Category Archives: Regulations

GIF of the Day: Non-Differential Posting, Explainer Please

– Domani Spero

Via Burn Bag:

“Can someone please explain to me how you get to spend your entire overseas career in non-differential postings?

GIF_reaction scamnet

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Kerry Swears-in Higginbottom as Deputy Secretary for Management, Good News for State/OIG — Wait, What?

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– Domani Spero

On January 30, 2014, Secretary Kerry sworn-in Heather Higginbottom as Deputy Secretary of State for Management and Resources. Ms. Higginbottom is the third appointee to this position. She was preceded by Jack Lew , now Treasury Secretary and Tom Nides  who is now back at Morgan Stanley.

Secretary Kerry Swears in Heather Higginbottom as Deputy Secretary of State U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry swears in Heather Higginbottom as the Deputy Secretary of State for Management and Resources, at the U.S. Department of State in Washington, D.C., on January 30, 2014. [State Department photo/ Public Domain]

Secretary Kerry Swears in Heather Higginbottom as Deputy Secretary of State
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry swears in Heather Higginbottom as the Deputy Secretary of State for Management and Resources, at the U.S. Department of State in Washington, D.C., on January 30, 2014. [State Department photo/ Public Domain]

Ssecretary Kerry made some remarks at her swearing-in ceremony (excerpt below):

Heather now is the first woman to hold the title of Deputy Secretary of State.  (Applause.)  That’s a statement in and of itself, as you have all just recognized, and it’s important.  But I want you to know that no one ever said to me about this job, “I’m so glad you found a woman.”  They have said to me, “I’m really glad you gave this job to Heather,” or “Heather is the right person for this job.”  And we are here because – I know many of you have worked with Heather either in her role on Capitol Hill or over at OMB.  Some of you worked on the campaign trail with her in 2004 and 2008, where she served in 2008 as President Obama’s Policy Director.  Many of you worked with her in the White House where she was serving as the Deputy Director for the Domestic Policy Council and then Deputy Director of OMB.

Ms. Higginbottom gave her own remarks (excerpt):

For me, balancing our presence in Asia, to making peace in Syria, to rolling back Iran’s nuclear program, to embracing our friends in this hemisphere, to the many crises we cannot begin to predict, the people at the State Department and USAID will confront tremendous challenges and opportunities in 2014 and beyond.  In this role, I’ll share in the global responsibility for U.S. foreign policy, but I’ll also seek to drive institutional reforms.
[...]
A top priority for my team will be working to ensure our posts and people are safe and secure.  We need our diplomats fully engaged wherever our vital national interests are at stake, and that means we must constantly improve the way we protect our people and our posts.  I’ll also work to ensure that we use taxpayer resources wisely and efficiently.  As you all know, America’s investment in diplomacy and development is critical to our global leadership, to our national security, and to our nation’s prosperity.  It’s one of the very best investments we can make for our country and it’s the right thing to do.

But we must do everything we can to increase the return on that investment.  That’s why I’ll focus on management reform and innovation.

Excellent!  There’s a small matter that folks might want to bring up to the new D/MR’s attention in terms of reform — a recent change on the Foreign Affairs Manual concerning State/OIG, updated just weeks after the nominee for OIG was announced:

1 FAM 053.2-2 Under Secretary for Management (M)
(CT:ORG-312; 07-17-2013)
The Under Secretary for Management (M) is the Secretary’s designated top management official responsible for audit and inspection follow-up and the Secretary’s designee for impasse resolution when Department officials do not agree with OIG recommendations for corrective action. See 1 FAM 056. 1, Impasse paragraph.

Look at this nice org chart for the DOD IG:

via DODIG.mil

via DODIG.mil

It’s not like the State Department does not have a Deputy Secretary of State for Management and Resources, right?  And because we can’t keep this straight in our head, we have to wonder out loud, how is this delegated authority going to work if the IG had to review “M” and half the building that reports to “M”?  We asked, and we got an official response from State/OIG:

“Per the IG Act of 1978, as amended, and the FAM (1 FAM 052.1  Inspector General – (CT:ORG-312;   07-17-2013), the IG reports directly to the Secretary and Congress.  IG Steve Linick has access to the Secretary and meets regularly with the Deputy Secretaries and other high officials, as needed.”

Okay, but the State Department is the only federal Cabinet-level agency with two co-equal Deputy Secretaries. And yet, “M”, the office with the most number of boxes in the org chart among the under secretaries is the Secretary of State’s designated top management official responsible for OIG audit and inspection?

Let’s see how this works.

In late January, State/OIG posted its  Compliance Follow-up Audit of the Bureau of Oceans, International Environmental and Scientific Affairs’ Administration and Oversight of Funds Dedicated to Address Global Climate Change (AUD-ACF-14-16):

In 2012, the Office of Inspector General (OIG) performed an audit of OES’ administration and oversight of funds dedicated to address global climate change to be responsive to global developments and the priorities of the Department.

In March 2013, OIG closed eight of these recommendations (Nos. 2, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 14, and 15) after verifying evidence that OES had provided showing that final corrective actions had been completed. At that time, OIG considered the remaining 10 recommendations resolved, pending final action.

Following initial discussions with OES and A/OPE officials on the status of the open recommendations from AUD/CG-12-40, OIG expanded its original scope to include an assessment of the Department’s actions on all open recommendations from the report.

