State/IRM blocked this blog’s evil shadow diplopundit.com, and it’s a good thing!

Posted: 7:24 pm EDT

 

Last week we blogged about some reported issues with accessing this blog from the State Department. There were reports of this blog displaying as a blank page, and another of this blog being categorized as “suspicious.”

Two things to remember — first, if you’re connecting to this blog from a State Department network and you get a blank screen, check if you’re using Internet Explorer 8. If you are, you need to switch to Chrome if you want to read this blog.

Second, if you get the “suspicious” prompt or a block that prevents you from connecting to Diplopundit, make sure you are connecting to the correct URL – the one that sounds rhymy — diplopundit.NET, and not/not its evil shadow diplopundit.COM.

Here is the back story.  We thought it was a question of the left hand not knowing what the right hand is doing, it wasn’t that. Nothing to do with the tigers either. So our apologies for thinking that.  The firewall did bite but it was not done out of any wicked reason. It was merely a coincidence of two unrelated issues that occurred around the same time.

After we’ve blogged about issues with access from State, Ann from State/IRM’s Information Assurance office reached out to us to help see what’s going on.

“Suspicious” Category

So folks who attempted to access Diplopundit but typed .COM instead of .NET were blocked by state.gov, and will continue to be blocked access. And that’s a good thing.

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IRM/IA’s Ann did some sleuthing and discovered that somebody is domain camping on diplopundit.com, a domain registered out of Australia under protected status, so it’s not clear who owns it. Apparently, it is a very common attack to buy up domain names that are similar to a popular one, with different endings, common typos, etc, and then camp malware on them. She notes that “It’s especially awesome to do this to sites that have a high likelihood for targeted visitors, like, oh, maybe Department of State and other governments.” Running the domain through some site reputation lookups came back “suspicious.”

www.brightcloud.com threat intelligence: Suspicious

http://www.isithacked.com/check/www.diplopundit.com : Suspicious returns

IRM/IA tried to access diplopundit.com and the site is redirecting to another site that tells users their computers are infected and to click on “ok” to begin the repair process. DEFINITELY malicious.  IRM/IA’s IT ninja concludes that not only did the State Department’s security systems work as needed, someone is using the reputation of Diplopundit to try to infect users who type the wrong URL.

Ugh!  So watch what you type.  She’s not sure if this is targeted or just criminal botnet activity but whatever it is, stay away from diplopundit.COM.

The Blank Screens

Internet Explorer  (IE) is the browser compatible with the Department of State’s IT system. A couple of years ago, Chrome became an optional browser. IE8 and other old browsers are less stable, and much more vulnerable to viruses, and other security issues. It also doesn’t support a lot of things including HTML5 and CSS codes used in WordPress. In fact, we’re told that WP’s support for this browser version was dropped a while back.  Microsoft has also reported that they will end support for it themselves. So it’s not about what script is in this blog, it’s more about the IE8 browser not playing nice with the blogs. This blog displays properly on Safari, Firefox, Chrome, and on Internet Explorer 9. Our tech folks suggested that IE8 users upgrade to IE9 if at all possible.

Our readers from State can’t just do that on their own, so we asked IRM. The word is that the State Department will probably skip IE9 due to resource constraints on testing each incremental version. The good news is, it will move everyone directly to Internet Explorer 11 in December. That may sound a long way off but we’re told that the move forces everyone from 32-bit to 64-bit servers, which is not an insignificant jump for all the developers (including those for Consular Affairs and the financial services). So there is that to look forward to at the end of the year.

Our most sincere thanks to State/IRM especially to IA’s Ann who pursued this issue to the end and also WP’s Grace and her team for helping us understand what’s going on. Merci.

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The Great Firewall of State Bites, State/IRM Now Considers Diplopundit “Suspicious.” Humph!

