Suspending Embassy Operations: Post and Bureau Not Told, and FOIA Redaction Fail

Posted: 1:12 am EDT
Updated: 5:28 pm EDT

 

On February 25, 2011, the State Department announced the suspension of U.S. Embassy operations in Libya (see State Dept Suspends US Embassy Operations in #Libya, Withdraws All Personnel).  What we didn’t know then but we know now, thanks to the Clinton email dump, is that just a few days before that, neither the embassy nor the bureau was aware that they were suspending operations.

February 22, 2011 09:50 PM – HRC aide Jake Sullivan sent an email (partially redacted with FOIA b(5) code) to Janet A. Sanderson, the Deputy Assistant Secretary Bureau of Near East Affairs, with subject line “Suspending embassy ops” and asking “Where do we stand?”

February 22, 2011 10:14 PM – Sanderson emailed Sullivan:

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Feb 22 22:18:23 2011 (10:18 PM) – Sanderson also sent an email to M/Patrick Kennedy and Kathleen T. Austin-Ferguson, M’s Executive Assistant:

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February 22, 2011 10:37 PM – Kennedy responded to Sanderson saying he “talked to cheryl and tom” and that “they are also unaware.”“Checking with Secretary. At this moment we are NOT suspending. Fully agree not possible to do tomorrow and also risks libyan blow back.”  Email must be referencing HRC Chief of Staff Cheryl Mills and Deputy Secretary Tom Nides.

Embassy Tripoli eventually suspended operations on February 25, three days after the start of this email chain.  These emails are part of the Clinton email dump and it shows just how messed up is the FOIA at the agency.

On Feb 22 22:40:17 2011 (10:40 PM) – Sanderson responded to the Kennedy email, adding Ronald Schlicher to the email chain. Ambassador Schlicher was previously assigned to Cyprus, and also served as a DAS at the Bureau of Near East Affairs. We are not sure what was his position in 2011, but he must have been attached to NEA to be looped in in this exchange. Ambassador Schlicher was Principal DAS at the NEA bureau, and he would have been Sanderson’s boss at the time.  Here’s a clip from that email:

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Now, take a look at the email below with the same time stamp and same addresses, released as a separate email by the FOIA office at State:

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Why, they’re the same email, except that they were released as separate documents, and in the second document, the email is redacted under the b(5) FOIA exemption, also known in the FOIA community as the “Withhold It Because You Want To” Exemption.  “Yael” must have been Yael Lempert who was assigned to Tripoli as consular section chief in 2009 and featured in the NYT here for the release of four New York Times journalists in 2011 in Libya.  She may have been the acting DCM at the time of the suspension of operations.  “Joan” is presumably Joan Polaschik who was DCM and then CDA of Embassy Tripoli. She is currently the U.S. Ambassador to Algeria.

Here is what DOJ says about the b(5) exemption:

Exemption 5 of the FOIA protects “inter-agency or intra-agency memorandums or letters which would not be available by law to a party other than an agency in litigation with the agency.” (1) The courts have construed this somewhat opaque language, with its sometimes confusing threshold requirement, (2) to “exempt those documents, and only those documents that are normally privileged in the civil discovery context.” (3)

Here is what we are not supposed to read according to the FOIA ninjas, except that one of them forgot the Sharpie:

“I have just talked to post (Yael).She and Joan will work to reduce staff and send more out on ferry. Shd get down to 10- 12. She fully understands need for limited staff to stay to deal with community. Believes likely remainder will be position to leave in few days. Says situation is “worse than Baghdad in 2004-2005 “

No matter how you read the above passage, it is difficult to make the case that it fits the b(5) exemption unless you’re thinking of the “withhold it because you want to” exemption threshold.

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Emails in full released via FOIA below:

Suspending Ops Libya – February 22, 2011 11:05 PM: https://cloudup.com/cAlO_WHTfpc

Suspending Ops Libya February 23, 2011 7:59 AM: https://cloudup.com/cD33FlF7TCo

Suspending Ops Libya February 23, 2011 8:08 AM: https://cloudup.com/cjplOQtTEmw

 

When You’re Out of the Loop, Don’t Forget That Secrecy Is the Soul of Diplomacy

Posted: 1:26 am EDT

 

As the media reported on the Iran prisoner swap this weekend, HuffPo’s Ryan Grim wrote Here’s Why We Held The Story On The U.S.-Iranian Prisoner Exchange, on January 16. It deserves a good reading because there’s a lesson here somewhere:

One of the four men was Jason Rezaian, a Washington Post reporter who had covered the Iran nuclear talks. Rezaian was being held on baseless charges of espionage in order to try to extract concessions from the Americans. Our source, State’s Chase Foster, was upset that the U.S. had failed to secure the Americans’ release as part of the nuclear deal, and it was his understanding that the talks had since collapsed. But as we reported out the tip, we discovered that, unbeknownst to Foster, the talks had never really stopped.
[…]
What added an extra wrinkle to this ethical dilemma was the State Department official, Foster, Schulberg’s on-the-record source. To describe such a situation as unusual wouldn’t do it justice: State Department officials with specific knowledge of prisoner negotiations don’t talk publicly about them. It just doesn’t happen. Yet to Schulberg’s credit as a reporter, Foster was doing so in this case. His frustration motivated him to speak out — and, eventually, to quit his job, which he did late last year.

Any public official willing to air grievances on the record, whether those grievances are legitimate or not, should be thought of as a whistleblower. And if a whistleblower is willing to risk his career and reputation to share information he thinks the public needs to have, a news outlet needs to have an awfully good reason not to run his story. On the other hand, we never asked him not to talk to other outlets or to take his concerns public on his own, which was always an option, but one he didn’t take. And had he known the talks were once again going on, that may have changed his calculus about going public, which in turn was something we had to keep in mind. And it wasn’t something we could share with him.
[…]
When we reached out to the administration, the frontline press folks there were extremely aggressive and served up a bunch of garbage we later confirmed to be garbage. But when we approached administration officials higher up the chain, they told us what was actually happening. They told us that reporters for The Washington Post and The Wall Street Journal were withholding details of the talks as well, though neither knew of Foster, whose identity we never revealed to the government. They did not put hard pressure on us to hold our story, but instead calmly laid out their analysis of the possible consequences of publishing, and offered confidence that the talks were moving forward and headed toward a resolution.

