Sunday, May 30, 2010

Memorial Day

In grateful appreciation of all those who have served to defend our freedom and have paid the ultimate price, especially those gay and lesbian servicemembers, who, while not having all the rights of full citizens, have none the less paid for our freedoms with their lives.

We remember and honor you.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

White House Proclamation of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Pride Month 2010

THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
For Immediate Release
May 28, 2010

LESBIAN, GAY, BISEXUAL, AND TRANSGENDER PRIDE MONTH, 2010

- - - - - - -

BY THE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA

A PROCLAMATION

As Americans, it is our birthright that all people are created equal and deserve the same rights, privileges, and opportunities. Since our earliest days of independence, our Nation has striven to fulfill that promise. An important chapter in our great, unfinished story is the movement for fairness and equality on behalf of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) community. This month, as we recognize the immeasurable contributions of LGBT Americans, we renew our commitment to the struggle for equal rights for LGBT Americans and to ending prejudice and injustice wherever it exists.

LGBT Americans have enriched and strengthened the fabric of our national life. From business leaders and professors to athletes and first responders, LGBT individuals have achieved success and prominence in every discipline. They are our mothers and fathers, our sons and daughters, and our friends and neighbors. Across my Administration, openly LGBT employees are serving at every level. Thanks to those who came before us --the brave men and women who marched, stood up to injustice, and brought change through acts of compassion or defiance -- we have made enormous progress and continue to strive for a more perfect union.

My Administration has advanced our journey by signing into law the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr., Hate Crimes Prevention Act, which strengthens Federal protections against crimes based on gender identity or sexual orientation. We renewed the Ryan White CARE Act, which provides life-saving medical services and support to Americans living with HIV/AIDS, and finally eliminated the HIV entry ban. I also signed a Presidential Memorandum directing hospitals receiving Medicare and Medicaid funds to give LGBT patients the compassion and security they deserve in their time of need, including the ability to choose someone other than an immediate family member to visit them and make medical decisions.

In other areas, the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) announced a series of proposals to ensure core housing programs are open to everyone, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity. HUD also announced the first-ever national study of discrimination against members of the LGBT community in the rental and sale of housing. Additionally, the Department of Health and Human Services has created a National Resource Center for LGBT Elders.

Much work remains to fulfill our Nation's promise of equal justice under law for LGBT Americans. That is why we must give committed gay couples the same rights and responsibilities afforded to any married couple, and repeal the Defense of Marriage Act. We must protect the rights of LGBT families by securing their adoption rights, ending employment discrimination against LGBT Americans, and ensuring Federal employees receive equal benefits. We must create safer schools so all our children may learn in a supportive environment. I am also committed to ending "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" so patriotic LGBT Americans can serve openly in our military, and I am working with the Congress and our military leadership to accomplish that goal.

As we honor the LGBT Americans who have given so much to our Nation, let us remember that if one of us is unable to realize full equality, we all fall short of our founding principles. Our Nation draws its strength from our diversity,with each of us contributing to the greater whole. By affirming these rights and values, each American benefits from the further advancement of liberty and justice for all.

NOW, THEREFORE, I, BARACK OBAMA, President of the United States of America, by virtue of the authority vested in me by the Constitution and the laws of the United States, do hereby proclaim June 2010 as Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Pride Month. I call upon all Americans to observe this month by fighting prejudice and discrimination in their own lives and everywhere it exists.

IN WITNESS WHEREOF, I have hereunto set my hand this twenty-eighth day of May, in the year of our Lord two thousand ten, and of the Independence of the United States of America the two hundred and thirty-fourth.

BARACK OBAMA

Friday, May 28, 2010

It isn't about the Foreign Service but...

I haven't commented on the latest developments on Don't Ask Don't Tell, and not because I don't think it will ultimately have an impact on the Foreign Service. I do. I'll get to that in a minute.

I haven't commented because I am of a mixed mind about what happened yesterday. A bill passed the House and was passed out of committee in the Senate repealing "Don't Ask, Don't Tell," the law which prohibits gays and lesbians from serving openly in the military.

On the one hand, awesome that they voted for the repeal and that the full Senate will vote on it probably next week.

On the other, not so great that there are so many "if's." It will get repealled "if," after the full study (seriously, most of our allies allow gays to serve openly, which means in addition to all the gays and lesbians serving in silence in our military, our military is already serving in Iraq and Afghanistan with openly LGBT folks from our allies' militaries.), they find that the military can handled it, and "if" the President and Congress certify the results of that study.

So this feels like a feel good policy with no guarantee of results. Remember, there was no law before 1993 either, but the military was free to ban gays and lesbians by its own policies. And it did. This repeal just returns us to that place.

I do hope for a full repeal. I am just not yet convinced that there is the political will to do it, despite 78% of Americans supporting allowing gays and lesbians to serve openly.

If there is a full repeal and gays and lesbians who want to serve the country in the military without being forced to lie about who they are, I think this will be the watershed for gay rights in this country. Because despite the fact that we in the Foreign Service also put our lives at risk to serve the country, Americans hold the military in a different regard. They are considered to be the ones making the ultimate sacrifice.

And I think when Americans are able to see how many gays and lesbians are serving in the military (more than 13,000 have been discharged since DADT, and estimates are that there are tens of thousands more serving in silence), they will be less willing to deny us our rights. Really, you can defend our freedoms but you don't have the freedom to legally marry your spouse? You can die for your country but the person you have spent your life with must pay inheritance taxes on the home you bought together?

So I think this is a positive step, but I really hope for more. For all of us.

Oh, and to the Washington Post, who wrote today that 13,000 had "left" the service because of the policy. They didn't "leave," they were kicked out against their will.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Well That Just Sucks!

One of my favorite bloggers, as well as a fellow survivor of Jerusalem, Muttering Behind the Hardline, has decided to hang up his blogging hat. No one came after him...he just feels it is time to move on.

Well that just sucks.

Of course, as a way to help me deal with missing his blog, my computer freaked out the last two times I visited his site, opening up about 60 new windows last night and 20 today!


We'll miss you, and hope you come back soon!

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Could be worse. Could be raining.

So I am still time travelling. My EER is for the period I actually worked, but apparently it will take me a year to make it effective. Sigh.

But it could be worse.

A friend got hers done LONG before I did.

She JUST got it bounced back. Apparently the program spit out all her changes and replaced them with upside down question marks.

Awesome.

Really wish I could write the rating statement for the person getting credit for the ePerformance rollout.


ON EDIT: Just found two upside down question marks in mine. Fabulous. Now, do I pull it back and try to fix it, risking more crap getting inserted (since I KNOW it didn't have those when I submitted it because it had done the same thing when I pasted the test into ePerformance, so I combed it thoroughly for errors) or do I just say f*ck it?

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

AFSA Award Winners

1. The American Foreign Service Association is proud to announce the 2010 AFSA Award winners. The awards will be presented on Thursday, June 24, at 4:00 P.M., in a ceremony in the Benjamin Franklin Diplomatic Reception Room of the Department of State. AFSA invites friends of the Foreign Service to attend, and particularly friends and colleagues of our award winners.

