AFSA Elections: What’s Missing This Campaign Season? Fire, Ice and Some Spirited Debates, Please

Posted: 2:20 am  EDT

 

Retired SFSO David T. Jones, in the aftermath of a highly contentious 2009 election,  wrote that “AFSA’s elections must return to diplomatic civility rather than channeling canines contending over hunks of meat.”

The 2011 election was tamed and supervised by the Department of Labor. The 2013 election was underwhelming with most positions uncontested. The 2015 election by contrast has two full slates with fairly recognizable candidates. But one only has to watch a couple of town halls meetings to recognize that this is the most polite campaign to-date.  As if they were afraid to offend each other by asking real questions.

There are three candidates running for President of AFSA: Barbara Stephenson (Strong Diplomacy), Matthew Asada (Future Forward AFSA) and Tex Harris (no slate). Odd thing here is that Mr. Harris while running for president has also endorsed Mr. Asada.

On the May 6 campaign message, Ambassador Stephenson says this:

This election season, voters have a clear choice. If you are satisfied with what AFSA has been achieving for you, then there are two presidential candidates who represent that tradition. If, however, you want to see senior, experienced leaders and managers known for their interpersonal and negotiation skills work to achieve a more strategic set of outcomes, then please vote for the entire Strong Diplomacy slate.

Mr. Asada’s May 6 campaign message says:

Future Forward AFSA is running to ensure that AFSA remains an independent voice for the Foreign Service. Employees need an advocate that can collaborate with management to get things done, and challenge it when it strikes out in the wrong direction. AFSA was the first to sound the alarm about this bidding cycle’s “100 job deficit”.

Well, who else is supposed to sound the alarm, if not AFSA?

A SFSO deeply active in AFSA speaking on background says that he/she agrees that “there should not be personal attacks of any kind” but that there ought to be “a robust and spirited debates on the issues!” Candidates should be free to critique the current Board’s record, this AFSA fella told us, but that they should also elaborate what they would do differently.  Which seems fair enough.  If AFSA has set up an election forum, that should be put to excellent use in the last few weeks of this campaign.

We must say that it has not always been easy to get answers from AFSA in the last two years.  There are a few pet peeves we’d like to throw in because we never got a satisfying response.

Indefinite Senate “Hold” on Rank and File Nominations

We remain concerned about the genesis of the Senate “hold” on ordinary non-ambassadorial ranked members of the Foreign Service. The hold has air quotes because our understanding is that some nominations are actually not officially put in for consideration but is in what we’d call “confirmation purgatory.”  We have also asked about a few FSOs whose nominations have been stuck in the Senate confirmation process dating back to 2012. An AFSA insider who declined to be identified refers to the “mean-spiritedness” in the confirmation process.  We have asked Mr. Asada directly about the eight nominations awhile back and received no response.  Other folks we’ve asked were advised by AFSA not to talk to us about this.  This is concerning because the blog Dead Men Working has been blogging up a storm about this issue since late last year.  While we do not agree with everything DMW writes, that blog raises some troubling allegations that we think must be addressed.


The jobs, the jobs, shouldn’t we just do an auction every two years?

We understand that the Chief of Mission Guidelines initiative was adopted in part by the Obama Administration and is reportedly now being legislated in part by the Senate’s draft State Authorization bill.  (See AFSA Releases Underwhelming Ambassador Guidelines For “Successful Performance”).

There were two things we were hoping to see from AFSA: 1)  work on strengthening the Foreign Service Act of 1980 through Congress, who is after all, tasked to provide “advice and consent”on ambassadorial nominees under the U.S. Constitution, and 2)  work on the reinstatement of the OIG Inspector Evaluation Reports (IERs)  to promote accountability and successful performance of our chiefs of missions overseas.

That did not happen, of course. At the time when this COM Guidelines was being massaged into a sausage, we’ve heard from a good number of AFSA members  asking why this  was “done in the dark” without informing the membership. A couple helpfully suggested that perhaps the USG should just auction off all these jobs every two years given that anyone can do the work.  Well, what do you think about that auction?

