Oy! That Rumor About Foreign Service Family Member Employment as “Corporate Welfare”

Posted: 1:39 am ET
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We posted recently about the hiring freeze, the jobs for diplomatic spouses, and the worries that these jobs could soon be filled not by the U.S. citizen spouses of USG employees overseas but by locally hired employees (see Are #EFM positions literally about to become…extinct under #Tillerson’s watch?).

We have since learned that the Foreign Service community has been roiled by a rumor that the top diplomat of the United States has allegedly called the employment of Foreign Service family members as “corporate welfare” and allegedly said to one of his deputies that this practice is going to stop.

The secretary of state is surrounded by a small number of inner circle staffers like Margaret Peterlin, Christine Ciccone, Matt Mowers and Bill Ingle but his top deputies are currently nowhere in sight in Foggy Bottom as he has no confirmed deputy. Where did this rumor come from?  Was this overheard in the cafeteria, by the water coolers, in Foggy Bottom’s sparkling bathrooms?  We have not been able to trace the origin of this alleged quote, or locate a first hand account of who heard exactly what when.  But since the rumor has raced like wildfire fire within the State Department, and has a potential deleterious effect on morale, we’ve asked the Bureau of Public Affairs via email, and on Twitter to comment about this alleged quote. Unfortunately, we got crickets; we got no acknowledgement that they even received our multiple inquiries, and we’ve seen no response to-date.

Not even smoke signals! Dear Public Affairs, please blink if you’re being held hostage …

via reactiongifs.com

We’ve also asked the Family Liaison Office (FLO), the institutional advocate for Foreign Service family members. The FLO folks also did not respond to our inquiry. Finally, we’ve asked the Director General of the Foreign Service via email. We got a canned response thanking us for our inquiry and advising us that if a response is required, we’ll hear from DGHR within 10 days. Yippee! The DGHR’s office did bother to set up an auto-response and we’re holding our breath for a real response!

H-e-l-p … g-u-l-p …we’re still holding our breath!

Dual Career Households

Foreign Service spouses have similar challenges to military spouses in maintaining dual careers while following their spouses during assignments — have you ever heard our top generals call the jobs for military spouses  “corporate welfare?” Of course not. Why? Because dual career households have been trending up since 1970.  According to a Pew Research Center analysis of Current Population Survey data in 2015, the share of two-parent households in which both parents work full time now stands at 46%, up from 31% in 1970.  “At the same time, the share with a father who works full time and a mother who doesn’t work outside the home has declined considerably; 26% of two-parent households today fit this description, compared with 46% in 1970.” 

So, we were counting on the State Department to set the record straight on what this secretary of state thinks about the family members who serve overseas with our diplomats.  We are unable to say whether this quote is real or not, whether he said this or not but we can tell you that the rumor is doing the rounds and upsetting a whole lot of people.  Anecdotal evidence suggests that a good number of folks within the organization also believe this to be true.

Rumors Uninterrupted. Why?

Well, there are a few reasons we can think of.  One, the White House has now lifted the hiring freeze, but there is no thaw in sight for the State Department until the reorganization plan is approved (see No thaw in sight for @StateDept hiring freeze until reorganization plan is “fully developed”).  Two, we’re hearing all sorts of news about gutting State and USAID budgets and staffing but we have yet to hear about the Secretary of State actually talking to his people in Foggy Bottom or defending the agency that he now leads. And then there’s this: there are apparently over 70 exceptions to the hiring freeze for EFM jobs that have been requested. Only 6 EFM positions for the Priority Staffing Posts (like Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan) were reportedly approved by Secretary Tillerson.  PSPs are important to watch as EFMs can only accompany their employee-spouse if they have a job at post. If State only grants exceptions to EFM jobs at PSP posts on the rarest of cases, will employees break their assignments when their EFMs are unable to accompany them?

These EFM jobs, almost all requiring security clearance range from Community Liaison Officers tasked with morale and family member issues to security escorts, minders for the janitorial or repair staff, to mailroom clerks who process mail and diplomatic pouches, to security clerks who process security badges and do other clerical work.  With few exceptions like consular associates who work in the visa sections and professional associates, most of these EFM jobs are  clerical in nature and require no more than a high school education. Some 80% of diplomatic spouses have college degrees but only 29% works inside U.S. missions overseas, 14% works in the local economy and a whopping 57% are not employed.

Let’s pause here for a moment to note that the 57% for the State Department more than double the Pew Research Center analysis of Current Population Survey data from 2015 for two-parent households where the wife does not work outside the home.

Hard Choices Ahead

If the EFM job freeze becomes indefinite, we anticipate that some families with financial obligations for college tuitions or other family obligations may opt for voluntary separation to enable the EFM to keep her/his Civil Service job or stay stateside to keep her/his private sector job. More senior  spouses may also have particular concerns about having jobs/keeping their jobs so we may see an increase in voluntary unaccompanied tours and family separations. Is that something the State Department really wants to do?

