• PRT Diaspora: View from the Lab

    November 21, 2012 // Comments Off

    Here’s an email I received:




    A few years ago, I retired the Department of Health and Human Services. During my last years of federal service, I was an international assignee.


    Because I was both new to and naive about USG “foreign service” my tour was eye-opening. As I found myself routinely unable to complete “impossible tasks” assigned to me, I felt obliged to “explain” to my foreign service superiors what they failed to grasp about laboratory work. Slowly I realized that Van Buren is correct: my task was to spend money. I was supposed to “demonstrate” that the money had “been spent”. In my case, I was supposed to demonstrate that I had “built laboratory capacity” and “strengthened laboratory infrastructure”. Because laboratory-testing demonstrations are not as dramatic as chicken-processing demonstrations, I am especially grateful for his book. He tells the story I have to tell on a grander scale and in a more entertaining way.


    I wish that those who understood the pretentiousness of our “do something” foreign policy could hear what Van Buren has to say. He is not the only foreign service assignee to have witnessed our national ineptitude.





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    Copyright © 2014. All rights reserved. The views expressed here are solely those of the author(s) in their private capacity. Follow me on Twitter!

    Posted in Afghanistan, Iraq, Military, PRT Life

    Should I Join the Foreign Service?

    May 19, 2012 // 7 Comments »

    (A version of this article appeared recently on the Huffington Post, May 10, 2012)

    Final tuition bills, spring in the air — it is commencement season, and soon-to-be graduates across the United States are poised to transition into unemployment. Many will seek jobs in America’s lone growth sector, government, and specifically with the Department of State as Foreign Service Officers. Should you join?

    Before having my beard shaved off and being shunned, now in the termination process because of the book and blog I wrote, my last position in the U.S. Foreign Service was at the State Department’s Board of Examiners, where since returning from Iraq I administered the Foreign Service Oral Assessment (FSOA) and helped choose the next generation of Foreign Service Officers.

    It was only after my book came out that State decided I could not work there. Something vague about not suddenly having judgement anymore, like losing one’s mojo I guess. I spent a lot of time around people interested in a Foreign Service career. They did not ask for advice and at the Board we did not offer it. However, also since my book came out, more people now approach me with the same question about joining the Foreign Service. Too much irony these days.

    Intelligence Divorced from Innovation and Creativity

    After 24 years of service myself, what I tell interested applicants is this: think very, very carefully about a Foreign Service career. The State Department is looking for a very specific kind of person and if you are that person, you will enjoy your career. I have come to understand that the Department wants smart people who will do what they are told, believing that intelligence can be divorced from innovation and creativity. Happy, content compliance is a necessary trait, kind of like being Downton Abbey-British but without the cool accent. The Department will not give you any real opportunity for input for a very long time — years, if ever. There is no agreed-upon definition of success or even progress at State, no profits, no battles won, no stock prices to measure. Success will be to simply continue to exist, or what your boss says it is, or both, or neither. You may never know what the point is other than that a visiting Congressional delegation conclude with a happy ending, whatever that even is. I spent the bulk of my second tour taking visiting Mrs. VIPs shopping (more senior third tour officers got to escort the VIPs themselves!). This will be your life trip.

    At the same time, State has created a personnel system that will require you to serve in more and more dangerous places, and more and more unaccompanied places without family, as a routine. That sounds cool and adventurous at age 25, but try and imagine if you’d still be happy with it at age 45 with a spouse and two kids. What are your core obligations with a child who needs some extreme parenting as you leave your wife at home alone with him for a year so you can be a placeholder for State’s commitment to be as macho as the military?

    Is the Juice Worth the Squeeze?

    Understand that promotions and assignments are more and more opaque. State has recently determined that even promotion statistics cannot be released. Changes in Congress will further limit pay and benefits. Your spouse will be un/underemployed most of his or her life. Your kids will change schools, for better or worse, every one, two or three years. Some schools will be good, some not so good, and you’ll have no choice unless you are willing to subvert your career choices to school choices, as in let’s go to Bogota because the schools are good even if the assignment otherwise stinks. You’ll serve more places where you won’t speak the language and get less training as requirements grow without personnel growth. As you get up there, remember your boss, the politically-appointed ambassador, can arbitrarily be a real estate broker who donated big to the president’s campaign. Make sure all these conditions make sense to you now, and, if you can, as you imagine yourself 10, 15 and 20 years into the future.

    It is a very unique person who can say “Yes” truthfully and after real soul-searching. Make sure the juice is worth the squeeze before you accept that assignment.

