OPM Announces Temporary Suspension of the E-QIP System For Background Investigation

Posted: 12:19 am EDT

 

On June 29, OPM announced the temporary suspension of the online system used to submit background investigation forms.  The system could be offline from 4-6 weeks.  Below via opm.gov:

WASHINGTON, D.C. – The U.S. Office of Personnel Management today announced the temporary suspension of the E-QIP system, a web-based platform used to complete and submit background investigation forms.

Director Katherine Archuleta recently ordered a comprehensive review of the security of OPM’s IT systems. During this ongoing review, OPM and its interagency partners identified a vulnerability in the e-QIP system. As a result, OPM has temporarily taken the E-QIP system offline for security enhancements. The actions OPM has taken are not the direct result of malicious activity on this network, and there is no evidence that the vulnerability in question has been exploited. Rather, OPM is taking this step proactively, as a result of its comprehensive security assessment, to ensure the ongoing security of its network.

OPM expects e-QIP could be offline for four to six weeks while these security enhancements are implemented. OPM recognizes and regrets the impact on both users and agencies and is committed to resuming this service as soon as it is safe to do so.  In the interim, OPM remains committed to working with its interagency partners on alternative approaches to address agencies’ requirements.

“The security of OPM’s networks remains my top priority as we continue the work outlined in my IT Strategic Plan, including the continuing implementation of modern security controls,” said OPM Director Archuleta. “This proactive, temporary suspension of the e-QIP system will ensure our network is as secure as possible for the sensitive data with which OPM is entrusted.”

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Meanwhile, on June 22, AFSA sent a letter to OPM Director Katherine Archuleta with the following requests:

Screen Shot 2015-06-29

via afsa.org (click for larger view)

 

On June 25, AFSA is one of the 27 federal-postal employee coalition groups who urge President Obama to “immediately appoint a task force of leading agency, defense/intelligence, and private-sector IT experts, with a short deadline, to assist in the ongoing investigation, apply more forceful measures to protect federal personnel IT systems, and assure adequate notice to the federal workforce and the American public.”  (read letter here: AFSA Letter sent in conjunction with the Federal-Postal Coalition |June 25, 2015 | pdf)

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ALL Foreign Affairs Agencies Affected By #OPMHack: DOS, USAID, FCS, FAS, BBG and APHIS

Posted: 6:15  pm  PDT

 

AFSA has now issued a notice to its membership on the OPM data breach. Below is an excerpt:

On Thursday June 4, the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) became aware of a cybersecurity incident affecting its systems and data. AFSA subsequently learned that the Personally Identifiable Information (PII) of many current and former federal employees at the foreign affairs agencies have been exposed as a result of this breach.

The most current information provided to AFSA indicates the following: Most current, former and prospective federal employees at ALL foreign affairs agencies have been affected by this breach. That includes the State Department, USAID, FCS, FAS, BBG and APHIS. OPM discovered a new breach late last week which indicates that any current, former or prospective employee for whom a background investigation has been conducted is affected.

In the coming weeks, OPM will be sending notifications to individuals whose PII was potentially compromised in this incident. The email will come from opmcio@csid.comand it will contain information regarding credit monitoring and identity theft protection services being provided to those federal employees impacted by the data breach. In the event OPM does not have an email address for the individual on file, a standard letter will be sent via the U.S. Postal Service. All the foreign affairs agencies suggest that those affected should contact the firm listed below. Members of the Foreign Commercial Service may additionally contact Commerce’s Office of Information Security at informationsecurity@doc.gov.

As a note of caution, confirm that the email you receive is, in fact, the official notification. It’s possible that malicious groups may leverage this event to launch phishing attacks.  To protect yourself, we encourage you to check the following:

  1. Make sure the sender email address is “opmcio@csid.com“.
  2. The email is sent exclusively to your work email address. No other individuals should be in the To, CC, or BCC fields.
  3. The email subject should be exactly “Important Message from the U.S. Office of Personnel Management CIO”.
  4. Do not click on the included link. Instead, record the provided PIN code, open a web browser, manually type the URL http://www.csid.com/opm into the address bar and press enter. You can then use the provided instructions to enroll using CSID’s Web portal.
  5. The email should not contain any attachments. If it does, do not open them.
  6. The email should not contain any requests for additional personal information.
  7. The official email should look like the sample screenshot below.
image via afsa.org

image via afsa.org

Additional information has been made available on the company’s website, www.csid.com/opm, and by calling toll-free 844-777-2743 (International callers: call collect 512-327-0705).

Agency-Specific Points of Contact:

If you have additional questions, contact AFSA’s constituency vice presidents and representatives:

Read the full announcement here.

Amidst this never ending round of data breaches, go ahead and read Brian Krebs’ How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Embrace the Security Freeze. The USG is not offering to pay the cost of a credit freeze but it might be worth considering.