Consequently, OIG incorporated the intent of AUD/CG-12-40 Recommendation 18 into a new recommendation (No. 9) to the Under Secretary for Management (M) to assign authority and responsibility for the oversight, review, and approval of nonacquisition interagency agreements that will ensure compliance with applicable Federal regulations and Department policies governing them.

As of December 31, 2013, neither A/OPE nor M had responded to the IG’s draft report.

Well, okay there you go, and what happens then?

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According to history.state.gov, in 1957 the Department of State elevated the position of Chief of the Foreign Service Inspection Corps to that of Inspector General of the Foreign Service. Between 1957 and 1980, the Secretary of State designated incumbents, who held rank equivalent to an Assistant Secretary of State. The Foreign Service Act of 1980 (Oct 17, 1980; P.L. 96-465; 94 Stat. 2080) made the Inspector General a Presidential appointee, subject to the advice and consent of the Senate, and changed the title to “Inspector General of the Department of State and the Foreign Service.”The two most recent OIG for State are  Clark Kent Ervin (2001-2003) and Howard J. Krongard (2005-2008). State did not have a Senate-confirmed OIG from 2009 to much of 2013.

We understand that during the Powell tenure at State, OIG reported to Secretary Powell through Deputy Secretary Armitage. We could not confirm this but it makes sense to us that the inspector general reports above the under secretary level. It demonstrates the importance the Secretary of State place on accountability — the IG reports directly to him through his Management and  Resources deputy; the only D/MR in the whole wide world.  What’s not to like about that?

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‘Ethics Answers’ Talks Hypothetical Ethical Scenarios — Cuz There Are No Real Life Examples?

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– Domani Spero

State Magazine now includes an ‘Ethics Answers’ box where hypothetical ethical scenarios Department employees might face are presented. The January issue includes the following (pdf):

Q: I was recently assigned to a new post. My new supervisor frequently has me do personal things for her, like typing her son’s college application or picking up her dry-cleaning. I feel I shouldn’t be asked to do these things. Am I right?

A: Yes. Ethics regulations prohibit a supervisor (or any Executive Branch employee) from encouraging, directing, coercing or requesting a subordinate to perform these types of personal services during work hours or personal time. By asking you to perform these tasks, your boss has taken advantage of her official position to gain personal services she would otherwise need to perform herself or pay someone else to do. Under ethics rules, this is a “misuse of position”—using official time, authority, title, information or resources for private gain, either one’s own or another’s. Other examples of misuse of position include using one’s official position to obtain a travel upgrade, asking the visa office to give priority to a friend’s visa application or using your official title to fundraise for your child’s school.

For help with real ethical questions, email ethicsattorneymailbox@state.gov.

Why can’t the ethics attorney use real cases without mentioning names and posts?

Let’s try this.

The ambassador’s OMS at an EUR post was routinely asked to take the dog and kids for walks while the boss worked after hours.

Or, during the embassy’s Christmas bazaar, the ambassador’s OMS and an official residence employee were tasked with selling bags and crafts owned by the ambassador’s wife.

Is that too hard?  You may play the ethics crossword puzzles here, have fun, learn the regs. Pardon me, and then what?  After you know that you’re right, what then?  An excellent question that we hope “Ethics Answers” would answer one day.

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CyberSecurity Month PSA: Installing Mozilla Firefox Could Be Hazardous To Your Career …

– By Domani Spero

On September 30, President Obama proclaimed October 2013 as National Cybersecurity Awareness Month.  In light of that proclamation, we’re highlighting a grievance case by a Foreign Service officer who downloaded and installed the Mozilla Firefox browser which potentially cost him a promotion.  The State Department proposed to issue him a Letter of Reprimand. The officer filed a grievance challenging the issuance of a Letter of Reprimand. For relief, he asks that the decision to impose discipline be rescinded and the discipline letter be removed from his Official Personnel File (OPF). In addition, he requests that the 2011 Selection Board’s decision to promote him be given immediate effect, and that he be reimbursed for attorney’s fees. The Department denied his grievance on March 13, 2012. He appealed that decision to the Foreign Service Grievance Board on May 14, 2012.  On December 2012, the Board found that grievant’s argument was without merit and sustained the proposed discipline.

This case is available publicly (pdf) from the newly relaunched fsgb.gov.  (BTW, the site is now searchable, yay!) As far as we are aware, the State Department still only allows two browsers for official use — Internet Explorer and more recently during Secretary Clinton’s tenure, Google Chrome was approved for department-wide use.   According to the browser stats maintained by w3schools.com, Internet Explorer’s downward use continues to hover around 12% in 2013, while Chrome continues to climb above 50 percent. Firefox’s usage remains at around the 27% mark.

Now some details on this case extracted from the record of proceeding:

Grievant, an FS-03 Officer, installed a software application, Mozilla Firefox Browser, on his workstation in August 2010. Grievant admitted that he installed the software because he was concerned that his savings accounts may have been the subject of identity theft and he wanted to check his credit union account on-line with what he thought was a safer web browser. The Mozilla software was found to be an executable application so that by downloading it grievant violated the Department’s Cyber Security Policy, and such action could have led to disruption of the Department’s cyber infrastructure. Grievant argued that he was unaware that the Mozilla Browser was an executable file when he installed it, and therefore, did not have the intent to violate the policy. The Board found that grievant’s argument was without merit and sustained the proposed discipline.

