Tuesday, January 11, 2011

US Embassy Bangkok: Consular Leadership Tenets MIA at the Consular Section

State's OIG has published online its review of the US Mission in Thailand (Embassy Bangkok and CG Chiang Mai). The report has lots of opportunities in its "areas of improvement," to to speak.  You can read it here.

The Consular portion of the OIG report talks about leadership and adjudication reviews in the section. This, we think, is of special note because a year prior to the OIG review, the Consular Section in Bangkok was apparently host to a CMAT review (Consular Management Assistance Team) with no great improvements to show, unfortunately.   Excerpt from the OIG report:

The consul general encourages the ELOs and the ACS unit chief, and he delegates career enhancing tasks to them, but he has not been able to fill the management gap left by the visa chief’s hands-off style. ELOs on their first consular tours, albeit talented and hard working, are not always able to identify and implement operational efficiencies without the systematic guidance that experienced supervisors can and should provide. Furthermore, since half of the consular ELO contingent spends only one year in the consular section before rotating to another section, seamless operations require constant training and careful coordination.
Chapter 7 of the Foreign Affairs Handbook discusses the qualities of a great consular section. The management and leadership behaviors recommended in 7 FAH1- H-240 include: working the NIV line and completing other basic consular tasks in addition to oversight duties; conducting regular and focused staff meetings; establishing formal training plans; and ensuring strong management controls. In Bangkok, the consul general and the visa chief are committed to the section’s performance goals. However, if they were regular participants in line work they would be more aware of the pressures on some units and the inefficiencies of others that resulted in some of this report’s recommendations. The consul general talks with officers in the section and asks about how work is progressing, but the visa chief rarely does. During the work and travel NIV workload surge in the summer, neither interviewed visa applicants on the line even though all of those interviews are conducted in English. The experienced supervisors do not demonstrate interviewing techniques and observe and critique performance for newly arrived ELOs; rather, other ELOs fill the trainer role.

The consul general meets with all officers weekly, but the visa chief does not meet regularly with visa officers or LE staff, either individually or as a group. He is, however, available in his office for questions at any time. None of the ELOs had received formal counseling sessions or the obligatory written counseling statement during their tenure at Embassy Bangkok.

The 2008 CMAT report detailed steps that the visa chief needed to take in order to meet the requirements of his position, and recommended a corrective action plan. The CMAT report stressed a lack of  communications and feedback, the failure to conduct regular adjudication reviews, and tardiness in finalizing work requirements and performance evaluations. None of the CMAT recommendations has been implemented consistently. The OIG team observed first-hand the stress that ELOs experienced when their performance evaluations were prepared at the last minute and included areas for improvement on which they had not been counseled. The visa chief had not conducted the statutory review of NIV adjudications for several months until the week before the OIG team’s arrival in Bangkok, and therefore was unable to provide constructive and timely feedback to the interviewing officers.

Adjudication Reviews
According to 9 FAM 41.113 PN17.1 a.-b. and 9 FAM 41.121 PN1.2-7, 8 b and d., supervisors in the NIV adjudication chain of command are required to regularly review established percentages of visa issuances and refusals in the approved electronic NIV review system. These sections emphasize adjudication reviews for inexperienced officers and recommend that a greater percentage of their cases be reviewed during those adjudicating officers’ initial months. If the consul general adjudicates referral cases, the DCM, as the immediate supervisor, must conduct the reviews for those cases. When the visa chief is unavailable, the consul general normally would review NIV adjudications. The OIG team confirmed that the visa chief, the consul general, and the DCM had failed to conduct any adjudication reviews between June 2009 and April 1, 2010. In fact, only the visa chief had an active logon and password for the electronic review system at the time of the inspection. The visa chief began reviewing some back cases the week prior to the OIG

Don't you just wish Brian Aggeler would do a cartoon of the chief doing back cases review prior to OIG's arrival? How about EERs prepared at the last minute by Speedy Tardy? 

We understand that Bangkok’s FY 2009 NIV workload declined by over 20,000 cases from its FY 2008 high. The IV workload also declined from a FY 2006 high of approximately 8,500 to fewer than 3,000 cases in FY 2009. Still -- we feel bad for the ELOs -- no counseling, late performance reviews and a rotation program that spans 3-4 months -- are not/not great introductions to a new career.

There is obviously a leadership disconnect here. The CG meets with the officers regularly but the Visa Chief reportedly does not, and neither were "regular participants in [visa] line work." Ever wonder how this translates to -- lead by example? Or building great teams? 

The first tour, for good or bad, marks the new officer, sometimes for life.  

With this kind of consular leadership, which of the following tenets can section employees actually check in good conscience?  
  1. Inspire 
  2. Model Integrity
  3. Develop the Next Generation
  4. Delegate Authority—but Not Responsibility
  5. Communicate 
  6. Build Great Teams
  7. Lead by Example
  8. Follow Courageously
  9. Learn Constantly
  10. Practice 360-Degree Diplomacy

And if the Visa Chief is the only one with an active logon and password for the electronic review system, that means the mission's visa adjudication chain of command simply omitted the CG and the DCM as required by regulations.  Who's decision was this? Are we to understand that the CG and the DCM were not aware of this requirement, especially after 9/11?  Um, that's only the DCM -- the number #2 person in the mission.     


Related item:
11/30/10   Embassy Bangkok and Consulate General Chiang Mai, Thailand (ISP-I-11-03A) Nov 2010  [991 Kb]

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