This is the second of the four town hall meetings scheduled for the candidates in this year’s AFSA election. Length: 1:15:23. We have not been able to find a transcript of this meeting. Note that ballots and candidate statements will be mailed on April 15, ballots will be counted on June 4, and the new AFSA Governing Board will take office on July 15, 2015.
A couple of weeks ago, AFSA announced the candidates for positions on the ballot for the AFSA Governing Board for the 2015-2017 term. On April 1st, AFSA released the candidates’ statements. There are three candidates running for president: Ambassador Barbara Stephenson, leading the Strong Diplomacy slate, Matthew Asada, leading the Future Forward AFSA slate, and Tex Harris who does not have a slate. You should read the full statements of the candidates below, but we should note that both Mr. Asada and Mr. Harris are incumbent members of the current Governing Board. In addition to your bread and butter issues, perhaps voters should ask how they might reconcile Mr. Asada’s rosy report of accomplishments with Mr. Harris charged that “AFSA’s current top mandates are to protect individual members and to grow “AFSA as a business.” Also a $125/plate dinner at its 90th Anniversary celebration– we’re you invited? Did you know that AFSA is selling FS coins? And grave markers? Well, now you know.
Don’t miss the following upcoming town hall meetings:
April 7, 2015—State Town Hall at HST in the Loy Henderson Auditorium
April 8, 2015—Retiree Town Hall at AFSA HQ Building in the first floor conference room
And what’s AFSA doing for 8 FSOs stuck in super glue at the SFRC? By the way, the fellow stuck there the longest, in fact stuck there since 2012 appears to be the former AFSA State VP. When we inquired, outgoing AFSA President Bob Silverman politely declined to comment upon advice of his staff. Mr. Asada, current AFSA State VP never acknowledged receipt of our email.
Wait, former AFSA State VP + 7 FSOs held hostage at the Senate sounds pretty interesting, don’t you think? Should we put up the Hotline?
The question is why? Why is the Senate Foreign Relations Committee (SFRC) demanding that our diplomats self-certify that they have not committed a felony within the last seven years? The form says “disclosure of this information is voluntary.” But also that “failure to provide the information requested may result in delay or exclusion of your name on a Foreign Service nomination list.”
Career members of the Foreign Service must be promoted into the Senior Foreign Service by appointment of the President, by and with the advice and consent of the Senate. This self-certification is reportedly also required for employees who are up for commissioning and tenuring at the Foreign Relations committee.
So basically in bullying our diplomats into signing this witless self-certification, the SFRC will be able to provide better advice to President Obama?
All Diplomats Must Hold and Keep Top Secret Clearances
The American diplomatic profession requires the issuance of a security clearance. All Foreign Service officers must hold and keep an active Top Secret security clearance.
The personnel security background investigation begins after an individual has been given a conditional offer of employment and has completed the appropriate security questionnaire, usually a Standard Form 86, Questionnaire for National Security Positions, and other required forms. Once the security package is received by the Office of Personnel Security and Suitability, it is reviewed for completeness. National agency record checks and scanned fingerprint checks are then conducted. A case manager will direct the background investigation to cover key events and contacts from the individual’s past and present history. Once the investigators have completed a report, highly trained security clearance adjudicators will weigh the results against existing adjudicative guidelines for security clearances. A critical step in the background investigation is the face-to-face interview the individual will have with a DS investigator. This interview usually occurs within a few weeks of an individual submitting a complete security clearance package. Security clearances are subject to periodic reinvestigation every 5 years for TS clearance, and every 10 years for a Secret clearance.
When there is derogatory information, even based on preliminary facts from a DS criminal investigation, Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) counterintelligence or other law enforcement investigation, or an Inspector General investigation, the security clearance is suspended. Personnel whose security clearances have been suspended may not be placed on temporary duty status at diplomatic facilities abroad and may not be retained in positions requiring a security clearance until the investigation is resolved.
The names of those with pending investigations are automatically removed from the promotion list. It goes without saying …. oops, maybe it does need saying — diplomats who have pled guilty or convicted of a crime will not be able to hold a security clearance, much less have his/her name included in the promotion list.
