Pompeo Appoints Amb. Dan Smith as New Director of the Foreign Service Institute

 

On October 23, Secretary Pompeo appointed Career Ambassador Daniel Smith as the new Director of the Foreign Service Institute. He was recently the Assistant Secretary of State for Intelligence and Research (INR). This past summer, he was one of four career diplomats nominated by Trump and subsequently confirmed by the U.S. Senate for the personal rank of Career Ambassador. This FSI appointment does not require a Senate confirmation.

In the waning days of Tillerson’s Redesign Project, Ambassador Smith was also assigned as the lead of the “Impact Initiative.” He was widely rumored as the next Director General of the Foreign Service but in late July, the WH announced the president’s intent to nominate career diplomat Carol Z. Perez of Virginia, to be the next Director General of the Foreign Service.

Below is a brief bio of Ambassador Smith (via state.gov):

Daniel B. Smith was appointed as Director of the Foreign Service Institute on October 23, 2018. In this capacity, he serves as the Chief Learning Officer for the Department of State and the federal foreign affairs community.

A member of the Senior Foreign Service, Ambassador Smith holds the Department’s highest diplomatic rank of Career Ambassador. Ambassador Smith served most recently as Assistant Secretary of State for Intelligence and Research from 2013 to 2018 and as Ambassador to the Hellenic Republic from 2010 to 2013. Previously, he served as Executive Secretary of the State Department, Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary for Consular Affairs, and Deputy Executive Secretary. In addition to Greece, his overseas service includes tours in Bern, Istanbul, Ottawa, and Stockholm. He also taught Political Science at the U.S. Air Force Academy.

Ambassador Smith is a recipient of the Arnold L. Raphel Memorial Award, the Secretary’s Distinguished Service Award, a Presidential Distinguished Service Award, and several Superior and Meritorious Honor Awards.

Ambassador Smith received his Ph.D. and M.A. from Stanford University, and his B.A. from the University of Colorado at Boulder. His foreign languages are German, Turkish, and Swedish.

As of this writing, the highest ranking officers of the Foreign Service with the exception of David Hale (P) are out of Foggy Bottom (Goldberg in Cuba, Sison in Haiti, and Smith at FSI). With one of only four Foreign Service’s equivalent to a four-star general heading to FSI, one wonders if Pompeo is out to elevate FSI and training to the same level as the U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command (TRADOC) headed by  Army four-star Gen Stephen J. Townsend. If yes, that’s great. If not, then not so great because you know what that means.

For now, nothing in Ambassador’s Smith’s blogpost Up To the Task of Preparing Our Foreign Affairs Professionals indicate forthcoming changes in Foreign Service training.

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Ex-State/FSI Employee Gets 26 Years in Prison for Child Pornography Production

Last July, we blogged briefly about State/FSI’s digital media administrator who pleaded guilty of child pornography production. On Friday, USDOJ announced that  Skydance MacMahon, 45, was sentenced to 26 years in prison for production of child pornography. Excerpt below:

Former State Department Employee Sentenced for Producing Child Pornography

An Alexandria man was sentenced today to 26 years in prison for production of child pornography.

According to court documents, over at least a two year period, Skydance MacMahon, 45, conspired with an adult in Canada to produce over a thousand sexually explicit images and videos of minor children in Canada. These images and videos were produced at the direction of MacMahon using Skype and hidden cameras as well as overt recording. MacMahon distributed these image and video files to other users and consumers of child pornography by providing access to the files on his cloud storage services and also by directly sending the files to other users.  In addition to the child pornography images and videos MacMahon himself created, he also received and possessed thousands of images and videos of child pornography.

During the time he committed these offenses, MacMahon was a Digital Media Administrator at the Foreign Services Institute of the U.S. Department of State in Arlington.

This case was brought as part of Project Safe Childhood, a nationwide initiative launched in May 2006 by the Department of Justice to combat the growing epidemic of child sexual exploitation and abuse. Led by U.S. Attorneys’ Offices and the Child Exploitation and Obscenity Section (CEOS), Project Safe Childhood marshals federal, state and local resources to better locate, apprehend and prosecute individuals who exploit children via the Internet, as well as to identify and rescue victims. For more information about Project Safe Childhood, please visit www.justice.gov/psc.

