Saturday, April 26, 2008
New US Embassy in Iraq has no housing for all its workers
By BRADLEY BROOKS, Associated Press Writer
Fri Apr 25, 2:07 PM ET
BAGHDAD - The new U.S. Embassy complex does not have enough fortified living quarters for hundreds of diplomats and other workers, who must remain temporarily in trailers without special rooftop protection against mortars and rockets, government officials have told The Associated Press.
Sorting out the housing crunch and funding could further delay moving all personnel into the compound until next year and exposes shortcomings in the planning for America's more than $700 million diplomatic hub in Iraq.
The issue of "hardened" housing in the U.S.-protected Green Zone has gained renewed prominence since Shiite militias resumed steady attacks on the enclave in late March as part of backlash to an Iraqi-led crackdown.
More than a dozen people have been killed in the Green Zone in the latest waves of attacks, including a U.S. civilian government worker whose housing trailer was hit.
At one point — during the heaviest barrages early this month — the State Department ordered all its Baghdad employees to wear body armor and other protective gear while outside buildings in the Green Zone, which also contains the British Embassy, key Iraqi government offices and other international compounds.
Staffers also were ordered not to sleep in their trailers, and hundreds of cots were placed inside the current embassy — a former Saddam Hussein palace.
The State Department took legal possession of the new embassy site last week — a step that had been delayed for months by construction problems — and the move could begin next month.
But there is not enough blast-resistant housing at the new site for "hundreds" of embassy workers, said Patrick Kennedy, undersecretary of state for management. One reason is because staffing levels are more than double than projected in 2005 when the compound was being designed.
The precise figure for the looming housing shortfall was not disclosed. Currently, the trailers behind the embassy hold more than 1,000 people including diplomats, embassy employees, translators, civilian support staff and others. Private security contractors generally have their own housing.
The new embassy compound also needs to absorb about 100 workers from the State Department's aid division — which currently has a separate facility — and others from the U.S. military command staff.
To meet the demand, many apartments inside the embassy compound are being divided into two units.
Capital Hill officials with knowledge of the embassy plans told the AP that the State Department is working to secure funding for 600 to 700 trailers — with overhead protection — to be located at the new compound.
But they said it could be a year or more before everyone can move into the compound. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the embassy plans.
That means a significant portion of embassy personnel will remain in the trailers behind the former Saddam palace. Some trailers have sandbags, but no strengthened roof coverings that are common at the embassies of other nations and the villas of many private companies.
One senior U.S. official who spent more than a year in Baghdad described the living situation as "Russian roulette" for staffers in the trailers that could resolved with a relatively small investment. The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, was not authorized to speak to media.
Kennedy said money was not budgeted for overhead protection for the trailers — estimated at between $15 million and $20 million — because they were deemed "a temporary installation."
"The permanent installations are at the new embassy compound. So that is where we have put our funding," he said.
A senior State Department official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said the trailers at the palace will receive some "enhanced protection" but that it would not include overhead shielding. The official, who was not authorized to speak to journalists, would not provide more details.
It's left some embassy staffers bitter.
An American diplomat — who hunkered down during the wave of attacks in recent weeks — called it a "difficult pill to swallow." The diplomat asked not to be named, lacking authorization to speak to media.
The request for funding for the reinforced trailers at the new embassy appears to be on track, but it's met with some grumbling in Washington from lawmakers who want to reduce the U.S. presence in Iraq.
Rep. Nita Lowey, chairwoman of the state and foreign operations subcommittee of the House appropriations committee, said "it is critical that the embassy in Iraq keep our diplomatic and development personnel safe."
But Lowey, a Democrat from New York, said the diplomatic mission must concentrate on "hastening the withdrawal of military forces" and helping bolster Iraq's government.
"The administration's recent proposal to reconfigure the embassy would delay both of these goals," she said.
Steven Kashkett, vice president of the American Foreign Service Association, the union that represents State Department employees, said the group wants the new embassy compound to stop using the aluminum trailers.
"U.S. diplomats who have volunteered in large numbers for combat zone assignments in Baghdad for the past five years have every right to expect living quarters that afford appropriate security," he said.
Wednesday, April 23, 2008
I’m not sure which is more annoying to me, the “cookie-pusher” or the askewed presumption that our diplomats lived in a perpetual happy hour in the service of this nation; or for that matter, lived in one unending banquet of Kobe beef, Belons oyster and the 1959 Château Mouton Rothschild.
So here’s the skinny on this for those not in the know: It is true that our diplomats do have to give dinner parties and attend dinner parties and cocktail receptions as part of their jobs. The more senior you are and the more important the portfolio you have, the more demanding is the social obligations. Attendance to these official functions is usually done after hours and could be as often as three times a week or as little as once or twice a month (which also means you don’t get to see your kids at bedtime 3x a week, as they’re asleep by the time you get home).
I can imagine you nodding your head as you read this and thinking, that’s not such a bad way to end one’s work day - good food and fine wine three times a week. What’s so bad about that? The qualifying words are “good” and “fine.” Let me explain. In the United States, if you visit the western region, you could get served prairie oysters, fried pork rinds or blood-rare steak; in the southern region, you could get grits, crawfish, hog maws and snouts, but - you could always decline to partake and no one would be offended if you walk away.
It’s a different matter when you are the representative of the United States overseas. You have no control over what’s on the menu (unless you’re giving the party) and walking away and throwing up on somebody's lap or carpet is not an option. Declining your host’s offer could be viewed as “undiplomatic,” or worse, an insult with possible repercussions to personal and bilateral relations. I do think that a good FSO needs a carbon steel type stomach, especially these days when they are expected to serve in “expeditionary assignments,” wherever that may be.
We can be grateful that we don’t have a U.S. Mission in Sardinia; at least we don’t have to politely decline an offer of casu marzu (aka: maggot cheese). But here’s a sample of some other interesting offerings: pacha (sheep’s head with eyeballs), haggis (stuffed sheep's stomach), crispy grasshoppers, fried scorpions, yak meat, blood pudding, and roast pigeon brains. And least I forget - for drinks, there’s tea with yak butter, kumiss (fermented mare's milk), kvass (beer-like beverage made by fermenting old bread in water), and palm wine (created from sap of various palm trees) to name a few.
No, I'm not doing a cheese and whine here. This is just something to consider the next time you hear about the “cookie-pushers living cushy lives” - it’s not always as easy as it looks; and it’s not always as fun as its sounds.
I have to agree with her, as I am sure most diplomats do. Going to receptions is pretty high on my list of things I dislike most about a diplomat. And highest on my list of receptions I dislike is the Fourth of July reception.
I am proud of serving my country. And I like celebrating its birth. But standing around in the heat in a business suits making small talk with "contacts" (read, people I have to talk to for work) while eating salmon parts wrapped in fried egg (at least, that is what it looked like...) and being rewarded for that by losing a day off (no comp time or overtime if you are mid-level) is not my idea of how to celebrate my country's birth. Give me hamburgers, hotdogs and fireworks, thank you.
Monday, April 21, 2008
Dear Ms. Baldwin:
Thank you for your letter of February 21 regarding the State Department's treatment of gay and lesbian Foreign Service Officers and their partners.
