Thursday, January 31, 2008

Embassies of the Future

Consul at Arms pointed out that The Skeptical Bureaucrat has an interesting piece on Embassies of the Future.

I was particularly interested in this part:

"First, the new EOTF makes a big point about the operational necessity of locating new embassy office buildings in highly accessible central downtown sites, rather than on the edges of cities (where they tend to be located now). That's fair enough. But the panel seemed to assume that security requirements for setback distance are the main reason why we have usually picked remote locations; therefore, the argument goes, if the security folks would only accept a little more risk we could have our new embassies downtown. Actually, setback requirements are only part of the reason new embassies tend to be located far from downtown. The Office of Overseas Buildings Operations (OBO) has determined that they need a minimum site size of 10 acres - and more than that for a large embassy - in order to have a functional compound with all the supporting infrastructure (warehouse, motor pool, utility structures, parking, etc.) that new embassies require. The security requirement for setback between a new office building and the street is only 30 meters, and that could be met with a site far smaller than 10 acres. Indeed, we have some existing embassies on sites of less than 3 acres that nevertheless have full setback. Security considerations contribute to the site selection problem, but only in a minor way.

Have you ever tried to find a suitable and affordable new construction site of at least 10 acres in the central business district of an overseas city? I have, and can testify that it is, most of the time, impossible. Selecting a site is a very picky business. In addition to the size requirement, we also need our site to have particular soil conditions (to ensure the new building won't sink), an unobstructed satellite 'look' (for communications), a lack of certain undesirable neighbors and nearby industrial hazards, a lack of site pollutants that would require environmental remediation (a big issue in many third-world cities), multiple approach routes (to avoid transit choke-points), and to be available for purchase 'in fee simple' or else in consecutive 99-year leases (to prevent any future legal encroachment on the site). If we have all those requirements met, the purchase price of the site must be within the U.S. Government's independent assessment of its fair market value, or else we are precluded from purchasing it. Lastly, even after we purchase it, we can still have the new construction project cancelled due to protests and court/zoning challenges by local groups opposed to having a U.S. embassy in their neighborhood. That last problem can be a big one; in just the past five years, strong protests by influential local citizens twice caused us to lose downtown sites we had selected in Karachi, Pakistan, and almost led to the cancellation of a new construction project in Jerusalem.

Despite the best intentions of all concerned to find a downtown site for new embassies, most of the time it won't be feasible.

Regarding the new EOTF's second big point, the need for risk acceptance vice risk avoidance, I have a mixed reaction. I fully support risk-based decision making and think we need more of it in the embassy arena, especially as a counterweight to the heavily standards-based approach used by the Overseas Security Policy Board [see more on the OSPB here]. However, the new EOTF panel makes the mistake of not appreciating how much risk acceptance has already gone into creating the current embassy security requirements.

Take the issue of blast protection, for example. It is far from a secret that new embassies are constructed to withstand bomb blast; what is something of a secret is exactly how large a blast they are designed to withstand. That design-basis threat explosive charge weight is, in fact, a risk-based requirement, since it was derived from a statistical assessment of probability [you'll have to take my word on that, since I can't cite an open source]. Using historical data on actual VBIEDs, you can determine the likelihood that any future bomb will exceed a certain size. The size data in that sample will range from the tiniest of pipe bombs up to the largest VBIED on record, the 12,000-pound TNT equivalent charge used against the U.S. Marine Battalion Landing Team HQ in Beirut in 1983. With that data, a decision-maker can choose how much risk to accept. For example, he could choose to be protected against a 200-pound bomb, which is about the statistical median size of all VBIED incidents, and be reasonably sure that he would be protected against 50 percent of any future bombs. The OSPB has made its own informed judgment as to how much blast risk to accept in new embassy construction. The specific charge weight they chose isn't important [and it's not 200 pounds]. My point is simply that the new embassy construction process currently does accept risk, even in this critical area."

You can read the whole piece here.

The civilian instruments of security

Here is a piece by retired U.S. diplomat Ambassador R. Grant Smith, a previous U.S. Ambassador to Tajikistan. Smith served in India and Nepal and was DCM (Deputy Chief of Mission) in New Delhi. He also served as Director of the Department's South Asia Office and is a senior fellow at the Central Asia-Caucasus Institute (CACI) at Johns Hopkins University.

The Civilian Instruments of Security

American diplomats today expect to live and work under tough — and often dangerous — conditions, contrary to the views in the editorial from the Wheeling News-Register that The Journal reprinted Dec. 17.

Nobody signs up for the U.S. Foreign Service any longer in the expectation of going to posh European posts. Two-thirds of Foreign Service overseas positions are now in places designated as “hardship” locations because of difficult living conditions, including violent crime, extreme health risks and terrorist threats.

In my own case, which is not unusual, my wife and I spent all of our overseas time at hardship posts. We concluded our 38 years in the Foreign Service in Tajikistan in the middle of a civil war, living in two rooms in a hotel without heat in the winter and sometimes without running water. Our reward was to be able to contribute to a successful peace process that ended the civil war.

So far, 1,600 members of the Foreign Service have volunteered to serve in Iraq out of a total of 11,500. Yes, it is becoming more difficult to fill the 270 Foreign Service positions there, but volunteers are still coming forward despite the fact that they will be separated from their families, very restricted in their movements for security reasons and able to interact with Iraqis only with great difficulty and risk.

In both Iraq and Afghanistan, Foreign Service officers work not only in the capital, but also fill key positions in Provincial Reconstruction Teams. Most of the Foreign Service members who have not yet served in Iraq or Afghanistan are either at or have recently returned from an assignment in another hardship post.

Complicating the situation is the fact that the Foreign Service needs 2,000 more members to fill existing positions and training slots. While the missions in Iraq and Afghanistan are almost fully staffed, the average embassy operates with just 79 percent of its Foreign Service staff. Officers are being sent to serve with Provincial Reconstruction Teams with only a few weeks training rather than the months of training that their predecessors got before going to Vietnam to serve with the Civil Operations and Rural Development Support program there.

