🍗 Happy Thanksgiving Day everyone! Thank you for your continued support this year. I am grateful for your making this blog a part of your day.To our champions, I am here because you were there for me. I am grateful for your unending encouragement. Thank you all for making this year possible!
Below is a round-up of Thanksgiving Day celebrations around the Foreign Service. Giving thanks to the men and women representing America at our diplomatic missions around the world. They have in the past, served meals at community centers, served meals to local embassy and consulate staffers, hosted Peace Corps volunteers away from their homes, and more than a few have cooked/brought meals to Americans incarcerated overseas during the Thanksgiving holidays. — D
US Embassy Wellington, New Zealand
Ambassador Mark Gilbert and staff hosted the traditional Thanksgiving dinner at the Downtown Community Ministry in Wellington.
“Embassy behind the scenes: We just had a Weapon of Mass Destruction exercise at the Embassy, where everyone got to test their gas masks. Security is something we take seriously, but there’s no reason not to smile while practicing our routines.”
Three sources informed us that the new CG slated for Istanbul is a newly minted FS-01. For some readers not familiar with Foreign Service ranking, that’s the topmost rank in the Foreign Service below the Senior Foreign Service. An FS-01 is equivalent in rank to a colonel in the U.S. military. Counselor, the lowest rank in the Senior Foreign Service is equivalent in rank to a one star general in the U.S. military. One source put it this way:
While it’s a bit unusual that CDA would grant a senior cede to allow [snip](an FS-01) to take such a high profile SFS job, [snip] was Executive Assistant to the Secretary. I imagine that helped with HR. Some would argue that’s a bit of a scandal (not me though…) but I think we can all agree, even if that is a scandal, it’s a lot less of a scandal, than a political appointee taking that job.
So the good news is that the WH/State Department is not sending an Obama bundler to assume the Consul General’s position in Istanbul. Yo! We can hear your collective sigh of relief all the way here! But we can also hear all the drama going on.
CDA is the Office of Career Development and Assignments at the State Department’s Bureau of Human Resources. Since this is a stretch assignment across the senior threshold (think colonel assigned to a general’s position), this would require what’s called a “senior cede” which HR/CDA/SL usually grants only after determining that no senior employee is seeking the senior position.
Seriously, no senior diplomat of the C, MC or CM kind asked to go to Istanbul? Who believes that? Or perhaps the more interesting question is who drove the John Deere high speed dozer to clear the obstacle path from the 7th Floor to Istanbul?
Here’s the Hiawatha by the way, at a ready in Istanbul for whoever ends up going there.
A separate source informed us that the next Consul General to Istanbul was not only a previous member of Secretary Kerry’s staff, the staffer also worked for an Executive Secretary of the State Department. That Executive Secretary is now the U.S. ambassador to Turkey.
We understand that there was “a ton of drama” associated with this assignment. “Crammed down EUR’s throat,” that is, the Bureau of European and Eurasian Affairs’ throat, we heard. There are apparently, “heartaches” in Foggy Bottom related to this appointment. Another alleged that the assignment was done through “irregular means” and that the “job wasn’t announced in FSBid” among other things.
And just like on teevee, there’s more.
CG Istanbul is a language designated position. That means you either need to already know Turkish or must get the Turkish language level required for the job. Allegations have also surfaced that the State Department has now reportedly waived the language requirement for this position. Language waivers are not unheard of, of course, but … given what’s going on in Turkey ….
Say, is this the best the State Department can do for its diplomatic post and staff in Istanbul?
Our man in Istanbul, Chuck Hunter has been an FSO since 1990, so he has some 25 years of experience in the Foreign Service. He was Public Affairs Officer at the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad, Iraq (2011-12) and served in Damascus as Deputy Chief of Mission and Chargé d’Affaires of the U.S. Embassy to Syria (2009-11). He previously worked in Cairo, Tunis, Muscat and Jerusalem. In addition to various D.C. tours, he also served as the Babil Provincial Reconstruction Team Leader, based in Al-Hillah, Iraq. He speaks Turkish, Arabic and French.
