Tag Archives: State Department

Who killed King Joffrey? And what about the State Dept’s “missing” $6 billion?

– Domani Spero

We recently posted about that $6 Billion Alert. What Does The Spox Say? Goring-ding-ding-ding … “Grossly Inaccurate” But …. On April 3, WaPo went with State Department inspector general issues alert over $6 billion in contracting money.  On April 4, TheBlaze.com reported that The State Department Has Lost Track of More Than $6Billion. On April 4, Washington Free Beacon has State Department Misplaced $6B Under Hillary Clinton. On April 6, Fox News (blog) screamed $6 Billion Went Missing From Hillary Clinton’s State Department …. Also on April 6, the Examiner.com - ‎reported State Department $6 billion missing: ‘Creates conditions conducive to fraud’.  On April 8, ABC News (blog) added a twist with Blackwater Named in State Department Probe, Spent $$ on Pricey  On April 9, AllGov has State Dept. Can’t Locate Files for $6 Billion Worth of Contracts. Russia’s RIA Navosti found itself an expert and ran with $6 Bln Vanished from US State Department Due to Corruption – Expert.

Finally ….

 

 

On April 13, ten days after WaPo first reported the $6 billion contracts and just when we could not stop talking about ‘The Lion And The Rose’ episode of ‘Game Of Thrones‘, State/OIG’s Steve Linick wrote to the editors of WaPo “about the State Department’s “missing” $6 billion:

WaPo, Sunday, April 13

The April 3 news article “State Department’s IG issues rare alert” reported on the management alert issued recently by my office. In the alert, we identified State Department contracts with a total value of more than $6 billion in which contract files were incomplete or could not be located. The Post stated, “The State Department’s inspector general has warned the department that $6 billion in contracting money over the past six years cannot be properly accounted for . . . . ”

Some have concluded based on this that $6 billion is missing. The alert, however, did not draw that conclusion. Instead, it found that the failure to adequately maintain contract files — documents necessary to ensure the full accounting of U.S. tax dollars — “creates significant financial risk and demonstrates a lack of internal control over the Department’s contract actions.”

Steve Linick, Washington

The writer is inspector general for the U.S. Department of State and Broadcasting Board of Governors.

 

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The Odd Story of “Vetting/Scrubbing” the Tenure/Promotion of 1,800 Foreign Service Employees in the U.S. Senate

– Domani Spero

We recently blogged about the hold on the commission, tenure and promotion of 1,705 career Foreign Service employees at the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. (See Is the U.S. Senate Gonna Wreck, Wreck, Wreck, the Upcoming Bidding Season in the Foreign Service?).

We wondered then if this was one more  unintended consequence from the Senate’s “nuclear” option.

Here’s what we were told by AFSA:

“FYI – this has nothing to do with the nuclear option – its strictly about State’s vetting process.”

AFSA then sent us a link of its April 1 notice to its membership: Ask the Senate to Support Foreign Service Employees!

After reading that, we were struck by the following line:

“We urge the SFRC to address issues regarding vetting of names for criminal background checks collaboratively. Simultaneously we ask the SFRC to grant these men and women the commissioning, tenure and promotions for which they’ve been recommended.”

Huh?

We asked AFSA again — what sort of vetting are we talking about here? All these nominees pending on the SFRC have Top Secret clearances and have been vetted by Diplomatic Security.

We got the following response:

“There are some differences in what the State Department does and what DoD does both in substance and information provided to oversight committees. […] it does NOT have to do with DS vetting and TS clearances.  There may be some periods of time and activity that are not being captured by current vetting process and I think State is amenable to working with committee to resolve.”

We did the underline there.  We don’t know what the heck that means!

So nothing to do with the nuclear option.

Nothing to do with Diplomatic Security vetting.

And nothing to do with TS clearances.

Wow!

What a strange mess! Anybody know what this is really all about?

Again from your elected AFSA official:

“Both the State Department and DoD vet/scrub the lists with internal and external agencies before they send the list to the Senate and its respective committees – SFRC, SASC.  This vetting/scrub is what is being discussed.”

Arghhh! Arff! Arff!

AFSA’s letter to the SFRC Chairman Bob Menendez and Ranking Member Bob Corker does not explain how this mess started in December 2013 but provides some details on the groups impacted by the Senate hold:

Now 1800 FS Employees Stuck at the SFRC

“[W]e are writing to convey our deep concerns about the impact that the delayed confirmations of tenure and promotions for career Foreign Service employees is having on U.S. diplomatic operations and U.S. national interests. When we raised this matter back in December 2013, nearly 1,300 individuals were affected by the holds. As of this time, there are approximately 1,800 members of the Foreign Service from four foreign affairs agencies (Department of State, USAID, Foreign Agricultural Service, and Foreign Commercial Service) who await Senate confirmation of appointment, tenure, or promotion.”

200 FS Employees Waiting to Officially Join the SFS

“Of these, over 200 employees of all four agencies are awaiting confirmation of their promotions into or within the Senior Foreign Service. These members are affected financially in two distinct ways. First, the pay increases earned as a result of their promotions cannot be paid until attestation by the president, nor can the promotions be back-dated so as to overcome this loss of remuneration. Second, unless the promotions are confirmed and attested before April 15, 2014, they are not eligible to be reviewed for, or to receive, performance pay. In addition, uncertainty besets the onward assignments of these 200 members. Failure to confirm these officers as members of the Senior Foreign Service affects the ability of consulates, embassies and USAID missions to conduct the business of the United States overseas.”

Over 900 Waiting for FSO Commissions

“Over 900 of the remaining officers are awaiting commissioning as Foreign Service officers and secretaries in the diplomatic service, almost half of whom have been waiting close to a year. Several of them are approaching the limit of their 5-year Limited Career Appointments. If that expires without their being commissioned, they are supposed to leave the Foreign Service in accordance with Section 309 of the Foreign Service Act of 1980 (22 USC §3949.) Moreover, as untenured officers, they are ineligible to receive some pay differentials for positions, which they currently encumber. Overall, this is having a severe effect on their morale and their eligibility for onward assignments. Unfortunately, this prolonged wait and uncertainty is coloring their impressions of public service at the beginning of their careers.”

Over 600 FSOs Without Consular Commissions

“Finally, over 600 new Foreign Service officers, just starting their Limited Career Appointments, have not yet received commissions as consular officers. Without a Consular Commission, these entry-level officers are technically not authorized to adjudicate visas and perform other consular work. In addition, the possession of a Consular Commission is generally a prerequisite to the granting by a host nation of all necessary diplomatic privileges and immunities under the Vienna Convention.”

 

So, when we read this, our immediate reaction was where is the State Department leadership in all this? We know that Secretary Kerry and his top officials are often traveling but  there’s a whole lot of ranking officials in Foggy Bottom who could interface with the leadership and staff of the SFRC. Where is the Under Secretary for Management? Where is the Deputy Secretary for Management and Resources?

But see – what we heard from insiders is that the State Department reportedly said: “AFSA had the lead on fixing this.” 

Well, that’s terribly odd, isn’t it?

Secretary Kerry was at the SFRC on April 8, and made passing mention of the nominations, but we sorta think he’s talking about the top ranking nominees.  We don’t even know if he’s aware that 1,800 of his employees are stuck in the committee:

“I also want to thank everybody on the committee for working so hard to move the nominations, which obviously is critical. I think our – it’s not the fault of the committee, but with a combination of vetting process and public process and so forth and the combination of the slowdown on the floor of the Senate, I think we’re averaging something like 220-some days and some people at 300 days and some over 365 days. So I have literally only in the last month gotten my top team in place one year in, and I’m very grateful to the committee.”

The Secretary did not specifically mention that  Ambassador Carlos Pascual who was nominated to be Assistant Secretary of State for Energy Resources on February 17, 2012 has been stuck in committee with Super Glue for 760 days.

Secretary Kerry also did not specifically mentioned the blanket senate hold during the April 8 hearing that affects about 10% of his agency’s workforce. And really — what do you do with 600 consular officers without their Consular Commissions? Have they been adjudicating visas without their Consular Commissions, and if so, what kind of immunity and diplomatic privileges are afforded these officials overseas?

But wait, like on teevee — there’s more!

We are now also hearing disturbing allegations that the genesis of this mess started long before December 2013, even going back to 2012.