Let’s give you an example — Michael Sestak, an FSO who pled guilty in a visa fraud-bribery case. He is currently sitting in jail. He’ll be sentenced in April. When he comes out of prison, he will not/not have a job to return to at the State Department. Does anyone at the SFRC really think that somebody like Mr. Sestak can slip through federal employment again, get on the promotion list and somehow make it through the most deliberative body in Congress. No? So why would anyone in the Senate think that this self-certification is anything but idiotic?
8,042 Diplomats Targeted
On March 2012, fcw.com cited 2,102,269 as the total number of executive branch employees. Of those, however, only 1,877,990 are full-time, permanent employees. These numbers reportedly do not include uniformed military personnel, or data on the Postal Service and excludes legislative and judicial branch employees.
Out of the 2.1 million employees, the State Department has a total of 71,782 employees which includes 47,110 Foreign Service National (FSN) employees; 10,871 Civil Service (CS) employees and 13,801 (FS) Foreign Service employees as of December 2014 (see stats here-pdf.)
Of the total 13,801 Foreign Service employees, 8,042 are considered “Generalists” and 5,759 are “Specialists.” The “Specialists which include DS agents, and HR, IT professionals are not subject to Senate confirmation. The “Generalists” are the Foreign Service Officers whose tenure and promotion are subject to confirmation by the United States Senate.
The Senate majority in the Foreign Relations Committee appears to be targeting only Foreign Service officers. FSOs, and FSOs alone have been asked to self-certify that they have not been “convicted of or pled guilty of any crime” in the last seven years. As far as we are aware, this requirement does not extend to nominees who are political appointees.
What makes career diplomats special, pray tell?
The White House Knows About This? You Gotta be Kidding.
This self-certification form which is not available at OPM.gov and does not include an official form number says that “The information collected and maintained in this form will be used as part of the vetting process for Foreign Service Lists submitted to the White House for eventual nomination to the Senate.”
An informed source told us that this self-certification had been negotiated between a representative of AFSA, a staffer at the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and the State Department.
No, there were no photos.
Apparently, there also was no White House representative involved, although you might missed that when reading the unclassified State Department 14 STATE 98420 cable dated Aug 12, 2014, which says in part:
The Senate Foreign Relations Committee (SFRC) now requires additional vetting before it considers nominees for confirmation in all of the above-mentioned categories. Effective immediately all employees in those categories who have been nominated on or after April 1, 2014 must file a self-certification form certifying that they have not been convicted of a crime or pled guilty in any court over the past seven years, regardless of whether the record in the case has been sealed, expunged, or otherwise stricken from the court record. HR will notify those employees who are up for commissioning, tenure and SFS promotion that they must submit the form, available at: [Note: we redacted sbu link]and which must be submitted to HR-PasSelfCertificat@state.gov.
Please note: failure to submit the form will mean that HR will not/not forward your name to the White House for nomination to the Senate. There is no waiver of the SFRC requirement. For those individuals who are unable to make the certification, and wish to provide information relevant to any conviction or guilty plea in the last seven years, they may report the information in the space provided on the form. Further investigation may be made on the basis of any additional information provided. The Department may then be required to provide this information to the SFRC.
AFSA and the State Department must realized that this is a meaningless and coersive made-up document, but both rolled over and played dead. No other nominees of any agency of the U.S. government are obliged to sign such a certificate, which is essentially, again, meaningless in the context of a profession in which an active security clearance is a prerequisite to the performance of a job.
