Category Archives: PRTs

Snapshot: Afghanistan Provincial Reconstruction Teams

– Domani Spero

 

According to the Congressional Research Service (CRS), the May 20-21, 2012, NATO summit in Chicago expressed agreement to phase out the PRTs in Afghanistan by the end of 2014. The July 2014 CRS report also indicates that as of December 1, 2013, 12 PRTs have been transferred to Afghan control, and that the remaining 16 are to be transferred by the end of 2014.  District Support Teams (DSTs), which help district officials provide government services, are to close by the end of 2014 as well.  USAID and CRS calculations put the PRT projects cost (development and local governance) from FY2001 to 2011 at over USD $1.2 billion.

 

Screen Shot 2014-08-03

Screen Shot 2014-08-03

 

Below via the CRS:

The PRTs, the concept for which was announced in December 2002, have performed activities ranging from resolving local disputes to coordinating local reconstruction projects, although most U.S.-run PRTs and most PRTs in combat-heavy areas focused on counterinsurgency. Many of the additional U.S.civilian officials deployed to Afghanistan during 2009 and 2010 were based at PRTs, which have facilities, vehicles, and security. Some aid agencies say they felt more secure since the PRT program began,49 but several relief groups did not want to associate with military forces because doing so might taint their perceived neutrality. Virtually all the PRTs, listed in Table 15, were placed under the ISAF mission. Each PRT operated by the United States has had U.S. forces to train Afghan security forces; DOD civil affairs officers; representatives of USAID, State Department, and other agencies; and Afghan government (Interior Ministry) personnel. USAID officers assigned to the PRTs administer PRT reconstruction projects. USAID spending on PRT projects is in the table at the end of this report.
[...]
Despite the benefits, President Karzai consistently criticized the PRTs as holding back Afghan capacity-building and repeatedly called for their abolition as “parallel governing structures.” USAID observers backed some of the criticism, saying that there was little Afghan input into PRT development project decision-making or as contractors for PRT-funded construction.

* * *

 

 

 

 

 

 

Leave a comment

Filed under Afghanistan, Civilian Surge, Defense Department, End of Year, Foreign Affairs, Foreign Service, Govt Reports/Documents, PRTs, Snapshots, State Department, U.S. Missions

Taliban Attack Kills US Diplomat, Three NATO Troops and Civilians in Zabul, Afghanistan

According to McClatchy, three NATO troops and two coalition civilians were killed Saturday in southern Afghanistan in a suicide bombing that also killed two Afghans and narrowly missed killing the governor of the province.  The attack reportedly came at about 11 a.m. in the Zabul provincial capital, Qalat, as a convoy carrying Gov. Mohammad Ashraf Nasery was passing the base of the local NATO provincial reconstruction team.

Provincial Reconstruction Team Zabul vehicle crews maintain security while PRT engineers conduct a site survey of the on-going street drainage project in Qalat, Afghanistan, April 14. The PRT is comprised of Air Force, Army, Department of State, U.S. Agency for International Development and U.S. Department of Agriculture personnel who work with the government of Afghanistan to improve governance, stability and development throughout the province. (Photo via ISAF/Flickr)

Provincial Reconstruction Team Zabul vehicle crews maintain security while PRT engineers conduct a site survey of the on-going street drainage project in Qalat, Afghanistan, April 14. The PRT is comprised of Air Force, Army, Department of State, U.S. Agency for International Development and U.S. Department of Agriculture personnel who work with the government of Afghanistan to improve governance, stability and development throughout the province. (Photo via ISAF/Flickr)

Both ISAF and the State Department cites the attack as an improvised explosive device (IED) attack. Some reports described it as a suicide attack.

The casualties are typically not named pending notification of their next of kin. We don’t know why the deceased diplomat is not named in this statement when Secretary Kerry had already spoken to her parents.

Our State Department family is grieving over the loss of one of our own, an exceptional young Foreign Service officer, killed today in an IED attack in Zabul province, along with service members, a Department of Defense civilian, and Afghan civilians. Four other State Department colleagues suffered injuries, one critically.

Our American officials and their Afghan colleagues were on their way to donate books to students in a school in Qalat, the province’s capital, when they were struck by this despicable attack.

