USCG Milan rolled out its “burger diplomacy” with Chef Spike Mendelsohn and his signature “Prez Obama” and “Michelle Melt” burgers from Tizzy’s N.Y. Bar & Grill. Milan is also the site of @Expo2015Milano and on 4th of July, @USAPavilion2015 must have quite a spread.
Let’s start our roundup at the National Archives where there is a host of free activities on July 4 for those in the WashDC area. Hey, you can sign a facsimile of the Declaration of Independence and share your #ISignedTheDeclaration on social media! There will be a dramatic reading of the Declaration of Independence, a presentation of colors and performance by the Continental Color Guard and the Fife and Drum Corps from the U.S. 3rd Infantry, the Old Guard. You can even take a ColonialSelfie w/ @Thos_Jefferson@portia1776 or @Lysander1776 on #July4th! Check it out here: http://go.usa.gov/3vTrT.
Ambassador and Mrs. Heyman hosted 4,000 guests at Lornado, with representatives from 70 countries in attendance. The embassy’s Motor City Rising theme includes bagpipers, drums, bands and Motwon music.
Not too long ago, State Department EFM Jen Denoia wrote about the reasonable expectation of family members to have access to the department’s online resources:
Eligible Family Members (EFMs) such as myself are still mired in the same backwards technology that existed when our family joined the State Department 15 years ago. Despite advances such as the development of fobs, a device many employees use to generate passwords for intranet access from off-site computers, EFMs have not been granted access to such tools. While we tend to do most of the post research, we are still reliant upon non-State resources in order to retrieve bidding information when we need it the most.
A year after Secretary Clinton arrived at State (and to this day), there is still no decent online access for family members of State Department employees. The Foreign Service version of MilitaryOneSource for family members may remain only a dream for the foreseeable future. In 2009, a senior adviser at the State Department helped justify the “fobs for everyone” by citing that the program “will produce new fewer than 624,000 more hours of productivity by end of year.”
On May 12, 2009, CIO Susan Swart wrote an email to Alec Ross, then State Department senior advisor for innovation:
I met with Pat today and we did discuss expansion of the fob program. He is supportive and asked that we do a decision memo to him. WE need this get decision on funding and longer term strategy but I don’t see this as slowing down an announcement the Secretary might make, we just need to coordinate timing.
A couple days later, Alec Ross sent an email to Cheryl Mills and Jake Sullivan:
We’re going to forward with the doubling of mobile access to email and productivity tools. It’s INSANE that fewer than 1 in 5 state Department are able to access their email or documents when they’re away from their desk.
It has contributed to the 9:00-5:00 culture here and exacerbates the disconnection between D.C. and the missions. This is a good short-term win and by my estimates will produce new fewer than 624,000 more hours of productivity by end of year one which I think is extremely conservative – it assumes just 1.5 additional hour online per employee per week.
Given that those being given the tools are principally foreign service officers and people more senior than the mean average DoS employee, I think this is very reasonable. Will put an evaluative instrument into this to see if I’m correct.
More detail on all this below if you want it.
I should point out that Pat Kennedy and the CIO have been great. This has been one of several instances where they listened, they got it, and they’re moving forward. The CIO said she’d thought of it before, just didn’t know if she could handle the politics. I’m not going to spend a ton of time on our “corporate IT” but in obvious cases like this I’ll keep jumping in.
Last thing — this idea got a lot of attention on The Sounding Board. I propose that HRC respond to the staff (maybe in a quick 60 second video that we post there) saying in effect – Thank you for sharing your thinking. I heard you. Because of you we’re doing this.
Re-enforce that HRC is still listening to the staff.
That same day, Cheryl Mills forwarded the email to HRC:
FYI – we’re going to get a short video from you that we’ll put on our site announcing this. It’s also one of the ideas we can use for how we are reforming the department for the reform committee.
Secretary Clinton replied:
Sounds great but you’ll have to explain to me!
So then Ms. Mills sent the following:
sure — bottom line – you need a special security code to get on line from a computer outside the building. Only 1 in 5 of our employees has gotten the device (fob) that allows you to do this access.
This effort is making sure they get fobs into the hands of more (or all) employees so folks can work from home thereby increasing productivity substantially since the 4 in 5 essentially do no work from home once they leave the building until they get in again b/c they don’t have access to their email.
On May 14, 2009, at 10:20 PM, the Secretary replied:
Got it. Is the other matter fixed. Anything else going on?