The SFRC can hold up ambassadorial nominations, senior State Dept level nominations (undersecretaries/assistant secretaries), and decide who to put first on the hearings list and who to put last (see Happy Easter Greeting: SFRC Left Town With 19 Ambassadorial Nominations Still Stuck on Glue!). The simple act of holding up large numbers of nominees rather than passing them through at a reasonable pace wreaks havoc on State’s budget, assignments process, and people’s lives. (see Is the U.S. Senate Gonna Wreck, Wreck, Wreck, the Upcoming Bidding Season in the Foreign Service?) Salaries, promotions, transfers, offices, authorities are money. Ambassadors who do not go to posts on time have big time resource implications in addition to political implications. People who do not have the legal authority to do their jobs (is a consular officer’s notarial legal if he/she did not receive Senate confirmation?) operate in a legal limbo presumably implying risks of all kinds.
click image for larger view
Why not ‘just do it’ like Nike? It’s already done but it’s a horrible precedent, what’s next?
This is already being done. Folks have already signed this self-certifying documents and have submitted them as a requirement to their nominations. They don’t really have a choice, do they? But where does it end?
We’ve learned that the SFRC gets information on names recommended for promotion from the State Department “following vetting” and also directly from the OIG, including information that reportedly goes back decades.
That’s right, going back decades.
If an FSO or any employee is charged with a crime, the employee defends himself/herself in court, and if charged with an administrative matter, the employee defends himself/herself in an HR process. That’s how it works.
One SFRC staffer is now reportedly “negotiating” to gain access to OIG investigative data under the guise of allowing the Senate panel to better advise President Obama concerning the qualifications of Foreign Service Officer candidates. But what the SFRC is now “negotiating” with State and AFSA would be access to raw OIG and Diplomatic Security reports containing derogatory information without any of an employee’s mitigating, exculpatory or defensive evidence information. You okay with that?
What is Senator Corker’s SFRC going to ask for next, your diplomatic liver?
The White House seems asleep at the wheel on this. Today, it’s the State Department, tomorrow, it could be any agency in the Federal Government.
Hey, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee is doing it, what’s the rest of the Senate going to ask for next?
After another lengthy wait, the U.S. Senate finally confirmed the promotion of 374 Foreign Service officers on March 27, 2015. The Senate is now adjourned until April 13, 2015 where the wait for several more ambassadorial and regular FS nominees will presumably continue with no end in sight.
Nominations beginning Joyce A. Barr, and ending Nancy E. McEldowney, which 6 nominations were received by the Senate and appeared in the Congressional Record on January 13, 2015. The following-named Career Members of the Senior Foreign Service of the Department of State for promotion within the Senior Foreign Service to the class indicated: Career Member of the Senior Foreign Service of the United States of America, Class of Career Minister:
In 2014, the American Foreign Service Association (AFSA) commissioned a third-party survey to better understand members’ views of AFSA as a professional association and union, as well as their opinions on AFSA’s advocacy and labor management priorities. Of the nearly 3,500 responses, 1,600 came from active-duty State members who responded to State-specific questions.
The infographics made available by AFSA (pdf) notes that 40% agree or strongly agree that slowing promotion rates, limited career advancement, or a lack of professional development opportunities is causing them to consider leaving the Foreign Service. It also notes the membership opinion on quality of work and life issues as well as security issues.
We are still hunting down a copy of the full membership survey. We should note that AFSA is the professional association and labor union of the United States Foreign Service with more than 16,345 dues-paying members. According to its 2014 annual report, it has 10,664 members who are in active-duty with the State Department and 3,717 members who are retired employees. Looks like 15% of the active service members and 51% of retired members participated in this survey.
The AFSA Committee on Elections recently announced its approval of the following candidates for positions on the ballot for the AFSA Governing Board for the 2015-2017 term. It looks like the current president, Robert Silverman is not running for reelection but the current State VP Matthew Asada is running for the top spot. Mr. AFSA, Tex Harris, a tireless advocate for the professional interests of FSOs who previously served as AFSA president and established the “Tex Harris Award” for creative dissent by a Foreign Service specialist is also running for the top spot. The third candidate is Ambassador Barbara Stephenson, former ambassador to Panama, and current Dean of the Leadership and Management School of the Foreign Service Institute.
