By Patricia H. Kushlis
Here we go again.
Yes, there is another way to become a US Ambassador besides signing on as a state finance campaign chairman for the Ds or Rs. The political appointments route to the deepest purple of plum book assignments, after all, only opens 35 percent of Ambassadorships to political party money handlers or other party bigwigs who bet on the right candidate during election season.
The other 60-65 percent of Ambassadorial appointees come from the ranks of the career Foreign Service. This part of the system, at least, supposedly operates on merit – and to some extent it still does. Nevertheless, in Condi Rice’s State Department, there’s a lot more (or less, in this case) than merit that meets the eye.
As I wrote on WhirledView on February 26, 2008, favoritism was alive and well for the approximately 65 percent of U.S. Ambassadorial appointments that went to career Foreign Service Officers between 2006 and late February 2008. State’s assignments and promotion system has never been particularly fair - despite a few protestations to the contrary – but it seems to have worsened perceptibly under the current administration’s approach to managing, or mismanaging, the Department.
Here’s what my research then unearthed: “too high a percentage of Senior Foreign Service Officers who held or hold positions in Human Resources were or are being nominated for Ambassadorial appointments among all those eligible to be considered for them. What is even more striking is that none of those nominated for Ambassadorships from positions in Human Resources between 2006-2008 had served in Iraq since the invasion in 2003 – or for that matter had ever served in Iraq. Period."
Since I wrote in that February 26, 2008 post entitled “Why the AFSA Survey is Right: Favoritism Charge Is Real,” the State Department has made 19 additional Ambassadorial nominations from among its career ranks.
The skewed picture remains the same.
Of the 19 new Ambassadorial nominees only one has served in Iraq; Another left Afghanistan last year. However, continuing the trend I noted in my first post, two of the others work in Human Resources – e.g. Personnel -- and (surprise, surprise) neither of them have Iraq or Afghan experience.
The numbers I published in February showed that at least 14 percent of all Ambassadorial assignments had gone to career officers who had previously served in Iraq versus 11 percent who came from Human Resources. This time around – albeit using a much smaller sample and including Afghanistan – the tally is 10.5 percent for the Iraq and Afghanistan vets -- exactly equal to the 10.5 percent coming out of HR.
Think about how this appears.
There are, after all, far more senior officer positions in Iraq and Afghanistan than in Human Resources. If I knew those numbers for sure, I’d post them but I can only guess the dimensions.
AFSA: aren’t these some of the statistics you should be prying out of State?
Does anyone know? Is the number four times as many? Five times as many? Not only are there far more senior Foreign Service Officer positions at these two Embassies – Iraq is now the largest US Embassy in the world – and on the Provincial Reconstruction Teams than in Human Resources, but far more officers will have served in these war zones because the assignments to Iraq and Afghanistan last one year. Whereas State Human Resources positions are usually held by the same individual for two or three years.
The numbers I posted on February 26 should have set off alarm bells at the State Department’s highest levels of management, at the American Foreign Service Association, in White House personnel, in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and the House Committee on Foreign Affairs.
Alas, the silence from the above quarters is deafening.
To top it all off, one of this year’s HR Ambassadorial appointees has, in her role as Deputy DG, been sending out cables for the past two years imploring others to put their lives on the line and “volunteer” for Iraq or Afghanistan, but has herself never served in either country. She instead, will shuffle off to Ecuador as US Ambassador.
Just in case the connection is missed between getting cushy jobs, ducking service in Iraq and serving in HR, another recent HR nominee happily took along her boss, the Deputy Assistant Secretary for Human Resources, to her Senate confirmation hearing. It’s right there in her testimony.
What’s most curious, however, is that the nominee introduced her superior and two of her coworkers to the Senators but never once mentioned the name of the office where she and they currently work. Did any Committee member ask?
Always looks good when HR folk volunteer for those especially tough assignments – as, in her case, Cape Verde - without having served in either war zone. Particularly when others qualified who have also risked their lives living in the Emerald City’s flimsy trailer park or assigned to provincial reconstruction teams, do not appear on Ambassadorial nomination lists.
What makes this story even more galling is that these are the very same people who encourage, dangle enticements – or put the screws on – their own colleagues as well as the far more numerous junior and middle rank officers who go to Iraq and Afghanistan.
Yet those in the Foreign Service who put their lives on those lines are now finding that the rules of the game are changing yet again – and to their detriment.
Rules of State's Assignments Game to Take Another Wrong Turn
In store for next year's crop of “volunteers” there is even less incentive to sign up for Iraq than previously: no longer will they be given their post-Iraq assignment of first choice, or even one of their first five choices as promised in the past.
Listen up those of you in human resources “management:” there are lots of difficult places to live and work abroad, but there are major differences between life in bug-infested, pollution-filled tropical mega-cities – been there, done that -- and the war zones of the Middle East and Southwest Asia.
Unless something changes dramatically between now and when assignments are made in earnest in the fall, another nasty revolt in the ranks is in the offing.