This is a case that originated in Ohio when local police interviewed of an individual who admitted to sexually assaulting a five year old minor victim and producing pornographic images. That individual’s phone led to Dropbox links, which then led to a State Department IP address. The Affidavit executed in support of this criminal case notes that MacMahon, a GS-14 employee also used his USG-issued Iphone7 in the conduct of this crime. Excerpt below from the FBI agent’s affidavit:

9. The reponse from Dropbox included, in part, information pertaining to the kvlesil007@protonmail.com User ID: 663651981. This paid account was created on April 15, 2017. A usemame of “Kyle Silvyr” was provided by the registrant. A recurring payment of 99.99 was established using a Mastercard Debit card (521992XXXXXX0894). Multiple IP addresses used for authentification were also provided (IP address 2601:140:8000:61af:2d75:7fef:f243:6dfd on 08/09/2017 at 13:18:19 GMT; IP address 12.28.184.116 on 09/14/2017 at 18:24:55 GMT).

10. An open source search identified IP address 12.28.184.116 as being associated with the US Department of State , 4020 Arlington Blvd, Arlington VA.

13. Database queries identified J.M. as an individual associated with the Menokin Drive, Alexandria, VA address. An open source search located a social networking profile associated with J.M. that contains publicly viewable images of the account holder who visually matches the likeness of J.M.’s Virginia driver’s license photograph. Additional publicly viewable photographs on J.M.’s Facebook profile include those of a Caucasian male identified as “SKYDANCE MACMAHON”. SKYDANCE MACMAHON visually matches the individual appearing in the two (2) non-pornographic images in the material in the kvlesil007@protonmail.com User ID 663651981 Dropbox.com account.

15. An open source search identified a Linkedln.com profile for SKYDANCE MACMAHON who self-identified as a Digital Media Administrator at the Foreign Services Institute (which is associated with the Department of State) in Arlington, VA, and a 1995 graduate of James Madison University. Database queries fully identified SKYDANCE MACMAHON. SKYDANCE MACMAHON’s Virginia driver’s license photograph visually matches the likeness of the male depicted in the images contained in the kvlesil007@Drotonmail.com User ID 663651981 Dropbox.com account and the SKYDANCE MACMAHON Facebook account.

16. On March 16,2018, an administrative subpoena to Kik for usemame kylesilOOT yielded a confirmed email address associated with the account as kvlesil007@protonmail.com. Review of the IP logs provided by Kik yielded a mixture of the IP address (12.28.184.116) resolving to the Department of State facility, Verizon Wireless IP addresses, and a Comcast Communications IP address (73.87.155.249) which resolves to the same address in the 2400 block of Menokin Drive, Alexandria VA 22302, as recently as of March 15, 2018. The Menokin address is the address of J.M., who investigation has revealed is an associate and girlfnend of SKYDANCE MACMAHON.

19. On March 15, 2018, Department of State, Office of Inspector General (OIG) was contacted regarding the employment of SKYDANCE MACMAHON. OIG confirmed SKYDANCE MACMAHON was currently employed as a Federal Grade 14 employee at the US State Department, as a Digital Media Administrator at the Foreign Services Institute in Arlington, VA.

22. SKYDANCE MACMAHON advised that minutes prior to the investigators arriving at his work, he received a telephone call from his wife telling him the FBI/police were at their daughter’s school and they asked that she come over the to the school to talk. Upon hanging up the phone with his wife, SKYDANCE MACMAHON deleted items off of his Iphone 7 cellular telephone, such as the applications “kik”, “Wire”, “Dropbox”, “Box” and inappropriate photographs that consisted of child pornography. SKYDANCE MACMAHON’s Iphone 7 was his Department of State issued cellular telephone that he used to communicate with K.C., and other individuals using apps such as Kik and Dropbox.

The case is USA v. Macmahon; Case Number: 1:18-mj-00218-IDD. Warning, abhorrent and horrifying details.

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What did we miss?

 

Ambassador Steve Mull Back in Foggy Bottom

In June, former Ambassador Steve Mull was appointed Acting Under Secretary for Political Affairs (P) at the State Department. Until this appointment, he was a Resident Senior Fellow at Georgetown University’s Institute for the Study of Diplomacy.  Props to Secretary Pompeo for bringing him back to Foggy Bottom. Unless.  a new crop of career ambassadors were nominated and confirmed while we were gone, Ambassador Mull is the last remaining career ambassador in active service as of this writing.

