Category Archives: Career Employees

Congress to State Dept: We Want All Your Stuff on New London Embassy Except Paperclips

– Domani Spero

 

We recently blogged about the congressional hearing on the new embassy construction (see New Embassy Construction Hearing: Witnesses Not Invited, and What About the Blast-Proof Glass?).  Well, a couple of weeks ago, the  House Oversight and Government Reform Committee sent a letter to Secretary Kerry asking for documents and information on the new embassy construction.  Presumably in preparation for the hearing.  Almost half of the docs requested were related to the New London Embassy.  Did not look like the Committee got the docs that they wanted in time for the hearing.  In any case, below is a partial list; it looks like they wanted everything including drafts and all, except paperclips.

Giant paper clip at BI Commercial College near...

Giant paper clip at BI Commercial College near Oslo (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

We must say that the HOGR has not been short on its version of HPD … way too much emotion and drama that draws attention to themselves and the nearest camera for our taste.  Really, if they just do their jobs without too much theatrics, our institutions would be a lot better for it.  Having said that, it’s the only Congress we’ve got and they have an oversight role to play even if more than one in five Americans (22%) are ready to start over entirely after all members are fired.  For now, we’re stuck with these folks.  Luckily for us, not all of them will stay in Congress for life. So — please give these angry folks the documents they need even if they occasionally drive you nuts; they may not be there next year. They want a cost/benefit analysis, give it to them, too. We suspect the analysis would be useful anyways, and these folks would have to write their own scripts on what to say on teevee.

Oh hey, they want to know about the blast testing of the curtain wall, so do we!

 

20.   All Action Memoranda and Information Memoranda, including drafts, referring or relating to the New Embassy Compound in London, United Kingdom.

21.   All documents referring or relating to Value Engineering Studies relating to the New Embassy Compound in London, United Kingdom, including all versions of any Value Engineering Studies.

22.   All documents and communications relating to changes and notices to proceed relating to the New Embassy Compound in London, United Kingdom, including, but not limited to, all such communications with: a) KieranTimberlake Architects; b) B.L. Harbert International;  and, c) Weidlinger and Associates.

23.   All documents referring or relating to congressional Construction Security Certification for the New Embassy Compound in London, United Kingdom, including, but not limited to, all communications with the Office of the Director of National Intelligence.

24.   All documents and communications referring or relating to Value Added Tax (VAT) relating to the New Embassy Compound in London, United Kingdom.

25.   All documents and communications referring or relating to blast testing of the curtain wall, and curtain wall components, of the New Embassy Compound in London, United Kingdom, including, but not limited to, all such communications with: a) the Bureau of Diplomatic Security; b) KieranTimberlake Architects; c) B.L. Harbert International; d) Weidlinger and Associates.

26.   All documents and communications referring or relating to the application of General Services Administration (GSA) Performance Conditions to blast testing of the curtain wall, and curtain wall components, of the New Embassy Compound in London, United Kingdom, including, but not limited to, communications between OBO and the Bureau of Diplomatic Security.

27.   All documents and communications relating to the engineering and legal justifications for applying standards other than those of the Bureau of Diplomatic Security to blast testing of the curtain wall, and curtain wall components, of the New Embassy Compound in London, United Kingdom.

28.   A document identifying all State Department overseas properties, the physical security of which were designed, tested or certified to GSA standards.

29.   All documents and communications relating to the decision to conduct blast testing of the curtain wall, and curtain wall components, of the New Embassy Compound in London, United Kingdom, in both Ft. Polk, Louisiana and Socorro, New Mexico.

30.   The U.S. Army Engineer Research and Development Center report relating to blast testing of the curtain wall or curtain wall components, of the New Embassy Compound in London, United Kingdom which occurred in Fort Polk, Louisiana.

31.   All reports prepared for the Committees on Appropriations on the New Embassy Compound in London, United Kingdom which, pursuant to P.L. 112-74, Section 7004 (f)(2), were to be delivered every six months from 60 days after enactment, and which were to include revenue and cost projections, cost containment efforts, project schedule and actual project status, the impact of currency exchange rate fluctuations on project revenue and costs, and options for modifying the scope of the project in the event that proceeds of real property sales in London fall below the total cost of the project.

32.   The estimated cost per square meter to rent office space in the vicinity of the current U.S. Embassy in London, United Kingdom.

33.   All documents related to any lease-back of current U.S. Embassy in London, United Kingdom if the New Embassy Compound in London is not completed on schedule.

 

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Filed under Career Employees, Congress, Construction, Contractors, Foreign Affairs, Govt Reports/Documents, Hearings, Politics, Realities of the FS, State Department

Colombian Nationals Extradited to U.S. For Bogotá Death of DEA Special Agent Terry Watson

– Domani Spero

 

In June 2013, we blogged about the death of DEA Special Agent Terry Watson in Bogota, Colombia (see US Embassy Bogota: DEA Special Agent James “Terry” Watson Killed in Colombia).  On July 2, 2014, the Department of Justice announced the extradition of seven Colombian nationals charged in connection with the DEA agent’s death.

Via USDOJ:

Seven Colombian nationals were extradited to the United States to face charges relating to the kidnapping and murder of Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) Special Agent James Terry Watson.
[...]
“DEA Special Agent James ‘Terry’ Watson was a brave and talented special agent who represented everything good about federal law enforcement and our DEA family,” said DEA Administrator Leonhart.  “We will never forget Terry’s sacrifice on behalf of the American people during his 13 years of service, nor will DEA ever forget the outstanding work of the Colombian National Police and our other law enforcement partners.  Their efforts quickly led to the arrest and extradition of those accused of committing this heinous act.”

All of the defendants were indicted by a grand jury in the Eastern District of Virginia on July 18, 2013.   Gerardo Figueroa Sepulveda, 39; Omar Fabian Valdes Gualtero, 27; Edgar Javier Bello Murillo, 27; Hector Leonardo Lopez, 34; Julio Estiven Gracia Ramirez, 31; and Andrés Alvaro Oviedo-Garcia, 22, were each charged with two counts of second degree murder, one count of kidnapping and one count of conspiracy to kidnap.  Oviedo-Garcia was also charged with two counts of assault.   Additionally, the grand jury indicted Wilson Daniel Peralta-Bocachica, 31, also a Colombian national, for his alleged efforts to destroy evidence associated with the murder of Special Agent Watson.

