Snapshot: ARB Recommendations — Procedural Action and Responsibilities

Posted: 1:26 am ET
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Via 12 FAH 12 Exhibit H-013 | M/PRI 12-08-2014

Per 12 FAH 12, following receipt of an Accountability Review Board’s report, the Secretary will determine what actions should be taken with respect to the recommendations.  The Deputy Secretary of State for Management and Resources will oversee the Department’s progress on ARB implementation. The Under Secretary for Management (M), in coordination with the Under Secretary for Political Affairs (P), is responsible for implementation of ARB recommendations.  On behalf of the Secretary and other Department principals, the Office of Management Policy, Rightsizing and Innovation (M/PRI) will coordinate and track recommendations and manage the overall implementation process. 

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Related item:

12 FAM 030  ACCOUNTABILITY REVIEW BOARD (ARB)

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Is This Iran Watcher London Position Not Bidlisted About to Go to a “P” Staffer?

— Domani Spero
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Remember that position at the US Embassy in London last year that “mysteriously” appeared, got pulled down, then re-advertised under curious circumstances? See London Civil Service Excursion Tour Opens — Oh Wait, It’s Gone, Then It’s Back, Ah Forgetaboutit?). Well, it sounds like there’s another one; and this one is roiling the American Foreign Service Association, for good reasons.

With the bidding deadline around the corner, the American Foreign Service Association (AFSA) wants to bring to your attention an FS-02 IROG position in London that has been the subject of some discussion between AFSA and the Department.  In AFSA’s view this position should be available to all eligible bidders now; however, the position has yet to be posted.  On October 1, AFSA’s Governing Board met to discuss the Department’s refusal to include the FS-02 Iran Watcher position in London (IROG Position Number 67700008) in this Summer’s Open Assignment Cycle, instead proposing to include it in the pilot Overseas Development Program.  The Governing Board passed a unanimous motion strongly objecting to the Department’s decision and instructing its General Counsel to advise AFSA on avenues of redress for this apparent breach of contract.  AFSA, the professional association and exclusive representative of the Foreign Service, had previously expressed concern to the Department about including the position in the pilot Overseas Development Program that was created two years ago pursuant to an informal agreement between the Department and AFSA.  AFSA’s concerns center around the position’s uniqueness, Farsi language designation, and the significant number of interested, qualified Foreign Service bidders for the position.  The position is the only one in London and the only Iran Watcher position in an English speaking country.

The Foreign Service needs to build up its Iran expertise including language capability.  The best known Persian speaker at State is probably the State Department Farsi spox, Alan Eyre, who since 2011 has been the public face of the United States to many Iranians and Persian speakers. In 2013, when State/OIG looked into the process of establishing “language designated positions,” we learned that State had established 23 LDPs for Persian-Iranian. Those are jobs where the selectees will be required to have official language training and reach a certain level of proficiency prior to assuming the position. That’s the number for the entire agency, by the way.  In 2012, 8 students studied Farsi at the Foreign Service Institute.  We have no idea how many Farsi speakers have attained the 3/3 level at State but we know that studying a hard language does not come cheap.

The OIG team estimates training students to the 3/3 level in easier world languages such as Spanish can cost $105,000; training in hard languages such as Russian can cost $180,000; and 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.

So — what’s the deal about this Iran Watcher London position?

Rumor has it that a staffer at the Under Secretary for Political Affairs Wendy Sherman‘s office, the Department’s fourth-ranking official allegedly wants this position.

If the State Department is not listing this position in the Open Assignment Cycle bidlist, that means this job is not/not up for grabs for Foreign Service officers. One less FSO studying Farsi next year!

If State includes this position in the Open Assignment Cycle bidlist then only FS employees can bid and a CS employee cannot be assigned to London unless there are no qualified FS bidders (we’re told that’s not going to be the case here).

If State is listing this position under the Overseas Development Program, it means this is potentially for a two-year London assignment, open to Civil Service employees only, and requires a 44-week language training for presumably an S-3/R-3 proficiency in Farsi.

And if this position goes to a Civil Service employee, the chance of that employee serving overseas is a one-time fill. He/She goes to London for two years then return to the State Department. Unless the State Department moves to a unitary personnel system, CS employees typically do not serve on multiple tours overseas.  Which means that State could be spending between $180,000 – $480,000 to teach — whoever is selected for this London position — Persian language to an employee who can be assigned overseas just once.

