By Joshua Parker
Joshua Parker joined the U.S. Department of State as an Information Management Specialist in 2017. He writes this article from his current post at the U.S. Embassy in Nouakchott, Mauritania.
As an Information Management Officer (IMO) at the U.S. Embassy in Nouakchott, Mauritania, my experience in the Foreign Service has been full of surprises and challenges – and has also been extremely rewarding. I’ve learned that even with the best planning and preparation, things change unexpectedly. The best-laid plans of mice and men often go awry.
Before Nouakchott, while eagerly planning for my next assignment in the Foreign Service, I felt like I had everything figured out. I had carefully selected my ideal post months in advance, reached out to hiring managers, and ensured that every detail of my biography and resume was perfect. As a result, I was offered a highly coveted position at Embassy Kabul in Afghanistan, but when I thought my hard work had paid off, my world was turned upside down.
On August 31, 2021, I received the shocking news that the Mission was closing due to political instability in the region. Suddenly, my plans were thrown into disarray, and I faced an uncertain future. But instead of giving up, I embraced the challenge and knew that this was my chance to prove myself and come out stronger.
I consulted with my Career Development Officer (CDO) to inquire about other opportunities. To my delight, I was informed of several open positions in Bujumbura, Guatemala City, Lome, Nouakchott, Quito, Reykjavík, and Tallinn – all of which were FS-03 management positions.
Although I had previously served in acting management roles, the thought of taking on an official management role filled me with some nervousness. However, I quickly realized that this was an incredible opportunity to grow professionally and enhance my skills. So, I set aside my fears and focused on the growth potential and opportunity to apply my skills presented by these positions.
I moved forward with the interview process and carefully considered each position, weighing the advantages and disadvantages of each. Ultimately, I decided to take on the role of IMO in Nouakchott, Mauritania. This location had not had an IMO in several years, and Post reported that the evidence of this was palpable. I chose to take on this challenge because I felt I would have the most to gain professionally and the most to offer in the position.
Upon my arrival in Nouakchott, I was immediately tasked with a significant workload. I quickly realized many of the offices under the IRM were not staffed properly and that several team members had not attended necessary trainings. The result was that several critical projects had been neglected and left unfinished, including the Enterprise Wi-Fi initiative, the establishment of the Diplomatic Post Office (DPO), and the Global Radio Refresh Program (GRRP).
To make matters worse, there was only one first tour officer on site who was doing their best to keep the Mission running smoothly. Despite their valiant efforts, it was clear there was a pressing need for additional support and resources.
In light of these challenges, I took it upon myself to prioritize and tackle the most pressing issues first. My goal was to stabilize the situation and get the Mission’s IT – the foundation for all of our bilateral diplomacy – back on track as quickly as possible. Through hard work and determination, I was able to make progress on each of the neglected projects and bring some much-needed stability to the Mission after long prior vacancies and a series of rotating temporary duty officers.
My priority upon assuming my role as IMO was to address the staffing shortage and ensure that the Mission had the necessary person-power to function effectively. I collaborated closely with HR and presented a case to the council in support of International Cooperative Administrative Services (ICASS) towards funding to fill open IRM positions and create two new positions: An Audio/Video Technician to support events across the Mission, and an Eligible Family Member (EFM) position in the mailroom to help with regular and classified pouch shipments.
To build a strong case, I utilized data analytics from the Department’s Integrated Logistics Management Systems (ILMS) platform to demonstrate that our global service standards were not being met due to inadequate staffing. This evidence was instrumental in convincing the ICASS council to grant my request for additional personnel.
With the additional staffing in place, I could tackle neglected projects with renewed energy and vigor. The Enterprise Wi-Fi initiative, establishment of the DPO, and the GRRP all saw significant progress, and the Mission was gradually restored to its proper operational level.
With the staffing situation addressed, my focus shifted to providing the best training and support for the entry-level Information Management Specialist (IMS). I realized that the environment in Nouakchott was not supporting their professional growth and development, as they were being thrown into the deep end and expected to perform at a high level with limited training and support.
To address this, I reached out to the Africa (AF) bureau and the IRM Front Office with a proposal to send the IMS to a larger office where they could focus on the fundamentals of their position and receive proper training. My proposal was well received, and I arranged for the IMS to benefit from a more suitable training environment.
By providing the IMS with a supportive and conducive training environment, I believe I set them up for success in their career in the Department. They could focus on the basics of their position and learn from experienced colleagues, providing the foundation they needed to succeed in future postings.
I continue to strive for excellence as the IMO in Nouakchott by identifying areas that need improvement and developing solutions to enhance the quality of life for officers and their families at Post.
One of the major challenges faced by the Mission was weak and unreliable internet services that made it difficult for families to communicate with their loved ones back home, for EFMs to work remotely, and for officers to telework when needed, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic.
To tackle this issue, I searched for a new Internet Service Provider (ISP) and discovered one willing to offer fiber-to-the-house (FTTH) service at a speed of 100MB up and 100MB down. At the time, all embassy housing residents were using a slower DSL service via copper lines that had suffered from severe erosion due to the harsh desert environment. After a trial with a few volunteers, I found that the new ISP provided excellent service, and their customer support was highly responsive. All users who wanted to take advantage of the new service did so, which was an instant morale booster and helped the Mission attract talent. It also made weekends more enjoyable for those who wanted to stream their favorite shows on Netflix.
With a year and a half left in my assignment, I look forward to building on these successes and improving Mission IT further. Whether by filling critical positions, providing comprehensive training, improving internet services, or other projects, I am determined to leave my mark and make Post a better place for all who serve here.
With a focus on teamwork and a drive for excellence, I am confident that we can achieve great things and make the Mission a place where people want to come and work to advance our important bilateral relationship and help sustain Mauritania’s role as a reliable partner for U.S. bilateral and regional interests.
Photo: The IT Wizards at the American Oasis: US Embassy Nouakchott