The principal officer in Adana, the smallest constituent post in Turkey (with four direct hire employees) is Linda Stuart Specht who assumed her duties last August. She has been an FSO since 1989. She has spent about 26 years in some difficult and dangerous places around the world. She previously served in positions in U.S. missions in Iraq, Afghanistan, Cameroon, Vietnam, Papua New Guinea, and Suriname. Her most recent previous assignments were as Deputy Director of Pakistan Affairs (2012-2014), Director of the Office of Economic Sanctions and Counter Terrorism Finance (2011-2012), and Deputy Director for Arabian Peninsula Affairs (2009-2011). She speaks Turkish, Dutch, French, and Vietnamese.
We should note that the Consulate General in Istanbul is actually larger than many embassies around the world. So, it looks like next year, an FS-01 will oversee U.S. Government relations in a city that is the commercial, financial, cultural, educational, and media capital of Turkey. The same official will also supervise other FS-01s in Istanbul. The last time we’ve seen a midlevel official successfully appointed to a similar high profile posting was in 2005 when an FS-02 became an Assistant Secretary for Public Affairs.
In any case, back in the fall of 2014, there was also a rumor that a staffer from the Under Secretary for Political Affairs, (the Department’s fourth-ranking official), allegedly wanted the Iran Watcher position in London. (see Is This Iran Watcher London Position Not Bidlisted About to Go to a “P” Staffer?). After a fuss was raised, the job apparently went to an FSO. Another Iran Watcher job was reportedly then created in Amsterdam. But there was an Iran Watcher already in language training whose assignment to Erbil, Iraq was cancelled; that individual eventually ended up with the Amsterdam assignment.
Assignments on the 7th floor must be quite hazardous and perilous. One staffer almost end up in London, then Amsterdam, and now one is reportedly going to Istanbul. Who’s next? Secretary Kerry’s pilot as the next Consul General to Bora Bora? Yes, we know there is no CG Bora Bora … well, not yet, anyway.
It’s a good thing that the State Department as an institution has “embraced” what is apparently “an overarching set of Leadership Principles” contained in 3 FAM 1214. This part of the FAM talks about supervisors and managers having “a unique opportunity and responsibility to lead by example.”
“I am proud that I found a constructive way to take a stand on an issue that matters to me. But I can’t help wondering what the department would look like if there were more of us willing to speak up about issues that matter, large and small, regardless of whether or not we think we can actually change anything. Or as one senior officer pointed out to me, we dissent every day—but the difference is whom we dissent to and how far we are willing to go with it. At heart, it’s a question of integrity. Sometimes just adding your voice is enough.”
On August 24, 2015, State Dept. Spokesman John Kirby told CNN: “At The Time, When She Was Secretary Of State, There Was No Prohibition To Her Use Of A Private Email.” Below is the video clip with Mr. Kirby.
Okay, then. Would somebody please get the State Department to sort something out. If there was no prohibition on then Secretary Clinton’s use of a private email, why, oh, why did the OIG inspectors dinged the then ambassador to Kenya, Scott Gration for using commercial email back in 2012? (See OIG inspection of US Embassy Kenya, 2012).
In the course of its inspection, OIG received reports concerning embassy staff use of private email accounts to conduct official business. On the basis of these reports, OIG’s Office of Evaluations and Special Projects conducted a review and confirmed that senior embassy staff, including the Ambassador, used personal email accounts to send and receive messages containing official business. In addition, OIG identified instances where emails labeled Sensitive but Unclassified6 were sent from, or received by, personal email accounts.
