Deputy Secretary Sullivan’s Town Hall With @StateDept Employees Now in Gifs

Posted: 3:09 am ET
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On August 8, while Secretary Tillerson remains on travel, Deputy Secretary John Sullivan had a town hall with employees at the State Department.  The event was closed to the press though there was one report filed soon after it concluded. We’ve got thoughts about this, so we wrote Why Tillerson Not Sullivan Needs the Town Hall: Morale Is Bad, “S” is Accountable.

Now, we think that this town hall was put together in a hurry to counter the deluge of bad press that’s been flooding our inboxes about the State Department, and Secretary Tillerson in particular. Why do we think that? Because Mr. Sullivan, who we’re told is personable and likable, was not as prepped as he should have been if this was appropriately planned. Secretary Tillerson is on travel from August 5-9, so a wait of 48-72 hours after his return to hold a town hall would have been feasible. But somebody must have decided that the negative reports have reached a tipping point and that they must be addressed before Tillerson returns to office. So now that his deputy has held one, Secretary Tillerson no longer has to do one. Or not immediately. According to Mr. Sullivan, Secretary Tillerson will do one in three months, “He’s going to do one in three months, and it will be the same format as I used today.”

The State Department obviously want the press corps to write about the town hall, how the deputy secretary is taking questions from employees, and answering them, and to impress upon media folks that things are going well in Foggy Bottom. And yet, the event was closed to the press. We are guessing that the State Department wanted good press clips, but did not really want members of the media to witness the question and answer. Unscripted things happen in those events, sometimes embarrassing ones and reporters could write up those stuff. And then you have a bigger fire.

As far as we are aware, no video was posted of the town hall and no transcript was made publicly available, though there are a few photos. But after the event concluded, the State Department made Deputy Secretary Sullivan available for On-the-Record Briefing With the State Department Press Corps.  We’re hearing from Mr. Sullivan, but we’re not hearing from the folks who asked him questions. See the interesting gap there? In any case, here are the things that we found notable from Mr. Sullivan’s on-the-record briefing. We’ll address the interesting gap next time.

Hitting on all cylinders!

John J. Sullivan: “So we’ve been very busy; he’s been very busy, supported by our great Foreign Service and Civil Service here at the State Department. So the notion that’s been out in the press and in the media of a hollowed-out State Department that is not effective, I think, is counterfactual, and the fact that the Secretary and the department have been able to accomplish what they have is evidence of the fact that we are hitting on all cylinders even though we don’t have the full complement of political appointees that we should have.”

 

 

Frozen, who’s frozen?

JJS: “I don’t think anyone would say – no one here would say that we’re pleased by the fact that we don’t have more of our under secretary and assistant secretary slots filled, but we’re working hard to do that. Those slots are not being – those slots are not being frozen or not filled because of the redesign that’s underway. […] So I think the last stat I saw was that we have roughly 60 percent of the unders and assistant secretaries slots either confirmed, nominated, or in the process, so getting – undergoing the security clearance review and so forth. And we hope to get all of those slots filled as quickly as we can.”

Is @StateDept Reporting Its Vacant Positions Under the Vacancies Reform Act? Barely, According to GAO Database

via tenor.com

 

Five working groups — who are you people?

JJS: “But the redesign is in midstream. It’s really the – we’ve really hit our stride, and this month is going to be a key one for the working groups that are leading the effort on – there are five working groups that are leading the effort on redesigning the State Department. And I’d be happy to give you a little more detail on that if you would like to hear about that. […] So whether it was the mission statement that I was talking about earlier, the draft mission statement, to reorganization of the – of bureaus, that’s all going to be fed up through this redesign process, employee-led, and with input over time this month – later this month from other interested stakeholders, whether it’s senior leaders of bureaus in the department, union – unions – AFSA, for example, OMB, members of Congress. So we’re going to be as transparent as possible as we go forward and reach final decisions on these issues, and eventually implement them.”

COMMENT: Oh, yes, we’re interested on more details about these working groups. Who are in these five working groups? How were they selected? Who selected them? How transparent was the selection? Where can we find their names? How long are they expected to work in these groups. Have they been detailed to these groups or are these their collateral duties?