There are two candidates for the State VP position. Bill Haugh and former Ambassador Charles Ford are running unopposed for Secretary and Treasurer respectively. Former Ambassadors Tom Boyatt and Charles Ray, and current GB member Larry Cohen are running for the Retiree VP position. Three of the four candidates running as retiree representatives (4 slots) are also former ambassadors. There are a few more familiar names among the candidates, we hope to have a follow-up post when their statements are available next month.
All regular voting members of AFSA will receive, by email or mail, a ballot and the special election edition of AFSA News on or about April 15, 2015. AFSA is pleased to offer those members for whom we have a valid email address the opportunity to vote online. Completed ballots must be received by 8:00 a.m. June 4, 2015 in order to be counted. The new AFSA Governing Board will take office on July 15, 2015.
Matthew K. Asada(** Future Forward AFSA slate)
Tex Harris Barbara Stephenson (*Strong Diplomacy slate)
Bill Haugh *
Charles A. Ford *
State VP (1)
Angie Bryan *
USAID VP (1)
FCS VP (1)
Retiree VP (1)
Larry Cohen Charles A. Ray **
State Representative (11)
Brynn C. Bennett ** Lawrence Casselle *
Ronnie S. Catipon John Dinkelman * Eric Geelan * Josh Glazeroff * Margaret Hawthorne *
Steven M. Jones Pat Kabra ** Philip G. Laidlaw * Neeru Lal ** Ronita Macklin ** Steve McCain ** Homeyra Mokhtarzada **
Doug Morrow Peter Neisuler * Erin O’Connor * Leah M. Pease * Dan Spokojny ** Sam Thielman * Tricia Wingerter * Joel Wisner **
USAID Representative (2)
FCS Representative (1)
Retiree Representative (4)
Patricia Butenis * Dean Haas * Alphonse F. La Porta *
* Member of the Strong Diplomacy slate ** Member of the Future Forward AFSA slate
Election details via afsa.org:
AFSA members are encouraged to visit the AFSA website to participate in an online discussion forum with candidates. The discussion forum is named the “AFSA Community.” Candidates and/or members may post questions or comments to this forum and respond to members’ questions at http://community.afsa.org/. All members must log in to participate and have personal email addresses stored on their profile. (Note: government email addresses will not be accepted on the AFSA Community site.)
Additionally, Town Hall meetings have been set up as follows:
USAID: 12:00 p.m. Wednesday, March 25th, in the LPA/IC Conference Room M-17, located on the Mezzanine Level of the Ronald Reagan Building.
FSI (active duty only): 12:00 p.m. Monday, March 30th, in the Kennan conference room at the National Foreign Affairs Training Center, (FSI) 4000 Arlington Boulevard (also known as Route 50), Arlington, Virginia 22204.
State: 12:00 p.m. Tuesday, April 7th, in the Loy Henderson Auditorium at Main State.
Retirees: 12:00 p.m. Wednesday, April 8th, in the first floor conference room at the AFSA HQ building, 2101 E Street, NW, Washington DC 20037.
These events will be taped and available on the AFSA YouTube channel. The candidates’ statements will also be posted on the AFSA website on April 1, 2015. Go to http://www.afsa.org/afsa_elections.aspx to view.
If you have not already done so, please ensure AFSA has your current address on record. To update your address information, send an email to email@example.com.
If you do not receive your ballot by May 6, 2015, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org and provide your full name, work location, current address, and telephone number.
On March 17, the American Foreign Service Association (AFSA) wrote to Arnold Chacon, the Director General of the Foreign Service and the State Department’s top HR official requesting clarity on the applicability of 3 FAM to career and political/non-career employees of the oldest executive agency in the union.
We would be grateful if you could help us understand if there is, in practice or by law, any difference in how these standards apply to and are enforced for non-career appointees as opposed to career employees, both Foreign Service and Civil Service.
AFSA noted the March 10 press briefing, where “Spokesperson Jen Psaki referred to 3 FAM as “guidelines” as distinguished from “law”:
As the Foreign Service, we have always understood the FAM to consist of regulations to which we must adhere. AFSA would like to ask if non-career appointees are formally subject to all of the rules and regulations in 3 FAM.
