Category Archives: Huh? News

The Buck Stops Where? Ambassador Files Grievance Over an OIG Evaluation Report

– Domani Spero

 

The following is a Foreign Service Grievance Board case (all names redacted) where an ambassador filed a grievance over a State/OIG Inspector’s Evaluation Report (IER). The Board held that the IER be expunged from the ambassador’s personnel file.

Now, you see why State/OIG stopped doing the Inspector’s Evaluation Reports? We don’t like the fact that OIG no longer issues IERs but we can now understand in real terms why.

This is why. Where does the buck stops?

The President sends a Letter of Instruction to all Chiefs of Mission appointed by the President, and the contents of each letter differs according to whether the COM has a bilateral/country or international organization portfolio. The President’s Letter basically gives a COM full responsibility for the direction, coordination, and supervision of all U.S. Government executive branch employees within the host country or in the relevant Mission to an international organization, except those personnel under the command of a U.S. geographic area military commander or on the staff of an international organization.

We’re shocked it has not been argued yet that ambassadors must first have prior counseling from the President of the United States regarding their performance prior to the issuance of an OIG Inspector’s Evaluation Report. Not that it matters now, since State/OIG has ended the practice of issuing IERs.

Via FSGB Case No. 2013-028

Grievant, a former Ambassador to REDACTED, appealed the Department’s denial of her 2013 grievance, claiming that an IER prepared in November 2011 focused primarily on the performance of her DCM and contained several “inaccurate statements.” Grievant claimed that inclusion of the IER in her OPF was prejudicial because she had not received counseling on the areas of her performance that were criticized in the report. After soliciting feedback from post personnel, the Department expunged portions of two statements in the IER, but otherwise found the remainder to be an accurate reflection of grievant’s performance, as corroborated by numerous statements from identified Mission employees.

The Board determined that grievant was not counseled on matters that were negatively discussed in the IER, nor was she given an opportunity to improve performance problems raised in the report. The Board concluded that regardless of the purpose for the IER, grievant was entitled to be counseled and provided a reasonable opportunity to improve before she could properly be critiqued on performance deficiencies in an IER. The Board held further that grievant met her burden of proving that she was unaware of the shortcomings mentioned in the IER; she had no reason to become aware of these deficiencies; and, therefore, that counseling could not be excused as harmless error. The Board further found that the IER contained a significant number of inadmissible comments about the performance of the DCM, an identified other employee, and was, therefore, written in violation of applicable regulations that govern the preparation of evaluation reports. The Board concluded that the IER is invalid and ordered it removed from grievant’s OPF.

The Foreign Service Grievance Board decision:

HELD: The Department committed a procedural error by placing in grievant’s Official Personnel File (OPF) a prejudicial Inspector’s Evaluation Report (IER) that included inadmissible comments about another identified employee, in violation of agency regulations, and without first counseling grievant on certain performance issues mentioned in the IER, or giving her an opportunity to improve her performance. The IER was ordered expunged from grievant’s OPF in its entirety.

There are clips included in the Report of Proceeding:

“I do believe Ambassador REDACTED was aware that DCM REDACTED activities were exacerbating the rift between the front office and the rest of the mission, but I believe it was a type of willful unawareness, perhaps delusional. . . . If [the Ambassador] was not aware or not willing to admit that this rift existed, she was deluding herself. . . . [In All Hands meetings] . . . to the Ambassador, this kumbaya session was clear evidence that she had her finger on the pulse of the mission. It was a charade, but no one could tell the emperor that he had no clothes.”

Grievant submitted the following statements from post employees:

- “I think she didn’t realize the impact the DCM was causing till [sic] the OIG arrived. . . .”

- “I don’t know if she recognized the seriousness of the problems or not. . . . I don’t know if the Ambassador was aware of them or not.”

- “I believe that Ambassador did not fully recognize the seriousness of problems at Embassy If she had recognized the seriousness of the problems, I believe that she would have addressed them in the beginning and not let things get so out of hand.”

The OIG inspection team leader wrote:

REDACTED showed little awareness of the significant impact on morale cause by front office management practices and actions. She was not aware of the extent of negative sentiment concerning front office communications, nor the depth of employee resentment of the intrusive and imperious management style of the DCM. Although scheduled and conducted numerous regular meetings with employees, staff members told inspectors they volunteered little real feedback to the front office, fearing the reaction and the subsequent damage to their careers.

The best part of this decision is this:

What remains are grievant’s claims that the IER improperly focused on the performance of the DCM and a claim that she had a right to counseling prior to inclusion of negative statements in her IER. As to her complaint about the focus of the IER, grievant points out that although the report was meant to address her management and leadership skills, it is largely directed at the DCM’s behavior and contains several comments that did not pertain at all to her performance. We find that what was at issue in the inspection was grievant’s alleged lack of awareness of, and inattentiveness to, the negative effect on post morale that was purportedly caused by the behavior of her subordinates. Because the concern was how well or poorly grievant was performing as Chief of Mission, we find that the IER should have focused on grievant’s performance vis-à-vis her detection and management of post problems caused by a subordinate.
[…]
We think the rule of fundamental fairness applies equally when the performance of an Ambassador is evaluated in an IER, as when an untenured officer receives his first EER. We conclude that “[c]riticisms included in the final [evaluation report] should not come as a surprise to [any] rated employee.” Accordingly, because we see no difference between the impact of performance criticisms in an EER and an IER on an employee’s career opportunities, we conclude that any employee whose work performance is evaluated in an IER, as in an EER, has a right to be notified and counseled about any perceived deficiencies and given a reasonable opportunity to improve before those deficiencies may be included in either evaluative document.

