Is Congress aware that the people that do ALL the reviewing for @StateDept FOIA requests (are) part timers?

Posted: 3:23 am ET
Updated: April 19 9:47 pm PT
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Below is an excerpt from the Associated Press v. State Department Case 1:13-cv-01363-EGS Document 48-2 Filed 12/11/15, a status hearing with John Hackett who has been with the State Department since 2013. Mr. Hackett was the Deputy Director, Office of Information Programs and Services from April 2013 to March 2014. He served as Acting Director for a year, and in June 2015, he was appointed Director of the Office of Information Programs and Services. The hearing occurred before Judge Richard Leon at the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia. This is an excerpt from the court transcript:

Q How many people you got working under you, sir?
A We have approximately 60 civil servants who work on the FOIA program.

Q You have some part-time people too, right?
A We have additional part-time people.

Q Forty?
A We have 40 former foreign service officers who do primarily the review.

Q You have 40 part-time employees, former foreign service officers who assists the 60 full time, right?
A The 40 former foreign service officers are the primary reviewers. They’re experts in their field, and they do, they do the bulk of the review. In fact, they do all of the reviews.

Q The sixty, 64 folks that you have on your full-time staff don’t do any reviewing?
A No, your Honor, they’re case analysts and they receive the documents that come in, the requests that come in from the public. They do the validations of the requests. They do the tasking of other bureaus and offices. They open the mail, task things out.

Q They process the paper?
A Process the paper, yes.

Q They don’t have the training, background and skill to make the kinds of judgment calls that reviewers make, if I understood you correctly?
A That’s correct, your Honor.

Q And when you say 40 are part time, what does part time equal 20 hours per week?
A It depends, your Honor. They are in a special category that allows them to work X amount of hours per year and receive their pensions at the same time, their foreign service pension. So there’s a cap on their hours and there’s also a cap on their dollars. So a lot of them work I would say 20 to 24 hours a week, but it depends on what they’re paid. Because many of them cap out before they’ve used all their hours. They cap out on their salary hours.

Q So you don’t have the authority to direct them to work more than X-number of hours a week or do you?
A I don’t, your Honor, because it is a provision, and I’m not sure — it’s in the department’s regulation or whether it’s in an act or statute that allows them to work, work for the State Department, work for the government in addition to receive their foreign service retirement.

Q Is Congress aware that the people that do all the reviewing for State Department FOIA requests part timers? Does congress know this?
A Your Honor, I can’t speak to what Congress does or does not know.

Q Well, has that always been the system?
A It’s been the system since I arrived, your Honor. It’s been a successful system to have.

Q Well, now that’s a matter of prospective, sir. The  State Department has been publicly criticized on many occasions for how slow they are in processing FOIA reviews, many occasions. Indeed, I think Justice and State are the ones that are publicly criticized the most for the slowness of their reviews. Surely you’re aware of that, are you not, it’s your department?
A Your Honor, we have since 2008, had a 300 percent increase in the number of requests coming to the Department.

Q All the more reason why you should have full-time people doing the reviewing. So prior to you getting there it was always part timers too as far as you know?
A As far as I know, your Honor, yes.

Q As far as you know it’s always been part timers?
A Yes, but there’s been part timers, but it’s not just their part timers. You need staff or you need experts in this field, in diplomacy and national security information. And they come to us with —

Q Let’s pause there for a second. You don’t need that to figure out Huma Abedin’s, Special Government Employee papers. That doesn’t affect national security, does it?
A I don’t know, your Honor.

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Retired FSOs who return to work as part-timers are called Reemployed Annuitants (previously categorized as WAEs or When Actually Employed employees), and their work hours are capped at 1040 hours a year. Below via RNET:

The term WAE (When Actually Employed) is used in the Department of State (DoS) to describe a reemployed annuitant who works on an intermittent basis for no more than 1040 hours during each service year and whose appointment is not to exceed one year. Bureaus utilize WAEs to fill staffing gaps and peak workload periods. While the acronym WAE is currently well-known inside DoS, new employees understandably find it confusing. In order to transition out of using the term WAE, the program has been renamed the Reemployed Annuitant (WAE) Program or REA/WAE.
[….]
A FS annuitant reemployed on a temporary basis will continue to receive their full annuity and the full salary so long as the annual earnings and annuity received do not exceed the higher of: (a) the FS annuitant’s salary at retirement (unadjusted for inflation) or (b) the full- time salary of the position in which the FS annuitant is reemployed.

