USAID’s Job Cancellations Raise Questions About Its Staffing Future and Operations

Posted: 2:58 am ET

 

In early November, we blogged about USAID’s cancellation of all pre-employment offers for all USAID Foreign Service officer positions (see USAID Marks 56th Birthday With Job Cancellations For 97 “Valued Applicants”).

That cancellation email was sent on Tuesday, October 24, to all candidates that had received pre-employment offers.  We understand that FSO positions are advertised by technical “backstops.” This process is lengthy (1-2 years from application to start date) and expensive for the agency. So USAID has now revoked the pre-employment offers for all FSO candidates of multiple backstops.

Why is this expensive?  For those in the pre-employment stage, USAID had already paid for their recruitment, interviews, medical clearances, and security clearances. USAID pre-employment offers are conditional on medical and security clearances. In the past, candidates that complete both clearances join the next incoming C3 class, USAID’s equivalent to the State Department’s A-100 class for officers. We understand that the last C3 class was prior to the new Administration assuming office in January 2017.

So here are a few questions we received in this blog:

  • Is this part of the redesign strategy to merge State and USAID?
  • Given the lengthy and expensive application process, is USAID not planning to hire ANY new FSOs for another year, or two, or more?
  • This USAID decision seem to go against the spirit of the Senate’s September 7 proposed Foreign Operations Appropriations (PDF). Is this raising alarm bells for those interested in maintaining the staffing and operations of USAID?

Perhaps not alarm bells at the moment, but it has attracted congressional interests.  On November 9, the Senate Foreign Relations Ranking Member Ben Cardin (D-MD) sent this letter to USAID Administrator Mark Green requesting that he “immediately reverse this misguided decision”, and provide responses to several questions by Thursday, November 22. The letter notes:

Nearly ten years ago Congress challenged USAID to boost the capacity and expertise of its Foreign Service by authorizing the Development Leadership Initiative (DLI) from 2008 –2012. By authorizing the DLI, Congress made clear that having a capable and strong Foreign Service at USAID is essential for a successful foreign policy and national security approach. USAID’s decision to turn away seasoned development experts from the Foreign Service severely undermines U.S. foreign policy and national security goals. It is my understanding that USAlD’s internal guidance on the hiring freeze exempted any position “necessary to meet national security (including foreign relations) responsibilities.” It is difficult to believe that many of these Foreign Service positions do not meet the exemption threshold.

Senator Cardin also wanted the following questions answered:

  • Why is a hiring freeze still in place. and when does USAID expect to lift it?
  • Has USAID qualified any of these positions as national security related, and if so, why did USAID not grant exemptions to the freeze for these positions?
  • How many positions within USAID are exclusively for Foreign Service candidates? How many Foreign Service applicants has USAID accepted in 2017?
  • What does USAID mean that the positions were “cancelled”?
  • Do applicants for these USAID Foreign Service positions have the option to accept a non-Foreign Service post until the hiring freeze is lifted, and will it count towards any Foreign Service requirement or credit they may be pursuing as part of their Foreign Service career?
  • How many exemptions to the hiring freeze has the Agency made to date, both for Foreign Service and non-Foreign Service posts within the Agency?
  • How many open Foreign Service Limited positions are considered exempt from the hiring freeze. and can some ofthose positions be filled by some of the Foreign Service applicants who received the November 1, 2017 notice?
  • Will applicants who received the November 1. 2017 notice be permitted to apply for future foreign service assignments without restarting, from the beginning, the lengthy foreign service application process?
  • How many positions were ultimately created by the Development Leadership Initiative, and how many of those were subsequently “cancelled”?
Previously, on November 1, Ranking Member Nita Lowey of the House Appropriations Subcommittee on State, Foreign Operations, and Related Programs asked USAID Administrator Mark Green during a Subcommittee hearing to explain the job cancellationc.  It does not sound from Mr. Green’s response as if he understood the question or aware that jobs for candidates with pre-employment offers had been cancelled. “We’ve not eliminated positions, we’re still on a hiring freeze,” he said, but the federal hiring freeze has long been lifted; the one remaining is Tillerson’s hiring freeze. USAID is a separate agency, or maybe in practice, despite the absence of a “merge”, it’s not separate from State anymore. Administrator Green also said, “We’ve asked for an exception for this class and it was denied”, a response that appears to conflate the job cancellations in late October with an early 2017 USAID request to start a new class.
Click on image below to link to the video of the hearing starting at 1:24:10
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Waiting For Tillerson: Grievance Board’s Term Expired on 9/30, Members Down From 18 to 8

