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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7 responses

  1. 2 FAM 1111.1 – “The Department of State articulates official guidance, including procedures and policies, on matters relating to Department management and personnel, known collectively as “directives,” in the Foreign Affairs Manual”

  2. Hey, at least HRC wasn’t busyed for something more serious than conducting official business on commercial email. You know, some capital offense — like blogging. Imagine how hard that would make securing an onward assignment to the White House….

  3. In my day, a deputy spokesperson misspoke and recognized North Vietnam.
    The Golden Rule:
    If you have to eat crow, do it quickly, before it swells up in the sun.

  4. This is but the most recent example of growing political IGNORANCE, SHORT TERM ENTITLEMENT and mostly utter DISRESPECT for anything involving national institutional infrastructure and constitutional/regulatory order, including law, that contravenes their personal, short-term preferences, networks and convenience. No wonder the DOS and professional US diplomacy is in such decline!

  5. It infuriates me that so many “less important than Hillary” people are intimidated and written up for engaging in far, far less potentially damaging actions than the Secretary. Very discouraging for the “underlings”.