AFSA Seeks Donation For Legal Defense Fund For Employees Snared in #ImpeachmentInquiry

Posted: November 4, 2019
Updated: November 11, 2019

Via AFSA:

AFSA’s Legal Defense Fund was created in 2007 to provide financial assistance to members in cases involving issues of significant institutional importance to the Foreign Service. It was named after the late Richard Scissors, a longtime AFSA staff member whose expertise in labor-management issues was crucial to many an AFSA member during his tenure. Sometimes cases come along where AFSA is unable to provide the time or legal expertise that is required. It is in such instances that the LDF can provide financial support which assists the member in retaining an outside attorney with expertise in a particular area of law. Unfortunately, this is one of those times. We have members in need as a result of the ongoing Congressional impeachment investigation. Your contribution can help. Donations to the LDF are not tax deductible.

If you are not a member of AFSA and do not wish to register on the AFSA website to make a donation, we welcome a donation by check made out to “AFSA Legal Defense Fund.” Please send that check to AFSA, c/o LDF, 2101 E Street NW, Washington DC 20037. Please include a certification that you are a U.S. citizen or legal permanent resident, and the name of your current employer.

Congressional appearances reportedly lasted between three hours to 10 hours durations. This could easily cost career employees thousands of dollars in legal fees; and that’s just for a single appearance.
The fees matrix created by the Civil Division of the United States Attorney’s Office for the District of Columbia (USAO) for  2015-2020 notes that attorney’s fees can range from $319/hour for those with less than 2 years experience to $637/hour for lawyers with over 31 years of experience. Attorneys with 11-15 years experience have an hourly rate of $510/hour. We’ve also seen higher estimates than this for legal fees in WashDC, of course.
Ambassador Eric Rubin, the president of the American Foreign Service Association told us that “AFSA is optimistic that it will be able to cover legal fees of our members that are not covered by the U.S. Government. We continue to reach out to members and the public to ask for more support so we can build a Legal Defense Fund that can meet all known needs of our members.”
If you are able, please consider donating to AFSA’s Legal Defense Fund to help Foreign Service employees who are doing their duty in cooperating with the ongoing Congressional investigations. Thank you!

 

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Office of Special Counsel Announces Suspensions of Two Federal Employees Over Hatch Act Violations

 

On October 18, the Office of Special Counsel announced disciplinary actions imposed on two federal employees working for the Defense Logistics Agency (DLA) for Hatch Act violations.

​The U.S. Office of Special Counsel (OSC) today announced significant discipline imposed on two federal employees working for the Defense Logistics Agency (DLA) who engaged in prohibited political activity in violation of the Hatch Act.

One DLA employee violated the Hatch Act on numerous occasions by sending partisan political emails and making political Facebook posts while at work.  The employee also used Facebook to solicit political contributions nearly two dozen times in violation of the Act.  During OSC’s investigation, the employee admitted he was aware of the Hatch Act and that his supervisor had counseled him about the Act prior to engaging in the prohibited activity.  In a settlement agreement, the employee agreed to a 90-day suspension without pay.

Another DLA employee violated the Hatch Act by displaying the words “Vote Republican” on a PowerPoint presentation that he gave while on duty and in the federal workplace.  The employee had received extensive Hatch Act training and was explicitly told prior to giving the presentation that certain images he planned to use, including the “Vote Republican” image, would be problematic.  In a settlement agreement, the employee agreed to a 30-day suspension without pay for his violation.

“With election season drawing near, it is critical that federal employees understand and abide by their Hatch Act obligations,” said Special Counsel Henry J. Kerner. “As demonstrated in these two cases, there are significant repercussions for federal employees who violate the Hatch Act.”

Note that last June, the U.S. Office of Special Counsel (OSC) sent a report to President Donald J. Trump finding that Counselor to the President Kellyanne Conway violated the Hatch Act on numerous occasions by disparaging Democratic presidential candidates while speaking in her official capacity during television interviews and on social media. “Given that Ms. Conway is a repeat offender and has shown disregard for the law, OSC recommends that she be removed from federal service.”
On June 13, the U.S. Office of Special Counsel (OSC) said it “respects the Office of White House Counsel but respectfully disagrees with its position, and will not withdraw its Report​ sent to the President today finding numerous Hatch Act violations made by Counselor to the President Kellyanne Conway (OSC File Nos. HA-19-0631 and HA-19-3395).”

