OIG: Only 41,749 State Dept Record Emails Preserved Out Of Over a Billion Emails Sent

Posted: 4:29 pm EDT
Updated: March 12, 9:29 pm PST
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State Department deputy spokeswoman Marie Harf told CNN that since the inspector general is independent from the department “they will have to speak to the timing and details of releasing this report, which they control.”

So we asked the IG and we’re told that “the timing of the release of this report (ISP-I-15-15) was purely coincidental to the recent email issue.”

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State/OIG did a review (pdf) of the Department’s State Messaging and Archive Retrieval Toolset (SMART) and Record Email in Washington, DC, between January 24 and March 15, 2014. According to the OIG, in 2013, Department employees created 41,749 record emails. These statistics are similar to numbers from 2011, when Department employees created 61,156 record emails out of more than a billion emails sent. Department officials have noted that many emails that qualify as records are not being saved as record emails.

Below are the highlights of the OIG review:

  • A 2009 upgrade in the Department of State’s system facilitated the preservation of emails as official records. However, Department of State employees have not received adequate training or guidance on their responsibilities for using those systems to preserve “record emails.” In 2011, employees created 61,156 record emails out of more than a billion emails sent. Employees created 41,749 record emails in 2013.
  • Record email usage varies widely across bureaus and missions. The Bureau of Administration needs to exercise central oversight of the use of the record email function.
  • Some employees do not create record emails because they do not want to make the email available in searches or fear that this availability would inhibit debate about pending decisions.
  • System designers in the Bureau of Information Resource Management need more understanding and knowledge of the needs of their customers to make the system more useful. A new procedure for monitoring the needs of customers would facilitate making those adjustments.

Additional details from the OIG report:

The need for official records

The Department of State (Department) and its employees need official records for many purposes: reference in conducting ongoing operations; orientation of successors; defending the U.S. Government’s position in disputes or misunderstandings; holding individuals accountable; recording policies, practices, and accomplishments; responding to congressional and other enquiries; and documenting U.S. diplomatic history. Record preservation is particularly important in the Department because Foreign Service officers rotate into new positions every 2 or 3 years. Federal law requires departments, agencies, and their employees to create records of their more significant actions and to preserve records according to Governmentwide standards.

Who has responsibility for the preservation of official records?

Every employee in the Department has the responsibility of preserving emails that should be retained as official records.3 The Office of Information Programs and Services in the Bureau of Administration’s Office of Global Information Services (A/GIS/IPS) is responsible for the Department’s records management program, including providing guidance on the preservation of records for the Department and ensuring compliance. IRM administers the enterprise email system, including SMART, and therefore provides the technical infrastructure for sending and receiving emails and preserving some as record email.

What constitute official records? 

If an employee puts down on paper or in electronic form information about “the organization, functions, policies, decisions, procedures, operations, or other activities of the Government,” the information may be appropriate for preservation and therefore a record according to law, whether or not the author recognizes this fact. Whether the written information creates a record is a matter of content, not form. Federal statutes, regulations, presidential executive orders, the Foreign Affairs Manual (FAM), Department notices, cables, and the SMART Messaging Guidebook contain the criteria for creating and maintaining official records and associated employee responsibilities.

Which email messages should be saved as records?

According to Department guidance referenced above, email messages should be saved as records if they document the formulation and execution of basic policies and actions or important meetings; if they facilitate action by agency officials and their successors in office; if they help Department officials answer congressional questions; or if they protect the financial, legal, and other rights of the government or persons the government’s actions directly affect. Guidance also provides a series of questions prompting employees to consider whether the information should be shared, whether the successor would find the email helpful, whether it is an email that would ordinarily be saved in the employee’s own records, whether it contains historically important information, whether it preserves the employee’s position on an issue, or whether it documents important actions that affect financial or legal rights of the government or the public.

 

The OIG report notes that it has previously examined the Department’s records management, including electronic records management, in its 2012 inspection of A/GIS/IPS. OIG found that A/GIS/IPS was not meeting statutory and regulatory records management requirements because, although the office developed policy and issued guidance on records management, it did not ensure proper implementation, monitor performance, or enforce compliance. OIG also noted that, although SMART users can save emails as records using the record email function, they save only a fraction of the numbers sent. OIG recommended that the Bureau of Administration implement a plan to increase the number of record emails saved in SMART.

That was in 2012.

The OIG team also found that “several major conditions impede the use of record emails: an absence of centralized oversight; a lack of understanding and knowledge of record-keeping requirements; a reluctance to use record email because of possible consequences; a lack of understanding of SMART features; and impediments in the software that prevent easy use.”

To show how misunderstood is the requirement to save record emails, see the following chart. The U.S. Embassy in Hanoi had 993 record emails compared to US Embassy Islamabad that only had 121 record emails preserved. The US Consulate General in Guangzhou had 2 record emails while  USCG Ho Chi Minh City had 539. It looks like the US Embassy in Singapore with 1,047 record emails had the highest record emails preserved in 2013. The frontline posts like Baghdad had 303, Kabul had 61, Sana’a had 142 and Tripoli had 10 record emails in 2013. The only explanation here is that the folks in Singapore had a better understanding of record email requirements than the folks in our frontline posts. Given that the turn-over of personnel at these frontline posts is more frequent, this can have consequential outcome not just in the public’s right to know but in continuity of operations.

