HOGR Hearing: Violence on the Border, Keeping U.S. Personnel Safe

Posted: 2:47 pm EDT
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The House Oversight and Government Reform Committee held a hearing on September 9, to examine the efforts to ensure the safety of U.S. personnel and assets in northern Mexico and along the U.S.-Mexican border. The Committee notes on its introduction the risks posed to U.S. personnel and the public by the criminal violence in northern Mexico are numerous including:

  • February 2015the U.S. Consulate in Matamoros reported 227 separate security incidents in the U.S. border region.
  • May 2015two government buildings in Matamoros were struck by bomb attacks. 
  • June 2015a gunman on the Mexican side of the border fired multiple shots at a U.S. Customs and Border Protection helicopter. 
  • June 2015a U.S.-contracted vehicle was hijacked by armed criminals which resulted in the theft of over 11,500 Border Crossing Cards.

The video is available here. The witnesses include three officials from the State Department (DS, OBO, WHA), an official from DHS/CBP, and a representative from the American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE).  There is no representative from the American Foreign Service Association (AFSA) in this hearing.

Screen Shot 2015-09-09

U.S. Mission Mexico | Border Posts

William H. Moser Deputy Director, Bureau of Overseas Building Operations U.S. Department of State Document
Gregory B. Starr Assistant Secretary, Bureau of Diplomatic Security U.S. Department of State Document
Sue Saarnio Deputy Assistant Secretary, Western Hemisphere Affairs U.S. Department of State Document
Robert L. Harris Director, Joint Task Force – West U.S. Customs and Border Protection Document
Brandon Judd President, National Border Patrol Council American Federation of Government Employees Document

The hearing is also available here via C-SPAN.

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560 Ex-Peace Corps Volunteers Write to Secretary Kerry Urging Suspension of Aid to Dominican Republic

Posted: 3:08 am EDT
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Nearly 600 former Peace Corps volunteers and three PC country directors who served in the Dominican Republic wrote an open letter to Secretary Kerry urging the suspension of aid to the Dominican Republic due to its treatment of Dominicans of Haitian descent:

It is due to our deep and abiding concern for the most vulnerable members of Dominican society that we are writing to you about the crisis of statelessness among Dominicans of Haitian descent. We urge you to end U.S. involvement in the violation of their human rights: enforce the Leahy Amendments to the Foreign Assistance Act and annual Department of Defense appropriations.

The Leahy laws state that no U.S. assistance shall be furnished to any unit of the security forces of a foreign country if there is credible information that such a unit has committed a gross violation of human rights. Given the Dominican government’s disregard for international law with respect to the status of its citizens of Haitian descent; the violent track record of Dominican security forces receiving funding and training from the United States; and the Dominican Armed Forces’ readiness to execute a potentially massive campaign of rights-violating expulsions, we ask that the United States suspend its military aid to the Dominican government.

In 2013, the Dominican Constitutional Court i​ssued a ruling (168-13) that effectively stripped hundreds of thousands of people, primarily those of Haitian descent, of their Dominican citizenship. This ruling stands in direct contravention of international human rights law—specifically the A​merican Convention on Human Rights,​which the Dominican government r​atified in 1978. This convention enshrines the right to a nationality and prohibits its arbitrary deprivation. Many Dominicans of Haitian ancestry, including those whose families have resided in the

Dominican Republic for generations, were rendered stateless and face forcible deportation to a country where many have no ties whatsoever. A subsequent Dominican law (1​69-14)​, which addressed the court’s ruling, further entrenched the negation of the right to citizenship on the basis of one’s place of birth, and retroactively conferred citizenship on the basis of the immigration status of one’s parents.

The volunteers’ letter specifically cites the security forces that “appear poised to carry out mass deportations within the country, including the U​.S.-trained border patrol agency, CESFRONT, which has r​eceived more than $17.5 million in assistance from the United States since 2013.”

“If the United States is serious about protecting universally recognized human rights, we must no longer abet such actions in the Dominican Republic, much less be complicit in an impending intensification of human rights abuses. In our view, it appears impossible for the Dominican government to move forward with the implementation of its human rights-violating, internationally condemned citizenship laws without involving its security forces in yet more widespread and severe abuses.”

A small group representing the volunteers has requested a meeting with Assistant Secretary for Western Hemisphere Roberta Jacobson.

