Category Archives: Staffing the FS

Tweet of the Day: Ambassador John Bass Now in Turkey

– Domani Spero

 

Ambassador John Bass arrived in Ankara over the weekend. Here is his intro video.  Today, he presented his credentials to Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, the President of Turkey.

 

U.S. Embassy Ankara also got a new deputy chief of mission, Lawrence (Larry) Mandel who was previously Director of the Office of Performance Evaluation, from October 2011 to September 2013.  He also he served as Deputy Chief of Mission at the U.S. Embassy in Amman, Jordan.

İyi şanslar!

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Burn Bag: CG Sighting! CG Sighting! Near Window #36, the Consular Section, Now!

Via Burn Bag

“The CG [consul general] of our very large consular section was recently on leave for several weeks, not that anybody noticed.  She interacts with her staff so rarely that we’ve begun to make jokes about “CG sightings” in the consular section (Note:  she’s up to six after a year here).  Apparently, however, this was simply too much interaction and she has convinced CA [Consular Affairs] to create a Deputy CG position.  Huh?”

via reactiongifs.com

via reactiongifs.com

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State Dept Security Officer Alleged Sexual Misconduct: Spans 10 Years, 7 Posts

– Domani Spero

 

One of the most serious allegations contained in the CBS News report last year include a regional security officer (RSO) reportedly assigned in Lebanon who “engaged in sexual assaults” with local guards.

The memo, reported by CBS News’ John Miller, cited eight specific examples, including allegations that a State Department security official in Beirut “engaged in sexual assaults” with foreign nationals hired as embassy guards and the charge and that members of former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s security detail “engaged prostitutes while on official trips in foreign countries” — a problem the report says was “endemic.”

USA Today reported that the regional security officer in Beirut allegedly sexually assaulted guards and was accused of similar assaults in Baghdad, Khartoum and Monrovia. Then-director of Diplomatic Security Service, called the allegations a “witch hunt” and gave agents “only three days” to investigate, and no charges were brought.

It turns out, according to State/OIG that this RSO already had “a long history of similar misconduct allegations dating back 10 years at seven other posts where he worked”

It boggles the mind … the RSO typically supervises the local guard force!

Seven posts! Just stop and think about that for a moment. This was the embassy’s top security officer; a sworn federal law enforcement officer who was responsible for the security of Foreign Service personnel, property, and sensitive information throughout the world.

Below is an excerpt from the State/OIG investigation. We regret if this is going to make you puke, but here it is:

The second DS internal investigation in which OIG found an appearance of undue influence and favoritism concerned a DS Regional Security Officer (RSO) posted overseas, who, in 2011, allegedly engaged in sexual misconduct and harassment. DS commenced an internal investigation of those allegations in September 2011.

However, at the time the investigation began, the RSO already had a long history of similar misconduct allegations dating back 10 years at seven other posts where he worked. A 2006 DS investigation involving similar alleged misconduct led to the RSO’s suspension for 5 days.

OIG found that there was undue delay within the Department in adequately addressing the 2011 misconduct allegations and that the alleged incidents of similar misconduct prior to 2011 were not timely reported to appropriate Department officials.7 OIG also found that, notwithstanding the serious nature of the alleged misconduct, the Department never attempted to remove the RSO from Department work environments where the RSO could potentially harm other employees, an option available under the FAM.8 Notably, the DS agents investigating the 2011 allegations reported to DS management, in October 2011, that they had gathered “overwhelming evidence” of the RSO’s culpability.

The agents also encountered resistance from senior Department and DS managers as they continued to investigate the RSO’s suspected misconduct in 2011. OIG found that the managers in question had personal relationships with the RSO. For instance, the agents were directed to interview another DS manager who was a friend of the RSO, and who was the official responsible for selecting the agents’ work assignments. During the interview, the manager acted in a manner the agents believed was meant to intimidate them. OIG also found that Department and DS managers had described the agents’ investigation as a “witch hunt,” unfairly focused on the RSO. Even though OIG did not find evidence of actual retaliation against the investigating agents, OIG concluded that these circumstances, including the undue delay, created an appearance of undue influence and favoritism concerning DS’s investigation and the Department’s handling of the matter.

Ultimately, in November 2013, based on evidence collected by DS and the Department’s Office of Civil Rights, the Department commenced termination of employment proceedings against the RSO. The RSO’s employment in the Department did not end until mid-2014, approximately 3 years after DS initially learned of the 2011 allegations.

 

The State/OIG report cleared Clinton’s chief of staff, Cheryl Mills, for allegedly interceding in an investigation by the Diplomatic Security Service concerning a nominee to be U.S. Ambassador. The Assistant Secretary of State for Diplomatic Security incumbent referred to below had been snared in the Benghazi-fallout, and resigned in December 2012:

The third DS internal investigation in which OIG found an appearance of undue influence and favoritism involved the unauthorized release in mid-2012 of internal Department communications from 2008 concerning an individual who was nominated in early-2012 to serve as a U.S. Ambassador. (The nominee’s name was withdrawn following the unauthorized release.) DS commenced an internal investigation related to the unauthorized release of the internal communications. The then Chief of Staff and Counselor to the Secretary of State was alleged to have unduly influenced that investigation.

OIG found no evidence of any undue influence by the Chief of Staff/Counselor. However, OIG did find that the Assistant Secretary of State in charge of DS had delayed for 4 months, without adequate justification, DS’s interview of the nominee, and that delay brought the investigation to a temporary standstill. OIG concluded that the delay created the appearance of undue influence and favoritism. The case was ultimately closed in July 2013, after the nominee was interviewed and after DS conducted additional investigative work.