Updated April 19:

A new declaration from Mr. Hackett (via Leopold v. State Department) case indicates that the State Department has hired additional reviewers. It looks like there will be 25 more FOIA reviewers to be brought onboard this spring.

 

Related posts:

 

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Robert Gates Talks Strategic History With a Moral Purpose (Video)

Posted: 2:06 am ET
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The Zbigniew Brzezinski Annual Prize honors the legacy of Dr. Brzezinski by recognizing and promoting the importance of geostrategic thinking with a transcending moral purpose. It’s Inaugural Prize recipient is Robert M. Gates, the former U.S. Secretary of Defense. Below is Mr. Gates lecture at CSIS on April 12, 2016. If you want to skip the intros and go directly to the lecture, it starts at the 13:25 mark. Don’t miss the Q&A starting at the 34:00 mark.

 

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7.8 Earthquake Hits Ecuador, Casualties Expected to Rise

Posted: 1:41 am ET
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USAID is reportedly seeking airlift bids to the Ecuador earthquake zone before midnight last night. We have yet to see any formal announcement from USAID or from USAID’s Office of U.S. Foreign Disaster Assistance. USAID’S field office in Ecuador was shut down in October 2014 after over 50 years of operation in the country.  The government in Quito had refused to allow USAID to renew its programs or start any new activity in the country.

 

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USG Supports Japan Relief Efforts Following Kyushu Earthquakes, Also What’s This Mystery Foam?

Posted: 12:02 am ET
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USGC reported the April 14 and 15 earthquakes that hit the island of Kyushu:

The April 15, 2016 M 7.0 earthquake north of Kumamoto, on the island of Kyushu in southwest Japan, occurred as the result of strike-slip faulting at shallow depth. Focal mechanisms for the earthquake indicate slip occurred on either a left-lateral fault striking to the northwest, or on a right-lateral fault striking northeast. While the earthquake occurred several hundred kilometers northwest of the Ryukyu Trench, where the Philippine Sea plate begins its northwestward subduction beneath Japan and the Eurasia plate, the shallow depth and faulting mechanism of this earthquake indicate it occurred on a crustal fault within the upper Eurasia plate. At the location of this event, the Philippine Sea plate converges with Eurasia towards the northwest at a velocity of 58 mm/yr.

The April 15, 2016, M 7.0 event (UTC 16:25:06) occurred one day after a series of foreshocks in the same region, which included M 6.2 and M 6.0 earthquakes. The April 14 events resulted in at least 9 fatalities and over 800 injuries.

According to the US Consulate in Fukuoka which covers the consular district, the Kyushu/Yamaguchi Region of southwestern Japan consists of seven prefectures on Kyushu Island (Fukuoka, Oita, Saga, Nagasaki, Kumamoto, Miyazaki, Kagoshima) and Yamaguchi prefecture on the southern tip of Honshu, with a combined population of over 15 million. The region’s $435 billion economy constitutes Japan’s fourth largest economic center, representing about 10 percent of national GDP – comparable in size to the Netherlands.

The US Embassy in Tokyo issued one Emergency Message to U.S. citizens saying in part that “Kumamoto is approximately 730 miles southwest of Tokyo. Authorities report nine confirmed deaths and as many as 1,000 injured. Local authorities report no U.S. citizens among the casualties. No tsunami warning was issued. The Japan Meteorological Agency reported several aftershocks, some of which exceeded 5.0 magnitude. Aftershocks may continue for up to a week. Heavy rains are expected in the region over the coming weekend, which may lead to landslides.”

U.S. Forces Japan announced that the Marines with the 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit arrived on Marine Corps Air Station Iwakuni, Japan, over the weekend to assist with recovery efforts in support of the Government of Japan’s relief efforts. According to the DOD release, the U.S. military support is provided at the request of the Government of Japan and is in support of efforts undertaken by the Japanese Self Defense Force.

Japan Times reported that a cabinet secretary said there [are] no abnormalities at nearby nuclear facilities. The epicenter was 120 km (74 miles) northeast of Kyushu Electric Power Co.’s Sendai nuclear plant in Kagoshima Prefecture, the only one operating in the country.  The Asahi Shimbun quotes Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga saying, “Under the current circumstances, there is no need to stop the plant because (the shaking) is sufficiently low.”

Meanwhile, in Fukuoka, motorists and pedestrians have reported seeing white foam on the streets after the quakes:

 

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