Holy Mother of FAM!!! Oh, Mr. Toner, What Have You Done?

Posted: 2:39 am PDT
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On August 31, the State Department’s deputy spox was asked if the Secretary of State is bound by the rules of the Foreign Affairs Manual or not? (see Question of the Day: Is the Secretary of State bound by the rules of the Foreign Affairs Manual or not?). On September 1, the question was asked again and Mr. Toner promised to get an answer.

On September 3, the question was revisited for the third time, and here is the delightful exchange:

QUESTION: I have a – I’d asked you a question the other day and you said you’d get me an answer to it —

MR TONER: Did I? (Laughter.)

QUESTION: — and the question was whether the Foreign Affairs Manual applies to secretaries of state? Does it?

MR TONER: So – (laughter) – yeah. So I did do some research into this, as did others. It is – the Foreign Affairs Manual is – it is not comprehensive in, nor is it a bible for all Foreign Service officers or civil servants. So – and what do I mean by that? I mean it’s not – for example, there’s things in there about reimbursement of the use of your private vehicle. Certainly, that doesn’t apply to the Secretary of State or many people within the State Department.

So it’s – what’s contained in the Foreign Affairs Manual – and this is – I apologize but this is a kind of an in-the-weeds question – all of that is not necessarily relevant to, for example, ambassadors or secretaries of state or senior Department officials. I mean, if I can say what I think the essence of your question was, and I’m sorry if this is presumptive, but was whether they are bound by the responsibility to protect classified information. That certainly is true, that any Secretary of State, any senior State Department official is bound by that. And I spoke to this the other day, is that any individual, whether you’re the Secretary of State on down, takes that responsibility seriously.

QUESTION: But my question —

MR TONER: Yeah.

QUESTION: I mean, I really – I was not asking whether they were bound by every aspect of it, including those that are not relevant to them. It was whether they’re bound – basically whether they’re bound by the things that are relevant to them.

So to take the one that you raised, which is not whether they’re bound to protect classified information or to take seriously the responsibility to protect classified information, the question would be then, since you raised that as a specific: Are they bound – are secretaries of state bound by the rules in the Foreign Affairs Manual with regard to the handling of classified information?

MR TONER: I would say, as they are pertinent to the – and again, I don’t have the Foreign Affairs Manual in front of me – but as they are pertinent to the responsibility to protect and safeguard classified information, and we’ve talked about this, frankly, ad nauseum about the gradations and how we classify stuff and how we look at it. But as those rules – they apply to everyone in the State Department, including, for example, politically appointed ambassadors, and certainly by a secretary of state who is appointed by the President and, frankly, serves at the pleasure of the President and is not a Foreign Service officer in that regard or a civil servant.

QUESTION: So insofar as the regulations of the Foreign Affairs Manual touch on the protection of classified information, they apply to everyone, including the Secretary of State?

MR TONER: Again, I don’t have it in front of me but – and I’m not trying to parse this, but in a sense I am. Insofar as those regulations apply to the protection and safeguarding of classified information, yes.

QUESTION: Thank you.

QUESTION: Can we go back —

QUESTION: That didn’t seem like a parse to me.

MR TONER: Okay.

Selective application, amirite?

First, Mr. Toner says, “So I did do some research into this…” Excuse me, why the heck is he doing the research on this? What’s the use of the Office of Legal Adviser, if you can’t get them to issue a formal opinion on this matter?

Then he says, “the Foreign Affairs Manual is – it is not comprehensive in, nor is it a bible for all Foreign Service officers or civil servants.”

Oh dear. Quick! If you’re in a disciplinary process, tell your lawyers.

Saying “again, I don’t have the Foreign Affairs Manual in front of me” might be a trick in the PA playbook but it’s not cute, okay?  This question has been asked since August 31st. The FAM is online, and easily retrievable.

He did say that “Insofar as those regulations apply to the protection and safeguarding of classified information, yes,” when asked if  the protection of classified information apply to everyone, including the Secretary of State per FAM.

Hey, did you know that “reimbursement of the use of your private vehicle doesn’t apply to the Secretary of State or many people within the State Department?”

Makes you wonder, for all the stuff where the FAM doesn’t cover the Secretary of State and many other people within the State Department, what alternate rules and regulations govern their workplace, and conduct on and off their jobs?  We’d like to know in case we’re tapped by  President Julian Navarro to find a successor for the libidinous Secretary Larson.

But seriously.

Per 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 and Handbook Series. Directives include Department administrative organization policies and procedures. These directives derive their authority from statutes, Executive orders, other legal authorities, and Presidential directives, such as OMB circulars, and Department policies.

Per 2 FAM 1115.5-1 the Foreign Affairs Handbook (FAH) series is a supplemental series providing guidelines and procedures for implementing policies and directives contained in the FAM. Materials published in the FAH has the same force and effect as materials published in the FAM.

These directives apply to the Department of State and its operations worldwide (2 FAM 1111.3)

These directives apply to all Department of State and other relevant personnel worldwide (2 FAM 1111.4)

Note that 2. FAM 1111.4 does not make a distinction whether an employee is a career employee or a political appointee who is employed by the State Department.  Also, every time the FAM is updated, a Change Transmittal documents it.  All transmittals includes the following reminder:

Officers are reminded that Department-issued materials not codified in the Foreign Affairs Manual or its supplemental Foreign Affairs Handbook series generally have no regulatory validity (see 2 FAM 1115.2).

Pardon me?  Between 1-10, how confusing is all this? Sigh…

By the way, AFSA did ask a similar question earlier this year concerning this (see AFSA Politely Asks the State Dept: Is Adherence to the Foreign Affairs Manual Optional For Some?). We understand that the State Department had issued a response in the waning days of the previously elected AFSA Governing Board. As far as we are aware, that response has not been released to the AFSA membership. And we have not been able to get a response to two questions we sent to the newly elected president and VP of AFSA.

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