Accountability Review Board Cuba Is Coming – Duck and Cover!

 

The Accountabilty Review Board Cuba report is getting ready to drop. Some top folks may look like shit, justifiably, and a few others may as well though so far every senior person in the department is using the whole “I couldn’t do anything because Tillerson and Margaret centralized everything.”

#
Advertisements

@StateDept Prepares For Interim $20M+ US Embassy Jerusalem Arnona Project

Posted: 12:57 am ET

 

There was a curious story over the weekend about the new U.S. Embassy Jerusalem where POTUS claimed  to have saved millions and millions of dollars for the construction of the new embassy:

Trump has told this story before. In early March, during a meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Trump made the same claim about being presented with a $1 billion bill that he rejected. At that point, Trump said the actual cost would be $250,000, not $400,000.

Second, Trump’s depiction of what’s happening appears to glamorize the reality. To speed the process of transitioning from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, the United States will be upgrading an existing facility in Jerusalem. The New York Times reported in February that the first phase — the phase that would be complete in the three-month window mentioned by Trump on Friday — would be to “carve out some office space for Ambassador David M. Friedman and a small staff.” Then, by the end of 2019, the existing compound will be expanded to increase the available office space.

Unless his staffers just gave POTUS a piece of paper purporting to be a bill for a $1 billion U.S. Embassy in Jerusalem, the description above is not how embassies are funded and constructed in the real world. First, the State Department’s Bureau of Buildings Operations is tasked with overseeing the construction of the agency’s overseas building program:

The Bureau of Overseas Buildings Operations (OBO) directs the worldwide overseas building program for the Department of State and the U.S. Government community serving abroad under the authority of the chiefs of mission. In concert with other State Department bureaus, foreign affairs agencies, and Congress, OBO sets worldwide priorities for the design, construction, acquisition, maintenance, use, and sale of real properties and the use of sales proceeds.

Second, the design and construction of these projects are announced for open competition.  It is a multi-phase process and typically spans multiple years depending on scope and size of the project.

Third, granted that this is a White House priority, Congress is still tasked with appropriating funds for the construction of this embassy.  We have not seen the amount for NEC Jerusalem project although the State Department’s budget justification did say:

The construction of a U.S. Embassy facility in Jerusalem will be among the Department’s highest priority for capital security investments in FY 2018 and FY 2019.

State/OBO has 15 overseas construction contracts in FY2017 at a total cost of about $3B; none includes the Jerusalem project. However, there was an A/E design award for a USCG Jerusalem project for $2,899,963 awarded in FY2016 to Krueck+Sexton Architects Chicago with project description listed as “BFM, proj. dvlp. services.”

Krueck+Sexton Architects also have this image up of US Consulate General Jerusalem. And one of its staffers in an online interview said that his “main focus has been on a master plan for a new U.S. Consulate in Jerusalem, Israel, which includes a 200,000 sqft. office building and the development of several other government buildings on a 16-acre site.”

Of particular note — on April 16, USCG Jerusalem announced a “Meet and Greet” for contractors interested in “Phase 2 Arnona Project.” The project provides improvements to the Arnona property where the consulate general is located. A source familiar with the project confirmed to us that this is the interim build-out of the Arnona consular annex, and is intended to accommodate a small ambassador staff and the MSG Detachment. Below is an excerpt from USCG Jerusalem’s announcement (PDF):

There is an upcoming Building Construction project at the U.S. Consulate General Arnona Jerusalem. The project will be competitively let (bid) by U.S. general contractors, followed by project award to a single, winning U.S. contractor in June 2018. The U.S. contractor may subcontract renovation work to local, Israeli construction companies. The project award to a U.S. contractor is expected to exceed $20 million. The Design-Build project scope includes Building Addition, Compound Upgrades, and Improvements to Utilities and Parking.

