Tuesday, September 30, 2008

More on the Exodus

Dead Men Working had a post about the Mother Jones article detailing the exodus of mid-level officers from the Foreign Service.

DMW comments: "Most of my age-mates are in the senior ranks, and one thing I can say for certain. More than half of the FSOs who entered on duty when I did have retired, most on the very first date they were eligible to do so.

They speak not only of promises broken to them, but of a failure by the current administration to use their expertise properly. This has been the first administration in years that, rather than treat FSOs as experts and expert advisers, treats them instead virtually as servants, as pawns whose sole function is to follow orders and carry out policies devised, in many cases, by people with far less Foreign Policy expertise than even a junior-level FSO would possess."

DMW continues:


"Every Foreign Service Officer is sworn to serve our nation, and not just our president. We need the resources and leadership to allow us to do that.

Every departing FSO that I have ever seen expresses anger and frustration among their reasons for departing the service. But without exception, every one also honestly regrets that they have been prevented from using their skills to serve our country; which was, for nearly all of us, our primary desire and motivation in joining the Service in the first place."

You can read his entire post here.

Hat Tip to Consul-At-Arms for catching this piece.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

More on the DPBO hearing

HRC ran this story on Wednesday's hearing. I am including it because of the links to different testimonies as well as pdfs on states and companies with benefits.

Senate holds first hearing on need for federal employee partner benefits
September 24, 2008
Chris Johnson

This morning at 10 AM EST, the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs held the first-ever U.S. Senate hearing exclusively on federal employee partner benefits. Titled “Domestic Partner Benefits for Federal Employees: Fair Policy and Good Business,” the hearing was coordinated by Committee Chairman Sen. Joseph Lieberman (I-CT) and Ranking Member Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME). Today's hearing is an important and necessary step toward enactment of equal employment benefits for LGBT federal civilian employees. HRC worked closely with the Senate staff in crafting the legislation and was a lead coalition partner in lobbying for the hearing.

In his written testimony submitted for the hearing, Joe Solmonese said:

"This legislation, which is long overdue, would bring the federal government up to the standards of America’s leading employers, who provide these benefits in order to recruit and retain the most talented workforce possible. Equal pay for equal work is a value fundamental to American opportunity. The federal government should be the standard bearer for fair workplace practices. As long it denies gay and lesbian employees the comprehensive family benefits that their heterosexual colleagues receive, the federal government will fall short of that standard, and continue to lag behind the nation’s top employers."

Read Joe's complete written testimony here. (PDF)

Congresswoman Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), who authors the companion bill, H.R. 4838, in the House, said:

"I welcome this Senate hearing and consider it one more step in our march toward full equality. Only when we eliminate discriminatory practices in the workplace will we allow both employees and businesses to reach their full potential. As an employer, the federal government must not only set an example, but must compete with corporate America for the best-qualified workforce. Offering domestic partner benefits is a means toward both ends."

HRC worked with employers in the private sector to endorse the legislation and reached out to all Congressional offices with up-to-date resources such as the Corporate Equality Index, demonstrating support and need for DP Benefits. The benefits for federal employees would include family health insurance, pension and survivor benefits and relocation expenses for families who are transferred. And for State Department employees abroad it would include access to anti-terrorism and language training, medical facilities, and evacuation services. The need for federal domestic partner benefits was also incorporated in HRC’s "7 Days to a Better Financial You," with stories from former Ambassador Michael Guest and other federal civilian employees explaining how the lack of benefits hurts LGBT families.

Related Documents:
Factsheet on Domestic Partner Benefits and Obligations Act (DPBO) (PDF)
States with domestic partner benefits - 2008 (PDF)
Coalition endorsement letter to Chairman Lieberman in support of DPBO (PDF)
Fortune 500 companies with domestic partner benefits (PDF)

Friday, September 26, 2008

OPM opposes domestic partnership benefits bill

I can't even begin to describe how offensive this is. M and I have been together for nearly nine years. We were married in our church six years ago, and would be married legally if the law allowed. So again we have the circular argument. You can get the benefits because you aren't married. But you aren't allowed to be married. And how insulting to compare our relationship, and the relationships of thousands of committed same-sex couples to a homophobic movie with an incredulous plot (seriously, we do NOT live on a planet where "I Now Pronounce you Chuck and Larry" could ever happen)! It seriously makes me question why I serve a government that feels this way about me.