The parties do not contest that grievant received no counseling about any of the criticisms about her performance that were stated in the IER at issue. Grievant presented evidence that shortly before the OIG began its inspection at post in November 2011, the DAS from the regional bureau (and the Office Director visited and met with Mission employees in October. It is unclear whether these individuals received the same information as the OIG team, but grievant reports that neither of them counseled her on any of the matters later identified as performance weaknesses by the OIG team. If grievant’s superiors were made aware of any shortcomings in her work performance, then they should have, but did not, counsel her about them. If they were unaware of any performance deficiencies, then the Department must concede that grievant’s superiors could not, and did not, counsel her. In the absence of counseling, grievant did not have the opportunity to try to improve.

The Department argues that grievant was not entitled to be counseled on matters about which her supervisors were not aware. We do not agree. The fundamental fairness of a performance evaluation hinges on the provision of notice to the rated employee of his or her deficiencies, coupled with a reasonable period in which the employee can make efforts to improve. If a supervisor is unaware of the deficiencies, it is true that he or she cannot counsel the employee, but, it follows, then, that, unless the employee was independently aware of performance deficiencies, he or she ought not be negatively evaluated on those deficiencies of which neither the employee nor the supervisor were aware.

The Department also asserts that even in the absence of counseling, the criticisms contained in grievant’s IER should not have come as a surprise to her because she should have known of the morale problems existing at post. In support of this assertion, the Department provides numerous statements from Mission employees expressing their beliefs that grievant was aware of the problems raised in the IER, but failed to manage them. Grievant responds that not only did her supervisors not tell her of the employees’ complaints, but the employees themselves did not inform her. She speculates that “[i]n hindsight, I recognize that the DCM may have been shielding and insulating me from staff dissatisfaction.” She also cites a number of employees who stated that they did not think she was aware of how the DCM was behaving or how it was undermining morale.

Bureaucratic high drama,very instructive, read it below:

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Death in the Foreign Service: Why we said “no” to an Embassy Information Sanitation Dude

– Domani Spero

 

In the next couple of weeks, we will try to revisit some of the topics that we have blogged about in the past but did not get a chance to follow-up.

In the last several years, we’ve covered  the deaths of State Department and Foreign Service personnel due to terrorist attacks, natural calamities, suicide, violent crime, and accidents (see In the Foreign Service: Death, Too Close An Acquaintance). Here are some of the blogposts we did,this is not an exhaustive list:

While we did receive a screaming owler one time when we were asking questions about a death in Afghanistan, not once have we ever received an email from a family member of a deceased employee asking us not to mention that their loved ones who died overseas worked for Uncle Sam, or refrain from noting the passing of loved ones who died in the service of our country. Not once.

In June this year, we blogged about a Foreign Service employee at the US Embassy in Moscow who was killed in a gas explosion there:

Two State Department sources confirmed that the employee, an OMS on official orders working at the embassy had died. After the embassy employee was heloed to a local Russian hospital, she was reportedly airlifted by the State Department soon thereafter to a special burn hospital in Linkoping, outside of Stockholm where she died a few days later.

A former co-worker at another post was concerned that there has been no public  statement about the employee’s death. “I would think the death of a diplomat would get something from AFSA or State, even if it was from an accident.”  We sent out several inquiries but no one would speak on the record.  Since the name has not been officially released, and no obit has yet been published, we will refrain from identifying the victim at this time.

This past August, a brief obituary of that employee appeared on State magazine, the official trade publication of the State Department and we blogged about it. Shortly after that, we received an email from an individual using a hotmail account:

Hi, Durron’s family did not want this information to be disclosed to the press. Please honor their request. Personally I share your view, but also honor the family’s wishes.

Moscow is hard post to serve, and the Embassy community was very shocked by this news. I personally know many people who lived in the apartment complex where she died (MFA apartment housing), and I was also shocked by this news. I can’t say any more about this unfortunately. The past year was very hard for Embassy Moscow, especially in light of the death of an FSN who was very much loved by all who worked there. 

The request, as you can see, is polite, even volunteering that the writer shares the blog writer’s view. Then the “guilty hook,” asking that we “honor the family’s wishes.” The writer did not/not present himself as a government  official, and seemed to only appear as an interested third party purporting to pass on the wishes of the deceased employee’s family.

Our correspondent, who could not get the deceased employees straight (Durron was the Consular Affairs employee who died in Florida), was in fact, an embassy official, basically asking us not to make a public connection to the death of the  USG employee who died in Sweden to the gas explosion in a USG (Russian MFA) housing in Moscow. We only knew that the individual is a USG official because of …Googles! Not sure the individual is still at post at this time.

Our gut feeling was that this is legitimate news; we blogged about the fact that an employee of the U.S. Government was injured in Moscow, and subsequently died from those injuries in Sweden. And we waited until there was an official obituary before we put the information together and named the deceased individual.  Three months after the incident.

Deceased individuals are not covered by the Privacy Act. That said, if a USG employee die overseas for whatever reason, should we be obligated to not/not report it if his/her family ask that it not be reported for privacy reasons? That’s not exactly the case here because we were only told second hand that the deceased’s family did not want it reported in the press (except that the death was reported in the publicly available State magazine). But the “what-if” was a dilemma we spent considerable time thinking about for a period of time.

How do you balance the public’s right to know with a family’s request for privacy?

We’ve consulted with a professional journalist we admire, and an authority on media ethics at the Graduate School of Journalism at UC Berkeley.   All agreed that 1) employees sent overseas are on official duty, and that any life-threatening mishap or death they suffer is by definition of public interest, and 2) that we ought to consider the request if it comes directly from a family member, and pull the blogpost down only if the family makes a compelling case that publication caused them or somebody else harm.  One surmised that the request received may have more to do with the State Dept’s own reasons or some fear of official embarrassment.

We did send a response to our “non-official” correspondent basically declining the request since he was not a member of the family.  We informed the writer that we would consider pulling the material down if we hear directly from the family and only if there is a compelling reason for the request. We also offered to write directly to the family if the official would provide us a contact email.  We certainly did not want to be insensitive and we understand that the incident occurred  at a challenging post, but the death of a Foreign Service person abroad is of public interest. That’s the last we’ve heard from that official via hotmail. And we would have forgotten about this except that it came to our attention  that the USG had been more aggressive about sanitizing this information than we first thought.