OIG has previously reported on the risks associated with using commercial email for official Government business. Such risks include data loss, hacking, phishing, and spoofing of email accounts, as well as inadequate protections for personally identifiable information. Department policy is that employees generally should not use private email accounts (for example, Gmail, AOL, Yahoo, and so forth) for official business.7 Employees are also expected to use approved, secure methods to transmit Sensitive but Unclassified information when available and practical.8
OIG report referenced two cables, we’ve inserted the hyperlinks publicly available online: 11 STATE 65111 and 14 STATE 128030 and 12 FAM 544.3, which has been in the rules book, at least since 2005:
“It is the Department’s general policy that normal day-to-day operations be conducted on an authorized [Automated Information System], which has the proper level of security control to provide nonrepudiation, authentication and encryption, to ensure confidentiality, integrity, and availability of the resident information.”
This section of the FAM was put together by the Office of Information Security (DS/SI/IS) under the Bureau of Diplomatic Security, one of the multiple bureaus that report to the Under Secretary for Management.
Either the somebodies were asleep at the switch, as the cliché goes, or somebody at the State Department gave authorization to the Clinton private server as an Automated Information System.
In any case, the State Department’s stance on the application of regulations on the use of private and/or commercial email is, not wobbly jello on just this one subject or on just this instance.
One of those eight cases relate to an allegation of soliciting a prostitute.
The Foreign Affairs Manual (FAM) provides that disciplinary action may be taken against persons who engage in behavior, such as soliciting prostitutes, that would cause the U.S. Government to be held in opprobrium were it to become public.1
In May 2011, DS was alerted to suspicions by the security staff at a U.S. embassy that the U.S. Ambassador solicited a prostitute in a public park near the embassy. DS assigned an agent from its internal investigations unit to conduct a preliminary inquiry. However, 2 days later, the agent was directed to stop further inquiry because of a decision by senior Department officials to treat the matter as a “management issue.” The Ambassador was recalled to Washington and, in June 2011, met with the Under Secretary of State for Management and the then Chief of Staff and Counselor to the Secretary of State. At the meeting, the Ambassador denied the allegations and was then permitted to return to post. The Department took no further action affecting the Ambassador.
OIG found that, based on the limited evidence collected by DS, the suspected misconduct by the Ambassador was not substantiated. DS management told OIG, in 2013, that the preliminary inquiry was appropriately halted because no further investigation was possible. OIG concluded, however, that additional evidence, confirming or refuting the suspected misconduct, could have been collected. For example, before the preliminary inquiry was halted, only one of multiple potential witnesses on the embassy’s security staff had been interviewed. Additionally, DS never interviewed the Ambassador and did not follow its usual investigative protocol of assigning an investigative case number to the matter or opening and keeping investigative case files.
Department officials offered different justifications for handling the matter as a “management issue,” and they did not create or retain any record to justify their handling of it in that manner. In addition, OIG did not discover any guidance on what factors should be considered, or processes should be followed, in making a “management issue” determination, nor did OIG discover any records documenting management’s handling of the matter once the determination was made.
The Under Secretary of State for Management told OIG that he decided to handle the suspected incident as a “management issue” based on a disciplinary provision in the FAM that he had employed on prior occasions to address allegations of misconduct by Chiefs of Mission. The provision, applicable to Chiefs of Mission and other senior officials, states that when “exceptional circumstances” exist, the Under Secretary need not refer the suspected misconduct to OIG or DS for further investigation (as is otherwise required).2 In this instance, the Under Secretary cited as “exceptional circumstances” the fact that the Ambassador worked overseas.3
DS managers told OIG that they viewed the Ambassador’s suspected misconduct as a “management issue” based on another FAM disciplinary provision applicable to lower-ranking employees. The provision permits treating misconduct allegations as a “management issue” when they are “relatively minor.”4 DS managers told OIG that they considered the allegations “relatively minor” and not involving criminal violations.
Office of the Legal Adviser staff told OIG that the FAM’s disciplinary provisions do not apply to Ambassadors who, as in this instance, are political appointees and are not members of the Foreign Service or the Civil Service.5
OIG questions the differing justifications offered and recommends that the Department promulgate clear and consistent protocols and procedures for the handling of allegations involving misconduct by Chiefs of Mission and other senior officials. Doing so should minimize the risk of (1) actual or perceived undue influence and favoritism and (2) disparate treatment between higher and lower-ranking officials suspected of misconduct.6 In addition, OIG concludes that the Under Secretary’s application of the “exceptional circumstances” provision to remove matters from DS and OIG review could impair OIG’s independence and unduly limit DS’s and OIG’s abilities to investigate alleged misconduct by Chiefs of Mission and other senior Department officials.
