Joan Wadelton’s Case: That’s One Messy Promotion Scorecard, Next Up – It’s GAO Time!

In March 2012, Patricia Kushlis of WhirledView published a blog post titled, State Department Human Resources — A System Run Amok. Excerpt below: 

I have been writing about corruption and cronyism in the State Department’s Human Resources Bureau for the last several years .

My reporting has consistently led to one conclusion — that State’s personnel system — which affects both Civil and Foreign Service employees — has run amok.  Nowhere is this better illustrated than in the case of Joan Wadelton.
Joan’s troubles began in 2000.  That was 12 years ago.  Her case is complicated.  I have followed its macabre twists and turns since 2008.  They never cease to amaze.  I have not written about them until now, however, because Joan preferred that her story remain private — she had hoped to settle quietly — until, that is, now.

Joan has a stellar record — I have seen her personnel file which is filled with glowing performance reviews and awards — and nary a black mark in sight.  Her service includes two stints in Iraq — she was one of the first State employees on the ground in 2003 and was commended for taking the first economic reconstruction team into Fallujah.  She created the State Department’s Congressional Liaison Office — a project she started while on a detail to Senator Joe Biden and completed under the tenure of Colin Powell, for whom it was a high priority.  She also served as the first Iraq advisor to the Under Secretary for Economic and Business Affairs and reshaped the US government’s intellectual property policy while Director of State’s Office of Intellectual Property Enforcement.  Most recently, Joan was in the prestigious Office of Policy Planning, where she managed a program she had created to promote Africa’s businesswomen, drawing kudos from Secretary Clinton.  This last assignment is in itself a strong indication of her continued high value to the Department.

In the end, Joan’s accomplishments and successive strong recommendations for promotion in her annual performance reviews didn’t matter.  On December 16, 2011, the Department — based on evidence that could most charitably be described as irregular — fired her, claiming that she had not been promoted into the Senior Foreign Service.

In fact, Joan’s challenges to State’s antiquated and opaque personnel system and her whistleblowing about HR’s misdeeds were her undoing.   For years, a rotating case of Foreign and Civil Service employees have apparently used the personnel system for personal gain, to promote their friends, to punish those they dislike and to retaliate against anyone who defies them.  Joan’s refusal to hand off her prestigious Congressional liaison office project to HR to pass to its cronies, resulted in an immediate (although fortunately futile) retaliatory effort by HR to put her on leave without pay.  This conflict proved to be the start of years of run-ins with HR management who have blocked assignments, lost files, invented fraudulent documents and tampered with results of promotion boards to make it appear as if she had never been promoted.

Below is a screen grab of one of the score sheets. You can view the whole scorecard via WhirledView here.

Extracted from Promotion Score Sheet posted by WhirledView
(click image for larger, more messy view)

Read in full here.

On May 2, WhirledView has a follow up post with the new Director General of the Foreign Service and Human Resources, Linda Thomas-Greenfield, in the mix:

By odd coincidence, HR contends that she sat on one of Joan’s 2006 reconstituted promotion boards.  What is claimed to be Thomas-Greenfield’s signature is shown on a document dated March 9, 2006, which — according to HR – is purportedly the final candidate rankings by that board.  And yet, we have e-mails between Melinda Chandler (an HR grievance attorney) and Thomas-Greenfield, in which Thomas-Greenfield does not recall participating in this 2006 board (although she is quite specific about her participation in a 2004 board).

In response to that e-mail, Chandler cites a commendation Thomas-Greenfield received for sitting on Joan’s 2006 board.  According to Chandler, this commendation was issued on March 1, 2006 — eight days before the board supposedly met (echoing HR’s formalization of the final results of three of Joan’s six reconstituted 2006 boards before those boards had supposedly met).  A rather unique soothsaying ability HR seems to possess.

Read the follow up post here.

One could argue that a case like this, as messy and as lengthy, going now for eight years, undermines not only the proper functioning of the Service, but also undermines trust and perception of the fairness of the promotion system in the Foreign Service.  Also, are the folks who sit in these boards really as bad in math as I am? I mean, look at those score sheets, any third grader can print and add more neatly than that.


It seems logical and rational to me that a bureau like Human Resources should not/not be allowed to investigate itself against claims of wrong doings.  Dude, that would be like having BP investigate itself over the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, wouldn’t it?   And if the State Department Inspector General Office is similarly tainted with allegations of well, being missing in action, and all, there ought to be another option.

How much does this eight-year saga cost to the U.S. taxpayers? WhirledView counts that since 2004, there’s the salaries and other expenses by HR bureau attorneys, various managers and their staffs; investigators and other staff in the State OIG; attorneys, investigators and other staff in the Office of Special Counsel; judges and other staff at the Foreign Service Grievance Board; attorneys and other staff in the State Department’s Office of the Legal Advisor; attorneys and other staff at various levels of the Justice Department and a very senior federal judge and her clerks and other staff. Judges, lawyers, managers are all well-paid; eight years adds up to a nice bundle that could do a nice repair to my elementary school next door.

And there is that item about Ms. Wadelton who was reportedly asked “to report all contacts she has with the Hill concerning HR wrongdoing” to the HR Bureau. Whisky-Tango-Foxtrot! What FAM citation is that in?

Since the Government Accountability Office (GAO) investigates how the federal government spends taxpayer dollars, this seems like an excellent case for investigation; no not just this case but also the promotion and assignment system in the Foreign Service. Who seez that folks can’t get promoted without hardship assignments, or AIP-assignments, or whatevers?  Don’t look now but some ambassadorial appointees have skipped the traumatic tours on the way to their embassies!

The main reason why the GAO ought to take a look at this is — because you want the right people on the right bus, but —

–what if the bus seats are sorta reserved?

— or if drivers cannot even do simple math?

— or loud complainers get thrown in the ditches?

— so the peaceful bus can chug along, in peace….

— so complainers learn quickly that ditches are dark and dirty, and never to try that again?

— but if they do, then the fight goes on, and on, and gets litigated — to godawful death?

The State Department as a bureaucracy only responds to two things with some non-tortoise speed – the court system, and Congress. Without congressional brakes in place, cases like this will be litigated to yes, godawful death. Squish! And we, the people are the losers.

Domani Spero

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One response

  1. Thanks so much for picking up this story. Couldn’t agree more – it should be GAO time – but when will Congress have the will or whatever it takes to step in and investigate this thoroughly corrupt system? It’s a disgrace – and I think this is likely just the tip of the iceberg.