Snapshot: 90-Day Rule For Former Presidential Appointees in the Foreign Service

 

3 FAM 6215  MANDATORY RETIREMENT OF FORMER PRESIDENTIAL APPOINTEES

(CT:PER-594;   03-06-2007)
(State only)
(Applies to Foreign Service Employees)

a. Career members of the Service who have completed Presidential assignments under section 302(b) of the Act, and who have not been reassigned within 90 days after the termination of such assignment, plus any period of authorized leave, shall be retired as provided in section 813 of the Act. For purposes of this section, a reassignment includes the following:
(1) An assignment to an established position for a period of at least six months pursuant to the established assignments process (including an assignment that has been approved in principle by the appropriate assignments panel);
(2) Any assignment pursuant to section 503 of the Foreign Service Act of 1980, as amended;
(3) A detail (reimbursable or nonreimbursable) to another U.S. Government agency or to an international organization;
(4) A transfer to an international organization pursuant to 5 U.S.C. sections 3581 through 3584; or
(5) A pending recommendation to the President that the former appointee be nominated for a subsequent Presidential appointment to a specific position.
b. Except as provided for in paragraph c of this section, a reassignment does not include an assignment to a Department bureau in “overcomplement” status or to a designated “Y” tour position.
c. The Director General may determine that appointees who have medical conditions that require assignment to “medical overcomplement” status are reassigned for purposes of Section 813 of the Foreign Service Act.
d. To the maximum extent possible, former appointees who appear not likely to be reassigned and thus subject to mandatory retirement under section 813 of the Act will be so notified in writing by the Director General not later than 30 days prior to the expiration of the 90-day reassignment period.

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@StateDept Appoints SES Michael Kozak as Acting Assistant Secretary for Western Hemisphere Affairs

 

Via state.gov:

Ambassador Michael Kozak is a charter member of the career Senior Executive Service of the United States Government. As such, he has served in a number of senior positions in the U.S. Executive Branch:

Acting Assistant Secretary for Western Hemisphere Affairs (2019-Present).

Senior Bureau Official for Democracy, Human Rights and Labor (2017-2019).

Senior Adviser to the Assistant Secretary for Democracy, Human Rights and Labor (2009-2017). Negotiated a UN resolution to replace “Defamation of Religions” that respected freedom of expression. Served as Acting Special Envoy for Monitoring and Combatting Anti-Semitism.

Senior Director on the National Security Council staff (2005-2009) with responsibility for Democracy, Human Rights, International Organizations, Migration and Detainee issues. In this capacity, he chaired interagency policy coordinating committees and proposed and coordinated the implementation of events for the President of the United States. He conceived and implemented a system for achieving interagency agreement on democracy promotion strategies and prioritizing resource allocation to implement them. He authored the first National Security Presidential Directive on Democracy and Human Rights since the Carter administration.
[…]
Ambassador in Minsk, Belarus (2000-2003), and Chief of Mission in Havana, Cuba (1996-1999).

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State Department Official Patricia DeLaughter Pleads Guilty to Procurement Fraud

 

On August 9, 2019, USDOJ announced that State Department employee, Patricia DeLaughter pled guilty to disclosing confidential State Department bid proposals n an effort to help a furniture company executive win a lucrative government contract. Sentencing is scheduled for November 8, 2019.

Photo via State Magazine, April 2009

Via USDOJ: State Department Official Pleads Guilty to Procurement Fraud

ALEXANDRIA, Va. – A Washington, D.C., woman pleaded guilty today to disclosing confidential State Department bid proposals in an effort to help a furniture company executive win a lucrative government contract to provide furniture to a United States embassy abroad.

According to court documents, Patricia DeLaughter, 69, was a State Department official who was responsible for procuring furniture for United States embassies. In or around December 2016, the State Department was constructing a new embassy in a foreign nation. DeLaughter and another Department official participated in the process of soliciting bid proposals from contractors for the procurement of furniture for the new embassy’s offices.

From in or around December 2016 to in or around March 2017, DeLaughter and the other State Department official knowingly disclosed to Steven Anstine, the vice president of sales for an American furniture manufacturer, the confidential bid prices and design plans of at least three of Anstine’s competitors. DeLaughter knowingly disclosed this information in order to give Anstine—with whom DeLaughter had a social relationship—a competitive advantage in securing the procurement contract for the new embassy. The information that DeLaughter and her coworker gave Anstine enabled him and his company to win the contract with a bid of approximately $1.56 million.