2. Lifetime Contributions: AFSA’s Award for Lifetime Contributions to American Diplomacy will be conferred on Ambassador Lowell Bruce Laingen. We are honored to present this prestigious award to Ambassador Laingen.

Born on a farm in southern Minnesota on Aug. 6, 1922, Ambassador Laingen graduated from St. Olaf College. He later received an M.A. in international relations from the University of Minnesota, and attended the National War College. During World War II, he served in the U.S. Navy, joining the Foreign Service in 1949. He served in Germany, Iran, Pakistan, Afghanistan and Washington, D.C., before being appointed ambassador to Malta in 1977.

In 1979 Amb. Laingen returned to Tehran as chargé d’affaires, but within months of his arrival, student protestors overran the U.S. embassy. He and two other American officials were at the Iranian Foreign Ministry at the time of the assault, and were detained there for the next 14 months.

After that ordeal, Amb. Laingen received the State Department’s Award for Valor, along with several other honors, in 1981. Laingen’s next position was that of vice president of the National Defense University, a post traditionally held by a senior diplomat. He retired from the Foreign Service in 1987 and later served as president of the American Academy of Diplomacy.

Previous recipients of the Lifetime Contributions to American Diplomacy Award include U. Alexis Johnson, Frank Carlucci, George H.W. Bush, Lawrence Eagleburger, Cyrus Vance, David Newsom, Lee Hamilton, Thomas Pickering, George Shultz, Richard Parker, Richard Lugar, Mort Abramowitz, Joan Clark, Tom Boyatt, and Sam Nunn.

3. Constructive Dissent: This year’s AFSA awards for intellectual courage, initiative and integrity in the expression of constructive dissent will be presented to the following Foreign Service employees. Each demonstrated the courage to speak out and challenge the system, despite possible consequences, and will receive a certificate of recognition and $2,500 for their unique actions and courage. AFSA takes particular pride in bestowing these unique awards each year.

-- The F. Allen “Tex” Harris Award for Constructive Dissent by a Foreign Service Specialist will be presented to David M. Zwach, a security engineering officer. Mr. Zwach performed historical research and undertook a campaign to convince the Department of State that specialists deserve a certificate similar to that given to generalists. As a result of his efforts, a specialist certificate commensurate with
the generalist version was approved in 2008. And in March 2010, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton agreed that all specialists would receive a certificate that would be signed by her.

--The William R. Rivkin Award for Constructive Dissent by a Mid-Level Foreign Service Officer will be presented to Dr. Diana Putman for her courage in challenging the entire structure at the U.S. Africa Command over its proposed interventions in the area of sexual and gender-based violence in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

--The W. Averill Harriman Award for Constructive Dissent by a Junior-Level Foreign Service Officer will be awarded to Kathryn A. Kiser. During her tenure in the American Citizen Services Unit of Embassy Amman’s consular section, Ms. Kiser had the courage to dissent on a State Department policy that withholds passports from U.S. citizens resident in foreign countries. The policy not only inconveniences those it affects, but leaves them extremely vulnerable by essentially making them undocumented aliens

--There was no winner this year of the Christian A. Herter Award for Constructive Dissent by a Senior-Level Foreign Service Officer.

4. The AFSA Awards and Plaques Committee select the Harris, Harriman and Herter Dissent Award winners each year. Current committee members are: Retired Ambassador John Limbert (Chairman); Francisco Zamora, AFSA USAID Vice President ; active-duty Foreign Service officers George Sibley and Sue Saarnio; Office Management Specialist Teresa Yata; and retired FSOs Janice Bay, Ambassador Edward Peck and Dick Thompson.
Thank you to all these committee members.

The William R. Rivkin Award winner was selected by the children of the late Ambassador William Rivkin: Julia Wheeler, Laura Ledford, Ambassador Charles Rivkin and Robert Rivkin, as well as retired Ambassador Thomas Boyatt, who worked with Ambassador Rivkin; Marshall Bouton, president of the Chicago Council on Foreign Relations, the Honorable Newton N. Minow; Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood and former Representative Jim Leach. AFSA is very grateful to these fine judges and individuals. We are honored to be associated with an award named after Ambassador
William Rivkin, who was such a fine diplomat and person.

5. Exemplary Performance: The following individuals are this year’s winners of AFSA’s three awards for exemplary performance and extraordinary contributions to professionalism, morale and effectiveness. Each will receive a certificate of recognition and a monetary prize of $2,500.

-- The Avis Bohlen Award, presented to a Foreign Service family member whose relations with the American and foreign communities at a Foreign Service post have done the most to advance American interests, will be awarded to Anne Bridgman of Embassy Bratislava. Judges serving on the Bohlen Award panel were: Faye Barnes, President of the Associates of the American Foreign Service Worldwide; Ambassador Avis T. Bohlen, for whose wonderful mother this award is named; Mette Beecroft, AAFSW President Emeritus; Sherry Barndollar Rock, Executive Director of Diplomats and
Consular Officers Retired and Leslie Teixeira, director of the Family Liaison Office.

-- The Nelson B. Delavan Award recognizes extraordinary contributions to effectiveness, professionalism and morale by an Office Management Specialist. This year’s winner is Allie L. Almero of Embassy Kabul, and the runner-up is Alicia N. Gale of Embassy Phnom Penh. Like the other excellent judges for all awards, we were fortunate to have a fine group of judges on the Delavan Award panel: Teresa Yata, Chairwoman, OMS and AFSA Governing Board member; Terry Girone, OMS; Jo Villemarette;
Margaret Riccardelli, retired OMS; Retired Ambassador Susan Jacobs; and Jenny Jeras.

-- The M. Juanita Guess Award recognizes outstanding service by a Community Liaison Officer who demonstrates outstanding leadership, dedication, initiative or imagination in assisting families serving at an overseas post this year. This is such a critical function and so spotlighting special service is a real pleasure. This year’s award goes to Sarah Genton, Embassy Madrid; the runner-up is Stephanie Diamond of Embassy Bujumbura. Serving on the Guess Award panel were: Kendall
Montgomery, Chairman; Judy Ikels, former deputy director of FLO; Cathy Salvaterra, former CLO support officer; Katherine Munchmeyer and Jane Zimmerman, active-duty Foreign Service officers; and Gina Wells, former CLO. Thank you to these judges.

6. AFSA Post Representative of the Year: A special award for the AFSA Post Representative of the Year will be presented to James Fox, who is the AFSA representative at U.S. Mission to NATO in Brussels. He will receive a framed certificate and a cash award of $1,000. AFSA Post Representatives play a critical role in supporting AFSA’s mission and the extra efforts made by James are greatly appreciated and worthy of this special praise.