EAP’s Susan Thornton to Retire After 27 Years in the Foreign Service

EAP’s Acting Assistant Secretary Susan Thornton is set to retire at the end of July after a 27-year career with the U.S. Foreign Service. The retirement was reported by Reuters on June 30.  (see Career Diplomat Susan A. Thornton to be Asst Secretary for East Asian and Pacific Affairs (EAP)Tillerson Signals No Career Nominees For Regional Bureaus? #FoggyBottomBlues). Senator Rubio was reportedly prepared to place a hold on the Thornton nomination.

Still No Nominee for Director General of the Foreign Service?

So hey, it’s now July, and the U.S. Foreign Service still does not have a nominee for Director General. U.S. law dictates the nominee must be a member of the career Foreign Service.

US Ambassador to Estonia James Melville Pens Resignation on FB Over Trump Policies

On June 29, U.S. Ambassador to Estonia, Jim Melville, announced on Facebook his intent to retire from the Foreign Service after 33 years of public service. Ambassador James Desmond Melville, Jr., of New Jersey, a Career Member of the Senior Foreign Service, Class of Minister-Counselor was nominated by President Obama as U.S. Ambassador to the Republic of Estonia in the spring of 2015. He was  confirmed by voice vote on August 5, 2015. Prior to his appointment in Estonia, Ambassador Melville was the Deputy Chief of Mission at the U.S. Embassy in Berlin, Germany.  Previous to that, he served as Executive Director of the Bureau of European and Eurasian Affairs and the Bureau of International Organization Affairs from 2010 to 2012. Ambassador Melville also served at the U.S. Embassies in London, Moscow, Paris, and at the North Atlantic Treaty Organization in Brussels.  His earlier positions with the Department of State include service as a Foreign Service Examiner, Senior Watch Officer in the Executive Secretariat Operations Center, and Legislative Management Officer in the Bureau of Legislative Affairs.  Ambassador Melville received a B.A. from Boston University and a J.D. from Rutgers University. He joined the Foreign Service in 1985 during the Reagan Administration. Below via Eesti Ekspress:

 

Confirmations

On June 28, the U.S. Senate confirmed the following nominees:

  • Robin S. Bernstein, of Florida, to be Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the United States of America to the Dominican Republic.
  • Joseph N. Mondello, of New York, to be Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the United States of America to the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago.
  • Gordon D. Sondland, of Washington, to be Representative of the United States of America to the European Union, with the rank and status of Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary.
  • Harry B. Harris, Jr., of Florida, to be Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the United States of America to the Republic of Korea
  • Ronald Gidwitz, of Illinois, to be Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the United States of America to the Kingdom of Belgium
  • Brian A. Nichols, of Rhode Island, a Career Member of the Senior Foreign Service, Class of Career Minister, to be Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the United States of America to the Republic of Zimbabwe
  • Tibor Peter Nagy, Jr., of Texas, to be an Assistant Secretary of State (African Affairs)
  • Francis R. Fannon, of Virginia, to be an Assistant Secretary of State (Energy Resources)

On May 24, U.S. Senate confirmed the following :

  • James Randolph Evans, of Georgia, to be Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the United States of America to Luxembourg
  • Jonathan R. Cohen, of California, a Career Member of the Senior Foreign Service, Class of Minister-Counselor, to be the Deputy Representative of the United States of America to the United Nations, with the rank and status of Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary, and the Deputy Representative of the United States of America in the Security Council of the United Nations.
  • David B. Cornstein, of New York, to be Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the United States of America to Hungary

On April 26, the U.S. Senate confirmed the following nominees:

  • Andrea L. Thompson, of South Dakota, to be Under Secretary of State for Arms Control and International Security
  • Yleem D. S. Poblete, of Virginia, to be an Assistant Secretary of State (Verification and Compliance)
  • Kirsten Dawn Madison, of Florida, to be an Assistant Secretary of State (International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs).
  • Thomas J. Hushek, of Wisconsin, a Career Member of the Senior Foreign Service, Class of Minister-Counselor, to be Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the United States of America to the Republic of South Sudan
  • Richard Grenell, of California, to be Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the United States of America to the Federal Republic of Germany.