According to DeLaughter’s admissions, DeLaughter made intentionally false statements to agents investigating her conduct. She falsely told State Department Office of Inspector General special agents that she had nothing to do with the embassy furniture project. She also falsely told the agents that she did not have a social relationship with Anstine. In fact, DeLaughter and Anstine had a social relationship and attended dinners, sporting events, and concerts together. Anstine paid at least a portion of DeLaughter’s expenses for these events.

In June 2019, Anstine pleaded guilty to one count of illegally obtaining contractor bid or proposal information in the U.S. District Court for the District of South Carolina.

DeLaughter pleaded guilty to one count of illegally disclosing contractor bid or proposal information and faces a maximum penalty of five years in prison when sentenced on November 8. Actual sentences for federal crimes are typically less than the maximum penalties. A federal district court judge will determine any sentence after taking into account the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines and other statutory factors.

G. Zachary Terwilliger, U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia, Brian A. Benczkowski, Assistant Attorney General for the Justice Department’s Criminal Division, and Steve A. Linick, Inspector General for the Department of State, made the announcement after U.S. District Judge Rossie D. Alston Jr. accepted the plea. Special Assistant U.S. Attorney Russell L. Carlberg, Deputy Chief Robert J. Heberle and Trial Attorney John P. Taddei of the Criminal Division’s Public Integrity Section are prosecuting the case.

A copy of this press release is located on the website of the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Virginia. Related court documents and information are located on the website of the District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia or on PACER by searching for Case No. 1:19-cr-205.

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Report: @StateDept Puts On Leave Staffer Who Allegedly Oversees Local Chapter of a White Nationalist Group

 

 

On August 7, the Southern Poverty Law Center‘s Hatewatch program linked a staffer at the Bureau of Energy Resources (State/ENR) to a white nationalist organization in the Washington, D.C. area.  Hatewatch alleged in its report that this individual “oversaw the Washington, D.C.-area chapter of a white nationalist organization, hosted white nationalists at his home and published white nationalist propaganda online.”
We asked the State Department for a comment beyond what was already reported (that the agency is an “inclusive organization”). An agency spokesperson did confirm that this individual is employed by the agency as a foreign affairs officer assigned to the Bureau of Energy Resources. The Department further stated that it cannot comment on personnel issues but “is committed to providing an inclusive workplace.”
Reports indicate that the individual is a “foreign affairs officer“, a Civil Service position in the 0130 Foreign Affairs series. These positions are typically located in the DC area, and though may involved occasional travel, it is not a rotational position. Incumbents to these positions are normally required to “obtain and maintain a Top Secret security clearance” among other federal service requirements.
Barely 24 hours after the Hatewatch report broke, Politico, citing “two sources familiar with the situation” reported that the State Department has put the employee on leave following reports that “he has been an active member of a white supremacist group for more than five years.”
We’re waiting to see what the State Department will do with this case following the reported leave.  A 2017 article on federal employees’ rights notes that “At a minimum, before taking an adverse action like termination, an agency must issue a notice to the employee identifying the charge(s) against them. The employee has the right to see the evidence against them and the right to reply to the charge(s), as well as the right to have counsel represent them.”
Unlike political appointees who can be fired at anytime, career federal employees are generally afforded workplace protection. Recent media reports also show the fallout from recent high profile terminations. In one case, former Special Agent Peter Strzok firing resulted in a complaint alleging violations of Strzok’s First Amendment and due process rights, as well as a violation of the Privacy Act concerning the release of the text messages. Similarly, on August 8, former FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe also filed a complaint in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia over his demotion and dismissal from the FBI. The complaint alleges that the Attorney General William Barr and FBI Director Christopher Wray’s actions violated both McCabe’s First Amendment and due process rights.  See the common thread there? We expect both court cases will be lengthy and instructive.
As an aside, Mick “it’s nearly impossible to fire a federal worker” Mulvaney has a grand new idea on how to get rid of federal employees; which should give people some pause whether they’re with Agriculture or anywhere else in the federal government.

