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The State Department’s OIG recently released its inspection report dated June 2009 on the US Embassy in Bridgetown, Barbados. The inspection took place in Washington, DC, between January 5 and January 23, 2009; in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, on January 22 and 23, 2009; in St. George’s, Grenada, between February 20 and 23, 2009; and in Bridgetown, Barbados, between February 11 and March 3, 2009. The Chief of Mission at US Embassy Barbados is accredited to six other countries in the eastern Carribean: Antigua / Barbuda, Dominica, Grenada, St. Kitts / Nevis, St. Lucia and St. Vincent / Grenadines. Quick takes from the report:
Underfunded and Understaffed
The Embassy is underfunded and understaffed, given the seven countries and numerous possessions it covers, travel and logistical difficulties, large numbers of temporary duty personnel not captured in support cost estimates, and the need to support a new chancery. Travel and representation funds are grossly inadequate for effective representation. [...] Given the small size of the nations that Embassy Bridgetown is accredited to, the Embassy reporting officers strive to report on topics of general or regional interest in Washington. In many ways, the more important function of the political and economic section is to make representations to host governments on a frequent, in-person basis to show the flag and build official contacts for U.S. operational and policy issues that may arise. If the Embassy lacks sufficient travel and representation funds, the officers in Bridgetown, with all of the costs attendant on posting them overseas, offer little advantage over someone based in Washington in terms of covering the eastern Caribbean. (italics added)
Kudos for Chargé d’affaires, D. Brent Hardt
While the OIG team found that the Ambassador was an effective public figure, day-to-day management of the mission fell to deputies who, de facto, served as chief operating officers. Her initial deputy chief of mission (DCM) presided over the Embassy with skill, but a floundering successor left soon after arrival. A series of temporary DCMs ensued who collectively left little mark on the mission. Concurrently, the management section saw five supervisory officers come and go. Officers describe the Embassy as adrift and thirsting for a real DCM when the current incumbent (now chargé d’affaires) arrived in May 2008. On his third tour in Barbados and third tour as a DCM, this officer is a polished leader with a command presence that furthers his overall control of the mission. A wealth of regional experience enables him to know the pulse of the Caribbean countries. Staff describe him as approachable, gifted at putting interlocutors at ease, and otherwise skilled at running a tight but friendly ship. He has the Bridgetown Embassy firmly back on track. [...] Front office initiatives have addressed a host of issues including spousal employment and the inevitable mutual housing envy. In so doing, they have fostered an atmosphere of cohesion, collaboration, and coordination. A monthly all-hands meeting, including both Americans and local staff, enhances the sense of team and also sparks input from a talented group of local employees. The DCM’s decision to review personally all local employee performance evaluations, and his personal style in relating to the local employees, are models for any front office.
Morale and the Front Office
American employee morale in Barbados has historically ebbed and flowed chiefly in response to the quality of post leadership. At present, morale is generally high. Appreciation for the front office, and both the departed Ambassador and the chargé d’affaires, is evident. Both officers, especially the then DCM, scored well above average on confidential employee questionnaires.
The Political Ambassador’s Largesse
The chargé d’affaires and the former Ambassador have sought to restore the notion that the United States is the partner of choice. To gain maximum influence in the personalized world of Caribbean diplomacy, both have traveled extensively to nurture the island leaders — the linchpins for achievement of the U.S. agenda including counternarcotics goals, promotion of U.S. business, and support for American citizens. In so doing, the mission chief carries forward a strategy pursued by the departed, political-appointee Ambassador who drew on her private aircraft and funds to make 140 trips within the eastern Caribbean (italics added). This largesse is no longer available, leaving the Embassy even more strapped for essential travel funds. All Department sections, with the exception of consular affairs, lack adequate travel and representation monies to cover their multi-island responsibilities in the Caribbean where even short flights cost hundreds of dollars.
The appointment of political ambassadorship to the island country of Barbados has been the norm rather than the exception. In fact, since 1960, 14 of the 16 ambassadors appointed to the US Embassy in Barbados had been non-career political appointees. Mary Martin Ourisman of Texas who was appointed to office by President G.W. Bush in 2006 is the most recent one and the same one referred to in this report.
But this case illustrates once more how funding has lagged behind “our” reach in foreign affairs; and well, frankly, how the United States continue to live beyond its means. Apparently the Ourismans have donated $443,620 to GOP candidates and committees since 1999. She got the ambassadorship in 2006 and then what? She had to “drew on her private aircraft and funds to make 140 trips within the eastern Caribbean” on behalf of the US Government. Go ahead and snort at political ambassadorships, but I believe the taxpayers owe that lady a polite "thank you," at least.
The report says that “this largesse is no longer available, leaving the Embassy even more strapped for essential travel funds.” God help the US Embassy Barbados if they get a career diplomat for their next ambassador. Without sufficient travel and representation funds or a donated aircraft (and pilot) and representational funds, the officers in Bridgetown might as well decamp to Washington or Miami while covering the eastern Caribbean.