Conspired to Defraud Uncle Sam? Be Very Afraid. We’re Gonna Put You in Home Confinement!

Posted: 9:40 am EDT

 

Remember the USAID nonprofit contractor IRD? (See Dear USAID OIG — That Nonprofit Contractor Mess Really Needs a Fact Sheet). Well, here’s another one.  This is a case where the CEO of a major USAID contractor gets feather-slapped by the court.

A 2011 ranking of private USAID partners by devex.com lists LBG as the third largest USAID private-sector partner that has contracted some of the government’s largest post-conflict redevelopment projects in Iraq and Afghanistan. According to Bloomberg, Louis Berger International, a unit of Louis Berger Group, got about $736 million to modernize a power system and rehabilitate the Kajakai Dam in Afghanistan.  Whoa! We thought that dam only cost $305.5 million! Plus cost of fuel that  US taxpayers also had to shoulder.

What is missing from this announcement? How much was the total contracts that LBG received in the last 20 years? Who’s paying the independent monitor? And for heaven’s sake, what lessons are we sending to other reconstruction capitalists doing awesome work for love of god and country?

Via USDOJ:

The former president, chief executive officer, and chairman of the board of a New Jersey-based international engineering consulting company was sentenced today to 12 months of home confinement and fined $4.5 million for conspiring to defraud the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) with respect to billions of dollars in contracts over a nearly 20-year period, U.S. Attorney Paul J. Fishman announced.

Derish Wolff, 79, of Bernardsville, New Jersey, previously pleaded guilty before U.S. District Judge Anne E. Thompson to a superseding information charging conspiracy to defraud the government with respect to claims. Judge Thompson imposed the sentence today in Trenton federal court.

According to documents filed in this case and statements made in court:

Wolff, the former president and CEO of Morristown, New Jersey-based Louis Berger Group Inc. (LBG), and the former chairman of LBG’s parent company, Berger Group Holdings Inc. (BGH), led a conspiracy to defraud USAID by billing the agency on so-called “cost-reimbursable” contracts – including hundreds of millions of dollars of contracts for reconstructive work in Iraq and Afghanistan – for LBG’s overhead and other indirect costs at falsely inflated rates.

USAID, an independent federal government agency that advances U.S. foreign policy by supporting economic growth, agriculture, trade, global health, democracy, and humanitarian assistance in developing countries, including countries destabilized by violent conflict, awarded LBG hundreds of millions of dollars in reconstruction contracts in Iraq and Afghanistan as well as in other nations. LBG calculated certain overhead rates and charged USAID and other federal agencies these rates on cost-reimbursable contracts, which enabled LBG to pass on their overhead costs to the agency in general proportion to how much labor LBG devoted to the government contracts.

From at least 1990 through July 2009, LBG, through Wolff and other former executives, intentionally overbilled USAID in connection with these cost-reimbursable contracts. The scheme to defraud the government was carried out by numerous LBG employees at the direction of Wolff.

Wolff targeted a particular overhead rate, irrespective of what the actual rate was, and ordered his subordinates to achieve that target rate through a variety of fraudulent means. From at least as early as 1990 through 2000, Wolff ordered LBG’s assistant controller to instruct the accounting department to pad its time sheets with hours ostensibly devoted to federal government projects when it had not actually worked on such projects.

At an LBG annual meeting in September 2001, Salvatore Pepe, who was then the controller and eventually became chief financial officer (CFO), presented a USAID overhead rate that was significantly below Wolff’s target. In response, Wolff denounced Pepe, called him an “assassin” of the overhead rate and ordered him to target a rate above 140 percent, meaning that for every dollar of labor devoted to a USAID contract, LBG would receive an additional $1.40 in overhead expenses supposedly incurred by LBG.

In response, Pepe and former controller Precy Pellettieri, with Wolff’s supervision, hatched a fraudulent scheme from 2003 through 2007 to systematically reclassify the work hours of LBG’s corporate employees, including high-ranking executives and employees in the general accounting division, to make it appear as if those employees worked on federal projects when they did not. At his plea hearing on Dec. 12, 2014, Wolff admitted that Pepe and Pellettieri, at Wolff’s direction, reclassified these hours without the employees’ knowledge and without investigating whether the employees had correctly accounted for their time, and at times did so over an employee’s objection.