Given that the summer rotation is coming up between June and August, how is the State Department going to remedy the staffing gaps at various locations while the EFM hiring freeze is on?  We’ve also asked the State Department this question, but we did not hear anything back, not even a buzz-buzz.  Do you think there is even a plan?

We should note that not all rotations are created equal.  There are posts that may have a light staff rotation this year, while other posts have larger staff turnovers.  Small posts may be hit particularly hard.  Sections with one FSO supported by a couple of EFMs could potentially lose both EFM staffers and be unable to hire new ones because of the hiring freeze.  Meanwhile, the work requirements including all congressionally mandated reporting go on.

One source told us that the main option for his/her post during rotation is to suck up the extra work, and even temporarily reassign the existing staff to higher priority projects. Which means somethings will not/not get done.  There are already posts where one officer has two-three collateral duties, so those are not going to get any better. Visa officers may need to collect fingerprints as well as conduct visa interviews. Unless their jobs get handed over to DHS (yes, there are rumors on that, too!).   Regional Security Officers may need to process embassy badges, and answer their own phones, as well as attend to mission security, supervise the local guards, review contracts, etc.

An Aside — on Rumors

We once wrote about rumors in a dysfunctional embassy.  It now applies to the State Department.  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.  In the current environment, the rampant rumors circulating within the State Department is indicative of Mr. Tillerson’s deficient communication with his employees.

If State Really Cares About the Costs

In any case, if the State Department no longer even pretends to care that FS spouses are under-employed or not employed overseas, it still ought to care about costs. These are support employees who already have their security clearances, and require no separate housing. It is estimated that there are about 5,000 EFMs who would qualify for the Foreign Service  Family Reserve Corps. A few years ago, we noted that majority of EFMs employed at US mission, at the minimum, have a “Secret” level clearance. The average cost to process a SECRET clearance has been reported to run from several hundred dollars to $3,000, depending on individual factors. We suspect that the cost is higher for FS members due to overseas travels and multiple relocations.  The average cost to process a TOP SECRET clearance is between $3,000 and about $15,000, depending on individual factors. If State gets rid of EFM jobs (already cheap labor compared to direct-hire), the work will still be there.  Or is it planning on hiring contractors to bridge the gap? If yes, these contractors would all have to get through the security clearance process themselves.  State still has to fund contractors’ travel and housing, etc. How would that be cheaper?  Or … if not, who will do all the work?

Tillerson’s 9% Cut and a Troubling Nugget

The latest news from Bloomberg talks about Tillerson reportedly seeking a 9% cut in State Department staffing with majority of the job cuts, about 1,700, through attrition, while the remaining 600 will be done via buyouts (we’ll have to write about this separately).   Oh, and he’ll be on a “listening tour” sometime soon.  Note that during the slash and burn in the 1990’s, the State Department “trimmed” more than 1,100 jobs at the State Department, 600 jobs at  the U.S. Information Agency (USIA), and had identified for elimination about 2,000 jobs at the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID).

The Bloomberg report also has this troubling nugget:

“Tillerson was taken aback when he arrived on the job to see how much money the State Department was spending on housing and schooling for the families of diplomats living overseas, according to one person familiar with his thinking.”

So next, we’re gonna to be talking about those houses with concertina wire on top of 18 foot walls?

Since there may not be EFM jobs for diplomatic spouses, and we could soon be back to the old days when American diplomats are accompanied overseas by stay-at-home spouses who make no demands on having careers of their own, who’s to say when dependents’ schooling will next be upgraded to allow only homeschooling, when travel will be made only by paddle boats,  and diplomatic housing will be reduced to yurts?

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NOTE: There are a few EFMs who are hired in Civil Service positions and allowed to telecommute from their locations overseas once they go abroad with their spouses . They’re officially on DETO status (domestic employee telecommuting overseas).  We understand that last year,  one bureau had “pushed out” its EFM employees on DETO status. The employees either had to resign their CS jobs or return to DC to report to work.  In these DETO cases, the spouses can either stay at post with no jobs, or return to Washington, D.C. and endure the family separation. While this predates Tillerson’s arrival, we’d like to see how many other bureaus have now done away with DETO employees. Email us.

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Inbox: Another example of top-notch FSI communications strategy?

Posted: 12:57 am  ET
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We received the following in our inbox on Friday, February 4, 2017:

“Rumor is spreading like wildfire that on Friday afternoon at an administrative staff meeting FSI language school management announced that all language immersion trips planned for this spring would be cancelled. No one has yet bothered to tell the students or teachers who have already purchased non-refundable airline tickets for trips that have been planned and approved by language division supervisors since last year. The cancellations seems to be based on lack of FSI funds to pay per diem to accompanying teachers, but it is not clear whether students will still be permitted to travel on self-directed immersion trips. Some students are frantically trying to get flights and hotels refunded under travel insurance policies, but this is not likely to be a covered circumstance.

Another example of top-notch FSI communications strategy. No one has bothered to tell the affected parties, but half the administrative staff at FSI heard about it.”