AFSA’s Ambassador Statistics

We’ve seen the Obama political ambassador statistics at over 40% thrown about. The ft.com says 41% citing AFSA statistics on ambassadors. Roll Call repeated the number here on political ambassadorships.  We sent a note to AFSA citing the questions on Twitter re: ambo stats, specifically the accuracy of the % cited and if it has any comment. We  never got a response.

Blog pal @Philip Arsenault has done a lot of good work using presidential records to track the ambassadorial appointees going back to the Eisenhower Era.  He was not able to replicate the 41% Obama political ambassadorships attributed to AFSA.  It looks like AFSA counts every International Organization (IO) ambassadors for Obama but has sparse info for every other president. Since IO has the highest number of pol appointees, this could easily skew the numbers for President Obama.  If AFSA is counting IO appointees for the Obama tenure, it should also count the IO appointees for all other presidents.  Fairness requires that.  If it is unable to account for those IO appointees from other presidents, it should ditch the Obama numbers in the counting or  if they have to use to IO data, it must be clearly noted as such.

Also if AFSA is counting CDAs as ambassadors even when those are not Senate confirmed appointees, this could mess up with the numbers.  As an example of this, take a look at AFSA’s list for President Reagan’s ambassadors to Ethiopia from 1982-1991 (Reagan was in office from January 20, 1981 – January 20, 1989).  All three — Korn, Cheek, Houdek — are listed as career appointees. They are but there’s a problem.

According to history.state.gov, these diplomats were appointed as Chargé d’Affaires ad interim; they were not nominated by President Reagan, and they were not confirmed by the U.S. Senate.

Screen Shot 2015-05-12 at 2.38.18 PM

Screen capture from history.state.gov

Once Philip brought his concern to our attention, we stopped using AFSA’s numbers. As of this writing, the AFSA Ambassador Tracker indicates that President Obama’s political ambassador appointees for the second term is down from the reported 41% to 35.9%, still higher than Philip’s number which is 32.9%. We trust Philip’s data more because when there are questions, he is responsive, when there’s an error, he is quick to fix it. With AFSA, we got nothing but radio silence and we don’t see how we could rely on those numbers until they’re properly scrubbed.

.


Wanna Talk About Stuff?

Depending on where you’re sitting, the following could mean something or not, worth a discussion at the election forum or not:

  • AFSA told us, “We do not publish election statistics on the AFSA website, nor do we provide that information to anonymous sources.” Again we’re asking — what legitimate reason is there for the election statistics of the labor union of the United States Foreign Service not to be public record or at the minimum, available to its membership? Shouldn’t AFSA members learn what kind of turnouts they have every election? Wouldn’t drilling down the numbers help with voter engagement?
  • A number of Foreign Service Grievance Board cases are “settled” or withdrawn. We understand that a confidentiality clause governs these cases. But when the Department “settles” these cases, how come the redacted complaint and the terms of the settlement are not made available by AFSA to its members for analysis?
  • Do you know that Department employees who take the CIA’s polygraph examination for detail assignments will have the  results of their polygraph provided to DS and HR for security  clearance and assignment purposes?  A source told us that “In and of itself, it does no  harm if the CIA retains them for its clearance purposes, but it can  have an unanticipated negative impact when indiscriminately released  by the CIA to third parties, like DS and HR, who use them in violation of the CIA’s restrictions to the Department  and assurances to the examinees.”  If this affects only a fraction of the Foreign Service, is that an excuse not to do anything about it, or at a minimum, provide an alert to employees contemplating these detail assignments?
  • An elected AFSA representative participated in the Brussels Forum of the German Marshall Fund in 2014. An AFSA member asked this blog why? The Brussels Forum is an annual high-level meeting of the most influential North American and European political, corporate, and intellectual leaders to address pressing challenges currently facing both sides of the Atlantic. Participants include heads of state, senior officials from the European Union institutions and the member states, U.S. Cabinet officials, Congressional representatives, Parliamentarians, academics, and media. We think the “why” question is a fair and legitimate question unless non-union fees were used for this participation.  Folks, stop sending us these “why” questions here. Every elected representative at AFSA should be willing and available to answer the why questions.
  • Assignments are typically handed out a year before folks have their rotation/change of station. What’s this we’re hearing about 300 unassigned Foreign Service employees  at the end of April? What’s being done about it?