In addition to padding employees’ work hours with fake hours supposedly devoted to USAID work, Wolff instructed his subordinates to charge all commonly shared overhead expenses, such as rent, at LBG’s Washington, D.C., office to an account created to capture USAID-related expenses, even though the D.C. office supported many projects unrelated to USAID or other federal government agencies.

On Nov. 5, 2010, Pepe and Pellettieri both pleaded guilty before then-U.S. Magistrate Judge Patty Shwartz to separate informations charging them with conspiring to defraud the government with respect to claims. Also on that date, LBG resolved criminal and civil fraud charges related to Wolff’s and others’ conduct. The components of the settlement included:

  • a Deferred Prosecution Agreement (DPA), pursuant to which the U.S. Attorney’s Office in New Jersey suspended prosecution of a criminal complaint charging LBG with a violation of the Major Fraud Statute; in exchange, LBG agreed, among other things, to pay $18.7 million in related criminal penalties; make full restitution to USAID; adopt effective standards of conduct, internal controls systems, and ethics training programs for employees; and employ an independent monitor who would evaluate and oversee the company’s compliance with the DPA for a two-year period;
  • a civil settlement that required the company to pay the government $50.6 million to resolve allegations that LBG violated the False Claims Act by charging inflated overhead rates that were used for invoicing on government contracts; and an administrative agreement between LBG and USAID, which was the primary victim of the fraudulent scheme.

In the settlement, the government took into consideration LBG’s cooperation with the investigation and the fact that those responsible for the wrongdoing were no longer associated with the company.

Click here for the original announcement (pdf).

 

Related posts:

Related items:

NYT’s David Brooks Asks, “Are we in nursery school?” Acting State Dept Spox Marie Harf Reax. Tsk-tsk!

Posted: 11:41 am PDT

 

So last week, SecState #56 and SecState #60, both Republican-appointed Secretaries of State wrote an op-ed about The Iran Deal and Its Consequences.

The Acting Spokesperson Marie Harf was asked about this during the April 8 Daily Press Briefing:

QUESTION:  Henry Kissinger and George Shultz published a piece in the Wall Street Journal today that raised a lot of questions about the deal.  These are diplomatic statesman types.  Do you guys have any reaction to that?  Do you think they were fair?
MS HARF:  Well, the Secretary has spoken to a number of his predecessors that were former secretaries of state since we got this agreement – or since the parameters – excuse me – we got the parameters finalized.  And we’re having conversations with other senior officials.  We are happy to have that conversation about what this agreement is, what it isn’t, the work we still have to do, and how we are very confident that this achieves our objectives.  And that conversation will certainly continue.
[…]
QUESTION:  Okay.  So one of the things they say is that “absent a linkage between nuclear and political restraint, America’s traditional allies will conclude that the U.S. has traded temporary nuclear cooperation for acquiescence to Iranian hegemony” in the region.  Not true?
MS HARF:  I would obviously disagree with that.  I think that an Iran backed up by a nuclear weapon would be more able to project power in the region, and so that’s why we don’t want them to get a nuclear weapon.  That’s what this deal does.
QUESTION:  Back when —
MS HARF:  And I didn’t hear a lot of alternatives.  I heard a lot of sort of big words and big thoughts in that piece, and those are certainly – there’s a place for that, but I didn’t hear a lot of alternatives about what they would do differently.  I know the Secretary values the discussions he has with his predecessors regardless of sort of where they fall on the specifics.
QUESTION:  Well, I guess one of the criticisms is that there aren’t enough big words and big thought – or people argue that there are not enough big words and big thoughts in what the Administration is pursuing, its overall policy, particularly in the Middle East right now, which has been roiled with unrest and uncertainty.  And I think that’s what the point is they’re making.  That you reject, it, I understand that.  One of the —
MS HARF:  Well, in a region already roiled by so much uncertainty and unrest —

On that same day, conservative talk show radio host Hugh Hewitt had NYT’s David Brooks as guest and was asked about the Kissinger-Schultz op-ed, and the State Department’s official response to it. Click here for the transcript: Below is an audio of the exchange.

HH: David Brooks, this is the critique of the critics, is that we don’t have a lot of alternatives. In fact, every critic I’ve heard has alternatives, and I’m sure Kissinger and Schultz do. But a lot of big words? Really?
DB: Are we in nursery school? We’re not, no polysyllabic words? That’s about the lamest rebuttal of a piece by two senior and very well-respected foreign policy people as I’ve heard. Somebody’s got to come up with better talking points, whatever you think. And of course, there are alternatives. It’s not to allow them to get richer, but to force them to get a little poorer so they can fund fewer terrorism armies.