 

US Embassy Germany: New Ambassador’s Rocky Start

On June 25, Politico Magazine did a lengthy piece on the new U.S. Ambassador to Germany Richard Grenell and his rocky start. “It is hard to overstate just how brashly he has charged onto the Berlin political scene during his first month in town.” Read Letter From Berlin: “‘He Does Not Understand What the Role of an Ambassador Should Be’

 

State/FSI’s Digital Media Administrator Pleads Guilty of Child Pornography Production

On July 2, Skydance MacMahon, 44, of Alexandria, Virginia, pleaded guilty to production of child pornography. During the time he committed these offenses, MacMahon was a Digital Media Administrator at the Foreign Services Institute of the U.S. Department of State in Arlington.  According to court documents, over at least a two year period, MacMahon, 44, conspired with an adult in Canada to produce over a thousand sexually explicit images and videos of minor children in Canada. These images and videos were produced at the direction of MacMahon using Skype and hidden cameras. MacMahon distributed these image and video files to other users and consumers of child pornography by providing access to the files on his cloud storage services and also by directly sending the files to other users.  In addition to the child pornography images and videos MacMahon himself created, he also received and possessed thousands of images and videos of child pornography. See more State Department Employee Pleads Guilty to Producing Child Pornography.

US Embassy London’s Inside the American Embassy Airs on Channel 4

The American Embassy, the previous TV series set at the U.S. Embassy in London in 2002 had six episodes but the show was canceled by Fox after only 4 episodes being broadcast.

It looks like the new show is only up for three episodes. Radio Times reports that Channel 4 has roughly 300 hours of behind-the-scenes footage and says in part: “Perhaps the most surreal part of the documentary comes when the cameras follow various British MPs attempting to garner Johnson’s attention, apparently unaware of the small mic attached to the ambassador’s lapel.” Whatthewhat?!

One TV review says: “Woody’s big problem, like everybody else’s, is the mad badger in the White House”. HIDE EVERYTHING!

US Embassy Costa Rica Sub-Contractor Pleads Guilty to Theft of $2Million Visa Fees

On June 14, a Department of State contractor pleads guilty to theft of government funds after evidence established that he stole more than $2 million of government funds that were supposed to be transferred to a bank account maintained by the Department of State’s Global Financial Services Center in Charleston. Evidence presented at the change of plea hearing established that Mauricio Andulo Hidalgo, age 43, of Costa Rica used his position as President of SafetyPay-Central America to steal over $2,000,000 of government funds.  SafetyPay-Central America had been hired as a subcontractor to handle the processing of visa application fees for the United States Embassy in Costa Rica.  As part of the scheme, Hidalgo diverted the funds from a SafetyPay bank account in Costa Rica to another Costa Rican account under his sole control. See more Department of State Contractor Pleads Guilty to Theft of Government Funds.

 

USCG Guangzhou Security Engineering Officer Mark Lenzi Disputes State Department Statement on Mystery Illness

On June 6, WaPo wrote about Mark Lenzi and his family who  started noticing noises in April 2017 at the U.S. Consulate General in Guangzhou, China. “A few months later, the headaches started — pain that lasted for days at a time. Lenzi and his wife experienced the same symptoms, which soon included chronic sleeplessness as well. Lenzi says he asked his superiors for help but they dismissed his concerns. Consulate doctors prescribed painkillers and Ambien, which did nothing to address the underlying causes of the problem. And then, last month, Lenzi was shocked to learn another neighbor, a fellow Foreign Service officer, had been evacuated from their building and flown back to the United States for a thorough medical assessment, which soon determined that the person in question was suffering from “mild traumatic brain injury.”  

They gave him painkillers and Ambien but medevaced the FSO next door?

The State Department reportedly issued a statement but said it is unaware of any other cases — a point “strongly disputed by Lenzi, who insists he had repeatedly informed both the embassy in Beijing and State Department headquarters in Washington of his family’s predicament.”  Lenzi, who has reportedly called for the resignation of the US Ambassador to Beijing  told WaPo that the State Department “restricted his access to the building where he normally worked after he began to speak up more forcefully about the treatment of his family, essentially neutralizing his capacity to continue his work at the consulate”.

We understand that Mark Lenzi is a specialist who was assigned as a Security Engineering Officer (SEO) in Guangzhou until he and his family were evacuated from post. Given the reported restriction to post access for speaking out about this incident, this is a case that bears watching.

