This week's federal player: Jeffrey Collins

Battling the narcotics trade in Bolivia

State Department's Jeffrey Collins
State Department's Jeffrey Collins (Ernesto Copa/US Embassy)
From the Partnership for Public Service
Tuesday, February 16, 2010; 7:00 AM

Jeffrey Collins, 39, heads a $20 million a year counter-narcotics program in Bolivia, a country that is the world's third largest producer of cocaine and where the coca, the drug's active ingredient, is part of the indigenous culture. It is also a country whose relationship with the United States has been strained since the Bolivian government expelled the U.S. ambassador in 2008.

"On a day-to-day basis it can be frustrating," Collins said. "But we are working with Bolivia to improve relations and to support their fight against narcotics trafficking. The Bolivian government has expressed its concern about narcotics production and trafficking and recognizes that U.S. assistance plays an important part in their efforts to intercept cocaine and eradicate excess coca."

Collins arrived in Bolivia last June, and like many other Foreign Service officers, has spent his career being transferred every few years to often difficult situations that require him to adapt quickly. For example, Collinswent to work at the embassy in Turkey on a Friday, and started his new job in Bolivia the following week.

"Everything was so different. I had to put Turkey out of my mind and start speaking Spanish and learning a new topic and a new country," Collins said. "At first, I found myself using Turkish words in conversation. It can be stressful, but you get used to being thrown into new places."

Collins' career has included stints as a law clerk for two federal judges and time in private law practice. He entered the Foreign Service in 2002 out of sense of patriotism, a commitment to public service and a desire for what he describes as "a life-long adventure."

His first assignment was to Cuba, where he managed twnety consular employees and worked with the Department of Homeland Security to develop a clearance system for timely processing of 20,000 annual special immigrant visas. The program was designed as a safety valve to limit the possibility of large numbers of Cubans seeking to flee by rafts and small boats to Miami.

Next, Collins' served as a special assistant to the Charge d'Affaires in Iraq in 2004 and 2005, working to support Iraq's first free elections, developing a task force to assist creation of a new Iraqi justice system and developing an interagency hostage crisis group.

Ronald Neuman, president of the American Academy of Diplomacy, said Collins frequently left the protected Green Zone so he could get to know the people and the country. "He was open-minded, learned about Iraqi politics and was not trying to make everything fit into a neat theoretical box," said Neuman, who was deputy of chief of mission in Iraq.

Walter Braunohler who also worked with Collins in Iraq said, "Jeff's prowess for quick thinking and clear judgment made him the obvious choice for not one, but several high-responsibility portfolios, such as the handling of hostage takings and medical evacuations."

In Turkey, a predominately Muslim nation, Collins led outreach efforts to increase an interfaith dialogue that resulted in exchanges between American and Turkish religious scholars and practitioners.

He also launched diplomatic efforts that helped save the lives of Turkish human rights activists who faced threats of assassination. When the attorney for families of three Christians who were brutally tortured to death in 2007 faced death threats of his own in 2008, Collins placed pressure on the Interior Ministry and got 24-hour security protection for the lawyer.

James Jeffrey, the current U.S. ambassador to Turkey, said Collins developed "extraordinary contacts among everyone from government officials to victims of torture," and provided reports that were cited by the State Department for their "insight and fairness."

The ambassador said Collins' human rights analysis of Turkey became the standard for the U.S. government, the European Union, the United Nations and nongovernmental organizations. "He pushed all of us to recognize both the accomplishments and remaining insufficiencies in Turkey's remarkable journey to a modern democratic state," said Jeffrey.

Collins also spent time on the USNS Mercy, serving as a senior political adviser during a humanitarian and medical mission in Southeast Asia that included a stop in Timor-Leste.

During his various assignments, Collins said he has learned that achieving results within the constraints of a foreign country and the State Department's hierarchical system is not easy.

"Although going up against the status quo is not always welcomed, many colleagues and superiors appreciate smart proposals and respect those who present them," Collins said. "Staying positive and working hard to effect change best describes my personal motto in trying to overcome the challenges inherent in the bureaucracy."

This article was jointly prepared by the Partnership for Public Service, a group seeking to enhance the performance of the federal government, and washingtonpost.com. Visit www.ourpublicservice.org for more about the organization's work.


© 2010 The Washington Post Company