Category Archives: Public Service

Battle For Benghazi in WashDC:  Vroom Vroom Your Search Engines Now or Just Drink Gin

– Domani Spero

 

The final (maybe) Battle for Benghazi will officially open in Washington, D.C. on September 17. We’ve counted  five competing Benghazi-related sites to-date.

Benghazi Select Committee

http://benghazi.house.gov

The Benghazi Select Committee will have its hearing carried live. We expect that the prepared statements of witnesses and the live stream of the hearing will be available here at the appropriate time.

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Wed, 09/17/2014 – 10:00am
HVC-210, Capitol Visitor Center
Topic: Implementation of the Accountability Review Board recommendations

Witnesses

Greg Star
Assistant Secretary for Diplomatic Security

Mark J. Sullivan
Chairman, The Independent Panel on Best Practices

Todd Keil
Member, The Independent Panel on Best Practices
Former Assistant Secretary for Infrastructure Protection, U.S. Department of Homeland Security

 

Benghazi on the Record

http://democrats.benghazi.house.gov

The Democrats have put up its own Select Committee on Benghazi Minority site.  Benghazi on the Record was prepared at the request of Rep. Elijah E. Cummings, the Ranking Member of the Select Committee on Benghazi, “to collect—in one place—as much information as possible regarding questions that have already been asked and answered about the attacks in Benghazi.”

 

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Then there are the other Benghazi related sites prep and ready:

House Republicans: Accountability Investigation of Benghazi

http://www.gop.gov/solution_content/benghazi/

House GOP Benghazi site: “For over a year now, House Committees have engaged in serious, deliberate, and exhaustive oversight investigations of what led up to this tragic event, what happened that night, and why the White House still refuses to tell the whole truth. All of the unclassified information and findings from this ongoing investigation can be found on this website.”

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Benghazi Committee

http://benghazicommittee.com

According to thehill.com, the super-PAC American Bridge and Correct the Record, a group that defends former Secretary Clinton, has launched a rapid-response website at benghazicommittee.com aka  Benghazi Research Center.

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Media Matters For America
“All Questions Answered”

Media Matters For America, another pro-Clinton group, launched a guide to the committee called “All Questions Answered.”

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No doubt this is just the beginning. Twitter handle scramble should happen just about now.  Tumblr, Pinterest, Instagram, AMA on Reddit, blogs still up for grabs.

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Insider Quote: Integrity and Openness – Requirements for an Effective Foreign Service

Kenneth M. Quinn, the only three-time winner of an AFSA dissent award, spent 32 years in the Foreign Service and served as ambassador to Cambodia from 1996 to 1999. He has been president of the World Food Prize Foundation since 2000. In the September issue of the Foreign Service Journal, he writes about integrity and openness as requirements for an effective Foreign Service. Except below:

I can attest to the fact that challenging U.S. policy from within is never popular, no matter how good one’s reasons are for doing so. In some cases, dissent can cost you a job—or even end a career. And even when there are no repercussions, speaking out may not succeed in changing policy.

Yet as I reflect on my 32 years in the Foreign Service, I am more convinced than ever how critically important honest reporting and unvarnished recommendations are. And that being the case, ambassadors and senior policy officials should treasure those who offer different views and ensure that their input receives thoughtful consideration, no matter how much they might disagree with it.

Read in full here.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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State Department vs. Bill O’Reilly — Volleys Fired But Nothing to Do With Foreign Policy!

Domani Spero

 

Apparently, there is a war going on between the State Department and Bill O’Reilly of Fox News and it has nothing to do with foreign policy or Benghazi! It all started with the following segment of the O’Reilly Factor. At the 2:04 mark, Bill O’Reilly says this:

“With all due respect, and you don’t have to comment on this,” O’Reilly told Rosen. “That woman looks way out of her depth over there. Just the way she delivers … it doesn’t look like she has the gravitas for that job.”

 

That did not sit well with Marie Harf, the deputy spokeswoman of the State Department, who fired a verbal projectile via Twitter:

 

On September 4, Ms. Harf also said this from the podium (mark 3:16 on this video clip):

“I think that when the anchor of a leading cable news show uses quite frankly sexist, personally offensive language that I actually don’t think they would ever use about a man, against the person that shares this podium with me, I think I have an obligation and I think it’s important to step up and say that’s not OK.”

 

We are not a devotee of Mr. O’Reilly, but when the deputy spox picks a fight with the the most watched cable news program in the United States, we’ve got to ask — what was she thinking?  The deputy spokeswoman of the oldest executive agency ever, cannot have a disclaimer saying “tweets are my own.” What she says from the podium and what she tweets are as official as it gets. So this verbal tussle with Mr. O’Reilly is not between her and the cable anchor. None of the headlines says Marie Harf vs. Bill O’Reilly.  It is officially between the State Department and the cable anchor.  Some people may even infer that this is a fight that the Secretary of State signed on. Whether that is true or not, we don’t know. What we know is if it’s from the podium, it represents the official view of the agency and the U.S. government.

