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FSO-Author Writes About Publishing in the Foreign Service; Update to 3 FAM 4170 Coming Soon?

– Domani Spero

 

The June 2014 issue of the Foreign Service Journal includes an article, Publishing in the Foreign Service by FSO Yaniv Barzilai, who is serving in Baku on his first overseas posting. He is the author of 102 Days of War—How Osama bin Laden, al Qaeda & the Taliban Survived 2001 (Potomac Books, 2013).  Below is an excerpt from that article with a prescription for the improvement of the pre-publication clearance process in the State Department.

There is plenty of room for improvement in the pre-publication clearance process. First and foremost, State must do a better job of adhering to the regulations it has set forth in the Foreign Affairs Manual. Anything short of that standard is unfair to everyone involved. 

Second, the department should establish clear guidelines on how it distributes material internally and across the interagency community. That threshold should have nothing to do with terms as vague as “equities.” Instead, offices and agencies should have the opportunity to clear on material only if that material is the result of “privileged information”: information that employees acquire during the discharge of their duties that is not otherwise available.

Third, State needs to ensure that former employees receive treatment comparable to current employees. A significant gap exists between the attention given to current employees by PA and that former employees receive from A/GIS/IPS/PP/LA. 

As that lengthy acronym suggests, former employees are relegated to an obscure office in the Bureau of Administration when they seek pre-publication clearance. In contrast, the PA leadership is often engaged and provides consistent oversight of the review process for current employees. This bifurcation not only creates unnecessary bureaucratic layers and redundancies, but places additional burdens on former employees trying to do the right thing by clearing their manuscripts. This discrepancy should be rectified.

These short-term fixes would go a long way toward improving the pre-publication clearance process for employees. In the long term, however, the State Department should consider establishing a publication review board modeled on the CIA’s Publication Review Board. 

A State Department PRB would codify a transparent, objective and fair process that minimizes the need for interagency clearance, ensures proper and consistent determinations on what material should be classified, and reduces the strain on the State Department at large, and its employees in particular.

Ultimately, State needs to strike a better balance between protecting information and encouraging activities in the public domain. The pre-publication review process remains too arbitrary, lengthy and disjointed for most government professionals to share their unique experiences and expertise with the American public.

Read in full here.

We totally agree that a publication review board is needed for State. Instead of parcelling out the work to different parts of the bureaucracy, a review board would best serve the agency.  We have some related posts on this topic on the Peter Van Buren case as well as the following items:

The rules and regulations for publishing in the Foreign Service can be found in the infamous Foreign Affairs Manual 3 FAM 4170 (pdf).  Last June, AFSA told its members that for more than a year it has been negotiating a revision to the current Foreign Affairs Manual regulations governing public speaking and writing (3 FAM 4170).

“As mentioned in our 2013 Annual Report, our focus has been to accommodate the rise of social media and protect the employee’s ability to publish. We have emphasized the importance of a State Department response to clearance requests within a defined period of time (30 days or less). For those items requiring interagency review, our goal is to increase transparency, communication and oversight.  We look forward to finalizing the negotiations on the FAM chapter soon—stay tuned for its release.”

This long awaited update to 3 FAM 4170 has been in draft mode since 2012 (see State Dept to Rewrite Media Engagement Rules for Employees in Wake of Van Buren Affair. We’ll have to wait and see if 3 FAM 4172.1-7  also known as the Peter Van Buren clause survives the new version.

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Social Media Schizophrenia Continues on Background, and Oh, Stuff That Loophole, Ey?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Well, dammit, that hurts our head!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Will McCants’ Lost in Cyberspace and the State Dept’s Missing Balls

On December 4, we wrote about the State Dept rewriting the media engagement rules for employees in the wake of the Peter Van Buren affair.

A blog pal wrote, asking if we knew that we caused a stir in the Truman building.  Like “State did not have their talking points or justifications in order.”

Talking points need clearance, too.  Oh dear.

The piece was  picked up by Charles Cooper of C|Net on December 5, and he actually got an official email response from State’s deputy spokesman Mark Toner of the Bureau of Public Affairs.

Provisions in the Department’s Foreign Affairs Manual are constantly under review. We are in the process of updating the regulations governing publication — both traditional and digital — to recognize the dynamic and decentralized nature of the 21st century information environment. The updates are still in progress and not final. They will be public, like all of our regulations, when they are final.