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Washington and Havana Formally Restores Diplomatic Relations After 54 Years

Posted: 2:17 pm  EDT
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According to history.state.gov, the United States remained in Cuba as an occupying power until the Republic of Cuba was formally installed on May 19, 1902 following the defeat of Spain in 1898.  On May 20, 1902, the United States relinquished its occupation authority over Cuba, but claimed a continuing right to intervene in Cuba. Diplomatic relations and the U.S. Legation in Havana were established on May 27, 1902, when U.S. Envoy Extraordinary and Minister Plenipotentiary Herbert Goldsmith Squiers presented his credentials to the Government of the Republic of Cuba.  Following an act of Congress, the U.S. Legation in Havana, Cuba, was raised to Embassy status on February 10, 1923, when General Enoch H. Crowder was appointed Ambassador. The United States severed diplomatic relations with Cuba on January 3, 1961, citing unwarranted action by the Government of Cuba that placed crippling limitations on the ability of the United States Mission to carry on its normal diplomatic and consular functions.

Today, after over 50 years, a new day. For once, instead of boots on the ground, diplomatic negotiations and engagement made this day possible. It appears that we have rediscovered the non-coercive instruments of statecraft (as Ambassador Chas Freeman spoke about so eloquently), that persuaded the Cubans that they can benefit by working with us rather than against us. A big shout-out to our diplomats who labored so hard to get us here!

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[protected-iframe id=”e1dbfbfc8756a2e16e4c255599014ec6-31973045-31356973″ info=”http://www.cfr.org/timeline-us-cuba-relations/ips70#!/?embedId=spine” width=”500″ height=”500″]

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Obama Officially Nominates WHA’s Roberta Jacobson as Next Ambassador to Mexico

Posted: 1:41 am EDT
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The WH has now officially announced President Obama’s intent to nominate Roberta S. Jacobson as the next Ambassador to the United Mexican States. The WH released the following brief bio:

Roberta S. Jacobson, a career member of the Senior Executive Service, is the Assistant Secretary for Western Hemisphere Affairs at the Department of State, a position she has held since 2012.  From 2010 to 2012, she was the Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary for Western Hemisphere Affairs.  Previously, Ms. Jacobson served as the Deputy Assistant Secretary for Canada, Mexico, and NAFTA issues from 2007 to 2010 and as Director of the Office of Mexican Affairs from 2003 to 2007.  She was Deputy Chief of Mission at the U.S. Embassy in Lima, Peru from 2000 to 2002.  From 1989 to 2000, Ms. Jacobson held several roles in the Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs, including Director of the Office of Policy Planning and Coordination from 1996 to 2000.  She began her career at the Department of State as a Presidential Management Intern.

Ms. Jacobson received a B.A. from Brown University and an M.A. from the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University.

If confirmed, Ms. Jacobson would succeed career diplomat Tony Wayne who was appointed Ambassador to Mexico by President Obama in 2011. President Obama had previously nominated Maria Echaveste for the Mexican post in the fall of 2014. She withdrew her nomination after waiting four months for her confirmation. Her supporters blamed it on a “failed, politicized nomination process” according to NBCNews.

The Mexico Mission is one of our largest posts. We hope Ms. Jacobson gets a speedy confirmation but the SFRC is a perplexing place these days. We want to add that we’ve watched Ms. Jacobson stay cool and collected under congressional grilling over the Administration’s Cuba policy. She is probably one of the State Department’s better congressional witnesses — straight-forward, not antagonistic or evasive, and was engaging. She did not get flustered even when senators were in their scolding best for the cameras. She obviously knows her stuff, and she looks them in the eye when she talks. We’d like to suggest that the State Department clone her for its congressional witnesses prep.

Hey, did you know that Andrew Jackson was the first nominee for ambassador to Mexico? According to history.state.gov, he was appointed on January 27, 1823 but he declined the appointment. It looks like the second appointee in 1824 did not proceed to post either.  Joel Roberts Poinsett (1779-1851) was then appointed in 1825 and he did present his credentials three months after his appointment.   If confirmed, Ms. Jacobson would be the first female American ambassador appointed to Mexico. Ever.  Can we get a yay! for that?

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Noah Mamet Sworn-in as U.S. Ambassador to Argentina, Twice For Good Measure

— Domani Spero
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Ambassador Noah B. Mamet was confirmed by the US Senate on December 2nd. He was sworn into office, in a private ceremony at the State Department with Western Hemisphere Affairs Assistant Secretary Roberta Jacobson administering the oath.

via U.S. Embassy Argentina

Ambassador-Designate Noah Mamet, with mother Millie Mamet, is sworn in by Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs Assistant Secretary Roberta Jacobson, December 3, 2014, at the U.S. Department of State. (Photo: Dept. of State)

On December 10, Ambassador Mamet was sworn-in again by Vice President Joe Biden at an official ceremony held at the White House. Argentine Ambassador to the United States Cecilia Nahon attended the ceremony.

