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

Posted: 4:30 am ET

 

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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Bureau of Diplomatic Security’s “Naughty List” — What’s That All About?

Posted: 3:48 am ET

 

On August 8, we blogged about a woman who reported that she was raped and stalked by a supervisory Diplomatic Security agent assigned to one of the bureau’s field offices in the United States. The blogpost includes the State Department recently issued guidance on sexual assaults covering personnel and facilities in the United States (See A Woman Reported to Diplomatic Security That She Was Raped and Stalked by a DS Agent, So What Happened?).

We have since been been told that if we keep digging, we will “find much more” and that we should be looking for the “Naughty List” also known as the Adverse Action list.

When we asked what kind of numbers we’re talking about, we were informed that “the numbers are enough to say this is a systemic issue within the department.”  In the course of looking into this one case, we discovered a second case similar to the one we blogged about last week.  But the allegation was related to a different employee.

We’ve asked Diplomatic Security about the List but to-date we have not heard anything back.  We have two sources who confirmed the existence of the list.

What is the “Naught List”?

The list is formally called the Adverse Action list. We understand that this is a list of Diplomatic Security employees who are under investigation or declared “unfit for duty“.  Among the allegations we’ve got so far:

  • Investigations where agents were not disciplined but suspected of similar offenses
  • Investigations that languished on somebody’s desk for a decision
  • Agents curtail from post due to their “inappropriate behavior” and then just get reassigned somewhere else to become someone else’s problem (or nightmare if you are the victim).
  • Most agents are sent back to work with a slap on the wrist, regardless of how egregious the allegation against them were.
  • That this blog is only aware of two cases while “there are many more than that that exists.”
  • The system is highly flawed when you have coworkers/buddies investigating you.
  • That the Sexual Assault Policy is all smoke and mirrors without a mechanism to ensure the alleged perpetrator does not reoffend by discipline, removal, or treatment once its been established that the allegation has merit.

We’ve seen this movie before, haven’t we?

In October 2014, State/OIG published its Review of Selected Internal Investigations Conducted by the Bureau of Diplomatic Security.  That report includes a case where the OIG found an appearance of undue influence and favoritism concerning a DS Regional Security Officer (RSO) posted overseas, who, in 2011, allegedly engaged in sexual misconduct and harassment.  DS commenced an internal investigation of those allegations in September 2011.  The report notes that at the time the investigation began, the RSO already had a long history of similar misconduct allegations dating back 10 years at seven other posts where he worked.

The report also notes that “notwithstanding the serious nature of the alleged misconduct, the Department never attempted to remove the RSO from Department work environments where the RSO could potentially harm other employees, an option available under the FAM.”  The OIG reports that in November 2013, based on evidence collected by DS and the Department’s Office of Civil Rights, the Department commenced termination of employment proceedings against the RSO. The RSO’s employment in the Department did not end until mid-2014, approximately 3 years after DS initially learned of the 2011 allegations.

Now three years after that employee’s departure, and six years after that 2011 allegations, here we are once again. Similar cases, different characters.

The questions we’ve been asked

Of which we have no answer — but we’re hoping that Diplomatic Security or the State Department would be asked by congressional overseers — are as follows:

√ Why would DS want to keep an agent or agents on that reflects so poorly on the Agency? Does DS not find this to be a liability?

√ Is Diplomatic Security (DS) prepared to deal with the aftermath if this agent continues to commit the same offenses that he has allegedly been accused of, especially if there is a track record for this agent?

√ There is an internal group that meets monthly to discuss these cases; they include representatives from at least six offices across bureaus, so what happened to these cases? Why are these actions tolerated?

√ If DS is so proactive based on its new Sexual Assault Policy, why are they not seeking a quicker timeline from investigation to discipline, to demonstrate to alleged victims that the agency does indeed take these allegations seriously?

We have to add a few questions of our own. Why do DS agents continue to investigate misconduct of other DS agents that they will likely serve with in the future, or that they may rely on for future assignments?

According to the Spring 2017 Report to Congress, the Bureau of Diplomatic Security (DS) has limited and continues to limit OIG’s permanent worldwide access to specific DS systems that OIG requires to conduct its oversight activities. Why? (see @StateDept Now Required to Report Allegations and Investigations to OIG Within 5 Days).

