Friday, November 17, 2017

Morale and the Trust Deficit

It's been almost exactly two months since the last public announcement about the Department's redesign planning.

The Secretary’s Message on the Redesign went out on September 13 ("I am writing to update you on the progress of the redesign. This ongoing effort to transform the State Department and USAID to be more effective and efficient would not be possible without you") along with four charts on the redesign team composition. On September 29 the Deputy Secretary briefed Congress ("the Redesign provides a new foundation for our diplomacy and development professionals to define America’s leadership in the world for generations to come"). There's been nothing further from them since then.

Of course, every day there has been another news story blaming Silent Rex for the evisceration of the State Department and the purported rock-bottom morale of its employees. Yesterday it was CNN: “Tillerson under fire for turmoil at State: ”
As the battle over staffing unfolds, multiple sources tell CNN morale inside the State Department is at the lowest level in years, largely because of the perceived talent flight and an insular and distrustful approach from Tillerson and his team that's being interpreted by longtime employees as not valuing their input.

The rebukes [that is, Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Corker's complaints] mark the latest headache for Tillerson, whose rocky first year in office has been marked by disagreements with President Donald Trump and an inability -- or unwillingness -- to connect with career staff at the State Department, which has led to plummeting morale.

Insular, distrustful, and unable or unwilling to connect with the staff, whose morale then goes plummeting? Pardon my insensitivity, but that sounds like Tillerson is accused of not doing enough hand-holding with Generation Snowflake.

And then, there is the downsizing of the State Department. But we’ve been there before. Back in the Bill Clinton administration the State Department cut more than 2,000 employees and closed consulates in 26 foreign cities. The Agency for International Development (AID) closed 23 missions overseas. Staffing has been both higher and lower in the recent past than it is right now.
The Office and Management and Budget has ordered the State Department to slash 8% of its full-time employees [which cannot be met by normal attrition alone, hence the hiring freeze and the possibility of buyouts].

Still, State Department officials are pushing back on assessments that Foggy Bottom is hemorrhaging talented employees. They argue there are more senior diplomats on hand today than at the beginning of the Obama administration.

There are currently 983 senior foreign service officers, with 63 more waiting for Congress to approve their promotion to senior tiers, according to State Department figures. This is more than the 931 when President Barack Obama took office in 2009. (There were more than 1,000 senior foreign service officers on hand at the height of the Obama years.)

CNN also states that "Tillerson has approved 2,300 exemptions from the hiring freeze as of last month, according to the State Department. That includes more than 300 foreign service officers and 150 civil service staff employees."

Assuming those numbers are correct, in what way are the current budget and staffing situations either unprecedented or a hollowing-out of the State Department?

Then there was this:
Trump's assertion earlier this month that "I am the only one that matters" in formulating foreign policy has also contributed to widespread unease that career expertise is not valued.

Characteristically blunt language, but is Trump not simply doing a Trumpian take on Obama’s observation that elections have consequences? [“Elections have consequences, and at the end of the day, I won. So I think on that one I trump you.” – President Obama to House Republican Whip Eric Cantor, January 23, 2009.]

Who can deny it? The President is, in fact, the one who really matters in regards to national policy.
"The State Department has a history of frank discussion before policy decisions are made," McEldowney [Nancy McEldowney, who last June resigned as director of the Foreign Service Institute] said. "But we were told early on there is a 'trust deficit' and if you want to rebuild that trust, get in line and follow the policy.' But internal debate does not equal disloyalty or disobedience. Quite the contrary."

And yet, after the frank discussion and internal debate, elections do have consequences. There can be no effective difference between the President and his Executive branch on policy matters.
Said one career officer of the foreign service: "We have always been a grumpy group" … "This is not just about how the place is managed. It is about the politics, policy and a whole approach to diplomacy. We are a country in the midst of serious political change that will have a profound impact on how we do our foreign policy and people are having to come to terms with that."

That anonymous career officer hit the nail on the head. The political pendulum swings both ways, and if you intend to have a government career of any length at all, you will sooner or later have to come to terms with serious political changes with which you disagree.

Are you genuinely distressed by ideas that run contrary to your worldview? Then get over it. Just remember that the most meaningful difference between any President of the United States and you is that he or she got elected and you did not. Until the pendulum swings back your way, you will simply have to endure the politics and policies of others.

Human Hair Threatens to Take Down DC's Metro

I let it fly in the breeze
And get caught in the trees
Give a home for the fleas in my hair
A home for fleas
A hive for the buzzin' bees
A nest for birds
There ain't no words
For the beauty, the splendor, the wonder Of my...


But not so wonderful when it gums up the electrical system of the Washington DC Metro, though.

According to NBC News, 'Beyond Vulgar': Human Hair Buildup in Metro System Poses Fire Threat :

Hair and other human fibers are accumulating in Washington D.C. Metro tunnels in such large quantities that the gunk poses a threat of electrical sparks and fire, a transit consultant tells News4.

So much hair and skin cells built up on insulators that support the electrified third rails that the mess looks like a thick layer of felt, said a safety specialist from Amalgamated Transit Union, the largest labor union representing transit employees in North America.