Defense Secretary Robert Gates in a speech at Kansas State University last month, said that “One of the most important lessons of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan is that military success is not sufficient to win.” He went onto identify a “need for a dramatic increase in spending on the civilian instruments of national security” and supported Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice’s call for increased budget and expansion of the Foreign Service.

In short, the Foreign Service is stretched thin; it needs more people and more money.

The 40 Foreign Service retirees in the Eastern Panhandle area provide a resource of information not only about the organization, but also about foreign affairs.

Heartbroken columnist doubts reports of son's murder

Here is a piece in the Boston Herald about the death of the U.S. diplomat who apparently committed suicide in Pakistan.

Heartbroken columnist doubts reports of son's murder

The devastated father of U.S. diplomat Keith Ryan described his son’s death in Pakistan as a “troubling mystery,” as new reports suggest he may have been murdered, after official reports indicated it was a suicide.

“Everyone is devastated. I am well aware of these reports and we are very concerned about that. (But) we have no reason at this time to doubt the official version,” said Bob Ryan, 61, a top Boston Globe sports columnist from Hingham.

U.S. officials said Keith Ryan, 37, a Homeland Security attache to the U.S. embassy in Islamabad, apparently died from a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head Monday morning, just hours before he was to fly home after a year in the troubled country.

But medical sources in Islamabad dismissed the suicide theory, telling Pakistani news agencies the bullet hit the back of Ryan’s head and was fired from several feet away.

“There is only an entry wound on the rear upper portion of his neck . . . there is no visible blackening of the entry wound (from gunpowder), indicating that the shot was fired from the distance of more than four feet,” the source at the Pakistan Institute of Medical Sciences told The News of Pakistan.

Bob Ryan said of the contradictory reports, “It is disturbing, but understandable given the geopolitics of the area. We are looking for resolution, but we are a ways from that.”

Keith Ryan was a father of 8-year-old triplets, Conor, John and Amelia, who live with his wife Kate in Silver Spring, Md.

Bob Ryan described his son as an adventurous, strong, self-sufficient man.

“He was extremely buoyant, had a very lively personality. He was aggressive, strong, opinionated and humorous. He was always very sure of himself and that was true from an early age,” said Ryan.

“He always liked cops and robbers and was an extreme patriot so it was no surprise that he went into law and order and went to work for the government.”

Ryan said he wasn’t surprised his son ended up in one of the world’s most dangerous countries.

“I knew he’d end up in a hot spot,” said Ryan. “I was concerned about his safety every day. Islamabad got worse and worse, particularly after the Bhutto assassination. It was getting to the point where I thought, ‘Please, let’s get him out of there.’ ”

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

The had a rare snowfall in Jerusalem today...I'll spare you the jokes about certain places freezing over and just share a picture from Ynet.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

The 8/7 Families

Howard C. Kavaler, a retired Foreign Service officer and a representative of the families of the U.S. diplomats murdered by al Qaeda terrorists at the U.S. Embassy in Nairobi, Kenya, on Aug. 7, 1998, has an interesting Op-Ed piece in today's Washington Times. He and his family are proof of the dangers that Foreign Service Officers face in the service of our country, and no one in the service has forgotten their sacrifices.

The 8/7 families

"By Howard C. Kavaler - We all agree that September 11 has now become a word in our daily lexicon that has assumed iconic magnitude. But what images does 8/7 evoke for senior State Department officials?

For all too many, the 7th day of August simply represents another dog day of summer. However, on that date in 1998, Osama bin Laden took the first step in implementing his February 1998 fatwa declaring war on U.S. citizens.

That morning, truck bombs destroyed our embassies in Nairobi and Dar es Salaam in the most devastating attack ever launched against any of our diplomatic facilities. More than 5,000 individuals were seriously wounded and 224 persons lost their lives. One of the casualties was my wife, Prabhi Kavaler, a Foreign Service officer who had served her country for more than 20 years.

Following these bin Laden-directed attacks, the Accountability Review Board chaired by the late Adm. William Crowe concluded that the destruction in East Africa was "the collective failure of several administrations and Congresses over the past decade to invest adequate efforts and resources to reduce the vulnerability of United States diplomatic missions around the world to terrorist attacks."

Digger comments: It is interesting to note that Congress is currently debating whether our current "cookie cutter" embassies sent the wrong message overseas, arguing we made a better impression with our older, nicer and far less safe embassies.

Kavaler continues:
"For nearly a decade, the families of the Americans killed in Nairobi have sought compensation for our losses. While no amount of money could ever make me and my daughters whole again, such compensation would be an acknowledgment that the State Department utterly failed in its obligation to provide those who lost their lives with as safe a workplace as possible. But for more than nine years, the State Department has tenaciously fought legislative efforts to provide us such compensation, even as its leaders have failed to devise its own compensation scheme despite assurance during this time that they have been actively studying the compensation issue.

...As a result of extensive lobbying efforts by the Nairobi families, the House of Representatives on Oct. 2, 2007, passed with 409 aye votes H.R. 2828 ( the Foreign Service Victims of Terrorism Act of 2007), which institutionalizes a comprehensive compensation scheme. After its second reading on the Senate floor, multiple sources advised the families that an anonymous senator placed a hold on the bill at the behest of the Department of State.

Quite frankly, we find the department's action to be duplicitous. It's worth recalling that Foreign Service Director-General Harry Thomas recently took umbrage during a town hall meeting with the assertion that many members of the Foreign Service do not perceive senior State Department officials to be firm advocates of their interests. At a time when directed assignments to Iraq are being considered, State's opposition to H.R. 2828 only reinforces that perception.

Absent a comprehensive program to compensate Foreign Service victims of international terrorism, is it no small wonder that members of the Foreign Service with familial responsibilities are not beating down the doors to serve in war-torn areas? What moral imperative allows the State Department in good conscience to send defenseless Foreign Service officers to Baghdad, Kabul, Karachi, etc. while working for the bill's defeat?

