Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Explaining Hoh's Employment

A comment on yesterday's Washington Independent post about the resignation of civilian expert Matthew Hoh, a temporary employee of the State Department serving in Afghanistan, by Steve Donnelly, who served in a PRT in Iraq, explains Hoh's employment far better than I did. I have copied it below:

"For clarity, there is a federal provision, heavily used by OHRA & CPA and their successor agencies to staff Iraq reconstruction, under which certain critically needed people are specially appointed to the government for a limited period of time, not to exceed 3 years. The provision is 5 USC 3161, and the civilian experts and specially skilled appointees are typically referred to as 3161's.

They are neither contractors, because they have no contract, nor foreign service officers, because they are not in the foreign service. They are special federal appointees supposedly appointed based on their unique and critically needed skills.

One important provision of 5 USC 3161 is that the need for that specific appointee must be verified as a condition of the appointment.

Some head scratching may be warranted as to Hoh's special appointment under 3161 as a senior governance adviser in Afghanistan inasmuch as his work history indicates no background in local or provincial government operation that would, theoretically, serve as the basis for a 3161 special appointment as a Senior Governance Adviser.

My understanding is that State announced a few months ago that they would be filling the civilian expert staff positions in Afghanistan with military officers due to the treacherous nature of the operating environment. So, unlike Iraq, it is kind of a non-civilian civilian surge.

This instead of the actual civilian experts with substantive experience in local/provincial politics & governance, community engagement, and essential services who answered Ambassador Crocker's emergency call to Iraq in 2007/2008.

As one of the few dozen of senior civilian expert special appointees who left wife and life to answer Ambassador Crocker's call for a "Civilian Surge" in Iraq, I am proud of my service, and of the work that myself and a small contingent of actual civilian experts accomplished there.

There were plenty of challenges and frustrations, and especially with the US bureaucracy, experienced by city managers from Miami Beach, transportation engineers from Anaheim, and planners from Crofton, during our appointments and service; but the point was to work the problem.

There was no shortage of Iraqis who had lost family members to the US and had every personal reason to hate us, nor, according to SIGIR, were all of our US reconstruction efforts successful. But the civilians of both countries found common ground, begrudgingly or otherwise.

I have trouble with the idea that a special appointee, who volunteered to serve in a very difficult assignment, should quit so easily after four months, and pass up on abundant opportunities to accomplish his primary goals through some other means, whether at the Embassy, State or otherwise.

Just quitting, and tarring the system through the press is no way to get the mission he swore to pursue accomplished.

Moreover, for those relatives with civilians and military serving in harm's way, these kinds of personal opinions of currently serving federal employees, against the context of serious war-fighting, are particularly hard-felt.

I see on your blog references that Foreign Service Officers are distancing themselves from Hoh. For myself and my Iraq "civilian" surge colleagues, I can only make the same point---he was not a civilian expert in governance either.

Plenty of head-scratching to be done.

Steve Donnelly, AICP
Crofton, Maryland
Former Senior Urban Planning Adviser, Iraq (PRT, 2007/8)"

And this from State Department Spokesman Ian Kelly:

"Without minimizing the obvious passion and depth of feeling of Mr. Hoh in terms of his perception of the mission in Afghanistan, yes, I would draw a distinction between his situation and somebody who'd been in the foreign service and had a stake in the foreign service for 20 years or more."

1 comment:

jcnettles said...

This explanation is not entirely accurate. The following exchange occurred between after a question in State's daily press briefing:

"QUESTION: Then I’m not – I’m unclear as to how [Hoh] actually fits into the Foreign Service.

MR. KELLY: It’s – there is a provision of the Foreign Service Act that gives the Secretary the right to designate certain positions as limited with a time certain end date in order to fill positions that have not been filled through the normal Foreign Service process. And so this was one of them. We have, I think a total in the world, about 16 of these type appointments. It’s not – it’s fairly rare.

QUESTION: Is that the same thing as the 3161 or is that different?

MR. KELLY: No, that’s different.

QUESTION: It’s different, right?

MR. KELLY: I don’t know all the ins and outs of 3161. I think that’s more of a Civil – I think that’s for Civil Service appointments.

QUESTION: So this is under Foreign Service, but he is not considered --

MR. KELLY: This is under Foreign Service.

QUESTION: -- a Foreign Service officer, he’s not commissioned as a Foreign Service officer?

MR. KELLY: He’s not commissioned as a Foreign Service officer, yeah."