Death in the State Dept Family: Rayda Nadal, Foreign Service; Durron Swain, Civil Service – RIP

— Domani Spero
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On March 3, 2014 we wrote about the death of  Deron Durron Swain, a State Department employee assigned to the Miami Passport Office as reported by  Local10 in Miami. Click here for the CBS Miami report the following day. The June 2014 issue of State Magazine includes the following obituary:

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Extracted from Obituaries, State Magazine, June 2014

The July/August issue of State Magazine includes the following obituary for Rayda Nadal, a Foreign Service OMS who died in Sweden.  The notice did not mention that she died from the gas explosion while posted at the U.S. Embassy in Moscow, but we know that the OMS injured in that explosion died in Linkoping, Sweden. See US Embassy Moscow: FS Employee Hurt in Apartment Building Gas Explosion Dies. If anyone  has an update on the promised investigation, we’d like to know.

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Extracted from Obituaries, State Magazine, July/August 2014

We still think that the State Department should be compelled to report the deaths of official Americans overseas. DOD identifies its casualties — name, rank, age, state of residence, date and place of death, and cause of death — why not the State Department?

At a minimum there ought to be  an annual reporting of all deaths from unnatural causes of USG personnel and family members on government orders under chief of mission authority.

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Foreign Service 2013 Promotion Results — Gender, Ethnicity, Race Stats Still Behind the Great Firewall

— Domani Spero
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The State Department’s trade publication State Magazine publishes annually the promotion results from the Foreign Service Selection Board. Here is an excerpt from the June 2014 issue:

The Bureau of Human Resources compiled the 2013 Foreign Service Selection Board results by class for generalists and specialists, placing the data into tables that show promotion numbers, promotion rates, average time in class and average time in service for each competition group. The bureau also analyzed and compared certain 2013 promotion rates and levels to the 2012 results and the five-year averages. While the Department promoted more generalists and specialists in 2013 than in 2012, the total number of employees eligible for promotion increased at a faster rate. The overall 2013 promotion rate for all eligible Foreign Service employees was 22 percent, slightly lower than the 2012 rate of 23 percent and the five-year average of 24 percent.

In June 2012, State Magazine said it published the promotion statistics by gender, ethnicity and race for the first time. We were hoping it would make the data public this year. Unfortunately, the 2013 promotion results, the statistics that offer detailed breakouts by grade level for each generalist cone and specialist skill group can only still be found behind the Great Firewall at http://intranet.hr.state.sbu/offices/rma/Pages/DiversityStats.aspx.

The State Department has an Office of Civil Rights. Apparently, it is the first cabinet-level agency to appoint a Chief Diversity Officer with oversight authority to integrate and transform diversity principles into practices in the Department’s operations. The office touts diversity as not just a worthy cause:

At the Department of State, diversity is not just a worthy cause: it is a business necessity. Diversity of experience and background helps Department employees in the work of diplomacy. The Secretary believes that diversity is extremely important in making the State Department an employer of choice.

We’re curious — if indeed, diversity is a business necessity for the agency,and we have folks who are proponents of diversity management issues there, why is the promotion composition of the Foreign Service by gender, race and ethnicity  considered “sensitive but unclassified” (SBU) and still behind the Great Firewall?  And if State Magazine won’t make this data available publicly, why isn’t this information available on the website of the  Office of Civil Rights?

State Mag is under State/HR but S/OCR — whoa! —  reports directly to Secretary Kerry’s office.  So, well, let’s go ahead and ask them why it should not be made available to the general public: Office of Civil Rights, S/OCR, Room 7428, Department of State, Washington, DC 20520, Email: socr_direct@state.gov;  Tel: (202) 647-9295 or (202) 647-9294; Fax: (202) 647-4969.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The U.S. Foreign Service Turns 90, What Will It Be Like in 50 Years?