A journalist from a large media organization subsequently told us that he/she was privately admonished after asking publicly why the State Dept had not expressed condolences on the death of the employee in Moscow. The admonishment came from a USG official who again, cited the family’s privacy. From best we could tell, these contacts/admonishment to the journalist and to this blog came from two separate officials. How many other journalists (not just blogger in pjs, mind you) had been similarly admonished to not report about this death citing the family’s request for privacy?

In the aftermath of this incident in May 2014, we sent an email inquiry to the public affairs office of the U.S. Embassy in Moscow.  Our email got lost in a sink hole and we never heard anything back. We must note that this incident occurred after the departure of then Ambassador McFaul. It also predates the arrival of John Tefft, the current ambassador to Moscow and his the new public affairs officer there.

It goes without saying — but we’ll repeat it anyway —  that we clearly understand that accidents happen. And we’re not looking for a cover-up at every post unless it has to do with the furniture!  But, because there’s always a but — accidents do not absolve the embassy or the State Department from answering questions about the circumstances surrounding an employee’s death or at a minimum, publicly acknowledging that a death of an employee occurred overseas. We will be sensitive and respectful as we have always been, but we will ask questions.

What bothered us about this?  By citing the deceased family’s purported request for privacy, the State Department and Embassy Moscow basically shut down any further questions about the incident. How is it possible to have something of an information blackout on the death of an employee we sent overseas on the country’s behalf?

Whatever happened to that promised investigation?

We understand that then chargé d’affaires (CDA) in Moscow, Sheila Gwaltney  told personnel that they will be informed of the results of the investigation, regardless of the outcome. We sent an email inquiry to the analysis division of OBO’s Office of Fire Protection (OBO/OPS/FIR) requesting for an update to the fire inspector investigation. We received the following response on October 23 from Christine Foushee, State/OBO’s Director of External Affairs:

Thanks for your inquiry.  The investigation you’ve referenced is still ongoing, so we are not in a position to comment on results.

Per 15 FAM 825:

a. As soon as possible after being notified of a fire, OBO/OPS/FIR, will dispatch a team of trained fire/arson investigators to fires that resulted in serious injury or death; those where the cause is arson or is of a suspicious nature; those causing extensive damage or significant disruption to official activities; or those deemed to be of special interest to the Department of State.

b. Fire-related mishaps involving injury, illness, or death that meet criteria for Class A or B mishaps under Department of State policy will be investigated and reported using 15 FAM 964 requirements. An Office of Fire Protection official, in OBO/OPS/FIR, will be assigned to any Class A or B board conducted by OBO’s Office of Safety, Health, and Environmental Management, in the Directorate for Operations, (OBO/OPS/SHEM). In addition to addressing the root causes of the fire event, the mishap board report must evaluate the impact of Department of State organizational systems, procedures, or policies on the fire event. The report also could contain recommendations for specific modifications to such procedures and policies. Both OBO/OPS/FIR and OBO/OPS/SHEM receive copies of the report, and OBO/OPS/SHEM coordinates with the Department of State’s Designated Agency Safety and Health Official (DASHO) to meet 15 FAM 964 requirements. OBO/OPS/FIR reports findings and recommendations for corrective action to the Director of OBO, who informs the Accountability Review Board’s Permanent Coordinating Committee. (See 12 FAM 032.)

We sent another follow up email this week to State/OBO.  The explosion happened in May 2014. Here we are at the end of the year and we don’t know what happened to that investigation. Is this length of time typical of these types of investigations? We will update this blogpost if we hear from the fire people with something to say.

We think this a good opportunity as any to call on the State Department to voluntarily release an annual report of deaths of official Americans overseas.  DOD identifies its casualties — name, rank, age, state of residence, date and place of death, and cause of death — why not the State Department?  At a minimum there ought to be  an annual reporting of all deaths from unnatural causes of USG personnel and family members on government orders under Chief of Mission authority. Diplomatic Security already publishes an annual report,would it be too much to ask that they be allowed to include this information?

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High Risk Pregnancy Overseas: State/MED’s SOP Took Precedence Over the FAM? No Shit, Sherlock!

– Domani Spero

 

The Foreign Affairs Manual says that it is the general policy of the Department of State “to  provide all medical program participants with the best medical care possible at post. In a situation where local medical facilities are inadequate to provide required services, travel to locations where such services can be obtained may be authorized.” (see 16 FAM 311).  Elsewhere on the same regs, the FAM says  that “a pregnant patient who is abroad under U.S. Government authorization is strongly encouraged to have her delivery in the United States. The patient may depart from post approximately 45 days prior to the expected date of delivery and is expected to return to post within 45 days after delivery, subject to medical clearance or approval.” (see 16 FAM 315.2 Travel for Obstetrical Care).

A grievance case involving a high risk pregnancy of a Foreign Service spouse was recently decided by the Foreign Service Grievance Board (FSGB).  This is one case where you kind of want to bang your head on the wall. The FAM gets the last word in the Foreign Service, but in this case (and we don’t know how many more), the State Department  ditched the relevant citation on the Foreign Affairs Manual in favor of a longstanding practice on its Standard Operating Procedure (SOP). Specifically, the Department’s Office of Medical Services (MED)  SOP. So basically, MED relied on its interpretation of the regulations contained on its SOP instead of the clear language included in the FAM.

No shit, Sherlock!

Excerpt below from FSGB Case No. 2014-007.