OPM opposes domestic partnership benefits bill
By Alyssa Rosenberg

A top official at the Office of Personnel Management told a congressional panel on Wednesday that extending federal health and retirement benefits to the domestic partners of same-sex couples could lead to insurance fraud.

Howard Weizmann, OPM deputy director, said the agency opposes a bill (S. 2521) offering such benefits to gay and lesbian federal employees' partners because OPM requires state-issued marriage certificates to prove that heterosexual couples are married in case of a question or dispute -- and no comparable documentation exists for many same-sex couples. He said OPM would have to rely on sworn affidavits from couples in long-term committed relationships, and that some might not report the end of a relationship to keep insurance benefits.

The legislation also would ensure gay and lesbian employees abide by federal laws on nepotism and financial disclosure.

Other witnesses before the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee disputed OPM's rationale for opposing the legislation. "I think it's really unfair of OPM to suggest there's some kind of increased fraud risk by adding this benefit," said National Treasury Employees Union President Colleen Kelley. "I'm totally missing why that would be stated, much less thought of."

Yvette Burton, a business development executive for IBM Corp., which offers same-sex partner benefits said that affidavits had proved more than adequate, and the company requires couples to obtain legal documentation of their relationship when state law makes it possible, for example, in states like California and Massachusetts where same-sex marriage is legal.

Members of the committee were skeptical that fraud would be widespread, pointing to the large number of private sector companies -- including more than half of Fortune 500 companies -- that have domestic partnership benefits. Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, said verification systems those companies and the state of Maine in its wide-ranging domestic partnership program use should provide models for the federal government and eliminate concerns about fraud.

"In looking at the firms at which you worked, Aetna has DP benefits and has retained those benefits for a number of years," Collins said to Weizmann. "If, in fact, these were not advantageous benefits for the private sector to have, don't you think they would have done away with those benefits?"

But Weizmann insisted that the threat of fraud is real, saying wrongdoing could go undetected because companies do not pay very much attention to domestic partnership programs.

"I don't know that anyone in this room knows the degree to which companies monitor relationships that go forward," he said. "I know that when benefits don't cost very much and aren't utilized very much, they don't get a lot of attention... . The federal government is much larger, and has a much stronger fiduciary obligation to the taxpayer to ensure that those benefits are delivered accurately."

Weizmann suggested that the 2007 movie I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry, about two heterosexual New York firefighters who pretend to be a gay couple to ensure that one of them will be able to pass his pension benefits down to his children, indicated that fraud could be widespread.

But others at the hearing argued that the fraud debate was a distraction from real questions of fairness and equality.

Frank Hartigan, a deputy regional director for the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, said he personally had experienced the difficulties of being a gay federal employee. Among the benefits same-sex partners are not eligible for are relocation payments, making it much more expensive for gay couples to move elsewhere for a new federal job.

"If I was starting out in today's job market, would I take a job with the federal government knowing what I know about domestic partnership benefits? I believe I would look elsewhere," Hartigan said.

More on Reforming Public Diplomacy

Diplopundit comments on the testimony by Ambassador Elizabeth Bagley, the Vice Chairman of the U.S. Advisory Commission on Public Diplomacy to the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Government Affairs. This is the testimony Mountain Runner discussed earlier in the week. Diplopundit offers some more details and some interesting points.

Reliance on Soft Power: Reforming Public Diplomacy

Earlier this week, Ambassador Elizabeth Bagley, the Vice Chairman of the U.S. Advisory Commission on Public Diplomacy gave a testimony before the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Government Affairs’ (Subcommittee on Oversight of Government Management, the Federal Workforce, and the District of Columbia) on Reliance on Soft Power: Reforming the Public Diplomacy Bureaucracy.

This is part of what she said in her opening statement: [...]“...in the final analysis, people are the key to the success of our Nation’s public diplomacy. Over a one-year period, the Commission met with scores of State Department officials and outside experts on PD human resources issues and we learned a great deal in the process.

In sum […], we found that the State Department:

recruits smart people, but not necessarily the right people, for the PD career track,
tests candidates on the wrong knowledge sets,
trains its officers in the wrong skills, and
evaluates those officers mostly on the wrong tasks.

