Unemployment Status of @StateDept Family Members Overseas (Fall 2017)

Posted: 4:25 am ET

 

On February 13, Foreign Policy did a piece on Tillerson’s hiring freeze of Eligible Family Members (EFM) at the State Department and how even as the freeze ends, it “left resentment in its wake.”

“It’s been months,” said one department official speaking on condition of anonymity, “and still no one understands what is going on with EFMs.”

The confusion could be cleared up soon with concrete steps Tillerson is expected to take this month. Tillerson has authorized an additional 2,449 EFM positions to the State Department payroll, effectively lifting the prior hiring freeze, a department spokesman said. He also plans to expand a selective pool of jobs for highly educated family members, known as the Expanded Professional Associates Program, from some 200 to 400 positions.

“This should put us back to normal hiring levels” for diplomats’ family members, the spokesman told Foreign Policy.

Read the full piece here.

First, on that EPAP expansion that supposed to expand professional opportunities from some 200 to 400 positions, read our recent post: @StateDept Releases New Strategery For Diplomatic Spouse Professional Employment #Ugh.  Previously qualified applicants must re-qualify to be eligible under the new standards; they will not be grandfathered into the new program. EFMs on EPAP position are taking jobs that are comparable in duties and responsibilities to career FSOs and FS Specialists, but in some cases, the standard required for EFMs to qualify are higher than those required of FSOs/FSSs. We’ve already heard that some posts will not be requesting EPAP positions. We’d be interested to know what is the fill rate of this program by end of FY2018.

Second, the FP piece citing a department spox says that “Tillerson has authorized an additional 2,449 EFM positions to the State Department payroll effectively lifting the prior hiring freeze.”

That “additional” number got our attention because despite years of effort, the number of EFM jobs has always been problematic, and given Tillerson’s track record, we frankly have low expectation that he will expand or provide something “additional” to a situation that he made worse on his first year on the job.

When we asked about this, the reporter told us “State won’t give us a clear answer – in large part because its hard to track exact number as FSOs cycle to new posts. Best we got was its ‘returning to normal levels.’ Rough estimate: 884 EFMs waived by RT + the 2449 new ones = 3333, a bit below Fall 2016 levels.”

So, if there’s one thing the State Department is really, really good at, it is how to track its people overseas. Also there’s absolutely no reason why the State Department could not give FP a clear answer. Unless, of course, the clear answer would indicate that the EFM employment is not/not returning to normal levels.  See, twice a year, the State Department actually releases a report on EFM employment. This happens once in spring, typically in April after the Foreign Service’s winter cycle is done, and again in fall, typically in November, after the summer rotation concludes.

This is the Fall 2017 release. Note that when this report was generated, there were actually more EFMs working outside the mission overseas than inside the mission. This is the first time we’re ever seen this.  Below is the Spring 2017 release (also see Unemployment Status of @StateDept Family Members Overseas (4/2017)). Between April and November 2017, a difference of over a thousand EFM employees. Below is a breakdown of EFM employees by region from 2014-2017. Last year’s 2,373 is the lowest number in four years.  In Fall 2017, there were 11,816 adult family members overseas (this includes State Department, other foreign affairs agencies as well as other USG agencies under chief of mission authority); so 20% EFMs were employed at our overseas posts. In Fall 2016, there were 11,841 adult family members overseas, and 3,501 were employed at our overseas posts or 30 percent. By the way, the overall “not employed” EFM category jumped from 56 percent in April 2017 to 64 percent in November 2017.

The State Department could argue that some more EFMs were hired after the Fall 2017 report. That’s entirely possible. Or if Tillerson’s  additional 2,449 EFM positions” are real numbers, that’s a 96 percent increase to the 2,373 Fall 2017 number.  Really? If FP’s 3,333 number is accurate, it would be 60 less than 3,393 (count released in April 2017); it would also be 168 less than the annual Fall count the previous year at 3,501, and brings the total number closest to the 2015 level.

