State/OIG: No More Ambassador Report Cards Cuz They’re Not as Sexy as Debarments?

— Domani Spero

Update, February 28, 2014, 4:23 pm -This blog post has been updated to include a comment from State/OIG spokesman Douglas Welty.

In late January, we learned that the State Department’s Office of Inspector General  no longer issue “report cards” for ambassadors and senior officials during inspections at overseas missions. (See State/OIG Terminates Preparation of Report Cards for Ambassadors and Sr. Embassy Officials).

The Inspector General Office confirmed to us that the practice of preparing these Inspector’s Evaluation Reports (IERs) ended in April 2013.

According to the State/OIG, the official reason for ending the IERs is as follows; let’s call this Razón número #1:

It was an OIG decision, in part based on the points mentioned below that we will continue to comment on executive direction in the course of each inspection in the published report, and because we have seen progress with implementation of the recommendations in the memo report mentioned before (the 360 reviews noted in our 2012 memo report http://oig.state.gov/documents/organization/198810.pdf).

The OIG told Congress in oh, 2009, that the overriding purpose for the IERs is “to assure that upper level post management is not immune to criticism as a result of their positions of authority and physical distance from their own supervisors.”  The OIG was supposed to also issue “corrective” IERs for other employees, “when information surfaces that the EERs for such employees are inaccurate, either in a positive or negative direction.”

After we blogged about this, we received the following explanation from an unofficial source with connections to the relevant office. Here’s Razón número #2:

“The reason OIG stopped writing evaluations on Ambassadors, DCMs, and senior management is because the Department could not successfully challenge grievances by those Ambs, etc.  Because the evaluations were based on anonymous comments, grievance boards would throw them out.”

So the issue here is accountability versus due process, is it?

According to MSPB, due process under the Constitution requires that a tenured federal employee be provided “written notice of the charges against him, an explanation of the employer’s evidence, and an opportunity to present his side of the story.” Cleveland Board of Education v. Loudermill, 470 U.S. 532, 546 (1985). The Court has described “the root requirement” of the Due Process Clause as being “that an individual be given an opportunity for a hearing before he is deprived of any significant property interest.” Id. at 542 (emphasis in original). This requires a “meaningful opportunity to invoke the discretion of the decision maker” before the personnel action is effected. Id. at 543.

But as the cases below show, when these IERs are scrupulously done, the Grievance Board hold that the State Department is justified in keeping them on file.  We thought, it might be useful to dig up a few of these IER cases that ended up in the Foreign Service Grievance Board.

Here is a 1987 Foreign Service Grievance Board case G-093(7):

The inspectors’ Memorandum, Report M-3 laid out in detail what they called “serious problems related to the performance of the [title], [grievant], ” and urged that [grievant’s] next post, [post], be warned.  The memorandum pointed to: “(A) difficulty in establishing her authority among junior officers and the FSN staff; (B) inability to resolve a festering personnel problem caused by the marginal performance of one FSN; (C) problems in organizing “her own work so as to prevent dysfunctional slowdowns in [office work]; (D) difficulty in managing the [office] system.”

This was issued as an IG memorandum, and the career counselor (or what you would call the Career Development Officer now) informed the onward assignment post that the inspectors had found grievant’s performance in country X wanting.  The FSGB notes in its decision that “had the inspectors’ findings been prepared in the form of an Inspector’s Evaluation Report instead of a memorandum report, copies would have gone only to [grievant], to her performance file, and to the rating inspector’s file.”

The Board find that “grievant has not shown that the criticisms of her performance in the inspection memorandum or the EER were false or that she should be promoted.” They also  find that a report of her performance problems should not have been sent to her next post.  The FSGB decision directed the Department to instruct Embassy [post] to destroy any existing copies of the [year], letter concerning grievant from his career development counselor.  It denied other relief requested by FSO-grievant.

