State/OIG Reports to Congress: Investigations Into Mrs P’s Travels, Ambassadors, Senior Advisors, FSOs and More

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On June 1, 2021, State/OIG published online its Semiannual Report to the Congress (October 1, 2020 to March 31, 2021).
On  accountability and independence, the OIG reports:
“OIG did not encounter any attempts to interfere with Inspector General independence—whether through budgetary constraints designed to limit its capabilities, resistance or objection to oversight activities, or restrictions on or significant delays in access to information—for the reporting period from October 1, 2020, through March 31, 2021.
OIG encountered a three-month delay in scheduling an interview with Secretary Michael Pompeo as part of its review of allegations of misuse of Department resources. OIG initially requested an interview on September 11, 2020, but then-Secretary Pompeo did not agree to the interview (which was scheduled for December 23, 2020) until December 16, 2020.
During a mandated review of the Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs’ (INL) reporting related to National Drug Control Program activities, INL was not sufficiently responsive to OIG’s requests for information. At the conclusion of fieldwork, OIG determined that it could not complete its review because it did not have sufficient, appropriate evidence to be able to draw a conclusion about whether the Department’s management assertions in its Accounting and Authentication of FY 2020 Drug Control Funds and Related Performance Report were fairly stated.”
The Office of Evaluations and Special Projects (ESP):
“From October 1, 2020, to March 31, 2021, ESP issued one unclassified report on Department programs and operations. Management Assistance Report: Representational Travel by the Spouse of the Secretary of State (ESP-21-01, 12/2020) In 2019, OIG received a whistleblower complaint related to travel by the spouse of the Secretary of State that the Department considered official travel. To investigate this complaint, OIG requested and reviewed documentation related to official representational family travel by Susan Pompeo from April 2018 to April 2020. Generally, Department policy permits such travel by relatives of Department officials for appropriate representational purposes. However, both Department guidance and principles of internal control require documentation of both the official purpose and the approval of the travel. The Secretary’s spouse took eight trips that were declared official from April 2018 to April 2020. Of the eight trips, OIG found documentation of an authorized purpose for all eight trips, but only found written approval for two of the trips.
OIG recommended that the Office of the Secretary seek and gain written approval for all representational travel, and that the Under Secretary for Management or other authorizing official document in writing the approval for all representational trips by any family members. The Department concurred with these recommendations.”
ESP Substantiation of Allegations of Non-Criminal Misconduct Involving Senior Government Employees, 10/1/2020–3/31/2021
— A case closed in January 2021 involved a U.S. Ambassador. “OIG found that the official committed several violations of Department policy, including involving a household member in official duties, using personal social media accounts for official activities, and failing to comply with 3 FAM 1214.1 “Leadership and Management Principles for Department Employees” and “The Standards of Ethical Conduct for Employees of the Executive Branch,” issued by the U.S. Office of Government Ethics. OIG referred its findings to the Under Secretary for Political Affairs and the Bureau of African Affairs. Shortly after OIG issued its findings, the Ambassador left office as part of the presidential transition.”
— A case closed in March 2021 involved a USAGM Senior Advisor.  “OIG found that the official violated Federal recordkeeping regulations by instructing employees to communicate with her on official matters using a mobile messaging application and then deleting the messages without properly preserving them in agency recordkeeping systems. OIG referred its findings to USAGM, which reviewed the matter and notified the National Archives and Records Administration of the improper disposal of Federal records.”
The Office of Investigations conducts worldwide investigations of criminal, civil, and administrative misconduct related to programs and operations of the Department. During the reporting period, OIG conducted a number of investigations involving senior Government employees.
Investigations Involving Senior Government Employees Where Allegations Were Substantiated, 10/1/2020–3/31/2021
— On June 12, 2015, OIG opened an investigation based on information that a senior Administrative Officer and two of her subordinates violated procurement rules and regulations related to the use of U.S. Government purchase cards. The investigation substantiated the allegation and revealed the officer instructed her employees to engage in the practice of split purchasing. As there was no violation of criminal law, the case was not referred to DOJ. However, the officer resigned from the Department while under investigation. The case was closed in January 2021.
— On October 28, 2019, OIG opened an investigation based on information that the senior advisor to a U.S. Ambassador serving overseas may have received supplemental compensation from a private company while serving as a U.S. Government employee. The investigation revealed the advisor transmitted Sensitive But Unclassified information to non-U.S. Government personnel and received gifts of airfare and a gift card valued over $8,000 from a private business entity. As there was no violation of criminal law, the case was not referred to DOJ. However, the officer resigned from the Department while under investigation. The case was closed in February 2021.
— On May 29, 2019, OIG opened an investigation regarding multiple allegations of misconduct by a U.S. Ambassador. The investigation revealed the Ambassador inappropriately used his position to try to influence the move of a professional sporting event to a different venue. He also knowingly allowed his special assistant to conduct personal matters that fell outside of her scope of official duties, and while using non-Department email accounts, he did not courtesy copy or forward to his official Department email account at least 62 official emails in the span of approximately 6 months.As there was no violation of criminal law, the case was not referred to DOJ. However, the Ambassador resigned from the Department while under investigation. The case was closed in February 2021.
Under notable resolutions, State/OIG/INV’s list includes the following:
— In March 2021,  two Foreign Service Officers agreed to pay more than $13,033 to the U.S. Government to resolve issues related to fraud allegations regarding Department travel vouchers. OIG special agents determined that the married couple engaged in a scheme to defraud the Department by filing four travel vouchers that claimed lodging expenses they were not entitled to under Federal Travel Regulations. The fraud was committed from approximately September 2014 through April 2019. OIG’s Office of General Counsel coordinated the Program Fraud Civil Remedies Act action that resulted in the settlement.
–In October 2020, three individuals were indicted for using a business email compromise scheme, or BEC, to defraud the Department. OIG and Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) special agents determined the individuals tricked the Department and a nonprofit agency into wiring at least $575,000 into bank accounts they controlled for the purpose of enriching themselves and their co-conspirators.
Under employee misconduct:
— In November 2020, former Seabee Martin Huizar was sentenced to 109 months’ incarceration and ordered to pay $40,100 in fines and $10,000 in restitution, along with serving a 10-year term of supervised release, for transportation of images of child sexual abuse on his phones and tablet computer. The OIG Special Assistant United States Attorney assigned to the Eastern District of Virginia prosecuted the case.
 

