For obvious reasons, we are unable to share the name of the retired diplomat here but we have permission to share this with our readers.
Retired FSO: I was planning on blogging about Hillary’s emails. Title: “If I Did What Hillary Did, I’d Be In Jail.”
Me: Great! Looking forward to reading it!
Retired FSO: But I won’t.
Retired FSO: Just read 3 FAM 4170. I’m retired. I can’t believe I really need to clear my blogposts with PA. I mean, I’d use common sense, you know? I wouldn’t be divulging stuff like, say, our nuclear launch codes, or the chronically malfunctioning air conditioning system at Main State. I’d just focus on how when you become a charter member of America’s political elite, the rules don’t apply to you. That’s all.
Me: Only stuff “of department concern” needs clearance. Max timeframe for blogs, five days.
Retired FSO: But they’ve made me jittery. I don’t fancy jail. They’d probably force me to watch re-runs of “Madame Secretary” every day; let me read only the FAM! The eighth amendment doesn’t allow this kind of cruel and unusual punishment, but Mother State can be as vindictive as a Borgia dowager.
Me: Okay. So, does this mean you’ll stop blogging?
Retired FSO: Nah. Maybe I’ll just write about my pets from now on. Think anybody would read Diplo Doggy’s Adventures?
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.
On May 19, Tom Perriello, the QDDR Special Representative asked if this blog might be interested in doing a Q&A on the QDDR. On May 26, we sent him the following eight questions via email. By end of June, his QDDR office was still wrestling with the State Department’s clearance process.
On July 6, Mr. Perriello was appointed Special Envoy to the Great Lakes Region of Africa. He assured us that he’s still “pushing hard” to get the Q&A cleared and appreciate the patience. On July 10, he moved office and told us it is unlikely that he’ll get clearance before he leaves his office but that “they’re moving.” He gave us a senior advisor as a contact person and we’ve checked in with the QDDR office about once a week since then. On August 3, the senior advisor told us that the office has just been informed that given its leadership transition, “folks here would like our new Director to be able to respond to the questions that Tom answered. (Our new Deputy Director has just come on board this week, and a new Director for the office is starting in a couple of weeks.) This means that we will be delayed for a few more weeks.”
Whyohwhyohwhy? So folks, here are the questions we wanted answered. And apparently, Mr. Perriello and his staffer did try to get us some answers, and we appreciate that, but the Q&A is still snared in some cauldron in the bureaucracy as of this writing. If/When the hybrid answers get to us, we will post it here.
#1. QDDR/CSO: The 2010 QDDR transformed the Office of the Coordinator for Reconstruction and Stabilization (S/CRS) into the Bureau of Conflict and Stabilization Operations (CSO) to enhance efforts to prevent conflict, violent extremism, and mass atrocities. The 2015 QDDR says that “Some progress has been made in this area.” I understand that CSO no longer has any mission element about stabilization and stabilization operations. It also remains heavy with contractors. One could argue that the current CSO is not what was envisioned in QDDR I, so why should it continue to exists if it only duplicates other functions in the government? Can you elaborate more on what is CSOs new role going forward, and what makes it unique and distinct from the Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs’ Middle East Partnership Initiative (MEPI) and USAID’s Office of Transition Initiatives?
INSERT ANSWER IN A FEW WEEKS.
#2. Innovation and Risks: The QDDR talks about “promoting innovation.” Innovation typically requires risk. Somebody quoted you saying something like the gotcha attitude of press and Congress contributes to risk aversion from State and USAID. But risks and risk aversion also comes from within the system. I would point out as example the Center for Strategic Counterterrorism Communications previously headed by Ambassador Alberto Fernandez, and its controversial campaign “Think Again Turn Away” which afforded the USG a new way to disrupt the enemy online. Ambassador Fernandez was recently replaced by a political appointee with minimal comparable experience. It also looks like CSCC will be folded into a new entity. So how do you encourage State/USAID employees “to err on the side of engagement and experimentation, rather than risk avoidance” when there are clear bureaucratic casualties for taking on risks?
INSERT ANSWER IN A FEW WEEKS.
#3. Engagement with American Public: The QDDR says: “Make citizen engagement part of the job. Every Foreign Service employee in the Department and USAID will be required to spend time engaging directly with the American people.” Are you aware that there are over 500 blogs run by Foreign Service employees and family members that could potentially help with engagement with the American public? Isn’t it time for these blogs to be formally adopted so that they remain authentic voices of experience without their existence subjected to the good graces of their superiors here or there?
INSERT ANSWER IN A FEW WEEKS.