Just last week in Kabul, I met our fallen officer when she was selected to support me during my visit to Afghanistan. She was everything a Foreign Service officer should be: smart, capable, eager to serve, and deeply committed to our country and the difference she was making for the Afghan people. She tragically gave her young life working to give young Afghans the opportunity to have a better future.

We also honor the U.S. troops and Department of Defense civilian who lost their lives, and the Afghan civilians who were killed today as they worked to improve the nation they love.

I spoke this morning with our fallen Foreign Service officer’s mother and father and offered what little comfort I can for their immeasurable loss. As a father of two daughters, I can’t imagine what her family is feeling today, or her friends and colleagues.

I also have been in close touch with Secretary Hagel, the White House, and our senior management team at the State Department, including Deputy Secretary Burns, Undersecretary Kennedy, and Ambassador Cunningham in Kabul. We will all keep in close contact as we learn more facts about this attack and the brave people who were killed and wounded. We are also in contact with the families of those injured.

We know too well the risks in the world today for all of our State Department personnel at home and around the world – Foreign Service, civil service, political appointees, locally employed staff, and so many others. I wish everyone in our country could see first-hand the devotion, loyalty, and amazingly hard and hazardous work our diplomats do on the front lines in the world’s most dangerous places. Every day, we honor their courage and are grateful for their sacrifices, and today we do so with great sadness.

With thoughts and prayers to loved ones left behind and the wounded.  We will update this post when additional information becomes available.

sig4

 

 

3 Comments

Filed under Afghanistan, Defense Department, Foreign Service, FSOs, PRTs, Realities of the FS, State Department, War

Photo of the Day: Mobile diplomacy wears combat boots also…

Via dvidshub.net:

Mobile diplomacy comes to Mizan: Afghan national police officers pose for a photo while cooking lunch for the more than 100 Afghans attending a mobile diplomacy shura in the district of Mizan, Zabul province, Afghanistan, Jan. 4. Provincial leaders were on hand at the shura to talk with locals about security and education, and to officially open the road from Qalat, the provincial capital, to the district. Provincial Reconstruction Team Zabul. (Photo by Staff Sgt. Brian Ferguson; Date Taken:01.04.2011; Location:MIZAN, AF)

 

 

1 Comment

Filed under Afghanistan, Defense Department, Diplomacy, Photo of the Day, PRTs

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder: The Ticking Bomb in the Foreign Service

Rachel Schneller joined the Foreign Service in 2001, serving in Skopje, Conakry and Basrah, where she was a Provincial Action Officer from 2005 to 2006. In the January 2008 issue of the Foreign Service Journal, she wrote a piece about her personal struggle with PTSD  (See Recovery: When  Surviving Isn’t Enough, FSJ, p. 35). That same year, she was awarded the William R. Rivkin Award for Dissent. The excerpt below is from her 2008 FSJ article:

Since returning from Iraq over a year ago and being diagnosed with the disorder, I’ve gotten a crash-course on the subject. So perhaps I can contribute to the dialog in a way others cannot, by describing what it is like to recover from PTSD.

My PTSD came about due to the conditions I endured while on assignment with the State Department, but State left me to fend for myself when it came to seeking treatment. In June 2006, after having worked in Basrah for several months, I took leave to return to Washington for a few weeks. A Foreign Service National employee in my office had been murdered, and I’d dreamed of hanging myself from my office light fixture.

During leave, I asked the Medical Services Bureau for help and they referred me to an in-house social worker. While telling him about the whole horrible situation, including the dream about killing myself, I broke down in sobs. The social worker was nice but offered me no actual treatment. He did not refer me to a psychiatrist for an evaluation; he did not offer me medication for my depression; and he did not address my thoughts of suicide. Disappointed, but fearful of being labeled a “quitter” or worse, I chose to return to Iraq.

When I think about how poorly State treated me when I sought help, I am outraged. After all, I was in no condition to make decisions about my own well being, any more than an alcoholic can make a well informed decision in a liquor store. Any competent, qualified mental health care provider would have known this. I had requested help but found only more danger. It was as if the ambulance coming for me in my elevator dream not only did not stop for me, but ran over me in the process. I — and everyone else  serving our country in a war zone — deserve much better.
[...]
In any war zone, some people going through the experience will likely come out of it with PTSD. But if the State Department is going to post its employees to war zones, it should be prepared to deal with the mental health aftermath and offer treatment to those who need it.