Okay, there’s an indifferent Foreign Service majority but …

Mr. Jones wrote that very few AFSA members vote in Governing Board elections … “The essential conclusion must be that AFSA members regard the effect on their lives as so ancillary and/or the consequences from AFSA efforts so ineffectual that voting was not worth the few minutes to review candidates/platforms (or the cost of postage to return the ballot).”

Or email ballot.

We’ve said this before and we’ll say it again: What these elections show is that even if only 22% of the membership cast their ballots every two years, AFSA still operates as the professional association and recognized labor union of 100% of its Foreign Service members. In essence, the priorities of 1/5 of its membership, the minority who actually votes, becomes the priorities for all, including the majority who doesn’t.

Think about that. Even if a large number of members opt out by not voting, AFSA still functions on the Foreign Service’s behalf. Shouldn’t FS members at least make an effort to pick who gets to represent them?

We are paying attention to this election but for the record, we do not vote; we just sit on the wall and watch.  We do have two wishes.   There are already rumors that this could potentially be another contested election. So first, we really hope that the candidates do not go there. Following the 2009 election, the AFSA election turn out dipped dangerously down to 17%. Another contested election could potentially turn off the already small number of voters.  And if that happens, we would not blame them at all.

Second, we hope that whoever gets elected as the next Governing Board would endeavor to be more open and responsive to questions.  Even if those questions occasionally come from unusual quarters like ours.

The end.

Note: Please note that the comments section is purposely disabled for this blogpost. We hope AFSA provides an election forum for the members interested on the issues. If not, check out Strong Diplomacy and Future Forward AFSA, Ask questions. Start a discussion. Be ever present. Vote. Then get your friends to vote.

 

Related posts:

 

AFSA Awards Bill Harrop With 2015 Lifetime Contribution to American Diplomacy Award

Posted: 12:35 am EDT

 

The American Foreign Service Association will honor Ambassador Bill Harrop with its 2015 Lifetime Contributions to American Diplomacy Award in the Benjamin Franklin Room of the Department of State on June 9, 2015.

When Ambassador Harrop was IG (he was the last Foreign Service Officer to serve as Inspector General), there was a non-career, politically appointed ambassador in a Scandinavian country who was actually going out and picking up prostitutes in a park of the capital city. Yup, happened before.  And there was that career Foreign Service ambassador whose wife was writing a book and using the ambo’s Foreign Service secretary and word processor and copying equipment for the project.  Boy, oh, boy!  He also served as Principal Officer in Zaire in the 1960’s where his ambassador complained about the president and the foreign minister saying, “I am awakened at all hours of the night, either by the megalomaniac or by the schizophrenic. I never know which one will be on the other end of the line with some crazy ultimatum.”

On why people get a Washington job:

The “culture” of the Foreign Service had been that people who came into it expected they’d be mainly living overseas. There was some resistance, but gradually people began to understand that if you wanted to have an impact on policy, perhaps the best place to be was Washington. In my view the work was more difficult, more demanding, less well compensated financially, and certainly more fatiguing in Washington, with fewer diversions, less interest and variety than overseas. However, ambitious people began to see that Washington was probably a place they should focus on if they wanted to get ahead in their careers. That view was beginning to be appreciated by 1960.

Photo via Univ of Charleston

Photo via Univ of Charleston

And even more appreciated now.   Ambassador Harrop was interviewed for ADST’s Oral History project. You may read the transcript of that interview here (pdf).

The award announcement via afsa.org:

The American Foreign Service Association is delighted to name career diplomat William C. Harrop as recipient of the 2015 Lifetime Contributions to American Diplomacy Award, honoring his extraordinary commitment to advancing the field throughout his career in the Foreign Service, as well as through subsequent diplomacy-focused efforts in the nonprofit sector.