The department's support for leaving this bill on the Senate's back burner would lead any reasonable person to dismiss the comment by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice to Elisabeth Bumiller of the New York Times (A14, November 16, 2007) that "nobody has been more concerned about the security of our people than I have."

Even if H.R. 2828 fails due to the department’s insensitive posture, the 8/7 families will continue their efforts to see the triumph of justice and accountability. Hopefully, in a year's time, the new leaders of the department will be entrusted with a different moral compass, one that that will guide them to treat with compassion those whose loved ones have died in the diplomatic service of their country."

Monday, January 28, 2008

The cost of foreign service

The Cookie Pusher writes a compelling argument for overseas compatibility pay. One argument he leaves out, though, is that locality pay is used in the computation of our pension, but our differentials for serving overseas (hardship and danger pay) are not. Meaning there is a dis-incentive to serving overseas right before you retire.


A recent letter from the President of the American Foreign Service Association discussed a central problem that American diplomats face in their careers vis-a-vis pay: our overseas pay is calculated based, not on Washington, D.C. salary levels, but on a much lower “base pay.”

I provide as an example my own pay history. When I joined the foreign service, “locality pay” (another way of saying cost-of-living adjustment for Washington) was around 12 percent. I was sent on my first assignment to a high-hardship post, one that was considered among the highest in the world at the time, which was 25 percent.

What this means is that my pay was increased by 25 percent over “base pay,” but only 13 percent over the pay I would have gotten for staying in Washington, and taking no hardship at all. On my second assignment, I went to a 10 percent hardship post, one that the State Department considers moderately difficult. “Moderately difficult,” to characterize this doublespeak, means regular minor bombings and occasional major bombings in the city where I was posted. At this time, Washington’s locality pay had reached approximately 16 percent. So, to serve in this posting, I took a 6 percent pay cut versus what I would have gotten in Washington.

In my upcoming assignment, I will be at a 20 percent hardship post, a significantly difficult assignment. But, since Washington locality pay has reached a stunning 20.3 percent over “base pay,” I will once again be taking a slight pay cut to do so.

Before I go further, a concession needs to be made: I get housing provided to me by the U.S. government when I’m overseas, and have to pay for my own when I’m in the United States. Sure, there’s some reason why DC pay must, perforce, adjust to this.

But, I’m poorer on balance in two differing ways:

1.) Our locality pay for DC, which is government-wide, has been vastly outstripped by the cost of housing increases in the DC area over the past ten or so years. When I joined, mid-level officers of my age were buying houses in Arlington. I recently bought a 1-bedroom condo in Arlington for more than what they paid for their houses. A couple percentage points worth of pay increase per year simply does not compensate. The market is outstripping our pay. Even with today’s depressed market, a condo that cost $100,000 three years ago goes for at least $250,000 now.

2.) I’m poorer than the other government employees who compete with me in the housing market. Other USG agencies that send people overseas — who also get USG housing while abroad — calculate overseas pay based on DC pay rates, not some amorphous base pay. After all, we’re all headquartered in Washington. And, since every major city in the U.S. has it’s own locality pay multiplier, there is no place where I would only get base pay that I could possibly be assigned to in my career. Not giving State Department personnel that same pay regime as other government agencies is fundamentally unjust.

My private sector friends probably will say that the job security that I have — and they often don’t — compensates for lower pay. I’d agree that security is worth a certain amount, but I’d also point out that I pay taxes on my income anywhere I live in the world, whereas they don’t have to pay below a certain amount (I think around $90,000 per year) when they live overseas. That’s at least a 25% penalty for me. I could easily pay a mortgage on an extra house for 25% extra pay per year.

Unfortunately, as I understand it, changing this ridiculous system requires a change in federal law by Congress, and AFSA has tried and failed for years to get it done. Maybe 2008 will be the year of change. I certainly hope so because Washington is impoverishing me, and many others like me. I’m proud to serve my country, but would prefer to do it in a suit that isn’t falling apart.

US Public Diplomacy Operations deemed "Adequate" by OMB

U.S. Diplomacy had an interesting piece today about the White House Office of Management and Budget's assessment of the State Department's Public Diplomacy program.

US Public Diplomacy Operations deemed "Adequate" by OMB

"A 2006 assessment of the State Department’s Public Diplomacy (PD) program conducted by the Office of Management and Budget (OMB, a Cabinet-level office run out the White House) ranks the program’s overall performance “adequate,” (as opposed to “effective, moderately effective, or ineffective”).

The State Department describes the key functions of the bureau of Public Diplomacy and its foreign officers as “indispensable” to the conduct of foreign policy. Accordingly, PD’s key activities, as outlined in the assessment’s “program performance measures,” amount to no small feat for PD officers.

...According to the assessment, the program’s main goal is generating an “audience with an improved or increased understanding of U.S. policies, society and values.”

...Then there’s the granddaddy of them all: reducing the level of anti-American sentiment among key foreign audiences. This goal is commonly referred to as “winning hearts and minds,” a campaign the US first launched during the Vietnam war, and now commonly refers to US efforts at improving relations with the “Muslim” world.

...With such far-reaching and invasive goals set out, it is no wonder PD’s lowest-scoring is the “Program Results” assessment section: “Has the program demonstrated adequate progress in achieving its long-term performance goals? Answer: No”

...Relative to other US government programs assessed by OMB, PD’s “adequate” ranking puts it on the lower end of the performance spectrum."

Clearly we need more than an "adequate" PD program to accomplish the goals set by the Department. Ironically, it is OMB that keeps asserting that the State Department budget is "adequate" to meet our current priorities, including staffing the Embassy in Iraq, without regard to calls from throughout the government that we expand our mission while we endure a 1,000 to 2,000 officer deficit.

This week at the Senate Foreign Relations Committee meeting...

Wednesday morning, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee will vote on the nominations of:

* James K. Glassman to be Undersecretary of State for Public Diplomacy;

* Goli Ameri to be an Assistant Secretary of State for Educational and Cultural Affairs (ECA);

* David J. Kramer to be Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights and Labor (DRL).