What are we going to see when we (or other reporters) FOIA this “Naughty List”?

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What’s That Sound? That’s AFSA Drilling a Hole In Search of Its Missing Backbone

Posted: 2:14 pm PT

 

Via Politico: Barbara Stephenson, the president of the American Foreign Service Association, the diplomats’ union: “America’s leadership is being challenged by adversaries who would like to see us fail. We cannot let that happen,” she said. “With all the threats facing our nation, we need a properly resourced and staffed Foreign Service more than ever, and we need them where they do the most good—posted abroad, delivering for the American people.”

AFSA on Twitter:

–Nine in 10 Americans support strong American global leadership. (1/5)
— That’s unthinkable without a strong/professional FS deployed around the world protecting/defending our people, interests & values. (2/5)
— America’s leadership is being challenged by adversaries who would like to see us fail. We cannot let that happen. (3/5)
— With all the threats facing our nation, we need a properly resourced and staffed Foreign Service more than ever (4/5)
— and we need them where they do the most good—posted abroad, delivering for the American people. (5/5)

AFSA added “At this point, President Trump’s ambassadorial nominees have taken an average of 42 days to be confirmed. (GW Bush 62 days, Obama 101 days.)”

Heard anything yet from Secretary Tillerson? From Deputy Secretary Sullivan?

O.K.

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#TrumpChicken Thanks Putin For Kicking Out U.S.Mission Russia Staffers

Posted: 4:19 pm PT

 

On August 10, 2017, Donald J. Trump, the 45th President of the United States announced for all the world to hear that he wanted to thank Russian leader Vladimir Putin for slashing the United States own diplomatic staff at U.S. Mission Russia.  He was under the impression that this would result in a smaller payroll.  If he were a little bit more curious about our diplomatic missions, he would know that our career diplomats and their families would be reassigned to other posts. And he would realize that when our diplomats are kicked out from a certain country, it would impact the United States ability to analyze, report, negotiate, and improve bilateral relation with that country.

If he were a little bit more informed, he would know that the reduction in staff — beyond the upheavals it would bring to the lives of mission staffers and their families — would hinder the embassy’s ability to investigate allegations of mistreatment of or discrimination against U.S. investors in Russia. If the U.S. does not have sufficient staff, it would jeopardize cooperation with Russia in addressing pressing global challenges where U.S. core national security interests align:

  • nonproliferation
  • nuclear and other weapons of mass destruction (WMD) security
  • preventing atrocities and humanitarian crises
  • combatting violent extremism and terrorism

But Mr. Trump is not curious, and he is ill informed, and he has not shown signs that he will improve with age. Unfortunately, this also shows us as clear as day that he sees no usefulness for diplomacy nor appreciation for the people who labors in it.

Frankly, the only way we are actually able to process this latest edition in bonkers news is if we imagine that Trump Chicken delivered this message and the real President of the United States is somehow working, not golfing, with the dedicated personnel at Area 51.

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Deputy Secretary Sullivan’s Town Hall With @StateDept Employees Now in Gifs

Posted: 3:09 am ET

 

On August 8, while Secretary Tillerson remains on travel, Deputy Secretary John Sullivan had a town hall with employees at the State Department.  The event was closed to the press though there was one report filed soon after it concluded. We’ve got thoughts about this, so we wrote Why Tillerson Not Sullivan Needs the Town Hall: Morale Is Bad, “S” is Accountable.

Now, we think that this town hall was put together in a hurry to counter the deluge of bad press that’s been flooding our inboxes about the State Department, and Secretary Tillerson in particular. Why do we think that? Because Mr. Sullivan, who we’re told is personable and likable, was not as prepped as he should have been if this was appropriately planned. Secretary Tillerson is on travel from August 5-9, so a wait of 48-72 hours after his return to hold a town hall would have been feasible. But somebody must have decided that the negative reports have reached a tipping point and that they must be addressed before Tillerson returns to office. So now that his deputy has held one, Secretary Tillerson no longer has to do one. Or not immediately. According to Mr. Sullivan, Secretary Tillerson will do one in three months, “He’s going to do one in three months, and it will be the same format as I used today.”

