Tuesday, June 9, 2015

CFSO Congratulates the New AFSA Governing Board

AFSA has announced the winners of its 2015 Governing Board elections. The Strong Diplomacy Slate led by AFSA's new President-elect Barbara Stephenson  defeated Matthew Asada's Future Forward slate by a two-to-one margin. CFSO congratulates the entire Strong Diplomacy Slate and wishes them a productive and successful term.

AFSA's new Board has campaigned on a platform stressing new directions and new priorities. Here are some things CFSO members would like to see:

We would like to see greater engagement by AFSA with Congress. The last several years have seen increasing politicization of the HFAC and the SFRC, both of which have sought greater control over the State Department's internal functions.

AFSA has not done enough to educate Hill members about the Foreign Service. On the contrary, the current Congress seems more inclined than many previous Congresses to resurrect archaic ideas of a Foreign Service that is elitist, isolated, and out of touch with the needs of its clients. AFSA's focus on "The Mission" (diplomacy) rather than on the means (thousands of "ordinary" FS members who advance America's interests overseas by performing tasks very similar to those performed by Americans in other professions - but performing them overseas under difficult, often dangerous, and occasionally unique conditions) has deepened those misconceptions.     

AFSA capitulated in 2014 with still-ongoing efforts by the SFRC to "vet" Foreign Service nominees for promotion and tenure to a far deeper and more intrusive degree than presidential nominees are vetted for any other function of government. The entire elected Senate has a clear constitutional role in reviewing nominees.  However, that role should not give unelected SFRC staff lacking the technical skills or information available to State's Bureau of Diplomatic Security, OIG, or HR staff, the right to adjudicate de-novo old personnel issues, OIG decisions or disciplinary matters, or to require State to provide raw data to enable unelected SFRC staffers to do so. Moreover, the Senate's role is intended to increase transparency and decrease politicization. The new vetting process being obliged now serves exactly the opposite function. AFSA's new President will have to walk back earlier capitulation by AFSA's outgoing State VP, and will have to collaborate closely with State Department elements navigating the new realities created by that debacle.

AFSA has not engaged strongly enough on Overseas Comparability Pay, and has done nothing to advance a Foreign Service equivalent of the Service Members' Civil Relief Act (SCRA). Rather than focusing on building OCP into the budget, or integrating FS provisions into the existing SCRA, AFSA should work with the Department and with Congress to integrate underlying framework into the 22 USC.

Despite increasing (and increasingly meaningless) rhetoric, the outgoing AFSA Board did nothing to increase AFSA's outreach to State governments nationwide, and to local government in areas where FS members are assigned domestically. Not only would such outreach help members deal with issues like maintaining residency for in-state tuition, property tax, or state-subsidized health care functions, but it would also help the Foreign Service build its "brand" recognition and support among Americans who rarely otherwise think about the Foreign Service. That, in turn, has implications for Congress, as well as recruitment and diversity.

Internally, incoming State Vice President Angie Bryan will have to work to rebuild an AFSA relationship with State Department management that was reduced to near non-existence by Asada's confrontational style. 

She should restart efforts to ensure that this year's Meritorious Step Increase recipients will all receive payments. Our advice: drop AFSA's weak Implementation Dispute, and re-open negotiations based on budget and law.

She should work with Diplomatic Security to further hone compliance with government-wide quality standards for security clearance adjudications and to reduce the once-again-growing backlog of potential adverse-action cases. With regard to the related DS pass-through process, higher quality adjudications based on better understanding of individual cases are the place to focus attention.

CFSO members remain frustrated over the assignments and performance evaluations processes.

Ms. Bryan should examine ways to increase the reliability, credibility and information quality conveyed by resumes and internal reports used in the assignments process, and to reduce the impact of often-incorrect "corridor reputations." In other words, she should look for ways to more accurately document employees' achievements and knowledge, and for ways to make the process more about what they know, and less about who they know.