A couple of examples of grievance cases related to IERs that were thrown out and the grievant prevailed:

FSGB Case No. 2008-018

Grievant, a mid-level career FSO, challenged an Inspector’s Evaluation Report (IER) assessing his performance during a 10-month period when he was chargé d’affaires at [Post].  The IER positively appraised grievant’s overall performance under difficult circumstances, but, based on questionnaire responses from and interviews with a “significant cross-section of American and local employees,” the IER concluded that grievant was prone to outbursts of anger that intimidated some of his staff.  Grievant’s efforts to discover the names and statements of the sources of this criticism were refused by the agency because the employees had been guaranteed confidentiality.  Grievant alleged that the IER was “falsely prejudicial, inaccurate, and highly unjust,” since it was based on a distorted and selective use of comments from a small number of dissatisfied personnel and on anonymous sources he could not challenge and because he had not been counseled regarding the performance criticized.

The Board held:  “Grievant met his burden of proof, establishing that critical comments in an Inspector’s Evaluation Report (IER) were inaccurate and of a falsely prejudicial character.  The agency may not rely on undisclosed anonymous or confidential sources without any independently verifiable evidence in the record to corroborate the criticism in the IER where grievant presents material evidence that directly contradicts that criticism.  The grievance was remanded for the parties to address the question whether grievant would have been promoted in [Year] or [Year], had the erroneous IER not been in his performance folder.”

FSGB 2008-012

The IER stated eleven negative factual findings or conclusions regarding grievant’s managerial performance as head of the [Named Section] during the evaluation period covered by the IER.  These deficiencies consisted, inter alia, of grievant lacking the interpersonal and leadership skills needed to mentor and guide entry level officers (ELOs) and causing or contributing to the resignation or early departure of ELOs in the [Named Section].  The findings and conclusions contained in a “corrective” Inspector’s Evaluation Report (IER) violate grievant’s rights either because they are contrary to the preponderance of the record evidence, they impermissibly have as their basis sources that remain anonymous or confidential, or they violate grievant’s substantive right to be counseled with an opportunity to improve.

FSGB directed the Department “to expunge the IER in its entirety from grievant’s Official Performance File (OPF) and if grievant has been low-ranked as a result of the inclusion of this IER in his OPF, the Department is directed to rescind such low rankings.”

Some examples of grievance cases related to IERs where the grievance was denied and the Board decided that the State Department was justified in keeping the IERs on file:

FSGB Case No. 2010-031

Grievant, an FS-01 officer serving as [Officer] in [Host Country], challenged an Inspector’s Evaluation Report (IER) assessing his performance during a 10 month period.  Mr. [Grievant] urged that the IER be expunged from his OPF because the IER process was procedurally flawed and unfair, five specific statements in the IER were falsely prejudicial and inaccurate, and he was not counseled during the evaluation period or given an opportunity to improve his performance.  If the IER were to remain in his file, it would jeopardize any future promotion.  Based on confidential interviews and questionnaires obtained from fifteen embassy staff members by the Office of the Inspector General (OIG), the IER concluded that grievant was partly responsible for some embassy officers’ consideration of curtailment from the post, that the grievant had trouble making decisions, that he incurred unnecessary delays because of excessive attention to detail, and that he missed deadlines.  Grievant was held responsible for several problems associated with his failure to focus on internal embassy management.

The grievance board denied this grievance in its entirety.  The FSGB held that “Grievant failed to meet his burden of proof to establish that an Inspector’s Evaluation Report (IER) was “falsely prejudicial and contain[ed] inaccurate, misleading statements obtained through improper methodology.”  The agency was justified in relying on anonymous, confidential sources which formed the basis of the criticisms within the IER.  Such information was independently corroborated and verified through questionnaires solicited from the same embassy staff that had provided the confidential information.  Grievant was provided with these subsequently obtained questionnaires, including the names of staff members who completed them.  Grievant failed to produce evidence that would cast doubt on the agency’s evidence, nor did he carry his burden to demonstrate that the IER process was in violation of due process or that he was not counseled appropriately. “

FSGB Case No. 2004-064

Grievant asserted that an IER prepared while he was Chargé at a post included false and inaccurate criticisms of his management style, was prepared in violation of the Department’s regulations, and was based on anonymous information from unverified sources.  He alleged that the Inspection team leader’s ill will toward him resulted in an unfairly biased and unbalanced evaluation.  He claimed that the low ranking he received by the 2004 Selection Board (SB) was based on the IER, and was procedurally defective because the SB did not adhere to the precepts when it low ranked him.