Posted: 11:43 am EDT

 

The cornerstone of the 21st century statecraft policy agenda is Internet freedom. The policy contains three fundamental elements: the human rights of free speech, press, and assembly in cyberspace; open markets for digital goods and services to foster innovation, investment, and economic opportunity; and the freedom to connect—promoting access to connection technologies around the world. A third of the world’s population, even if they have access, live under governments that block content, censor speech, conduct invasive mass surveillance and curb the potential of the Internet as an engine of free speech and commerce.

— 21st Century Statecraft
U.S. Department of State

 

We’ve made references in this blog about the Great Firewall of State, most recently, when we blogged about the FS promotion stats on race and gender (see 2014 Foreign Service Promotion Results By Gender & Race Still Behind the Great Firewall of State),  What we did not realize is that there is an entire operation at the State Department running the firewall operations from Annex SA-9.  It is run by the Firewall Branch of the Bureau of Information Resource Management, Operations,  Office of Enterprise Network Management, Perimeter Security Division (IRM/OPS/ENM/PSD/FWB).

Sometime this week, some folks apparently were no longer able to access this blog from the State Department’s OpenNet.  OpenNet is the Sensitive but Unclassified (SBU) network in the Department. It provides access to standard desktop applications, such as word processing, e-mail, and Internet browsing, and supports a battery of custom Department software solutions and database management systems.

At this time, we believe that the block is not agency-wide and appears to affect only certain bureaus.  Not sure how that works. We understand that some employees have submitted “unblock requests” to the State Department’s Firewall Operations Branch and were reportedly told that http://www.diplopundit.com/ has been categorized as “Suspicious.”

via giphy.com

Holy moly macaroni!

We don’t know what constitute “suspicious” but apparently, under State’s Internet policy, this gives the agency the right to block State Department readers from connecting to this blog and reading its content.

But … but … this is the blog’s 8th year of operation and State has now just decreed that this blog is “suspicious”? Just for the record, this blog is hosted by WordPress, and supported by the wonderful people of Automattic. Apparently, the State Department’s DipNote also uses WordPress. Well, now that’s a tad awkward, hey?

Unless …

Was it something we wrote? Was it about the journalists who ran out of undies? NSFW? Nah, that couldn’t be it.   Was it about the petty little beaver? Um, seriously? Maybe that nugget about the aerial eradication in Colombia was upsetting? Pardon me, it’s not like we’re asking folks to drink the herbicide. Come again? You have no expectation of privacy when using the OpenNet? Well, can you blink three times when we hit the right note?

What should we call our State Department that’s quick to criticize foreign governments for blocking internet content for their nationals then turns around and blocks internet content for its employees?

Wass that?  The right hand does not know what the left hand is doing? Blink. Blink. Blink.

We sent a couple emails to the IRM shop — cio@state.gov and Dr. Glen H. Johnson, the senior official in charge of IRM ops asking what’s going on.  It seems the emails were chewed to bits, and we haven’t heard anything back.  Looking for Vanguard contractors to blame? Blink.Blink.Blink.  We’ll update if we hear anything more.

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State Dept Awards $2.8M “High Availability and Disaster Recovery Services” IT Contract to VMware

Posted: 12:53 am EDT

 

On March 31, 2015, the State Department awarded a $2.8 million “High Availability and Disaster Recovery Services” contract to VMware.  The contract awarded on behalf of the Bureau of Information Resource Management, Operations, Systems Integration Office, Enterprise Server Operations Center or IRM/OPS/SIO/ESOC is for 12 months, and appears to be a modification of a prior task order.  The J&A document posted online justifying “other than full competition” indicates “only one source capable” in handwritten notation. “Persistent security concerns,” “changing strategic landscape” and  “heightened vulnerability” all appear in the limited source justification for the award.  VMware is located in Palo Alto, CA and Reston, VA.

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click for larger view

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Asking about the security clearance logjam: “Seriously? I suggest we sent her to FLO…” Seriously, let’s not!