If the interim US Embassy in Jerusalem is expected to cost at least $20M, who can really expect the permanent embassy to cost between $150K-$400K? It’s not like they’re just building a guard shack.

For context, just the replacement and repair of Forced Entry & Ballistic Resistant (FE/BR) products (doors/windows) for US Embassy Dhaka cost $1.1M back in 2011; an HVAC Upgrade in Bratislava cost $480,000.00 in 2011; and a temporary embassy “fit-out and installation” in Tripoli, Libya the same year cost $998,000.00. Also, the design/build of the consular waiting area alone in Port of Spain was $856,000. Heck, a Surabaya warehouse cost the USG $3,922,458. 00. More items here. So if somebody tells you he can build an embassy for $400K, best run away unless the work scope is for a tiny house embassy for one with no guards.

The interim Jerusalem embassy facility is not to be confused with the New Embassy Compound Jerusalem, which is a separate project, and is “yet to be defined” according to our source. The expectation is for the embassy design award to come out next year. Which means the construction of the new permanent embassy may not start until late 2019 or early 2020, with the actual completion of the NEC project 2-3 years later barring a calamity.

#

 

All Promotions Into/Within the Senior Foreign Service Must be Vetted by White House?

Posted: 1:23 am  ET

 

State/HR recently sent a Frequently Asked Questions to newly promoted OCs concerning the differences between being an FS-01, the highest rank in the regular Foreign Service, and as OC, the starter rank in the Senior Foreign Service. The FAQ talks about pay, bidding, EERs, benefits, and of course, promotions. And then there’s this question, and apparent answer:

Q: When are promotions from FS-01 to OC effective?
Answer: Promotion boards issue a list in the fall of officers “recommended” for promotion from FS-01 to OC, OC to MC and MC to CM. However, all promotions into and within the Senior Foreign Service must be vetted by the White House, confirmed by the Senate and attested by the President. This process can take several months. Promotions into and within the SFS are effective the first pay period following Presidential attestation. However, you may start bidding as an OC as soon as the promotion list is released by the board.

Yo! You know this is nuts, right? The White House can barely vet its own staffers, and it will now vet all promotions of FSOs into and within the Senior Foreign Service? With one exception that we are aware of (and we’ll write about that case separately), this WH vetting requirement is new, and yes, we remember the “improved” vetting required by the SFRC back in 2015 (SFRC Bullies Diplomats Up For Promotion to Self-Certify They Have Not Been Convicted of Any Crime).  Is the WH also vetting all senior promotions out of the Pentagon? Who’s going to be doing this and what does this vetting includes? Also whose great idea was this, pray tell?  Will State/HR and A/DGHR soon say that this vetting has always been done by the White House since the beginning of whatevs?

#


Wait – @StateDept Has a Deputy “M” Again, a Position Discontinued by Congress in 1978

Posted: 2:30 pm  PT

 

With vacant offices and multiple departures from members of the Foreign Service and the State Department, it is hard to keep track sometimes of what’s happening amidst the opportunities and chaos in Foggy Bottom.

Bill Todd, the Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary & Acting Director General of the Foreign Service & Acting Director of Human Resources apparently has a fresh new title to add to his Twitter profile: Deputy Under Secretary of State for Management, a position discontinued by Congress in 1978.

How did that happen?

Apparently somebody convinced the now outgoing Secretary of State to sign a memo reconstituting this title on March 4. Did anyone bother to inform Secretary Tillerson that the position of Deputy Under Secretary for Management was discontinued specifically since Congress established the permanent position of Under Secretary of State for Management in 1978? And if nobody informed him …

Yo. This is sad.

Since the discontinued title/position was made “live” again a couple of weeks ago, there were people wondering why this title was resurrected now, and without any official announcement. Today, of course, a day before Tillerson is set to exit Foggy Bottom, the first memo sent under this office is out, so it’s not a secret anymore (bland, routine memo with A Message From Deputy Under Secretary for Management Regarding Planning for a Potential Lapse in Appropriations). And our inbox lighted up from folks with “Whoa, did you see this?” or “State has a Deputy M? or “When was the last time the State Department had a Deputy Under Secretary for Management?”

