State employee devised diplomatic dispatch service during Arab Spring

Friday - 8/24/2012, 11:27am EDT

Shane Morris, Supervisor of Diplomatic Courier Service, State Department

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Shane Morris overcame numerous obstacles during the Arab Spring uprisings to ensure that U.S. diplomats in the Middle East could securely dispatch and receive classified documents and equipment.

When access to Bahrain, a primary courier hub, was cut off because of protests and unrest there, Morris devised a plan to send diplomatic pouches from Frankfurt, Germany, to the United Arab Emirates. And she organized a successful meeting between a freight forwarder, U.S. personnel and airport authorities to discuss tarmac access needed by a diplomatic courier at that airport.

Morris is the supervisor of the Diplomatic Courier Service in Germany for the State Department, and her work has made her a finalist for a Service to America Medal. She spoke with In Depth with Francis Rose on Aug. 20.


Federal News Radio asked the Sammies finalists to tell us a bit about themselves.

What three words best describe your leadership philosophy?

Do it too.

What's the biggest challenge you've had to overcome (personally or professionally) and how did you overcome it?

The travel and adventure is what draws couriers to this job. The combination is always exciting, but most of the time it is also arduous, taxing, and often dangerous. Couriers are asked to go to extremes on every mission. Going periodically myself on the missions I assign to others not only helps me to evaluate the missions, but also ensures to those I supervise that I understand what I am asking of them.

What's the best piece of advice (or words of wisdom) you've ever received and who gave it to you?

Trust but verify.

My supervisor taught me to take this one to heart. I remember my grandfather telling me this as well. I used to think this was about checking up to see if people were really being honest with you. What I have learned is that all too often, people just don't have all the facts. Verifying often reveals that there are parts of the picture that we've missed.

Who is your biggest role model and why?

My mother. She's the strongest woman I know.

What's the biggest challenge you've had to overcome (personally or professionally) and how did you overcome it?

My biggest challenge has been battling the "because it has always been done that way" mindset. Government is rigid and people don't like change. Finding a new way to do business is only half the battle — you still have to convince people that a new way can be better.

On that same note, I understand this very human tendency. The Arab Spring began over a year ago. Some of the projects I am most proud of, and how we ran missions during the uprising, are no longer the best business practice. Letting go of projects I worked so hard on can be difficult. This business changes fast. We are a combination of diplomacy, security and logistics. Events like uprisings, war, political changes, and weather disasters happen fast and impact both our government mission as well as world travel. How we move classified pouches to an overseas post can change completely in the span of a few months. We have to continue to find new and better ways to securely transport pouches, and to resist the option of doing something one way just because we always did it that way in the past.

What's the last thing you read and what's next on your reading list?

I'm reading The Ten Million Mile Man, written by Robert Laplante, who was a diplomatic courier in the 1940s. It's interesting to see how much the job has changed!

I love to learn everything I can about the culture and history of the places I travel. When on the road, I like to read historical fiction. When I am exhausted from traveling, or on my sixth continent that week, I need a page turner. Historical fiction combines the two and puts me in the mindset for the soil I am about to walk on and the people I am about to meet.

What's your favorite bureaucratic phrase?

My favorite bureaucratic phrase is "because it's always been down that way." I love to challenge it.

Meet the rest of the 2012 Service to America Medal finalists.