During his 39-year career as a Foreign Service officer, Ambassador Harrop served as U.S. Ambassador to Guinea, Kenya, Seychelles, Zaire and Israel. He also held positions as Inspector General of the State Department and Foreign Service, Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Africa, member of the State Department Policy Planning and Coordination Staff, and Deputy Chief of Mission in Australia. While the breadth and prestige of his appointments attests to the quality of Ambassador Harrop’s diplomatic work, his excellence in the field has also been recognized officially. Ambassador Harrop received the Presidential Distinguished Service Award and State Department Distinguished Honor Award, as well as the 2001 Foreign Service Cup.

Since 1958, Ambassador Harrop has served as an influential leader within AFSA. He was chair of the Scholarship Committee in his first year of membership and, through hard work and dedication to the organization, rose to become AFSA President in 1971, a position he held for two years. Ambassador Harrop continues to demonstrate his commitment to his fellow Foreign Service colleagues and friends as a director of the Senior Living Foundation. He also sponsors AFSA’s F. Allen ‘Tex’ Harris Award for Constructive Dissent by a Foreign Service Specialist and the Nelson B. Delavan Award for Exceptional Performance by an Office Management Specialist. He also provides support for AFSA as director of the Delavan Foundation.

In his post-career work, Ambassador Harrop continues to show a remarkable level of commitment to the profession, dedicating his time and expertise to numerous organizations that seek to recognize the importance of diplomacy in American life and history. He has worked with the American Academy of Diplomacy, American Diplomacy Publishers, and the Henry L. Stimson Foundation. As president and chairman of the Foreign Affairs Museum Council, Ambassador Harrop spearheaded the effort to create the U.S. Diplomacy Center, a museum and education center that focuses on the vital role of American diplomacy in our nation’s past and future. Thanks to the efforts of Ambassador Harrop and the rest of the committee, construction on the USDC began this year.

Ambassador Harrop has contributed to several books and publications on diplomacy. As chairman of the American Academy of Diplomacy’s Program Committee, he launched the books First Line of Defense (AAD, 2000) and Commercial Diplomacy (AAD, 2004) and provided support for American Statecraft: The Story of the U.S. Foreign Service (Thomas Dunne Books, 2013), as well as America’s Other Army (CreateSpace, 2012). In association with the Foreign Policy Association, Ambassador Harrop is currently developing a PBS film on notable U.S. diplomats.

The innumerable ways in which Ambassador Harrop has sought to advance the field of diplomacy serve as a testament to his lifelong commitment to the profession. His contributions demonstrate his determination to garner for diplomacy, and his fellow diplomats, the recognition they deserve as essential to the formation and execution of U.S. foreign policy.

Previous recipients of this award include U. Alexis Johnson, Frank Carlucci, George H.W. Bush, Lawrence Eagleburger, Cyrus Vance, David Newsom, Lee Hamilton, Thomas Pickering, George Shultz, Richard Parker, Richard Lugar, Morton Abramowitz, Joan Clark, Tom Boyatt, Sam Nunn, Bruce Laingen, Rozanne Ridgway, William Lacy Swing, George Landau and Charles Stuart ‘Stu’ Kennedy.

AFSA invites friends and colleagues of Ambassador Harrop to attend the AFSA Awards Ceremony on June 9 at 4:00 p.m. in the Benjamin Franklin Room at the Department of State. There we will celebrate Ambassador Harrop’s incredible generosity, fortitude and devotion to the goal of making the achievements of the Foreign Service known to the American public.

#

 We’d like to note that Ambassador Harrop has extended his remarkable generosity to this blog. He is  one of 375 individuals who generously supported the GFM campaign to help keep us online this year.   Our  heartfelt felicitations!

AFSA Election Gets Weird But Why You Still Need to Rock The Vote

Posted: 11:36 am EDT
Updated: 8:43 pm EDT
Updated: May 8, 10:57 am PST

 

This is part 1 of a series of posts we hope to do during this election cycle.  The 2015-2017 AFSA Governing Board elections are currently underway.  The AFSA Governing Board Election Campaign Messages were sent out on April 14.  AFSA’s election page says that the ballots and candidate statements were mailed on April 15, 2015. The ballots will be counted on June 4.  AFSA members (numbering over 16,000) have over six weeks just four weeks now to cast their ballots.

