Thursday, December 20, 2007

Washington Post article gets results!

This press release was forwarded to me last night by Glenn Kessler, the author of the Washington Post article on Ambassador Guest's resignation. Wow.

Lantos Advocates Bill Extending Basic Employment Rights to Same-Sex Couples

Washington, DC – Congressman Tom Lantos (D-San Francisco/San Mateo) today joined with Congresswoman Tammy Baldwin (D-WI) to introduce a bill that would extend basic employment rights to same-sex partners of federal employees.

The Domestic Partnership Benefits and Obligations Act (H.R. 4838) would extend the employment-related benefits to same-sex domestic partners that are currently available to spouses of married federal employees, including those in the Foreign Service.

These dedicated men and women serve their country, yet our government does not honor the basic rights of the benefits they have earned for themselves and their families,” Lantos said. “There is no rational explanation for a same-sex domestic partner to be treated as a second-class citizen, and it is a national embarrassment that we are forcing good people out of government service.”

As Chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Lantos highlighted the particular difficulties facing gays and lesbians in the Foreign Service. Partners of gay and lesbian Foreign Service officers are refused diplomatic passports and the security training normally provided to spouses.

Gay and lesbian partners of Foreign Service officers are also denied the housing support granted to other employees while their partners serve in Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as any financial support in joining their partners as they travel to their jobs overseas.

We ask our diplomats to serve their nation in many high-threat posts, but deny them the ability to fully protect their families,” Lantos noted. “This is absolutely outrageous and unacceptable.”

Wednesday, December 19, 2007


When I got to work this afternoon, I had an email from our PDAS (Principle Deputy Assistant Secretary) offering me the INR Special Assistant position. Technically, I am the BLC (Bureau's Leading Candidate), since they can't assign most positions yet. Open Season last year started on January 23 (I remember the date vividly since that was the day they started trying to send M to Iraq), so probably it will be another month or more before I am actually panelled to the position. And of course, that is only if someone coming out of Iraq or Afghanistan doesn't want the position. But I think I am in pretty good shape.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Bidding Stress Continues

So today we get a cable telling us that each bureau has been instructed to cut 10% of its jobs that are up for bid this summer. Those are the jobs I am currently bidding on. Should any of my "core bids" (those at grade and in cone) disappear, I have to come up with others. Not much fun...I had trouble finding the ones I did bid on.

It could also mean that it will be much harder to stay in DC, not a prospect I am thrilled about. I have only been here 6 months. I want to go back overseas, just not immediately.

So as of this moment, I have no idea where I will be after June. And I am one of those who really really likes to have a plan.

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

More On Ambassador Guest and MOHs

The Washington Post had a good article today on Ambassador Guest's resignation and the challenges faces by "members of household" (MOH) at the State Department.

Ex-Ambassador Criticizes Rice
Envoy Unhappy With State Department's Treatment of Gays

By Glenn Kessler
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, December 5, 2007; Page A27

Michael E. Guest, a tall, soft-spoken man with salt-and-pepper hair, looks every bit the diplomat. At the young age of 43, at the start of the Bush administration, he was named ambassador to Romania, and since he returned in 2004 he has trained new ambassadors before they ship out overseas.

But last month, after 26 years in the Foreign Service, he did something uncharacteristically undiplomatic.

Guest resigned from the State Department, giving up a career he loved, in order to protest rules and regulations that he believes are unfair to the same-sex partners of Foreign Service officers, giving them fewer benefits than family pets. He had spent the years since his return from Bucharest trying to win changes in policies, appealing directly to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, but said his proposals were met with indifference and inertia.

"I've felt compelled to choose between obligations to my partner, who is my family, and service to my country," Guest told a crowd of 75 senior State Department officials, a few steps from Rice's office, at his retirement ceremony on Nov. 20, according to a transcript of his remarks. "That anyone should have to make that choice is a stain on the secretary's leadership, and a shame for this institution and our country."

Within the State Department, gay men and lesbians are widely accepted, in contrast to the military, where an admission of homosexuality is grounds for dismissal. But Guest and others say the State Department's regulations have not kept pace with the department's culture, especially as Foreign Service officers overseas face increasing dangers.

