HRC Town Hall Meeting – One Year at State

Jan. 26, 2010 | Secretary Clinton holds a Town Hall Meeting with Department of State Employees Marking One Year at State, at the Department of State.

The Full Text is here. Lots of things said but I’m interested in what goes on inside the building.  Quick takes from the town hall.

On the Foreign Service loss:
When I spoke to family members who had lost loved ones – Victoria DeLong – and then I spoke with Andrew Wyllie – they both thanked me as Secretary for the outpouring of support that they had received from colleagues. In Victoria’s case, from people who had served with her, who knew her, who had reached out to the family, who had really demonstrated the closeness of community that exists among us. And for Andrew Wyllie, who inconceivably, unimaginably lost his wife on her birthday and his seven-and-a-half and five-year-old children, he mentioned specifically the names of those who had been working with him in these very difficult days to recover the bodies of his wife and children. And again, the sense that it was not even just a community, but a large and extended family came through in everything he said to me.
On misleading media reports and criticisms:
I have absolutely no argument with anyone lodging a legitimate criticism against our country. I think we can learn from that. And we are foolish if we keep our head in the sand and pretend that we can’t. On the other hand, I deeply resent those who attack our country, the generosity of our people, and the leadership of our President in trying to respond to historically disastrous conditions after the earthquake. So what we’re asking for is that people view us fairly.
And we sent cables to all posts. We asked our entire teams to be prepared to respond to any misleading media report. And we stood up for who we are and what we represent. And we saw the change. We’re not going to leave unanswered charges against the United States of America and the kind of work that we do every single day. That has to be, going forward, what becomes the norm, not the exception. We have a story to tell. We have an important message to deliver. And we need every single person to be part of that. So going forward, we’re going to look in a very clear-eyed way at what we do well, what we could improve on, but to make sure that the extraordinary story that the United States has to tell is presented forcefully and effectively in every corner of the world.
On jobs for family members. Nothing new here, maalesef:
Thank you. Thank you. And my second question is that employment opportunities for eligible family members overseas are an important factor in recruitment, retention, and post morale. Seventy-five percent of eligible family members have college degrees, of whom 50 percent have advanced degrees. Can you comment on the prospects for increasing eligible family member employment overseas and also address the possibility of increasing opportunities for employment through the use of teleworking?

Well, on the last one, teleworking, we are constantly exploring what more can be done. We think it has a lot of advantages. One that we have been promoting is more conferences by teleconference, SVTS, and the like. It saves money, it saves wear and tear, and it can often lead to the same or better outcome than you would get if people had to travel distances. On the teleworking side, similarly, we’re going to explore all kinds of options. I mean, technology gives us the chance to do that.
With respect to family members, again, this is an area that we are constantly reevaluating. We know that when we send someone to serve in a post overseas, the family serves, whether the family accompanies the officer or stays behind. We know that there is a family that is involved in most cases. It really depends on a case-by-case analysis and a post-by-post situational analysis. Some posts, it’s a lot easier. Some we have, as you know, reciprocal agreements with the host countries, others we don’t. So we’re working on this because we know it’s an impediment for a lot of families, but I can’t give you more than the commitment we’ve made to work through this and the fact that we are trying to push as hard as we can to provide opportunities for those who accompany the person who’s assigned.
Civil servant, Walter Bruce on Ombudsman:
This is a Foreign Service organization. We got no doubts about that. But there should be an infrastructure in place that looks out for the interests and advances of those that we consider to be civil servants. (Applause.) I just wanted a status. So, Madame Secretary, all I want to know is – and I’m sure Pat going to be able to tell me this – where we stand on it. (Laughter.) That’s all I have.
SECRETARY CLINTON: Thank you so much and thanks for your many years of service to our country, first in the military and now here. We’re going to have that ombudsman, aren’t we, Pat? (Laughter.)
UNDER SECRETARY KENNEDY: Madame Secretary, yes, the law requires that the ombudsman must be a member of the Senior Executive Service. We have no other choice; it’s written in the statute. So we are in the process in all this turnover of recruiting someone because we have to identify an SES position and recruit someone. That process is ongoing.
On Civil Servant Dorothy Burkette who wanted a Civil Service not Foreign Service supervisor:
My name is Dorothy Burkette and I’m sort of coming behind Major Bruce in the sense that I am concerned that I’ve been here 11 years and I’ve never had a good supervisor. I’ve always had – (laughter).
SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, shall we give equal time to your supervisors? (Laughter.)
QUESTION: Oh, okay. I am concerned because they’re not accountable to anyone. In fact, in the two bureaus I’ve worked in here, the particular supervisor is always supported by management all the way up to the assistant secretary. And whatever they do, as one assistant secretary told me, we don’t ever tell any supervisor what they can do in their office. And so that is a very poor environment to work in and I have experienced that. I’ve been – every office I’ve been in, I’ve been discriminated against. In my present office, one low-line supervisor came in, a young 30-something-year-old, with people in my age group, and with a hard hand and decided to tell all of the supervisory people up to the assistant secretary that I was a terrible person. They accepted it. I had no redress. None of my rights were acknowledged. I was never able to give – I was never given a list of all charges against me. And there is a memo in your office about this, but I’m sure it didn’t get to you. But – so that’s the reason why I’m saying something today.
QUESTION: But we need – as he’s saying Civil Service employees, we need to have Civil Service supervisors. This was a Foreign Service person who knew nothing —
QUESTION: — about Civil Service. 
SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, then there really is no – we will certainly pay attention to ensuring that people get their grievances heard. But this is a mixed workplace and Foreign Service officers have a lot of responsibility, Civil Service officers also have a lot of responsibility, and it’s just not possible to say that you can only be supervised by one or the other. That just is not possible.
QUESTION: I just want you to know the organizations I’ve been to which were the Office of Civil Rights, which at one time was known as affirmative action. As you know now, they are – they have to take a neutral approach. So even if what I’ve told is – even if they see a problem, they can’t speak to it.
SECRETARY CLINTON: That’s just not the case.
QUESTION: So that was out with that.
SECRETARY CLINTON: That is not the case. I’m sorry, ma’am.
QUESTION: Well, I’m just telling you this is what happened.
SECRETARY CLINTON: No, I know. But I think we’ve heard that you have some questions that you feel strongly about, and I’m sorry that that’s been your experience, but I think there are a lot of people in the Office of Civil Rights and in the management chain who can listen to that. That doesn’t mean they’re going to always side with you. I mean, just because someone feels —
QUESTION: Of course not. Of course not.
SECRETARY CLINTON: — I mean, I’ve had more criticism in my life than probably whole countries have had. (Applause.) And it doesn’t mean that I’m always right or I’m always wrong. But especially when we do have these systems for your grievances to be heard, I really urge you to do that and pursue those and do the best you can under the circumstances.
QUESTION: So what can I do if the union didn’t help me and the Office of Civil Rights didn’t help me?
SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, I think you need to ask yourself why nobody is agreeing with you.
QUESTION: Okay. No, I’m not saying that’s what the problem is. But thank you for listening.
SECRETARY CLINTON: Okay, thank you.