It is alleged that this all started with one name on the promotion list. The original initiator (who apparently is not/not a stranger to AFSA and the State Department) allegedly brought a specific name on the promotion list to the attention of a Senate staffer. It is alleged that the action was taken using personal connections cultivated in the Senate. The key question at that time allegedly revolved around the security clearance of one — one specific individual and resulted in the removal of  this individual’s name from the promotion list.

Now, why would anyone do that?

If we could hire Veronica Mars, she’d definitely bug this  Mr. Initiator guy then we’d have the full story.

It is further alleged that  subsequent to the removal of that one name from the promotion list, the same SFRC staffer also identified several other FSOs who were subjects of “investigations” at some point in their careers. In most cases, these investigations reportedly were in the medium to distant past (as much as 10 or 15 years ago). Our source, clearly frustrated says that the fact that these investigations occurred in the past has not deterred the senator’s office pursuit of these FSOs.

This year’s senate hold reportedly started with an assertion by one senator’s office that the military vets people better than State does, and that the State Department list is “riddled with people” whose actions had been questioned “by OIG and others.”  We don’t know who consists of “others.” Our source familiar with this matter but speaking on background said that one senator reportedly vowed “not to approve any FS name until the matter was resolved.” The same SFRC staffer allegedly involved in the initial promotion list snafu works for this one senator. Senior State Department officials have reportedly demonstrated that, unlike the military, all State employees have TS clearances which include name checks. We’re told that at the senate’s request, the SOP on vetting at the State Department now goes “further” than what is required by the military. We do not know what “further” or additional layers of vetting were added.

The following areas were supposedly contentious:

#1. The automatic exclusion of any employees with criminal convictions.
#2. The separate nomination of any employees with “problems.”

Say, wait — how many State Department employees with criminal convictions have been able to hold on to their Top Secret clearance? One, two, a hundred, five hundred?

The number is .. wait for it …. ZERO.

How many State Department employees under investigation or with criminal convictions have been able to keep their names on the promotion list? Hey, don’t they yank your name from that promotion list as soon as there is an investigation with your name on it?

Employees who previously faced investigations and have successfully prevailed/survived the investigations will now be singled out on the promotion list? Why? Should they also be required to wear  “NOT GUILTY BUT” t-shirts to work?

If these employees have been cleared of wrongdoing, why is the Senate hardballing them?

We do not know the full story about this Senate hold involving some 1,800 FS employees but AFSA and the State Department should know who were the names targeted from the promotion lists and why. And if they don’t know the why, then they should find out, of course. If a Senate staffer who has worked in Congress for years just got out of bed one day and decided he/she wants to put a hold on 1,800 names because the “vetting” and “scrubbing” of names have been unsatisfactory all this time — we should all ask why.

Because.  Motive, motive, motive.

Let’s start at the very beginning… oh, where is Sherlock when you need him?

If  the allegation is true, that this whole merry go round mess was initiated by one Foreign Service insider and got out of hand … now then, you’ve got a mess, Houston. One FS person was initially targeted by another FS person using contacts in the Senate. That’s pretty personal.

It looks like you’ve got a petty little beaver who never left hight  high school …

And he’s representing the United States of America.

On Friday, April 11, AFSA released this: Senate Confirms Tenure and Promotion!

 

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State Dept’s Selfie Diplomacy: #UnitedForUkraine; Now Waiting For Selfie From the Russian Bear …

– Domani Spero

In the last 48 hours, we’ve been seeing a bunch of selfies from the State Department with the hashtag #UnitedForUkraine.  The NYPost writes:

State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki was mocked Thursday after posting a photo of herself on Twitter holding a sign that read #United­For­Ukraine @State­Dept­Spox.
[...]
Psaki defended her photo.

“The people of Ukraine are fighting to have their voices heard and the benefit of communicating over social media is it sends a direct message to the people that we are with them, we support their fight, their voice and their future,” she said.

Now stop picking on Ms. Psaki, she’s not alone on this and at least she’s no longer using the hashtag #RussiaIsolated. The UK is set to start buying gas directly from Russia this fall despite threats  of  further sanctions against Moscow over the crisis in Ukraine.

In any case, here is the Selfie Collection, a work in progress:

UnitedforUkraine_Psaki

Jen Psaki, State Department Spokesperson

unitedofrukraine_stengel

Under Secretary for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs Richard Stengel, and Ms. Psaki’s boss’s boss

Selfie Missing:  Assistant Secretary for Public Affairs Douglas Frantz, Ms. Psaki’s boss.

unitedofrukraine_evanryan

Assistant Secretary for Educational and Cultural Affairs Evan Ryan

UFU_maconphillips

Coordinator for International Information Programs Macon Phillips

Selfie Missing: Coordinator for the Center for Strategic Counterterrorism Communications Alberto Fernandez

Unitedofrukraine_michellekwan

Michelle Kwan, State Department Senior Advisor

UFU_embassykyiv

Embassy Selfie:  Ambassador Pyatt with US Embassy Kyiv staff

 

Then our man in London, Ambassador Matthew Barzun ruined the fun and raised the bar with a Winfield House selfie via Vine:

 

Now we just need a selfie from the Russian bear.

Oops, wait … what’s this?  The Russian bear, missing a hashtag…

 

Google'd Putin riding a bear

 

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GAO: State Dept Management of Security Training May Increase Risk to U.S. Personnel

– Domani Spero

The State Department has established a mandatory requirement that specified U.S. executive branch personnel under chief-of-mission authority and on assignments or short-term TDY complete the Foreign Affairs Counter Threat (FACT) security training before arrival in a high-threat environment.

Who falls under chief-of-mission authority?

Chiefs of mission are the principal officers in charge of U.S. diplomatic missions and certain U.S. offices abroad that the Secretary of State designates as diplomatic in nature. Usually, the U.S. ambassador to a foreign country is the chief of mission in that country. According to the law, the chief of mission’s authority encompasses all employees of U.S. executive branch agencies, excluding personnel under the command of a U.S. area military commander and Voice of America correspondents on official assignment (22 U.S.C. § 3927). According to the President’s letter of instruction to chiefs of mission, members of the staff of an international organization are also excluded from chief
-of-mission authority. The President’s letter of instruction further states that the chief of mission’s security responsibility extends to all government personnel on official duty abroad other than those under the protection of a U.S. area military commander or on the staff of an international organization.

The Government Accountability Office (GAO) recently released its report which examines (1) State and USAID personnel’s compliance with the FACT training requirement and (2) State’s and USAID’s oversight of their personnel’s compliance. GAO also reviewed agencies’ policy guidance; analyzed State and USAID personnel data from March 2013 and training data for 2008 through 2013; reviewed agency documents; and interviewed agency officials in Washington, D.C., and at various overseas locations.

High Threat Countries: 9 to 18

The June 2013 State memorandum identifying the nine additional countries noted that personnel deploying to three additional countries will also be required to complete FACT training but are reportedly exempt from the requirement until further notice. State Diplomatic Security officials informed the GAO that these countries were granted temporary exceptions based on the estimated student training capacity at the facility where FACT training is currently conducted. We know from the report that the number of countries that now requires FACT training increased from 9 to 18, but they are not identified in the GAO report.

“Lower Priority” Security Training for Eligible Family Members

One section of the report notes that according to State officials, of the 22 noncompliant individuals in one country, 18 were State personnel’s employed eligible family members who were required to take the training; State officials explained that these individuals were not aware of the requirement at the time. The officials noted that enrollment of family members in the course is given lower priority than enrollment of direct-hire U.S. government employees but that space is typically available.

Typically, family members shipped to high-threat posts are those who have found employment at post. So they are not just there accompanying their employed spouses for the fun of it, they’re at post to perform the specific jobs they’re hired for. Why the State Department continue to give them “lower priority” in security training is perplexing. You know, the family members employed at post will be riding exactly the same boat the direct-hire government employees will be riding in.

Working Group Reviews

This report includes the State Department’s response to the GAO. A working group under “M” reportedly is mandated to “discover where improvements can be made in notification, enrollment and tracking regarding FACT training.” The group is also “reviewing the conditions under which eligible family members can and should be required to complete FACT training as well as the requirements related to personnel on temporary duty assignment.”