In the SBU report provided to Congress and the Department, OIG cited an additional factor considered by the Under Secretary—namely, that the Ambassador’s suspected misconduct (solicitation of prostitution) was not a crime in the host country. However, after the SBU report was issued, the Under Secretary advised OIG that that factor did not affect his decision to treat the matter as a “management issue” and that he cited it in a different context. This does not change any of OIG’s findings or conclusions in this matter.
After the SBU report was issued, the Under Secretary of State for Management advised OIG that he disagrees with the Office of the Legal Adviser interpretation, citing the provisions in the Foreign Service Act of 1980 which designate Chiefs of Mission appointed by the President as members of the Foreign Service. See Foreign Service Act of 1980, §§ 103(1) & 302(a)(1) (22 USC §§ 3903(1) & 3942(a)(1)).
During the course of that review, State/OIG said it discovered some evidence of disparity in DS’s handling of allegations involving prostitution. Between 2009 and 2011, DS investigated 13 prostitution-related cases involving lower-ranking officials.
The OIG apparently, found no evidence that any of those inquiries were halted and treated as “management issues.”
Also, have you heard? Apparently, DEA now has an updated “etiquette” training for its agents overseas.
New DEA “etiquette” training for overseas agents: ■ Never call ambassador by his first name. ■ No prostitutes. Etc. pic.twitter.com/aUSZipjtEC
On July 27, 2015, two months short of Year 3 since Mr. Van Buren retired, the State Department without much fanfare released its new 3 FAM 4170 rules in 19 pages. For the “FAM is not a regulation; it’s recommendations” crowd, we hope you folks have great lawyers.
My! Look who’s covered!
The updated FAM, same as the old FAM, is divided into two meaty parts — official capacity public communication and personal capacity public appearances and communications. The new version of 3 FAM 4170 is all encompassing, covering the following (not exhaustive list):
— all personnel in the United States and abroad who are currently employed (even if in Leave Without Pay status) by the Department of State and the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), including but not limited to Foreign Service (FS) employees, Civil Service (CS) employees (including schedule C appointees and annuitants returning to work on temporary appointments on an intermittent basis, commonly referred to as “While Actually Employed (WAE)” personnel), locally employed staff (LE Staff), personal service contractors (PSCs), employees assigned to fellowships or details elsewhere and detailees or fellows from other entities assigned to the Department, externs/interns, and special government employees (SGEs).
— Former Department of State employees (including former interns and externs) must seek guidance from A/GIS/IPS for applicable review process information. Former USAID employees (including former interns and externs) must consult the Bureau for Legislative and Public Affairs for applicable review process information.
— Employee testimony, whether in an official capacity or in a personal capacity on a matter of Departmental concern, may be subject to the review requirements of this subchapter. Employees should consult with the Department of State’s Office of the Legal Adviser or USAID’s Office of the General Counsel, as appropriate, to determine applicable procedures.
In practical terms, we think this means that if you get summoned to appear before the House Select Benghazi Committee and is testifying in your personal capacity as a former or retired employee of the State Department, these new regulations may still apply to you, and you may still need clearance before your testimony.
Convince us that we’re reading this wrong, otherwise, somebody poke Congress, please.
Also, does this mean that all retired FSOs who contribute to ADST’s Oral History project are similarly required to obtain clearance since by its definition, “online forums such as blogs” and “a person or entity engaged in disseminating information to the general public” are considered media organizations under these new rules?
Institutional interest vs. public interest
We are particularly interested in the personal capacity publication/communication rules because that’s the one that can get people in big trouble, as shown in the Van Buren case. Here’s the equivalent of our bold Sharpie.