The defendants arrived in the United States on July 1, 2014, and made their initial appearance in federal court in Alexandria, Virginia, today before United States Magistrate Judge Thomas Rawles Jones Jr.   A detention hearing is scheduled for July 9, 2014, before United States Magistrate Judge Ivan D. Davis.
[...]
According to the indictment, Figueroa, Valdes, Bello, Lopez, Gracia and Oviedo-Garcia were part of a kidnapping and robbery conspiracy that utilized taxi cabs in Bogotá, Colombia, to lure victims into a position where they could be attacked and robbed.  Once an intended victim entered a taxi cab, the driver of the taxi cab would signal other conspirators to commence the robbery and kidnapping operation.

The indictment alleges that on June 20, 2013, while he was working for the U.S. Mission in Colombia, Special Agent Watson entered a taxi cab operated by one of the defendants.  Special Agent Watson was then allegedly attacked by two other defendants – one who stunned Special Agent Watson with a stun gun and another who stabbed Special Agent Watson with a knife, resulting in his death.

On July 1, 2014, the Government of Colombia extradited the defendants to the United States.

This case was investigated by the FBI, DEA and DSS, including the Office of Special Investigations and the Regional Security Office at Embassy Bogatá, in close cooperation with Colombian authorities, and with assistance from INTERPOL and the Justice Department’s Office of International Affairs.

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US Embassy Peru: The Ghost of Ambassador Past

– Domani Spero

 

State/OIG recently posted its inspection report of the U.S. Embassy in Lima, Peru with 30 recommendations and 33 informal recommendations. The inspection took place in Washington, DC, between January 6 and February 4, 2014, and in Lima, Peru, between February 5 and March 4, 2014. Ambassador Gene Christy (team leader), Leslie Gerson (deputy team leader), Thomas Allsbury, Laurent Charbonnet, Eric Chavera, Leo Hession, Tracey Keiter, Keith Powell, Ashea Riley, Richard Sypher, Alexandra Vega, Steven White, Roman Zawada, and Barbara Zigli conducted the inspection.

According to the OIG report, Peru is the world’s largest producer of cocaine and the second largest cultivator of coca. The current Peruvian administration has reportedly elevated combatting narcotics production and trafficking to a “national security” priority. Embassy Lima’s priorities are “to support the Government of Peru to defeat narcotics and terrorist organizations; increase trade, investment, economic growth, and social development; and protect the country’s unique environmental resources.

Mission Peru is a large operation with more than 900 employees as of December 2013. Post is headed by Chargé d’Affaires Michael J. Fitzpatrick who arrived in August 2011 and Acting Deputy Chief of Mission Jeffrey M. Hovenier who arrived in July 2011.  The name of the previous ambassador, a career FSO who previously served as ambassador at another WHA post was politely omitted from the report.

On June 19, 2014, career diplomat, Brian Nichols was confirmed by the Senate as the next ambassador to Peru.  This is his first ambassadorial appointment.  He was previously DCM at US Embassy Bogota and the Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary in the Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs. He served at Embassy Lima as a first tour officer in 1989. We hope he can pull this mission together. Pardon me?  The mission doesn’t need to be pulled together, just the Front Office?

Below are some of its key judgments from the IG report:

  •  In the past 3 years, Embassy Lima registered many successes in building a strategic United States-Peru partnership, particularly in counternarcotics, trade promotion, security, law enforcement, good governance, and development.
  • The political and economic sections produce relevant and high-quality reporting that is instrumental to Washington policy making.
  • The previous Ambassador put into place many processes and practices that had a negative effect on embassy morale. The chargé d’affaires and acting deputy chief of mission hesitated for months to make changes to improve the mission’s working environment but began to do so recently.
  • The public affairs section should establish clearer priorities and exert stronger missionwide leadership on long-term public diplomacy planning.
  • The management section can improve its generally good service by emphasizing communication with other agencies and offices that rely on the procurement, motor pool, and travel units.
  • The consular workload is growing steadily, and section leadership needs to improve work flow, efficiency, officer training, and the warden system.