7. Finally, we gratefully appreciate the efforts of all those who sent in nominations and hope that posts can recognize their nominees outstanding accomplishments in another manner. We again thank all judges who served on panels this year. AFSA places great importance on these awards, which serve to recognize intellectual courage and outstanding achievement of our Foreign Service personnel. We also thank Foreign Service Director General Nancy Powell for co-sponsoring our
annual awards ceremony, which is open to any employee wishing to attend. The July-August Foreign Service Journal will contain more details on the achievements of this year’s winners. Coverage of the June 24 awards ceremony will appear in the September issue; photos from the ceremony will be posted immediately on AFSA’s Facebook page.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Senioritis

I has it. Seriously.

It is like I am days away from summer vacation. I haven't had it this bad since I joined the Foreign Service.

Even when I left Jerusalem, I knew I had only 5 weeks of home leave (ONLY! Home leave is awesome!) and then I had to return to work.Even though it was a (thankfully) different job.

And this time, I am not even getting time off. At least not until August (when I will be abandoning you for an Alaska cruise...it occurred to me there might not be internet on the cruise, which sort of frightens me).

But I will be back in school. And though I will probably be tired of it with about 5 minutes, right now, it seems like vacation. 17 more working days until I can wear jeans to work.Until I can work a normal length work day. Until I can sleep just a little later. Until I don't have to schedule my running days around my "short" days at work. And I am finding it hard to work at all now...really, what can I accomplish in so little time?

Plus, my EER is done. So anything I accomplish won't do me any good!

Speaking of my EER, apparently I am one of the 10% of the Foreign Service who got it in on time (and ePerformance crashed on Friday, so people shooting for getting it in at the last possible minute are screwed). I find that kind of funny, considering how long I procrastinated. I look positively responsible!

Of course, my EER is still set in the future. The dates covered are now correct but it is still effective in 2011. Too bad I can't go back and add "Time Traveller" to it. Surely THAT is worth getting promoted! On the down side, I can't tell you anything about the future, because it would cause a shift in the space-time continuum and we would all explode.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Bike To Work Day

So apparently May is Bike to Work Month. I didn't realize that until today, when I actually read one of the fliers they have posted on every elevator. I seldom actually read the fliers because I have discovered that my cell phone, which I can use to check my email, also functions as a magical elevator summoner. If I pull it out and start checking my mail, the elevator comes immediately (because you can't check your email IN the elevator). But if I don't, I have to wait.

I do NOT have an email addiction. I just don't want to keep any of you waiting for a response!

Anyway, in my defense, I DID know that today was ride your bike to work DAY. I saw lots of people doing just that.

I didn't ride my bike (or my wife's for that matter, since mine is a $58 Walmart special. No, I am not exaggerating). I drove.

I like the idea of biking to work. I hope to start doing it when I head over to FSI next month.

What I don't like is the idea of my coworkers commenting on how bad I smell.

I am from the South. Like seriously from the South. Like American Indian indigenous to the South and really really acclimated to heat kind of from the South.

I don't glisten. I sweat. Serious sweat...buckets of water kind of sweat. And my lovely wife has informed me that this sweat, especially after running (yes, I am still doing it...I am up to week 8 of the Couch to 5K program), doesn't smell good.

And at least I do that in shorts and a t-shirt. Do people who bike in every day take a shower at work? Every day? Do they bring their suits with them? How do they keep them from being wrinkled?

If I could answer these questions, I would be far more inclined to bike to work. Or at least get my tires pumped so I could consider it!

Take This Job and Shove It

Okay, this post at Muttering Behind the Hardline is truly inspired. You have got to go and have a look/listen.

Soundtrack: Bidding Season

Thursday, May 20, 2010

US "appalled" by Malawi sentence of same-sex couple

Tiwonge Chimbalanga and Steven Monjeza, a gay male couple in Malawi that was convicted earlier this week of unnatural acts and gross indecency following their engagement ceremony, were sentenced today to the maximum penalty allowed by law, 14 years of hard labor in prison. You can read more about the case here.

The State Department, which earlier condemned the conviction, had this to say about today's sentence:


"The United States is appalled by today’s sentencing of same-sex couple Tiwonge Chimbalanga and Steven Monjeza to 14 years of hard labor. We view the criminalization of sexual orientation and gender identity as a step backward in the protection of human rights in Malawi. We are particularly disturbed by the severity of the sentence. The Government of Malawi must respect the human rights of all of its citizens. The United States views the decriminalization of sexual orientation and gender identity as integral to the protection of human rights in Malawi and elsewhere in the world."

ON EDIT - Below is the full statement the Department just released to the press:

"The United States is appalled by the conviction and sentencing of Tiwonge Chimbalanga and Steven Monjeza to 14 years in jail with hard labor under Malawian law for violating Malawi Penal Code Chapter 15, Section 153 and 156, under which they had been charged with “carnal knowledge against the order of nature” and “gross indecency.” The conviction and sentencing are a significant step backward for the Government of Malawi’s human rights record. Malawi must abide by its human rights obligations.

We view the criminalization of sexual orientation and gender identity and sentencing to 14 years hard labor as a deeply troubling violation of human rights. Decriminalization of homosexuality is integral to the continued protection of universal human rights in Malawi. It is also crucial to the urgent need to fight the spread of HIV/AIDS – a fight in which the United States is closely allied with the Malawian people.

We remain disturbed by harassment, persecution, and exclusion based on sexual orientation or gender identity wherever it occurs. The State Department will continue to stand against any efforts to marginalize, criminalize, and penalize members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and trans-gender community worldwide. We urge Malawi and all countries with similar laws to take the necessary measures to ensure that sexual orientation or gender identity may under no circumstances be the basis for criminal penalties, in particular arrests, detentions, or executions. "

GovExec: Budget analysts put a price tag on domestic partner perks

From Government Executive:

Budget analysts put a price tag on domestic partner perks
By Elizabeth Newell
May 18, 2010

Making the same-sex domestic partners of federal employees eligible to receive the same benefits as married spouses would cost the government more than $300 million over the next decade, the Congressional Budget Office estimates.

In addition to $310 million in direct costs between 2010 and 2020, CBO calculates the 2009 Domestic Partnership Benefits and Obligations Act (S. 1102) would increase benefits-related discretionary spending by $394 million over the same period. The Washington Post first reported the new estimates for the bill, which would include health insurance, survivor annuities, compensation for work-related injuries, and travel and relocation benefits to federal employees' same-sex partners.

Providing health care to domestic partners would account for most of the increases in both direct and discretionary spending -- $294 million and $355 million, respectively.

In order to reach its estimate, CBO assumed the Senate bill will be enacted late in 2010 and about 0.33 percent of federal employees would choose to register a same-sex partnership if given the opportunity.
"That figure is based on information previously gathered from state and local governments as well as more recent research on the experience of organizations that have adopted similar policies," the report stated.
CBO estimates about 80 percent of individuals eligible under the proposal would move from single to family health coverage and 85 percent would elect a survivor benefit for a domestic partner.