#4. Eligible Family Members: The State Department has talked about expanding opportunities for eligible family members for a long time now and I regret that I have not seen this promise go very far. There are a couple of things that could help eligible family members — 1) portability of security clearance, so that they need not have to wait for 6-12 months just to get clearances reinstated; and 2) internship to gain experience from functional bureaus or section overseas. Why are we not doing these? And by the way, we’re now in the 21st century and FS spouses still do not have online access to State Department resources that assist them in researching assignments and bids overseas. Employees are already afforded remote access, why is that not possible for family members? Wouldn’t taking care of people start with affording family members access to information that would help them plan their lives every three years?
INSERT ANSWER IN A FEW WEEKS.
#5. Foreign Assistance: One of the criticisms I’ve heard about QDDR is how it did not even address the reality that the United States has far too many foreign assistance programs — “an uncoordinated diaspora of offices and agencies scattered around the bureaucratic universe in D.C. from the Justice Department to the DoD to the Commerce Department to the Export-Import Bank to the Treasury Department and beyond, to the bewilderment of anyone the United States does business with overseas.” What do you say to that?
INSERT ANSWER IN A FEW WEEKS.
#6. Data Collection: Somebody called the second set of “three Ds” — data, diagnostics, and design as the “most revolutionary, disruptive element of QDDR II.” I can see development subjected to these three Ds, but how do you propose to do this with diplomacy where successful engagements are based on national interests and the human element and not necessarily data driven? Also data is only as good as its collector. How will data be collected?
INSERT ANSWER IN A FEW WEEKS.
#7. Institutional Weaknesses: Some quarters look at the State Department and points at several institutional weaknesses today: 1) the predominance of domestic 9-5 HQ staff with little or no real field experience, foreign language and other cultural insight, and 2) the rampant politicization and bureaucratic layering by short term office holders with little or no knowledge of the State Department and less interest in its relevance as a national institution. How does the QDDR address these weaknesses? How does the QDDR propose to recreate a national diplomatic service based on a common core of shared capabilities and understanding of 21st century strategic geopolitical challenges and appropriate longer term responses?
INSERT ANSWER IN A FEW WEEKS.
#8: QDDR Operation: I remember that you sent out a solicitation of ideas and suggestions for QDDR II and I’m curious at the kind of response you got. Can you also elaborate the process of putting together QDDR II? Finally, the success of QDDR II will be on implementation. Who’s leading the effort and what role will you and the QDDR office have on that? Unless I’m mistaken, the QDDR implementers are also not career officials, what happens when they depart their positions? Who will shepherd these changes to their expected completion?
INSERT ANSWER IN A FEW WEEKS.
We should note that the senior advisor who has been trying to get this Q&A cleared is also moving on and has now handed this task over to a PD advisor who assured us that they “are committed to responding as soon as possible in the midst of this transition, and we will not start from scratch.”
Folks, you don’t think there’s anything wrong with this entire clearance process, do you? Or the fact that the State Department’s office tasked with developing “a blueprint for advancing America’s interests in global security, inclusive economic growth, climate change, accountable governance and freedom for all” is actually unable to answer eight simple questions without the answers being pushed through a wringer, twice for good measure?
In March 2012, AFSA’s General Counsel Sharon Papp reported about a State Department proposal related to the “state of affairs” in the Foreign Service ….no, the other kind of affairs:
In 2011, the State Department proposed disciplinary action against a handful of employees for off-duty conduct that it had not sought to regulate in the past (i.e., extramarital affairs between consenting adults).
When we reviewed several sex-related grievance cases in 2012, we came to the conclusion that from the agency’s view, widespread notoriety is not required to demonstrate an adverse effect on the efficiency of the Service. Further, the potential for embarrassment and damaged to U.S. interests seems as weighty as actual embarrassment and damage. See: Sex, Lies, and No Videotapes, Just Cases for the Grievance Board
We recently received the following in our mailbox (edited to remove the most identifying details):
The married DCM at the embassy of a major Middle East ally slept with a married ELO whose husband worked for him. He blamed his alcoholism. As “punishment,” he was assigned as DCM at a significant high risk/high threat post. Next up? One of the top jobs at an embassy located in a Western European country. Where’s the accountability at State? Is it only the little people that are taken to task?
Well, that is an excellent question given another allegation we’ve received about another front office occupant involved in domestic violence overseas (another story we hope to write another day).