— Domani Spero
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There was a big do in Foggy Bottom last night celebrating the 90th anniversary of the modern Foreign Service founded on May 24, 1924 when the Diplomatic and Consular Services were unified under the Rogers Act (named for Representative John Jacob Rogers of Massachusetts). Former Secretary Colin Powell and former Senator Lugar, as well as other friends of the Service were in attendance.  Secretary Kerry, the 68th Secretary of State and the son of former Foreign Service officer, Richard John Kerrydelivered the remarks. Excerpt:

Ninety years ago the Foreign Service was just absolutely unrecognizable compared to what it is today. Back then we had fewer than 700 Foreign Service officers and now we have more than 13,000. Back then we had no female chiefs of mission – none. Now we have more than 40. And I’m proud to tell you that right now in this Department five out of six of our regional Assistant Secretaries are women; four out of six of our Under Secretaries are women; and we are joined tonight – since we have two Deputy Secretaries of State, 50 percent are women, and one of them is here. Heather Higginbottom, sitting right over here. So I think that’s a great record. 

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry delivers remarks at an event celebrating the 90th Anniversary of the United States Foreign Service at the U.S. Department of State in Washington, D.C., on May 22, 2014. The modern Foreign Service was created on May 24, 1924, with the passage of the Rogers Act establishing the current merit-based, professional Foreign Service. [State Department photo/ Public Domain]

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry delivers remarks at an event celebrating the 90th Anniversary of the United States Foreign Service at the U.S. Department of State in Washington, D.C., on May 22, 2014. The modern Foreign Service was created on May 24, 1924, with the passage of the Rogers Act establishing the current merit-based, professional Foreign Service. [State Department photo/ Public Domain]

Former Secretary Colin Powell and former Senator Richard Lugar listen as U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry delivers remarks at an event celebrating the 90th Anniversary of the United States Foreign Service at the U.S. Department of State in Washington, D.C., on May 22, 2014. The modern Foreign Service was created on May 24, 1924, with the passage of the Rogers Act establishing the current merit-based, professional Foreign Service. [State Department photo/ Public Domain]

Former Secretary Colin Powell and former Senator Richard Lugar listen as U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry delivers remarks at an event celebrating the 90th Anniversary of the United States Foreign Service at the U.S. Department of State in Washington, D.C., on May 22, 2014. The modern Foreign Service was created on May 24, 1924, with the passage of the Rogers Act establishing the current merit-based, professional Foreign Service. [State Department photo/ Public Domain]

Back then, when it started, we had only one African American Foreign Service officer. One. A man named Clifton Wharton. I happened to know of him way back when because my dad actually worked for him way back in those early days. Now we have nearly a thousand African American Foreign Service officers following in his footsteps.
[…]
And in 1924, House Resolution 6357 passed Congress and it gave birth to the modern Foreign Service. Now to quote Rogers: “The promise of good diplomacy is the greatest protector of peace.” And our hope is that people will recognize that 90 years from that moment, that is exactly what the Foreign Service has done. 

See the full Remarks at the 90th Anniversary of the United States Foreign Service.

The U.S. Foreign Service has more than 90 years of history, of course. According to the State Department historian, from 1789 until 1924, the Diplomatic Service, which staffed U.S. Legations and Embassies, and the Consular Service, which was primarily responsible for promoting American commerce and assisting distressed American sailors, developed separately.  

The first Act of Congress providing for U.S. consuls abroad was passed on April 14, 1792. Except for the consuls appointed to the Barbary States of North Africa (who enjoyed quasi-diplomatic status when Muslim countries did not maintain permanent missions abroad), U.S. consuls received no salary and were expected to earn their livings from private trade or from fees charged for official services. Some of these officials did not start getting paid until 1856 when Congress established a salary between $1,000 and $7,500 per year.

In 1781, we had 4 diplomatic posts and 3 consular posts.  By 2010, we had 168 diplomatic and 89 consular posts. In 1781, the State Department also had 4 domestic and 10 overseas personnel. By 1940, this grew to 1,128 domestic personnel and 840 staff overseas. The largest bump in staffing occurred in the 1950s when domestic personnel expanded to 8,609 employees and the Foreign Service grew to 7,710 overseas staff.    By the time the Foreign Service Act of 1980 became law, there were 3,438 Civil Service employees and 9,326 Foreign Service.  When USIA was integrated into the State Department, there were 6,958 CS employees and 9,238 FS employees. The Diplomatic Readiness Initiative (DRI) in 2005 boosted the staffing numbers to 8,098 CS employees and 11,238 FS employees. In 2012, there were 13,676 FS employees of 55% of the total agency employees and 10,811 CS employes or 45% of State employees.

