@StateDept’s Mystery Illness: The “It Depends” Treatment of Injured Personnel

Via NYT:

According to a whistle-blower complaint filed by Mr. Lenzi, the State Department took action only after Ms. Werner’s visiting mother, an Air Force veteran, used a device to record high levels of microwave radiation in her daughter’s apartment. The mother also fell ill. That May, American officials held a meeting to reassure U.S. officers in Guangzhou that Ms. Werner’s sickness appeared to be an isolated case.
[…]
But Mr. Lenzi, a diplomatic security officer, wrote in a memo to the White House that his supervisor insisted on using inferior equipment to measure microwaves in Ms. Werner’s apartment, calling it a “check-the-box exercise.”

“They didn’t find anything, because they didn’t want to find anything,” Mr. Lenzi said.

He sent an email warning American diplomats in China that they might be in danger. His superiors sent a psychiatrist to evaluate him and gave him an official “letter of admonishment,” Mr. Lenzi said.

Months after he began reporting symptoms of brain injury, he and his family were medically evacuated to the University of Pennsylvania.
[…]

The State Department labeled only one China officer as having the “full constellation” of symptoms consistent with the Cuba cases: Ms. Werner, the first evacuee. In an internal letter, the department said 15 others in Guangzhou, Shanghai and Beijing had some symptoms and clinical findings “similar to those” in Cuba, but it had not determined they were suffering from “Havana syndrome.”

Doctors at the University of Pennsylvania said they did not share individual brain scans with the State Department, so the government lacked necessary information to rule out brain injuries in China.

“It seems to me and my doctors that State does not want any additional cases from China,” Mr. Garfield wrote, “regardless of the medical findings.”

New @StateDept Bureau to Take $26 Million, Plus 98 Staffers From the Medical Services  Bureau

Updated 1:24 pm PDT 
We just learned that the Under Secretary for Management Brian Bulatao is pushing for the formation of a new bureau called Crisis and Contingency Response (CCR) under the Management umbrella. This would expand the “M” family to 14 bureaus and offices (including a more recent creation called Office of Management Strategy and Solutions (M/SS). 
We understand that Mr. Pompeo has formally signed off on this new office.  CCR will reportedly take $26 million funding from the Bureau of Medical Services (MED). It will also  pull 98 positions from MED and it will share EX and IT services with the Medical Services bureau.   
We also learned that the “7th floor loves Dr. Will Walters” because he and his Directorate of Operational Medicine are reportedly not only “providing OpMed flights during COVID, repatriation flights, logistics flights, but have also provided the Secretary with medical support during his travels.”
“Very sexy stuff, whereas what MED providers do is the more mundane day-to-day care of diplomats and their families overseas.”
Many medical providers are said to be up in arms about the rapid formation of this new Bureau — which happened in a span of just four months — with apparently no input from the field.
“Medical services to diplomats and their families abroad may suffer.”
We asked what are the potential consequences to MED and its patients, and we’re given a quick rundown by Sender A:
    • Since MED and the CCR Bureau share EX and IT, there is widespread concern that MED staffing and funding will be given short shrift in this new configuration.
    • What might happen is fewer FS medical providers whom MED is allowed to hire, leaving positions overseas unfilled.
    • Other critical “back office” functions in MED, if not supported by the new shared EX, might become understaffed.
    • If sections such as MED Foreign Programs (authorization and funding of Medevacs and hospitalizations, referrals to WDC medical providers) do not have sufficient staffing and funding, service to FSOs and EFMs abroad will certainly be noticed in terms of delayed or denied authorization and funding cables.
    • If the MED/GSO section does not receive sufficient funding/staffing, delivery of essential medications and vaccines will be delayed or nonexistent.
Our source said that a town hall was held last week concerning this new bureau.  Many medical providers reportedly submitted questions ahead of time, but “the vast majority of the one-hour time slot was taken up my monologues from Bill Todd and Will Walters.” 
Source added that “both were very good at smoothly blowing by the concerns raised by MED.”
We understand that Todd did not explain why a separate Bureau was being created, but almost everyone in MED apparently viewed this as “the ultimate bureaucratic power play.”
Bill Todd is the Deputy Under Secretary for Management (formerly Acting M, Acting DGHR going back to Tillerson’s fun times in Foggy Bottom).  He is awaiting committee and Senate vote to be the next U.S. Ambassador to Pakistan. Time’s running out. 
Dr. William Walters’ February 2020 bio posted in congress.gov says that he is a member of the Senior Executive Service (and former US Army medical officer). His bio says he is the Acting Deputy Chief Medical Officer for Operations and the Acting Executive Director for the Bureau of Medical Services. Further, it says that “As the Managing Director of Operational Medicine, Dr. Walters is responsible for the Office of Protective Medicine and the Office of Strategic Medical Preparedness and manages the care of the Secretary of State and traveling delegation while traveling abroad.”
The MED Bureau was last inspected by State/OIG in mid 2000 and the OIG issued a report in June 2006. So it is due for a new review. According to OIG, in 2006 (lordy, that’s 14 years ago!), MED had the following:

“192 health units in embassies and consulates abroad. MED’s direct-hire overseas staffing includes 45 regional medical officers (RMO), who are physicians, 16 regional psychiatrists, 72 health practitioners, 10 laboratory technicians, and three regional medical managers, supplemented by 250 locally employed staff. […] Overseas, MED serves patients from 51 U.S. government agencies. This patient population includes approximately 50,000 direct-hire employees and family members who are full beneficiaries of the program and about 70,000 locally employed staff, for whom MED provides treatment for on-the-job injury and illness. In 2004, there were 230,000 health unit visits and MED facilitated 635 medical evacuations to the United States and 350 medical evacuations to overseas centers.”