Sen. Joe Lieberman, I-Conn., who introduced the bill, said he is pleased CBO's estimate is so similar to the Office of Personnel Management figures upon which the Senate has relied.

"This legislation would cost about two-hundredths of a percent of the federal government's overall costs for the civilian workforce," Lieberman said. "That is a very small price to pay for the improvements we would see in recruitment, retention and morale. OPM has committed to provide an offset for the legislation before it is enacted, making it that much more reasonable."

In December 2009 the budget office released an estimate for a similar House bill, determining it would cost about $600 million in direct spending over 10 years. The apparent discrepancy is caused by the fact the House measure would provide benefits to the domestic partners of eligible federal retirees, as well as those of current employees.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

About Jerusalem

Like me, Muttering Behind the Hardline served his first tour in Jerusalem, and like him, I feel changed by the experience,

You should read his post today about serving there. It is spot on.

Senate vote on same-sex benefits 'within weeks'

What annoys me about this piece is that it Issa as calling this a "new benefit" for federal employees. This is not a "new benefit." It is the extension of an existing benefit to people who have been unjustly denied. Why should I not be allowed to leave my pension to my wife when my straight colleague can leave his to his wife? And why should my job not provide insurance to my wife if it would provide it to my co-worker's husband?

So fingers crossed that this passes.


Senate vote on same-sex benefits 'within weeks'

The Senate could vote on a bill extending fringe benefits to the same-sex partners of gay federal employees "within weeks" and well before July 4, according to aides to Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman (I-Conn.).

The Nutmeg State senator is lead sponsor of the measure, which would cost an estimated $310 million through 2020, according to the Congressional Budget Office.

That's a notable, but not terribly hefty price tag by Washington standards, and Lieberman is fine with the anticipated cost.

This legislation would cost about two-hundredths of a percent of the federal government’s overall costs for the civilian workforce," Lieberman said Tuesday. "That is a very small price to pay for the improvements we would see in recruitment, retention, and morale. OPM has committed to provide an offset for the legislation before it is enacted, making it that much more reasonable.”

Indeed those offsets -- first requested by Lieberman and Senate Republicans in December -- aren't ready yet and won't be until Lieberman is ready to introduce the bill to the full Senate, according to an OPM spokesman.

Lieberman's bill may win some Republican votes, but a House version passed last year with no GOP support. The House bill also covers eligible federal retirees, giving it a heftier price tag that the GOP considers unacceptable.

"At a time when unemployment is at 9.9 percent, it’s absurd that Democrats would push a costly new benefit for federal employees when so many Americans in the private sector are out of work," said Frederick Hill, a spokesman for Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), the ranking Republican on the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, which first approved the benefits bill. "This legislation is a good example of how this Congress and administration have neglected efforts to rein-in spending and create jobs in favor of an agenda to satisfy their political base."

State Department Response to Conviction of gay Malawi Couple

Tiwonge Chimbalanga and Steve Monjeza were convicted in the Blantyre Magistrate Court on May 18 of violating Malawi Penal Code Chapter 15, Section 153 and 156, under which they had been charged with “carnal knowledge against the order of nature” and “gross indecency.” Chief Resident Magistrate Usiwausiwa said he would pass sentence on May 20.

The couple was arrested following a public engagement ceremony.

The Department responded to the conviction during yesterday's Daily Press Briefing:

"The United States is deeply disappointed in today’s conviction of same-sex couple Tiwonge Chimbalanga and Steven Monjeza in Malawi. We view the criminalization of sexual orientation and gender identity as a step backward in the protection of human rights in Malawi. The Government of Malawi must respect the human rights of all of its citizens. The United States views the decriminalization of sexual orientation and gender identity as integral to the protection of human rights in Malawi and elsewhere in the world."

It is nice to serve under an administration that recognizes this is a human rights issue worth addressing. It is also nice to live in a country, where while I am not a full citizen, I can at least not be arrested for marrying the love of my life.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Now I am apparently a year early...

So my EER made it through panel and got posted. And the deadline isn't until Friday.

Great right?

Well....

Apparently this EER is evaluating me from June 15, 2010 to April 15, 2011 and was posted on April 15, 2011.

See anything wrong with that picture?

Mashable: How the U.S. Engages the World with Social Media

Speaking of being able to blog and such...Mashable had a nice piece on the Department's efforts with New and Social Media.

How the U.S. Engages the World with Social Media

"The perception of the U.S. abroad varies widely, and is subject to many forces, including world events, media coverage, policy changes, and presidential administrations. In response, the U.S. State Department, America’s public relations branch, has been charged with the difficult task of engaging in the dialogue surrounding the controversial policies discussed in almost every corner of the world.

Social media has proven to be a valuable tool in this regard, and the State Department has made impressive gains in their mission to turn conflict into conversation. Cabinet officials, foreign dignitaries, and embassies are experimenting with ways to inject America’s voice into the global chatter. Some of their experiments are paying dividends that few expected. "

You can read the whole piece here.

Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, And Transgender Pride Month (LGBT) – Call for Employees:

I have a little catching up to do since I was out doing my impression of a
beach bum (and let me tell you, I could transform into a full-time beach bum in 2.5 seconds flad!).

Here is a Department notice that was sent out while I was gone. It is gratifying to see the Department treating LGBT Foreign Service families as if they matter!

Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, And Transgender Pride Month (LGBT) – Call for Employees:

As in previous years, the Department’s homepage will feature employees in observance of LGBT Month. The theme for this year is “One Heart, One World, One Pride.”

Each profile will include a professional photo of the featured employee with brief biographical information. If you would like to be featured, please send a digital photo of yourself and a brief bio (around 250 words) by May 28, 2010, to the Office of Civil Rights, Diversity Management and Outreach Section at Diversity@state.gov. The website can accommodate 15 participants for each monthly observance. Each employee’s profile will be featured for two days. Please send your submission early to secure a posting. We encourage you to participate as we celebrate the strength of our diversity.

A Daring Adventure is fine and so am I...

I got a few emails the other day asking what had happened to Kolbi. Apparently her blog had disappeared completely.

I said I would email her on Facebook and see what was up.

Then I noticed her Facebook account was gone.

I worried. I felt like I had lost a friend. Kolbi and I chat a lot...

But I was at the beach. With no internet access other than email and mobile Facebook via my cell phone (WHY don't I have a Droid??).

Which meant of course, that I could not only search for her and read what had been posted about the demise of A Daring Adventure, but I also couldn't post myself.

Which lead to me getting an email from another blogger friend asking if *I* was still around.

I am...a little more tanned and relaxed is all.

And Kolbi is back too. She explains the whole thing here.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Finally!

I have submitted it to HR.

It is now out of my hands.

Of course

I'm ready.

I have the document started in ePerformance. I have all of the information in a word document.

Everything has been scrubbed by two senior Foreign Service Officers who I respect (one of whom I would work for again any time, any place. He walks on water...and not in an EER kind of way).