I completed my Iraq tour at the end of July 2006 and returned to Washington, where I began my next assignment, long-term training at the Foreign Service Institute. After all I’d been through, I was grateful  to be home alive and in one piece, reunited with family and friends. But soon I just stopped functioning normally. I was unable to sleep. I started getting lost on my way home from work, waking up in a sort of fugue state blocks away from my apartment in Georgetown. I don’t remember precisely how, but I burned myself several times so badly that I scarred — yet I didn’t feel it. I only noticed the burns the next day. Rage overwhelmed me. I nearly attacked another person in one of my FSI training classes, but walked out of the class in time and had a meltdown in the bathroom. (That poor woman had no idea how close she came to being strangled by me for making a completely innocent comment.) I couldn’t keep up the  pretense of being normal any longer.

Regions of the brain affected by PTSD and stress.
National Institutes of Health

Last week, I posted about a grievance case by a Senior Foreign Service Officer who claimed PTSD and whose suspension was affirmed by the Foreign Service Grievance Board. In its FSGB filing, the State Department contends the following:

“Grievant served approximately one year in [REDACTED], [REDACTED] and returned to the U.S. on August 11, [REDACTED].  He served nearly seven months at the [REDACTED] without incident, and then, on March 2, [REDACTED] was assigned as Office Director to the Bureau of [REDACTED] and his misconduct began. Grievant waited until almost six months after he was removed from [REDACTED] to seek any medical advice.”

The Foreign Service Grievance Board in affirming the suspension writes:

“The year and a half referred to by the social worker encompasses the first seven months after his return to the U.S. from [REDACTED] when grievant served at the [REDACTED] apparently without incident. Grievant has not stated what he did in {REDACTED]  or what experiences he had that could have caused PSTD. He has presented no testimonials from others at the [REDACTED] or prior to his service in [REDACTED] to support his claim that PTSD accounted for his “out of character” behavior afterwards. There was no evidence that the claimed PTSD impacted any other aspects of the grievant’s life beyond the threatening and demeaning and bullying behavior that formed the basis for the discipline in this case.”

See, nothing happened in seven months, so how could he possibly have PTSD?

I don’t know how knowledgeable is the FSGB about PTSD, including an occurrence described as Delayed Onset PTSD, which can happen anywhere after six months to four years of the traumatic event. Or much longer than four years in some cases.  In fact, according to the LA Times, just a few weeks ago, Tech Sgt. Stanley Friedman, 92 was finally compensated for PTSD by Veterans Affairs (it was called shell shock or battle fatigue when he served nearly 70 years ago) for his service during World War II.  Our Foreign Service folks have not only served in war zones but have been subjected to  terrorist attacks, natural disasters and other traumatic events overseas.  I fully expect that the FSGB will be called on many more times in the foreseeable future to adjudicate cases relating to PTSD in the Foreign Service.

There is no question that the State Department needs to do a better job at screening for PTSD in the Service rather than its “cursory 3 hour High Stress Debrief session” plus handouts or one-day High Stress Assignment Outbrief Program, MQ-950 (which appears to be available only to employees and not/not to family members).  And by the way, spouses/partners who may be working in high-stress posts will not necessarily be working when they are back in the U.S., so they would presumably fall under the Non State Employee category.  The tuition rate for that category for taking MQ-950 is $260.

Rachel commented about the grievance/PTSD blog post, which I am highlighting below.

My heart goes out to everyone involved in this case. The employee having served in a PRT in what must have been extraordinarily difficult circumstances. The bewildered employees who felt threatened by the disturbing behavior of their boss. The State Department system, which has so little capacity for dealing with situations like this, which will only become more prevalent as more and more of us serve in combat zones. And come back.

A couple of things- a diagnosis of PTSD is your best defense, and can only be made by a qualified professional. A social worker cannot diagnose. If you have served in a combat zone and come back acting weird, please do everyone a favor and go see a psychiatrist or psychologist who can actually give you a diagnosis. You will not know you have a PTSD when you come back. You will just feel different and angry all the time. Trust me, get diagnosed. It is the only way to get good treatment.