In terms of personnel structures:

State has a PD bureaucracy in Washington that hasn’t been critically examined since the 1999 merger and that may or may not be functioning optimally, its overseas public affairs officers are spending the majority of their time administering rather than communicating with foreign publics, and meaningful integration of public diplomacy into State Department decision-making and staffing remains elusive.

In short, Mr. Chairman, we’re not “getting the people part right.”


"On recruitment, very simply, the Department of State makes no special effort to recruit individuals into the public diplomacy (or “PD”) career track who would bring into the Foreign Service experience or skills specifically relevant to the work of communicating with and influencing foreign publics. No serious presidential or Congressional campaign, or private-sector company, would hire communications personnel who have no background in communications, but to a large degree, that is exactly what the United States Government is doing."

Diplopundit notes: In fairness to the State Department, the agency makes no special effort to recruit folks into the PD track or any other track based on experience or skills relevant to the work in the other four career tracks (political, economics, management, consular). I do think that State prides itself with growing its own people which has its merits. But whereas in the past we have the luxury of time to grow and teach new graduates on how the world works, in this new universe of constant change, we don’t have that luxury. Why spend two years training an Arabic speaker, if you can hire somebody who already speaks Arabic, or Chinese, or Urdu?


Bagley continues: "In terms of public diplomacy training, though there have clearly been some improvements in recent years, a number of conspicuous, and serious, blind-spots persist. For one, we make virtually no effort to train our PD officers in either the science of persuasive communication or the nuts and bolts of how to craft and run sophisticated message campaigns. The Commission believes we need to rectify this. We would like to see more substantive PD offerings at the State Department’s Foreign Service Institute, including a rigorous nine-month course analogous to the highly regarded one currently offered to economic officers."

Diplopundit comments: We have some missions where entry level officers on their first tour are sent out to perform public outreach in print/online media, tv, and radio with close to no training. Well, actually as I’ve heard it told, one boss saw it fit to work with the PD officer to give one batch of officers some training, including apparently “murder boards,” but after that outreach program received an award, the next batch of officers got zero guidance (short term goals are terribly popular in some parts of this universe) but the public outreach nonetheless continued. I can understand why an officer, even a smart one who’s never been on television would lose sleep and sweat bullets over this one. Public diplomacy is not the area where you want to throw your staff members into the water to see who sinks or floats! Good grief! If we don’t send a soldier to war without training them how to shoot, we definitely should not send any of our officers to fight the war of ideas without "weapons" training. In a war zone, bullets are fired and spent and you die, in this other war, ideas, even the unkind ones have the tendency to live on and thrive. Seriously, if our officers have to be effective warriors of ideas, we cannot afford to let them simply wing it -- no matter how smart they may be.


You can read the rest of this post here.

In a comment I wrote to Mountain Runner on this topic, I noted that even in the instances where they have people with a background conducive to Public Diplomacy work, the Department often does not take note. I am a PD-coned officer. I have a B.A. in English/Journalism, and I have worked as a reporter and copy editor for several dailies. I have been an assignments editor for an NBC-affiliate. I also have an M.A. in anthropology and will soon have a PhD in it. All of these things should make me a better PD officer. However, I have yet to do a PD tour, and when I am in the midst of bidding (as I am now), prospective supervisors don't even consider my experience pre-State Department. A three-month "bridge" assignment I did as a press officer "counts" for more than all of my education and experience. A shame when you consider just how important Public Diplomacy is in today's world and how much a partner it could be in advancing our Foreign Policy goals if used properly by the right people.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Flight of the Diplomats

From Mother Jones:

Flight of the Diplomats
NEWS: Midlevel foreign-service officers are fleeing the US State Department in droves. Guess who's taking their place?

By Joshua Kurlantzick

September/October 2008 Issue

"Tom" figured he'd earned himself a better assignment. For more than two years, the middle-aged, midlevel US diplomat had been working war zones—first in Afghanistan and then in Iraq. Tasked with setting up government institutions in the provinces, far from the comforts of the Green Zone, he'd rarely taken off his body armor. "The ied risk was extremely high," explains Tom, who insisted on a pseudonym. "Part of the time, the camp where we were staying was mortared constantly." But when that mission ended, rather than reward his risk-taking with a better job, the State Department just offered more hardship assignments—isolated and dangerous postings with little chance for reprieve or advancement. "The person trying to find me a next job emails me to say, 'Why don't you fill an opening in Monrovia?'" Tom recalls.