We understand that current staffing includes 250 Foreign Service Medical Specialists ( RMO, MP, RMLS, RMO/P) plus LNA nurses and Social Workers in some posts. MED’s workforce reportedly also includes around 1000 LES staff who work in health units abroad. This staffing number does not include the Civil Service employees working for MED in Washington, D.C.
Under current staffing, how many employees will be left at MED after 98 employees are pulled to staff the new CCR bureau?
What will be the direct consequences of gutting MED’s fund by $26million in order to fund the new CCR bureau?
What is the rational justification for creating a new bureau like CCR separate from MED? Why now? Is this a case of strike now why the iron is hot, there may not be another mass evacuation due to a pandemic soon?
What is the issue with keeping the Directorate of Operational Medicine as the arm for crisis and contingency response under MED? 
Why are they calling this the Crisis and Contingency Response (CCR) Bureau and not the Medical Crisis and Contingency Response (MCCR) Bureau, hmmmn? Will this new bureau be headed by an assistant secretary level appointee subject to Senate confirmation?
Hey, wait, wait a minute –is some hombre considering this new bureau as the crisis and contingency response lead in medical and non-medical crisis? The name is kind of a tell.  We’d like to hear the big picture, tell us more.
You know, we’ve heard of the Crisis Management and Strategy arm that’s operating out of Ops Center for decades. They do great work. We’ve never heard those folks start a new bureau.
Update 1:24 pm PDT: 
It looks like the State Department needs to send Congressional notification to create a new bureau. In May 2019, the State Department merged the Bureaus of Public Affairs (PA) and International Information Programs (IIP) to create the new Bureau of Global Affairs. That merger did not happen overnight:
“In the summer of 2018, a task force of PA and IIP colleagues collaborated with bureaus and offices Department-wide to design a proposal for the new merged bureau. Extensive consultation with Congress as well as key leaders and organizations both inside and outside of the Department continued throughout 2018 and early 2019. Following State Department approval and congressional notification, the new Bureau of Global Public Affairs became a reality in May 2019.”
So how fast do you think State can do all that and its congressional notification obligation for this new entity? 
It’s 13 days, 8 hours, 31 minutes to Election Day. Go VOTE!

How @StateDept Handles Domestic Violence Overseas: One Example and Some Questions

 

