Category Archives: Public Service

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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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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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.
[...]
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.

Screen Shot 2013-11-13

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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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

— By Domani Spero

Secretary of State John Kerry traveled to Doha, New Delhi, Jeddah, Kuwait City, Amman, Jerusalem, and Bandar Seri Begawan from June 21 to July 2.  While overseas, he spoke about the events in Egypt during the press availability in Tel Aviv on June 30 but not during his stop in Brunei on July 1.  He had no public schedule on July 3. 

On July 3, @Mosheh@CBSThisMorning Senior Producer twitted this:

Screen Shot 2013

The State Department responded that Secretary Kerry was not aboard a boat on Wednesday and has spent the day working the phones on Egypt. Via politico.com:

“Since his plane touched down in Washington at 4 a.m., Secretary Kerry was working all day and on the phone dealing with the crisis in Egypt,” spokeswoman Jen Psaki said. “He participated in the White House meeting with the president by secure phone and was and is in non-stop contact with foreign leaders, and his senior team in Washington and Cairo. Any report or tweet that he was on a boat is completely inaccurate.”

Ms. Psaki made it sound as if he was Superman with no need for rest.

The same afternoon, U.S. Chairman of Joint Chiefs of Staff was quoted by CNN saying “there will be consequences” if Egyptian military intervention is “badly handled.”  Later in the evening, the AP reported on Egypt military chief’s statement announcing President Morsi’s ouster.

On July 4, 2013, the 18th Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Martin E. Dempsey sang the National Anthem at the Washington Nationals versus Milwaukee Brewers at Nationals Park.

Then this happened. Ugh!

Screen Shot 2013

Screen Shot 2013

Look, the Joint Chiefs was in a ball game on July 4th when Egypt had its revolution, coup, or whatever you agree to call it.  Did anyone complain that he was not glued to his secret phone?  Secretary Kerry just came back from a 12-day trip. We think people would have understood that he needed some down time. Did we really expect him to be holding the phone line to Egypt when DOD has more influence than DOS there? We certainly did not.

When CBS tweeted/reported/asked whether the secretary was on the boat, the appropriate response from the State Department professionals should have been the truth.   Had they said “yes” that would have been the end of the story.  Backlash? Really. Would the public really begrudge its public officials needed rest as if they were Superman?

Secretary Kerry on his boat would have been a very short-lived news.  Instead, the spinsmiesters contorted themselves with crafting a statement about how the secretary “was working all day” on Egypt and how the report is “completely inaccurate.”  Not even leaving a sliver of chance for error or confusion there.  Caught in a lie, the Spokesperson of the State Department had to release another statement acknowledging her boss “was briefly on his boat.”  Self-inflicted. Made their own mountain out of a mole hill.

“While he was briefly on his boat on Wednesday, Secretary Kerry worked around the clock all day including participating in the President’s meeting with his national security council,” said State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki, naming a series of Egyptian and international officials Kerry had spoken with on Wednesday.

CBS News was “completely inaccurate” because it did not mention “briefly?”

Perhaps the State Department statement should have included the line, “Any official report or official tweet denying that he was on a boat is completely inaccurate.”  A public  apology would have been nice, but government officials no longer do that, do they?

On July 6 , Secretary Kerry released a statement addressing the violence in Egypt.

But wait, there’s more!

Also on July 6, the Office of the Spokesperson tried to make it better by releasing the following statement:

Over the days since the unrest in Egypt intensified, Secretary Kerry has been in constant contact with the national security team, regional partners, and his counterparts. In addition to participating in a secure call with the National Security Council today to review the very fluid situation in Egypt, he has been in hourly touch with Ambassador Patterson and in the last two days he has also spoken with Mohamed Elbaradei, Qatari Foreign Minister al-Attiyah, Omani Sultan Qaboos, Emirati Foreign Minister bin Zayed, Saudi Foreign Minister Saud al-Faisal and Turkish Foreign Minister Davutoglu.