SUMMARY: During grievant’s tour in his spouse became pregnant. She had had five previous pregnancies, none of which resulted in a viable birth. The post medical team (FSMP) and the State Department Office of Medical Services (MED) both agreed that this was a very high-risk pregnancy and that the preferred option was that the spouse return to the U.S. as soon as possible for a special procedure and stay under the care of a single obstetrician specializing in high-risk care for the remainder of her pregnancy. Although MED authorized a 14-day medical evacuation for the procedure, it advised grievant that, under its longstanding practice, it could not authorize further medical evacuation per diem under 16 FAM 317.1(c) prior to the 24th week of gestation. MED instead directed grievant to seek the much lower Separate Maintenance Allowance (SMA).

Grievant claimed that the regulation itself stated only that per diem for complicated obstetrical care could be provided for up to 180 days, and therefore permitted his spouse to receive such per diem beginning in approximately the 10th week of pregnancy, when she returned to the U.S. for treatment. He also claimed that he was entitled to have his airline ticket paid for by the agency as a non-medical attendant when he accompanied his wife back to the U.S., since her condition precluded her from carrying her own bags.

The Board concluded that the agency’s regulation was not ambiguous, and that any clarification meant to be provided by the agency’s longstanding practice was both plainly erroneous and inconsistent with the agency’s own regulations, and arbitrary and capricious. We, therefore, did not accord any deference to the agency’s interpretation of its regulations by virtue of this practice, and relied instead on the language of the regulation itself.

Here is the FAM section on Complicated obstetrical care:

16 FAM 317.1(c):  If the Medical Director or designee or the FSMP [Foreign Service Medical Provider] at post determines that there are medical complications necessitating early departure from post or delayed return to post, per diem at the rates described in 16 FAM 316.1, may be extended, as necessary, from 90 days for up to a total of 180 days.  

More from the Record of Proceeding:

When FSMP contacted MED in Washington, DC, they were given the response that MED does not medevac for obstetrical care until after the 24th week of gestation. The 24th week of gestation is when the medical world deems a fetus viable outside of the womb. Grievant claims both FSMP and the post’s Human Resources (HR) reviewed the FAM and other MED documents to determine how MED handles high risk pregnancies at a hardship post and could not find any reference that limited a high risk pregnancy to the 24 weeks claimed by MED.

Grievant claims he contacted the head of MED and asked for an explanation as to why MED was not following 16 FAM 317.1(c), which allowed for medevac for high risk pregnancies. M/MED/FP responded with the following in an e-mail dated August 27, 2013:

This issue of how early a woman can be medevac’d for delivery comes up regularly. So does the situation of cervical cerclage – up to 80,000 procedures are done in the U.S. per year. While not in the FAM, MED has a long standing internal SOP that the earliest we will medevac a mother for obstetrical delivery is at 24 weeks gestation. 

Grievant claims that his spouse’s pregnancy was high-risk enough to qualify for medical evacuation prior to the 24 weeks’ gestation. Grievant also argues that every medical professional in and in Washington, including MED staff, agreed. Grievant argues that MED’s justification for how they choose which pregnancy to deem OB-medevac-worthy for high risk is ambiguous. Grievant takes issue with MED imposing internal rules that are not published in the FAM. Grievant claims that the alternatives offered by MED were not in accordance with 16 FAM 317.1(c).

What was the official State Department position?

The agency asserts that grievant’s wife was medevac’d to Washington, DC, to receive obstetrical care. MED did not believe there were medical complications necessitating early departure from post or delayed return to post. Thus, the agency claims, 16 FAM 317.1(c) does not apply to her situation.

Did it not matter that the FSO’s wife “had had five previous pregnancies, none of which resulted in a viable birth?”  The Department also made the following argument:

The agency further argues that, in any event, although not compelled by law, the Department’s Office of Medical Services (MED) has a longstanding internal Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) that the earliest MED will authorize a medevac of a pregnant woman for delivery, even in the case of complicated pregnancies, is 24 weeks’ gestational age. This SOP, MED asserts, is based on the medical community’s widely accepted recognition that the gestational age for fetal viability is 24 weeks. 

Ugh!

The ROP states that MED personnel communicating with both grievant and the post FSMP repeatedly relied on the SOP that no medevac would be provided prior to the 24th week of pregnancy as the basis for their guidance. They did not cite grievant’s wife’s particular medical circumstances as the rationale for denying an earlier continuous medevac.

You might remember that the last time MED failed to use common sense, the State Department ended up as a target of a class action lawsuit.

Here is the Board’s view:

It is the Board’s view that 16 FAM 317.1(c) is not ambiguous. It provides for the Medical Director or designee or the FSMP at post to determine if there is a complication requiring early departure or a delayed return, and authorizes up to 180 days’ per diem when such a determination is made. The entire context of the provision is to define what benefits are provided when based upon medical needs, and the provision appears to reflect the individualized medical decision making required in the case of complicated obstetrical care. Although the preceding provision, 16 FAM 317.1(b),8 places a set 45-day limit for per diem both before and after an uncomplicated pregnancy and birth, that limit is also, by all appearances, based on medical analysis of normal pregnancies and deliveries, which lend themselves to such generalizations. Airlines do not allow pregnant women to travel less than 45 days before birth, because of the risks involved. 16 FAM 317.1(b) recognizes and incorporates that medical evaluation under the circumstances of a normal pregnancy. Although not stated explicitly in the record, we assume that the 45 days of per diem permitted after delivery also reflects a medical assessment of recovery times under normal circumstances, which, because they are normal, can be generalized.
[…]
In the Board’s view, the longstanding practice is also arbitrary and capricious and an abuse of discretion. As stated by MED, the rationale for the 24-week practice is that a fetus is generally not considered viable before the 24th week of pregnancy. It is not based on, and does not take into consideration, whether the mother’s need for medical care can be provided safely at post prior to the 24th week, or whether the medical care needed by any fetus of less than 24 weeks to come to full term as a healthy baby can safely be provided at post. It is difficult to see any link at all between the rationale offered by State/MED with the recognition of medical needs established in the regulations.