And because the other person in the ring is a cable anchor, this is what you get. Watch starting at mark 1:13

 

Mr. O’Reilly called the WH spox, Mr. Earnest “befuddled,” saying “he doesn’t have a lot of credibility.” Mr. O’Reilly, of course, did not say “that man looks uncertain to me.”  We hope Mr. Earnest doesn’t take it upon himself to fire his own objectiles from the White House podium.

Meanwhile, WaPo’s Erik Wemple makes an important point:

“As a housekeeping measure, let’s toss the “personally offensive” claim right in the trash heap. In slighting Psaki, O’Reilly stuck strictly to her performance as a professional, something that is well within his ambit as a cable news anchor. If a SPOKESWOMAN cannot be evaluated on the basis of how she presents herself to the public, then nothing is fair game.”

 

Mr. O’Reilly did used the term “that woman” as opposed to saying , Ms. Psaki “looks way out of her depth over there.That Woman” is the title of the book on Wallis Simpson, the Duchess of Windsor, one of the most vilified women in the 20th century. It is the title of a comedy drama movies in 1966 and in 2012.  “That woman” reminds us of “I did not have sexual relations with that woman,“in the 1998 chapter of presidential history.  We can understand why that phrase may be objectionable, but the professional person at the podium does not have the luxury of becoming personally upset in public.

One commenter over in WaPo makes a lot of sense:

[N]o State Department spokesperson should wade into a verbal conflict with an American opinion show host (O’Reilly is NOT a “Fox News anchor”) …not on Twitter, and certainly not from the SD press room podium. [...] Had Ms. Harf not tweeted and her initial comments about his opinions had been in response to a press briefing question (unlikely), she could have just said, “We at State do not concern ourselves with the comments of an opinion show host. We have more important matters to attend to.” End of story; Harf looks like a pro. At this point, she looks like a teenage girl in a Facebook cat fight, and that reflects poorly on the State Department, the Obama Administration and our nation.

Ouch!

The official spokeswoman, Jen Psaki and her deputy Marie Harf came to the State Department from the Obama campaign.  Previously, Ms. Psaki was the deputy press secretary for John Kerry‘s 2004 presidential campaign and press secretary for President Obama’s 2012 re-election campaign.  Ms. Harf also worked on the 2012 Obama campaign.

People on the inside know that access means a great deal. It is not a given that assistant secretaries of public affairs and/or spokespersons see the secretaries they serve as often as they want.  The most notable exception may be Margaret Tutwiler who was Secretary Baker’s spokesperson and was famously quoted as saying, “If you’re a Ph.D. and have 17 degrees, the press doesn’t care,” she says. “They like to know that you have a fair idea of the person on whose behalf you are speaking. And I do know this President and this Secretary of State very well.”

Ms. Tutwiler later contributed to ADST’s Oral History project and here is part of what she said (pdf):

“I have said before, and I firmly believe it, that podium was not my podium, I was not elected to anything, I am staff and serve at the President’s pleasure as a political appointee and the Secretary of State. …. I believed that part of the spokesman’s job is how you come through that TV screen. If you don’t look convincing and are just mouthing words, then you are not doing your job.”

 

We understand that there are folks in the building who yearn for “spokesmen and [spokes]women that used to be — the class acts that they were” — presumably, an assistant secretary-rank spokesperson speaking on behalf of the United States. Some of Ms. Psaki’s predecessors include Ambassador Victoria Nuland, Philip J. Crowley, FSO Sean McCormack , Ambassador Richard Boucher , James Rubin, and Margaret D. Tutwiler. We do recognize that a spokesperson is only as good as his/her access to the Secretary.  What good is an ambassador or AS-rank spokesman or spokeswoman if the Secretary does not trust him or her?   Secretary Kerry picked these individuals as his spokespersons, that’s his prerogative.  But they also represent the voice of the State Department and the U.S. Government, and sometimes, we fell like the spoxes never got off the campaign trail.

For instance, last year, Ms. Psaki was caught in a lie and had to release another statement acknowledging that her boss “was briefly on his boat.”  (see It’s A Bird… It’s A Plane… It’s Not Superman On a Nantucket Boat Or How to Make a Non-News Into Big News). Asked where Ambassador to the UN Samantha Power was at one point, she was unable to answer a very simple question.  The point is, even on topics, where we, the public expect a straight-forward answer, the podium is unable to do so. Did Egypt had a coup?  Transparency, anyone?  Just a very brief one on the QDDR at the top of your head?  Folks, over in YouTube, the Jen Psaki Greatest Hits is now on Episode 24. It is not/not fun to watch.