The Daily Caller caught that story and posted this:  Are We In Nursery School?’: David Brooks Slams Marie Harf Over Kissinger, Shultz Op-Ed Criticism.

Ouch!

But that’s not the end of the story.

William M. Todd, apparently a friend of the Harf family reposted the Daily Caller story on his Facebook page with a note that says: “Team Obama bans polysyllabic words !!”

Screen Shot 2015-04-13 at 11.17.57 AM

Here is the State Department’s Acting Spokesperson on Mr. Todd’s FB page.

Marie Harf Bill – I’m not sure how you could think this article accurately portrays me or how I view complicated foreign policy issues, given how long you’ve personally known me and my family. Does your hatred of this administration matter so much to you that it justifies posting a hurtful comment and a mean-spirited story about the daughter of someone you’ve known for years and used to call a friend? There’s a way to disagree with our policies without making it personal. Growing up in Ohio, that’s how I was taught to disagree with people. I hope your behavior isn’t an indication that’s changed.

She also posted a lengthy follow-up response here from the Daily Press Briefing.

William M. Todd responded on FB with the following:

I certainly can understand why your Team would disagree with Henry Kissinger and George Schultz on policy matters. However, what is amazing to me was your condescending and, almost childish criticism of what I considered to be a well-reasoned and thoughtful op-ed on the current Middle East crisis.

So, this is where we are people.

That’s potentially the next official spokesperson of the United States of America to the world.

#

Menendez Indictment: Visas for Girlfriends, Consular Affairs, INL, and Whatabout “H”?

Posted: 5:29 pm PDT

 

Today, a federal grand jury indicted Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) on corruption charges. According to the WSJ, Mr. Menendez, 61 years old, has said “he didn’t do anything wrong and plans to fight the charges.” The indictment is the culmination of a lengthy inquiry by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) into the relationship between the New Jersey senator and Florida eye doctor Salomon Melgen.” Wait, can you use constituent services as defense if the constituent lives in another state?

New Jersey editorials have now called on the senator to resign. Media reports says that he will step down as ranking member of Senate Foreign Relations Committee (SFRC) because of the indictment. The good senator from New Jersey is reportedly “outraged” by the indictment. He condemned the corruption case against him saying, “I am not going anywhere… I’m angry and ready to fight.” And he is, by god!

 

 

We’ve read through the indictment. We have excerpted the parts below that include the visas for girlfriends initiative (Brazil, Dominican Republic, Ukraine), the back and forth with Consular Affairs,  the visa refusals that were overturned, and the back and forth with the INL bureau on a port contract.

The names of the State Department officials are not included, but the indictment includes the offices at the State Department that were the receiving end of the senator’s attention and advocacy:  DAS for Visas Services, Embassy Santo Domingo  and the Assistant Secretary for International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs (INL).

There’s also this nugget:

State 2 to Staffer 8 writes:

If H is in the room — best if the good senator from New Jersey doesn’t mention the prior private meeting they had.

Hey, that’s H, the State Department’s Bureau of Legislative Affairs whose job is to “facilitates effective communication between State Department officials and the Members of Congress and their staffs.” Whatsthatabout?

 

The full indictment document is available online here (pdf)

#

SFRC Bullies Diplomats Up For Promotion to Self-Certify They Have Not Been Convicted of Any Crime

Posted: 12:45 pm EDT

 

The question is why? Why is the Senate Foreign Relations Committee (SFRC) demanding that our diplomats self-certify that they have not committed a felony within the last seven years? The form says “disclosure of this information is voluntary.” But also that “failure to provide the information requested may result in delay or exclusion of your name on a Foreign Service nomination list.”

Career members of the Foreign Service must be promoted into the Senior Foreign Service by appointment of the President, by and with the advice and consent of the Senate. This self-certification is reportedly also required for employees who are up for commissioning and tenuring at the Foreign Relations committee.

So basically in bullying our diplomats into signing this witless self-certification, the SFRC will be able to provide better advice to President Obama?

How?


All Diplomats Must Hold and Keep Top Secret Clearances

The American diplomatic profession requires the issuance of a security clearance. All Foreign Service officers must hold and keep an active Top Secret security clearance.