Excerpt below from the public version of a February 2014 report:

Using data from multiple sources, GAO determined that 675 of 708 Department of State (State) personnel and all 143 U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) personnel on assignments longer than 6 months (assigned personnel) in the designated high-threat countries on March 31, 2013, were in compliance with the Foreign Affairs Counter Threat (FACT) training requirement. GAO found that the remaining 33 State assigned personnel on such assignments had not complied with the mandatory requirement. For State and USAID personnel on temporary duty of 6 months or less (short-term TDY personnel), GAO was unable to assess compliance because of gaps in State’s data. State does not systematically maintain data on the universe of U.S. personnel on short-term TDY status to designated high-threat countries who were required to complete FACT training. This is because State lacks a mechanism for identifying those who are subject to the training requirement. These data gaps prevent State or an independent reviewer from assessing compliance with the FACT training requirement among short-term TDY personnel. According to Standards for Internal Control in the Federal Government , program managers need operating information to determine whether they are meeting compliance requirements.

State’s guidance and management oversight of personnel’s compliance with the FACT training requirement have weaknesses that limit State’s ability to ensure that personnel are prepared for service in designated high-threat countries. These weaknesses include the following:

  • State’s policy and guidance related to FACT training—including its Foreign Affairs Manual , eCountry Clearance instructions for short-term TDY personnel, and guidance on the required frequency of FACT training—are outdated, inconsistent, or unclear. For example, although State informed other agencies of June 2013 policy changes to the FACT training requirement, State had not yet updated its Foreign Affairs Manual to reflect those changes as of January 2014. The changes included an increase in the number of high-threat countries requiring FACT training from 9 to 18.
  • State and USAID do not consistently verify that U.S. personnel complete FACT training before arriving in designated high-threat countries. For example, State does not verify compliance for 4 of the 9 countries for which it required FACT training before June 2013.
  • State does not monitor or evaluate overall levels of compliance with the FACT training requirement.
  • State’s Foreign Affairs Manual notes that it is the responsibility of employees to ensure their own compliance with the FACT training requirement. However, the manual and Standards for Internal Control in the Federal Government also note that management is responsible for putting in place adequate controls to help ensure that agency directives are carried out.

The GAO notes that the gaps in State oversight may increase the risk that personnel assigned to high-threat countries do not complete FACT training, potentially placing their own and others’ safety in jeopardy.

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State Dept Releases Part of FOIA’ed Ambo Credentials — Showing Soon Online? Mm-hmm.

– Domani Spero

On March 7, the State Department released the “certificates of demonstrated competence” requested by AFSA on July 29, 2013. The fulfilled request did not include the second FOIA request filed on February 28, 2014.  The DPB extract below also has brief FOIA data for FY2013, which we did not have when we blogged about this case yesterday (State Dept on Ambo Nominees’ “Certificates of Documented Competency” — Working On It.

Two sources confirmed to us that AFSA has these documents and is reviewing them. These “certificates” or “reports” are typically a page long, as previously described in our post here (AFSA Threatens to Sue State Department Over Ambassadors Credentials, Again).  It is our understanding that these docs released today are just bio data and are not confidential.  We’ll have to wait and see whether AFSA would share these “certificates” with their members, and the public by posting them as a subsection of the ambassadors page on its website.

Via DPB, March 7, 2014:

QUESTION: Do you have any update on whether you’ve given the certificates of demonstrated competence to the AFSA representatives?

MS. PSAKI: I do. We have – as I mentioned yesterday, there were two different FOIA requests. So we have fulfilled the requests meeting the July FOIA. That was from – requested from January – January 1st, 2013 to the present time, meaning to when it was – when the process of looking at it began, which means it’s through November. So that is a request we’ve met. The February request is separate. We just received it last week. As I said yesterday, and as is the case in any FOIA, we’re working to process that.

QUESTION: Now, when you say fulfilled, does that mean that you agreed and handed over those certificates –

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: – unredacted?

MS. PSAKI: I don’t have any details on that, but just to – and I know somebody asked this question yesterday, but it’s an important note here because I looked into this. These documents that they’re asking for are about a page or two pages long.

QUESTION: Right.

MS. PSAKI: They are certainly not reflective of the qualifications or even that extensive of a background or any – of any of the individuals.

QUESTION: Right, which kind of begs the question as to why it took so – if they’re only a page or two long, why it takes so long to go – anyway. But –

MS. PSAKI: Well, they only –

QUESTION: – when was –

MS. PSAKI: To answer another one of your questions, Matt –

QUESTION: Okay.

MS. PSAKI: – because I aim to please here –

QUESTION: Uh-huh, yeah.

MS. PSAKI: – the request was not made informally or through any other channels –

QUESTION: Before?

MS. PSAKI: – but through the FOIA. Correct, through the FOIA process.

QUESTION: Would they – oh, I suppose this is a hypothetical question, but would – does it – are – could they have gotten it through an informal request? Or do you – would you have demanded that they go through the FOIA route to get them?

MS. PSAKI: I can’t answer that question. I mean, it’s impossible to answer.

QUESTION: Right. And then –

MS. PSAKI: But we do try to provide information –

QUESTION: Okay.

MS. PSAKI: – and work closely with AFSA.

QUESTION: And when was it fulfilled as – the way –

MS. PSAKI: I’d have to double check on that. I believe it was this morning, but let me double check on that and make sure that’s true.

QUESTION: It was this morning. So you missed their deadline. You were hoping for a little leeway, kind of like the Israelis and the Palestinians.

MS. PSAKI: I’ll check and make sure, Matt. Well, they certainly know when we met it or didn’t meet it, right?

QUESTION: Well, right. I know. Okay.

MS. PSAKI: It’s not a secret to them.

QUESTION: So we need to ask them if they’re satisfied with –

MS. PSAKI: And I can check – well, I can check too when – if it was last night or this morning.

QUESTION: How many tickets – how many tickets were there?

MS. PSAKI: I don’t have any numbers for you. It was any that were applicable in that timeframe.

QUESTION: Do you have in front of you – and I know the building has put these together, but I don’t know if it’s made its way to you – the response to the question that I asked yesterday, just to get it on the record, for how long it takes on average to respond to FOIA requests for the State Department?

MS. PSAKI: I do, Arshad.

QUESTION: I am delighted. Let’s –

MS. PSAKI: Get excited, it’s a Friday.

QUESTION: Let’s put this on the record. (Laughter.) Excellent.

MS. PSAKI: Okay. In Fiscal Year 2013, the average time to process a simple request was 106 days. In the same fiscal year, the average time to process a complex request was 533 days. To show just a factual point here on efforts to improve, in Fiscal Year 2013, the Department received over 18,000 FOIA requests and processed over 21,000. So we processed more than we received, meaning we’re trying to speed up the process.

QUESTION: So – and I had one other question about that, which is that implies that there is a big backlog that you were able to – right?

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

 

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Stephanie Kinney: Wither the Foreign Service? — Wham! Read Before You Go-Go

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– Domani Spero

On its home page, the Association for Diplomatic Studies and Training shares a funny ha!ha! joke that the Foreign Service has undergone major reforms and tinkering over the past century so much that people often say that if you didn’t like the current system, just wait a few years and it would change.  One of the fascinating periods of change at the State Department occurred during the tenure of William Crocket, the Deputy Under-Secretary of State for Administration from 1963-1967. He  was responsible for bringing Chris Argyris to write a report on the Foreign Service, now only available to read at the State Department library (anyone has a digital copy?).  He did T-groups, organizational development and such.  When Mr. Crockett retired in 1967 many of the programs he started were barely alive or already buried and forgotten.  He was never credited for some that still lives on.  He felt he was an outcast from the Foreign Service and left a disillusioned man. He tried to change the service, and it wasn’t quite ready for him (see pdf of oral history).

We recently just read ADST’s oral history interview with Stephanie Kinney.  We have previously quoted her in this blog in 2009 and are familiar with her ideas for change.  Ms. Kinney is a former Senior Foreign Service Officer, one of the first “tandem couples” (i.e., both are FSOs), and winner of the Department of State’s Lifetime Achievement Award, as well as the American Foreign Service Association (AFSA) Harriman Award for her leadership role in creating the Department’s Family Liaison Office (FLO). She was interviewed by Charles Stuart Kennedy in 2010 for ADST.

Below is an excerpt from her 2010 interview.  Check out her full oral history interview here.