3 FAM 4176.4 says: “A principal goal of the review process for personal capacity public communications is to ensure that no classified or other protected information will be disclosed without authorization. In addition, the Final Review Office will evaluate whether the employee’s public communication is highly likely to result in serious adverse consequences to the efficiency or mission of the Department, such that preventing those consequences outweighs the employee’s presumptively high interest in communicating and the public’s interest in receiving the communication.”
Institutional interest trumps public interest? Where do you draw the line? You can still write a dissent cable as the “3 FAM 4172.1-3(D). No Review of Dissent Channel Communications” included in the 2009 version of the FAM survives as 3 FAM 4171 (e) in the current rules:
Views on matters of Departmental concern communicated through methods of internal communication (including, for example, the Department’s internal dissent channel) or disclosures made pursuant to 5 U.S.C. 2302(b)(8)(B) are not subject to the review requirements of this subchapter.
Which is fine and all, except — who the heck gets to read your dissent cable except the folks at Policy Planning? The State Department is not obligated to share with Congress or with the American public any dissenting opinions from its diplomats. One might argue that this is appropriate, after all, you can’t have diplomats second guessing in public every foreign policy decision of every administration. So, the American public typically only hears about it when a diplomat quits. But given the two long wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, is the American public best served by this policy? And by the way, candid opinion like the case of the six-page memo, entitled “The Perfect Storm,” in the lead up to the Iraq War, is still classified. Why is that?
The new regs also say this:
“To the extent time and resources allow, reviewers may assist the employee in identifying possible modifications or other adjustments to avoid the inclusion of non-classified but otherwise protected information, or the potential for adverse consequences to the Department’s mission or efficiency (including the employee’s ability to perform his or her duties effectively in the future).”
If we weigh the Van Buren book against these parameters, how much of the book’s 288 pages would survive such “modifications” or “adjustments.”
There goes the book, We Meant Well in Afghanistan, Also.
The Peter Van Buren Clause
We’ve come to call “3 FAM 4172.1-7 Use or Publication of Materials Prepared in an Employee’s Private Capacity That Have Been Submitted for Review“ as the Peter Van Buren clause. Below is the original language from the 2009 version of the FAM:
An employee may use, issue, or publish materials on matters of official concern that have been submitted for review, and for which the presumption of private capacity has not been overcome, upon expiration of the designated period of comment and review regardless of the final content of such materials so long as they do not contain information that is classified or otherwise exempt from disclosure as described in 3 FAM 4172.1-6(A).
That section of the FAM appears to survive under the current 3 FAM 4174.3 Final Review Offices, underlined for emphasis below.
c. To ensure that no classified information is improperly disclosed, an employee must not take any steps to proceed with a public communication (including making commitments to publishers or other parties) until he or she receives written notice to proceed from the Final Review Office, except as described below. If, upon expiration of the relevant timeframes below, the Final Review Office has not provided an employee with either a final response or an indication that a public communication involves equities of another U.S. Government entity (including a list of the entity or entities with equities), the employee may use, issue, or publish materials on matters of Departmental concern that have been submitted for review so long as such materials do not contain information described in 3FAM 4176.2(a) and taking into account the principles in 4176.2(b). When an employee has been informed by the Final Review Office that his or her public communication involves equities of another U.S. Government entity or entities, the employee should not proceed without written notice to proceed from the Final Review Office. Upon the employee’s request, the Final Review Office will provide the employee with an update on the status of the review of his or her public communication, including, if applicable, the date(s) on which the Department submitted the employee’s communication to another entity or entities for review. Ultimately, employees remain responsible for their personal capacity public communications whether or not such communications are on topics of Departmental concern.
The Van Buren clause appears to survive, until you take a closer look; italicized below for emphasis:
3 FAM 4176.2 (a) Content of Personal Capacity Public Communications
a. When engaging in personal capacity public communications, employees must not:
(1) Claim to represent the Department or its policies, or those of the U.S. Government, or use Department or other U.S. Government seals or logos; or
(2) Disclose, or in any way allow the public to access, classified information, even if it is already publicly available due to a previous unauthorized disclosure.
