Saturday, July 3, 2010

Why would you send a first-tour officer to Banjul?

Map of The GambiaImage via Wikipedia
State's OIG has released a compliance follow-up review (CFR) of its inspection report of the US Embassy in the Gambia.  The Office of Inspector General (OIG) provide Department senior managers with progress reports on the status of inspec­tion recommendations and provide OIG with a quality assurance assessment of its work.  The compliance review took place in Washington, DC, between January 4 and 29, 2010; in Dakar, Senegal, on February 1, 2010; and in Banjul, The Gambia, between February 2 and 9, 2010.

The United States does not have major interests in The Gambia. The principal rationale for the embassy is to demonstrate interest in furthering respect for human rights, enforcement of the rule of law, and positive Gambian engagement in global affairs. Policy decisions in Washington point to an increase in the number of direct-hire Americans assigned to Banjul. This counters consideration of conceivable downsizing at the embassy.

Talks about weak management ...
Management at Embassy Banjul has been weak. Record keeping was in disarray with many documents missing or actions not carefully documented. American employees have departed Banjul without settling outstanding personal accounts. The response to the 2008 inspection’s recommendation relative to the chief of mission’s management control statement was pro forma, and the relevant recommendation is reissued by this CFR.
Neither the Ambassador nor the previous deputy chief of mission (DCM) came to Embassy Banjul with embassy management experience. The current DCM served in her last tour as DCM in another African post. She takes an active role in attempt­ing to build a team atmosphere among all personnel. Most embassy staff believe that she sets clear standards and expectations, and holds people accountable for their actions. The Ambassador must play an equally large role in improving morale. Both of those leaders should place greater emphasis on the sponsor program for new American direct-hire arrivals so that their initial experiences in The Gambia are posi­tive.

They washed their representational china in the restroom sink, so?
With the exception of the Ambassador’s office, the rest of the office spaces are mostly unadorned and singularly unattractive. The restrooms are functional but antiquated. Representational china is stored in an anteroom just outside the Ambassador’s restroom and washed in the restroom sink. In short, the chancery is in need of much attention and care from the Department. A chancery makeover would help to improve the morale of Embassy Banjul’s staff and the im­age of the U.S. Government.

DG's curtailment template and post's staffing woes ...
Subsequent to the 2008 inspection of Embassy Banjul, four American direct-hire employees have curtailed. This represents almost fifty percent of those assigned. Each of the curtailments was unique, but the impact on post operations and staff morale is a matter of concern. Revisiting the circumstances surrounding the curtail­ments is not the purpose of this CFR. However, lessons can be drawn from these incidents:

The Department should, to the extent possible, avoid assigning first-tour officers or those without prior experience to posts such as Embassy Banjul where there is only one person assigned to each section or function.

The Bureau of African Affairs is responsive to requests for logistics support, but apparently either less informed or less inclined to initiate action on problems such as those preceding the troubling curtailments at Embassy Banjul. The bureau needs to proactively reach out to Embassy Banjul and similar small embassies. A vibrant dialogue, in this case on sensitive human resource management issues, may have resulted in solutions less disruptive to post operations and ultimately less costly to the U.S. Government.

Confronted with difficult personnel decisions, those involved in human resources management should reach back to the Department and regional officers (e.g. regional human resources and medical personnel) for guidance and assistance in solving performance-related problems in a way that will keep personnel at post. Curtailment or loss of confidence should be last resort measures. Prior to the most recent curtailment at Embassy Banjul, the Ambassador sought and received generic guidance from the Director General’s office relative to curtailments.

Mentors and supervisors at posts such as Embassy Banjul confront major obstacles in inculcating a sense of professional accomplishment or satisfaction if—as it appears to be in the case—there is little or no feedback from Washington to indicate whether or not the embassy is on target in its work.

More post staffing woes...
The direct-hire GSO curtailed in early 2009. The new management officer ar­rived in August 2009, and curtailed in December 2009. The former DCM left post in the summer of 2009, and the current DCM arrived shortly thereafter. The only American continuity in the management section was the American eligible family member in the assistant GSO position.

In the past few years, seven Department LE employees have left the embassy after applying for special immigrant visas (SIVs). Another six have applied for SIVs but are still working. At least two of the latter have been approved and are discuss­ing their departure dates. These SIV issuances and applications represent a large proportion of the LE staff.3 Two employees who have been approved for SIVs but who have not yet left the embassy are the motor pool supervisor and the procure­ment assistant, both key positions. The U.S. Immigration and Nationality Act and Embassy Banjul’s SIV policy state that “the Ambassador may recommend” to the Department of State that certain employees or former employees be designated as special immigrants to the United States. Thus, such recommendations are permis­sive but not prescriptive. The Ambassador has been generous in approving SIVs for LE staff, but the negative impact on embassy operations has been considerable, with such a relatively large number of SIVs being approved within a short period of time. Prudent management might have dictated a more gradual approach.

Post report, a historical remnant from 2004 ...
The 2009 inspection report included an informal recommendation that Embassy Banjul update its post report. At the time of the CFR, the embassy Web site con­tained a post report with most sections dating to 2004. The post report provides updated information for prospective bidders and family members, as well as others interested in Banjul.

Related Item:

OIG Report No. ISP-C-10-52 | Compliance Follow-Up Review of Embassy Banjul, The Gambia, April 2010

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