[T]he problem at the State Department, I believe, is its lack of institutional leadership and its lack of a single, unified and vibrant corporate cultures. Its culture is still fundamentally 20th century and divided between Foreign Service and Civil Service and the growing overlay of short-term, Schedule C [political appointees] leadership. There are people, pockets of people, working to change that, but it is an uphill battle.
[...]
The drafters of the 1980 Act did not believe in a generalist Foreign Service officer corps. Bill Backus and I argued about “generalists” versus “specialists” ad nauseam; he wanted to create a Foreign Service more like the Civil Service, of which he was a part. He and the other drafters wanted to tie the Foreign Service to the Civil Service and create an equivalency that has never existed because the two personnel systems and cultures are so different. They also created something called LCEs, Limited Career Extensions, which seriously corrupted the Senior Foreign Service through their abuse, and then created an infamous senior surplus, the cost of which was the gutting of a generation of largely 01, political officers in the mid 1990’s. [Note: An FS-01 is equivalent to a GS-15 and is the level before entering the Senior Foreign Service.]

So today what do we have at the State Department? The vast majority of our FSOs have less than five years experience. You have officers expecting to be promoted to 01 who have done only their obligatory consular tour, maybe a tour in their cone, and one or two others.

Another pattern is that many entry level officers now have to do two consular tours, then return to the Department for a desk job and then go to Iraq or Afghanistan, where they do ops with the military. They have never done the first lick of what you would call mainstream diplomacy. One wonders what the impact of this will be on the system?

Now this is not to say that what they have been doing is not a kind of diplomacy; it is and it is utterly essential to the 21st century. But their experience to date is not a kind of work that has prepared them to come back into the civilized world and maintain proper relations and perform with long standing successful states and cultures. These more established states—be they developed or “emerging” like the BRICs [Brazil, Russia, Indonesia, and China], all value tradition and diplomatic savoir faire more than we, and they far outstrip the value and importance of either Iraq or Afghanistan.
[...]
The people to whom you have referred as the high flying “staffers,” have taken no interest in their own institution, which is the base of their power and their work. It is the nature of a profession that it is involved in its own institutions. Otherwise, it is not a profession.

I could not sustain the assertion today that diplomacy is a profession at the Department of State. I think it can be. I think it should be. I am working to move it in that direction, but there is no evidence that the current culture and conditions and leadership are encouraging and helping the younger generation assume the responsibilities and take the measures needed to improve the situation….

But minus strong leadership that seeks to instill common ethics and standards and professional pride, there seems to be growing concern that what we are getting is a group of people for whom little matters beyond one’s own interests. If the Foreign Service culture is all about stepping on someone else to get to the next rung, it is not going to work. You are going to hang separately, because, in my view, that is how it has gotten us where we are.
[...]
When I came to State, there was no such thing as a Schedule C Assistant Secretary. Jimmy Carter took eight FSOs—well they were almost all FSOs under the age of 38 who had resigned over Vietnam, such as Dick Holbrook and Tony Lake—and he made them Assistant Secretaries. They were known as the Baby Eight. So when Ronald Reagan came in he said, “Oh, I will pocket those eight, and I also want a DAS in every bureau,” and so the Deputy Assistant Secretaries became politicized. Today it goes down to the Office Director level. (Note: see this graphic – pdf)
[...]
The politicization, along with Secretaries of State who also have no sense of responsibility for or interest in the Department as an institution, continues to sap the  institution of vitality. That in my view is one of the primary reasons that the institution has fallen on such hard times.

What’s remarkable is that Mr. Crockett in his oral history interview (pdf) conducted in 1990 said practically the  same thing:

“The absence of Secretarial interest in the operations of the Department and many of its functions is often pointed out as one of State’s major deficiencies. Most Secretaries, when faced with the choice of being part of the policy development process or managers of a Cabinet Department, opt for the first to the detriment, I believe, of the second. I am sure it is far more attractive to run around the world like Shultz did–involved in diplomatic activities–that staying at home managing a fairly large organization–certainly a complex one. State is unique among Cabinet Departments in that regard because a Secretary can get by without paying much attention to the management of his Department.”

What’s that they say about change — the more things change, the more they stay the same?

In related news, Secretary Kerry is on travel, this time to Seoul, Beijing, Jakarta, and Abu Dhabi, from February 13-18, 2014. On his first year as Secretary of State, he was on travel 152 days, to 39 countries, travelling 327,124 miles.  If he keep at this, he will break Secretary Clinton’s travel record.  He may also go down in the history books as the Secretary of State who was almost never home.

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Embassy Row’s Dirty Little Secret: Abuse of Migrant Domestic Workers by Diplomats

– Domani Spero

The logic behind a restrictive interpretation of functional immunity is that while a diplomat may be protected from some distractions to aid his purpose, there ought to be no need for him to violate the laws of his host state to do so. As many legal scholars have pointed out, a diplomats behaviour in his host country is best described by the Arabic proverb, يا غريب خليك أديب (ya ghareeb, khalleek adeeb) – O stranger, be thou courteous. – Jaideep Prabhu 

Back when ….

In 2007, the Department of State reported that some foreign diplomats may be abusing the household workers they brought to the United States on A-3 or G-5 visas.  A subsequent Government Accountability Office (GAO) report the following year revealed that 42 household workers with A-3 or G-5 visas alleged that they were abused by foreign diplomats with immunity from 2000 through 2008. The GAO believes the total number of alleged incidents since 2000 is likely higher for four reasons: household workers’ fear of contacting law enforcement, nongovernmental organizations’ protection of victim confidentiality, limited information on some cases handled by the U.S. government, and federal agencies’ challenges identifying cases.

Via GAO 2008

Via GAO 2008

Each year, the State Department issues A-3 and G-5 visas to individuals whose employers are foreign diplomats on official purposes in the United States. Most of these individuals are hired to work for foreign diplomats in the District of Columbia, Maryland, New York, or Virginia. According to the 2008 GAO report, for fiscal years 2000 through 2007, 207 U.S. embassies and consular posts overseas issued 10,386 A-3 visas and 7,522 G-5 visas.

Recent State Department statistics indicate that from 2008 through 2012, it issued 5,330 A-3 visas to attendant, servant, or personal employee of A1 visa holders (ambassador, public minister, career diplomat, consul, and immediate family) and A2 visa holders (other foreign government official or employee, and immediate family).  It also issued 4,196 G-5 visas to attendant, servant, or personal employee of G1 through G4 (international organization officials and representatives).  That’s about a 50% decrease on A-3 visas and a 44% decrease in G5 visas issued since 2008. What might have accounted for that huge drop?

How about the William Wilberforce Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act of 2008?  Click here for the laws on trafficking in persons dating back to the year 2000.

In any case — five years ago today, President George W. Bush signed the TVPRA to combat human trafficking. Section 203 of the Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act of 2008 requires the secretary of state to suspend  the issuance of A–3 visas or G–5 visas to applicants seeking to work for officials of a diplomatic mission or an international organization, if the Secretary determines that there is credible evidence that 1 or more employees of such mission or international organization have abused or exploited 1 or more nonimmigrants holding an A–3 visa or a G–5 visa, and that the diplomatic mission or international organization tolerated such actions.

No secretary of state has ever exercise the authority to suspend any diplomatic mission despite some repeat offenders. For a look at what the State Department has done/not done when it comes to TVPA and domestic employees of foreign diplomats in the United States, read Janie A. Chuang’s critical paper on Achieving Accountability for Migrant Domestic Worker Abuse in the 2010 North Carolina Law Review.  One of the sections talks about the State Department’s “Failure to Use Power to Name, Shame, and Deter Wrongdoers.”

Chief of Mission Accountability

In 2008, the State Department through USUN sent this note verbale on the Treatment of Domestic Workers at UN Missions.

Recently, the host country has learned of a number of allegations of trafficking in persons with respect to domestic workers, including allegations of involuntary servitude and physical abuse. For example, this Mission has periodically been informed of instances where wages actually paid are less than those stipulated in an employment contract; where passports have been withheld from employees; where the actual number of working hours is considerably greater than those initially contemplated and no additional pay is provided; and where an employee is forbidden from leaving an employer’s premises even when off-duty. The United States Mission takes seriously any such allegation brought to its attention and refers these cases, as appropriate, to the United States Department of Justice for review and investigation.  
[...]
The United States Mission also wishes to advise the Permanent Missions that its commitment to fair and reasonable labor conditions is consistent with its commitment to human rights and, further, comports with the practice of other governments and with the requirements imposed by international organizations on their employees who have foreign domestic workers.  Although the United States recognizes that the great majority of diplomats and Mission personnel are law-abiding members of the United Nations community, it is necessary to periodically re-circulate and update information regarding United States laws, regulations and policies regarding the employment of personal domestic servants.
In fact, if you take a look at this archive of diplomatic notes, it is clear that the treatment of domestic employees, their contracts, prevailing wage, pre-notification requirements are recurring subjects.