In the many years that we’ve watched the State Department, or asked questions about assaults, harassment, or domestic violence, we seldom see a public accounting of how the agency handles these cases, particularly overseas.  State had such a case in 2018. And we’re only seeing it now because the case landed in the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.  The EEOC case came from a complainant who was previously assigned to an overseas post in the Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs (NEA).
On November 7, 2018, Complainant filed an EEO complaint alleging that the Agency [State Department] subjected him to discrimination and a hostile work environment/harassment on the basis of sex (male), status as a parent, and in retaliation for “whistleblower activity”. The EEOC notes that “With respect to Complainant’s allegations on appeal of violations of the U.S. Constitution, whistleblower protection laws, criminal laws, and tortious laws not addressed by EEO laws, these laws are not within the purview of the EEO complaint process.”.
The State Department concluded that Complainant failed to prove that the Agency subjected him to discrimination as alleged. On March 13, 2020, the EEOC issued a decision which affirmed the Agency’s final decision. Excerpt from Appeal No. 2019005790:
The Agency accepted the complaint as to the alleged basis of sex and conducted an investigation, which produced the following pertinent facts:
Complainant was assigned to the Agency’s facility [/], accompanied by his spouse (“Spouse”) (female) and children. He and his family resided in U.S. government-supplied housing.
On September 21, 2018, Spouse reported an incident of domestic violence to the Deputy Regional Security Officer (Deputy RSO), alleging Complainant assaulted her. The alleged assault occurred on September 9, 2018, while they were on vacation in Poland. Deputy RSO attested that, based on Spouse’s report, it was reasonable to believe that domestic violence had occurred, and he reported the situation to the front office and the Office of Special Investigations (OSI), as required by Agency policy.
The Agency’s Family Advisory Team (FAT) was advised of Spouse’s report of domestic violence and they recommended that, in the best interest of the family, Complainant and Spouse be separated for a cooling down period. One factor in the decision was Spouse’s comment that she was afraid of Complainant’s finding out that she made the report. Members of the FAT recommended the separation out of concern for further violence, without a determination as to the veracity of Spouse’s allegations, until a decision could be made as to the next steps. The Deputy Chief of Mission instructed that Complainant be removed from the residence, pending further deliberations by the FAT.
On September 21, 2018, Deputy RSO and two other Agency employees went to the residence Complainant shared with his Spouse and their children and informed Complaint that he was being relocated to a hotel. Complainant and Spouse were instructed not to contact each other until a decision was made about the alleged domestic violence incident. Complainant cooperated and was escorted to a hotel.
On September 25, 2018, Complainant reported to Deputy RSO that Spouse was the aggressor in the domestic violence incident. Deputy RSO instructed Complainant to communicate with OSI, as they had jurisdiction.
In the instant complaint, Complainant alleged sex was a factor because he was required to leave the residence, while Spouse remained in the home with their children.
On September 26, 2018, Complainant met with a Human Resources Officer (HRO) and Agency security personnel and was informed that he must immediately leave the post and return to the United States. He was given the choice of voluntary or involuntary curtailment. He was informed that the issues facing his family could not be addressed locally and resources were not available to manage his family situation. Complainant agreed to a voluntary curtailment because the official reason would be classified as personal and there would be no discipline. He also attested that he selected voluntary curtailment because, even though he was the victim of Spouse’s assault, he did not believe he would have any support at the post.
HRO explained that when there is a conflict between two members of a household and one or more of the individuals are direct hires, the Agency policy is to curtail the direct hire. She further explained that this approach is preferred as there is an unwillingness to involve the local police in a potential domestic violence situation. She explained that the post cannot adjudicate claims and make a determination, as that authority rests with OSI. She explained that the post has no authority to require a family member of a direct hire to leave the country and the only viable option is to require the direct hire to curtail, which then will require the spouse or other family member to vacate the government-supplied housing.
The Deputy Chief of Mission attested that she made the decision to curtail Complainant, as this was the third occasion of serious behavioral incidents involving Complainant since he arrived, less than a year ago and, based on the advice from FAT, she instructed that he be given a choice of voluntary or involuntary.
On September 28, 2018, Complainant returned to the United States. Spouse and their children remained behind to pack their belongings and arrived in the United States on October 17, 2018.
Upon his arrival in the United States, Complainant was informed by Diplomatic Security that an update for approval of his security clearance had been initiated “for cause.” Complainant’s security clearance was not scheduled to expire until June 2021. Complainant alleged that the review of his security clearance was initiated by the post to support their decision to remove him from [post].
The Office Director of DS/SI/PSS explained that he was, in part, responsible for the investigation and adjudication of security clearances for the Department and Complainant was subject to an “out of cycle” investigation regarding his security clearance because of the reports received from a Diplomatic Security investigation alleging potential misconduct. He explained that the investigation was “for cause,” non-routine, and pursuant to regulations.
With respect to the alleged harassment, Complainant attested that, on November 7, 2018, the Agency notified him that he was the subject of an administrative inquiry into allegations that he was a harasser.
He explained that he learned that, during a social setting, he made a comment about Spouse that might have been considered a distasteful joke but did not rise to the level of harassment. He also alleged that, during a meeting with the American Foreign Service Association and Human Resources, a Human Resources representative asked him when he anticipated retiring.
[…]
The Agency explained that, following Spouse’s report of domestic violence, the Agency felt it in the best interest of the family that Complainant and Spouse be separated for a cooling down period, pending a determination as to what steps were next. The Agency further explained that there is an unwillingness to involve local authorities in such matters and it lacks the authority to adjudicate such matters. The Agency explained that in such situations involving a direct hire employee and an accompanying spouse, it is the Agency’s policy to curtail the direct hire, which would then cause the spouse and family to be required to vacate the government-supplied housing. The Agency also explained that Complainant was subject to an “out of cycle” investigation regarding his security clearance because of the reports of alleged potential misconduct. We note that, although Complainant and Spouse disagree as to who initiated the domestic violence, Complainant does not deny that the domestic violence occurred. We find the Agency’s actions of separating the spouses, sending the employee back to the United States, and subjecting him to another security investigation to be reasonable under these circumstances. Therefore, although Complainant has alleged discrimination, he has not established by a preponderance of the evidence, that the legitimate, non-discriminatory reasons articulated by the Agency were a pretext for unlawful discrimination or motivated by some unlawful discriminatory animus with respect to any of these claims.
The links to the related regs are below. In this case, State told the EEOC that “there is an unwillingness to involve local authorities in such matters and it lacks the authority to adjudicate such matters.” And yet, 3 FAM 1815.2 says:

d. If the initial report is substantiated, action may include one or more of the following: (1)  Post may call upon local authorities or resources in certain cases; […] (5)  Post may be asked to call upon shelter and child protection resources or find alternative shelter within the post community for the victim and any children.

Seriously though, why are these options decorating the FAM if they are never real options? In certain cases? Which cases would there be a willingness for post to call upon local authorities to settle a domestic violence case?
Perhaps the most striking thing here — well, a couple of things. 1) “Complainant agreed to a voluntary curtailment because the official reason would be classified as personal and there would be no discipline”; and 2) the Agency’s point that “the only viable option is to require the direct hire to curtail, which then will require the spouse or other family member to vacate the government-supplied housing.”
And then what?
The spouse and children returns to the United States. To where actually? To get back with the spouse? To a halfway house? To a homeless shelter? What actually happens to the family upon return to the United States following a report of domestic violence overseas? Folks do not always have houses in the DC area, spouses may be foreign born with no families in the DC area. In most cases, the household effects and those on storage are also under the employee’s name only (unless the spouse made prior arrangements).
So what happens next? Could ‘what happens next’ be one of the main reasons why folks do not report these cases?  

