@StateDept Politely Tells Inspector General to Um … Buzz Off

Posted: 4:55 am EDT
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On December 2, State/OIG posted online its Management Assistance Report: Progress Made But Action Still Needed to Address Physical Security Deficiencies Reported in FYs 2012 and 2013 (PDF). Excerpt below:

During FYs 2012 and 2013, the Office of Inspector General (OIG) issued 12 reports that identified deficiencies in the security posture of 10 posts visited. As part of OIG’s audit compliance and follow-up process, OIG assessed the extent to which the Department of State (Department) implemented the 137 recommendations issued in these 12 reports (see Appendix A). Based on the Department’s actions and responses to these recommendations as of September 15, 2015, OIG had closed 122 of the 137 recommendations (or 89 percent). However, 15 of these recommendations had remained open, 6 of which were unresolved with no communication from the post or bureau since the reports were issued (see Appendix B).

State/OIG acknowledges the State Department’s efforts on complying with the security recommendations but would not let go of the remaining nine recommendations that it says have remained open more than two years after they were made:

U) OIG acknowledges the Department’s efforts to address OIG’s physical security recommendations in a timely manner. As of October 30, 2015, the Department has implemented 128 of 137 recommendations (93 percent) made by OIG in these 12 reports, although 9 recommendations remain open. Prompt and timely corrective action by the Department has resulted in several positive outcomes,REDACTED. However, more than 2 years later, nine of these recommendations remain open. While the responsible bureaus and posts agreed to the other nine open recommendations, final action has not occurred. REDACTED
[….]
[T]he Under Secretary did not provide a plan of action to address the implementation of the remaining nine open recommendations. As such, this recommendation will remain open until OIG receives a plan of action from the Under Secretary or obtains sufficient evidence that the nine open recommendations have been fully implemented. In addition, OIG will continue to track the implementation of these open recommendations and report the status in OIG’s Semiannual Report to Congress.

The heavily redacted audit includes Table 1 which contains a list of the responsible Bureaus and posts and the number of open and closed recommendations as of September 15, 2015. State/OIG notes that “uncorrected physical security deficiencies, if exploited, could compromise the safety of post personnel and property.”

State/OIG also includes the response from “M” that says in part, “If OIG agrees with the Department’s planned way forward for these nine recommendations, then additional attention from this office is not needed.” Elsewhere in the State Department’s response, the Under Secretary for Management Patrick Kennedy also tells IG Steve Linick “this exercise is redundant.”

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State/OIG made the following response:

With respect to the Under Secretary’s statement that “this exercise is redundant,” the purpose of this Management Assistant Report is to prompt action to close all open recommendations associated with the aforementioned reports. Although OIG considers the open recommendations referenced in this report resolved because the responsible bureaus and posts agreed to implement them, the fact is that more than 2 years has passed and nine recommendations [Redacted] (b) (5), [Redacted] (b) (7)(F) remain open. For this reason, OIG raised these open recommendations with the Under Secretary for Management and recommended a plan of action to complete corrective actions.

And added two more recommendations:

Recommendation 1: (U) OIG recommends that the Under Secretary for Management provide a report to OIG within 60 days of report issuance on the status of corrective actions and the reasons for delays in completing corrective actions on the nine open recommendations listed in Appendix C.

Recommendation 2: (U) OIG recommends that the Under Secretary for Management provide a plan of action to complete corrective actions, including appropriate milestones, to address the remaining nine open recommendations listed in Appendix C.

Read more below though lots of Sharpied out places:

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How many people should be put through a wringer before, oh you know ….

Posted: 3:48 am EDT
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We’ve previously blogged about Foreign Service assignments to international organizations. FSOs who take up assignments in some of these organizations are excluded from promotion consideration in the Foreign Service (see Secondments to international organizations and promotions? Here comes the boo!).

We’ve been able to locate the FSGB case here (PDF), and the appeal case here (PDF).

Grievant filed his initial grievance with the Department on August 7, 2012,1 claiming that he was improperly excluded from promotion consideration by the 2008-2012 Selection Boards, during which time he was encumbering a position at the REDACTED. His assignment to REDACTED was effected by separation/transfer (“secondment,” according to Department usage) in the spring of 2007, and he exercised re-employment rights to return to agency rolls in 2012. Grievant claimed he believed he would remain eligible for promotion consideration during the REDACTED assignment, based on information contained in the Information Sheet that accompanied his Separation Agreement and on alleged assurances he received from Department Human Resources (HR) personnel. He claimed that shortly after he took the REDACTED assignment, he became aware that the Promotion Precepts exclude from review employees who have been separated/transferred to international organizations. Nonetheless, he claimed that the official notification of his assignment (SF-50 Personnel Action) assigned him to a status (the Multinational Force and Observers in the Sinai (MFO)) that specifically permits officers so assigned to remain eligible for promotion  consideration. He argued that instead of using the separation/transfer mechanism, the Department should have detailed him to REDACTED leaving him on Department rolls and eligible for promotion consideration during the assignment. Grievant argued that Department errors in documentation of his assignment, and its different explanations of its own regulations, amount to bad faith on the part of the Department.

The Department acknowledged inaccuracies in the original Department documentation and in its decision on grievant’s appeal, in which it claimed that grievant’s separation/transfer instead of a detail was “standard protocol” for cases such as grievant’s. […] Notwithstanding the inaccuracies in documentation, the Department argued that separating/transferring grievant to the was not a clear violation of agency policy in effect at the time, and there was no impediment to taking that action.[…] The agency argued, therefore, that its actions were not contrary to law, regulation or collective bargaining agreement, and that neither the SF-50 errors, nor the errors contained in the Information Sheet, alter grievant’s status. Finally, the agency claimed it is an established fact that grievant did not serve in the Sinai in the MFO, and he is not entitled to benefits afforded to officers who serve there.