The question we have is what will the Foreign Service look like when it turns 100 in 2024? The DRI hires will be in senior management positions in 10 years. How will their experience help them manage a new generation of diplomats?

In the past decade, we have seen an increase in unaccompanied assignments, and in the number of male eligible family members. The number of danger posts, as well, as the number of priority posts have also expanded.  A good number of junior diplomats have started their careers in war zone assignments in Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya; some more were sent to restricted assignments in Pakistan, Yemen, and various countries under civil strife. We have Diplomatic Security agents moving from one priority posting to the next priority posting; rinse that and repeat. We don’t how many PTSD cases and non-natural deaths occur among FS members but we know they exist.

These folks will all come “home” one day to a Foreign Service where some have never served in the front line states.  We hope somebody at the State Department is thinking and planning for that day. Or maybe that day is already here since there is already a divide between those perceived to be conducting “real diplomacy” and those who are not; with some considering an assignment in a war zone as not being “actual diplomacy.” There are also folks annoyed that FSOs who serve in war zones get much more money and received favorable treatment on promotions.

Something is happening in the Foreign Service. What will it be like in fifty years?

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Donor Ambassadors Are Here to Stay Because — #2 Like ABBA Sings It, Winner Takes It All, Still

— Domani Spero

Donor Ambassadors Are Here to Stay Because — #1 Elections Cost Money, Money, Honey (With ABBA).  The #2 excuse should be —

Winner Takes It All — Still

Article II. Section 2: The President shall be Commander in Chief …He shall have the power , by and with the Advice and Consent of the Senate, to make Treaties, provided two thirds of the Senators present concur; and he shall nominate, and by and with the Advice and Consent of the Senate, shall appoint Ambassadors, other public Ministers and Consuls, Judges of the supreme Court, and all other Officers of the United States, whose Appointments are not herein otherwise provided for, and which shall be established by Law…”

Sometime back, Georgetown professor Clyde Wilcox, who studies campaign finance said, “Rewarding your political supporters is as old as the republic.”

Did you know that when Simon Cameron, who helped Abraham Lincoln clinched the the Republican nomination in the 1860 convention, proved not up to the task as Secretary of War, he was shipped off to Russia  by President Lincoln? After first making him Envoy Extraordinary and Minister Plenipotentiary in 1862, of course.

Coupled with the presidential authority to nominate ambassadors  is the “Advice  and Concent of the Senate.” And yet the process is mostly pro forma, even after the lawmakers themselves wrote the Foreign Service Act of 1980 (22 USC 3944) dealing with ambassadorial appointments. The Senators recognize that the authority to nominate his representatives is a presidential prerogative under the Constitution and that the president, therefore, should be able to pick his own team and representatives.  But perhaps, the Senators pro forma advice and consent is to also ensure that when their party’s candidate get to the WH, that he/she, too, would have the latitude to appoint his/her own people.

We had a laugh out loud moment when we saw the GOP released its Ambassadors for Dummies How to Guide. How easily we forget.  Let’s refresh our memories with this gem from 2005,  The Oval: The Price of an Ambassadorship.  How about this 2007 nugget from Scholars and Rogues on Bush’s patronage appointments to ambassador exceed father’s, Clinton’s?

Our  diplomatic spoils system plays out every four years. In the landmark election of hope and change, there was concern that the Envoy Convoy may screech to a halt , but we were just kidding ourselves.

In 2014, the spoils system is alive and thriving. And the winner still takes it all. The system is not going to change because the very people who can change the system will not lift a finger, as they may be next in line to benefit from the same system.

Cynical much?  Oh, absolutely, though mumsie said we were not born this way.