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More on the Syria Dissent Channel Memo, and Chasing Down Concerning Rumors

Posted: 4:21 pm ET
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According to Tuesday’s Daily Press Briefing, Secretary Kerry met yesterday with a small number, approximately 10 of the 51 signers of the Syria Dissent Channel memo for about a half an hour. The official spox said that “as you can imagine, the group is sizeable, so it wasn’t possible to meet with everybody. But he did have a collegial discussion with them this morning.” 

MR KIRBY: I’m – because the dissent channel memo and the contents of it are meant to be privately conveyed, so too I’m afraid are going to have to be the discussions around it. So I’m not going to be able to characterize the content of the Secretary’s conversation with them, because we want to respect the confidentiality of the process. It was, however – it was – I believe the Secretary came away feeling that it was a good discussion, it was worth having. He appreciated their views and just as critically their firm belief in their – in the opportunity that they have to express those views. And so they had a good 30-minute or more conversation.
[…]
MR KIRBY: Look, let me do this. So I can tell you a couple of things. He thanked them for expressing their views and for using the dissent channel. And he reaffirmed his strong belief in the value of the dissent channel, which we’ve talked about quite a bit here. So he thanked them for expressing their views, for using the dissent channel to do that. He made clear that he takes the dissent channel seriously and he took their views seriously, and also made clear that he read their message with sincerity. And, again, without talking about the specific detail of it, the Secretary also walked them through his own thought process with respect to this particular issue and the efforts that he’s been expending on this particular issue.
[…]
MR KIRBY:
 I didn’t say and I won’t speculate as to discussions going forward with respect to what we’re doing in Syria or decisions that may or may not get made, either as a result of this message or as a result of ongoing routine discussions that have been had and continue to be had on alternatives. So I’m not going to speculate about the role that this message might play one way or the other.

But if you’re asking me, was this just a show for the Secretary, the answer is absolutely not. I mean, it – certainly he wanted to thank them and pay respect to the process because this is an important issue. But he also didn’t waste time in terms of hearing them out and asking questions and listening to their views and asking them to expound on them further. I mean, that’s the way this Secretary likes to conduct meetings and discussions and to inform himself. And again, I think he found the meeting useful in that regard. But I wouldn’t begin to speculate one way or another what this conversation today or that message did last week in terms of altering, changing any of the thinking going forward.  As I said last week, nobody is content with the status quo on the ground and the Administration has been looking at other options with respect to Syria for quite some time. This is not new. And yes, some of those options have included the potential for military initiatives. Again, that’s nothing new. So all these things —

The full DPB transcript is here.

Meanwhile, we had to chase down a couple of concerning rumors related to the dissent memo. We heard an allegation about Congressional pressure for a) the memo and b) the names of the signers.  Apparently, “word on the street” is that the Front Office of a certain geographical bureau is “providing names to the Hill in exchange for unblocking some nominations.” We must note that this bureau’s two chief of mission nominees had their confirmation hearing on Tuesday, June 21. There were no indications previously or at this time that these two nominations are subject to a Senate hold.

A State Department spokesperson, on background responded to our inquiry with the following:

“The dissent channel message has been provided to the Hill, but we did not include — nor will we — the names of the authors.”

We do not even want to imagine what a Congressional committee can do with the names or hearings in a partisan fight, in an election year.  So that’s one rumor debunked.

We also heard that the subject of this uproar, which appears to have SBU marking (“sensitive but unclassified”) has now been “retroactively classified.”

A State Department spokesperson, on background also told us that the cable was transmitted on the highside, and was classified confidential by the authors.”

Thanks X for debunking this other rumor.

The draft version published by the New York Times contains the SBU marking. It appears that the final version went out as “confidential” and was transmitted via the classified system.  What we still don’t know and may never know is how wide was the distribution of this “Dissent Channel” message and who purposely let this piglet out of the pen. We are still at a loss as to the leaker or leakers’ motive/s and perplexed at the calculation of sending a public message to a President with less than six months left in office.

Here are more links to read:

Here’s an early summer bonus for the “security diplomats”!

 

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Burn Bag: Yo! A Shout-out From the Starr Man?

❊ If you want to help keep us around, see Help Diplopundit Continue the Chase—Crowdfunding for 2014 via RocketHub ❊

— Domani Spero
Updated @0850

Received entry for the Burn Bag:  “Congrats to Diplopundit on the shout-out from DS’ Assistant Secretary during his latest volun-mandatory town hall meeting.  Notably absent from A/S Starr’s rant was anything related to accountability, transparency, or responsibility…”

Um, thanks?!  A shout-out is usually good, but rants are usually bad. Unless he was ranting raves, which could also be good and bad.  Pardon me? Stop over-thinking it?  Oh, right.   Here’s the Starr man who may or may not have given us gave a shout-out behind the wall – a fairly neutral one, we’re told, like –  “and there’s Diplopundit” in referring to social media and informal news about DS.  Thank you, that’s us, dudes, where do I bow?  We did not hold anyone hostage to get a mention, honest.   To our friends at DS, we have an offer for you — check back tomorrow!