In all these calls with his counterparts, Secretary Kerry reiterated the call for the violence in Egypt to cease and for all parties — the Muslim Brotherhood, opposition, and military — to ensure that those expressing their views do so peacefully. Secretary Kerry also reaffirmed U.S. support for democracy and the protection of universal human rights for all Egyptians, reform that meets the legitimate aspirations of the people, and respect for the rule of law. He stressed that the United States wants to see Egypt’s civilian transition succeed, and that the United States will do all it can to help encourage that effort.

Double ugh!

Folks,  you forgot, “Thou shall not get caught.” Now, apologize and move on or no dinner tonight!

Unless you folks want to release Secretary Kerry’s log calls, too, so we can count how many manhours he really spent working on Egypt.

👀

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Josh Rogin’s Exclusive: Benghazi ‘Scapegoat’ Raymond Maxwell Speaks Out — Duck and Cover!

Whoops! Too late!

Raymond Maxwell was placed on forced “administrative leave” after the State Department’s own internal investigation, conducted by an Administrative Review Board (ARB) led by former State Department official Tom Pickering. Five months after he was told to clean out his desk and leave the building, Maxwell remains in professional and legal limbo, having been associated publicly with the death of Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other American for reasons that remain unclear.
[...]
“The overall goal is to restore my honor,” said Maxwell, who has now filed grievances regarding his treatment with the State Department’s human resources bureau and the American Foreign Service Association, which represents the interests of foreign-service officers. The other three officials placed on leave were in the diplomatic security bureau, leaving Maxwell as the only official in the bureau of Near Eastern Affairs (NEA), which had responsibility for Libya, to lose his job.

“I had no involvement to any degree with decisions on security and the funding of security at our diplomatic mission in Benghazi,” he said.
[...]

Since the leave is not considered a formal disciplinary action, Maxwell has no means to appeal the status, as he would if he had been outright fired. To this day, he says, nobody from the State Department has ever told him why he was singled out for discipline. He has never had access to the classified portion of the ARB report, where all of the details regarding personnel failures leading up to Benghazi are confined. He also says he has never been shown any evidence or witness testimony linking him to the Benghazi incident.

Maxwell says he had planned to retire last September, but extended his time voluntarily after the Sept. 11 attack to help the bureau in its time of need. Now, he is refusing to retire until his situation is clarified. He is seeking a restoration of his previous position, a public statement of apology from State, reimbursement for his legal fees, and an extension of his time in service to equal the time he has spent at home on administrative leave.

“For any FSO being at work is the essence of everything and being deprived of that and being cast out was devastating,” he said.
[...]

The decision to place Maxwell on administrative leave was made by Clinton’s chief of staff Cheryl Mills, according to three State Department officials with direct knowledge of the events. On the day after the unclassified version of the ARB’s report was released in December, Mills called Acting Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs Beth Jones and directed her to have Maxwell leave his job immediately.

“Cheryl Mills directed me to remove you immediately from the [deputy assistant secretary] position,” Jones told Maxwell, according to Maxwell.
[...]
But Jones was not disciplined in any way following the release of the report, nor was the principal deputy assistant secretary of State at NEA, Liz Dibble, who is slated to receive a plush post as the deputy chief of mission at the U.S. embassy in London this summer. In the DS bureau, the assistant secretary, principal deputy, and deputy assistant all lost their jobs. In the NEA bureau, only Maxwell was asked to leave.

Read  John Rogin’s  Exclusive: Hillary’s Benghazi ‘Scapegoat’ Speaks Out from his new home at the Daily Beast.

The somebodies appear to have miscalculated that folks would just go away quietly …

And it’s all a coincidence, of course, that on the same day that this came out, the State Department released its Benghazi Accountability Review Board Implementation and Secretary Kerry showed up at the George P. Shultz National Foreign Affairs Training Center in Arlington, Virginia to deliver Remarks to the Foreign Service Institute Overseas Security Seminar  (dear heavens! it’s open to the press and cameras!). We can’t recall a secretary of state ever showing up for that overseas seminar, can you?