Anyone with questions about executable files should check the list here and best consult post’s information systems security officer (ISSO).

Also it might not be bad to get acquainted with 12 FAM 590 CYBER SECURITY INCIDENT PROGRAM if you haven’t already.

The government’s charge:

The Department charged the grievant with violating the directives and procedures for Cyber Security contained in 12 FAM 592.2b 8. The charge is based on grievant’s action in downloading the Mozilla Browser on his workstation on August 9, 2010. A revised cyber security program was implemented in 2007 throughout the Department. The Department asserts that grievant’s failure to comply with the cyber security policy could have resulted in damage or risk to the Department’s cyber infrastructure. The Mozilla Browser could compromise the integrity of the system and introduce a virus or malicious code.

Grievant was informed on December 22, 2010 by the Bureau of Diplomatic Security that the installation of the Mozilla Browser by him was a violation of the regulation. Grievant was further advised that the violation determination would be forwarded to the Bureau of Human Resources. Grievant was advised of his right to appeal the finding of a violation by the Bureau of Security, but chose not to do so. He did submit a Statement of Understanding acknowledging receipt of the December 22, 2010 letter and the Department’s security policies.

The Department dismisses grievant’s argument that his action in downloading the Mozilla browser required “mens rea” or a ”deliberate” act on his part to download an application that he knew was not authorized for installation. In his view, the Department has failed to prove that he made such a deliberate decision. He asserts that he did not actually know that the software was not authorized, and that his actions were inadvertent. He explains that he was ignorant that the software was an executable application that was not authorized. He states that he “lacked the knowledge of the difference between a search engine website and web browsing software.” He contends that the Department’s decision to not charge him with the downloading of the Shockwave program demonstrates that his action was not deliberate.

The FSO’s defense and argument:

Grievant has admitted that he installed Mozilla to assist himself with issues concerning his personal savings accounts. He could have used his personal computer to deal with the “spoofing” problems he was having with the possible identity theft matters. Finally, grievant should have reported the “spoofing” problems to the ISSO and checked with that office to determine if he could download Mozilla.

Grievant asserts that the proposed Letter of Reprimand should be rescinded because he lacked the intent necessary to violate the regulation. In 2009 – 2010, grievant was the victim of identity theft. He lost several thousand dollars to the thief, had to cancel his credit cards on two occasions, and was informed that his medical records were among those stolen from an Office of Medical Services database. On August 9, 2010, he received on his agency email four “spoofing” messages purporting to be from his credit union and his retirement fund.

Grievant was concerned that his savings accounts might have been stolen and his Department computer may have been compromised. He installed the Mozilla Firefox browser on his workstation instead of other browsers, such as Google, because he thought that Mozilla was a safer web browser. He was quickly informed by ISSO that Mozilla was not allowed to be downloaded on the Department’s system since it was an executable file. Grievant explained his concerns about his savings accounts and the reason that he downloaded the browser. He stated on several occasions that he did not know Mozilla was an executable file in violation of the regulation, and believed it to be a secure web-based browser. Grievant apologized and accepted responsibility for what he believed was an “inadvertent download of an executable file”.

Grievant argues that he should not be disciplined for downloading the Mozilla browser. In his view, the Department must show that it was his conscious object to download an executable file on to the Department’s network. He admits that his action was prohibited by the FAM, and that he exposed the Department to serious risk by downloading the browser on his workstation. However, he argues that the FAM requires specific intent to violate the regulation, which he did not have when the downloading took place. Grievant argues only deliberate acts, not negligent ones, are punishable under the regulation. He believes it is unjust to punish “a deliberate act that was believed would cause only a permissible result.” His action was negligent and he acted out of ignorance believing Mozilla to be a web based application rather than an executable file. In essence, he states that he believed that he was doing nothing more than accessing a website and that he lacked the knowledge required to make his action of downloading a deliberate violation of the regulation.

Grievant is remorseful and admits that he is fully responsible for his action. He did not know that he was downloading an executable file, and lacking that knowledge he did not have the mental state required by the regulation. Among other things, grievant asks that the decision to impose discipline be rescinded and the Letter of Reprimand be removed from his OPF. In addition, he asks that the Department give immediate effect to the 2011 Selection Board’s decision to promote him.

The FSGB was not persuaded:

Grievant intended to install Mozilla on his workstation. He engaged in a deliberate act. The fact that he was ignorant that it was an executable file in violation of the regulation does not obviate or lessen his culpability. As the Department points out, his action could have resulted in damage or significant risk to the Department’s cyber infrastructure, which could have caused major disruptions and loss of sensitive information. His admitted ignorance or lack of knowledge about Mozilla being an executable file does not excuse his action or his culpability for that action.

This is grievant’s first incident of any kind that caused him to be disciplined. As noted, his record is one of success and accomplishment. Grievant believes that discipline in this case is unjust. However, the proposed Letter of Reprimand is consistent with the penalties imposed in prior cases, and is reasonable under the facts of this case.

One related item, the agency’s cybersecurity was most recently in the news with a BuzzFeed exclusive report that the State Department Lacks Basic Cybersecurity. The report alleges that  “the State Department cable and messaging system, built and maintained — like the troubled ObamaCare system — mainly by large IT contractors, has routinely failed to meet basic security standards.” It further alleges that “There is hackable backdoor access to servers and the potential for spillage of classified information in the unclassified enclave.”  BuzzFeed says that it has  internal docs although those do not appear to be posted online at this time.  Read more here.