We’d like to think that they’re doing the best they can at these jobs.  Whether we approve of their performance or not, we imagine this can’t be easy work; some days it’s a tour of the world’s ever growing hotspots and spitholes of miseries.  The reporters will push to get their stories, that’s their job; and hey, that’s expected, no need to accuse them of “buying into Russian propaganda.” Of course, the spokespersons will not always have the answers that the press want.  But that’s an old story.  Perhaps, the most important point worth noting here is no matter how shitty the days may be, the official spokesperson or deputy spokesperson of the U.S. Department of State cannot, and should not be the story of the day.

Why?

If nobody is listening to them because people are talking about them, then the spoxes are not doing their real jobs, which is spoxplaining the administration’s policies.

Well … okay then, back to watching the lighthouse. Here’s Johnny Nash’s Sun-Shiny day:

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FSO-Author Writes About Publishing in the Foreign Service; Update to 3 FAM 4170 Coming Soon?

– Domani Spero

 

The June 2014 issue of the Foreign Service Journal includes an article, Publishing in the Foreign Service by FSO Yaniv Barzilai, who is serving in Baku on his first overseas posting. He is the author of 102 Days of War—How Osama bin Laden, al Qaeda & the Taliban Survived 2001 (Potomac Books, 2013).  Below is an excerpt from that article with a prescription for the improvement of the pre-publication clearance process in the State Department.

There is plenty of room for improvement in the pre-publication clearance process. First and foremost, State must do a better job of adhering to the regulations it has set forth in the Foreign Affairs Manual. Anything short of that standard is unfair to everyone involved. 

Second, the department should establish clear guidelines on how it distributes material internally and across the interagency community. That threshold should have nothing to do with terms as vague as “equities.” Instead, offices and agencies should have the opportunity to clear on material only if that material is the result of “privileged information”: information that employees acquire during the discharge of their duties that is not otherwise available.

Third, State needs to ensure that former employees receive treatment comparable to current employees. A significant gap exists between the attention given to current employees by PA and that former employees receive from A/GIS/IPS/PP/LA. 

As that lengthy acronym suggests, former employees are relegated to an obscure office in the Bureau of Administration when they seek pre-publication clearance. In contrast, the PA leadership is often engaged and provides consistent oversight of the review process for current employees. This bifurcation not only creates unnecessary bureaucratic layers and redundancies, but places additional burdens on former employees trying to do the right thing by clearing their manuscripts. This discrepancy should be rectified.

These short-term fixes would go a long way toward improving the pre-publication clearance process for employees. In the long term, however, the State Department should consider establishing a publication review board modeled on the CIA’s Publication Review Board. 

A State Department PRB would codify a transparent, objective and fair process that minimizes the need for interagency clearance, ensures proper and consistent determinations on what material should be classified, and reduces the strain on the State Department at large, and its employees in particular.

Ultimately, State needs to strike a better balance between protecting information and encouraging activities in the public domain. The pre-publication review process remains too arbitrary, lengthy and disjointed for most government professionals to share their unique experiences and expertise with the American public.

Read in full here.

We totally agree that a publication review board is needed for State. Instead of parcelling out the work to different parts of the bureaucracy, a review board would best serve the agency.  We have some related posts on this topic on the Peter Van Buren case as well as the following items:

The rules and regulations for publishing in the Foreign Service can be found in the infamous Foreign Affairs Manual 3 FAM 4170 (pdf).  Last June, AFSA told its members that for more than a year it has been negotiating a revision to the current Foreign Affairs Manual regulations governing public speaking and writing (3 FAM 4170).

“As mentioned in our 2013 Annual Report, our focus has been to accommodate the rise of social media and protect the employee’s ability to publish. We have emphasized the importance of a State Department response to clearance requests within a defined period of time (30 days or less). For those items requiring interagency review, our goal is to increase transparency, communication and oversight.  We look forward to finalizing the negotiations on the FAM chapter soon—stay tuned for its release.”

This long awaited update to 3 FAM 4170 has been in draft mode since 2012 (see State Dept to Rewrite Media Engagement Rules for Employees in Wake of Van Buren Affair. We’ll have to wait and see if 3 FAM 4172.1-7  also known as the Peter Van Buren clause survives the new version.

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Filed under AFSA, Book Notes, Foreign Service, FSOs, Functional Bureaus, Interagency Cooperation, Learning, Lessons, Peter Van Buren, Public Service, Realities of the FS, State Department

The Cautionary Tale of Raymond Maxwell: When the Bureaucracy Bites, Who Gets The Blame?