The Department hires, recruits, assigns, and promotes employees without regard to sexual orientation. To this end, we treat same-sex and opposite-sex unmarried partners of U.S. Government employees stationed abroad in an equivalent manner.
The Department affords certain benefits, as set forth within the personnel section of the Foreign Affairs Manual (at 3 FAM 4180), to the unmarried partners of employees, regardless of their sexual orientation. For the unmarried partners of employees overseas, those benefits include assistance in obtaining appropriate residency permits and travel visas in accordance with local law, consideration for Mission employment if legal requirements are met, inclusion in the Mission warden system and Mission phone book, and inclusion on the same basis as spouses in all events sanctioned by Missions.
The Director General announced in February that the Security Overseas Seminar, a two-day course at the Foreign Service Institute that is mandatory for all employees prior to their first overseas assignment, would be open to all family members and members of household, including unmarried partners. The Department extended access to securify training to members of households in the firm belief that they can be at risk because of their association with us and, as residents of our households and participants in the Embassy community, can positively contribute to our collective safety.
We hope that this information has been helpful to you. Please do not hesitate to contact us if we can be of further assistance.
One has to wonder why it took two months to come up with this non-response.
But let's read between the lines: "The Department hires, recruits, assigns, and promotes employees without regard to sexual orientation. To this end, we treat same-sex and opposite-sex unmarried partners of U.S. Government employees stationed abroad in an equivalent manner." This means that the Department does NOT treat same-sex partners they way they treat opposite-sex "married" partners. In other words, we would treat you the same as married partners if you were married, but you aren't. Oh wait, and you can't be. Except if you are from Massachusetts. But even then, we will treat you as though you are not married.
"For the unmarried partners of employees overseas, those benefits include assistance in obtaining appropriate residency permits and travel visas in accordance with local law, consideration for Mission employment if legal requirements are met, inclusion in the Mission warden system and Mission phone book, and inclusion on the same basis as spouses in all events sanctioned by Missions." Actually, something is missing here. The FAM "encourages" but does not require chiefs of mission to do these things. Examples are plentiful of people getting no help, and occassionally being hindered, in their attempts to get visas for their partners. And by "if legal requirements are met" for Mission employment for partners, they mean IF there is no eligible family member who wants the job, regardless of whether they are more qualified. Even then, the job has to be posted to all the ex-pat community there. So while EFMs get preference for employment, partners get no preference even above the community of Americans living in country regardless of their tie to the Mission. "Inclusion in the Mission warden system" is a requirement for ALL Americans in country. And "inclusion on the same basis as spouses in all events sanctioned by Missions" is, again, at Chief of Mission discretion.
Yes, the Department is now allowing our partners to sit in the heretofore unoccupied seats in the Security Overseas Seminar. This is a good step, but far from enough. There is far more that they could do. But they are clearly not interested.
Sunday, April 20, 2008
Is This Really Annoying, or is It Me?
The Washington Post reports:
Two members of the Senate Armed Services Committee called yesterday on Pentagon officials to further explain the awarding of a $50 million Air Force contract to a company owned by people close to senior Air Force officials, demanding accountability at the highest levels of the service.
A Defense Department Inspector General's report disclosed Thursday showed that senior officers pushed the contract to Strategic Message Solutions as part of an effort to improve the Air Force's Thunderbirds air show.
FIFTY MILLION DOLLARS to upgrade an AIR SHOW. Wow.
Does anybody else in the Foreign Service find it deeply disturbing and/or insulting and/or infuriating that we are spending FIFTY MILLION DOLLARS on an AIR SHOW while we at the Red-Headed Stepchild (read: State Department) have been told we can't have any new pens or notepads because there's no money?
Just for fun, let's think about what FIFTY MILLION DOLLARS could buy us at the Red-Headed Stepchild. Hmm....just off the top of my head, I'm thinking about a few of those positions that are being left vacant to staff Iraq. Or maybe some travel money so we can actually visit the places we're supposed to keep up relations with. Or, I don't know, trailers with solid roofs so we don't have to sleep under our desks when insurgents shell the green-zone....
Saturday, April 19, 2008
There are a lot of criticisms of the results of State's "building spree" of new embassies and consulates since the truck bomb attacks on our embassies in Nairobi and Dar Es Salaam. I've served in EOBs (Existing Office Buildings, i.e., those not designed nor built to provide protection from such attacks), in NABs (Newly Acquired Buildings; i.e., buildings we've bought and then tried to renovate or rebuild so that they provide at least some protection against bomb attacks), and in an NOB (New Office Building; a facility designed and built to protect its occupants against a similar attack).
Guess which one I feel a lot safer working in?
I was an MOH (Member of Household) at one post with in EOB (buildings around it were taller than the Embassy and staff worried that they could be shot like fish in a barrel in the courtyard) and as an officer at another post in an EOB. My window looked straight down on the street...I watched a protest right outside my window get disbursed with stun grenades. So I'm with CAA.
On Danger and Directed Assignments
Twenty five years ago this week, the father of a childhood friend of mine was sent on a short TDY to Lebanon. And twenty five years ago today, he died when the American Embassy in Beirut was bombed.
He was not the first American diplomat killed in the line of duty, and he certainly was not the last. But he was someone I knew, and his death impressed upon me, near the start of my own career, the risks that all of us take in the service of our country.
Since then, I have seen colleagues I knew killed or injured in Islamabad, Nairobi, and Dar, not to mention a couple of near misses myself (I was in the embassy in Nairobi, for example, a day before the bombing).
I have very little patience for those who dismiss the Foreign Service as being somehow less patriotic or less willing to serve than our colleagues in uniform, or for that matter, who define patriotism and service to our country solely in military terms. But those who define patriotism as the willingness to die for one's country should recognize that that is a burden we, as well, have borne.
I joined the Foreign Service in order to serve the United States. And in the course of my career, I have had guns drawn on me five times in anger, been attacked with a knife, had my office surrounded by an angry mob, and had my own home targeted for attack by Bin Laden.
This week, of course, the spectre of directed assignments of FSOs to Iraq was raised again in the press, and various media and blogs were filled once again with invectives against those FSOs who spoke out against such assignments in a meeting last year.
I have bid on Iraq positions, and would go if selected.
And I support, in general, the right of the Department to direct assignments, and to move me and my colleagues around as they see fit. For the good of the service. ...I question whether directed assignments would actually be for the good of the service, or enable our embassy in Iraq to function more effectively.
I have served in difficult and dangerous posts. Nowhere near as dangerous as Iraq, but difficult nonetheless.
Its all well and good for those bloggers and journalists (and even some politicians) to compare FSOs to the military, to note that they take the same oath of office, and that they agree to be world-wide available. But it is important to note the differences:
Military personnel self-select for hazardous duty. Yes, they go where they are ordered to go, and would prefer not to get shot at, but let's face it, they joined the military knowing that the primary duty of military personnel is to fight. They willingly chose a career in which there was a very strong probability that, at some point in their careers, they would go to war.
Military personnel are well trained for hazardous duty. It starts on the first day of boot camp and continues throughout their careers. Even those with desk jobs train continuously throughout their careers for the eventuality of a deployment to a war zone.
And yes, FSOs take the same oaths of office as soldiers do. So do postmen, tax collectors and United States Senators, none of whom share either the willingness nor the skill sets that the military possess to deal with the stress and danger of war.