Whoa, indeed! Not since 1978, my dears.

What we want to know is if Congress is okay with this given that it purposely killed this position when it created the  permanent”M” by legislation decades ago.

Trump’s nominee as the next Under Secretary of State for Management Eric Ueland was nominated last year, renominated earlier this year and was cleared by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in February. The last Senate-confirmed “M” Patrick Kennedy retired in 2017 in the mass departures of top officials following the arrival of Secretary Tillerson and his aides in Foggy Bottom.  If Mr. Ueland’s nomination survives the current churn, he would be wise to seek assistance from Kennedy during his transition. Whether you like Patrick Kennedy or not, he was the longest serving M at State and no one who knows him questions his dedication to the institution. He also made Foggy Bottom run. The new secretary of state cannot focus his attention on the business of diplomacy if his own building and the people in it are in disarray.

In related news —

Stephen Akard, the nominee to be the next Director General of the Foreign Service has now been withdrawn. We are hearing that a career nominee for DGHR is forthcoming but we don’t have a timeframe for when the announcement might happen. We are guessing that the DGHR position could be among the first that will be announced in the next few weeks leading to Secretary-Designate Pompeo’s confirmation hearing.

Although Akard was a former FSO, his nomination as DGHR was fairly unpopular in the career service and even among retirees, and we understand that the State Department leadership, particularly the Deputy Secretary is aware of this. We think that the withdrawal of the Akard nomination and the announcement of a respected career diplomat as the new DGHR nominee could give the new secretary of state and the career service a fresh start without the baggage of bad feelings casting a shadow over Pompeo’s transition as the country’s top diplomat.

And for those not too familiar  with State, DGHR is one of the bureaus and offices that report to the Under Secretary of State for Management. We have to point out that when the next DGHR is nominated and confirmed, the Acting DGHR right now would presumably be overseeing the Senate-confirmed DGHR in his capacity as the new Deputy Under Secretary of State for Management.

Oh, lordy! We can’t wait to read all your oral histories!

image via imgur

Via history.state.gov:

Deputy Under Secretaries of State for Management

The Department of State by administrative action created the position of Deputy Under Secretary of State for Administration, after Congress authorized ten Assistant Secretary of State positions (two of which could be at the Deputy Under Secretary of State level) in the Department of State Organization Act of 1949 (May 26, 1949; P.L. 81-73; 63 Stat. 111). Between 1953 and 1955, the ranking officer in the Department handling administrative matters was the Under Secretary of State for Administration. The Department re-established the position of Deputy Under Secretary for Administration in 1955, after Congress authorized three Deputy Under Secretary positions in the State Department Organization Act of Aug 5, 1955 (P.L. 84-250; 69 Stat. 536). The Department of State by administrative action changed the title of the position to Deputy Under Secretary of State for Management on Jul 12, 1971.

The position of Deputy Under Secretary for Management was discontinued when an Act of Congress of Oct 7, 1978, established the permanent position of Under Secretary of State for Management (P.L. 85-426; 92 Stat. 968).

#

They’re Making a List, and Checking It Twice #ManOhManOhMan

When you hear that lists sent to DCM Committees have been adjusted by gender for those appointees who are insisting on a man (!) as their Deputy Chief of Mission (DCM) or Deputy Assistant Secretary (DAS). And you’re still waiting for anyone at DGHR to inform everyone that no committee will entertain any list that promotes, assists, or enables sex discrimination in violation of Title VII.

via giphy

#


FSO Andrew Veprek Reportedly Appointed to be Deputy Asst Secretary For State/PRM

Posted: 3:29 am ET
Updated: 2:51 pm PT

 

Politico’s Nahal Toosi reported recently on the appointment of FSO Andrew Veprek as a deputy assistant secretary in the Bureau of Population, Refugees and Migration (PRM) and how this is “alarming pro-immigration activists who fear that President Donald Trump is trying to effectively end the U.S. refugee resettlement program.”