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Photo of the Day: Sledgehammer Workout, No Joke

The Regional Security Officer and two Assistant Regional Security Officers destroy electronics at U.S. Embassy Tripoli on February 24, 2011 as they prepare to evacuate the post. (Photo from Diplomatic Security 2011 Year in Review)

The Regional Security Officer and two Assistant Regional Security Officers destroy electronics at U.S. Embassy Tripoli on February 24, 2011 as they prepare to evacuate the post. (Photo from Diplomatic Security 2011 Year in Review)

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HFAC Chairman Ed Royce Introduces “Accountability Review Board Reform Act of 2013” (H.R. 1768)

On April 26, 2013, U.S. Rep. Ed Royce (R-CA), Chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee (HFAC), introduced legislation to increase the independence and transparency of future Accountability Review Boards (ARB), the temporary investigative bodies that are  convened to  review security-related incidents that result in “serious injury, loss of life, or significant destruction of property at, or related to, a United States Government mission abroad, and in any case of a serious breach of security involving intelligence activities of a foreign government directed at a United States Government mission abroad.”

According to Mr. Royce’s website the “Accountability Review Board Reform Act of 2013” (H.R. 1768) will increase the independence of future ARBs from the State Department, limiting the Secretary of State’s role.

Here is part of Mr. Royce’s reasoning:  “When then-Secretary of State Clinton testified about the Benghazi attack in January, she repeatedly referred to the ARB findings, calling it an ‘independent’ investigative body.  But the fact is, Secretary Clinton convened the ARB  and hand-picked four of its five members.  This ARB failed to assess the roles of so-called “seventh floor” State Department officials in the decisions that led to the Benghazi mission’s severely compromised security posture, despite strong evidence suggesting these senior officials were involved.  This legislation will ensure that future ARBs are, in fact, independent of State Department leadership.”

The text of the proposed legislation has not been posted yet. But according to Mr. Royce’s website, The Accountability Review Board Reform Act addresses the following:

  • increases the five-member ARB’s independence from the State Department.  Under current law, the Secretary of State appoints four of an ARB’s five members.  Under this legislation, the Secretary will appoint only two of the five members, with the Chair of the Council of Inspectors General of Integrity and Efficiency (the chief U.S. inspector general) appointing two members, and the Director of National Intelligence appointing the fifth member.
  • improves the staffing model of future ARBs.  Currently, an ARB relies on State Department employees to assist with the investigation of other State Department employees.  Under this legislation, ARB staff would be drawn from the Office of Inspector General.
  • eliminates potential conflicts of interest by banning individuals from serving as an ARB member or an ARB staffer if they have a personal or professional relationship with someone expected to be investigated.
  • enhances transparency and allows greater oversight of the ARB process.  Current law requires that the Secretary disclose only the names of the five ARB members.  This legislation requires the Secretary to disclose the names of any senior State Department employees tasked with assisting an ARB.
  • allows greater oversight.  Current law requires that the ARB submit a final report to the Secretary.  This legislation requires that the ARB also submit the final report to Congress.

According to data in congress.gov, H.R.1768 was introduced by Rep Royce, Edward R. [CA-39] on 4/26/2013. It currently has  16 cosponsors  and has been referred to the House Committee on Foreign Affairs.

We’ll post comments after we’ve seen the full text of H.R. 1768.

– DS

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State/OIG on Diplomatic Security’s Special Investigations Division – The Missing Firewall

State’s OIG recently posted online its review of the three divisions in Diplomatic Security’s Directorate of Domestic Operations:  1) the Special Investigations Division (SID), 2) the Criminal Investigations (CR) Division, and 3) the Computer Investigations and Forensics (CIF) Division.

Here are the key findings:

  • The Bureau of Diplomatic Security (DS) Special Investigations Division (SID), which investigates allegations of criminal and administrative misconduct, lacks a firewall to preclude the DS and Department of State (Department) hierarchies from exercising undue influence in particular cases.
  • DS does not have a comprehensive, up-to-date manual with approved policies and guidelines on how to conduct investigations.
  • DS’s quality assurance measures are not sufficient to ensure that investigations comport with law enforcement standards and powers. DS should use peer reviews to help correct flaws and identify best practices.
  • Frequent agent turnover in DS investigative offices reduces long-term, specialized expertise and hampers complex criminal investigations.
  • The Criminal Fraud Investigations (CFI) branch of the Criminal Investigations (CR) Division should become a new division.
  • DS and the Bureau of Consular Affairs (CA) have not completed a long-pending memorandum of understanding regarding CA’s Consular Integrity Division (CID).
  • Inspectors found personnel in the three Office of Investigations and Counterintelligence (ICI) divisions to be professional and dedicated to their jobs.

If you ever wonder why “it depends” is a common enough mantra over there, take a look:

The absence of a comprehensive, up-to-date manual increases the potential for errors, particularly for new agents who are forced to rely on on-the-job training. Inspectors discovered uncertainty among SID agents about which warnings to provide subjects prior to their interviews in investigations, though the wrong choice of warning can ruin a potential criminal prosecution. Inspectors were told that SID supervisors have sometimes pursued investigations excessively against other DS agents and that some supervisors have chosen to open cases on every allegation, including for those types of workplace issues that Department managers should ordinarily attempt to handle via other means. The likelihood of such problems increases when clear guidelines are lacking and individual preferences prevail.