And rather than twisting arms, or embarrassing the Foreign Service, I believe that keeping those promises, of adequate training, proper mental health care, and fair treatment of those who return disturbed, is the better way to go....
Friday, April 18, 2008
A Blast Still Reverberating
25 Years Ago, a New Kind of War Began in Beirut
By David Ignatius
Thursday, April 17, 2008; Page A23
It is April 18, 1983, and I am visiting the American Embassy in Beirut as a reporter for the Wall Street Journal.
It is a coolish morning, a day to wear the winter-weight suit one last time. By the time I reach the embassy, a bright sun is beginning to cut the haze. Approaching the front entrance on the Corniche, grand and all but unguarded, I look across the shimmering Bay of Beirut to the slopes of Mount Lebanon, where there is still a trace of snow at the peak.
The moist, sweet air of Lebanon is on my face like a phantom kiss.
The good times are returning, I think. The city has been pounded by eight years of civil war, and then by the Israeli invasion, and then by the massacre of Palestinians at Sabra and Shatila. But now the United States has arrived as Lebanon's protector; U.S. Marines are at the airport in what the embassy calls a "presence mission."
My appointment is at the Office of Military Cooperation on the fifth floor. The Army officer who meets me there has an upbeat message: The United States is rebuilding the Lebanese army into a force for national reconciliation that will bring together Sunnis, Shiites and Christians. The officers are wearing real boots now, he says, not those Gucci slip-ons like in the old days.
I take notes as the Army officer talks. It's almost believable, what he says. You want to think we understand what we are doing in this country -- that those Marines really are as popular in the Shiite slums out by the airport as their officers keep telling me when I go on patrol with them . . . and see the wary, watchful eyes in the shadows.
My appointment ends around 12:30 p.m. Rebecca McCullough, the Office of Military Cooperation's administrative assistant, takes me back down to the lobby. She's wearing a summer blouse and a winter skirt, caught in between the seasons on this April day.
I pick up my passport from the Marine guard manning Post No. 1 behind a thick plexiglass screen -- shiny brass buttons, forbidding Marine physique. I climb the hill back to my hotel, wondering if there's a story in what the embassy official has told me.
At 1:03, I hear an enormous blast. The percussive force shakes my windows, nearly a mile away. I have a momentary feeling of vertigo, like fear but worse. I run back toward the Corniche.
When I reach the building, Marines are trying to form a perimeter. I look up at the remains of the embassy: The center facade has collapsed; rooms have been sheared in half; a body is visible, hideously, on an upper floor.
Sixty-three people are dead, including 17 Americans. It's the deadliest attack ever on a U.S. diplomatic mission up to that point. It takes many years to confirm that it was an Iranian operation, organized by operatives from their Revolutionary Guard.
Nobody understands it that day, but a new kind of war has begun.
Rebecca McCullough survived the bombing and plans to attend a ceremony on Friday at the State Department to mark the 25th anniversary.
A co-worker drew my attention to this worthy piece in today's Washington Post. It's gratifying to see that many people still remember the attack on the U.S. Embassy in Beirut that occurred 25 years ago tomorrow, April 18th.
That co-worker of mine was assigned to Beirut back then, as was another of my present day office mates, and he was inside the chancery when the bomb exploded. Today, we all work to implement programs that are the direct result of that attack. It's funny how the past is never really past.
Thursday, April 17, 2008
Where exactly do diplomats get off thinking they get to pick where they serve? What part of their oath of office did they conveniently forget? Was it that pesky line and I will well and faithfully execute the duties of the office which I am about to enter. I further solemnly swear that I take this oath freely without mental reservation or purpose of evasion?
Coming from the wife of a military officer who was stop-lossed after September 11th, this is not cool at all. Our soldiers and sailors can't whine their way out of duty in dangerous places overseas, why should our diplomats get to do it? A first step in rebuilding our diplomatic corps is getting Foreign Service Officers willing to serve wherever, whenever, and however the country calls. Maybe State can learn a little something from Defense, after all.
Having our diplomats serve where ever we are told is not the "first step" to rebuilding our diplomatic corps. The Foreign Service was gutted under Clinton as part of the "peace dividend" and we are paying for that gutting now.
There are two issues here. First, there are about 6,500 Foreign Service Officers (diplomats), and another 5,000 or so Foreign Service Specialists (support personnel). The numbers are simply not there to continue staffing the Embassy in Baghdad at a rate of 96% (while the average staffing rate at every other Embassy hovers around 79%) even if every single one of us were willing to go.
She brings up a valid (and oft cited) point about our oath, which brings me to the second issue. We did sign up to be worldwide available. But the "office I am about to enter" has never included active war zones. We recently drew down one Embassy over the possibility of violence relating to a TAXI STRIKE. Sending us into war zones is something new altogether. Yes, you will hear the example of the officers who were forced to go to Vietnam. They too were evacuated when the danger was too great, and further, that was a class of junior officers. ALL junior officers are "directed" for their first two tours.
We are not soldiers, and this means many things. First, like commissioned officers, we can quit. Second, we do not have any training or means of defending ourselves. We are not allowed to carry guns. Third, we generally do not rotate out of our tours to places like Baghdad to places like Germany or the states. Instead, we end up in other garden spots like Sudan or Kosovo. Seventy percent of us serve in hardship posts. And we are happy to. That is what we signed up for. That is what worldwide available is. That we go, over and over, to places like that to serve our country. The difference with Iraq is that in the past, we have been able to count on the Department to get us out of the country when it is too dangerous (and if need be, to have our country send in the soldiers who are trained to deal with that). And now we can not count on that.
Like a soldier, I will go to Iraq if I am ordered (I will not volunteer, but because I have regional experience - yes, I have already served in the Middle East - I will likely be directed there eventually). But unlike a soldier, I will not have any means to defend myself (and God forbid I go after the military leaves!). And unlike Foreign Service Officers of the past, I will not be able to count on being evacuated to safety if rockets start landing on the shipping container I will call home for that year.
Tuesday, April 15, 2008
State Department warns diplomats of compulsory Iraq duty
WASHINGTON — The State Department is warning U.S. diplomats they may be forced to serve in Iraq next year and says it will soon start identifying prime candidates for jobs at the Baghdad embassy and outlying provinces, according to a cable obtained Tuesday by The Associated Press.
A similar call-up notice last year caused an uproar among foreign service officers, some of whom objected to compulsory work in a war zone, although in the end the State Department found enough volunteers to fill the jobs.
Now, the State Department anticipates another staffing crisis.
"We face a growing challenge of supply and demand in the 2009 staffing cycle," the cable said, noting that more than 20 percent of the nearly 12,000 foreign service officers have already worked in the two major hardship posts _ Iraq and Afghanistan _ and a growing number have done tours in both countries.
As a result, the unclassified April 8 cable says, "the prime candidate exercise will be repeated" next year, meaning the State Department will begin identifying U.S. diplomats qualified to serve in Iraq and who could be forced to work there if they don't volunteer.
The prime candidate list will be comprised of diplomats who have special abilities that are needed in Iraq, such as Arabic language skills, deep Mideast knowledge or training in specific areas of reconstruction.