Second, PTSD is a ticking time bomb. It is completely to be expected that someone with PTSD will come back from their service in a combat zone and be able to hold it together for a while. Luckily for me, I lost it only a few weeks after coming back and so was able to get treatment quickly. But in many cases, someone will not “lose it” for months or years afterward. You get triggered by something and BAM! You are right back in the war zone. That trigger may happen soon or it may not happen for a long time.

Third, you are an adult and so even if you have PTSD, you still are responsible for not attacking people or otherwise breaking the law, and you can and will be held responsible. PTSD is not a license to break the law. It does not make yelling at people OK. The soldier who “lost it” and killed all those innocent Afghani civilians a few months back? He probably had major PTSD, but he also killed a bunch of innocent people. Getting suspended from State is a good thing, because if you have PTSD you need to get treated, and this is your wake-up call.

And State, this sort of situation is going to keep happening. We need to do a better job of handling this sort of PTSD situation. It is only a matter of time before someone comes back and instead of yelling at their employees, actually does someone, or themselves, physical harm.

While I do believe that the State Department has the responsibility for conducting more effective PTSD screening for returnees, I also agree with Rachel’s point that mental health is an individual responsibility.  As she puts it plainly, “if you wait for State to get its act together on PTSD, you will be crazy for a long time.”

Wednesday, June 27 is PTSD Awareness Day. DiploPundit will be blogging about this topic the whole week.

Domani Spero

4 Comments

Filed under Foreign Service, Iraq, MED, Mental Health, PRTs, PTSD, Spouses/Partners, State Department, War

Insider Quote: Everything Rushing at You at 110 Miles an Hour

Below is an excerpt from a USIP interview on lessons learned from the PRTs in Iraq and Afghanistan. The interviewee, a Foreign Service Officer, served as the senior public diplomacy (PD) officer at Baghdad PRT, Iraq, from November 2009 to November 2010.

Q. Are there any other comments you would like to share about your experience at the PRT, how it worked, and how it could have been made more effective?

A. I don’t think I’ll ever have another experience in the Foreign Service quite like it. I know it’s not normal State Department life. In some ways there were good aspects to it, and in some ways I always felt a fish out of water. Some of the anti-State biases that you would see, I didn’t let them bother me, but other people were bothered by them. Those who had DOD and different military backgrounds would get frustrated by us and our consensus style of approaching a problem, rather than a top-down style.

The only other thing I would say about it is to compare it to my first tour in Africa where we were junior officers supervising other junior officers and doing consular work and economic work without a lot of supervision. Everything was just rushing at you at 110 miles an hour, and you’re doing the best you can to handle the problems as well as you can within regulations that you’re presented. Invariably you missed things and picked things up and developed bad habits. Then you go into a second tour in (a western European country) where your local staff had been there 30 years and they know the FAM (Foreign Affairs Manual) better than you do, and they know exactly how everything should be done, and you unlearn your bad mistakes, and you correct things you were doing wrong and you do certain other things better and broaden your experience.

To me the PRT was kind of like that first experience, where everything is coming at you at 110 miles an hour, and you have colleagues that don’t know what public diplomacy is, who didn’t have an officer at their PRT asking them “What are you doing?” so that we can help promote it or talk about it, either back home or in the local media. They didn’t know what to think of me. I was an alien to them – “Leave me alone and let me do my projects and stop bothering me.” It took a while to develop those relationships.

Just the work itself is different, and so going forward to another assignment in an embassy with a normal structure and a public affairs officer and two assistants working, I think I’ll unlearn my bad mistakes and bad habits and see things in a more normal environment, but I’ll always have a favorable view of my time in Iraq. It had its frustrations, but I think in the end it was rewarding and I’m glad I went.

– Foreign Service Officer (INTERVIEW #128)
Senior Public Diplomacy (PD) Officer
Baghdad PRT, Iraq (November 2009 to November 2010)
Interview date: Jan. 20, 2011 PDF

Domani Spero

Leave a comment

Filed under FSOs, Iraq, Lessons, PRTs, State Department

Insider Quote: AIP Fatigue and a Little Hostility

The following is an extract from an interview conducted by the U.S. Institute of Peace for its lessons learned project from the PRTs in Iraq and Afghanistan.  The previous years, USIP did similar interviews as part of its oral history project. The interviewee, a State Department Foreign Service Officer, was the team leader of PRT Wasit, Iraq, from March 2010 to March 2011. The interview notes say “He understood the PRT mission to be one of serving as a mini-consulate while pursuing capacity building in governance, rule of law and agricultural development. He was the last team leader as the PRT was closing out soon after his departure.”