3 FAM 4176.2 (b) Content of Personal Capacity Public Communications
b. As stated in 3 FAM 4174.2(c)(1), a purpose of this review process is to determine whether the communication would disclose classified or other protected information without authorization. Other protected information that is or may be subject to public disclosure restrictions includes, but is not limited to:
(1) Material that meets one or more of the criteria for exemption from public disclosure under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), 5 U.S.C. 552(b), including internal pre-decisional deliberative material;
(2) Information that reasonably could be expected to interfere with law enforcement proceedings or operations;
(3) Information pertaining to procurement in violation of 41 U.S.C. 2101-2107;
(4) Sensitive personally identifiable information as defined in 5 FAM 795.1(f); or
(5) Other nonpublic information, when used in a manner as prohibited by 5 CFR 2635.703.
Can one make the case that the conversations between the writer and his boss in the Van Buren book are “internal pre-decisional deliberative material?” Or that any conversation between two FSOs are deliberative? Of course. State can make a case about anything and everything. Remember, it did try to make the case that the book contained classified information. (see “Classified” Information Contained in We Meant Well – It’s a Slam Dunk, Baby!). Also, we should note that documents marked SBU or sensitive but unclassified are typically considered nonpublic information. Under these new rules, it’s not just classified information anymore, anything the agency considers deliberative material or any nonpublic material may be subject to disclosure restrictions.
3 FAM 4174.2 Overview (2015): Waving the ‘suitability for continued employment’ flag
c. Employees’ personal capacity public communications must be reviewed if they are on a topic “of Departmental concern” (see 3 FAM 4173). Personal capacity public communications that clearly do not address matters of Departmental concern need not be submitted for review.
(1) The personal capacity public communications review requirement is intended to serve three purposes: to determine whether the communication would disclose classified or other protected information without authorization; to allow the Department to prepare to handle any potential ramifications for its mission or employees that could result from the proposed public communication; or, in rare cases, to identify public communications that are highly likely to result in serious adverse consequences to the mission or efficiency of the Department, such that the Secretary or Deputy Secretary must be afforded the opportunity to decide whether it is necessary to prohibit the communication (see 3 FAM 4176.4).
(2) The purposes of the review are limited to those described in paragraph (1); the review is not meant to insulate employees from discipline or other administrative action related to their communications, or otherwise provide assurances to employees on matters such as suitability for continued employment (see, e.g., 3 FAM 4130 for foreign service personnel and 5 CFR 731 for civil service personnel). Ultimately, employees remain responsible for their personal capacity public communications whether or not such communications are on topics of Departmental concern.
More 3 FAM 4170 Fun: Not meant to insulate employees from discipline or other administrative action
3 FAM 4176.1(e) General
e. As stated in 3 FAM 4174.2(c)(1), the review process is limited to three purposes. (See also 3 FAM 4176.4.) Therefore, completion of the review process is not a Department “clearance” or “approval” of the planned communication, and is not meant to insulate employees from discipline or other administrative action related to their communications, including for conducting personal capacity public communications that interfere with the Department’s ability to effectively and efficiently carry out its mission and responsibilities, by, for example, disrupting operations, impairing working relationships, or impeding the employee from carrying out his or her duties. Ultimately, employees remain responsible for their personal communications whether or not the communications are on topics of Departmental concern.
3 FAM 4176.3 Employee must disclose his/her identity to Department reviewers
a. PA reviews all personal capacity public communications on matters of Departmental concern by senior officials at the Assistant Secretary level and above, including Chiefs of Mission. For all other employees wishing to communicate publicly in their personal capacity on matters of Departmental concern, there are two review processes available:
(1) Individuals may, as a first step, submit their requests for review to the Final Review Office (as described in 3 FAM 4174.3(a)). For employees submitting a request to PA, such requests should be submitted via PAReviews@state.gov. The Final Review Office will then consult with the employee’s immediate supervisor(s) and any other offices concerned with the subject matter in accordance with 3 FAM 4176.4(c). The Final Review Office will then make the final determination; and
(2) Alternatively, employees may initially submit their requests for review to their immediate supervisor(s), the Public Affairs Office in their bureaus or posts, and any other Department offices concerned with the subject matter. The materials must then be submitted to the Final Review Office, noting all such reviewers and any comments received. The Final Review Office will then verify those reviews, assess whether other reviews are needed, and make the final determination.