I have my bosses proxy, so I can actually move things through ePerformance pretty quickly (seriously, NOT efficient to move it back and forth between the employee and supervisor that many times. Dumb. We are busy people...did you notice the uptick in hiring we are doing? It is because we have too much work for too few people. This silliness is a collassal WASTE OF TIME).

But no matter. I'm ready.

And of course...

HR Online is down. And I will not be here tomorrow or Monday.

And it has to be signed sealed and delivered by next Friday.

So it needs to be done today. Really two weeks ago. But definitely today.

Just shoot me.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Overseas Posts: Central to Success in Public Diplomacy

My CDO sent this to me yesterday and I thought it might be of interest to those of you who are PD-coned or hoping to become PD officers.

Overseas Posts: Central to Success in Public Diplomacy
Vol. II Issue 5, May 2010
By William A. Rugh

Since 9/11 there has been a proliferation of writing about public diplomacy, but very rarely does any of it focus on what U.S. public diplomacy professionals actually do at diplomatic missions around the world. The many books, articles and studies have centered their attention almost entirely on the Washington end of the story. Why? Few Americans know anything about what a U.S. embassy does, or have ever been inside one. Our media does not report on embassy operations. Similarly, think tanks and organizations issued more than 30 reports on public diplomacy, consulting very few people who have lived and worked abroad, keeping it Washington-centric.(1) Even scholars tend to share that focus. (2) Thus, most of the literature leaves out an important half of the story.

Ignorance of what goes on at our embassies abroad leads to another misunderstanding, namely that most Americans have come to believe that public diplomacy is all about leadership in Washington. It is true that the election of President Obama has improved the American image abroad. (3) His speeches in Egypt and Ghana and town hall meetings in other countries present a sharp contrast to the style of President Bush, who did not seem much interested in foreign public opinion and preferred a unilateralist approach to the world. Public diplomacy practitioners know that listening carefully and engaging in a dialogue shows respect for others' opinions and concerns, as it helps shape our communications better. This is precisely why practitioners applaud President Obama's style of speaking not just to heads of state but taking the trouble to address ordinary citizens in foreign countries. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton also used town hall meetings abroad to good effect. Since becoming secretary of state she has travelled nearly 300,000 miles, visiting 54 countries. She has done public appearances on many of her trips, for example last February 15 when she was in Doha, Qatar she had a public exchange at a meeting with students at Carnegie Mellon University's Doha campus. Yet, a successful public diplomacy overall effort cannot be carried out only by a few senior people in Washington. Foreign commentators have begun to criticize the President's foreign policy pledges because they have not led to immediate solutions to the problems he addressed and that foreign audiences care about.(4) American officials must now cope with the expectations that the President raised. More importantly, concerns vary from one country to another, requiring different answers that can be best addressed by people on the ground who are well versed in local issues.

Many people do not realize that there is a considerable difference between what Washington does in public diplomacy and what field posts do. Officials in Washington decide global policies, but when Foreign Service Officers (FSOs) at field posts explain and support them in conversations with local audiences, they cannot simply repeat guidance fed to them by officials at the State Department in Washington and end it there. They must elaborate, within limits, bearing in mind local concerns and interests. In other words, they try to translate Washington's guidance into arguments and rationales that will resonate with the local population. This does not mean that the FSO will ignore policy guidance or go beyond it in a way that distorts it, but nobody will listen to him or her parrot only what a Washington official says.

An FSO must of course consider every public statement made by a senior official in Washington as official policy to be taken as guidance, but those statements are more often than not crafted with an American audience in mind, and consequently do not always address the concerns of a foreign audience. Moreover, the FSO is required to represent all of America, not just the administration in power, so the task is broader than policy advocacy.

Even the Under Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs, whose job it is to supervise the U.S. government's communication with foreign publics, tends to see the world from a Washington perspective rather than a field perspective. For example, when Under Secretary Judith McHale testified before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on March 10, 2010, she remarked that the Department of State must do a better job of "understanding the opinions and attitudes of foreign publics." While she is correct, her vision(5) consists of growing the federal bureaucracy and creating a new "market research" staff at the State Department. Public diplomacy professionals would argue that one of the most important tasks they face when working at an embassy abroad is trying hard to "understand the [local] opinions and attitudes." They usually spend most of their working day doing just that, following local media reporting and editorials for clues on local thinking, talking daily with their contacts and with local hires, and keeping their finger firmly on the local pulse. A public diplomacy effort can only succeed if the American and local staff at the U.S. embassy devote constant attention to the task of following local opinion.

A basic requirement for success in a public diplomacy effort in any country is that the PD practitioners must spend much of their time engaging personally with a wide variety of people in the local society. As President Kennedy's U.S. Information Agency director Edward R. Murrow famously said, it is "the last three feet" that count, meaning the most important link in any communication is personal face-to-face interaction. He was aware of that important truth even though he had been a professional broadcaster who communicated mostly by radio and television. Only through personal interaction can the PD professional really understand local concerns and views of America, and personal interaction is the best way to counter misunderstandings about the United States. This is crucial as Americans and foreign audiences usually see things differently. For example, President Bush's policy after 9/11 focused on counter-terrorism, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and promoting democracy. Foreign audiences had other priorities. Bush was fond of saying that 9/11 "changed everything;" that may have been true for Americans, but it was not necessarily so to the rest of the world. Public diplomacy professionals with field experience also know that local conditions hugely influence the programs they carry out. In some countries we can use the full range of public diplomacy instruments, but in Afghanistan and Iraq the violence and poor security conditions severely limit what they can achieve. In highly wired societies like Japan and South Korea, public diplomacy professionals can use media such as satellite TV, and social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter. In some developing countries the public does not have similar access to such tools and many people do not even have a dependable access to electricity, so other means must be used. Judith McHale calls for the expanded use of new media, and most American commentators on public diplomacy concur with this approach, seeing how well this works in America; but it is a mistake to assume the same works everywhere.
The literature contains many inaccuracies about public diplomacy field operations. The reports mentioned above argue that public diplomacy should be the purview of the public sector. Jan Melissen, Professor of Diplomacy at Antwerp University in Belgium, wrote that non-state actors are "extremely agile and capable of mobilizing support at a speed that is daunting for rather more unwieldy foreign policy bureaucracies." (6) FSOs who have served abroad would dispute that description. They are keenly aware of the work of Americans representing companies and NGOs abroad, is simply not comparable at all with the work of an American official.

Kristin Lord, another scholar, posited in a report that American public diplomacy be reformed by creating a new non-governmental organization called "USA World Trust" that would do better than the government. The report stated this organization would, among other things, create exchange programs to bring foreign university professors, journalists, NGO representatives and government officials to the United States; it would send American experts abroad on speaking tours; it would understand foreign opinion through focus groups; and it would sponsor translations of American books into foreign languages. (7) Those are all worthwhile public diplomacy projects, but the problem with this report is that all of those activities are already carried out by American diplomats around the world. They have been standard tools in the official U.S. government effort for decades, a fact that this report fails to acknowledge.

