U.S. Embassy Maseru: A Small Post That Works Better Than Foggy Bottom’s 7th Floor

 

State/OIG recently released its review of the US Embassy in Maseru, Lesotho. Post is headed by Ambassador Rebecca Gonzales with Daniel Katz as deputy chief of mission. The full report is available here (PDF). Excerpt below.

Post Overview

The Kingdom of Lesotho is a small, mountainous country slightly smaller than the state of Maryland and completely surrounded by the country of South Africa. In 2019, an estimated 51 percent of Lesotho’s population of almost 2 million were under the age of 25. More than half of the country’s population lives below the poverty line, and its HIV/AIDS prevalence rate is the second highest in the world. Human trafficking is also a significant issue, as Lesotho serves as a source and a destination for trafficking in both adults and children. Approximately three-fourths of Lesotho’s citizens live in rural areas and engage in animal herding and subsistence agriculture.

Staffing

The FY 2019 authorized staffing levels for Embassy Maseru included 32 U.S. direct-hire positions, 3 eligible family members, and 91 locally employed (LE) staff members. Additionally, the Peace Corps had 93 volunteers serving in Lesotho. Other U.S. Government agencies represented in the embassy were the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), the Department of Health and Human Services’ Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the Department of Defense, and MCC.

Front Office and Leadership/Management Principles

The Ambassador, a career member of the Senior Foreign Service, arrived in Lesotho in January 2018. She previously served as the Chief of Staff for the Assistant Secretary for Administration and, prior to that, as the Deputy Executive Director of the Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs. The Deputy Chief of Mission (DCM), also a career member of the Foreign Service, arrived in Maseru in October 2017. His prior assignment was the Mission Deputy at Embassy Koror, Palau. OIG found that, overall, the Ambassador and the DCM led the embassy in a collegial manner and worked together effectively. The Ambassador, a management officer, provided the DCM with guidance on management operations, while the DCM, a political officer, advised the Ambassador on political issues. For example, the Ambassador worked with the DCM to resolve an LE staff tax withholding issue, described in more detail below, and the DCM helped the Ambassador strategize on how best to engage the Government of Lesotho on political matters. The Ambassador and the DCM had an open-door policy, which the American staff confirmed. The Ambassador held monthly meetings with all agency and section heads, in addition to a weekly Country Team meeting. The DCM attended these meetings and also met weekly with section heads to discuss and resolve outstanding problems.

OIG found the Ambassador demonstrated the Department of State’s (Department) leadership and management principles outlined in 3 Foreign Affairs Manual (FAM) 1214. OIG questionnaires and interviews indicated embassy staff found the Ambassador to be open, honest, caring, and passionate about her work in Lesotho. OIG interviews and surveys showed that she encouraged staff at all levels to bring their ideas, concerns, and questions to her, which led to productively identifying and resolving problems. She actively solicited feedback on issues affecting morale and sought to resolve them. For example, when embassy employees had difficulties crossing the border into South Africa, the Ambassador raised the issue with the Government of Lesotho, and the situation improved.

Embassy employees told OIG the DCM modeled 3 FAM 1214 leadership and management principles that relate to valuing and developing people, as he was skilled in mentoring and committed to subordinates’ professional development. Employees also described the DCM as approachable and collaborative, and they appreciated that he organized embassy community events that included both LE and American staff.

The Front Office Led an Effort to Resolve a Tax Issue for Local Staff

OIG found that the Ambassador and DCM strengthened relationships with both LE staff and the host country by resolving a tax issue involving the LE staff. Based on Department policy, the embassy had not withheld local taxes for the LE staff. Instead, employees were expected to pay their taxes directly to the Lesotho tax authority. However, local employees had not always complied with this requirement, and the Lesotho tax authority eventually began seizing funds from LE staff members’ bank accounts for back taxes. After the LE staff asked the Front Office to help resolve the issue, the Ambassador worked with the Department to allow the embassy to withhold taxes from LE staff pay. She also met with the LE Staff Committee on several occasions to hear their concerns. Furthermore, beginning in June 2018, the DCM, along with the Management Officer, met with the LE Staff Committee at least once every 3 weeks to work through the details of resolving the tax issue. The Front Office also used Country Team meetings and town halls to keep the embassy community apprised of developments. In April 2019, the embassy began withholding local taxes and sending the funds to the host country’s tax authority on behalf of the LE staff.