Now, perhaps the more important question is, in light of AFSA’s protest — if State gives in and list this London position in this Summer’s Open Assignment Cycle, would that really make a difference? Sure FSOs can bid on it, but will anyone of the qualified bidders be …. um…the right fit?

Maybe we can go through this “call your friends in London upstairs” exercise, and see what they say (pick one):

  1. don’t bother applying for the job
  2. don’t waste your time on this one
  3. forgetaboutit, selection already done
  4. all of the above

And you’re wondering why watching bureaucratic life and backstage machinations can make one jaded?  If indeed this job is going to go, as rumored, to a “P’ staffer, all job-related announcements would just be bureaucratic theater.

But don’t worry, everything will fit in the end. Just like a puzzle box.

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State/OIG Releases Special Review of the Accountability Review Board Process

— By Domani Spero

The State Department’s Office of the Inspector General released its Special Review of the Accountability Review Board Process.  [See Special Review of the Accountability Review Board Process (ISP-I-13-44A)  [491 Kb]  Posted on September 25, 2013].  The inspection took place in Washington, DC, between April 15 and August 13, 2013. The names of the inspectors have been redacted per [FOIA Exemption (b) (6)]  which “exempts from disclosure records or information which if disclosed would constitute a clearly unwarranted invasion of personal privacy.” (Argh!!!)

The OIG report in short form says “The Accountability Review Board process operates as intended—independently and without bias—to identify vulnerabilities in the Department of State’s security programs.”

Among its key judgments are 1) the implementation of Accountability Review Board recommendations works best when the Secretary of State and other Department of State principals take full ownership and oversight of the implementation process; 2) per Benghazi ARB recommendation to enable future Boards to recommend that the Department of State take disciplinary action in cases of unsatisfactory leadership performance related to a security incident, State “plans to revise the Foreign Affairs Manual and request that Congress amend the applicable statute to incorporate this change.”

According to the report, the OIG team interviewed the four secretaries who held office between 1998 and 2012. “All stated that the ARB process was an effective tool that could provide the Department with important lessons for enhancing the security and safety of U.S. diplomatic facilities and employees. The interviews revealed that the secretaries had engaged actively in the ARB process and had taken the ARB and the resulting recommendations with utmost seriousness.”

The report does not include the names of the interviewees but the four SecState would have been Madeleine Albright (1997-2001), Colin Powell (2001-2005), Condoleezza Rice (2005-2009), and Hillary Rodham Clinton (2009-2013)

The very same report notes that the “OIG team was not able to identify an institutionalized process by which the Secretary or Deputy Secretary engaged beyond the drafting and submission of the Secretary’s legislated report to Congress.”

Two former secretaries “raised questions as to whether the process is sufficiently robust for handling investigations of major, complex incidents, especially those in which the interests and actions of several agencies were involved.”

The report further noted that all four former secretaries described the inherent tug of war between risks and rewards as the Department conducts its business in dangerous places around the world:

Typically, the strong preference among those responsible for advancing U.S. policy objectives is to keep posts open whenever possible, even in dangerous places, while those officials responsible for security give priority to the risks and the possibilities for harm. Within the Department, these sometimes contradictory positions tend to be represented respectively by the Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs and the Under Secretary of State for Management. For that reason, two former secretaries were strongly of the view that responsibility for reconciling these perspectives should be vested at the deputy secretary level. Indeed, one former Secretary told the OIG team that this concern was at the heart of the original proposal to create a second deputy secretary position, one that would have as a principal responsibility overseeing and reconciling these competing interests of policy and security on a daily basis.

The second deputy secretary position was first filled in 2009 during Secretary Clinton’s tenure.  The State Department describes the position as the Chief Operating Officer of the Department, but the official title is Deputy Secretary for Management and Resources (D/MR).   The position “serves as principal adviser to the Secretary on overall supervision and direction of resource allocation and management activities of the Department.” The job summary posted online makes no special mention of this position as the arbiter when the competing interests between policy and security comes to the fore.

From 2009-2010, Jacob J. Lew was D/MR and oversaw the civilian surge in Afghanistan. From 2011-2013, Thomas R. Nides was D/MR and delivered State’s first Quadrennial Diplomacy and Development Review (QDDR).  Most recently, President Obama announced the nomination of Heather Higginbottom, the new Counselor in the Office of the Secretary of State to be the third Deputy Secretary of State for Management and Resources.

We hope to do a follow-up post on the ARB Permanent Coordinating Committee and how come no ARB was convened following the attack at the US Embassy in Tunis in September 2012 despite “significant destruction of property.”

 (O_O)