I don't know much about the first two, but David Kramer is currently the Principle Deputy Assistant Secretary (PDAS) for EUR, and I hear good things about him.

Diplomat Commits Suicide in Pakistan

Reuters has an an article about a diplomat in Islamabad taking his own life last night. He was a friend of a friend serving there, who tells me he leaves behind a wife and child. Please keep them in your prayers.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Dems Call on President to Expand Foreign Service

Friday's Washington Post contained an article on the Democrats' response to President Bush's State of the Union address. Included in their response is a call to expand the Foreign Service.

"[Senate Majority Leader Harry] Reid also called on Bush to announce plans Monday night to "expand our Foreign Service, our Peace Corps and our funding for international development." He noted that U.S. Foreign Service officers stationed around the world number "just 7,000, or about the size of the crew of just one United States aircraft carrier." He also said Bush's 2002 pledge to double the size of the Peace Corps to 15,000 "remains unfulfilled." The corps today is about 8,000 strong, "barely larger" than it was six years ago, Reid said."

We need it. Now more than ever.

More Than a Pet Peeve

There is an article in today's Washington Post that contains the following line: "The officials spoke on the condition of anonymity because the information is classified as secret."

Government officials who leak classified information should be flogged.

Friday, January 25, 2008

Starving the State Department

U.S. Diplomacy has an interesting entry on the resource issues currently plagueing the Department, particularly from a Public Diplomacy perspective (which is near and dear to my heart as a Public Diplomacy officer):

"more importantly the budget cuts reflect a continuing emphasis on military capabilities rather than diplomatic capabilities in US federal budgeting priorities. In 2007 the defense budget totaled $439.3 billion for regular department spending, not including money for military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. In 2008 its budget will increase 44 billion to $483 billion. Ironically enough that’s a 9% increase in the Defense Department budget...

Defense’s bountiful budget allows it to even take on some activities traditionally left to State. The State Department’s office of Public Diplomacy attempts to win the “battle of ideas” by improving the US’ image abroad. That office enjoys an annual budget of $900 million. On the other side of the river, Secretary Gates last year created a new position called the Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Support to Public Diplomacy, to spearhead the military’s strategic communications and run their “countering ideological support to terrorism” program...

In short, when diplomatic activities start being transferred to the military branch, everyone suffers—not just the starving State Department."

Driven, but not by Ambition

So this morning I made a decision that clearly places me in the camp of those who want to have an interesting rather than fast-rising career. I had been offered the position of Special Assistant in INR. Staffer jobs tend to be fairly high profile, and while INR is not neccessarily a high profile bureau, service in that position is a means to getting some pretty good slots. The current staffer is going on to be the Special Assistant to the Undersecretary of Political Affairs. A pretty good post for the ambitious sort. And no doubt an interesting position, just as I am sure the INR staffer is.

But it is not for me. So I turned down the staffer job and accepted a position as an INR analyst for Israel/Jordan and the Occupied Territories instead. In so doing, I turned down an 18% shift differential (a move that already pains me given how expensive DC is) in order to do a position I think will be rewarding and where I think, given my expereince, I have something to contribute.

What I am realizing about myself surprises me but probably shouldn't: I want to stay with State. If you have been reading this for a while, you know I have been struggling with that issue. But what's more, I want to make a difference. I want to continue to serve my country, and part of that service means going where I think I can do the most good AND working to change the department from within. I want to help make a difference with MOH issues and to make a difference with some of the challenges the department faces (In an entry yesterday, Bloodless Coup said he wasn't aware of how badly the Department was dealing with some of these issues, and the coverage of the whole directed assignments debacle was so negative overall, that I think what was missed in all of the media coverage is that most of us are fiercely loyal and are just fighting like hell to save the service. We need a strong diplomatic corps now more than ever, and instead we are being gutted...) I can't make a difference on these issues if I leave (maybe I can't if I stay, but at least there is more of a chance), but I also can't make that kind of difference if what I am driven by is ambition.

Issues surrounding the AFSA survey

Consul-At-Arms has an interesting piece from WhirledView today:

"re: "Problems a-plenty on the listing ship of State"
PHK at WhirledView ("A Look at World Politics & Most Everything Else") also has some observations" on some recent DIPNOTE ("U.S. Department of State Official Blog") posts (and resulting comment threads) by three high-ranking State Dept. officials (A/S Sean McCormack, A/S Thomas A. Shannon, and A/S Richard A. Boucher) in response to the recent AFSA survey."

I read some of the posts and responses. Like some of the respondants, I was offended by the use of quotes around the word survey, as though it was less than legitimate. That 40% of active duty employees, myself included, responded is significant, and, according to AFSA, is higher than the percentage of responses to official department surveys that are then used by the department. Even if respondants self-selected (and of course they did. That is the nature of all voluntary surveys), that more than 80% of the respondants had serious concerns means that even if every person who didn't respond is completely satisfied, 1/3 of employees are not. And that is significant.

The piece merits reading in its entirety, as I think it clearly lays bare some of the issues that I think threaten the Foreign Service. Some quotes of interest:

"State’s promotion and assignments system has been outdated for years. Not only too many cushy jobs (about 35% of all Ambassadorships under the W administration) are awarded to mostly unqualified political appointees who bought their posts for $100,000 a crack according to the FT in 2005, but too many of the relatively few professionals who made it to the very top of State's angels' head pinsized pinnacle did it by managing upward while ignoring, or worse, those who worked for them. Many also did it by staying in Washington and as close to the Seventh Floor and the Secretary's Office as possible rather than through overseas service in difficult places at difficult times...

Instead of sneering, then, the people involved in Foggy Bottom leadership today should be taking Foreign Service employee criticisms to heart and trying to make things better, not worse. This includes acting upon the suggestion by employees who have already served in Iraq to reduce, not increase the size of the Foreign Service in that war zone. It means dealing with a huge pay disparity that requires Congressional action to change and it also means increasing the department's staff to meet the workload being demanded. When the military has more musicians than there are US Foreign Service Officers something is wrong with this picture.