We teach our kids that the golden rationalization, or “everybody does it” excuse is not acceptable; that the number of people who performs an act, does not improve the ethical nature of that act.  But then adulthood happens, and early onset amnesia sometime occurs.  Yeah, it’s a practice as old as the republic; yow, everybody does it, or maybe the next administration will really do better  … sigh.

We recognize that this is a  presidential prerogative. We agree that the President, whether a Republican or a Democrat should be able to pick his/her own representatives and advisers.  But we also believe that the WH should be attentive and judicious with its nominees to represent the United States abroad.  There ought to be one selection panel for ambassadors, not one at the WH for political appointees and another one at the State Department for career diplomats. One panel ought to be tasked with shortlisting potential candidates, no more than three for each country for recommendation to the president.  To help ensure that political contributions will not be the main consideration in the nominations, campaign operatives ought to be firewalled from that selection panel (written by a true blooded resident of Planet Pluto).

Of course, this can only happen if our political leadership has the balls to clean up the system. But who got ’em balls?

So can we agree that this practice will go on like the Celine Dion song?  Okay …. now, while we’re on this subject,why don’t we bring back the OIG report cards for ambassadors and senior embassy officials, hey?! (see IERs: We’re Not Doing ‘Em Anymore, We’re Doing Something Better — Oh, Smashing, Groovy! and State/OIG: No More Ambassador Report Cards Cuz They’re Not as Sexy as Debarments?).

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By The Numbers – Foreign Service Promotion Statistics 2012

— Domani Spero

Extracted from State Magazine, June 2013:

The Bureau of Human Resources has compiled the 2012 ForeignService Selection Board results by class and cone for generalists and specialists. The tables show promotion numbers, rates, average time inclass and average time in service for each competition group. The bureau also analyzed and compared certain 2012 promotion rates and levels to the 2011 results and the five-year averages. While the number of generalist and specialists promoted in 2012 was higher than 2011 and the five-year average, the number of eligible employees increased at a faster rate. Thus, the overall 2012 promotion rate for all eligible Foreign Service employees was 23 percent, lower than the 2011 rate of 24 percent and the five-year average rate of 25 percent.

The number of 2012 promotions into and within the Senior Foreign Service increased from 2011 and was greater than the five-year average. Due to an increasein retirements, the number of promotion-eligible employees actually decreased from 2011 and was less than the five-year average.

The 2012 promotion rates and numbers for many specialist skill groups were at or slightly below the 2011 levels and five-year averages. While the number of promotions remained steady formany specialist occupations, the number of eligible employeesoften increased, affecting the promotion rates.

Click on maximize view icon max iconon the lower rightmost end of the ScribD screen to read the extract in full.

On a  related note, the U.S. Senate is reportedly holding the names of 1,300 FS members awaiting tenure and promotion.  The Senate currently has a number of nominees also pending in committee and pending on the Executive Calendar. Also, see WaPo’s At many U.S. embassies, nobody’s home.

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Stephanie Kinney: Wither the Foreign Service? — Wham! Read Before You Go-Go

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— Domani Spero

On its home page, the Association for Diplomatic Studies and Training shares a funny ha!ha! joke that the Foreign Service has undergone major reforms and tinkering over the past century so much that people often say that if you didn’t like the current system, just wait a few years and it would change.  One of the fascinating periods of change at the State Department occurred during the tenure of William Crocket, the Deputy Under-Secretary of State for Administration from 1963-1967. He  was responsible for bringing Chris Argyris to write a report on the Foreign Service, now only available to read at the State Department library (anyone has a digital copy?).  He did T-groups, organizational development and such.  When Mr. Crockett retired in 1967 many of the programs he started were barely alive or already buried and forgotten.  He was never credited for some that still lives on.  He felt he was an outcast from the Foreign Service and left a disillusioned man. He tried to change the service, and it wasn’t quite ready for him (see pdf of oral history).

We recently just read ADST’s oral history interview with Stephanie Kinney.  We have previously quoted her in this blog in 2009 and are familiar with her ideas for change.  Ms. Kinney is a former Senior Foreign Service Officer, one of the first “tandem couples” (i.e., both are FSOs), and winner of the Department of State’s Lifetime Achievement Award, as well as the American Foreign Service Association (AFSA) Harriman Award for her leadership role in creating the Department’s Family Liaison Office (FLO). She was interviewed by Charles Stuart Kennedy in 2010 for ADST.