Read in full here. After reading that, you might also want to read The New Yorker’s Prisoner Swap: Obama’s Secret Second Channel to Iran by . She writes in part:

More than a year of informal discussions between Sherman and her counterpart, Majid Takht Ravanchi, the Iranian Foreign Ministry official in charge of American and European affairs, led to an agreement, in late 2014, that the issue should be handled separately—but officially—through a second channel. After debate within the Administration, Obama approved the initiative. But it was so tightly held that most of the American team engaged in tortuous negotiations on Iran’s nuclear program were not told about it.[…] Brett McGurk, a senior State Department official, headed the small American team, which also included officials from the Department of Justice, the F.B.I., and the intelligence community.

According to NYT, Mr. McGurk’s team sat down with their Iranian counterparts in Geneva for the first time in November 2014, according to an account by several American officials on the condition of anonymity.

HuffPo’s source Chase Foster, a Foreign Affairs officer at the State Department since 2012, was reportedly upset that the U.S. had failed to secure the Americans’ release as part of the nuclear deal according to the Huffington Post.  FAOs are civil service positions at the State Department that typically requires regional or functional expertise.  His LinkedIn profile says that he had an advanced degree in Professional Studies in Persian and speaks Persian. It does not say which bureau he works in.  But by the time he quit the State Department in frustration late last year, the negotiations for the prisoners release has been going on for about 13 months.

Foster was willing to risk his career by speaking on the record. That’s not something we often see these days. His heart was in the the right place, and we won’t blame him for it.  But he may have also forgotten what François de Callières said about secrecy as being “the very soul of diplomacy.”  

If mentorship works at State as it should have, somebody could have counseled him quietly that absence of apparent action does not mean lack of action.  The American team working the nuke negotiations was not even told about the second channel secret negotiations. We would not be surprise if the top honchos at the NEA bureau with decades of USG service were also out of the loop. And no one has even mentioned James O’Brien, the newly appointed Special Presidential Envoy for Hostage Affairs.

This could have easily gone the other way. We’re glad that it didn’t, that senior administration officials did not dish more garbage, that the journalists listened, and the negotiations worked out in the end.

 

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Foreign Service Members Offer Candid Views of @StateDept Mental Health Services (via FSJ)

Posted: 3:04 am EDT

 

The January issue of the Foreign Service Journal is out. The issue is focused on mental health care for the Foreign Service.  Dr. Samuel Thielman,  a recently retired regional medical officer/psychiatrist for the Department of State writes about how MED’s mental health program has grown and evolved over the years to address the unusual needs of FS employees and their families serving overseas in The Evolution of State’s Mental Health Services. Chantay White, the chief of the Employee Assistance Program with the State Department Employee Consultation Services and Paulette Baldwin, a Licensed Clinical Social Worker write about Mental Health and ECS—What You Should Know. Dr. Stephen A. Young, the director of Mental Health Services for the State department since September 2015, writes about The Face of Mental Health Services Overseas.

One part of the bureaucracy that is glaringly missing here is, of course, Diplomatic Security.  A majority of these comments express concern about DS and security clearance. The most instructive part is probably the section on MED/MHS Checkup: Foreign Service Members Weigh In that offers very candid views from people in the field.

The FSJ writes that the compilation includes 45 responses from FS members in Washington, D.C., and overseas, some entry-level and a few retired, from the foreign affairs agencies, primarily State and USAID. The gender split was about even. “Due to the sensitive nature of the topic, and known concerns about privacy, we took the unprecedented step of offering to print comments without attribution,” the editors write.

Some excerpts below, each paragraph selected from a separate FS member response.  The last one It’s No Joke is in full; the contributor appears to be part of US Mission Libya following the 2012 attacks. The full comments are available to read here.

“Dealing with the bureaucracy after having sought mental health treatment is itself enough to cause PTSD.”

“Senior officers, in particular, need to set the example by ensuring that their employees understand that a mental health issue, like any ailment, is best addressed early. Until they do, we will all still sign notes like this as… Anonymous.”

“During a rough patch in a relationship, my partner and I sought couples counseling. When my security clearance was up for renewal, I was grilled by the investigator regarding this counseling. I had to defend myself for wanting counseling, and the harsh and critical tone she took for me wanting to do what I needed for my relationship was upsetting. I got the clearance, but it was a stressful process.”

“After service in Iraq, there is no doubt in my mind that I suffered from PTSD. Now (several years later), I see my symptoms as both classic and obvious. At the time I was suffering, however, I hid my symptoms out of fear that knowledge that I suffered from PTSD would harm my career. That concern was heightened by the intense questioning I endured by a Diplomatic Security agent conducting a security clearance update when I was serving in Iraq. When it became known that I had sought mental health care, I was hassled and forced to repeat the content of a private discussion with a mental health professional to a DS agent with zero mental health training. I found the entire episode both distasteful and inappropriate.”

“My mistake—I was told by MED that I’d be given a Class 2 because of seeking continued therapy. I thought that showing that I’d made arrangements for my mental health would ensure a Class 1, but instead that’s what gave me the Class 2. Geez, why be honest with MED—it could have cost me my assignment.”

“I met with a therapist who told me he never wrote anything down because all of his FS clients were terrified of getting caught seeking assistance for their stress-related problems. It’s sad. Concerns about security clearances have a big effect on whether or not I seek mental health care.”

“I feel that if I had declared myself an alcoholic I would have gotten more attention from MED than when I was traumatized and sat in my office working, feeling like an isolated zombie.”

“Once I joined the Foreign Service, I could easily understand why there is an impression that the Service has an alcohol abuse problem—it’s self-medication that is easy to hide from a clearance process. I find that distressing and disturbing and extremely unsupportive.”

“Despite former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s message a few years ago telling employees that their clearance will not be affected by seeking mental health treatment, that is not what happens in practice. DS investigators zero in on this, considering it a red flag, as if mental health were any different than physical health.”

“No matter what management says about the importance of mental health, if there are no real changes, then the Foreign Service will continue to be an ineffective and unsupportive mental health environment.”

“You also do not know who the regional psychiatrist’s client really is: you or the State Department? Does a psychiatrist see you as a patient who needs help or just a problem for the Foreign Service best remedied by removing you from post?”

“The mandatory out brief improved between the time I returned from Afghanistan in 2007 and 2012, when I returned from Iraq. However, both times I was told that the symptoms in the PTSD questionnaire are normal for six months and not to worry unless they persist. (And I was offended when taken aside after the briefing and asked how pervasive I thought infidelity was in Baghdad.)”

