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A Diplomat's Plum Post, Plucked Away

By Al Kamen
Friday, December 22, 2006

The career diplomats at the State Department are celebrating a decision this week by the department's director general to overturn the assignment of an aide to Undersecretary Karen Hughes to a top job running the new Public Diplomacy Rapid Response office in Brussels.

The American Foreign Service Association two months ago protested the selection of mid-level civil servant Diane Zeleny for the job, calling it a "pre-cooked deal" done by manipulating the process and violating personnel rules. AFSA filed a grievance asking foreign service director general George Staples to "undo this assignment."

Staples did, though he gave Zeleny until next summer to leave Brussels. Staples, in a joint announcement with AFSA chief J. Anthony Holmes, said "we understand that she is doing an excellent job and is to be commended" for her work. But foreign service officers may now begin applying for the job, they said.

Foggy Bottom folks said the opening was never properly advertised so senior officials looking for new postings would know about it. And then it was announced at the last minute, so there was no way top officers, who had already gotten new assignments, could apply for it.

The Zeleny appointment came at a time when career diplomats were seething over jumps by several other lower-level officers with political connections into top jobs that the career folks thought should have gone to more senior officers.

It probably didn't help matters, in this case, that Zeleny, a talented civil servant -- but not a foreign service officer -- who has some experience overseas, is married to prominent neocon Reuel Marc Gerecht, an Iraq war promoter and occasional Bush adviser.

In addition to Zeleny's removal, the joint cable by Holmes and Staples announced, the "procedures" that led to her getting the assignment in the first place were "not clear," and it outlined steps being taken to "ensure that any future assignments of this nature will be guided by negotiated, established procedures that are fair and transparent."

Some career folks said they were surprised to see that Staples, also a career diplomat, moved with such dispatch to overturn a move made by the political powers.

The Best Bettors

And now, the winners in the In the Loop Congressional Election Contest. In order to winnow down the hundreds of entrants, Loop advisers -- okay, a few reporters sitting nearby -- said true prognosticators were those who correctly predicted the Democrats' Senate takeover at 51 to 49. So that was the initial screen.

Then, of that group, the winners were those who most closely predicted the House ratio of 233 Democrats to 202 Republicans.

The Grand Winner, the only entrant who got them both exactly right, was Roger Peterson, who is in public relations in Vancouver, Wash.

Ari Schoenholtz of Bethesda, recently an intern at WAMU radio and now looking for work in public radio, was one off, guessing the Democrats would pick up 234 seats in the House.

Retired federal employee Dick Harlow of Prescott, Ariz., was one off the other way, guessing 232 Democratic House members.

Lobbyist David Bushnell of Silver Spring was two off on the House vote, as was Fred Huebscher of the Los Angeles area. Peter Lorenzo, a retired political science professor from Roseville, Calif., was three off in the House, as was Montgomery County teacher John M. Mosier.

Ed Black, president and chief executive of the Computer & Communications Industry Association here, was four off, as was George Mason University political science professor Jeremy D. Mayer of Arlington and Alice Johnson Cain of Takoma Park, who works for the incoming House Education Committee chairman, Rep. George Miller.

Three other entrants missed the Senate vote but were exactly right on the House vote: Arlington consultant Stan Karson; Cockeysville, Md., jewelry maker Dori Grasso; and Adam Shah, deputy editorial editor at Media Matters for America.

Congratulations to the winners, and thanks to all for entering.

No Longer to Labor at Labor

Moving on . . . Steven J. Law, formerly executive director of the Republican Senatorial Committee under Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and more recently deputy secretary of labor, is moving to the private sector in a few weeks. He'll probably be continuing his work on labor issues involved in trade and immigration matters.

Not the Best Bet

Another bitter loss for Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Bad enough that his pals were trounced in this week's local elections in Teheran. Sportsbook.com, the online bookie, reported that almost 33 percent of the betting on Time's Person of the Year was for Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. Only 21 percent went for Ahmadinejad.

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