– Domani Spero

 

Last week, we posted a Snapshot: State Dept Key Offices With Security and Related Admin Responsibilities and wondered why Raymond Maxwell’s former office as Deputy Assistant Secretary at the NEA Bureau did not get an organizational box. Our readers here may recall that Mr. Maxwell was one of the bureaucratic casualties of Benghazi.  Diplomatic Security officials Eric Boswell, Charlene Lamb, Steve Bultrowicz and NEA official, Raymond Maxwell were placed on paid administrative leave on December 19, 2012 following the release of the ARB Benghazi Report. On August 20, 2013, all four officials were ordered to return to duty. Mr. Maxwell officially retired from the State Department on November 30, 2013. Prior to his retirement he filed a grievance case with HR where it was denied and appealed the case to the Foreign Service Grievance Board where it was considered “moot and thus denied in its entirety.”

Our blog post last week, also received the following comment from Mr. Maxwell:

“[M]y grievance was found to have no merit by HR, and earlier this month, the FSGB found that the State Department made no errors in the way I was removed from my position, shamed and humiliated in the press, and placed on admin leave for nine months, Further, the FSGB found that I was not entitled to the public apology I sought in my grievance because I had retired. I have two options now. I can spend a great deal of money suing the Department in local courts, or I can let it go and move on with my life. My choice of the latter option neither erases the Department’s culpability in a poorly planned and shoddily executed damage control exercise, nor protects future foreign service officers from experiencing a similar fate. There is no expectation of due process for employees at State, no right to privacy, and no right to discovery.”

We spent the weekend hunting down Mr. Maxwell’s grievance case online; grievants’ names are redacted from the FSGB cases online. When we finally found it, we requested and was granted Mr. Maxwell’s permission to post it online.

The Maxwell case teaches us a few hard lessons from the bureaucracy and none of them any good. One, when you fight city hall, you eventually get the privilege to leave the premises. Two, when you’re run over by a truckload of crap, it’s best to play dead; when you don’t, a bigger truckload of crap is certain to run you over a second or third time to make sure you won’t know which crap to deal with first. But perhaps, the most disappointing lesson of all — all the good people involved in this shameful treatment of a public servant  — were just doing … just doing their jobs and playing their roles in the proper functioning of the service. No one stop and said, wait a minute …. They tell themselves this was such a  sad, sad case; they feel sorry for how “Ray” was treated. It’s like when stuff happens, or when it falls — se cayó. No one specific person made it happen; the Building made them do it. The deciding officials apparently thought, “This was not an easy matter with an easy and obvious resolution.” Here — have a drink, it’ll make you feel better about looking the other away.  See he was “fired” but he wasn’t really fired.  He was prevented from entering his old office, and then not really. Had he kept quiet and did not write those poems …who knows, ey …

We’re embedding two documents below –1) Maxwell’s FSGB case, also available online here (pdf); and 2) an excerpt from the Oversight Committee report that focused on Mr. Maxwell’s  alleged “fault” over Benghazi. Just pray that this never happens to you.

 

 

Below excerpted from the House Oversight Committee report on ARB Benghazi:

 

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Filed under FSOs, Govt Reports/Documents, Grievance, Hall of Shame, Hillary, John F. Kerry, Leadership and Management, Leaks|Controversies, Lessons, Org Culture, Org Life, Public Service, Realities of the FS, Retirement, Spectacular, State Department

State Dept Public Service Recognition Week: You Rock But No MSIs

– Domani Spero

The Public Service Recognition Week for 2014 ends today. If the official clock was not broken, around 4 pm yesterday, Friday, the State Department’s Human Resources Bureau (DGHR) sent out a message to inform folks that there will be no monetary compensation for the 2013 Foreign Service MSIs.

For readers who may not know this, MSI stands for Meritorious Service Increase per authority in 22 U.S.C. 3966(b) (Section 406(b) of the Foreign Service Act of 1980, as amended).  Under 3 FAM 3121.3-2 it is the policy of the Department to provide an increase to the next higher step of the member’s class for especially meritorious service.

In any case, the email message explains that State faced “serious financial difficulties” in 2013 due to several factors including sequestration.  “We made a number of decisions to conserve resources including halting the monetary portion of extending meritorious step increases granted to a portion of those employees recommended for promotion by the 2013 Selection Boards but not actually promoted.”  In fact, DGHR points out, no other Foreign Service, Civil Service or Locally Employed Staff received a monetary award for 2013 performance, with the only exception being Safe Driver awards apparently targeted toward the lowest paid Locally Employed Staff.

Apparently, following the passage of the FY 2014 budget, there were questions about retroactive payment to 2013 MSI awardees. Since it appears that retroactive funding may not be a possibility, there were also questions whether the step increases could be funded going forward.

Yesterday, just before COB, the acting Director General Hans Klemm (nominee as DGHR Arnold Chacon is still stuck waiting for confirmation in the Senate) informed everyone via email that “after careful thought and deliberation on how best to handle the 2013 MSIs”  it’s been decided that there will be no retroactive monetary compensation to those MSIs conferred by the 2013 Selection Boards. There was no mention what happens going forward.