“During the onward assignments process, MED refused to consider my needs as identified by my therapist, instead assigning me to a post where there was no one in-country who could serve as an appropriate psychiatrist. There, I raised an issue of concern with the health unit nurse, who in turn shared it with the management officer, who then told my supervisor that I was “nuts.” This was not only a violation of my privacy; it reflected total ignorance on the management officer’s part of what PTSD and its symptoms are.”

“I would rate the mental health support at 3 out of 10, with 10 being the best. Working in a high-stress post that was not a “high-threat” post, my colleagues and I were given limited support in a time of crisis.”

“I am grateful for the mental health assistance available to me. If it weren’t for grief counseling, I would have qualms about seeing the RMO/P, because I’d need to disclose this in the five-yearly security update. And while that disclosure might not affect my security clearance, I still think there’s a stigma attached to the fact that I needed mental health assistance.”

“As a veteran of two priority staffing post (PSP) tours—one in Iraq (2007–2008) and the other in Afghanistan (2013–2014)—my experience with transition support has been abysmal. Just getting authorization to attend out briefings and to access mental health services was impossible.”

“I am not concerned about medical and security clearances as they relate to mental health care. Most people have seen a therapist at one time or another, and I don’t think it would affect a security clearance. But corridor reputation is a concern. Even when people need to talk to a mental health professional, they’re more worried about their corridor reputation and often won’t seek help due to the stigma of being “weak.”

“In my final post, when I had finally had enough bullying from my fourth bully boss (three of whom were DCMs and one a GS-15), I worked with the regional psychiatrist who prescribed two anti-anxiety/anti-depressants and a sleeping pill to help me cope. I sought assistance from the ombudsman, but received no help, so I resigned.”

“I had discussed my mental health with the regional psychiatrist during his visits, but he just gave me Xanax and told me panic attacks were normal. He asked me about work-related stress, but reported the results of our meetings with post leadership, contributing to my stress.”

“When State does not actively intervene in cases of abusive behavior, managers are given the impression that they have carte blanche to do whatever they want. Even if victims get mental health care afterwards, the damage has been done. From what I hear, the problem is getting worse and more widespread. It doesn’t have to be this way. Instead of sending out feel-good cables on workplace atmosphere and bullying, put policies in place that have real teeth. A zero-tolerance policy for workplace bullies, administered neutrally and enforced by D.C., would lead to an instant decrease in unacceptable behaviors and the resulting damage they cause.”

It’s No Joke

The first MED-directed mental health intervention that was provided in Tripoli after the Benghazi attacks on Sept. 11, 2012, was a video conference in April 2013, conveniently less than a week before the Director General arrived for a visit to Libya. Prior to that, the only service provided was a discussion with the nurse about “fostering resiliency” several months after the attack…hardly a useful assist.

The half-day course for those returning from hardship posts is a joke. I took it after my first (!) unaccompanied tour (UT), and both the instructor and some of the other students made fun of me for enrolling, since at the time my tour was seen as one of the “cupcake UTs,” without an active war going on outside the embassy walls. I refused to take the course after my second UT. No one from HR or my bureau asked if I’d taken it or even how I was doing after the second UT.

An RMO/P made fun of some of my coworkers in a high-stress, high-threat post that happened to be a popular destination for American tourists. He told them that they had no idea what serving in an actually difficult post was like, comparing it to the regional city where he was based. Never mind the fact that almost every person at that highly desirable but still challenging post got there via a tour in Iraq or Afghanistan.

I have neither respect for nor faith in MED’s mental health efforts. As long as MED is staffed with people who see mental health as an inconvenience, supported by State leadership (from the very top down) who barely pay lip service to mental health and a work-life balance, there’s no hope for anyone who suffers in the aftermath of an emotionally catastrophic tour abroad. At least there is solidarity among those who survived terrible times abroad.

Read in full the candid views from the filed via the Foreign Service Journal.

 

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@StateDept Politely Tells Inspector General to Um … Buzz Off

Posted: 4:55 am EDT

 

On December 2, State/OIG posted online its Management Assistance Report: Progress Made But Action Still Needed to Address Physical Security Deficiencies Reported in FYs 2012 and 2013 (PDF). Excerpt below:

During FYs 2012 and 2013, the Office of Inspector General (OIG) issued 12 reports that identified deficiencies in the security posture of 10 posts visited. As part of OIG’s audit compliance and follow-up process, OIG assessed the extent to which the Department of State (Department) implemented the 137 recommendations issued in these 12 reports (see Appendix A). Based on the Department’s actions and responses to these recommendations as of September 15, 2015, OIG had closed 122 of the 137 recommendations (or 89 percent). However, 15 of these recommendations had remained open, 6 of which were unresolved with no communication from the post or bureau since the reports were issued (see Appendix B).

State/OIG acknowledges the State Department’s efforts on complying with the security recommendations but would not let go of the remaining nine recommendations that it says have remained open more than two years after they were made:

U) OIG acknowledges the Department’s efforts to address OIG’s physical security recommendations in a timely manner. As of October 30, 2015, the Department has implemented 128 of 137 recommendations (93 percent) made by OIG in these 12 reports, although 9 recommendations remain open. Prompt and timely corrective action by the Department has resulted in several positive outcomes,REDACTED. However, more than 2 years later, nine of these recommendations remain open. While the responsible bureaus and posts agreed to the other nine open recommendations, final action has not occurred. REDACTED
[….]
[T]he Under Secretary did not provide a plan of action to address the implementation of the remaining nine open recommendations. As such, this recommendation will remain open until OIG receives a plan of action from the Under Secretary or obtains sufficient evidence that the nine open recommendations have been fully implemented. In addition, OIG will continue to track the implementation of these open recommendations and report the status in OIG’s Semiannual Report to Congress.

The heavily redacted audit includes Table 1 which contains a list of the responsible Bureaus and posts and the number of open and closed recommendations as of September 15, 2015. State/OIG notes that “uncorrected physical security deficiencies, if exploited, could compromise the safety of post personnel and property.”

State/OIG also includes the response from “M” that says in part, “If OIG agrees with the Department’s planned way forward for these nine recommendations, then additional attention from this office is not needed.” Elsewhere in the State Department’s response, the Under Secretary for Management Patrick Kennedy also tells IG Steve Linick “this exercise is redundant.”