As his wife looks on, Gregory B. Starr (left) is congratulated by U.S. Secretary of State John F. Kerry (right) immediately after Mr. Kerry swore him in as Assistant Secretary for Diplomatic Security during a ceremony at State Department headquarters in Washington D.C., January 8, 2014.  Mr. Starr is the first Diplomatic Security special agent to hold the position of Assistant Secretary. (U.S. Department of State photo)

As his wife looks on, Gregory B. Starr (left) is congratulated by U.S. Secretary of State John F. Kerry (right) immediately after Mr. Kerry swore him in as Assistant Secretary for Diplomatic Security during a ceremony at State Department headquarters in Washington D.C., January 8, 2014. Mr. Starr is the first Diplomatic Security special agent to hold the position of Assistant Secretary. (U.S. Department of State photo)

Also, folks, we understand that an energizer bunny has mirrored Diplopundit’s Burn Bag behind the firewall. Is that  true or is that something we should treat as #RUMINT?

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QotW: Will Beth Jones Be Formally Nominated as Assistant Secretary for Near Eastern Affairs?

Laura Rozen of The Back Channel has the Buzz on Obama 2.0 Middle East team.  Excerpt below related to the ARB fallout:

Among the top questions is whether acting Assistant Secretary of State for the Near East Affairs Beth Jones will be formally nominated for the post under Secretary of State-nominee John Kerry , or whether someone new will be tapped.  Jones, a career foreign service officer, is, like Kerry, the child of US Foreign Service parents, who spent much of her childhood living abroad accompanying them on foreign assignments, including in Germany and Moscow.

Jones, who previously served as Ambassador to Kazakhstan, Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for the Near East, and Assistant Secretary of State for European Affairs (2001-2005), came out of retirement in the private sector (APCO Worldwide) to assist in the Near East bureau in 2011. She assumed the Acting Assistant Secretary job for the bureau after Jeff Feltman retired to take the number three job at the United Nations last May.

Department sources said, however, that some State rank and file officers are troubled that the Benghazi investigation resulted in the departure of Jones’ deputy, Raymond Maxwell, who had come out of retirement to serve as deputy assistant secretary of state for Libya in 2011, department sources told the Back Channel. The perception among some in the ranks is that Jones let Maxwell take the fall, while escaping blame herself, in part because of her relationship with Tom Pickering, the veteran diplomat who chaired the Benghazi Accountability Review Board investigation, a department source who declined to speak for attribution said. Jones and Maxwell did not immediately return requests for comment.

Read in full here.

So that’s the question of the week.

We have previously blogged about the ARB fallout on personnel at State, both in the DS and NEA bureaus here and here.  We do not think that Ms. Jones will be formally nominated for a couple of reasons:

  1. While it is true that she has been on the job for about three months as acting Assistant Secretary at NEA when the September 11 attack occurred, she was the incumbent sitting at the top of the accountable regional bureau during the Benghazi Attacks. Formally nominating her for the job would look like a promotion despite the deadly fiasco inside the bureau in the lead up to the attacks.  That’s not good optics and the conspiracy sector will have a field day.  Frankly, we can’t even imagine what that confirmation would be like at the SFRC with Senators John McCain and Rand Paul plus newly minted senator from Arizona named Flake, joining in the fun, if she is nominated.
  2. If rank and file officers were troubled with the departure of NEA DAS Raymond Maxwell in the aftermath of the ARB report, imagine what the morale would be like if she formally assumes the job. With a new secretary of state, not sure, this is something he would really want to deal with at the start of his tenure. The incoming SecState has an opportunity to start with a new slate, we think that’s what he’ll do — not because of inside knowledge (we have none) but because that makes the most sense.

Besides — what’s this proclivity with calling people back from retirement?  How about these folks?  None of them qualified to run the bureau with lots of countries in the hotzones?  Where’s the next generation of State Department leaders coming up the ladder? Zap us an email if you know their undisclosed locations.

domani spero sig

 

 

 

 

Happy Now? Susan Rice Removes Name From Consideration as SecState

NBS News exclusive reports that U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice is dropping out of the running to be the next secretary of state after months of criticism over her Benghazi comments.

“If nominated, I am now convinced that the confirmation process would be lengthy, disruptive and costly – to you and to our most pressing national and international priorities,” Rice wrote in a letter to President Obama, saying she’s saddened by the partisan politics surrounding her prospects.

“That trade-off is simply not worth it to our country…Therefore, I respectfully request that you no longer consider my candidacy at this time,” she wrote in the letter obtained by NBC News.

Read the full letter here via Politico.