For instance, same-sex partners -- or unmarried heterosexual partners -- are refused anti-terrorism security training or foreign-language training and are not evacuated when eligible family members are ordered to depart. Unlike spouses, they do not receive diplomatic passports, visas or even use of the State Department mail system. They also must pay their own way overseas, get their own medical care and are left to fend for themselves if a partner is sent to a dangerous post such as Iraq.

Many of these rules, Guest said, could be changed with Rice's signature, which he said was not a matter of gay rights but of equal treatment.

John Naland, the president of the American Foreign Service Association, said that a number of top officials attending the ceremony for Guest acknowledged that these issues should be addressed. "If everyone is saying we need to do more, then let's do more," he said.

"The secretary and the State Department do not discriminate on hiring or promotions," said Pat Kennedy, the undersecretary for management, who also attended the ceremony for Guest, a longtime colleague. "These are complex issues. We are committed to giving our personnel the support they need to get their jobs done."

Aaron W. Jensen, president of Gays and Lesbians in Foreign Affairs Agencies, said the group's leadership met with Rice in May 2005 to argue for a change in policies but "we would like more leadership on this issue." He said that surveys indicated that about 350 same-sex partners were affected by the regulations. There are 12,000 Foreign Service officers, and about 5 percent are gay, he said.

J. Michelle Schohn, an officer in the intelligence bureau, said she gave up a budding career in archaeology and joined the Foreign Service simply because of the hassles she encountered when her partner was based in Azerbaijan, shortly after the Soviet Union collapsed. One of her partner's colleagues got married and his spouse immediately got a diplomatic passport, but Schohn was treated no differently than any American tourist. Because of the difficulties, she ended up flying to Azerbaijan a month at a time to stay with her partner, and received no housing allowance for staying home.

At one point, during violent protests, "had there been an evacuation, we would have had to pay to evacuate me," she said.

Once Schohn joined the Foreign Service, she said, the department "has been very good to us," posting the two together in Jerusalem and now back in Washington, though same-sex couples technically cannot bid for jobs in tandem.

Another Foreign Service officer, speaking on the condition of anonymity because of her counterterrorism work, said she had to pay for her partner's evacuation when she was based in an African country that erupted in conflict. Her partner was not allowed to attend embassy security briefings and was prohibited from using the diplomatic postage service. "Effectively, she doesn't exist," she said.

The travel costs of family pets, however, are paid for by the State Department.

When Guest was ambassador, he signed a waiver allowing his partner and other unmarried partners to pay to use the embassy medical facilities. When Guest returned to Washington to head the management and leadership school at State's Foreign Service Institute, he began a campaign to get the rules altered. He won an annual award in 2006 from AFSA for "constructive dissent," but saw little or no response from top officials. Finally, he wrote Rice directly in December, knowing that soon he would be posted again overseas.

"This was my last chance. I never got a response," Guest said yesterday. "I don't know that I expected a response. What I wanted was attention to the issue." He said that in the State Department culture, "one word from the secretary" would have spurred action.

"That's what I was hoping, that I would somehow get to her heart," he said.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Ambassador Guest's Remarks

Here are Ambassador Guest's remarks at his retirement ceremony in their entirety:

"You know, some boys grow up wanting to conquer the world. I grew up wanting to explore it, and eventually I came to want to change it, to make the world a better place. And I remember that when I first heard about the Foreign Service, it was like WOW! - this is the career I was born for, this is what I was always meant to do.

So as you can imagine, today is a bittersweet day for me. I love this profession. I always will. I'll always be proud to have been a part of the Foreign Service. I've had the unique and happy opportunity - well, not so unique, because most of you have had this opportunity too - to work on issues I really care about. And I've had great colleagues, every step of the way, those of you here today among them. Together we've done a lot to change the world for the better, in small ways and in large, and America is safer and more prosperous because of it. And when we're criticized unjustly, as has been the case in recent days, it's regrettable that the Administration hasn't done more to stand up for us.

You know, I invited a number of the newer members of our Service today because I wanted them to see this Foreign Service rite of passage. But this isn't a typical flag ceremony. Most departing ambassadors use these events to talk about their successes, the things they've done. But I want instead to talk about my signal failure, the failure that in fact is causing me to leave the career that I love.

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. Absolutely nothing has resulted from this. And so I've felt compelled to choose between obligations to my partner, who is my family, and service to my country. That anyone should have to make that choice is a stain on the Secretary's leadership, and a shame for this institution and our country.