Growing Body of Work on Rex Tillerson’s Stewardship of the State Department

Why ‘Rexit” Is Not Happening Anytime Soon, in Rex Tillerson’s Own Words

via tenor.com

 

Hold on, the noise is coming from the building!

JJS: “I am from Boston and a New England Patriots fan, and those of you who know football know Bill Belichick’s motto is: Do your job and don’t pay attention to the noise out there. But in this town, it’s kind of hard to miss when your friends and colleagues start calling you and emailing you about the latest article that appeared.”

 

Helllooooo A/GIS/DIR – show yourself!

JJS: “And what we’ve discovered is that over the last seven years or more there have been hundreds of delegations of authority that no one had kept track of and there was no central either registry or system so that a current assistant secretary would know exactly what had been delegated to her or to him.”

COMMENT: Per regulations dated March 1, 2010, the State Department’s Office of Directives Management (A/GIS/DIR) under the Bureau of Administration (presently carrying on without an Assistant Secretary) manages the Department of State’s Delegations of Authority Program. It processes delegations of authority for publication in the Federal Register, and — get this — maintains the Department’s inventory of delegations of authority, including the Web-based Delegation of Authority Database.  So A/GIS/DIR assigns appropriate serial numbers to delegations of authority and maintains the Department’s records of official delegations. In addition, A/GIS/DIR maintains an electronic listing and database of all current and rescinded Department delegations on the A/GIS/DIR website.

WHO KNEW? 

Via Imgur

 

John, call your office now!

JJS: “So there are elements of truth in some of these stories, whether it’s about the delegation of authority or about the mission statement, but then they’re twisted in a way that makes it sound as though the Secretary is out of touch, mismanaging, whatever. [….] So I think there’s really a misperception both of the department and what we’re doing and his role in the department.”

COMMENT: The State Department should have every opportunity to respond to stories we write about it. They lost that opportunity when they banned this blog and refused to respond to email inquiries. See our original post on delegations of authority: Tillerson Rescinds Delegated Authorities Department-Wide, Further Gums Up Foggy Bottom). See our follow-up here: Making Sense of Tillerson’s Rescinded Delegations of Authority @StateDept/ .

As recently as last week, we asked about a specific case regarding a DS agent accused of rape and stalking. But all there are … are crickets (See A Woman Reported to Diplomatic Security That She Was Raped and Stalked by a DS Agent, So What Happened?). Hey, we’ve also asked about the “Naughty List” but still got crickets ….so anyways, we got work to do …

 

Noooo! Not the 1960’s or why Colin Powell should call in to protest

JJS: “I – once I asked – I won’t name him by name, because I don’t want to drag him into a news story, but I asked a retired, very senior Foreign Service officer – I had lunch with him not – just before I got – just before I came on board here. I asked him about what he knew about morale at the State Department, and he said morale at the State Department is very low. He said, “It was low when I started in 1960 and it’s still low. It’s the nature of the State Department.”

COMMENT: We wrote a bit about Colin Powell here: Why Tillerson Not Sullivan Needs the Town Hall: Morale Is Bad, “S” is Accountable.

 

Congrats, it was all for nothing!

JJS: “I think it’s almost 800 EFMs that have been approved since this – the hiring freeze was imposed.”

COMMENT: We’ve said this before and we’ll say this again. Whether the State Department is successfully reorganized or not, there will remain a need for community liaison coordinators, security escorts, consular associates, mailroom clerks, security coordinators, etc. at our overseas posts. So the freeze on these jobs did not make a whole lot of sense in the first place. But it did make life at overseas posts more difficult for employees who have to cover for these unfilled positions, and make for distressed diplomatic spouses who already suffer from extended under employment when they go overseas.

See Unemployment Status of @StateDept Family Members Overseas (4/2017) #ThanksTillerson

Oy! That Rumor About Foreign Service Family Member Employment as “Corporate Welfare”;
Are #EFM positions literally about to become…extinct under #Tillerson’s watch?;
No thaw in sight for @StateDept hiring freeze until reorganization plan is “fully developed”

 

Making Ops Center Watchstanders’ Lives Easier Soon!