Performance evaluations ultimately come down to supervision and management, and the FS still has some of the worst managers in the world. Colin Powell's efforts to strengthen training and build a training continuum based on a training "float" still have not been implemented. Incoming president Stephenson is uniquely qualified to ensure that a greater percentage of that "pig in a python" bulge everyone is talking about, gets the training to be better managers and supervisors; skills which will help AFSA members in many ways.

That bulge means more AFSA members, and rather than pinching pennies and cutting corners just for frugality's sake, the new Board would be well advised to examine expanding staff in some areas, including legal staff, legislative staff, and a new body or two devoted to State and local liaison.

Last but not least, the new Board should at least partially interpret their win as a rejection of the Tex Harris cronyism that has plagued AFSA for decades. AFSA should not serve as a private source of funds for the projects of former AFSA presidents, nor should it serve as a member-funded memorial to the imagined greatness of a handful of septuagenarian and octogenarian former ambassadors. There is a reason why AFSA was shamefully left out of the planning of the new Foreign Service museum. The new Board should focus on the Foreign Service of 2015, not 1990. The Young Turks - now mostly grandparents -  should fade into history.

Thursday, May 28, 2015

Insanity

My brother-in-law is an idiot. In a certain presidential election, he justified his vote for the candidate he voted for by saying: "He got us into this mess. He's the only one who can get us out of it." Then - and here comes the funny part - he proceeded to spend the next four years agonizing over the fact that the person who got us into that mess actually continued to get us deeper and deeper into that mess, by doing the exact same things he had done during the four years of his earlier term.

Now, Matthew Asada, the Presidential candidate of the Future Forward AFSA Slate, wants your vote because he got us into this mess, and he's promising to get us out of it.

In recent communications, he's highlighted continued issues with DS pass-throughs, particularly with regard to Asian-Americans.

He's highlighted proposed cuts to benefits and allowances (danger pay),

Refusal to pay 2013 and 2014 Selection Board MSIs,

And banning of cellular phones from domestic facilities.

And he states that the solution to these problems is an "advocate who is willing to be independent from management."

People who actually care about the issues described above know two things:

They are not new,

And Matthew Asada, as AFSA's State Vice President during the past two years has done nothing to either fix them or keep them from getting worse.

Pass-throughs were an issue that Asada campaigned on in 2013, strongly supported by the Asian American Foreign Affairs Association. Despite marginal improvement due to internal improvements in the security clearance process in general, they continue to be the number one issue of interest to the AAFAA, and, apparently, an issue Asada continues to promise to fix. Readers would be correct to assume that the reason they are still an issue is that Asada was unable to make good on his campaign promise.

Pass-throughs are a unique internal process by which DS reviews (and sometimes vetos) the assignments of Americans descended from certain immigrant groups to the countries of their ancestry. Asada has vigorously opposed them as racist. That is why  he has failed to improve them.

Racism consists of treating people differently because of their race or ethnic heritage. The security clearance guidelines treat everyone the same. Those guidelines require every holder of a security clearance to be reevaluated if there is an event (such as marriage, reassignment, or investigative findings) which predictably raises concerns under 13 adjudicative guidelines. The guideline "Foreign Influence" addresses the question of whether a person may be subject to pressure or coercion by any foreign interest. Adjudication under this Guideline must consider the identity of the foreign country involved, including, but not limited to, such considerations as whether the foreign country is known to target United States citizens to obtain protected information and/or is associated with a risk of terrorism.

The risk here is not that a member of a certain ethnic group may be inherently less loyal, but rather that a person of a certain national origin, if assigned to their country of ancestral origin, may be subject to pressure or coercion by the government of that country of origin. Western European countries don't usually subject American descendants of their former citizens to pressure or coercion. Some Asian nations, some dictatorships, some communist nations, and some Middle Eastern nations, do.

Referring to that concern as racism, and demanding that DS, in essence, ignore a legal requirement imposed on every U.S. Government agency involved in the security clearance process, has done nothing except convince DS that Matthew Asada does not know what he is talking about. And as a general rule, people who are believed by their interlocutors to be ignorant, are not very effective advocates.