In a 2009 diplomatic note, the State Department puts the heads of missions on notice that they are generally accountable for the treatment of domestic workers employed by their mission. We presume that this is a recurring reminder that the State Department sends to all diplomatic missions in the United States:

The United States Mission looks to the Permanent Representatives to be responsible for the conduct of the members of their missions and for ensuring that their treatment of domestic workers in their employ evidences respect for all relevant United States laws. In this regard, it is  recommended that the Permanent Mission maintain copies of the signed domestic worker contracts and be able to review such contracts, as well as records of payments made to each domestic worker, in the event that the United States Mission seeks assistance if faced with credible allegations of a mission member’s mistreatment of a domestic worker.

The United States Mission and/or the Department of State refer credible allegations of abuse of domestic workers by mission members which may constitute criminal conduct to the United States Department of Justice. In that context, the United States Mission and the Department of State may take other appropriate action, including, based on the determination by an appropriate prosecuting authority that prosecution is warranted, a request for a waiver of any applicable immunity. Mission members are not only expected to pay the greater of the minimum or prevailing wage and abide by other contract terms, but they should also be aware that in the United States, withholding a person’s passport maybe evidence of the crime of trafficking in persons if it is done with the intent of keeping that person in a state of forced labor or service.

In the Trafficking in Persons Report 2010, the State Department notes the following:
Worldwide, domestic workers employed by diplomats suffer abuses ranging from wage exploitation to trafficking offenses. Diplomats are government officials who serve their governments abroad and are generally able to apply for visas enabling domestic workers – often from third countries – to accompany them on their foreign assignments.
Because domestic servants working for diplomats work behind closed doors – cleaning, cooking, and caring for children – they can become invisible to the neighborhoods and communities they live in. Domestic workers brought into a country by diplomats face potentially greater isolation than other workers because of language and cultural barriers, ignorance of the law, and sheer distance from family and friends. They work for government officials who may appear to them to hold exceptional power and/or influence. The resulting invisibility and isolation of such workers raises concerns about the potential for diplomatic employers to ignore the terms of their employment contracts and to restrict their domestic workers’ freedom of movement and subject them to various abuses. Because diplomats generally enjoy immunity from civil and criminal jurisdiction while on assignment, legal recourse and remedies available to domestic workers in their employ – and the criminal response otherwise available to the host government – are often significantly limited.
And in March 2012, during the Annual Meeting of the President’s Interagency Task Force To Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons, then Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said this:

“We thought it was unfair for diplomats who victimized their own domestic workers were, because of diplomatic immunity, virtually untouchable. So now, we’re making sure that diplomats coming to this country understand their obligations and responsibilities, and we’re taking action when we have evidence that they are not.”

No one paid attention then,  but they’re paying attention now.

In the latest diplomatic row between the United States and India, the Times of India provided an unconfirmed timeline of the events.   It indicates that the State Department reportedly wrote to the Indian ambassador in Washington, D.C. on September 4, 2013 expressing “considerable concern” over the allegations.  On September 21, the Indian Embassy reportedly replied, “that this was none of US’ business and that the maid was seeking a monetary settlement and US visa, whereby subverting both Indian and US laws.”

If that timeline is accurate, one has to ask who miscalculated whose response?

 

“This is happening 10 miles from the White House”

- Martina Vandenberg, Human Trafficking Pro Bono Legal Center

Despite the many notable cases of abuse by diplomats ranging from non-payment of wages to sexual assaults, we do not see very often an arrest of a foreign diplomat or international representative in the United States. But following the arrest of  IMF’s Dominique Strauss-Kahn in 2011, Reuters did report the following:

Foreign diplomats have been the subject of at least 11 civil lawsuits and one criminal prosecution related to abuse of domestic workers in the last five years, according to a Reuters review of U.S. federal court records. The allegations range from slave-like work conditions to rape, and the vast majority of the diplomats in these cases avoided prison terms and financial penalties.

We have not been able to locate all civil lawsuits but the cases below are just a sampling of abuse allegations by domestic employees against their foreign diplomat-employers in the United States in the last several years.

Tae Sook PARK v. Bong Kil SHIN (South Korean Consulate/San Francisco) | Tae Sook Park, a domestic servant sued Deputy Consul General Bong Kil Shin of the Korean Consulate in San Francisco.  The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals reversed a district court decision dismissing Park’s claims of labor law violations. It held that the deputy consul was not entitled to immunity under the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations or the U.S. Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act, and remanded the case back to district court. He later became ambassador.

Swarna v. Al-Awadi (Kuwait Embassy)|  Swarna Vishranthamma took to court her former employers, Badar Al-Awadi and his wife, Halal Muhammad Al-Shaitan and the State of Kuwait in 2009.  At the time of the events in question, Mr. Al-Awadi was a diplomat serving in New York City with the Permanent Mission of the State of Kuwait to the United Nations. According to WaPo,  Kuwaiti government hired a prominent law firm to defend him in the civil case — in court filings, he has denied the allegations — and then later promoted him to be Kuwait’s ambassador to Cuba.

Mildrate Yancho Nchang (Cameroon Embassy) | According to WaPo,  Nchang filed a case against her employers alleging she toiled for three years without pay or a day off and then was hospitalized after being beaten by a Cameroonian diplomat’s wife. She sued in federal court in Maryland, but the case was dismissed in 2006 when the diplomat asserted immunity.

Mazengo v. Mzengi, et.al. (Tanzania Embassy)| In 2007, Ms. Mazengo, a citizen of Tanzania, sued her former employers, defendants Alan S. Mzengi and Stella Mzengi, husband and wife, alleging that they falsely imprisoned her and subjected her to involuntary servitude and forced labor in violation of federal law. Alan S. Mzengi was a diplomat accredited to the embassy of the Republic of Tanzania.  WikiLeaks Alert: See the State-USEmbassy Tanzania demarche on the outstanding restitution for TIP victim, Ms. Zipora Mazengo.

Regina Leo (Kuwaiti Embassy) | In July, 2008, a lawsuit was filed against an attache in the Embassy of Kuwait, Brig. Gen. Ahmed Al Naser, and his family, by their former maid, Regina Leo, an Indian immigrant who alleged that she was forced to work as much as 18 hours per day.

Marichu Suarez Baoana (Philippine Embassy) | According to WaPo, in 2009, Ms. Baoana, a Philippine national sued the Permanent Representative of the Philippines to the United Nations, Lauro L. Baja Jr. alleging she was forced to endure 126-hour workweeks with no pay, performing household chores and caring for the couple’s grandchild.

Daedema Ramos (Kuwait Embassy) | In 2010, the Filipina housekeeper left a Kuwaiti diplomat’s Manhattan duplex where she worked 20 hours a day, earning as little s $500 a month. With help from Damayan, a grassroots organization fighting for the rights of low-wage Filipino migrant workers she escape her employer, and was encouraged to fight back. In July 2012, the diplomat settled with her after she demanded unpaid wages.

Sophia Kiwanuka (World Bank) | According to Reuters, World Bank economist, Anne Margreth Bakilana, hired a Tanzanian woman, Sophia Kiwanuka, to work in her home in Falls Church, Virginia, and improperly withheld Kiwanuka’s wages and threatened to send her back to Tanzania, according to court records. She pleaded guilty in 2010 and was sentenced to two years probation and fined $9,400.

Bhardwaj v. Dayal et al (Indian Embassy) |  In 2011, Indian national Santosh Bhardwaj filed a lawsuit against Indian Consul General Prabhu Dayal for allegedly intimidating her into a year of forced labor, where she was subjected to 105-hour workweeks for $300 per month. According to Indian Express, in December 2012, the Indian Ministry of Finance approved payment of $75,000 from the budget of Ministry of External Affairs to a “former domestic assistant” who had filed a lawsuit against India’s consul-general in New York, Prabhu Dayal. Click here to read an interview with Mr. Dayal in India Today concerning his case and the Khobragade case.