If we want a successful public diplomacy effort, we need to devote more attention to the support and development of public diplomacy specialists in the Foreign Service, the so-called "PD cone." Sometimes FSOs from other cones, such as political or economic, are assigned to PD positions at embassies abroad, for purposes of their cross-training, but this practice has been carried too far and it has undermined the professionalism of our public diplomacy effort because FSOs with no experience in public diplomacy are given public diplomacy tasks. Diplomacy and public diplomacy are best learned on the job, and the best PD officers tend to be the officers who have had the most actual experience doing public diplomacy. Since the USIA-State merger in 1999, this specialization has been diluted by too much cross-training and that trend should be reversed.

Only a small number of people writing today have pointed out the central importance of field operations to public diplomacy. (8) It remains a badly neglected aspect of the subject. If we are to improve public diplomacy outreach, we should pay heed to our diplomats' work at embassies all over the world.

(1) Susan B. Epstein and Lisa Mages, "Public Diplomacy: A Review of Past recommendations", Washington DC: Congressional Research Service, October 31, 2005
(2) For example one excellent scholar has written a superb book on USIA that pays very little attention to field operations: Nicholas J. Cull, The Cold War and the United States information Agency, New York: Cambridge University Press, 2008)
(3) Pew Research Center, "Confidence in Obama Lifts U.S. Image Around the World", research report July 23, 2009, http://pewglobal.og/reports
(4) Testimony of Pew Research Center President Andrew Kohut before the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, March 4, 2010, http://www.pewtrusts.org/news_room_detail.aspx?id=57624
(5) http://foreign.senate.gov/testimony/2010/McHaleTestimony100310p.pdf
(6) Jan Melissen, "The New Public Diplomacy", in Jan Melissen, Ed, The New Public Diplomacy, New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2007, p.24.
(7) Kristin Lord, "Voices of America: U.S. Public Diplomacy for the 21st Century, Washington DC: Brookings, November 2008, pp.18-23.
(8) For example Wiliam P. Kiehl, "The Case for Localized Public Diplomacy", in Nancy Snow and Philip M. Taylor, Eds. Routledge Handbook of Public Diplomacy, New York: Routledge 2009, pp.212-24, and Mike Canning, "The Overseas Post: The Forgotten Element of our Public Diplomacy", Washington DC: Public Diplomacy Council, 2008, www.publicdiplomacycouncil.org/uploads/canningoverseasposts

William A. Rugh is the Edward R. Murrow Visiting Professor of Public Diplomacy at the Fletcher School of Tufts University.

He was a United States Foreign Service Officer 1964-1995. He held positions abroad for the U.S. Information Agency in Cairo, Riyadh and Jeddah, and in Washington as Assistant Director of USIA for the Near East and South Asia. He also held presidential appointments as the United States ambassador to Yemen and ambassador to the United Arab Emirates, and a State Department appointment as Deputy Chief of Mission in Syria.

He was President and CEO of the educational NGO AMIDEAST 1995-2003, that manages educational programs in the Arab world.
He holds a PhD in international relations from Columbia University and an MA from the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies.

He taught U.S. Middle East Policy and Public Diplomacy at Fletcher 1984-86 and he has taught Public Diplomacy there since 2008.
He is the author of "American Encounters with Arabs: the Soft Power of U.S. Public Diplomacy in the Middle East" and other books and articles on public diplomacy. He has also published books, articles and opeds on American diplomacy, Arab media and US-Arab relations.

He is a member of the following boards of directors: AMIDEAST (executive committee), the American University in Cairo, the Middle East Policy Council (vice chair), the Public Diplomacy Council (executive committee), the Suffolk University International Advisory Board, and the Arab Media and Society Editorial Board.

He is married to Dr. Andrea Rugh, an author and consultant. He has three sons: David Rugh of Yorba Linda, CA, Nicholas Rugh of Menlo Park, CA, and Douglas Rugh of Pocassett MA. His winter home is in Garrett Park MD, and his summer home (June-October) is in Woods Hole, MA

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Do You?

Yesterday was fun. I got to meet a few of the new FSOs (and even better, some of the new blogger FSOs!) while they were standing in the Exhibit Hall in the never-ending badge line (and you thought the waiting part was done once you started A-100!).

While I was down there, I had a discussion with one person about Facebook. He was contemplating deleting his FB account. Apparently they hit the new folks with the DS "blogging/social networking is bad" lecture on day one now...but they couple it with the HR "blogging/social networking is awesome" lecture. Mixed message much?

Anyway, I later had a similar discussion with a colleague in my office later in the day. She is a self-avoided FB/blog/Twitter/Link-In hater. She refuses to do any of it.

You might have gathered, I feel quite the opposite. I am not sure I am a first adopter, but I am pretty darned close (though I am just NOT getting an iPad. Not doing it. Even if the videos of the cats playing piano on it make it look pretty cool). Obviously I blog. I also FB, Tweet (both personally (as Digger) and for GLIFAA) and have a linked-in account (I don't use it much but I see the value of using it as a PD officer at post). I even have a myspace account...but I never use it. But blogs and FB, it would be pretty safe to say I am an addict. Wonder how I found all those blogs on my blogroll? I search the blogosphere every day, usually twice.

There is probably a twelve-step program for this somewhere.

In my defense, at least where FB is concerned, it really is a great tool for those of us with friends around the world to stay in touch. My good friend from Jerusalem who is now in Afghanistan? I don't have to worry when something blows up there because she will put up a status update saying she is okay.

Anyway, I am curious. Which forms of social media do you use? Are you a casual user or an addict? What do you like/hate about them? And for those who are recent to the FS, what are your thoughts in terms of keeping/ditching your accounts. With the one person who was considering deleting his, I argued for him keeping it...because how else am I going to follow him as he goes around the world?!

Monday, May 10, 2010

Welcome to the 153rd!

The 153rd A-100 starts today, and to celebrate, I have moved the blogs written by members of this class out of the future FSO blogroll and into the blogroll of FSO blogs. So a hearty welcome to:

Devonnaire

from the back of beyond

Herding Cats

Livingroom Friends

Pantsuits and Pearls

and

Worldwide Availability

Also, I got an email from an FSO from the 152nd who said, after reading the poists and comments here and elsewhere about going public, that he had decided to make his blog public as well. So I invite you to check out Fawda Munathema.

The new class will be in The Building today. If you see them, say hello and welcome to the Foreign Service. We are all made better when good people join us!

Saturday, May 08, 2010

Friday, May 07, 2010

Secretary's Remarks at the AFSA Memorial Plaque Ceremony


Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton
Remarks at the American Foreign Service Association Memorial Plaque Ceremony

May 7, 2010
Washington, D.C.

SECRETARY CLINTON: Thank you, Susan. And thanks to all of you for being here and joining us for this occasion of remembrance and gratitude. I’m pleased that Administrator Dr. Raj Shah and other leaders of our foreign policy community can be with us today.