A White House aide close to senior policy adviser Stephen Miller who has advocated strict limits on immigration into the U.S. has been selected for a top State Department post overseeing refugee admissions….
[…]
Veprek’s appointment as a deputy assistant secretary is unusual given his relatively low Foreign Service rank, the former and current State officials said, and raises questions about his qualifications. Such a position typically does not require Senate confirmation.
[…]
A State Department spokesperson confirmed Veprek’s new role and, while not describing his rank, stressed that Veprek comes to PRM “with more than 16 years in the Foreign Service and experience working on refugee and migration issues.”
[…]
“He was Stephen Miller’s vehicle,” the former State official said. The current official predicted that some PRM officials could resign in protest over Veprek’s appointment. “My experience is that he strongly believes that fewer refugees should admitted into the United States and that international migration is something to be stopped, not managed,” the former U.S. official said, adding that Veprek’s views about refugees and migrants were impassioned to the point of seeming “vindictive.”

PRM currently has no Senate-confirmed assistant secretary. The leadership of the Bureau of Population, Refugees and Migration as of this writing includes the Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary and two Deputy Assistant Secretaries, all Senior Executive Service, and Senior Foreign Service members.

According to congress.gov, Mr. Verdek was originally appointed/confirmed as a Consular Officer and Secretary in the Diplomatic Service of the United States in October 2002.

His name appears again in congress.gov in August 2006 with 129 nominees confirmed as Foreign Service Officers Class Four, Consular Officers and Secretaries in the Diplomatic Service of the United States of America.

We have not been able to find anything beyond that at congress.gov but in April 2010, he was identified here as Andrew Veprek, Consular Chief of the U.S Consulate in Chiang Mai during a Q&A at the Chiang Mai Expats Club in Thailand.

Emails from 2012 released under FOIA request related to Benghazi indicates that in September 2012, Veprek was a Senior Watch Officer at the Ops Center. Those assignments used to be 12 months, so there are gaps in what we know about his career in the State Department.

However, in Sept 2017, he was identified in a WSJ article about the review of the J-1 program as  Andrew Veprek, immigration adviser to Trump. A govexec database of White House staff also indicates the same title and a salary of $127,489 for Veprek. That’s a salary closest to an FS01/8 rank in the 2017 payscale (PDF). (Or he could be also be an FSO2 in DC with a salary still close to what’s listed on the database as White House detailees apparently receive a parking stipend that’s counted as income).

But how did he become an anti-refugee diplomat or a refugee hardliner in the retelling of this story? Or even “a low-ranking protegé of nativist Stephen Miller?”

Unlike Interior’s “independent scientist” who WaPo points out “highlights a regular bureaucratic ritual that has attracted little notice under this administration: When a new president comes to power, civil servants aligned with the administration can suddenly gain prominence,” we have so far been unable to find papers, write ups or speeches that indicate Verdek’s politics.

We don’t know him from Adam, and we have no idea about his political leanings are but we know that he is a career FSO who has worked for the USG since 2002. It seems to perplex people online that somebody who worked in a Clinton State Department, could also end up working at the Trump White House.  That’s what the career service is; career FS employees working for the administration of the day whether or not they personally agree with that administration’s policies. And when they can no longer do that, they are honor-bound to put in their resignation.  It is likely that Veprek came in during Powell’s Diplomatic Readiness Initiative, under George W. Bush. In some quarters who call career employees “holdovers”, he would be a George W. Bush holdover who went on to work for Barack Obama, and now an Obama holdover who end up working for Donald Trump’s White House.