There are ways to improve the process, by improving the efficiency of information-gathering related to individual cases, by ensuring the accuracy of risk assessments, and by regularly re-evaluating the threats involved, but negotiating those changes requires doing something Matthew Asada cannot do: demonstrating sufficient familiarity with the real issues involved to be taken seriously by his DS interlocutors.

So, campaign promise in 2013. Campaign promise in 2015. And no improvement in between.

MSIs were an issue highlighted in three State Department telegrams that came out in July and September, 2013 and May, 2014, when Matthew Asada was already AFSA Vice President. Those cables, allegedly cleared by AFSA when Asada was (let us repeat it) already AFSA Vice President, contained inaccuracies which Asada did nothing to correct, and which formed the basis of the 2013 and 2014 refusals to pay MSIs.

Asada made an ineffective and ill-informed attempt to negotiate the matter (advocate for affected AFSA members) then filed an institutional grievance (implementation dispute) which a) contained inaccuracies and b) did what all grievances do: force the Department to dig in its heels, and to claim an obligation to take no further action until the grievance is resolved. Which it is not yet.

So, seeds of the problem sown by Asada in 2013, and a campaign promise to fix it in 2015.

Danger Pay reforms? Began over a year ago when Congress began to question the methodology used to calculate it. AFSA's State Vice President was silent for over a year, allowed the issue to be virtually completely decided, and is now promising, as a 2015 campaign promise, to fix it.

Other benefits and allowances may actually increase when Danger Pay goes down. In any event, they are all affected by a tasking given to the new Director of the Bureau of Administration's Office of Allowances when he assumed that office last year.

Again, over a year ago. And again, Asada only noticed the issue at campaign time.

The banning of cellular phones is an absolute non-issue, of the type Asada is good at creating and manipulating. People who work in the Department and in embassies all know that cellular phones are not allowed in secure areas where classified information may be discussed. As the Department has tightened security controls on passport issuance to include consideration of possible terrorist ties and other applicant factors, the process has begun to include consideration of classified information, and certain areas designated as being areas where such information might be discussed. So, no cell phones.

What, exactly, is AFSA going to do to change that?

Albert Einstein is alleged to once have said “The definition of insanity is to do the same thing over and over again and expect different results.

Last election, AFSA members voted into AFSA office the least experienced least qualified, candidate ever to sit in the State Vice President's chair.  A Foreign Service Officer with barely five year's overseas experience, none of it in an actual Embassy, and a grand total of six months of experience dealing with (the mid-level bureaucracy) in HR (CDA).  The results speak for themselves.

It would be insane to assume that Asada, as President, would be better than Asada, as Vice President. It is time for a change.

AFSA members do indeed need an advocate who is willing to be independent from management. But they need, more than that. They need an advocate who is competent and credible.

Competence and credibility come from experience.

Learning how to work with Management, and even earning Management's respect, does not automatically make the person who can do that a puppet of the regime.

Last election, AFSA members voted into AFSA office the candidate they would most like to have a beer with, rather than the candidate who would be most respected by the interlocutors who make decisions affecting our careers.

How about, this election, we elect the candidate with experience and qualifications, and give her the benefit of the doubt that she will put that experience to use to benefit the members who elected her?

Monday, May 25, 2015

CFSO joins Rolling Thunder in Memorium

http://rollingthunderrun.com/

We join our colleagues and our friends in remembering those who have lost their lives or liberty in support of our own. May God grant peace to every veteran and to their families. May we never stop trying to find and return home those who are still missing in action.

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Of ethics and Auld Lang Syne

Aaaaaah the good old days!

When the American Foreign Service Association was cost-effectively staffed by the wives and girlfriends of a handful of regular Board members.

When a handful of self-styled Young Turks regularly traded off AFSA Board leadership positions, and their perpetual presence on the Board kept AFSA members' money flowing to the special projects of the one-or-two-or-three-person largely-unknown "academies" and "institutes" founded by their friends.