Araceli Montuya (Lebanon Embassy ) | She filed a lawsuit against  her former employer, the Lebanese Ambassador Antoine Chedid. On April 2011, U.S. District Judge James Boasberg in Washington threw out a case in which Montuya alleged that Chedid and his wife underpaid and verbally abused her.

Four former cooks and housekeepers (Qatar Embassy) |  According to Reuters, on March 2011, four former cooks and housekeepers for Essa Mohammed Al Manai, Qatar’s second-highest ranking diplomat in the United States filed a civil lawsuit alleging they were paid less than 70 cents per hour and “forced to work around the clock” at Al Manai’s six-bedroom home in Bethesda, Maryland. The suit also claimed that one of the women was sexually assaulted. More here.

F.V. (The Taipei Economic and Cultural Office) |  In 2011, Hsien-Hsien “Jacqueline” Liu, 64, of Taiwan, high-ranking representative of Taiwan was charged in federal court with fraud in foreign labor contracting for fraudulently obtaining a Filipino servant for her residence. Liu paid the Filipino worker $400-450 per month, although the employment contract stipulated a salary of $1,240 per month. Liu allegedly required the victim to work six days a week, 16 to 18 hours a day, and forbid her to leave the house without permission. (See Taiwanese Official in Kansas Charged for “Fraudulently Obtaining a Filipino Servant”).  Liu was arrested by the FBI on Nov. 10, 2011 and was detained for two months before entering a plea agreement. She eventually entered a plea agreement and was ordered to pay US$80,044 in restitution to the two maids. According to the Taipei Times, in 2012, Liu was suspended from her duties for two years for “seriously damaging the country’s reputation.”

Gurung v. Mahotra (Indian Embassy) | In 2012, a New York City Magistrate Judge  ordered Neena Malhotra, an Indian diplomat and her husband Jogesh to pay nearly $1.5 million reportedly arising from their employment of an Indian girl, Shanti Gurung who alleged “barbaric treatment” while she was employed as their domestic worker.

C.V. (Mauritius Embassy) | According to The Record, in 2012, Somuth Soborun, the Republic of Mauritius’ ambassador to the US pleaded guilty to the misdemeanor offense in September, admitting that he failed to properly pay a domestic worker minimum hourly and overtime wages between December 2008 and August 2009. He was fined $5,000.  As part of his plea agreement, Soborun has already paid $24,153 in restitution to the domestic worker, who was identified in court papers only by the initials C.V.

Kumari Sabbithi, Joaquina Quadros and Tina Fernandes (Kuwaiti Embassy) | In 2012, the ACLU represented three Indian women who were employed as domestic workers by Major Waleed Al Saleh and his wife Maysaa Al Omar of McLean, Virginia.  The complaint alleged that they were brought to the U.S. in the summer of 2005 and that they were forced to work every day from 6:30 a.m. until sometimes as late as 1:30 a.m. for approximately $250 to $350 a month. The complaint further alleged that they were subjected to threats and verbal and physical abuse, including one incident in which Al Saleh threw one of the women, Sabbithi, against a kitchen table, knocking her unconscious. The Kuwaiti government agreed to settle the case brought by three women who claimed that they were trafficked to the United States by a Kuwaiti diplomat and his wife.

USA v. Devyani Khobragade |  In December 2013, the Indian Deputy Consul General Arrested For Visa Fraud and False Statements Related to Domestic Worker

The  reported abuse of migrant domestic workers by diplomats and the staff of international organizations typically include wages and hour violations, passport deprivation, denial of the workers’ right to leave the house or premises in which they work, physical, sexual and emotional abuse and invasion of privacy, where domestic workers often have their rooms searched, their mail opened, and are not allowed to make private phone calls.  For additional reading, see  Joy M. Zarembka’s Global Woman: Nannies, Maids, and Sex Workers in the New Economy,which details the plight of some of the domestic workers brought to the U.S. by employees of international organizations.

Maid in Manhattan Case: U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara, the Man Who Makes Embassy Row Tremble

We suspect that nowhere is the  Khobragade Affair watched more closely than in the United Nations in New York and in the Embassy Row (the informal name for the streets and area of Washington, D.C. in which embassies, diplomatic missions, and other diplomatic representations are concentrated).  Besides India, that is.  To avoid possible “misunderstanding,” the State Department has recommended that diplomats keep employment records of their domestic workers including work hours and payment, records that should be maintained for the duration of actual employment of domestic employees plus three years.  Would be interesting to see how many diplomatic missions in the United States actually take this recommendation seriously.

In an interview with India Today published on December 23, the former Indian Consul General Prabhu Dayal who was taken to court by his former housekeeper in New York said that “in our consulates in the US, there is a lot of fear today.”

“India’s view has been that the domestic assistants of our diplomats hold Official Passports and should be outside the purview of US labour laws. The US side has not agreed to this, insisting that US laws apply to them. This impasse continues.[...] even if were were to revamp our system relating to domestic assistants, we will not be able to guarantee that our officials in our Consulates will not be arrested or dragged into law courts for some  reason or another in future. The US is a highly litigious country where suing people is a sort of favourite past time. [...] There is no doubt, however that our officers posted at the Consulate in New York have begun to feel very insecure after all these recent cases, and the same may also be true for the other Consulates in Chicago, San Francisco, Houston and Atlanta. How will India protect its diplomats posted to the Consulates given the US position on immunity?”

But perhaps the more telling parts during this incident is the on the record statement made by a senior Indian official quoted by the Times of India below:
“Which Indian would pay a help Rs 6500 ($ 100) a day?” asked Shakti Sinha, a former principal secretary in the government of India who did various stints abroad, including at the World Bank and various UN agencies, assuming eight normal working hours.

FirstPost.com reports  on India’s former foreign secretary Kanwal Sibal’s opinion on this matter, quoting the former official as saying:

“There is much chicanery involved here. Indian diplomats taking domestic staff to the US accept the minimum wage requirement when all concerned, including the US visa services and the State Department, know this is done pro-forma to have the paper work in order. To imagine that the US authorities are duped into believing that our diplomats will pay their domestic staff more than what they earn is absurd. The US authorities have been clearing such visas for years to practically resolve the contradiction between reality and the letter of the law.”

And that’s probably why “there is a lot of fear today.”

Apparently, according to NYT, there are 14 other Indian maids working for Indian diplomats in the United States, and “India is negotiating over their status with the State Department.”  If a Deputy Consul General could be hauled to jail for underpaying her domestic employee, who could Preet Bharara go after next?

Dirty Laundry Gets Washed

The State Department’s TIP 2012 report says that “U.S. government employees, their dependents, and members of their households do not have immunity in the U.S. domestic legal framework for acts of human trafficking associated with domestic staff occurring at overseas postings. Any such reports will be fully investigated by Diplomatic Security and/or the Office of the Inspector General and, where appropriate, may result in either an administrative penalty and/or referral to the Department of Justice for criminal prosecution. These measures apply to Department of State employees overseas as well as their dependents and other members of household.”

It’s not an accident that the above item was included in the report.  The State Department had two recent cases of domestic worker abuse.

Harold and Kimberly Countryman | In 2006, Harold Countryman, a former Department of State agent, and his wife, Kimberly Countryman, a realtor in northern Virginia, pleaded guilty to aiding and abetting visa fraud.  According to the plea agreement, Kimberly Countryman admitted to using the fraudulent visa to further the forced labor of a Cambodian woman in their employ. According to court documents, the couple provided materially false information to the Department of State to obtain a visa on behalf of a Cambodian woman, who they then brought to the United States to work for them as a domestic servant for two years. In the plea agreement, Kimberly Countryman admitted that she procured the visa with reason to believe that the visa would be used to commit a felony, namely forced labor. As a result, Kimberly Countryman is subject to an increase in her sentence. Kimberly Countryman acknowledged that she withheld a portion of the woman’s pay, took possession of the woman’s passport, and physically assaulted the woman.  As part of the plea agreement, the Countrymans were required to pay $50,000 in restitution and $50,000 in forfeiture.