Related items:
3 FAM 1810 FAMILY ADVOCACY PROGRAM (CHILD ABUSE, CHILD NEGLECT, AND DOMESTIC VIOLENCE)
3 FAM 1815  DOMESTIC VIOLENCE

@StateDept Changes Post Allowances – Which Posts Are Up, Down, or Now Zero

 

Via state.gov:

SPECIAL NOTICE FOR POST ALLOWANCE (COLA) CHANGES EFFECTIVE OCTOBER 11, 2020 WITH TL:SR 1005

“The majority of the Post Allowance (COLA) changes effective 10/11/2020 are the result of a revised COLA process that was an outcome of a GAO audit, Congressional inquiries, and a 2017 OIG recommendation that the Department develop an objective method of generating COLA rates.
The major change in the process from the prior method is with respect to collection of market data.  Rather than task posts with collecting the data, the Department’s contractor now obtains it for 210 locations, including Washington, D.C. suburbs, from Mercer, AirInc, and ECA International.  These three companies provide similar support to major U.S. multinational enterprises with worldwide presence.  The contractor then used a uniform methodology, adjusting for costs of housing and utilities since these are provided by USG agencies for their employees assigned to foreign posts, to calculate an index that assigned a base score of 100 to the Washington, D.C. suburbs and compared other locations to that base.  The rate for each post is based on how the post index compares to the base index.
The data for the foreign post’s expat basket of goods and services is compared to that of the Washington, D.C. suburbs.  The contractor will provide updated index information to the Department of State’s Office of Allowances every August.  New COLA rates based on that data will be implemented in the first full pay period of each Fiscal Year.  Post indexes will be reviewed on a biweekly basis for exchange rate fluctuations and post allowances will be adjusted when necessary.  Posts determined to have hyperinflation will be adjusted biannually.  More information about how COLA levels are determined is available in DSSR 228.”
*
The announcement says that the contractor now obtains data for 210 locations including Washington, D.C. suburbs. We should note that posts identified by the Office of Allowances include over 700 locations overseas.
According to the Office of Allowances, post allowance, commonly referred to as the “cost-of-living” allowance is an allowance based on a percentage of “spendable income,” i.e. money you can really put your hands on to spend on goods and services. The amount varies depending on salary level and family size. The post allowance is calculated by comparing costs for goods and services in 11 categories – including food (consumed at home or in restaurants), tobacco/alcohol, clothing, personal care items, furnishings, household goods, medical services, recreation, public transportation, vehicle-related expenses, and household help – to the cost of those same goods and services in Washington, D.C.
The Office of Allowances notes that if the overall cost of goods and services at a foreign post, taking into account expenditure patterns, is at least 3% above the cost of the same goods and services in the Washington, D.C. area, a post allowance is established. See DSSR section 220 for more information.
The State Department announcement does not identify the contractor but one of its sources is Mercer.  Hong Kong listed by Mercer as the most expensive city for expatriates in its 2020 Cost of Living ranking is up from 42% to 60% in the new State Department post allowance listing.
Ashgabat, Turkmenistan listed by Mercer as the second most expensive place for expatriates for 2020 went from a COLA of 30% to 50% as of October 11.
Tokyo and Zurich were ranked by Mercer at #3 and #4 . Tokyo’s allowance went from 50% to 70% while Zurich (other) went from 80% to 100%.
Singapore ranked by Mercer as 5th most expensive in its 2020 cost of living ranking is up from 20% to 42%.
We understand that the COLA changes are affecting a host of posts, with some losing allowances in double digits and others ending up with zero for their cost of living allowance.
Zimbabwe went from 70% to 50%. Angola went from 50% to 30%. Benin went from 20% to 5%. Port-au-Prince from 25% to 5%; Bulgaria from 15% to zero. Ethiopia from 15% to zero.  El Salvador went from 10% to zero.
Burkina Faso went from 20% COLA last month to zero post allowance effective October 11. Other posts which previously received similar post allowance of 20% but are now reduced to zero are: Havana, Cuba; Amman, Jordan, Lilongwe, Malawi; Casablanca, Morocco; Kigali, Rwanda; Paramaribo, Suriname; Chiang Mai, Thailand;  Tashkent, Uzbekistan; Bujumbura, Burundi; Lusaka, Zambia.
UK posts like London and Edinburgh went from 50% to 42%. Canadian posts like Toronto and Vancouver went from 42% to 25%. Some Australian posts went from 30% to 10% while others like Darwin and Adelaide went from 25% to 5%.
According to the Mercer survey, the world’s least expensive cities for expatriates are Tunis (#209), Windhoek (#208), and Tashkent and Bishkek, which tied for the #206 spot.
Tunis and Bishkek both have zero COLA in the old and new State Department allowances listing but Tashkent has now gone from 20% to zero and Windhoek from 15% to zero effective October 11.
Meanwhile, other posts saw double digit increases: Posts in China went from 5-25% to 15-42%.  Bangui in the Central African Republic is now up to 50% from 25%. Finland went from 35% to 50%. Libreville, Gabon is now 50%  from 30%. Posts in Israel went from 30% to 50%. Increases for posts in Japan range from 7% to 20%. South Sudan went from 42% to 70%.
Post allowances remained unchanged for some posts: Greenland (60%), Denmark (50%), Bahrain (20%), Barbados (35%), Bermuda (60%), Chad (42%), Qatar (25%), Djibouti (30%), Iceland (10%), Kuwait (15%).
Below are the most expensive Foreign Service assignments based on the new cost of living allowances effective October 11, 2020:

