Front Office: Exhibit A for Poor Behavior and Bad Management

NDS had this piece up last week If Something Looks Wrong, It Invariably Is. A good must read, especially if you are a consular officer.  One of the anonymous comments from that post said:  “The real problem is the fact that the State Department does not want to enforce its own rules. If you don’t believe me, please go to and look at grievance case 2004-061, from Sana’a, Yemen. This one should have been resolved in the grievant’s favor at the agency level instead of having been appealed to the FSGB.”

We have always been a curious cat; it’s a surprise we still have all our appendages together.  In any case, we went digging up the case from the FSGB or the Foreign Service Grievance Board.  And ta-da – you can read the PDF file of this case here (original word document converted to PDF for accessibility).  Of course, like all cases in the FSGB website, this one is also scrubbed of post names, dates, or the names of the individuals involved (except in one page, where we have a first name as a clue).
The FSGB document made mention that the Grievant was Chief of the Consular Section at the American Embassy in {Host City}, {Host Country} during the bombing of the {Terrorist Event} and the 9/11 terrorist attacks in the U.S.”  The immediate terrorist event prior to 9/11 was the bombing of USS Cole at the port of Aden, in Yemen in 2000.  It also cited the US attack on Afghanistan on October 8 (2001) when “core staff stayed in the Embassy 24 hours a day for 3 days.”  Further, it mentions Mildred Patterson “[O]n February 9, grievant’s Career Development Officer informed her that Mildred Patterson (Director, CA/EX) was willing to call the DCM or Ambassador to discuss the leave situation, since grievant was now talking about curtailing over the DCM’s micro-management, perceived harassment, and the annual leave controversy.” Are these good enough clues?
So– from best I could tell this case came about from an EER covering the rating period around 2000-2002. Now, the folks who are Exhibit “A” for poor behavior and bad management here are senior rank career Foreign Service officers (although I won’t be surprised if the DCM is an FS-01 on stretch assignment).  The grievant was an FS-02 Consular Officer, and the controversial Excursion Tour Civil Servant (ETCS) filled-in an FS-03 position, a four-grade stretch position. An FS-03 is equivalent to a GS-12.  This one went from what — GS-8 to like GS-12? Holy mother of goat and all her crazy nephews! How’d that happen, I wonder?
I should note that no political appointee ever served as US Ambassador to Yemen. But after reading this case — makes one think – you know, at least bad behavior from political appointees lasts no more than 4-8 years tops; career officers who are bad managers just get recycled from one post to the next. I wonder where these folks went?  Not all Front Office are like this, of course, but this one is so utterly dreadful and not just because of that Superior Honor Award.   