The State Department obviously want the press corps to write about the town hall, how the deputy secretary is taking questions from employees, and answering them, and to impress upon media folks that things are going well in Foggy Bottom. And yet, the event was closed to the press. We are guessing that the State Department wanted good press clips, but did not really want members of the media to witness the question and answer. Unscripted things happen in those events, sometimes embarrassing ones and reporters could write up those stuff. And then you have a bigger fire.

As far as we are aware, no video was posted of the town hall and no transcript was made publicly available, though there are a few photos. But after the event concluded, the State Department made Deputy Secretary Sullivan available for On-the-Record Briefing With the State Department Press Corps.  We’re hearing from Mr. Sullivan, but we’re not hearing from the folks who asked him questions. See the interesting gap there? In any case, here are the things that we found notable from Mr. Sullivan’s on-the-record briefing. We’ll address the interesting gap next time.

Hitting on all cylinders!

John J. Sullivan: “So we’ve been very busy; he’s been very busy, supported by our great Foreign Service and Civil Service here at the State Department. So the notion that’s been out in the press and in the media of a hollowed-out State Department that is not effective, I think, is counterfactual, and the fact that the Secretary and the department have been able to accomplish what they have is evidence of the fact that we are hitting on all cylinders even though we don’t have the full complement of political appointees that we should have.”

 

 

Frozen, who’s frozen?

JJS: “I don’t think anyone would say – no one here would say that we’re pleased by the fact that we don’t have more of our under secretary and assistant secretary slots filled, but we’re working hard to do that. Those slots are not being – those slots are not being frozen or not filled because of the redesign that’s underway. […] So I think the last stat I saw was that we have roughly 60 percent of the unders and assistant secretaries slots either confirmed, nominated, or in the process, so getting – undergoing the security clearance review and so forth. And we hope to get all of those slots filled as quickly as we can.”

Is @StateDept Reporting Its Vacant Positions Under the Vacancies Reform Act? Barely, According to GAO Database

via tenor.com

 

Five working groups — who are you people?

JJS: “But the redesign is in midstream. It’s really the – we’ve really hit our stride, and this month is going to be a key one for the working groups that are leading the effort on – there are five working groups that are leading the effort on redesigning the State Department. And I’d be happy to give you a little more detail on that if you would like to hear about that. […] So whether it was the mission statement that I was talking about earlier, the draft mission statement, to reorganization of the – of bureaus, that’s all going to be fed up through this redesign process, employee-led, and with input over time this month – later this month from other interested stakeholders, whether it’s senior leaders of bureaus in the department, union – unions – AFSA, for example, OMB, members of Congress. So we’re going to be as transparent as possible as we go forward and reach final decisions on these issues, and eventually implement them.”

COMMENT: Oh, yes, we’re interested on more details about these working groups. Who are in these five working groups? How were they selected? Who selected them? How transparent was the selection? Where can we find their names? How long are they expected to work in these groups. Have they been detailed to these groups or are these their collateral duties?

Growing Body of Work on Rex Tillerson’s Stewardship of the State Department

Why ‘Rexit” Is Not Happening Anytime Soon, in Rex Tillerson’s Own Words

via tenor.com

 

Hold on, the noise is coming from the building!

JJS: “I am from Boston and a New England Patriots fan, and those of you who know football know Bill Belichick’s motto is: Do your job and don’t pay attention to the noise out there. But in this town, it’s kind of hard to miss when your friends and colleagues start calling you and emailing you about the latest article that appeared.”

 

Helllooooo A/GIS/DIR – show yourself!

JJS: “And what we’ve discovered is that over the last seven years or more there have been hundreds of delegations of authority that no one had kept track of and there was no central either registry or system so that a current assistant secretary would know exactly what had been delegated to her or to him.”

COMMENT: Per regulations dated March 1, 2010, the State Department’s Office of Directives Management (A/GIS/DIR) under the Bureau of Administration (presently carrying on without an Assistant Secretary) manages the Department of State’s Delegations of Authority Program. It processes delegations of authority for publication in the Federal Register, and — get this — maintains the Department’s inventory of delegations of authority, including the Web-based Delegation of Authority Database.  So A/GIS/DIR assigns appropriate serial numbers to delegations of authority and maintains the Department’s records of official delegations. In addition, A/GIS/DIR maintains an electronic listing and database of all current and rescinded Department delegations on the A/GIS/DIR website.