The personnel security background investigation begins after an individual has been given a conditional offer of employment and has completed the appropriate security questionnaire, usually a Standard Form 86, Questionnaire for National Security Positions, and other required forms.  Once the security package is received by the Office of Personnel Security and Suitability, it is reviewed for completeness. National agency record checks and scanned fingerprint checks are then conducted. A case manager will direct the background investigation to cover key events and contacts from the individual’s past and present history.   Once the investigators have completed a report, highly trained security clearance adjudicators will weigh the results against existing adjudicative guidelines for security clearances. A critical step in the background investigation is the face-to-face interview the individual will have with a DS investigator. This interview usually occurs within a few weeks of an individual submitting a complete security clearance package. Security clearances are subject to periodic reinvestigation every 5 years for TS clearance, and every 10 years for a Secret clearance.

When there is derogatory information, even based on preliminary facts from a DS criminal investigation, Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) counterintelligence or other law enforcement investigation, or an Inspector General investigation, the security clearance is suspended.  Personnel whose security clearances have been suspended may not be placed on temporary duty status at diplomatic facilities abroad and may not be retained in positions requiring a security clearance until the investigation is resolved.

The names of those with pending investigations are automatically removed from the promotion list.  It goes without saying …. oops, maybe it does need saying — diplomats who have pled guilty or convicted of a crime will not be able to hold a security clearance, much less have his/her name included in the promotion list.

Let’s give you an example — Michael Sestak, an FSO who pled guilty in a visa fraud-bribery case. He is currently sitting in jail. He’ll be sentenced in April.  When he comes out of prison, he will not/not have a job to return to at the State Department. Does anyone at the SFRC really think that somebody like Mr. Sestak can slip through federal employment again, get on the promotion list and somehow make it through the most deliberative body in Congress. No? So why would anyone in the Senate think that this self-certification is anything but idiotic?

 

8,042 Diplomats Targeted

On March 2012, fcw.com cited 2,102,269 as the total number of executive branch employees.  Of those, however, only 1,877,990 are full-time, permanent employees. These numbers reportedly do not include uniformed military personnel, or data on the Postal Service and excludes legislative and judicial branch employees.

Out of the 2.1 million employees, the State Department has  a total of 71,782 employees which includes 47,110 Foreign Service National (FSN) employees; 10,871 Civil Service (CS) employees and 13,801 (FS) Foreign Service employees as of December 2014 (see stats here-pdf.)

Of the total 13,801 Foreign Service employees, 8,042 are considered “Generalists” and 5,759 are “Specialists.”  The “Specialists which include DS agents, and HR, IT professionals are not subject to Senate confirmation.  The “Generalists” are the Foreign Service Officers  whose tenure and promotion are subject to confirmation by the United States Senate.

The Senate majority in the Foreign Relations Committee appears to be targeting only Foreign Service officers.  FSOs, and FSOs alone have been asked to self-certify that they have not been “convicted of or pled guilty of any crime” in the last seven years. As far as we are aware, this requirement does not extend to nominees who are political appointees.

What makes career diplomats special, pray tell?


The White House Knows About This? You Gotta be Kidding.

This self-certification form which is not available at OPM.gov and does not include an official form number says that “The information collected and maintained in this form will be used as part of the vetting process for Foreign Service Lists submitted to the White House for eventual nomination to the Senate.”

An informed source told us that this self-certification had been negotiated between a representative of AFSA, a staffer at the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and the State Department.

No, there were no photos.

Apparently, there also was no White House representative involved, although you might missed that when reading the unclassified State Department 14 STATE 98420 cable dated Aug 12, 2014, which says in part:

The Senate Foreign Relations Committee (SFRC) now requires additional vetting before it considers nominees for confirmation in all of the above-mentioned categories. Effective immediately all employees in those categories who have been nominated on or after April 1, 2014 must file a self-certification form certifying that they have not been convicted of a crime or pled guilty in any court over the past seven years, regardless of whether the record in the case has been sealed, expunged, or otherwise stricken from the court record. HR will notify those employees who are up for commissioning, tenure and SFS promotion that they must submit the form, available at:  [Note: we redacted sbu link] and which must be submitted to HR-PasSelfCertificat@state.gov.
Please note: failure to submit the form will mean that HR will not/not forward your name to the White House for nomination to the Senate. There is no waiver of the SFRC requirement. For those individuals who are unable to make the certification, and wish to provide information relevant to any conviction or guilty plea in the last seven years, they may report the information in the space provided on the form. Further investigation may be made on the basis of any additional information provided. The Department may then be required to provide this information to the SFRC.