Below is a breakdown of AFSA members by constituency (dark blue) against total FS numbers (red). The dark blue shade in the pie charts constitute AFSA members.  The light blue are the members of the FS who are not union members. So for example, there are 13,984 active FS (State) personnel of which 10,664 are voting members of AFSA. If we add all the top numbers in dark blue, the numbers would total 16,207 AFSA members against the FS population of 32,012. A significant number of retirees are non-members of AFSA.

via AFSA 2014 Annual Report

via AFSA 2014 Annual Report (click image to see larger view)

 

So we went and looked at AFSA’s ballots page three days ago and we saw the following notice which left us scratching our head. AFSA members are notoriously hard to round up when it comes to casting their ballots. If there is already low turnout when paper ballots are mailed, how much lower can it potentially get if you leave it to members to request their ballots?  So we sent AFSA’s election committee an email asking if members, as the “click here to get your ballot” sign indicates, had to request their ballots before they get sent one.

Screen Shot 2015-05-03 at 3.41.40 PM

May 3, 2015 3:41 PM (click for larger view)

 

On May 6th, we heard back from AFSA:

The information you may have received is incorrect so I am happy to help clarify. Members do not have to request a ballot in order to participate. Online voting instructions were mailed to all voting members of AFSA for whom we have a valid email address on Wednesday, April 15, 2015. Retirees were mailed a printed ballot in addition to the online voting instructions and may select the most convenient voting method. Members may request a replacement ballot by “clicking here” on the AFSA website. In order to vote members needed to be members in good-standing by March 16th.

In 2012, AFSA membership approved the bylaw referendum to allow for introduction of “online ballots” and we amended our bylaws correspondingly. AFSA moved to a hybrid (both paper and online voting) Governing Board election in 2013 to increase voter turnout, which in the event was the result. In 2015, the Committee on Elections decided to mail all retirees printed ballots, in addition to the online voting option, in order to increase the effort of encouraging voter participation. AFSA does not have email addresses for all retirees, as some of our retired members simply do not have email addresses. All members, who have not yet voted, receive periodic reminders to cast their ballots. The AFSA Committee on Elections and the current AFSA Governing Board are committed to increasing voter participation.

For additional information on the 2015-2017 AFSA Governing Board and Bylaw Amendment elections, please visit the AFSA elections page.

So two things from this response:

1) Active Foreign Service members were not mailed printed ballots but only provided online voting instructions. “Online voting instructions were mailed to all voting members of AFSA for whom we have a valid email address on Wednesday, April 15, 2015″

2) Retired Foreign Service members were mailed both printed ballots and instructions for online voting: “Retirees were mailed a printed ballot in addition to the online voting instructions and may select the most convenient voting method.”

Bonus point:  AFSA’s click here to get your ballot” notice has now been updated to say “when requesting a replacement electronic or printed ballot.”

“The information you may have received is incorrect …” does not cut it when there is a screen capture of what was actually posted online.  AFSA makes no claim that the notice was inadvertently done or a mistake, it simply changed it quietly and did not respond to our follow-up questions on this specific subject.

UPDATE: AFSA sent us a confirmation on #1 and #2 above and added this:

The AFSA staff added the word “replacement” to the website on Monday or Tuesday to reduce any confusion on behalf of visitors to the site who wonder, as you did, if they could vote. There was no change to the email address provided, only an attempt to clarify the voting eligibility. Those that contact the Committee on Elections at election@afsa.org are carefully vetted to ensure they were members in good standing by March 16th as indicated in the elections webpage)… 

Screen Shot 2015-05-06 at 8.15.51 PM

May 6, 2015 8:15 PM (click for larger view)

AFSA also said that “In 2015, the Committee on Elections decided to mail all retirees printed ballots, in addition to the online voting option, in order to increase the effort of encouraging voter participation.”