Below is the Statement by the President on Ambassador Rice:

Today, I spoke to Ambassador Susan Rice, and accepted her decision to remove her name from consideration for Secretary of State. For two decades, Susan has proven to be an extraordinarily capable, patriotic, and passionate public servant. As my Ambassador to the United Nations, she plays an indispensable role in advancing America’s interests. Already, she has secured international support for sanctions against Iran and North Korea, worked to protect the people of Libya, helped achieve an independent South Sudan, stood up for Israel’s security and legitimacy, and served as an advocate for UN reform and the human rights of all people. I am grateful that Susan will continue to serve as our Ambassador at the United Nations and a key member of my cabinet and national security team, carrying her work forward on all of these and other issues. I have every confidence that Susan has limitless capability to serve our country now and in the years to come, and know that I will continue to rely on her as an advisor and friend. While I deeply regret the unfair and misleading attacks on Susan Rice in recent weeks, her decision demonstrates the strength of her character, and an admirable commitment to rise above the politics of the moment to put our national interests first. The American people can be proud to have a public servant of her caliber and character representing our country.

Somewhere Senator McGrouchy is dancing in the moonlight.

Rumors abound that former Senator Chuck Hagel is heading to the Pentagon. In which case, it seems likely that the Senate’s favorite, John Kerry is a step closer to Foggy Bottom.

domani spero sig

 

 

 

 

 

All Susan All the Time — Foggy Bottom’s Hallway Conversation?

The Daily Beast has a new addition to the Susan Rice, please let this be over story already. It’s titled, Susan Rice’s Personality ‘Disorder’.  Is it just us or are folks trying to outdo themselves with their Susan headlines?  We fear that the longer this runs, the more outrageous the headlines will be; so they’ll get our attention despite cruising towards some darn cliff, of course.  While it is not surprising that this is a hallway conversation over in Foggy Bottom, we’re still struck by this: (excerpt):

George W. Bush, had flouted longstanding tradition and downgraded the U.N. job to sub-cabinet status, but President Obama restored it to cabinet rank for Rice—thus insuring intense bureaucratic rivalry between the U.S. Mission in New York and the State Department in Washington, where various career foreign-service officers view the prospect of Rice’s takeover with suspicion.

“It’s the hallway conversation,” says a longtime State Department staffer. “It’s like, Jesus Christ, woe unto us all if this happens!”

Indeed, Rice has apparently left a trail of bruised egos and injured feelings in the nation’s capital. A veteran of the Clinton White House recalls a junior aide being summoned by Rice, then director of Africa policy at the National Security Council, and returning to his desk in tears.

 

It’s like, Jesus Christ, must be more than just bruised egos!

How come this makes us think of our favorite resident from the Foggiest Bottom?

domani spero sig

 

 

 

The Susan Rice Roller Coaster Ride – “Softened” Senators Now “Significantly Troubled” and “Disturbed”

So we heard that Senator McCain has “softened” a tad about the possible Susan Rice nomination.  He told Fox News Sunday that he was willing to hear her out. Asked whether there’s anything Rice can do to change his mind, McCain responded:

“Sure, I give everyone the benefit of explaining their position and the actions that they took. I’ll be glad to have the opportunity to discuss these issues with her. Why did she say that Al-Qaeda has been decimated in her statement here on this program? Al-Qaeda hasn’t been decimated, they’re on the rise…So, there’s a lot of questions we have for Ambassador Rice, and I’m sure we’ll have the opportunity to discuss this with her.”

The CSM explains why GOP opposition to Susan Rice is no longer white-hot. The news about what’s softening even made the  international news.  And then the AP reported that “With congressional opposition softening, U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice could find her name in contention as early as this week to succeed Hillary Rodham Clinton as secretary of state.”

Yesterday, it was widely reported that the U.N. Ambassador would have a Tuesday meeting with the three key Republican senators, Sens. John McCain (R-Ariz.), Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) and Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.). The meeting was reportedly at the request of Ambassador Rice’s office.

So today the folks had their meeting. And then the softened senators are quickly back to their old selves.  What more, they  are now “significantly troubled,” “more troubled, not less” and obviously “disturbed.”

“We are significantly troubled by many of the answers that we got, and some that we didn’t get, concerning evidence that was overwhelming leading up to the attack on our consulate,” McCain told reporters after the meeting.

“I am more disturbed now than before,said South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham (video).

Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire said she’s “more troubled, not less,” after talking with Rice and top U.S. intelligence officials about the attacks.

Over at USUN, Ambassador Rice released a statement about her meeting with the three senators saying, “I appreciated the opportunity to discuss these issues directly and constructively with them” and that she and Acting CIA Director Michael Morell stressed that there was no intention to mislead. Here is part of the statement:

“In the course of the meeting, we explained that the talking points provided by the intelligence community, and the initial assessment upon which they were based, were incorrect in a key respect: there was no protest or demonstration in Benghazi. While we certainly wish that we had had perfect information just days after the terrorist attack, as is often the case, the intelligence assessment has evolved. We stressed that neither I nor anyone else in the Administration intended to mislead the American people at any stage in this process, and the Administration updated Congress and the American people as our assessments evolved.”