 

AFSA and the State Department must realized that this is a meaningless and coersive made-up document, but both rolled over and played dead.  No other nominees of any agency of the U.S. government are obliged to sign such a certificate, which is essentially, again, meaningless in the context of a profession in which an active security clearance is a prerequisite to the performance of a job.

This is spectacular and unprecedented.

Well, not unprecedented if you count Senator McCarthy’s witch hunt and lavender scare in the 1950s.


Why roll over and play dead?

The SFRC can hold up ambassadorial nominations, senior State Dept level nominations (undersecretaries/assistant secretaries), and decide who to put first on the hearings list and who to put last (see Happy Easter Greeting: SFRC Left Town With 19 Ambassadorial Nominations Still Stuck on Glue!).  The simple act of holding up large numbers of nominees rather than passing them through at a reasonable pace wreaks havoc on State’s budget, assignments process, and people’s lives. (see Is the U.S. Senate Gonna Wreck, Wreck, Wreck, the Upcoming Bidding Season in the Foreign Service?)  Salaries, promotions, transfers, offices, authorities are money. Ambassadors who do not go to posts on time have big time resource implications in addition to political implications. People who do not have the legal authority to do their jobs (is a consular officer’s notarial legal if he/she did not receive Senate confirmation?) operate in a legal limbo presumably implying risks of all kinds.

So —

Self_certification

click image for larger view

 

Why not ‘just do it’ like Nike? It’s already done but it’s a horrible precedent, what’s next?

This is already being done. Folks have already signed this self-certifying documents and have submitted them as a requirement to their nominations.  They don’t really have a choice, do they? But where does it end?

It doesn’t.

We’ve learned that the SFRC gets information  on names recommended for promotion from the State Department “following vetting” and also directly from the OIG, including information that reportedly goes back decades.

That’s right, going back decades.

If an FSO or any employee is charged with a crime, the employee defends himself/herself in court, and if charged with an administrative matter, the employee defends himself/herself in an HR process. That’s how it works.

One SFRC staffer is now reportedly “negotiating” to gain access to OIG investigative data under the guise of allowing the Senate panel to better advise President Obama concerning the qualifications of Foreign Service Officer candidates. But what the SFRC is now “negotiating” with State and AFSA would be access to raw OIG and Diplomatic Security reports containing derogatory information without any of an employee’s mitigating, exculpatory or defensive evidence information. You okay with that?

What is Senator Corker’s SFRC going to ask for next, your diplomatic liver?

The White House seems asleep at the wheel on this. Today, it’s the State Department, tomorrow, it could be any agency in the Federal Government.

Hey, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee is doing it, what’s the rest of the Senate going to ask for next?

 #

Email Episode 1472: No Dust Left on Chappaqua Server?

Posted: 11:28 pm PDT

.

.

.
The New York Times also posted the letter from the former secretary of state’s lawyer David E. Kendall to House Chairman Trey Gowdy.  Excerpt below:

There is no basis to support the proposed third-party review of the server that hosted the hdr22@clintonemail.com account. During the fall of 2014, Secretary Clinton’s legal representatives reviewed her hdr22@clintonemail.com account for the time period from January 21, 2009 through February 1, 2013. After the review was completed to identify and provide to the Department of State all of the Secretary’s work-related and potentially work-related emails, the Secretary chose not to keep her non-record personal e-mails and asked that her account (which was no longer in active use) be set to retain only the most recent 60 days of e-mail. To avoid prolonging a discussion that would be academic, I have confirmed with the Secretary’s IT support that no e-mails from hdr22@clintonemail.com for the time period January 21, 2009 through February 1, 2013 reside on the server or on any back-up systems associated with the server.

Page 8 of this 9-page document includes a letter from the State Department’s Under Secretary for Management Patrick Kennedy:

We understand that Secretary Clinton would like to continue to retain copies of the documents to assist her in responding to congressional and related inquiries regarding the documents and her tenure as head of the Department. The Department has consulted with the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) and believes that permitting Secretary Clinton continued access to the documents is in the public interest as it will help promote informed discussion.