Ambassador Mamet, with mother Millie Mamet, is sworn in by vice president Joseph Biden. (Photo: Vice President’s Office)

Ambassador Mamet, with mother Millie Mamet, is sworn in by vice president Joseph Biden. (Photo: Vice President’s Office)

 

Senator John McCain was once asked by Tim Russert about running as George W. Bush’s VP. His response was, “No. No way. The vice president has two duties. One is to inquire daily as to the health of the president, and the other is to attend the funerals of third world dictators.” He forgot to mention VPOTUS’ duty in the ceremonial swearing-in of political ambassadors, which sounds like fun, too.

Ambassador-designate Mamet is yet to present his credentials in Buenos Aires but he is already  on Twitter. Don’t get too excited there!   It looks like he actually joined Twitter in January 2010 but has only the following three tweets as of this writing.

 

 

 

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U.S. Embassy Bolivia: A Post Far From Heaven, Read the Fine Details in the Classified OIG Annex!

— Domani Spero
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Which regional bureau recalled one post’s top two officials prior to the arrival of the OIG inspectors?
Burn Bag, March 23, 2014

 

According to the OIG report on the US Embassy in La Paz, Bolivia released on July 17, just before the OIG inspection conducted in February and March 2014, the State Department “recalled the chargé and the political/economic section chief who served as acting DCM from August 2012 to September 2013 and took steps to mitigate some of the embassy’s leadership problems.”

How do you recall the embassy’s top two officials? Very quietly, presumably.  There were no public announcements or statements.  There have been some pretty awful embassies with leadership problems but we have seldom heard the recall of both the number #1 and #2 at the same time. So, what happened?

This OIG report has a classified annex which includes supplemental narrative and recommendations.  This is not the first time that a report has a classified annex but this is one of the few we can recall since the OIG stopped issuing the Inspector’s Evaluation Reports for senior embassy officials.  So now, all the bad stuff is just dumped in the classified annex of the report where the OIG says that “Portions of context, leadership, resource management, Equal Employment Opportunity, and quality of life in the annex should be read in conjunction with this report.” We have no access to the annex and of course, only State Department insiders who theoretically, have a “need to know” can access the classified material.

via US Embassy La Paz/FB

via US Embassy La Paz/FB

Here is what the publicly available, sanitized report on US Embassy Bolivia says on Leadership:

The former chargé interacted with senior government officials more often and more effectively than the hostile environment might have suggested. He expanded his personal engagement with the local media. He negotiated an unexpected $2.4-million reimbursement of value-added taxes. Also, he initiated development of an updated mission vision that called for expanded outreach to the Bolivian people and greater focus on cultural programs and English-language training.

Despite these and other successes, nearly all American staff members told the OIG team that they did not understand mission priorities or their part in achieving goals. The OIG team frequently heard staff tell of instructions given one day only to have the former front office forget or reverse them the next. Skepticism about public diplomacy programming one month could be replaced by front office enthusiasm for a cultural project the next. Reporting officers, already in a difficult environment for contact development and reporting, stated that the front office did little to direct reporting or provide training and mentoring. Embassy staff members told the OIG team they wanted clear and steady guidance from the front office but did not receive it.

Is that not enough to get two senior officials recalled?

On Resource Management:

Although the 2013 annual chief of mission statement of assurances identified no significant management control deficiencies, many of the vulnerabilities discussed in this report would have been apparent if embassy leadership had conducted a thorough review of management controls prior to submitting the chief of mission statement.

On Equal Employment Opportunity:

Within the past year, the EEO counselors handled more than 10 inquiries, many involving gender bias or sexual harassment.

On Quality of Life:

The Health Unit  ” handled eight medical evacuations of U.S. personnel within the past year and provides ongoing support to mission personnel for altitude-related ailments.”

 

Well, what do you think?  The report’s key judgments, are pretty well, bland; no one ran off to a new job in Tripoli or Sana’a. And man, whose fault was it that La Paz was assigned a cadre of inexperienced officers?

  • Embassy La Paz lacked the strong, consistent leadership and the sustained attention from Washington that it needed to manage a complicated bilateral relationship and had a relatively inexperienced officer cadre and a locally employed staff emerging from a reduction in force.
  • The embassy registered several impressive successes despite a drastic reduction in programs and work force in response to the Bolivian Government’s expulsion of the U.S. Agency for International Development and the Department of State’s decision to end all U.S. counternarcotics programs.
  • The embassy needs a clearly defined mission strategy.
  • The management section has a number of potential management control vulnerabilities related to record keeping and funds control. It is still coping with 2013’s major reduction in force of locally employed staff and an almost 50-percent reduction in the embassy’s services budget.