Q. In closing let ask you if there any other comments you want to make? Any ideas that you want to share about your experience with the PRT, how it worked and how it could have been made more effective or how other PRTs in other countries could be made more effective?

Senior Agricultural Advisor for the Wasit, Iraq Provincial Reconstruction Team George Stickels from Arlington, Va., surveys a field in the Al Abara village in the Badra District of Wasit, Iraq to see where a center pivot irrigation system should be placed into the field to help in the growing of crops, Nov. 20, 2010. The Wasit PRT and 1st Squadron, 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment are in Iraq in support of Operation New Dawn.
(Photo by Spc. Charles Willingham via dvidshub.net)

A. What a great management/leadership experience! [But] our system is bad when it comes to vetting people for assignments like this. I think that old adage about playing nicely with others is particularly important in a high pressure, kind of “out there” assignment like a PRT. It’s not a place to send screw-ups, it’s not a place to send people looking to rehabilitate bad careers. I think it’s important to be choosy even when there are assignments where you are maybe a little desperate about “will I get this job filled?” So I think that is important, I think the people who can deal with the pressure, who have got a good sense of humor, who are versatile, who like working with the military, who can function well in a environment where State is a tiny minority, all of that is important and I think that improves the effectiveness of your PRT.

I don’t know whether this is what you are after, but I thought the financial incentives were quite good and certainly worthwhile. I thought the system did a horrendously poor job of taking care of many of us with follow on assignments. I’m very happy with my follow on, ultimately, but I spent an inordinate amount of time during my tour chasing a follow on assignment. I mean time that was robbed from me focusing on PRT-related stuff. That is not something specific to Iraq tours; I think that speaks more to the general breakdown in our assignments process.

A more general observation, not PRT specific – I think we are at a real crossroads in these sorts of assignments. I think there are those of us — a third or a quarter of the Foreign Service — who have done them. And I think there are a lot of people who haven’t, don’t want to, don’t want to be reminded that there are those of us out there who’ve done them, don’t feel like they should be disadvantaged in any way because they haven’t done them, or don’t want to do them. I sense there is a what I like to call AIP (Afghanistan, Iraq and Pakistan) fatigue out there and even a little hostility towards those of us who have done these assignments. I’m not necessarily advocating — because I know there are some people who aren’t that good at doing these assignments and I don’t want to advocate that we should all be given our absolute priority assignments and our top two choice assignments and instant promotion—but I think this is a stated top priority goal of the Secretary of State and reiterated by the DG (Director General) and that is not always reflected in the way the system reacted to those of us who’ve done these assignments.

– Foreign Service Officer (Interview #152)
Team Leader of PRT Wasit, Iraq (2010-2011)
Excerpt from Iraq/Afghanistan Provincial Reconstruction Teams: Lessons Learned, USIP
Interview date: April 15, 2011

We certainly can understand the AIP fatigue but have you heard about that “little hostility” he’s talking about?  You’d think that if there is some kind of hostility or resentment, it would come from those who have been pressed for more than one tours to Afghanistan, Iraq or Pakistan, instead of the other way around.  All assignments are voluntary, of course, even those who are left with no other option on their lists but Iraq, Afghanistan or Pakistan. Or the reverse hostility is for getting first dibs on assignments (AIP assignments have its own cycle), getting priority/onward assignments, breaking current assignments to relocate to any AIP posts, etc.etc.?

Are there really folks who “don’t feel like they should be disadvantaged in any way because they haven’t done” the war zone tours?

Domani Spero

2 Comments

Filed under Foreign Service, FSOs, Iraq, Lessons, PRTs, Realities of the FS, Staffing the FS

Photo of the Day: In Afghanistan – Why Am I Here, Again?