Leadership Style, Morale and Paperwork Gone Nuts

  • Embassy Lima did not have a Senate-confirmed ambassador in place at the time of the inspection. After the previous Ambassador’s departure in September 2013, the deputy chief of mission (DCM) became chargé d’affaires, and the head of the mission’s international narcotics and law enforcement affairs (INL) section became acting DCM. Under the previous Ambassador, the mission convinced the Department and highest levels of the U.S. Government to work with President Humala, [REDACTED] (b) (5). Working closely with Peruvian Government, business, and civil society leaders, the mission racked up successes in the pursuit of counternarcotics and antiterrorism goals, in advancing trade growth under the bilateral trade agreement, and in building a strategic partnership. The chargé and acting DCM have sustained this momentum.
  • Initially, the chargé and acting DCM adopted caretaker roles in anticipation of the Ambassador-designate’s quick arrival. Neither of them felt empowered to make significant changes, nor did they want to adopt changes only to make additional ones or reverse others after the new Ambassador’s arrival. By November 2013, they realized their new leadership duties would extend for an indeterminate period.
  • Unfortunately, the previous Ambassador’s policy successes were overshadowed within the mission by a leadership style that negatively affected morale. Uncertain about their tenures and in some cases not fully aware of the effects of the previous Ambassador’s leadership style, the chargé and acting DCM kept in place most internal processes and a few problematic behaviors. Some of these continued to damage internal communications and morale. For example, many mission staff reported that the former Ambassador occasionally criticized and belittled certain section chiefs and agency heads in front of their peers. Onerous and excessive paperwork processes impeded communication. The amount of time and energy required to move memoranda through the front office, as well as insistence on letter-perfect products—even for materials intended solely for internal use—discouraged initiative and information sharing.
  • Mission staff noted front office reliance on a group of trusted mission leaders. Others not in the favored category were more likely to receive attention to weaknesses rather than strengths or potential. The President’s letter of instruction to chiefs of mission states that one of the Ambassador’s most important jobs is “to take care of our diplomatic personnel and to ensure that they have the tools they need to support your efforts.” Other Department guidance speaks to the role of Ambassadors and DCMs in establishing a productive workplace. The impact of the negative environment and uneven attention paid to human capital development is evident in lower-than-average scores for mission morale in pre-inspection surveys.
  • Mission staff told inspectors they had expected the caretaker leaders to eliminate some of the worst practices and processes of the previous 3 years. Comments to the OIG team indicated that those expectations were unmet. Mission staff evaluations of the chargé’s and acting DCM’s management and leadership skills were significantly below the averages of other recently inspected chiefs of mission and DCMs. By hesitating to make immediate changes, particularly in workflow and decisionmaking, the chargé and acting DCM became targets for employees’ frustrations. The OIG team counseled and encouraged mission leaders to institute some changes in behaviors and practices. Near the inspection’s end, the chargé acknowledged leadership shortcomings to the country team and began instituting welcome changes.
  • In addition, many staff members remarked that the atmosphere at meetings detracted from communication. Public criticism, excessive demand for detail, and primary focus on front office activities stifled information sharing and initiative taking among country team members. Some participants restricted their communication during country team meetings, because new ideas usually generated taskings and the attendant, onerous paperwork requirements. Paperwork served as a barrier to communication, not a facilitator, and stymied the kinds of informal communication and quick, issue-focused meetings common in most embassies. Even before the inspection, the chargé and acting DCM increased their access to mission staff. During the inspection, the chargé announced that the front office would relax requirements for information memoranda and welcome more casual, on-the-spot conversations to facilitate decisionmaking.
  • To manage the intense paperwork requirements under the former Ambassador, the mission established an informal staff assistant position that drew consular section and USAID first- and second-tour (FAST) employees to the front office for 3-month rotations. Staffing the position put pressure on both the consular section and the USAID mission, especially when they were shorthanded. Moreover, short rotations forced mission staff to adapt to a series of new staff assistants, who were learning on the job. In 2012, the Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs denied the embassy’s request to establish a full-time staff assistant position. The OIG team discussed with the chargé how other similarly sized missions have relied successfully on experienced Foreign Service office management specialists to take on staff assistant duties.

 

One Mission, Kinda

  • In 2011, the Secretary of Defense appointed a new senior Defense officer and Defense attaché  (SDO/DATT) and designated him as the principal Department of Defense (DOD) official at the embassy and his representative to the Ambassador and Government of Peru. The previous Ambassador dealt separately and equally with the mission’s several different DOD elements and sometimes excluded the SDO/DATT from meetings with other DOD components. Recently, the mission prepared a briefing book for the Ambassador-designate. The coordinator of the process tasked each DOD element for separate briefing papers. Failure to recognize the Secretary of Defense’s designation of a SDO/DATT contravened the instruction of the Deputy Secretary of State and disempowered the SDO/DATT.
  • Under the former Ambassador, the Foreign Commercial Service, Foreign Agricultural Service, and Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service attachés routed written communications through the economic counselor. In some cases, they believed they were required to report to the front office through him. That practice was still in effect at the time of the inspection. These procedures diminish the attachés’ ability to represent their respective agencies.

 

Feeding the Fish

  • Public Affairs:  The public affairs section runs an extensive set of programs tied to mission themes, but the public affairs officer has been unable to exert strong missionwide leadership on long-term public diplomacy planning. Several factors contributed to this situation–an intimidating atmosphere in embassy meetings resulting in a hesitancy to take ownership of strategic messaging, distractions caused by time-consuming front office demands, and a dearth of experienced officers in the section.
  • Consular:  Consular managers are approachable and emphasize teamwork, but they have not uniformly provided the strategic thinking, procedural guidance, and surge capacity that the section needed to be optimally effective. The consul general and the visa chief have dedicated so much effort responding to detailed front office requests for information that they have not paid enough attention to daily operations. Even absent front office demands, their hands-off management style has prevented them from identifying procedural efficiencies, providing training and feedback for nonimmigrant visa interviewing officers, and modeling interview techniques.The consul general and the visa chief rarely adjudicate visa applications, except for high-profile or referral cases. A recent cable (13 STATE 153746) reminded posts that consular managers are expected to do some interviewing themselves. Not only does the lack of hands-on participation contribute to the long hours that the more junior staff has to spend interviewing, this remoteness from actual processing undermines their credibility as experts. It also reduces the opportunities for management to train new personnel and to identify potential interview technique and workflow efficiencies.
  • EEO: Although grievance procedures are displayed on some chancery bulletin boards, many locally employed staff indicated that they are unfamiliar with their rights under the program and reluctant to voice their concerns. The former Ambassador’s aloofness with regard to locally employed staff and their awareness of the impact of some of her behaviors on American supervisors has also affected willingness to raise workplace issues.

 

We should note that Embassy Lima has 29 First and Second Tour (FAST) employees.  This includes Foreign Service FSOs, specialists and FAST USAID mission staff.   Which is to say that their first or second tour exposure to an embassy environment now includes a leadership style that negatively affected mission morale, experience with ineffective communication, intense “paperworking,” dedicated feeding of the front office and if “lucky,” experience as the preferred “golden children”of mission leaders.

We highlight for scrutiny the chiefs of mission leadership and management of our diplomatic mission in these OIG reports because we believe they are leaders by example. For good or bad.  They can make or break a post.  Most importantly for career ambassadors — even the poorly performing ones have been known to be thrown quietly into the State Department’s Recycle Program.  Before you know it, you see him or her again at other posts providing leadership and management expertise, interpersonal skills and um … creativity — to the point where post needs a misery differential.

Probably the most impressive item in this report is that the previous ambassador departed post reportedly in September 2013 and four months later during the IG inspection, her ghost still haunted embassy operation.  Since she’s not even named in this report, there is no danger that this OIG report would merit a mention in her Certificate of Competency the next time she is nominated for a chief of mission position.

Oh, you think things will get better?

According to the GAO, the OIG is  supposed to inspect each overseas post once every 5 years; however, due to resource constraints, the OIG Office of Inspections has not done so. Thanks Congress!  The OIG Office of Inspections has conducted inspections in an average of 24 countries per year (including all constituent posts within each country) in fiscal years 2010 through 2013. Given their limited resources, according to OIG officials, they have prioritized higher-risk posts — which probably means more NEA, SCA, AF and less EAP, EUR, WHA post inspections.