JJS: “We don’t put a lot of – we don’t have a huge budget for things. We have a budget for people and we’re going to organize ourselves better, to use our people better, to – excuse me, to put our people and our employees in a position to do their jobs more effectively and efficiently, and to make their – make their jobs, their professional lives easier.”

COMMENT: The State Department is making folks’ professional lives easier already. And it’s starting with the watchstanders at the Operations Center. The State Department has directed that Ops tours should now be two years instead of 13 months. The nomination request cable went out already. For the first time ever, the Ops Center will have officers working insane shifts on two year rotations 24/7. More on that later. And they’re making lives easier for families, too. We’ve been hearing issues with umbrella schools for homeschooling families and issues with allowances related to Foreign Service children with special needs.

Image via Canadian Foreign Service Problems

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Why Tillerson Not Sullivan Needs the Town Hall: Morale Is Bad, “S” is Accountable

Posted: 3:01 pm PT
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On August 8, while Secretary Tillerson remains on travel (seen in Thailand with Foreign Minister Pramudwinai in Bangkok), Deputy Secretary John Sullivan had a town hall with employees at the State Department.

According to Politico, the State Department’s No. 2 official assured staffers Tuesday that plans to restructure the department would take their concerns into full account, comparing the coming changes to U.S. military reforms following the Vietnam War. The report notes that his “reference to post-Vietnam reforms in the U.S. military suggests major changes are afoot; the military saw major changes in organization, doctrine, personnel policy, equipment and training.”

While it certainly is a good development that employees were able to hear directly from the deputy secretary and he did take and answer questions, we remain convinced that Secretary Tillerson himself needs to do the town hall, not his deputy. Secretary Tillerson often talks about accountability as one of his three core values, one that he asked his employees to adopt.

Well, morale is bad. And S is accountable. Folks need to see him and hear him address their concerns.

Had Secretary Tillerson and his inner circle expended the necessary time and energy to get to know the building and its people during the transition before jumping into reorganization, they would not be battling bad press every day six months into Tillerson’s tenure.

Politico also reported that toward the end of the town hall, Mr. Sullivan “urge State staffers not to believe everything they read in the press about what is happening in the agency.” 

Okay! So that’s funny.

This was going to be our one post on the town hall, but we saw that Mr. Sullivan had now given an on-the-record briefing to members of the press regarding his town hall. So, we will do a separate post dedicated to Mr. Sullivan’s town hall.  While still working on that, we have three points to make quickly.

One, the press did not invent these stories. State Department folks in and out of service are talking to media outlets. We’ve never seen these many sources talking to the press in all the years that we’ve covered Foggy Bottom. The press reports these stories, of course, some with less restraint than others, and some without context; that’s just a couple of the complaints we’re heard. Is this healthy for an organization that is already undergoing stresses brought about by the re-organization? Obviously not. And Foggy Bottom is practically a rumor machine these days.  But there’s a reason for that.  If folks are talking, that’s because management is not doing a good job communicating with the employees. Heck, we have more folks reading this blog this year, and it’s not because we’re irresistibly entertaining.

(Hello to our 500,000th visitor this year! We’re glad to see you here!)

Two, there’s a lot that the Tillerson Front Office is doing that we don’t understand. And that’s okay, we’re not privy to their thinking or their plans. And since the State Department’s Public Affairs shop has put us on its shit list (you know, for laughing out loud during April Fools’), there’s no way to get an official word from the Building.  If we’re using our own resources without official comments from Foggy Bottom to help explain whatever it is they’re doing, just know that we did not ask them to put us on their shit list. That was perfectly voluntary on their part.

So anyway, when people — who have dedicated their lives to this organization for years, who have gone through other transitions and survived, who have served under Democratic and Republican administrations and supported the policies of those administrations when they were in office (as they’ve affirmed when they were appointed to these jobs) — when those folks throw up their arms in frustration and distress, and they, too, do not understand, then we have to sit up and pay attention. It doesn’t help that Secretary Tillerson and his immediate people, when they do talk uses descriptions of what they’re doing as if they’re in an alternate universe. “No preconceived notions,” “employee-led reorganization” “no chaos” — we do not need to be a genius to recognize that those are talking points intended to shape their preferred narrative.

