Notoriously Disgraceful Conduct: Is it only the little people who are taken to task?

Posted: 12:48 am EDT
Updated: 3:07 pm EDT

 

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)

So —

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.

Which.Is.It? Will accept breadcrumbs …

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The Best Lines From “10 Ways to Fix America’s Ailing State Department”

Posted: 1:56 am EDT

 

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

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.”

via Canadian FS Problems

via Canadian FS Problems

13.  “Every large organization should be on guard against groupthink among key leaders and morale problems stemming from their isolation from average employees.”

14. “We need to unlearn the harmful axiom that only senior State officials with broad mandates can and should think strategically.”

Read the full article at FP here (registration maybe required).

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Some reaction via Twitter:

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Amb. Charles Ray: America Needs a Professional Foreign Service (via FSJ)

Posted: 12:18 am EDT

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.

Read in full here.

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We’re Hosting a Q&A With FSO Mark D. Perry of CorridorRep.com — Saturday, July 18, 7pm EST

Posted: 2:23 pm EDT
Updated: 8:41 pm EDT
Updated: 12:43 pm EDT

 

On July 7, I did a blogpost about CorridorRep.com, a website owned by Transparency In Government Performance, LLC. (See “Corridor Reputation” Gets a Makeover, And OMG …. It’s Now Online!)

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.

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Related posts:

 

 

“Corridor Reputation” Gets a Makeover, And OMG …. It’s Now Online!

Posted: 11:15 am  PDT
Updated: July 8, 5:28 pm PDT

 

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.

We received the following note:

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.

According to its Terms of Use, http://www.corridorrep.com is owned by Transparency in Government Performance, LLC, registered out of Arizona. Its intended users are “employees of the U.S. State Department and other government agencies as determined by the site administrator. The purpose of this site is to provide mechanism for rating employees based on a 5-star rating system.  It will allow users to view their own individual rating, as well as highlight top performers.  Users will access the site to see how they have been rated and to rate others.”

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.

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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.  

No Comparator Case For DS Agent With PTSD — Failure to Follow Regs, Lack of Candor Charges Came 2 1⁄2 Years Late

Posted: 3:12 am  EDT

 

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.

Summary:

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.

2014-020 - 04-29-2015 - B - Interim Decision_Redacted-2-02

FSGB Case 2014-020 – 04-29-2015 – B |DS Agent – PTSD Case                         (click image to read in pdf)

2014-020 – 04-29-2015 – B – Interim Decision_Redacted-2

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?

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New Sounding Board Topic: “Please don’t share the Sounding Board with Al Kamen.”

Posted: 2:53 am EDT

 

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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.

1968! That was before all of you were born.

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.

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Center for Strategic Counterterrorism Communications and Bureaucratic Bang! Bang!

Posted: 1:18 am EDT

 

“The fate of the CSCC just underscores the difficulty of experimentation in government — there is zero tolerance for risk and no willingness to let a program evolve. […] “It’s easier to do the same stuff over and over and wring your hands instead of investing resources and having patience.”

Daniel Benjamin
Former State Department CounterTerrorism Chief
Source: WaPo in In a propaganda war against ISIS, the U.S. tried to play by the enemy’s rules | May 8, 2015

 

Video clip via WaPo:

FOIA and Clinton Aides: Some Shock and Awe at the Foggiest Bottom

Posted: 1:02 am EDT

 

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That WSJ article above has this to say about the Keystone-related documents subject to FOIA and the rapid dominance doctrine in the halls of Foggy Bottom:

The Keystone documents Ms. Mills objected to were all either held back or redacted, the same person said. After Ms. Mills began scrutinizing documents, the State Department’s disclosure of records related to Keystone fell off sharply, documents that include a court filing show.

Two others with knowledge of State Department records procedures said political appointees were allowed greater say than the FOIA experts thought was appropriate. It was hard to push back against the political staff, one said.

The pipeline project was so sensitive that an expert on FOIA was invited to a State Department policy meeting to advise on how to prospectively shield documents from disclosure, such as by marking them as involving the “deliberative process,” said a person who attended.

That’s the infamous exemption for the “deliberative process,” otherwise known as the “b-5.” In early May, the Senate Judiciary Committee held a hearing on “Ensuring an Informed Citizenry: Examining the Administration’s Efforts to Improve Open Government.” Joyce Barr, the Assistant Secretary for Administration, as well as Chief FOIA Officer for the Department of State was one of the witnesses and made news for reportedly saying that Secretary Clinton’s use of a private email account for official business was “not acceptable.” Too late much?

One other witness at that hearing was Thomas S. Blanton, the Director of the National Security Archive at George Washington University. Below is from his prepared statement on the “b-5″ exemption, also known as the “withhold it if you want to” exemption.

One reason why FOIA does not work is the abuse of the most discretionary exemption in the FOIA, the fifth or “b-5” on deliberative process. This exemption also includes attorney-client privilege, and every lawyer in this room shivers at the idea of infringing on that. Yet, I would point out that the Presidential Records Act dating back to 1978 has eliminated the b-5 exemption as a reason for withholding records 12 years after the President in question leaves office. Through the PRA, we have conducted a 35-year experiment with putting a sunset on the deliberative process exemption, and the facts show us no damage has been done with a 12-year sunset. Yes, some embarrassment, such as the junior White House lawyer who vetted (and rejected) a certain Stephen Breyer for a Supreme Court nomination back in the 1990s. But no new spate of lawsuits. No re-opened litigation. No damage to the public interest. Embarrassment cannot become the basis for restricting open government. In fact, embarrassment makes the argument for opening the records involved.

According to Mr. Blanton, the Justice Department’s use of the “withhold it if you want to” exemption is at an all-time high this year, invoked 82,770 times to withhold records that citizens requested. The same exemption used by the CIA to withhold volume 5 of a 30-year-old internal draft history of the disaster at the Bay of Pigs. This is the same exemption used by the FBI to censor most of the 5,000 pages it recently “released” on the use of the Stingray technology to locate individuals’ cell phones.  Apparently, this is the exemption that the administration also used to keep the Office of Legal Counsel final opinions out of the public domain according to Mr. Blanton.

So, are we terribly shocked yet?

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Terry Newell on “Speaking Truth to Power: Moral Courage in Public Service”

Posted: 4:43 am EDT

 

Where: AFSA headquarters, 2101 E St NW
When: Wednesday, May 20, 2015, from 11:30 to 1:15 p.m.
RSVP: Please click here to RSVP or email: events@afsa.org

Via afsa.org:

Dr. Terry Newell will address – through cases, exercises, and practical tips – not only how to speak truth to power, but how to keep your job when doing so, as well as what leaders need to do to foster the moral courage needed in their organizations.

Foreign and Civil Service members best serve when they voice their concerns about a policy or practice that fails to advance the mission and goals of their agency or the U.S. government. Leaders also need to encourage professional criticism or, as it is sometimes called, constructive dissent. AFSA has long supported constructive dissent through its awards program.

Dr. Newell spent nearly forty years in the federal government including distinguished service in the U.S. Air Force, the Department of Education, and the Office of Personnel Management. Since leaving his last position as Dean of Faculty at the Federal Executive Institute, he has concentrated on writing and teaching about ethical leadership in government.  His books include The Trusted Leader: Building the Relationships That Make Government Work; Statesmanship, Character and Leadership in America; and – most recently – To Serve with Honor: Doing the Right Thing in Government.  This book is filled with case studies, checklists, and stories of exemplary public servants, offering a practical, readable roadmap for acting ethically.

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