As well, State/OIG had terminated its “report cards” for ambassadors and senior officials at inspected diplomatic missions. So inspections are only conducted maybe once every five years. And if post does get inspected, the OIG no longer issue its Inspector’s Evaluation Reports  (IER) for any deficient  performance by chief of mission, dcm or other senior officials. (see IERs: We’re Not Doing ‘Em Anymore, We’re Doing Something Better — Oh, Smashing, Groovy!).

So — enjoy the gummy bites!

gummy-bears-o

Gummy Bears by Dentt42 via GIFsoup.com

 

Related item:

-06/30/14   Inspection of Embassy Lima, Peru (ISP-I-14-12A)  [465 Kb]

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Filed under Ambassadors, Career Employees, Foreign Service, FSOs, Govt Reports/Documents, Leadership and Management, Realities of the FS, Staffing the FS, State Department, U.S. Missions

Former AFSA Presidents to SFRC: Delay Approval for FSO Dana Smith as Qatar Ambassador

– Domani Spero

 

Eleven former presidents of the American Foreign Service Association (AFSA), the professional association of the United States Foreign Service have written to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee (SFRC) requesting that the Committee postpone consideration of FSO Dana Shell Smith’s nomination as ambassador to Qatar until the Foreign Service Grievance Board (FSGB) has made a decision in the case related to Ms. Smith and another senior FSO, Susan Johnson.  Ms. Johnson, the immediate former president of AFSA served two terms from 2009-2013.

The letter says that the former AFSA presidents, which includes seven former ambassadors, “firmly believe that Ms. Smith  has not demonstrated the judgment or temperament to shoulder the responsibilities of Chief of Mission.” 

Ouchy!

It adds that “Ms. Smith’s actions are central to a formal Grievance brought against the Department of State by Ms. Susan R. Johnson, also a Senior Foreign Service Officer and President of AFSA at the time she co-authored an op-ed that stimulated negative Department reaction.

image via cspan

Excerpt from the letter:

 Ms. Smith and Ms. Valerie C. Fowler, then Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary and Deputy Assistant Secretary respectively, misusing their official positions and authority over senior assignments and career advancement in order to convey personal views, authored a factually incorrect letter-petition sent through State Department e mail to other FSOs in senior positions, publicly attacking Ms. Johnson on an ad hominem basis for the op-ed she co-authored about the declining role of the Foreign Service.

Senior levels of the Department declined to acknowledge the behavior of Ms. Smith and Ms. Fowler as improper, unprofessional and unprecedented.    Instead the Department condoned the impropriety and compounded the Grievance by nominating one of authors of the ad hominem letter to the senior Foreign Service promotion board which reviewed and did not recommend Ms. Johnson for promotion.   This nomination, the letter-petition and the Department’s inaction may have tainted the board and denied Ms. Johnson a fair promotion review.  Individually and collectively, these actions send a chilling message that speaking out about or questioning personnel policies that lead to the weakening of the Foreign Service as a professional cadre may put careers at risk.

Valerie C. Fowler named above is now the Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary for Public Affairs in the R Bureau. PDASes do not need Senate confirmations. As an aside, have you noticed that the R Bureau now has 15 senior officials, all non-career appointees except for five FSOs?

According to her LinkedIn profile, Ms. Johnson is currently a senior fellow at the Academy of American Diplomacy where she is working on the latest AAD study-report on strengthening Foreign Service professionalism. The April 2013 op-ed referred to in the letter to the Senate is online at WaPo (see “Presidents are breaking the U.S. Foreign Service).” That op-ed piece was authored by Ms. Johnson who was then AFSA president, Ronald E. Neumann, a former U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan and president of the American Academy of Diplomacy, and  Thomas R. Pickering, a former undersecretary of state, and chairman of the AAD board.

The Senate letter was from the following former AFSA presidents: Ambassador Thomas Boyatt, Ambassador William Harrop, Ambassador Alphonse La Porta, Ambassador Theodore Eliot, Ambassador Dennis Hays,  Ambassador J. Anthony Holmes, Ambassador John Limbert, and senior  FSOs F. Allen “Tex” Harris, Theodore Wilkinson, Marshall Adair, and Kenneth Bleakley. Their letter specifically requests that consideration be postponed “until the Foreign Service Grievance Board has made a decision in the case and forwarded the file to the Committee.”

WaPo’s Federal Eye has additional details of this “family” feud:

State did not permit interviews with Smith and Fowler. Doug Frantz,  an assistant secretary of state, said the letter asking the committee to delay action on Smith “contained errors.”  He noted that Johnson’s grievance “was filed subsequent to Ms. Smith’s nomination.” He added that Johnson could have requested Fowler’s recusal from the board, but did not.

Though the letter from Smith, Fowler and the others to Johnson was sent by government e-mail, Frantz said it “was intended to be a private communication from AFSA members to the head of their association.” It’s not private now.

We should note that Douglas Frantz was appointed Assistant Secretary for the Bureau of Public Affairs in 2013. Prior to Ms. Smith’s nomination as ambassador to Qatar, she was Mr. Frantz’s top deputy as Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of State in the Bureau of Public Affairs (2011-2014).

Also, the average time for consideration of a Foreign Service grievance from time of  filing to a Board decision was 41 weeks in 2011 and 33 weeks in 2012.

This could take a whole tour …

Or … maybe not.

Today, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee (SFRC) cleared Ms. Smith’s nomination for the Senate’s full vote.  Unless a Senate hold suddenly materialize, we anticipate that this nominee and a whole slew of ambassadorial nominees will be confirmed as Congress runs off to its summer vacation in August.

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Filed under Ambassadorships, Career Employees, Congress, Foreign Service, FSOs, Grievance, Nominations, Realities of the FS, SFRC, Staffing the FS, State Department, U.S. Missions

State Dept Public Service Recognition Week: You Rock But No MSIs

– Domani Spero

The Public Service Recognition Week for 2014 ends today. If the official clock was not broken, around 4 pm yesterday, Friday, the State Department’s Human Resources Bureau (DGHR) sent out a message to inform folks that there will be no monetary compensation for the 2013 Foreign Service MSIs.