That the Foreign Service attrition rate apparently remains low (around four percent according to McCormack) does not necessarily mean – as the Dipnote trio suggests – that all’s right in the Department. More likely it means that most people are careerists with families to support and, as professional diplomats, don’t have a lot of other employment options.

It’s not like being able to change companies mid-stream. The US has only one diplomatic service. It would be rare for a former American diplomat to get taken on by – let’s say – someone else’s Foreign Ministry. Then there is that quaint idea of loyalty to one's country after all."

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

"Congress investigates "Fortress America"

Consul-At-Arms posted this piece this morning. Our tax dollars at work. What I hear them saying, as someone who has to serve in those embassies, is "we realize the newer embassies are safer, but we'd really rather them look pretty like they used to." By the way, I served in one of those older consulates, with a nice wall that matched the walls of the Old City of Jerusalem. It looked nice, but someone threw a grenade over it into our courtyard. Luckily it was a dud, or we might have had to get an ugly new "cookie cutter" building instead of just a fence on top of our nice wall.

Consul-At-Arms writes:

re: "Congress investigates "Fortress America"

Mike Boyer at PASSPORT ("A blog by the editors of FOREIGN POLICY") has some news which may eventually impact all of us who serve the U.S. in diplomatic and consular capacities.


"Tomorrow, Jan. 23, the House Subcommittee on National Security and Foreign Affairs of the Committee on Oversight and Government Reform will hold a hearing on the future of U.S. embassies overseas entitled, "Fortress America Abroad: Effective Diplomacy and the Future of U.S. Embassies." "

Clearly they begin without any prior bias.

". . . . how the architecture of U.S. diplomatic facilities has changed since the bombing of the American missions in Kenya and Tanzania in 1998."

At least they remembered why the architecture had to change.

"Much of the hearing will likely focus on the new embassy in Baghdad. But it also promises to look into why the design of U.S. missions around the world has undergone such a radical transformation—not just in Baghdad but in Cape Town, Dushanbe, Kabul, and elsewhere. The boldly individual designs of embassies during the Cold War have given way to cookie-cutter buildings that follow a set formula the State Department calls "Standard Embassy Design." This has a massive impact on the way the United States is seen overseas, yet it has provoked surprisingly little serious discussion until now."

For Trailing Spouses

I found a blog this morning specifically designed to help Trailing Spouses develop businesses or careers while following their spouse overseas. Having been an MOH before I joined the service, I could see how this would have been useful!

In an entry on January 20, she provides a link to an article on Foreign Service Spouses and entrepreneurship. About the article, she writes:

This article is one of the most interesting that I have read for quite a long time about the spouses of expats and diplomats. Focussed on the spouses of the US Foreign Service diplomats, it presents the new opportunities that arise from the Internet and the NTIC (New Technologies of Information and Communication). Nowdays, highly qualified spouses of expatriates and diplomats can work remotely from the country where they are based. They also provide a competitive advantage due to their knowledge of foreign countries and languages. There is in fact nothing new here, as the employment opportunities that are described here cover in fact the very general area of professional services, in particular consulting. Also, being qualified plus international doesn't mean that you are going to be successful as a consultant. I have seen too many examples here in Geneva of trailing spouses hanging around and giving away their business card, who didn't understand that there are already a few hundreds here just like them - eventually, this can end up with a big depression or a costly break of the spouse assignment in order to return home. The combination of professional qualification and communication techniques is a great start, but in order to lead to succes, much more is needed: the mastery of the "old" and "new marketing skills, a huge network, and a strong support from a coach, among others. Although the article is a bit too optimistic in this respect, I like it because it really motivates the spouses to start their own high-qualified business or service. It also provides a small database of professional spouses.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

An MOH explains why she and her boyfriend left the service

The following is from Nickie, who has been keeping The Excellent Adventures of Nickie, Troy and Lokie, an excellent blog on her and her partner's experience in the Foreign Service, and of the difficulties faced by MOHs (Members of Household, which can be same-sex or unmarried opposite-sex partners, as well as adult children, parents and others at post not on the employee's orders). Having been an MOH, I certainly understand their reasons for making this decision even as I hate to see them leave.

Why Are We Leaving the Foreign Service?

Many people have asked so I thought I would answer....
The biggest reason for us leaving is a career change. Troy wants to get out of IT and try home theater design. I do not know what I want to do when I grow up. :-)

I never intended for this blog to be affiliated with the foreign service and have learned that it is on a yahoo group, not sure how it got there. I think it is there for people to go to for a MOH perspective. Knowing this now, I thought I would share my feelings on being a MOH in the foreign service. This blog will eventually go private as it has been intended to only share our adventures with family and friends.

So, being a MOH... yes it is like being a 3rd class citizen. I have heard stories of the difficulties spouses have with various aspects of the foreign service. I know of women that have MBA's or other such degrees that have been relegated to basic office work. It must be extremely frustrating for them. When I left the US, I had a very nice job, making a very nice living but living overseas was too good to pass up. So when I left I wasn't giving up a career ( I hadn't worked with my degree for a few years before that). I was just excited to have this opportunity.

I had no idea what I was getting myself into.

When I moved to India I was under the impression that it would be difficult but not impossible to get a job at the Consulate. The CLO at the time was very knowledgeable and helpful. She did all she could to help me find a job. When the first job she helped out with fell through, she worked her magic, along with Troy and I ruffling some feathers, and I was allowed to apply for a 2nd job. Now, this was only after the job was advertised for 2 weeks and none of the spouses at post wanted it. In the world of the foreign service jobs are offered to EFM's (elgible family members) first. If an EFM does not want the job then it will be offered to MOH's. Now, if you have an instance where you have an EFM and MOH at post and the MOH is better qualified for the job, the EFM will still get the job. It took me 5 months to get a job at the Consulate.

If there are instances where a MOH got a job over an EFM, I would love to hear it.

