• Leadership at State: Failing from the Top

    August 17, 2012

    Tags: , , ,
    Posted in: Embassy/State

    The State Department’s Office of the Inspector General released one of the most scathing critiques of a sitting Ambassador most anyone has ever seen, damning Obama political appointee Scott Gration in his post as Ambassador to Kenya so completely that he resigned. After 14 months on the job.

    Even skimming the report makes your eyes burn, but to pull just a quote or three:

    The Ambassador has lost the respect and confidence of the staff to lead the mission. Of more than 80 chiefs of mission inspected in recent cycles, the Ambassador ranked last for interpersonal relations, next to last on both managerial skill and attention to morale, and third from last in his overall scores from surveys of mission members. The inspectors found no reason to question these assessments; the Ambassador’s leadership to date has been divisive and ineffective.

    The Ambassador’s efforts to develop and focus the mission’s work around what he calls “mission essential tasks” have consumed considerable staff time and produced documents of unclear status and almost no value to the Department in approving priorities and assigning resources. The Office of Inspector General (OIG) team agreed with embassy staff that the mission essential task process added no real value to the management of the embassy.

    The Ambassador’s greatest weakness is his reluctance to accept clear-cut U.S. Government decisions. He made clear his disagreement with Washington policy decisions and directives… Notwithstanding his talk about the importance of mission staff doing the right thing, the Ambassador by deed or word has encouraged it to do the opposite.

    Failure No. 1

    Perhaps not the State Department’s fault (they might push back a tad), many ambassadorships are handed out by the president as political patronage jobs, just like Boss Tweed did. Competence is not assessed nor does it matter; good posts go to loyal supporters who bundled big campaign contributions. Both parties do this, neither more or less than the other. No other, well, anything, is lead in such a way (over the last three decades, 85 percent of US ambassadorial appointments to major European countries and Japan, and nearly 60 percent of appointments to a wider group of emerging global powers such as Brazil, Russia, India, and China, have been political.)

    Failure No. 2

    Sort of a big one here: this guy destroyed the embassy in Kenya over 14 months, and resigned only after the OIG accused him of crimes against humanity practically. Where was the State Department? The Department certainly heard reports from the field about this guy, right? Right? Even allowing for a period of sucking up where the embassy’s staff tried to hide this guy’s flaws, word no doubt made it to Washington. Where was Hillary? Why didn’t someone fire this clown?

    Failure No. 3

    If the embassy in Kenya was to serve any purpose (Kenya was one of the top ten recipients of US foreign aid in FY2012, $652 million of your tax dollars, so something must be expected), it clearly was not being accomplished in the 14 months this buffoon was ambassador. Didn’t anyone in State, the White House or anywhere care or notice?

    Failure No. 4

    Hidden in plain sight among the OIG’s criticisms of the ambassador to Kenya was the line that “Of more than 80 chiefs of mission inspected in recent cycles, the ambassador ranked last for interpersonal relations, next to last on both managerial skill and attention to morale, and third from last in his overall scores from surveys of mission members.”

    So despite all this, the guy in Kenya is not the worst ambassador in terms of management skills and morale? And there are two other ambassadors who in fact ranked lower overall? Who are they? Where are they working? And for God’s sake what are they doing to earn those lower rankings, actually impaling staff at noon in the lobby? And why why why doesn’t someone just freaking fire them?

    Failure No. 5

    I just checked Wikipedia, and it turns out that the State Department is funded by us, the taxpayers. We also paid for the aid payola for Kenya, the internet connection the disgraced ambassador ordered installed in his toilet and everything else. And we the taxpayers got zilch in return, just this loser wasting everyone’s money while the leaders at State and the White House sat around and watched it happen for 14 months. Then we taxpayers paid for the OIG to go out there and declare it a disaster area. These leadership failures fail us.

    Just Failure

    Leadership means stepping up, doing the harder right over the easier wrong. Hillary, it is obvious you have a crisis in leadership at (at least) several embassies. Your State staff will whine “But oh, they are political appointees, we can’t touch them!”

    You Hilary have the White House connections, the pull and the gravitas to act on behalf of your people and your organization. Plus, this is your freaking job, not just racking up frequent flyer miles and grinding on the dance floor. DO SOMETHING ABOUT IT.

    Your employees know you can help, but when you don’t, that sends a very powerful message down the chain that no one cares. Apathy is contagious. So is leadership.