When these "academies" and "institutes" and the incestuous AFSA awards process catapulted a not-very-remarkable ex-Ambassador to Upper Volta, an even less remarkable ex-Ambassador to Guinea Bissau, a ne'er do well bon vivant whose entire career consisted of dining for years off a single telegram he wrote as an entry-level officer, and their friends, into highly paid consultancies and retainerships as representatives of the Foreign Service.

There is a certain irony in the fact that the Future Forward AFSA slate is so heavily endorsed by three octogenarian 1970's era ambassadors, by their 77-year-old lifetime tagalong wannabe-ambassador friend, and by the former treasurer who ensured, during four terms in AFSA, that their projects got funded every year long after they lost their majority on the Board.

There is equal irony in the fact that one has to count back ten AFSA presidents, to 1997, then 15 more years, to 1972 through 1975, to find the names of the three ex-AFSA presidents who endorse the allegedly forward-leaning role of the Future Forward AFSA Slate.

Not one AFSA President since 1997 endorses Asada's bid for the AFSA Presidency. Importantly, neither of the two Presidents who served with him on an AFSA Board has done so.

No AFSA President since 1997 seems to believe that the Future Forward AFSA Slate is the right slate to lead AFSA in the 21st Century.

There is also a certain irony in their tactics.

AFSA's Instructions to Candidates limit the number of words each candidate or slate may use in statements to their members, both initially, and in subsequent campaign emails. The idea is to create a level playing field.

AFSA members with access to campaign messages can verify that the same octogenarian "Young Turks" are using their quotas of words to endorse the Future Forward AFSA Slate, rather than their own candidacies. To say this clearly, Tex Harris is running for the AFSA Presidency solely in order to expand Matthew Asada's platform by doubling his quota of words.

So much for their claim to the pulpit of ethics.

Why do these 80-something old men who retired from the Foreign Service in the 1980s and 1990s support a 30-something FSO with barely six years of overseas experience to be President of AFSA?

Because, as Tex Harris says: "Matthew Asada gets it." He knows who butters his bread, who lets him sit at the grownup table, and why.

He is, in the eyes of those who have sucked at AFSA's teat for decades, a good investment.

There is an old French curse from the childhood years of Asada's supporters that is both explicit and politically insensitive: "Va te faire encule par un Turk." Make that an octogenarian ex-Young Turk, or his ambitious young protégé, and the Future Forward AFSA Slate seems intent on doing so, for old-timers' sakes, to AFSA's members.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

AAD and AFSA: Complicit in the Foreign Service Image Problem

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

AFSA's Town Hall Meetings April 7 and 8 - Questions for the Future Forward AFSA Slate

Matthew K. Asada, who was elected Vice President of the American Foreign Service Association largely on the strength of his diversity platform, does not identify himself as Gay, Bisexual, Transgender or Queer. He does not speak publicly about his sexual orientation. He does not participate as a Gay man in Gay Pride events. He proudly touts his "fourth generation Japanese American" ethnic heritage in every biography he publishes, but never, ever, ever, mentions his sexual orientation. We will not "out" his orientation here. That is for him, not us, to do.

We will mention here, however, that as Asada begins his campaign to become the least experienced and least qualified President of AFSA, he has begun to frequent GLIFAA events, in the company of a nice Gay man who works at NPR, who seems to believe that he and Matthew Asada are planning to "move in together," something Asada has also asserted.

This may mean nothing at all with regard to Asada's sexual orientation. In response to social pressures, homosexual men often move in with and even marry heterosexual women in order to conceal their true orientation. The fact that Asada, who until now has lived alone with his Hello Kitty dolls is choosing now to move in with a Gay man may be nothing more than a similar response to social pressures, to conceal his true heterosexual orientation.

Besides, who cares if Matthew Asada is Gay or not?

AFSA voters should care.

Not because he is or is not Gay. His orientation itself is of no more relevance than his hair color.

But because people who are voting for an official who will represent their interests to their employer, to their Congress and to the American people have a right to know who they are voting for.

Matthew Asada is campaigning on two platforms: Diversity and Transparency.