Now, it’s not like this is a newly established office where folks are working from scratch. This office has been around forever investigating criminal and admin misconduct. It is utterly absurd  that it does not have an up-to-date manual. The OIG report mercifully did not say which version of the manual this office is operating under;  save folks the embarrassment of having to explain if the manual dates back to Jesse Helms days.

On independence, credibility, external influences and pressures:

 In all matters relating to investigative work, the investigative organization needs to be free, in fact and appearance, from impairments to independence in both organization and attitude. Such independence is essential so that an organization’s decisions about obtaining evidence, conducting interviews, and making recommendations will be impartial and viewed as such by knowledgeable third parties. The credibility of the Department’s investigative organizations and disciplinary system depends on that independence, yet the perception exists among knowledgeable parties that external influences have negatively affected some SID investigations.

SID is one of many offices that report up the normal chain to the principal deputy assistant secretary and director of the Diplomatic Security Service. Foreign Service special agents in SID, 80 percent of whom are junior in rank, ordinarily serve only one tour as an investigator. Subjects of their investigations may include more senior DS agents; other senior DS agents are sometimes hostile witnesses for interviews. The SID supervisors also are in the DS mainstream and subject to regular “up or out” assignment and promotion processes. During inspection interviews, nearly every SID special agent acknowledged being aware that one or more suspects, witnesses, or senior Department officials could one day serve on a promotion board or on a DS assignment panel that would decide the investigator’s career prospects. Although most investigators said that they had not experienced career pressure in any particular cases, some had indeed felt such pressure. Several special agents in SID observed that Civil Service agents with sufficient rank are less susceptible to such pressure, as their careers do not depend on DS assignment panels or Foreign Service promotion boards.

It turns out that the SID chief is an FS-01 position, which, according to the OIG report “leaves any chief who aspires to the Senior Foreign Service vulnerable to pressure from above.”  Unnamed sources also suggested to the OIG team that “having three bureaucratic layers between the SID chief and the DS Assistant Secretary makes sensitive cases vulnerable to multiple types of interference and the leaking of information.” 

The OIG recommends that the Office of the Deputy Secretary (presumably the incoming D/MR who succeeds Mr. Nides) should “restructure the investigative responsibilities currently assigned to the Special Investigations Division. The outcome should include safeguards to prevent any Department of State or Diplomatic Security official from improperly influencing the commencement, course, or outcome of any investigation.”

Let’s see if that happens.

Should have been interesting to know which cases were alleged to have been interfered with, wouldn’t it? That would have been a scream.

Apparently, according to the Dead Men Working blog, “CFSO and AFSA both told State’s OIG that DS investigations into allegations of mis-or-malfeasance by Foreign Service members were subject to outside influence and were occasionally unprofessional.”

They told the OIG seven years ago. Yay!
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U.S. Advisory Commission on Public Diplomacy Re-Authorized – Where the Heck Is It?

Back on January 13, 2012, we blogged about the demise of ACPD or the U.S. Advisory Commission on Public Diplomacy (see PD Commission KIA by Congress; Welcome Back, Matt Armstrong):

Last December, after 63 years of existence, the Commission was KIA by Congress.  And the USG saved $135,065, the Commission’s operating budget for FY2011 (salaries excepted).  Besides the Executive Director, the only permanent staff of the ACPD, the Commission was supported by a detailee from DOD and two interns.  At the time of its closure, there was no Y-tour FSO working with the Commission.  Apparently, the senator who blocked ACPD’s reauthorization admitted he did so not because of merit, or value, or mission, or demand, or even actual cost. The gesture was symbolic and that ACPD happened to cross the senator’s sights at the wrong time; would he have seen DOD’s $547 million for public affairs?

Patricia Kushlis of WhirledView writes: “An effective Public Diplomacy Advisory Commission is the single bipartisan governmental entity that reports to both the executive and legislative branches about what the US could and should do to improve the country’s image abroad. Given the fragmentation of US public diplomacy activities since USIA’s demise, this country is more than ever in need of an independent watch-dog body tasked with putting the jig-saw pieces together enough, at least, to see, report on and critique the most critical parts – now flung across a multitude of departments and agencies.”

So the Commission has been dead for about 15 months but now it’s been re-authorized, retroactively re-authorized on January 3, 2013.

Screen Shot 2013-03-03

As of to-date, there does not seem to be any hint that the Commission will re-start work within the next 30-60 days.

The ACPD is supported by the office of the Under Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs also known as the “R” Bureau (we’re looking at you A/S Tara Sonenshine).  With the exception of that tiny blurb about the ACPD re-authorization, there reportedly is word from the R/Front Office that no other changes on the ACPD website be done without the expressed approval from Ms. Sonenshine’s office. It does not look like Matt Armstrong, the executive director or the rest of the Commission staff has also been reinstated.

Screen Shot 2013-03-04

We should note that the ACPD reports to the President and the Secretary of State.

Quick background on the ACPD:

Since 1948, the United States Advisory Commission on Public Diplomacy (ACPD) had been charged with appraising U.S. Government activities intended to understand, inform, and influence foreign publics and to increase the understanding of and support for these same activities.