Accordingly, Secretary Clinton may retain copies of the documents provided that: access is limited to Secretary Clinton and those directly assisting her in responding to such inquiries; steps are taken to safeguard the documents against loss or unauthorized access; the documents are not released without written authorization by the Department; and there is agreement to return the documents to the Department upon request. Additionally, following counsel, we ask that, to the extent the documents are stored electronically, they continue to be preserved in their electronic format. In the event that State Department reviewers determine that any document or documents is/are classified, additional steps will be required to safeguard and protect the information.

The  entire Kendall-Gowdy letter is available to read here.

Because it’s Friday, there is also this item from Gawker and ProPublica adding a stranger twist to this  email saga.

 

 

In related news, remember when Michael Schmidt broke the NYT story about  Secretary Clinton’s exclusive use of a personal email account during her entire tenure as Secretary of State? That was on March 2.  On March 25,  Secretary Kerry finally asked the Office of Inspector General to review email and record retention at his agency.  The letter Secretary Kerry sent to IG Steve Linick is available to read here (pdf).

.

I don’t know about you but … it’s that kind of week.

Greys-Anatomy perfectedflaw

Image: Tumblr, perfectedflaw via Mashable

#

Burn Bag: The situation regarding spousal employment … probably the most honest response yet

Posted: 1:40 pm EDT

 

“Yes, we devote more and better lip service to the problem every year.”  

ll1ucy_reaction gifs

Image via reactiongifs.com

— an unnamed regional bureau wag’s response when asked if the situation regarding spousal employment had improved over the years.

 

 

Clinton Email Saga: How do you CTRL+F 55,000 pages of paper?

Posted: 12:43  am EDT

 

Marc Perkel who runs a spam filtering service has an interesting addition to the Clinton email saga, something to do with what happens to emails that go through a  spam filtering service.  But he also wrote this:

But – and this is a very important point – is HOW the emails were turned over. She printed each one out on paper one by one and handed over boxes of paper with the email printed. Thus those email can’t be searched electronically. So if someone wants all emails to some individual or emails about a subject then someone has to hand search these emails and they are likely to miss something.

It would have been far easier to copy all the emails onto a thumb drive and hand that over to the State Department where they could be electronically imported into the system and electronically searchable like all the other emails are. But she chose to go to great trouble to deliberately make things difficult for the State Department to process those emails.  And that indicates an act of bad faith. She’s just giving all of us the virtual finger.

This from a a guy who writes that if Clinton is the candidate,  he “would still vote for her in the general election over any Republican.”

Also see  Attn: Delivery Man Schlepping Boxes With 55,000 Pages of Emails to Foggy Bottom, You’re Wanted at the Podium! (Corrected)

When asked why these documents were not provided to State in electronic format for better searchability, the official spox said, “Well, there is some long precedent here for how this is done.”  I don’t know what kind of precedent she is talking about.  Has anyone ever had to produce  55,000 pages of emails before from a private email server? How do you search that? Control+D for smart not?

This is basically 110 reams of paper at 500 sheets per ream, or 11 bales of paper.  And if the Clinton folks instead used a thumb drive for these 55,000 pages of email, it probably could have spared a tree or two!

Reseed’s strategy is prevention and remediation — not only can we curb deforestation by encouraging consumers and retailers to adopt e-receipts, but we can also reverse some of the damage with the money saved. Forgoing 55,000 receipts can spare an entire tree, and it only takes a dollar in donations for Reseed to plant a tree.

Going Paperless: The Hidden Cost of a Receipt
Part of a series produced by The Huffington Post and the Clinton Global Initiative 

Oy! What’s that?

The ACLU writes that the politics swirling around the Clinton email scandal obscure real problems:

As the Committee for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington has documented at length, various Bush White House officials used Republican National Committee accounts to communicate with Attorney General Alberto Gonzales in what would become the scandal over the hiring and firing of United States attorneys that the Department of Justice later found to be the inappropriately politicized.

The decision by Secretary Clinton to use “clintonemail.com” exclusively for official business disregards these historical examples. Unfortunately, officials can face the strong temptation to hide official business out of the reach of Freedom of Information Act requests. And as the new retention rules recognize, that’s unacceptable for our democracy.