 

This is looking more and more like a rough ride. And if Susan Rice does get the nomination and  the Senate confirmation dashed with a brutal fight, there will be an extreme ride way ahead. Brutal fights tend to generate intense, unforgettable memories …so, there may be a rumble with every new nomination particularly related to the State Department.

We’re scrapping the bottom for good news on this one — but there is at least this:  with Senator McCain and his prospective ranking Republican spot in the Indian Affairs Committee next year, the new Congress should be far from boring.  It’ll be nice if they get something done, too, but that would be asking too much.

 

 

 

Foggy Bottom Race: The Susan Rice Noise Gets Louder, Thanks to Senator McGrouchy

You’ve already heard Senator John McCain firing the opening salvo on the State Department’s (maybe) future Secretary Rice. Susan Rice has not even been announced as a nominee yet but hey,  this the pre-emption doctrine at work.

In any case, we are reminded of his take on this Rice and not that Rice. Senator McCain argued that  Susan Rice is “not qualified” to be the next secretary since she said the Benghazi attack began spontaneously and promised to block her nomination. In 2005, Mr. McCain argued that Condoleezza Rice was qualified to be the next secretary of state, despite her testimony about those WMDs in Iraq.

So then the newly reelected prez says come after me, dudes!

And Senator McCain took him up on that offer, so then the GOP wants a special select committee ala Watergate to investigate the attack in Benghazi.

Thereafter, just like in the movies, Nevada’s Harry Reid came out with a three-barrel page turner written with a scathing .44 Magnum pen.

Oops!  But what’s this we hear? Is it true that in January, the Arizona senator will lose his top-ranking committee seat due to term limits?  And that the only ranking Republican spot available to him next session will be on the Indian Affairs Committee?

What’s this world coming to?

The jaded part of me says born or made, politicians are bound to disappoint.

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Maureen Dowd over in the NYT waded into the matter and asked, Is Rice Cooked?  I dunno, is she?

Rice, who has a bull-in-a-china-shop reputation, is diplomatic enough for the top diplomatic job. [..] Rice should have realized that when a gang showed up with R.P.G.’s and mortars in a place known as a hotbed of Qaeda sympathizers and Islamic extremist training camps, it was not anger over a movie. She should have been savvy enough to wonder why the wily Hillary was avoiding the talk shows.”

In WaPo, Robert Kagan, prominent neoconservative writer with the Brookings Institution and husband of State Department spokesperson, Victoria Nuland said that  “the idea that Rice should be disqualified because of statements she made on television in the days after the Sept. 11 attack on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi, Libya, strikes me as unfair. […] I haven’t seen persuasive evidence to support the theory that Rice’s statements were part of a coverup to hide a terrorist attack.”

Also in WaPo, Dana Milbank wrote about  Susan Rice’s tarnished resume with inside the building stories from unnamed witnesses (ah yes, the knives are out!):

“Rice has managed to make an impressive array of enemies — on Capitol Hill, in Foggy Bottom and abroad. Particularly in comparison with the other person often mentioned for the job, Sen. John Kerry, she can be a most undiplomatic diplomat, and there likely aren’t enough Republican or Democratic votes in the Senate to confirm her.
[…]
Back when she was an assistant secretary of state during the Clinton administration, she appalled colleagues by flipping her middle finger at Richard Holbrooke during a meeting with senior staff at the State Department, according to witnesses.
[…]
But the nation’s top diplomat needs to show more sensitivity and independence — traits Clinton has demonstrated in abundance. Obama can do better at State than Susan Rice.”

After weeks of being the Benghazi punching bag, and with 97 House Republicans (who have no role in confirming a cabinet secretary) co-signing a letter to  President Obama about being “deeply troubled” that Susan Rice is under consideration as possible successor of Hillary Clinton (claiming  she “caused irreparable damage to her credibility both at home and around the world”), and just one day before Thanksgiving, the subject of so much online ink finally spoke up to defend herself:

She said she respects Republican Sen. John McCain, who has been critical of her, but says “some of the statements he’s made about me have been unfounded, but I look forward to having the opportunity at the appropriate time to discuss all of this with him.”

One wonders why she is speaking out now? Is that “appropriate time” during an expected nomination hearing?

Also this past weekend, Reuters has an item that says Susan Rice battles critics over style, substance, perceptions with mostly unnamed diplomats complaining about blunt language and what appears to be a double standard when it comes to breaking eggs.

Diplomats on the 15-nation U.N. Security Council privately complain of Rice’s aggressive negotiating tactics, describing her with terms like “undiplomatic” and “sometimes rather rude.” They attributed some blunt language to Rice – “this is crap,” “let’s kill this” or “this is bull___.”

“She’s got a sort of a cowboy-ish attitude,” one Western diplomat said. “She has a tendency to treat other countries as mere (U.S.) subsidiaries.”
[…]
“She’s not easy,” said David Rothkopf, the top manager and editor-at-large of Foreign Policy magazine. “I’m not sure I’d want to take her on a picnic with my family, but if the president wants her to be secretary of state, she’ll work hard.”
Indeed, along with a “no-nonsense” style, Rice has the most important ingredient for a successful secretary of state – a close relationship with the U.S. president, Rothkopf said.
[…]
Rothkopf, who was an official in President Bill Clinton’s administration, cited James Baker and Henry Kissinger as exemplary secretaries of state.