WHO KNEW? 

Via Imgur

 

John, call your office now!

JJS: “So there are elements of truth in some of these stories, whether it’s about the delegation of authority or about the mission statement, but then they’re twisted in a way that makes it sound as though the Secretary is out of touch, mismanaging, whatever. [….] So I think there’s really a misperception both of the department and what we’re doing and his role in the department.”

COMMENT: The State Department should have every opportunity to respond to stories we write about it. They lost that opportunity when they banned this blog and refused to respond to email inquiries. See our original post on delegations of authority: Tillerson Rescinds Delegated Authorities Department-Wide, Further Gums Up Foggy Bottom). See our follow-up here: Making Sense of Tillerson’s Rescinded Delegations of Authority @StateDept/ .

As recently as last week, we asked about a specific case regarding a DS agent accused of rape and stalking. But all there are … are crickets (See A Woman Reported to Diplomatic Security That She Was Raped and Stalked by a DS Agent, So What Happened?). Hey, we’ve also asked about the “Naughty List” but still got crickets ….so anyways, we got work to do …

 

Noooo! Not the 1960’s or why Colin Powell should call in to protest

JJS: “I – once I asked – I won’t name him by name, because I don’t want to drag him into a news story, but I asked a retired, very senior Foreign Service officer – I had lunch with him not – just before I got – just before I came on board here. I asked him about what he knew about morale at the State Department, and he said morale at the State Department is very low. He said, “It was low when I started in 1960 and it’s still low. It’s the nature of the State Department.”

COMMENT: We wrote a bit about Colin Powell here: Why Tillerson Not Sullivan Needs the Town Hall: Morale Is Bad, “S” is Accountable.

 

Congrats, it was all for nothing!

JJS: “I think it’s almost 800 EFMs that have been approved since this – the hiring freeze was imposed.”

COMMENT: We’ve said this before and we’ll say this again. Whether the State Department is successfully reorganized or not, there will remain a need for community liaison coordinators, security escorts, consular associates, mailroom clerks, security coordinators, etc. at our overseas posts. So the freeze on these jobs did not make a whole lot of sense in the first place. But it did make life at overseas posts more difficult for employees who have to cover for these unfilled positions, and make for distressed diplomatic spouses who already suffer from extended under employment when they go overseas.

See Unemployment Status of @StateDept Family Members Overseas (4/2017) #ThanksTillerson

Oy! That Rumor About Foreign Service Family Member Employment as “Corporate Welfare”;
Are #EFM positions literally about to become…extinct under #Tillerson’s watch?;
No thaw in sight for @StateDept hiring freeze until reorganization plan is “fully developed”

 

Making Ops Center Watchstanders’ Lives Easier Soon!

JJS: “We don’t put a lot of – we don’t have a huge budget for things. We have a budget for people and we’re going to organize ourselves better, to use our people better, to – excuse me, to put our people and our employees in a position to do their jobs more effectively and efficiently, and to make their – make their jobs, their professional lives easier.”

COMMENT: The State Department is making folks’ professional lives easier already. And it’s starting with the watchstanders at the Operations Center. The State Department has directed that Ops tours should now be two years instead of 13 months. The nomination request cable went out already. For the first time ever, the Ops Center will have officers working insane shifts on two year rotations 24/7. More on that later. And they’re making lives easier for families, too. We’ve been hearing issues with umbrella schools for homeschooling families and issues with allowances related to Foreign Service children with special needs.

Image via Canadian Foreign Service Problems

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Why Tillerson Not Sullivan Needs the Town Hall: Morale Is Bad, “S” is Accountable

Posted: 3:01 pm PT

 

On August 8, while Secretary Tillerson remains on travel (seen in Thailand with Foreign Minister Pramudwinai in Bangkok), Deputy Secretary John Sullivan had a town hall with employees at the State Department.

According to Politico, the State Department’s No. 2 official assured staffers Tuesday that plans to restructure the department would take their concerns into full account, comparing the coming changes to U.S. military reforms following the Vietnam War. The report notes that his “reference to post-Vietnam reforms in the U.S. military suggests major changes are afoot; the military saw major changes in organization, doctrine, personnel policy, equipment and training.”

