Thursday, August 4, 2011

US Embassy Bogota: How come an entry-level officer is adjudicating visa referrals?

I'm sure they'll tell you there's a good reason for this.  In a consular section at the US Embassy in Bogota where there is a Senior Foreign Service Officer, and at least an FS-01 and FS-02 midrank FS officers, it falls on an entry level officer to adjudicate visa referrals.

Holy booooooo!

The poor dude is considered a back-up visa referral adjudicator but since he/she was adjudicating five times as many as the FS-02 deputy visa chief, he/she is in reality the primary adjudicator.  Probably should demand that credit goes into his/her performance evaluation for doing the job of the more senior folks.  Oh, wait, is that even allowed?

There's a excellent reason why entry level officers should not be visa referral adjudicators. Not only are they new officers learning on the job, they can be the recipients of undue pressures from more senior officers who write the visa referrals. Just think, an entry  level officer with a rotation tour the following year to the political or economic section who had to adjudicate that section chief's visa referral?  And even if not on a rotational tour, the embassy can be a really small pond, and the poor newbies may make enemies just by doing the job they've been shoved into.

I take it this is how you lead by example, develop the next generation, model integrity and inspire the newcomers? I hope the consular section there did not advertise loudly the consular bureau's leadership tenets, because that would be truly demoralizing and just demonstrate the disconnect reality teevee. 

What were they thinking? The midlevel officers must also know this is not right -- where is their "follow courageously" when they followed their boss into this one?  Oh, wait, the boss writes their EERs, doesn't he?  So translation, it is only possible to follow courageously when your career is not on the line; otherwise, the poor entry level officers just have to suck it. Nice leadership by example, dudes!  

This is not Consular Section Bogota's only problem. But reading the OIG review, the inspectors seems to be skating on this lightly.  Leadership and management discussion missing in action from the report; must be because senior management has yet to take FSI's leadership and management courses? What? They they have already taken the courses?  Well then, send them back to repeat the course, silly!  Excerpts: 

Nonimmigrant Visa Referrals

The NIV referral system in Bogotá does not follow the 9 FAM Appendix K guidelines that require specific procedures for submitting and adjudicating these NIV applications. In the time period from February 2010 to February 2011, the consular section processed 2,102 NIV referrals. In the 6 months before the August 2010 arrival of the present consul general, the mix of
Class A and B referrals was typical of that of other posts. In the 6 months since August 2010, the number of Class A referrals has plummeted by 90 percent.

In addition, from August 2010 to February 2011, the consul general personally adjudicated only four referral cases, two of them in the 2 weeks following the arrival of the OIG team. The FS-01 NIV chief had adjudicated only 10 Class A referrals and 12 Class B referrals in that same 6-month period.

According to the post referral policy, the consular section was processing cases of prominent and influential travelers as Class B referrals. In addition, the FS-02 deputy NIV chief was routinely adjudicating Class B referrals. In the absence of the deputy NIV chief, the responsibility for referral adjudication devolved downward to a recently tenured entry-level officer. Because of post’s policy of discouraging Class A referrals, the entry-level officer is in effect adjudicating what normally would be Class A referrals in a consular section that has an FE-MC (minister counselor), an FS-01, and an FS-02 officer. During the 6 months from August 2010 to February 2011, the entry-level officer backup referral adjudicator processed 120 cases, more than five times as many as the NIV chief.

Embassy Bogotá’s referral policy was originally based on 9 FAM Appendix K, Exhibit I. The consular section had made a small number of key changes, such as adding a notation after the header of the Class A criteria that require all potential referrers of Class A referrals to “[Please discuss with Consul General in advance]”; a notation after the header in the Class B criteria “[almost all Embassy Bogotá visa referrals]”; and a note in the paragraph discussing the DS-2019 requirements that “Class B-referrals are preferred” for U.S.
Government-sponsored exchanged program participants. The effect of these changes is to alter the definitions of the Criteria A and B referrals as presented in the 9 FAM exhibit, which is in violation of 9 FAM Appendix K, 201 a. The end result is a 90 percent reduction in Class A referrals since August 2010.

The OIG team reviewed a small sample of referrals conducted in the 6 months from August 2010 to February 2011. About a quarter of the cases reviewed had no clear U.S. Government interest noted on the referral form. Of particular concern to the OIG team were referrals for informants (and their families) of the law enforcement elements of the mission.
Recommendation 14: Embassy Bogotá should establish and implement nonimmigrant visa referral procedures that comply with Department of State guidance regarding Class A and B visa referrals. (Action: Embassy Bogotá)

Recommendation 15: Embassy Bogotá should draft and disseminate a notice from the Ambassador to all potential referring officers in the mission that explains the changes to the visa referral program. (Action: Embassy Bogotá)


rc said...

9 FAM App. K, 202, a.... All Class A
referrals must be adjudicated by the consular section chief, or someone
acting officially in that capacity. Class B referrals must be adjudicated by
a tenured mid-level supervisory consular officer or the consular chief of
section, or someone acting officially in one of those capacities. It is never
appropriate for referral cases to be adjudicated by an entry-level officer,
unless there is no tenured mid-level consular officer at post. ...

There shouldn't be any doubts here...

Consul-At-Arms said...

"rc" is absolutely right.

At smaller posts, it can happen that an entry-level officer handles a referal case if the section chief (class a) or mid-grade consular officer (class b) isn't available. And by "not available" I mean not on the premises (because they're at the morgue or a crash site dealing with dead/injured Americans) and time/travel considerations mean that the adjudication can't wait for them to get back.

Reality intrudes, and the regulations account for that; just just have to document it in your case notes so everyone understands this is _an_exception_ and _not_the_norm_.

I took a peek at the Key Officers list ( just make sure I don't ever take a job working for this guy.