Jewish World Review July 28, 1999 /15 Av 5759
This move was hypocritical on two fronts. Albright makes much of her commitment to hiring and promoting women in government; she once told the Washington Post that prominent in her “galaxy of people I have no use for” are “women who don’t help other women.” But presented with the opportunity to reward a talented civil servant who happens to be a woman, Albright gave more weight to a parochial dispute.
Equally revealing, the decision to dump Shenwick from the ACABQ came at a time when Albright was loudly criticizing Boutros-Ghali for failing to clean up the U.N.’s finances. The ACABQ, dominated by individuals with years of U.N. budget experience who tend to be hostile to macro-reforms, is precisely the kind of forum where a representative with Shenwick’s thorough knowledge of U.N. budget issues is invaluable to the United States. And not only was Albright willing to discard Shenwick’s expertise, but the individual nominated in Shenwick’s place was defeated in the ACABQ election, depriving the United States of a voice in this powerful arena.
These contradictions rarely received press coverage. Albright, super-sensitive about her public image, was always careful to express satisfaction with Shenwick’s work. In a February 1996 letter to Sen. Rod Grams, a Minnesota Republican, Albright wrote that Shenwick was a “valued member” of the “reform team.” And at a Senate hearing two months later, a senior State Department official, Princeton Lyman, said of Shenwick’s ACABQ tenure, “It was Ambassador Albright’s judgment that Miss Shenwick had done an outstanding job.”
Indeed, even after engineering Shenwick’s ouster from the ACABQ, Albright wasn’t content. In April 1996, for example, Albright personally ordered the hiring of a retired former deputy chief of the U.S. mission, Herbert Gelber, and made his primary responsibility overseeing Shenwick and evaluating her performance. This was highly suspicious, given that no such position had previously existed at the U.S. mission and Gelber had once been a top deputy to Thomas Pickering, the U.N. ambassador Shenwick had tangled with years earlier.
It didn’t take Gelber long to strike. Within a month of accepting the job, he had raised questions about Shenwick’s use of entertainment funds, telephones, and fax machines (an investigation by the State Department’s inspector general found no wrongdoing). Subsequent remarks, however, revealed that his real concerns with Shenwick were not ethical but political. He once said to her, during a meeting in his office, “What you do with Republicans is between you and God, but I don’t know how you sleep at night.” And when it appeared that Sen. Pressler, who was up for reelection in 1996, was in jeopardy, Gelber told Shenwick, “It looks like he’s going to be gone, and you’ll be next.”
Gelber, meanwhile, had an ethics problem of his own. Shortly after he took the job, Shenwick informed the inspector general that State Department regulations barred employees from receiving a pension while serving in a supervisory role, forcing Gelber to have his pension temporarily suspended. Gelber got his revenge when he issued his evaluation of Shenwick’s job performance on December 4, 1996. He gave her an “unsatisfactory” rating.
This was the strongest signal of all that Albright wanted Shenwick ousted, for once State Department employees belonging to the Senior Executive Service have been rated unsatisfactory, they must be transferred out of their jobs. The rating also underscored the hardball tactics Albright was deploying against Shenwick: According to data provided by the Office of Personnel Management, no State Department employee belonging to the SES had ever received an “unsatisfactory” rating.
Shortly after handing down this evaluation, Gelber returned to retirement. Shenwick, meanwhile, tried to make a personal appeal to Albright at a U.S. mission social event, but didn’t get very far. Elaine Shocas, Albright’s chief of staff and a one-time Democratic party activist, quickly intervened and told Shenwick, “We know all about [the unsatisfactory evaluation] and we are prepared to deal with the legal and political consequences.” Albright, who witnessed the exchange, walked away without saying anything and hasn’t spoken with Shenwick since.
Shenwick eventually filed a complaint with the Office of Special Counsel, a federal agency that seeks to resolve personnel disputes, alleging her unsatisfactory rating had been retaliatory and was thus prohibited (according to Shenwick, Sklar warned her against pursuing this complaint, saying in November 1997, “We will break you financially and professionally”).
The State Department’s attempts to resolve the matter quietly have proven comical and corrupt. Illustrating the sheer pettiness of the department’s case against Shenwick are the charges it forwarded to the Office of Special Counsel last year to justify her “unsatisfactory” rating. Shenwick, according to the State Department, had had a poor relationship with the chairman of the ACABQ, hadn’t given proper credit to her staff for writing memos, and had failed to have a going-away party for a member of her staff.
But there was a problem with these charges. The latter two were demonstrably false. As for her poor relations with the ACABQ chairman, they stemmed from her role in helping to publicize that he had determined his own compensation package, traveled lavishly, and put his common-law wife on his staff. These disclosures complied with both the letter of State Department regulations and the spirit of the U.S. effort to curb waste at the U.N. (Shenwick’s job performance evaluations praised her approach to the “entrenched” chairman.) The disclosures also factored into the U.S. decision not to support the chairman’s reelection bid in 1997.