Since I'm leaving over this matter, I ask that you indulge me for a moment. It's irrational that my partner can't be trained in how to recognize a terrorist threat, or an intelligence trap. How is that in our overseas communities' interests, or in those of the Department? It's unfair that, because we're not married and indeed cannot marry, I have to pay his transportation to my assignments. It makes no sense that partners cannot sit in otherwise vacant seats to learn the informal community roles expected of them as Ambassadors' or DCMs' partners. Why serve in dangerous or unhealthful places, if partners' evacuations and medevacs are at issue? And shouldn't gay and lesbian partners have separate maintenance allowances, when employees answer the call to duty in Iraq and elsewhere? Does their service and sacrifice somehow matter less?

I've spoken with many, but not all, of you about this over time. To those who are hearing this for the first time, I want to make clear that this is not about gay rights. Rather, it's about the safety and effectiveness of our communities abroad, of the people who represent America. It's about equal treatment of all employees, all of whom have the same service requirements, the same contractual requirements. It's as much a part of transforming diplomacy as any issue the Secretary has chosen to address. And fundamentally, it's about principles on which our country was founded, principles that you and I are called upon to represent abroad - principles that in fact are symbolized by this flag, which ironically has been offered to my partner.

Nick [Burns] and Harry [Thomas] - and Pat Kennedy, my old friend - congratulations, I just heard yesterday that you've been confirmed as Under Secretary for Management. I have complete confidence in you, and I know you're going to do a great job. I ask all of you to give this issue the priority it deserves. This is discrimination, pure and simple, and it doesn't deserve a place in the institution that this Secretary leads. I mean, come on! We do amazing things overseas, convincing governments to do things they really don't want to do. How is it that we can't convince our own leadership, our own government, to do something that's so clearly right? Secretary Rice has access and influence with this President, and now we have a Democratic Congress - you know that we can do this! Please take this issue up - not for my sake, it's too late for that, but for the sake of those who remain, and for the integrity of this institution and indeed of this flag.

I've often said that leaders are judged not only by the challenges they tackle, but by those they fail to address. Well, this is a question of leadership - and please don't just reach for the low-hanging fruit. That's really not enough. I've heard for a year and a half now that we're going to allow partners into a few FSI courses. Well, even that hasn't happened, but that's not good enough - it's the low-hanging fruit that should have been done years ago. This issue needs a comprehensive approach. We are WAY behind the private sector in this area, and it's time for the Department to catch up.

Enough said. Please work on this. If you need help from the outside, let me know, and I'm sure I can arrange it.

It's been such an honor and privilege to work with each of you. You and others do so much for our country, and I'm grateful for your friendship. I've had a lot of good mentors over my time in the Service. Most have left the service - people like Roz Ridgway, and Ray Seitz, and Avis Bohlen, true icons in the Foreign Service. Others, like Bill Burns, are now overseas and couldn't be here. But I see one of my mentors here. Bruce Burton taught me a lot about our craft early in my career. He also taught me that it was fun to work long hours in the office. Somebody arrest that man! Really, I learned a lot from Bruce about what can be achieved in the Service. Thank you.

I've mentored several of you, to try to keep you from making the same mistakes I've made, and I hope you've found my advice helpful. To the younger and newer members of our service, let me just say that y'all are terrific. You do our country proud. I know you'll play a major role in restoring America's image abroad and in making our world a better place, and I'm sorry I won't be with you, but I'll google you and watch you from afar, so be careful not to do anything that gets you into trouble, or I'll find out. There are also a number of folks with gray hair here today - prematurely gray, of course, like mine. Within a few years, we'll turn the keys of this State Department car entirely over to you. So here's my last piece of advice: don't let this car stand idle. Rev the engines, run it as fast as you can, and enjoy the ride, as we have.

Some of you have asked what I'll be doing next. Well, truthfully, I don't know. For awhile I'll probably enjoy watching re-runs of "Murder She Wrote." Seriously, when else will I have the luxury to stop and think about what's important to me, and what I want to do at this point in life? Wherever I land, and whatever I eventually do, I know I'll work on making a difference on issues that really matter to me. Maybe saving tropical rainforests, or helping instill the rule of law or democracy overseas, or maybe just trying to improve Comcast's customer service. I'm strangely comfortable with not knowing what lies next, as I know this is the right move for me.