While it certainly is a good development that employees were able to hear directly from the deputy secretary and he did take and answer questions, we remain convinced that Secretary Tillerson himself needs to do the town hall, not his deputy. Secretary Tillerson often talks about accountability as one of his three core values, one that he asked his employees to adopt.

Well, morale is bad. And S is accountable. Folks need to see him and hear him address their concerns.

Had Secretary Tillerson and his inner circle expended the necessary time and energy to get to know the building and its people during the transition before jumping into reorganization, they would not be battling bad press every day six months into Tillerson’s tenure.

Politico also reported that toward the end of the town hall, Mr. Sullivan “urge State staffers not to believe everything they read in the press about what is happening in the agency.” 

Okay! So that’s funny.

This was going to be our one post on the town hall, but we saw that Mr. Sullivan had now given an on-the-record briefing to members of the press regarding his town hall. So, we will do a separate post dedicated to Mr. Sullivan’s town hall.  While still working on that, we have three points to make quickly.

One, the press did not invent these stories. State Department folks in and out of service are talking to media outlets. We’ve never seen these many sources talking to the press in all the years that we’ve covered Foggy Bottom. The press reports these stories, of course, some with less restraint than others, and some without context; that’s just a couple of the complaints we’re heard. Is this healthy for an organization that is already undergoing stresses brought about by the re-organization? Obviously not. And Foggy Bottom is practically a rumor machine these days.  But there’s a reason for that.  If folks are talking, that’s because management is not doing a good job communicating with the employees. Heck, we have more folks reading this blog this year, and it’s not because we’re irresistibly entertaining.

(Hello to our 500,000th visitor this year! We’re glad to see you here!)

Two, there’s a lot that the Tillerson Front Office is doing that we don’t understand. And that’s okay, we’re not privy to their thinking or their plans. And since the State Department’s Public Affairs shop has put us on its shit list (you know, for laughing out loud during April Fools’), there’s no way to get an official word from the Building.  If we’re using our own resources without official comments from Foggy Bottom to help explain whatever it is they’re doing, just know that we did not ask them to put us on their shit list. That was perfectly voluntary on their part.

So anyway, when people — who have dedicated their lives to this organization for years, who have gone through other transitions and survived, who have served under Democratic and Republican administrations and supported the policies of those administrations when they were in office (as they’ve affirmed when they were appointed to these jobs) — when those folks throw up their arms in frustration and distress, and they, too, do not understand, then we have to sit up and pay attention. It doesn’t help that Secretary Tillerson and his immediate people, when they do talk uses descriptions of what they’re doing as if they’re in an alternate universe. “No preconceived notions,” “employee-led reorganization” “no chaos” — we do not need to be a genius to recognize that those are talking points intended to shape their preferred narrative.

Three, the notion that Secretary Tillerson and his people arrived at Foggy Bottom where everything is broken, and they are there to fix it is kinda funny.  They did not know what they did not know, but that did not deter them from doing stuff, which broke more stuff. Perhaps the most substantial reinvention of the State Department in modern times, about systems, and work, and people, happened during Colin Powell’s tenure. That happened because 1) Powell was wise enough to recognize the value of the career corps; and 2) he brought in people who were professionals, who knew how to work with people, and — let’s just say this out loud — people who did not have atrocious manners.

When Secretary Powell showed up in Foggy Bottom in January 2001, he told State Department employees, “I am not coming in just to be the foreign policy adviser to the President,… I’m coming in as the leader and the manager of this Department.”  The building and its people followed Secretary Powell’s lead because they could see that his actions were aligned with his words. And of course, Secretary Powell did not start his tenure by treating career people with 30-year service like trash by giving them 48 hours to clear out their desks.

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A Woman Reported to Diplomatic Security That She Was Raped and Stalked by a DS Agent, So What Happened?

Posted: 2:26 am ET

 

We recently received information from an individual who asserted that she was raped and stalked by a supervisory Diplomatic Security agent assigned to one of Diplomatic Security’s eight field locations in the United States.  She said that was interviewed by Diplomatic Security’s  Office of Special Investigations (DS/DO/OSI) in November 2014. She also said that she provided a Victim Impact Statement to DS/OSI in December 2015. The investigation reportedly concluded in February 2016 with no disciplinary action. She informed us that during one telephonic conversations with a Supervisory Special Agent, she felt pressured to say that “I was pleased with the DoS handling of this case.” She presumed that the call was recorded and refused to say it.  She cited another case that was reported around the same time her case was investigated in 2014.  She believed that there were multiple police reports for the employee involving different women for similar complaints.