"We must assign to Iraq those employees whose skills are most needed, and those employees should know that they personally are needed," Foreign Service Director General Harry Thomas said in the cable sent to all diplomatic missions.
The cable describes how the department will fill upcoming vacancies at hardship posts like those Iraq and Afghanistan _ although it doesn't plan to force any Afghanistan assignments. Diplomats will "bid," or apply, for positions in the war zones that will be advertised in May. After that, the department expects to begin identifying prime candidates for about 300 Iraq jobs that come open next summer, Thomas wrote.
The cable said more details will be announced next month, but identification of prime candidates is the first step in implementing so-called "directed assignments." That means ordering diplomats to work in certain locations under threat of dismissal unless they have a compelling reason, such as a health condition, that would prevent them from going.
Last year, after prime candidates were identified for 48 Iraq jobs that come open this summer, enough qualified volunteers came forward to avoid what would have been the largest diplomatic call-up since the Vietnam War _ but not before the uproar over the prospect of forced tours made national headlines.
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said Tuesday that she had been personally offended by the critical comments of some diplomats who questioned the ethics of sending people against their will to a war zone. One diplomat, during an October session held at the State Department to explain the policy to employees, called the forced assignments a "potential death sentence" to loud applause.
"I was deeply offended myself, and deeply sorry that these people who had self-selected into this town hall went out of their way, to my view, cast a very bad light on the foreign service," Rice told a House panel.
Rice said the comments were isolated and prompted a visceral response by the rest of the diplomatic corps, including those serving in dangerous posts outside Iraq and Afghanistan. "I will tell you, the blogs were lit up in the Department of State by people who were offended ... who were absolutely offended by those comments," she said.
She added that she had not needed to "direct assign" diplomats to Iraq last year, but she stressed that she reserved the right to do so in the future.
The State Department is hoping it can fill all of next year's Iraq vacancies with volunteers as it did in 2008.
"We hope to accomplish the same in 2009," the cable says. "A willing, qualified volunteer is always preferable to an employee sent involuntarily."
The union that represents U.S. diplomats shares that view.
"Unless there is some huge upward change in the number of positions, I think it's quite possible to staff the Baghdad embassy with volunteers," said John Naland, president of the American Foreign Service Association. "The foreign service has done it for the past five years and I believe the foreign service will do it again."
Yet, there are serious concerns that the pool of those willing to go is dwindling.
Some diplomats have privately expressed unease about volunteering for Iraq duty amid deep uncertainty over how the administration following President Bush will deal with Iraq, and how that might affect security or change Washington's focus on the country.
While presumptive Republican presidential nominee Sen. John McCain has vowed to stay the course, both Democratic hopefuls, Sens. Hillary Rodham Clinton and Barack Obama, have made clear they oppose the war and have pledged to reduce the number of American troops there.
Such a move could have an impact on State Department operations and security, some diplomats fear.
Naland said he was not aware of such concerns. He added that security worries could be allayed by the fact that the State Department on Monday finally took possession of the new, heavily fortified U.S. Embassy in Baghdad after months of delay caused by constructions problems.
Diplomats are expected to begin moving into the facility at the end of next month after enduring several spates of major insurgent rocket attacks in their less-well-protected offices and living quarters in the Green Zone. Four Americans _ two soldiers and two civilians _ have been killed by such fire in recent weeks.
At least three foreign service personnel _ two diplomatic security agents and one political officer _ have been killed in Iraq since the war began in March 2003.
The Future of the Foreign Service
The Kojo Nnamdi show, an NPR station based in Washington, DC, hosted a group of foreign policy experts and practitioners in a discussion about the future of the US Foreign Service (FS). (Listen to the show).
All of Kojo’s guests pointed out that the central barrier to a bright future for the FS was the perpetual lack of funding from Congress.
Steven Kashkett, Vice President of the American Foreign Service Association, a lobby organization and labor union for members of the FS, emphasized that the staffing authorizations from Congress failed to suit the needs of the Foreign Service. Because of the lack of funding, the State Department just doesn’t have the people to do the job they need to do. Kojo mentioned that there are less diplomats employed in the FS than there are musicians employed by the Department of Defense.
The guests pointed out that, even when President Bush says he wants to provide the funding to double size of diplomatic corps in the next 10 years, it takes pressure from the Administration on Congress to get those funds fully appropriated. This pressure has not been forcefully applied.
A central issue to funding the FS is: How do you get Members of Congress to care about their needs? As Kashkett explained, “there is no natural constituency.”
Particularly damaging to funding requests is what the guests called a persistent image of US diplomats as “cookie-pushers,” or debutantes living a cushy life on the cocktail circuit. Kaskett emphasized: “Our diplomats have a hard life. Most of us don’t even own a tuxedo.”
Steven Kelly seconded that point. He pointed out that roughly 70% of US diplomats serving abroad are serving in what are called “hardship posts,” posts that present “unusually difficult or unhealthful conditions or severe physical hardships.” Kelly is now a member of the Senior Foreign Service, but when joined the FS in 1982 he said there were “no where near those numbers” of diplomats serving in hardship posts. On top of the lack of funding, former Ambassador and Brookings Institution Vice President Carlos Pascual pointed out that the tasks that the FS undertakes around the world have only gotten harder. Our increasingly interdependent world has changes in the nature of the threats we face. Pascual cited the example of the threats that emanate from failed states like Afghanistan, in addition to threats such as terrorism, nuclear proliferation, narco-traffickers. To confront these threats diplomats need to be on the frontline, and this is no longer in state capitols, the traditional geographic targets of FS operations.
Increasing the demands on the FS is their boss’ own mandate. Condoleezza Rice began her tenure as Secretary of State by declaring the goal of the US diplomatic corps to be none other than “transformational diplomacy,” a term that has come to mean that the FS should come to play a role in the inner workings of foreign societies—transforming totalitarian states into democracies, impoverished nations into productive, healthy societies, etc. As one of the guests pointed out, this type of diplomacy requires different kind of diplomatic skill set.
In sum, the future of the FS looks grim if it can’t get the funding it needs to perform its vital role as America’s “first line of defense.” And if you believe what you read in The Economist, the future of American foreign policy as a whole looks even grimmer. This article published last month argues that a new US President, despite his or her campaign promises, will create little actual change in the conduct of US foreign policy.
Perhaps, as Kojo’s distinguished guests suggest, it isn’t so much the President that is the barrier to a fully-resourced FS, rather it is the Congress. But perhaps the Congress doesn’t have the will to fund the FS because the people they represent do not press for such expenditures. It seems like the American people must also call for a change if we are to ensure a brighter future for the US Foreign Service.
Sunday, April 13, 2008
It is a useful document not only for married spouses, but for unmarried same-sex and opposite-sex partners as well.
Saturday, April 12, 2008
Real People, Real Stories, Real Issues: Here's a personal story that sadly demonstrates that even GLBT individuals working at the highest levels of the federal government are denied equal treatment of their relationships and same-sex partners. Michael Guest, who is a former U.S. Ambassador to Romania, resigned from the State Department in November after 26 years in the Foreign Service to protest rules and regulations that give unmarried partners of Foreign Service officers "fewer benefits than family pets." Although Guest loved his job representing the U.S. abroad, he is like the thousands of other civil servants across the country who performed their job each day without many of the employee benefits his straight counterparts enjoyed:
"My partner wasn't entitled to travel benefits so I had to always pay his airfares to and from postings. I had to pay for his travel out of the country if we were coming back to Washington for any reason. He wasn't entitled to coverage under my federal health benefits - which is a major problem when you're going overseas to places where there really isn't adequate medical care. Nor was he even given the same access to the embassy, or to security training, or to language training, or any of the other things that spouses normally qualify for - so the treatement is very different for same-sex couples.
