Senior Official’s Spouse Uses Diplomatic Pouch for Personal Business, How’s That Okay?

Domani Spero
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We’ve heard reports that a spouse of a senior official at a European post is allegedly using the diplomatic pouch for personal business use. One of the perks for diplomatic spouses? Oh, goodness, who said that?

What does the … whatchamacallit, the bureaucratic bible for regular employees/senior officials say about this?

The Foreign Affairs Manual section 14 FAM 742.4-3 spells out clearly the “Prohibition Against Shipping Items for Resale or Personal Business Use:”   Authorized pouch users may not use the diplomatic pouch, MPS, or DPO to ship or mail items for resale or personal business use.

Authorized pouch users are typically embassy employees and family members under chief of mission authority.  MPS stands for Military Postal Service and DPO means Diplomatic Post Office.

According to the regs, the prohibition against using the diplomatic pouch for personal items includes, for example:

(1) Household effects (HHE) and unaccompanied baggage (UAB), including professional materials. See 14 FAM 610 for regulations on shipping HHE and UAB. Shipping HHE or UAB by diplomatic pouch to circumvent HHE or UAB weight limits is a serious abuse of pouch privileges and is subject to punitive action requiring the sender to reimburse the U.S. Government for transportation costs (see 14 FAM 742.4-1). (See 14 FAM 742.4-2 regarding consumables);

(2) Items for personal businesses (such as hair-dressing products);

(3) Items for charitable donation (such as school supplies for an orphanage); and

(4) Items for resale (such as cookies).

 

See … not even for orphanages, and not even something small and perishable as cookies if it’s for resale.  Section 14 FAM 726 (pdf) has the specifics for the Abuse of Diplomatic Pouch and includes where to report abuse of such privileges as well as reporting instructions under 1 FAM 053.2 when reporting to the OIG (pdf):

14 FAM 726.1 Abuse of Pouch Privileges

a. Abuse of the diplomatic pouch is generally one of three kinds:

(1) An authorized sender has sent a prohibited item;

(2) An item has been sent by an unauthorized user; or

(3) An authorized user has sent an item through an improper channel.

b. Suspected abuse of the diplomatic pouch must be reported to the pouch control officer (PCO). When abuse does occur, the PCO must take action to correct the problem. Examples of corrective action are listed below; post management must develop, implement, and publish post-specific remedies for pouch abuse:

(1) For a first offense: Oral reprimand with reminder of pouch policies and restrictions, and possible reimbursement of transportation costs (see 31 U.S.C. 9701) after consulting with A/LM/PMP/DPM. The PCO must document all circumstances surrounding the incident;

(2) For a second offense: Written reprimand with reminder of pouch policies and restrictions; and possible reimbursement of transportation costs (see 31 U.S.C. 9701) after consulting with A/LM/PMP/DPM. The PCO must document all circumstances surrounding the incident;

(3) For a third offense: Suspension and restriction of pouch privileges for a limited amount of time as determined by post management, and possible reimbursement of transportation costs IAW 31 U.S.C. 9701 after consulting with A/LM/PMP/DPM. The PCO must document all circumstances surrounding the suspension;

(4) For a fourth offense: Extended suspension of pouch privileges and possible reimbursement of transportation costs (see 31 U.S.C. 9701) after consulting with A/LM/PMP/DPM. The PCO must document all circumstances surrounding the suspension; and

(5) For on-going abuse: Permanent suspension of pouch privileges, imposed by the Director of A/LM/PMP/DPM and possible reimbursement of transportation costs (see 31 U.S.C. 9701) after consulting with A/LM/PMP/DPM. The PCO must document all circumstances surrounding the suspension.

c. Pouch control officers must advise A/LM/PMP/DPM by email to DPM-Answerperson@state.gov, of pouch violations when they occur. Include the name of individual, organization, parent organization in Washington, registry numbers, classification, and a description of the item(s).

d. The Director of A/LM/PMP/DPM will assist post management in interpreting rules and regulations and making decisions if requested to do so. Abuse or misuse of the diplomatic pouch may be investigated further by appropriate law enforcement officials depending on the seriousness of the incident.

e. Employees and authorized users should report suspected or known abuse of the diplomatic pouch or mail services to the Office of Inspector General (see 1 FAM 053.2 for reporting instructions and provisions for confidentiality when reporting).

 

So if  “everyone” knows that the spouse of senior official X uses the diplomatic pouch for running a personal business, how come no one has put a stop to it?  Perhaps it has to do with the hierarchy in post management?  Who is the pouch control officer and who writes his/her evaluation report?  Who is the pouch control officer’s supervisor and who writes the supervisor’s evaluation report?  If a junior officer’s spouse starts importing spices through the pouch for use in a personal chef business, will the pouch control officer look the other way, too?

We understand that the regs apply to the most junior as well as the most senior employees of a diplomatic mission, and similarly applies to both career and political appointees, and their spouses …. or did we understand that wrong?

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Submit Your Complaint to the OIG Hotline:

Online: Click here

Email: oighotline@state.gov

Mail: Office of Inspector General, HOTLINE, P.O. Box 9778, Arlington, Virginia 22219

Phone: 202-647-3320 or 800-409-9926

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