Not  a bad response.  But it probably means, it gets updated every time something hits the fan.

3 FAM 4170 for Official Clearance of Speaking, Writing, and Teaching  was last updated in 2009. All except one of the sub-rules date back to 2005.

The rules for Using Social Media in the State Department are listed in 5 FAM 790 and released in June 2010.  One of State’s self-identified media gurus once told us that this reg is not perfect; but so far we have not seen any effort to improved it.

Once the rules are in the books, it’ll take sometime before the regs gets another update.

A few days after the WaPo and C|Net articles, Will McCants, an analyst at CNA and a former senior adviser for countering violent extremism at the State Department as well as the author of a DoD-commissioned study of how to communicate with foreign audiences using social media, wrote Lost in Cyberspace in Foreign Policy. Excerpt below:

Although the review began before the U.S. Embassy in Cairo tweeted controversial denunciations of the anti-Mohamed YouTube clip that sparked riots in September, friends at State tell me that Embassy Cairo’s tweets — which were not approved by Washington — gave added urgency to the effort to draft new guidelines for online behavior. State’s contemplated restrictions on its employees’ use of Twitter do not arise from a misunderstanding of a medium; some of Twitter’s most prominent members, including Jared Cohen and Alec Ross, work or have worked at State. Rather, State worries that the freewheeling, uncontrollable environment of Twitter could lead the public interpret the tweets of its employees as representing the official U.S. position on sensitive issues.
[...]
“The more State allows its employees to tweet during periods of calm, the more likely it will be that the institution can weed out problem tweeters and elevate those who have done a good job cultivating a community of interest.”

There is also something to be said for creating a little distance between the official U.S. position declared by a State spokesperson and tweets from embassy spokespeople and employees. State can take a long time formulating messages in response to crises because it has to vet them in many offices and, often, with the national security staff in the White House. By allowing embassy tweeters to message on their own, State will get early indications of what works and what doesn’t for the various audiences it is trying to reach.

Read in full over at FP – Lost in Cyberspace.

Attracted lots of eyeballs. Fun twittersation follows the FP article.

twittersation updated fam

Even @NickKristof  waded in and then others, too.

@NickKristof If the State Dept is really thinking about 2-day vetting of tweets, that’s the dumbest idea ever.

@AlecJRoss “@Diplopundit @emilcDC @thenewdiplomats @tomistweeting My team involved in drafting/approving. Not even close to what has been blogged.”

 

Whoops! Cushy tushy hurts! But teh-heh!

Here is a curious thing.  The Public Affairs guy responded to C|Net earlier on, and then Mr. Ross took to the spin floor later on.  Note that Alec J. Ross may be the senior advisor at the Office of the Secretary of State, but the clearing office for all matters in the Big House is located within the Bureau of Public Affairs, an office in the Under Secretary of Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs. How involved is his team in “drafting/approving” the regs we may never know. But there are multiple offices involved in the drafting and clearance of the regs not just one.

Perhaps somebody should get in touch?

So then, Alec J. Ross whose actual title if you don’t know it yet is senior advisor for innovation at the Office of the Secretary of State, responded to Will McCants’s piece with:

Updating our social-media guidelines will help make the State Dept MORE open and social media-centric, not less open. It will also make us faster.

EXISTING guidelines allow a 30-day review period for all forms of public communication, including those intended for online publications and social media, though in practice review and response is much quicker. That means that the policy we have in place NOW allows us a 30-day review period. If the DRAFT guidelines go into effect as they are (and they’re still draft), that would shrink from 30 days to two days for a small subset of content. It doesn’t mean that we would take the two days or that it would increase the number of social media posts that are reviewed. We just want to provide an outside window by which employees are promised a response. “

Somebody walked that statement to the PA clearance office, huh?  And since Mr. Ross is practically a Twitter national, he also tweeted the author and got an immediate response.

@will_mccants
oops, should have submitted my article 4 review RT @AlecJRoss: @will_mccants In future please get in touch before publishing on this topic.

So cute!

Okay, then, Mr. Ross’s response sounds good.  Looking forward to a fantastic “MORE open and social media-centric” final rule.  But hey, don’t forget, 5 FAM 790on Using Social Media needs a good scrubbing, too.  We’ll have a separate post on how well the 30 day clearance rule rocks outside the studio.