60dayswilliwonka

State/OIG made the following response:

With respect to the Under Secretary’s statement that “this exercise is redundant,” the purpose of this Management Assistant Report is to prompt action to close all open recommendations associated with the aforementioned reports. Although OIG considers the open recommendations referenced in this report resolved because the responsible bureaus and posts agreed to implement them, the fact is that more than 2 years has passed and nine recommendations [Redacted] (b) (5), [Redacted] (b) (7)(F) remain open. For this reason, OIG raised these open recommendations with the Under Secretary for Management and recommended a plan of action to complete corrective actions.

And added two more recommendations:

Recommendation 1: (U) OIG recommends that the Under Secretary for Management provide a report to OIG within 60 days of report issuance on the status of corrective actions and the reasons for delays in completing corrective actions on the nine open recommendations listed in Appendix C.

Recommendation 2: (U) OIG recommends that the Under Secretary for Management provide a plan of action to complete corrective actions, including appropriate milestones, to address the remaining nine open recommendations listed in Appendix C.

Read more below though lots of Sharpied out places:

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Insider Quote: “These things go in cycle”… the down cycle is only a few years away

Posted: 3:14 am EST

 

Below is an excerpt from Richard E. Thompson’s Oral History interview conducted by Raymond Ewing on April 16, 2001. He had been to every place with a US presence including the longest trip he did as a diplomatic courier to West Africa that took 59 days.  Mr. Thompson joined the State Department as a diplomatic courier in 1965. He retired in 1997. We are currently in an upcycle  but no doubt, the down cycle is only a few years away.

It was Vice President Gore’s Strategic Management Initiative, SMI, reinventing government. As part of his Strategic Management Initiative our assistant secretary, Tony Quainton, decided that we would cut down the frequency of courier service throughout the world. Sometimes we would cut down where we would have courier service twice a week, we would cut down to once every other week. It was an enormous, enormous slice. And so, as a consequence, we had to change everything around, all of our schedules, everything had to be changed around. So what we did, we sent individually tailored telegrams around to every post in the world, telling them what we intended to do and asking them if they had any input or any objections or any problems with it. We put in the telegram that this was from the highest level, Vice President Gore, that we were mandating this. And we got all of these telegrams back and we made up a series of hypothetical trips to accomplish this downsizing and it took several months. I was involved in meeting with very senior people. I chaired these meetings, explaining to them how this would affect them. Then, as a practical matter, I had to deal with the regional diplomatic courier officers who were afraid that they would not be able to handle such bulk because if you only go every other week instead of twice a week, you are going to have heavy loads, and you already have heavy loads to such an extent that sometimes it couldn’t even get on these airplanes. So we had to establish a series of backup flights and new schedules for the courier service throughout the whole world as a result. So we downsized. We were able to eliminate jobs. We eliminated six jobs in our organization because of this, and we pulled it off quite well, I thought. Sometimes we had to charter planes. We didn’t entirely agree with this because we could see that is was not really going to save a lot of money because we would simply have to move material other ways at more expense. But we accomplished this.  Then about two years later, when they had the bombings in Nairobi, they decided to beef up the Bureau of Diplomatic Security again. These things go in cycles. So they decided they were going to increase the frequency of courier service. So, we had to start all over again and start hiring more people and increase the frequency, where before we were going once a week we would go twice a week to some places. So we had a complete switch.

This happened throughout my career in government. You would see these things going on. The interesting thing was that some of the people who took credit for that first downsizing also took credit, these same individuals, also took credit when we increased the service, because they were increasing the efficiency in both cases.

Read in full here.

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FSGB Recognizes Grievant’s “Enduring Dissatisfaction” With @StateDept’s 40 Year Old Grievance Case — Where’s the Medal?

Posted: 1:21 am EDT

 

Charles William Thomas. You may not remember that name. He was a Foreign Service Officer. In April 1971 he shot and killed himself.  The Thomas case led to changes in the promotion and personnel system and helped usher in a grievance program at the Department.  Below excerpted from ADST:

Charles William Thomas was a bright mid-career Foreign Service officer who was selected out because his efficiency report was mixed with a poorer officer of the same name. After his lifelong dream of serving in the State Department came crashing down, Thomas committed suicide and his case became a cause celebre. His wife Cynthia held the Foreign Service and the State Department responsible.
[…]
In 1973, U.S. District Court Judge Gerhard Gesell rendered a decision in Lindsey v. Kissinger declaring the lack of procedural safeguards in State’s selection-out system unconstitutional. A Foreign Service Grievance Board with public members was established in 1976, and procedural safeguards were created through consultations with AFSA.

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In April this year, the Foreign Service Grievance Board (FSGB) dismissed FSGB Case No. 2014-042 after the State Department sought a preliminary ruling on the grievance, contending that “the grievance was untimely filed and not covered under the Board’s jurisdiction.”

This case is notable not only because officials of the State Department of old ignored the Board’s original ruling in 1972, but also because ignoring the grievance has stretched into the current leadership of the State Department.  The unnamed grievant in this case apparently wrote to Secretary John Kerry on May 14, 2014, and again on May 28, asking that he implement the 1972 recommendations of the Grievance Committee. Apparently, the grievant did not even received a response. The current FSGB accepted the grievant’s appeal with an effective filing date of October 22, 2014 but then dismissed it  for untimely appeal.

Grievant is a former Foreign Service Officer (FSO) who was appointed as an FSO Class 6 on November 26, 1954. He had been in grade for eight years as a FSO Class 4 when the 1968 Selection Boards did not recommend him for promotion to Class 3. On January 17, 1969, the Department of State (agency, Department) officially notified him that he would be separated for expiration of time in class (TIC) effective April 30, 1969. Having already learned informally of his proposed termination, grievant met personally with the then Secretary of State on January 2, 1969, and gave him a paper, “Notes for the Secretary.” The notes detailed policy clashes grievant had with his superiors, which he believed had prevented his promotion. The Secretary appointed two senior inspectors to conduct an investigation. The inspectors made grievant’s “Notes” available to his supervisors and on January 8, 1969, the supervisors gave their comments on the “Notes” to the Secretary. The inspectors furnished their report1 to the Secretary on January 15. The submissions led the Secretary not to take any action to stop the separation.