Three, the notion that Secretary Tillerson and his people arrived at Foggy Bottom where everything is broken, and they are there to fix it is kinda funny.  They did not know what they did not know, but that did not deter them from doing stuff, which broke more stuff. Perhaps the most substantial reinvention of the State Department in modern times, about systems, and work, and people, happened during Colin Powell’s tenure. That happened because 1) Powell was wise enough to recognize the value of the career corps; and 2) he brought in people who were professionals, who knew how to work with people, and — let’s just say this out loud — people who did not have atrocious manners.

When Secretary Powell showed up in Foggy Bottom in January 2001, he told State Department employees, “I am not coming in just to be the foreign policy adviser to the President,… I’m coming in as the leader and the manager of this Department.”  The building and its people followed Secretary Powell’s lead because they could see that his actions were aligned with his words. And of course, Secretary Powell did not start his tenure by treating career people with 30-year service like trash by giving them 48 hours to clear out their desks.

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More Than Words: Tillerson/Peterlin Lunch With @StateDept Employees

Posted: 2:58 am ET
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So our blogpost last April Fools’ Day which made Secretary Tillerson’s inner circle throw a hissy fit (see Inside @StateDept: Leaked Cable Provides Guidance For ‘America First’ Cost Savings Initiatives) includes “lunchies” with the Secretary of State in Foggy Bottom’s cafeteria.

The Secretary is determined to get to know the men and women of this agency, and to that end he plans to eat lunch in the cafeteria once a week when he is not traveling.  S/ES is currently working on a lottery that would allow a random employee to be included in the Secretary’s table during the weekly lunches. Lottery guidance will be posted at a later date at https://www.fbu.state.gov/s/es/slottery/.

So now here is real life: Secretary Tillerson, with Chief of Staff Margaret Peterlin having lunch with 4-5 State Department employees presumably to help shore up rock bottom morale in Foggy Bottom. It’s going to take more than a few lunches to do that. But anyway, we understand that the lunches are apparently monthly, and darnit, the lunch companions are not selected via lottery. Well, at least not yet. We estimate that if S is having monthly lunches with 5 employees, that’ll be 60 employees/year. If the CoS gives up her chair, that will be be 84 employees.

“Do you need some Wicked Wasabi with that  sushi?” we imagined somebody asked during lunch.

“Be careful, that chili is nasty,” says a familiar warning that would have been issued to every Secretary of State.

Had they added John Sullivan (D), and Tom Shannon (P), it would have been a lunch meeting with the entire State Department leadership.

But seriously, if we can suspend belief for now that this is all theater, this is not a bad start, though a bit late. But given the size of the building and the time demands on Tillerson, they probably can find other activities with a better return for his investment in time and energy  — offsite meetings with senior managers (except he has yet to appoint most of them), townhalls where employees can ask questions, or hey, why not an ‘Ask Me Anything’ on Reddit for a couple hours?

But more than words, actions speak louder than words. Like the exemption to the hiring freeze of a number of priority EFM positions issued last Friday (see Unemployment Status of @StateDept Family Members Overseas (4/2017) #ThanksTillerson). Whether the State Department is successfully reorganized or not, there will remain a need for community liaison coordinators, security escorts, consular associates, mailroom clerks, security coordinators, etc. at our overseas posts (also see Are #EFM positions literally about to become…extinct under #Tillerson’s watch?). So the freeze on these jobs did not make a whole lot of sense in the first place. But it did make life at overseas posts more difficult for employees who have to cover for these unfilled positions, and make for distressed diplomatic spouses who already suffer from extended under employment when they go overseas.

He can certainly do a lot more, but will he?

Meanwhile Derek Chollet has a new piece on FP about how future Secretaries of State will study Tillerson’s first 6 mos for lessons of what not to do: Why Has Rex Tillerson Belly-Flopped as Secretary of State? Ouch!

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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.”

 

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