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Again, via the OIG:

Many inspections of embassies and bureaus have found that the use of SMART and the record email function are poorly understood. This lack of understanding is one of the principal causes of the failure of U.S. embassies to use record email more often. The inspections show that many employees do not know what types of emails should be saved as record emails. The employees typically need more and clearer guidance and more training. OIG has made formal and informal recommendations to increase the use of record email, to write and distribute formal embassy or bureau guidance on record email, and to arrange for training.

The A/GIS/IPS office is under the Assistant Secretary for the Bureau of Administration, an office that reports to the Under Secretary for Management (M). The Bureau of Information Resource Management (IRM) also reports to M.

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NewsFlash: “The FAM is not a regulation; it’s recommendations.” Hurry, DECLINE button over there!

Posted: 12:30 pm EDT
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“I don’t have the FAM in front of me. I can certainly check and see if there were certain policies, if there were regulations. The FAM is not a regulation; it’s recommendations.”

That’s a direct quote from the official spokesperson of the U.S. Department of State, Jennifer Psaki, who managed to change internal agency policy in just eight words during the Daily Press Briefing on March 10, 2015. Here is a screenshot from the transcript that you may look at just as soon as you’ve picked up your jaw from the floor.

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Dammit! Yahoo called the FAM “regulations.” It obviously has no idea there’s something wrong with its search engine!

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Okay, let’s try searching for this at the State Department’s official website at state.gov.

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Well, it turns out, those folks running the official agency website also have no idea they have this  all wrong. Calling the FAM “regs” is not acceptable because that stands for “regulations.” This would make us all think that the FAM is regulations. And according to the official spokesperson, the FAM is really just recommendations.  And if so, this must mean that the Foreign Affairs Manual is just a suggestion or proposal for the best course of action for State Department employees. Are folks subjected to it free to decline some or all those recommendations?

The Office of Directives Management must now change the URL from http://www.state.gov/m/a/dir/regs/ to http://www.state.gov/m/a/dir/recommendations/  — otherwise this will all lead to confusion.

But this is actually great news.

That FSO who was imposed charges to the amount of $14,804.01 by the State Department for packing, shipping, storing and repacking household effects (HHE) that included 44 boxes of marble tiles weighing 5871 pounds – may now go back and ask for a refund.  The specialist who was disciplined “for improper personal conduct and failure to follow regulations” following an extramarital sexual relationship with a local national and not informing his wife about the affair, may now go back and tell the FSGB that he’ll decline the State Department’s recommendations.

FSGB No. 2009-041:  The Department argues that the regulation in effect in 1999, 6 FAM 161.4 (currently 14 FAM 611.5(2)) clearly prohibits shipment and storage of construction materials as HHE.  As a Foreign Service Officer, grievant is responsible for knowing all of the applicable regulations.

FSGB No. 2011-051 (pdf):  Department regulations state the applicable policies regarding employee conduct that may result in disciplinary action. Grievant was obliged to know these regulations and to conform his conduct accordingly. 3 FAM 4130, Standards for Appointment and Continued Employment, provides guidelines for when disciplinary action may be taken against an employee. 3 FAM 4138 provides that disciplinary action may be taken for:

criminal, dishonest or disgraceful conduct (see section 3 FAM 4139.14); . . . conduct which furnishes substantial reason to believe that the individual may be or is being subject to coercion, improper influence, or pressure which is reasonably likely to cause the individual to act contrary to the national security or foreign relations of the United States; . . . conduct which clearly shows poor judgment or lack of discretion which may reasonably affect an individual or the agency’s ability to carry out its responsibilities or mission.

This is going to put the entire Foreign Service Grievance Board out of work, right?

Anyone who’s ever been cited for FAM infractions and/or been disciplined as a result of the contents in the Foreign Affairs Manual may consider ringing their lawyers.  All employees, presumably, are now welcome to decline any or all recommendations under the FAM?

Arrggghhh! Quit laughing. This isn’t funny!

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Ambassador David Hale: From US Embassy Beirut to US Embassy Islamabad

Posted: 01:16 am EDT
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Ambassador David Hale. Taken at the Green Park and Friendship Square, Jan 2014. Photo by US Embassy Beirut/FB

Here is a brief bio via US Embassy Beirut:

David Hale, a career Senior Foreign Service Officer, was confirmed as Ambassador to the Lebanese Republic on August 1, 2013.  Previously, he was the Special Envoy for Middle East Peace, 2011-2013, a Deputy Envoy (2009-11), and U.S. Ambassador to Jordan (2005-8), after multiple tours in Jordan and Lebanon and service in Tunisia, Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, and at the U.S. Mission to the UN.  In Washington, Hale was Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Israel, Egypt and the Levant and Director for Israel-Palestinian Affairs.  He held several staff posts, including Executive Assistant to Secretary of State Albright.  In 2013 Secretary Clinton gave him the Distinguished Service Award, and Hale has several Department Superior and Meritorious Honor awards.  He speaks Arabic, is a graduate of Georgetown University’s School of Foreign Service, and a native of New Jersey.