Linda  and Russell Howard |  In 2011, Jane Doe, an Ethiopian national in her 30s filed a lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia against a State Department employee Linda Howard and her husband, Russell Howard, alleging involuntary servitude, forced labor and human trafficking in violation of the Trafficking Victims Protection Act of 2000 (TVPA).  She alleged that she was forced to work more than 80 hours a week for less than a dollar an hour; the exact amount was $0.88 an hour; the minimum hourly wage at the time of Jane Doe’s employment was $6.55 an hour.  Court awarded a default judgment to Jane Doe for total damages of $3,306,468.  Linda and Russell Howard had reportedly left the United States. See Court Awards $3.3 Million Default Judgment Against State Dept Couple Accused of Slavery and Rape of Housekeeper.

The Signal Plus the Noise, the Diplomatic Edition

The suspension of a high-ranking Taiwanese official for two years for “seriously damaging the country’s reputation” is the only case we are aware of in recent memory where an official was disciplined by the sending country in the aftermath of U.S. federal charges related to the treatment of a domestic worker.  In most cases, it looks like the official in question, protected by the sending state, gets moved elsewhere,  or even gets a promotion with no career repercussion. Clearly underpayment or mistreatment of a domestic employee is not considered a serious offense by a good number of diplomatic missions.

While diplomats continue to dodge cases like this behind diplomatic immunity, and as long as governments stand behind their diplomats when they commit infractions like this, the practice will continue. As the German Institute of Human Right points out: “...[E]mployers’ diplomatic immunity in prac­tice overrules the human rights of the victim and leads to a situation of de facto-unaccountability and –impu­nity for exploitative employers.”

In this India-U.S. row, we note that the outrage is focused on the circumstances of the diplomat’s arrest. And that is understandable. But it is also important to note that while the focus of the  outrage is the strip-search, few are talking about the alleged treatment of the domestic worker.  Unless, of course, we’re talking about the former Khobragade maid as a CIA agent.

In early December, Preet Bharara, the United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York also charged 49 Russian Diplomats/Spouses With Picking Uncle Sam’s Pocket in Medicaid Scam. Most of the diplomats charged are no longer in the country. And of the defendants still  here, most are attached to the UN Mission and presumably enjoy diplomatic immunity. If the U.S. may not be able to put anyone in jail nor be able to recoup the thousands of dollars in scammed Medicaid money, why charged them?  We suspect that the charges were brought to put a stop to the scam.  Basically a megaphone saying — we know what you’re doing, shame on you, now stop it.

As complicated as the Khobragade case may seem, it will be resolved eventually. A $90 billion bilateral trade partnership is at stake. Who would throw that partnership over the cliff for a mid-level official?  Or for an underpaid housemaid?  Stay tuned.  Perhaps the more interesting take on this incident is by Alison Frankel who writes, “For all we know, the State Department intended to send a message to the international diplomatic corps, which is often accused of cloaking itself in diplomatic immunity to avoid claims of mistreating domestic staff.”

Do we have an aha moment here?

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Dear Future D/MR Heather Higginbottom — Your Third Priority Up Close With Prospective Savings

– Domani Spero

We would guess from the kind of email we get that a good number of our readers are not newbies or prospective employees of the State Department.  But every now and then, we’d hear from folks interested in joining the Foreign Service.  Recently, we heard from a prospective employee informing us that there are 600 individuals currently waiting on the State Department “Register.”

“Some have even lost their jobs after having Diplomatic Security show up to interview their supervisors and coworkers, only to be timed off the register for lack of hiring.”

Of course, being on the Register does not guarantee that you will be given a firm offer of employment.  But it means that 600 people have taken and passed the Foreign Service Officer Test (FSOT), have submitted their Personal Narratives, have passed the QEP and taken the Oral Assessment, have completed the required clearances: Medical and Security, have gone through the  Final Review Panel and are waiting on The Register, the rank-ordered list of successful candidates, sorted by career track.

Here is careers.state.gov:

“You should be aware that your placement on the Register does not guarantee an appointment as a Foreign Service Officer, for the number of appointments depends on the needs of the Foreign Service. Your rank-order on the Register is dynamic. People with higher scores will be placed above you regardless of when they are placed on the Register. Likewise, you will be placed above candidates with lower scores, regardless of how long they have been on the Register. Your name may stay in the Register for a maximum of 18 months. After that, your name will be removed. You may decline the first offer of employment. If you decline a second offer, your name will be removed from the Register. “

Screen Shot 2013-12-08

But … but… the State Department makes no mention that invitation to join the Foreign Service not only depends on the “needs of the Foreign Service” it also depends on funding from Congress.

Below is an extract from FY2014 State and Foreign Operations Budget Request:

The Administration’s FY2014 request seeks to grow its Human Resources account (under Diplomatic & Consular Programs) by 5% over its FY2012 level, to a total of $2.60 billion. While the Administration’s FY2014 request indicates that it plans 186 new positions at the Department of State altogether, 151 of these would be funded by consular fees and devoted to meeting increasing visa demand. The remaining 35 new positions (30 Foreign Service, 5 Civil Service) for which State seeks appropriated funding would be focused on the high priorities of the “rebalance” to Asia, and to staffing the Secretary’s Office of the Coordinator for Cyber Issues. As a point of comparison, the State Department requested appropriated funding for 121 new positions in its FY2013 request, and for 133 in its FY2012 request.

It is not clear from the justification above if the 186 new positions are FSOs or Limited Career Appointees (LNAs) tasked to handle visa work in selected places around the globe (Brazil, China, Mexico).  But what is clear is given the budget constraints, officials at the State Department know that their authority to hire new employees is severely restricted.

And yet, the FSOT continue to be administered multiple times a year.  Interviews continue to be conducted. The selection process continue to chug along as usual resulting in a glut of candidates waiting on the Register.  A good number of these individuals will most probably time out after 18 months.

So we asked a former State Department official who previously worked at BEX if this makes sense.  And got a royal scolding. Like, “what planet are you living in, girl?” Apparently, it’s what they do “free from reality” according to our source.

“It means little if there are 10 or 10,000 on the register. Also, all those people in HR and DS have to be kept busy, so they march on.”

That’s a little harsh, right?

But look,  if 600 people are sitting on the Register, that’s 600 candidates ready to hire.  Which also means the State Department had already paid for the medical examination of these individuals.  In addition, it had already conducted “a comprehensive background investigation, in cooperation with other federal, state, and local agencies, and has determined each candidate’s suitability for appointment to the Foreign Service and for a Top Secret security clearance.”

According to the GAO, the fiscal year 2012 base price for a top secret clearance investigation conducted by OPM is $4,005 and the periodic reinvestigation is $2,711.  For the State Department, the Bureau of Diplomatic Security’s Office of Personnel Security and Suitability, conducts all national agency and credit history checks in support of their investigations. Diplomatic Security investigators located worldwide also conduct all other investigative leads, which includes local law enforcement checks. While there is no readily available data on the TS clearance adjudications for State, it has been suggested elsewhere that the the average cost to process a TS clearance is between $3,000 and about $15,000, depending upon individual factors.

If we take the lower figure, $6,700 X 600 = $4,020,000.

If we take the upper figure, $15,000 X = $9,000,000.

The actual cost of processing the TS clearance for 600 candidates sitting on the Register is probably somewhere in the middle.  Add the medical clearance cost for the candidates and family members and you got quite a pile of money there.

If we only hire a third from that pool of candidates, how much money have we wasted?

President Obama recently announced the nomination of Heather Higginbottom, the new Counselor in the Office of the Secretary of State to be the third Deputy Secretary of State for Management and Resources. During her November confirmation hearing, Ms. Higginbottom told the Senate that her third priority, if confirmed, will be management, reform, and innovation.

Well, here’s one place to start.

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DS Agent Charged With “Notoriously Disgraceful Conduct” Gets Three Days Suspension

– Domani Spero

Remember back in 2010 when HeraldNet reported that a federal agent was arrested for assault in the Snohomish County of Washington State? Quick recap:

“The man was arrested June 17 for investigation of second-degree assault. Deputies seized 15 guns from the home, including his duty weapon, according to a police affidavit filed in Everett District Court.

He told investigators that he is an agent with the U.S. Department of State in Seattle. His wife told authorities that he is a diplomatic security officer.”

See DS Agent Arrested After Wife Reports Assault.

The agent’s name was never publicly released.