Part of the message from Ambassador Klemm says that Bureau of Human Resources is “determined that we do two things equally well:  manage a vigorous program to recognize and reward truly outstanding performance, and enhance intrinsic motivation as we face continuing fiscal challenges in the coming years.”  We imagine they have to figure out how to make everyone simply enjoy an activity or see work as an opportunity to learn, explore, and actualize their potentials?  He pledged to “doing the best for all of our talented and committed employees, recognizing that some things we want and arguably deserve are not always within reach.”

Uh-oh!  The email message reportedly closed with an exhortation that employees continue to “do your best.”

We understand that things are fiscally tough (unless related to the money sinkhole in Afghanistan) and we must confess we don’t know how much money is needed for the MSIs. But where’s the fire?  This is the bureau tasked with rewarding and motivating employees.  And it could not wait until next week when it’s no longer Public Service Recognition Week to to deliver the bad news.

Bravo for picking the most imperfect timing of the week! Here have some candies!

By Ewon Amos via Wikipedia

Original image  by Ewon Amos via Wikipedia

 

Less than an hour after Ambassador Klemm’s email blast, Secretary Kerry sent out his own email with the subject line, “My Thanks on Public Service Recognition Week.”

On his ‘thank you’ message to State and USAID employees, Secretary Kerry complained that Hallmark doesn’t make a card that celebrates Public Service Recognition Week. So he sent an email thanking his employees for the work they do. He notes that the work isn’t always easy and often it’s even dangerous – but that all of the employees – Foreign Service Officers, Civil Service employees, USAID team, Diplomatic Security, and locally employed staff “make a difference in the great enterprise of making this world a little safer and a little stronger each and every day.” 

He writes in part:

“One of the things that has struck me about the State Department and USAID is the remarkable diversity, expertise, and experience we have to offer – and the unique way each of you fits into the larger mosaic of the work to try and do something pretty fundamental but pretty profound: making this complicated world a little less complicated, a little more orderly, a little more free.  That’s about the best epitaph anyone could ask for, the best gift you can share through your service. And none of it works unless we’re all working together.”

“Everywhere I travel, in every meeting, from Bogota to Beijing” – he writes that he is deeply impressed of his employees’ “commitment to a future that’s stronger and more prosperous in a world that’s changing faster and becoming more interconnected than ever before…” 

Sorry folks, he has traveled 418,891 miles to 48 countries; we think, he really meant from here to here but that’s too many places to list down.

The best part perhaps — this part of the message:

“You get to spend your whole careers believing in something that will never go out of fashion:  You believe in diplomacy – you believe in something bigger and more important than any of us as individuals…”

Enhanced.Intrinsic.Motivation.

We must note that since Friday was the last working day of the week, it would have been weird had the Secretary sent his thank you email today, the end of the Public Service Recognition Week. But certainly, DGHR should have been more attentive.

“Makes for a nice end to the week,” the  snarky angels of Foggy Bottom said.

And the most requested video to feature in this blog is, you got it — Alanis Morissette singing, Ironic…

 

 

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Dear Diplomatic Security — If We Catch Davis A. Edwards, Will You Fund Our Blog?

❊ If you want to help keep us around, see Help Diplopundit Continue the Chase—Crowdfunding for 2014 via RocketHub ❊

– Domani Spero

The State Department’s Bureau of Diplomatic Security (State/DS) has this guy as its Most Wanted Fugitive: Davis Edwards (aka Ted Lythgoe, Teddy Lythgoe, Edward Charles Davis, Charles Simmons, Davis Adder Ewards).  Doesn’t Mr. DS Fugitive remind you of Panama’s Manuel Noriega without the hair? Anyway, four entities are looking for this man for theft and fraud.  We’ll do fraudster chasing over in Mexico if DS promise to fund our blog. We need a vacation, anyway; we also need a cute pug as bait to take with us.

Photo from state/gov/ds

Photo from state/gov/ds

Via state.gov/ds:

Mr. Davis A. Edwards is wanted by the Diplomatic Security Service, Social Security Administration/Office of the Inspector General, and Health and Human Services for social security fraud, passport fraud, theft of government funds, aggravated identity theft, and wire fraud.  The total loss to the U.S. government is still being determined, but is expected to be well over $300,000.

During the 1990s, Mr. Edwards stole the identity of his deceased uncle to work and obtain Social Security Administration disability benefits.  During this time, Mr. Edwards also applied for and was issued four U.S. passports under numerous aliases, including his deceased uncle’s identity. 

As of May 2013, there is reason to believe that Mr. Davis Edwards may be living in Ensenada, Mexico or in an ex-patriate community in Mexico.  Mr. Edwards does not speak Spanish but has previously expressed interest in living in Mexico.  His primary livelihood is construction and he has an affinity for pugs.  Mr. Edwards also requires constant access to medical prescriptions. 