Let me start with a message from President Obama: “I send greetings to all those celebrating Foreign Affairs Day 2010 at the Department of State and serving around the world. Today, we recognize the many Foreign Service professionals who advance our national interests through their work. On behalf of a grateful nation, I thank you for your dedication to building a better, more secure, democratic, and prosperous world.”

We know that your work does not come without sacrifice and danger. And today, we solemnly remember three Americans who lost their lives this past year. Terry Barnich, a dedicated, very smart professional was returning from a water treatment facility inspection in Fallujah, Iraq when he was killed by a roadside bomb on May 25th, 2009. Terry arrived in Iraq in 2007, and although he was only scheduled to be there for 11 months, he stayed longer to continue helping the Iraqi people rebuild their own nation.

The January 12th earthquake claimed the life of Victoria DeLong in Haiti. She was a Foreign Service officer with 27 years of service, and she was well known and well liked by all with whom she had worked over those years. And in Haiti, she was particularly committed to strengthening the bonds and deepening understanding between the American and Haitian people.

Dale Gredler was a professional USAID employee. He was known by his colleagues to be so dedicated to his work. He leaves behind these two beautiful young daughters. And I hope that they know that he served his country by trying to help other people have a chance for their own children to have lives of fulfillment and success. He died of cardiac failure on January 27th while traveling from his post in Kazakhstan to obtain treatment back home here in America.

Terry, Victoria, and Dale join the ranks of those before them on the memorial plaque. And their commitment to caring about others beyond themselves, their families, and those who were close by – in fact, taking their training and their commitment to the entire world, to improve it, to make it safer, to give others the same chance we enjoy here in the United States. That will truly be their lasting legacy.

I think we know what a debt of gratitude we owe to all who serve. And we know, too, that each and every one of them will have family members and colleagues who remember them. But certainly for us here at the State Department, we will remember them as those who went on our behalf, who worked tirelessly to make a difference. And I want to especially express our condolences and our gratitude to their family members because when someone goes off to serve in the State Department or USAID, a family serves as well. The family may not be there physically – although very often, it is possible – but the family is there in sprit, supporting that work. Sometimes family members say, “You want to do what? You want to join what? You want to go where?” But we’ve all learned that when someone has that in their heart and soul, to serve, it’s better just to send them with Godspeed and to be grateful that they are doing the work that they love.

So when we think about these three whom we’ve lost, I just want to say a word about the families. When Victoria was not organizing cultural exchanges, she was volunteering at a Haitian orphanage. She loved children. Her sister Rita, her niece Jennifer, and her brother-in-law Mike are here with us. And I want them to know that we will carry on her commitment on behalf of children everywhere to make sure that they have that chance to fulfill their God-given potential.

Dale’s wife, Caroline, and young daughters Allison and Sarah are with us today, as is his mother, Alice, his sister, Debbie, and other members of the Gredler family. They know better than anyone how committed he was to public service. One of Dale’s old embassy softball buddies from Jakarta sent me a note recounting a conversation they had shortly after the birth of Dale’s second daughter. Dale wrote, “I am the luckiest man alive.” A few days ago, their team, the Jakarta Beerhunters – (laughter) – gathered for a reunion and entered the Southeast Asia Slow-Pitch Softball Tournament. And they all wore Dale’s old number, 73, and they ended each game by cheering “3-2-1, Dale!”

Well, that’s the kind of passion that Terry Barnich would have recognized because, in the best tradition of our volunteer nation, he left his established career and community to help the Iraqis rebuild. His brother-in-law, Jack, and his sister, Rochelle, and a number of his friends are with us today. What an incredible example of someone who got up and went to serve. And he is so well remembered in Iraq by Americans and Iraqis alike.

So these three talented and brave Americans represent the best of our country and this Department and USAID. By adding their names to the wall today, we recommit ourselves to honor their memories and carry on their work. And we thank them profoundly for their service. Thank you all, and may God bless their memory.

MS. JOHNSON: Thank you, Secretary Clinton. Secretary Clinton and I will now unveil the plaque.

(The plaque is unveiled.)

SECRETARY CLINTON: Victoria J. DeLong, Dale J. Gredler, Terrence L. Barnich. Now please join us in a moment of silence.

(A moment of silence is observed.)

In Memory


Thursday, May 06, 2010

AFSA Memorial Plaque Ceremony

I got the following email today from AFSA:

"The AFSA Memorial Plaque Ceremony, which honors Foreign Service personnel who have lost their lives while serving their country in the line of duty or under other inspirational circumstances, will be held on Foreign Affairs Day, Friday, May 7 at 10:35 a.m., in the C St. lobby of the State Department in front of the west plaque. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is scheduled to preside over the ceremony. AFSA President Susan R. Johnson will open the ceremony with a brief welcome and Secretary Clinton will present a message from President Barack Obama and pay her respects to the families of the three employees whose names we will be adding to the plaque, bringing the total to 234. Those being honored this year are:

VICTORIA J. DELONG
Victoria J. Delong, 57, a 27-year veteran of the Foreign Service who served as the Cultural Affairs Officer at Embassy Port-au-Prince, was killed on Jan. 12 when her home collapsed during the earthquake. Posted in Haiti since February 2009, she had fallen in love with the country’s people and culture and called this tour the highlight of her diplomatic career. In addition to Haiti, she served in El Salvador, Costa Rica, Papua New Guinea, Germany, Australia, Kuala Lumpur, the Philippines, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Mauritius.

DALE J. GREDLER
Dale J. Gredler, 43, a Foreign Service Officer at the United States Agency for International Development passed away January 17, 2010, after suffering from cardiac arrest en route from his post in Kazakhstan to receive medical treatment in the United States. He served as a Peace Corps volunteer in the Republic of the Philippines in the 1990s and then worked for the Federal Emergency Management Agency before transferring to USAID in 2001. Dale and his family served at USAID posts in Jakarta, Indonesia, where he was instrumental in reconstruction efforts following the devastating tsunami, as well as at the USAID Central Asian Republics Mission in Almaty, Kazakhstan.

TERRENCE L. BARNICH
Terrence L. Barnich, 56, was serving on a limited non-career Civil Service appointment as Deputy Director of the Iraq Transition Assistance Office in Baghdad, Iraq when he was killed by an improvised explosive device on Memorial Day, May 25, 2009. Originally scheduled to work in Iraq for 11 months following his placement there in 2007, he decided to stay longer and continue to help the Iraqi nation in its reconstruction efforts. Throughout the course of his career, Terry served as General Counsel to the Governor of Illinois, Chairman of the Illinois Commerce Commission and he co-founded a nationally recognized and highly respected consulting firm, New Paradigm Resources Group, Inc. Terry was recognized as an authority on utility and political issues. Sadly, an IED claimed his life.

The solemn ceremony offers us an opportunity to remember and honor our fallen colleagues who made the ultimate sacrifice for their country, and to remind us of the extremely dangerous and difficult conditions that our Foreign Service personnel face today in many parts of the world. Our deepest sympathies and heartfelt gratitude go out to all their loved ones. We ask all members of the Foreign Service community to join us in a moment of silence at 10:55 am EST. "

Wednesday, May 05, 2010

Why Did You Join?