Of course, the security freeze does not solve the problem if the intent here goes beyond stealing USG employees’ identities.   If the hackers were after the sensitive information contained in the background investigations, for use at any time in the future, not sure that a credit freeze, credit monitoring and/or ID thief protection can do anything to protect our federal employees.

Security clearance investigations, by their very nature, expose people’s darkest secrets — the things a foreign government might use to blackmail or compromise them such as drug and alcohol abuse, legal and financial troubles and romantic entanglements. (via)

I understand why the USG has to show that it is doing something to address the breach but — if a foreign government, as suspected, now has those SF-86s, how can people protect themselves from being compromised? If this is not about compromising credit, or identities of USG employees but about secrets, credit monitoring and/or ID thief protection for $20 Million will be an expensive but useless response, wouldn’t it?

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AFSA Releases Official Results of 2015-2017 AFSA Governing Board Elections

Posted: 12:07 pm EDT

 

Last week, we blogged this: AFSA Elections Unofficial Results: Barbara Stephenson’s Strong Diplomacy Slate Projected to Win. AFSA has now released the official results via afsa.org.

Strong Dip AFSA

Photo by Strong Diplomacy Slate/FB

The AFSA Committee on Elections is pleased to announce the results of the 2015-2017 AFSA Governing Board elections and Bylaw Amendment. A total of 4,034 valid ballots were received (3,011 online and 1,023 paper). The following AFSA members have been elected:

Officer Positions on the Board

President:

Barbara Stephenson * – 2,032

Matthew K. Asada ** – 1,001

Tex Harris – 861

Secretary:

Bill Haugh * – 3,359

Treasurer:

Charles A. Ford * – 3,381

State Vice President: 

Angie Bryan * – 1,442

Kit Junge – 637

USAID Vice President:

Sharon Wayne – 136

FCS Vice President:

Steve Morrison – 31

FAS President:

Mark Petry – 11

Retiree Vice President:

Tom Boyatt – 780

Charles A. Ray ** – 351

Larry Cohen – 257

Constituency Representatives of the Board

State Representatives (11 positions):

John Dinkelman * – 1,337

Lawrence Casselle * – 1,223

Philip G. Laidlaw * – 1,212

Sam Thielman * – 1,180

Leah M. Pease * – 1,169

Tricia Wingerter * – 1,165

Josh Glazeroff * – 1,158

Margaret Hawthorne * – 1,155

Erin O’Connor * – 1,128

Peter Neisuler * – 1,089

Eric Geelan * – 977

Ronnie S. Catipon – 708

Brynn C. Bennett ** – 675

Neeru Lal ** – 594

Homeyra Mokhtarzada ** – 584

Dan Spokojny ** – 570

Steve McCain ** – 559

Pat Kabra ** – 549

Joel Wisner ** – 543

Ronita Macklin ** – 442

Doug Morrow – 418

Steven M. Jones – 373

USAID Representatives (2 positions):

Jeff Cochrane – 116

Lorraine Sherman – 82

FCS Representative:

William Kutson – 31

FAS Representative:

Corey Pickelsimer – 3

APHIS Representative:

Mark C. Prescott – 3

BBG (IBB) Representative:

To be determined in accordance with the AFSA Bylaws.

Retiree Representatives (4 positions):

John Limbert – 1,147

Alphonse F. La Porta * – 1,096

Patricia Butenis * – 1,051

Dean Haas * – 1,037

* Member of the Strong Diplomacy slate
** Member of the Future Forward AFSA slate

AFSA Elections Unofficial Results: Barbara Stephenson’s Strong Diplomacy Slate Projected to Win

Posted: 9:40 pm EDT

 

The AFSA Governing Board Elections for 2015-2017 concluded on June 4. Preliminary results indicate that slightly over 4,000 votes were cast.  About a quarter of over 16,000 eligible voters turned out to vote. This is still a low turnout but higher than all the previous years since we started paying attention — 20% in 2007, 23.91% in 2009, 17% in 2011, and  22% in 2013.  Congratulations are in order to everyone who pushed the turnout to at least 25% this year!

The higher turnout is attributed to several factors  including the presence of two slates, the new electronic voting system, AFSA reminders and the name recognition of candidates.

Preliminary results project the election of Ambassador Barbara Stephenson’s entire slate. Ambassador Stephenson garnered over 5o% of the votes for president.  The remaining votes for the top spot were split with a 3% difference between Matthew Asada and Tex Harris.

The retiree representatives elected are all familiar names, John Limbert,  Alphonse F. La Porta, Patricia Butenis, and Dean Haas. It also looks like all the State representatives are new with no incumbents reelected.

We will have a follow-up post as soon as official results are released.

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Burn Bag: Dissent Awards — How low can we go?

Via Burn Bag:

 

Well, how about this:  Dissent Awards without any real dissent.  In fact, three out of four don’t have any and it’s a reach for the entry-level one! How low can we go?

via giphy.com

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.

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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.

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 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.

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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.

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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?

 

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