State/OIG recently released its review of the US Embassy in Maseru, Lesotho. Post is headed by Ambassador Rebecca Gonzales with Daniel Katz as deputy chief of mission. The full report is available here (PDF). Excerpt below.
The Kingdom of Lesotho is a small, mountainous country slightly smaller than the state of Maryland and completely surrounded by the country of South Africa. In 2019, an estimated 51 percent of Lesotho’s population of almost 2 million were under the age of 25. More than half of the country’s population lives below the poverty line, and its HIV/AIDS prevalence rate is the second highest in the world. Human trafficking is also a significant issue, as Lesotho serves as a source and a destination for trafficking in both adults and children. Approximately three-fourths of Lesotho’s citizens live in rural areas and engage in animal herding and subsistence agriculture.
The FY 2019 authorized staffing levels for Embassy Maseru included 32 U.S. direct-hire positions, 3 eligible family members, and 91 locally employed (LE) staff members. Additionally, the Peace Corps had 93 volunteers serving in Lesotho. Other U.S. Government agencies represented in the embassy were the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), the Department of Health and Human Services’ Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the Department of Defense, and MCC.
Front Office and Leadership/Management Principles
The Ambassador, a career member of the Senior Foreign Service, arrived in Lesotho in January 2018. She previously served as the Chief of Staff for the Assistant Secretary for Administration and, prior to that, as the Deputy Executive Director of the Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs. The Deputy Chief of Mission (DCM), also a career member of the Foreign Service, arrived in Maseru in October 2017. His prior assignment was the Mission Deputy at Embassy Koror, Palau. OIG found that, overall, the Ambassador and the DCM led the embassy in a collegial manner and worked together effectively. The Ambassador, a management officer, provided the DCM with guidance on management operations, while the DCM, a political officer, advised the Ambassador on political issues. For example, the Ambassador worked with the DCM to resolve an LE staff tax withholding issue, described in more detail below, and the DCM helped the Ambassador strategize on how best to engage the Government of Lesotho on political matters. The Ambassador and the DCM had an open-door policy, which the American staff confirmed. The Ambassador held monthly meetings with all agency and section heads, in addition to a weekly Country Team meeting. The DCM attended these meetings and also met weekly with section heads to discuss and resolve outstanding problems.
OIG found the Ambassador demonstrated the Department of State’s (Department) leadership and management principles outlined in 3 Foreign Affairs Manual (FAM) 1214. OIG questionnaires and interviews indicated embassy staff found the Ambassador to be open, honest, caring, and passionate about her work in Lesotho. OIG interviews and surveys showed that she encouraged staff at all levels to bring their ideas, concerns, and questions to her, which led to productively identifying and resolving problems. She actively solicited feedback on issues affecting morale and sought to resolve them. For example, when embassy employees had difficulties crossing the border into South Africa, the Ambassador raised the issue with the Government of Lesotho, and the situation improved.
Embassy employees told OIG the DCM modeled 3 FAM 1214 leadership and management principles that relate to valuing and developing people, as he was skilled in mentoring and committed to subordinates’ professional development. Employees also described the DCM as approachable and collaborative, and they appreciated that he organized embassy community events that included both LE and American staff.
The Front Office Led an Effort to Resolve a Tax Issue for Local Staff
OIG found that the Ambassador and DCM strengthened relationships with both LE staff and the host country by resolving a tax issue involving the LE staff. Based on Department policy, the embassy had not withheld local taxes for the LE staff. Instead, employees were expected to pay their taxes directly to the Lesotho tax authority. However, local employees had not always complied with this requirement, and the Lesotho tax authority eventually began seizing funds from LE staff members’ bank accounts for back taxes. After the LE staff asked the Front Office to help resolve the issue, the Ambassador worked with the Department to allow the embassy to withhold taxes from LE staff pay. She also met with the LE Staff Committee on several occasions to hear their concerns. Furthermore, beginning in June 2018, the DCM, along with the Management Officer, met with the LE Staff Committee at least once every 3 weeks to work through the details of resolving the tax issue. The Front Office also used Country Team meetings and town halls to keep the embassy community apprised of developments. In April 2019, the embassy began withholding local taxes and sending the funds to the host country’s tax authority on behalf of the LE staff.
Spotlight on Success: Crisis Preparedness Fair (Report notes that RSO is Dennis Jones)
In December 2017, the Regional Security Officer organized a Crisis Preparedness Fair as part of a broader crisis management exercise. The Crisis Preparedness Fair was an effort to involve the entire embassy community—especially LE staff and American family members— in emergency planning. Most embassy sections hosted their own emergency preparednessthemed activities. For example, the Public Affairs Section held a question and answer game show, the Information Management Office displayed emergency communication equipment, the Regional Security Office and Health Unit had trauma and medical treatment demonstrations (including CPR), and the Facilities Management Section offered fire extinguisher training. The fair included information for participants to take home. In addition to providing training and exposure to emergency resources and personnel, it gave key external contacts an informal environment in which to meet the embassy staff with whom they would interact in an emergency. The fair was well received within the community, and the Regional Security Officer planned to make it an annual event.
Spotlight on Success: Management Section Instituted a Continuous Process Improvement System to Improve Management Controls (Report notes that MGT is Jacob Rocca)
In 2018, while working on the annual Chief of Mission Management Control Statement of Assurance, the Management Officer instituted a continuous process improvement system that significantly improved the embassy’s ability to track and resolve its internal control deficiencies. The embassy also created a quality coordinator position, currently filled by an eligible family member, to run the tracking system. The system includes all deficiencies identified through the statement of assurance process as well as in OIG questionnaires and recommendations in past OIG reports of other embassies. The quality coordinator tracks the deficiencies, meets regularly with the employees responsible for addressing these concerns and enters into the system updates on the embassy’s progress in resolving the problems. A deficiency is not considered “corrected” until preventative measures are in place to ensure that it does not re-occur. As of April 2019, the embassy had successfully resolved 62 items identified since the process began in December 2018.