The question of whether or not he is Gay, and whether or not he is honest and transparent about who, exactly, he is, as a person, are relevant to both of those platforms.

Mr. Asada is very, very vocal about his Japanese-American heritage, despite the fact that it is neither apparent from his appearance nor from any aspect of his comportment. In other words, although there is no reason on earth why the fact that his Japanese ancestors came to America four generations ago should affect Matthew Asada's career or social interactions, he chooses to make it an issue. He puts it in his biographies. He volunteers to represent Asian Americans during Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month. He talks about it in his campaign.  He does not do the same with his sexual orientation.

Why?

Because it is inconvenient to his future political aspirations?

Because he wants the votes of older AFSA members who may not welcome an openly Gay AFSA President?

Because he thinks it will hurt his Foreign Service career?

A diversity candidate who hides a key aspect of his own identity, because he is afraid or ashamed to share who he is with the people he hopes will vote for him?!?

What does that tell us about Matthew Asada?

What does that tell us about his willingness to go out on a limb to protect and defend other AFSA members who share his orientation?

Or those who don't?

How far would he go to hide his orientation?

Does his secret make him vulnerable to coercion?

Supposing, for example, a Senate staffer with the ability to affect Foreign Service promotions were to threaten to expose his secrets if he did not provide derogatory information on Foreign Service nominees for tenure and promotion. How far would Mr. Asada go to avoid exposure?

Remember, this is the same Matthew Asada who, when he first assumed the position of AFSA Vice President, actively sought to change AFSA's rules to allow him, as AFSA's Vice President, access to the files of every member seeking AFSA assistance, so that he could personally decide whether assisting them was, in his opinion, in AFSA's institutional  interest.

And, again, Mr. Asada is campaigning on a platform of ethics, transparency and good AFSA governance.

Transparency is important, and ethics and good governance cannot exist without it.

What could be less transparent than someone who refuses to tell you exactly who he is?

And how far does Mr. Asada's lack of transparency go?

We know, for example, from Mr. Asada's biographies that he joined the Foreign Service in 2003, twelve years ago. We know that he served for two years in AFSA, a year on the Hill, and spent at least two years in training at FSI. He allegedly served at four overseas locations, Kunduz, Kolkata, Lahore and Munich. He also allegedly has extensive experience in HR, as a staffer in M, and allegedly has served in every cone and in every regional bureau. Allegedly, in each of his posts, he also served on school boards, housing boards and employment boards. Really? In Kunduz, Kolkata and Lahore?

We wonder: during the twelve years he has been a Foreign Service Officer, of which at least five or six were in Washington, how long did Matthew Asada actually serve in each of his four overseas posts, or in an overseas position that has any relationship to the jobs most Foreign Service members perform?

When he represents us to Congress, to the American people, and to our employers - or when he tells Congress that ambassadors must have experience -  what experience and gravitas does he himself bring to the table?

Matthew Asada has published very slick websites, lovely narrative biographies, beautifully meaningless homilies.

Why will he not simply share a resume - an ordinary garden variety resume with dates and places and job descriptions - with AFSA members, so they can know who they are voting for?

He was a CDO. We know that. We know that being a CDO is legally incompatible with representing AFSA members in collective bargaining unit. And we know that Mr. Asada served on such a unit, as a State Representative on AFSA's Board, while working as a CDO, and that he took personal credit for a number of key labor-management achievements of that Board.

In fact, we have strong reason to believe that Mr. Asada was unanimously asked to leave AFSA's Board to prevent a clear and illegal conflict of interest, but refused to do so. The issue, allegedly, damaged relations between the Department and AFSA, and required both sides to repeatedly certify that Mr. Asada had not participated in certain meetings.

Given that assertion, one might reasonably ask the Future Forward AFSA Slate's ethics-and-good-governance candidate for President, how exactly he managed to reconcile his service on AFSA's Board, and his alleged labor-management breakthroughs, with his CDO position, in light of Section 1017(e) of the Foreign Service Act (22 USC 4117(e).