No Undue Influence or Favoritism in Four Cases 

OIG did not find evidence of perceived or actual undue influence or favoritism in four of the DS internal investigations reviewed, and, in two of those four, determined that no further discussion was warranted. However, two cases are discussed further in this review because OIG found one common issue in both cases that requires remedial action—the failure to promptly report alleged misconduct to the DS internal investigations unit for further review.

Three DS special agents allegedly solicited prostitutes in 2010 while serving on the security detail for the Secretary of State. Although managers on the security detail learned of some of the alleged misconduct at or near the time it occurred, they did not notify the DS internal investigations unit, which normally handles such matters. A DS internal investigations agent only learned about the three cases while conducting an unrelated investigation. As a result, no action was taken to investigate the misconduct allegations until October 2011, 18 months after the first alleged solicitation occurred. As a result of the investigation then conducted, the three agents were removed from the Secretary’s security detail, and their cases were referred for further disciplinary action. One agent subsequently resigned; the allegations against the other two agents were not sustained.9

A DS special agent who worked in a domestic field office allegedly falsified time and attendance records over a 17-month period between January 2011 and May 2012. DS management in the domestic field office knew about the allegations but did not promptly report them to the DS internal investigations unit. In May 2012, during the course of an unrelated investigation involving the DS special agent, the DS internal investigations unit learned of the allegations of false time and attendance reporting. An internal investigation was then commenced, and the DS special agent subsequently resigned. DS also referred the matter to the Department of Justice, which declined prosecution of the case.

One footnote:

In the SBU report provided to Congress and the Department, OIG noted that one agent subsequently resigned; the allegations against a second agent were not sustained; and the third agent had initiated a grievance proceeding, which was pending, challenging the discipline determination. However, after the SBU report was issued, the Department advised OIG that the third agent’s grievance proceeding was resolved with a finding by the Foreign Service Grievance Board not sustaining the charges.

One Review Ongoing 

The eighth DS internal investigation reviewed by OIG concerned the use of deadly force during three incidents that took place during counternarcotics operations in Honduras in 2012. OIG has commenced a joint review with the U.S. Department of Justice, Office of the Inspector General. The investigation remains under review, and OIG will issue a separate report on the matter.

The above case was cited in the USA Today report:

“The Diplomatic Security Service said William Brownfield, assistant secretary of State for the Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs, “gave the impression” that a probe of the shooting deaths of four Hondurans involving the Drug Enforcement Administration should not be pursued. The case remained open when the memo was written, as the DEA would not cooperate.”

OIG Recommendations – open and unresolved

  1. The Department should take steps (as previously recommended in OIG’s report on the 2012 inspection (ISP-I-13-18)), to enhance the integrity of DS’s internal investigations process by implementing safeguards to prevent the appearance of, or actual, undue influence and favoritism by Department officials.
  2. The Department should clarify and revise the Foreign Affairs Manual and should promulgate and implement additional protocols and procedures, in order to ensure that allegations of misconduct concerning Chiefs of Mission and other senior Department officials are handled fairly, consistently, and independently.

The end.

 

Related posts:

 

Related item:

-09/30/14   Review of Selected Internal Investigations Conducted by the Bureau of Diplomatic Security (ESP-14-01)  [685 Kb] Posted on October 16, 2014

 

 

 

 

 

 

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State/OIG Releases Investigation on CBS News Allegations: Prostitution as “Management Issues” Unless It’s Not

– Domani Spero

 

In June last year, CBS News’ John Miller reported that according to an internal State Department Inspector General’s memo, several recent investigations were influenced, manipulated, or simply called off at the State Department. The memo obtained by CBS News cited eight specific examples.

Memos showed that probes included allegations of:

  • A State Department security official in Beirut “engaged in sexual assaults” on foreign nationals hired as embassy guards
  • Members of former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s security detail “engaged prostitutes while on official trips in foreign countries” — a problem the report says was “endemic.”
  • An “underground drug ring” was operating near the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad and supplied State Department security contractors with drugs.
  • The case of a U.S. Ambassador who held a sensitive diplomatic post and was suspected of patronizing prostitutes in a public park.
  • Investigation into an ambassador who “routinely ditched … his protective security detail” and inspectors suspect this was in order to “solicit sexual favors from prostitutes.”
  • “We also uncovered several allegations of criminal wrongdoing in cases … some of which never became cases,” said Aurelia Fedenisn, a whistleblower and former investigator for the Inspector General.

You may revisit that CBS News report here. At that time, State/OIG told us that “On its own initiative, OIG’s Office on Investigations has been conducting an independent review of allegations referred to it by our Office of Inspections.” In a statement to CBS News, State/OIG also said about the investigation: “We staffed it independently and appropriately and they were people hired specific for this review at the end of 2012. They are on staff. We staffed it with the best people we can find at hand to do the job.”

We’ve blog about this previously:

Yesterday, State/OIG finally released its long-awaited report to this investigation, excerpt below:

The allegations initially related to eight, high-profile, internal investigations. [...]

In three of the eight internal investigations, OIG found that a combination of factors in each case created an appearance of undue influence and favoritism by Department management. The appearance of undue influence and favoritism is problematic because it risks undermining confidence in the integrity of the Department and its leaders.

This review assesses the Department’s handling of those eight investigations. OIG did not reinvestigate the underlying cases. In conducting this review, OIG interviewed Department employees, examined case files, and reviewed 19,000 emails culled from the Department’s electronic communications network. OIG’s findings are not necessarily indicative of systemic issues affecting all DS cases. However, they reveal issues with current Department policies and procedures that may have significant implications regarding actual or perceived undue influence.