We’ll have to wait and see, after all, when State announced that it lifted the EFM hiring freeze late last year, it turned out, it was only a 50% lift. So as you can imagine, we have some difficulties digesting this additional number of EFM positions. We’ll have to wait for the Spring 2018 report to see how back to normal this really is. If/When it does return to normal, one still need to shake one’s noggin. This. Was. A useless, needless exercise by thoughtless newbies.

Read more here:

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Tillerson’s #Redesign Gets Rebranded as “The Impact Initiative” or TII But Why Not TELII?

Posted: 4:01 am ET

 

Via Politico’s Nahal Toosi:

“State Department officials say that talk of closing down entire wings of the department has been replaced with narrower plans to upgrade technology and improve training. Democratic and Republican leaders in Congress have declared dead on arrival a Tillerson-supported White House plan to cut State’s budget by 30 percent.
[…]
State Department staffers expect to receive an update as early as this week on a new phase in Tillerson’s organizational plans, according to senior department official. Out is the term “redesign” — which spawned confusion, dissent and leaks. The new stage is being called “The Impact Initiative,” which will implement changes that Tillerson has deemed achievable priorities in the face of bureaucratic and congressional hurdles. (Tillerson aides insist he’s not rebranding the overall effort, just moving from the poorly named “redesign” phase, which gathered ideas, to a new one that implements them.)
[…]
The senior State Department official said Tillerson also is planning to select someone to oversee the Impact Initiative but declined to say whom. (The Impact Initiative is shorthand for a longer moniker that Tillerson, an engineer by training, signed off on: “Leadership + Modernization = Greater Mission Impact.”)

Oh, dear, that longer moniker was worth the brainstorming.

Let’s see if they’re going to insist on hiring another outside overseer who will stick around for three exciting months.

Tillerson’s aides may not call TII or “The Impact Initiative” a rebranding effort but who are they actually kidding, pray tell?  TII can also be called ‘Tillerson Impact Initiative’ and they can even keep the same acronym, hey?!  It is what it is, a rebranding effort because very few are buying what they’re selling.

Actually, we’re curious why no one came up with calling this TELII or ‘The Employee-Led Impact Initiative.” Or ‘The Agile Employee Impact Initiative’ (TAEII). Or why settle with “greater” and not just call this ‘The Greatest Mission Impact Initiative’ (TGMII)?

Take it, it’s free. You’re welcome!

Tillerson will reportedly testify about the status of this new TII before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee at the end of February. Help us contain our excitement, please.

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State/OIG “Looking Into” Reported Political Targeting of @StateDept Career Employees

Posted: 3:02 am ET

 

Representative Eliot L. Engel, Ranking Member of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, and Rep. Elijah E. Cummings, Ranking Member of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, have called on State OIG Steve Linick to look into reports of violations of personnel policies and political retribution against State Department employees.

Our staffs have been in touch with whistleblowers alleging that the Department is engaging in prohibited personnel practices that appear to conflict with agency regulations and policies.  The information we have received corroborates recent reporting by CNN on the same matter.  We ask that you look into allegations that the Department has unlawfully targeted employees for political reasons due to their work under the last Administration.

Our staffs have been made aware of credible allegations that the State Department has required high-level career civil servants, with distinguished records serving administrations of both parties, to move to performing tasks outside of their area of substantive expertise.  At the very least, this is a waste of taxpayer dollars.  At worst, it may constitute impermissible abuse and retaliation.

The two Ranking Members requested that the State OIG “investigate the State Department’s FOIA surge.” They want to know if 1) “these personnel assignments made according to U.S. law and Department regulations?”   2) “Were the rights of the Department’s employees violated?”and 3) “Did political retaliation play any role?”

On January 30, govexec reported that State/OIG is “looking into” allegations that the agency is engaged in political targeting and other prohibited personnel practices.