Below is an excerpt from her 2010 interview.  Check out her full oral history interview here.

[T]he problem at the State Department, I believe, is its lack of institutional leadership and its lack of a single, unified and vibrant corporate cultures. Its culture is still fundamentally 20th century and divided between Foreign Service and Civil Service and the growing overlay of short-term, Schedule C [political appointees] leadership. There are people, pockets of people, working to change that, but it is an uphill battle.
[…]
The drafters of the 1980 Act did not believe in a generalist Foreign Service officer corps. Bill Backus and I argued about “generalists” versus “specialists” ad nauseam; he wanted to create a Foreign Service more like the Civil Service, of which he was a part. He and the other drafters wanted to tie the Foreign Service to the Civil Service and create an equivalency that has never existed because the two personnel systems and cultures are so different. They also created something called LCEs, Limited Career Extensions, which seriously corrupted the Senior Foreign Service through their abuse, and then created an infamous senior surplus, the cost of which was the gutting of a generation of largely 01, political officers in the mid 1990’s. [Note: An FS-01 is equivalent to a GS-15 and is the level before entering the Senior Foreign Service.]

So today what do we have at the State Department? The vast majority of our FSOs have less than five years experience. You have officers expecting to be promoted to 01 who have done only their obligatory consular tour, maybe a tour in their cone, and one or two others.

Another pattern is that many entry level officers now have to do two consular tours, then return to the Department for a desk job and then go to Iraq or Afghanistan, where they do ops with the military. They have never done the first lick of what you would call mainstream diplomacy. One wonders what the impact of this will be on the system?

Now this is not to say that what they have been doing is not a kind of diplomacy; it is and it is utterly essential to the 21st century. But their experience to date is not a kind of work that has prepared them to come back into the civilized world and maintain proper relations and perform with long standing successful states and cultures. These more established states—be they developed or “emerging” like the BRICs [Brazil, Russia, Indonesia, and China], all value tradition and diplomatic savoir faire more than we, and they far outstrip the value and importance of either Iraq or Afghanistan.
[…]
The people to whom you have referred as the high flying “staffers,” have taken no interest in their own institution, which is the base of their power and their work. It is the nature of a profession that it is involved in its own institutions. Otherwise, it is not a profession.

I could not sustain the assertion today that diplomacy is a profession at the Department of State. I think it can be. I think it should be. I am working to move it in that direction, but there is no evidence that the current culture and conditions and leadership are encouraging and helping the younger generation assume the responsibilities and take the measures needed to improve the situation….

But minus strong leadership that seeks to instill common ethics and standards and professional pride, there seems to be growing concern that what we are getting is a group of people for whom little matters beyond one’s own interests. If the Foreign Service culture is all about stepping on someone else to get to the next rung, it is not going to work. You are going to hang separately, because, in my view, that is how it has gotten us where we are.
[…]
When I came to State, there was no such thing as a Schedule C Assistant Secretary. Jimmy Carter took eight FSOs—well they were almost all FSOs under the age of 38 who had resigned over Vietnam, such as Dick Holbrook and Tony Lake—and he made them Assistant Secretaries. They were known as the Baby Eight. So when Ronald Reagan came in he said, “Oh, I will pocket those eight, and I also want a DAS in every bureau,” and so the Deputy Assistant Secretaries became politicized. Today it goes down to the Office Director level. (Note: see this graphic – pdf)
[…]
The politicization, along with Secretaries of State who also have no sense of responsibility for or interest in the Department as an institution, continues to sap the  institution of vitality. That in my view is one of the primary reasons that the institution has fallen on such hard times.