It's an honor...I will always say that it's an honor to serve my country. I am so proud of having been a member of the Foreign Service and it still is a part of me of me, in some respects. I miss it every day. But I find it amazing that a country that would send its diplomats abroad to represent it would offer such unfair treatment simply because my partner and I cannot get married."
Friday, April 11, 2008
"One DCM told me that his managerial experience prior to becoming number #2 at a U.S. mission was 15 years earlier when he was a junior officer supervising local employees at a Consular Section and one prior post where he was political counselor directly supervising his deputy. I’m not saying that folks who came up the ranks like this could not do the job, but I’m saying that the learning curve is pretty steep when you leap from supervising a small office to supervising section chiefs and managing interagency issues."
Of course, a steep learning curve is not the only issue with FS managers and it is a problem across cones. The Way I See It has some more thoughts on the new bidding process and how HR's new "transparency" can be used to decide where to bid and perhaps more importantly, where NOT to bid. I think all of us in the FS have had some of the same bosses as TWIST. You can read The Way I See It's entire post here, but I have quoted some of the funny parts below:
Knowing Who You Work With
...When I first joined the foreign service somebody told me that who you work for matters much more than where you work or what you work on. In my first tour I worked for and with an outstanding team of people. It was truly an incredible experience, and I could not imagine why anyone would have complaints about working for the Department. It was at this point that someone advised me to find a good supervisor and follow them around. I thought that advice was a little bit absurd. Boy was I ignorant.
In subsequent tours I learned not only is it incredibly important to find good supervisors, but that it is even more important to avoid bad ones like the plague. It began with horror stories from my colleagues, and was all very abstract until I lived that own personal hell myself. Bad supervisors and co-workers can make even paradise seem like a living hell.
So as I travel through the foreign service, I make it my own personal mission to plant in the ears of people I like the names of the worst people I've ever worked for. There's the guy who only likes male employees who kiss his ass incessantly, and who will bend every rule in the book to ensure that his little proteges work for him, even if they aren't at all qualified for the jobs. He also has arbitrary rules about EERs he writes, which seem to boil down to "women should never be recommended for promotion." Then there's the woman who actually has no experience for the job she's in, doesn't really understand what it requires, but really likes to make sure her people are "doing things!" Also fun is the screamer...All communication with staff should be done above a certain decibel level and should include only really obscene words. My own personal favorite is the single boss who lives to work. He likes to have most of his meetings in the evenings and on weekends, and must take notetakers along with him. Working all the time lends the mission a sense of urgency that makes us all feel much more important. Isn't that fun?
This is all very subjective though, and the number of people I can warn is really limited (unless I take to running through the FSI cafeteria shouting a warning like the town-crier. Actually, that might not be a bad idea for one or two of the above...)
Thursday, April 10, 2008
New Bidding Instructions
Great news! The State Department has just issued its bidding instructions for the 2009 summer bidding season. In an effort to streamline the process, the powers that be are reducing the number of bidding "seasons" from three thousand (or so it seemed) to 2 or 3 (I don't remember exactly). There will be an Iraq and Afghanistan season and then "everything else." In an effort to encourage people to serve in places that most need officers (read: Iraq), the number of jobs open for bidding will also be reduced, to exclude those positions that aren't so important.
HR is also promising that there will be increased transparency and fairness this bidding season. Hooray! Perhaps now I can finally get an answer as to how below-grade, out-of-cone officers keep getting plum assignments that never seem to show up on the bid list. (Hope springs eternal.)
State and federal laws impose real dollar costs on real people. Call it “The Cost of Being Gay.” Many of the most significant examples of this cost occur in state and federal tax law. On tax day (April 15), Americans file both state and federal tax returns. For GLBT couples, tax day is a concrete reminder of the inequality that results from being denied marriage rights and from the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), which denies federal recognition of same-sex relationships for over one thousand federal protections.
...At the state level, homes and savings are subject to unfair taxation too. For example, when someone puts his or her same-sex partner on the title to a home, it often constitutes a transfer of 50% of the value of the home -- as if the two were strangers -- and is taxed accordingly. Different-sex married couples do not pay this tax. Inheritance taxes apply when a taxpayer dies and leaves assets to another person. Different-sex spouses receive a complete exemption from such inheritance taxes, but same-sex partners do not (except in states with marriage, civil unions, domestic partnership, or special tax exemptions for partners). Because thresholds for state inheritance taxes are much lower than the federal threshold, inheriting the couple’s common home (or even the half of it that belonged to the deceased partner) can trigger inheritance tax.
Most workers look to their employers for health insurance, but this opportunity costs more for same-sex couples than other families. That’s because although employer-provided health benefits for different-sex couples are excluded from an employee’s gross income, domestic partner benefits are taxed. This can result in a tax hit of over $1700 annually.
Federal employment is an attractive option for many workers thanks to the diversity of opportunities and the competitive benefits programs. The federal government does not provide equal benefits for same-sex couples, however. A GLBT person who is a top employee is compensated unequally -- her family is denied health insurance, pension benefits, and even evacuation services for foreign-service officers’ families. This not only denies GLBT people access to good jobs -- it denies our government access to some of the top talent.
If that weren’t bad enough, how about having to choose between your job and caring for your family? The Family and Medical Leave Act provides up to twelve weeks of unpaid leave to care for a spouse or child, but same-sex couples are excluded.
...That’s why HRC is promoting the Family Matters legislative agenda: the Domestic Partner Benefits and Obligations Act, which would provide equal benefits to same-sex partners of federal civilian employees; the Tax Equity for Health Plan Beneficiaries Act, which would end the tax inequities that currently apply to employer-provided health insurance for domestic partners; the Family and Medical Leave Inclusion Act, and legislation currently in development on other family protections.
Another important law currently being considered is the Uniting American Families Act, which will allow people same-sex, foreign-born partners to petition to allow their partners to immigrate to the U.S. in much the same way as heterosexual married couples can. This is an especially important law for many gay and lesbian FSOs, because like their straight counterparts, many have met their partners while serving overseas.
Wednesday, April 09, 2008
Straight Talk on Staffing and Resources
From AFSA President John Naland
America's diplomats and development professionals are struggling to accomplish their missions with inadequate operating budgets and hollowed-out staffing. The pending Fiscal Year 2009 budget request promises substantial help, but its prospects for passage are uncertain. AFSA is pushing for more resources with all of the tools at our disposal. We urge Secretary Rice and her management team to do the same. Now is the time to address these urgent needs. The next president will undoubtedly want a strong diplomatic corps to work hand-in-hand with our nation's strong military. Yet, if the current Congress were to miss this opportunity, it would be 2010 before the first additional State and USAID new-hires could finish their initial training. Waiting two more years for reinforcements is too long.
