Three Reasons For Sullivan’s Town Hall, Plus Feedback, and Some Re-Design Concerns

Posted: 4:30 am ET
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We recently blogged Why Tillerson Not Sullivan Needs the Town Hall: Morale Is Bad, “S” is Accountable.  We also posted our comments on Deputy Secretary Sullivan’s on-the-record briefing with the State Department Press Corps (see Deputy Secretary Sullivan’s Town Hall With @StateDept Employees Now in Gifs).

We now understand that Deputy Secretary Sullivan had three reasons for holding a town hall with State Department employees.  It appears like he missed some marks.

State/USAID full merger no longer in the planning?

The first reason for the town hall was reportedly to make clear to employees that for planning purposes there will not be a full merger between the State Department and USAID. All Working Groups (now known as “Workstreams”) involved in the redesign were previously instructed to assume that State and USAID will “remain separate” but be “mutually dependent” entities. That is, USAID will not be fully subsumed but it will also not be further separated from State. Our understanding it that the Working Groups would consider consolidation at the management and program levels if it is best or moving things from USAID or State depending on who has the expertise. The important point that folks expected Mr. Sullivan to clarify was to make clear that the full merger is no longer in the planning. Apparently, this he did not do.

Based on the on-the-record briefing with D/Secretary Sullivan, he only mentioned USAID once when he said, “Nothing’s off the table, everything is going to be evaluated by them, the Secretary has not given – other than a mandate to make a better State Department and USAID more efficient and effective for the 21st century, he’s not directed that any outcome result from this redesign.” During the town hall, he reportedly told attendees that “The redesign is not the dismantling of State and USAID.”  Expectant folks were  disappointed, and were perplexed why Mr. Sullivan did not mention that the full merger is no longer in the planning.

Preparation, Organization, Skepticism

The other two reasons were more challenging. One, he was supposed to impressed upon employees that the re-design process is “truly employee-led” and two, he was supposed to provide some motivation to the staff.

On the re-design, we understand that there are two issues. First, the issue with trust is reportedly a huge concern.  In addition, employees also believe that the contracted firm has more access to Secretary Tillerson than all of the current leadership.  The State Department leadership reportedly doesn’t understand why no one believes that the process isn’t rigged.  So, they do all these things to try and convince folks that is not the case but without much success. Latest examples are the town hall with inadequate answers, and a stakeholder meeting last week with NGOs who do business with State/USAID. Both did not go very well.  In the latter, the State Department representatives apparently tried to take a poll on foreign aid priorities. Sources told a reporter that the poll questions were dumb and the answer choices were often irrelevant. NGO representatives told the reporter that they felt like they were being talked down to and offered BS responses.

The second concern has to do with preparation and organization. Apparently USAID is seen as seeming more prepared and organized in these meetings and in the Workstreams. State reportedly appears seemingly scattered and State folks more likely to disagree with other State people.  At this time, we only know that career employees are in these working groups. We don’t know if there are political appointees working with them and what roles are played by the consulting firms.

Below are the short and the long bits on D’s town hall.

via tenor.com

 

Town Hall Feedback

One blog feedback we received: I was there and DS Sullivan might as well have not showed up. 80 percent of the questions seemed out of his league. Huge disappointment!”

One State Department employee told us he/she gave Deputy Secretary Sullivan a “B” for effort and style, and a “D” for substance, as there were too many questions that he could not answer. If the questions were collected from the Secretary’s Sounding Board, he should have been prepped better.

LGBT

We were informed that Mr. Sullivan did give a pretty good answer on diversity when he was asked if the Department was doing anything to help LGBT employees with the family member accreditation issue (now that State/HR has changed the Fair Share rule to 20% posts or greater, we’ve also learned that only 33% of posts are places where LGBT FSOs can serve accompanied by their families).

The Q&A from the town hall and a few comments in [brackets] below are provided anonymously through one of our contacts:

Re-design

Q: When will the redesign be complete? “There are a couple of steps in that process…when will we get to the point where the redesign is implemented that requires steps from Congress and OMB…as soon as we get clearance from OMB we will start…”

“The redesign is not the dismantling of State and USAID” [he really felt he had to say that out loud]. “Despite what you might read in the newspaper”[….fake news!!]

Future hiring

Q: AFSA: …We found the same thing Insigniam did – we love our jobs but are driven to distraction by onerous process…but as to the hiring freeze and the FS…because it’s an up or out system, we have a built-in RIF…so we are RIFing right now unless we are hiring…what can you tell us about hiring ELOs next year so we don’t repeat the mistakes of the past? “The issues you raise are important” [oh boy…] “that’s why we have ambassadors and career FSOs working on this in the working groups…it’s an important issue we’re working on.”

CA to DHS

Q: One recommendation from the listening tour report was to move CA to DHS? “Nothing is off the table – because this is a bottom up employee-led process, but I have told S how important CA is, it’s not his intent nor mine to move CA. But nothing is off the table.”

Lateral transfers

Q: Why are you preventing lateral moves for civil servants? He’s explaining the hiring freeze... “it’s not a sign of disrespect”. [OMG he just said] “I’ll give you two examples of great civil servants I know.”

Delegations of Authority

Q: On delegations to P – ability to act for S and D in their place – how do we do legal necessary things if you aren’t available? “This process is ongoing…we will ensure decision making is launched at the right level…” [whaaaaaaT?! In the meantime we are f*****g drowning!]
(DS NOTE: Oops! On July 31, Secretary Tillerson issued DA-245-2 from S to the Deputy Secretary (Sullivan); we have yet to see the DA from the Secretary to the Under Secretary for Political Affairs (Shannon). 
“S” Clearance for International Travel
Q: We have just been notified we need S’ clearance on all international travel…as you just said the survey mentioned so many of us mentioned the clearance process as onerous. “The means by which we authorize employees to travel is one of these issues that has been raised to me many times…I’m not completely familiar with the issue you raise…but what I can address is, delegations of authority, and the NYT said my authorities were removed because of something I did, but that’s not factually true…we found there are hundreds of delegations of authority and there’s no central way to keep track…but as to travel, I’ll have to get back to you…”
(DS NOTE: Guidance was issued Monday evening, August 7, that ALL overseas travel “to participate in events” must now be approved via action memo to the Secretary himself. It also requested a detailed budget breakdown of the trip and information on other participants. The same guidance was rescinded by Tuesday evening. On delegations of authority, the notion that there’s no way to track delegations of authority – that’s just incorrect. A/GIS/DIR maintains an electronic listing and database of all current and rescinded Department delegations on the A/GIS/DIR website). 
EFMs and hiring freeze

Q: Hiring freeze especially hard for EFMs. Will the freeze be reconsidered? “We will endeavor to lift the freeze as quickly as possible. In the interim there are waivers” [yeah but S insists on reading each waiver personally!!]

Vacancies

Q: You began your speech with how important Tom Shannon is, but there are a number of other people who could be helping you and poor Tom – the empty AS and under secretaries – why aren’t these being filled? (Applause) “There is no delay or freeze on nominating political appointees though many think there should be...[silence]...that’s a joke!” [Ugh.] “The process is underway, hasn’t gone as quickly as we’ve hoped but it’s underway…I think it’s gaining steam…”

 

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