Tom's predicament was no anomaly. In 2006, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice vowed to move diplomats "out from behind their desks into the field"—away from places like Western Europe and into developing nations where they would play a more hands-on development role. But her plan, however laudable, was put forth without the money and smart management needed to make it work. Now seasoned diplomats are fleeing Foggy Bottom in droves, leaving America critically short on diplomatic expertise just when it is needed most.

The State Department, by its own projections, will lose 14 percent of its veteran diplomats every year from 2007 to 2011—an entire generation in a few years' time. The talent pool is shrinking, too; the number of people taking the foreign-service exam fell more than 40 percent between 2002 and 2006. Under Colin Powell, State had hoped to hire more than 1,000 officers, but the department's latest budget sought fewer than 300. And because Rice didn't push hard enough for that funding, the department may actually lose jobs this year. The dire situation has officials counting paper clips. "Everyone must reduce expenses whenever and wherever possible," warned a March memo instructing supervisors to cut positions and defer staff training requests. State employees, it further admonished, would have to "reduce their use of supplies."

The Bush administration was hard on State from the start. The number of overseas postings where diplomats cannot bring their families has more than quadrupled, from 200 in 2001 to 905 today. And the job has gotten riskier everywhere: US diplomats have been gunned down in Khartoum and Amman, suicide-bombed in Karachi, and killed by hand grenades in Islamabad. They are entering war zones unprepared, with just a few weeks of training for a Baghdad posting; four decades ago, Vietnam-bound diplomats got six months of preparation, which included combat training. Nearly 40 percent are now returning from conflict areas with post-traumatic stress disorder, according to Steve Kashkett, vice president of the American Foreign Service Association, the union representing US diplomats. That's more than twice the rate for soldiers. And for all their troubles, foreign-service officers may see their salaries slashed up to 20 percent when they take a hardship post, on the grounds that living overseas costs less. "They are shifting bodies," says one congressional staffer, "but they aren't backing that up with more money."

Across the world, the brain drain has left US embassies understaffed—nearly 1 in 6 positions is vacant—and in the hands of inexperienced people. The trend is particularly worrisome in Iraq, reports one veteran foreign-service officer. "You have [junior officers] in important positions," he says. "It's not correlating well with what you'd want in the most important embassy in the world."

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Public Diplomacy and the Resource Shortage at State

Mountain Runner had an interesting piece today about a hearing of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee.

Mountain Runner writes: GovExec.com’s Kellie Lunney reports below on a hearing of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, Subcommittee on Oversight of Government Management, The Federal Workforce and the District of Columbia. The hearing was spurred by the U.S. Advisory Commission on Public Diplomacy report earlier this year. Dirksen room 342 must have been a fun place to be (not).

"On the public diplomacy side, there is some positive news, but it's a grim picture overall," Amb. Scott DeLisi, director of career development and assignments in State's Bureau of Human Resources, said before a Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs subcommittee. ...

The Foreign Service overall is short at least 1,000 officers "just to fill the jobs we have," DeLisi said. DeLisi, who spent most of his career in the field and assumed his current post just a year ago, called the situation "frightening." Even with those slots filled, many officers are not getting the training they need to be successful overseas, he noted, adding that the agency also would benefit from the creation of additional positions. "We need more [officers] in China, India, parts of Africa, the Middle East and parts of Indonesia," he said.

There’s more to this, of course, but it’s good to get more attention on the huge lack of resources for State. Tell me, where’s the senior leadership hammering Congress to actually commit itself to both allocating money and resources to State? Secretary Gates does not count. State’s leadership, with Congressional support, must push for not just more $$ for hiring FSO’s, but programming flexibility, hiring FSN’s, a training float (hear about this? seeking details), etc.

The piece he asks if you have heard about is this, from Abu Muqawama:

...one deep bit of inside baseball from the world of professional-military education (affectionately known as PME) is the difficulty in recruiting foreign services officers as students in the intermediate courses (like CGSC or its Marine equivalent at Quantico). While these schools are geared toward military officers, there is a noticable interagency presence as well. FSO's, however, are more commonly found only at the "top-level schools" like the National War College). Now, astute readers of this blog will know that's because State is miserably under-staffed. (Insert military band comparison here.)