Mr. Edwards may also go by the following names: Ted Lythgoe, Teddy Lythgoe, Edward Charles Davis, Charles Simmons, Davis Adder Edwards.  He is of average build (5’09”, 165 pounds) with brown eyes and no hair (bald).  He has also been featured on Washington State’s Most Wanted list.

If you have any information relating to Davis A. Edwards please contact us by emailing DSSMostWanted@state.gov or calling us toll free at 1-855-TIP-4-DSS (1-855-847-4377).

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This guy got away with four fake passports?! Dudes, that’s scary. We’ll pack our bags when you send the pug. In the meantime …

Dear friends in Ensenada, Mexico – if you have seen this man, please call. He may appear in a pharmacy for medicine. He responds to six names. He may have a pug (dog) with more hair than him. This man looks like a bald Manuel Noriega. Please call, thanks!

Queridos amigos en Ensenada, México – si usted ha visto a este hombre, por favor llame. Él puede aparecer en una farmacia por medicamentos. Él responde a seis nombres. Él puede tener un pug (perro) con más pelo que él. Este hombre se parece a un calvo Manuel Noriega. Por favor llame, ¡gracias.

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ProPublica: State Department Finally Releases List of ‘Special Government Employees’

– by Justin Elliott and Liz Day ProPublica, Jan. 30, 2014, 1:22 p.m.

Last year, Politico reported that former Hillary Clinton aide Huma Abedin had a special arrangement under which she simultaneously worked for the State Department and a corporate consulting firm.

Watchdogs and others raised questions about Abedin’s status blurring the line between private and public sector employment. She responded that the dual employment did not pose any conflict of interest, and there is no evidence Abedin used her public position to help private clients.

Soon after, we asked the State Department for a list of any other such employees. Now, after a six-month delay, the department has given us the names.

The list suggests that the status is mostly used for its intended purpose: to allow outside experts to consult or work for the government on a temporary basis.

But at least one person on the list appears to have had an arrangement similar to Abedin’s.

Caitlin Klevorick received two one-year appointments as a special government employee beginning in January 2012.

During that time, online listings show she had a private consulting firm, CBK Strategies, which advises government and corporate clients on communication and policy:

Work with diverse range of clients from Government to Fortune 100 companies to high profile individuals advising them on a range of issues including: overall strategic vision, crisis management, policy and political advising, communications, corporate social responsibility and partnerships.

“There is a very high potential for actual conflicts of interest in this case, and there is certainly every appearance of conflicts of interest,” said Craig Holman of the ethics watchdog Public Citizen.

Klevorick did not respond to our requests for comment about what outside work she did during the period she was a special employee.

Asked about the case, a State Department official said: “All of our employees that are allowed to work for non-Department of State entities are doing so with permission of the bureaus they are working with and provided their outside work does not pose a conflict of interest.”

Before joining the State Department, Klevorick had worked as a consultant to former President Clinton and to the Clinton Foundation.

Klevorick joined the State Department in 2009, as “Special Assistant for the Counselor of the Department in the Office of the Secretary.”

When she became a special government employee three years later, she “provided expert knowledge and advice to the Counselor and Chief of Staff & other Department Officials on a variety of important foreign policy issues,” according to the State Department.

Klevorick’s boss was Cheryl Mills, a longtime Clinton adviser who was also a special government employee, reportedly working on Haiti issues.

The list of special government employees also includes many lifelong civil servants and the occasional celebrity, such as Olympic figure skater Michelle Kwan. She was appointed in 2012 a senior adviser for public diplomacy.

There are also scientists such as a physicist from Los Alamos National Laboratory who did not draw a salary for his work for the State Department.

Others on the list have ties to Democratic politics but their work did not appear to raise any potential conflict of interest.

Longtime pollster Jeremy Rosner, for example, was made a special government employee in 2011. He moved to Pakistan temporarily to serve as a public affairs consultant to the U.S. embassy in Islamabad providing “expert level advice to the Chief of Mission on how best to exploit new media tools by all agencies at Mission Pakistan,” according to the State Department.

Here is the full list from the State Department.

And here is a list of special government employees from other agencies.

Republished from ProPublica via
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State Dept refused to name its SGEs because of reasons #1, #2, #3, #4 and … oh right, the Privacy Act of 1974

– Domani Spero

Last week, ProPublica posted this: Who Are State Dept’s 100 “Special Government Employees”? It Won’t Say.  We blogged about it here: Who Are State Dept’s 100 “Special Government Employees”? Dunno But Is Non-Disclosure For Public Good? Today, the Project On Government Oversight (POGO) has more on the subject. And after months of giving one reason or another to the reporters pursuing this case, the State Department is down to its Captain America shield  — the Privacy Act of 1974.

Below excerpted from POGO: State Dept. Won’t Name Advisers Already in Government’s Public Database:

They’ve all been selected to advise the State Department on foreign policy issues. Their names are listed on the State Department’s website.