Spotlight on Success: Crisis Preparedness Fair (Report notes that RSO is Dennis Jones)

In December 2017, the Regional Security Officer organized a Crisis Preparedness Fair as part of a broader crisis management exercise. The Crisis Preparedness Fair was an effort to involve the entire embassy community—especially LE staff and American family members— in emergency planning. Most embassy sections hosted their own emergency preparednessthemed activities. For example, the Public Affairs Section held a question and answer game show, the Information Management Office displayed emergency communication equipment, the Regional Security Office and Health Unit had trauma and medical treatment demonstrations (including CPR), and the Facilities Management Section offered fire extinguisher training. The fair included information for participants to take home. In addition to providing training and exposure to emergency resources and personnel, it gave key external contacts an informal environment in which to meet the embassy staff with whom they would interact in an emergency. The fair was well received within the community, and the Regional Security Officer planned to make it an annual event.

Spotlight on Success: Management Section Instituted a Continuous Process Improvement System to Improve Management Controls (Report notes that MGT is Jacob Rocca)

In 2018, while working on the annual Chief of Mission Management Control Statement of Assurance, the Management Officer instituted a continuous process improvement system that significantly improved the embassy’s ability to track and resolve its internal control deficiencies. The embassy also created a quality coordinator position, currently filled by an eligible family member, to run the tracking system. The system includes all deficiencies identified through the statement of assurance process as well as in OIG questionnaires and recommendations in past OIG reports of other embassies. The quality coordinator tracks the deficiencies, meets regularly with the employees responsible for addressing these concerns and enters into the system updates on the embassy’s progress in resolving the problems. A deficiency is not considered “corrected” until preventative measures are in place to ensure that it does not re-occur. As of April 2019, the embassy had successfully resolved 62 items identified since the process began in December 2018.

 

 

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Senate Confirmations: Hoover, Harrington, Robinson, Hartley, Hachigian

— Domani Spero
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The Senate confirmed the following nominations:

September 11, 2014

Sierra Leone: John Hoover, of Massachusetts, a Career Member of the Senior Foreign Service, Class of Counselor, to be Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the  United States of America to the Republic of Sierra Leone.

 

September 16, 2014

Lesotho: Matthew T. Harrington, of Virginia, to be Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the United States of America to the Kingdom of Lesotho

Matthew T. Harrington (left), Army South’s political advisor, speaks with Col. Steven Woods, Army South deputy commander for support, Aug. 24, 2011 (DOD photo)

Matthew T. Harrington (left), Army South’s political advisor, speaks with Col. Steven Woods, Army South deputy commander for support, Aug. 24, 2011 (DOD photo)

Guatemala: Todd D. Robinson, of New Jersey, to be Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the United States of America to the Republic of Guatemala

France and Monaco: Jane D. Hartley, of New York, to be Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the United States of America to the French Republic; to serve concurrently and without additional compensation as Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the United States of America to the Principality of Monaco

ASEAN: Nina Hachigian, of California, to be Representative of the United States of America to the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, with the rank and status of Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary

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Consular Affairs to Get a New Boss — Michele Bond Nominated as Assistant Secretary

— Domani Spero
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On September 9, President Obama announced his intent to nominate  Michele Thoren Bond as the next Assistant Secretary for Consular Affairs. Ms. Bond has been the Acting A/S for the CA bureau since the retirement of Janice Jacobs this past spring.