THIS YEAR'S BLEAK BUDGET
AFSA does not need to tell overseas members that this year's operating budget is bleak. We have heard from members worldwide reporting sharply reduced resources with which to accomplish their missions. The current predicament was accentuated when the White House's original Fiscal Year 2008 funding request to Congress failed to adequately consider such expenses as foreign currency exchange losses and government-wide annual salary increases. Then, Congress took that inadequate budget request and cut some $200 million from it.
Not only does the FY08 budget leave State unable to create any of the 254 new Foreign Service positions that the President requested this year, but it cannot fund all existing operations at current levels (excluding Embassy Iraq which is funded mostly by supplemental appropriations). The inadequate FY08 budget follows disappointing FY07 and FY06 budgets which also failed to fund requested staffing increases (outside of consular and diplomatic security). These Congressional refusals came despite sharply increasing Foreign Service staffing needs in Iraq, Afghanistan, hard language training, and other emerging priority areas.
As a result, literally hundreds of Foreign Service positions are now vacant. Last month, a State Department official said that 12 percent of all overseas Foreign Service positions (excluding Iraq and Afghanistan) were vacant and that 19 percent of all Foreign Service positions (domestic plus overseas) were vacant. Furthermore, 19 percent of filled mid-level generalist positions are held by employees "stretched" into a position designated for a more experienced person. This leaves posts worldwide struggling to accomplish their missions with hollowed-out Foreign Service staffing. This endangers U.S. national security in view of the ever-expanding demands being placed on U.S. diplomacy.
Additional funding for State operations this year might be available via an Iraq supplemental appropriation, but that is uncertain. For its part, AFSA is urging Congress to add $60.1 million to the FY08 supplemental to back-fill the 285 plus Foreign Service positions that were transferred to Iraq and to add $10.5 million to fund 50 FSI training billets for Arabic-language training for service in Iraq. These 335 positions were taken from posts worldwide and are a major cause of our understaffed embassies and consulates. The case for this funding is very strong, but AFSA is still looking for champions on the Hill to make it happen.
PROSPECTS FOR THE NEXT BUDGET
As previously reported, the President's now-pending FY09 budget request seeks to add 1,076 new positions at State and 300 at USAID (almost all for Foreign Service personnel). AFSA would have preferred to have seen this funding request made in Secretary's Rice's first -- not last -- year in office, but it undeniably represents a commendable push to better staff and fund the diplomatic platform upon which foreign policy and development assistance are implemented.
AFSA is supporting this push for resources with all of the tools at our disposal. We have solicited bipartisan support for the Administration budget request in face-to-face meetings with key lawmakers, in testimony at a formal Congressional hearing, and in numerous letters to the Hill. On the media front, we have highlighted the budget and staffing needs in broadcast interviews on CNN, the Lehrer Newshour, and three different NPR shows. AFSA comments and information on budget and staffing gaps have been incorporated in articles by major media including the Washington Post, Washington Times, Federal Times, NPR, Bloomberg News, Government Executive magazine, and major wire services. We have placed op-eds, editorials, or letters-to-editors addressing these issues in the Washington Post, Washington Times, Federal Times, and the Houston Chronicle. At AFSA's urging, numerous AFSA members have published their own views in support of budget and staffing needs in local papers around the country. AFSA also provided background information on this issue to participants in our national Speakers Program reaching audiences in 44 states and Washington, D.C.
Unfortunately, it remains unclear how the budget process will play out this year. Election year dynamics could scuttle the normal process and defer action to the next President and the 111th Congress. AFSA, of course, cannot dictate the timing of Congressional action. However, we are urging key lawmakers to make a maximum effort to get the highest possible budget allocation as far through the appropriation process as possible. Even if no bill passes this year, maintaining strong budget request numbers through this year's process could facilitate the passage of a robust budget early next calendar year.
Toward that end, AFSA is most appreciative of the March 14 success by Senator Joseph R. Biden, Jr. (D-DE), Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, cosponsored by Ranking Member Richard G. Lugar (R-IN), in restoring the full amount of the President's budget request for International Affairs. This Biden-Lugar initiative passed the Senate by a vote of 73 to 23 and overturned an earlier move by the Senate Budget Committee to strip $4.1 billion from the President's request. To see who supported -- and who opposed -- full funding for diplomacy and development assistance, see http://thomas.loc.gov/cgi- bin/bdquery/z?d110:SP4245: .
Secretary Rice and her management team are, of course, pushing for this budget request that they earlier worked so hard to get through the Office of Management and Budget. AFSA urges them to keep it up -- not only in traditional formal budget hearings, but in a behind-the-scenes full-court press such as was needed to secure funding for the "Diplomatic Readiness Initiative" during the Administration's first term. History will judge Secretary Rice not only on her foreign policy initiatives, but also on her ability to obtain the resources necessary to conduct diplomacy. Thus, in an April 2 meeting with Deputy Secretary of State John Negroponte, Under Secretary for Management Patrick Kennedy, and Director General Harry Thomas, we urged that the Administration make a maximum effort to get the highest possible Congressional appropriation for diplomacy and development assistance.
AFSA's position remains that now is the time to address these urgent budget and staffing needs. The next president, whoever he or she is, will undoubtedly want a strong diplomatic corps to work hand- in-hand with our nation's strong military. Yet, if the current Congress were to miss this opportunity, it would be 2010 before the first additional State and USAID new-hires could finish their initial training. Waiting two more years for reinforcements is too long. It would reduce the new president's flexibility in crafting foreign policy, and continue to place undue burdens on the uniformed military to carry out tasks for which they are ill-suited.
We recognize that Congress is under severe budget pressure with many domestic and national security priorities clamoring for additional resources. But Congress must realize that it -- just as much as the Executive Branch -- is responsible for giving diplomats the resources they need to do their jobs. Yet, even as ever more resources have been allocated to the uniformed military (including funding to increase military staffing by 92,000) America's diplomats and development professionals have been left with inadequate operating budgets and hollowed-out staffing. Even Secretary of Defense Robert Gates has remarked on the incongruence of these trends. Congress needs to move this year to adequately fund the civilian arm of national security. If they do not do so, then Foreign Service members worldwide will know that Capitol Hill is where the failure to act took place. Thus, AFSA calls on Congress to act.
Tuesday, April 08, 2008
Anxiety Rises Over Vulnerable Housing In Iraqi Green Zone
By Sholnn Freeman, Washington Post Staff Writer
BAGHDAD, April 7 -- A little after sunrise on Easter Sunday, a mortar shell or rocket crashed into Paul Converse's trailer inside the Green Zone, the rigorously defended seat of U.S. power in Iraq. Converse, who once told his brother he felt safer in Iraq than on American freeways, died the next day.
Converse's death has underscored the vulnerability of housing facilities in the Green Zone to artillery and missile attack, spreading fear among thousands of security contractors, interpreters, American soldiers and embassy personnel.
A 56-year-old government auditor, Converse was the first of four Americans to die in Green Zone shelling in the past two weeks. Four days after Converse's death, Mazin Zwayne, a 62-year-old American civilian working for the Defense Department, was killed in a shelling attack. On Monday, shells killed two American soldiers and wounded 17 others. It is so far unclear whether the others were also killed in trailers, in part because the U.S. Embassy, citing security concerns, generally refuses to give details of where shells and rockets hit.