    Failed Choices

    In the universe where you’ll work, the U.S. will face a continued stagnation on the world stage. When we, perhaps semi-consciously, made a decision to accept an empire role after World War II, we never built the tools of empire. No colonial service, no securing of critical resources, no carrot and sticks. We sort of settled on a military-only model of soft occupation. We made few friends or allies, accepting reluctant partners. As changes take place in the developing world, the most likely American the people there encounter now wears a uniform and carries a weapon.

    America faced a choice and blew it. As an empire, we either needed to take control of the world’s oil or create a more equitable and less martial global society to ensure our access to it. We did neither. We needed either to create a colonial system for adventures like Iraq or Afghanistan along the Victorian model, or not try to invade and rebuild those places. We did neither.

    Simply pouring more and more lives and money into the military is a one-way street going in the wrong direction. We can keep spending, but when millions of dollars spent on weapons can be deflected by terror acts that cost nothing, we will lose. When any hearts and minds efforts are derailed by yet another excused collateral damage episode, we will lose.

    For most of the next century, America still has a big enough military that our “decline” will be slow, bloody and reluctant. But, inevitable nonetheless. By ideologicizing every challenge from Communism to the entire religion of Islam, we have assured ourselves of never really winning any struggle.

    You can be a part of that if you’d like to join the Foreign Service and help Build the Wall.

    Mother Should I Trust the Government?



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    Copyright © 2014. All rights reserved. The views expressed here are solely those of the author(s) in their private capacity. Follow me on Twitter!

    Posted in Afghanistan, Iraq, Military, PRT Life

    Foreign Service Officer Blogs to Love

    March 27, 2012 // 22 Comments »

    As alert readers of this blog know, I am in the process of being fired from the Department of State in large part because of this blog. The firing part revolves around me “writing about matters of official concern without authorization, “identifying myself as a foreign service officer,” not using the required disclaimer, and “poor judgement and notoriously disgraceful conduct.”

    A big one was that bit about “poor judgment and notoriously disgraceful conduct,” which the State Department defines helpfully for me as “lack of discretion which may reasonably affect an individual or agency’s ability to carry out its responsibilities or mission.”

    The idea is that if a blog has, well, undiplomatic things on it, the writer will not be able to represent the US, be taken seriously as a professional diplomat, that sort of thing. The blog’s message in other words will get in the way of the State Department job, distract from the professionalism required to represent the United States. At least that’s what is bothering State about me and my blog.

    Fair enough I guess, at least if State applied the rules equitably. On its own “careers” web page, State lists dozens of Foreign Service blogs which quite obviously talk about matter of official concern and, given how they often post daily updates, do not appear to have gone through any authorization or clearance process. Some do, and some don’t, have the required disclaimer.

    And then of course, there is the blog of budding Foreign Service Officer Jennifer Santiago, who self-identifies online as “diplomat, photographer and world traveler.” Ms. Santiago was apparently many other things before joining the Foreign Service, and helpfully includes a number of pictures of herself online. Here are a couple more:



    I have no way to verify it and make no claims to its veracity, but Ms. Santiago’s Wikipedia entry (doesn’t everyone have one?), which says her birth name is “Jennifer Klarman,” claims she also once posed unclothed in Playboy. It is a not safe for work type of link, but the Playboy photos are here, so you can judge for yourself if care to do so. One article states “Then known as Jennifer Klarman, Santiago posed in 1998, she says, to help pay off $100,000 in law school loans. The pictures were intended for a Playboy special on lingerie. “If I had known they might end up in a book called Voluptuous Vixens, I might have declined.” Two Facebook pages link “Jennifer Klarman” with “Jennifer Santiago,” listing her as a “public figure” and using one of the photos above.

    Back to her own blog, Ms. Santiago wrote that she was sent to Brazil for a language immersion program as part of her Portuguese training, at a school conveniently located just two blocks away from the famous Ipanema Beach, in Rio.

    As Ms. Santiago says on her blog, “Momma didn’t raise no dummy– I chose a school that is just four blocks from the beach… I’m convinced tropical weather is medicine for the body and soul. So, I am beyond grateful for this two-week respite from life in bone-chilling Washington DC… This isn’t a vacation after all, this is language immersion (and Atlantic Ocean immersion). So, I’ll be sure to continue sharing my experiences in and out of the classroom. I’m looking forward to a week on the beach, learning Samba, touring the favelas and catching a futebol game.”

    She helpfully adds that she’ll be working the visa line at our Sao Paulo consulate. She posted some photos from her trip:



    The blog does not display the required State Department disclaimer anywhere I could locate. We are forced to assume that either Ms. Santiago has sought and received State Department authorization for her comments on matters of official concern such as her training and assignment, or that she, like me, is allegedly guilty of unauthorized blogging and should be punished.

