Nicole Avant served as co-chair of President Obama’s Southern California finance team in 2008, and after his election, she was appointed to the post as Ambassador to the Bahamas.
She left the post in November, citing the demands of family back here in Los Angeles, and has since helped raise money for Obama’s reelection campaign.
But the State Department’s Inspector General released a report this week that, while offering praise for building up the reputation of the embassy among residents of the Bahamas, finds fault in the number of times that Avant was away from her post.
The report said that Avant was absent from her post for 276 days during a 670-day period. “The 276 days include 84 nonwork days (weekends and holidays) and 102 personal leave days. The Ambassador also traveled to the United States for 77 work days on what she identified as business, with 23 days on what appear to have been official travel orders. All travel was at her personal expense except when she was on official travel orders.”
It went on to state that she requested permission from the State Department each time that she visited the U.S., and each time the Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs approved her request. The inspector found that the absences exceeded those allowed by the State Department, but said that it was the Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs that did “not follow procedures” for vetting them.
The inspector also said that the embassy was “recovering from an extended period of dysfunctional leadership and mismanagement,” but said that as of October, Avant and a new deputy chief of mission, a careerist in the foreign service, were “forging a good team” and were taking “informal steps” to boost morale. She formally left her post on Nov. 21.
The inspector did say that “by drawing on her personal contacts with prominent Americans, organizing civil society related conferences, highlighting her travel to outlying Bahamanian islands, and undertaking activities to promote business connections between American and Bahamian communities, she and her staff have improved the embassy’s reputation among Bahamians. This, in turn, has fostered a close bilateral environment that is conducive to excellent law enforcement cooperation.”
To a certain extent the report seems to reflect a tension that has long existed between careerists and appointees. Foreign Service vets pressed Obama to limit the number of non-career diplomats he appointed — they called it the last vestiges of the 19th century spoils system — although as I wrote about here, there are plenty of non-career ambassadors around to argue their case.
The full report, first reported in Foreign Policy, is here.
Update: The Tribune in the Bahamas reported that the U.S. Embassy Chargé d’Affaires John Dinkelman issued a statement in response: