Category Archives: Org Life

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

– Domani Spero

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Whatever happened to that promised investigation?

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

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

Per 15 FAM 825:

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

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

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

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

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Filed under Americans Abroad, Foreign Service, Huh? News, Leadership and Management, Org Life, Questions, Realities of the FS, Regulations, Security, State Department, U.S. Missions

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

– Domani Spero

 

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

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

No shit, Sherlock!

Excerpt below from FSGB Case No. 2014-007.

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

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

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

Here is the FAM section on Complicated obstetrical care:

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

More from the Record of Proceeding:

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

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

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

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

What was the official State Department position?

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

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

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

Ugh!

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

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

Here is the Board’s view:

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

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

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

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

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

 

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Filed under Govt Reports/Documents, Huh? News, Leadership and Management, MED, Org Culture, Org Life, Realities of the FS, Regulations, Spouses/Partners, State Department, U.S. Missions

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

– Domani Spero

 

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

 

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

MS. PSAKI: Yes.

QUESTION: So not necessarily her?

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

QUESTION: Okay, I didn’t ask that.

MS. PSAKI: Okay.

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

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

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

MS. PSAKI: Correct.

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

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

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

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

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

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

QUESTION: Can I ask a process –

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

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

QUESTION: It’s not about her diplomatic skills.

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

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

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

MS. PSAKI: Twice, yes. Mm-hmm.

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

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

QUESTION: Why haven’t they been nominated then?

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

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

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

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

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

QUESTION: For six months?

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

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

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

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

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

 

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Filed under Appointments, Foreign Affairs, Huh? News, John F. Kerry, Leadership and Management, Org Life, Realities of the FS, Retirement, Secretary of State, State Department, Under Secretary

Political Appointee Rejects Criticisms of Too Many Political Picks at the State Department

– Domani Spero

 

The retirement of Deputy Secretary Bill Burns and the attendant task of finding his replacement as the State Department’s No.2 official highlighted the career versus political appointments in the upper ranks of the oldest executive agency in our country. Below via Yahoo News:

Obama has overseen an expansion of political appointments at the State Department. He has chosen fewer career diplomats for ambassadorial postings than his recent predecessors. And his administration has tripled the number of noncareer appointments under so-called “Schedule B authority,” which have soared from 26 to 89 employees between 2008 and 2012 at the senior levels.

The report notes that “just one of the top nine jobs in American diplomacy is held by a career diplomat: Undersecretary for Management Patrick Kennedy.” It further notes that this number rises to 2 out of 10 if State Department Counselor Tom Shannon is included.

The report also quotes AFSA saying, “We’re not rabble-rousers. We’re not going to be burning down the building. [snip] But we are concerned about the growing politicization throughout the State Department.”

For comparison, see this chart to see how the breakdown between career versus non-career appointees have progressively trended towards non-career appointees in the past decades.

Screen Shot 2014-11-01

infographic via afsa.org

Last Friday, the State Department officially rejected criticisms that too many top diplomatic jobs have gone to political appointees rather than to career foreign service officers.  As a sign of the times, the official who rebutted the criticism is the spokesperson of the State Department, a former political operative and herself, a political appointee:

“There’s never been a secretary of state more personally connected to the Foreign Service than Secretary (John) Kerry. It’s in his blood. It’s stamped in his DNA. He’s the son of a foreign service officer,” spokeswoman Jen Psaki told Yahoo News by email.

“It’s no accident that he has worked with President (Barack) Obama to build a senior team with more foreign service officers in leading assistant secretary positions than at any time in recent memory, and no accident that he chose a foreign service officer to serve as the State Department’s Counselor for the first time in thirty years,” she added.

For understandable reason, AFSA wants to see another FSO appointed as a Deputy Secretary.  Congress created the position of Deputy Secretary of State in the Foreign Relations Authorization Act of 1972, approved Jul 13, 1972 (Public Law 92-352; 86 Stat 490), to replace the Under Secretary of State as the second ranking officer in the Department. The Deputy Secretary serves as the principal deputy, adviser, and alter ego to the Secretary of State; serves as Acting Secretary of State in the Secretary’s absence; and assists the Secretary in the formulation and conduct of U.S. foreign policy and in giving general supervision and direction to all elements of the Department. Specific duties and supervisory responsibilities have varied over time.

 

The candidates currently rumored to replace Bill Burns are not career diplomats. That is not at all surprising. According to history.state.gov, of the 17 deputy secretary appointments since the position was created in 1972 only four had been career Foreign Service officers:

 

In this blog’s last two months online, this might actually be an interesting project to look into — and see just how imbalanced are these appointments.  As we have blogged here previously, we readily recognize that the President and the Secretary of State should have some leeway to pick the people they need to support them in doing their jobs. That said, we think that this practice can be done to such an extreme that it can negatively impact the morale and functioning of the organization and the professional service, in this case the State Department and the institution of the Foreign Service.  Not only that, following an election year, it basically decapitates the upper ranks of an agency pending the arrival of new political appointees. In the case of the State Department, 4/5 of the top appointees are political. It will almost be a wholesale turnover in 2017 whether a Democrat or a Republican wins the White House.

So let’s take a look, for a start, at the top organizational component of the State Department.

1. Secretary of State (S): John F. Kerry, Political Appointee 

2. Deputy Secretary (D) – VACANT

3. Deputy Secretary for Management and Resources (DMR): Heather Higginbottom, Political Appointee
She was the Policy Director for the Kerry-Edwards Presidential Campaign in 2004, Policy Director for then Senator Obama’s Presidential Campaign in 2007, and came to the State Department after stints in the White House and OMB. We expect that she’ll tender her resignation on/or about January 2017 unless she leaves earlier or is asked to stay on by the next Secretary of State from her party.

4. Counselor of the Department (C): Thomas A. Shannon, Jr., Career Foreign Service Officer
Former U.S. Ambassador to Brazil and former Assistant Secretary for Western Hemisphere Affairs.  He is only the seventh Foreign Service Officer to hold the position of Counselor since World War II, and the first in 32 years. Not quite mandatory retirement age in 2017, we expect he would  rotate out of this position for another upper level assignment, unless, he takes early retirement and goes on to a leadership position at some think tank.

5. Under Secreatry for Arms Control and International Security (T): Rose E. Gottemoeller, Political Appointee
She was the chief U.S. negotiator of the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START) with the Russian Federation, which entered into force on February 5, 2011. Prior to the Department of State, she was senior associate with the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. In 1998-2000, she was the Deputy Undersecretary of Energy for Defense Nuclear Nonproliferation and before that, Assistant Secretary and Director for Nonproliferation and National Security. We expect that she’ll tender her resignation on/or about January 2017 unless she leaves earlier or is asked to stay on by the next Secretary of State.

6. Under Secretary for Civilian Security, Democracy, and Human Rights (J):  Sarah Sewall, Political Apppointee
Prior to this position, she served as a Senior Lecturer in Public Policy at the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University. In 2012, Dr. Sewall was Minerva Chair at the Naval War College and from 2006 to 2009 she served as the Director of Harvard’s Carr Center for Human Rights Policy. She was also Deputy Assistant Secretary for Peacekeeping and Humanitarian Assistance at the Department of Defense from 1993 to 1996. From 1987 to 1996, she served as the Senior Foreign Policy Advisor to U.S. Senate Majority Leader George J. Mitchell. We expect that she’ll tender her resignation on/or about January 2017 unless she leaves earlier or is asked to stay on by the next Secretary of State.

7. Under Secretary for Economic Growth, Energy, and Environment (E): Catherine Novelli, Political Appointee
Prior to the State Department, she was Vice President for Worldwide Government Affairs at Apple, Inc.; Prior to her tenure at Apple, Ms. Novelli was a partner in the Washington office of Mayer, Brown, Rowe & Maw LLP where she assisted Fortune 100 clients on issues involving international trade and investment. She was also a former Assistant U.S. Trade Representative for Europe & the Mediterranean. We expect that she’ll tender her resignation on/or about January 2017 unless she leaves earlier or is asked to stay on by the next Secretary of State.

8. Management (M): Patrick F. Kennedy, Career Foreign Service Officer
He has been the Under Secretary of State for Management since 2007. From February 2005 to April 2005, he headed the Transition Team that set up the newly created Office of the Director of National Intelligence. In 2001, he was appointed  U.S. Representative to the United Nations for Management and Reform with the Rank of Ambassador. During this period he also served from May 2003 to the end of November 2003 as Chief of Staff of the Coalition Provisional Authority in Iraq, and from May 2004 to late August 2004 as the Chief of Staff of the Transition Unit in Iraq. He joined the Foreign Service in 1973, so he’s been in federal service for at least 40 years.

His Wikipedia page indicates that he is 65 years old, the mandatory retirement age for the Foreign Service. Except that the regs also make exceptions for presidential appointees under  3 FAM 6216.2-2. (With regard to a member of the Service who would be retired under 3 FAM 6213 who is occupying a position to which the member was appointed by the President, by and with the advice and consent of the Senate, the effective date of retirement will not take effect until the end of the month in which such appointment is terminated and may be further postponed in accordance with 3 FAM 6216.2-1 if the Director General determines it to be in the public interest). If he serves out the rest of the Obama term as “M,” he’ll be the under secretary for management for almost a decade (2007-2016), probably the longest serving incumbent in this position.

9. Political Affairs (P): Wendy Sherman, Political Appointee
She is the Department’s current fourth-ranking official. Prior to this position, Under Secretary Sherman served as Vice Chair of Albright Stonebridge Group, a global strategy firm. Yes, that Albright.  Ambassador Sherman served as Counselor for the State Department from 1997 to 2001, as well as Special Advisor to President Clinton and Policy Coordinator on North Korea. From 1993 to 1996, under Secretary of State Warren Christopher, she was Assistant Secretary for Legislative Affairs. On November 3, 2014, she became dual-hatted as the Acting Deputy Secretary of State.  The Cable says that she has been informed that she is not the permanent pick for the job. We expect that she’ll tender her resignation on/or about January 2017 unless she leaves earlier or is asked to stay on by the next Secretary of State after the 2016 elections.

10. Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs (R): Richard StengelPolitical Appointee
Mr. Stengel was sworn in as Under Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs on February 14, 2014. As of October 31, 2014, the official directory for the State Department still lists that position as vacant, by the way. Prior to assuming this position, Mr. Stengel was the Managing Editor of TIME from 2006 to 2013. From 2004 to 2006, he was the President and Chief Executive Officer of the National Constitution Center in Philadelphia. We expect that he’ll tender his resignation on/or about January 2017 unless he leaves earlier or is asked to stay on by the next Secretary of State. The average tenure, by the way, for the incumbent of this position is 512 days.

So, as of this writing, a total of ten positions occupy the top ranks of the State Department: one vacant position, two positions encumbered by career diplomats, and seven encumbered by political appointees.

Is that the right balance?

The State Department spox is indeed right; Tom Shannon is the first career FSO in 32 years to serve as counselor of the State Department, and Secretary Kerry deserves credit for that pick. We must also note that Secretary Clinton picked one FSO (Burns) and that Secretaries Clinton and Kerry both inherited a third FSO from Secretary Rice’s tenure (Kennedy).(We’ll look at the assistant secretaries in a separate post).

But.

What message are you sending to a 24,000 career workforce if you cannot find a single one among them to appoint as deputy of their own agency? The political appointees have impressive resumes.  That said, why should any of the career employees aspire for an under secretary position when despite their work experience and  years of sacrifices (and their families’) in all the hellholes in the world, all but one (sometimes all), inevitably go to well-connected political appointees?

Any career advice about picking political horses or how to get on the state-of-the-art bullet elevator to the Seventh Floor?

Maybe  somebody will be brave enough to ask these questions during Secretary Kerry’s next town hall meeting? Yes, even if folks get instructions to ask policy-related questions only. In the next few weeks we will also peek into some of these upper offices within State and go on a journey of institutional discovery. We understand that it’s pretty interesting out there.

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Filed under AFSA, Appointments, Career Employees, Elections, Foreign Service, FSOs, John F. Kerry, Leadership and Management, Obama, Org Life, Political Appointees, Politics, Realities of the FS, Secretary of State, Staffing the FS, State Department, Under Secretary

Burn Bag: CG Sighting! CG Sighting! Near Window #36, the Consular Section, Now!

Via Burn Bag

“The CG [consul general] of our very large consular section was recently on leave for several weeks, not that anybody noticed.  She interacts with her staff so rarely that we’ve begun to make jokes about “CG sightings” in the consular section (Note:  she’s up to six after a year here).  Apparently, however, this was simply too much interaction and she has convinced CA [Consular Affairs] to create a Deputy CG position.  Huh?”

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State Dept Security Officer Alleged Sexual Misconduct: Spans 10 Years, 7 Posts

– Domani Spero

 

One of the most serious allegations contained in the CBS News report last year include a regional security officer (RSO) reportedly assigned in Lebanon who “engaged in sexual assaults” with local guards.

The memo, reported by CBS News’ John Miller, cited eight specific examples, including allegations that a State Department security official in Beirut “engaged in sexual assaults” with foreign nationals hired as embassy guards and the charge and that members of former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s security detail “engaged prostitutes while on official trips in foreign countries” — a problem the report says was “endemic.”

USA Today reported that the regional security officer in Beirut allegedly sexually assaulted guards and was accused of similar assaults in Baghdad, Khartoum and Monrovia. Then-director of Diplomatic Security Service, called the allegations a “witch hunt” and gave agents “only three days” to investigate, and no charges were brought.

It turns out, according to State/OIG that this RSO already had “a long history of similar misconduct allegations dating back 10 years at seven other posts where he worked”

It boggles the mind … the RSO typically supervises the local guard force!

Seven posts! Just stop and think about that for a moment. This was the embassy’s top security officer; a sworn federal law enforcement officer who was responsible for the security of Foreign Service personnel, property, and sensitive information throughout the world.

Below is an excerpt from the State/OIG investigation. We regret if this is going to make you puke, but here it is:

The second DS internal investigation in which OIG found an appearance of undue influence and favoritism concerned a DS Regional Security Officer (RSO) posted overseas, who, in 2011, allegedly engaged in sexual misconduct and harassment. DS commenced an internal investigation of those allegations in September 2011.

However, at the time the investigation began, the RSO already had a long history of similar misconduct allegations dating back 10 years at seven other posts where he worked. A 2006 DS investigation involving similar alleged misconduct led to the RSO’s suspension for 5 days.

OIG found that there was undue delay within the Department in adequately addressing the 2011 misconduct allegations and that the alleged incidents of similar misconduct prior to 2011 were not timely reported to appropriate Department officials.7 OIG also found that, notwithstanding the serious nature of the alleged misconduct, the Department never attempted to remove the RSO from Department work environments where the RSO could potentially harm other employees, an option available under the FAM.8 Notably, the DS agents investigating the 2011 allegations reported to DS management, in October 2011, that they had gathered “overwhelming evidence” of the RSO’s culpability.

The agents also encountered resistance from senior Department and DS managers as they continued to investigate the RSO’s suspected misconduct in 2011. OIG found that the managers in question had personal relationships with the RSO. For instance, the agents were directed to interview another DS manager who was a friend of the RSO, and who was the official responsible for selecting the agents’ work assignments. During the interview, the manager acted in a manner the agents believed was meant to intimidate them. OIG also found that Department and DS managers had described the agents’ investigation as a “witch hunt,” unfairly focused on the RSO. Even though OIG did not find evidence of actual retaliation against the investigating agents, OIG concluded that these circumstances, including the undue delay, created an appearance of undue influence and favoritism concerning DS’s investigation and the Department’s handling of the matter.

Ultimately, in November 2013, based on evidence collected by DS and the Department’s Office of Civil Rights, the Department commenced termination of employment proceedings against the RSO. The RSO’s employment in the Department did not end until mid-2014, approximately 3 years after DS initially learned of the 2011 allegations.

 

The State/OIG report cleared Clinton’s chief of staff, Cheryl Mills, for allegedly interceding in an investigation by the Diplomatic Security Service concerning a nominee to be U.S. Ambassador. The Assistant Secretary of State for Diplomatic Security incumbent referred to below had been snared in the Benghazi-fallout, and resigned in December 2012:

The third DS internal investigation in which OIG found an appearance of undue influence and favoritism involved the unauthorized release in mid-2012 of internal Department communications from 2008 concerning an individual who was nominated in early-2012 to serve as a U.S. Ambassador. (The nominee’s name was withdrawn following the unauthorized release.) DS commenced an internal investigation related to the unauthorized release of the internal communications. The then Chief of Staff and Counselor to the Secretary of State was alleged to have unduly influenced that investigation.

OIG found no evidence of any undue influence by the Chief of Staff/Counselor. However, OIG did find that the Assistant Secretary of State in charge of DS had delayed for 4 months, without adequate justification, DS’s interview of the nominee, and that delay brought the investigation to a temporary standstill. OIG concluded that the delay created the appearance of undue influence and favoritism. The case was ultimately closed in July 2013, after the nominee was interviewed and after DS conducted additional investigative work.

No Undue Influence or Favoritism in Four Cases 

OIG did not find evidence of perceived or actual undue influence or favoritism in four of the DS internal investigations reviewed, and, in two of those four, determined that no further discussion was warranted. However, two cases are discussed further in this review because OIG found one common issue in both cases that requires remedial action—the failure to promptly report alleged misconduct to the DS internal investigations unit for further review.

Three DS special agents allegedly solicited prostitutes in 2010 while serving on the security detail for the Secretary of State. Although managers on the security detail learned of some of the alleged misconduct at or near the time it occurred, they did not notify the DS internal investigations unit, which normally handles such matters. A DS internal investigations agent only learned about the three cases while conducting an unrelated investigation. As a result, no action was taken to investigate the misconduct allegations until October 2011, 18 months after the first alleged solicitation occurred. As a result of the investigation then conducted, the three agents were removed from the Secretary’s security detail, and their cases were referred for further disciplinary action. One agent subsequently resigned; the allegations against the other two agents were not sustained.9

A DS special agent who worked in a domestic field office allegedly falsified time and attendance records over a 17-month period between January 2011 and May 2012. DS management in the domestic field office knew about the allegations but did not promptly report them to the DS internal investigations unit. In May 2012, during the course of an unrelated investigation involving the DS special agent, the DS internal investigations unit learned of the allegations of false time and attendance reporting. An internal investigation was then commenced, and the DS special agent subsequently resigned. DS also referred the matter to the Department of Justice, which declined prosecution of the case.

One footnote:

In the SBU report provided to Congress and the Department, OIG noted that one agent subsequently resigned; the allegations against a second agent were not sustained; and the third agent had initiated a grievance proceeding, which was pending, challenging the discipline determination. However, after the SBU report was issued, the Department advised OIG that the third agent’s grievance proceeding was resolved with a finding by the Foreign Service Grievance Board not sustaining the charges.

One Review Ongoing 

The eighth DS internal investigation reviewed by OIG concerned the use of deadly force during three incidents that took place during counternarcotics operations in Honduras in 2012. OIG has commenced a joint review with the U.S. Department of Justice, Office of the Inspector General. The investigation remains under review, and OIG will issue a separate report on the matter.

The above case was cited in the USA Today report:

“The Diplomatic Security Service said William Brownfield, assistant secretary of State for the Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs, “gave the impression” that a probe of the shooting deaths of four Hondurans involving the Drug Enforcement Administration should not be pursued. The case remained open when the memo was written, as the DEA would not cooperate.”

OIG Recommendations – open and unresolved

  1. The Department should take steps (as previously recommended in OIG’s report on the 2012 inspection (ISP-I-13-18)), to enhance the integrity of DS’s internal investigations process by implementing safeguards to prevent the appearance of, or actual, undue influence and favoritism by Department officials.
  2. The Department should clarify and revise the Foreign Affairs Manual and should promulgate and implement additional protocols and procedures, in order to ensure that allegations of misconduct concerning Chiefs of Mission and other senior Department officials are handled fairly, consistently, and independently.

The end.

 

Related posts:

 

Related item:

-09/30/14   Review of Selected Internal Investigations Conducted by the Bureau of Diplomatic Security (ESP-14-01)  [685 Kb] Posted on October 16, 2014

 

 

 

 

 

 

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How to Join the U.S. Diplomatic Service Without Taking the Foreign Service Exam

– Domani Spero

 

Yup, it can be done, if you have some expertise lacking in the Foreign Service, say a nuclear physicist needed in Japan. Or  we imagine, if you’re a tattoo artist who can decipher ISIS tattoos, there maybe work for you (seriously, is there?).  It can also happen if you or your folks know the right people in WashDC.  Or technically, if you’re in the right spot at the right moment, and there is an “urgent need,” it just might be you.

The State Department has updated the categories of non-Foreign Service employees it is able to assign to diplomatic missions overseas this past spring, adding ” Urgent, Limited Need” as a seventh category to the list. Foreign Affairs Manual 3 FAM 2293 (pdf) spells out the rules for appointing not just Department Civil Service employees but also “other individuals” from outside the Foreign Service under a limited non-career appointment (LNA). This is how post may end up with a political ambassador’s chief of staff who has never worked in the Foreign Service, or a speechwriter who is not a Foreign Service officer. Or how posts overseas get their Security Protective Specialists (SPS) who are all hired under LNAs.

3 FAM 2293 TYPES OF LIMITED NONCAREER APPOINTMENTS UNDER SECTION 303 OF THE FOREIGN SERVICE ACT (CT:PER-726; 04-18-2014) (State Only) (Applies to Foreign Service and Civil Service employees)

a. Consistent with Section 502 of the Foreign Service Act (22 U.S.C. 3982), the Department’s goal is to ensure that positions designated as Foreign Service positions are filled by assignment of career and career-conditional members of the Foreign Service.

b. Pursuant to Sections 303 and 309 of the Foreign Service Act, the Department appoints Civil Service employees and other individuals from outside the Foreign Service to LNAs as:

(1) Hard-to-Fill (HTF) Candidates: Positions that have not attracted sufficient bidders through the Foreign Service assignments process and thus may be filled by Department Civil Service employees. The procedures and eligibility requirements applicable to HTF positions as well as the scope and frequency of available positions may vary from year to year. Each HTF program will be announced by an ALDAC after consultation with the Foreign Service’s exclusive representative;

(2) Expert Candidates: For these positions, bureaus are to request temporary FTE from the Office of Resource Management (HR/RMA) before presenting an Action Memorandum to the Director, HR/CDA. For example, expert LNAs include, but are not limited to, positions that cannot normally be filled with Foreign Service personnel, such as certain attorney positions at embassies and missions that are filled by lawyers from the Office of the Legal Adviser, and a nuclear physicist position that was temporarily required in Japan.

(3) Developmental Assignment Candidates: These assignments provide experience and exposure to Foreign Service operations for Civil Service personnel through two methods–bureau candidate only advertised positions, for example, A Bureau positions at ELSO and Overseas Development Program positions advertised via CS merit promotion announcements.

(4) Volunteer Cable Candidates: Volunteer cables are sent, as agreed annually with the exclusive representative in the Bidding Instructions, when there are no qualified bidders for a vacancy that has been advertised. The regional bureaus initiate the volunteer cable exercise as a request to HR/CDA to send such a cable based on Foreign Service need. If a Civil Service candidate is selected, the Director General must prepare a Certificate of Need in accordance with 3 FAM 2295 (see also 3 FAM Exhibit 2295 for an example of this certificate);

(5) Schedule C and Other Outside-Hire Candidates: These appointments include, but are not limited to, chief-of-mission office management specialists, eligible family members, and other outside hires;

(6) Exceptional Circumstance Candidates: The Department’s Director General of the Foreign Service and Director of Human Resources (Director General) may designate certain positions to be filled under an “exceptional circumstance” category (see 3 FAM 2294 below).

(7) Urgent, Limited Need: These limited non-career appointments support specific or exceptional mission-critical needs that existing Foreign Service personnel cannot meet. These needs are considered to be of limited duration, not justifying the creation of a new category of a career Foreign Service employee. HR/RMA will authorize the FTE for these positions. Every two years, the Director General or designee will review each category of LNA falling under this paragraph in consultation with the Foreign Service’s exclusive representative, to determine whether the specific need still exists and existing Foreign Service personnel cannot meet the need.

NOTE: The seven categories in 3 FAM 2293, subparagraphs b(1) through b(7), are the only categories by which a Civil Service employee or other individual from outside the Foreign Service may be appointed to the Foreign Service pursuant to an LNA under Section 303 of the Foreign Service Act. The Department’s procedures for appointing Civil Service employees and other individuals from outside the Foreign Service as LNAs outside these categories are subject to negotiations between the Department and the Foreign Service’s exclusive representative, prior to institution of further categories.