So, LTG Caldwell has once again put his money where his mouth is: he's offered to cough up one officer for each FSO the State Dept. sends to CGSC. (Charlie's guessing these officers take up slack at Main State, not in the Embassies, but she's willing to be corrected on this score.) This is exactly the kind of wealth transfer Secretary Gates has been calling for: using the vast resources of DoD to enable more flexibility at State.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Report on DPBO

One Simple Step for Equality
States prove that the federal government can offer domestic partner benefits with ease

By Winnie Stachelberg, Josh Rosenthal, Claire Stein-Ross September 23, 2008

Health care looms large on the agenda as the nation looks toward a new Congress and president in 2009. Health care costs are growing faster than even energy costs, rising $45 billion more than energy in the past eight years. Americans with chronic diseases and other pre-existing conditions often wonder if their treatment will be covered by insurance, or if they will be able to afford insurance at all. And almost 46 million Americans still live without health insurance coverage, while many more get by without adequate access to care.

The federal government could take one simple, but essential step that would immediately expand quality coverage to millions of Americans: extending health benefits to same-sex partners of federal employees, who are twice as likely to be uninsured as their heterosexual counterparts. Federal employees in same-sex partnerships currently have no access to benefits for their partners. Domestic partner benefits present an opportunity for the federal government to improve the quality of its workforce, and indicate its acceptance of all American families.

Congress is currently considering the Domestic Partner Benefits and Obligations Act (H.R. 4838/S. 2521), which would extend these benefits, along with the other rights and responsibilities of married couples, to federal employees in same-sex domestic partnerships. Congressional passage of this bill would place the federal government among the ranks of thousands of private companies, hundreds of municipalities, and 15 states and the District of Columbia that have already put such policies into action.**

This report examines the experiences of these states, which have extended benefits to same-sex domestic partners without complications or added expenses. In fact, many have actually been able to attract higher quality staff. The states show that a domestic partner benefit program for federal employees would likely have the following characteristics:

* Low enrollment: Few employees will enroll in the expanded benefit program. For example, only 0.7 percent of Connecticut states employees took advantage of the domestic partner program for same-sex couples.

* Minimal costs: The benefits would create only a marginal added cost. In Iowa, for example, only 0.5 percent of benefit spending goes toward domestic partners. Even this percentage is higher than we expect the federal government would experience, since many states include both same-sex and different-sex partners in their domestic partner benefit programs, unlike the proposed federal program.

* Higher retention and recruitment rates: Gay and lesbian employees often cite benefit programs as a key factor in their decision to leave or stay at a job. As more private-sector employers offer domestic partner benefits, states such as Vermont and Washington have found that matching this benefit helps them to attract the best workforce.

* Strong public support: When Arizona considered offering domestic partner benefits in 2006, 787 of the 913 public comments concerning the decision were supportive of extending the benefits. Recent polling also shows that 69 percent of Americans believe that same-sex partners should receive benefits.

The Domestic Partnership Benefits and Obligations Act offers an easy choice to legislators. There are both practical and ethical arguments for extending benefits to domestic partners—including the fact that a majority of Americans believe it is the right thing to do. And the experiences of state governments clearly show that domestic partner benefits do not exact a significant cost on the employer.

** Vermont, New York, Oregon, California, Connecticut, Maine, Rhode Island, Washington, New Mexico, New Jersey, Montana, Illinois, Alaska, Arizona, and Hawaii

Read the full report (pdf)

DPBO hearing

This is a press release sent out yesterday regarding the upcoming hearing on DPBO. If passed, this will make life much more bearable for Foreign Service Officers with same-sex partners.

Contact: Seamus Hughes (Lieberman) 224-1839

September 22, 2008
Mark Carpenter (Collins) 224-4751



WASHNGTON - The Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee will hold a hearing Wednesday, September 24, 2008, at 10:00 a.m., on the Domestic Partner Benefits and Obligations Act of 2007, which would entitle the same-sex domestic partner of a federal employee to the same benefits and responsibilities that married spouses of federal employees have. Some of those benefits include health care, the Family and Medical Leave program, long term care, insurance, and retirement benefits. Obligations include anti-nepotism rules and
financial disclosure requirements. A majority of Fortune 500 companies provide benefits to same-sex domestic partners.