Handling “management issues” relating to a U.S. Ambassador

OIG found that, based on the limited evidence collected by DS, the suspected misconduct by the Ambassador was not substantiated. DS management told OIG, in 2013, that the preliminary inquiry was appropriately halted because no further investigation was possible. OIG concluded, however, that additional evidence, confirming or refuting the suspected misconduct, could have been collected. For example, before the preliminary inquiry was halted, only one of multiple potential witnesses on the embassy’s security staff had been interviewed. Additionally, DS never interviewed the Ambassador and did not follow its usual investigative protocol of assigning an investigative case number to the matter or opening and keeping investigative case files.
[...]
The Under Secretary of State for Management told OIG that he decided to handle the suspected incident as a “management issue” based on a disciplinary provision in the FAM that he had employed on prior occasions to address allegations of misconduct by Chiefs of Mission. The provision, applicable to Chiefs of Mission and other senior officials, states that when “exceptional circumstances” exist, the Under Secretary need not refer the suspected misconduct to OIG or DS for further investigation (as is otherwise required).2 In this instance, the Under Secretary cited as “exceptional circumstances” the fact that the Ambassador worked overseas.3 (underlined for emphasis)

DS managers told OIG that they viewed the Ambassador’s suspected misconduct as a “management issue” based on another FAM disciplinary provision applicable to lower-ranking employees. The provision permits treating misconduct allegations as a “management issue” when they are “relatively minor.”4 DS managers told OIG that they considered the allegations “relatively minor” and not involving criminal violations.

Office of the Legal Adviser staff told OIG that the FAM’s disciplinary provisions do not apply to Ambassadors who, as in this instance, are political appointees and are not members of the Foreign Service or the Civil Service.5

OIG questions the differing justifications offered and recommends that the Department promulgate clear and consistent protocols and procedures for the handling of allegations involving misconduct by Chiefs of Mission and other senior officials. Doing so should minimize the risk of (1) actual or perceived undue influence and favoritism and (2) disparate treatment between higher and lower-ranking officials suspected of misconduct.6

But the footnotes!

2* 3 FAM 4322.2 states that incidents or allegations involving Chiefs of Mission that could serve as grounds for disciplinary action and/or criminal action must be immediately referred to OIG or DS to investigate. This section further states that “[i]n exceptional circumstances, the Under Secretary for Management…may designate an individual or individuals to conduct the investigation.” No guidance exists describing what factors to consider in determining what constitutes “exceptional circumstances.”

3* In the SBU report provided to Congress and the Department, OIG cited an additional factor considered by the Under Secretary—namely, that the Ambassador’s suspected misconduct (solicitation of prostitution) was not a crime in the host country. However, after the SBU report was issued, the Under Secretary advised OIG that that factor did not affect his decision to treat the matter as a “management issue” and that he cited it in a different context. This does not change any of OIG’s findings or conclusions in this matter.

4* 3 FAM 4322.3.a provides that a management official “must initially determine whether he, she, or another management official should be the investigating official, or whether the matter should be referred to” OIG or DS for further action. This section further provides that if the official determines that the “alleged misconduct is relatively minor, such as leave abuse or failure to perform assigned duties, that official or another management official may handle the administrative inquiry” and need not refer the matter to OIG or DS.

5* After the SBU report was issued, the Under Secretary of State for Management advised OIG that he disagrees with the Office of the Legal Adviser interpretation, citing the provisions in the Foreign Service Act of 1980 which designate Chiefs of Mission appointed by the President as members of the Foreign Service. See Foreign Service Act of 1980, §§ 103(1) & 302(a)(1) (22 USC §§ 3903(1) & 3942(a)(1)).

6* During the course of this review, OIG discovered some evidence of disparity in DS’s handling of allegations involving prostitution. Between 2009 and 2011, DS investigated 13 prostitution-related cases involving lower-ranking officials. OIG found no evidence that any of those inquiries were halted and treated as “management issues.”

OIG to M’s “exceptional circumstances”  — what the heck is that?

“…OIG concludes that the Under Secretary’s application of the “exceptional circumstances” provision to remove matters from DS and OIG review could impair OIG’s independence and unduly limit DS’s and OIG’s abilities to investigate alleged misconduct by Chiefs of Mission and other senior Department officials.

Well, it’s shocking that M, DS and the Legal Adviser could not agree on a simple thing. We do think the OIG is exactly right here. Why have an oversight and investigation arm if some higher up can declare no investigation necessary under an “exceptional circumstances”clause, that’s not even spelled out.

The Inspector General is ranked equivalent to an Assistant Secretary.  According to the regs, he reports directly to the Secretary, the Board, the Commissioner and the head of any other organization for which the OIG is assigned oversight responsibility, or to the extent such authority is delegated, to the officer next-in-rank. But 1 FAM 053.2-2 Under Secretary for Management (M) (CT:ORG-312; 07-17-2013)  put in place before the current OIG assumed office, also has this to say:

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.

We’ll have to watch and see how this turns out.  Must add that nowhere in the Foreign Affairs Manual does it say that the Inspector General may not/not investigate matters considered “management issues” under  “exceptional circumstances.”

 

Related item:

-09/30/14   Review of Selected Internal Investigations Conducted by the Bureau of Diplomatic Security (ESP-14-01)  [685 Kb] Posted on October 16, 2014

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VPOTUS Swears-In Jane Hartley as Ambassador to France and Monaco

– Domani Spero

 

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President Obama announced his intent to nominate Ms. Hartley on June 6, 2014. The WH released the following brief bio at that time.