Hookay, Let’s Talk Voter Turnout

In 2009, AFSA had 13,905 dues-paying members and 23.91% of the membership voted.  Here’s a recap from our blogpost on the 2009 AFSA election:

Active-duty State employees are the largest voting bloc in AFSA at 63.3% of the total membership. In this election, State employees account for 1,459 of the total votes or 43% of the votes counted. However, 1,459 votes out of approximately 8,801 due-paying members amount to only 16.57% of this constituency. In short – only slightly more than 15% of active-duty State AFSA members sent in their votes.

Retirees are the second largest constituents of AFSA at 26.4% of the total membership. In this election, AFSA retirees account for 1,568 of the total votes or 47% of the votes counted. However, 1,568 retiree votes out of approximately 3,670 dues-paying retiree members amount to 42% of this constituency. In short – almost half the total AFSA retiree members sent in their votes.

Also read this: AFSA: Why Some Game Changers Are Needed Sooner Not Later

In the 2011 election,  the AFSA website indicates dues-paying members of over 15,000.   Only about 17% of the members voted in that 2011 DOL-OLMS-supervised election.  

In 2013 about 22% of AFSA members cast their ballots. Most candidates ran unopposed. The top two candidates for State Vice President were separated by a mere 97 votes.

We’ve asked AFSA for election stats in the last four AFSA elections: 2007, 2009, 2011, 2013 but we have not heard anything back. We only have the breakdown of the election turnouts by constituency in the 2009 election. Retired SFSO David Jones who did an autopsy of the 2009 election did write that the turn out for the 2007 election was 20%.

So the 2009 election had the highest turn out in the last four AFSA elections.  In that contested election, 16.57% of active duty FS members voted while 42% of retired FS members voted.

UPDATE:  With regards to the election stats, AFSA told us, “We do not publish election statistics on the AFSA website, nor do we provide that information to anonymous sources.” 

Whoopsie!  Hey, quit laughing over there. This is rather laughable. Because … why not? What legitimate reason is there for the election statistics not to be public record? Shouldn’t AFSA membership learn what kind of turnouts they have every election? Wouldn’t drilling down the numbers help with voter engagement?  Maybe we should sign-up again for membership just so we can ask for it?

You Go, Rock the Vote!

Unless the voting trend had significantly changed in the 2011 and 2013 elections, retired FS members actually vote in larger numbers than active duty FS members. Since AFSA wants to improve voter participation, wouldn’t it make more sense to give active FS members both paper and electronic voting options  just like retired members? Afterall, over 80% of active FS members do not vote in these elections.

Mr. Jones wrote of the retiree voting bloc: “AFSA remains a bifurcated organization.  It is hardly a harbinger for effective action as an exclusive bargaining agent when Retirees vote more heavily than active duty personnel.  That some of our “best and brightest” are so indifferent says more about AFSA than about the FS community.”

This is not to say that retirees should not have a voice in the direction of the organization or that AFSA should not seek to improve voter participation.

Yes, we sound like a broken record but  —  the active members of the Foreign Service, as the largest voting bloc and as the folks who have been repeatedly deployed to warzones, hardship/unaccompanied and dangerous assignments in the last decade, and who will continue to deploy to increasingly challenging assignments in the years ahead — they need to have their voices heard in a stronger collective voice.  And – they won’t have their voices heard unless the active Foreign Service members, participate in greater number in the process of picking their own representatives.

So we are urging active FS members who read this blog to not just vote, but vote and commit to improving voter participation this election cycle.  Fill out and mail your ballot, then reach out to two colleagues to remind them to fill out and cast their ballots.

What these elections show is that even if only 22% of the membership cast their ballots every two years, AFSA still operates as the professional association and recognized labor union of 100% of its Foreign Service members. In essence, the priorities of 1/5 of its membership, the minority who actually votes, becomes the priorities for all, including the majority who doesn’t.

Next:  A Most Polite Campaign, and The Questions  Not Asked  … or something like that.

#

Related posts:

AFSA Governing Board Election Town Hall at FSI, March 30 2015 (Video)

Posted: 2:23  pm EDT

 

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.