As a MOH you are NOT entitled to use the commissary or the medical unit. Sometimes these regulations are post specific. I was allowed to use the medical unit at the Consulate- India after I started working there. In Paris I am not allowed to use either.

If a MOH does get employement at post he/she is considered a contractor and is not elgible for health insurance or any other such benefits. The consulate in India was nice enough to help me with my residence card and I did not need a work visa to work there (at the consulate). In Paris we were misinformed regarding my residence card by HR at post, if we were informed correctly they would have helped with my residents card. I have not tried to find employment at post because I was lucky enough to set up a job out of MN and work from our apartment in Paris. What I have heard is that a MOH needs a work permit to work at the Embassy and in order to get that the MOH needs to be sponsored and the Embassy will not sponsor a MOH. So, a MOH would find it almost impossible to get a job at post. I am not aware of any MOH's at post working. But, I do not have a lot to do with the Embassy so I could be wrong.

Also, I did not get help with travel benefits. All of my moving expenses were on our dime. Troy would get R&R out of India but we had to pay for my portion of the trip. Now, if we were with the British High Commission a MOH would get health insurance, help finding a job and a diplomatic passport. They pretty much get the same rights as a spouse (this information is from a British management officer).

I have been given a badge at both posts, so I am free to come and go from the building as I please. Although, once inside I need Troy to hold my hand to walk into the commissary and I am not allowed to purchase anything. I am also not allowed to use the APO mail room. One of the mail room employees is a spouse of a collegue of Troy's, so she will give me our mail when Troy is out of town.

I enjoyed being in India but would have enjoyed it more if I hadn't worked at the Consulate. It was probably the worst job experience I have ever had (and I worked fast food in college). It did get better after you arrived, Colin! : -) I was very happy to come to Paris and not have to worry about trying to find a job at the Embassy.

We also get asked, "Wouldn't it have just been easier to have gotten married?" Ya, it probably would have been easier but we weren't about to get married just to "make it easier". That's not why you get married.

For Troy, working for the State Department has not been an entirely positive experience. There is an environment of segregation "Specialists vs Officers" One of his colleagues was actually asked by an officer "How did you get such a nice apartment, you are JUST a specialist". There is not a lot of career growth potential for specialists. He also had a hard time with people not using technology to it's fullest potential and he hears a lot "it's not my job". The thing that bothers me with the foreign service is the tenure system. People can get away with not doing their job and the people with work ethics have to pick up their slack.

So we are leaving. But not without a wrench being thrown into our plans. His CDO (career development officer) did not fully inform him of certain things so Troy may be staying a couple of months longer than planned. One thing we have learned, the hard way, is not to believe anything you are told by one person, verify what that person has said with as many people as possible (preferably with people that are higher up than that first person).

It is very telling that when we have told people we are leaving the foreign service we do not hear "Why would you want to leave, it's such a great job" but hear "You are lucky you are getting out".

Ambassador Burns to take over as Under Secretary for Political Affairs

It was mentioned in the articles last week regarding the resignation of Undersecretary Nick Burns (referred to in the department as P for Political Affairs) that his replacement would be Ambassador Bill Burns, the current Ambassador to Russia. The Moscow Times has a piece today about Ambassador Burns and his likely replacement in Moscow.

Bush Asks Burns to Leave U.S. Embassy

Like P, Ambassador Burns is career Foreign Service, so I am pleased that we again have an experienced officer who has been appointed to the third-highest position in the department. I worked with him very briefly when he was the Assistant Secretary in NEA (Near Eastern Affairs) and I was doing a bridge assignment in NEA Press. While my interaction with him was minimal, I found him to be knowledgable and professional. I think his experience with both Russia and the Middle East will make him an excellent Undersecretary.

New State Department Release

If you are interested in U.S. Foreign Relations history, the following from American Diplomacy might be of interest to you:

State Department Releases New History Volumes: Intelligence Community, Greece/Cyprus/Turkey, South Asia

Officially official

I don't know if I mentioned it or not, but last week, my tenure became officially official. When you get tenured (your first opportunity to be considered is at the first meeting of the tenuring board after you have served 36 months), it is really a "recommendation" that you be tenured. To my knowledge, no one has been recommended and refused, and once you get the recommendation, you can bid as a tenured officer.

But it isn't officially official until the President signs off of it. That often takes 6 months or more. For most, that is a meaningless technicality. But for me, it meant that while doing shift work, I got "premium pay" rather than a straight 13% shift differential. So I only got paid extra for the weekend and late shifts I actually worked. Those with tenure get 13% across the board because they aren't allowed overtime, and the 13% amounts to more than the premium pay.

So now I am official. The President has signed and I will get a nice certificate suitable for framing showing I am a tenured commissioned officer. It is a nice feeling.

And the extra money is nothing to sneeze at either. DC is expensive! I am already looking forward to going back overseas!

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Thinking about Stuff

So I have been thinking about my job, especially in light of the economy.

I watched the President's press conference yesterday, and while the $800 will be nice, is that really going to jump start the economy? I'm not optimistic. The only way to increase consumer spending would be for retailers to lower their prices, particularly on gas and oil so that the cost of all other business is reduced. That, however, might not be a great solution, given that it means lower profits for business and thus stock prices will stagnate or go down. In a time when many if not most employers have been saving money by ditching traditional pension plans, most people plan for retirement by having a 401K or an IRA (or both). But those are tied to the stock market. So if the stock market stagnates or falls, it will hurt those who depend on it for their retirement (both now and in the future).

So I am thinking it is probably in my best interest to stay in my job. It is stable, I am tenured, and if I stay, I will have a pension. And I am already old enough to need to be concerned about that. Besides, I really like the lifestyle, and after having dinner with a bunch of friends from Jerusalem the other night, I remembered how much I value the people I have met in this job.Not that I am giving up on archaeology. It is still my goal to finish my PhD this year. I am also considering switching cones, from Public Diplomacy to Consular, for a couple of reasons. First, I really enjoyed working with the FSNs in Jerusalem. It was my favorite thing about the work I did there. But second, you don't put in nearly the amount of extra hours in consular work that you do in the other cones. That extra time would allow me to be involved in the archaeological community in whatever country I am in. It would also allow me to work on having articles published regularly and staying involved in the southeastern archaeological community. So that perhaps when I retire from State, I can teach.