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Nambia Bites Back: Come Visit “Sh*thole Namibia” With Over 300 Days of Sunshine

Posted: 2:49 am ET

 

VPOTUS is on overseas travel, and during his interview with The Associated Press, the poor man defended President Trump over his recent comments “disparaging immigration from Africa and Haiti, telling the AP that the president’s “heart” is aimed at a merit-based system that is blind to immigrants’ “race or creed.”

In Haiti, Reuters reported that about a couple thousand people took to the streets of Port-Au-Prince, the capital and most populous city in the country to protest comments attributed to the U.S. President about the nation being a “shithole” country. Early Monday morning, the US Embassy in Haiti announced that it was expecting a large protests outside the embassy. “Please limit your coming and going to/from the Embassy during this time. If the protest is large and/or violent, U.S. Embassy employees will be expected to shelter in place. No one will be able to enter or depart during this time and anyone outside of the Embassy will be directed to shelter in place at an offsite location.”

Meanwhile, a tour agency in Namibia has turned Donald Trump’s slur into a sales pitch.

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Amb. Hoekstra Apologizes For Netherlands Comment: “It Was Wrong”

Posted: 4:42 am ET

 

We previously blogged about the new U.S. Ambassador to the Netherlands here:

On January 12, two weeks after he first issued his ‘non-apology’ apology, Ambassador Hoekstra finally admitted during an interview with De Telegraaf that what he said about the Netherlands “was wrong.” The apology came after headlines calling the top American representative in the Netherlands “Lying Pete Hoekstra” and the lying Dutchman, and after the State Department “made clear to the ambassador that – that he must move to get this behind him.”

On January 11, U/S Goldstein told members of the press that they “should turn into that interview tomorrow” in reference to the long-form interview that turned out to be one with De Telegraaf.  As of this writing, we have searched but have not been able to locate a transcript of Ambassador Hoekstra’s interview where he offered his apology.  There also is no mention of this interview nor the transcript of the interview on the website of U.S. Embassy The Hague.

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The Peter Hoekstra Fall Out Continues, Long-Form Interview With a Dutch Outlet Coming Soon

Posted: 2:47 am ET

 

The last year, we’ve seen the State Department officially distanced itself from public comments made by its official representative in Israel.  On September 11, 2017, the State Department had to distance itself from a comment made by its top representative in Israel (see @StateDept: Ambassador Friedman’s comment “does not represent a shift in U.S. policy”.  And on September 28, State Department spox Heather Nauert, once more from the podium, said that it’s ambassador’s two percent comment “should not be read as a change in U.S. policy (see @StateDept on Amb. Friedman’s comment (again): “should not be read as a change in U.S. policy”).

The latest addition to this disturbing trend is the new U.S. Ambassador to the Netherlands Peter Hoekstra.  In December, we blogged about the then Ambassador-Designate’s double whoppers during an interview with a Dutch journalist (see New U.S. Ambassador Peter Hoekstra Makes Splash With Whoppers on Dutch TV). On December 23, the newest representative of the United States Government to the Netherlands issued a non apology-apology (see Amb. Designate Hoekstra Issues an “Apology,” Gets Roasted on Twitter). On January 10, his first day in office as the United States Ambassador to The Hague, social media noted his grilling by the Dutch press over his controversial claims (see Amb. Hoesktra Presents His Credentials to the King, Then Gets Properly Grilled By the Dutch Press).

On January 11, during the State Department’s On-the-Record-Briefing with the new Under Secretary for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs Steve Goldstein, the top official was similarly grilled by the press about the ambassador’s statements.

So for a third time now, two political ambassadors have caused more work for the building because of their public statements. The top State Department public affairs official went on to disavow Ambassador Hoekstra’s statements saying, “The State Department does not agree with those statements. That is not the language that we would use.” U/S Goldstein also told the press corps that there is now a plan for Ambassador Hoekstra to have long-form interview with a Dutch outlet on January 12. Mr. Goldstein said that Ambassador Hoesktra “also plans over the weekend to be available within many of the communities in the capital, including Muslim communities” and that the State Department has “made clear to the ambassador that – that he must move to get this behind him.”