On September 26, 1969, after receiving several extensions of his employment, grievant requested a hearing under 3 FAM 1820 (“Grievances”), becoming the first Foreign Service employee to do so. He charged that his supervisors’ comments introduced untrue, slanderous and misleading statements into the agency’s records.

Grievant was separated on October 4, 1969. He was not eligible to retire and collect an annuity because he did not meet the age requirement.2 The Department helped him secure an immediate civil service position on October 5, 1969 with the Department of Defense.

Following a period during which grievant sought information to support his case, a three-member Grievance Committee commenced hearings on March 3, 1971. On September 27, 1972, the Committee found generally in grievant’s favor. With one member voicing exceptions to some of its eleven recommendations, the Committee recommended, inter alia, that the agency appoint grievant to FSO Class 3, credit the time he spent in government service since his separation towards Foreign Service retirement, and pay his legal expenses. The Committee submitted its report to the Director General instead of the Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Personnel, because the latter had appeared as a witness and disqualified himself. The Committee suggested that the Deputy Secretary be the final reviewing officer.

The reviewing officers decided not to accept the recommendations. In 1977, grievant filed an appeal3 with the Foreign Service Grievance Board requesting reinstatement, which request was denied because the Board found the appeal untimely.4 On October 13, 1993, two Senators wrote to the Secretary of State on grievant’s behalf.

Noting that grievant’s claim was adjudicated in his favor by the Grievance Committee but never implemented, they suggested that grievant may not have been notified of his eligibility to pursue administrative and judicial remedies provided in legislation. They asked how their committee could be assured that the Department would implement the recommendations in grievant’s case. There is no evidence of the Secretary’s response in the record of proceedings (ROP).

Apparently, the grievant also seek confirmation that his hearing be held “completely within State Department regulations at the time, so that he would not be required to argue before a court that the Department is improperly failing to recognize the legitimacy of its past responsibility for implementing the recommendations which resulted from his hearing.”

Grievant wrote to the current Secretary of State twice and when he did not get a response, he wrote to the FSGB on September 12 and October 16, 2014. He explained that he sought a negotiated settlement of retirement pay in lieu of enforcement of the remedies granted to him in 1972. The Board accepted his appeal with an effective filing date of October 22. On December 12, 2014, the agency asked the Board to make a preliminary determination that grievant’s appeal should be dismissed, on the grounds that the Board lacked jurisdiction.

The FSGB ruling:

We recognize grievant’s unusual position in the history of this Board as well as his enduring dissatisfaction with the outcome of the hearing process. As noted earlier, our analysis today is limited to jurisdiction and does not address the merits of grievant’s case. In accordance with 22 CFR § 904.2, the Board makes the following preliminary determination on jurisdiction: because grievant has not shown that his appeal was made “not later than two years after the occurrence giving rise to the grievance,” nor is there evidence that grievant was “unaware of the grounds for the grievance,” we find grievant’s appeal untimely.

Grievant was separated on October 4, 1969 under the rules deemed unconstitutional in 1973 after the Lindsey v. Kissinger ruling.  The Grievance Committee recommended that grievant be reappointed to a higher position, a recommendation ignored by senior officials in the State Department.  Last year, the FSGB took the case then says this case was filed late, and the Board lacks jurisdiction. But the members recognize the grievant’s “enduring dissatisfaction.”  Yeah, there’s that. And the State Department lumped this case with the trash with no effort to fix or mitigate the alleged wrongs it did to one individual some four decades ago.

Read the 40 year old grievance case below:

 

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NEA/SPP Language Divisions: From FSI to Wilson Blvd Rosslyn Until 2020

Posted: 3:01 am EDT

 

Last week we blogged about the rumored move of two language divisions from FSI (see NEA and SPP Language Divisions Moving Out of the Foreign Service Institute?).  We understand that Ambassador Nancy McEldowney, the director of the Foreign Service Institute has announced — through a reply to the post on the Sounding Board — that the contract has now been signed.  Starting in the fall of 2016, NEA and SPP languages will hold classes at the former Boeing building on Wilson Boulevard in Rosslyn, Virginia.  This arrangement will reportedly last only until 2020, when these departments will move back to the FSI campus. New comments received:

Some of us took handshakes on jobs with language training expecting to drive from locations that aren’t metro accessible, and some parents will now have to drop kids off at FSI (or other) daycare; FSI’s solution is, right now, to “encourage students to consider the metro” and a promise to provide information on the Transit Subsidy.

This will be enormously convenient for people on TDY language orders who can live at one of the many direct bill properties in Rosslyn within a few blocks walk — but many of us are on DC assignments, not on per diem, and cannot rearrange our lives based on a change that wasn’t announced until we’d accepted handshakes.

Screen Shot 2015-11-22 at 9.51.47 PM

Building on Wilson Boulevard, Rosslyn (photo via the Arlington Economic Development)

One source told us that the building will also have a fitness center and that parents will still be permitted to use the FSI daycare center.  However, the lease apparently does not include a provision for parking for staff and students, although it looks like the newly leased building has 259 parking spaces.  Monthly parking in the area ranges from $135 to $150 a month.  The published solicitation only requires 24 parking spaces.

According to public records, the building has 12 stories. We were informed that the language school will occupy floors 1-8, but that other State entities are considering moving into the rest of the building. Which entities, we have no idea at this time.

FSI will now reportedly form “working groups” to address a number of the issues associated with the temporary facility, including transportation.  Most of the the anxieties we’ve heard related to this move could have been avoided if the “working groups” were created before the plans became final. But it looks like this is now a done deal.  If you’re one of the students who will be affected by this move, you may contact FSI and get yourself into one of these working groups. We hope that these groups will be able to come up with plans to help mitigate the disruptions to some FSI students and staff the next five years.

We were able to find the first notice of an FSI expansion space dated December 8, 2014.  The solicitation was posted on FedBiz this past July and modified on September 30, 2015.

Here are the requirement published via FedBiz (partial list from the announcement):

The Department has a requirement for a single building/facility to increase classroom space to support expanded training program requirements and increased enrollments in the coming years . The base requirement is approximately 75,000 usf; lobby space for security access control will be provided in addition if required by the specific building. Options for 20,000 usf are additionally included, exercisable within any contract period.

Time Frame: Fully finished training space, ready for occupancy, including services to support facility operations, must be delivered within six months of contract award and in no event later than six months after contract award. This contract will be for one five-year base period with five additional one-year options, and includes options for an additional 20,000 usf, exercisable within any contract year.