According to the OIG report, as of January 2014, the embassy had a total staff of 310, slightly more than one-third of 2008 numbers. The U.S. Embassy in La Paz has not been a typical embassy operation since 2008. In September that year, Bolivia expelled Ambassador Philip S. Goldberg (now ambassador to the Philippines). Shortly thereafter, the Drug Enforcement Administration and the Peace Corps suspended their operations in the country. In May 2013, Bolivia expelled USAID and the USG subsequently also shut down all International Narcotics and Law Enforcement (INL) programs in the country.   The OIG inspectors conclude that the US-Bolivia relationship is “unlikely to normalize soon.” Below are some additional details extracted from the publicly available report:

La Paz, A Post Far From Heaven

  • The Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs (WHA) paid sporadic attention to embassy operations.
  • Since 2008, WHA used a series of deputy chiefs of mission (DCM) as chargé d’affaires and after July 2012 detailed section heads (first from the political/economic section, then from public affairs, and just before the inspection from the management section) to serve as acting DCM for extended periods. The Department also decided not to assign a permanent office management specialist for the chief of mission, and the front office relied on office management specialists from other sections for months at a time. […] The effects of these stopgap measures were threefold. First, they required officers to serve as acting DCM for extended periods without appropriate training. Second, they took seasoned leaders out of embassy sections, leaving those sections in the hands of usually capable—but inexperienced—deputies. The deputies rose to the challenge, but they did not receive adequate guidance or leadership from their former supervisors. Productivity and morale suffered.

Love Letters Written, Never Sent

  • The political/economic section staff is frustrated and discouraged, primarily because of lack of front office policy direction, as well as poor communication, organization, and training within the section. Given the deteriorating political environment and unclear policy guidance from both the front office and the Department, the section had an opportunity to devise and drive a revised policy and action agenda, but did not do so. […] The OIG team reviewed a number of substantive and useful report drafts prepared by officers and local employees that were never sent, usually because the former section chief dismissed them without working with the drafter to improve the texts. This wasted effort caused significant staff frustration.

Tearing Your Hair, Learning on the Job

  • The public affairs section does not have enough experienced grants officers. Only one person in the section, a FAST officer, had a grants warrant as of February 2014. From June through August 2013, in the absence of any public affairs section grants officer, two political/economic FAST officers signed about 100 public diplomacy grants, about which they knew little.

Not Leading By Example – Managing From Desk Via Email

  • The consular section is a small operation, processing fewer than 20,000 nonimmigrant visas, approximately 800 immigrant visas, and about 1,600 passport applications in 2013. The section chief manages from her desk and via email. This remote management style is not appropriate for the size of the operation and has a negative impact on section morale and operations.
  • The consular section chief only adjudicates high-profile or referral visa cases. Recent guidance in 13 STATE 153746 reminded consular managers that they are expected to do some interviewing themselves. The section chief’s lack of hands-on participation contributes to longer hours that the more junior employees have to spend interviewing, and remoteness from actual processing undermines her credibility as an expert. It also reduces the opportunities for management to train new personnel and to identify potential interview technique and workflow efficiencies.
  • Neither the former chargé d’affaires nor the former acting DCM reviewed the 65 cases that the consular chief handled in the past year. Failure to review the required 10 percent of visa approvals and 20 percent of refusals, per 9 FAM 41.113 PN 17 and 9 FAM 41.121 N2.3-7, leads to lack of consistency in visa issuance and refusal. Adjudication reviews are also a vital management control to prevent malfeasance.

FSN Evaluations and Health Plans

  • The human resources office memo also listed 11 locally employed staff whose performance evaluations were between 21 and 242 days late. Locally employed staff members cannot qualify for in-grade salary increases if their performance reviews are not current.
  • Although the embassy participates in the local social security retirement plan, it does not participate in the local social security health program. Instead, the embassy provides a private health plan for locally employed staff. When locally employed staff members retire, most of the social security health plans are unwilling to accept them because they have not been longstanding contributors. The retirees are left with diminished health insurance coverage for their retirement years.

Allowances Paid on Outdated Info

  • The Department of State Standardized Regulation 072.12 requires that the hardship differential report, consumables allowance report, and cost-of-living survey be submitted every 2 years. All these reports are late. The embassy is paying allowances based on outdated information.

Power Outages with No Fully Functional UPS. For 3 Years!