Jane D. Hartley is the Chief Executive Officer of Observatory Group, LLC, a position she has held since 2007.  From 1994 to 2007, Ms. Hartley worked for the G7 Group, serving as its Chief Executive Officer from 1995 until her departure. From 1987 to 1989, Ms. Hartley served as Vice President and Station Manager at WWOR-TV in Secaucus, New Jersey. From 1985 to 1987, Ms. Hartley was Vice President of Marketing of MCA Broadcasting (Universal). She was Vice President of Corporate Communications at Westinghouse Broadcasting from 1983 to 1985, and Vice President of New Markets Development at Group W Cable from 1981 to 1983. From 1978 to 1981, Ms. Hartley served as Associate Assistant to the President in the Office of Public Liaison at the White House, and was Director of Congressional Relations at the Department of Housing and Urban Development from 1977 to 1978. Ms. Hartley was the Executive Director of the Democratic Mayors’ Conference for the Democratic National Committee from 1974 to 1977. She has served as a Member of the Board of Directors of the Corporation for National and Community Service since 2012. She is a Member of the Board of Directors of Heidrick and Struggles and a member of the Board of Directors and Overseers of Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center. Ms. Hartley is also on the Executive Committee of the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University. She is a former Vice Chairman and member of the Executive Committee of the Economic Club of New York, and a member of the Council on Foreign Relations. Ms. Hartley received a B.A. from Boston College (Newton College).

Ms. Hartley had her Senate Foreign Relations Committee confirmation hearing on July15, 2014. On September 16, 2014, the U.S. Senate confirmed her as U.S. Ambassador to France and Monaco. This is one of those nominations that went through the process rather quickly; something that’s becoming a rarity in Washington these days.

The published Certificate of Competency says (via-Hartley, Jane D. – French Republic – July 2014):

Jane Hartley, currently the Chief Executive Officer of Observatory Group, LLC in New York City and a Member of the Board of Directors of Heidrick and Struggles in Chicago, has been the CEO of macroeconomic and political advisory firms for the past two decades. She is known for her critical analyses of the G7 countries and her depth of knowledge of French political and economic policies. A vibrant, experienced leader, Ms. Hartley will bring key skills to the task of furthering bilateral relations with the Government of France, a critical U.S. ally in the European Union and around the globe.[...] Ms. Hartley earned a B.A. at Boston College (Newton College). She speaks conversational French.

Ms. Hartley will replace businessman, Charles Rivkin who was chief of mission at US Embassy Paris from 2009–2013 (he is currently the Assistant Secretary at State’s Bureau of Economic and Business Affairs (EB)). Since the 1960s, all ambassadorial appointments to Paris had been political appointees except for one.

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How to Join the U.S. Diplomatic Service Without Taking the Foreign Service Exam

– Domani Spero

 

Yup, it can be done, if you have some expertise lacking in the Foreign Service, say a nuclear physicist needed in Japan. Or  we imagine, if you’re a tattoo artist who can decipher ISIS tattoos, there maybe work for you (seriously, is there?).  It can also happen if you or your folks know the right people in WashDC.  Or technically, if you’re in the right spot at the right moment, and there is an “urgent need,” it just might be you.

The State Department has updated the categories of non-Foreign Service employees it is able to assign to diplomatic missions overseas this past spring, adding ” Urgent, Limited Need” as a seventh category to the list. Foreign Affairs Manual 3 FAM 2293 (pdf) spells out the rules for appointing not just Department Civil Service employees but also “other individuals” from outside the Foreign Service under a limited non-career appointment (LNA). This is how post may end up with a political ambassador’s chief of staff who has never worked in the Foreign Service, or a speechwriter who is not a Foreign Service officer. Or how posts overseas get their Security Protective Specialists (SPS) who are all hired under LNAs.

3 FAM 2293 TYPES OF LIMITED NONCAREER APPOINTMENTS UNDER SECTION 303 OF THE FOREIGN SERVICE ACT (CT:PER-726; 04-18-2014) (State Only) (Applies to Foreign Service and Civil Service employees)

a. Consistent with Section 502 of the Foreign Service Act (22 U.S.C. 3982), the Department’s goal is to ensure that positions designated as Foreign Service positions are filled by assignment of career and career-conditional members of the Foreign Service.

b. Pursuant to Sections 303 and 309 of the Foreign Service Act, the Department appoints Civil Service employees and other individuals from outside the Foreign Service to LNAs as:

(1) Hard-to-Fill (HTF) Candidates: Positions that have not attracted sufficient bidders through the Foreign Service assignments process and thus may be filled by Department Civil Service employees. The procedures and eligibility requirements applicable to HTF positions as well as the scope and frequency of available positions may vary from year to year. Each HTF program will be announced by an ALDAC after consultation with the Foreign Service’s exclusive representative;

(2) Expert Candidates: For these positions, bureaus are to request temporary FTE from the Office of Resource Management (HR/RMA) before presenting an Action Memorandum to the Director, HR/CDA. For example, expert LNAs include, but are not limited to, positions that cannot normally be filled with Foreign Service personnel, such as certain attorney positions at embassies and missions that are filled by lawyers from the Office of the Legal Adviser, and a nuclear physicist position that was temporarily required in Japan.

(3) Developmental Assignment Candidates: These assignments provide experience and exposure to Foreign Service operations for Civil Service personnel through two methods–bureau candidate only advertised positions, for example, A Bureau positions at ELSO and Overseas Development Program positions advertised via CS merit promotion announcements.