 

On March 17, twelve open government organizations also wrote a letter to Secretary Kerry and David S. Ferriero, the Archivist of the United States asking that the Clinton emails containing federal records be transferred to the Department of State in their original electronic form:

Because it is of the utmost importance that all of former Secretary Clinton’s emails are properly preserved and transferred back to the State Department for accountability and historical record purposes, we are asking that you verify that Secretary Clinton’s emails containing federal records are transferred to the Department of State in their original electronic form, so that all such emails may be accessible pursuant to the Freedom of Information Act. The Archivist and State Department are authorized by the Federal Records Act to seek the recovery of records that may have been improperly removed, and the task of determining which emails constitute federal records should not be left solely to Mrs. Clinton’s personal aides. Rather, the Archivist and State Department should oversee the process to ensure its independence and objectivity. To the extent that it is ascertained that any record emails were deleted, they should be retrieved if technically possible.

The letter available online here (pdf) was signed by Cause of Action, Defending Dissent Foundation, Electronic Frontier Foundation, MuckRock, National Coalition for History, National Security Archive, National Security Counselors, OpenTheGovernment.org, Pirate Times, Project on Government Oversight (POGO),  Society of Professional Journalists and The Sunlight Foundation.

 #

AFSA Politely Asks the State Dept: Is Adherence to the Foreign Affairs Manual Optional For Some?

Posted: 1:01  am EDT

 

The Daily Press Briefing of March 11  toppled me off my chair when I heard the official spokesperson of the State Department, Jennifer Psaki said from the podium, “The FAM is not a regulation; it’s recommendations.”  (see NewsFlash: “The FAM is not a regulation; it’s recommendations.” Hurry, DECLINE button over there!).

On March 17, the American Foreign Service Association (AFSA) wrote to Arnold Chacon, the Director General of the Foreign Service and the State Department’s top HR official requesting clarity on the applicability of 3 FAM to career and political/non-career employees of the oldest executive agency in the union.

We would be grateful if you could help us understand if there is, in practice or by law, any difference in how these standards apply to and are enforced for non-career appointees as opposed to career employees, both Foreign Service and Civil Service.

AFSA noted the March 10 press briefing, where “Spokesperson Jen Psaki referred to 3 FAM as “guidelines” as distinguished from “law”:

As the Foreign Service, we have always understood the FAM to consist of regulations to which we must adhere. AFSA would like to ask if non-career appointees are formally subject to all of the rules and regulations in 3 FAM.

Screen Shot 2015-03-18

Foreign Affairs Manual

 

3 FAM is the section of the Foreign Affairs Manual that covers personnel:

This volume of the FAM sets forth the policies and regulations governing the administration of the personnel system applicable to the Department of State. Regulations adopted jointly by the Department of State and other agencies (e.g. Broadcasting Board of Governors, USAID, Commerce, Agriculture, Peace Corps,) are so identified wherever they appear in this volume. (see pdf)

Volume 3 of the FAM is organized around eight major personnel topics, each of which is assigned a series of nine chapters of 89 subchapters. In so far as is practicable, each subchapter is restricted to a single topic. Since some topics relate to both Foreign Service and Civil Service employees, while others relate to employees of only one of the services, subchapters, or parts thereof, contain a legend, which indicates coverage.

☞Chapters in the 1000 series contain general information on the organization of the FAM and general policies and regulations relating to all Civil Service and/or Foreign Service employees.

☞Chapters in the 2000 series contain regulations and policies, which govern the day-to-day operations of the Foreign Service and Civil Service personnel systems.

☞Chapters in the 3000 series contain regulations and policies which govern Civil Service and Foreign Service pay, leave administration, benefits (e.g. Federal Employees Health Benefits (FEHB), Federal Employees Group Life Insurance (FEGLI), Office of Worker’s Compensation Program (OWCP), Unemployment Compensation for Federal Employees (UCFE), Reasonable Accommodations), allowances and travel. In addition, Chapters in the 3000 series contains special program regulations and policies such as Transit Subsidy Program, Student Loan Repayment Program (SLRP), and Professional Liability Insurance (PLI).

☞Chapters in the 4000 series contain regulations and policies which govern the conduct of Foreign Service and Civil Service employees; provide penalties for misconduct; establish grievance and appeals procedures; and provide for awards for outstanding performance.

☞Chapters in the 5000 series contain regulations and policies, which govern labor management relations in the Department.

☞Chapters in the 6000 series contain regulations and policies, which govern the administration of the retirement program for Civil Service and Foreign Service employees.