Surely transparency would dictate that he clarify that point.

Did he break the law by participating in labor-management negotiations illegally? Or, if he did not participate in such discussions, on what basis does he take credit for the results?

A person who will not tell you the truth about who he is and what he has done, even to the point of clarifying his own professional experience to the voters, is probably not the very best possible spokesperson for ethics and good governance.

And probably not very trustworthy.

So when we hear comments about Mr. Asada's relationship with an equally closeted and secretive Conservative SFRC staffer, we wonder:

Could coercion, and the threat to expose one's closeted sexuality, work both ways?

And what does it mean if the Vice President of a union has a secret relationship with a Senate staffer willing to keep nominations off the agenda, or allow nominations to build up until Asada's "efforts" can "release" them, just in time for campaign soundbites?

Questions to think about as you watch Mr. Asada work the crowd.

Monday, December 24, 2012

NORAD is ready to track Santa's flight

From NORAD's website:

PETERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Colo. -- The North American Aerospace Defense Command is getting ready to track Santa’s yuletide journey! The NORAD Tracks Santa website, www.noradsanta.org, went live today featuring a Countdown Calendar, a Kid’s Countdown Village complete with holiday games and activities that change daily, and video messages from students and troops from around the world. With the addition of Brazilian Portuguese, the website is now available in eight languages: English, French, Spanish, German, Italian, Japanese, Brazilian Portuguese, and Chinese.

Starting at midnight MST on Dec. 24, website visitors can watch Santa as he makes all the preparations for his flight. Then, at 4 a.m. MST (6 a.m. EST), trackers worldwide can talk to a live phone operator to inquire about Santa’s whereabouts by dialing the toll-free number 1-877-Hi-NORAD (1-877-446-6723) or by sending an email to noradtrackssanta@gmail.com. NORAD’s “Santa Cams” will also stream videos as Santa makes his way over various locations worldwide.

NORAD Tracks Santa has truly become a global experience, delighting generations of families everywhere. It is due, in large part, to the efforts and services of numerous contributors. New to this year’s program are Acuity Scheduling, Big Fish Worldwide, Carousel Industries, the Colorado Springs Chamber of Commerce Military Affairs Council, General Electric, the National Tree Lighting Ceremony, RadiantBlue Technologies Inc., thunderbaby studios, the U.S. Coast Guard Band, the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy Band, Visionbox, and the West Point Band. Returning collaborators include the Air Force Academy Band, Analytical Graphics Inc., Air Canada, Avaya, Booz Allen Hamilton, Colorado Springs School District 11, the Defense Video & Imagery Distribution System, the Federal Aviation Administration, First Choice Awards & Gifts, Globelink Foreign Language Center, Google, the Marine Toys for Tots Foundation, Meshbox, the Naden Band of the Maritime Forces Pacific, Naturally Santa’s Inc., the Newseum, OnStar, PCI Broadband, the Space Foundation, tw telecom, Verizon and UGroup Media.

It all started in 1955 when a local media ad directed kids to call Santa direct – only the number was misprinted. Instead of reaching Santa, the phone rang through to the Crew Commander on duty at the Continental Air Defense Command Operations Center. Thus began the tradition which NORAD has carried on since it was created in 1958.

“NORAD stands the watch protecting the skies of North America 365 days a year, but on Christmas Eve the children of the world look to NORAD, and our trusted partners, to make sure that Santa is able to complete his mission safely,” said General Charles H. Jacoby, Jr., NORAD Commander.

“This mission is a duty to the children of the world and a privilege we've enjoyed for 56 consecutive years, but the effort could not be carried out without the superb assistance of numerous government and non-government contributors. It is the generosity of these contributors, the hard work of the more than 1,200 volunteers who man the NORAD Tracks Santa Operation Center, and vigilance of the Canadian and U.S. forces who work at NORAD that guarantees the program's success each and every year."

BTW: This is based on Google Earth. If you press the plus sign, you can zoom in close enough to see buildings and such, and maybe catch Santa actually going down a chimney