Via RC-East/Flickr

GHAZNI PROVINCE, Afghanistan – A Polish soldier reads the instructions on the chest decompression needle during the combat lifesaving class being taught by Texas Army National Guard Sgt. Ty Wenglar, Provincial Reconstruction Team Ghazni training medic May 5. This combat lifesaving class taught Polish PRT members how to treat casualties with open chest wounds. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. April Quintanilla).

Leave a comment

Filed under Afghanistan, Defense Department, Photo of the Day, PRTs

PRT Zabul Visits Location Where Health is Welth

Via dvidshub.net

U.S. Air Force Senior Airman David Cummings, Provincial Reconstruction Team Zabul medic, talks to an Afghan boy outside of the hospital during a dismounted patrol in Shah Joy, Afghanistan, Nov. 21, 2011. Members of PRT Zabul went to the hospital to conduct a key leader engagement. Cummings is deployed from Lackland Air Force Base, San Antonio, Texas.

Photo by Senior Airman Grovert Fuentes-Contreras

 

 

 

Leave a comment

Filed under Afghanistan, Defense Department, Photo of the Day, PRTs

Paktya PRT: No casualties reported, all snowballs expended

These photos were taken before the ISAF members at Bagram Airfield inadvertently set fire to copies of the Quran on February 22, 2012 and precipitated protests across Afghanistan which resulted in at least 30 deaths and 200 injuries.

TRC-East PAO reported from Afghanistan on the epic snow fight at Gardez between TF Gold Geronimo Soldiers and Paktya PRT. Reprinted in full below.

PAKTYA PROVINCE, Afghanistan — Cold rounds of solidified H2O were flying within the walls of Forward Operating Base Gardez Feb. 20. Paratroopers from Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 3rd Battalion, 509th Infantry Regiment, Task Force Spartan, planned and executed a complex winter snowball ambush on members of the Paktya Provinicial Reconstruction Team as they were exiting their working quarters at lunch time.

Escalation of force was immediately implemented, with quick reaction teams joining the fight from what seemed to be every nook and cranny of the FOB.  At the height of the conflict, more than 50 Soldiers were receiving or returning fire. Multiple fighting positions were established, and then quickly overrun.

There were many moments during the battle between Task Force Gold Geronimo and Paktya PRT Soldiers, when it was difficult, if not impossible, to determine friendly forces from foe. In fact eyewitnesses claimed to have seen multiple incidents of turncoat activity.

The fighting raged on for more than 45 minutes before the majority of warriors on both sides of the battlefield retreated to the dining facility to carbo-load and hydrate.

As is so often the case in today’s modern warfield, victory was claimed by both sides.

No casualties were reported, and all snow balls were expended.


More photos here.

Leave a comment

Filed under Afghanistan, Defense Department, PRTs, War

Can you imagine having your HHE delivered to your hotel in WashDC?

FSGB Case No. 2011-037 is about a Foreign Service Officer with 30 years of service, whose last overseas assignment was to a Provincial Reconstruction Team (PRT) in Iraq.  Approaching retirement in the fall of 2009, grievant left Iraq and returned to Washington.  He leased a temporary residence at the Remington Hotel in Washington D.C.  Grievant retired from the Foreign Service, effective Sunday, February 28, 2010.  He remained in the Washington D.C. area, residing at the Remington Hotel.

On Monday March 1, 2010, grievant received a phone call from HR informing him that he has not updated his OF-126 (Residence and Dependency Report) and his most recent OF-126 in his OPF was dated April 30, 1985. Following completion of that conversation, HR e-mailed a blank form OF-126 to grievant. Grievant filled out the form, placing his current Washington D.C. address in Block 8, and electronically signed and dated the form, March 1, 2010.

In October 2010, while attending the Retirement Job Search Program, grievant contacted the Department’s Transportation Office to arrange to have his HHE sent to his retirement home in Baytown, Texas.  He was told that his retirement address was Washington D.C., so his effects could not be shipped at government expense to Texas.

In short, the FSO could proceed to his retirement home in Texas but his 30 years worth of household effects which may or may not have reached the statutory limit of 8,165 kilograms or 18,000 pounds, net weight was stuck in Washington, D.C.