  • The embassy’s centralized uninterruptible power system is in disrepair and has not been fully functional for the past 3 years. As a result, the chancery building experiences frequent power outages caused by the instability of the local power infrastructure. The power outages have caused permanent damage to the server room and disrupted the network infrastructure.

 

Just before the inspection, the WHA bureau and the Bureau of Human Resources apparently agreed that, because a permanent ambassador is not likely in the foreseeable future, the Department would assign a permanent chargé d’affaires and a permanent DCM in La Paz. It only took them about five years to make up their minds.

Peter Brennan was appointed chargé d’affaires of the U.S. Embassy in La Paz in June 2014. Prior to his appointment in Bolivia, he was Minister-Counselor for Communications and Public Affairs at the U.S. Embassy in Islamabad, Pakistan.  It does not look like post now has a permanent DCM as Public Affairs Officer, Aruna Amirthanayagam, who was acting chargé is now Acting DCM.

The inspection took place in Washington, DC, between January 6 and February 4, 2014, and in La Paz, Bolivia, between March 5 and 20, 2014. Ambassador Gene Christy (team leader), Thomas Allsbury, Laurent Charbonnet, Eric Chavera, Leo Hession, Tracey Keiter, Keith Powell, Ashea Riley, Richard Sypher, Alexandra Vega, Roman Zawada, and Barbara Zigli conducted the inspection.

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Related item:

-07/31/14   Inspection of Embassy La Paz, Bolivia (ISP-I-14-16A)  [595 Kb]  Posted on July 17, 2014

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

U.S. Interests Section Cuba (USINT) — 12 Plus Things We Learned About Assignment Havana

— Domani Spero  

State/OIG recently posted its inspection report of the U.S. Interests Section (USINT) in Havana, Cuba.   Post which is headed by career diplomats, John P. Caulfield, the Chief of Mission and Conrad R. Tribble, the Deputy Chief of Mission received a good overall review with a few exceptions. “U.S. Interests Section Havana advances U.S. objectives in a challenging environment. The Chief of Mission and his deputy provide strong leadership.”

Among the main judgments: 1) The consular section has reduced waiting times for Cuban visa applicants and deftly handled the increase in American citizens cases; 2) The political/economic section meets high standards in its reporting, despite limited information and host government restrictions that limit opportunities to make representations to the Cuban Government, and 3) The management section performs well under difficult conditions that hamper its ability to provide seamless administrative support.

An important point, USINT is not in regular communication with the Bureau of Diplomatic Security’s Office of Foreign Missions on issues of reciprocity. Since the movement of diplomatic pouches, cargo, and personal shipments is covered under the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations, OIG recommends that USINT should inform the Office of Foreign Missions (OFM) and the Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs (WHA) on a regular basis of delayed shipments and other reciprocity issues.  On May 1, President Obama announced his nomination of Gentry O. Smith as Director of the Office of Foreign Missions, with the rank of Ambassador during his tenure of service.  He will, of course, be stuck in the Senate for the next several months.   (Note: We understand that OFM no longer reports to DS but now reports directly to U/S Management).  Also, the report describes low morale among First and Second Tour (FAST) officers.  However, the final report does not include the curtailments of ELOs/FAST officers from post.

The inspection took place in Washington, DC, between September 3 and October 17, 2013, and in Havana, Cuba, from November 5 through 21, 2013. The overseas portion of the inspection was truncated because of the partial Federal Government shutdown. Ambassador Pamela Smith (team leader), Lavon Sajona (deputy team leader), Paul Cantrell, Eric Chavera, Mark Jacobs, John Moran, John Philibin, Iris Rosenfeld, and Steven White conducted the inspection.

Below we’ve listicled the twelve things we learned about the assignment in Havana that we did not know before, plus a couple of other things that apparently did not make it to the final report.

 

#1.  The mission had 51 U.S. direct-hire employees, a cap jointly agreed to by the United States and Cuba.  USINT cannot sustain the elevated pace of nonimmigrant visa adjudications without increasing the number of consular officer positions.  However, because of the cap, it is unlikely that new permanent officer positions can be established in the short term.

500px-Australian_State_Route_51

 

 #2. Sixteen employees work in the Office of the Coordinator for Cuban Affairs, one of the Department’s largest country desks.  […] Not all the coordination office’s operations are transparent to USINT or to working-level office staff …Compounding these difficulties, the coordinator has not visited USINT since his previous assignment in Havana more than a decade ago.

500px-Korea_Expressway_No.16

#3.  USINT officers’ travel is limited to within Havana province. Permission to travel outside the area requires sending a diplomatic note a minimum of 5 days before travel begins.

 

#4. Materials and supplies sourced in the United States can take 6 months or longer to procure, ship, and clear into Cuba; that is if the Cuban Government doesn’t reject them.