What’s remarkable is that Mr. Crockett in his oral history interview (pdf) conducted in 1990 said practically the  same thing:

“The absence of Secretarial interest in the operations of the Department and many of its functions is often pointed out as one of State’s major deficiencies. Most Secretaries, when faced with the choice of being part of the policy development process or managers of a Cabinet Department, opt for the first to the detriment, I believe, of the second. I am sure it is far more attractive to run around the world like Shultz did–involved in diplomatic activities–that staying at home managing a fairly large organization–certainly a complex one. State is unique among Cabinet Departments in that regard because a Secretary can get by without paying much attention to the management of his Department.”

What’s that they say about change — the more things change, the more they stay the same?

In related news, Secretary Kerry is on travel, this time to Seoul, Beijing, Jakarta, and Abu Dhabi, from February 13-18, 2014. On his first year as Secretary of State, he was on travel 152 days, to 39 countries, travelling 327,124 miles.  If he keep at this, he will break Secretary Clinton’s travel record.  He may also go down in the history books as the Secretary of State who was almost never home.

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The State of Foreign Service Family Member Employment 2013 — Where Are the Jobs?

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— Domani Spero

According to State/FLO, the total adult family member population of the Foreign Service in 2013 is 11,528.  This number was 9,243 in 2007 and  9,819 in 2009. Family members are 78% female and 64% are not working.  Male family members are slowly expanding in numbers; they constitute 20% of the family member population in 2007, 19% in 2009 and is up 22% last year.

Of the 36% working , 24% works inside the U.S. mission with only 12% working in the local economy. The total number of family members employed was 25% in 2009.   While more jobs have become available since 2009, the FS family member population has also expanded by 1,711 in the last four years.  Of the 64% not working  or 7,392 family members — the FLO data does not provide insight into how many of these have opted to stay home voluntarily and how many are interested in working but could not find work overseas.

We should note that the State Department has created an Expanded Professional Associates Program (EPAP) for family member employment.  These are professional level Foreign Service full-time positions, centrally funded by the Department of State and some through ICASS (as opposed to post-funded positions). But the program only provides “186 filled EPAP positions in total.”  Not all family members would like to work, of course, but for those interested in professional level positions, 186 EPAP positions amount to a 1.6% drop in a universe with 11,528 individuals.

The 2011-2013 data indicates that the largest number of FS family members at post is located in the EUR bureau (3,319) followed by the WHA bureau (2,716).  However, the total number of family members employed at post is highest in the South Central Asia countries, followed by posts in Africa.  The South Central Asia bureau only has 615 family members at post, the lowest number among regional bureaus but at 53%, it has the highest  number of employment among family members. The SCA bureau includes Afghanistan and Pakistan  where adult family members are allowed to accompany employees pending job availability at post and “M”bureau approval .

The top leading locations for family member employment have not changed.  As in 2009, the top leading posts for family member employment in 2013 are located in the following bureaus:

#1 South Central Asia (see posts here)

#2 Africa (see posts here)

#3 Near East Asia (see posts here)

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Click on image to view the State/FLO report in pdf)

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Inbox: A Note From an Unarmed Diplomat

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–Domani Spero

We received the following via email from an “unarmed diplomat” who wrote, “I knew Sean, so this is personal with me.”

“I am not surprised that State ignored post’s requests for security.  I am even less surprised that Amb. Stevens wanted to put his “boots on the ground” there – which meant that others had to follow him there.  Beginning with Condi Rice this notion that diplomats could do “expeditionary diplomacy” has been increasingly ill-advised and terrifying.  Diplomats, unlike the military, are neither trained nor equipped to be in the middle of armed insurrection, yet the path to promotion is through such assignments.  So long as promotions and onward assignments are linked to danger posts, then there will be pressure for State personnel to be in those places and for warnings and trip lines to be ignored.  So long as danger is a “glorified career cone” (so to speak) then career ambassadors will push to be in such places, dragging their staff along.”

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Related posts:

 

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Foreign Service Balancing Act: Safety and Openness for America’s Diplomats

— Domani Spero

John Norris, the Executive Director of the Sustainable Security and Peacebuilding Initiative at American Progress and former director of communications for U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Strobe Talbott recently wrote an excellent piece in The Atlantic on balancing safety and openness for our diplomats overseas.  He notes that foreign affairs professionals have faced disease, disaster, war, and terrorism over the last 234 years and asks, how secure should today’s officers be?