It is the Board’s conclusion that 16 FAM 317.1(c) is not ambiguous, and that any clarification meant to be provided by the Department’s longstanding practice of requiring the 24-week waiting period in cases of complicated pregnancies is both plainly erroneous and inconsistent with the Department’s own regulations, and arbitrary and capricious. We, therefore, do not accord any deference to the Department’s interpretation of its regulations by virtue of this practice, and rely instead on the regulation itself.

To the extent that the agency is arguing that the SOP is freestanding and applies by its own terms, apart from 16 FAM 317.1(c), again, we conclude that the agency is in error. By the same analysis as outlined above, the SOP conflicts with the provision of the published regulations of the agency. An SOP may not take precedence over a regulation with which it is in conflict.

The Board’s conclusion, based on the record, is that this was a high-risk pregnancy, with risks to both the mother and the fetus, and that the necessary obstetrical care was in the U.S. Under these circumstances, medical evacuation per diem should have been authorized beginning upon the return of grievant’s wife to the U.S., and continuing for 180 days.

Doesn’t it makes you wonder how many high risk pregnant women on USG orders overseas were affected by this longstanding internal Standard Operating Procedure (SOP)?  If planning on getting pregnant overseas, read the redacted ROP below:

 

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Benghazi Select Committee Invites DS Greg Starr (Again) and IG Steve Linick to Hearing #2

– Domani Spero

 

The House Select Committee on Benghazi had its inaugural hearing on September 17 (see Battle For Benghazi in WashDC:  Vroom Vroom Your Search Engines Now or Just Drink Gin). That hearing’s topic was “Implementation of the Accountability Review Board Recommendations” and the committee had as witnesses, DS Greg Starr, the Assistant Secretary for Diplomatic Security, and Mark J. Sullivan and Todd Keil, chairman and member respectively of the The Independent Panel on Best Practices. The Accountability Review Board Recommendations were issued for the State Department and not a task just for Diplomatic Security. For whatever reason, Mr. Starr, one bureau’s assistant secretary was invited to answer agency implementation questions from the Select Committee. No deputy secretary or under secretary was available to answer questions from the Hill?

On November 21, the House Intel Committee released its final Benghazi Report.

 

The Select Committee on Benghazi issued the following statement on the declassification of the House Intelligence Committee’s Benghazi Report:

“The Select Committee on Benghazi received the Intelligence Committee’s report on the Benghazi terrorist attack months ago, and has reviewed it along with other Committee reports and materials as the investigation proceeds. It will aid the Select Committee’s comprehensive investigation to determine the full facts of what happened in Benghazi, Libya before, during and after the attack and contribute toward our final, definitive accounting of the attack on behalf of Congress.”

 

Some fellow over there said that the report is full of crap.

 

Also, apparently, other GOP lawmakers, and Benghazi survivors were fuming over the House report and were not happy with the Intel Committee’s chairman, Republican Rep. Mike Rogers. Uh-oh.

So crap or not, the Benghazi Select Committee is charging on.  The Committee will have a second hearing on “Reviewing Efforts to Secure U.S. Diplomatic Facilities and Personnel.” This time, the Committee will appropriately hear from Assistant Secretary Starr. By the way, where can we place bets on how many times A/S Starr will be invited to speak to the Committee before this is over in 2017?  Because you know this won’t be over until after the 2016 elections; poor fellow was not even working at the State Department when the Benghazi attack happened.

A/S Starr will be joined by State Department Inspector General Steve Linick for this hearing.  We think this is Mr. Linick’s first appearance before Congress following his confirmation.

Wed, 12/10/2014 – 10:00am
HVC-210

Topic: Reviewing Efforts to Secure U.S. Diplomatic Facilities and Personnel

Witnesses:

  • Greg Starr, Assistant Secretary for Diplomatic Security
  • Steve Linick, Inspector General, Department of State

The hearing page is here.

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The Daily Show: Inglurious Ambassaders and an Earnest Spox

– Domani Spero

Ouchy!  The new ambassadors to Argentina and Hungary just made it to Comedy Central but perhaps the best feature was the WH spox, Josh Earnest who dodged with “Frankly, I was not part of this decision-making process.”

Jon Stewart rips: “That is the greatest thing I’ve ever seen the president’s press secretary do. His entire job — his only job — is built around trying not to go, ‘Hey, look, I just fucking work here.’ But that’s what he did.”

Screen Shot 2014-12-04

click on image to view the video

We hate to think what this would look like if/when that fellow for Norway gets the Senate nod. We’ll have The Daily Show trampling on the salad bowl.

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State Dept Spox’s Hot Mic Moment: “That Egypt line is ridiculous.” No Kidding

– Domani Spero

 

Via The District Sentinel/Sam Knight

 

Here is an excerpt from the transcript of the 12/1/14 DPB:

QUESTION: Do you have any reaction to the court’s decision dropping the charges against former President Mubarak?

MS. PSAKI: Well, generally, we continue to believe that upholding impartial standards of accountability will advance the political consensus on which Egypt’s long-term stability and economic growth depends. But beyond that, I would refer you to the Egyptian Government for any further comment.

QUESTION: So you don’t criticize at all?

QUESTION: What does that mean?

MS. PSAKI: It means that in general, we believe that courts should be –

QUESTION: It sounds to me like it means nothing.

MS. PSAKI: In general, we believe that impartial standards and the justice system should work as planned –

QUESTION: Yeah –

MS. PSAKI: — but I don’t have any specific comment –

QUESTION: But did –

QUESTION: But are you suggesting it wasn’t impartial?

MS. PSAKI: I don’t have any more specifics on –

QUESTION: But I – wow. I don’t understand that at all. What does that mean? You believe that – of course you do. But was that – were those standards upheld in this case?

MS. PSAKI: I don’t have anything – any specific comment on the case. I’d point you to the Egyptian Government.

QUESTION: (Inaudible) justice was served? Do you think justice was served in this case?

MS. PSAKI: I don’t have anything specific on the case.