For readers who may not know this, MSI stands for Meritorious Service Increase per authority in 22 U.S.C. 3966(b) (Section 406(b) of the Foreign Service Act of 1980, as amended).  Under 3 FAM 3121.3-2 it is the policy of the Department to provide an increase to the next higher step of the member’s class for especially meritorious service.

In any case, the email message explains that State faced “serious financial difficulties” in 2013 due to several factors including sequestration.  “We made a number of decisions to conserve resources including halting the monetary portion of extending meritorious step increases granted to a portion of those employees recommended for promotion by the 2013 Selection Boards but not actually promoted.”  In fact, DGHR points out, no other Foreign Service, Civil Service or Locally Employed Staff received a monetary award for 2013 performance, with the only exception being Safe Driver awards apparently targeted toward the lowest paid Locally Employed Staff.

Apparently, following the passage of the FY 2014 budget, there were questions about retroactive payment to 2013 MSI awardees. Since it appears that retroactive funding may not be a possibility, there were also questions whether the step increases could be funded going forward.

Yesterday, just before COB, the acting Director General Hans Klemm (nominee as DGHR Arnold Chacon is still stuck waiting for confirmation in the Senate) informed everyone via email that “after careful thought and deliberation on how best to handle the 2013 MSIs”  it’s been decided that there will be no retroactive monetary compensation to those MSIs conferred by the 2013 Selection Boards. There was no mention what happens going forward.

Part of the message from Ambassador Klemm says that Bureau of Human Resources is “determined that we do two things equally well:  manage a vigorous program to recognize and reward truly outstanding performance, and enhance intrinsic motivation as we face continuing fiscal challenges in the coming years.”  We imagine they have to figure out how to make everyone simply enjoy an activity or see work as an opportunity to learn, explore, and actualize their potentials?  He pledged to “doing the best for all of our talented and committed employees, recognizing that some things we want and arguably deserve are not always within reach.”

Uh-oh!  The email message reportedly closed with an exhortation that employees continue to “do your best.”

We understand that things are fiscally tough (unless related to the money sinkhole in Afghanistan) and we must confess we don’t know how much money is needed for the MSIs. But where’s the fire?  This is the bureau tasked with rewarding and motivating employees.  And it could not wait until next week when it’s no longer Public Service Recognition Week to to deliver the bad news.

Bravo for picking the most imperfect timing of the week! Here have some candies!

By Ewon Amos via Wikipedia

Original image  by Ewon Amos via Wikipedia

 

Less than an hour after Ambassador Klemm’s email blast, Secretary Kerry sent out his own email with the subject line, “My Thanks on Public Service Recognition Week.”

On his ‘thank you’ message to State and USAID employees, Secretary Kerry complained that Hallmark doesn’t make a card that celebrates Public Service Recognition Week. So he sent an email thanking his employees for the work they do. He notes that the work isn’t always easy and often it’s even dangerous – but that all of the employees – Foreign Service Officers, Civil Service employees, USAID team, Diplomatic Security, and locally employed staff “make a difference in the great enterprise of making this world a little safer and a little stronger each and every day.” 

He writes in part:

“One of the things that has struck me about the State Department and USAID is the remarkable diversity, expertise, and experience we have to offer – and the unique way each of you fits into the larger mosaic of the work to try and do something pretty fundamental but pretty profound: making this complicated world a little less complicated, a little more orderly, a little more free.  That’s about the best epitaph anyone could ask for, the best gift you can share through your service. And none of it works unless we’re all working together.”

“Everywhere I travel, in every meeting, from Bogota to Beijing” – he writes that he is deeply impressed of his employees’ “commitment to a future that’s stronger and more prosperous in a world that’s changing faster and becoming more interconnected than ever before…” 

Sorry folks, he has traveled 418,891 miles to 48 countries; we think, he really meant from here to here but that’s too many places to list down.

The best part perhaps — this part of the message:

“You get to spend your whole careers believing in something that will never go out of fashion:  You believe in diplomacy – you believe in something bigger and more important than any of us as individuals…”

Enhanced.Intrinsic.Motivation.

We must note that since Friday was the last working day of the week, it would have been weird had the Secretary sent his thank you email today, the end of the Public Service Recognition Week. But certainly, DGHR should have been more attentive.

“Makes for a nice end to the week,” the  snarky angels of Foggy Bottom said.

And the most requested video to feature in this blog is, you got it — Alanis Morissette singing, Ironic…

 

 

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State Dept Employee Shot to Death in His Car in Miami

– Domani Spero

Via Local10.com

Local news in Miami is reporting the death over the weekend of Deron Swain, a State Department employee assigned at the Miami Passport Office.  No one besides Local10 is reporting the death at this time.  Miami PD has yet to release a statement.

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Stephanie Kinney: Wither the Foreign Service? — Wham! Read Before You Go-Go

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– Domani Spero

On its home page, the Association for Diplomatic Studies and Training shares a funny ha!ha! joke that the Foreign Service has undergone major reforms and tinkering over the past century so much that people often say that if you didn’t like the current system, just wait a few years and it would change.  One of the fascinating periods of change at the State Department occurred during the tenure of William Crocket, the Deputy Under-Secretary of State for Administration from 1963-1967. He  was responsible for bringing Chris Argyris to write a report on the Foreign Service, now only available to read at the State Department library (anyone has a digital copy?).  He did T-groups, organizational development and such.  When Mr. Crockett retired in 1967 many of the programs he started were barely alive or already buried and forgotten.  He was never credited for some that still lives on.  He felt he was an outcast from the Foreign Service and left a disillusioned man. He tried to change the service, and it wasn’t quite ready for him (see pdf of oral history).

We recently just read ADST’s oral history interview with Stephanie Kinney.  We have previously quoted her in this blog in 2009 and are familiar with her ideas for change.  Ms. Kinney is a former Senior Foreign Service Officer, one of the first “tandem couples” (i.e., both are FSOs), and winner of the Department of State’s Lifetime Achievement Award, as well as the American Foreign Service Association (AFSA) Harriman Award for her leadership role in creating the Department’s Family Liaison Office (FLO). She was interviewed by Charles Stuart Kennedy in 2010 for ADST.

Below is an excerpt from her 2010 interview.  Check out her full oral history interview here.