The embassy, in a memo obtained by The Post on Monday, has forbidden employees from sleeping in trailers or from spending long periods of time in them this Wednesday and Thursday. On Wednesday, the anti-American cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, whose followers are blamed for Green Zone attacks, has planned a million-strong march in Baghdad to protest the U.S. presence in Iraq.
The Green Zone was once considered an American oasis -- a protected bubble of comfort food, large, American-made sport-utility vehicles and enforced speed limits. But intensified shelling has contributed to a growing sense of insecurity on the eve of testimony before Congress by the two highest-ranking U.S. officials in Iraq: Gen. David H. Petraeus and Ambassador Ryan C. Crocker.
According to the Ministry of Interior, at least 14 non-Americans have died in the Green Zone since the March 23 attack that killed Converse. Among them: two guards at the residence of one of Iraq's two vice presidents, an Indian construction worker at a United Nations compound, an Iraqi policeman and two Iraqi laborers. Explosions have also destroyed parked helicopters and military vehicles, and set buildings on fire.
The frequency of rocket or mortar attacks had leveled off since last August following a cease-fire issued by Sadr. The order was widely credited with helping to reduce violence across the nation, along with a U.S. troop buildup and the rise of a Sunni movement working against Islamist extremists.
But attacks began to escalate in late March in the days leading up to the launch of an Iraqi-led offensive against militias in the southern city of Basra. The crackdown sparked a fierce rebellion across Shiite-dominated southern Iraq and in the Shiite districts of eastern Baghdad. Much of the Green Zone shelling originates in those areas of the city.
"It's like a light switch," said Russ Partridge, a Green Zone contractor. "When Sadr gets pissed off, rockets rain in."
Last week, an American soldier who lives in a Green Zone trailer talked of lying in bed wondering if an incoming rocket might kill him in his sleep.
Many of the housing trailers are converted shipping containers and have the living space of a dorm room. Some residents call them "tin cans" because they offer little to guard against rockets, mortars or shrapnel.
The United Nations has built what, from the outside, look like warehouses to cover its trailers. The structures are held up by steel beams and are designed to diminish the impact of mortar shells, a U.N. official said. The U.N. began building the structures last spring, after another intense period of shelling in the zone.
Embassy spokeswoman Mirembe Nantongo said "hardened" quarters for employees are under construction at a new embassy compound in the Green Zone that will open to staff members in May.
Converse, a veteran of conflict zones including Bosnia, Kosovo and areas throughout Iraq, tried like others to fortify his trailer by stacking sandbags along the outside walls. In interviews, his father and brother refused to place blame for Converse's death. "I don't know that anything could protect against a mortar shell," said Richard Converse, Paul's father. "What can you reasonably construct against a mortar shell?"
Frank Converse said the safety of Green Zone trailers never dominated conversations about Iraq. "I don't think it was a big concern for him," he said. "That's the way it was."
Sunday, April 06, 2008
...The war against terror, both in Iraq and in Afghanistan, has revealed the flaws in that philosophy. We cannot accomplish our military mission in Afghanistan without the help of our NATO allies, and the weak "Coalition of the Willing" in Iraq has fallen apart, leaving the U.S. almost alone in fighting that war. This collapse is due in part to the fact that while the U.S. foreign service has focused all its attention on learning a new skill set: "re-building" a country devestated by war, we have neglected those relationships vital to achieving our goals overseas. No matter how much we want the people in the world's neglected hinterland to love and understand us, most of the decisions vital to our security and prosperity (counter-terrorism, energy security, arms proliferation, etc.) are being made by existing and emerging powers like Russia, the EU, China, and India. Diplomatic relations with these entities will define the shape of the world for decades to come. Iraq may be this administration's number one foreign policy priority, but that does not mean it should be this nation's. That would be short-sighted.
You can read the entire post here.
So from decades of underfunding and downsizing, here is the law of unintended consequences playing out now. Even if Congress approves the FY09 funding request, this is not going to ease the pain in Foreign Service posts worldwide in the immediate future. Writing for the Foreign Service Journal, FSO Mark Johnsen in One Hand Clapping: The Sound of Staffing the Foreign Service writes:
Developing a trained, professional force takes time —an average of 10 years of experience and training toreach mid-level proficiency. Even if the hiring ofentry-level officers were doubled or tripled tomorrow,it will take as long as it takes the average ForeignService officer to advance to senior ranks —between 20 and 30 years — to raise staffing by a third at all levels of the Foreign Service.
This is clear as night and day, even if we’re going to start hiring fast and furious, tomorrow, the mid-career staffing deficit is not going away very soon. Which means – we’ll see more mid-level Foreign Service officers holding, no - juggling the demands of 2-3 other jobs at a given post. The result is either we’ll have a spike in officer burnout or things are going to fall into the cracks. This is just not sustainable.
Mark Johnsen writes that the "actual shortfall for Foreign Service staffing was not 700 positions — the number commonly accepted at the time as the deficit and the target for the subsequent Diplomatic Readiness Initiative. Because of the additional, cumulative deficits that were never addressed... it was actually more like 2,000 to 3,500 positions." Although I must admit that 700 is better than 0, in the whole system scheme of things, I'm not sure how much of an impact this would have to our diplomatic readiness in the 21st century.
You can read Diplopundit's entire post here.
Friday, April 04, 2008
Hillary Clinton will make gay rights US foreign policy
One of two contenders for the Democratic Party nomination for President of the United States has said that if elected she will be "strongly outspoken" on the executions of gay people in countries such as Iran.
In an interview with Philadelphia Gay News ahead of the Pennsylvania primary later this month, Senator Hillary Clinton answered questions on gay marriage, immigration policy for same-sex couples and the ban on openly gay people serving in the US military.
Her comments on attitudes towards homosexual acts in some Middle Eastern nations reveal a stance that is far more radical than that taken by EU governments.
"What changes would you make toward governments that execute gay people, such as Iran, Egypt and Iraq and numerous other countries in the Middle East and Africa? Will you offer political asylum?" she was asked.
"I would be very strongly outspoken about this and it would be part of American foreign policy," the former First Lady replied.
"There are a number of gross human-rights abuses that countries engage in with whom we have relations and we have to be really vigilant and outspoken in our total repudiation of those kinds of actions and do everything we can, including using our leverage on matters such as aid, to change the behaviour so we can try to prevent such atrocities from happening."
The UK government has called for universal decriminalisation of homosexuality and is developing a strategy for promoting and protecting the human rights of LGBT people overseas.
Last year Foreign Office minister Ian McCartney set out five areas where UK action can make a difference: non-discrimination in the application of human rights; support for LGBT activists and human rights defenders; health and health education; raising LGBT issues at international and multilateral institutions and bilateral engagement with key countries.
In the past the British government has lobbied in support of the UN-Economic and Social Council continuing to grant consultative status to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered non-governmental organisations.
But the idea of an international treaty or convention on the human rights of LGBT people has been ruled out as unfeasible.
"The government judge that there is not sufficient consensus globally to justify pursuing an international convention at present; though it is willing to work for the engagement of countries which would produce a worthwhile such instrument," minister Meg Munn told MPs earlier this year.