#

AFSA Election: Statements of Candidates — Well, Is This Gonna Be Interesting or What?

Posted: 2:19 am EDT

 

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

Oh, yes, somebody also please ask what the crap is going on with the Senate (See SFRC Bullies Diplomats Up For Promotion to Self-Certify They Have Not Been Convicted of Any Crime).

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?

 

#

Note: Mr. Silverman and Mr. Harris have both contributed to the third-party run GFM fundraising for this blog earlier this year.

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

Posted: 12:45 pm EDT

 

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

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

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

How?


All Diplomats Must Hold and Keep Top Secret Clearances

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

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

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

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

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

 

8,042 Diplomats Targeted

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

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

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

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

What makes career diplomats special, pray tell?


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

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

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

No, there were no photos.

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

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

 

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

This is spectacular and unprecedented.

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


Why roll over and play dead?

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

So —

Self_certification

click image for larger view

 

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

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

It doesn’t.

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

That’s right, going back decades.

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

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

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

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

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

 #

374 Foreign Service Promotions Confirmed as Senate Rushed Out For Easter Break

Posted: 2:17 am EDT

 

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.

2015-03-27 PN69 Foreign Service

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:

Joyce A. Barr

Robert F. Godec Jr.

Patricia M. Haslach

Paul Wayne Jones

Scot Alan Marciel

Nancy E. McEldowney

 

2015-03-27 PN70 Foreign Service/USAID

Nominations beginning Karen L. Freeman, and ending Monica Stein-Olson, which 5 nominations were received by the Senate and appeared in the Congressional Record on January 13, 2015.

2015-03-27 PN71-1 Foreign Service

Nominations beginning Jeffrey N. Bakken, and ending Ellen Marie Zehr, which 37 nominations were received by the Senate and appeared in the Congressional Record on January 13, 2015.

2015-03-27 PN72-1 Foreign Service

Nominations beginning Gregory Adams, and ending Todd R. Ziccarelli, which 177 nominations were received by the Senate and appeared in the Congressional Record on January 13, 2015.

2015-03-27 PN230-1 Foreign Service

Nominations beginning Alexious Butler, and ending Naida Zecevic Bean, which 143 nominations were received by the Senate and appeared in the Congressional Record on February 26, 2015.

2015-03-27 PN231 Foreign Service

Nominations beginning Adam Michael Branson, and ending Marc C. Gilkey, which 6 nominations were received by the Senate and appeared in the Congressional Record on February 26, 2015.

#

Related posts:

 

Only 1 in 6 Employees Believe State Dept Senior Leadership Understands FS Work/Life Challenges

Posted: 3:01  am EDT

 

Via afsa.org:

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.

Screen Shot 2015-03-24

Screen Shot 2015-03-24 at 9.59.40 AM

 

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.

#

AFSA Announces Candidates for 2015-2017 Governing Board

Posted: 2:59 am EDT
Updated: 9:49 am PDT

 

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.

 

2015 Candidates

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

President (1)

Matthew K. Asada (** Future Forward AFSA slate)
Tex Harris
Barbara Stephenson (*Strong Diplomacy slate)

Secretary (1)

Bill Haugh *

Treasurer (1)

Charles A. Ford *

State VP (1)

Angie Bryan *
Kit Junge

USAID VP (1)

Sharon Wayne

FCS VP (1)

Steve Morrison

Retiree VP (1)

Tom Boyatt
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)

Jeff Cochrane
Lorraine Sherman

FCS Representative (1)

William Kutson

Retiree Representative (4)

Patricia Butenis *
Dean Haas *
Alphonse F. La Porta *
John Limbert

* 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 member@afsa.org.

IMPORTANT:
If you do not receive your ballot by May 6, 2015, please contact election@afsa.org and provide your full name, work location, current address, and telephone number.

 #

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

Posted: 1:01  am EDT

 

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

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

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

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

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

Screen Shot 2015-03-18

Foreign Affairs Manual

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

If it comes from the podium, it is official.

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

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

#