Training Facility Requirements: The facility must be housed in a single location, and may be comprised of one large area on a single floor, or be collocated on consecutive stacked floors in a single building. These floors must be kept secured and not accessible by occupants of other floors in the building. If warranted, additional building and /or lobby space may be required to screen and control access for the training facility. The Department may install perimeter security or intrusion detection systems as deemed necessary.

The training facility will have complete telecommunications, voice/data/video, with Wi-Fi and internet connectivity throughout the facility (see Requirements).

The training facility will have a minimum of 24 parking spaces on site or within immediate proximity to the site.  To accommodate staff/students who may use bicycles for transportation, the contractor should provide sixteen covered bicycle racks near or close to the 24 parking spaces.

Contractor will provide an additional requirement for 20,000 usf of classroom/training program space within six to twelve months of occupancy of this space if required by the Government pursuant to the option provisions of the contract. Anticipated hours of operation will be from 6:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m.

Facility and Services|  The contractor will provide the following:

158 Language Classrooms (180 usf each classroom) Each classroom shall have a smart board (TV), white board, bulletin/tack board and adequate lighting, modular tables with 5 chairs, 5 open cubbies for storage of student backpacks, purses, etc. and associated cabling for telecommunication capability. Must have adequate sound attenuation for classroom use. Paint, carpet, adequate HV/AC, and a locking door.

77 Language Instructor collaboration spaces. Each shared by 3 instructors (180 usf each space) Each instructor space shall have modular furniture with double  row overhead storage bins and task lighting, pull-out keyboard tray, rolling lockable under desk file cabinet, acceptable ceiling lighting, a locking door, and associated cabling for telecommunication capability. Paint, carpet, adequate HVAC.

Suite with 20 student consultation rooms at 50 usf each and 200 circulation space/hallway. Each consultation room shall have a small table and 2 chairs. Paint, carpet, adequate lighting, adequate HV/AC, and a locking suite door(s). Interior consultation room doors should not have locks, and should be windowed to permit visibility into room.

One (1) Distance Learning classroom/delivery classroom with DVC capability with associated cabling for telecommunication/video capability; modular tables and chairs. Paint, carpet, adequate HV/AC, and a locking door.

Four (4) gaming/simulation rooms at 350 usf each, with modular tables and chairs; with one (1) control room at 200 usf; both with associated cabling for telecommunication/video capability.

One (1) DVC classroom and control room with associated cabling for telecommunication/video capability; modular tables and chairs.

Two (2) Active Learning classrooms at 1,000 usf each. Shall have a smart board, computer projection with drop down screen, adequate lighting, modular tables with 40 chairs, podium, and associated cabling for telecommunication capability.

Two (2) Quiet Study Rooms for students each about 300 usf, with tables/chairs.Paint, carpet, good lighting, adequate HV/AC.

Lactation Room – Sink with running water, garbage disposal, refrigerator, modular furniture with partitions and shelving, electrical outlets for pumping equipment and ten chairs. Paint, carpet, acceptable lighting, adequate HV/AC, and a locking door.

Ten (10) pantries (about 230 usf each with refrigerators, Microwaves, sinks with garbage disposals, vending machines with hot/cold drinks and healthy snacks). Located in an open central place. Paint, carpet, good lighting, adequate HV/AC.

Note that USF refers to useable square footage. [When a tenant occupies a full-floor, the usable square feet amount extends to everything inside the boundaries of the building floor, minus stairwells and elevator shafts. This can include non-usable areas like janitorial closets, or mechanical and electrical rooms. It also encompasses private bathrooms and floor common areas, like kitchenettes, hallways, and reception areas that are specific to that floor’s use (via].

The requirements include a Language Program Management Suite, a Training Computer Server Area, a Registration/IT Support Area,  a DS Processing Area, and an SLS Senior Dean Consultation Suite, among those listed. We have not been able to locate a requirement for a language lab in the solicitation.

The contract requirement also includes a “Facility Manager, who shall have primary responsibility for the operation and maintenance of the facility on a day–to–day basis and who shall be the primary point of contact for the government on all matters relating to the use of the facility by the government during the period of performance of the contract, and eight full time administrative staff to support the daily classroom functions during operating hours.

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@State Dept’s Danger Pay: All Through With Promises, Promises Now?

Posted: 3:10 am EDT

 

On September 14, we posted about the new State Department’s danger pay posts (New Danger Pay Differential Posts: See Gainers, Plus Losers Include One Post on Evacuation Status). Previously, we’ve written about these upcoming changes including potential fallout to bidding, student loan repayment, security funding allocation, EFM employment, and first and second tour (FAST) officers’ onward assignments (see Danger Danger, Bang Bang — State Department Eyes Changes in Danger Pay). Click here for AFSA’s update to its members regarding the changes in danger pay.

This is the first time the State Department had updated its danger pay process and designation from best we could tell. Of the forty or so danger pay posts, about half lost their designation, including Monterrey and Nuevo Laredo which lost 20%, and all Saudi Arabian posts which lost 15%. Wouldn’t better planning with a longer roll out have been better for everyone? Why was there such a short fuse on this project? Was Congress snapping at somebody’s heels?

One group particularly affected (without any mitigation in place) are Eligible Family Members (EFMs) who receive danger pay but do not receive any other differentials. All EFMs in posts that lost their danger pay designation have suffered a pay cut and will not receive any hardship pay in lieu of the danger pay lost. The dual-income Foreign Service families particularly in Saudi Arabia and some in Mexico had a pay cut of at least 20%.

The changes in the danger pay designation also affected employees who went to some difficult posts to qualify for the student loan program (SLRP).  Student Loan Repayment Program (SLRP) is a recruitment and retention tool used by the Department to attract and retain Civil Service and Foreign Service employees applying for or encumbering specific positions.  The loan repayment is linked to danger/hardship only, and is for posts designated at 20% or greater. We understand that some who qualified for SLRP this year, will not qualify next year if they’re seeing danger/hardship under 20%. Despite that fact that the SLRP was used to “lure” officers to some of these challenging posts.  That section of the FAM updated in May this year, notes that “Posts may be added to or eliminated from this list as differential and danger pay rates change.”