Who: The Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee

What: "Domestic Partner Benefits for Federal Employees: Fair Policy and Good Business"

Witness: Howard C. Weizmann, Deputy Director, U.S. Office of Personnel Management

Yvette C. Burton, Ph.D., Business Development Executive, IBM Corporation

Colleen M. Kelley, National President, National Treasury Employees Union

Sherri Bracey, Program Manager for Women's and Fair Practices, American Federation of Government Employees

Frank A. Hartigan, Deputy Regional Director, Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation

When: September 24, 2008, 10:00 a.m.

Where: Dirksen 342

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Another terrorist attack

You probably saw in the news about the bomb blast at the Marriott Hotel in Islamabad yesterday. At least 57 people were killed and as many as 230 were injured. No doubt the place was targeted in part because it is a favorite spot among western diplomats. Initial reports I saw said that four Americans from the Embassy were there but made it out alive (one was apparently injured).

I was greatly relieved to hear a friend of mine who is serving there was not among those hurt, and that apparently none of the folks from our embassy were killed (of course, the media never says if locally-hired embassy workers were killed because Americans don't count them as "our people." But all of us in the foreign service do.)

My heart goes out to the Czech mission. Their Ambassador, Ivo Zdarek, who had just arrived in country a month ago, was staying at the hotel and was killed in blast.

You can read more about the attack here.

UPDATE: Reports are now that two American military personel working at the Embassy are among those killed. Our hearts go out to their families.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008


I am glad my friends are okay, but sorry that innocent police and civilians died in this attack.

Al Qaeda blamed for U.S. Embassy attack

(CNN) -- Suspected Al Qaeda disguised as security forces launched an explosive assault ck on the U.S. Embassy in Yemen's capital, Sanaa Wednesday killing 10 Yemeni police and civilians, officials said.

The attack involved two car bombs, a spokesman for Yemen's embassy in Washington said. Six attackers, including a suicide bomber wearing an explosive vest, were also killed in the attack, Mohammed al-Basha said.

The attack involved at least four explosions -- including at least one car bomb -- and sniper fire, a senior State Department official said, adding that no U.S. Embassy employees were killed.

The heavily fortified compound in the capital of Yemen -- the ancestral home of al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden -- has previously been targeted in attacks.

The U.S. official told CNN that the attackers initially opened fire outside the embassy's security gate, then there was the main explosion followed by a secondary explosion.

At some point, snipers positioned across the street from the embassy opened fire on Yemeni first responders as they arrived on the scene, the official said.

Those killed include six Yemeni policemen and four civilians, he said, noting that the number of wounded is unclear.

Yemen believes al Qaeda is responsible for the attack, al-Basha said. Media reports said Islamic Jihad in Yemen -- which is affiliated with al Qaeda -- has claimed responsibility for the attack, but CNN could not independently confirm those reports.

Trev Mason, a British national who lives near the embassy, said he saw "a massive fireball" near compound. Eyewitness tells of fireball outside embassy »

"We heard the sounds of a heavy gun battle going on," he told CNN. "I looked out my window, and we saw the first explosion going off -- a massive fireball very close to the U.S. Embassy.

"The gun battle went on for a further 10 to 15 minutes, followed by two further loud explosions."

The first explosion happened about 9:15 a.m. Wednesday (0615 GMT/2.15 am ET) and was followed by several secondary blasts, said U.S. Embassy spokesman Ryan Gliha. Listen to Gliha describe aftermath

Gliha was at the embassy at the time of the attack and said he felt the compound shake.

"We were all ordered to assume what we call a duck-and-cover position which is a position where we guard ourselves and bodies from potential debris," Gliha told CNN.

"From that vantage point, I can't tell you much after that except we did feel several explosions after the main explosion that shook the ground."

Al-Basha called it a "despicable and heinous act" particularly because it took place during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.

The White House has condemned the bombing and vowed to "to increase our counterterrorism activities to prevent more attacks from taking place."

The U.S. official told CNN that Yemen's cooperation in fighting terrorism "needs to be better."