The ACPD accomplished this through reports and symposiums that provide honest appraisals and informed discourse on these efforts. The ACPD conducted studies, inquiries, and meetings, and disseminates white papers, reports, and other publications with the approval of the chairperson and in consultation with the Executive Director.

Considering that the ACPD is tasked with appraising our public diplomacy programs, a good chunk of those programs produced by the “R” Bureau (hello Buzkashi Boys), is it appropriate for Ms. Sonenshine’s office to have hiring authority over the Commission’s staff or have authority on when it can operationally re-start or re-do its website? Does it need permission, too, when it can convene a meeting?  The current rules has the chairman of the commission having the authority to appoint the executive director and other additional personnel. It sounds like the “R” Bureau is looking to change that.

Well, boo!

The United States Advisory Commission on Public Diplomacy (ACPD) is a bi-partisan entity. With taxpayer dollars leaking out everywhere in the name of public diplomacy, and not just from State, we need an independent commission that can appraise the effectivity of these programs.  Furthermore, the law that created ACPD actually requires that the Commission conduct an assessment that considers the public diplomacy target impact, the achieved impact, and the cost of public diplomacy activities and international broadcasting. It is supposed to assess and rate whether public diplomacy programs were effective or not, whether appropriate goals were set or not, whether the programs were managed-well and were cost-efficient  or if they do not have acceptable performance public diplomacy metrics for measuring results.

That’s a good enough reason to ensure that the ACPD is not staff by anyone from “R” or nominated by “R” who potentially can have a conflict of interest when it comes to bidding for future assignments within the State Department.

If this is all a misconception on our part, well, can you blame us if we’re reading the smoke signals?  If you know why it’s been 60 days since ACPD had been reauthorized and it is still hobbled in the bureaucracy, our comment section is open.
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Social Media Schizophrenia Continues on Background, and Oh, Stuff That Loophole, Ey?

One of our readers from a post that will remain unnamed recently wrote a note with the following heads-up, “…our Front Office has gone on an anti-social media rampage of late.”

Something about slamming worker bees for not using Facebook or Twitter responsibly?  Apparently, using our universal idiotic translator, that means anyone at post using FB or Twitter was not/not using it responsibly.

These folks have been sequestered inside the mission (before sequestration was a DC rage) due to well, reasons and are not allowed to meet their contacts outside the embassy compound. But our diplomats can continue their host country engagement despite the security hindrances in country X or Y because there now are plenty of social media tools. Except that embassies are not democracies, and when the Front Office is of the opinion that staffers who use these tools are not using it responsibly – what do you get?  What kind of work can our diplomats realistically do when they cannot travel outside the embassy compound?  What kind of host country outreach can be expected of them  when even the mere use of social media tools is considered  irresponsible use by their bosses?

And so the State Department’s social media schizophrenia continues, on background in that region over there.

This gives us an excuse to revisit the social media hubbub from last year about the change in the clearance regs, also known as the 2-day clearance for tweets scandal that gave everyone  ants in their pants —

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Anyway — rumor has it that when Condolezza Rice’s book was submitted for clearance at the State Department a year or so ago — the Executive Secretariat sent that around with very tight short fuze clearance taskers so that the 30 day timeline could be respected.   This is the book where she reportedly congratulated herself on forcing more State Department officials into the field.

Sometime last year year, we published in this blog a short piece on PTSD by an active FSO, and we understand that the clearance for that came through, shockingly enough within 24 hours.

So when the clearance system works, it rocks, but it does not always work as intended.

The current rules says that if the designated review period of 30 days run out without a response, that an employee may go ahead and publish the submitted material with a couple of caveats (no classified or protected info used).  Which is good because it makes the clearance office accountable; officials cannot just sit on the submitted material for no reason than to stall publication. There is the risk, of course, that the Dept will go after you when you take that option.  Prime example of this is retired FSO Peter Van Buren who wrote a comical and depressing account of reconstruction in Iraq in his book, We Meant Well.

That book was submitted for clearance, went beyond the 30 day timeframe and the author took the risk and published the book.  The State Dept did go after him for purported use of classified information in the book, which did not wash or perhaps more appropriately, washed with bad streaks all over it. After a lengthy semi-public battle, Mr. Van Buren retired from the State Department with full benefits.

We must note that the need to get a book cleared is not a laughing matter. The USG once purchased all copies of a book and had a book burning event (see Operation Dark Heart).  In spring last year, a US court ruled that a CIA-connected author may forfeit any future money he earns from a book (see “The Human Factor: Inside the CIA’s Dysfunctional Intelligence Culture”)

James Bruno, a retired FSO and author of political thrillers Permanent Interests, Chasm, Tribe and the latest, still waiting clearance, The Havana Queen, had to wait an average of six month for the State Department to review his books. Mr. Bruno  wrote about this in his blog:

“My book manuscripts must undergo government security review before I can even show them to a book agent or a publisher. Those I published before 2000 were cleared quickly and with little interference from the censors. The Bush-2 administration, however, tightened the process up greatly. It took almost six months to get clearance for my latest novel, “Tribe.” Upon completion of the manuscript, I phoned State to ask to whom I should send it. In return, they faxed me a letter stating, “Everything you write will be considered classified until cleared by this office.”