Extra-marital affairs, of course, are not mentioned anywhere in the Foreign Affairs Manual but below is what the regs say on sexual activity (pdf) and what constitutes, “notoriously disgraceful conduct.” Both sections were last updated in 2012, and applies to Foreign Service employees at State and USAID:
3 FAM 4139.1 Sexual Activity (CT:PER-673; 04-27-2012) (Uniform State/USAID) (Applies to Foreign Service Employees)
The agencies recognize that, in our society, there are considerable differences of opinion in matters of sexual conduct, and that there are some matters which are of no concern to the U.S. Government. However, serious suitability concerns are raised by sexual activity by an individual which reasonably may be expected to hamper the effective fulfillment by the agencies of any of their duties and responsibilities, or which may impair the individual’s position performance by reason of, for example, the possibility of blackmail, coercion, or improper influence. The standards of conduct enumerated in 3 FAM 4138 are of particular relevance in determining whether the conduct in question threatens the mission of the employing agency or the individual’s effectiveness.
3 FAM 4139.14 Notoriously Disgraceful Conduct (CT:PER-673; 04-27-2012) (Uniform State/USAID) (Applies to Foreign Service Employees)
Notoriously disgraceful conduct is that conduct which, were it to become widely known, would embarrass, discredit, or subject to opprobrium the perpetrator, the Foreign Service, and the United States. Examples of such conduct include but are not limited to the frequenting of prostitutes, engaging in public or promiscuous sexual relations, spousal abuse, neglect or abuse of children, manufacturing or distributing pornography, entering into debts the employee could not pay, or making use of one’s position or immunity to profit or to provide favor to another (see also 5 CFR 2635) or to create the impression of gaining or giving improper favor. Disqualification of a candidate or discipline of an employee, including separation for cause, is warranted when the potential for opprobrium or contempt should the conduct become public knowledge could be reasonably expected to affect adversely the person’s ability to perform his or her own job or the agency’s ability to carry out its responsibilities. Evaluators must be careful to avoid letting personal disapproval of such conduct influence their decisions.
One might argue that an extra-marital affair between two consenting adults is a private matter. And in most cases, it is; who wants to be the sex police? But. If the allegations are true, can you really consider it private, particularly in a case that involves the second highest ranking public official at an embassy and an entry level officer (ELO) assigned under his command? Even if the DCM is not the ELO’s rating or reviewing officer — how does this not affect the proper functioning of the mission? Can anyone exclude undue influence, potential favoritism or preferential treatment? Which section chief would give a bad performance review to a junior officer who slept with the section chief’s own reviewing officer? Even if not widely known outside the Foreign Service, can anyone make a case that this is not disgraceful or notorious? For real life consequences when a junior officer has a “special relationship” and “unrestricted access” to an embassy’s front office occupant, read the walking calamity illustrated in this case FSGBNo.2004-061 (pdf).
Look … if widespread notoriety is not required to demonstrate an adverse effect on the efficiency of the Service for the lower ranks, why should it be a requirement for the upper ranks? It’s not? Well, how else can we explain a good number of senior officials who allegedly looked the other way?
Can’t you see I’m busy? Besides I did not/did not see anything!
We went and looked up the Foreign Service Grievance Board cases related extra-marital affairs or related to notoriously disgraceful conduct. Here are some quick summaries.
In 2011, the State Department handed down a 30-day suspension to a junior officer for “off-color and offensive emails about women he dated, which were widely disseminated” after his private email account was hacked. State said this constituted “notoriously disgraceful conduct.” (pdf)
Another case in 2011 involves an FSO who was told by the State Department: “Given the nature of Foreign Service life, you are aware that you are on duty 24/7. These multiple extramarital affairs involving sexual relations with an estimated 13 women during two separate assignments overseas without your spouse’s knowledge show poor judgment for a Foreign Service Officer.” (pdf) (note: two separate assignments could mean 4-6 years; untenured tours at 2 years, tenured tours typically at 3 years).