State/ECA Official Pleads Guilty to Theft of Government Funds in Sports Visitors Program

On May 25,  Kelli R. Davis, 48, of Bowie, Maryland, pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to commit theft of public funds and engage in honest services wire fraud before U.S. Senior District Judge T.S. Ellis III of the Eastern District of Virginia.  Sentencing is scheduled for Aug. 24.

According to admissions made in connection with her plea, Davis was a Program Specialist for the State Department’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs, Office of Citizen Exchanges.  She also served as the Program Manager and Grants Officer Representative for the Sports Visitors Program, which sponsored foreign exchanges for emerging youth athletes and coaches from various countries.  The exchange program was managed by George Mason University in Fairfax, Virginia, through a federal grant and cooperative agreement with the State Department.  See State Department Official Pleads Guilty to Honest Services Wire Fraud and Theft of Federal Funds

Forced Repayment of Previously Approved Special Needs Education Allowance (SNEA)?

There were lots of talk some weeks back about people being forced to pay back special needs funding for their children that was already previously authorized and paid.  Folks were wondering if MED’s Office of Child and Family Programs (MED/CFP) previously highlighted by media reporting is responsible in getting this rolling. Anybody got some special insights on the whys and hows of this?

 

Who owns your medical and mental health records?

It has come to our attention that the State Department’s Medical Bureau can deny/restrict employees and family members overseas assignments over erroneous entries in their medical/mental health records. Of particular note is access to mental health records.  Employees can ask for an amendment to their records but how does one go about doing that without access to those records?

Apparently, State’s internal guidance doesn’t say that employees have the right to have inaccurate information removed – just that they can make the request to have it removed: “If you believe that the information we have about you is incorrect or incomplete, you may request an amendment to your protected health information as long as we maintain this information. While we will accept requests for amendment, we are not required to agree to the amendment.”

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@StateDept to Hold “Harassment in the Workplace” Session But First, Read This FSI Sexual Harassment Case

Posted: 3:40 am ET

 

For those attending the event, here are a few items to read though this is not an exhaustive list. Help us ask these presenters questions that State/PA and State/DS have long ignored:

While we are on the subject, let us revisit a classic case of sexual harassment, where the State Department, specifically one of the presenting offices in the January 11 session had determined that “the alleged acts of sexual harassment did not occur” only to be reversed by the EEOC.

On January 4, 2012, Complainant filed Complaint 24 alleging that the Agency discriminated against her based on her national origin (Arabic/Iraqi), sex (female), religion (Christian), color, and in reprisal for prior protected EEO activity under Title VII when:

3. Her teaching contract was not renewed after August 5, 2011;

4. She was subjected to a hostile work environment characterized by, but not limited to, name calling and sharing an office.  She specifically asserted that since her conversion to Christianity, she was taunted by her Iraqi colleagues, who called her a “peasant,” a “prostitute,” a “bitch,’ and a “daughter of a dog.” She asserted further that she had been told that she had “sold her religion” and had a shoe thrown at her.  Complainant further asserted that she had been the victim of an unsolicited sexual overture by a colleague; and

5. On September 23, 2011, she was not selected for a full time teaching position.

The Agency completed its initial investigation on Complaint 1 in November 2012.  It did not complete an investigation on Complaint 2.  On Complaint 2, according to the Agency, Complainant did not submit an affidavit for the investigation.  Around that time – on March 14, 2013 – Complainant signed forms withdrawing Complaints 1 and 2.5  The Agency ceased processing Complaint 2, but went ahead and issued a FAD on Complaint 1 on May 13, 2013.

In its FAD, the Agency found no discrimination on Complaint 1.  Complainant filed an appeal.  On appeal, the Agency did not note that Complainant previously withdrew her complaint.

In EEOC Appeal No. 0120132236 (May 16, 2014), we recounted that Complainant was provided the right to request a hearing before an Equal Employment Opportunity Commission Administrative Judge, but there was no evidence she did so.  We reversed the FAD on the ground that the investigation was inadequate.  Unaware that that Complainant withdrew Complaints 1 and 2, we ordered the Agency to do a supplemental investigation and to consolidate Complaint 2 with Complaint 1 if the Agency was still processing Complaint 2 and had not yet issued a final decision thereon.

In its request for reconsider EEOC Appeal No. 0120132236, the Agency argued that it issued its FAD on Complaint 1 in error, and that Complainant previously withdrew Complaints 1 and 2.  It submitted a copy of its letter to the EEOC compliance officer about the withdrawal of Complaint 1, and Complainant’s signed withdrawals.  We denied the request on the ground that it was untimely filed, and repeated our order in EEOC Appeal No. 0120132236.