Posted: 12:46 am EDT

 

According to Diplomatic Security’s FAQ, the general time to process security clearance averages about 120 days. But the Department of State has apparently initiated a goal to render a security clearance decision in 90 days.   We have, however, heard complaints that eligible family members (EFMs) overseas waiting to start on jobs have been caught in a security clearance logjam with some waiting much longer than four months. We’ve also heard rumors that DS no longer issue an interim security clearance.

So we thought we’d ask the Diplomatic Security clearance people. We wanted clarification concerning interim clearances and the backlogs, what can post do to help minimize the backlogs and what can EFMs do if they have been waiting for months without a response.

We sent our inquiry to Grace Moe, the head of public affairs at the Diplomatic Security Service (DSS). We did not get any response. Three days later, we sent a follow-up email to her deputy, and the group’s security clearance mailbox. Shortly, thereafter, an email popped up on my screen from the Security Specialist at DS’s Customer Service Center of the Office of Personnel Security/Suitability:

“Seriously? I suggest we sent her to FLO…”

Somebody suggesting they send Diplopundit to the FLO? Let’s not.    We’re not privy to the preceding conversation on that email trail.  But seriously, a straight forward  inquiry on security clearance should not be pushed over to the Family Liaison Office (FLO) just because it’s related to family members.

So we told DS that we sent the security clearance inquiry to them for a very good reason and that we would appreciate a response unless they want to decline comment.

The lad at the Customer Service Center wrote back with a lame response that they will answer, but he was not sure about our email because it ends with a .net. Apparently, we’re the only one left in the world who has not moved over to dot com.  And he asked if it would be possible to obtain a name from our office.

Whaaaat? The next thing you know, they’ll want a phone date.

We’re sorry to inform you but this Customer Service not only shovels inquiry elsewhere but it also cannot read and see contact names on emails. So days later, Customer Service is still waiting for us to provide them a name that’s already on the email we sent them.  That kind of redundant efficiency is amazing, but we hate to waste any more of our time playing this game.

So we asked a DS insider, who definitely should get double pay for doing the Customer Service’s job. But since the individual is not authorized to speak officially, try not to cite our source as your source when you deal with that DS office.

Anyway, we were told that it is not/not true that DS no longer issue interim clearances.  Apparently, what happens more frequently is that HR forgets to request an interim clearance when it makes the initial request. So you paperwork just goes into a big pile. And you wait, and wait, and wait.  So if you’re submitting your security paperwork, make sure you or your hiring office confirms with HR that they have requested an interim clearance.

We were going to confirm this with HR except that those folks appear to have an allergic reaction to our emails.

In any case, the logjam can also result from the FBI records checks. If the FBI has computer issues, that, apparently, can easily put tens of thousands of cases behind because without the results of the FBI check, “nothing can be done.” There’s nothing much you can do about that except pray that the FBI has no computer issues.

We also understand that the Office of Personnel Security/Stability or PSS is backed up because of a heavy case load. “Posts seem to be requesting clearances with reckless abandon.”  We were cited an example where an  eligible family member (EFM) works as a GSO housing coordinator. The EFM GSO coordinator has access to the same records as the local staff working at the General Services Office but he/she gets a security clearance.

The Bureau of Human Resources determines whether a Department of State position will require a security clearance, as well as the level required, based upon the duties and responsibilities of the position. So in this example, HR may determine that the EFM GSO housing coordinator needs a clearance because he/she knows where everybody lives – including people from other agencies.  Again, that same information is also accessible to the  Foreign Service Nationals working as locally employed staff at GSO and HR.

Not sure which EFM jobs do not require a security clearance.  We understand that HR routinely asks for it when hiring family members.  Of course, this practice can also clog up the process for everyone in the system.  Routinely getting a clearance is technically good because an EFM can take that security clearance to his/her next job.  The Department of State will revalidate a security clearance if (1) the individual has not been out of federal service for more than 2 years and (2) if the individual’s clearance is based on an appropriate and current personnel security clearance investigation.  So the next time an EFM gets a job in Burkina Faso or back in Foggy Bottom, the wait won’t be as long as the clearance only requires revalidation.