But — there is a grievance case (names redacted, of course) that is identical in details and timing to the reported case.  A Motion to Exclude order by the Foreign Service Grievance Board (FSGB) on the grievance filed by an unnamed FS-03 Diplomatic Security (DS) Special Agent provides details about a 2010 disciplinary case for “notoriously disgraceful conduct.”  While we cannot say with certainty that this is the exact same case, the 2010 news report made mention that the  “woman complained of blurred vision and head pain” while the 2010 FSGB case mentions that the “Grievant’s wife complained of blurred vision and head pain.”The news report and the grievance case both notes that the incident happened on June 17, 2010 and that the wife was taken to a hospital (location not unidentified in the grievance records).

Below are details extracted from the redacted FSGB 2012-045  ROI dated June 30, 2010, publicly available via FSGB.gov

Grievant is a married DS Special Agent with two children, aged approximately [REDACTED]. On June 17, 2010, while he was assigned to the Diplomatic Security Field Office, grievant was involved in a violent altercation with his wife in his home while his children were at home.

Grievant’s wife called the police who, after interviewing both adults, arrested grievant and charged him with assault in the fourth degree. In a statement provided to the Sheriff’s Office immediately following the incident, grievant reported that he and his wife had had an argument over the contents of messages on his government issued cell phone. Grievant reported that his wife grabbed his phone and when he grabbed it back, she slapped him in the face. Grievant claimed that he stood up from a seated position on the bed in the master bedroom and stretched out his arm to prevent his wife from striking him again, which resulted in her falling backwards and hitting her head on the floor.

Immediately following the incident, grievant’s wife provided a sworn statement to the law enforcement responders in which she claimed that after she slapped grievant, he picked her up and “body slammed” her to the floor, then grabbed her head striking it against the floor four to five times. Grievant’s wife complained of blurred vision and head pain and was taken to the hospital. A CT scan of her head was taken that revealed a palm-sized “subarachnoid hemorrhage within the inter-hemispheric fissure and right cingulated sulcus,” which was described as a bleeding within the brain. Notes on her medical record indicated, “[H]ead slammed into floor repeatedly.” Grievant’s wife was transferred to a second hospital for further examination and evaluation by a neurologist. The neurologist ordered her hospitalized overnight for observation and assessed her condition as “traumatic subarachnoid hemorrhage.”

In a follow up visit on June 19, the Sheriff’s Office took photographs of grievant’s wife, noting two bruises on the left side of her face, near her eye and cheek, that were approximately the size of a quarter. She then sought another CT scan to determine if her cheekbone was broken, but it was not.

As a result of the altercation with his wife, grievant was placed on limited duty status and was restricted from using his government-issued firearm and DS credentials. Grievant’s security clearance was suspended from September 10, 2010 until April 17, 2012. Reports of the incident appeared on a local television news program and three internet sites. In these media reports, grievant was identified as a DS Agent with the Department of State in [REDACTED]. The articles described the altercation and one mentioned the injuries sustained by grievant’s wife.

According to the Record of Proceeding (ROP), the grievant entered into an Order of Continuance of the assault charge that deferred all court proceedings arising from his arrest for twelve months on December 14, 2010.  On May 4, 2011, after grievant fully complied with the terms and conditions of the continuance order, the case against him was dismissed.

On December 19, 2011, the Director of Employee Relations proposed to suspend grievant for five days without pay and place a letter of suspension in his official performance file for two years or until review by two promotion boards. Grievant appealed this decision and on March 4, 2012, the Department upheld the charge of Notoriously Disgraceful Conduct, but reduced the suspension to three days.

The case is available on pdf file here.

Here is what 3 FAM 4139.14 says about Notoriously Disgraceful Conduct: “that conduct which, were it to become widely known, would embarrass, discredit, or subject to opprobrium the perpetrator, the Foreign Service, and the United States. Examples of such conduct include but are not limited to the frequenting of prostitutes, engaging in public or promiscuous sexual relations, spousal abuse, neglect or abuse of children, manufacturing or distributing pornography, entering into debts the employee could not pay, or making use of one’s position or immunity to profit or to provide favor to another (see also 5 CFR 2635) or to create the impression of gaining or giving improper favor.”

It looks like the judgment of “notoriously disgraceful conduct” does not even require that one be publicly identified, just that the potential that the incident be widely known exist (note specific mention of media reports, one tv program and three Internet sites).

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State Dept refused to name its SGEs because of reasons #1, #2, #3, #4 and … oh right, the Privacy Act of 1974

– Domani Spero

Last week, ProPublica posted this: Who Are State Dept’s 100 “Special Government Employees”? It Won’t Say.  We blogged about it here: Who Are State Dept’s 100 “Special Government Employees”? Dunno But Is Non-Disclosure For Public Good? Today, the Project On Government Oversight (POGO) has more on the subject. And after months of giving one reason or another to the reporters pursuing this case, the State Department is down to its Captain America shield  – the Privacy Act of 1974.

Below excerpted from POGO: State Dept. Won’t Name Advisers Already in Government’s Public Database:

They’ve all been selected to advise the State Department on foreign policy issues. Their names are listed on the State Department’s website.

So why won’t the Department disclose that these individuals are special government employees (SGEs)?

For four months, State has refused to name its SGEs, ProPublica reported last week, leaving the public to guess which outside experts are advising the Department on matters that affect the public’s interest.

Yet, the Project On Government Oversight was able to find more than 100 of the advisers identified as SGEs in an online government database. In other words, some of the information that State has been refusing to provide is hiding in plain sight.
[...]
State has refused to identify any of its special employees, even though most agencies contacted by ProPublica were easily able to provide a list of their SGEs.

First, a State spokeswoman told ProPublica her agency “does not disclose employee information of this nature.”

When ProPublica filed a request seeking the list of names under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), it was told the agency doesn’t keep such a list, and State’s FOIA office refused to track down the information because it would require “extensive research.”

In September, ProPublica told State it planned to report that the Department was refusing to provide a list of names. In response, State said the FOIA request “was being reopened” and that the records would be provided “in a few weeks,” according to ProPublica.

“The State Department has since pushed back the delivery date three times and still hasn’t provided any list,” ProPublica reported last week. “It has been four months since we filed the original request.”

On Friday, a State official told The Washington Post that the Department is “diligently working to resolve” the FOIA request. The official cited concerns about “maintaining employee protections of privacy.”

State’s posture over the past several months is at odds with POGO’s finding: why can’t the Department give the press the same information it already supplied to a public database?

“Disclosure of certain employee information is subject to the Privacy Act of 1974,” Alec Gerlach, a State spokesperson, told POGO. “That some information may already be publicly available does not absolve the Department of Privacy Act requirements. Whether someone is an SGE is Privacy Act-protected information that we would not release except through the FOIA process.”

However, one of the authors of ProPublica’s story questioned why State hasn’t turned over the requested records. “I think anytime a government agency won’t reveal information, it raises questions about why they aren’t,” Liz Day, ProPublica’s Director of Research, told POGO.

Holy mother of god of distraught spoxes!  Okay, please, try not to laugh. It is disturbing to watch this type of contortion, and it seems to be coming regularly these days from Foggy Bottom.

Seriously.  If this is about the Privacy Act of 1974, why wasn’t ProPublica told of this restriction four months ago? And does that mean that all other agencies who released their SGE names were in violation of the Privacy Act of 1974?

Also, State/OIG was told that “The number of special government employee filers was given as 100.”  A State Department spokeswoman told ProPublica that there are “about 100” such employees.  But what do you know?  The Project On Government Oversight was able to find more than 100 of the advisers (excel download file) identified as SGEs in an online government database. Are there more? How many more?

The list does not include the more famous SGEs of the State Department previously identified in news report.

New message from Mission Command:  “Good morning, Mr. Hunt (or whoever is available). Your mission, should you choose to accept it, involves the retrieval of very Special Government Employee (SGE) names. There are more than a hundred names but no one knows how many more.  They are padlocked in the Privacy Act of 1974 vault, guarded by a monstrous fire-breathing creature from Asia Minor. PA1974 vault location is currently in Foggy Bottom.  As always, should you or any member of your team be caught or killed, everybody with a badge will disavow all knowledge of your actions. This message will self-destruct in five seconds.  If not, well, find a match and burn.”

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Filed under Huh? News, Leaks|Controversies, People, Privacy, ProPublica, Public Service, Questions, State Department