Go ahead.

QUESTION: (Inaudible) not try –

MS. PSAKI: Okay.

QUESTION: — to argue with you or ask about the comment. Are you trying to understand what is – does – this decision means?

MS. PSAKI: I don’t have anything more for you.

Do we have anything more on Egypt?

QUESTION: Do Egyptians explain to you what’s going on?

MS. PSAKI: We obviously remain in close touch with the Egyptians, but I don’t have anything more to peel back for you.

QUESTION: Jen –

MS. PSAKI: Any more on Egypt? Go ahead.

QUESTION: Yeah, but I mean, Transparency International is basically disappointed with that. And some international organizations have also expressed concern over, like, dropping all the charges against Mubarak, who’s accused of having murdered – having ordered the murder of protestors –

MS. PSAKI: I’m familiar with the case, yes.

QUESTION: — and also corruption, other things. And so you’re not willing to show your concern over that?

MS. PSAKI: Well, we speak frequently, including in annual reports, about any concerns we have about – whether its rule of law or freedom of speech, freedom of media, and we do that on a regular basis. I just don’t have anything more specifically for you on this case.

QUESTION: Can you see if – can we ask for – push your people a little bit harder? Because I mean, you call for accountability and transparency all the time from any number of governments. And so if no one is held to account, if no one is being held accountable for what happened, it would seem to me that you would have a problem with that and –

MS. PSAKI: If there’s more we have to say, Matt, we will make sure you all know.

QUESTION: But I mean, what you have said, that the – what you said says nothing. I mean, it just – it’s like saying, “Well, we support the right of people to breathe.” Well, that’s great, but if they can’t breathe –

MS. PSAKI: If we have a further comment on the case, I will make sure all of you have it.

QUESTION: Okay.

QUESTION: I mean, aren’t you a little bit annoyed that the person who was elected by the Egyptian people, Morsy, is languishing in prison while the person who is accused of murdering hundreds of people is actually out on –

MS. PSAKI: I appreciate your effort, Said. I don’t have anything further on this case.

QUESTION: No, the reason we ask isn’t because –

MS. PSAKI: Said, I’m sorry. We’re going to have to move on.

 

Tsk! Tsk! Can’t imagine Ambassador Boucher accepting that kind of crap from any bureau. Next time, make the talking points drafter write in Plain English so we, the natives would understand what our government is talking about. And by the way, President Obama signed the Plain Writing Act of 2010Adobe Acrobat Reader icon on October 13, 2010. That law requires that federal agencies use “clear Government communication that the public can understand and use.” This response is neither clear, nor usable.

So — if the talking points do not improve with plain language, go ahead and please kick the door.  And if that doesn’t work either, get Madame Secretary to sign  a reassignment order (apparently the Secretary of State does that kind of thing) and send the drafter and/or approving officer off to Angola.

Noooo, not/not to Portugal. And check the mike next time.

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 Updated below on 12/15/14 @ 2:09 am via Ali Weinberg of ABC News:

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State Dept Re-attached to the Internet, and About Those “Unrelated” Embassy Outages

– Domani Spero

 

A few hours ago, we posted this: State Dept Spox on outages at embassies: “separate”, “unconnected”, “unrelated” — wowie zowie!

It looks like the State Department was re-attached to the Internet sometime this morning. Although as of this writing, go.state.gov is still down for “temporary maintenance.”

Screen Shot 2014-11

Screen capture of http://go.state.gov, still current as of 11/19/2014

Here’s what we’ve learned about the embassy outages:

The Consular Consolidated Database is apparently unaffected, as are visa and passport services.

EXCEPT that Consular Sections were unable to accept credit card payments because those are connected to the Internet, which was unavailable from the State Department’s OpenNet.

Here’s how OpenNet is described in the FAM:

OpenNet is a physical and logical Internet Protocol (IP)-based global network that links the Department of State’s Local Area Networks (LANs) domestically and abroad. The physical aspect of the network uses DTS circuits for posts abroad, FTS-2001-provided circuits, leased lines, and dial-up public switch networks. This includes interconnected hubs, routers, bridges, switches, and cables. The logical aspect of the network uses Integrated Enterprise Management System (NMS) and TCP/IP software, and other operational network applications. OpenNet is a Sensitive But Unclassified (SBU) network, which supports e-mail and data applications.

We understand that the American Citizen Services (ACS) Units, in particular, were not able to process payments by credit cards. Since the Internet connection issue had been reportedly resolved earlier today, we hope that this has resolved itself, too.

As to visa services, those are connected to the Global Support Strategy (GSS) contract, and 99% of fees would have been collected through the GSS contractor, not at post.

EXCEPT that most GSS contractors do scheduling via their own 3rd party websites, which would not be able to be accessed from OpenNet. If visa scheduling had delays, that would be because posts had to find a non-OpenNet Internet connection to update scheduling slots, as necessary.

A note on the GSS:  The GSS contracts provide support services for nonimmigrant and immigrant visa operations at United States consulates and embassies abroad, including but not limited to public inquiry services, appointment services, fee collection services, biometric enrollment services, document delivery services and data collection services.

So when the State Department spox said that these outages were not connected and were unrelated, well –

Congratulations! You sound nice at the podium but what the heck were you talking about?

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Oops! What’s this? Updated at 1552 PST Nov 19:

Screen Shot 2014-11-19 at 3.44.20 PM

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State Dept Spox on outages at embassies: “separate”, “unconnected”, “unrelated” — wowie zowie!

– Domani Spero

 

We’ve blogged about the outages at overseas posts yesterday (see State Department’s “Technical Difficulties” Continue Worldwide, So What About the CCD?).  On November 17, US Embassy Albania’s internet connection was down and US Embassy London could not accept credit card payments and its online forms for visa and passport inquiries were not working. US embassies in Moscow, Madrid, Manila, Beirut, Ankara, Cameroon, Oslo and Astana tweeted that they were “experiencing technical difficulties that may result in delays in visa processing.”