Photo via Embassy Maseru/FB

Photo via Embassy Maseru/FB

The WH released the following brief bio:

Michele Thoren Bond is the Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary in the Bureau of Consular Affairs at the Department of State (DOS), a position she has held since December 2012.  Since April 2014, she has also served as Acting Assistant Secretary for Consular Affairs at DOS.  From 2010 to 2012, she served as the Ambassador to the Kingdom of Lesotho and from 2007 to 2010, she served as Deputy Assistant Secretary for Overseas Citizens Services at DOS.  From 2006 to 2007, Ms. Bond was the Director of the Office of Policy Coordination and Public Affairs in the Bureau of Consular Affairs at DOS.  From 2003 to 2006, she served as a Principal Officer at the U.S. Consulate General in Amsterdam, Netherlands, and she was Managing Director for Overseas Citizens Services at DOS from 2001 to 2003.  From 1999 to 2001, Ms. Bond was the Director of Consular Training at the Foreign Service Institute.  Since joining the Foreign Service in 1977, she has also served in Guatemala City, Guatemala; Belgrade, Serbia; Prague, Czech Republic; and Moscow, Russia.

Ms. Bond received a B.A. from Wellesley College, an M.A. from Georgetown University School of Foreign Service, and an M.A. from the National War College.

She is married to Clifford G. Bond, a retired Foreign Service Officer and former Ambassador to Bosnia-Herzegovina.  Ms. Bond speaks Spanish, French, Serbian, and Swedish.  Her official state.gov bio also includes the following:

Ambassador Bond received a Presidential Award for Meritorious Service in 2013, and the Mary A. Ryan Award for Outstanding Public Service in 2010. She and her team at the U.S. Embassy in Moscow received a national Public Service award in 1998 for their initiatives in support of adoptions in Russia and seven other formerly Soviet nations.

Click here for an interview she did when she was ambassador to Lesotho.

Ms. Bond will still need to go through the Senate confirmation process  but we expect that she will get confirmed just as soon as the most deliberative body gets its interpersonal disharmony worked out.

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U.S. Embassy Lesotho Now on Ordered Departure for Non-Employed Family Members

— Domani Spero
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On August 30, following a reported coup in Lesotho, the U.S. Embassy in Maseru issued a message to U.S. citizens urging them to “take proper precautions when traveling, such as avoiding areas of potential intimidation, routes of marches, and ongoing demonstrations.” It also advised U.S. citizens who choose to move around the capital city to return to their residences by 5:30 pm and remain there overnight.

CIA map

CIA map

Today, the Embassy Maseru informed the U.S. citizen community in Lesotho that the Department of State has ordered the departure of non-employed family members of U.S. Mission personnel due to concerns over a possible deterioration of the security situation in Lesotho. An “ordered departure” means that family members who are not employed at the U.S. mission, do not have an option to stay in country and must depart.  The Security Message includes the following information:

The Embassy is prepared to assist U.S. citizens who wish to depart from Lesotho and recommends those interested in Embassy assistance to contact us at +266 5888 4035.

The U.S. Embassy in Lesotho will be open September 2-3 for emergency American Citizens Services only. Citizens should be aware that depending on the security situation, the Embassy may be forced to suspend operations without advance notice. The international airport in Maseru is currently operating normally, however, flights may be suspended if the current security situation worsens. Land borders are also open at this time, but may close without warning. U.S. citizens who remain in Lesotho despite this Travel Warning are urged to stay in their homes until the security situation returns to normal, to closely monitor media reports, and to follow all official instructions. U.S. citizens who must leave their homes for any reason are urged to exercise extreme caution, be particularly alert to their surroundings, and to avoid crowds, demonstrations, or any other form of public gathering.

U.S. citizens in Lesotho should carry their travel documents (i.e., passport, birth certificate, picture ID’s, etc.) with them at all times. Additionally, U.S. citizens in the area are reminded to stay in contact with friends and family in the United States to keep them apprised of their current welfare and whereabouts.

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Troops have reportedly mounted raids on police headquarters and police stations in the capital, Maseru, on Saturday and there is confusion over who is in control of the country. To understand political parties and democratization in Lesotho, read this (pdf) publication by the Electoral Institute of Southern Africa.

 

 

Embassy Masesu is a small post with about a couple dozen American employees and about 80 local staff according to a 2010 OIG report. According to a State Department listing, as of August 27, 2014, U.S. Embassy Lesotho is currently headed by DCM/CHG Charge John McNamara. President Obama announced Matthew Harrington as his nominee for Ambassador to Lesotho on August 1, 2013.  Mr. Harrington, a career diplomat, has now been stuck in confirmation purgatory for 395 days.

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