#1. SWITZERLAND (Geneva, Other) — 100%

#2. SWITZERLAND (Bern)  —————- 80%

#3. JAPAN (Tokyo, Fukuoka) ————— 70%

#4. SOUTH SUDAN (Juba, Other).——-  70%

#5. AUSTRIA (Vienna, Other).————-  60%

#6. BERMUDA (Bermuda).—————–  60%

#7. GREENLAND (Nuuk).——————- 60%

#8. HONG KONG —————————-  60%

#9. JAPAN (Kyota, Nagoya Sapporo
(Osaka-Kobe, Yokohama).——————  60%

#10. ZIMBABWE (Harare, Other).——- 50%

#11. CENTRAL AFRICAN REPUBLIC
(Bangui).     ————————————- 50%

#12. DENMARK
(Copenhagen, Other).———————— 50%

#13. FINLAND (Helsinki).—————— 50%

#14. GABON (Libreville, Other).———- 50%

#15. ISRAEL
(Tel Aviv, Jerusalem).———————–  50%

#16. ITALY
(Florence, Milan, Turin).——————- 50%

#17. TURKMENISTAN
(Ashgabat, Other). ————————–  50%


 

@StateDept’s Administrative Payments FY2018-FY2020 Via Judgment Fund

The U.S. Treasury Department’s Judgment Fund pays court judgments and compromise settlements of lawsuits against the government. Federal agencies may ask the Bureau of the Fiscal Service to pay from the Judgment Fund for:
  • Most court judgments and Justice Department settlements of actual or imminent litigation against the government
  • Administrative claim awards (settlements by agencies at the administrative level, not involving a lawsuit)
In most cases, the agency does not have to reimburse the Judgment Fund. However, reimbursement is required when the case comes under either the Contract Disputes Act or the No FEAR Act. Below is a list of administrative payments from the Judgement Fund for the State Department. Majority of the description says tort claims in unnamed foreign countries related to traffic. The amount of payment ranges from $2,914.77 to $36,000. We will have a separate post for litigative payments. 

(Click image above for larger view)

 

 

 

BUT the seats in question are 0.3 inches wider than regular economy seats!!!

The Civilian Board of Contract Appeals (CBCA) is an independent tribunal housed within the General Services Administration. The CBCA presides over various disputes involving Federal executive branch agencies. Its primary responsibility is to resolve contract disputes between government contractors and agencies under the Contract Disputes Act. In addition to contract disputes, the Board also adjudicates cases related to travel and relocation.
The following case relates to a Department of State employee assigned overseas who requested reimbursement of travel expenses for extended economy seating (EES) which was authorized on his orders. The agency denied his request after determining that the circumstances of his travel did not meet the agency’s requirements for reimbursement. The Board granted the claim.
This was a claim from a few years ago, but we were tickled by the 0.3 inches wider economy seat argument. Given what we’re seeing these days, my gosh!
Via CBCA 5686-RELO
Claimant is a foreign service officer currently assigned to Vietnam. On August 15, 2016, claimant and his spouse traveled twenty-three hours from Washington, D.C. to Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam pursuant to permanent change of station (PCS) orders. Claimant’s orders authorized extended economy seating at the rate of $300 per person. Although the trip was booked on American Airlines,1 the leg from Boston, Massachusetts to Tokyo, Japan was operated by Japan Airlines (JAL). At the ticket counter in Boston, claimant inquired about upgrading his seats to extended economy, consistent with his authorization. The agent confirmed that such seats were available and reassured claimant that the seats were located in economy class. Claimant upgraded his seats for the sum of $600. His request for reimbursement of the cost of extended economy seating was denied.

I understand that you were authorized extended economy seating on your [travel orders], however, per guidance set forth by TTM-A/LM Transportation Branch and the guidance cable you have attached, not all airlines have economy seating available. In addition, TTM informed us that “premium” economy [programs] are not reimbursable as we are not reporting this under the Department’s mandatory annual Premium Class Travel Report. Based on our research on the Japan Airlines website and the seat guru site, Japan Airlines offers “premium” economy with extra services . . . and the seat guru showed that all Japan Airlines aircraft[] have [a] distinct premium economy cabin.

In response to the denial, Claimant requested a review of the decision, stating:

JAL Extended Economy is still Economy Class seating in [an] economy cabin with additional leg room, and seems to fit within [the] definition . . . My travel was over 14 hours at the allowable cost, and I did not take a rest stop or purchase business lounge [access]. . . The claim reviewer has only stated her reason [for denial] as JAL providing additional entertainment services in extended economy. Nowhere does the [Foreign Affairs Manual] or guidance mention entertainment services as something to preclude use of extended economy seating.