(4) Volunteer Cable Candidates: Volunteer cables are sent, as agreed annually with the exclusive representative in the Bidding Instructions, when there are no qualified bidders for a vacancy that has been advertised. The regional bureaus initiate the volunteer cable exercise as a request to HR/CDA to send such a cable based on Foreign Service need. If a Civil Service candidate is selected, the Director General must prepare a Certificate of Need in accordance with 3 FAM 2295 (see also 3 FAM Exhibit 2295 for an example of this certificate);

(5) Schedule C and Other Outside-Hire Candidates: These appointments include, but are not limited to, chief-of-mission office management specialists, eligible family members, and other outside hires;

(6) Exceptional Circumstance Candidates: The Department’s Director General of the Foreign Service and Director of Human Resources (Director General) may designate certain positions to be filled under an “exceptional circumstance” category (see 3 FAM 2294 below).

(7) Urgent, Limited Need: These limited non-career appointments support specific or exceptional mission-critical needs that existing Foreign Service personnel cannot meet. These needs are considered to be of limited duration, not justifying the creation of a new category of a career Foreign Service employee. HR/RMA will authorize the FTE for these positions. Every two years, the Director General or designee will review each category of LNA falling under this paragraph in consultation with the Foreign Service’s exclusive representative, to determine whether the specific need still exists and existing Foreign Service personnel cannot meet the need.

NOTE: The seven categories in 3 FAM 2293, subparagraphs b(1) through b(7), are the only categories by which a Civil Service employee or other individual from outside the Foreign Service may be appointed to the Foreign Service pursuant to an LNA under Section 303 of the Foreign Service Act. The Department’s procedures for appointing Civil Service employees and other individuals from outside the Foreign Service as LNAs outside these categories are subject to negotiations between the Department and the Foreign Service’s exclusive representative, prior to institution of further categories.

 

The regulations note that “In the event that no bids for exceptional circumstance positions are received from members of the Foreign Service after the positions have been advertised for the required 15 working days, or the Director General determines that the member(s) of the Foreign Service whose bid is (are) not suited to the assignment, the Department may select a Department Civil Service employee or other candidate for appointment to an LNA for assignment to this position, based on a Certificate of Need signed by the Director General in accordance with 3 FAM 2295.”

However, the FAM does not explain fully how the “Urgent, Limited Need” or ULN appointments will be handled. Will these positions be advertised or will it be as painless as the Director General (DGHR) designating the positions as ULNs?  The brief explanation under this category says that “These needs are considered to be of limited duration, not justifying the creation of a new category of a career Foreign Service employee.” And yet, it also says that the DGHR will review LNAs under this category every two years.  How many reviews will be required before a determination needs to be done to justify a regular position?  Will the DGHR similarly be required to issue a “Certificate of Need?” Currently, the FAM only says that a “Certificate of Need” is required when the Department fills a position with an exceptional circumstance candidate or fills a volunteer cable position with a Civil Service employee, but silent when the position is filled under the “Urgent, Limited Need” category.

Most important of all, who is tasked with making a determination that an Urgent, Limited Need exists — the 7th floor, the functional bureau, the regional bureau, post management, the ambassador, a special envoy, a special rep, any top gun in the alphabet soup?

Or would your fairy godfather works just as well?

We must note that according to the regs, LNAs are normally limited to the duration of the specific assignment for which the candidate is hired and normally may not exceed five years in duration. But — the DGHR may propose to extend the limited appointment beyond five years.  Similarly, only the DGHR is tasked with the issuance of a “Certificate of Need.” We are sure that DGHR has the statistics on how many LNAs have been hired under these seven different categories, or for that matter, how is it that two decades on, the temporary Hard-To-Fill category has now become part of normal staffing, but —  those numbers are not for public consumption.

We suspect that Schedule C hires, as well as candidates for Exceptional Circumstance and Urgent, Limited Need categories need not have to bother with usajobs.gov like regular people; that’s the job site for applicants who do not know anybody traveling on the special lanes. And really, if you have the right names on your digital Rolodex, this system works perfectly in your favor.  Ugh! Why bother filling out the KSAs (knowledge, skill, ability) when you can take the short cut.

These new changes bear paying attention to in light of news that a son of a Democratic donor, who was a former WH volunteer snared in the Cartagena Prostitution Scandal is now a full-time policy adviser in the Office on Global Women’s Issues for the U.S. State Department.

We can imagine a time in the future when Schedule C and other non-career appointees may proliferate at the Front Office level. It’s already happening at HQ level, how long before it starts showing up at missions X, Y and Z. Who’s going to say “no” if a political ambassador ask that his/her chief of staff or social media advisor, or speechwriter be designated as a Schedule C or an “Urgent, Limited Need” position?

For those not too familiar with staffing lingo, Schedule C positions are excepted from the competitive service because “they have policy-determining responsibilities or require the incumbent to serve in a confidential relationship to a key official.” According to OPM, appointments to Schedule C positions require advance approval from the White House Office of Presidential Personnel and OPM, but appointments may be made without competition. OPM does not review the qualifications of a Schedule C appointee — final authority on this matter rests with the appointing official.

Are we wrong to presume that final authority on the hiring of Urgent, Limited Need appointee also rests with the appointing official?

Now, we think this is a challenge for the Foreign Service — FS personnel is worldwide available, which means they can be sent anywhere in the world where they are needed. In practice, with the exception of the first two tours upon entering the Service, employees typically only go where they “bid” to go; they are not “directed” or “forced” to go anywhere they don’t want to go.  Even employees who pick assignments in the war zones are volunteers (or voluntold). Better to have volunteers than draftees.