They were “tough infighters who broke a few eggs and made some enemies. They are admired for their toughness, and (Rice) is attacked for her abrasiveness,” he said.

And New York Magazine’s John Heilemann in State of War offers at least five reasons why Obama will appoint Rice to succeed Clinton and also why she will be confirmed.  One of the reasons for this prediction with “a 79.4357 percent probability” is that “McCain is being a jackass—and Obama is sick of it.”

Amidst the noise generated by rumors of this possible nomination, perhaps Stephen Walt over in Foreign Policy articulated the best argument against the Rice nomination as the next secretary of state. He writes:

I fear that unlike Hillary Clinton, Rice is too much of an Obama insider and too dependent on the president’s patronage to be an ideal Secretary of State. As a result, her appointment will reinforce the growing lack of intellectual diversity within the administration.
[…]
Rice, by contrast, has no independent power base. She did serve as Assistant Secretary of State for Africa in the Clinton administration (to no great distinction), but signed up early with Obama and was a key foreign policy advisor during the 2008 campaign. She obviously has Obama’s confidence, but her current ascendancy depends solely on the president’s backing. Maintaining his personal support will be critical to her effectiveness, which makes her much less likely to tell him things he doesn’t want to hear or that cut against the thrust of existing policy. Although Rice has the reputation of being a forceful advocate with sharp elbows, her relationship to the president runs the risk of making her more of a courtier than a counselor.

The danger of an administration suffering from groupthink is certainly real. Hello Iraq! But with Susan Rice as an Obama insider, no foreign leader will doubt her closeness to this president.

Of course, if the secretary of state is too independent or too much of an outsider, he or she could end up marginalized by White House insiders.  Remember Cordell Hull during the Roosevelt years and of course, there is Colin Powell, during the first George W. Bush term.

In addition to Walt’s point, there are two things that we hope might be included in the calculation of nominating the next secretary of state.

One – somebody with enough stature and relationship with Congress who can help shore up support for the State Department budget, which is often an attractive candidate for pirate raid in this world of shrinking federal resources. In this dangerous world, the State Department cannot continue to do more with less. It should either be funded for the work that needs to be done or it should consolidate some of its overseas presence into regional hubs with appropriate support, staffing and funding.

Two – somebody with the right sauce who can help right the listing ship of the U.S. Foreign Service. The new norm of deploying diplomats into war zones which started during Condi Rice’s tenure has gone on for years now and into the Clinton tenure with no end in sight.  At the same time, assignments to non-war zone areas where there is continuing threats of physical harm or imminent danger to FS employees, including unaccompanied assignments (UT) which continue to expand.  As an aside, I’ve heard that there is one/one UT program specialist at the State Department to “support” 800 UT family members and partners. Is that as family friendly as it gets?

Afghanistan, Iraq and Pakistan continue to tax the shrinking resources of a small agency.  For example, in spring this year, the USG planned a presence of 11,500 personnel at 11 diplomatic sites in Iraq. According to the GAO, between fiscal years 2004 and 2008, Diplomatic Security (DS) operations in Iraq required approximately 36 percent of Diplomatic Security’s entire budget.  DS like the rest of the State Department had to draw staff and resources away from other programs.  Then there’s Afghanistan after 2014 where State will do Iraq all over again.

Of course, AIP posts have absolutely nothing to do with the persistent experience gaps in overseas Foreign Service positions, which have not diminished since 2008. And the persistent issues on assignments, performance evaluation and promotion just rage on.

Ambassador Rice has been at the helm of USUN since 2009 and her performance as chief of mission there has not lead us to believe that she is the right person who can inspire followers or provide the needed leadership to help the listing ship at State.  Here is part of the OIG report:

…  neither the mission’s leadership nor individual section chiefs have given sufficient attention to management of the mission’s people and processes.

Ø For many years USUN has focused few resources and little attention on training mission staff, leaving some in jobs for which they lack sufficient skills and others without an opportunity to upgrade or refresh their knowledge.

Ø USUN has not had a strategic approach to workforce planning and has refilled vacancies without considering mission priorities and reprogramming options.

That’s not the best starting point.  If you can’t manage people and processes, you are in a constant crisis mode. Which is not a good thing because — sooner or later people will burn out, stick their finger in a socket and mistakes will happen.

I actually would like to see Secretary Powell return to State. I do believe in second chances, and some of the work he started there needs revisiting.

President Obama, of course, has the prerogative to pick his cabinet secretary.  But I also think that despite Senator McGrouchy’s dare, President Obama can do better at State than Susan Rice. But not because of Benghazi. And not because of her sharp elbows.