– DS

 

 

 

 

 

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Name That Embassy: Where The DCM Has Two Official Residences (the Second, For DCM Junior’s Playdates)

Most of this blog’s readers are already familiar with the term DCM.  For those who aren’t, a DCM or a Deputy Chief of Mission is like the chief executive officer or chief operating officer of the embassy. He/She is a career diplomat and acts as Charge d’Affaires (person in charge) whenever the Ambassador is absent from the host country or when the position is vacant. The DCM is responsible for the day to day management of the embassy, ensuring the mission can operate with allocated resources and together with the Ambassador runs the Embassy “front office.”  He/She oversees the heads of sections (Political, Economic, Public Affairs, Management, Consular and the Regional Security Office) at the Embassy and has overall responsibility for mentoring and professional development of the entry-level professionals.

All that serves as a preamble to this:

The Deputy Chief of Mission in Country X has an official residence in the downtown area of the capital city; the location is not too far from the embassy.

The second residence, an apartment is allegedly in the suburbs, in one of the U.S. government compounds in the capital city. The ostensible reason for the second residence is reportedly so the DCM’s spouse would have a place to arrange playdates near the international school where DCM junior is enrolled.

Imagine if you’re overseas and you demand a second USG-owned or USG-leased residence for your kid’s playdates.  Do you know what would happen?  They’d pack you up on a medical evacuation so quickly before you can even say BOO!

But when you’re a DCM, apparently they don’t do that, which we must admit is a nice perk.

Poor contract guards.

They wanted to know what sort of special protection they should be giving to the DCM and his/her visitors when he/she is using the second residence.

As you might imagine, the  security office was not happy about this.

And the housing office was pretty steam up about it.  The Housing GSO reportedly refused to have anything to do with this … um, unusual arrangement.

Luckily, the Housing GSO’s supervising officer …. no, not the GSO but the Management Counselor is said to have arranged the details so the DCM gets the second USG housing. This is the part where we need to point out that the Management Counselor’s Employee Evaluation Report rater is no other than the DCM.

So –

If you were the Management Counselor at this post, would you have “arranged the details” so the DCM gets a second residence?

Or would you have taken out the Foreign Affairs Manual  and  said, “No your excellency, you may not have a second residence.”

Perhaps this should cover as our ethical dilemma exercise for the day.

According to FAM  15 FAM 211.1, the objective of the housing program is “to provide safe and secure housing that is adequate to meet the personal and professional requirements of employees at a cost most advantageous to the U.S. Government. For the purposes of this policy, adequate housing is defined as that comparable to what an employee would occupy in the Washington, DC Metropolitan Area, with adjustments for family size and locality abroad.”  The housing provided to employees is based on position rank and family size:  “Where an employee’s position rank is greater or less than his or her personal rank, the position rank determines the employee’s maximum authorization.”  

We have been unable to locate regulations in the FAM that allows an employee to occupy two USG-owned or USG leased housing overseas.  It might be that the FAM in a parallel universe does not specifically prohibit the allocation of two residences to a DCM, especially if one needs an apartment for the officer’s kid’s playdates. But — even if we grant that this is not illegal — holy mother of goat! How can a senior official even think this is not waste and misused of U.S. government property?

In any case, we understand that several mission staffers thought this was just plain wrong and appropriately filed complaints at the Office of Inspector General (OIG).

We heard that State/OIG “passed it on” to the regional bureau which then had a “conversation” of some sort. Subsequent to the conversation with the regional bureau, the keys to the second residence were returned.

We checked with the OIG and this is what we’re told by its spokesman, Douglas Welty:

[I]t is OIG policy not to comment on complaints submitted to our Hotline, nor do we comment on any possible, pending or on-going investigations.

It is also OIG policy to refer  non-criminal, but inappropriate activities to the Department (or bureau) for administrative action – with a request for a response and report of remedial actions taken.

So unless you don’t return the keys … then it becomes a big deal. But if you do return the keys, then things can be forgotten and forgiven? Did the bureau even charged the DCM rental for the use of the second residence? Was any administrative action ever issued? No one knows since that’s all done behind doors because hey, privacy!

In what ethical landscape would anyone consider this appropriate behavior for any public servant, particularly one who is a senior official with mentoring responsibility for our next generation of diplomats?

sig4

Updated May 16@8:37 am to include RSOs under the responsibility of the DCMs.

 

 

 

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