Last week, the US Department of State released an Inspector General’s report on the US Embassy in Malta [pdf], headed up by Ambassador Douglas Kmiec. Kmiec is an outspoken Republican (head of the Office of Legal Counsel under Reagan) and a conservative Roman Catholic, who bucked both the GOP and many in his church to support Obama in his presidential race against John McCain.
At CNN, religion editor Dan Gilgoff led his story about the IG report like this:
The U.S. ambassador to Malta has upset the State Department by devoting so much time to writing and speaking about faith-related issues, according to a report from the department’s inspector general released last week.
Today, Michael Sean Winters of the National Catholic Reporter broke the news that Kmiec has submitted his resignation, to be effective on August 15th — the Roman Catholic Feast of the Assumption and also a date that will allow Kmiec to remain in Malta until the construction of a new embassy is complete and the move to new quarters is finished.
NCR has both Kmiec’s letter to Obama last Wednesday [pdf], responding to the IG report and also offering his resignation, and his letter to Secretary of State Clinton [pdf] dated today, offering a fuller defense of himself. In both letters, Kmiec describes the problem as revolving around his writings and the amount of time spent on them. In the letter to Obama, he leads by saying the IG report
expressed dissatisfaction with the extent of the time during my service that I’ve devoted to promoting what I know you believe in most strongly — namely, personal faith and a greater mutual understanding of the faiths of others as the way toward greater mutual respect.
To Clinton, he pointed to the same issue, complaining that “The OIG failed to read any of my writing or see its highly positive effect on our bilateral relations,” as if that were the entire issue under discussion.
That may be how Kmiec wants to spin the debate, but that’s not what a reading of the actual OIG report [pdf] reflects. Here’s what the IG said right up front about the three areas to be inspected (p. ii):
- Policy Implementation: whether policy goals and objectives are being effectively achieved; whether U.S. interests are being accurately and effectively represented; and whether all elements of an office or mission are being adequately coordinated.
- Resource Management: whether resources are being used and managed with maximum efficiency, effectiveness, and economy and whether financial transactions and accounts are properly conducted, maintained, and reported.
- Management Controls: whether the administration of activities and operations meets the requirements of applicable laws and regulations; whether internal management controls have been instituted to ensure quality of performance and reduce the likelihood of mismanagement; whether instance of fraud, waste, or abuse exist; and whether adequate steps for detection, correction, and prevention have been taken.
The investigation itself reflects these emphases, and the picture that emerges is not pretty — as least insofar as it shows the work of the ambassador. From p. 5:
He is respected by Maltese officials and most mission staff, but his unconventional approach to his role as ambassador has created friction with principal officials in Washington, especially over his reluctance to accept their guidance and instructions. Based on a belief that he was given a special mandate to promote President Obama’s interfaith initiatives, he has devoted considerable time to writing articles for publication in the United States as well as in Malta, and to presenting his views on subjects outside the bilateral portfolio. He has been inconsistent in observance of clearance procedures required for publication. . . . His approach has required Department principals, as well as some embassy staff, to spend an inordinate amount of time reviewing his writings, speeches, and other initiatives. . .
At the same time, he has not focused sufficiently on key management issues within the embassy, including the NEC [New Embassy Compound]. The Ambassador pursues an active public diplomacy program and while he is popular with the Maltese Government and public, he meets infrequently with senior government officials, business executives, and diplomatic colleagues outside social events. . .
These activities also detracted from the core responsibilities of embassy staff members who devoted time and effort to reviewing and editing the ambassador’s drafts and seeking approvals occasionally after the writings had been submitted for publication from Department officials.
The report portrays an ambassador who does what he wants, with little regard for the effect of this on the rest of the embassy staff. This is straight out of the Leona Helmsley School of Ambassadorships: “I’m the ambassador, and the rules are for the little people.”
Reading through the whole report, the larger problems are that Kmiec is personalizing the face of the embassy — it’s all about me! — and thus the larger work of the embassy is suffering. The embassy is in the midst of building and moving to larger quarters, yet Kmiec isn’t on top of this and too much staff time is wasted trying to make up for it. Several separate policy groups duplicate each other’s work, thus wasting more time. Foreign Service personnel posted at Malta have been getting a luxury R&R perk since 1991, but the documentation to justify this perk has not been filed in ages. (Given the nice weather in Malta, lack of local civil wars, and absence of other usual justifications for this big perk, the IG recommends dropping it.) Etc. Etc. Etc.
Consider this one, that shows how Kmiec’s approach to being the Ambassador affects others (p. 6):
The team also examined overtime records and found that one of the office management specialists was allowed to accrue 385 hours of overtime in 2010 handling tasks for the Ambassador. Her overtime represented more than 90 percent of all American overtime at the embassy. The inspection team concluded that this overtime should have been better managed.
Here’s the IG on how Kmiec is overpersonalizing the embassy’s work (p. 7):
The Ambassador has become the sole face of the embassy to the host country. Most others in the mission do not get out of the embassy often enough to build contact networks. There is no apparent representation plan requiring mission members to orchestrate and host events. Most representational funding goes to the front office and to those section chiefs who ask for it. The Ambassador has not delegated speaking opportunities to the greatest extent possible nor given each section a representation budget for which it will be held accountable.
This is a critical problem, because ambassadors come and go, but the work of the embassy goes on. If permanent staff do not get out to build networks of contacts, all the contacts of the embassy are broken when the ambassador leaves. Kmiec may have great contacts, but they do no one at the embassy any good once he heads home.
I haven’t read lots of these State Department IG reports, but my take on this one is that it is a real slap in the face to Kmiec’s management skills and a wakeup call to the DC-based Bureau of European and Eurasian Affairs to keep a closer eye on things. The problems the IG identified did not crop up overnight, and should have been addressed much earlier.
Kmiec may want to say that this is just about petty squabbling with minor bureaucrats in DC over him wanting to write more about religion than they think is appropriate, but it’s not. That’s a bright shiny object if ever there was one. Reading the entire IG report makes it clear that this is about Kmiec’s general approach to being an ambassador, which is damaging to the work of the embassy in Malta.