    I don’t know Ms. Santiago, and we have never spoken. I found her blog online as anyone might; after all, it is online, subject to worldwide availability just like mine, via a Google search or two. Everything here came through some online searches, all subject to the whims of the web as to content and veracity. Just as State claims my blog renders me ineffective as a Foreign Service Officer, the blogs of other FSOs are hanging out there too waiting to be discovered by anyone dealing with us professionally.

    The point here is to suggest that the Department of State willfully chooses to enforce its blogging rules when it spies a blog whose content it dislikes (mine) and then ignores those same rules for a blog that it does like.

    Or, that the State Department can’t possibly locate, monitor and assess all the Foreign Service blogs out there, and thus selectively picks some (mine) for multi-month forensic investigation through its Diplomatic Security Stasi while remaining purposely ignorant of the others, a case of highly selective persecution, er, um, prosecution.

    Or, maybe it has something to do with the photos on my blog. Maybe if I hit the gym more often the State Department would let me keep my blog unfettered as they obviously are doing with others?





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    Copyright © 2014. All rights reserved. The views expressed here are solely those of the author(s) in their private capacity. Follow me on Twitter!

    Posted in Afghanistan, Iraq, Military, PRT Life

    Applying for the Old Foreign Service

    November 28, 2011 // 1 Comment »

    Here’s an entertaining piece by Olya Thompson about applying for the old Foreign Service. At that time the Department of State was actively discriminating against women, a matter that took many years of court proceedings to resolve.

    (In 1985, 80% of the Foreign Service “professional staff” was male, and 72.5% was white male. Twenty years later, in 2005, the male/female ratio was 66/34, and white males constituted 54% of the total.)

    Here’s an excerpt from that post:


    Now I am told that no matter how hard I could have tried back then or how well I could have presented myself, it wouldn’t have made any difference. The interview was biased. I was wasting my time. Those objective-looking numerical scores I got turn out to have been a product of a very discriminatory process.

    I cannot say I ever suspected a bias. The Foreign Service officers who interviewed me, all much older than I, seemed knowledgeable and professional. I was treated with coutesy and respect. There were no inappropriate questions or comments. The distribution of candidates seemed to imply that men and women were being treated equally. I did note there was only one woman among the interviewers, but I figured that ratio was changing as more women like me pursued professional goals.

    I am left wondeing about this government that tells me now what its polite and couteous officials who still control access to power and jobs must have known and deliberately decided 10 years ago: That they were not hiring women. That we were merely being put through the paces. I am left wondering why, in this bureaucratic game of hot potato, I am the one left holding this letter that lays bare the disturbing consequences of their actions.


    Read the entire piece online.



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    Posted in Afghanistan, Iraq, Military, PRT Life

    Should I Join the Foreign Service?

    // 5 Comments »

    Before having my beard shaved off and being shunned, my position was at the State Department’s Board of Examiners, where for over a year since returning from Iraq I administered the Foreign Service Oral Assessment (FSOA) and helped choose the next generation of Foreign Service Officers. I was more or less competent at the task, got a good performance review and, after a year on the job, it was only after my book came out that State decided I could not work there. Something vague about not suddenly having judgement anymore, like losing one’s mojo I guess.

    So, I spent a lot of time around people interested in a Foreign Service career. They did not ask for advice and at the Board we did not offer it. However, since my book came out, ironically more people now approach me with the same question about joining the Foreign Service. Too much irony these days.

    What I tell them is this: think very, very carefully about a Foreign Service career. The State Department is looking for a very specific kind of person and if you are that person, you will enjoy your career and be successful. I have come to understand that the Department wants smart people who will do what they are told, believing that intelligence can be divorced from innovation and creativity. Happy, content compliance is a necessary trait, kind of like being British but without the cool accent. The Department will not give you any real opportunity for input for a very long time, years, if ever. There is no agreed-upon definition of success or even progress at State, no profits, no battles won, no stock prices to measure. Success will be to simply continue to exist, or whatever your boss says it is, or both, or neither. You may never know what the point is other than that a visiting Congressional delegation go away with a “happy ending,” whatever that even is.

    At the same time, State has created a personnel system that will require you to serve in more and more dangerous places, and more and more unaccompanied places, as a routine. That sounds cool and adventurous at age 25, but try and imagine if you’d still be happy with it at age 45 with a spouse and two kids. What are your core obligations with a child who needs some extreme parenting as you leave your wife at home alone with him for a year so you can be a placeholder for State’s commitment to be as macho as the military?