Whatever it was she was asking about, Ms. Mills told her, it was “fixed.” The rest of the email chain is redacted. Click C05761923 (pdf) to read this emails via foia.state.gov.
Arnold Schwarzenegger and “Game of Thrones” actress Emilia Clarke arrived in Seoul to promote the fifth installment in the “Terminator” franchise, “Terminator Genisys“ directed by Alan Taylor. They visited Ambassador Lippert, at the COM residence, and Grigsby got a kiss from Terminator man.
Hollywood’s efforts to win political clout have always stretched across the country, from glitzy campaign fundraisers in Beverly Hills to cocktail parties with power brokers in Washington.
Last year, the film industry staked out another zone of influence: U.S. embassies. Its lobbying arm paid to renovate screening rooms in at least four overseas outposts, hoping the new theaters would help ambassadors and their foreign guests “keep U.S. cultural interests top of mind,” according to an internal email.
That was the same year that the Motion Picture Association of America, which represents the six biggest studios, reported it was lobbying the State Department on issues including piracy and online content distribution. Hollywood’s interests 2013 including its push for tougher copyright rules in the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade pact 2013 often put the industry at odds with Silicon Valley.
The only public indication of the embassy-theater initiative was a February 2015 press release from American officials in Madrid, titled “U.S. Embassy Launches State-of-the-Art Screening Room.” It credited “a generous donation” from the MPAA.
Asked about its gifts to the State Department, the lobby group declined to say how many embassies got donations or how much they were worth.
“Because film is a great ambassador for U.S. culture around the world, MPAA assisted with the upgrade of some embassy theater facilities,” said spokeswoman Kate Bedingfield. “All gifts complied with the law as well as with State Department ethics guidelines.”
Nicole Thompson, a State Department spokeswoman, said at least three embassies besides Madrid received between $20,000 and $50,000 in entertainment upgrades last year 2013 London, Paris and Rome. The revamped screening rooms, she said, aren’t intended to entertain U.S. officials, but rather to help them host screenings to promote an American industry and sow goodwill.
Thompson said the donations were proper and that all gifts to the department are reviewed to avoid even the appearance of a conflict of interest. “The department has explicit authorities to accept gifts made for its benefit or for carrying out any of its functions,” she said.
The State Department routinely accepts gifts from outside groups, Thompson said. She couldn’t provide any other examples of major gifts from groups that simultaneously lobby the agency. Thompson declined to list the items given by the MPAA or their total value, and wouldn’t say whether the group had made similar gifts in the past.
There was at least one precedent. A spokesman for Warner Bros. Entertainment said the studio helped pay for the refurbishment of the screening room at the U.S. ambassador’s home in Paris in 2011. “This donation was coordinated with the State Department and complied with all appropriate rules and regulations,” the spokesman said.
State Department policies posted online specifically permit gifts from individuals, groups or corporations for “embassy refurbishment, ” provided that the donors are vetted to ensure there’s no conflict or possible “embarrassment or harm” to the agency. The posted policies include no caps on the value of donations, nor any requirements for public disclosure of foreign or American donors. The rules also say that the donations can’t come with a promise or expectation of “any advantage or preference from the U.S. Government.”
Obtaining an advantage, albeit a nonspecific one, sounded like the goal when a Sony Pictures Entertainment official wrote to the studio’s chief executive officer, Michael Lynton, to relay a request to fund the screening rooms from Chris Dodd, the former U.S. senator who heads the MPAA. The executive writing the note 2013 Keith Weaver 2013 sought to assure the CEO that such a donation wouldn’t be improper.
“The rationale being that key Ambassadors will keep U.S. cultural interests top of mind, as they screen American movies for high level officials where they are stationed,” reads the message, included in a cache of emails hacked from Sony and which were posted online by the website WikiLeaks.
“The cost implication is estimated to be $165k (aggregate of $$$/in-kind) per embassy/per studio. Apparently, donations of this kind are permissible.”
Besides Sony, the MPAA represents Disney, Paramount, Twentieth Century Fox, Universal Studios and Warner Bros. Entertainment. The e-mails suggest that Sony executives decided against contributing to the project for budget reasons.
The MPAA has long been a powerful presence in the nation’s capital, spending $1.34 million on federal lobbying last year, according to data compiled by the Center for Responsive Politics. One of its flashier tools has been to host exclusive gatherings at its Washington screening room, two blocks from the White House, where lawmakers get to watch blockbuster films, rub elbows with celebrities, and up until several years ago, enjoy dinner 2013 a perk scuttled because of stricter rules on congressional lobbying.