We’ve asked the Bureau of Diplomatic Security for comments about this case, and whether this was reported to the Office of Inspector General. To-date, we have not received an acknowledgment to our inquiry nor a response to our questions despite ample time to do so.

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On the subject of sexual assaults, on July 27, 2017, the State Department issued a new Foreign Affairs Manual subchapter 3 FAM 1750 on sexual assaults involving personnel and facilities in the United States. (For sexual assault involving chief-of-mission personnel and facilities outside of the United States see 3 FAM 1710).

3 FAM 1750:  “… The Department of State is determined to do all it can to prevent sexual assault from being committed by, or against, its personnel and it is committed to effectively and sensitively responding to personnel who have been sexually assaulted, ensuring that they are treated with care and respect.  The policies and procedures in this section define the Department’s goals of effectively preventing and addressing sexual assaults; the actions it will take in response to allegations of sexual assault; and the approach it will use in holding those Department personnel who commit sexual assault accountable for their actions.  The language used in this FAM, by necessity, must be technical, comport with and relate to relevant laws, and be administratively sound.  That said, the legal terminology, including the term “victim,” contained herein should not eclipse the compassion and urgency that underlie the Department’s commitment to this issue.”

The new regs notes that “sexual assaults that occur within the United States generally fall under the jurisdiction of the State or locality where the assault occurred.  Personnel who are victims of sexual assault are not under any obligation to report the assault to the Department.”

This new policy applies to:

(1)  All Department employees in the United States;

(2)  Persons under personal-services contracts (PSCs) or personal-services agreements (PSAs) in the United States;

(3)  Other individuals, such as third-party contractors, student volunteers (interns) and nonemployee fellows, and other personnel (e.g., subcontractors) in the United States who provide services to the State Department when the allegation involves conduct that occurs on duty, or is associated with the individual’s position within the Department; and

(4)  Any sexual assault that occurs at any Department facility within the United States.

The victims described above may also reach out to:

(a)  Diplomatic Security’s Office of Special Investigations (DS/DO/OSI) via telephone at 571-345-3146 or via email at DS-OSIDutyAgent@state.gov.  The DS/DO/OSI duty agents are available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week;

(b)  Employee Consultation Services (ECS) by email:  MEDECS@state.gov or by telephone at 703-812-2257; and

(c)  A sexual-assault crisis center.

The regs says that “personnel who are victims of sexual assault are not/not under any obligation to report the assault to the Department.”  The Department, however, “strongly encourages” anyone who knows or suspects or is aware of a sexual assault covered by 3 FAM 1750 to immediately report allegations of sexual assault to:

(1)  DS/DO/OSI via email DS-OSIDutyAgent@state.gov or via phone through the DS Command Center at 571-345-3146; or

(2)  S/OCR or via phone at 202-647-9295 (WHY?)

(3)  MED personnel will not share protected health information except in accordance with the Notice of Privacy Practices or with the written consent of the patient.  Individuals may obtain a copy of the MED Notice of Privacy Practices from the health unit or MED intranet page.

(4) Except as required by law, non-MED personnel will only disclose information about sexual assaults to other Department officers and employees on a need-to-know basis, including to the Office of Inspector General (OIG) in accordance with 22 U.S.C. 3929, and to other Federal and local agencies, in accordance with the Privacy Act.

3 FAM 1750 says that Department personnel detailed to another agency may reach out to the Washington, DC-based Bureau of Medical Services (MED) duty officer at 202-262-9013 or through the Operations Center at 202-647-1512 for medical guidance, and to DS/DO/OSI for law enforcement guidance.

A few thoughts on this:

#1.  We understand the caveats on information sharing with medical, and non-medical personnel included in this subchapter  but we don’t think this is enough to assuage the privacy concerns of victims.