Witnesses told CNN they heard gunfire, and said they saw ambulances rushing from the scene.

Yemeni officials said the first car contained people in police uniforms who exchanged fire with Yemeni security forces, the officials said. The second car exploded after it passed an outermost gate to the Embassy but before it reached a second protective barrier, the officials said.

But al-Basha said there were two cars packed with explosives involved in the attack.

The U.S. State Department has warned of violence that it attributes to Islamic extremists in Yemen. It has cited concern "about possible attacks by extremist individuals or groups against U.S. citizens, facilities, businesses and perceived interests."

The State Department ordered the departure of all non-emergency American staff from the Embassy, along with their family members, in April, after attacks against the Embassy and a residential compound. That order was lifted last month.

In March, three mortar rounds landed near the Embassy, injuring Yemeni students at a nearby school and Yemeni government security personnel, the State Department said.

The next month, an expatriate residential compound in the Hadda neighborhood was attacked by mortar fire. Suspected extremists fired two mortar rounds toward the Yemen Customs Authority and Italian Embassy in April, as well, but no one was hurt.

Authorities in Yemen have been struggling to curb the activities of al Qaeda-linked groups, with militants seen as having free rein outside major cities, says CNN's International Security Correspondent Paula Newton.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

No need for diplo-draft...again

No surprise here. Enough of us have stepped up to the plate, as we always do.

No need for diplomatic draft for Baghdad embassy

WASHINGTON — The State Department said Tuesday that enough diplomats have volunteered for duty at the U.S. Embassy in Iraq next year to avoid having to draft potentially unwilling candidates to serve there.

A cable sent to all foreign service officers says 325 jobs in Baghdad and outlying provinces, along with 134 in Kabul, that come open next summer have been filled by qualified volunteers.

"I want to applaud our foreign service and civil service colleagues who have once again come forward to answer the call in Iraq and Afghanistan," Foreign Service Director General Harry Thomas said in the cable.

Officials familiar with the staffing process said that all positions were taken but that assignments for a handful of diplomatic security agents in Iraq were still pending.

Last year, the prospect of forced Iraq tours in what would have been the largest diplomatic call-up since Vietnam sparked an uproar when some objected to compulsory service in a war zone, with one likening it to a "potential death sentence."

In the end, volunteers filled the 48 vacant posts that had prompted preparations for the possible draft, but the department warned again in April that it might have to repeat the process of identifying candidates for forced Iraq duty unless enough diplomats stepped forward to meet the need for 2009.

The process, known as "directed assignment," means ordering diplomats _ who take an oath to be serve anywhere in the world _ to work in certain locations under threat of dismissal unless they have a compelling reason, such as a health condition, that would prevent them from going.

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Rice urges more blacks in foreign policy

I found this today on CNN Wire.

Rice urges more blacks in foreign policy
Posted: 05:59 PM ET
WASHINGTON (CNN) — Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said Monday there are too few black Americans in the State Department.

“I have lamented that I can go into a meeting at the Department of State — and as a matter fact I can go into a whole day of meetings at the Department of State — and actually rarely see somebody who looks like me. And that is just not acceptable,” Rice said.

She was delivering the keynote speech at the annual Conference of the White House Initiative on National Historically Black Colleges and Universities.

Noting that last year such colleges received $5 million in scholarships and grants from the State Department, for language training, study abroad and exchange programs, she said, “It’s good for the students but it is good for America, too. Because when I go around the world I want to see black Americans involved in the promotion and development of our foreign policy. I want to see a Foreign Service that looks as if black Americans are part of this great country.”
–From CNN’s Charley Keyes

Quite a few blogs are all abuzz with this, particularly some of the more right-leaning ones. The Right Rant, after spewing some racist drivel about the black community, said: "If Condi is to be believed, there are vast numbers of qualified blacks waiting to become diplomats or serve otherwise in the foreign service but, white administrations refuse to hire them because they're black.

Condi diminishes her own impressive accomplishments by invoking race as a job qualification. And she casts doubts on the qualifications of blacks who DO get hired for their experience, education, and knowledge and not their skin color.