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USCG Guangzhou: Gender Disparity in the Awards Nomination Process #FAST

Excerpted from State Department/OCR – FY2019 EEOC Management Directive 715 (MD-715) Part I.1 Report:
PART I, EEO Plan to Eliminate Identified Barrier, requires agencies to report specific plans of action aimed at identifying and removing barriers from their policies, procedures, or practices that limit or restrict free and open competition for groups involving race, ethnicity, and sex groups. To address barriers involving disability status, agencies must establish plans in PART J.
An employee notified S/OCR of an allegation of gender disparity in the awards nomination process for entry level officers in Guangzhou’s consular section. The complaint is that male entry-level officers were nominated for awards but not women. After checking the records, Post HR discovered that this is correct. Of the 21 individual award nominations for entry-level Consular officers, only one was for a female.
The Office of Civil Rights (S/OCR) worked with Human Resources staff in Consulate General (CG) Guangzhou (hereafter referred to as “Post”) to identify possible reasons for the identified trigger. Post has 50 “entry-level officers” (ELOs). The focus of this barrier analysis is first or second tour, tenured or untenured, generalists and specialists as well as Consular Fellows/other limited non-career appointments and Consular Adjudicator-eligible family members employed in the Consular Section of the CG. This pool of employees comprise 35 male employees and 15 female employees. The trigger indicates that 17 out of 35 men (49%) received an award and that 3 out of 15 women (20%) received an award.

S/OCR asked Post whether selection panels are utilized, whether they believe managers know the procedures for nominating employees, whether employees are aware of the awards program, whether panelists receive training, among other questions.

S/OCR also acquired a breakdown of Post by gender and award recipient, grouped by supervisors. The 50 employees were spread across eight supervisors with some sections as large as 12 and some as small as two. The different sections were usually similar in male/ female proportion.

S/OCR is pleased to see that Post has a very involved awards program. Not only do awards seem to be encouraged, but Post follows up with information sessions to help guide the process.

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Snapshot: Top Five Bureaus & Posts With the Highest Number of Sexual Harassment Complaints (2014-2017)

Via State/OIG:

Related post:
State/OIG Releases Long-Awaited Report on @StateDept Handling of Sexual Harassment Reports

 

 

 

State/OIG Releases Long-Awaited Report on @StateDept Handling of Sexual Harassment Reports

On October 2, 2020, State/OIG released its long-awaited report on the State Department handling of sexual harassment, including sexual assault reports in the agency. The IG reviewed the extent to which employees report sexual harassment, how the agency addresses reports, and the extent that State ensures consistent outcomes for individuals found to have engaged in such harassment.
The report notes that both Acting IG Stephen Akard, and his replacement, Acting IK Matthew Klimow “recused themselves from this review and delegated final clearance authority to Deputy IG Diana Shaw.” It looks like this review as initiated by State/OIG in early 2018. The report says that the issuance of this report was delayed because of “the lapse in OIG’s appropriation that occurred from December 21, 2018, through January 25, 2019, as well as the COVID-19 pandemic and resulting operational challenges.” We’re curious what happened to this report after the shutdown in January 2019 and before the pandemic was declared on March 11, 2020.
The Office of Civil Rights’ (S/OCR) response to this IG report is dated August 24, 2020; DGHR’s response is dated September 8, 2020.
Sexual harassment, generally a violation of civil laws, while sexual assault usually a reference to criminal acts (penetration of the victim’s body, also known as rape; attempted rape; forcing a victim to perform sexual acts, such as oral sex or penetration of the perpetrator’s body; fondling or unwanted sexual touching.
Within State, per 3 FAM 1711.2 says sexual assault is a form of sexual harassment.  Per 3 FAM 1712.2-4, S/OCR has the responsibility for investigating or overseeing investigations of alleged sexual harassment, which may include sexual assault. OIG report notes that it does not generally investigate claims of sexual harassment itself because OCR is specifically designated in the FAM as the responsible entity for investigating alleged sexual harassment. If the allegations rise to the level of a sexual assault, S/OCR will refer the allegations to DS/DO/OSI.
This report is distressing to read, and the underreporting is understandable. Of the 24 cases where misconduct allegations including sexual assaults were substantiated, we don’t know how many were criminally charged. One? None?

(font in blue, lifted from the report)

Office of Civl Rights (S/OCR), Office of Special Investigations (DS/OSI), and Conduct, Suitability, and Discipline Division (GTM/CSD)

      • lacks coordination guidance
      • lacks inter-operability of reporting systems
      • tracking system sucks
      • lacks updated supervisory guides
      • lacks data on the consistency of investigative and disciplinary processes
      • lack timeliness standards 

“OIG could not assess the timeliness of sexual harassment cases because the offices did not have timeliness standards. Additionally, lack of reliable and comprehensive data hampers the Department’s ability to effectively oversee and administer efforts to address sexual harassment.”
[…]
OCR, OSI, and CSD have individual systems to track and monitor sexual harassment cases, but the systems do not track similar data or share data with each other. For example, each office uses different identification numbers for the cases and different names for the subject’s bureau, office, or post. Additionally, OCR and CSD use different definitions when tracking sexual harassment cases. […] the three systems do not share data among each other and the other offices relevant to the disciplinary process. OCR, OSI, and CSD officials stated that only staff of the individual offices have access to the office’s data system and that the offices do not grant access to each other.
[…]
Because the offices lack a mechanism for tracking sexual harassment cases from intake until the final disciplinary action, OIG was not able to determine the length and disciplinary outcomes of all sexual harassment and sexual assault reports to OCR and OSI from 2014 to 2017.