Unofficial sources tell us that State Department employees are now able to send email outside the Dept but still no Internet access. The Department’s mobile access site GO (go.state.gov) and Web PASS  (Web Post Administrative Software Suite Explorer) are both still offline.

What’s WebPASS?   via WebPASS Privacy Impact Assessment (2009):

WebPASS Explorer (“WebPASS”) is a suite of business applications used by overseas posts to administer a variety of internal activities. Some but not all applications under WebPASS collect and maintain personally identifiable information (PII) about post employees, their family members, and visitors. WebPASS is web-enabled and operates within the confines of OpenNet, the Department’s sensitive but unclassified (SBU) network.

The main application is Web Post Personnel (Web.PS), which is a database of the American employees (AEs), their dependents, and Locally Employed Staff (LES). Whereas the official record for an AE employee is maintained in Washington, DC, the Web.PS database supports local personnel-related tasks. Its LES-related features support personnel actions for LES staff directly hired at the post such as intake, assignments, transfers, grade increases, and terminations.

After an AE or LES staff is established in Web.PS, some of their basic identifiers (e.g., name, employee type, office) may be pulled electronically into other WebPASS applications that support separate functions such as motor pool operations, residency in government-held real property, and distribution of pharmaceutical medications.

The most sensitive unique identifier in WebPASS is the record subject’s SSN, which is stored in Web.PS.

 

Hey, if Professor Boyd, the American ambassador’s husband in Homeland had access to WebPASS, he could have saved himself some sneaking around just to discover (and tamper) with Carrie’s medication!

In any case, on November 18, the State Department spokesman Jeff Rathke was asked about the recent reported hacking and the outages at our embassies. The official word seems to be that these outages at ten posts (maybe more, but those posts have not tweeted their technical difficulties) are separate, unconnected, unrelated or [insert preferred synonym]  to the “technical difficulties” at Main State. Simply put, you folks stop racking your brains with suspicions, these outages are simply, and purely  coincidental.

Of course, coincidences happen every day, but the more I watch these official press briefings, the less I trust coincidences.

Excerpt:

QUESTION: Hacking?

MR. RATHKE: Yes, Lara, please.

QUESTION: Everybody’s favorite topic. You had talked yesterday from the podium about how the – it’s only the unclassified email systems at the State Department that was affected by this most recent data breach that prompted the suspension of – sorry, I’ve got suspended on my mind – (laughter) – but that prompted the shutdown over the weekend. But there’s been some suggestions that some of the missions and embassies and consulates have had some problems or could have some problems with processing passports or visas.

MR. RATHKE: No.

QUESTION: No? Not at all?

MR. RATHKE: No, no. These are unconnected. I mean, we have a separate system that deals with those types of consular issues – passports, visas, and so forth. Now there may be other technical issues that have arisen in one place or another. Is there a specific –

QUESTION: Yeah. Embassy Beirut, I think, had to –

MR. RATHKE: Yeah. No, that’s unrelated to the outage that we’ve had here.

QUESTION: Well, what’s going on in Embassy Beirut, then?

MR. RATHKE: Well, I don’t have the specifics, but it’s a separate issue. And I – from what I understand, they were able to continue doing their operations today, so it was not any major impediment.

I can give you an update, though, on the outage. I can report that our external email services from our main unclassified system are now operating normally, and for those who feel they are tethered to their Blackberries, they are once again, because the Blackberry service is working. So our unclassified external email traffic is now normal, so we’ve had some progress since yesterday’s discussion. So much of it is now operational. Much of our systems that had connectivity to the internet are now operational. We have a few more steps that’ll be taken soon to reach full restoration of our connectivity.

QUESTION: But just to clarify, no consular services, no client-based services –

MR. RATHKE: That’s a separate –

QUESTION: — have been affected by this outage?

MR. RATHKE: No, not to my knowledge. That’s – those are separate.

Yeah.

QUESTION: Do you have internet access from the unclassified system now?

MR. RATHKE: No, we are not – we do not have internet access at this stage. That will be restored soon, we expect. Sorry, yes?

QUESTION: Anything else major that you don’t have now?

MR. RATHKE: No. No, I think that’s mainly it. But it – this has not stopped us from doing our work, so –

QUESTION: The classified system never went down, correct?

MR. RATHKE: No, it was never affected at any point. So as mentioned yesterday, that hasn’t changed. It was not affected.

 

Congress remains more than interested:

 

And now the FBI is wading into the breaches:

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State Dept Spox: U/S Sherman has superhuman abilities in diplomacy, no/no costume

– Domani Spero

 

A bunch of back and forth during the Nov. 3 Daily Press Briefing on U/S Sherman being dual-hatted as “D” and “P,” who is also one of the top eyeballers of the ongoing Iran negotiation. This is the official word, and the State Department spokesperson never did offer an understandable reason why despite the agency being previously informed that Bill Burns was leaving, and the fact that his retirement was twice postponed, no successor is exactly ready to be publicly announced at this point. Excerpt below:

 

QUESTION: — and the announcement that was just made about Ambassador Sherman taking over, at least temporarily, as deputy. Does the President or does the Secretary intend to have a permanent – someone nominated and confirmed by the Senate to take over from retired Deputy Burns?

MS. PSAKI: Yes.

QUESTION: So not necessarily her?

MS. PSAKI: Well, I’m not going to get ahead of any process or speak about personnel from here, which should come as no surprise, unless we’re ready to make an announcement.

QUESTION: Okay, I didn’t ask that.

MS. PSAKI: Okay.

QUESTION: I just asked if this means that she is going to be eventually nominated, or is anyone going to be eventually nominated to take over that position?

MS. PSAKI: This means that Under Secretary Sherman will be the acting Deputy Secretary of State. There is every intention to nominate a –

QUESTION: Okay. Which may or may not be her?

MS. PSAKI: Correct.