Hollywood studios depend on foreign markets for much of their profit but the MPAA’s interests don’t always align with those of other major American constituencies. For example, Hollywood studios have moved some film production to Canada to cut costs. American film workers have tried to get the federal government to stop the outsourcing of jobs, but have been met with resistance from the MPAA.
The trade group has also pushed federal officials to pressure foreign governments into adopting stricter copyright laws. An MPAA-funded study found that in 2005 worldwide piracy cost American studios $6.1 billion in revenue. That number has been disputed by digital rights advocates.
For the TPP trade deal, the MPAA has discouraged the American government from exporting “fair use” protections to other countries. In a hacked message from Dodd to the U.S. Trade Representative, the MPAA chief warned that including such provisions, which in American law allow limited use of copyrighted materials without permission, would be “extremely controversial and divisive.” Digital rights activists have characterized the efforts as overzealous.
“They’re basically encouraging other countries to adopt the most draconian parts of U.S. copyright law and even to reinterpret U.S. copyright law to make it more stringent,” said Mitch Stoltz, an attorney for the Electronic Frontier Foundation. “Broadly speaking broadening copyright law harms free speech in many cases by creating a mechanism for censorship.”
The state-of-the-art screening rooms are a relatively minimal investment by Hollywood as it works to strengthen connections abroad.
This spring, the U.S. ambassador to Spain, James Costos, brought a group of foreign officials to Los Angeles for a meeting hosted by the MPAA. Among them were representatives from the Canary Islands, who came prepared to discuss filming opportunities and tax incentives for American studios in the Spanish territory. The State Department touted the trip as an opportunity to “expand bilateral trade and investment, including through ties between the entertainment industries.”
It’s not known whether the path to that particular meeting was eased by the new screening room in Madrid. At the theater’s debut in February, the ambassador’s guests were treated to a dark tale of corruption, lobbying and double-dealing in Washington 2013 the Netflix series “House of Cards.”
According to history.state.gov, the United States remained in Cuba as an occupying power until the Republic of Cuba was formally installed on May 19, 1902 following the defeat of Spain in 1898. On May 20, 1902, the United States relinquished its occupation authority over Cuba, but claimed a continuing right to intervene in Cuba. Diplomatic relations and the U.S. Legation in Havana were established on May 27, 1902, when U.S. Envoy Extraordinary and Minister Plenipotentiary Herbert Goldsmith Squiers presented his credentials to the Government of the Republic of Cuba. Following an act of Congress, the U.S. Legation in Havana, Cuba, was raised to Embassy status on February 10, 1923, when General Enoch H. Crowder was appointed Ambassador. The United States severed diplomatic relations with Cuba on January 3, 1961, citing unwarranted action by the Government of Cuba that placed crippling limitations on the ability of the United States Mission to carry on its normal diplomatic and consular functions.
Today, after over 50 years, a new day. For once, instead of boots on the ground, diplomatic negotiations and engagement made this day possible. It appears that we have rediscovered the non-coercive instruments of statecraft (as Ambassador Chas Freeman spoke about so eloquently), that persuaded the Cubans that they can benefit by working with us rather than against us. A big shout-out to our diplomats who labored so hard to get us here!
This is a case of a DS Agent charged with lack of candor and failure to follow regulations for incidents that took place in 2010 related to his PTSD. The State Department issued a final decision to suspend the agent for 12 days. According to the ROI, the deciding official at the agency level grievance “also considered the mitigating factors and gave grievant credit for having no past formal disciplinary record and a satisfactory work history. The deciding official also noted grievant’s potential for rehabilitation, while recognizing that grievant clearly was embarrassed by his diagnosis of PTSD, and feared that he might be stigmatized by the label, or that he might even lose his job with the Department.”
A couple things striking about this case. Following grievant’s military service in Iraq in 2006, he started having panic attacks and severe anxiety, for which he was prescribed several medications – none of which he says worked very well. His symptoms became worse over time. In 2009 he was diagnosed as having Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). The incidents that ultimately led to the two charges occurred in November 2010; yet the Department did not propose disciplinary action until April 24, 2013 – a span of 29 months. The ROI does not explain the delay.