 

The regulations note that “In the event that no bids for exceptional circumstance positions are received from members of the Foreign Service after the positions have been advertised for the required 15 working days, or the Director General determines that the member(s) of the Foreign Service whose bid is (are) not suited to the assignment, the Department may select a Department Civil Service employee or other candidate for appointment to an LNA for assignment to this position, based on a Certificate of Need signed by the Director General in accordance with 3 FAM 2295.”

However, the FAM does not explain fully how the “Urgent, Limited Need” or ULN appointments will be handled. Will these positions be advertised or will it be as painless as the Director General (DGHR) designating the positions as ULNs?  The brief explanation under this category says that “These needs are considered to be of limited duration, not justifying the creation of a new category of a career Foreign Service employee.” And yet, it also says that the DGHR will review LNAs under this category every two years.  How many reviews will be required before a determination needs to be done to justify a regular position?  Will the DGHR similarly be required to issue a “Certificate of Need?” Currently, the FAM only says that a “Certificate of Need” is required when the Department fills a position with an exceptional circumstance candidate or fills a volunteer cable position with a Civil Service employee, but silent when the position is filled under the “Urgent, Limited Need” category.

Most important of all, who is tasked with making a determination that an Urgent, Limited Need exists — the 7th floor, the functional bureau, the regional bureau, post management, the ambassador, a special envoy, a special rep, any top gun in the alphabet soup?

Or would your fairy godfather works just as well?

We must note that according to the regs, LNAs are normally limited to the duration of the specific assignment for which the candidate is hired and normally may not exceed five years in duration. But — the DGHR may propose to extend the limited appointment beyond five years.  Similarly, only the DGHR is tasked with the issuance of a “Certificate of Need.” We are sure that DGHR has the statistics on how many LNAs have been hired under these seven different categories, or for that matter, how is it that two decades on, the temporary Hard-To-Fill category has now become part of normal staffing, but —  those numbers are not for public consumption.

We suspect that Schedule C hires, as well as candidates for Exceptional Circumstance and Urgent, Limited Need categories need not have to bother with usajobs.gov like regular people; that’s the job site for applicants who do not know anybody traveling on the special lanes. And really, if you have the right names on your digital Rolodex, this system works perfectly in your favor.  Ugh! Why bother filling out the KSAs (knowledge, skill, ability) when you can take the short cut.

These new changes bear paying attention to in light of news that a son of a Democratic donor, who was a former WH volunteer snared in the Cartagena Prostitution Scandal is now a full-time policy adviser in the Office on Global Women’s Issues for the U.S. State Department.

We can imagine a time in the future when Schedule C and other non-career appointees may proliferate at the Front Office level. It’s already happening at HQ level, how long before it starts showing up at missions X, Y and Z. Who’s going to say “no” if a political ambassador ask that his/her chief of staff or social media advisor, or speechwriter be designated as a Schedule C or an “Urgent, Limited Need” position?

For those not too familiar with staffing lingo, Schedule C positions are excepted from the competitive service because “they have policy-determining responsibilities or require the incumbent to serve in a confidential relationship to a key official.” According to OPM, appointments to Schedule C positions require advance approval from the White House Office of Presidential Personnel and OPM, but appointments may be made without competition. OPM does not review the qualifications of a Schedule C appointee — final authority on this matter rests with the appointing official.

Are we wrong to presume that final authority on the hiring of Urgent, Limited Need appointee also rests with the appointing official?

Now, we think this is a challenge for the Foreign Service — FS personnel is worldwide available, which means they can be sent anywhere in the world where they are needed. In practice, with the exception of the first two tours upon entering the Service, employees typically only go where they “bid” to go; they are not “directed” or “forced” to go anywhere they don’t want to go.  Even employees who pick assignments in the war zones are volunteers (or voluntold). Better to have volunteers than draftees.

But the world is changing right before our eyes, and the State Department’s personnel and org systems are not changing fast enough to adapt to the needs of our times.  We are convinced that ULN is not going to be the last category on the FAM list and that the State Department will continue to expand the categories of non-career personnel “joining” the Foreign Service under an excuse of not having enough qualified people to send there, wherever there may be. Whether that is actually true or not is hard to say.

For instance, Diplomatic Security’s High Threat directorate reportedly has gaps in its staffing. That’s totally expected given that assignments are dole out a year in advance. What about standing up a new office with the Global Coalition Against ISIL under General Allen?

Not long ago, we’ve heard that several rounds of directed assignments weren’t enough to fill all the vacancies on the S Detail.  Is that reflective of service discipline?  Perhaps. But if you have difficulty filling in the slots for the Secretary’s security detail, one has to start asking the hard questions. And ‘would these positions qualify for urgent, limited need category,’ should not be the main question. Go do a root cause exercise.