A Diplomatic Security (DS) Special Agent was suspended for three days for Notoriously Disgraceful Conduct arising from a domestic violence incident with his spouse. (pdf)
A married FP-04 Information Management Specialist (IMS), received a 20-day suspension, subsequently reduced to 10 days, for improper personal conduct and failure to follow regulations. The employee served at a critical threat post, and admitted having an extramarital relationship with a local embassy employee as well as engaging in sexual relations with two “massage techs.” (pdf)
An untenured FP-04 Diplomatic Security (DS) agent was disciplined for poor judgment and improper personal conduct. The employee brought a woman to his hotel room and engaged in sex with her. Although the employee voluntarily disclosed the incident and asserted that the woman was not a prostitute, the Department contends that the incident at a minimum gave the appearance of engaging in prostitution and as such violated 3 FAM 4139.14 or Notoriously Disgraceful Conduct. (pdf)
A married FS-02 Information Management Officer (IMO) with seventeen years in the Department, with numerous awards and no disciplinary record, was found in his personal vehicle that was parked in an isolated area, and in a dazed condition with injuries suggesting he had been assaulted. He stated that during the prior night he had picked up a woman unknown to him, shared wine with her while driving, pulled over to the side of the road and then had no recollection of what followed, presumably because she had introduced a substance into his drink. During the ensuing investigation, the employee revealed he had picked up four or five women on previous occasions over a four-month period and had sex with them without the knowledge of his wife. As a result, the Department proposed a ten-day suspension based on the charges of Poor Judgment and Notoriously Disgraceful Conduct. (pdf)
An FP-04 Diplomatic Security (DS) agent was given a five-day suspension without pay on the charge of Improper Personal Conduct. The charge is based on an incident in a criterion country in which employee (an unmarried person) engaged in consensual sex with a local woman and gave her $60.00 after the sexual activity had concluded. There was no evidence that the woman was a prostitute and there were no witnesses to their encounter. The employee self-reported the incident immediately to his supervisors, who took no disciplinary action. Eighteen months later, the Department opened an investigation and eventually suspended the employee. The deciding official concluded that employee’s conduct had violated two regulations governing behavior subject to discipline: 3 FAM 4139.1 (Sexual Activity) and 3 FAM 4139.14 (Notoriously Disgraceful Conduct). (pdf)
We have so far been unable to locate FSGB cases of “notoriously disgraceful conduct” involving senior Foreign Service officials; certainly nothing at the DCM or COM level. It could be that 1) our search function is broken; 2) the folks are so risk-aversed and discreet that there are no cases involving a single one of them, or 3) potential such cases were swept under the rug, nothing makes it to the public records of the Foreign Service Grievance Board.
Joseph Cassidy served 25 years in the Foreign Service. He joined the Service in 1989 and previously served in Georgetown, Nairobi, Windhoek, OSCE, USUN and Baghdad. He also served at IO, DRL, the WH, and as Special Assistant to P, INR and the Executive Secretariat. His most immediate assignment prior to retirement this past spring is Director of Policy and Regional and Functional Organizations at the Bureau of International Organizations. He pens 10 fixes for America’s ailing State Department in Foreign Policy’s Argument column.
Here are the best lines, in no particular order, from his FP piece; in technicolor font, of course, because, why not?
1. “[I]t’s not clear what authority remains for State, other than delivering the diplomatic mail.”
2. “The regional bureau assistant secretaries occupy sixth floor offices beneath the secretary, and the functional bureau assistant secretaries fight like cats in a bag for the next best real estate.”
Image from xlestatx72.tumblr.com via buzzfeed
3. “There are certain exceptions to the rule that upper floors are closer to God (including some temporarily semi-powerful special envoys slumming it on the lower floors), but employees below the sixth floor can’t help but feel like passengers berthed in steerage on the Titanic.”
4. “This centralization of diplomatic interactions by senior officials who are not subject matter experts is a particular temptation at State because high-level diplomacy is, well, fun.”
5. “It is no wonder that senior officials are reticent, even if unconsciously, to devolve responsibility down, or that too many “kiss-up, kick-down” style mid-level managers covet that high-level life and manage as if their subordinates exist only to make them look good.”
6. “Limiting their numbers, and cutting the large number of semi-independent special envoys, can help restore a more sustainable hierarchy, instead of what we have now, which is like fielding a soccer team with nine strikers clustered around the opponent’s goal, and a goalie and single defender lonely in the backfield.”
7. “If the intent is to simultaneously demonstrate haughty disdain and weaselly incompetence, the midday press briefing ritual — badgering reporters cornering a backpedaling, defensive State spokesperson — is the perfect vehicle.”
YouTube is littered with fine examples
8. “[D]ecisions by the sorting hat don’t always match an officer’s interests and experience. And, like trying to move from Hufflepuff to Ravenclaw, changing one’s cone can be as unpleasant as the semiofficial department term for it: “conal rectification.”
9. “The department does have senior leaders with broad talents. But we also have too many who write beautifully but couldn’t organize a grade school lunch line. Others can speak authoritatively, but lack reporting experience beyond writing an annual holiday card, or can balance a budget but possess diplomatic skills more likely to produce enemies than allies for the United States.”
10. “Gryffindor’s quidditch team didn’t operate on the principle of “One Team, Multiple Systems” and neither should State.”
11. “Like the pack dogs in the movie Up constantly distracted by squirrels, too many senior officials spend too much time preoccupied with the urgent rather than the important.”