The Board denied the grievant’s appeal.  The FSGB held that “(1) An Inspector’s Evaluation Report (IER) concerning grievant by an OIG team leader was prepared in accordance with applicable procedures and regulations; grievant failed to carry his burden of proving bias of the team leader.  (2) Consideration of the IER as the principal basis for a low ranking by a selection board was proper and in accordance with the precepts.”

FSGB 2004-55

Grievant appealed the Department of State’s (agency) denial of his grievance centered on an Inspector’s Evaluation Report (IER) prepared while he was serving as the Deputy Chief of Mission at an American Embassy.  He alleges that the agency violated applicable law and regulation by the inclusion in his Official Performance Folder (OPF) of a materially false and inaccurate IER.  The IER, prepared following a post inspection conducted by the Office of the Inspector General (OIG), “did grievous injury to [his] professional reputation and career prospects through distorted and defamatory allegations of managerial negligence.”

The appeal was denied in its entirety.  The Board found that grievant had not provided persuasive evidence on argument in support of his contention that the inspection “was intentionally biased and consciously violated the letter and spirit of the OIG mandate and some FAM regulations,” and failed to overcome the presumption of regularity that attaches to the official acts of public officials.  This presumption, established by the federal courts, “supports the official acts of public officers, and in the absence of clear evidence to the contrary, courts presume that they have properly discharged their official duties.”  Furthermore, specific evidence is required to overcome the presumption that public officers have executed their responsibility properly.

FSGB 2004-056

{Grievant}, an FE-MC officer with the Department of State (Department, agency), appeals the agency’s denial of his grievance concerning an Inspector’s Evaluation Report (IER) that he received while serving as the U.S. Ambassador in {Host City, Host Country}.  He contends that the IER is inaccurate and false, and damaged his personal and professional reputation and career prospects.  The IER, while lauding grievant’s efforts to advance U.S. foreign policy initiatives, criticized his management skills.  For example, the IER found that some officers characterized grievant’s loss of temper, occasional yelling and inattention to management issues as dysfunctional and unprofessional.  Moreover, junior officers found his conduct intimidating and some questioned whether they would remain in the Foreign Service.

The Department maintains that the IER is accurate and that it was written and issued in accordance with applicable regulations.  Because it received letters of support for grievant, some from junior officers expressing second thoughts about what they had told the inspectors, the agency queried other officers who visited the Embassy at the time of or just after the inspection.  The latter officers confirmed the low morale and lack of proper attention to management issues that led to the critical IER.  The Board held that grievant failed to carry his burden of proof.  On many of the issues raised, grievant simply disagreed with the inspectors’ findings without offering any evidence to the contrary.  On other issues, evidence of grievant’s inappropriate behavior was documented by named witnesses, documents of record, and in some cases his own admissions. The grievance appeal was denied.

We hate to think that the State Department with all its smart people is unable to balance accountability with due process and simply gave up on this.  Folks, you’ve litigated the use of official letterhead, in the past; isn’t this more important than the alleged misuse of official letterhead?

Then, while we were not looking, we received an owl delivery with the following howler from Diagon Alley. Enter Razón número #3:

“Don’t hold your breath–IERs went away BECAUSE of AFSA, not despite it.  New IG is mostly interested in cost-savings and debarments (wants to compete with SIGIR/SIGAR); considers leadership/management issues to be Department’s concern, not IG’s; and has been convinced by Hill/GAO that FS experience is problematic.  Inspection division doesn’t know what hit it.”

Oh dear, doesn’t that make you feel totally like  …

via http://replygif.net/127

via replygif.net

So — which do you think again  is the most feasible reason the Inspector General no longer conduct IERs for ambassadors and senior embassy officials?

Eeny, meeny, miny, moe,
Catch La Razón by the toe.
If it hollers,well, say “boo!”
Eeny, meeny, miny, moe.

Damn, my whole brain is crying; yours, too?