Posted: 2:52 am ET
Updated: 9:12 am PT

 

Update: After this blogpost was posted, we received the following from FSGB today:  “Secretary Tillerson appointed 11 members to the Board on November 3, 2017 – six former members were reappointed and five new members were appointed to their first terms on the Board. this yields a net increase of one Board member, bringing the total to 19 members. On the question of the website address: IRM is aware of the issue with the website and is researching a solution to resolve it. the current address is a temporary fix to allow us to stay online until IRM finds a permanent solution that will comply with the FAH.” The website has now been updated to reflect the members of the new Board.

The Foreign Service Grievance Board has 18 members.  The two-year appointment of 10 of 18 members expired on September 30, 2017. Secretary Tillerson needs to appoint new members of the Board. He is reportedly “considering appointments to the Board” but six weeks later, he has yet to announced his decision.

A quick background on the Foreign Service Grievance Board (FSGB) via fsgb.gov:

On March 26, 1976 Congress amended the Foreign Service Act of 1946 to establish a permanent grievance system.  Although it retained many of the procedures of the earlier, interim system, the statutory system carried additional functions and authority.  In particular, the new Board could order the suspension of agency actions pending the Board’s decision in cases involving the separation or disciplining of an employee if it considered such action warranted.  Further, the Board’s recommendations to an agency head could be rejected only if they “would be contrary to law, would adversely affect the foreign policy or security of the United States, or would substantially impair the efficiency of the service.”

Under Section 1105 of the Foreign Service Act of 1980, as amended (the Act), Congress established the Foreign Service Grievance Board, which consists of no fewer than five members who are independent, distinguished citizens of the United States. Well known for their integrity, they are not employees of the foreign affairs agencies or members of the Service. Each member, including the Chairperson, is appointed by the Secretary of State for a term of two years, subject to renewal. Appointments are made from nominees approved in writing by the agencies served by the Board and the exclusive representative for each such agency. The Chairperson may select one member as a deputy who, in the absence of the Chair, may assume the duties and responsibilities of that position. The Chair also selects an Executive Secretary, who is responsible to the Board through the Chairperson.

The grievance system underwent further change pursuant to the Foreign Service Act of 1980 and implementing regulations which went into effect on June 11, 1984.  The Foreign Commercial Service of the Department of Commerce and the Foreign Agricultural Service of the Department of Agriculture were added to the agencies already covered.

Through the years the makeup of the Board has changed from the initial nine members to a membership of 18.  Board members are appointed by the Secretary of State and the innovative mix of an almost equal number of professional arbitrators and of other members having Foreign Service experience has remained constant.

According to the FSGB, the terms of the Chairman and Deputy Chair expired on October 1, 2017, and the Board awaits the Secretary’s appointment of a new Chair.

In 2014, the average time for the disposition of an FSGB case from time of filing to Board decision, withdrawal or dismissal was 41 weeks. In 2015, it went down to 34 weeks, and in 2016 that time was up to 39 weeks.  The length of time for disposition of FSGB cases will likely go up again given that the members are down to its last eight members, they have no chairperson until one is appointed, and new members have yet to be appointed six weeks since the last Board’s appointment ended.

Below is the announcement from the FSGB:

Until October 1, the Foreign Service Grievance Board consisted of 18 members, appointed by the Secretary of State to two-year terms.  The terms of ten FSGB members, including the Chairperson, expired on September 30, 2017.  The Secretary of State is considering appointments to the Board, but has not yet announced his decision.  Until the appointments are announced, the remaining eight Board members, with the aid of their staff, will continue to work on resolving the cases before the Board to the extent allowed by time constraints and the limits of the Board’s authority under the Foreign Service Act.  Parties to grievance cases before the Board should adhere to all case processing deadlines, communicating with the adjudication panels through the Board Special Assistant assigned to their cases.  Grievants filing cases in this interim period will receive specific guidance after the grievance is filed. 