We’ve also heard that Office Management Specialists (OMS) has a high attrition rate and that a good number of Civil Service OMS are in the front offices at embassies overseas instead of FS OMS. But surely, you’ve all heard about the FS OMS complaints of lack of a career path?  Go do a root cause exercise.

If the QDDR should have some concrete utility this year, it ought to take a look foremost at the personnel systems of the State Department and how it can make the institution stronger and adapt to the needs of our times.  And perhaps the time has come to seriously look at a unitary personnel system that is agile, and flexible, if we want to see State as our lead foreign affairs agency in fact, not just in name.

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Burn Bag: Ladies and Gentlemen – the New Consular Bidder Assessment Tool

Via Burn Bag:

“Well, the results of the new Consular Bidder Assessment Tool are out. Based on the median scores, every bidder is in the top 20% of all bidders according to the rankings assigned by his peers. How much did we pay a contractor to come up with something just as useless as the 360?”

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Is This Iran Watcher London Position Not Bidlisted About to Go to a “P” Staffer?

– Domani Spero

 

Remember that position at the US Embassy in London last year that “mysteriously” appeared, got pulled down, then re-advertised under curious circumstances? See London Civil Service Excursion Tour Opens — Oh Wait, It’s Gone, Then It’s Back, Ah Forgetaboutit?). Well, it sounds like there’s another one; and this one is roiling the American Foreign Service Association, for good reasons.

With the bidding deadline around the corner, the American Foreign Service Association (AFSA) wants to bring to your attention an FS-02 IROG position in London that has been the subject of some discussion between AFSA and the Department.  In AFSA’s view this position should be available to all eligible bidders now; however, the position has yet to be posted.  On October 1, AFSA’s Governing Board met to discuss the Department’s refusal to include the FS-02 Iran Watcher position in London (IROG Position Number 67700008) in this Summer’s Open Assignment Cycle, instead proposing to include it in the pilot Overseas Development Program.  The Governing Board passed a unanimous motion strongly objecting to the Department’s decision and instructing its General Counsel to advise AFSA on avenues of redress for this apparent breach of contract.  AFSA, the professional association and exclusive representative of the Foreign Service, had previously expressed concern to the Department about including the position in the pilot Overseas Development Program that was created two years ago pursuant to an informal agreement between the Department and AFSA.  AFSA’s concerns center around the position’s uniqueness, Farsi language designation, and the significant number of interested, qualified Foreign Service bidders for the position.  The position is the only one in London and the only Iran Watcher position in an English speaking country.

The Foreign Service needs to build up its Iran expertise including language capability.  The best known Persian speaker at State is probably the State Department Farsi spox, Alan Eyre, who since 2011 has been the public face of the United States to many Iranians and Persian speakers. In 2013, when State/OIG looked into the process of establishing “language designated positions,” we learned that State had established 23 LDPs for Persian-Iranian. Those are jobs where the selectees will be required to have official language training and reach a certain level of proficiency prior to assuming the position. That’s the number for the entire agency, by the way.  In 2012, 8 students studied Farsi at the Foreign Service Institute.  We have no idea how many Farsi speakers have attained the 3/3 level at State but we know that studying a hard language does not come cheap.

The OIG team estimates training students to the 3/3 level in easier world languages such as Spanish can cost $105,000; training in hard languages such as Russian can cost $180,000; and training in super hard languages such as Chinese and Arabic can cost up to $480,000 per student. Students learning super hard languages to the 3/3 level generally spend one year domestically at the Foreign Service Institute (FSI) and then a second year at an overseas training facility.

So — what’s the deal about this Iran Watcher London position?

Rumor has it that a staffer at the Under Secretary for Political Affairs Wendy Sherman‘s office, the Department’s fourth-ranking official allegedly wants this position.

If the State Department is not listing this position in the Open Assignment Cycle bidlist, that means this job is not/not up for grabs for Foreign Service officers. One less FSO studying Farsi next year!

If State includes this position in the Open Assignment Cycle bidlist then only FS employees can bid and a CS employee cannot be assigned to London unless there are no qualified FS bidders (we’re told that’s not going to be the case here).

If State is listing this position under the Overseas Development Program, it means this is potentially for a two-year London assignment, open to Civil Service employees only, and requires a 44-week language training for presumably an S-3/R-3 proficiency in Farsi.

And if this position goes to a Civil Service employee, the chance of that employee serving overseas is a one-time fill. He/She goes to London for two years then return to the State Department. Unless the State Department moves to a unitary personnel system, CS employees typically do not serve on multiple tours overseas.  Which means that State could be spending between $180,000 – $480,000 to teach — whoever is selected for this London position — Persian language to an employee who can be assigned overseas just once.

Now, perhaps the more important question is, in light of AFSA’s protest — if State gives in and list this London position in this Summer’s Open Assignment Cycle, would that really make a difference? Sure FSOs can bid on it, but will anyone of the qualified bidders be …. um…the right fit?

