Foreign Service Retirements, and State Department Farewells and Departures

Posted: 1:50 am ET
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On November 15, Secretary Kerry congratulated Ambassador Rick Olson on his retirement after three decades of dedicated service to the United States. Prior to his retirement, Ambassador Olson served as Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan. Secretary Kerry cited his service as U.S. Ambassador to both the Islamic Republic of Pakistan and the United Arab Emirates, Coordinating Director for Development and Economic Affairs at U.S. Embassy Kabul, and other positions in Mexico, Uganda, Tunisia, Saudi Arabia, Ethiopia, Iraq, NATO, as well as a number of leadership positions here in Washington. On November 28, Secretary Kerry awarded Ambassador Olson the Distinguished Service Award during a ceremony at the U.S. Department of State in Washington, D.C. More photos here via Flickr. Secretary Kerry’s remarks on the Retirement of Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan Richard G. Olson, 11/15/16.

 

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry presents Ambassador Rick Olson, U.S. Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan (SRAP), with the Distinguished Service Award during a ceremony at the U.S. Department of State in Washington, D.C., on November 28, 2016. [State Department photo/ Public Domain]

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry presents Ambassador Rick Olson, U.S. Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan (SRAP), with the Distinguished Service Award during a ceremony at the U.S. Department of State in Washington, D.C., on November 28, 2016. [State Department photo/ Public Domain]


On November 30, Ambassador Deborah Jones announced on Twitter that she is retiring from the Foreign Service after 34 years of service as a diplomat.  Ambassador Jones is a career member of the Senior Foreign Service, having been with the Department of State since 1982. She served previously as U.S. Ambassador to Libya and as Ambassador to Kuwait. She also previously served as Principal Officer at the U.S. Consulate General in Istanbul, Turkey.  Her previous overseas assignments include: Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates; Addis Ababa, Ethiopia; Baghdad, Iraq; Buenos Aires, Argentina; and Damascus, Syria.  Her service in Washington, D.C. includes two years as Country Director of the Office of Arabian Peninsula and Iran Affairs in addition to assignments as Staff Assistant to Assistant Secretary for Near East and South Asia Affairs Richard Murphy, Acting Public Affairs Advisor to Assistant Secretary for Near East Affairs, Desk Officer for Jordan, and duty in the Department’s Operations Center.  She speaks Arabic, Spanish and French.

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Tom Cochran was Deputy Coordinator for Platforms in the Bureau of International Information Programs, from March 2014 until this past November. In this role, he was responsible for providing places for public engagement that prioritize individuals, facilitate long-term relationships, and simplify public diplomacy to make it more measurable. Before his appointment at the Department of State, he was the Chief Technology Officer at Atlantic Media, publisher of international news outlets including: The Atlantic, Quartz, Government Executive and National Journal. Prior to joining the Atlantic Media, he was the Director of New Media Technologies for the White House where he led the team of people that created the “We the People” petition website. Mr. Cochran, a third culture kid who grew up in Japan and Thailand is a son of a foreign service officer.

Richard Stengel, the Under Secretary for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs tweeted today as his last day as “R” at the State Department. Mountainrunner notes back in July that in January 2012, the office of the Under Secretary for Public Diplomacy was ‘unencumbered’ 30% of the time (as in, a confirmed, not acting, Under Secretary was in place). By the time Rick Stengel was sworn in as the third Under Secretary for Public Diplomacy of the Obama Administration (the Bush Administration had four Under Secretaries), the vacancy rate was 33%. On July 1, 2016, Stengel became the longest serving Under Secretary for Public Diplomacy at 870 days, surpassing the previous record holder, Karen Hughes, who served 868 days. As of today, that’s 998 days on Stengel’s record.

The U.S. Ambassador to Switzerland Suzi LeVine announced her departure from post on FB for January 20.  “I wanted to let you know that my family and I will be leaving Switzerland on January 20, 2017 and heading back to our beloved Seattle. This opportunity to serve as President Obama’s personal representative here to these extraordinary countries of Switzerland and Liechtenstein has been rewarding, humbling, and truly awesome – beyond our wildest imaginations!”

U.S. Ambassador to South Africa Patrick Gaspard announced that he will depart Pretoria on December 16.  Prior to being appointed U.S. Ambassador to South Africa,he served as the Executive Director of the Democratic National Committee, a position he held since 2011. Previously, he served as an Assistant to the President and Director of the Office of Political Affairs from 2009 to 2011. Prior to that, he was the National Political Director for Obama for America.

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US Ambassador Gets on Reddit, Not/Not Nearly as Funny as Anonymous FSO

— Domani Spero
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In February this year, we had an anonymous Foreign Service Officer who did an AMA on Reddit (see IamA United States Diplomat: Anonymous FSO Gets on Reddit and He’s a Riot!).  Last June, USCG Toronto also did an AMA on consular issues (see U.S. Consulate General Toronto Joins ‘Ask Me Anything’ on Reddit). Yesterday, the U.S. Ambassador to Switzerland and Liechtenstein Suzi LeVine joined Reddit for what we think is the first “Ask Me Anything” session conducted by a chief of mission.  Unlike the anonymous FSO’s AMA, this one is official and done on your dime; no need to report her to the FBI or Diplomatic Security.