And there is something else. Spouses/partners with 52 weeks of creditable employment overseas get Executive Order Eligibility, which enables them to be appointed non-competitively to a career-conditional appointment in the Civil Service once they return to the U.S. A security clearance and executive order eligibility are certainly useful when life plunks you back in the capital city after years of being overseas.

There is no publicly available data on how many EFMs have security clearances. But we should note that EFMs with security clearance are not assured jobs at their next posts. And we look at this as potentially a wasted resource (see below). EFMs who want jobs start from scratch on their security package only when they are conditionally hired. So if there’s an influx of a large number of new EFMs requesting security clearance, that’s when you potentially will have a logjam.

Back in 2009, we blogged about this issue (some of the numbers below are no longer current):

We have approximately 2,000 out of 9,000 family members who are currently working in over 217 missions worldwide.  Majority if not all of them already have, at the minimum, a “Secret” level clearance. And yet, when they relocate to other posts, it is entirely possible that they won’t find work there. The average cost to process a SECRET clearance has been reported to run from several hundred dollars to $3,000, depending on individual factors. The average cost to process a TOP SECRET clearance is between $3,000 and about $15,000, depending on individual factors. Given that most FS folks spend majority of their lives overseas, the $3,000 for a Secret clearance process for EFMs would be way too low. But let’s assume that all the EFMs currently working only have a Secret level clearance – at $3,000 each that’s still 6Million USD right there. Even if only 500 of them lost their jobs due to regular reassignment, that’s 1.5M USD that’s not put to effective use.

So here’s the idea – why can’t we create an EFM Virtual Corps? The EFMs who are already in the system could be assigned a specialization based on prior work experience within the US Mission. When not employed at post, their names could be added to the EFM Virtual Corps, a resource for other posts who require virtual supplementary or temporary/ongoing support online. Their email and Intranet logon should be enabled to facilitate communication while they are on a float assignment and their reporting authority should be a straight line to a central coordinator at Main State and a dotted line to the Management Counselor at post.  I know, I know, somebody from HR probably have a ready list of reasons on why this can’t be done, but – how do we know if this works or not if we don’t try? The technology is already available, we just need organizational will and some, to make this work.

Here’s our related post on this topic: No Longer Grandma’s Foreign Service. You’re welcome to post this on the leadership site behind the State Department firewall. Hey, the somebodies already post our burn bag entries there, so why not this one?

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Email Episode 1472: No Dust Left on Chappaqua Server?

Posted: 11:28 pm PDT

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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).

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

Greys-Anatomy perfectedflaw

Image: Tumblr, perfectedflaw via Mashable

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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.

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Ex-Chief Information-Disclosure Guru on Hillary’s Email Defense and the Folks Asleep at the Switch

Posted: 12:40  am EDT

 

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Dan Metcalfe spent more than thirty years working at the U.S. Department of Justice where he served from 1981 to 2007 as director of the Office of Information and Privacy. He was responsible for overseeing the implementation of the FOIA throughout the entire executive branch. He now teaches secrecy law at American University’s Washington College of Law. His deconstruction of the former secretary of state’s explanation on her exclusive use of private email is probably the best one we’ve seen so far. There is also an analysis here from the National Security Archive.