Also FYI, the United States ambassador serve the people of the United States, and not the people of his/her host country. When junior diplomats completing their training at the Foreign Service Institute are asked where is their country, you expect them to point to their country, the United States of America, and not their country of assignment. Both Ambassador Hoekstra and U/S Goldstein appears to seek to endear themselves to the Dutch and make this controversy go away by talking about “loving” the Netherlands, and commitment to “serving the people of the Netherlands.”

Stop that, please. We can see what you’re trying to do.

If Ambassador Hoekstra is interested in putting this behind him, he should own up to his mistake and make a real apology because people watching are not dimwits. A retraction would be a good place to start. And then maybe the local press will allow him to put this behind him.

Via state.gov, Jan 11:

QUESTION: Ambassador Pete Hoekstra in the Netherlands had his debut for the Dutch media. It didn’t go real well. Just to start off, does the State Department agree with his earlier comments that politicians have been burned as a result of Islamist movements and that there are no-go zones in the Netherlands?

UNDER SECRETARY GOLDSTEIN: No. The State Department does not agree with those statements. That is not the language that we would use.

QUESTION: Would you like the ambassador to maybe retract those given all of the controversy it seems to be causing?

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EEOC Case: Investigators Find False Accusations, Agency Refuses to Help Clear His Name

Posted: 3:01 am ET

 

This is an EEOC case about a complainant who was the Consul General at the U.S. Consulate General in Naples, Italy.  The name used here is a pseudonym as in eeoc practice but the details are similar to the ugly, nasty case a few years back that made the news.  Most notable lesson here about the Privacy Act, and the limits of  Diplomatic Security’s willingness to clear somebody’s name when needed.

Via eeoc.gov

Believing that the Agency subjected him to unlawful discrimination, Complainant filed an equal employment opportunity (EEO) claim with the Agency. On November 26, 2013, Complainant and the Agency entered into a settlement agreement to resolve the matter. This decision on the breached settlement was issued in November 2016. Excerpt below:

Background:

The record reflects that a subordinate of Complainant (Subordinate 1), who resigned in May 2012, and to a lesser extent her spouse made highly charged allegations against Complainant, i.e., entertaining prostitutes, escorts, and married women in his residence during work hours, engaging in fraud or mismanagement of funds, permitting his driver to be fired so his job could go to someone else and as a form of retaliation, throwing metal umbrella pots from his sixth floor residence down to the parking lot below and then jumping on and crushing them, and this was captured on CCTV and in front of the security guards, and so forth. By April 2013, the U.S. Embassy Rome, in consultation with the Bureau of Diplomatic Security, Special Investigation Division initiated an investigation. The investigation was conducted by two Special Agents with the Bureau of Diplomatic Security, and involved 20 individual interviews with Consulate Staff. It concluded that the accusation that Complainant threw metal pots was “false,” and the three other allegations specified above were completely false. The investigation found that the remaining allegations were variously false, completely false, unsubstantiated, not supported by evidence, and one, in essence, grossly exaggerated.

On June 16, 2013, the New York Post and Fox News published highly negative stories about Complainant, writing for example that Subordinate 1, a whistleblower, said Complainant had trysts with hookers, and this was the latest black eye for the scandal-ridden State Department. On June 17, 2013, Complainant was copied on an Agency email chain regarding the New York Post reporting Subordinate 1’s allegation that Complainant insisted a staffer have an abortion and the staffer said she got her “tubes tied” at his instruction. It was indicated in the email chain that the staffer said the article was “all lies” and felt strongly that she should respond to the article by saying something. The above DCM advised that it would be much better for the staffer not to say anything for now – that this could all blow over quickly.