S/OCR investigated just 22% of complaints for possible violations of Department policy

Of the 636 complaints of sexual harassment that OCR received from 2014 to 2017, OCR investigated 142 (22 percent) as possible violations of Department policy.

Top Five Bureaus and Posts With the Highest Number of Sexual Harassment Complaints From 2014 to 2017

      • Consular Affairs
      • Diplomatic Security
      • US Embassy Baghdad, Iraq
      • US Embassy Kabul, Afghanistan
      • Foreign Service Institute

CA, DS, Embassy Kabul, Chennai Consulate, and the Bureau of Overseas Building Operations represented the five bureaus and posts with the highest number of investigations.

Top Five Sexual Assault Complaints by Regional Bureau From 2014 to 2017

      • South and Central Asian Affairs
      • European and Eurasian Affairs
      • Near Eastern Affairs
      • East Asian and Pacific Affairs
      • Western Hemisphere Affairs
      • African Affairs
      • Domestic

Of the 106 complaints received during the relevant time period, 16 were still under investigation; of the 90 investigations OSI had completed, 24 cases (27 percent) had some kind of substantiated misconduct. […] However, this does not mean that 24 cases of sexual assault were confirmed; rather, it means that during the investigation, OSI concluded that some type of misconduct or criminal activity occurred and it was referred it to CSD for possible disciplinary action. In other words, OSI may receive an allegation of sexual assault and, during the investigation, obtain evidence that some other form of misconduct occurred.

Reporting on sexual harassment (63%) and sexual assaults (71%) are up but there are concerns of significant underreporting

According to information obtained by OIG, both through data collection and through interviews with Department employees, reports of sexual harassment increased from 2014 to 2017. OCR officials told OIG that this trend appears to be continuing. Additionally, one employee group expressed concern that sexual harassment is significantly underreported at the Department.

According to OCR data, reports of sexual harassment increased by 63 percent from 2014 to 2017, from 128 reports in 2014 to 209 reports in 2017. An OCR official told OIG that this increase may reflect an increased willingness to report sexual harassment based on an increased focus within the Department on the issue.

Reports of sexual assault have increased as well; OSI data shows a 71 percent increase in the number of reports of sexual assault from 2014 to 2017.

For overseas employees, a bigger challenge

Current and former Department employees interviewed by OIG expressed the belief that, for employees serving overseas, there are no mechanisms in place to hold embassy management accountable for failing to address sexual harassment at post.
[…]
According to OCR data, OCR received 636 complaints of sexual harassment from 2014 to 2017. That’s an average of 212 complaints a year. Of the 636 complaints, 441 originated at overseas posts. An average of 147 cases a year.
[..]
From the beginning of 2014 until the end of 2017, OSI received 106 reports of alleged sexual assault. […] Of the 106 complaints received during the relevant time period, 16 were still under investigation; of the 90 investigations OSI had completed, 24 cases (27 percent) had some kind of substantiated misconduct.
[…]
For cases opened before 2018, OSI did not track substantiated sexual assault allegations as a separate category so OIG could not identify the precise number of sexual assaults.

Underreporting due to lack of confidence in its resolution, fear of retaliation

Based on interviews and the survey of Department employees, OIG identified a number of factors that may contribute to underreporting, including lack of confidence in the Department’s ability to resolve complaints, fear of retaliation, and reluctance to discuss the harassment with others. Of the 154 survey respondents who responded that they experienced or observed sexual harassment within the last 2 years, 73 responded that they did not report the incident to OCR or DS. When asked why they had not reported incidents, of those 73, 25 employees agreed that they did not think that reporting would stop the sexual harassment; 19 employees agreed that they were afraid of retaliation; and 25 employees agreed that they did not want to discuss the incident (see Table 2).

… of the survey participants who experienced or observed sexual harassment but did not report it to OCR or DS, 34 percent stated that they did not do so because they did not think reporting would stop the harassment.

Lack of protection for complainants

Employees who were interviewed and survey respondents stated that another likely cause of underreporting is fear of retaliation. Interviewees told OIG that they do not believe that OCR will protect their identities during the course of the investigation if they do decide to speak out.
[…]
According to the FAM, “the Department will seek to protect the identities of the alleged victim and harasser, except as reasonably necessary (for example, to complete an investigation successfully).” 3 FAM 1525.2-1(d). According to OCR’s guidance for harassment inquiries, however, upper-level management (such as CSD) may need to know the victim’s identity in order to assess the disciplinary action. CSD and L/EMP officials told OIG that employees accused of sexual harassment are entitled to procedural due process if CSD proposes discipline. For sexual harassment cases, this means that the accused receive the OCR investigative file that includes all victim and witness statements, including their names; for sexual assault cases, the discipline package includes OSI’s report of investigation.

