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Americans mull Leipzig consulate closure

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Americans mull Leipzig consulate closure
Photo: DPA
11:25 CET+01:00
A US Department of State report has recommended closing the American consulate in Leipzig and reducing staff at other missions in Germany.

While the audit report, compiled in September by the agency's Office of Inspector General, singled out Ambassador Philip Murphy for high praise, it also said some US diplomats have “morale problems” and there have been serious allegations of sexual and racial harassment among staff members.

US Embassy spokesman Peter Claussen told The Local this week that senior officials in Washington, DC were deciding whether to close the Leipzig consulate or lay off local workers but no decisions have been made yet.

“It'll be people pretty near the top of the operation who decide that,” Claussen said.

It's also not clear how many employees might lose their jobs as part of the proposed reductions. Three Americans and 12 local staff are employed in the eastern German city of Leipzig, while eight Americans and 34 locals are employed at the Hamburg and Düsseldorf consulates – the other cities where reductions have been recommended.

Generally it is local staff, not American foreign service officers, whose jobs are eliminated when foreign missions are downsized.

It is also not yet clear how drawdowns could affect American citizens living in Germany. The three consulates perform only limited consular services and instead focus largely on promoting trade and public outreach. They do, however, help regular Americans in emergencies.

Inspectors mainly cited operating costs in recommending downsizing. Closing the consulate in Leipzig alone would save at least $2.7 million per year (€2 million), they said said. But the report also argued that Americans could easily take a train to the Berlin embassy from Leipzig when they need consular help and that some of the functions being performed in Hamburg and Düsseldorf were redundant.

The report also said that management needed to improve internal communication and do a better job of reigning in abusive employees.

One employee in Hamburg “had been engaging in verbal harassment, including racial epithets against co-workers for more than three years,” while supervisors ignored the problem, the report said.

There had also been complaints of sexual and sexual orientation harassment that had been ignored over time, inspectors wrote, although details appear to have been redacted in the report by government censors.

A failure to adequately monitor smaller outposts of the US Embassy in Germany, such as in Leipzig, had allowed a lack of morale to fester, the report said.

Embassy management was working on addressing many of the concerns brought up by inspectors, Claussen said. He declined to discuss the harassment complaints specifically but said as one move to improve staff morale, the ambassador has been paying more regular visits to the five consulates.

“These sorts of reports take place all the time all the way around the world,” Claussen said. “It's a kind of internal self-check on things. The process is very important.”

The US's diplomatic operations in Germany are among the largest in the world with about 750 US and 860 locally employed staff. Due to Germany's central location in Europe and its status as a major transportation hub and economic centre, it often plays a key role in major Department of State operations, such as evacuations of Americans from dangerous countries in the Middle East.

Moises Mendoza

moises.mendoza@thelocal.de

twitter.com/moisesdmendoza

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