QUESTION: All right. And then how long does one stay – I mean, doing two jobs, both of which are pretty big, is not exactly the easiest thing in the world to do, nor the most efficient, probably. I’m not taking anything away from her skill, but I mean, being the number two and the number three at the same time, it will be taxing, to say the least. So do you have any idea about how long it will be before either she is nominated and someone else takes over as number three, or a new permanent number two is nominated and she can go back to only dealing with the under secretary job?

MS. PSAKI: I don’t have a prediction on timing. I will just say that the fact that she was named Acting Deputy Secretary of State just reflects the Secretary’s trust in her, the trust of the building, the trust of the President, and obviously, her wealth of experience on a range of issues. So –

QUESTION: Jen, isn’t it just a time-space –

MS. PSAKI: — of anyone, she can certainly handle it.

QUESTION: But that’s a time – it’s just about a time-space continuum. I mean, Deputy Secretary Burns had a full portfolio and Under Secretary Sherman has a full portfolio. So just to Matt’s point, I mean, how long can this Department run on one person being the kind of Secretary’s second and third in command?

MS. PSAKI: Well, obviously, you all know Under Secretary Sherman. She has superhuman abilities in diplomacy and obviously, I’m not going to get ahead of a personnel process or the timing on that.

QUESTION: Can I ask a process –

QUESTION: She has superhuman abilities? (Laughter.) Does she wear a costume too? (Laughter.)

MS. PSAKI: She does not. She is a very talented and experienced diplomat. That was – I was kidding.

QUESTION: It’s not about her diplomatic skills.

QUESTION: But can you assure us that she is not going to be taking her eye off the Iran nuclear ball?

MS. PSAKI: I can assure you. And as you also all know, Deputy Secretary Burns, Senior Advisor Jake Sullivan, and there are a couple of others who are very involved in the Iran negotiations as well.

QUESTION: There’s something I don’t understand about this, Jen, and I realize this is – that it’s the White House that nominates, but Secretary – Deputy Secretary Burns, his departure, first of all, it came as no secret. The President had to talk him into staying and the Secretary did.

MS. PSAKI: Twice, yes. Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: Right. Second, you guys put out an announcement, I think it was six months ago, explicitly stating that he was going to be leaving in October. It would be one thing if the Administration had nominated somebody and the Senate was sitting on it, as it has so many other of your nominees. But it just – it doesn’t make sense to me why, when you knew he was leaving, you had at a minimum six months’ public notice about the date that he was leaving, why it was – has not been possible to come up with a plausible candidate and put them forward.

MS. PSAKI: Well, I don’t think it’s a reflection of not being able to come up with a plausible candidate. In fact, there are many talented candidates, and obviously –

QUESTION: Why haven’t they been nominated then?

MS. PSAKI: — there is a process that works through the interagency, as you know, that is not just the State Department. I’m not in a position to give you any more details on that process.

QUESTION: I didn’t think that presidential nominations were an interagency process. I thought it was the White House that decided who the President would nominate.

MS. PSAKI: We work with the White House. Obviously, the Secretary has a great deal of input as well.

QUESTION: Yeah, but I mean it’s – but it does make – like, why isn’t someone ready to be nominated? I mean, why does – I think Arshad’s question is: Why is the process only starting now? I mean –

MS. PSAKI: I wouldn’t take it as a reflection of that. There’s an on – been an ongoing process.

QUESTION: For six months?

MS. PSAKI: We’re not in a position – I’m not going to detail for you when that process started.

QUESTION: My question is, well, why isn’t the process over by now given that you’ve known about this for half a year?

MS. PSAKI: I would just assure you that we have somebody who is very capable who will be in this position as acting deputy, and when we have an announcement to make, we’ll make the announcement.

QUESTION: Would you say that the – not – I won’t – I don’t want to use the word delay, but the reason that a nomination rather than a – the reason that there was a designation as an acting instead of a nomination as a permanent is because vetting of the potential candidates is still going on?

MS. PSAKI: I’m just not going to outline it any further.

 

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Halloween Around the Foreign Service, and OMG! Folks Dress Up as State Dept Spoxes!

– Domani Spero

 

Below is a round-up of Halloween tweets around the Foreign Service.  The Embassy Canberra tweet is of Ambassador Berry dressed up as a dinosaur and his spouse, Curtis Yee dressed up as a skeleton. They’re rather cute, aren’t they?  Also, something new and disconcerting this year, at least we don’t recall this in previous years, but potential arrest exists in Jordan for wearing Halloween costumes in public.  According to Embassy Amman, the Government of Jordan recently announced that public celebrations of Halloween and public appearances in Halloween costume are prohibited.  “U.S. citizens should expect police reaction, including arrests, at any public Halloween-themed event.”  Embassy Amman advises that U.S. citizens traveling from their home to a Halloween party, or vice versa, cover up their costumes while in public or in a car. Whoa!

Also, for the first time in memory, there, apparently, are folks in Foggy Bottom who are dressing up as the State Department spokespersons this Halloween. We don’t mind adults wearing dinosaur costumes, but we draw the line on going anywhere this Halloween on ISIS/ebola get-up, and Anything reminding us that the world is falling apart.

 

U.S. Embassy Cairo, Egypt

U.S. Embassy Bridgetown, Barbados

U.S. Embassy Valletta, Malta

U.S. Embassy Singapore

U.S. Embassy France (@USEmbassyFrance)

 

U.S. Embassy Prague, Czech Republic

 

 

U.S. Embassy Canberra, Australia

U.S. Embassy Amman, Jordan

 

The State Department, people!

You very special, naughty snowflakes, real life is not disquieting enough in Foggy Bottom you had to add a gingered @statedeptspox with a mustache?  And there are now four spoxes? Four?  Waaaaaa! What the heck are we going to do with them?

Predictably, the tweeples threw spitballs on Twitter and no one added any more Happy to Halloween.

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