☞Chapters in the 7000 series contain regulations and policies, which govern the administration of the Foreign Service National personnel system for Overseas Employees.

☞Chapters in the 8000 series contain regulations and policies, which govern the administration of the various overseas employment programs administered by the Office of Overseas Employment (HR/OE).

If it comes from the podium, it is official.

So it is, of course, understandable that AFSA is concerned when she calls the FAM “guidelines.”  But equally troubling to hear her say from the official podium that the FAM is not regulations but recommendations, as if somehow adherence to it is voluntary and optional. We’ve asked state.gov for a comment and the nice person there told us they’re consulting with their subject matter experts and hopefully will have something for us.

Anyone has an in with the folks at the Office of the Legal Adviser?  Would you kindly please ask them to wade in on this?

#

Old Diplomats’ Almanac Question of the Day: So you want to be an American Ambassador?

Posted: 00:07  PDT

 

NewsFlash: “The FAM is not a regulation; it’s recommendations.” Hurry, DECLINE button over there!

Posted: 12:30 pm EDT

 

“I don’t have the FAM in front of me. I can certainly check and see if there were certain policies, if there were regulations. The FAM is not a regulation; it’s recommendations.”

That’s a direct quote from the official spokesperson of the U.S. Department of State, Jennifer Psaki, who managed to change internal agency policy in just eight words during the Daily Press Briefing on March 10, 2015. Here is a screenshot from the transcript that you may look at just as soon as you’ve picked up your jaw from the floor.

Screen Shot 2015-03-11

click on image for larger view

 

Dammit! Yahoo called the FAM “regulations.” It obviously has no idea there’s something wrong with its search engine!

Screen Shot 2015-03-09

 

Okay, let’s try searching for this at the State Department’s official website at state.gov.

Screen Shot 2015-03-11

click image for larger view

Well, it turns out, those folks running the official agency website also have no idea they have this  all wrong. Calling the FAM “regs” is not acceptable because that stands for “regulations.” This would make us all think that the FAM is regulations. And according to the official spokesperson, the FAM is really just recommendations.  And if so, this must mean that the Foreign Affairs Manual is just a suggestion or proposal for the best course of action for State Department employees. Are folks subjected to it free to decline some or all those recommendations?

The Office of Directives Management must now change the URL from http://www.state.gov/m/a/dir/regs/ to http://www.state.gov/m/a/dir/recommendations/  — otherwise this will all lead to confusion.

But this is actually great news.

That FSO who was imposed charges to the amount of $14,804.01 by the State Department for packing, shipping, storing and repacking household effects (HHE) that included 44 boxes of marble tiles weighing 5871 pounds – may now go back and ask for a refund.  The specialist who was disciplined “for improper personal conduct and failure to follow regulations” following an extramarital sexual relationship with a local national and not informing his wife about the affair, may now go back and tell the FSGB that he’ll decline the State Department’s recommendations.

FSGB No. 2009-041:  The Department argues that the regulation in effect in 1999, 6 FAM 161.4 (currently 14 FAM 611.5(2)) clearly prohibits shipment and storage of construction materials as HHE.  As a Foreign Service Officer, grievant is responsible for knowing all of the applicable regulations.

FSGB No. 2011-051 (pdf):  Department regulations state the applicable policies regarding employee conduct that may result in disciplinary action. Grievant was obliged to know these regulations and to conform his conduct accordingly. 3 FAM 4130, Standards for Appointment and Continued Employment, provides guidelines for when disciplinary action may be taken against an employee. 3 FAM 4138 provides that disciplinary action may be taken for:

criminal, dishonest or disgraceful conduct (see section 3 FAM 4139.14); . . . conduct which furnishes substantial reason to believe that the individual may be or is being subject to coercion, improper influence, or pressure which is reasonably likely to cause the individual to act contrary to the national security or foreign relations of the United States; . . . conduct which clearly shows poor judgment or lack of discretion which may reasonably affect an individual or the agency’s ability to carry out its responsibilities or mission.

This is going to put the entire Foreign Service Grievance Board out of work, right?

Anyone who’s ever been cited for FAM infractions and/or been disciplined as a result of the contents in the Foreign Affairs Manual may consider ringing their lawyers.  All employees, presumably, are now welcome to decline any or all recommendations under the FAM?

Arrggghhh! Quit laughing. This isn’t funny!

#