[T]he problem at the State Department, I believe, is its lack of institutional leadership and its lack of a single, unified and vibrant corporate cultures. Its culture is still fundamentally 20th century and divided between Foreign Service and Civil Service and the growing overlay of short-term, Schedule C [political appointees] leadership. There are people, pockets of people, working to change that, but it is an uphill battle.
[...]
The drafters of the 1980 Act did not believe in a generalist Foreign Service officer corps. Bill Backus and I argued about “generalists” versus “specialists” ad nauseam; he wanted to create a Foreign Service more like the Civil Service, of which he was a part. He and the other drafters wanted to tie the Foreign Service to the Civil Service and create an equivalency that has never existed because the two personnel systems and cultures are so different. They also created something called LCEs, Limited Career Extensions, which seriously corrupted the Senior Foreign Service through their abuse, and then created an infamous senior surplus, the cost of which was the gutting of a generation of largely 01, political officers in the mid 1990’s. [Note: An FS-01 is equivalent to a GS-15 and is the level before entering the Senior Foreign Service.]

So today what do we have at the State Department? The vast majority of our FSOs have less than five years experience. You have officers expecting to be promoted to 01 who have done only their obligatory consular tour, maybe a tour in their cone, and one or two others.

Another pattern is that many entry level officers now have to do two consular tours, then return to the Department for a desk job and then go to Iraq or Afghanistan, where they do ops with the military. They have never done the first lick of what you would call mainstream diplomacy. One wonders what the impact of this will be on the system?

Now this is not to say that what they have been doing is not a kind of diplomacy; it is and it is utterly essential to the 21st century. But their experience to date is not a kind of work that has prepared them to come back into the civilized world and maintain proper relations and perform with long standing successful states and cultures. These more established states—be they developed or “emerging” like the BRICs [Brazil, Russia, Indonesia, and China], all value tradition and diplomatic savoir faire more than we, and they far outstrip the value and importance of either Iraq or Afghanistan.
[...]
The people to whom you have referred as the high flying “staffers,” have taken no interest in their own institution, which is the base of their power and their work. It is the nature of a profession that it is involved in its own institutions. Otherwise, it is not a profession.

I could not sustain the assertion today that diplomacy is a profession at the Department of State. I think it can be. I think it should be. I am working to move it in that direction, but there is no evidence that the current culture and conditions and leadership are encouraging and helping the younger generation assume the responsibilities and take the measures needed to improve the situation….

But minus strong leadership that seeks to instill common ethics and standards and professional pride, there seems to be growing concern that what we are getting is a group of people for whom little matters beyond one’s own interests. If the Foreign Service culture is all about stepping on someone else to get to the next rung, it is not going to work. You are going to hang separately, because, in my view, that is how it has gotten us where we are.
[...]
When I came to State, there was no such thing as a Schedule C Assistant Secretary. Jimmy Carter took eight FSOs—well they were almost all FSOs under the age of 38 who had resigned over Vietnam, such as Dick Holbrook and Tony Lake—and he made them Assistant Secretaries. They were known as the Baby Eight. So when Ronald Reagan came in he said, “Oh, I will pocket those eight, and I also want a DAS in every bureau,” and so the Deputy Assistant Secretaries became politicized. Today it goes down to the Office Director level. (Note: see this graphic – pdf)
[...]
The politicization, along with Secretaries of State who also have no sense of responsibility for or interest in the Department as an institution, continues to sap the  institution of vitality. That in my view is one of the primary reasons that the institution has fallen on such hard times.

What’s remarkable is that Mr. Crockett in his oral history interview (pdf) conducted in 1990 said practically the  same thing:

“The absence of Secretarial interest in the operations of the Department and many of its functions is often pointed out as one of State’s major deficiencies. Most Secretaries, when faced with the choice of being part of the policy development process or managers of a Cabinet Department, opt for the first to the detriment, I believe, of the second. I am sure it is far more attractive to run around the world like Shultz did–involved in diplomatic activities–that staying at home managing a fairly large organization–certainly a complex one. State is unique among Cabinet Departments in that regard because a Secretary can get by without paying much attention to the management of his Department.”

What’s that they say about change — the more things change, the more they stay the same?

In related news, Secretary Kerry is on travel, this time to Seoul, Beijing, Jakarta, and Abu Dhabi, from February 13-18, 2014. On his first year as Secretary of State, he was on travel 152 days, to 39 countries, travelling 327,124 miles.  If he keep at this, he will break Secretary Clinton’s travel record.  He may also go down in the history books as the Secretary of State who was almost never home.

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Kerry Swears-in Higginbottom as Deputy Secretary for Management, Good News for State/OIG — Wait, What?

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– Domani Spero

On January 30, 2014, Secretary Kerry sworn-in Heather Higginbottom as Deputy Secretary of State for Management and Resources. Ms. Higginbottom is the third appointee to this position. She was preceded by Jack Lew , now Treasury Secretary and Tom Nides  who is now back at Morgan Stanley.

Secretary Kerry Swears in Heather Higginbottom as Deputy Secretary of State U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry swears in Heather Higginbottom as the Deputy Secretary of State for Management and Resources, at the U.S. Department of State in Washington, D.C., on January 30, 2014. [State Department photo/ Public Domain]

Secretary Kerry Swears in Heather Higginbottom as Deputy Secretary of State
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry swears in Heather Higginbottom as the Deputy Secretary of State for Management and Resources, at the U.S. Department of State in Washington, D.C., on January 30, 2014. [State Department photo/ Public Domain]

Ssecretary Kerry made some remarks at her swearing-in ceremony (excerpt below):

Heather now is the first woman to hold the title of Deputy Secretary of State.  (Applause.)  That’s a statement in and of itself, as you have all just recognized, and it’s important.  But I want you to know that no one ever said to me about this job, “I’m so glad you found a woman.”  They have said to me, “I’m really glad you gave this job to Heather,” or “Heather is the right person for this job.”  And we are here because – I know many of you have worked with Heather either in her role on Capitol Hill or over at OMB.  Some of you worked on the campaign trail with her in 2004 and 2008, where she served in 2008 as President Obama’s Policy Director.  Many of you worked with her in the White House where she was serving as the Deputy Director for the Domestic Policy Council and then Deputy Director of OMB.