b. Supervisors, Public Affairs Offices, or any other offices involved in the review process must flag for the Final Review Office any view that the proposed public communication may:
(1) Contain classified or other protected information;
(2) Result in serious adverse consequences to the efficiency or mission of the Department; or
(3) Be or become high impact or high profile, for example communication that is controversial, or otherwise involves a sensitive Department priority; and
(4) The Final Review Office will then apply the standard described in 3 FAM 4176.4(a).
c. In all cases, an employee must disclose his or her identity to the relevant Department reviewers.
d. If another U.S. Government entity seeks Department review of a personal capacity public communication by that entity’s employee, the Department office in receipt of such request must coordinate with PA.
3 FAM 4177 Noncompliance may result in disciplinary action, criminal prosecution and/or civil liability.
a. Failure to follow the provisions of this subchapter, including failure to seek advance reviews where required, may result in disciplinary or other administrative action up to and including separation. Violations by USAID employees may be referred to the Deputy Administrator for Human Resources or USAID’s Office of the Inspector General (see 3 FAM 4320). Disciplinary action will be pursued consistent with applicable law, including 5 U.S.C. 2302
b. Publication or dissemination of classified or other protected information may result in disciplinary action, criminal prosecution and/or civil liability.
This is the part where we must remind you that what the former State Department spokesperson said about the FAM being recommendations is a serious bunch of hooey!
Oh, hey, remember the 2-day clearance for tweets …’er scandal?
We wrote about it here and here, and the “ain’t gonna happen 2-day clearance” for social media posting is now part of the Foreign Affairs Manual. Apologies if the 2-working day review timeframe below for social media postings is too shocking for 21st century statecraft innovation purists. These are the rules, unless you can get the current State Department spokesperson to say from the podium that these are merely recommendations that employees/retirees/interns/charforce are free to ignore. We must add that the 2009 version of these rules, required that materials of official concern submitted in the employee’s private capacity must “be submitted for a reasonable period of review, not to exceed thirty days.” The old rules made no distinction whether the submitted material is a book manuscript, an article, a blogpost or a tweet.
screen grab from 3 FAM 4170
Yo! What’s Missing?
The new regs emphasized the need for official clearance for official and private communication “to ensure that no classified information is improperly disclosed.” It however, does not include any guidance on the use of a private server for emails and social media postings where classified information could be improperly disclosed.
A Much Better FAM Version, Hey?
From the organizational perspective, some folks would say that this is a “much better” version of the FAM. We’d call this a much better plug. An insider could argue that this is a “very fine sieve.”
Okeedokee, but what do you think will be its consequences for the rank and file? No one will officially admit this as the intent, but after reading this new version of 3 FAM 4170, this is what we think it really says:
The updated regs also says that “In light of the rapid pace with which many social media platforms are used, all offices, sections, or employees who routinely post to such platforms in their official capacity are encouraged to seek advance blanket authorization to engage for their social media communications, in accordance with 3 FAM 4175.1(c).”
The blanket authorization as far as we can tell only applies to those who are engaged in social media platforms in their official capacities, it makes no similar provision for employees in social media platforms in their private capacities.
Fun With Fido or Grumpy Cat
The new regs helpfully notes that “Employees who, in their personal capacity, wish to communicate publicly on matters that are clearly not “of Departmental concern” (see 3 FAM 4173) need not seek Department review under the procedures outlined herein, and need not use the personal capacity disclaimer discussed below in paragraph (b).”