Ugh! In another blog post, Mr. Bruno wrote:

“This week, I shipped off to the U.S. State Department my fourth book for security review as required by nondisclosure rules binding on all active duty and retired government personnel who have held top secret security clearances. Taking an average of six months per review, my books will have sat a total of two years with the green eye-shaders in Washington. That’s two years of not being published. Two years of royalties not flowing into my bank account.”

If the 30-day timeline is to be respected for a former Secretary of State, it should be respected for all employees, active or retired, otherwise why have the rules in placed when there is selective application of the rules? Pardon me? That’s exactly why there are rules in place so exceptions can be made?

Well, dammit, that hurts our head!

Lost in noise of the 2-day clearance for tweets (which reportedly ain’t gonna happen!) is the central point that under the proposed rules, the State Dept endeavors to control much more firmly its employees speaking, writing, and media engagement, particularly on matters considered “of official concern,” that is, all matters of concern to the State Department.  To put it bluntly, the gag works but did not work as well as evidenced by the Van Buren case.  So an update is needed to make sure it works perfectly, silly.

While Alec Ross put his own spin on this, you might check out this flowchart on the review of State employees public communication whether done in their official or private capacity (h/t to John Brown’s Public Diplomacy Press and Blog Review and We Meant Well.

Mary Jeffers, a senior State Department officer specializing in public diplomacy currently detailed outside Foggy Bottom had a piece on this in the takefiveblog. She writes:

Right now, if you are an Ambassador or PAO (public affairs officer) overseas you are cleared to tweet or post to social media (as well as talk to local journalists, do interviews with local media, etc.) as you see fit — and it doesn’t look like these new rules would change that.  And if you are in Washington in an office that needs to communicate publicly about something, you can work with the PA staff in your own bureau to get near-instant clearance.

(Plus, employees can always use language that’s already been cleared, e.g. text from previous official speeches and statements — and frankly, a lot of language gets recycled this way because it’s efficient and ensures consistency, which is necessarily valued in this business).

And you can always pick up the phone to follow-up clearance requests to multiple offices, email them or if needed, walk your text to the clearance office.  So what’s the real hubbub here? Ms. Jeffers with her pulse on the ground writes:

  • … in situations where the reason people might read your blog article or listen to your speech is that you work for State, but you want to use your own words and speak your own thoughts.  And of course there’s a broad spectrum of such situations, ranging from invitational speaking that all State officers ought to do as part of their work (on one end) to whistle-blowing (at the other); and,
  • Close a loophole that indicated if State PA doesn’t respond to a request for clearance within a certain deadline, one is free to publish.

Those two items sit right at the heart of the matter.

The 3 FAM 4170 current rules applies to “all public speaking, writing and teaching materials of “official concern” whether done in official or private capacity.  We suspect that the greatest impact on the proposed rules would be felt by employees speaking, writing, teaching and doing any sort of public engagement in their private capacity.

So all FB, Twitter, Blogger, WordPress, Ning, other social media platforms users who are State people, talking online about bidding, Iraq, assignments, promotions, housing, officially issued furniture, etc. etc. the proposed new rules are not going to be any better or easier despite official speechifying to the contrary.  So you better stick with toucans.  Look, the 30- day clearance will be shrunk to 2-5 days for social media posts.  Apparently, the public thinks that’s unacceptable for official communication. Does that mean it is also unacceptable for employees communicating in their private capacity? Stay tuned.

Also as we’ve have blogged previously, the catch all language of the proposed new rules is troubling particularly on not violating “standards of character, integrity, and conduct expected of all Department employees as defined in 3 FAM 1216” — those standards are not even spelled out in the cited regulation!  Oh, hey, did we hear right that this draft regulation was done by an intern?

In any case —  all that and the proposed closure of the loophole contained in 3 FAM 4172.1-7 makes us think that tighter control of employee speech, particularly those done in a private capacity, is the main goal of the proposed new rules. It does not matter that there is now a new secretary of state. The building marches at its own tune. If the FAM update is not yet out (it’s not), it’s only because too much public attention probably made it suddenly shy.

As to the complaint overheard down that corridor that we should not be commenting on a draft reg — sorry folks, we could not help it.  Once the regulation is finalized, it does not get any further hearing for a couple years or so.  That’s way too long.  This particular piece of the FAM has potentially significant repercussions to employees speaking in their private capacity. The mere fact that it leaked means others inside the building have significant concerns about it.  Had management posted it in the spirit of true collaboration on the Sounding Board for comments, we probably would not have heard about it.

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Where dangerous conditions are not/not created equal …

We have blogged recently about the critical crime and violence in El Salvador (see State Dept Issues El Salvador Travel Warning:  Critical Crime and Violence.  We have also blogged about the carjacking of a US Embassy employee in Caracas. (see Letter From Caracas: Did You Hear About the American Diplomat Carjacked in Venezuela?)  By the way, The Telegraph reported in December 2012 that “There are more murders in Venezuela than in the United States and the 27 countries of the European Union combined.” San Salvador (El Salvador) and Caracas (Venezuela) are both considered critical crime posts but are not designated danger pay post.

We’ve checked the State Department’s Allowances website and here is what it says about danger pay:

*The danger pay allowance is designed to provide additional compensation above basic compensation to all U.S. Government civilian employees, including Chiefs of Mission, for service at places in foreign areas where there exist conditions of civil insurrection, civil war, terrorism or wartime conditions which threaten physical harm or imminent danger to the health or well-being of an employee.  These conditions do not include acts characterized chiefly as economic crime.