Record of Proceedings | FSGB No. 2004-061
Date:  June 8, 2005 | DECISION – EXCISION
Grievant, an FS-02 Consular Officer, appeals the Department of State’s denial of her grievance alleging that her April {Year} to April {Year} Employee Evaluation Report (EER) is inaccurate and falsely prejudicial, causing the Selection Board to low rank her in {Year}.  For relief she requests removal of the contested language from the EER, replacement of the low-ranking with a mid-ranking, a reconstituted Selection Board and an additional year of time-in-class (TIC).
Grievant was Chief of the Consular Section at the American Embassy in {Host City}, {Host Country} during the bombing of the {Terrorist Event} and the 9/11 terrorist attacks in the U.S.  The DCM and Ambassador were her rating and reviewing officers.  For security reasons, the Consulate was closed to the public for all but emergency citizen services for most of the rating period.  However, work continued and grievant was assisted in the Consular Section by TDY officers and local staff.  In late August {Year} an Excursion Tour Civil Servant (ETCS) arrived at post to fill an FS-03 position.  She was in a four-grade stretch position with almost no prior consular experience.  Five of the critical statements in the EER concerned grievant’s integration and management of the ETCS and designating an acting head of section.  The other two dealt with grievant’s need to be more responsive and sympathetic to services required by her colleagues.
Grievant contends that her relations with the DCM were tense because of his attempts to micromanage the Consular Section and Front Office attempts to circumvent visa referral procedures.  The situation deteriorated after arrival of the ETCS because, although she had a difficult personality, shouted at other officers, did not follow orders, etc., she had a special relationship with the Ambassador and unrestricted access to the Front Office, where she complained about grievant.  Grievant alleges that the Ambassador assisted the ETCS with aspects of her EER and directed grievant’s successor to nominate the ETCS for a Superior Honor Award, which she later received.  She asserts that though she consulted with the DCM on matters pertaining to the ETCS, she was never counseled on better integrating her into her section.  Grievant asserts that in early January {Year} she requested annual leave in late February.  Numerous times grievant discussed with the DCM naming the newly arrived Junior Officer who showed promise as acting head of section over the higher ranking, but inexperienced and unreliable ETCS, but he offered no guidance.  Later, he conditioned approval of her leave on her designating the acting head first, as well as insisting that a consular officer be on duty during part of her leave (in addition to the Embassy duty officer).
The Department solicited statements from a number of individuals present at the Embassy during the rating period, but chose to rely on and quote extensively from lengthy statements by the DCM and Ambassador in support of their EER criticisms in reaching its decision to deny the grievance.  Despite the fact that grievant’s counseling certificate was not drafted and signed by the DCM until four months after the session, the agency asserts that grievant was counseled on managing the ETCS.  It contends that even if an inappropriate relationship existed between the Ambassador and ETCS, a skilled supervisor would have been able to rise to the challenge and handle the difficult situation effectively.  It discounts grievant’s claims that it neglected to give any weight to statements from colleagues about the ETCS or grievant’s responsiveness to Country Team needs by maintaining that the statements do not support a conclusion that the relationship was not solely professional and that in a previous decision this Board found that a supervisor has a stronger vantage point from which to evaluate an employee’s performance, having knowledge of the broader picture and the impact of employee actions on the organization.
The Board determined that the grievant had carried her burden of proof.  In contrast to statements by the DCM and Ambassador, whether solicited by grievant or the Department, numerous statements in the record offered by Embassy colleagues, staff and local employees, overwhelmingly support grievant’s positions on the issues.  The Board found that the relationship between the ETCS and Ambassador made it impossible for grievant to adjust her management style to better integrate the officer into the unit.  By all accounts, grievant was an extremely hard-working, discreet, nurturing supervisor who provided guidance and training for her staff.  She was placed in an untenable position of supervising an inexperienced, temperamental employee who did not follow instructions and who was unhappy with the work and restricted security environment.  The Department has offered nothing in support of its position that a skilled supervisor would be able to successfully rise to meet the management challenge presented here.
Criticisms of grievant’s non-responsiveness to Country Team visa referral requests are equally unsupported.  Security checks and visa processing requirements changed drastically in the wake of the terrorist attacks.  Grievant could not issue visas any sooner than when authorization was received from the Department.  Once again, statements by grievant’s colleagues were specific in mentioning the lack of understanding by the Front Office in grievant’s attempts to do things right.
Likewise, the Board found criticisms for failure to more timely designate her back-up or more adequate explanations for the delay to be falsely prejudicial.  The DCM never indicated how far in advance he considered reasonable.  Grievant apparently named her back-up and the DCM approved her leave request one week in advance.  It is uncontested that there were numerous discussions on this difficult issue, yet instead of offering guidance, the DCM conditioned approval of her leave on inappropriate demands, which precipitated Department intervention.
The Board was not persuaded that grievant had been counseled on her management of the ETCS, but even were she counseled, the Board would have found the criticism falsely prejudicial because of the special relationship between the Ambassador and ETCS.  The Board held that it was patently unfair to criticize grievant for a situation the Ambassador created and which the DCM allowed to continue.
The Board found that the EER did not meet reasonable standards of completeness, balance, accuracy and documentation.  The rater and reviewer were biased against grievant to the point that they were unable to give a fair and reasonable assessment of her performance or potential.  The Department was directed to expunge the EER, nullify the low-ranking, replace it with a gap memo and mid-ranking, and extend grievant’s TIC by one year.

Related Items:
Foreign Service Grievance Board: Case 2004-061 | DECISION – EXCISION | Date:  June 8, 2005 | PDF
Foreign Service blog:  Jen and Michael Kolodner’s Yemen Stories and Pics (2001-2002)