I think there are two kinds of people in the Foreign Service: the ones who knew from the cradle that they were destined to be a diplomat and the rest of us who think "Sweet! How the hell did they let me in here?!" (followed closely by, "Oh my god, I hope they don't figure out they weren't supposed to let me in here!")

NoDoubleStandards has a great piece over at Muttering Behind the Hardline about how he got into the Foreign Service by accident. I can't wait for Part II.

My story is kind of similar. I managed to get my B.A., M.A. (both from a state school) and start a PhD (from a much better state school) before I ever heard of the Foreign Service. I thought diplomats were only people the President appointed.

Then my wife registered to take the test. And promptly decided to blow it off. No, I said, take it. It will give you more options. So she took it. And passed.

Then the orals came along, and she was thinking of blowing that off too. No, I said. We'll make it a weekend in DC, have fun, do the tourist thing.

And then she passed that too.

Time passed and we didn't think any more about it. I didn't know about the A-100 yahoo group, so we had no means of obsessing. We just continued with our lives.

And then they sent her an offer to join an A-100.

Oh crap. Now what do we do?

I know...let's just see how it goes.

So she joined. And we quickly realized that this would make it hard for us as a couple, because at the time, same-sex partners weren't on orders, couldn't get dip passports or protections, couldn't get EFM jobs, etc.

Oops. Now what?

Maybe I'll take the test.

I'm still working on my PhD, but we don't want to be apart for our whole careers, so we should start working towards it now. Because the test takes a while. So she started in March of 2002 and I took the test around October or so after seeing the cool folks she worked with. I figured I'd fail the first time since lots of folks lots smarter than me fail it many times. In fact, while I was testing, someone told me about a guy who had taken the test TEN times before he got in. Hmmm...not sure I am that dedicated. (There was also a girl there who worred that she didn't know what she would do if she failed because she had been preparing to be a diplomat for her whole life. I think she was about 12).

I thought I did okay on it. I mean, I had to do better than the guy who, upon learning that no, Clarence Thomas WASN'T the first black Supreme Court Justice, declared that how should he know ancient history anyway! In January, while I was in Azerbaijan for Christmas with my wife, I learned I passed, barely in enough time to agree to take the orals. The orals were scheduled from February through July. They gave me a date in July.

That's fine, because I still needed to teach field school that summer. So I didn't think much more about it (except I did take a prep session that was offered at my University).

Again, I thought folks lots smarter than me had failed the orals, but it would be good experience for when I was closer to being finished with my degree and therefore could more easily join my wife overseas.

And then I passed that. With a pretty high score. Meaning I'd get an offer quickly once my clearances came through. But of course the clearances take a long time, right? A couple years for my wife. So I have plenty of time to work on my degree.

And the security clearances took 2 1/2 months. My medical clearance took longer. My November, I was on the register and being offered a slot in the January A-100. Of course, I already had paid for a ticket to go back to Azerbaijan to spend Christmas with my wife.

So I declined.

And then I got an offer for March. That one, I accepted.

So here I am, six years later in a job I totally fell into. One I hadn't heard of a decade before. One I wouldn't have had I not talked my wife into going ahead and testing. One I had never intentionally prepared for but ended up being very prepared for (degrees and careers in Journalism and Anthropology are pretty good prep for a PD officer). And one that I really love.

Who knew?

Your turn. What brought you here?

Tuesday, May 04, 2010

From the Sounding Board: ePerformance

A friend pointed out this comment on the Sounding Board about ePerformance to me yesterday and I think it is brilliant. I got the author's permission to reprint it for you (I have removed the author's name).

"As I read the comments from my colleagues, I confess that I too used to be despondent about ePerformance. Last December, I worked with two PDAS’s for a week to try to enter my interim EER into the system, and finally just gave up because other issues were more pressing. At the time, I assumed that once Management realized the magnitude of the train wreck the Department was going to experience during the regular EER cycle, they would abandon ePerformance and go back to the less crappy form flow filler.

It was with a mixture of surprise and dismay that I witnessed HR stick to its guns. Not only was management going to use ePerformance, but it was actually doubling down its bet by spending money and time on classroom training, training tutorials, FSI Distance Learning Courses, Learning Labs and even ePerformance town hall meetings. Why, I wondered, would anyone is his right mind spend hundreds of thousands of taxpayer dollars to install a computer program that not only doesn’t save time, but instead sucks up tens of thousands of additional man-hours across the Department? I could understand, perhaps, if it allowed us to hyperlink samples of memos we’d written, or family photos into our EER’s. If ePerformance actually wrote our EER’s, or at least had a hyperbole-checker, maybe it would be worth all this effort. But a software program to simply fill out a form? I simply couldn’t understand how smart people could persist in pushing such a stupid piece of software down our throats.

As my thoughts turned to locating a nice retirement community, I had an epiphany, of sorts, one that has cleared away this negative thinking. As one peels back the ePerformance onion, it’s obvious that it is not just designed to fill out our performance evaluations, but to actually improve our performance. As we all know, in a foreign service career, officers will often have to beat their heads against intractable problems (like Middle East peace), deal with mulish bureaucracies at home and abroad, and show flexibility in working across cultures. Over the years, HR has instituted all sorts of training regimes to help us do just that. I suddenly realized that ePerformance is like that exercise in A-100 where we all stood blindfolded in the woods, holding a rope and shouting at each other. It didn’t make any sense at the time, but we all learned from the experience.

HR has cleverly recreated that learning experience and team building exercise through ePerformance. For example, our team in Embassy London, faced with the ePerformance challenge, figured out a clever work-around, which apparently allows us to ignore most of the software’s features. Another team, stimulated by ePerformance and similar software, has actually formed an eHell working group (I’m not making this up) to try to bring some reason to the system. Both efforts are examples of team-building in the face of adversity – in the finest traditions of the foreign service – and neither would have taken place without ePerformance. Once I understood the real reason we’re using this system, I stopped cursing HR and began to think about how I, too, could use this adversity as a team building exercise for my office.

Unfortunately, the software itself still looks unfathomable, but maybe with enough blindfolds and beer, we’ll be able to conquer it. "

Monday, May 03, 2010

Because it wasn't bad enough...

This morning I learned that I have to put my EER into ePerformance.

Awesome.

Because everyone is LOVING that program so much.

And because I needed one MORE thing to do on my EER (which has not progressed at ALL since last week).

Luckily I have everything saved in Word...so the theory is I can cut and paste.

Tomorrow, I shall wear red shoes, click my heels together three times, and chant: "There's no place like FSI, There's no place like FSI."

Already May?

Which means it is almost time for me to move the next batch of blogs up to the main blogroll. You guys start on the 10th, right? I will be in the building on the lookout for you...actually, I will be at a table talking to some of you...