12. “State’s organizational culture is antiquate and inefficient, concentrating decisionmaking in the hands of a few extremely overburdened top officials.”
Charles A. Ray retired from the Foreign Service in 2012 after a 30-year career that included ambassadorships to Cambodia and Zimbabwe. Ambassador Ray also served as deputy assistant secretary of defense for prisoners of war/missing personnel affairs, deputy chief of mission in Freetown and consul general in Ho Chi Minh City, among many other assignments. Prior to joining the Foreign Service, Amb. Ray spent 20 years in the U.S. Army. He was the first chair of AFSA’s Committee on the Foreign Service Profession and Ethics, and does freelance writing and speaking. He blogs at http://charlesaray.blogspot.com; his Amazon author page is here. Below is an excerpt from FSJ:
Via Speaking Out, Foreign Service Journal, July/August 2015:
If the Foreign Service is to adequately serve the American people now and in the future, it is imperative that it become the professional service intended by legislation over the past 91 years. This is not an easy task. It requires political will from elected leadership to provide the necessary direction and resources. It also requires action on the part of every member of the Foreign Service.
Here are some of the actions I believe are necessary.
Establish a system of professional education for the Foreign Service. Develop a long-term academic training program in diplomacy—either at the Foreign Service Institute or through a cooperative agreement with a university or universities in the Washington, D.C., area—designed to prepare members of the Foreign Service for senior diplomatic responsibilities.
There should be training opportunities post-tenuring and at the mid-level designed to increase individual skills in primary career tracks, while also offering education in diplomacy and leadership.
Every member of the Foreign Service should be required to complete a year of academic study relevant to his or her career track before being eligible for promotion to the Senior Foreign Service.
The department should create a true “training float” of 10 to 15 percent above the level required to staff all authorized positions, to allow Foreign Service personnel to take long-term training without posts and bureaus having to suffer long gaps. This will require a commitment by the department’s leadership not to use these positions to meet future manpower requirements—a practice that consumed the two previous authorizations.
Ensure opportunities for professional development through assignments. In coordination with the White House, the department should ensure that an adequate number of senior positions (assistant secretary, ambassador, deputy assistant secretary, etc.) are designated to be filled by Foreign Service personnel.
Priority should also be given to assignment of Foreign Service personnel to lower-level positions, such as regional office directors and desk officers, as much as possible.
Reconcile the differences between Foreign Service and Civil Service personnel systems. The department must recognize that while both are essential to the success of our mission, the Foreign Service and Civil Service personnel systems are inherently different.
Attempts to obliterate the differences benefit neither, and do not contribute to national security in any meaningful way. Action needs to be taken to improve career prospects within both systems.
Consideration should be given to creating a position of Director of Human Resources responsible for Civil Service personnel, and having the Director General of the Foreign Service responsible only for Foreign Service personnel, as envisioned by the 1946 Act that created the position.
In addition, the Director General should be given more authority over discipline and career development of Foreign Service personnel.
Establish a formal code of ethics for the Foreign Service. An essential element of any career personnel system is a mechanism to provide basic standards and rules and to protect it from political abuse.
The American Foreign Service Association established a Committee on the Foreign Service Profession and Ethics in 2012 with the primary mission to develop such a code. I had the honor of being the first chair of the PEC and am happy to report that significant progress has been made on this during the past three years.
Working with the Institute of Global Ethics, the PEC conducted a worldwide survey of Foreign Service personnel and then began creating a draft code. Information on the PEC’s work can be found on AFSA’s website at www.afsa.org/ethics. Details on the results of the survey on professionalism and ethics can be found at www.bit.ly/1L1LoJq.
CorridorRep.com’s site administrator is Foreign Service Officer Mark D. Perry. (Note: he is not the Mark Perry on LinkedIn). We requested a short bio and here is what he sent us:
Mark D. Perry is a consular-coned Foreign Service Officer who has served overseas in Monterrey, Cairo, and Lima. He is currently working in a domestic assignment at the Buffalo Passport Agency. He enjoys chocolate and looking for ways to make life better through the use of technology. Prior to joining the service, he worked in corporate HR for Tyco International, Ltd.
We cannot give you firsthand assessment of the site but readers writing this blog seems split between “this is great, yay!” or this is a terrible idea.
Mr. Perry told us via email that he has been thinking about this idea for years and floated it to a number of trusted friends. “Some said wow this is great and others said you are crazy,” he writes.
Another feedback we got is along the line of — hey, it only took a minute to figure out who runs this site; if he’s not good at protecting himself … what about my information?
