Shortly after ascending to office, President Donald Trump triggered a hiring freeze across most branches of the US government. The resulting understaffing has been a bit of a pain for Americans – but may be a boon for Europe.
The freeze left the States without an appointed ombudsman to oversee the negotiations for, and operation of, the Privacy Shield system that attempts to safeguard people's personal data flowing between the US and the European Union. The agreement was hurriedly set up last year after a legal challenge destroyed the old Safe Harbor pact for handling private data moving over the Atlantic.
This week, the EU team ironing out the kinks in the forthcoming US-EU Privacy Shield agreement announced its intention to quiz their counterparts in America about data rights, particularly regarding the information slurped across the Pond by Uncle Sam's intelligence agencies. The US privacy ombudsman is supposed to be the Under Secretary of State for Economic Growth, Energy, and Environment – and Trump's freeze means no one has been officially hired to do the job.
After a series of calls to the US State Department, and an achingly long time working through the agency's primitive automated phone system, The Register has discovered that there is an ombudsman after all, and she may be rather good at the job.
Because there is no Under Secretary of State for Economic Growth, the task of ombudsman defaults down to the head of the Bureau of Oceans and International Environmental and Scientific Affairs (OES). But that job is also not filled at the moment.
In the meantime the OES is being run by a career diplomat rather than a political appointee. The Acting Assistant Secretary is one Judy Garber, and she'll be handling negotiations in the meantime.
Luckily for the Europeans, Garber is well used to dealing with European issues. A diplomat for over 30 years, Garber served as the US ambassador to Latvia from 2009 to 2012, has had postings in Spain and the Czech Republic, and was director of North Central European Affairs in the Bureau of European and Eurasian Affairs from 2007 to 2009.
Having someone accustomed to handling European negotiations for the US could be a big plus for both sides. Relations between the US and EU are a bit strained at the moment, and dealing with someone who understands quiet diplomacy could move things along a lot faster than some politically installed "America First!" yahoo. ®