an at-grade, in-cone management officer, there is no permanent U.S. direct-hire management experience at the embassy. The current entry-level general services officer worked under 16 temporary duty management officers in 20 months.

Post was shuttered  in 1997, again in 2002 and once more in 2012. Not sure how many times it had been evacuated, but presumably at least three times as the evacuations typically precedes post closure.  If history is a predictor, the embassy will potentially reopen in 1-3 years and after a brief interval, closes again. We agree with the IG that if the State Dept cannot adequately staff and protect the embassy, it needs to consider whether the risks to personnel in Bangui are justified.  And if it decides that the risks are justified despite post’s many shortcomings, then you want that in writing from the accountable officials.  So if something bad happens, we’d know that a lowly deputy assistant secretary did not go rogue and we won’t need to pick up the flattened DASes thrown under the buses after multiple congressional hearings.

In any case, we noticed that the IG inspectors seem to massaged its  report with phrases such as ” not as successful” or “less [effective] … in leading and inspiring his team” or  is “more hierarchical than collegial.”   That’s sorta like giving you a tall glass of juice to take with an almost bitter pill.

Look, this is a tiny mission with 7 direct hire American employees (an ideal team composition by the way), and a total staff of no more than 50.  Sometimes working at a small post can really pull people together. At other times,  it can make it seem like a 24/7, 365 days a year root canal – you just want to be numb with Novacaine and get out of there.  For now, they’re all out of there except for the local employees. But — can you imagine if you were an entry level officer working for 16 management officers on TDY in a span of 20 months?

While this OIG report highlighted US Embassy Bangui’s Front Office’s less than ideal leadership, morale and communication at post, we should note that the embassy is not alone.

We’ve been hearing for a while now that US Embassy Cairo is suffering from “abysmal morale.” A recent posting on the Secretary’s Sounding Board regarding its 15% hardship diffential is just one part of it. (Apparently it has been at 15% for 15 years  and State sat on Cairo’s differential update request for six months.  Despite  changing conditions in Egypt, State reportedly refused the request with no explanation).  But see – folks normally do not refer to their morale as “abysmal” also known as “appalling” or “extremely bad” if it only has to do with the differential.  Don’t forget the human. Plenty of unhappy people there, the differential is one reason; there are reportedly many more. 

The thing that should give State’s Seventh Floors some pause is — Embassy Bangui has 7 U.S.direct hire. Embassy Cairo’s staffing is 68X that of Bangui’s, with 476 U.S. direct hire and a total staff of 1,874 (at least according to the 2009 OIG staffing numbers).

Perhaps it’s time for the OIG to pay another visit to the land of pharaohs?  The last OIG inspection was in 2009. With upheaval in the host country in the last two years and significantly changing conditions at post, we think Cairo deserves a visit, don’t you?  Oh, and please do keep a close eye on USCG Alexandria.
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