Note the last line of that explanation.

Danger pay factors used in determining the allowance include post evacuation/operating status, acts of violence, and post environmental conditions (see Danger Pay Factors (DS-578).

Under operating status, factors assessed include: the evacuation status (ordered or authorized), percentage of Eligible Family Members (EFMs) remaining at post during an authorized departure and whether or not post is on unaccompanied status or if limited family members are allowed at post.

Acts of violence includes killing, risk of death or severe injury, aggravated battery, kidnapping, sabotage, property damages, extortion, rioting, and hijacking.

Post environmental conditions includes terrorism conditions and civil war, civil insurrection and warfare conditions.

While “attempted hijacking of a privately owned vehicle” and “the hijacking of a privately owned vehicle has become a commonplace occurrence” are some of the factors to be considered under the Danger Pay Factors (DS-578), it is also appears that for purposes of danger pay designation, these incidents are not considered relevant if they are economically motivated and if committed for reasons not related to terrorism, civil insurrection, and/or war.

In fact the danger pay description clearly notes that *“These conditions do not include acts characterized chiefly as economic crime.”

Okay. So kidnapping and carjacking incidents in Iraq or Afghanistan probably contribute to its danger post designation but kidnapping and carjacking in say Venezuela or El Salvador where they would be considered an economic crime, would not?

But then you get Haiti,  designated as 5% danger pay post as of 12/2010; that was down from 20% earlier that year. The embassy there also recently went on an embassy-imposed curfew due to security conditions.

Let’s note for the record that there are no civil wars or insurrection in Haiti or Venezuela.

That leave us with terrorism.

The Crime and Security Report for Haiti says that “The USG rates Haiti as LOW in the threat category of indigenous terrorism. There have been no terrorist acts specifically targeting American interests or citizens in Haiti.”

The Crime and Security Report for Venezuela says “Colombia’s National Liberation Army (ELN) and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) are designated by the Secretary of State as Foreign Terrorist Organizations. Both groups use Venezuela as a safe haven. The State Department has stated that the Lebanon-based terrorist organization Hezbollah is using Venezuela mainly for fundraising. However, Venezuelan media reports suggest Hezbollah is also active in training, money laundering, and arms trafficking.

So this is a tad perplexing, no? How is it that Haiti with crime and security problems (but no terrorism, civil insurrection, and/or war) gets a 5% danger pay designation and Venezuela with crime and security problems (but no civil insurrection, and/or war, and is a terrorist safe haven) gets zero. Since we are not privy to the documents submitted, we have no way of knowing exactly the reason for this.

But you can perhaps understand why folks in Caracas might be troubled by this treatment.

We can think of a few possible reasons for this dissimilar treatment, pardon the speculation since no one would talk about this on the record for this blog:

Front Office Leadership? Somebody has to submit the Danger Pay Factors before any designation can be done. US Embassy Haiti during and after the earthquake has a chief of mission.  US Embassy Venezuela has been without an ambassador since July 2010 and is short staffed in key areas. According to the 2012 OIG report “Between July 2010 and October 2011, the two interim chargés [...] relied upon a series of acting DCMs, which contributed to inconsistency and confusion regarding internal direction within the mission and interactions with Washington.”

Skills and Collaboration? The person responsible for putting together the Danger Pay Factors is without a doubt the Management Office at post in collaboration with the Regional Security Office. So the Management Officer’s writing skills and excellent cooperation with the RSO who has to dig up the supporting stats and documentation is crucial in making a compelling case. The most recent OIG report on Venezuela says that “Management services are incoherent and customer service is poor.” Not only that, the inspectors reported that “weak management section leadership has exacerbated the situation.”  So while Management Officers were not spotlighted in the recent recruitment video from the State Department, they are the most important component of an effective mission. Next to excellent Front Office leadership, of course.  Our unscientific review indicates that the effectiveness and responsiveness of the management section has a direct correlation to the morale and performance of the mission.

Regional Bureau Attention? We do not know what kind of support US Embassy Venezuela get from the WHA bureau and its assistant secretary. But we can readily tell what kind of support has been extended to the US Embassy in Haiti, a post that even has its own Special Coordinator.  We do think that special care and support is necessary when a mission does not have the leadership of a Senate-confirmed ambassador, when post has more than the usual staffing gaps, when post has a good number of entry level officers working in upstretched positions in a host country with 19.9 percent inflation rate.  Particularly if post is also the receiving end of prolong official animosity towards the United States.  When  taken together, these can have a significant impact in the proper functioning of a mission.   The question then becomes — If US Embassy Caracas is getting the appropriate care and support it needs given its many challenges, how is it that its morale is in the mud and we’re getting love notes from there?

Danger Pay Office Out to Lunch? Would you please knock over there and check it out. Please?

Because somebody’s gotta ask why.

One of our readers just sent a question asking, “Where do Mexican border posts that have danger pay fit? Civil insurrection? Isn’t drug/gang violence for economic gain/profit?”  

And that’s why you’re looking at somebody just as confused.  Is it possible that the folks out to lunch also went off the tracks on this?  Something for the Secretary’s Sounding Board, anyone?

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