#2. DOD has restricted (confidential) and unrestricted reporting for victims. That means the adult sexual assault victim can access healthcare, advocacy services, and legal services without triggering notification to command or law enforcement (restricted). Under Unrestricted Reporting, both the command and law enforcement are notified. Even then, fewer than 1 in 5 victims openly reported their sexual assault. 3,678 service members reported the incident to law enforcement, out of a total 20,000 survivors.

#3. S/OCR handles equal employment opportunity issues including sexual harassment, why should sexual assault victims report sexual assault or sexual assault allegations there? 3 FAM 1711.2 defines sexual assault as any type of sexual contact that occurs without the explicit consent of the recipient.It also says that sexual assault is a form of sexual harassment. Sexual assault is a crime, it cannot be resolved through mediation, grievance, or the EEO processes. Also does anyone know how many people at S/OCR are trained to actually handle sexual assault cases?

The U.S. Marines publication make the distinction between sexual harassment and sexual assault here (PDF). It defines sexual harassment as a form of sex discrimination that involves unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal and physical conduct of a sexual nature. It defines sexual assault as intentional sexual contact, characterized by use of force, threats, intimidation, abuse of authority or when a victim cannot or does not consent.  And this one is important, “A current or previous dating relationship by itself or the manner of dress of the person involved with the accused in the sexual conduct at issue shall not constitute consent.”  

The U.S. Coast Guard says that the real distinction between sexual harassment and sexual assault is sexual harassment’s connection to the victim’s employment and/or work performance, which is why sexual harassment is a civil rights issue. It points out that sexual assault is a crime against another person. However, unlike sexual harassment, it has nothing to do with their employment and/or work performance, it is a criminal assault, of a sexual nature, against another person.

The State Department guidance does not/not make such distinctions.

#4.  States all address the crime of sexual assault, with some adding specific categories of victims, defenses, and penalties. See more here: http://statelaws.findlaw.com/criminal-laws/sexual-assault.html.

RAINN also has a search tool for independent sexual assault service providers, including National Sexual Assault Hotline affiliate organizations and other local providers here.

 

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Is @StateDept Reporting Its Vacant Positions Under the Vacancies Reform Act? Barely, According to GAO Database

Posted: 1:56 am ET

 

The Federal Vacancies Reform Act of 1998 (Vacancies Reform Act) was enacted on October 21, 1998. (Pub. L. No. 105 -277, Div. C, tit. 1, §151, 112 Stat. 2681-611-16, codified at 5 U.S.C.§§3345-3349d.) The provides new rules for the temporary filling of vacant executive agency positions that require presidential appointment with Senate confirmation. According to the Government Accountability Office, under the Act, an acting officer may serve in a vacant position for no longer than 210 days, with adjustments to be made if the President submits a nomination to fill the position and under other specified circumstances.

The Act requires executive departments and agencies to report to the Congress and to the Comptroller General (GAO) certain information about a vacancy immediately upon the occurrence of events specified in the Act. The Act also provides that the Comptroller General report to specified congressional committees, the President, and the Office of Personnel Management if the Comptroller General determines that an acting officer is serving longer than permitted by the Act.

The GAO notes that its database includes only vacancy information that federal departments and agencies have actually submitted to GAO and may not be complete or the most up-to-date information regarding those vacancies.

The Partnership for Public Service’s  appointment update notes that 48 positions have been referred to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, 16 have been reported out, and only 9 have been confirmed as of July 31, 2017. PPS’ Political AppointeeTracker for the State Department includes 131 positions.

The State Department has only 36 vacant positions reported to the GAO.  The GAO database for State Department includes one filled vacancy, the Secretary of State, zero officials with pending nominations, 24 positions with identified acting officials (some of those listed have since left the positions), and the rest are positions with no acting officials.

Here’s the relevant part going forward with a ghost town at the top floors of the State Department, via the GAO:

If a vacancy exists during the 60-day period beginning on a transitional inauguration day, the 210-day period begins 90 days after such transitional inauguration day or the date the vacancy occurs, whichever is later. 5 U.S.C. § 3349a(b). The State CFO position became vacant on January 20, 2009, the transitional inauguration day. Accordingly, the 210-day period began to run 90 days after January 20, 2009—on April 20, 2009—and ended on November 16, 2009. Consequently, the position should have been vacant beginning November 17, 2009, until June 12, 2012, when the position was filled.  […]  We have previously determined that using the acting title of a position during the period in which the position should be vacant violates the time limitations in the Vacancies Reform Act.