Bulldozer relocating a house in c. 1920

Image via Wikipedia

According to the record of proceeding, which is publicly available online with the names redacted, the grievant contacted HR and was informed the Assignments Panel directed that a Decision Memorandum be sent to the Director General of the Foreign Service.  On November 1, the HR Executive Office (HR/EX) sent a Decision Memorandum to the Director General recommending against approving grievant’s request to retroactively change his separation address to Baytown, Texas.  Excerpt below from the Decision Memorandum:

Mr. [Grievant] (FE-OC) transferred from Iraq to Washington D.C. in October/November 2009.  Facing age limitation mandatory separation, he submitted his retirement package which included the attached OF-126, dated March 1, 2010.  He requested Washington D.C. as his separation address.  No travel orders were issued because his separation address is within a 50-mile radius from Washington D.C.

Mr. [Grievant]’s retirement was effective February 28, 2010.  He has been working in the Department as a WAE since his retirement and recently contacted his CDO to say that he had made a mistake when he completed the OF-126.  He said the correct separation location should have been Baytown, Texas instead of Washington D.C.  He asked that he be re-paneled and retroactively separated to Baytown.  HR/EX would have to issue a travel authorization if his request is approved.

On November 5, the Director General issued her decision, denying the request.

What a way to say “thank you for your service.”

On January 31, 2012, the Foreign Service Grievance Board held that “The grievant met his burden of showing, by a preponderance of the evidence, that his grievance is meritorious.  The grievance is sustained in part, and the Department is ordered to issue grievant travel orders, and ship his household effects (HHE) to the service separation address listed in the form OF-126 in effect on the date of his retirement on February 28, 2010.” 

Below is the case overview from the FSGB:

The grievant, a Foreign Service Officer who retired from the U.S. Department of State, received a telephone call from his Career Development Officer (CDO) in HR/CDA on the first workday (March 1, 2010) after his retirement, in which the CDO told grievant that his OF-126 form must be updated, as the then-current form in grievant’s file was dated in 1985.  Grievant and his CDO did not discuss the significance of the form, or that its contents, specifically Block 8, would be used as the destination for grievant’s travel and the shipment of his HHE.  Without reading the instructions for the form (which he claims not to have received from his CDO), grievant filled it out, citing his temporary quarters in a Washington, D.C. hotel as his separation address, and emailed it back to his CDO.

Several months later, while attending the Job Search Program, grievant called the Department’s transportation division to arrange for shipment of his HHE to his new home in Baytown, Texas, a Houston suburb.  He was told that he was not authorized any shipment as his separation address, as recorded on the March 1, 2010 OF-126, was Washington D.C.  Grievant then called his CDO and asked to have the address changed back to the Houston area.  This required a decision memo to the Director General (DG), which recommended against authorizing the change grievant requested.  The DG denied the request.

The Board found credible the grievant’s contention that he would not have changed his OF-126 had his CDO not called and told him he must do so.  The Board also gave credence to grievant’s argument that given grievant’s last assignment to a provincial post in Iraq, he may not have received the Department notice explaining the importance of keeping the OF-126 updated; it is possible that he was unaware that the form would be used to authorize the final destination of his HHE.  Finally, the Department’s argument that the grievant could not change his retirement address after his effective date of retirement, when the Department did just that only a few months earlier, fails.

The Department is ordered to authorize travel and shipment of effects to the service separation address in grievant’s file on February 28, 2010, the effective date of his retirement, in Houston, Texas.   It is also ordered to reimburse grievant for the costs of storage of his HHE from January 1, 2011 until shipment to Texas.  Grievant’s request to have shipment authorized to Baytown, Texas is denied.

It might be useful to note that the OF-126 is also the basis when you request for Emergency visitation travel (EVT) from the post of assignment to the United States or to other locations in certain situations of family emergency.  Here is the relevant part: “In the event the seriously ill, injured, or deceased family member or incapacitated parent is located outside the United States, or the remains of an immediate family member who has died abroad are to be accompanied to a place outside the United States, travel costs are “constructed,” i.e., the cost of the travel by the employee or employee’s spouse or domestic partner (as defined in 3 FAM 1610) may not exceed the transportation expenses that would have been incurred for travel between the post and the employee’s service separation residence address.”

I’m glad the FSGB did not like the special way they said thank you over there, too.

Domani Spero

 

 

 

2 Comments

Filed under Foreign Service, FSOs, Grievance, PRTs, Regulations, Retirement, State Department