 

 

Foggy Bottom Race: And the next Secretary of State is ….well, go ahead and speculate

With the presidential election over, the parlor game on who will be the next secretary of state has officially intensified with Senator John Kerry (D-Mass.), current chairman of the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations and Susan Rice, current US Ambassador to the UN as front-runners. They are not the only ones mentioned but Kerry and Rice appears to be the the names that fuel the most media speculation.  “Unnamed officials” and “sources” are also working their media contacts, obviously with “inside” information highlighting their candidate’s prospects in this run for Foggy Bottom.

Senator John Kerry

One source quoted by Politico who is “familiar with the circumstances,” reported that Kerry “has the inside track,” having worked on President Obama’s debate-prep during the campaign.

Jezebel notes that the US hasn’t had a white male Secretary of State since 1997 and asks, “Is America ready?” It writes that “John Kerry’s tenure as the chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee has been remarkably free of in-chamber shootings,” and concludes that “any testosterone-producing, low emotion man is a ticking time bomb.”

James Traub over at FP asks, Would John Kerry do a good job of filling Hillary Clinton’s shoes? Traub writes that “the same restraint and reserve which made him such an unsatisfying presidential candidate have also made him the kind of consummate diplomat whom the White House has counted on to soothe troubled waters in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Sudan, and elsewhere. [… If anyone can talk those guys off a ledge, it’s Kerry. […] Kerry has shortcomings. Who doesn’t? But I can’t think of anyone who would be better for the job.”

Hey! Even the Russians have a pick: “An unnamed source in the Russian foreign ministry told the Kommersant business daily that Moscow would “much prefer” to see Mr. Kerry take the post.

Yesterday, WaPo reported that President Obama is “considering John Kerry for job of defense secretary.” Apparently, Senator Kerry is surprised about the buzz that he is being considered as possible SecDef.

 

Ambassador Susan Rice

James Traub who wrote the “Secretary Kerry” piece over at FP explains why Ambassador Rice may not be the best choice: “Susan Rice is a pugnacious team player who, like Donilon, is more insider than outsider, and is notably deficient in that unctuous fluid which issues from the pores of professional diplomats.”

New York Times cites one administration characterizing Rice as “crippled” having been a favorite Republican target since she provided the administration’s initial accounts on the Benghazi attack.

Bloomberg News claimed she had emerged as the odds-on favorite blaring, UN Envoy Susan Rice Is Top Candidate to Succeed Clinton.  She is reportedly emerging as the “favored candidate” even with her baggage on Benghazi: “Six current or former White House officials, who all spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss internal deliberations, said Rice remains close to President Barack Obama and shares many of his views on foreign policy.”

Today, the NYT also reports that “Ms. Rice, an outspoken, ambitious diplomat with close ties to Mr. Obama, has emerged as the clear favorite.”

WaPo adds that “senior administration officials familiar with the transition planning said that nomination will almost certainly go to Susan E. Rice, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations.”

 

National Security Advisor Tom Donilon

According to Traub’s FP piece, the current U.S. National Security Advisor “is a highly competent administrator who would die of impatience halfway through an interminable lunch with Afghan President Hamid Karzai.”

Now we can’t have that, can we?

The National Interest reported that “…in 2008 Donilon was considered for deputy secretary of state, but the Obama team thought that his previous role as in-house counsel to Fannie Mae was “toxic” and that he “might have serious problems in a Senate confirmation.”

Other names mentioned though not as loudly:

Bill Burns – currently Deputy Secretary of State, a respected career diplomat but not an Obama insider.

Chuck Hagel—the former Nebraska Senate Republican and co-chairman of President Obama’s Intelligence Advisory Board.

Jon Huntsman – former Obama ambassador to China and GOP presidential primary contender 2012

Dick Lugar – Outgoing senator and soon to be former ranking member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. The Moderate Voice writes: “Lugar would need no on the job training to become State secretary. He’s an old pro on the international stage and knows his way around Washington as well. He could take up the reins at the State Department with confidence. As a marathon runner who participated in one of the 26.2-mile races just a few weeks ago, he has the physical stamina for the job of chief US diplomat despite advancing years.” Senator Lugar is 80 years old.

Howard Berman – Outgoing chairman and ranking member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee. LAT writes that Berman who is 71, “has worked closely with the White House over four years on sensitive issues such as Iran and is known as competent and discreet, traits much prized by President Obama.”

How about a Colin Powell comeback?

George W. Bush’s first secretary of State has been speculated as a possible SecDef.  What about a comeback at State?  He endorsed President Obama in 2008 and again in 2012. Secretary Powell got the “The president would like to make a change” conversation eight days after George W. Bush’s second term reelection.  Don’t know if he would have stayed for the second term without that conversation but we know that he was mindful of the lasting blot on his record after that UN speech.  Another term as a secretary of state might help repair that damage?

But not a comeback for Condi Rice

Don’t call her maybe.  Condoleezza Rice already said she wouldn’t be interested in succeeding Hillary Clinton as Secretary of State, even if asked to do so by President Barack Obama.