Following a supplemental investigation on Complaint 1, the Agency issued a new FAD finding no discrimination therein.  The Agency found that Complainant was not denied the opportunity to attend training and to proctor tests, and the alleged acts of sexual harassment did not occur.  The Agency recounted that it ceased processing Complaint 2 after she withdrew it.6

The EEOC’s decision says that the “Complainant was not subjected to discrimination regarding issue 2” but it determined that “Complainant was subjected to discrimination based on her sex regarding issue 1 – sexual harassment.”

This case which was filed in 2010 was decided by the EEOC on July 7, 2016. Six years. The State Department was ordered to take the following remedial actions within 150 days after the decision became final, and was directed to submit a report of compliance, as provided in the statement entitled “Implementation of the Commission’s Decision.”  The report shall include supporting documentation of the agency’s calculation of back pay and other benefits due complainant, including evidence that the corrective action has been implemented.”

1. The Agency is directed to conduct training at FSI, School of Language Studies for all management and staff in the Arabic Section.  The training shall focus on how to identify and prevent sexual harassment connected with employment.14

2.  If S2 is still employed with the Agency, it shall consider taking disciplinary action against him.  The Agency shall report its decision.  If the Agency decides to take disciplinary action, it shall identify the action taken.  If the Agency decides not to take disciplinary action, it shall set forth the reason(s) for its decision not to impose discipline.

3.  The Agency shall gather evidence on compensatory damages, including providing Complainant an opportunity to submit evidence of her pecuniary and non-pecuniary damages regarding being sexually harassed.  For guidance on what evidence is necessary to prove pecuniary and non-pecuniary damages, the parties are directed to EEOC Enforcement Guidance: Compensatory and Punitive Damages Available Under § 102 of the Civil Rights Act of 1991 (July 14, 1992) (available at eeoc.gov.)  Thereafter, the Agency shall calculate damages, pay Complainant any damages awarded, and issue a new FAD on damages appealable to the Commission.

The State Department was also directed to post the EEOC order:

The Agency is ordered to post at its Foreign Service Institute, School of Language Studies copies of the attached notice.  Copies of the notice, after being signed by the Agency’s duly authorized representative, shall be posted both in hard copy and electronic format by the Agency within 30 calendar days of the date this decision becomes final, and shall remain posted for 60 consecutive days, in conspicuous places, including all places where notices to employees are customarily posted.  The Agency shall take reasonable steps to ensure that said notices are not altered, defaced, or covered by any other material.  The original signed notice is to be submitted to the Compliance Officer at the address cited in the paragraph entitled “Implementation of the Commission’s Decision,” within 10 calendar days of the expiration of the posting period.

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Burn Bag: Does @StateDept Really Care About Leadership Training?

Via Burn Bag:

FSI runs Intermediate Leadership Training all year, with a new section starting more or less every other week. That means there are slots for about 350-400 participants a year. There are currently 3,400 FS-02 FSOs alone – and significantly more civil service officers eligible for the course. This makes it nearly impossible to get into training. Despite the fact that promoted officers cannot be paid at their new rate of pay until they have completed mandatory leadership training, it is difficult to convince supervisors to provide time off and travel budget resources to complete leadership training during an overseas tour, and most FSOs are left to fight for the training during a PCS. Concerns about delaying the training are often met with eye rolls and tossed-off platitudes about how promotions are slowing and it will be “so long” before the officer is actually up for promotion that there’s no need to expend resources. But the transition season sections are the first to fill. Right now, every scheduled Intermediate Leadership section is full, and, according to the FSI registrar, every section has a long waitlist. At this point, it would take more than 10 years to get every 02 officer through training the Department mandates.

Those of us trying to find a way to get required training in time to avoid losing salary money wonder if anyone in the Department is even cognizant of the problem — let alone seeking a solution. If the Department is unable to provide mandatory training, HR should either suspend the requirement or take steps to expand training availability.

Via reactiongifs.com

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Tillerson Delivers Remarks at the Redesign Leadership Gathering #AllTheHappyPeople

Posted: 1:20 pm PT

 

Via state.gov

Secretary Tillerson was over at the Foreign Service Institute on November 29 and apparently delivered the opening remarks at the Redesign Leadership Gathering.  We don’t know what he said over there since the Bureau of Public Affairs has not seen it fit to post the transcript of his official remarks online.