Of course, I could change my mind again tomorrow. Especially if I got offered a government job in archaeology. But at least for the moment, I think staying with State is the best idea.

Saturday, January 19, 2008

Not a Good Start

The universe was conspiring to make me late to work this morning.First, my alarm didn't go off. Seems I set it for PM instead of AM. Then, my hairspray bottle had a clog, sending a stream directly into my eye. Hairspray burns, by the way. Then, as I am about to pull out of our parking lot, I realize I didn't have my badge. Not having a badge is bad enough on a weekday, but it would be nearly impossible to function without it on the weekend. I need it a minimum of four times to get in and out of the doors I use on this shift on the weekend (even more if I was doing the Watch Officer position instead of the copy clerk position), and that is if I never go to the restroom or upstairs.Still, I made it to work on time. Now if I could just wake up!

Friday, January 18, 2008

Undersecretary Burns Resigns

Under Secretary for Political Affairs Nick Burns, who is the third-highest ranking official in the State Department, right after Secretary Rice and Deputy Secretary Negroponte, announced that he is retiring today.

I am sad to see him leave. He is career Foreign Service, and in that is unusual because often Secretaries of State will put political appointees in that position. I served as his control officer when he visited Jerusalem, which incidently was where he served his first tour as a Junior Officer. We had FSNs (Foreign Service Nationals, or locally-hired staff) who had been there long enough to remember him. In addition to his meetings, he also took the time to see people he knew from when he served there and to visit places he had seen during his tour.

I found him to be both knowledgible and personable. Despite his high rank in a very hierarchical organization, I found him very approachable. And from my view from below, it seems to me that he is outstanding in his job.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

How I Sometimes Feel As a Diplomat

Funny Pictures
moar funny pictures

Thanks Secretary Gates!

Here's an interesting exert from the NPR interview with Defense Secretary Gates this morning.

NPR: Does your experience in the Cold War also inform some of yourrecent remarks about so-called soft power? You – I'll summarize –encouraged the United States to spend more money and effort onnonmilitary means of influence abroad: diplomacy, improving the U.S.image and so forth.

Gates: Absolutely. I mean, when the Cold War was at its height, the U.S. Agency for International Development had something like 16,000employees. It has 3,000 now. One of the points that I make, if you took all Foreign Service officers in the world — about 6,600 — it would not be sufficient to man one carrier strike group. And rightnow, frankly, I think that the diplomacy, international economicassistance and so on have been significantly weakened.

NPR: Isn't there, though, a basic budget choice that someone is goingto have to make though? Either you get six more fighter planes, forexample, or you get a few thousand extra Foreign Service officers?

Gates: Well, the reality is that the cost of increasing yourcapabilities on the diplomatic, economic side, is really prettymodest. The entire State Department budget is $36 billion. We spendthat in the Pentagon on health care.

NPR: Would you say it would be worth it to slow down the growth of theDefense Department budget to allow for greater diplomacy and other efforts?

Gates: Well, I don't think you'll every find a secretary of defense who will say it's a good idea to cut the Defense Department budget.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

What To Do? What To Do?

There is a story on CNN today about a guy who has been a barber for 84 years. I can't fathom doing a job that long.

I can't even decide what to do about my current job predicament. On the one hand, I like the lifestyle being a Foreign Service Officer allows. I love getting to travel to far more places than I would in any other career, some of them places I would no doubt never go otherwise. And I am proud of my service to my country. Incidents like yesterday's attack on a U.S. Embassy vehicle in Beirut yesterday make me more, not less, likely to stay.

But I couldn't see myself doing this for 84 years, even if it was allowed (with manditory retirement at 65, I could do it only for a maximum of 28 1/2 years) or humanly possible (I'd be 120). Archaeology? I could certainly imagine doing it longer than I could imagine doing this. But maybe I can do it after my career here. It certainly makes more fiscal sense to do that. Retire and then dig and teach. If I am physically able to dig when I retire (which will most likely be closer to 56 instead of 65).

Sigh. What to do?

Tuesday, January 01, 2008

Another Piece About Granville

Here is the NY Times piece about Granville. It serves as a reminder that serving our country in the Foreign Service can be a dangerous job. This could have been any of us.

U.S. Diplomat Killed in Sudan

Published: January 2, 2008
NAIROBI, Kenya — An American diplomat in Sudan and his driver were shot and killed early Tuesday as they were coming home from a New Year’s Eve party in Khartoum, the capital.

In Washington, the Agency for International Development identified the diplomat as one of its officials, John Granville, 33, originally of Buffalo. American officials said it was “too early to tell” if the shooting had been random or planned, but Sudanese officials said the circumstances were suspicious, especially because gun crime is rare in Khartoum, considered one of the safest cities in Africa.

The United Nations had recently warned its staff in Sudan that there was credible evidence that a terrorist cell was in the country and planning to attack foreigners.

According to Western officials, Mr. Granville left a New Year’s Eve party at the British Embassy around 2:30 a.m. and was being driven to his home in an upscale neighborhood in central Khartoum. Shortly before he arrived, a car pulled up next to him and 17 shots were fired, Sudanese officials said.

Mr. Granville’s driver, a Sudanese employee of the American Embassy, was killed instantly, and Mr. Granville was shot in the neck and chest. He was rushed to the hospital and died several hours later.

The Sudanese Interior Ministry identified the Sudanese driver who was killed as Abdel Rahman Abbas, 40.

A Sudanese government official said that the attack appeared well planned. The assailants’ car sped in front of the diplomat’s car, cutting it off. Two gunmen exited their car, with one of them shooting Mr. Granville and the other shooting the driver, the official said.

Walter Braunohler, a spokesman for the American Embassy in Khartoum, said he could not comment on the circumstances because the shooting was under investigation.

