The now-former U.S Ambassador to Luxembourg, Cynthia Stroum, had members of the small staff of the embassy spend the majority of their time on the important task of finding her a temporary residence that met her high standards; made refurbishing the bathroom at the ambassador’s residence a top personal priority; told them that she could snoop on their e-mails; and left her office so demoralized that some top staffers volunteered to serve in two war zone embassies rather than continue to work under her leadership.
That’s all according to a State Department Inspector General report, which concludes that Stroum’s “confrontational management style, chronic gaps in senior and other staffing caused by curtailments, and the absence of a sense of direction have brought major elements of Embassy Luxembourg to a state of dysfunction.”
Morale among both the American and local staff at the embassy was very low and stress levels high when inspectors visited the embassy just a couple months ago, at the end of October extending into early November.
Most employees described Stroum to inspectors as “aggressive, bullying, hostile, and intimidating, which has resulted in an extremely difficult, unhappy, and uncertain work environment.”
Stroum’s resignation, which went into effect on Monday, was announced two weeks before the release of the report. In a statement, she said that the “reality is that I now need to focus on my family and personal business.”
“Not only have I developed a very strong bond with the people of Luxembourg, I have loved the work and am tremendously proud of what we have accomplished during my tenure,” Stroum said.
“While I will be returning home to Seattle, I will always have great affection for Luxembourg as my second home,” she said.
Seems Stroum was overly concerned about that “second home” part — she reportedly had an employee spend virtually all of his time over a six week period searching for a temporary residence for her to stay in while the embassy was undergoing repairs. The staff member screened 200 residences and visited 30-40 houses and apartments in Luxembourg during the search.
“Based on the Ambassador’s requirements, all but four residences were deemed unsuitable; the Ambassador rejected all four,” the report says. A suitable residence was finally found in July 2010.
The report also criticized Stroum for spending so much of her own time supervising the repair of the ambassador’s residence.
“The Ambassador is keenly interested in the remodeling of the bathrooms at the [chief of mission’s residence] and has stated her desire to approve the materials used in these rooms,” the report states. “Normally, all such changes are approved by [Overseas Buildings Operation] Office of Residential Design and Cultural Heritage and not by the occupant at the time. There appears to be some conflicting guidance on how much the Ambassador can be involved in this project.”
Shortly after arriving in Luxembourg, Stroum purchased a new queen-size bed and box springs because she was “not pleased with the condition of the [residence’s] mattress, and preferred a queen bed to the king-size bed already provided.”
Stroum then twice attempted to get reimbursed for the purchase of the mattress — first in December 2009 and again in August 2010. But they were turned down on both occasions, “as the queen-size mattress was a personal choice” and not subject to reimbursement.
But despite that guidance, the acting deputy mission chief eventually certified a voucher reimbursing Stroum in October 2010 for the cost of the mattress out of program funds. Certification of that voucher, the inspector general said, violated guidance and should be repaid.
Since Stroum’s confirmation in December 2009, the report said that most of the senior staff of the embassy — including two deputy chiefs of mission and two section chiefs — have either curtailed their service or volunteered for service in embassies in Kabul, Afghanistan and Baghdad, Iraq.
The inspector general team learned during their inspection that Stroum had “brought to the staff’s attention that her appointment letter from the President gave her the right to read any email messages that originated at Embassy Luxembourg.” Employees interpreted that “as a direct warning that she would have access to messages to OIG or other Department offices.” While employees have no expectation of privacy in their electronic communications on U.S. Government equipment, the report states that “neither the Department nor embassy management has limitless access to employees’ email accounts just by virtue of their positions” and it can only happen through proper channels when there is suspicion that improper use of U.S. Government equipment has occurred.
The Inspector General report says that their appraisal will not be news to the Bureau of European and Eurasian Affairs, which they said was forthcoming about its concerns about Stroum.
Stroum was one of President Barack Obama’s biggest campaign supporters. As a ‘bundler,’ she brought in at least $500,000 from individual donors according to data compiled by OpenSecrets.org. She served on President Obama’s finance committee during the presidential campaign.
Stroum, pictured here alongside Lance Armstrong in a photo the bicycling champion posted to his Twitter account, comes from a wealthy, well-known philanthropic family in Seattle. She received a Bachelors of Arts in Public Relations and Journalism from the University of Southern California.
Active in both business and philanthropic circles, Stroum was an angel investor in more than 20 start-up companies, according to her White House biography. She also worked in the TV and film industries, and was nominated for a Tony for her work on the 2004 production of A Raisin in the Sun.
In 2009, Stroum was presented the Woman of Valor Award by Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-WA), for her work in health advocacy.
The State Department did not respond to a message left Thursday.
Additional reporting by Melissa Jeltsen.