Mr. Norris piece takes readers behind the stories of long forgotten names reminding us of deaths, mayhem, losses, in our diplomatic service in the last couple hundred years.  He writes about William Palfrey who Congress appointed as America’s first consul in 1780 and who later that year on his way to Bordeaux was lost at sea. He writes  about  American diplomats murdered in the 1800s, more lost at sea, others killed in a volcanic eruption and various diseases.  And how the 20th century was marked as “the beginning of an era when U.S. diplomats were targeted directly because they were U.S. diplomats.”

Excerpt below:

Disease was the greatest threat to an American diplomat during the 1800s. The American Foreign Service memorial plaque in the lobby of the State Department that honors those Americans who lost their lives serving abroad reads like a journal of tropical disease. American diplomats were felled by Yellow Fever, Coast Fever, Tropical Fever, African Fever, cholera, smallpox, malaria, and unnamed epidemics. More than three-fifths of the U.S. diplomatic fatalities in the 19th century were caused by such illnesses.
[…]
State and USAID have done stellar job in protecting their work forces during this perilous period of American international engagement. But this increased security is expensive. In 1998, the diplomatic security budget was $200 million; by 2012 it had leapt to $2.6 billion. That is a more than 1,000 percent increase in 14 years.
[…]
The fact is, working and traveling abroad carries risk. Since 1999, the United States has suffered, on average, 1.5 fatalities a year among its foreign affairs workforce— and that is a period during two ground wars and a global offensive against al-Qaeda. That rate of fatalities is five times that faced by a normal desk worker in the United States today. It translates to almost exactly the same fatality rate as the domestic construction industry, an enterprise that we think of as routinely hazardous, but not on a catastrophic scale.

Since William Palfrey died 234 years ago, there have been 133 different years where there were no deaths of international workers cited on the wall of honor, including six years since 1990. These comparisons are not meant to either minimize or sensationalize the risks of being an American diplomat, but to put them in perspective.
[…]

But right now the greatest challenge is a Congress that whipsaws between ignoring the Foreign Service and scapegoating it after disasters, effectively pushing the State Department toward a zero risk approach that will trap American diplomacy in a hermetic bubble. As one former ambassador argued to me, “If the American public is willing to take a certain number of casualties to promote our interests overseas—and I believe the answer to that question is “yes”—that message needs to be conveyed to the State Department.”

William Palfrey knew full well that a sea voyage to France in 1780 was a hazardous affair. He still got on the ship.

Continue reading How to Balance Safety and Openness for America’s Diplomats.

Mr. Norris notes that we lost one diplomat to enemy action in World War I, two deaths related to World War II, and none during the Korean War. The author also writes about that deadly 11-year stretch when we lost ambassadors to assassinations, kidnappings, executions. Then we lost personnel to suicide bombings and in war zones.

And there was Vietnam where we lost over 40 U.S. diplomatic personnel and where according to the writer, “almost three times as many diplomatic personnel were killed in the broader Vietnam theater than in the rest of America’s wars combined.”  Also this, “It wasn’t until 1972 that the State Department was willing to acknowledge to its own staff how many people had been killed in the field.”

The only thing missing in this historical mortality in the FS is the suicide numbers in the Foreign Service, which like the Vietnam numbers, will go unacknowledged for the foreseeable future, but that’s a separate story.

In his concluding paragraph, Mr. Norris quotes one former ambassador saying, “If the American public is willing to take a certain number of casualties to promote our interests overseas…”

According to the Pew Research, “no more than 6% of those surveyed in the final month of the 2012 presidential campaign, cited a foreign policy issue, including the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, as the most important problem facing the country today.”

[M]ost have also taken the view that Americans should concentrate more on national problems, and building up strength and prosperity here at home. In 2011, 52% of Americans said that the U.S. “should deal with its own problems and let other countries deal with their own problems as best they can.”