Foreign Affairs Manual
3 FAM is the section of the Foreign Affairs Manual that covers personnel:
This volume of the FAM sets forth the policies and regulations governing the administration of the personnel system applicable to the Department of State. Regulations adopted jointly by the Department of State and other agencies (e.g. Broadcasting Board of Governors, USAID, Commerce, Agriculture, Peace Corps,) are so identified wherever they appear in this volume. (see pdf)
Volume 3 of the FAM is organized around eight major personnel topics, each of which is assigned a series of nine chapters of 89 subchapters. In so far as is practicable, each subchapter is restricted to a single topic. Since some topics relate to both Foreign Service and Civil Service employees, while others relate to employees of only one of the services, subchapters, or parts thereof, contain a legend, which indicates coverage.
☞Chapters in the 1000 series contain general information on the organization of the FAM and general policies and regulations relating to all Civil Service and/or Foreign Service employees.
☞Chapters in the 2000 series contain regulations and policies, which govern the day-to-day operations of the Foreign Service and Civil Service personnel systems.
☞Chapters in the 3000 series contain regulations and policies which govern Civil Service and Foreign Service pay, leave administration, benefits (e.g. Federal Employees Health Benefits (FEHB), Federal Employees Group Life Insurance (FEGLI), Office of Worker’s Compensation Program (OWCP), Unemployment Compensation for Federal Employees (UCFE), Reasonable Accommodations), allowances and travel. In addition, Chapters in the 3000 series contains special program regulations and policies such as Transit Subsidy Program, Student Loan Repayment Program (SLRP), and Professional Liability Insurance (PLI).
☞Chapters in the 4000 series contain regulations and policies which govern the conduct of Foreign Service and Civil Service employees; provide penalties for misconduct; establish grievance and appeals procedures; and provide for awards for outstanding performance.
☞Chapters in the 5000 series contain regulations and policies, which govern labor management relations in the Department.
☞Chapters in the 6000 series contain regulations and policies, which govern the administration of the retirement program for Civil Service and Foreign Service employees.
☞Chapters in the 7000 series contain regulations and policies, which govern the administration of the Foreign Service National personnel system for Overseas Employees.
☞Chapters in the 8000 series contain regulations and policies, which govern the administration of the various overseas employment programs administered by the Office of Overseas Employment (HR/OE).
If it comes from the podium, it is official.
So it is, of course, understandable that AFSA is concerned when she calls the FAM “guidelines.” But equally troubling to hear her say from the official podium that the FAM is not regulations but recommendations, as if somehow adherence to it is voluntary and optional. We’ve asked state.gov for a comment and the nice person there told us they’re consulting with their subject matter experts and hopefully will have something for us.
Anyone has an in with the folks at the Office of the Legal Adviser? Would you kindly please ask them to wade in on this?
No, the world is not getting less dangerous but according to our sources, the State Department is eyeing changes in danger pay that could result in the loss of danger pay for a number of posts worldwide.
A group inside the State Department called the Danger Pay Working Group reportedly noted that the current practice of awarding Danger Pay has “veered from the original legislative language” which narrowly awards the additional compensation for a few extreme circumstances such as active civil unrest and war. Under the proposed changes, the definition of Danger Pay would reportedly revert to — you guess it, “the original legislative language” which would result in a probable loss of Danger Pay for a number of posts worldwide.
The State Department is also revising its Hardship Differential Pay. The idea appears to involve moving some of the factors which previously resulted in Danger Pay into the Hardship calculation. The number crunchers estimate that this may not result in equivalent levels of pay but apparently, the hope is “to compensate employees to some degree for these factors.”
Let’s back up a bit here — the Danger Pay allowance is the additional compensation of up to 35 percent over basic compensation granted to employees (Section 031 and 040i) for service at designated danger pay posts, pursuant to Section 5928, Title 5, United States Code (Section 2311, Foreign Service Act of 1980).