Secretary Tillerson Delivers Opening Remarks at the Redesign Leadership Gathering | U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson delivered opening remarks at the Redesign Leadership Gathering at the Foreign Service Institute in Arlington, Virginia on November 29, 2017. [State Department Photo/ Public Domain]

 [for full visual effect, click on image above or here for a larger view]

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Burn Bag: Getting Swamped By Contractors, Not Yippee Ki Yay!

 

We are getting swamped by contractors. Hiring freeze only means no more direct hires but since the jobs need to get done, we have more and more ‘mercenaries’ among us. As a taxpayer, I do not like to see people paid 20-40% more for the same jobs, swarming and over-numbering employees. For example at FSI, it now could be a 50-50 balance between Civil Service-Foreign Service on one side and contractors on the other. 

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Tillerson’s Staff Reduction Plan Threatens Gains in Bridging @StateDept Language Gaps

Posted: 4:03 am ET
Follow @Diplopundit

 

The ability to speak and read foreign languages is a key Foreign Service competency. All FS Officers (Generalists) and some FS Specialists are required to reach general professional (3/3) proficiency in at least one foreign language during their careers. In 2016, the State Department said that its  success in staffing positions with officers with the required language proficiency was due, in great part, to the increased resources received in the Diplomacy 3.0 initiative.

Last year, the agency developed a plan to continue to bridge its language gaps — to “continue to expand the training complement, as resources are made available to enhance foreign language skills.” The Department said that it’s language requirements “are much greater today than before 9/11″ but it also noted that the budget environment threatens to reduce the significant progress the Department has made. Even before Rex Tillerson happened to the State Department, the agency already warned last year that “without funds to hire staff above attrition, the Department is not likely to make significant progress in increasing the number of LDPs [language designated positions] filled with fully qualified officers.”

A good number of our readers already know about language training in the State Department, but we also have readers who are not familiar with it, so this part is an explainer. The State Department’s Foreign Service Institute (FSI) grouped languages into four broad categories based on their difficulty to learn:

Category I Languages include the most English-like or the easiest languages for native speakers of English to learn. Included in this category are the Romance languages, such as Spanish and Portuguese, as well as other Western European languages, such as Swedish and Dutch. On average, these languages require 24 to 30 weeks of full-time study to achieve the 3/3 proficiency level.

Category II Languages generally take 36 weeks of full-time study to achieve the 3/3 proficiency level. Included in this category are Indonesian, Swahili, and German, among others.

Category III Languages generally require 44 weeks of full-time study to achieve a 3/3. These languages are substantially harder to learn because they are less like English. Among the Category III languages are Hindi, Dari, Persian, Russian, and Urdu.

Category IV Languages are the most difficult languages for English speakers to learn. This category includes Arabic, Chinese, Japanese, and Korean, which require training for roughly 88 weeks, including a ten-month language immersion in country, to obtain the general professional (3/3) proficiency level.

The general professional (3/3) proficiency level means being able to use the language with sufficient ability participate in most formal and informal discussion on practical, social, and professional topics. It means being able to conceptualize and hypothesize. An 0/0 in speaking/reading indicates only a cursory level knowledge of the language while a 5/5 proficiency means highly articulate, well-educated, native-speaker proficiency. If you want to send a diplomat to a radio station to better explain U.S. foreign policy to host country nationals, you don’t send somebody with “basic” language skills. If you send a DSS agent to a high threat post without appropriate language training, it can limit not just his/her communication with the local guard force but also situational awareness and his/her ability to protect the mission.

The State Department defines priority languages as languages that are of critical importance to U.S. foreign policy, languages that are experiencing severe shortages or staffing gaps, or present specific challenges in recruiting and training.  So for example, Mandarin Chinese, Dari, Farsi, Pashto, Hindi, Urdu, Korean, and Arabic—all are languages spoken in China, Iran, India, Korea, and throughout the Near East—and are considered priority languages.

It took the State Department 12 years to get from 303 to 475 Chinese Mandarin speakers. Persian-Iranian speakers increased from 14 in FY2003 to 44 in FY2015, an increase of 214.3%. Persian-Afghan speakers went from 12 in 2003 to 85 in 2015, a 608% increase. Hindi speakers went from 12 to 75 or a 525% increase. The State Department’s Arabic speakers increased 47% between 2003-2015, from 232 to 341. Let’s not forget Korean speakers, where State had 76 3/3 speakers in 2003 and 102 in 2015.