We asked Mr. Perry about that and he explained that he created the LLC not to hide his identity, but to provide some additional legal protection. That is true enough as LLC owners are protected from personal liability for business debts and claims.
We also asked about some readers’ concerns on data security, and here is his response:
I can understand the concerns about data security but I think the potential benefits outweigh these risks. Anything posted here could also be overheard in a cafe or sent by personal email to a friend or already on someone’s Facebook page. All of these are also easy targets for collection. This is nothing new. The site might make it marginally easier but I really do not see much risk in that aspect.
One reader asked about an “opt-out” so we also put that question to Mr. Perry.
[T]here really is not [a] way to prevent someone from rating you. Preventing someone from being rated would be technically close to impossible. Anyone can delete or edit the ratings they have entered for others but could not delete ratings from others about themselves. Anyone can choose not to visit the site so I guess that is one way one could opt out.
The site itself says that “you now have access to honest 360 reviews.” One of the screencaps on the site is a section that says “Will work again with You” with the following options: 1) Supervisor, 2) Subordinate, 3) Colleague, 4) Other and 5) All. We should note that the State Department has been using the 360 degree feedback for years primarily as a placement tool during the assignments process, and as far as we know, not as a developmental tool.See update below.
So think Yelp, Trip Advisor, Amazon and other online rating sites out there, except that the employee is now the rated brand/product. Or perhaps the closest ones would be the student rating sites for teachers/professors performance. Online reviews are popular and have grown prevalent in recent years. There are even online reviews written by ex-convicts! These online reviews have also grown controversial, of course, with some allegations of manipulation (and some real) orchestrated by companies to trick potential customers. The Harvard Business review last year, however notes that “voracious information-seeking has become deeply ingrained in many consumers, and we can envision no scenario in which they will see traditional marketing as a better provider of product information.”
In some ways, corridorrep.com is probably more like glassdoor.com, a career community that depends on everyone being able to share an inside look at a company they know. Corridorrep.com depends on everyone being able to share an inside look about each other; it’s success certainly depends on the participation of enough individuals rating each other. Its stated goal is to have 5,000 reviews. Since we posted about the site, the online reviews have gone from 26 to 83, averaging about six reviews a day in the last 9 days. That’s not a significant number at this time but if the number of posts continue at this rate, we estimate that the site will reach its goal in slightly over a couple of years. The question now is how many of the Foreign Service’s 13,908 employees are willing to participate? Will Civil Service employees and Foreign Service Nationals, who all have state.gov emails also participate?
We understand that the site has become fairly controversial within the FS community. We are sure there are many more questions out there for corridorrep.com. We have offered to host a Q&A at our forum and Mr. Perry has accepted the invitation. He will answer your questions on Saturday, July 18, 7pm EST. This forum is set as “open” so non-registered members of the forum and readers of the blog will be able to post questions of interest. You may post your questions ahead of time here: http://forums.diplopundit.net/?forum=457155.
See you at the forum!
Update: We received the following nugget from an FSO with clarification on current use of 360 at State; our correspondent is not sure if there is a similar process for the Civil Service:
“State’s mandatory leadership and management training that everyone in the Foreign Service has to take each time they are promoted to the next level (at least for promotions to 02, 01 and into the SFS, not sure about below that) has a 360 component. You have to submit 10-15 names to review you anonymously, inlcuding subordinates, peers and bosses (the bosses are not anonymous). The results and comments are shared with you and the FSI instructors and I’ve found it quite useful. You also do one for yourself and seeing the similarities or differences between your self-image of your strengths and weaknesses and how others view you is very instructive.”
A Consular Officer also sent us the following details on the use of 360s at State/CA:
The Bureau of Consular Affairs also uses 360s as a development tool. Its CBAT program collects 360s for bidders and shares the report of the assessors’ input with the bidder. There are fewer questions than on the leadership training 360s mentioned above, but the CBAT does ask “would you work with this employee again?” and offers free text fields for assessors to say whatever they want. In general, the new (2 years old) CBAT process has been received pretty well, although I think some officers have been surprised by frank feedback. And on the leadership training you mentioned, that is also open to Civil Service employees. I think it is mandatory at GS-13/14/15.
Every spring, our Foreign Service folks get a stressful season added to their lives. It’s called the EER Season. It’s when most people in the Foreign Service must do their Employee Evaluation Review, their annual report cards. It’s like doing your own tax return. It’s painful. People hate doing it. But it must be done, and done well, if folks want that promotion.