If confirmed, Ambassador Hale would succeed career diplomat Richard Olson who was appointed ambassador to Pakistan in 2012. All chief of mission appointees to Islamabad since 1973 had been career diplomats.  We have to go all the way back to 1969 t0 find a political appointee to this post.

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Former Secretary Clinton talks about her state.gov private emails

Posted: 01:11 am  EDT
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Excerpt from the transcript of Hillary Clinton’s remarks on the email controversy swirling about via Time’s @ZekeJMiller:

There are four things I want the public to know.

First, when I got to work as secretary of state, I opted for convenience to use my personal email account, which was allowed by the State Department, because I thought it would be easier to carry just one device for my work and for my personal emails instead of two.

Looking back, it would’ve been better if I’d simply used a second email account and carried a second phone, but at the time, this didn’t seem like an issue.

Second, the vast majority of my work emails went to government employees at their government addresses, which meant they were captured and preserved immediately on the system at the State Department.

Third, after I left office, the State Department asked former secretaries of state for our assistance in providing copies of work- related emails from our personal accounts. I responded right away and provided all my emails that could possibly be work-related, which totalled roughly 55,000 printed pages, even though I knew that the State Department already had the vast majority of them. We went through a thorough process to identify all of my work- related emails and deliver them to the State Department. At the end, I chose not to keep my private personal emails — emails about planning Chelsea’s wedding or my mother’s funeral arrangements, condolence notes to friends as well as yoga routines, family vacations, the other things you typically find in inboxes.

No one wants their personal emails made public, and I think most people understand that and respect that privacy.

Fourth, I took the unprecedented step of asking that the State Department make all my work-related emails public for everyone to see.

I am very proud of the work that I and my colleagues and our public servants at the department did during my four years as secretary of state, and I look forward to people being able to see that for themselves.

Again, looking back, it would’ve been better for me to use two separate phones and two email accounts. I thought using one device would be simpler, and obviously, it hasn’t worked out that way.

 

The Clinton folks have also released a Q&A on her email use:

 

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So if we tell over 70,000 employees that they should secure their email accounts and “avoid conducting official Department business from your personal email accounts,” then we go off and use our own private non-government email, what leadership message are we sending out to the troops?  Follow what I say not what I do?

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The secretary of state is the highest classifying authority at the State Department. Since she did not have a state.gov account, does this mean, she never sent/receive any classified material via email in the entirety of her tenure at the State Department? If so, was there a specific person who routinely checked classified email and cable traffic intended for the secretary of state?

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The podium heads insist that there is no restriction in use of private emails. Never mind that this is exclusive use of private emails. If a junior diplomat or IT specialist sets-up his/her own email server to conduct government business at the home backyard shed in Northern Virginia, do you think Diplomatic Security would not be after him or her? Would he/she even gets tenured by the Tenuring Board despite systems management practices contrary to published guidelines?  If the answer is “yes,” we’d really like to know how this works. For ordinary people.

And then there’s this — if there were a hundred people at State that the then secretary of state regularly sent emails to, was there not a single one who said, “wait a minute’ this might not be such a great idea?

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Bottomline despite this brouhaha? Her personal email server will remain private. She has full control over what the public get to see. End of story. Or maybe not.

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Oops, what’s this? Oh, dear.

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Photo of the Day: Arnold Chacon, First Hispanic Director General of the Foreign Service

Posted: 12:27 am EDT
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The Director General of the Foreign Service and Director of Human Resources Ambassador Arnold Chacon oversees the Bureau of Human Resources (M/DGHR). The Bureau handles recruitment, assignment evaluation, promotion, discipline, career development, and retirement policies and programs for the Department’s Foreign and Civil Service employees.

DGHR Chacon was sworn-in by Secretary Kerry as the new Director General of the Foreign Service and Director of Human Resources (DGHR), at the Department of State on January 8, 2014.  Excerpt below, see the full remarks here:

The Department’s diversity, like our country’s, makes us stronger, not weaker. I will be the director general for all of the State Department family – Civil Service, Foreign Service, locally employed staff, family members, contractors, interns, detailees, and yes, Mr. Secretary, even Ben the diplo-pup. (Laughter.)

I will also ensure that our family reflects America in all its magnificent variety and represents every corner and every face of our great nation. Our mission is to recruit, retain, and sustain exemplary employees who advance our values, interests, and goals. It’s the right thing to do, but it’s also the essential thing to do if we’re going to navigate the complex challenges of the 21st century and make the most of new opportunities.
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I’m also pleased and humbled by the presence today of so many friends and colleagues who share my desire to make a difference in people’s lives. I think of myself as a protege of a unique generation of accomplished and trailblazing diplomats – in particular, Ambassadors Cresencio Arcos, John Negroponte, Alan Solomont, Kristie Kenney, Harry Thomas, Ruth Davis, Skip Gnehm, Ambassador Perkins, and Sally Cowal. It has been my good fortune to have been mentored by such exceptional individuals who gave me career-enhancing opportunities and helped me become the best that I could be.

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