In his EEO claim, according to Complainant, he alleged discrimination when he was denied assignments in line with his experience, ability, and professional background, the DCM knew that allegations against him by Subordinate 1, her spouse and two others were false and failed to take appropriate action, and management held him accountable for the false accusations and denied him support.

By letters to the Agency dated February 1, 2016 and May 10, 2016, Complainant alleged that the Agency misled him into entering into the settlement agreement and breached it. Specifically, he alleged that when he signed the settlement agreement, the Agency knew Subordinate 1’s EEO complaint had been investigated with a finding of no wrongdoing on his part, that she would likely continue to litigate in federal court, and he could have used the EEO decision to exonerate himself. Complainant wrote that after the settlement agreement, Subordinate 1 continued to attack him in the press, with articles appearing in prominent news outlets such as Newsweek and the New York Post. He pointed to a proposed June 2013 Agency press release recounting that the Diplomatic Security Service investigated the allegations and found no violations of U.S. or Italian law, and contended that had the press release been issued this would have rebutted the articles or they would not have been published. He argues that the Agency allowed employees and family members to utilize the EEO process to raise false allegations against him despite the Agency’s conclusion that they were baseless, and in failing to clear his name breached the settlement agreement and made it ineffective and unenforceable.

The Agency found that it complied with the settlement agreement. Regarding term 9.d, the Agency found that Complainant’s submittal of proposed changes to his 2012 EER was a condition precedent to the former DCM reviewing them and considering making changes, and Complainant admitted he did not submit proposed changes because he was too disheartened and depressed. On appeal, Complainant, who is represented by counsel, confirms this, but adds another reason was that he lacked the necessary facts, particularly the EEO decision on Subordinate 1’s complaint.

Regarding term 9.g, the Agency recounted that Complainant stated it was breached because (1) the Agency simply wrote a one page memorandum simply listing the allegations against him and stating they were found to be unsubstantiated rather than discussing things in context to show how his accusers seized on scandal to defame him and hinder his career, (2) the memorandum was only based on facts until October 2013, failing to fulfill its purpose of summarizing the Diplomatic Security investigation,3 and (3) the Agency, in response to his inquiries, could not give him a clear answer on whether he could share the memorandum with family, colleagues, friends, and his Italian attorney, preventing him from doing so. On appeal, Complainant confirms that he raised reasons (1) and (3). He argues that not being able to share the memorandum makes it useless and his reason for entering into settlement negotiations was to restore his reputation.

In determining that it complied with term 9.g, the Agency found that it met its obligation to provide a summary of the investigation, and that there is no evidence the parties agreed to any specific format in or upon the use of the memorandum.

In determining that it did not negotiate the settlement agreement in bad faith, the Agency found that Complainant cited no authority for the proposition that it was obligated to divulge the outcome of Subordinate 1’s EEO case, and there was no evidence it negotiated in bad faith.

On appeal, Complainant adds that he would not have bargained for a memorandum summarizing the results of the Bureau of Diplomatic Security’s investigation had he known he could not use it, this is common sense, and the Agency’s failure to authorize its use is a breach of the settlement agreement. Complainant argues that the Agency breached the settlement agreement by failing to live up to the spirit of the document. He argues that the Agency’s failure, upon his request, to allow the issuance of the proposed press release in the Agency’s name violates the settlement agreement.

In opposition to the appeal, the Agency argues that disclosing Subordinate 1’s employment discrimination investigation would violate privacy right protected information, and it did not negotiate the settlement agreement in bad faith.

Decision

In June 2013, after the New York Post reported highly charged accusations by Subordinate 1 about the way Complainant treated a staffer, an Agency email string on which Complainant was copied showed the staffer wanted to say something rebutting what was reported, but the former DCM opined it would be much better if the staffer did not say anything now – this could blow over quickly. Further, Complainant strongly suggests that he was aware the Bureau of Diplomatic Security investigation was favorable and he certainly knew the Agency had done nothing to publically clear his name. While Complainant wanted the Agency to publically clear his name, he agreed to a settlement agreement that did not have a term explicitly doing this. Instead, the Agency agreed to issue to a summary of the Bureau of Diplomatic Security to Complainant – not the public.