The item above is from the GAO report on the Violation of the 210-Day Limit Imposed by the Federal Vacancies Reform Act of 1998—Chief Financial Officer, Department of State when James Millette served as Acting CFO at State after November 16, 2009, through on or about November 15, 2011.

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@StateDept Dismisses EEO Complaint For Following Wabbit Into a Hole, EEOC Reverses

Posted: 1:45 am ET

 

Here is an EEO case with a reminder that the Commission has previously held that an agency may not dismiss a complaint based on a complainant’s untimeliness, if that untimeliness is caused by the agency’s action in misleading or misinforming complainant.

Quick summary of case via eeoc.gov:

At the time of events giving rise to this complaint, Complainant worked as a Human Resources Specialist at the Agency’s Department of State facility in Washington, DC. Complainant contacted an EEO Counselor alleging that she was subjected to discrimination and a hostile work environment. When the matter was not resolved informally, the EEO Counselor emailed Complainant a Notice of Right to File (“NRF”), which Complainant received and signed on January 25, 2017. However, in that same email, the EEO Counselor conflated the EEO filing requirements, misinforming Complaisant that she had to file her signed NRF, rather than her formal complaint, within 15 days. On that same date, Complainant attempted to file her signed NRF with her EEO Counselor, who informed Complainant that the signed NRF had to be filed with the Agency’s Office of Civil Rights, and that filing the signed NRF with that office would initiate the formal EEO complaint process.

Complainant filed her signed NRF, rather than a formal complaint, to the Office of Civil Rights on January 25, 2017, and the Office of Civil Rights confirmed its receipt on January 27, 2017. Complainant therefore filed her signed NRF within the 15-day period that she was supposed to file her formal complaint. However, it was not until February 21, 2017, which was beyond the 15-day filing period, when the Office of Civil Rights informed Complainant that she had submitted the wrong form to initiate the formal EEO process, and that Complainant needed to file a formal complaint rather than her signed NRF.

On March 6, 2017, which was within 15 days of being informed that she had filed the wrong form, Complainant filed a formal complaint alleging that the Agency subjected her to discrimination on the bases of sex, disability, and reprisal for prior protected EEO activity under Section 501 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 when:

1. On 10/11/2016, she was denied the ability to telework;
2. On 11/10/2016, she was subjected to an environment of uncertainty and arbitrary decision making regarding her accommodation requests; and
3. She was subjected to a hostile working environment characterized by repeated acts of disparate treatment, unpleasant social interactions with management, and retracted support for locally negotiated reasonable accommodations.

The Agency dismissed Complainant’s complaint, pursuant to 29 C.F.R. § 1614.107(a)(2), for failing to file her formal complaint within 15 days of receiving her Notice of Right to File.

On appeal, Complainant contends that the Agency’s dismissal of her complaint should be reversed because her EEO Counselor mistakenly advised her to file her signed NRF, rather than a formal complaint, within 15 days of receiving her NRF, causing her to miss the filing period for her formal complaint.

The decision notes the following:

EEOC Regulation 29 C.F.R. §1614.106(b) requires the filing of a written complaint with an appropriate agency official within fifteen (15) calendar days after the date of receipt of the notice of the right to file a complaint required by 29 C.F.R. §1614.105(d), (e) or (f).

On June 28, 2017, the EEOC reversed the State Department’s decision to dismiss the complaint and remanded the case to the agency for further processing in accordance with its order as follows:

The Agency is ordered to process the remanded claims in accordance with 29 C.F.R. § 1614.108. The Agency shall acknowledge to the Complainant that it has received the remanded claims within thirty (30) calendar days of the date this decision was issued. The Agency shall issue to Complainant a copy of the investigative file and also shall notify Complainant of the appropriate rights within one hundred fifty (150) calendar days of the date this decision was issued, unless the matter is otherwise resolved prior to that time. If the Complainant requests a final decision without a hearing, the Agency shall issue a final decision within sixty (60) days of receipt of Complainant’s request.

Compliance with the Commission’s corrective action is mandatory. Read the full decision here.

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Ambassador Mark Green Assumes Charge as 18th USAID Administrator

Posted: 1:30 am ET

 

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