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

Posted: 3:48 am EDT

 

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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One response

  1. Comment received on 12/7/2015:

    A couple of comments:

    1) The exclusionary precept itself is illegal (i.e., as noted in your original post on this issue, it’s a direct violation of 5 CFR 352.314(a), which guarantees uninterrupted promotion eligibility for detailees and transferees to all IOs). This is the structural issue that AFSA should be taking on.

    2) You summarize quite well one of the main contradictions in the FSGB decisions: that they acknowledge several gross errors (which they essentially write off under the rubric of “stuff happens”), but then they fail to shift the burden of proof back to the Department as required by their governing statute (22 CFR 905.1(c): “Where a grievant establishes that a procedural error occurred which is of such a nature that it may have been a substantial factor in an agency action with respect to the grievant, and the question is presented whether the agency would have taken the same action had the procedural error not occurred, the burden will shift to the agency to establish, by a preponderance of the evidence, that it would have done so.”)

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