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  • Recent Comments

    • Rich Bauer said...


      At least this guy knew his place –

      “Because Gration insisted on using his personal computer to conduct State Department business, he set up an office in one of the few places in Embassy Nairobi authorized for an unsecured network—a bathroom. When a staffer had a meeting with him, he or she would sit on the toilet.”

      08/17/12 3:08 PM | Comment Link

    • Bill Johnson said...


      While I am not, in general, opposed to people making the transition from military service to diplomatic service, having done so myself, there are a number of risks, most of which are well-illustrated by the case under discussion.

      The military approach differs from the diplomatic approach in its general mindset. The military views their profession as a science–diplomats take theirs as an art. When the transitions occur at very senior levels, you get new ambassadors who attempt to apply their doctrine (doctrine is a military term–not my attempt to characterize) in a diplomatic setting. This inevitably leads to difficulties.

      In the case of “mission essential tasks” it is important to realize that every military unit has a requirement to develop a list of mission essential tasks. Every penny of funding, every training mission, every real world mission, and every bit of support infrastructure must be justified in terms of supporting a mission essential tasks. These tasks are compiled at each unit level in something called the Mission Essential Task Listing (METL). The entire system is driven from this.

      Now, an embassy has no mission essential task listing. What it has is a Mission Strategic Resource Plan(MSRP). This plan outlines the intended goals, priority initiatives, and performance indicators with targets for the country team, and plans resource allocation accordingly. This document is not nearly as detailed and directive as a Mission Essential Task Listing. The MSRP is really more like a canvas on which to paint the mission efforts, while the METL is like a decision flow chart.

      It is completely unsurprising that a newly-appointed ambassador who has relied on METLs for at least 3 decades would attempt to use that experience in the new job. The real problem comes in if the individual fails to see where this system is a poor fit, or upon seeing the problem, tries to force the new institution to conform to his old system. Bringing a new set of eyes is good and can help improve the gaining organization. But a rigid devotion to “my last job did it this way,” is a recipe for disaster.

      However, most military officers can see and get round these obstacles and be a good asset in their new organization. Some, unfortunately, cannot. State should continue to take advantage of the great experience that military officers can bring, but it needs to have a much more thorough orientation program for people coming from such backgrounds, and a better system for evaluating how they are adjusting to the new environment. All of us struggle to some degree, but most of us are trainable.

      08/17/12 6:15 PM | Comment Link

    • Lisa said...



      I’ve been on the road and late to posting, and this is off-topic and a minorly petty observation, but nonetheless:

      When I saw La Clinton boogying behind the woman in S. Africa, all I could think of was Deadheads, and how Hillary is regressing to her probably-never-was college days, and how bloody awkward all the white people at the table appeared.

      Gawd … what must people think of us … white men can’t dance?

      08/18/12 1:57 AM | Comment Link

    • jim hruska said...


      Isn’t HRC ultimately a political appointee, also?

      08/18/12 1:58 AM | Comment Link

    • Kyzl Orda said...


      “The MSRP is really more like a canvas on which to paint the mission efforts, while the METL is like a decision flow chart.”

      This is an interesting point. There are various reasons for key difference between how the military operates and State.

      What if the military were riddled with political appointees from top to mid-level? The Defense Secretary is a political appointee, at times a civilian with no military experience. Isnt there a huge difference when the Defense Secretary comes from the military vs. outside its ranks? At State, this problem is amplified many times over. Ambassadorial positions are frequently appointees awarded positions per patronage or loyalty. But at times there are some appointees who are not able to be loyal to the institution they serve or even the President who gave them the position to begin with. And they like to bring in their people who tend to be loyal to them not State or the President necessarily. Fortunately USA Jobs and State’s HR offices are weak enough mechanisms to be able to do this and make jobs look like they were ‘competitively’ filled. To make matters worse, some of the appointees coming into State don’t like government employees, without taking time to know who is under their authority. The military promotion process I am guessing does not work this way but would be interested to hear. I’d haphazardly guess that experience matters more for a military promotion.

      The decision-making works very differently at State also because official policies can collide with unofficial ones, which makes what constitutes an actionable or achievable objective rather murky. Does it happen in the military whereby an employee is brought in and chastised with “You dont work for the Department, you work for us?” These are actual words conveyed to a former professional civil service employee who ran afoul of unofficial policies at State while trying to follow one of those nicely drawn Mission strategy plans. What would happen in the military if an officer were discovered to be undermining his superiors or he blew off mission plans?