Wherever I go, and whatever I do, I'll carry this flag with me. It will remind me of what our country should stand for. But the stars in this flag will remind me of you, of each of you, and of so many other cherished colleagues, far-flung across this globe, who serve America with skill and dedication and pride. Know that as you embark on your journeys, you carry my heart and America's hopes with you.

Thank you again for coming, and may God bless you all.

Monday, December 03, 2007

Unequal Treatment at the State Department

This today in the NYTimes blog. I am sorry to see Ambassador Guest go, but having left a career I loved and joined State because of the treatment partners receive, I understand his decision.

December 3, 2007, 2:20 pm
Unequal Treatment at the State Department
By The Editorial Board

Retirement ceremonies for career American diplomats tend to be predictable, decorous affairs reflecting the skills of envoys who have spent years perfecting the fine art of defending often indefensible Washington policies abroad. But when Michael Guest, a former ambassador to Romania, closed out his quarter-century career recently he did what few people do — displayed uncommon courage and threw a rhetorical hand-grenade into his own party.

Before friends, colleagues and top officials in the State Department Treaty Room, Mr. Guest took Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice (who was not present) to task for failing to treat the partners of gay and lesbian foreign service officers the same as the spouses of heterosexual officers. And he revealed — with eloquent sadness, not anger — that this was the reason for his departure.

“Most departing ambassadors use these events to talk about their successes . . . But I want to talk about my signal failure, the failure that in fact is causing me to leave the career that I love,” said Mr. Guest, 50, whose most recent assignment was dean of the leadership and management school at the Foreign Service Institute, the government’s school for diplomats.

“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. Absolutely nothing has resulted from this. And so I’ve felt compelled to choose between obligations to my partner — who is my family — and service to my country. That anyone should have to make that choice is a stain on the Secretary’s leadership and a shame for this institution and our country,” he said.

Among the inequities cited by Mr. Guest and other gay diplomats: unlike heterosexual spouses, gay partners are not entitled to State Department-provided security training, free medical care at overseas posts, guaranteed evacuation in case of a medical emergency, transportation to overseas posts, or special living allowances when foreign service officers are assigned to places like Iraq, where diplomatic families are not permitted.

According to Aaron Jensen, president of Gays and Lesbians in Foreign Affairs Agencies, gays comprise about 5 percent of the current force of 12,000 foreign affairs officers and there are roughly 350 same sex partners.

But the issue goes beyond the gay community, because elderly parents and adult children living with foreign services officers are also denied such benefits.

“This is not about gay rights . . . It’s about equal treatment of all employees, all of whom have the same service requirements, the same contractual requirements,” Mr. Guest — who was the first openly gay diplomat to be confirmed as ambassador and take his partner on his overseas posting — said in his farewell speech.

The good news is that unlike the military, which subscribes to a counterproductive “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy that forces gays to pretend to be otherwise, the State Department does not consider open homosexuality a firing offense. And Mr. Jensen says the State Department is a much more tolerant workplace for gays than it was 10 or 20 years ago.

“In the past, there was quiet toleration. Now, it’s accepted,” Mr. Jensen says. “But it’s fair to say there’s been no focus on equality of benefits for gays and lesbians and their families in the State Department.”

Clearly, there is a need for reform. Some changes would require congressional action; others Secretary Rice could implement by fiat. Mr. Guest told The Times that he has heard nothing from her, even after his speech.

Treating gay public servants by different standards than apply to everyone else is unacceptable, especially at a time when all American diplomats and military personnel are being called on to serve — sometimes repeatedly — in war zones like Iraq and Afghanistan.

It’s also foolhardy since the two conflicts have put such strain on American resources that personnel shortages are commonplace. The government should be doing everything in its power to retain its best and brightest, beginning with treating them equally.


I'm back at work for my second of two overnights. With luck, our schedules won't change and this will be my last overnight for a month. I could stand that.

It is a really yucky night to have to go was pouring rain when I came in. I really appreciate the Diplomatic Security (DS) guys who keep us safe, both here and overseas. But boy do I feel for them on a night like this! Like me, they will be up all night. But unlike me, they will be guarding the entrances to the building. So they will be outside, all night, in the cold and pouring rain.

Whatever they get paid is not nearly enough.