The Board requests patience, as case processing times will likely increase due to the reduced number of Board members able to rule on grievances.  Parties will be notified of changes to panel membership when such a change becomes necessary.

Also hey, what’s the deal with FSGB’s new URL –https://regionals.service-now.com/fsgb_public?

State Department websites are supposed to have a .gov in their URLs and are prohibited from using .com.  Per 5 FAH 8 H-342.3-2 Required Domain Names “Department public websites must use a state.gov domain name or .gov according to the naming convention for posts. The top-level name .com is strictly prohibited.”

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First @StateDept Postpones Annual Retirement Ceremony, Then Postpones Annual Awards Ceremony

Posted: 2:19 am ET

 

Each fall, usually in November, and tentatively scheduled for Friday, November 17, 2017 this year, the Secretary of State hosts the annual retirement ceremony. Invitations usually go out out in the first half of October to State Department Civil Service and Foreign Service employees who retires between September 1 the year before and August 31 of the current year. Employees who retire after August 31, 2017 for instance will be invited to next year’s ceremony (fall of 2018).

On October 23, State/HR sent out an email announcement informing recipients that the Secretary’s Annual Retirement Ceremony has been changed. “Regrettably, the tentative date for the Retirement Ceremony has been preempted by another event.” This year’s ceremony is now reportedly scheduled for Thursday, December 7. The invitations to the honorees were supposedly mailed out the first week of November.

The State Department’s public schedule for November 17 is listed as follows:

9:45 a.m. Secretary Tillerson delivers remarks at the Ministerial on Trade, Security, and Governance in Africa, at the Department of State.

11:30 a.m. Secretary Tillerson participates in a Family Photo, at the Department of State.

4:30 p.m. Secretary Tillerson meets with President Donald Trump, at the White House.

We don’t know which of the above pre-empted the event last week or if somebody else had some private ceremony at the State Department venue. We’re told this has to be done during the day to avoid overtime payment.  In any case, we’ll have to watch out what happens on December 7 and see if they can round up enough people for Tillerson’s first retirement ceremony.

On November 14, a notification also went out from State/HR that the 2017 Department Annual Awards Ceremony has been rescheduled:

The Secretary’s travel demands will make it impossible for him to preside over the Department Awards ceremony scheduled tentatively for November 21, 2017. We expect to reschedule the event for a date in the near future. The Secretary would like very much to present these awards himself and asks that we try to find a date and time that fits with his calendar. We will be in touch as soon as we have any information on the plans for the ceremony.

A howler arrived in our inbox:

The Secretary postponed State’s annual awards ceremony on short notice. Individuals understand the priority of world affairs and how a crisis takes precedence over a ceremony, however, that is precisely when another senior officer conducts the ceremony. That’s great the Secretary himself wants to be there, but the show must go on. Many (if not most) individuals receiving these prestigious awards had family traveling to DC to be present. The awards are a big deal and it is Thanksgiving weekend. Now all the travel plans are wasted, money is lost (who buys non-refundable tickets?) and Thanksgiving reunions are ruined.

It’s almost like the Secretary and his top team seek out every opportunity to destroy morale amongst his staff.

Perhaps Mr. Tillerson isn’t used to thinking about these things. But see, if he has counsel at the top besides the denizens of the “God Pod”, that individual would have anticipated this. The awardees are not just coming from next door, or within driving distance, and their families do not live in Washington, D.C. Anyone with a slight interest in the Foreign Service should know that. It is understandable that the Secretary has lots of responsibilities, but State could have used his deputy, or if he, too, is traveling, they could certainly use “P” to do this on Mr. Tillerson’s behalf. Of course, if advisors at the top are as blind as the secretary, this is what you get, which only alienates the building more.

Should be interesting to see where Secretary Tillerson’s travel take him this Thanksgiving week.

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America’s “Newspaper of Record” Calls Rex Tillerson Ill-Suited As Secretary of State, Ouchy!

Posted: 2:14 am ET

 

NYT’s editorial of November 18, not only called Mr. Tillerson ill-suited as secretary of state, it also cited the 69th secretary of state’s “limited ambitions.”

One GOP senator John Cornyn still thinks Mr. Tillerson is “doing a great job”.  Early this year, the senior senator from Texas introduced Rex Tillerson before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee as “uniquely qualified to serve in this important office.”

AND NOW THIS —

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