Quote of the day/week/however long

"Act as if what you do makes a difference. It does."
~William James

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Perhaps Plumbing Tools Would Help?

Once upon a time, Madam visited a post at which the consular chief was responsible for several different locations, and was always apparently busy with one whenever another needed her help. So skilled was this officer at sitting in her office, tapping away at the keyboard and looking thoughtful, that it took several days to realize that she was actually doing - how can Madam put it diplomatically - nothing while raw first-tour officers ran themselves ragged and hollow-eyed, making half-wrong decisions.

Some years later, Madam observed a senior FSO doing exactly the same (no)thing with exactly the same results: inexperienced officers and half-trained FSNs doing their best alone, and failing as often as succeeding while that very experienced officer fiddled with emails and schmoozed with the front office on the phone.

And only half a year ago, at two adjoining posts, a similar tune was still playing for an OIG inspection team.

While Madam tries to keep this blog quick to read, observations by the inspectors are worthy of full insertion here:

"The consular section chief only adjudicates high-profile or referral visa cases. Recent guidance in 13 STATE 153746 reminded consular managers that they are expected to do some interviewing themselves. The section chief’s lack of hands-on participation contributes to longer hours that the more junior employees have to spend interviewing, and remoteness from actual processing undermines her credibility as an expert. It also reduces the opportunities for management to train new personnel and to identify potential interview technique and workflow efficiencies

"Recommendation 13: Embassy XXX should require the consular section chief to conduct routine visa interviews on a regular basis.

"The consular chief reviewed only 5 percent of the visa and American citizens services chiefs’ nonimmigrant visa adjudications in the past 6 months. Neither the former chargĂ© d’affaires nor the former acting DCM reviewed the 65 cases that the consular chief handled in the past year. Failure to review the required 10 percent of visa approvals and 20 percent of refusals, per 9 FAM 41.113 PN 17 and 9 FAM 41.121 N2.3-7, leads to lack of consistency in visa issuance and refusal. Adjudication reviews are also a vital management control to prevent malfeasance.

"Recommendation 14: Embassy XXX should bring its process for reviewing visa adjudications in line with Department regulations."

Please excuse Madam's sudden coughing fit. The consular chief handled 65 cases in a year? That number - cleverly slipped in by the consular inspector to provoke the outrage that it certainly does - is simply insulting.

"Is it safe to come out? Is all the work done?"

And next door:

"In FY 2013, YYY processed more than 100,000 nonimmigrant visa applications, but wait times for visa interviews have approached the 30-day mark. The entire staff is hard pressed to keep up with demand from the traveling public, even though the number of positions available to interview applicants is appropriate for the case load. A series of unanticipated staffing gaps in FY 2013 magnified the problem. Interviewing officers and local staff work hard but are not necessarily efficient. Officers, tired after a minimum of 6 hours of interviewing, make too many simple mistakes that in turn require time-consuming corrections. 

"Too many cases, particularly those awaiting advisory opinion responses, are not processed to conclusion promptly because of lack of oversight and clear standard operating procedures. The consul general and the visa chief rarely adjudicate visa applications, except for high-profile or referral cases. A recent cable (13 STATE 153746) reminded posts that consular managers are expected to do some interviewing themselves. Not only does the lack of hands-on participation contribute to the long hours that the more junior staff has to spend interviewing, this remoteness from actual processing undermines their credibility as experts. It also reduces the opportunities for management to train new personnel and to identify potential interview technique and workflow efficiencies

"Recommendation 11: Embassy YYY should require both the consul general and the visa chief to conduct routine visa interviews on a regular basis."

We could parse this information in SO many different ways. Every phrase is a gem, and a head-shaker. And what is likely to be the consequences for consular managers who should be helping, leading, pushing, guiding, advising, encouraging, diving in, staying late, bringing in snacks, cheering, grinning, back-slapping, dirtying their hands, sweating, breaking fingernails, surfing with the sharks, but are not?

Two choices: punishment or promotion.

Where will you place your bets?


jdc said...

Thanks for the insight! Even in the course of one tour I've seen a wide range of management styles and their impacts on morale and performance.

On a different note, do you ever formally mentor consular coned entry or mid-level officers?

Madam le Consul said...

Formally? Yes, in a way, although not now. just your asking is deeply appreciated.

jdc said...

I appreciate the frank discussion of consular work as more than just a numbers game. At post we have plenty of systems discussions but rarely get to take a step back and consider the bigger picture of what we do, how we do it, and most importantly, why.