State Dept’s Conduct and Disciplinary FAM Regulations — Still as Clear as Mud?

Posted: 3:54 pm EDT
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On March 17, the American Foreign Service Association (AFSA) wrote to Arnold Chacon, the Director General of the Foreign Service and the State Department’s top HR official requesting clarity on the applicability of 3 FAM to career and political/non-career employees of the oldest executive agency in the union. (see AFSA Politely Asks the State Dept: Is Adherence to the Foreign Affairs Manual Optional For Some?NewsFlash: “The FAM is not a regulation; it’s recommendations.” Hurry, DECLINE button over there!).

A long time Foreign Service hand told us that the practice has usually been that if a politically appointed State Department official or ambassador violates the Foreign Affairs Manual conduct and disciplinary regulation, that matter is generally raised with the sponsor of the non-career appointee.  Which typically means, the White House.  The infraction is then reportedly handled outside of the State Department system.  In rare cases, the Office of Inspector General is called in with the approval of the secretary of state. This is, apparently not the practice at DOD where political appointees are warned that DOD regulations and enforcement system apply to them equally.

We know that DGHR did respond to AFSA’s inquiry towards the end of Bob Silverman’s tenure but we were told to wait for the incoming elected officials to release the response. Last month, we sent a follow-up email to new AFSA president Barbara Stephenson asking if AFSA can share the DGHR’s clarification on the applicability of the FAM to non-career appointees.  To-date we have received only radio silence from AFSA’s Barbara Stephenson and her VP. We can appreciate why some official correspondence between AFSA and DGHR under special circumstances should be under wraps but what good reason is there not to respond to a solicitation for information on this matter?

A source on background did provide us what DGHR sent to AFSA in response to its March 17 inquiry.

AFSA was seeking clarity as to the provisions in 3 FAM.  In his response, the Director General of the Foreign Service (DGHR) specifically mentions 3 FAM 4300 and 3 FAM 4500 regarding conduct and disciplinary standards and how they might be applied to non-career appointees as opposed to career employees.

DGHR Arnold Chacon writes with an assurance, “From the outset let me assure you that 3 FAM regulations are much more than “guidelines.” They are derived from law and for govemment-wide regulation and are directives to State Department personnel. As you are aware, 3 FAM governs all pertinent personnel policies, practices and matters affecting conditions of employment, most if not all of which as it pertains to Foreign Service is negotiated as appropriate with AFSA.”

DGHR Chacon further writes, “Regarding conduct and discipline of non-career appointees, I can say with confidence that all forms of misconduct are taken seriously by the Department and will be dealt with accordingly. The FAM, by its terms, applies to Schedule A and B appointees. lf a Schedule C or other political appointee were to allegedly commit misconduct, then the State Department and the White House would work in concert to review the situation, take action to prevent abuses, and, if appropriate,  remove the employee. You can be assured that misconduct will always be addressed and dealt with in a fair, thorough and responsive manner, while respecting the right of due process and adherence to the tenet of like penalties for similar offenses.”

Last month, the question of the applicability of the FAM, related to the secretary of state also surfaced during a Daily Press Briefing (see Question of the Day: Is the Secretary of State bound by the rules of the Foreign Affairs Manual or not?). We note the following in a blog post:

The January 2015 OIG report, Review of Selected Internal Investigations Conducted by the Bureau of Diplomatic Security (pdf) includes the following:

[The] Office of the Legal Adviser staff told OIG that the FAM’s disciplinary provisions do not apply to Ambassadors who, as in this instance, are political appointees and are not members of the Foreign Service or the Civil Service.

According to the OIG report, the Under Secretary for Management disagrees with this interpretation:

[T]he Under Secretary of State for Management advised OIG that he disagrees with the Office of the Legal Adviser interpretation, citing the provisions in the Foreign Service Act of 1980 which designate Chiefs of Mission appointed by the President as members of the Foreign Service. See Foreign Service Act of 1980, §§ 103(1) & 302(a)(1) (22 USC §§ 3903(1) & 3942(a)(1)).

So to sum up, the Office of the Legal Adviser has the opinion that the FAM’s disciplinary provisions do not apply to Ambassadors and other political appointees because they are not members of the Foreign Service or the Civil Service. “M” disagreed with that interpretation.  DGHR, an office reporting to “M” has the opinion that the FAM’s disciplinary provisions do/do apply to Schedule A and B appointees.  But note the careful wording in the DGHR’s response as he makes a distinction about Schedule C/political  appointees. He could have said straight up that the FAM applies to Schedule A, B, and C appointees, he did not.

So, there you have it, still as clear as mud?

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