 

#5. Unclassified pouches with personal mail are often rejected and sent back to the United States. Incoming household effects, which take 1 day to sail from Miami to Havana, have sat for months in the port awaiting clearance; the same holds for personal vehicles and consumables.

 

#6.   The mission makes effective use of eligible family members to fill gaps and augment its workforce to meet critical needs.  All family members who wish to work have jobs.

 

#7.  Offices go without equipment and supplies, the maintenance section lacks materials to repair buildings and residences, and employees and their families go without familiar foods, medicines, clothes, children’s toys, transportation, computers, and books.

 

#8.  USINT pays the Cuban Government a monthly fee for each employee’s services. The Cuban Government withholds a large portion of the fee, ostensibly as the employee’s contribution to the social welfare system, and pays employees a salary that can be as little as the equivalent of $10 per month.

 

#9.  In addition to the clearance delays, staff report that the Havana port authority has only one crane and one forklift (not always operable) to move containers, adding to delays.

 

# 10.  On a more positive note, employees state that Cuban packers are some of the best they have experienced in their careers. Unfortunately, Cuban customs authorities open and x-ray both inbound and outbound shipments before they will clear them.

 

#11. Productivity increased by a factor of four, as the consular section went from interviewing 120 to 150 applicants per day to an average of more than 500.[…] Consular managers schedule appointments assuming that each officer will interview at least 110 applicants per day. In reality, some officers interview as many as 140 applicants a day, but others interview as few as 80. The rate at which the top producing officers are expected to interview is not reasonable or sustainable for the long term.

 

#12. [M]ission employees operate vehicles that are damaged, unsightly, and possibly unsafe. One vehicle is missing interior door panels and its gear shift knob. In Cuba, diplomatic vehicles can be sold only to other diplomatic missions. No mission has expressed interest in purchasing USINT’s unserviceable vehicles.

PLUS

 

#13. What’s that?   Just couple or so sections accounted for the loss of multiple officers at post? Miserable.  So as a consequence, 3 out of 8 permanently assigned Entry Level Officer (ELO)/First and Second Tour (FAST) officers curtailed? You wouldn’t know it from reading the IG report. Blame it on this ‘swallow da bad stuff’ contraption:

Image via Imgur

Image via Imgur

 

#14.  Pardon me?  One officer curtailed Havana to go to Pakistan?  Yo, Pakistan! Then one officer … what?  A West Point grad, quit post and the Foreign Service in mid-tour? And then there’s one that did not work out … when we heard these, we’re like ….

Image via Imgur

Image via Imgur

 

That’s it, until the next listicle.

 

Related item: Inspection of U.S. Interests Section Havana, Cuba (ISP-I-14-10A)  [729 Kb]  05/31/14   | Posted on May 8, 2014

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US Embassy Barbados: Paradise Inspected, Again — Still Expensive, Isolated and Uh-oh! (Updated)

— Domani Spero

In 2009, we blogged about the U.S. Embassy in Bridgetown, Barbados (see US Embassy Barbados: Paradise Inspected).  In 2012 Ambassador Larry Palmer, a career diplomat succeeded political ambassador Mary Martin Ourisman who was appointed by George W. Bush as U.S. ambassador to Barbados and the Eastern Carribean from 2006-2008.

Embassy Bridgetown’s DCM is Christopher J. Sandrolini, who was post’s chargé d’affaires, a.i. prior to Ambassador Palmer’s arrival.  We remember him responding to our inquiry with an unofficial note in the wake of  George Gaines’ tragic death in Barbados in 2012.

This week, State/OIG released its latest report on the  Inspection of Embassy Bridgetown, Barbados, and Embassy St. George’s, Grenada (ISP-I-14-09A).

 

The view over Castries Harbor from a viewing point just below the Government House of St. Lucia. Photo by Cultural Affairs Assistant, Khalil Goodman, US Embassy Bridgetown/FB

The view over Castries Harbor from a viewing point just below the Government House of St. Lucia. Photo by Cultural Affairs Assistant, Khalil Goodman, US Embassy Bridgetown/FB

The inspection took place in Washington, DC, between September 3 and October 17, 2013, and in Bridgetown, Barbados, between October 20 and November 4, 2013. The overseas portion of the inspection was truncated due to the partial Federal Government shutdown. Ambassador Pamela Smith (team leader), Lavon Sajona (deputy team leader), Paul Cantrell, Eric Chavera, Mark Jacobs, John Philibin, Iris Rosenfeld, Scott Thayer, and Steven White conducted the inspection.  The following details extracted from the publicly available report.