One FSO once quipped about the wisdom of “scheduling EER due dates at the same time as your tax returns; at least you’re combining as much pain and suffering into as short a time as possible.” Another describes it as “a period of several weeks during which the entire service withdraws to semi-hibernation in their offices to produce and push around the mountain of paper that is the annual Employee Evaluation Review.” The Daily Demarche calls it the Creative Writing Season at the State Department, writing, “It is only with slight exaggeration [they] I say some reports use phrases like “when Dick is not walking on water he is busy turning it into wine.”
There are tips and tricks online on EER preparation, see this and this, both written by FS-bloggers, who by the way, are no longer blogging. Also read this old post from Life After Jerusalem, it’ll crack you up.
An old adage is repeated in the Foreign Service Journal: “The EER system doesn’t work, so all we can do is gossip to keep bad people from getting good jobs.”
We’ve heard it said often enough that the EER gets you the promotion, but your corridor reputation gets you your next job. Is that still true?
In a perfect world, the performance evaluation report should be the most useful tool in getting an individual, as they say, on the right bus. But that’s not the case in the Foreign Service. The Foreign Service where the entrance requirement is proudly based on merit, actually bases its assignment process on who you know, and what’s often called “corridor reputation,” instead of ability and talent.
So it was only a matter of time… and bang! This happened.
As I have worked as an FSO for the better part of a decade, I have experienced a lot of different types of employees. Like many others, I have often wondered how certain people got promoted and why certain others did not. I have pondered the ridiculousness of the current EER system and its unnatural obsession with style over substance. How many times do I really need to roll it back to step 4 to make a comma edit and should that really sink my chance at a promotion? I have wished that I would have known going in that my new boss would be horrible, and I have wished I could tell the world by boss was awesome.
Eventually, I came to the conclusion that Department needs a place to discuss the performance of people. It has to be outside official channels and done in a way so others feel like they can comment without reprisal. After this realization, a long period of denial, and more than a few sleepless nights, the site http://www.corridorrep.com was born. It is limited only to people with a state.gov email address and does not pretend to be any type of official or statistically valid tool. It is just a forum for openly discussing the performance of others. The hope is that by providing visible access to one’s corridor reputation, the good performers get publically recognized and the not so good ones know where they can improve. Is this risky? Yes. Will people be offended? Probably. Will I get sued? Maybe. Is it needed? I think so.
Regular folks who get frustrated long enough with the process long acknowledged to be broken will occasionally roll the dice.
The site’s stated goal is to rate 5,000 employees. It has 26 ratings right now. We are unable to read the full reports but one of those “Recently Liked” under “Poor Performer” starts with “It was the longest tour of my life…” Another one under “Officer Bob” starts with “It was a dark and stormy…”
In order to use the site, users “must provide” their state.gov email address. “This is only used to ensure that Department employees can access the site. Your confirmation email will be sent to this address and once you confirm your account none of your activity will be traceable to it.” The site says that registration is limited to U.S. Department of State employees at this time, but may be extended to include other agencies as determined by the site administrator.
Note: Thanks for all your tips. Since the owner of the LLC who operates this new site has not self-identify as site administrator of CorridorRep.com, we will not identify that individual in this blog at this time. We have reached out to the site administrator and will update when we hear more.
This is a case of a DS Agent charged with lack of candor and failure to follow regulations for incidents that took place in 2010 related to his PTSD. The State Department issued a final decision to suspend the agent for 12 days. According to the ROI, the deciding official at the agency level grievance “also considered the mitigating factors and gave grievant credit for having no past formal disciplinary record and a satisfactory work history. The deciding official also noted grievant’s potential for rehabilitation, while recognizing that grievant clearly was embarrassed by his diagnosis of PTSD, and feared that he might be stigmatized by the label, or that he might even lose his job with the Department.”
A couple things striking about this case. Following grievant’s military service in Iraq in 2006, he started having panic attacks and severe anxiety, for which he was prescribed several medications – none of which he says worked very well. His symptoms became worse over time. In 2009 he was diagnosed as having Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). The incidents that ultimately led to the two charges occurred in November 2010; yet the Department did not propose disciplinary action until April 24, 2013 – a span of 29 months. The ROI does not explain the delay.
Grievant reportedly denied during the interviews with that he had been diagnosed with PTSD, saying instead that he had been treated for anxiety and panic attacks. And yet, according to the ROI, grievant avers that “he discussed his PTSD diagnosis in considerable detail with the DS investigators, and authorized release of his medical records.”
Grievant admits he did not comply with Department regulations requiring him to report that he had been prescribed psychiatric medications, but claims he was unaware of the policy requiring him to do so. He claims that he was not alone in being unaware of this requirement, as many other DS officers to his knowledge were also unaware of the regulation.