Ms. Higginbottom gave her own remarks (excerpt):

For me, balancing our presence in Asia, to making peace in Syria, to rolling back Iran’s nuclear program, to embracing our friends in this hemisphere, to the many crises we cannot begin to predict, the people at the State Department and USAID will confront tremendous challenges and opportunities in 2014 and beyond.  In this role, I’ll share in the global responsibility for U.S. foreign policy, but I’ll also seek to drive institutional reforms.
[...]
A top priority for my team will be working to ensure our posts and people are safe and secure.  We need our diplomats fully engaged wherever our vital national interests are at stake, and that means we must constantly improve the way we protect our people and our posts.  I’ll also work to ensure that we use taxpayer resources wisely and efficiently.  As you all know, America’s investment in diplomacy and development is critical to our global leadership, to our national security, and to our nation’s prosperity.  It’s one of the very best investments we can make for our country and it’s the right thing to do.

But we must do everything we can to increase the return on that investment.  That’s why I’ll focus on management reform and innovation.

Excellent!  There’s a small matter that folks might want to bring up to the new D/MR’s attention in terms of reform — a recent change on the Foreign Affairs Manual concerning State/OIG, updated just weeks after the nominee for OIG was announced:

1 FAM 053.2-2 Under Secretary for Management (M)
(CT:ORG-312; 07-17-2013)
The Under Secretary for Management (M) is the Secretary’s designated top management official responsible for audit and inspection follow-up and the Secretary’s designee for impasse resolution when Department officials do not agree with OIG recommendations for corrective action. See 1 FAM 056. 1, Impasse paragraph.

Look at this nice org chart for the DOD IG:

via DODIG.mil

via DODIG.mil

It’s not like the State Department does not have a Deputy Secretary of State for Management and Resources, right?  And because we can’t keep this straight in our head, we have to wonder out loud, how is this delegated authority going to work if the IG had to review “M” and half the building that reports to “M”?  We asked, and we got an official response from State/OIG:

“Per the IG Act of 1978, as amended, and the FAM (1 FAM 052.1  Inspector General – (CT:ORG-312;   07-17-2013), the IG reports directly to the Secretary and Congress.  IG Steve Linick has access to the Secretary and meets regularly with the Deputy Secretaries and other high officials, as needed.”

Okay, but the State Department is the only federal Cabinet-level agency with two co-equal Deputy Secretaries. And yet, “M”, the office with the most number of boxes in the org chart among the under secretaries is the Secretary of State’s designated top management official responsible for OIG audit and inspection?

Let’s see how this works.

In late January, State/OIG posted its  Compliance Follow-up Audit of the Bureau of Oceans, International Environmental and Scientific Affairs’ Administration and Oversight of Funds Dedicated to Address Global Climate Change (AUD-ACF-14-16):

In 2012, the Office of Inspector General (OIG) performed an audit of OES’ administration and oversight of funds dedicated to address global climate change to be responsive to global developments and the priorities of the Department.

In March 2013, OIG closed eight of these recommendations (Nos. 2, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 14, and 15) after verifying evidence that OES had provided showing that final corrective actions had been completed. At that time, OIG considered the remaining 10 recommendations resolved, pending final action.

Following initial discussions with OES and A/OPE officials on the status of the open recommendations from AUD/CG-12-40, OIG expanded its original scope to include an assessment of the Department’s actions on all open recommendations from the report.

Consequently, OIG incorporated the intent of AUD/CG-12-40 Recommendation 18 into a new recommendation (No. 9) to the Under Secretary for Management (M) to assign authority and responsibility for the oversight, review, and approval of nonacquisition interagency agreements that will ensure compliance with applicable Federal regulations and Department policies governing them.

As of December 31, 2013, neither A/OPE nor M had responded to the IG’s draft report.

Well, okay there you go, and what happens then?

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According to history.state.gov, in 1957 the Department of State elevated the position of Chief of the Foreign Service Inspection Corps to that of Inspector General of the Foreign Service. Between 1957 and 1980, the Secretary of State designated incumbents, who held rank equivalent to an Assistant Secretary of State. The Foreign Service Act of 1980 (Oct 17, 1980; P.L. 96-465; 94 Stat. 2080) made the Inspector General a Presidential appointee, subject to the advice and consent of the Senate, and changed the title to “Inspector General of the Department of State and the Foreign Service.”The two most recent OIG for State are  Clark Kent Ervin (2001-2003) and Howard J. Krongard (2005-2008). State did not have a Senate-confirmed OIG from 2009 to much of 2013.

We understand that during the Powell tenure at State, OIG reported to Secretary Powell through Deputy Secretary Armitage. We could not confirm this but it makes sense to us that the inspector general reports above the under secretary level. It demonstrates the importance the Secretary of State place on accountability — the IG reports directly to him through his Management and  Resources deputy; the only D/MR in the whole wide world.  What’s not to like about that?

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State Dept’s Employee Discrimination and Reprisal Statistics May Boggle Your Mind, Or Not

– Domani Spero

On May 15, 2002, then-President Bush signed into law the Notification and Federal Employee Anti-Discrimination and Retaliation (No FEAR) Act to increase federal agency accountability for acts of discrimination or reprisal against employees. This act requires that federal agencies post on their public Web sites certain summary statistical data relating to equal employment opportunity complaints filed against the respective agencies.  This data is updated quarterly.  The report ending on September 30, 2013 is posted below. This data is maintained and published by State/OCR and originally posted at state.gov here.

We should note that the Secretary of State has delegated both tasks of advancing diversity within the Department and ensuring equal opportunity to all employees to the Director of the Office of Civil Rights (S/OCR), an office headed by   John M. Robinson since March 3, 2008.

The total final finding of discrimination from 2008 to-date at the State Department has been one case of reprisal in 2011 out of 133 complaints, one case on race in 2012 out of 133 complaints and one case based on sex discrimination out of 152 complaints in the current year. Three cases of discrimination in favor of the complainant (two with a hearing and one without a hearing) in the last six years?  Single digit finding for the plaintiffs is not unheard of, is it?

If you are an employee with a possible EEO case, this FY2013 statistics is not hopeful.