Post Snapshot:

Barbados is the largest of the seven island nations of the Lesser Antilles to which the embassy is accredited. The others are the Federation of Saint Kitts and Nevis, Antigua and Barbuda, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, Dominica, St. Lucia, and Grenada, which has a small U.S. embassy whose existence is rooted in the 1983 ouster of Cuban troops by American military forces.

The mission includes 81 U.S. direct-hire positions representing 8 agencies, including the Departments of State, Justice, Homeland Security, Defense, and Health and Human Services, as well as the U.S. Agency for International Development and the Internal Revenue Service. Two-thirds of the officers, including nine section and agency heads, turned over in summer 2013. Ninety Peace Corps volunteers are assigned to Dominica, Grenada, St. Lucia, and St. Vincent. Peace Corp operations in Antigua and Barbuda and in St. Kitts and Nevis ceased at the beginning of 2013 because of budget cutbacks. Embassy expenditures in FY 2013 totaled $46.5 million.

Key Judgments 

  • The Ambassador must address his leadership issues regarding his strategic vision, favoritism, team building, proper delegation, and overbearing treatment of some employees.
  • Embassy Bridgetown’s emergency preparedness program lacks direction and focus. The embassy has not exercised the safe areas and alternate command center to determine their adequacy. Embassy personnel are unaware of their roles and responsibilities in the event of an emergency.
  • The consular section services U.S. citizens spread over seven countries and numerous islands. Consular managers should exercise closer supervision over consular operations in Bridgetown and at the consular agencies in Antigua and Martinique.
  • Embassy Bridgetown’s consular section needs to improve crisis management planning and coordination with consular agents, wardens, and U.S. citizen residents in this hurricane prone region.
  • The management section delivers good customer service; however, the section needs to address several management control issues.


First, Some Good News

  • Embassy Bridgetown maintains productive relations with the seven governments to which it is accredited. The Ambassador works hard and travels often in the region to build personal rapport with leaders and advance U.S. interests.
  • Interagency cooperation not only runs smoothly at the mission but also represents an achievement for which the Ambassador and DCM can both take credit. Prior to their arrival, internal frictions hampered embassy operations.
  • A combined political/economic section reports on issues in the seven countries to which the Ambassador is accredited, but the high cost of travel, unreliable transportation, and limited lodging compound the challenge of covering a vast geographic area. Despite these challenges, the section produced nearly 100 required reports and responded to nearly 1,000 taskings from Washington in the past 12 months.
  • This past year, the embassy was able to consolidate personal property into one warehouse, saving $75,000 per year in rent.
  • The Ambassador and DCM also make a priority of fostering a family-friendly work environment, an attitude appreciated by American employees with families and the locally employed (LE) staff.

 

Leadership and Management – Uh-oh! 

  • The Ambassador involves himself in administrative matters that he should delegate to the management officer or DCM. For example, until midpoint of the inspection, he personally approved all official travel. He sometimes calls entry-level American officers and LE staff to his office without their supervisors, often when he is dissatisfied with their work. These interactions should be delegated to supervisors or the DCM. The Ambassador also holds some decisions until the last moment or reverses his decisions, upending plans.
  • Most employees find the Ambassador’s leadership style inspiring, but some staff expressed that it is overbearing and inhibits their performance. The Ambassador did not realize he needed to modulate his behavior for different staff members until the inspectors pointed it out to him. He admitted that a few times he had lost his temper and reprimanded employees in front of others, which led some employees to feel intimidated and to fear retribution. The OIG team found no evidence of actual threats or retribution. The Ambassador stated that he harbored no intention to intimidate and was surprised to learn that some colleagues felt as they do. He accepted a packet of Department guidance, pertinent articles, and the inspectors’ advice about intimidation. He also agreed with the inspection team’s suggestion to turn to his DCM more frequently to address problematic issues.
  • The Ambassador does not have an official residence expense (ORE) house manager at his residence and relies on the human resources section to manage the ORE staff of four. As a result, human resources staff must perform daily operations, such as tracking time and attendance and ensuring that substitute staff are available when others are absent from work. This is burdensome and inappropriate, because ORE employees are the personal employees of the Ambassador.
  • Mission policy authorizes the Ambassador and DCM to travel officially using the lowest unrestricted fare as the cost basis, while requiring all other employees to use less flexible restricted fares.