But the world is changing right before our eyes, and the State Department’s personnel and org systems are not changing fast enough to adapt to the needs of our times.  We are convinced that ULN is not going to be the last category on the FAM list and that the State Department will continue to expand the categories of non-career personnel “joining” the Foreign Service under an excuse of not having enough qualified people to send there, wherever there may be. Whether that is actually true or not is hard to say.

For instance, Diplomatic Security’s High Threat directorate reportedly has gaps in its staffing. That’s totally expected given that assignments are dole out a year in advance. What about standing up a new office with the Global Coalition Against ISIL under General Allen?

Not long ago, we’ve heard that several rounds of directed assignments weren’t enough to fill all the vacancies on the S Detail.  Is that reflective of service discipline?  Perhaps. But if you have difficulty filling in the slots for the Secretary’s security detail, one has to start asking the hard questions. And ‘would these positions qualify for urgent, limited need category,’ should not be the main question. Go do a root cause exercise.

We’ve also heard that Office Management Specialists (OMS) has a high attrition rate and that a good number of Civil Service OMS are in the front offices at embassies overseas instead of FS OMS. But surely, you’ve all heard about the FS OMS complaints of lack of a career path?  Go do a root cause exercise.

If the QDDR should have some concrete utility this year, it ought to take a look foremost at the personnel systems of the State Department and how it can make the institution stronger and adapt to the needs of our times.  And perhaps the time has come to seriously look at a unitary personnel system that is agile, and flexible, if we want to see State as our lead foreign affairs agency in fact, not just in name.

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Burn Bag: Ladies and Gentlemen – the New Consular Bidder Assessment Tool

Via Burn Bag:

“Well, the results of the new Consular Bidder Assessment Tool are out. Based on the median scores, every bidder is in the top 20% of all bidders according to the rankings assigned by his peers. How much did we pay a contractor to come up with something just as useless as the 360?”

via reactiongifs.com

via reactiongifs.com

♥ ♠ ♥

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Filed under Consular Work, Foreign Service, Leadership and Management, Org Life, Realities of the FS, Staffing the FS, State Department, Technology and Work

US Ambassador Gets on Reddit, Not/Not Nearly as Funny as Anonymous FSO

– Domani Spero

 

In February this year, we had an anonymous Foreign Service Officer who did an AMA on Reddit (see IamA United States Diplomat: Anonymous FSO Gets on Reddit and He’s a Riot!).  Last June, USCG Toronto also did an AMA on consular issues (see U.S. Consulate General Toronto Joins ‘Ask Me Anything’ on Reddit). Yesterday, the U.S. Ambassador to Switzerland and Liechtenstein Suzi LeVine joined Reddit for what we think is the first “Ask Me Anything” session conducted by a chief of mission.  Unlike the anonymous FSO’s AMA, this one is official and done on your dime; no need to report her to the FBI or Diplomatic Security.

You might also remember her as the first U.S. ambassador to be sworn-in on a Kindle this past June. Below is her intro on Reddit:

Hi Reddit! I’m Suzi LeVine, the American Ambassador to Switzerland and Liechtenstein. I am also a former technology exec and a mom to two amazing kids. It’s an honor to serve the American people as an Ambassador and I can personally attest to the critical role Ambassadors play in U.S. foreign policy making. Right now there are 60 Ambassadorial nominees who are still awaiting confirmation by Congress – that’s 60 countries where the U.S. isn’t representing its foreign policy interests as well as it could. Fun fact: My first trip to Switzerland was when I kicked off a solo 6 week backpacking trip from Zurich. I was 18 and, after buying my first Swiss Army knife, promptly learned how sharp they are when I cut straight through an apple into my hand. Let’s just say that I learned how excellent the Swiss healthcare system is. Verification: https://www.flickr.com/photos/statephotos/15302277727/

UPDATE: Merci viel mal. What terrific questions! Let’s do this again sometime! And, feel free to reach out to me on Twitter @AmbSuzi.

photo via state.gov

photo via state.gov

 

Here are some of the questions Ambassador LeVine answered:

Reddit user: Do you think your background which lacks diplomatic experience prior to your appointment as ambassador is a handicap or do you see it as a positive thing to bring another perspective? Or something totally different?  Where do you see issues in the relations between the USA and Switzerland? Where do the countries work well together?
AmbSuzi:  Diplomatic experience does not just derive from work in the Foreign Service. Let me tell you about team oasys from Jordan or team onebuzz from New Zealand. These were two teams and two groups of students with whom I had the honor of working in my capacity at Microsoft to shine a spotlight on innovators using technology to change the world. That’s diplomacy.

Reddit user: It’s always been a dream of mine to work for an embassy–or in the foreign service. I’m fluent in French, 24 years old, and I love America. How do I go about making this dream a reality? EDIT: I forgot to say I am an American…and of course I love it.
AmbSuzi: First off, go for it! http://careers.state.gov (In fact, I think the deadline for summer internships is next week, and that’s a great way to get a taste of this career. Stop wasting time on Reddit and go apply. :-)

Reddit user: Do you have to deal with a lot of people revoking their US citizenship nowadays? Because it isn’t exactly easy being a dual citizen these days ever since FATCA came around.
AmbSuzi:  I have deep empathy for those who are wrestling with this decision and situation right now. My team and I are actively working to alleviate some of the concerns.