So why won’t the Department disclose that these individuals are special government employees (SGEs)?

For four months, State has refused to name its SGEs, ProPublica reported last week, leaving the public to guess which outside experts are advising the Department on matters that affect the public’s interest.

Yet, the Project On Government Oversight was able to find more than 100 of the advisers identified as SGEs in an online government database. In other words, some of the information that State has been refusing to provide is hiding in plain sight.
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State has refused to identify any of its special employees, even though most agencies contacted by ProPublica were easily able to provide a list of their SGEs.

First, a State spokeswoman told ProPublica her agency “does not disclose employee information of this nature.”

When ProPublica filed a request seeking the list of names under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), it was told the agency doesn’t keep such a list, and State’s FOIA office refused to track down the information because it would require “extensive research.”

In September, ProPublica told State it planned to report that the Department was refusing to provide a list of names. In response, State said the FOIA request “was being reopened” and that the records would be provided “in a few weeks,” according to ProPublica.

“The State Department has since pushed back the delivery date three times and still hasn’t provided any list,” ProPublica reported last week. “It has been four months since we filed the original request.”

On Friday, a State official told The Washington Post that the Department is “diligently working to resolve” the FOIA request. The official cited concerns about “maintaining employee protections of privacy.”

State’s posture over the past several months is at odds with POGO’s finding: why can’t the Department give the press the same information it already supplied to a public database?

“Disclosure of certain employee information is subject to the Privacy Act of 1974,” Alec Gerlach, a State spokesperson, told POGO. “That some information may already be publicly available does not absolve the Department of Privacy Act requirements. Whether someone is an SGE is Privacy Act-protected information that we would not release except through the FOIA process.”

However, one of the authors of ProPublica’s story questioned why State hasn’t turned over the requested records. “I think anytime a government agency won’t reveal information, it raises questions about why they aren’t,” Liz Day, ProPublica’s Director of Research, told POGO.

Holy mother of god of distraught spoxes!  Okay, please, try not to laugh. It is disturbing to watch this type of contortion, and it seems to be coming regularly these days from Foggy Bottom.

Seriously.  If this is about the Privacy Act of 1974, why wasn’t ProPublica told of this restriction four months ago? And does that mean that all other agencies who released their SGE names were in violation of the Privacy Act of 1974?

Also, State/OIG was told that “The number of special government employee filers was given as 100.”  A State Department spokeswoman told ProPublica that there are “about 100” such employees.  But what do you know?  The Project On Government Oversight was able to find more than 100 of the advisers (excel download file) identified as SGEs in an online government database. Are there more? How many more?

The list does not include the more famous SGEs of the State Department previously identified in news report.

New message from Mission Command:  “Good morning, Mr. Hunt (or whoever is available). Your mission, should you choose to accept it, involves the retrieval of very Special Government Employee (SGE) names. There are more than a hundred names but no one knows how many more.  They are padlocked in the Privacy Act of 1974 vault, guarded by a monstrous fire-breathing creature from Asia Minor. PA1974 vault location is currently in Foggy Bottom.  As always, should you or any member of your team be caught or killed, everybody with a badge will disavow all knowledge of your actions. This message will self-destruct in five seconds.  If not, well, find a match and burn.”

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Who Are State Dept’s 100 “Special Government Employees”? Dunno But Is Non-Disclosure For Public Good?

– Domani Spero

Via ProPublica:

So who else is a special government employee at the State Department? The department won’t say — even as eight other federal agencies readily sent us lists of their own special government employees.

A State Department spokeswoman did confirm that there are “about 100” such employees. But asked for a list, she added that, “As general policy, [the department] does not disclose employee information of this nature.”

Meanwhile, after we filed a Freedom of Information Act request in July for the same information, State responded in September that no such list actually exists: The human resources department “does not compile lists of personnel or positions in the category of ‘special government employee.’”

Creating such a list would require “extensive research” and thus the agency is not required to respond under FOIA, said a letter responding to our request.

In late September, after we told State we were going to publish a story on its refusal to provide the list, the agency said our FOIA request was being reopened. The agency said it would provide the records in a few weeks.

The State Department has since pushed back the delivery date three times and still hasn’t provided any list. It has been four months since we filed the original request.

Continue reading, Who Are State Dept’s 100 “Special Government Employees”? It Won’t Say

ProPublica notes that Hillary Clinton aide Huma Abedin, ex-chief of staff Cheryl Mills, and Maggie Williams have been identified previously in news reports as SGEs.  That means the State Department only needs to track down 97 other SGEs. Unless, of course, it wishes to provide a fullsome list and include previous SGEs during the Clinton and Rice tenures at the State Department. Oh, but wait a minute — if State is not tracking how many SGEs it has working there, how did it come up with the round figure of 100?