Maybe we can go through this “call your friends in London upstairs” exercise, and see what they say (pick one):

  1. don’t bother applying for the job
  2. don’t waste your time on this one
  3. forgetaboutit, selection already done
  4. all of the above

And you’re wondering why watching bureaucratic life and backstage machinations can make one jaded?  If indeed this job is going to go, as rumored, to a “P’ staffer, all job-related announcements would just be bureaucratic theater.

But don’t worry, everything will fit in the end. Just like a puzzle box.

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Filed under AFSA, Career Employees, Foreign Service, FSOs, Huh? News, Iran, Leadership and Management, Org Culture, Org Life, Realities of the FS, Staffing the FS, State Department

State Department on PTSD Workers’ Comp Claims: How Well Is This Working?

– Domani Spero

 

We received a note recently from a reader who is deeply concerned about his/her State Department friend diagnosed with PTSD from an assignment in a war-torncountry. The condition is allegedly aggravated by the lack of understanding on the part of the officer’s superiors who “pressured” the employee to return to another “very stressful/high pressure work duties.”

“My friend was not shot, raped, tortured or maimed by explosive devices. No single, well-defined, event happened. That said, s/he/it now lives a life far more constrained by physiological barriers due to time spent in dangerous climes.”

That got us looking at what resources are available to State Department employees suffering from PTSD.  We found the following information on state.gov.

Employees working in high threat environments such as Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan, Libya and Yemen may develop symptoms of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) as a result of their performance of duty.

PTSD may be basis for a workers’ compensation claim under the Federal Employees’ Compensation Act (FECA). The FECA is administered by the U.S. Department of Labor, Office of Workers’ Compensation Programs (OWCP). If an OWCP claim is accepted, benefits may include payment of medical expenses and disability compensation for wage loss.

When an employee develops any mental health symptoms, including symptoms of PTSD, he/she is encouraged to make a confidential appointment with a counselor in the Office of Medical Services (MED)’s Employee Consultation Services (ECS) office. If the initial evaluation indicates symptoms suggestive of PTSD, ECS will refer the employee to MED’s Deployment Stress Management Program (DSMP) for further evaluation. A psychiatrist designated by DSMP will document the initial symptoms for the OWCP claim form (CA-2) and CA-20 (Attending Physician’s Statement). If the employee requires assistance in completing the OWCP claims package, HR’s Office of Casualty Assistance (OCA) will help the employee gather the required documentation, complete the necessary paperwork, and submit the claims package.

OWCP has advised the Department that PTSD claims will be handled expeditiously. PTSD claims from Department employees have been successfully adjudicated by OWCP in the past. The Office of Employee Relations (HR/ER) will remain the point of contact with OWCP. HR/ER will provide consultation, advice and guidance on the OWCP process and on issues regarding the employee’s use of leave (annual, sick, and use of FMLA), disability accommodation options, and benefits. HR/ER will manage the employee’s claim after OWCP receives it and continue in its liaison role with OWCP to meet the employee’s needs.

Some PTSD patients may require treatment by a specialist outside of the Department of State. For such cases, MED/DSMP may refer the employee to an outside provider. MED will cover the initial cost of treatment until OWCP accepts the claim, submitted by the employee through HR, and OWCP will reimburse MED once the claim is accepted. If OWCP does not accept the case as work-related, the employee should submit the medical bills to his/her insurance carrier to reimburse MED for the initial treatment costs. Subsequent treatment costs will be the responsibility of the employee’s health insurance provider.

Throughout this process, the Office of Casualty Assistance (OCA) will assist the employee and his/her family as they adjust to the employee’s medical condition and explore various options affecting their career with the Department. OCA’s role is to assist the employee with paperwork and coordinate with other Department offices as appropriate.

Workers’ Comp Resources: (* = Intranet Website)

DoL Workers’ Compensation Program Website
OWCP Forms: CA-2 CA-2a CA-20 (pdf)
DoL’s Publication CA-801

DoS Office of Casualty Assistance (OCA)* Tel: 202-736-4302
DoS Office of Employee Relations (HR/ER)*

Email: HRWorkersCompensation@state.gov

 

Frankly, the Office of Casualty Assistance (OCA) has not been terribly impressive. So we’d like to know how responsive is OCA at State when it comes to offering assistance to employees with PTSD who had to deal with worker’s comp?

And how well is DOL’s Workers’ Comp program working if you have PTSD?

We must add that while PTSD is typically associated with assignments to high threat environments such as Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan, Libya and Yemen, Foreign Service employees and family members are assigned to over 280 posts around the world.  Some of these assignment are to war-torn countries in Africa that are not priority staffing posts like AIP or are in critical crime posts such as some cities in Mexico, the DRC, and several posts in the Western Hemisphere (looking at Honduras, Guate and El Salvador). Studies show that crime events are also associated with high rates of PTSD.   The focus on PTSD and employees in high threat environments in the state.gov information above excludes a long list of critical crime posts and appears to discount, by omission, crime-related PTSD and post-traumatic experience in posts not located in Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan, Libya and Yemen.

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Filed under Americans Abroad, Foreign Service, FSOs, MED, Org Life, Realities of the FS, Staffing the FS, State Department, U.S. Missions