State Dept to Rewrite Media Engagement Rules for Employees in Wake of Van Buren Affair

Inside the building sources told this blog that the State Department is preparing to rewrite its 3 FAM 4170 rules for employees on official clearance for speaking, writing, and teaching.  The drafted new rules apparently will cover public speaking, teaching, writing and media engagement. While it appears the new version is yet in a draft stage, it sounds like a tighter institutional CYA version.

The drafted new rules will reportedly say that the State Department and USAID encourage the participation of their employees in “responsible activities devoted to increasing public study and understanding of the nation’s foreign relations.” And that such activities may be performed in an official or private capacity.

Here are a few details that we’ve heard about the draft 3 FAM 4170 rules:

It covers all “agency personnel” in various employment categories including local employees overseas, contractors, special employees and “any other personnel who serve in a capacity as if employed by State and USAID.”  We don’t know if non-Agency employees like FCS, IRS, SSA, CDC, FBI, VA, etc. etc under Chief of Mission authority overseas are considered part of these “as if employed by State” category.

The new rules will reportedly cover real-time or live presentation of views or ideas, whether physically before an audience, over a text-only or visual online forum, in-person, online, or over the phone interviews, other real-time communication and oh, teaching. It will cover written submissions for newspaper, magazine, TV, radio, or other media organizations, including blogs and online forums.

We understand that it covers just about everything except sign language.

The good news?  The draft new rules do not appear to include, at least for the moment, restrictions on tweeting with extra-terrestrials or subspace interviews originating from Mars or any unnamed planet or galaxy.

Now don’t laugh – we were once covered by the “Extra-Terrestrial Exposure Law” which made it illegal to come in contact with extra-terrestrials or their vehicles (Title 14, Section 1211 of the Code of Federal Regulations). Wikipedia says NASA revoked this rule in 1977 but that it was not formally removed from the Code of Federal Regulations until 1991.

In any case, personal entries on social media sites will reportedly “be allowed” but must not “violate standards of character, integrity, and conduct expected of all Department employees as defined in 3 FAM 1216.”

We thought — heeeey! Wait a minute – we dug up 3 FAM 1216 and here is what it says in its entirety:

“Employees at all levels are expected to exhibit at all times the highest standards of character, integrity, and conduct, and to maintain a high level of efficiency and productivity.”

We think that catch all language is a blazing red flag that is worrisome.

Materials will reportedly require a preliminary review and a final review (whew! who drafted this stuff, an intern?) which seems excessive for an organization with plenty of smart people.  The new rules will also propose the following timeframe: 2 working days for clearance on social media postings; 5 working days for blog posts; 5 working days for speeches, live events notes, talking points; 10 working days for articles, papers including online publications and 30 working days for books, manuscripts and other lengthy publications.

The timeframe for social media/blog postings at 2-5 working days is equivalent to @2000-@5000 .beat in internet time; which is like an eternity in cyberverse.

Especially to the 140 characters waiting to exhale online.

We’ve also learned that the drafted new rules will propose to ditch the saving grace of 3 FAM 4170, the section that we’ve come to call the PVB clause since we believed this is the section that gave ammunition to Peter Van Buren in his public battle with State Department management.

3 FAM 4172.1-7 Use or Publication of Materials Prepared in an Employee’s Private Capacity That Have Been Submitted for Review

An employee may use, issue, or publish materials on matters of official concern that have been submitted for review, and for which the presumption of private capacity has not been overcome, upon expiration of the designated period of comment and review regardless of the final content of such materials so long as they do not contain information that is classified or otherwise exempt from disclosure as described in 3 FAM 4172.1-6(A).

Unless some reasonable higher up with powerful fingers undo the [CTRLl]+[DELETE], the section above will go away for good. You can check with your AFSA rep on this but our understanding is that this is part of those things that are apparently “non-negotiable.”

While the principal goal of the review process is reportedly to ensure that “no protected information is disclosed” (note that it’s no longer protection of classified information or personally identifiable information), the review process other goal apparently is to evaluate the potential that the employee activity could “hurt” or “damage the Department.”

We don’t know if a list of what is considered “protected information” will be made available with the new rules. The current rules are clearer – protection of classified info and PII although in practice, this can also get muddy fuzzy.  The draft new rules can potentially cover even unclassified agency information if they are considered “protected.”

It’ll be interesting to see what the final new rules look like. And how many additional State Department troops will be made available just for clearing blogposts and tweets.

And this you gotta ask — are media savvy clearance-bots and automated clearance machines (ACMs) in your future?

Update @12/7:

Alec Ross over on Twitter tells us that his team is involved in drafting/approving. “Not even close to what has been blogged.” 

Teh-heh! Plenty draft versions are there?  But the good news is this:

@AlecJRoss: @Diplopundit Suffice to say, I would not be okay with a 2 day clearance process per tweet.

You folks may just have found your top hat with powerful fingers. @AlecJRoss – you need to keep 3 FAM 4172.1-7 in the regs.  My! We are Twitter chatty today!

domani spero sig