Below is an excerpt from the op-ed piece Mr. Metcalfe wrote for Politico:

[T]here is the compounding fact that Secretary Clinton did not merely use a personal email account; she used one that atypically operated solely through her own personal email server, which she evidently had installed in her home. This meant that, unlike the multitudes who use a Gmail account, for instance, she was able to keep her communications entirely “in house,” even more deeply within her personal control. No “cloud” for posterity, or chance of Google receiving a congressional subpoena—not for her. No potentially pesky “metadata” surrounding her communications or detailed server logs to complicate things. And absolutely no practical constraint on her ability to dispose of any official email of “hers,” for any reason, at any time, entirely on her own. Bluntly put, when this unique records regime was established, somebody was asleep at the switch, at either the State Department or the National Archives and Records Administration (which oversees compliance with the Federal Records Act)—or both.

[…] as Secretary Clinton might like to claim personal “credit” for this successful scheme when talking with her friends about it within the privacy of her own home—perhaps while leaning against her private Internet server in her basement—the fact is that she didn’t invent this form of law circumvention; she just uniquely refined it. Yes, it was the Bush administration—specifically, the White House Office of Administration in concert with Vice President Dick Cheney, Karl Rove and the Republican National Committee—that likewise succeeded with wholesale email diversion back in the pre-smartphone days of freewheeling Blackberry usage.

Unfortunately for all of us, the competition for perverse “honors” in the world of circumventing both the letter and the spirit of federal records laws is indeed quite stiff.

Read more here in Politico Magazine.

An internet security expert tells Quartz  that a home server is “kind of like putting your money in your mattress.”

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It did, did’t it? Lockbox.

Then there’s this guy who in 1994 was a 22 year old who worked as a computer programmer for a company called Information Management Consultants tasked with sorting through presidential docs in 1993.  He wondered if the Clinton team included technical wizards who designed a flawless keyword search when combing through her emails:

If so, she should release technical documentation of the search algorithm, the test procedure, and the test results — assuming they tested it. Without that information, we have no basis for sharing Hillary Clinton’s “absolute confidence” that the State Department has received all her work-related email communication.

Hey, wouldn’t it be nice to know who should get a large medal for being asleep at the switch at the State Department on this? Asleep at the switch doesn’t sound very good but perhaps it is a kinder version for whatever it was that happened at HST.

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State/FLO’s Global Employment Initiative — How Effective Is It? Plus a New Survey For EFMs

Posted: 12:20  am EDT

 

A few years back, the State Department’s Family Liaison Office established the Global Employment Initiative (GEI) to help Foreign Service family members with career development and exploration of employment opportunities while posted overseas. The program employs Global Employment Advisors (GEAs) reportedly to provide on-site job coaching sessions, training workshops, and career development services at no cost to family members. They also “offer networking assistance, information regarding volunteer projects, and support family members’ efforts to engage in the local economy.”

Our overall experience with this initiative was not at all impressive. A locally hired U.S. citizen got the GEI advisor gig at post and spouses interested in networking and finding jobs got on a meet and greet with a couple American companies operating in the host country.  But not a single EFM ended up with a job at post or a career plan through GEI.

There is, of course, the advantage of hiring a local U.S. citizen as GEI advisor, presuming that the individual already has an existing local network and need not have to build one from scratch. But it also has a disadvantage of hiring someone who has no idea how the system works. And that’s how you get a GEI advisor telling an EFM to make handicrafts for sale on Etsy. Because obviously, if you’re an EFM entrepreneur, the Foreign Affairs Manual does not have anything but lots of recommendations for you!

Blog comment: State’s so-called “global employment initiative” is a complete joke (well, except that nobody’s laughing about it). After two assignments I have *never* heard of someone who got a job through GEI. The only thing our regional GEI person ever said that made any sense was “State Department does not owe you a job.” Of course, I never said it did, but that was irrelevant as she then segued into telling me to start a cooking blog or make hand-woven baskets to sell on Etsy.

Image via FAMER, November 2014 (click for larger view)

Image via FAMER, November 2014 (pdf)
(click for larger view)

 

We wanted to learn more about this initiative, its funding, its results. How effective is it in assisting Foreign Service spouses overseas. How many GEI advisors have been hired to-date since its creation?  How many spouses have been helped by the initiative in finding jobs, starting a business, developing career plans, etc. We also wanted to know what is the annual budget for this initiative, and if the return justify the investment. We’ve reached out to the GEI office at the State Department last week but we have not heard anything back to-date.