Since grievant is a DS agent, the Department has also cited 12 FAM Exhibit 023 2.5, its Deadly Force and Firearms Policy (which we can no longer read online, as it’s now behind the firewall). 12 FAM Exhibit 023 section 2.5 12 FAH-9 H-030 appears specific to prescription medication. The State Department showed, and the FSGB agreed that there are no similar cases that presented the same set of circumstances as in this grievant’s case.
The Board held that grievance be granted in part and denied in part. The Board remanded the case to the Department to consider an appropriate penalty in view of their decision not to sustain two specifications of one of the two charges.
Grievant faces two charges – Lack of Candor and Failure to Follow Regulations – that were leveled against him because of statements he made during a Department investigation about incidents that took place while he was in the U.S. on leave in 2010. He is a Diplomatic Security Special Agent who was admitted to the hospital on two occasions (on consecutive days) after he drank alcohol heavily and took an unknown quantity of prescription medications after he became upset about the breakup of his engagement to be married. The investigation revealed discrepancies between the information grievant gave to investigators and that found in his medical records. Records show that grievant suffers from PTSD and that he had not reported this fact to the Department. The investigation report claims that grievant denied during interviews that he had ever been diagnosed with PTSD or that he was ever in a treatment program to address the condition. His records also show that he had been prescribed several psychiatric medications, and contained no evidence that grievant had reported to the Department either the PTSD diagnosis, or the prescription medicines which are required to be reported under the agency’s Deadly Force and Firearms policy. The Department’s final decision provided for a 12-day suspension without pay.
Grievant denies the majority of the specifications cited in the charges. He claims to have discussed his PTSD diagnosis in detail with the investigators and avers that he responded candidly to all of the questions posed to him during two DS interviews. He admits that he did not report the prescription medicines, but argues that he was unaware he needed to do so. Grievant also claims that the charges are untimely, having been brought after a very long delay – nearly 2 1⁄2 years after the incidents, and that the delay has prejudiced his ability to present his case. He claims to have been particularly disadvantaged in that he is unable to find witnesses who could corroborate his positions or shed light on the quantity of medications he took prior to the 2010 incidents. He also argues that the proposed penalty, in any case, is overly harsh in light of penalties the Department has imposed for like offenses. He requests that those charges/specifications the Department is unable to establish should be overturned, and the 12-day suspension should be mitigated.
Click on the image or the link below to read ROI in pdf file. The file is redacted and originally published online by the Foreign Service Grievance Board.
FSGB Case 2014-020 – 04-29-2015 – B |DS Agent – PTSD Case (click image to read in pdf)
The regs apparently say that “a DSS Special Agent who is taking prescription medication to notify his supervisor and submit a medical certificate or other administratively acceptable documentation of the prescription … to the Domestic Programs Division of the Office of Medical Services immediately after beginning the medication.” We don’t know what happens to DS agents who self report as required by regulations. Are their USG-issued weapons removed? Are they subject to reassignment? Is there a perception that this is an embarrassment?
Given that many Diplomatic Security personnel have now done multiple tours to war zones and high threat posts, is this really an isolated case of not self-reporting both the PTSD diagnosis and the use of prescription medication?
We sent this individual to Iraq in 2006. He came back with unseen wounds. And here he is in 2015, still fighting his battle. What can the State Department do to make employees with potential PTSD less fearful of being stigmatized in coming forward and acknowledging they need help? What can the Bureau of Diplomatic Security do more for its agents? How can this be made into a less lonely fight?
We have it in good authority that there is now a hopeless new Sounding Board topic that says, “Please don’t share the Sounding Board with Al Kamen.”
C’mon, folks. Don’t do this. People should be able to talk freely about rodents and critters with whoever they want, even Al. Like the song goes … ♫ let it go, let it go, don’t hold back, it’s only about the damn rats ♬
Oh, but there’s something else, please cover your eyes if you don’t want to see this but … last year somebody unearthed a Mike Causey column from the Washington Post that talks about … you guess it, rats. The Ghost of DC says this was published on October 7th, 1968.
But there’s good news. An average rat’s life span is 2-3 years. The bad news? Apparently, according to Discover Magazine, a female rat can mate as many as 500 times with various males during a six-hour period of receptivity—a state she experiences about 15 times per year. Thus a pair of brown rats can produce as many as 2,000 descendants in a year if left to breed unchecked. See 20 Things You Didn’t Know About… Rats
Ugh! So, clearly, the old plan from 1968 still works: the rats must be stopped now before the Government gets bogged down in another unwanted ground war. Sign-up sheets over there.