Here is the full language of 5 U.S. Code § 5928 (via Cornell Law)
An employee serving in a foreign area may be granted a danger pay allowance on the basis of civil insurrection, civil war, terrorism, or wartime conditions which threaten physical harm or imminent danger to the health or well-being of the employee. A danger pay allowance may not exceed 35 percent of the basic pay of the employee, except that if an employee is granted an additional differential under section 5925(b) of this title with respect to an assignment, the sum of that additional differential and any danger pay allowance granted to the employee with respect to that assignment may not exceed 35 percent of the basic pay of the employee. The presence of nonessential personnel or dependents shall not preclude payment of an allowance under this section. In each instance where an allowance under this section is initiated or terminated, the Secretary of State shall inform the Speaker of the House of Representatives and the Committee on Foreign Relations of the Senate of the action taken and the circumstances justifying it. [Section effective Feb. 15, 1981, except as otherwise provided, see section 2403 of Pub. L. 96–465, set out as a note under section 3901 of Title 22, Foreign Relations and Intercourse].
In 1983—Pub. L. 98–164 inserted provision that presence of nonessential personnel or dependents shall not preclude payment of an allowance under this section, and that each instance where an allowance under this section is initiated or terminated, the Secretary of State shall inform the Speaker of the House of Representatives and the Committee on Foreign Relations of the Senate of action taken and circumstances justifying it.
In 1984 — Pub. L. 98–533, title III, § 304,Oct. 19, 1984, 98 Stat. 2711, provided that: “In recognition of the current epidemic of worldwide terrorist activity and the courage and sacrifice of employees of United States agencies overseas, civilian as well as military, it is the sense of Congress that the provisions of section 5928 of title 5, United States Code, relating to the payment of danger pay allowance, should be more extensively utilized at United States missions abroad.”
We note that specific provision added in 1983 but it appears that in 2005, the State Department amended the Foreign Affairs Manual (3 FAM 3275-pdf) to say this:
Danger pay may be authorized at posts where civil insurrection, civil war, terrorism, or wartime conditions threaten physical harm or imminent danger to the health or well being of employees. It will normally be granted at posts where the evacuation of family members and/or nonessential personnel has been authorized or ordered, or at posts at which family members are not permitted.
The Global Terrorism Database indicates that there were 3,421 terrorist incidents in 1984, the year when Congress recognized that danger pay allowance should be more extensively utilized at U.S. missions overseas. The same database indicates that there were 11,952 terrorist incidents in 2013. Hard to argue that the world has become less dangerous in the intervening years.
Below is a list of posts with danger pay based on the latest data from the State Department or see snapshot here:
DOS | Top Danger Post Assignments | Feb 2015 (click on image for larger view)
Post Hardship Differential, Danger Pay, and Difficult-to-Staff Incentive Differential (also known as Service-Needs Differential) are all considered recruitment and retention incentives. These allowances are designed to recruit employees to posts where living conditions may be difficult or dangerous.
“Why are we still downplaying the enormous health impact to officers and their families serving in China? Why are State MED officers saying ‘off the record’ that it is irresponsible to send anyone with children to China and yet no one will speak up via official channels?
Hello AFSA …. EAP …. HR… Anyone? And the band played on …. ”
Grim: A quarter of a million people in major cities could die prematurely because of China’s pollution http://t.co/TiHC4MDQEL
Kenneth M. Quinn, the only three-time winner of an AFSA dissent award, spent 32 years in the Foreign Service and served as ambassador to Cambodia from 1996 to 1999. He has been president of the World Food Prize Foundation since 2000. In the September issue of the Foreign Service Journal, he writes about integrity and openness as requirements for an effective Foreign Service. Except below:
I can attest to the fact that challenging U.S. policy from within is never popular, no matter how good one’s reasons are for doing so. In some cases, dissent can cost you a job—or even end a career. And even when there are no repercussions, speaking out may not succeed in changing policy.
Yet as I reflect on my 32 years in the Foreign Service, I am more convinced than ever how critically important honest reporting and unvarnished recommendations are. And that being the case, ambassadors and senior policy officials should treasure those who offer different views and ensure that their input receives thoughtful consideration, no matter how much they might disagree with it.