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Principal Deputy Coordinator for Counterterrorism Alina L. Romanowski to be to U.S. Ambassador to Kuwait

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On July 25, the WH announced the president’s intent to nominate Alina L. Romanowski, of Illinois, to be Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary to the State of Kuwait. The WH released the following brief bio:
Ms. Romanowski, a career member of the Senior Executive Service, is the Principal Deputy Coordinator for Counterterrorism at the Department of State. Previously, she served as the Coordinator for United States Assistance to Europe and Eurasia in the Department’s Bureau for European and Eurasian Affairs, and the Deputy Assistant Administrator for the Middle East Bureau of the United States Agency for International Development.  Ms. Romanowski was twice a Deputy Assistant Secretary in the State Department’s Bureau of Education and Cultural Affairs.  At the Defense Department, she was the founding Director of the Near East South Asia Center for Strategic Studies and served as Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Near Eastern and South Asian Affairs.
Ms. Romanowski earned her B.A. and M.A. degrees from the University of Chicago.  She is the recipient of a Presidential Distinguished Rank Award and two Presidential Meritorious Rank Awards.  She speaks French and has studied Arabic and Hebrew.

If confirmed, Ms. Romanowski would succeed Ambassador Lawrence R. Silverman who assumed his post as U.S. Ambassador  to Kuwait on September 19, 2016. Previous appointees  to this position includes Deborah Kay Jones (1956–)  who served from April 28, 2008–June 30, 2011; Matthew Haywood Tueller (1957–) who served from September 28, 2011–April 28, 2014 and is now U.S. Ambassador to Iraq; and Douglas Alan Silliman (1960–) who served from  September 15, 2014–August 3, 2016, and was previously the U.S. Ambassador to Iraq prior to retiring from the Foreign Service in 2019. He is now president of the Arab Gulf States Institute in Washington.

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Congress Demands Pompeo Turn Over Documents on Political Targeting of @StateDept Employees

 

On March 15, Representative Eliot L. Engel, Chairman of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, and Senator Bob Menendez, Ranking Member of the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations “denounced the State Department’s attempts to obstruct investigations into reports of politically-motivated retaliation against career Department employees.”

In a letter to Secretary Pompeo, they demanded that “the Department comply with past Congressional requests for information on this matter, stretching back over the past year.”

“To date, despite three specific requests and multiple follow-up efforts by our offices, the Department has failed to respond to our requests for interviews or provide any responsive records. After nearly a year, it suggests the State Department is stonewalling a legitimate congressional request for information on matters that are squarely within our Committees’ oversight jurisdiction. We are therefore restating our demand for a response to our prior queries on this matter and are prepared to use appropriate tools at our disposal to prompt a substantive response.”

The congressional demand requires that the Department submit all documents requested by March 21 and facilitate Committee interviews with Department officials implicated in this matter by April 30.

Among the items requested:

(1) all documents and communications referring or relating to any reassignment or proposed reassignment that was considered or ordered since January 20, 2017, of career or civil service employees at the Department;

(2) all documents and communications referring or relating to any proposed or actual reassignment or removal of career or civil service employees at the Department since January 20, 2017, based on alleged personal political beliefs, prior service with previous Administrations, or work on prior Administrations’ foreign policy priorities, including any documents authored by, copying, involving, or referring to:

(a) Christine Ciccone;

(b) Makan Delrahim;

(c) Sean Doocey;

(d) Julia Haller;

(e) Brian Hook;

(f) Edward Lacey;

(g) Matthew Mowers; or

(h) Margaret Peterlin; and

(3) all documents and communications referring or relating to proposed or actual personnel actions since January 20, 2017, against Sahar Nowrouzzadeh, including the curtailment of her detail to the Policy Planning staff.

The congressional request also notes:

“To the extent that the Department may have been relying on a legal theory that our requests somehow lapsed at the end of the 115th Congress, we write today to dispense with that argument and hereby formally restate our prior requests.”

The congressional request asks for transcribed interviews with the following individuals.

A schedule of availability for the Committees to conduct transcribed interviews with each of the following individuals, with the first interview to be conducted no later than April 1, 2019, and with all interviews to be conducted no later than April 30, 2019:

(a) Christine Ciccone;

(b) Makan Delrahim;

(c) Sean Doocey;

(d) Julia Haller;

(e) Brian Hook;

(f) Edward Lacey;

(g) Matthew Mowers;

(h) Margaret Peterlin;

(i) Andrew Veprek;

(j) John Zadrozny; and

(k) Kevin Moley

This request has been overgrown with grass;  some of those they want to interview are no longer in Foggy Bottom. It looks like Congress sent their first request on March 15, 2018, two days after Tillerson was fired in a tweet. The full statement from Rep. Engel and Senator Menendez is available here. The letter to Secretary Pompeo is here.