But on social media, the demand for almost immediate response carries an inherent risk.  The question is how much are you willing to risk? And what about those who are “engaging” in the the public sphere in their personal capacity? How tolerant is your organization to perceived mistakes that will inevitably happen?

We remember that Mr. Ross said once, “We”re willing to make mistakes of commission rather than omission.”

Just because he said it, does not make it so.

Anyway, wasn’t US Embassy Egypt’s Larry Schwartz thrown under the bus because of those ‘er “mistakes of commission?” Recalled anyone  with balls from State’s 21st century statecraft shop who went online to defend our man in Cairo?

We don’t recall Mr. Ross or anyone at State with a Twitter handle defending the poor sod at the US Embassy in Cairo in the aftermath of that controversial statement and tweets following the mob attack there in September. The statement and the tweets could have only been approved by the Chief of Mission in Cairo because that’s where the clearance authority is delegated per FAM regulations.

See more here. The notion that the embassy statement was sent to Main State for clearance when there was a senior PA officer at post, or that the PAO was specifically told not to use it and he went ahead and did it anyway is just way too ludicrous. That’s not how careers are built at State.

And really dudes — if the mob is going over your walls, and the police is not coming, you want to try and diffuse the situation rather than throw petrol bombs at the crowd. So …

President Obama, who does not hold office at the State Department did offer muted support which is better than nothing: “And my tendency is to cut folks a little bit of slack when they’re in that circumstance, rather than try to question their judgment from the comfort of a campaign office.”

Secretary Clinton said what? Sorry, can’t hear you.

Still, in October, unnamed State Dept officials told the WSJ that Mr. Schwartz had been on temporary assignment in Cairo and has been given a new “permanent position” in Washington.  They made the relocation sounds like a promotion.  While a TDY assignment to Cairo is not unheard of, Egypt is not/not a Hard to Fill post. Which means assignments are formalized a year before an FSO is actually assigned there.  Prior to Cairo, Mr. Schwartz was the Director for Planning, Policy, and Resources at the Office of the Under Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs.  As to Mr. Schwartz being given a new permanent position, he is not listed anywhere on the State Dept’s current directory.  Anyone know if he even has a real desk there?

Perhaps State is learning.  Last November when @USEmbassyCairo made another splash on Twitter, at least the Near Eastern Affairs bureau spokesman showed up for some sort of “we’ve got your back” moment.

That’s a good thing.  And it should help, too if you stop throwing your guys under the bus.

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Filed under Digital Diplomacy, People, Regulations, Social Media, State Department, Technology and Work

Oh hello there — we’re in today’s In the Loop show, no photos please!

WaPo’s Emily Heil gave Diplopundit a walk-on part in today’s In the Loop.

The State Department is considering instituting an extreme version of the famous 7-second delay used to keep profanity off live TV.

The department is rewriting its rules on social media, blogging, speeches and other appearances by employees, suggesting that officials get a full two days to review an employee’s proposed tweets and five days to give a yea or nay to a blog post, speech, or remarks prepared for a live event, according to the blog Diplopundit.
[...]
State Department deputy spokesman Mark Toner tells the Loop the still-in-the-works changes are merely updates “to recognize the dynamic and decentralized nature of the 21st century information environment.”

We know agency budgets are tight all around, but it sounds like the State Department better spring for some extra red pens.

Read in full here.

Also see Life After Jerusalem: New Rules on the Use of Media: going back to “people to bureaucracy to people”

Just to be sure, this is in reference to the — okay, “still-in-the works” changes of 3 FAM 4170 and not/not 5 FAM 790 released in 2010 which set the rules for the use of social media by State Department employees.

We’ve asked if these new changes have any bearing on spouses and partners of State employees but have not heard anything back.

As mentioned in this blog before, among the listed authorities of 5 FAM 790 is 3 FAM 4125, Outside Employment and Activities by Spouses and Family Members Abroad.(pdf)  The regs say “Family members of Department personnel working abroad who create and/or use social media cites must adhere to the policies contained in 3 FAM 4125.”

That section of course, is like Mars, without the rover.

domani spero sig

 

 

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Filed under Blognotes, Digital Diplomacy, Foreign Service, FS Blogs, Life After Jerusalem, Regulations, Social Media, Spouses/Partners, State Department, Technology and Work