The State Department abandoned the charges against Shenwick a few months after making them, only to come forward with an entirely new set of allegations last month. Shenwick, according to the department, had become ineffective in dealing with foreign missions to the U.N.; it cited a diplomat from Belgium, Peter Maddens, and one from Britain, Nick Thorne. Similarly, State charged that Shenwick had expressed positions in U.N. budget negotiations contrary to the position of the U.S. government.
But both of these charges collapse under scrutiny. Maddens has told Shenwick’s lawyer that he had a professional relationship with Shenwick and never had any difficulty with her, while Thorne says that when U.S. officials approached him, he refused comment. With respect to insubordination, when Shenwick’s lawyer asked for examples over two months ago, a State Department lawyer replied that no one could recall any specific instance. The State Department’s final allegation is that Shenwick refused to share information from ACABQ proceedings with her U.S. mission colleagues. The only problem is that information discussed at ACABQ meetings is strictly confidential, and Shenwick could have been removed from the committee for violating her confidentiality oath.
As for the original source of hostility toward Shenwick—her sharing public information with Capitol Hill and the media—the State Department recently conceded in a letter to Grassley that she is a “protected whistleblower.”
Surely the strangest development of all came on April 13. That’s when the State Department lawyer handling the case, Melinda Chandler, told Victoria Toensing, Shenwick’s lawyer, that a job had been found for Shenwick in Manhattan (where she has lived for the past 15 years). The post—“senior program adviser” at a Department of Energy lab—called for advising the lab director on matters such as environmental research. There was just one problem: Shenwick had no experience in any of the areas for which she would be responsible.
So why was she offered this position? On April 23, Shenwick met with a senior lab official at a Manhattan coffee shop to discuss the job, but the official was unable to answer even her most elementary questions about the offer. Indeed, the official conceded the position of “senior program adviser” to the lab director had never before existed, and that Shenwick was unqualified for it.
Albright’s interest in disposing of Shenwick was so great that she not only was willing to transfer one of the State Department’s coveted Senior Executive Service slots to the Department of Energy if it would take Shenwick, she also was willing to provide Energy with $2.5 million over five years to cover a variety of projects in addition to Shenwick’s salary and expenses. This sum, as a lab official revealed to Shenwick, was considerably more than the lab needed from State.
On April 26, Shenwick reluctantly visited the Varick Street lab—she had been warned not to leave messages with any lab officials, as everything about the job offer was “confidential”—and she came away believing the job was inappropriate for her. Three days later, the State Department upped the ante, telling Shenwick that if she didn’t take the position she would be transferred to a job in Washington in 60 days. But she didn’t budge, telling State in early May she didn’t want the Department of Energy lab job.
This set off a new round of negotiations with State Department officials, which culminated on June 16 with Shenwick’s being handed a faxed memo from Alex De La Garza, a State Department personnel official, informing her she had 48 hours to vacate the U.S. mission. The memo also reiterated that Shenwick was to begin a new State Department job in Washington on June 29.
She resisted taking the new job—she says she’s almost as unqualified for it as she is for the Department of Energy lab job—but State refused to negotiate. Shenwick subsequently asked a senior U.S. mission official with whom she had friendly relations why the crusade against her was suddenly intensifying, and she was given a simple answer: Washington.
That’s a reference to Albright, though her office denies any wrongdoing.
Jamie Rubin, now the secretary’s spokesman at the State Department, said on July 22 that Albright “was not, as some have suggested, engaged in some persecution of Miss Shenwick. It’s just not true; it’s simply incorrect.”
The State Department did not respond to multiple inquiries seeking further comment. And Rubin refused to answer questions about Albright’s role in the effort to procure a job for Shenwick outside the department, declaring (incorrectly) that the Privacy Act prevented him from answering.
As for Shenwick, she’s happy to have the support of senators like Charles Grassley, Trent Lott, and Olympia Snowe, as well as the 287 House members who on July 21 voted for a resolution supporting her complaint against the State Department. (Interestingly, no congressional Democrat—not even foreign-policy hatchetman Joe Biden—has jumped on the anti-Shenwick bandwagon.)
But even if these senators help persuade the State Department to give her back her job at the U.S. mission, it won’t undo the damage that’s been done: six-figure legal bills, loss of salary, character assassination, and the dissemination of unsubstantiated allegations about her personal life.
Shenwick could, of course, have minimized her troubles by resigning a few years ago when it was clear Albright wanted her out. But she says she has no regrets about standing up to the guerrilla warfare. “I want people to know what can happen to anyone who gets on the wrong side of Madeleine Albright.
No one deserves to be treated this way.” And, she says, “while this is not a
battle I have sought out, I’m going to be in it until the