Reddit user: What do you think of the common criticism that too many ambassadors are appointed because they were fundraisers for the President & the Democratic/Republican party? You can look up individual donations here and it appears that you’ve donated quite a bit to the President & the Democratic Party? Do you think that more ambassadors should be career diplomats or is there value in having individuals close to the President serve as ambassadors?
AmbSuzi:  Fair question. I believe that there is tremendous value in a blend. The answer is not “or.” It is “and.” Different skill sets are appropriate in different situations and places around the globe. For example, my professional and volunteer experience as someone who has created partnerships, organized communities, led teams, initiated start-ups, etc., is a terrific match for Switzerland where I work with the likes of Nestle, Novartis, and ABB. Alternatively, someone like my friend, Michael Hoza, the new U.S. Ambassador to Cameroon, brings decades of foreign service experience and is equipped to take on the likes of Boko Haram.

Reddit user: What is the most challenging moment of your Career thus far, and how did you overcome it
AmbSuzi:  I tend to approach challenges as opportunities. What can I learn? How can I grow? With whom can I learn from their mistakes? The hardest element of this ambassadorial job so far was frankly, waiting to get confirmed. In my overall very nonlinear career, the hardest moment was going back to work in 2009 after four and a half years home with my kids and hearing people say that I was no longer qualified.

Reddit user: Ambassador, you were the first in such a position to be sworn in with your hand on an e-reader instead of a book. That made the news on some tech sites, but the news reports lacked some kind of background. Whose idea was it, and what was the thought behind it?
AmbSuzi:  Great question! (By the way, what is the plural of octopus?) As for the e-reader, I wrote about this in my blog post here: http://go.usa.gov/wnBz. After reading, let me know if you have any additional questions.

Reddit user:  How regularly do you speak with State Department officials back in Washington DC? Who is your immediate superior? Wendy Sherman? How much of the day to day operations of an embassy come from officials in DC?
AmbSuzi:  We have regular communications, and it’s important to share what’s happening in Switzerland with D.C. My technical, immediate superior is the President. That said, we do a lot of coordination within the European and Eurasian Bureau, which is run by the awesome Toria Nuland.

Here are the some other interesting questions from Reddit users that the ambassador did not respond to:

  • Do you think that presidents should continue to appoint plush state dept posts to their highest donors? I do realize this goes both ways, and both parties are involved in this practice.
  • Do you have a Swiss bank account, and are they all they’re cracked up to be?
  • Do you get paid double?
  • Among the other ambassadors in Switzerland, who are the best to party with?
  • Can I move in with you? I’m tired of this shit country!
  • How many push ups can you do?
  • Anyway to hook me up with a trip?
  • How did you get the gig? Did you have to go to a special college, was it more about who you knew than what you knew?
  • How much did you have to “donate” to get the Ambassador position????
  • What advice would you give somebody interested in becoming an Ambassador (or at least working abroad for the State Department)?
  • Does it get boring being the ambassador to a neutral country while we are on the brink of WW3?

We were sorely disappointed there were no questions about Jason Bourne, TP, prostitutes, crashed UFOs, Argo, or Benghazi.  Maybe next time?

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Diplomatic Security to Seek Contractor for Development of Pre-Employment Physical Fitness Assessment

– Domani Spero

 

On September 29, the State Department issued a “Sources Sought Notice” via fed biz.gov  to “identify parties having an interest in and the resources to support a requirement developing and validating a pre-employment physical fitness assessment for Special Agent (SA) candidate selection.” The announcement says that there is no incumbent contract:

The U.S. Department of State, Bureau of Diplomatic Security, Contracts and Procurement Division is issuing this Sources Sought Notice as a means of conducting market research to identify parties having an interest in and the resources to support a requirement developing and validating a pre-employment physical fitness assessment for Special Agent (SA) candidate selection. This includes, but is not limited to: identifying the physical requirements for successful completion of the course and all required training associated with assignments directed by DS; measuring the relevant physical abilities required upon entry into the SA position; and, compliance with the Title 5, U.S. Code of Federal Regulations “Uniform Guidelines on Employee Selection Procedures,” the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), the Civil Rights Acts of 1964 and 1991, and the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA).

The results of this market research will contribute to determining the method of procurement and assist DOS in developing and further defining procurement, acquisition, and development strategies.

Below from the Draft SOW posted online:

The contractor shall conduct a comprehensive analysis of DS’ entry-level training for GS-1811 and FS-2501 skill codes, known as the Basic Special Agent Course (BSAC), with a primary emphasis on identifying the physical requirements for successful completion of the course and all required training associated with assignments directed by DS. Additionally, the contractor shall develop and validate a pre-employment physical fitness assessment for Special Agent (SA) candidate selection. The assessment shall accurately and objectively measure the relevant physical abilities required upon entry into the SA position. The development and validation procedures shall comply with the Title 5, U.S. Code of Federal Regulations “Uniform Guidelines on Employee Selection Procedures,” the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), the Civil Rights Acts of 1964 and 1991, and the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA). Due consideration shall be given to professional guidelines such as Standards for Education and Psychological Tests (published by the American Psychological Association) and the Principles for the Validation and Use of Personnel Selection Procedures published by the Society for Industrial and Organizational Psychology.

[...]

DS recognizes the value in selecting the right men and women to serve its law enforcement, protective security, and security management mission critical occupations. Thus, DS is committed to enhancing its selection and screening procedures for selecting applicants into these positions in order to ensure continued success of the agency’s mission to provide a secure environment for the conduct of diplomacy. As part of this commitment to our mission, DS recognizes the need to ensure that each individual selected into its law enforcement ranks is able to meet the physical training requirements and physical demands required to effectively perform the duties of the job. The implementation of a validated pre-employment physical fitness assessment should result in cost savings associated with training recruits who will meet minimum physical fitness standards. Developing a workforce of more physically fit personnel should enhance productivity, and reduce injury and illness-related work absences. The assessment will also provide maximum safety considerations for applicants and Diplomatic Security during training.