If you have a personal experience with the Global Employment Initiative — if you’ve found a job, started a business, created a successful career plan, or able to develop a career through GEI while posted overseas, let us hear from you in the comments section or send us an email.  We will have a follow-up post if we have enough response.

In related news, State/FLO would like to explore ways to connect family members with professional telework opportunities and is  conducting a survey until the end of March to determine the skills, education and experience of family members in the Foreign Service:

The Family Liaison Office (FLO) is investigating ways to connect interested family members with professional telework opportunities.  To do this, we need current statistics on the education, skills, and experience of our Foreign Service family members.  The questions were developed with input from the Associates of the American Foreign Service Worldwide (AAFSW), the non-profit Foreign Service community organization. FLO will use this information to more effectively communicate with companies and organizations about the advantages of hiring talented mobile professionals.  Your responses are anonymous and the survey should take less than 5 minutes to complete.

http://www.surveymonkey.com/s/FLOEmployment

We understand that the FLO intends to use this information to “more effectively communicate with companies and organizations about the advantages of hiring talented mobile professionals.”  We wanted to know if this outreach includes hiring managers at the State Department and/or USAID, and other federal agencies for telework opportunities. We’ve asked but have not heard a response to this specific question.

Why were we asking?

Because.

If the State Department is trying to impress “companies and organizations” to take advantage of hiring talented mobile professionals who are Foreign Service members, but the agency itself will not hire them to take advantage of their talent — well, what message does that say?

They’re smashingly great, hire them to telework for you because we won’t?

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Related posts:

 

 

OIG: Only 41,749 State Dept Record Emails Preserved Out Of Over a Billion Emails Sent

Posted: 4:29 pm EDT
Updated: March 12, 9:29 pm PST

State Department deputy spokeswoman Marie Harf told CNN that since the inspector general is independent from the department “they will have to speak to the timing and details of releasing this report, which they control.”

So we asked the IG and we’re told that “the timing of the release of this report (ISP-I-15-15) was purely coincidental to the recent email issue.”

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State/OIG did a review (pdf) of the Department’s State Messaging and Archive Retrieval Toolset (SMART) and Record Email in Washington, DC, between January 24 and March 15, 2014. According to the OIG, in 2013, Department employees created 41,749 record emails. These statistics are similar to numbers from 2011, when Department employees created 61,156 record emails out of more than a billion emails sent. Department officials have noted that many emails that qualify as records are not being saved as record emails.

Below are the highlights of the OIG review:

  • A 2009 upgrade in the Department of State’s system facilitated the preservation of emails as official records. However, Department of State employees have not received adequate training or guidance on their responsibilities for using those systems to preserve “record emails.” In 2011, employees created 61,156 record emails out of more than a billion emails sent. Employees created 41,749 record emails in 2013.
  • Record email usage varies widely across bureaus and missions. The Bureau of Administration needs to exercise central oversight of the use of the record email function.
  • Some employees do not create record emails because they do not want to make the email available in searches or fear that this availability would inhibit debate about pending decisions.
  • System designers in the Bureau of Information Resource Management need more understanding and knowledge of the needs of their customers to make the system more useful. A new procedure for monitoring the needs of customers would facilitate making those adjustments.

Additional details from the OIG report:

The need for official records

The Department of State (Department) and its employees need official records for many purposes: reference in conducting ongoing operations; orientation of successors; defending the U.S. Government’s position in disputes or misunderstandings; holding individuals accountable; recording policies, practices, and accomplishments; responding to congressional and other enquiries; and documenting U.S. diplomatic history. Record preservation is particularly important in the Department because Foreign Service officers rotate into new positions every 2 or 3 years. Federal law requires departments, agencies, and their employees to create records of their more significant actions and to preserve records according to Governmentwide standards.