In 2013, State/OIG estimated training students to the 3/3 level in easier world languages such as Spanish can cost $105,000 while training students in hard languages such as Russian can cost $180,000. Training in super hard languages such as Chinese and Arabic can cost up to $480,000 per student.  Students learning super hard languages to the 3/3 level generally spend one year domestically at the Foreign Service Institute (FSI) and then a second year at an overseas training facility.  The OIG’s estimates were reportedly developed based on the FSI weekly tuition rate, the standard number of weeks for 3/3 raining, the salary of a midlevel FSO, benefits based on Congressional Budget Office  figures, and per diem based on 14FAM 575.3 and Federal Travel Regulations. Cost estimates for super-hard languages were developed using the above methodology for the  domestic portion of training and data provided byEmbassy Beijing and NEA and data in State’s standard overseas support cost model for the overseas  portion of language training.

Is we use the OIG cost estimate of $480K to train a student in super hard language, it means U.S. taxpayers already spent $48M to train 102 diplomats to speak Korean.  We don’t know who are planning to take the buyouts, but let’s say for the sake of argument that all 102 Korean speakers take Tillerson’s buyouts. That’s $48M down the drain. How about the $163M taxpayers already spent on 341 Arabic speakers? Or the $228M spent to train 475 Chinese Mandarin speakers? Or $84M already expended the last twelve years to train 175 Japanese speakers?

What happens when they leave? Does the State Department then hire contractors on an “as needed” basis to track and report the goings on in the Korean peninsula and everywhere else where the U.S is planning to shrink its presence?

It is important to underscore that these gains in the Foreign Service’s language capacity did not happen overnight. And when people leave, as projected in Mr. Tillerson’s reported plan, replenishing their ranks, skills and experience will not happen overnight. Congress can appropriate new funds in the future, of course, but there is no currency that can buy the U.S. time.

  Related post:

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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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Ambassador Nomination: Marie L. Yovanovitch — From State/FSI to Ukraine

Posted: 12:03 am ET
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On May 18, President Obama announced his  intent to nominate Marie L. Yovanovitch to be the next Ambassador to Ukraine. The WH released the following brief bio:

Marie L. Yovanovitch, a career member of the Foreign Service, class of Minister-Counselor, currently serves as Dean of the School of Language Studies at the Department of State’s Foreign Service Institute, a position she has held since 2014.  Ms. Yovanovitch was Deputy Commandant at the Eisenhower School at the National Defense University from 2013 to 2014.  She served in the Department of State’s Bureau of European and Eurasian Affairs as Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary from 2012 to 2013 and as Deputy Assistant Secretary from 2011 to 2012.  Prior to that, she served as U.S. Ambassador to Armenia from 2008 to 2011 and as U.S. Ambassador to Kyrgyzstan from 2005 to 2008.  Ms. Yovanovitch was Senior Advisor and Executive Assistant in the Office of the Under Secretary for Political Affairs from 2004 to 2005 and Deputy Chief of Mission at the U.S. Embassy in Kyiv, Ukraine from 2001 to 2004.  Since joining the Foreign Service in 1986, she has also served at posts in Canada, Russia, Somalia, and the United Kingdom.

Ms. Yovanovitch received a B.A. from Princeton University and an M.S. from the National War College.

The State Department’s bio includes the following details:

A Career Member of the Senior Foreign Service, Ambassador Yovanovitch has been granted both the Senior Foreign Service Performance Award and the State Department’s Superior Honor Award on five occasions. She is also the recipient of the Presidential Distinguished Service Award and the Diplomacy in Human Rights Award.

Ms. Yovanovitch is a graduate of Princeton University where she earned a BA in History and Russian Studies. She studied at the Pushkin Institute and received an MS from the National Defense University. Ms. Yovanovitch speaks Russian.

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Via US Embassy Yerevan

If confirmed, Ambassador Yovanovitch would succeed career diplomat, Geoffrey R. Pyattwho was appointed chief of mission to the US Embassy in Kyiv in August 2013.  Ambassador  Pyatt has been nominated to be the next U.S. Ambassador to Greece.

 

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