[...]

DS is seeking a professional company to assist in the development of a job-related pre-employment physical fitness assessment that will meet our goal of effectively screening applicants against validated physical fitness requirements for successful completion of the Basic Special Agent Course (BSAC) and all required training associated with assignments directed by DS. Our goal is to implement a valid assessment that will allow for the selection of highly qualified applicants while minimizing adverse impact to the greatest extent possible.

The requirement for a comprehensive pre-employment assessment has multiple deliverables; announcement says the services required of the Contractor shall be completed within 120 calendar days of the contract award date.

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Is This Iran Watcher London Position Not Bidlisted About to Go to a “P” Staffer?

– Domani Spero

 

Remember that position at the US Embassy in London last year that “mysteriously” appeared, got pulled down, then re-advertised under curious circumstances? See London Civil Service Excursion Tour Opens — Oh Wait, It’s Gone, Then It’s Back, Ah Forgetaboutit?). Well, it sounds like there’s another one; and this one is roiling the American Foreign Service Association, for good reasons.

With the bidding deadline around the corner, the American Foreign Service Association (AFSA) wants to bring to your attention an FS-02 IROG position in London that has been the subject of some discussion between AFSA and the Department.  In AFSA’s view this position should be available to all eligible bidders now; however, the position has yet to be posted.  On October 1, AFSA’s Governing Board met to discuss the Department’s refusal to include the FS-02 Iran Watcher position in London (IROG Position Number 67700008) in this Summer’s Open Assignment Cycle, instead proposing to include it in the pilot Overseas Development Program.  The Governing Board passed a unanimous motion strongly objecting to the Department’s decision and instructing its General Counsel to advise AFSA on avenues of redress for this apparent breach of contract.  AFSA, the professional association and exclusive representative of the Foreign Service, had previously expressed concern to the Department about including the position in the pilot Overseas Development Program that was created two years ago pursuant to an informal agreement between the Department and AFSA.  AFSA’s concerns center around the position’s uniqueness, Farsi language designation, and the significant number of interested, qualified Foreign Service bidders for the position.  The position is the only one in London and the only Iran Watcher position in an English speaking country.

The Foreign Service needs to build up its Iran expertise including language capability.  The best known Persian speaker at State is probably the State Department Farsi spox, Alan Eyre, who since 2011 has been the public face of the United States to many Iranians and Persian speakers. In 2013, when State/OIG looked into the process of establishing “language designated positions,” we learned that State had established 23 LDPs for Persian-Iranian. Those are jobs where the selectees will be required to have official language training and reach a certain level of proficiency prior to assuming the position. That’s the number for the entire agency, by the way.  In 2012, 8 students studied Farsi at the Foreign Service Institute.  We have no idea how many Farsi speakers have attained the 3/3 level at State but we know that studying a hard language does not come cheap.

The OIG team estimates training students to the 3/3 level in easier world languages such as Spanish can cost $105,000; training in hard languages such as Russian can cost $180,000; and training in super hard languages such as Chinese and Arabic can cost up to $480,000 per student. Students learning super hard languages to the 3/3 level generally spend one year domestically at the Foreign Service Institute (FSI) and then a second year at an overseas training facility.

So — what’s the deal about this Iran Watcher London position?

Rumor has it that a staffer at the Under Secretary for Political Affairs Wendy Sherman‘s office, the Department’s fourth-ranking official allegedly wants this position.

If the State Department is not listing this position in the Open Assignment Cycle bidlist, that means this job is not/not up for grabs for Foreign Service officers. One less FSO studying Farsi next year!

If State includes this position in the Open Assignment Cycle bidlist then only FS employees can bid and a CS employee cannot be assigned to London unless there are no qualified FS bidders (we’re told that’s not going to be the case here).

If State is listing this position under the Overseas Development Program, it means this is potentially for a two-year London assignment, open to Civil Service employees only, and requires a 44-week language training for presumably an S-3/R-3 proficiency in Farsi.

And if this position goes to a Civil Service employee, the chance of that employee serving overseas is a one-time fill. He/She goes to London for two years then return to the State Department. Unless the State Department moves to a unitary personnel system, CS employees typically do not serve on multiple tours overseas.  Which means that State could be spending between $180,000 – $480,000 to teach — whoever is selected for this London position — Persian language to an employee who can be assigned overseas just once.

Now, perhaps the more important question is, in light of AFSA’s protest — if State gives in and list this London position in this Summer’s Open Assignment Cycle, would that really make a difference? Sure FSOs can bid on it, but will anyone of the qualified bidders be …. um…the right fit?

Maybe we can go through this “call your friends in London upstairs” exercise, and see what they say (pick one):

  1. don’t bother applying for the job
  2. don’t waste your time on this one
  3. forgetaboutit, selection already done
  4. all of the above

And you’re wondering why watching bureaucratic life and backstage machinations can make one jaded?  If indeed this job is going to go, as rumored, to a “P’ staffer, all job-related announcements would just be bureaucratic theater.

But don’t worry, everything will fit in the end. Just like a puzzle box.

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Filed under AFSA, Career Employees, Foreign Service, FSOs, Huh? News, Iran, Leadership and Management, Org Culture, Org Life, Realities of the FS, Staffing the FS, State Department