Grievant reportedly denied during the interviews with that he had been diagnosed with PTSD, saying instead that he had been treated for anxiety and panic attacks. And yet, according to the ROI, grievant avers that “he discussed his PTSD diagnosis in considerable detail with the DS investigators, and authorized release of his medical records.”
Grievant admits he did not comply with Department regulations requiring him to report that he had been prescribed psychiatric medications, but claims he was unaware of the policy requiring him to do so. He claims that he was not alone in being unaware of this requirement, as many other DS officers to his knowledge were also unaware of the regulation.
Since grievant is a DS agent, the Department has also cited 12 FAM Exhibit 023 2.5, its Deadly Force and Firearms Policy (which we can no longer read online, as it’s now behind the firewall). 12 FAM Exhibit 023 section 2.5 12 FAH-9 H-030 appears specific to prescription medication. The State Department showed, and the FSGB agreed that there are no similar cases that presented the same set of circumstances as in this grievant’s case.
The Board held that grievance be granted in part and denied in part. The Board remanded the case to the Department to consider an appropriate penalty in view of their decision not to sustain two specifications of one of the two charges.
Grievant faces two charges – Lack of Candor and Failure to Follow Regulations – that were leveled against him because of statements he made during a Department investigation about incidents that took place while he was in the U.S. on leave in 2010. He is a Diplomatic Security Special Agent who was admitted to the hospital on two occasions (on consecutive days) after he drank alcohol heavily and took an unknown quantity of prescription medications after he became upset about the breakup of his engagement to be married. The investigation revealed discrepancies between the information grievant gave to investigators and that found in his medical records. Records show that grievant suffers from PTSD and that he had not reported this fact to the Department. The investigation report claims that grievant denied during interviews that he had ever been diagnosed with PTSD or that he was ever in a treatment program to address the condition. His records also show that he had been prescribed several psychiatric medications, and contained no evidence that grievant had reported to the Department either the PTSD diagnosis, or the prescription medicines which are required to be reported under the agency’s Deadly Force and Firearms policy. The Department’s final decision provided for a 12-day suspension without pay.
Grievant denies the majority of the specifications cited in the charges. He claims to have discussed his PTSD diagnosis in detail with the investigators and avers that he responded candidly to all of the questions posed to him during two DS interviews. He admits that he did not report the prescription medicines, but argues that he was unaware he needed to do so. Grievant also claims that the charges are untimely, having been brought after a very long delay – nearly 2 1⁄2 years after the incidents, and that the delay has prejudiced his ability to present his case. He claims to have been particularly disadvantaged in that he is unable to find witnesses who could corroborate his positions or shed light on the quantity of medications he took prior to the 2010 incidents. He also argues that the proposed penalty, in any case, is overly harsh in light of penalties the Department has imposed for like offenses. He requests that those charges/specifications the Department is unable to establish should be overturned, and the 12-day suspension should be mitigated.
Click on the image or the link below to read ROI in pdf file. The file is redacted and originally published online by the Foreign Service Grievance Board.
FSGB Case 2014-020 – 04-29-2015 – B |DS Agent – PTSD Case (click image to read in pdf)
The regs apparently say that “a DSS Special Agent who is taking prescription medication to notify his supervisor and submit a medical certificate or other administratively acceptable documentation of the prescription … to the Domestic Programs Division of the Office of Medical Services immediately after beginning the medication.” We don’t know what happens to DS agents who self report as required by regulations. Are their USG-issued weapons removed? Are they subject to reassignment? Is there a perception that this is an embarrassment?
Given that many Diplomatic Security personnel have now done multiple tours to war zones and high threat posts, is this really an isolated case of not self-reporting both the PTSD diagnosis and the use of prescription medication?
We sent this individual to Iraq in 2006. He came back with unseen wounds. And here he is in 2015, still fighting his battle. What can the State Department do to make employees with potential PTSD less fearful of being stigmatized in coming forward and acknowledging they need help? What can the Bureau of Diplomatic Security do more for its agents? How can this be made into a less lonely fight?
This report is based on the Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey (FEVS), a tool that “measures employees’ perceptions of whether, and to what extent, conditions characterizing successful organizations are present in their agencies.” The full report is available here.
The largest federal employee union, the American Federation of Government Employees, filed a class action lawsuit today against the Office of Personnel Management, its director, Katherine Archuleta, its chief information officer, Donna Seymour and Keypoint Government Solutions, an OPM contractor.