We understand that entry level officers (ELOs, we don’t know how many) felt particularly short-changed by these changes.  These officers typically go out on their first two overseas tours on directed assignments. They go where they’re sent by the State Department. They get equity points based on danger pay and hardship differentials that help determine their next assignment.  We should add that super high equity posts  (like Iraq/Afghanistan, etc.) are not available to first tour officers. A large number of first tour officers end up in visa mill posts in Mexico, China, India, Brazil and posts in Africa. Which means that a 5-10% change in equity in the pecking order is noticeable.

Via reactiongif.com

Via reactiongif.com

I wonder if their CDOs say if you take Promisestan now with 15% danger pay and 20% hardship, you get bidding priority for say Buenos Aires or Madrid when you bid next time. Did the CDOs blink when they said that?  By the time the ELOs bid, Promisestan had been downgraded to zero danger pay with hardship still at 20%.  So ELOs who said yes to 35%, now had to make do with their 20%.

“A claim of fairness and transparency does not make it so,” one writes.

A senior government official had apparently told employees earlier that “this is not going to be such a big deal.” But for a number of employees just starting off on their careers at State, this is going to be a big deal. Somebody made them a promise, an inherent tradeoff when they started, and now they’re told they just have to suck it. We understand that despite efforts by AFSA, FSOs, and some posts themselves argued against danger pay changes or for mitigation — specifically including entry level bidding should these changes be imposed — management apparently had not been responsive.

We sent the following to DGHR on Twitter but he, too, has not been responsive.

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We estimate that this affects the bidding of a small range of A-100 classes, perhaps some members in the 174th-180th classes. And perhaps that’s the problem? A small number of entry level FSOs, though no fault of their own, are negatively impacted in their bidding options by these changes. And the somebodies at the State Department — from M, DGHR, DS, CDA, PRI — have decided that the negative impact to these newbies are acceptable.

Say — isn’t this kind of like going on a cross country A-Z train with the fares changing midway through the trip? Suddenly, here comes the conductor asking for additional fares somewhere at the P stop, even if you’ve originally paid up to get to the Z stop.

The Yoda conductor delivers the bad news:

So sorry, just doing the job, I am.  P stop not as good as Z stop. But F stop, it is not.

If throw up, you must, use bucket under coach seat, please.

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Who signed off on Secretary Clinton having a private server? Over there – go fetch!

Posted: 1:19 am EDT


Via
DPB, September 1, 2015

QUESTION: But do you know who signed off on her having a private server?

MR TONER: Who signed off on her? I don’t, no.

QUESTION: I mean —

QUESTION: Did anybody?

MR TONER: Again, I’m not going to answer that question. I’m not going to litigate that question from the podium.

QUESTION: So you’re saying that nobody signed off on her having a private server?

MR TONER: No. I’m saying – look, everyone – there were – people understood that she had a private server. I think we’ve talked about that in the past.

QUESTION: What level was that knowledge? How high did that go up in this building?

MR TONER: I mean, you’ve seen from the emails. You have an understanding of people who were communicating with her, at what level they were communicating at, so —

QUESTION: Was there anybody in this building who was against the Secretary having her own private server?

MR TONER: I can’t answer that. I can’t.

QUESTION: And just —

MR TONER: I mean, I don’t have the history, but I also don’t have – I don’t have the authority to speak definitively to that.

QUESTION: But —

MR TONER: Again, these are questions that are appropriate, but appropriate for other processes and reviews.

QUESTION: But not the State Department? She was the Secretary of State and —

MR TONER: No, I understand what you’re asking. But frankly, it’s perfectly plausible – and I talked a little bit with Arshad about this yesterday – is for example, we know that the State IG is – at the Secretary’s request – is looking at the processes and how we can do better and improve our processes. And whether they’ll look at these broader questions, that’s a question for them.
[….]
QUESTION: So last opportunity here: You don’t know who signed off on Secretary Clinton having her own server?

MR TONER: Again, I don’t personally, but I don’t think it’s our – necessarily our responsibility to say that. I think that that’s for other entities to look at.

 

Holy Molly Guacamole!

See here? I don’t have enough fingers to count the verbal calisthenics the public is subjected to these days from the official podium of the oldest executive agency in the union.

He’s just doing his job, like … what would you do?

Pardon me? You’re embarrassed, too? Well, I suggest wearing a brown paper bag when watching the Daily Press Briefing from now on.

Are we ever going to reach a point when the career folks at the State Department will say “Enough, I’m not doing this anymore?

Hard to say. Hard to say. Although that did happen in Season 1, Episode 15 of Madam Secretary, so there is a clear precedent.

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State Dept’s Wibbly Wobbly Jello Stance on Use of Private Email, Also Gummy Jello on Prostitution

Posted: 1:38 am EDT

 

We’ve added to our timeline of the Clinton Email saga (see Clinton Email Controversy Needs Its Own Cable Channel, For Now, a Timeline).

On August 24, 2015, State Dept. Spokesman John Kirby told CNN:  “At The Time, When She Was Secretary Of State, There Was No Prohibition To Her Use Of A Private Email.” Below is the video clip with Mr. Kirby.

Okay, then. Would somebody please get the State Department to sort something out. If there was no prohibition on then Secretary Clinton’s use of a private email, why, oh, why did the OIG inspectors dinged the then ambassador to Kenya, Scott Gration for using commercial email back in 2012? (See OIG inspection of US Embassy Kenya, 2012).

Screen Shot 2015-08-25

Oh, and here’s a more recent one dated August 25, 2015. The OIG inspection of U.S. Embassy Japan (pdf) says this:

In the course of its inspection, OIG received reports concerning embassy staff use of private email accounts to conduct official business. On the basis of these reports, OIG’s Office of Evaluations and Special Projects conducted a review and confirmed that senior embassy staff, including the Ambassador, used personal email accounts to send and receive messages containing official business. In addition, OIG identified instances where emails labeled Sensitive but Unclassified6 were sent from, or received by, personal email accounts.

OIG has previously reported on the risks associated with using commercial email for official Government business. Such risks include data loss, hacking, phishing, and spoofing of email accounts, as well as inadequate protections for personally identifiable information. Department policy is that employees generally should not use private email accounts (for example, Gmail, AOL, Yahoo, and so forth) for official business.7 Employees are also expected to use approved, secure methods to transmit Sensitive but Unclassified information when available and practical.8

OIG report referenced two cables, we’ve inserted the hyperlinks publicly available online: 11 STATE 65111 and 14 STATE 128030 and 12 FAM 544.3, which has been in the rules book, at least since 2005:

12 FAM 544.3 Electronic Transmission Via the Internet  (updated November 4, 2005)

“It is the Department’s general policy that normal day-to-day operations be conducted on an authorized [Automated Information System], which has the proper level of security control to provide nonrepudiation, authentication and encryption, to ensure confidentiality, integrity, and availability of the resident information.”

