Quote of the day/week/however long

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

Sunday, September 4, 2016

Apple Core. Baltimore.

Who's your friend?

The duty officer.

We all know who's in charge of what, and what to do, when a full-blown, God-please-help-us crisis erupts, but what about the lesser-but-we-still-have-to-deal-with-it stuff that arises during ordinary down time, such as after normal business hours, weekends, and holidays?

Most Americans have this fond image of us constantly there: alert, erect, wide awake, fully caffeinated and ready to take on the world for them, whatever the hour. Most local folks, both civilian and government, know our reputation for excellent service and so either hope that we'll take care of them anyway, or are dealing with a crisis - either personal or professional - and come to us because no one else can help them and they truly cannot wait.

Good luck with this

 Madam has a well-earned reputation for tirelessly repeating merciless criticism and correction until the tragic subject of her wrath succumbs to either correction or murder/suicide. But we're dealing with another issue here - not ordinary consular incompetence, but larger mission shortsightedness.

ACS and NIVs are, rightly, the center of OUR lives. But some missions become so used to their duty officers only fielding visa, passport, and arrest calls that they forget about other duty possibilities, and forget to account for them.

For example, a recent OIG inspection report included this: "The embassy's duty officer program was geared solely to the provision of emergency consular services." And in an actual situation that must have humiliated the post's upper management: "The duty officer recently failed to provide appropriate after-hours assistance to a XXX government official."

As if front office attention weren't enough, the inspectors rightly had to rub in more detail: "According to 2 FAM 115.3-1, embassies are required to arrange for personnel to be available at all times outside regular office hours. Furthermore, according to 2 FAM 113.8, the Management Section is responsible for developing and maintaining a duty officer guide that includes information about each of the mission’s programs, embassy and host country contact information, and scenarios for a range of frequently encountered after-hour services.

"The duty guide did not include this information. It included no reference material other than American Citizens Services-provided materials and how to handle after-hour telegrams. All information on the duty officer tablet dated from 2012. Management’s role in the program was limited to developing the quarterly duty roster and transferring custody of the duty tablet and cell phone."

And finally, as if this detailed damnation were not enough, inspectors tied this problem back to the major importance of consular work, the true heart of after-hours duty: "Absent program oversight and updated guidance, the embassy risks being unable to provide appropriate emergency services in ...cases affecting the welfare of American citizens or embassy employees."

And, just as a throwaway: "Duty officers were not always reachable when the Marine Security Guard called them."


So, a consular officer might say, the post got a righteous and well-deserved hand-slapping for this, directed, for a change at the management folks. But how does it affect consular work enough that Madam has devoted this week's rant to it?

One word: competence. We may be consular officers, but no one at post sees or recognizes the depth and breadth of duty responsibilities the way that we do. What happened to consular management, which never looked at or questioned the lack of most of that depth and breadth, let alone the age of the information that consular management itself had provided? By not looking beyond their own narrow ACS-NIV interests, they lost an opportunity to help the post take are of business, and look good while doing it.

Okay, two words. The second is development. Most duty officers in larger posts are fairly junior. Most fairly junior officers are assigned to the consular section. If these young folks can't be prepared for the more rare and complex non-consular issues that might arise after hours, and - ideally - be able to handle them on their own - then when they get an out-of-consular assignment they will be less ready to learn, understand, and perform that work. They will have less self-confidence later, as well as now.

So who is a consular officer's best friend? The duty officer, who lets everyone else sleep through the night.

And who is the duty officer's best friend? The consular officer, who sees to it that he/she is ready to handle anything that might go thump in the night.

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