Who has responsibility for the preservation of official records?

Every employee in the Department has the responsibility of preserving emails that should be retained as official records.3 The Office of Information Programs and Services in the Bureau of Administration’s Office of Global Information Services (A/GIS/IPS) is responsible for the Department’s records management program, including providing guidance on the preservation of records for the Department and ensuring compliance. IRM administers the enterprise email system, including SMART, and therefore provides the technical infrastructure for sending and receiving emails and preserving some as record email.

What constitute official records? 

If an employee puts down on paper or in electronic form information about “the organization, functions, policies, decisions, procedures, operations, or other activities of the Government,” the information may be appropriate for preservation and therefore a record according to law, whether or not the author recognizes this fact. Whether the written information creates a record is a matter of content, not form. Federal statutes, regulations, presidential executive orders, the Foreign Affairs Manual (FAM), Department notices, cables, and the SMART Messaging Guidebook contain the criteria for creating and maintaining official records and associated employee responsibilities.

Which email messages should be saved as records?

According to Department guidance referenced above, email messages should be saved as records if they document the formulation and execution of basic policies and actions or important meetings; if they facilitate action by agency officials and their successors in office; if they help Department officials answer congressional questions; or if they protect the financial, legal, and other rights of the government or persons the government’s actions directly affect. Guidance also provides a series of questions prompting employees to consider whether the information should be shared, whether the successor would find the email helpful, whether it is an email that would ordinarily be saved in the employee’s own records, whether it contains historically important information, whether it preserves the employee’s position on an issue, or whether it documents important actions that affect financial or legal rights of the government or the public.

 

The OIG report notes that it has previously examined the Department’s records management, including electronic records management, in its 2012 inspection of A/GIS/IPS. OIG found that A/GIS/IPS was not meeting statutory and regulatory records management requirements because, although the office developed policy and issued guidance on records management, it did not ensure proper implementation, monitor performance, or enforce compliance. OIG also noted that, although SMART users can save emails as records using the record email function, they save only a fraction of the numbers sent. OIG recommended that the Bureau of Administration implement a plan to increase the number of record emails saved in SMART.

That was in 2012.

The OIG team also found that “several major conditions impede the use of record emails: an absence of centralized oversight; a lack of understanding and knowledge of record-keeping requirements; a reluctance to use record email because of possible consequences; a lack of understanding of SMART features; and impediments in the software that prevent easy use.”

To show how misunderstood is the requirement to save record emails, see the following chart. The U.S. Embassy in Hanoi had 993 record emails compared to US Embassy Islamabad that only had 121 record emails preserved. The US Consulate General in Guangzhou had 2 record emails while  USCG Ho Chi Minh City had 539. It looks like the US Embassy in Singapore with 1,047 record emails had the highest record emails preserved in 2013. The frontline posts like Baghdad had 303, Kabul had 61, Sana’a had 142 and Tripoli had 10 record emails in 2013. The only explanation here is that the folks in Singapore had a better understanding of record email requirements than the folks in our frontline posts. Given that the turn-over of personnel at these frontline posts is more frequent, this can have consequential outcome not just in the public’s right to know but in continuity of operations.

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Again, via the OIG:

Many inspections of embassies and bureaus have found that the use of SMART and the record email function are poorly understood. This lack of understanding is one of the principal causes of the failure of U.S. embassies to use record email more often. The inspections show that many employees do not know what types of emails should be saved as record emails. The employees typically need more and clearer guidance and more training. OIG has made formal and informal recommendations to increase the use of record email, to write and distribute formal embassy or bureau guidance on record email, and to arrange for training.

The A/GIS/IPS office is under the Assistant Secretary for the Bureau of Administration, an office that reports to the Under Secretary for Management (M). The Bureau of Information Resource Management (IRM) also reports to M.

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