    Understand that promotions and assignments are more and more opaque. Changes in Congress will further limit pay and benefits. Your spouse will be un/under employed most of his/her life. Your kids will change schools for better or worse every one, two or three years. Some schools will be good, some not so good, and you’ll have no choice unless you are willing to subvert your career choices to school choices, as in let’s go to Bogota because the schools are good even if the assignment otherwise stinks. You’ll serve more places where you won’t speak the language and get less training as requirements grow without personnel growth. As you get up there, remember your boss the politically-appointed Ambassador can arbitrarily be a real estate broker who donated big to the President’s campaign. Make sure all these conditions make sense to you now, and, if you can, as you imagine yourself 10, 15 and 20 years into the future.

    It is a very unique person who can say “Yes” truthfully and after real soul-searching. Make sure the juice is worth the squeeze before you accept that assignment.

    In the universe where you’ll work, the US will face a continued stagnation on the world stage. When we, perhaps semi-consciously, made a decision to accept an Empire role after World War II, we never built the tools of Empire. No colonial service, no securing of critical resources, no carrot and sticks. We sort of settled on a military-only model of soft occupation. We made few friends or allies, accepting reluctant partners. As changes take place in the developing world, the most likely American the people there encounter now wears a uniform and carries a weapon.

    America faced a choice and blew it. As an Empire, we either needed to take control of the world’s oil or create a more equitable and less martial global society to ensure our access to it. We did neither. We needed either to create a colonial system for adventures like Iraq or Afghanistan along the Victorian model, or not try to invade and rebuild those places. We did neither.

    Simply pouring more and more lives and money into the military is a one way street going in the wrong direction. We can keep spending, but when millions of dollars spent on weapons can be deflected by terror acts that cost nothing, we will lose. When any hearts and minds efforts are derailed by yet another excused collateral damage episode, we will lose.

    For most of the next century, America still has a big enough military that our “decline” will be slow, bloody and reluctant. But, inevitable none the less. By ideologicizing every challenge from Communism to the entire religion of Islam, we have assured ourselves of never really winning any struggle. You can be a part of that if you’d like to join the Foreign Service.



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    Copyright © 2014. All rights reserved. The views expressed here are solely those of the author(s) in their private capacity. Follow me on Twitter!

    Posted in Afghanistan, Iraq, Military, PRT Life

    It’s Good to Be in the Foreign Service (State Dept)

    October 11, 2011 // Comments Off

    OK, sure, once in awhile I have complained here about working for the State Department as a Foreign Service Officer (FSO), especially in the garden zones of Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan, where some 1600 FSO positions exist.

    I need to cut back my complaining.

    Federal employees deployed to Iraq, Afghanistan or Pakistan who are not in the Foreign Service are losing numerous travel, medical and leave benefits because those benefits were not renewed by Congress after they expired October 1. This can include government colleagues from Treasury, Justice, Agriculture and more.

    The following benefits, which are available to Foreign Service officers, will no longer be available to non-Foreign Service personnel posted in Iraq, Afghanistan or Pakistan, according to the Office of Personnel Management (OPM):

    • Reimbursement of travel costs when going home on leave (State estimates $21,000 per year for the cost of these breaks).

    • Reimbursement of travel costs when obtaining necessary medical care when such care is not available locally.

    • Reimbursement of travel costs when evacuating family members who are in imminent danger.

    • Reimbursement of travel costs when transporting furniture and other personal effects when moving to another duty station. State estimates this cost at $25,000; USAID estimates it at $48,983.

    • Mandatory leave for employees who have returned home after a three-year deployment. Agencies also will no longer have the option to offer leave to employees who had served in a war zone for 18 months.

    • Medical examinations, mental health care, inoculations, vaccinations and other preventative care.

    • A death gratuity equal to one year’s salary when an employee dies of injuries sustained while supporting military operations.


    The death gratuity expiration will only affect federal employees making more than $100,000, since the Labor Department in 2009 finalized regulations authorizing a $100,000 death gratuity when a civilian employee dies of injuries incurred while supporting a combat operation.

    Those benefits that expired were originally extended to non-Foreign Service personnel in a 2006 war supplemental bill. OPM issued a notice Oct. 7 reminding agencies those benefits had expired. The proposed 2012 Defense authorization bill, which Congress is still considering, does not contain an extension of those benefits.

    This will not improve morale on Team America.



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    Copyright © 2014. All rights reserved. The views expressed here are solely those of the author(s) in their private capacity. Follow me on Twitter!

    Posted in Afghanistan, Iraq, Military, PRT Life

    Diplopundit

    April 15, 2011 // Comments Off

    A nice take on this blog and my book today on Diplopundit. The site is one of the best Foreign Service niche blogs, and often has news about our work first.



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    Copyright © 2014. All rights reserved. The views expressed here are solely those of the author(s) in their private capacity. Follow me on Twitter!

    Posted in Afghanistan, Iraq, Military, PRT Life