This section of the FAM was put together by the Office of Information Security (DS/SI/IS) under the Bureau of Diplomatic Security, one of the multiple bureaus that report to the Under Secretary for Management.

Either the somebodies were asleep at the switch, as the cliché goes, or somebody at the State Department gave authorization to the Clinton private server as an Automated Information System.

In any case, the State Department’s stance on the application of regulations on the use of private and/or commercial email is, not wobbly jello on just this one subject or on just this instance.

gummy-bears-o

dancing jello gummy bears

On October 16, 2014, State/OIG released its Review of Selected Internal Investigations Conducted by the Bureau of Diplomatic Security. This review arose out of a 2012 OIG inspection of the Department of State (Department) Bureau of Diplomatic Security (DS). At that time, OIG inspectors were informed of allegations of undue influence and favoritism related to the handling of a number of internal investigations by the DS internal investigations unit. The allegations initially related to eight, high-profile, internal investigations. (See State/OIG Releases Investigation on CBS News Allegations: Prostitution as “Management Issues” Unless It’s NotCBS News: Possible State Dept Cover-Ups on Sex, Drugs, Hookers — Why the “Missing Firewall” Was a Big Deal).

One of those eight cases relate to an allegation of soliciting a prostitute.

The Foreign Affairs Manual (FAM) provides that disciplinary action may be taken against persons who engage in behavior, such as soliciting prostitutes, that would cause the U.S. Government to be held in opprobrium were it to become public.1

In May 2011, DS was alerted to suspicions by the security staff at a U.S. embassy that the U.S. Ambassador solicited a prostitute in a public park near the embassy. DS assigned an agent from its internal investigations unit to conduct a preliminary inquiry. However, 2 days later, the agent was directed to stop further inquiry because of a decision by senior Department officials to treat the matter as a “management issue.” The Ambassador was recalled to Washington and, in June 2011, met with the Under Secretary of State for Management and the then Chief of Staff and Counselor to the Secretary of State. At the meeting, the Ambassador denied the allegations and was then permitted to return to post. The Department took no further action affecting the Ambassador.

OIG found that, based on the limited evidence collected by DS, the suspected misconduct by the Ambassador was not substantiated. DS management told OIG, in 2013, that the preliminary inquiry was appropriately halted because no further investigation was possible. OIG concluded, however, that additional evidence, confirming or refuting the suspected misconduct, could have been collected. For example, before the preliminary inquiry was halted, only one of multiple potential witnesses on the embassy’s security staff had been interviewed. Additionally, DS never interviewed the Ambassador and did not follow its usual investigative protocol of assigning an investigative case number to the matter or opening and keeping investigative case files.

Department officials offered different justifications for handling the matter as a “management issue,” and they did not create or retain any record to justify their handling of it in that manner. In addition, OIG did not discover any guidance on what factors should be considered, or processes should be followed, in making a “management issue” determination, nor did OIG discover any records documenting management’s handling of the matter once the determination was made.

The Under Secretary of State for Management told OIG that he decided to handle the suspected incident as a “management issue” based on a disciplinary provision in the FAM that he had employed on prior occasions to address allegations of misconduct by Chiefs of Mission. The provision, applicable to Chiefs of Mission and other senior officials, states that when “exceptional circumstances” exist, the Under Secretary need not refer the suspected misconduct to OIG or DS for further investigation (as is otherwise required).2 In this instance, the Under Secretary cited as “exceptional circumstances” the fact that the Ambassador worked overseas.3

DS managers told OIG that they viewed the Ambassador’s suspected misconduct as a “management issue” based on another FAM disciplinary provision applicable to lower-ranking employees. The provision permits treating misconduct allegations as a “management issue” when they are “relatively minor.”4 DS managers told OIG that they considered the allegations “relatively minor” and not involving criminal violations.

Office of the Legal Adviser staff told OIG that the FAM’s disciplinary provisions do not apply to Ambassadors who, as in this instance, are political appointees and are not members of the Foreign Service or the Civil Service.5

OIG questions the differing justifications offered and recommends that the Department promulgate clear and consistent protocols and procedures for the handling of allegations involving misconduct by Chiefs of Mission and other senior officials. Doing so should minimize the risk of (1) actual or perceived undue influence and favoritism and (2) disparate treatment between higher and lower-ranking officials suspected of misconduct.6 In addition, OIG concludes that the Under Secretary’s application of the “exceptional circumstances” provision to remove matters from DS and OIG review could impair OIG’s independence and unduly limit DS’s and OIG’s abilities to investigate alleged misconduct by Chiefs of Mission and other senior Department officials.

In the SBU report provided to Congress and the Department, OIG cited an additional factor considered by the Under Secretary—namely, that the Ambassador’s suspected misconduct (solicitation of prostitution) was not a crime in the host country. However, after the SBU report was issued, the Under Secretary advised OIG that that factor did not affect his decision to treat the matter as a “management issue” and that he cited it in a different context. This does not change any of OIG’s findings or conclusions in this matter. 

After the SBU report was issued, the Under Secretary of State for Management advised OIG that he disagrees with the Office of the Legal Adviser interpretation, citing the provisions in the Foreign Service Act of 1980 which designate Chiefs of Mission appointed by the President as members of the Foreign Service. See Foreign Service Act of 1980, §§ 103(1) & 302(a)(1) (22 USC §§ 3903(1) & 3942(a)(1)). 

During the course of that review, State/OIG said it discovered some evidence of disparity in DS’s handling of allegations involving prostitution. Between 2009 and 2011, DS investigated 13 prostitution-related cases involving lower-ranking officials.

The OIG apparently, found no evidence that any of those inquiries were halted and treated as “management issues.”

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Also, have you heard?  Apparently, DEA now has an updated “etiquette” training for its agents overseas.

That’s all.

Is there a diplomatic way to request that the responsible folks at the State Department culture some real backbone in a petri-dish?

No, no, not jello backbone, please!

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