(Stephen Allott) – Cynthia Stroum, our Ambassador to Luxembourg, has resigned her position ostensibly to spend more time with her family. Ms Stroum is another in the long line of political appointments to ambassadorships. Her qualification seems to have been introducing President Obama to Fran’s Chocolates “famous” Sea-salt Caramels – or, a more likely reasoning that she was one of then-candidate Obama’s top 47 “bundlers,” collecting and contributing $500,000 to his campaign during the 2008 Presidential election cycle.
Recently, the Office of Inspector General released its report on the state of Embassy Luxembourg during Ambassador Stroum’s tenure. With refreshingly alarming candor for a government report, the observations detailed “a state of dysfunction,” “poor management,” “serious inefficiencies,” “staff underperformance,” “units working in crisis mode,” and “curtailments entailing considerable costs to the US government.”
The report also claims that a psychiatrist from the regional office visited the embassy, finding morale so low and stress so high that two Deputy Chiefs actually volunteered for service in Kabul and Baghdad.
The report continues to highlight several financial transgressions and irregularities, such as $3,400 spent on wine and liquor on the final day of FY 2010 to use up remaining funds; a new queen-size bed bought for the Ambassador’s residence, as she did not care for the king size bed provided; satellite dishes purchased and installed for the American staff at $1,200 a pop; and a staff member spending almost 6 weeks seeking a 6 month temporary residence for the Ambassador while the official residence was being renovated.
Given the propensity for government reports to be vague, and often understated, this 60 page report, with its 30 recommendations and 26 ‘informal’ recommendations, should be a concern to us all for two major reasons.
Firstly, the entire system of appointing ambassadors should be reviewed. Our best diplomats should be sent across the world to represent us. Their knowledge and expertise is invaluable in this troubled world. Ambassadorships should not be kickbacks to wealthy political donors.
Secondly, it is acknowledged that Embassy Luxembourg is a relatively small operation and the money involved in this case is chump change in the grand scheme. However, the United States has just under 300 Embassies, Consulates and Diplomatic Missions worldwide – many of which are much larger. This is not to suggest that they are all operating in the appalling and scandalous manner which seems to have engulfed Embassy Luxembourg, but it does suggest some real oversight is in order for all of our overseas operations.
If the Office of Inspector General’s report on Luxembourg, (which can be read in its entirety at http://oig.state.gov/documents/organization/156129.pdf) brings to light the need for Congress to reform the funding of our overseas operations and/or enforce stricter guidelines, who knows ? – Maybe the staff at Embassy Luxembourg will have earned the right to drink that $3,400 worth of wine and liquor they purchased in one day.
(Mr. Allott is owner of SMA Software Services, Inc. and lives in Las Vegas, Nevada.)