Anyway, another great mystery of the hour is this: How come other agencies are able to disclose this information but not the State Department?  That has not been properly explained.  Special Government Employees maybe special but they are still public employees.

Very special ones, of course.  According to U.S. Office of Government Ethics, an SGE’s agency can use special waiver provisions to resolve financial conflicts of interest arising under 18 U.S.C. § 208 (a criminal conflict of interest statute prohibiting an employee from participating in any particular Government matter affecting personal or “imputed” financial interests). An SGE is not covered by 5 U.S.C. app. 4 §§ 501 or 502 (civil statutes limiting outside earned income and restricting certain outside employment and affiliations). 5 C.F.R. § 2635.807 (a regulatory provision concerning the acceptance of compensation for certain teaching, speaking and writing) also applies differently to SGEs.

The USOGE explains why this category of government employees is different:

Some ethics provisions that apply to executive branch employees apply differently to an employee who qualifies as a “special Government employee” (SGE), or do not apply at all.

Congress created the SGE category in 1962 when it revised the criminal conflict of interest statutes. Congress recognized the need to apply appropriate conflict of interest restrictions to experts, consultants, and other advisers who serve the Government on a temporary basis. On the other hand, Congress also determined that the Government cannot obtain the expertise it needs if it requires experts to forego their private professional lives as a condition of temporary service. Since 1962, the SGE category has been used in a number of statutes and regulations as a means of tailoring the applicability of some restrictions.

As defined in 18 U.S.C. § 202, an SGE is an officer or employee who is retained, designated, appointed, or employed to perform temporary duties, with or without compensation, for not more than 130 days during any period of 365 consecutive days. The SGE category should be distinguished from other categories of individuals who serve executive branch agencies but who are not employees, such as independent contractors (who are generally not covered by the ethics laws and regulations at all).

State/OIG released its Review of the Department of State Ethics Program in September 2013.  That report indicates that “The number of special government employee filers was given as 100.”  These are “filers” of  OGE Form 450, Confidential Financial Disclosure Report and OGE Form 278, Executive Branch Personnel Public Financial Disclosure Report. Unfortunately, no list of SGE names.  But the fortunate thing about the bureaucracy is paperwork!  While HR may not “compile” a list of this category of employees, surely its Designated Agency Ethics Official have access to this information? If not, where are the paper trails of OGE Form 450s and 278s. Would tracking those require “extensive research”?

Other notable items from the report:

  • In a 2012 report, the Office of Government Ethics was critical of the Department of State’s Ethics Program, noting backlogs in processing financial disclosure reports and ethics agreements, problems with ethics training, and insufficient staff. The Office of Ethics and Financial Disclosure, a division within the Office of the Legal Adviser, had largely eliminated the backlogs by the end of 2012. However, the Office of Government Ethics report expressed concern about the Office of Ethics and Financial Disclosure’s limited resources to process a workload that is consistently higher than that of other agencies.
  • In 2012 the Department of State provided annual ethics training to less than 70 percent of those employees required to complete it. The Office of Ethics and Financial Disclosure implemented an online training module in late 2012 that will make ethics training more easily available to employees, but the Department of State does not have a definitive plan to increase the percentage of employees taking the training.
  • The Office of Ethics and Financial Disclosure is not systematically tracking ethics agreements to ensure that employees comply with the provisions.1 The database used by the office is incomplete and does not include important relevant information.
  • The Department of State does not have a consistent definition of who is required to file confidential financial disclosure reports. This shortcoming has a negative impact on the entire ethics program.

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PAS – Presidentially-appointed, Senate-confirmed

The same OIG report also says “Other personnel, such as Schedule C employees and some special government employees, must also file public financial disclosure reports. These individuals are usually readily identifiable from their employment mechanisms and documents.”

Well, darn it, back to HR. Unless, of course, the State Department’s HR Bureau knows nothing about such “employment mechanisms and documents”?

Special Government Employee is a category created by Congress. It is perfectly legal to have SGEs working at government offices.   Other agencies like Treasury, Energy  and Commerce have their own SGEs and were forthcoming (well, after FOIA) with the information. Look, the Energy Department has 8 pages of SGEs. The Securities and Exchange Commission even included the annual salary of its sole SGE.  And  the State Department says with a straight face “As general policy, [the department] does not disclose employee information of this nature.”  

Blink.  C’mon.  Really?

Please don’t make this another case of It’s A Bird… It’s A Plane… It’s Not Superman On a Nantucket Boat!

The State Department’s SGEs, presumably approved by the agency and its legal and/or ethics office ought to withstand public scrutiny.   Sharper bulbs at State should counsel, whoever is making these decisions, to disclose the agency’s SGE list.  Otherwise, the State Department need to explain why,the non-disclosure of its very special government employees is for the public good.

Yes, we’d like to know why “not knowing” is for our own good, and then we’ll call it quits.

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