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FSGB: @StateDept Miscalculates Length of Creditable Federal Service in Annuity Case

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USADF is an independent U.S. Government agency established by the U.S. Congress to support and invest in African-owned and African-led enterprises that improve the lives and livelihoods of people in underserved communities in Africa. See the African Development Foundation Act.
Via FSGB 2020-040:

Held – Grievant established by a preponderance of evidence that the Department of State (“Department” or “agency”) committed grievable errors when it miscalculated her length of creditable federal service and erroneously determined that her 2015-2016 employment with the U.S. African Development Foundation (“USADF”) was not federal service.

Case Summary –

Grievant was employed intermittently by the federal government from 1980 to 2016. In July 1984, grievant, previously a Civil Service (“CS”) employee of the U.S. Agency for International Development (“USAID”), converted to the Foreign Service (“FS”). From July 22, 1984 through at least February 24, 1988, USAID’s records show her as a participant in the Foreign Service Retirement and Disability System (“FSRDS”), paying the required seven percent (7%) mandatory employee contribution, receiving no credits under the Old-Age, Survivors, and Disability Insurance (“OASDI”) program, and not contributing to the Thrift Savings Plan (“TSP”). Upon applying for a pension, however, she was informed by the Department that she was four days short of the minimum five years required to qualify for an annuity.

Grievant asserted that she initially planned to resign from USAID on February 24, 1988, but that she decided to remain at post until March 11, 1988, in the FS and a participant in the FSRDS for those 15 days. She submitted two documents to verify her employment end date of March 11, 1988: a USAID-generated Individual Pay and Leave Record that showed employment by USAID for five pay periods in 1988 and a 1988 State Department FSRDS Participant Record from the Department. Both of those documents showed retirement payroll deductions through March 11, 1988. Grievant also complained that the Department did not consider her 2015-2016 employment with the USADF, a U.S. government agency, as federal service.

The Department denied that grievant was employed by USAID from February 25 to March 11, 1988. The Department relied on a USAID SF-50 form stating that grievant’s retirement date was February 24, 1988. The Department argued that its practice was to use an SF-50 as the only primary evidence available to verify creditable service, rejecting grievant’s documents as less persuasive secondary evidence. The Department offered no explanation for omitting grievant’s USADF employment from the calculation of her federal service.

The Board found that the State Department FSRDS Participant Record was a primary source of verification, that it was supported by the USAID-generated Individual Pay and Leave Record and was a more reliable record than the conflicting SF-50 form. The Board noted errors in the SF-50 form and prior SF-50s of grievant. Accordingly, the Board found that grievant proved by a preponderance of evidence that her creditable federal service at USAID ended on March 11, 1988. The Board also found that grievant was in federal service for the 2015-2016 period, as evidenced by SF-50s prepared by USADF.

The Board directed the Department to recommend an appropriate retirement annuity consistent with this decision and present to grievant for her consideration. The parties were ordered to report the Department’s recommendation of an annuity and grievant’s response to the Board within 30 days of this decision. The Board retains jurisdiction of the case.

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