 

No State Department EER since 2005

  • The Ambassador has not received an employee evaluation report prepared by a Department official since 2005. For subsequent years the Ambassador was assigned to an independent U.S. Government agency or filled temporary Department assignments. While the Ambassador is not required to receive a rating in the 2 years prior to his retirement, the WHA Assistant Secretary may prepare a rating at her discretion.
  • Prior to the inspection, the Assistant Secretary of the Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs (WHA) was aware of some of the leadership issues covered in this report. More active engagement from WHA will solidify progress that embassy leadership pledged to make in addressing these shortcomings. The Foreign Affairs Manual (1 FAM 112 [3]) enjoins assistant secretaries of the regional bureaus to actively support chiefs of mission in carrying out their official duty to implement U.S. foreign policy and lead their missions effectively.

 

Morale and Workplace Issues: Divided Staff, Favoritism  and Which Staff Member?

  • Many staff members believe the Ambassador shows undue favoritism toward a member of his front office staff. The Ambassador’s and the DCM’s low scores on inspection questionnaires, corroborated by personal interviews, reflect this view. For example, many employees expressed that the Ambassador had empowered the staff member–whose conduct is widely perceived as inappropriately demanding, non-collegial, and unprofessional–to speak for him. In addition, the Ambassador allowed the staff member to take over duties more appropriately conducted by the DCM or other senior officers. Employees cited numerous examples of the employee’s inability to carry out basic duties. The staff consumes unnecessary time discussing this issue, which has become a distraction from the embassy’s central mission.
  • Among the conditions that have led to this untenable situation are poor implementation of normal front office procedures, a failure of the staff member’s work requirements to align with actual and appropriate duties, and a lack of clarity as to the responsibilities of front office personnel. A thorough review and operational realignment of duties among front office staff could resolve many of these issues and improve internal functions. Clearly articulating the results of that review to all mission employees is an essential step in the process.
  • Embassy Bridgetown’s staff is divided. Staff referred continuously to the “old team,” the new “Team Palmer,” and the “A Team.” Employees from the “old team,” many of whom departed the embassy in summer 2013, were at odds with the Ambassador, who is perceived to value new arrivals over them. The sudden death of a widely admired American colleague on the eve of the Ambassador’s arrival also split the embassy community into two groups: those who experienced the trauma and those who came after it. Although the Ambassador and the DCM get along well, the division of labor and leadership styles between them has not produced the collaboration of a true partnership.


Quality of Life

Despite beautiful weather and beaches, many Department employees at Embassy Bridgetown find life on Barbados extremely confining and isolated. Travel to the United States or to other locales in the region is expensive. As a result, employees receive one rest and recuperation trip for a 2-year tour and two trips during a 3-year tour. The rest and recuperation point in the United States is Miami, Florida. Employees are also authorized a 5-percent post differential due to the hardship of living on a small island, and a 50-percent cost-of-living allowance to reflect the high cost of goods and services on an island that imports nearly 100 percent of its consumer products.

 

The Consular Section: A Familiar Complaint

A number of LE staff members have more than 30 years’ experience working in the consular section. Among these veterans are the local supervisors in the nonimmigrant visa, immigrant visa, American citizens services, and fraud prevention units. The FAST officers in the section rotate through the four functional units for periods ranging from 4 to 10 months. During their time in the units, these American officers—some of whom have no consular experience— serve as unit chiefs and supervise local staff members. FAST officers like this policy, but their LE colleagues have reservations. LE staff members are constantly training new supervisors, which they report compromises the smooth running of operations. They describe examples of inexperienced American officers making uninformed decisions about workflow and policy without listening to the local staff. The inspection team concluded their concerns were justified. Each unit has a weekly meeting that the LE staff members and their immediate American supervisors attend to discuss workflow and processes. However, the consul general and deputy consul typically do not attend these meetings.

The IG report notes that the consular agents in Antigua and Martinique also failed to comply with all the requirements for consular agents. Both have expired appointment commissions. Neither agent responded to a required questionnaire about fee collection procedures that the Bureau of Consular Affairs sent to them in June 2013.The report points to post’s need to enforce the visa referral policy, the expectation that the cashier provide an OF-158 receipt for consular fees to the accountable consular officer on a daily basis, and for the DCM to review NIV adjudications. The DCM is not reviewing the nonimmigrant visa adjudications of the consul general because of functionality problems with the required software, according to the inspectors.


Art in Embassies Program Alert!

Inventory records for high-value artworks are incorrect. For example, works donated by the Foundation for Art and Preservation in Embassies, worth thousands of dollars each, show a value of one dollar.

$1.00 !!!

The Foundation also known as FAPE, a non-profit organization dedicated to providing permanent works of American art for U.S. embassies worldwide would not like that at all.

Read more here.  And hey, you cannot auction off laptops simply because the encryption keys were lost!

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