The FSGB ruled that “Regardless of the reason(s) why an “incorrect” SF-50 was issued in the first place, the preponderance of the evidence supports the conclusion that the only SF-50 in the record was issued containing several errors, not the least of which is that grievant was assigned to the MFO in the Sinai – where we know he did not serve. We fail to see the manifest injustice based on grievant’s arguments in this respect that would constitute grounds for reconsideration of our March 19, 2014, decision.”

We understand that this grievant was actually assigned to OSCE but his SF-50 says he was assigned to MFO. No, the grievant did not prepare his own SF-50, silly :-).  Wondering why the SF-50 says MFO, and was never corrected. Was it intended as a work-around? If not, why was it never corrected the entire time the FSO was on assignment at an organization that was obviously not the MFO in the Sinai?

Standard Form 50, is the official form the government uses to calculate your retirement. Your SF-50s determine your retirement eligibility, your federal pension, and in this case, it also impacts promotion eligibility.

In any case, this is an expanding case not just in the Foreign Service Grievance Board (FSGB), but also with the  Office of Special Counsel and now in federal court.

The individual would not discuss his ongoing court case but here is what we got:

“I decided to raise this issue with the new AFSA Board, which came into office with much fanfare as the “Strong Diplomacy” slate. After more than a month of non-response, I finally received the following this morning from an AFSA Board member:

“With limited resources, AFSA is unable to pursue each and every dispute with management and must focus on those issues that have the greatest impact on our membership and most benefit the Foreign Service as a whole. I understand you have already pursued this issue with private counsel through the grievance process. Given other competing priorities, this is not an issue AFSA is going to pursue with management.”

In other words, although AFSA is aware of an ongoing and systematic violation of federal law on the part of Department management, it is choosing not to pursue the issue with management due to more pressing priorities, thus leaving dues-paying members to fend for themselves in the courts, at their own expense.”

It’s worth noting that the promotion precepts are negotiated and agreed annually between the State Department and AFSA. We’re not sure what to make of this. If an employee is not able to rely on its union for disputes like this, who can he/she rely on? Is there a threshold on how many people should be put through the wringer before AFSA takes it up with management?

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Photo of the Day: Ambassador Mark Gilbert pitching a ball at the South Pole

Posted: 3:24 am EST
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Via US Embassy New Zealand/FB:

US Ambassador to New Zealand Mark Gilbert pitching a ball at the South Pole during a visit at the NSF’s McMurdo Station with Political Counselor Lian Von Wantoch.  According to the National Science Foundation, Americans have been studying the Antarctic and its interactions with the rest of the planet without interruption since 1956. These investigators and supporting personnel make up the U.S. Antarctic Program. The three U.S. year-round research stations are located on Ross Island (McMurdo Station), at the geographic South Pole (Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station), and on Anvers Island in the Antarctic Peninsula region (Palmer Station). Learn more about the Antarctic Program here: Division of Polar Programs – National Science Foundation

Screen Shot

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Insider Quote: “These things go in cycle”… the down cycle is only a few years away

Posted: 3:14 am EST
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Below is an excerpt from Richard E. Thompson’s Oral History interview conducted by Raymond Ewing on April 16, 2001. He had been to every place with a US presence including the longest trip he did as a diplomatic courier to West Africa that took 59 days.  Mr. Thompson joined the State Department as a diplomatic courier in 1965. He retired in 1997. We are currently in an upcycle  but no doubt, the down cycle is only a few years away.

It was Vice President Gore’s Strategic Management Initiative, SMI, reinventing government. As part of his Strategic Management Initiative our assistant secretary, Tony Quainton, decided that we would cut down the frequency of courier service throughout the world. Sometimes we would cut down where we would have courier service twice a week, we would cut down to once every other week. It was an enormous, enormous slice. And so, as a consequence, we had to change everything around, all of our schedules, everything had to be changed around. So what we did, we sent individually tailored telegrams around to every post in the world, telling them what we intended to do and asking them if they had any input or any objections or any problems with it. We put in the telegram that this was from the highest level, Vice President Gore, that we were mandating this. And we got all of these telegrams back and we made up a series of hypothetical trips to accomplish this downsizing and it took several months. I was involved in meeting with very senior people. I chaired these meetings, explaining to them how this would affect them. Then, as a practical matter, I had to deal with the regional diplomatic courier officers who were afraid that they would not be able to handle such bulk because if you only go every other week instead of twice a week, you are going to have heavy loads, and you already have heavy loads to such an extent that sometimes it couldn’t even get on these airplanes. So we had to establish a series of backup flights and new schedules for the courier service throughout the whole world as a result. So we downsized. We were able to eliminate jobs. We eliminated six jobs in our organization because of this, and we pulled it off quite well, I thought. Sometimes we had to charter planes. We didn’t entirely agree with this because we could see that is was not really going to save a lot of money because we would simply have to move material other ways at more expense. But we accomplished this.  Then about two years later, when they had the bombings in Nairobi, they decided to beef up the Bureau of Diplomatic Security again. These things go in cycles. So they decided they were going to increase the frequency of courier service. So, we had to start all over again and start hiring more people and increase the frequency, where before we were going once a week we would go twice a week to some places. So we had a complete switch.

This happened throughout my career in government. You would see these things going on. The interesting thing was that some of the people who took credit for that first downsizing also took credit, these same individuals, also took credit when we increased the service, because they were increasing the efficiency in both cases.

Read in full here.

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