You might also remember her as the first U.S. ambassador to be sworn-in on a Kindle this past June. Below is her intro on Reddit:

Hi Reddit! I’m Suzi LeVine, the American Ambassador to Switzerland and Liechtenstein. I am also a former technology exec and a mom to two amazing kids. It’s an honor to serve the American people as an Ambassador and I can personally attest to the critical role Ambassadors play in U.S. foreign policy making. Right now there are 60 Ambassadorial nominees who are still awaiting confirmation by Congress – that’s 60 countries where the U.S. isn’t representing its foreign policy interests as well as it could. Fun fact: My first trip to Switzerland was when I kicked off a solo 6 week backpacking trip from Zurich. I was 18 and, after buying my first Swiss Army knife, promptly learned how sharp they are when I cut straight through an apple into my hand. Let’s just say that I learned how excellent the Swiss healthcare system is. Verification: https://www.flickr.com/photos/statephotos/15302277727/

UPDATE: Merci viel mal. What terrific questions! Let’s do this again sometime! And, feel free to reach out to me on Twitter @AmbSuzi.

photo via state.gov

photo via state.gov

 

Here are some of the questions Ambassador LeVine answered:

Reddit user: Do you think your background which lacks diplomatic experience prior to your appointment as ambassador is a handicap or do you see it as a positive thing to bring another perspective? Or something totally different?  Where do you see issues in the relations between the USA and Switzerland? Where do the countries work well together?
AmbSuzi:  Diplomatic experience does not just derive from work in the Foreign Service. Let me tell you about team oasys from Jordan or team onebuzz from New Zealand. These were two teams and two groups of students with whom I had the honor of working in my capacity at Microsoft to shine a spotlight on innovators using technology to change the world. That’s diplomacy.

Reddit user: It’s always been a dream of mine to work for an embassy–or in the foreign service. I’m fluent in French, 24 years old, and I love America. How do I go about making this dream a reality? EDIT: I forgot to say I am an American…and of course I love it.
AmbSuzi: First off, go for it! http://careers.state.gov (In fact, I think the deadline for summer internships is next week, and that’s a great way to get a taste of this career. Stop wasting time on Reddit and go apply. 🙂

Reddit user: Do you have to deal with a lot of people revoking their US citizenship nowadays? Because it isn’t exactly easy being a dual citizen these days ever since FATCA came around.
AmbSuzi:  I have deep empathy for those who are wrestling with this decision and situation right now. My team and I are actively working to alleviate some of the concerns.

Reddit user: What do you think of the common criticism that too many ambassadors are appointed because they were fundraisers for the President & the Democratic/Republican party? You can look up individual donations here and it appears that you’ve donated quite a bit to the President & the Democratic Party? Do you think that more ambassadors should be career diplomats or is there value in having individuals close to the President serve as ambassadors?
AmbSuzi:  Fair question. I believe that there is tremendous value in a blend. The answer is not “or.” It is “and.” Different skill sets are appropriate in different situations and places around the globe. For example, my professional and volunteer experience as someone who has created partnerships, organized communities, led teams, initiated start-ups, etc., is a terrific match for Switzerland where I work with the likes of Nestle, Novartis, and ABB. Alternatively, someone like my friend, Michael Hoza, the new U.S. Ambassador to Cameroon, brings decades of foreign service experience and is equipped to take on the likes of Boko Haram.

Reddit user: What is the most challenging moment of your Career thus far, and how did you overcome it
AmbSuzi:  I tend to approach challenges as opportunities. What can I learn? How can I grow? With whom can I learn from their mistakes? The hardest element of this ambassadorial job so far was frankly, waiting to get confirmed. In my overall very nonlinear career, the hardest moment was going back to work in 2009 after four and a half years home with my kids and hearing people say that I was no longer qualified.

Reddit user: Ambassador, you were the first in such a position to be sworn in with your hand on an e-reader instead of a book. That made the news on some tech sites, but the news reports lacked some kind of background. Whose idea was it, and what was the thought behind it?
AmbSuzi:  Great question! (By the way, what is the plural of octopus?) As for the e-reader, I wrote about this in my blog post here: http://go.usa.gov/wnBz. After reading, let me know if you have any additional questions.

Reddit user:  How regularly do you speak with State Department officials back in Washington DC? Who is your immediate superior? Wendy Sherman? How much of the day to day operations of an embassy come from officials in DC?
AmbSuzi:  We have regular communications, and it’s important to share what’s happening in Switzerland with D.C. My technical, immediate superior is the President. That said, we do a lot of coordination within the European and Eurasian Bureau, which is run by the awesome Toria Nuland.

Here are the some other interesting questions from Reddit users that the ambassador did not respond to:

  • Do you think that presidents should continue to appoint plush state dept posts to their highest donors? I do realize this goes both ways, and both parties are involved in this practice.
  • Do you have a Swiss bank account, and are they all they’re cracked up to be?
  • Do you get paid double?
  • Among the other ambassadors in Switzerland, who are the best to party with?
  • Can I move in with you? I’m tired of this shit country!
  • How many push ups can you do?
  • Anyway to hook me up with a trip?
  • How did you get the gig? Did you have to go to a special college, was it more about who you knew than what you knew?
  • How much did you have to “donate” to get the Ambassador position????
  • What advice would you give somebody interested in becoming an Ambassador (or at least working abroad for the State Department)?
  • Does it get boring being the ambassador to a neutral country while we are on the brink of WW3?

We were sorely disappointed there were no questions about Jason Bourne, TP, prostitutes, crashed UFOs, Argo, or Benghazi.  Maybe next time?

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