A spokesman for Sudan’s Foreign Ministry said American and Sudanese law enforcement agents were working closely together to investigate.

“We do not know why this happened,” said Ali Sadiq, the spokesman. “All options are possible.”

The attack came just hours after President Bush signed a bill that makes it easier for mutual funds and other investment managers to sell stakes in companies that do business in Sudan. The bill is aimed at Sudan’s oil and defense industries, in particular, and is part of the broader campaign to put pressure on the Sudanese government to end the bloodshed in Darfur, a troubled region in western Sudan where more than 200,000 people have died.

The United States has urged the Sudanese government to cooperate better with the peacekeeping mission in Darfur, and on Monday, formal authority was transferred from the current African Union force to a joint United Nations-African Union mission.

Mr. Granville had served the Agency for International Development in Sudan as well as Nairobi. A photo on the agency’s Web site shows Mr. Granville standing amid a crowd of African women, each holding a radio distributed by the agency.

Mr. Granville had been deeply involved in a project to distribute 450,000 radios equipped with generator cranks and solar panels, which work in places with no electricity.

The goal was to prepare southern Sudan for elections in 2009 and a possible referendum in 2011 on independence, according to Shari K. Bryan, who is a senior associate and regional director for East and Southern Africa at the National Democratic Institute, a nonprofit, pro-democracy group based in Washington.

Sean McCabe, who is married to John Granville’s only sibling, Katie McCabe, said that Mr. Granville had been in Africa for about 10 years, since his graduation from Clark University in Worcester, Mass. The Peace Corps sent Mr. Granville to Cameroon for two years in the mid-1990s, Mr. McCabe said, and Mr. Granville also won a Fulbright scholarship for study in Africa.

“He’d come home and visit and spend time with his mother and his sister, and then he’d go back there and work,” said Mr. McCabe, reached by telephone at the home of Mr. Granville’s mother, Jane Granville, in the Buffalo suburb of Angola, N.Y.

“That was his life,” Mr. McCabe said. “He loved it.”

On Tuesday night, the American Embassy sent out an e-mail message to Americans in Sudan notifying them about the attack on the diplomat.

“Terrorist groups continue to seek opportunities to carry out attacks against U.S. interests,” the message said, repeating earlier warnings. “U.S. citizens should be aware of the risk of indiscriminate attacks on civilian targets in public places.”

Izzadine Abdul Rasoul Muhammad contributed reporting from Khartoum, Sudan, and Matthew L. Wald from Washington.

Not An Auspicious Start To The New Year

This is not how I had hoped to start the New Year. It is a reminder how dangerous this job can be. My condolences to the officer's family and the family of his driver.

Gunman kills U.S. diplomat, driver in Sudan

KHARTOUM, Sudan (CNN) -- An American diplomat working toward restoring peace in war-torn Sudan was shot and killed along with his driver early Tuesday as he headed home from a New Year's party in the Sudanese capital, his family said.

U.S. officials are working with Sudanese authorities to determine whether it was a targeted attack or an isolated incident.

John Granville, 33, was a U.S. Foreign Service diplomat from Buffalo, New York.

His sister said he had telephoned his mother Monday to wish her a happy new year, and mentioned he was planning to attend a party.

Hours later, the family received a call from U.S. officials that Granville had been shot sometime after midnight local time. Sudan is eight hours ahead of Eastern time.

The Sudanese Interior Ministry identified the driver as 40-year-old Abdel Rahman Abbas and said the car was heading to a western suburb of Sudan's capital, The Associated Press reported. Abbas, who was killed instantly in the attack, was employed by the U.S. Embassy, said Walter Braunohler, a spokesman for the embassy.

Granville died several hours later from his injuries.

Granville's sister, Katie McCabe, said she believes hospital workers did not notice that her brother had been shot in the stomach -- in addition to the hand and shoulder -- which caused fatal internal bleeding.

Braunohler said it was too early to determine the motive for the attack.

"At this point we're not ruling anything out, but we don't know," he said.

Sudanese Foreign Ministry spokesman Ali As Sadeq downplayed the idea that the diplomat had been targeted, saying the pre-dawn shooting was the result of a "street argument."

He said the streets of Khartoum were packed with cars leaving New Year's celebrations and an argument broke out between people in two cars, one of which was carrying foreigners.

The argument escalated and one of the Sudanese fired on the car carrying the foreigners, resulting in the casualties, he said.

Sudanese security forces are searching for the gunman, Sadeq said.

Granville's family said he became passionate about Africa after helping build a school in a rural Cameroon village as a Peace Corps volunteer.

"John's life was a celebration of love, hope and peace," the statement said. "He will be missed by many people throughout the world whose lives were touched and made better because of his care."

He is survived by his mother, sister, nephew and nieces.

Jane Granville told CNN that her son was aware of the dangers in the countries where he worked.

"John said, 'Mom ... if anything happens to me over there ... just know that I was doing what I loved in helping those people," she said.

2007 Musings

Since I am spending the last few hours of 2007 at work, and practically no one else is, I thought I would set down a few thoughts on the past year and a few hopes for the new one.

I am thankful that this past year brought M and I, and our pets, safely back to the states after two years in Jerusalem, and thankful that we both ended up in positions in the department that we like. I am pleased too that I am the leading candidate for a good position next year, and I will be working with some folks I really like. I'm also glad that neither M nor I is heading to Iraq this coming year. I am glad too to have been a small part in the publicity surrounding Ambassador Guest's resignation and the subsequent push for equal rights for gays and lesbians in the foreign service. The battle is not over.

And I am more thankful than I can express that my grandmother's MRI was clear and that she remains cancer-free.

I am hopeful about the coming year. My biggest goal for the year (dare I say it, my NEW YEAR'S RESOLUTION) is to FINISH MY DISSERTATION! I don't know if finishing it will lead me back into archaeology, but it will certainly give me more options. Plus, finishing is just a matter of personal pride for me. I want this year to be the year.

My biggest hope for the coming year is health and happiness for my family and friends. And my biggest prayer is for peace.