Number of complaints: 152

Top five (complaints by basis):
reprisal (75), race (50), sex (40), disability (40)
age (36), national origin (21)

Top five (complaints by issue):
harassment/non-sexual  (55)
evaluation/appraisal (25)
promotion/non-selection (21)
disciplinary action (20)
assignment of duties (19)

Total Final Agency Action Finding Discrimination: 1

The average number of days in investigation is 276.89 days, the average number of days in final action is 259.14. When hearing was not requested, the average number of days in final action is 319.50 days.  Take a look.

The State Department has 13,787 Foreign Service employees and 10,787 Civil Service employees working domestic and 275 overseas missions as of March 2013. The S/OCR data does not include a breakdown of cases by employee type.

Also we were curious how other agencies handle this No Fear Act statistical requirement.  We found the Department of Treasury quite more elaborate in its reporting than the State Department. For instance, in FY2012, Treasury closed 61 EEO complaints with monetary corrective actions, totaling $792,477 in back pay/front pay, lump sum payments, compensatory damages, or attorney’s fees and costs.  The monetary component in the State Department’s  report is not even discussed.  At one point we were following the litigation between  FSO Virginia Loo Farris and the State Department (See  Farris v. Clinton: Race/Gender Discrimination Case Going to Trial).  On March 12, 2009,  United States District Judge Ricardo M. Urbina granted the defendant’s (Clinton/State Department) renewed motion for summary judgment with respect to Virginia Loo Farris’ retaliation claims but denies it with respect to the her discrimination claims. In October 2010, the case was dismissed after a settlement was reached between Ms. Farris and the State Department. Details of the settlement were not released.

Anyway, check out the FY2012 report from the Treasury Department here, the year-end data for the five previous fiscal years for comparison purposes actually are quite informative and includes real numbers besides zeros and ones.  It also includes the number of judgement for plaintiff (2), number of  employees disciplined for discrimination, retaliation, harassment, or any other infraction under the cited law (33), analysis of the complaints, data on counseling and alternative dispute resolution. The State Department’s No Fear Act report is absolutely bare bones, although it’s not alone in doing so.

If State/OCR has submitted a separate report to Congress detailing more fully its handling of EEO complaints in the State Department, including monetary corrective actions, we would like to see that information available to the public.

 

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Related posts:

Snapshot: State Department’s Permanent Workforce Demographics

Snapshot: State Dept Discrimination and Reprisal Complaints FY2008-FY2013

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State/OIG Is Hiring! One Senior Investigative Counsel Wanted for Complex/Sensitive Allegations

– By Domani Spero

In early October, State IG Steve Linick was joined at the Inspector General Office by two former officials from FHFA-OIG; the office also had a partial make over of its top ranks.   See New Faces, Old Faces — State Dept’s Office of Inspector General Gets a Make-Over.  Now State/OIG has announced job openings for three other positions.

Criminal Investigator
OIG-2014-0008
GS-1811-12/13
Closes: November 24, 2013

Attorney Adviser- General (Senior Investigative Counsel)
OIG-2014-0006
GS-0905-15
Closes: December 11, 2013

Director (Congressional and Public Affairs)
OIG-2014-0007
GS-0301-15
Closes: December 12, 2013

Well, what are you waiting for?  Active links added for those interested in applying for those jobs.

The Attorney Adviser position caught our eyes.  According to usajobs.gov, this position is specifically responsible for the following (not full list, see job announcement here):

  • Receiving and reviewing allegations of misconduct involving senior DOS/BBG employees that may involve violations of law, DOS/BBG regulations, or applicable standards of conduct;
  • Undertaking investigations to pursue such allegations either alone or as part of an OIG team. Drafts public and non-public reports of investigative findings or conclusions;
  • Identifying significant violations of policies or procedures that become evident in the course of investigations, evaluations, and other special projects, and submitting recommendations for corrective action;
  • Personally handling matters assigned by the IG/DIG that involve sensitive, highly visible issues;

The job is a full-time permanent  GS-15 position with a salary range of $123,758.00 to $155,500.00/per annum.

In any case, we got curious about this so we asked the IG office, and here is what we’re told:

“While the Director, Congressional & Public Affairs is an established position that has recently become vacant, the Investigative Counsel is a new position for the State OIG. The IG envisions hiring an individual with legal and/or prosecutorial experience to enhance OIG’s ability to pursue civil and criminal penalties and to investigate complex and sensitive allegations of employee misconduct.

In addition, this individual would be assigned to conduct special reviews and projects for the OIG.  This approach has been used successfully at the Department of Justice OIG, the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction (SIGIR), the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR), and the Federal Housing Finance Agency Office of Inspector General.”

They do have complex and sensitive allegations to tackle over there.

Remember this past summer when there was a big kaboom in Foggy Bottom ? (See CBS News: Possible State Dept Cover-Ups on Sex, Drugs, Hookers — Why the “Missing Firewall” Was a Big Deal.  The Cable’s John Hudson had an exclusive with Aurelia Fedenisn, a former State Department inspector general investigator Exclusive: Whistleblower Says State Department Trying to Bully Her Into Silence.  Some real serious allegations were made about cases that were reportedly ”influenced, manipulated, or simply called off” in the State Department.  State/OIG released a statement to CBS News here.

There were eight cases alleged in that memo.  None of those cases appeared on the OIG’s semi-annual report to Congress.  We’re still waiting for the results of the investigation.

State/OIG told us that “the eight cases to which you referred continue to be under review.”

A separate case involving allegations about the U.S. Consulate General in Naples did make it to the OIG semi-annual report ending March 31, 2013:

“On November 2, 2012, OIG received a request from Senator Rand Paul to investigate allegations of staff misconduct at the U.S. Consulate General in Naples, Italy. In its response, OIG noted that the complaints were referred to the appropriate offices in the Department and that the complainants were provided contact information for the offices to which the complaints were referred.”

State/OIG explained that the way its Office of Investigations (INV) works is that all incoming complaints and/or allegations are processed through the Hotline.  OIG INV then “assesses each incoming complaint and/or allegation individually to determine the most appropriate course of action based on the facts of the matter.”  This Naples case was referred out of the IG and is reportedly ongoing in the State Department’s Office of Civil Rights.   We have to say that this is a case that already got ugly but can get a whole lot uglier.

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