How about another option? As an American Indian, I am painfully aware that there are only 35 American Indians in all of the Department of State. So when Secretary Rice says she can go through a whole day and see few people who look like her, I get it. I see none. And I don't believe, and I doubt she does, that the reason for this is that "white administrators refuse to hire them." I do think there are plenty of qualified African Americans and American Indians out there who just don't know that the State Department is an option. I certainly didn't, and never even considered it until my partner joined.

What I think she is saying, and I agree, is that we need to make a conscious effort to reach out to other communities. No one is saying to hire blacks or Indians for their color. But maybe we could recruit a little better at traditionally black or Indian universities to let them know of the opportunities at State. Because the Foreign Service SHOULD look like America. The Foreign Service has been accused of being "pale, male and Yale." We should send men and women of all hues, religions, sexual orientations, etc., abroad to represent us because that is what America is.

Friday, September 05, 2008

Ambassador Guest Begins New Organization

This was in yesterday's Bay Area Reporter

Former gay ambassador launches new rights group

Michael Guest, formerly the United States ambassador to Romania, is helping to launch a new group that will push America's government to support LGBT rights on the world stage. The openly gay Guest is a paid adviser to the Council for Global Equality, which will have its first meeting in Washington, D.C. on September 23.

The council, whose Web site is slated to go live this month, is a collaboration between LGBT and straight groups that work on human rights internationally.

"Its purpose is to make the United States government and the State Department stand up for global LGBT human rights," explained Guest during an interview last month in Washington, D.C. at the National Lesbian and Gay Journalist Association's LGBT Media Summit.

Guest, 50, made history in 2001 when be became the first openly gay person to be confirmed by the U.S. Senate to an ambassadorship. He stepped down from the post at the end of 2003 and retired from the State Department at the end of 2007.

In 1999, San Francisco resident James Hormel became the first out person to serve as an ambassador when then-President Bill Clinton appointed him as the country's representative to Luxembourg during a recess of the Senate, which had refused to confirm Hormel due to his sexual orientation.

During Guest's swearing-in ceremony, then-Secretary of State Colin Powell made a point to recognize Guest's partner, Alex Nevarez. The occasion was viewed by many in the LGBT community as a turning point in how the government treated out Foreign Service employees.

Instead, Guest and Nevarez quickly came to realize that they did not have the same rights and benefits as other embassy employees because the government did not legally recognize their relationship. Yet it wasn't until the occasion of his retirement last December that Guest publicly repudiated how the federal government mistreats its LGBT employees and their partners who are stationed overseas.

"The Foreign Service tends to be very open-minded. I never heard any colleague express a problem with my sexual orientation. It is the policies of the State Department that are unfair to us who are lesbian or gay and have partners," said Guest.

As soon as Nevarez made the decision that he wanted to travel with Guest to the embassy in Bucharest, the couple faced numerous hardships that other ambassadors and their partners would not have. Guest was forced to pay for Nevarez's transportation and to ship his belongings overseas.

The two were also informed that Nevarez could not be treated in the embassy's own medical unit. Should he be treated there, Nevarez would be charged for the medical care. Nevarez would also have had to find his own way out of the country should the embassy need to be evacuated, said Guest.

"If there is political unrest or violence and the embassy is drawn down, they are on their own," he said. "It doesn't make any sense. It is very unfair. The government is putting partners at risk."

Guest is pushing to see that such discrimination against same-sex couples stationed overseas ends should Democrat Barack Obama be elected president in November. He serves as an adviser to Obama's presidential campaign, working on the LGBT human rights and the European policy groups.

"I am fully confident if Obama is elected, certainly he will revise these policies that are so unfair to us," said Guest. "It should not matter if you are gay or straight. We need good people to serve."

Asked if he would serve again in an Obama administration, Guest left open the possibility.

"I learned a long time ago never to say no and rule things out. But it is not what I want in my life right now," said Guest. "I really love the freedom I have now to be outside of the government and free to say what I want to say, working on issues I care about."

Together 12 years now, the couple, who live in Washington D.C., would like to marry someday. Opposed to flying out to California for a wedding, Guest said they would like to have the ceremony closer to home.

"We want to do a ceremony to reflect the importance of the relationship to each of us," he said. "We have thought of going to California but would want our friends to be there. We will likely have a commitment ceremony in D.C. or some closer place like Massachusetts in Provincetown so it is not a financial burden on our friends."