"I was flabbergasted -- flabbergasted -- at the amount of hair that's in the Metro," Brian Sherlock said.

It's not just hair and fibers -- dust and debris also are gathering, according to Sherlock.

He said the issue can become especially dangerous when debris gathers near the high-voltage third rail.

"The amount of debris is just beyond vulgar to think of," Sherlock said.

Metro General Manager Paul Wiedefeld acknowledged the issue.

"Hair literally comes off of people and off of clothing and gets sucked up," he said.

This hair issue is not one that Metro has independently studied, but Metro has made efforts to increase the regularity of trackbed cleaning since 2016, Metro spokesman Dan Stessel said.

I don't ride the DC Metro much anymore, but it looks like a ride at Disney World compared to the New York City subway and most other old underground rail systems. How much skin and hair buildup must those have???

Most Eyebrow-Raising Headline of the Week

"Detroit Officers Posing As Drug Dealers Get Into Brawl With Detroit Officers Posing As Drug Buyers" - and Fox New 2 Detroit

Sources say guns were drawn and punches were thrown while the homeowner stood and watched ...  "You've gotta have to have more communication, I guess," said the resident. "I don't understand what happened about that - communicate."

Thursday, November 16, 2017

Now, There's a Trust Deficit

A tragedy happened in New York City yesterday after an Australian diplomat at the UN had too much to drink, took too big a risk on a high rooftop, and placed entirely too much trust in the wrong person.

The New York Post reports, UN diplomat falls to his death from balcony after ‘trust game’ goes wrong:
A game of “trust” took a deadly turn for an Australian diplomat, who plunged to his death from his Manhattan balcony early Wednesday during a night of boozing with friends and his wife, police sources said.

- snip -

While on the roof, the diplomat, who serves as the second secretary to the UN for Australia, then climbed to a higher roof landing where he began swinging a female friend around, sources said.

Once he put her down, everyone decided to go back inside.

While inside, the 24-year-old man, who is the husband of the woman Simpson had been swinging, confronted Simpson over the gesture, sources said.

The two men then stepped out onto Simpson’s balcony, where Simpson told the husband that he meant no harm, according to sources.

To prove to the husband that he could trust him, Simpson suggested playing the “trust game” — in which Simpson would lean back on the ledge and trust the man to catch him before he would fall.

Simpson jumped up onto the balcony railing and sat on it facing the apartment before he fell backward, sources said.

The man told investigators that he put his arm out to catch him, but Simpson slipped and fell to his death, according to sources.

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Waiting For Those Buyouts and Bonuses

That New York Times article the other day about State Department to Offer Buyouts in Effort to Cut Staff certainly is getting a lot of attention, especially for one based entirely on what anonymous officials confirmed. So far as I can tell, no one has actually been offered a buyout yet, and those typically are offered early in October, so as to maximize the salary savings to the agency doing the buyout.

And check out the story's last paragraph. Those anonymous officials also confirmed that some classes of State employees will not be urged to retire early, but may be offered incentive bonuses to stay longer.
Some State employees will not be eligible for the buyouts, including many members of the security, information technology, medical and building staffs, areas in which the department is trying to hire more people or is offering offering bonuses for them to stay.

I haven't heard of any offers of retention incentive bonuses, either.

Assuming buyouts are actually offered, how much will they be? Office of Personnel Management rules say they can be up to $25,000:
The Voluntary Separation Incentive Payment Authority, also known as buyout authority, allows agencies that are downsizing or restructuring to offer employees lump-sum payments up to $25,000 as an incentive to voluntarily separate.

Last year, Congress boosted the buyout amount for Defense Department employees to $40,000, good through Sept. 30, 2018. The Trump administration’s budget proposal sought to increase the value of State Department buyouts $40,000 as well, but who knows whether that will happen.

It may mean nothing, but I was tipped to expect a public announcement soon, possible on November 17, about the implementation phase of the Department's reorganization plan.

Why No ARB For the Sonic Attacks in Cuba?

Five members of Congress, three of them Florida Republicans — Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, Mario Díaz-Balart and Carlos Curbelo — plus West Virginia Republican Alex X. Mooney and New Jersey Democrat Albio Sires, have sent a letter to U.S. Comptroller-General Gene Dodaro asking for a report on the sonic attacks on U.S. diplomats in Cuba. As U.S. Comptroller, Dotaro heads the Government Accountability Office.

Among other things, they asked whether an Accountability Review Board was convened to identify vulnerabilities in the State Department’s security programs, and if not, why not?

Good question. Given that employees were reportedly harmed by the mysterious attacks, an ARB could be warranted.

Friday, November 3, 2017

Most Eyebrow-Raising Headline of the Week

"Pride and prejudice: Gay lions seen in Kenya 'need counselling' and 'must have been influenced by homosexual men behaving badly in national parks' says country's 'moral policeman'" - Daily Mail  

Despite the fact that homosexuality among lions has been observed for decades, Dr Mutua is convinced that the lions would either have spotted gay men having sex in front of them, or been possessed by demons.