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After this blog post went online, the State/OIG spokesman Douglas Welty sent us a statement, published in full below:

In response to your most recent blog posting,” State/OIG: No More Ambassador Report Cards Cuz They’re Not as Sexy as Debarments?”<http://diplopundit.net/2014/02/28/stateoig-no-more-ambassador-report-ca
rds-cuz-theyre-not-as-sexy-as-debarments/>  transparency is a key component of effective IG oversight.  The Inspector’s Evaluation Reports (IERs), which OIG would produce at the Department’s request, were non-public documents processed internally within the Department and used for performance evaluations of senior Department leadership.  Although OIG no longer produces IERs, senior official performance issues that were previously addressed in IERs are now addressed transparently in OIG inspection reports, which are available to all stakeholders.  OIG’s proper oversight role is to use its reports to alert Department management and other stakeholders (e.g., Congress and taxpayers) so that the Department takes proper management action to address them.

Mr. Welty is a great spox but brain’s still crying.  Next week, we’ll have a publicly sourced exhibit on IERs.

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USG Declares Three Venezuelan Diplomats Personae Non Gratae

— Domani Spero

The Venezuelan Government notified the United States on the afternoon of February 17 that they have declared three of our consular officers at US Embassy Caracas personae non gratae. The three were given 48 hours to leave the country (see Venezuela (Where Almost No One Has Toilet Paper) Kicks Out Three U.S. Diplomats for “Flaming” Student Protests).

On February 25, the U.S. Government kicked out three Venezuelan diplomats in response to the Venezuelan  Government’s decision.  The State Department Spokesperson Jen Psaki identified the png’ed diplomats as First Secretary Ignacio Luis Cajal Avalos, First Secretary Victor Manuel Pisani Azpurua, and Second Secretary Marcos Jose Garcia Figueredo.  Ms. Psaki said that the diplomats were given 48 hours to leave the United States. Citing Article 9 of the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations, Ms. Psaki also noted that the convention permits the United States to declare any member of a diplomatic mission persona non grata at any time and without the necessity to state a reason.

Asked to comment about the possible nomination of a new Venezuelan ambassador to the U.S., the spox had this to say:

“Well, as you know, a decision about an exchange of ambassadors is a mutual decision, so obviously, we’ve said months ago that we could – we would be open to an exchange of ambassadors but that Venezuela needs to show seriousness about their willingness and their openness to a positive relationship moving forward.”

Late the same day, Venezuelan President Nicholas Maduro announced the nomination of Maximilien Arvelaiz to be the country’s first ambassador to the U.S. since 2010.  According to Bloomberg, Foreign Minister Elias Jaua said that the nomination of Arvelaiz, a former ambassador to Brazil, was meant to “establish political relations at the highest level that will contribute to peace.”  

In 2010, then President Hugo Chavez caused the withdrawal of Venezuela’s agrément on the appointment of Larry Palmer as U.S. Ambassador to Caracas (see How Larry Palmer, the US Ambassador nominee to Venezuela got rolled?). Nicolas Maduro, then Foreign Minister presented the diplomatic note to the embassy formally withdrawing the agreement of Larry Palmer to be the Ambassador to Venezuela.  Ambassador Palmer was later nominated and confirmed in 2012 as U.S. ambassador to Barbados and the Eastern Caribbean.

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Peace Corps Evacuates Over 200 Volunteers From Ukraine

— Domani Spero

On February 24, Peace Corps HQ announced the successful evacuation of volunteers from Ukraine:

WASHINGTON, D.C., February 24, 2014 – The Peace Corps today announced that all Peace Corps Ukraine volunteers are safe and accounted for, and have been successfully evacuated out of the country.  The agency will continue to assess the safety and security climate in Ukraine.  And while the Peace Corps hopes volunteers can return, the safety and security of its volunteers are the agency’s top priority.

Over 200 Peace Corps Ukraine volunteers were working in the areas of education and youth and community development.  Volunteers will participate in a transition conference this week.  Since the program was established in 1992, over 2,740 Peace Corps volunteers have served in Ukraine.

The U.S. Embassy in Kyiv went on authorized departure for family members of U.S. government personnel from Ukraine on February 21 (see US Embassy Ukraine Now on Authorized Departure For Family Members).  On February 23, the State Department warned U.S. citizens to defer all non-essential travel to Ukraine during the transition period following the departure of Viktor Yanukovych, and while a new government is formed. Read the updated Travel Warning for Ukraine for further information about the current situation in Ukraine.  Follow our man in Kyiv, Ambassador Geoffrey Pyatt on Twitter at @GeoffPyatt.

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