“Corridor Reputation”

Employees in interviews also expressed fear that reporting sexual harassment could harm their careers, either through overt retaliation or through the creation of a negative stigma and damage to the reporter’s “corridor reputation.”

One group representing Department employees told OIG that employees who experience sexual harassment are fearful that reporting it will cause their colleagues to view them as “troublemakers.”

Another employee group told OIG that the Foreign Service is a fairly small organization and reporting sexual harassment could give employees a poor reputation that will “follow them to future posts.”

Advised Against Reporting Sexual Harassment

…some Department employees told OIG that they were advised not to report the harassment that they experienced. Four survey respondents who experienced or observed sexual harassment stated that they did not report after being told not to do so.

Intake until Final Action: Length Varied from 139 days to 1,705 days

On average, OIG’s selected cases took 21 months to move from intake to resolution.54 The length of cases varied from 139 days (i.e., almost 5 months) to 1,705 days (i.e., over 4 years)

Final Disciplinary Actions for Selected Cases Ranged from No Action to Suspension

Final disciplinary decisions for OIG’s selected sexual harassment cases ranged from no action to suspension. Although the Department had proposed discipline for 11 of the 20 cases, only 5 resulted in implementation of the disciplinary action.

For example, one case resulted in no action taken after FSGB overturned the Department’s disciplinary decision to issue a Letter of Reprimand. For the three cases resulting in resignations, CSD had decided on either suspensions or separations but ultimately reached negotiated settlements for resignation. One individual retired after receiving CSD’s proposed decision, and another retired as CSD was reviewing the case. According to CSD officials, individuals who retire before a final disciplinary decision do not have the proposal or disciplinary decision included in their official personnel file.

2010-2020! Hello!

CSD has not updated the Foreign Service supervisory guide since 2004 and the civil service supervisory guide since 2007 to reflect sexual harassment policy changes. The supervisory guides aim to help supervisors and managers identify and address conduct and performance problems. The guides discuss the supervisor’s responsibilities, the disciplinary process, and certain types of misconduct. The guides do not, however, explain that supervisors are required to report allegations or observations of sexual harassment to OCR, although doing so has been a requirement in the FAM since 2010.

State/IG surveyed 2000 randomly selected employees and got a 27% response rate

OIG randomly selected 2,000 Department direct-hire employees who were employed as of October 1, 2018. OIG conducted a pre-test of the survey with 20 of the randomly selected employees. OIG surveyed the remaining 1,980 employees and received “undeliverable” responses from 215 email accounts.  A total of 479 employees responded to the survey, accounting for a 27 percent response rate.
[…]
Several factors may have affected the response rate: lack of access to Department e-mail during the 5-week lapse in appropriations; the sensitive nature of the subject; and employees being out of the office during the timeframe.4 Additionally, due to limited resources, OIG did not select a sample of respondents to validate their survey responses. OIG’s statistician analyzed the data by reviewing the responses of survey respondents. OIG also interviewed 10 employees who contacted OIG to share their personal experiences with sexual harassment at the Department. Additionally, OIG interviewed employee groups representing Department employees for additional employee perspectives on sexual harassment.

Related posts from 2014-2016:

 

EEOC: National Origin & Age Discrimination Found When Agency Terminated Complainant’s Candidacy for a Position

 

Via EEOC: Leon B. v. Dep’t of State, EEOC Appeal No. 0120182144 (Nov. 5, 2019).
National Origin & Age Discrimination Found When Agency Terminated Complainant’s Candidacy for a Position.
The Commission found that the Agency discriminated against Complainant when it terminated his candidacy for a Diplomatic Security Foreign Service Special Agent position because his score on an oral and written assessment was below the cut-off level. Agency officials averred that they asked all candidates the same questions and rated them according to pre-determined factors.  No one identified what the factors were, however, and Agency officials refused to provide information about the assessment questions and materials.  The EEO Investigator asked the Agency officials to provide the names of and pertinent information about the applicants who were found suitable to continue their candidacy for the position and information regarding the applicants whose candidacy was terminated, or not terminated, for the same reasons as Complainant’s candidacy.  The Agency stated only that it had assessed 726 candidates, that 272 passed the assessment, and that the candidates who passed as well as those who did not pass the assessment “ranged from all ages, races, and gender[s].”
Based on the Agency’s statement regarding the candidate pool, the Commission found that Complainant established prima facie cases of discrimination based on race/national origin and age.  The Commission further found that the Agency officials’ vague, conclusory statements about the assessment process did not explain why the Agency terminated Complainant’s candidacy.  The Agency provided no information about the pre-determined factors, the questions posed to the candidates, Complainant’s answers to the questions, how the reviewers scored Complainant’s answers, or the bases for the scores given to Complainant and the other candidates.  The Commission ordered the Agency to change Complainant’s assessment results to a passing score and to process his candidacy in the same manner that it processed the candidacies of other applicants who received passing scores.
Leon B. v. Dep’t of State, EEOC Appeal No. 0120182144 (Nov. 5, 2019).