As modified and refined over time - most recently, only two months and three days ago - CA's visa referral policy is clear, direct, and (kind of) simple. 9 FAM 601.8 now even ends with a painfully detailed priority appointment requests program (601.8-4) that is nearly as long as the referral section.
In a typical recent report, the IG noted that the post's referral system had been 'troubling' before a new consular chief arrived, but that incoming individual very promptly and admirably 'took steps to correct and explain' the program. Even so, and for all his/her efforts, it was still not in sync with 601.8-1 through -3 when the IG came to call shortly after. The IG correctly did not note - but Madam has no such compunctions - that the post's two previous inspections, reaching more than 12 years into the past, had carried similar scoldings.
What is the problem? It has four main components, each equally daunting, and so are listed here in no particular order:
1. The difficulty of having to tell one's supervisors, all the way up the chain to the ambassador, that they must do something that the don't want to do, in a way that they don't want to do it. FSOs are selected for their ability to patiently compromise and give way if necessary, but 601.8 brooks none of that from officers who might be the lowest-ranked and most vulnerable - and the most expected to give way.
2. The shameless pressure, hinted threats, and covert and overt bullying practiced by higher-ranked FSOs who might indeed hold consular officers' futures in their hands.
3. The meticulous handling required of referrals by sections that are often swamped by conflicting priorities, insufficient staffing, rampant fraud, and overly-complex internal procedures that (always) build up complexity over time.
4. The need to make local VIPs understand that their embassy contacts cannot simply give them visas; however fond they might (pretend to) be of each other, there is only one procedure and it cannot be avoided or averted.
What's the cure?
Sadly, 601-8 is the cure. It is hard and ugly and frustrating and exasperating; it makes foes of people that embassy officers and conoffs need to have as allies; it never shuts up and goes away; it's never done once and for all.
And it's the rules.
And by the way, never mind that if a post's NIV interview appointments were up to date, 601.8-4 would not be necessary. That is a whole 'nother dragon.