So, basically, if you blog, tweet or write a book about Kitty Kat or Fidodog, or about their travels and adventures in Baghdad, Kabul, Sanaa, and all the garden spots, you don’t need to seek Department review. That is, as long as Kitty Kat is not secretly arming the rodent insurgents and tweeting about it and Fidodog is not flushing government money down the toilet and blogging about it.
One reviewer on Amazon writes, “The first few paragraphs have me smirk, scoff and snort. It’s about time the Foreign Service has a guide that doesn’t bullsh*t. FS life is cool and fascinating but it’s not always pretty. Nor glamourous.”
By way of introduction, Donna writes this:
There is a saying in the State Department: “It depends.”[…] It’s terrifying, in a way, that the answer to every question you have about the Foreign Service can be summed up with those two little words.
That’s the State Department’s unofficial motto. We’ll entertain an alternative unofficial motto, but we don’t think you’ll find one.
Ambassador John Ordway (former ambassador to Armenia and Kazakhstan) gave the book five stars on Amazon and writes: “With 40 years living the Foreign Service life under my belt, I found myself chuckling with fond recollection on nearly every page. Based on her years of experience trotting the globe for the U.S. State Department, Donna Gorman explains (and predicts) some of the lessons we’ve all learned — and maybe wish we had not learned. No matter where you’re coming from or where you’re headed, I guarantee you’ll leave with a smile on your face and a new arsenal of useful tips for things to do, and not do, as you contemplate the Foreign Service life.”
We enjoyed reading this book. It feels familiar but also informal like the author is chatting with a friend who doesn’t yet know anything about the Foreign Service. It is a fun read but also painful in some parts. We remember — boy, we’re old — back in 2007, Donna also lost her hearing on the right ear due to a viral infection when her family was posted in China. Anyway, yup, cried over Chapter 27 of this book, probably the hardest part to read. Will this book scare off people interested in the Foreign Service? Can’t tell, of course, but we’d say it would be best to know more and learn to manage one’s expectations, than know so little that one expects a charmed life abroad.
Here’s a brief bio: Donna Scaramastra Gorman is a freelance writer whose work has been published in Newsweek, the Washington Post, the Christian Science Monitor, the Huffington Post, the Foreign Service Journal, the Seattle Times, Parade Magazine, the Insider’s Guide to Beijing and several other outlets. Gorman is a Foreign Service spouse, married to a federal agent with the State Department’s Bureau of Diplomatic Security. They and their four children have been posted together in Russia, Armenia, Kazakhstan, China, Jordan and the U.S. Gorman also spent a year as a single parent while her husband completed a tour in Baghdad. They are currently posted in Moscow.
Tales From a Small Planet‘s chair of the Board of Directors, Francesca Kelly and its outgoing Executive Director, Victoria Hess announced the selection of Leslie M. Jensen as its new executive director and Ásgeir Sigfússon as Director of Social Media.
Tales from a Small Planet, a 501(c)(3) registered non-profit organization and premier expat resource website, has announced the selection of Leslie M. Jensen as its new executive director. Leslie will fill the vacancy created by Victoria H. Hess, long-time Executive Director and Board Member. The selection was made following a worldwide search and selection process, during which Leslie stood out for her extensive background in sales and enthusiasm for all things expat.
Leslie’s resume includes over 10 years of sales and business development in a wide range of sectors from banking to Internet technology, and she is currently a small business owner navigating the intermittently challenging task of operating a small business while living abroad.
Tales from a Small Planet is also thrilled to announce the addition of Ásgeir Sigfússon as Director of Social Media. Outside of volunteering with Tales, Ásgeir’s paying job is with the American Foreign Service Association, where he is the Director of New Media. He has many years of experience within the Foreign Service/expat world, and also brings a deep understanding of engaging audiences through social and other online media. Ásgeir is originally from Iceland, and definitely considers himself an expat.
Talesmag.com offers expats the unique opportunity to share information about experiences abroad, expat to expat. Our Real Post Reports and Real School reports offer a “one stop shop” for the information expat families need in order to make informed decisions when choosing the next adventure.
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.