      Unfortunately in some pockets of State, the ability to see and “get around obstacles” is not a desired quality, with great irony and a disservice to State and our government. In ECA Bureau, forward-thinking former military who worked in my old division had a tough time during the last admin raising new ideas and growing in their jobs, leaving for better opportunities outside. ECA HR would pull vacancy announcements when vets applied, especially when someone else was pre-identified for the job vacancies. The same thing happened to former Peace Corps volunteers, another cadre who know how to ‘get around obstacles’ but ironically hit thicker brick walls in ECA than one could encounter in Central Asia

      08/18/12 5:04 AM | Comment Link

    • Rich Bauer said...


      They shoot Generals, don’t they?

      “The Ambassador’s greatest weakness is his reluctance to accept clear-cut U.S. Government decisions. He made clear his disagreement with Washington policy decisions and directives concerning the safe-havening in Nairobi of families of Department employees who volunteered to serve in extreme hardship posts; the creation of a freestanding Somalia Unit; and the nonuse of commercial email for official government business, including Sensitive But Unclassified information. Notwithstanding his talk about the importance of mission staff doing the right thing, the Ambassador by deed or word has encouraged it to do the opposite.”

      If this clown did this in the military, he would be sharing a room with Bradley Manning.

      08/18/12 1:16 PM | Comment Link

    • Meloveconsullongtime said...


      Testing to see if I’m blocked

      08/18/12 6:31 PM | Comment Link

    • Meloveconsullongtime said...


      Thought about posting a comment about a State Department scandal involving a Russian woman, but then I thought more: “The US Government are a pack of gangsters and they don’t give a flying f— about the rule of law.”

      I am a native-born American LAWYER, a sixth-generation American, great-great-grandson of a veteran of Gettysburg. My roots in America run deep and were paid for in blood.

      Today I live in another country – and I am a citizen of another country – and I have come to regard the entire US Government as a pack of lawless gangsters no better than the bloody Russian or Chinese Communists.

      This is what it has come to.

      08/18/12 8:03 PM | Comment Link

    • Rich Bauer said...


      Would make a great Sec State in the Romney administration; probably enjoys firing people too.


      08/19/12 3:25 PM | Comment Link

    • Rich Bauer said...


      This General lack of judgement appears to be the norm in the military.


      08/20/12 5:59 PM | Comment Link

    • leomund said...


      Well, she has at least one redeeming quality: good taste in beer! Viva la republica!

      08/21/12 10:54 PM | Comment Link

    • Oligarchs and Ambassadors « The Oligarch Kings said...


      […] was reading with the deepest interest Peter Van Buren’s piece this week in his blog “We meant Well” of the recall and dismissal of Scott Gration, the former Ambassador to Kenya, for what Peter […]

      08/22/12 6:49 PM | Comment Link

    • Emre said...


      Ambassador Gration- it is good that a person with as much exeicepnre and knowledge as you is in Kenya at this crucial time. You are going to be extremely important in the continued push of reforms and implementation of the new Constitution and the preparations for peaceful and fair elections in 2012. May you be consistent and not taken in by politicians manoeverings as they seek their own interests and a continued voice for change.

      09/8/12 12:14 PM | Comment Link

    • robert schools said...


      I was assigned to the 86 Fighter Wing at Ramstein Air Base, Germany with Scott Gration, and know him personally. Gration is a arrogant, pompous, ass-kissing careerist who would throw his mother under a bus if he thought it would benefit his career! Gration was universally hated by everyone in our tightly-knit F-16 flying community at the 86FW, but the USAF officer promotion system is all about filling squares and politics, and has little or nothing to do with competancy or people skills, so Gration moved onward and upward, owing to his deceitfullness and skill at ass kissing and hanging on the shirt tails of his superior officers. If you weren’t a tool that he could use to get ahead, Gration had no use for you… Those naive about the military might be fooled, after reading Gration’s military biography, that he was a brilliant officer, aviator, and warrior, when nothing could be further from the truth! As a careerist, Gration intentionally volunteer for most duty simply to get his ticket punched and to say he was there. The Purple Heart he received as a result of some supposed injuries he received during the Khobar bombing was nothing more than his reporting to the hospital and later putting himself in for the decoration… Gration is one pathetic human being; he only thinks about him, and his hubris is only overshadowed by his deceitfulness…

      08/21/13 2:00 PM | Comment Link

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