Complainant’s contention that the Agency bargained for the settlement agreement in bad faith is not persuasive. First, as argued by the Agency, it had reason to believe the administrative decision on Subordinate 1’s complaint was protected by the Privacy Act, since administrative EEO records are generally within the scope of the Act. Further, Complainant has not shown he did not already have sufficient information to make a fair bargain when negotiating the settlement agreement.

The FAD is AFFIRMED.

Read the full case here via eeoc.gov.

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U.S.-Turkey Announce Reciprocal Resumption of Visa Services, Then Turkey Throws U.S. Accusation

Posted: 1:39 am ET
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Erdogan Rages Against the U.S. Ambassador to Ankara — What’s That About?

Posted: 2:20 am ET
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Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yıldırım recently criticized the suspension of visa services in Turkey by the United States. The Daily Sabah quotes Yıldırım saying“There is rule of law in Turkey and if someone from the U.S. diplomatic mission commits a crime he/she will not have any privileges [to avoid prosecution].” Apparently he also added that U.S. authorities never asked for Turkey’s permission when the United States arrested Halkbank deputy general manager, Mehmet Hakan Atilla.

On Thursday, President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan blamed the outgoing U.S. Ambassador to Ankara John Bass for the visa row, and said: “It is unacceptable for the United States to sacrifice a strategic partner to an ambassador who doesn’t know his place.” He also said that Turkey does not see Ambassador Bass as a representative of the United States.

In the spirit of reciprocity, how long before the State Department declares that the U.S. no longer sees Ambassador Serdar Kılıç as a representative of the Government of Turkey in Washington, D.C.?

RTE must be smart enough to recognize that American ambassadors, particularly career ambassadors like Ambassador Bass do not freelance. And still he rails.

Of related note — on March 19, 2016, Reza Zarrab an Iranian-Turkish citizen was arrested for allegedly engaging in hundreds of millions of dollars of transactions on behalf of the Government of Iran and Iranian entities as part of a scheme to evade U.S. sanctions (Download u.s._v._zarab_et_al_indictment.pdf).

On March 28, 2017, Mehmet Hakan Atilla, a Turkish banker was also arrested and charged for alleged conspiracies to violate the IEEPA and to commit bank fraud (Download US v. Mehmet Hakan Atilla complaint.pdf).

On September 6, DOJ announced the Superseding Indictment alleging that nine defendants (including a former Turkish Minister of the Economy (currently serving in Turkish Parliament), and a former General Manager Of Turkish Government-Owned Bank), “conspired to lie to U.S. Government officials about international financial transactions for the Government of Iran and used the U.S. financial system to launder bribes paid to conceal the scheme.”

The scheme functioned largely by using the Turkish government-owned bank (“Turkish Bank-1”) at which ASLAN was the General Manager, ATILLA was the Deputy General Manager of International Banking, and BALKAN was an Assistant Deputy Manager for International Banking, to engage in transactions that violated U.S. sanctions against Iran. The defendants used Turkish Bank-1 to facilitate REZA ZARRAB’s ability to use his network of companies to supply currency and gold to the Government of Iran, Iranian entities, and SDNs using Turkish Bank-1, while concealing Turkish Bank-1’s role in the violation of U.S. sanctions from regulators.

This is an interesting thriller that we should hear more about starting next month when the hearing starts in New York.  This story started like a movie; according to the New Yorker’s Dexter Filkins piece — with a cargo plane from Accra, Ghana, which was diverted to Istanbul’s main international airport, because of fog, and three thousand pounds of gold bars.

Here is the superseding indictment in USA vs. Zarrab, et.al.

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U.S. Laughing Stock Gets a Trump Rally, Offsets National Debt

Posted: 2:50 am ET
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AND NOW THIS —

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