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False 360 Feedback Input in a Denial of Tenure Case Makes It to the Grievance Board

Posted: 3:32 am EDT

 

We’ve written previously about the 360 degree feedback tool as practiced by the State Department, most recently last fall when a Speaking Out piece was published in the Foreign Service Journal urging that the Department reevaluate its use of the 360-degree reviews (see The State Dept’s 360 Degree Feedback as Placement Tool, and Probably, a Lawsuit Waiting to Happen).

In a recent Foreign Service Grievance Board (FSGB) case, an FS-2 officer who works for USAID, appealed the denial of his grievance in which he challenged the denial of tenure by the 2014 Tenure Board, on the grounds that a principal document on which it based its decision was fatally flawed. And it includes an example of the 360 feedback gone wild.

The 2013 Tenure Board had deferred grievant for tenure consideration for one year. Grievant alleges that the recommendation for deferral was based mainly on anonymous, negative 360 degree input that was the polar opposite of grievant’s accumulated Appraisal Evaluation Forms (AEFs) and other, positive 360 degree information. When the 2014 Tenure Board rejected grievant for tenure, the Agency decided to terminate him. The centerpiece of his grievance and appeal is the 2014 Tenure Board’s alleged improper reliance upon a single, stale and flawed 2013 TEF. Furthermore, grievant complains that the Agency denied him substantive due process because it failed to provide him with reasonably specific and timely notice of his deficiencies and an opportunity to improve his job performance before the denial of tenure.

Grievant joined the Foreign Service in May 2009 as an FS-2 officer, as part of the USAID’s recruitment program to attract mid-career professionals under the Development Leadership Initiative (“DLI”).

The AEFs Before the Tenure Board.  The package of information considered by the 2013 Tenure Board included a collection of three AEFs, covering grievant’s performance from April 1, 2009 through March 31, 2010 , from April 1, 2010 through March 31, 2011 , and from April 1, 2011 through March 30, 2012. All three were uniformly positive, and they did not include any complaints that grievant was not performing adequately in any skill areas or that he was deficient in any work objective.
[…]
The 2013 TEF. This document is found in the record as Attachment J to grievant’s Appeal Submission. The author of this January 3, 2013 TEF (hereinafter REDACTED) was the Director of the agency’s REDACTED Office in USAID/Washington. He described himself as “the employee’s Office Director for five months,” indicating that he was evaluating grievant’s performance for the period of July 2, 2012 to December 19, 2012. He stated specifically that he “relied heavily on the 360 degree input provided by senior tenured officers who observed the employee’s performance in his two overseas assignments and his short stay in AID/W.” His reference to “360 degree input” denotes a certain type of information that a rater is permitted to obtain in preparation of an AEF. The use of 360 degree sources is also permissible in the preparation of a TEF.*3

In the Precepts for the Employee Evaluation Program (ADS Chapter 461) , “360 degree sources” are defined as: “Customers, peers, other managers, subordinates, and other individuals with whom or for whom an employee may have worked who can provide feedback, from their various perspectives, about the employee’s performance during any period of performance currently being evaluated.” The Precepts contain instructions for how a rater and rated employee must collaborate to select the particular 360 degree sources, some of whom are required to be solicited even if they do not respond.

According to the Record of Proceeding, at that time that the supervisor wrote the TEF, the Precepts did not explicitly direct or authorize the inclusion of 360 degree information in a TEF, although such authorization had become explicit by the time the 2014 Tenure Board made its decision. See ADS Chapter 414mad, 3.3.3 (“Responsible officials should use all appropriate sources of information in preparing the TEF, including AEFs, Appraisal Input Forms (AIFs), and 360 feedback.”).

The grievant argued that he was harmed by the underlying falsity of some of that information – compounding the impropriety. Grievant stated that some of the negative 360 comments were “literally false information that during the tenure process no one questioned or compared to the accurate facts as reflected in grievant’s OPF.”

Grievant identifies two examples of prejudicially false information that came to light:

One, grievant learned that one of the originally unnamed 360 degree sources was REDACTED who was a Civil Service supervisor of a technical office in the REDACTED in Washington, D.C. The underlying 360 degree source material that sent to was a memorandum of December 11, 2012. In it, he opined that grievant did not have the ability to function at the FS-01 level.  REDACTED added, “The fact that he has been curtailed in his first two overseas assignments in REDACTED and REDACTED by the Agency reinforces [sic] my recommendation.”9 The unchallenged information in the Record of Proceedings in this appeal shows that grievant left REDACTED  because he volunteered for a CPC (Critical Priority Country) assignment in REDACTED. Then, he left the subsequent assignment REDACTED at the end of one year, because one year was the standard length of time for a CPC assignment. Neither departure from post was involuntary or punitive in any way.

Two, another important false statement about grievant came from a 360 degree source later identified as REDACTED.  In an email of December 10, 2012 to he described himself as grievant’s “mentor” in REDACTED . In part, REDACTED stated,

He [grievant] taxed my experience and skills to the max until I finally requested that he be transferred out of our Mission. To cut to the quick, I would not recommend him for Tenuring [sic], I would rate him as negative on all of the FS Precepts for tenuring and I believe that the Agency would be better served employing [grievant] as a PSC. I did not write his AEF but I did have input and discussed his negative performance with his supervisor . . . . He refused to do rotations stating that he knew all about the Agency, our rules and regulations and how other tech and support offices functioned. . . . I had him removed.10

Grievant identifies several false statements about him in this TEF. One, grievant’s AEFs all confirmed that he completed whatever training rotations had been prescribed for him. […]  Moreover, comments reveal a fundamental misunderstanding of grievant’s status as a “mid-level” career candidate, who after the initial few weeks of orientation, was not subject to the types of rotations that applied to “entry-level” candidates. As mid-level, he was assumed to be knowledgeable in his field and was evaluated as a regular employee, not as a trainee – one who, according to his AEF’s, fully met those expectations.

Golly! You folks at USAID know this is wild, right?

Here is the decision of the FSGB: HELD: The denial of tenure by the 2014 Tenure Board was tainted by the flawed and falsely prejudicial 2013 Tenure Evaluation Form (TEF) and was also issued in violation of several Agency Precepts. The denial of tenure is reversed and the case remanded to the Agency with instructions to expunge the 2013 TEF, as well as the letters deferring and denying tenure, and to place grievant’s updated Official Personnel File (OPF) before the next Tenure Board.

Read the ROI of the case below:

 

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