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Mystery Illness: @StateDept Raising Doubt About 14 China Cases #TheThing

 

We’ve blogged previously about the mystery illness that was reported to have afflicted USG employees in China (U.S. Consulate General Guangzhou – What’s Going On?Is @StateDept Working to Minimize the Health Attacks in China? #Cuba #MissingARBs; Yo! The Thing. Still Going on in China?)

Last night, CBS/60Minutes did a segment on the health attacks in China. Back in July  2018, WaPo wrote about Mark Lenzi whose access to the building at post was reportedly restricted after he “began to speak up more forcefully about the treatment of his family.” Recap below: USCG Guangzhou Security Engineering Officer Mark Lenzi Disputes State Department Statement on Mystery Illness

On June 6, WaPo wrote about Mark Lenzi and his family who  started noticing noises in April 2017 at the U.S. Consulate General in Guangzhou, China. “A few months later, the headaches started — pain that lasted for days at a time. Lenzi and his wife experienced the same symptoms, which soon included chronic sleeplessness as well. Lenzi says he asked his superiors for help but they dismissed his concerns. Consulate doctors prescribed painkillers and Ambien, which did nothing to address the underlying causes of the problem. And then, last month, Lenzi was shocked to learn another neighbor, a fellow Foreign Service officer, had been evacuated from their building and flown back to the United States for a thorough medical assessment, which soon determined that the person in question was suffering from “mild traumatic brain injury.”  

They gave him painkillers and Ambien but medevaced the FSO next door?

The State Department reportedly issued a statement but said it is unaware of any other cases — a point “strongly disputed by Lenzi, who insists he had repeatedly informed both the embassy in Beijing and State Department headquarters in Washington of his family’s predicament.”  Lenzi, who has reportedly called for the resignation of the US Ambassador to Beijing  told WaPo that the State Department “restricted his access to the building where he normally worked after he began to speak up more forcefully about the treatment of his family, essentially neutralizing his capacity to continue his work at the consulate”.

We understand that Mark Lenzi is a specialist who was assigned as a Security Engineering Officer (SEO) in Guangzhou until he and his family were evacuated from post. Given the reported restriction to post access for speaking out about this incident, this is a case that bears watching.

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60Minutes notes that “for reasons that are unclear, the State Department is raising doubt about the other 14 China cases. Click here for the transcript of the State Department segment.

In addition to Mark Lenzi, also on camera were U.S. Commerce Department trade officer Catherine Werner,  trade officer Robyn Garfield and wife Britta who were posted in Shanghai, and former NSA employee Mark Lenzi who believed that the weapon used is a radio frequency energy, in the microwave range.

A clue that supports that theory was revealed by the National Security Agency in 2014. This NSA statement describes such a weapon as a “high-powered microwave system weapon that may have the ability to weaken, intimidate, or kill an enemy over time without leaving evidence.” The statement goes on to say “…this weapon is designed to bathe a target’s living quarters in microwaves.” The NSA disclosed this in a worker’s compensation case filed by former NSA employee Mike Beck.

Also:  “The State Department declined an interview, but in a statement to 60 Minutes it said, “We will continue to provide our colleagues the care they need, regardless of their diagnosis or the location of their medical evacuation.” A State Department official told us that the Cuba patients are victims of an attack. But State hasn’t made the same determination for the China patients. The department has asked the National Academies of Science to assist in the medical investigation.”

Related posts:

Snapshot: @StateDept Workforce Distribution by Employment Category (February 2019)

Posted:12:52 am EST
Updated: 10:08 pm PST with link to full HR fact sheet

 

Via state.gov:

The Department relies on Locally Employed (LE) staff to support its global mission. LE Staff, which includes contractors overseas, accounts for 58 percent of the workforce. The Department’s American Government workforce, which includes career full-time FS and CS employees as well as temporary employees, constitutes approximately 31 percent of the workforce. The remaining 11 percent is composed of domestic contractors. Over the last few years, the workforce distribution has remained about the same. The State Department indicates that it employs a workforce of over 80,000 employees including contractors. 

 

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