Even on Benghazi, only a quarter of the American public was paying attention:

“Even when it came to the administration’s handling of the attack on the American mission in Benghazi, Libya in September 2012, which claimed the lives of the U.S. ambassador and three other Americans, the political furor in Washington was not matched by interest among the general public. A survey in May found that only 25% of Americans said they were following news of the Benghazi investigation very closely, even after new disclosures emerged about the issue.”

But given the new mantra of operating with “an abundance of caution,” it remains to be seen how this balancing act plays out in the post-Benghazi foreign service world.

* * *

Difficult (And Sometimes Nasty) Divorce in the Foreign Service — AFSA Talk, July 30 at 2 pm

💔 By Domani Spero

As part of its Speaker Series, AFSA is presenting a panel discussion on divorce in the Foreign Service this week.  On Tuesday, July 30 at 2 pm, AFSA and the Department of State’s Divorce Working Group will present “a seminar and panel discussion on the sensitive yet important topic of divorce in the Foreign Service.”  The announcement says that this is “a great opportunity to become a resource on this issue for colleagues at your post or in your bureau who may go through such a life change; or in the event that this may affect you at some point.”

Expected to participate in the event are the following:  Susan Frost, the Director of the Family Liaison Office (FLO), will moderate the discussion; Panelists will include Daniel Hirsch, Management Officer and former AFSA Vice President for the Department of State; Work-Life Specialist Elizabeth Royal; Chief Policy Adviser of the Office of Retirement Jacqueline Long; and Sharon Zarozny, founder of Brilliant Exits LLC, a divorce consulting and support group.

Among the topics to be covered are what happens at post when a family splits up and what spouses’ rights are upon divorce. Handouts and resources will be available during the event and as always, the session will be recorded and made available for online viewing through our web site and YouTube channel.  This program takes place at AFSA HQ, 2101 E Street NW, at 2:00 pm on July 30. RSVPs are required for this event and should be sent to events@afsa.org.

About a year ago, the Director General of the Foreign Service Linda Thomas-Greenfield, then in office for barely a month sent out an ALDAC on Providing Adequately for Spouse, Partner, and Children Due to Separation and/or Impending Dissolution of Marriage or Domestic Partnership.  Below is an excerpt:

Marital separations, divorce, and the dissolution of domestic partnerships are difficult, emotionally trying times for Foreign Service employees and their families. The stress and logistical difficulties are exacerbated while an employee is posted abroad. It has come to my attention that some spouses, partners, and children depart post on Advance Travel Orders, when there is an impending dissolution of a marriage or domestic partnership, without the basic requirements to set up a home and sustain themselves. As a result, these families are put in the position of having to seek help from relatives and friends and, in some cases, from public assistance. The failure to adequately arrange for a spouse/partner or children’s transition from post can reflect adversely upon the U.S. government. Moreover, the COM and the Department have a legitimate concern in the welfare of family members accompanying employees to post and the overall morale at post. 

That this went out as an ALDAC probably means that there were more than one or two of these cases.  Read in full here.

Did you hear about that case from years back when a mid-level official left his family for another officer, decamped to a hotel and cause a minor scandal at post? Maybe the wife had no lawyer, or had a bad one, but we heard that she could not even afford to go to a fast food restaurant after she returned to the DC area!

What would you do if under a murky separation agreement, you  had to call ex-dear hubby every month to remind him to send money so the kids can eat? Do you know what to do if you’re asked to sign a quit claim to your spouse’s pension? Should you accept the house with a mortgage as part of a settlement? Is anyone at the State Department assigned a role as spouse’s advocate during this difficult and sometimes nasty process?  Spouses/partners with 52 weeks of creditable employment overseas get Executive Order Eligibility, what happens if you cannot find a job within the time limit prescribed under E.O. 12721?

All would be great questions for this panel on Tuesday. Below are some reading materials provided by AFSA:

Not a fun subject but …. something one might want to keep in the brain’s back pocket.

Blog Note — this blog is having a mental health break; nah, not a breakdown dears, just a much needed break.  Plus need to tear apart my whole bathroom (old house, long story).  So blogging may be on pause for the next couple of weeks.  Apologies, too for the slow mail from my end. Will get back to you as soon as I am able.

Mwaah! D/

😽