During her interview with Philadelphia Gay News Senator Clinton also offered changes in immigration laws to bring equality between gay and straight couples if she returns to the White House.
"Immigration is a federal responsibility and I am going to do everything I can to eliminate any disparities in any benefits or rights under our law at the federal level so that all people will have available to them every right as an American citizen that they should, and that would include immigration law," she said.
US foreign policy is directed by the State Department, which has been heavily criticised by its own staff for discrimination against same-sex partners of employees.
In December a former US ambassador left his post after criticising Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice's treatment of gay people.
Michael E Guest retired after more than 26 years as a form of protest against regulations that he considered as unfair to same-sex partners of foreign service officers.
The 50-year-old, who is openly gay, served as a US ambassador to Romania when President Bush took office.
He was the first out gay person to be confirmed by the Senate to an ambassadorial post.
Since his return home in 2004, he has appealed directly to the US Secretary of State Rice to end gay discrimination.
"For the past three years, I've urged the Secretary and her senior management team to redress policies that discriminate against gay and lesbian employees," he said during his farewell speech in Washington.
According to Guest, under the current regulations only a US State Department's spouse can claim several rights which are denied to unmarried partners and same-sex partners.
Clinton also notes in the interview that she is a co-sponsor of the Domestic Partnership Benefits and Obligation Act.
These include issues such as the lack of training for same-sex partners to recognise terrorist threats, the lack of medical care and the need to pay for one's own transportation when one's partner is on duty.
Guest said that these issue could have been solved simply with Ms Rice's signature, but his pleas had never received any attention.
Wednesday, April 02, 2008
Pentagon Balked On Gay Partner Travel
By PATRICK O'CONNOR & DAVID ROGERS
Prior to the Easter recess, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi was forced to intervene with Defense Secretary Robert Gates in order to get Democratic Rep. Tammy Baldwin’s domestic partner on a military flight for a congressional fact-finding trip to Europe.
The speaker succeeded, but the issue continues to simmer for both sides. The Pentagon appears to be self-conscious about transporting gay domestic partners at a time when it continues to enforce a “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy in its own ranks. The speaker is sensitive to the gay rights issue but doesn’t want to be drawn into a situation where it appears she is dictating policy for the use of military planes.
Under House guidelines, members of Congress may take their spouses with them on military flights if there is room for them and when it is “necessary for protocol purposes.” Although Baldwin, the only openly gay woman elected to Congress, exchanged wedding vows with Lauren Azar in 1998, her home state of Wisconsin does not officially recognize same-sex marriages, and military officials were apparently unwilling to consider Azar a “spouse” within the meaning of the House guidelines.
In appealing to Gates, Pelosi aides said their boss was simply asking the defense secretary to follow a precedent established by her predecessor, former Republican Rep. Dennis Hastert of Illinois. Pelosi told Gates that Hastert had allowed Baldwin to take Azar on a previous trip abroad.
Gates, who was apparently unaware of any earlier trips, told the speaker that she was responsible for the House travel rules and had the authority to make an exception, according to officials on and off the Hill. His only requirement was that Pelosi send him a letter authorizing the trip. Pelosi sent such a letter moments after the phone call ended, and Azar was allowed on the plane.
The Pentagon and the speaker’s office remain divided over what the Gates-Pelosi agreement means for member travel abroad. Pelosi’s office awaits a follow-up letter from Gates laying out new criteria for the congressional use of military airplanes, while the Pentagon argues this was one instance in which the speaker waived her own rules to create an exception for an individual lawmaker.
“This is not an issue of DOD regulations,” said Pentagon press secretary Geoff Morrell. “Secretary Gates honored a request from Speaker Pelosi to make an exception to the House rules.
“But that’s really as far as it goes,” Morrell continued. “This should not be viewed as a precedent which would now permit all nonspouse travel. That said, Secretary Gates will, on a case-by-case basis, entertain the speaker’s future requests to make exceptions.”
Morrell said he expects Pentagon officials to send the speaker’s office their letter within the next few days.
Pelosi spokesman Brendan Daly said, “We want to work with Secretary Gates to establish a procedure going forward.”
Baldwin’s office declined repeated requests for comment.
Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.), another openly gay lawmaker, believes the military’s initial refusal to let Azar fly with Baldwin has more to do with the Bush administration’s opposition to same-sex marriage than with the military’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy.
“I think the military was following orders,” Frank said. “I think the administration disapproves of same-sex marriage.”
Pelosi was scorched early in her tenure as speaker for her use of a military jet larger than the one Hastert used, a controversy that eventually died down after she pointed out that the smaller plane Hastert used cannot make the trip from Washington to her San Francisco district without stopping to refuel.
Congress established a special entitlement for military travel in 1954 as part of broader legislation to expand the country’s foreign aid programs. At the time, lawmakers gave themselves discretion to reimburse the military directly from the Treasury for any travel expenses, meaning the Pentagon doesn’t have to dip into its own budget to pay for members’ trips abroad and in the U.S.
All committee chairmen have the discretion to make a travel request. In the House, the speaker signs off on those requests and then works with the Pentagon to find an available aircraft.
If members’ spouses cannot travel, lawmakers may bring “an adult child” when protocol calls for it, according to the House guidelines. In select circumstances, members may also bring an adult child if their spouse is on the trip, but they must reimburse the government for the flight expenses.
The main issue with Baldwin’s trip concerns the definition of the term “spouse.”
During her tenure in the House, Baldwin has been a forceful advocate for gay rights. She unsuccessfully pushed party leaders last year to include protections for transgender people in legislation prohibiting workplace discrimination against gay, lesbian and bisexual employees.
Late last month, she sent a letter to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice in which she asked her to establish basic protections for gay and lesbian State Department employees. Among the changes Baldwin requested were equal travel rights for domestic partners accompanying foreign-service officers to their postings overseas.
Baldwin and Azar travel together frequently, according to records filed with the House clerk. Baldwin registered Azar as her spouse on each of those disclosure forms, and last December, the House ethics panel officially cleared Azar to travel with Baldwin to a health care conference in Philadelphia. Ethics committee Chairwoman Stephanie Tubbs Jones (D-Ohio) and Washington Rep. Doc Hastings, the committee’s ranking Republican, both signed off on that waiver to the chamber’s gift rules.
Azar, an environmental attorney in Madison, has a deep background in public policy. Gov. Jim Doyle appointed her last March to the Public Service Commission, a state board that oversees local utilities and economic development.
The Easter recess trip on which Azar accompanied Baldwin was organized by Democratic Rep. Rick Boucher of Virginia, who chairs the Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Energy and Air Quality.
Texas Rep. Joe Barton, the ranking Republican on the Energy and Commerce Committee, was also on the trip, according to sources on and off the Hill, and he was very vocal in his support of Baldwin.
Many other members got involved in the debate over Azar’s attendance on the trip, according to sources on and off Capitol Hill, and the arguments did not break down along partisan lines.
The issue of spouse travel in same-sex couples came up when Republicans controlled the House, too, according to a member and former aides. One former aide disputed Pelosi’s argument that Hastert had ever authorized Baldwin to take Azar on a trip. The aide said Hastert did not learn that Azar was on the trip until it had already begun.
“If someone is recollecting that he authorized anything, my recollection would be the opposite,” the former aide said.