This appointee appears to be on a consular career track and the State Department spox, of course, wants to highlight his experience  in “refugee and migration issues.” Is he the best one for this job? Maybe, or maybe not but that’s a question that is obviously immaterial. He may be Miller’s pick, but that also makes him this Administration’s pick, a prerogative exercised. And since these appointments do not require Senate confirmation, DAS appointments are mostly done deals.

It is also worth noting that the State Department, a pretty old organization is a highly hierarchical entity with a regular Foreign/Civil Service and a Senior Foreign Service and Senior Executive Service corps. Would career people leave because an FSO-01 is appointed to a position traditionally filled by a SES/SFSO? We can’t say. Did career people leave when GWB appointed a midlevel FSO-02 as Assistant Secretary for Public Affairs?

We would suggest that the proper functioning of the service does require an organization that respects order in ranks, traditions, and practices (What’s the use of playing the Jenga game if you don’t follow the rules, hey?) But we understand from long-time State Department watchers that the politicization of the senior ranks and appointments have been slow burning for years. This Administration with its deep aversion to career diplomats and its propensity for chaos may just blow it up and make us all pay attention for a change.

We are convinced that while this one appointment may not trigger senior officials to leave — given the lack of appointments of senior employees to appropriate career slots, the limited promotions numbers made available, the rumored 90-day rule and mandatory retirements — a combination of these factors may nudged retirement eligible employees to hang up their hats and walk off into the sunset.

It is highly likely that the departures from senior members of the Foreign Service will continue this year, with the number hitting three digit numbers by summer per some unofficial estimates.

#


Can sound be used as a weapon? 4 questions answered #USEmbassyHavana

 

File 20180226 122025 13a2tfq.jpg?ixlib=rb 1.1
What happened to people inside this building, the U.S. Embassy in Havana? U.S. State Department

Kevin Fu, University of Michigan and Wenyuan Xu, Zhejiang University

 

Editor’s note: Government and academic investigators continue to probe reports from Cuba that, starting in 2016 and continuing through 2017, U.S. and Canadian diplomats and tourists may have been subjected to a “sonic weapon,” damaging their hearing, causing nausea, speech problems and potentially even mild brain injuries.

Electrical engineering and computer science professors Wenyuan Xu from Zhejiang University and Kevin Fu from the University of Michigan explain their research, which suggests a more likely scenario of sloppy engineering, and what ultrasound frequencies (which can be used to transmit information gathered by listening devices) traveling through the air can – and can’t – do.

1. What is ultrasound useful for?

The most commonly known use for ultrasound – high-frequency sound waves human ears can’t hear – is a medical device used for examining a fetus during pregnancy. But there are plenty of other uses. Many offices have occupancy sensors that use ultrasound to detect movement and keep the lights on when someone is in a space, and off when nobody is around. These sensors operate at frequencies such as 32 kilohertz, far above what the human ear can hear – which is a range from 20 hertz to 20 kilohertz. Other products use ultrasound to deliver targeted sound, for instance allowing a museum to play a recording for visitors in one area of an exhibit without disturbing others nearby. Electronic pest repellents use ultrasound to keep rodents or insects at bay. A similar product can even be used to disperse teenagers; aging tends to reduce people’s ability to hear higher frequency sounds, so a noisemaker can annoy young people without adults even noticing. (This has also let teens create smartphone ringtones their elders can’t hear.)

2. What can go wrong with ultrasound?

Airborne ultrasound is not inherently bad. But things can go wrong. A former colleague of Kevin’s used to hear strange sounds from his hearing aid when in rooms with occupancy sensors, likely because the hearing aid’s electronics improperly converted the ultrasound into audible noises. These noises were annoying, but not harmful. A similar problem tainted one of our students’ research, conducted in a room that, unbeknownst to him, had an ultrasonic room occupancy sensor in the ceiling.

Michigan Ph.D. student Connor Bolton frustratingly discovers that ultrasonic noise from a ceiling-mounted room occupancy sensor had interfered with a year’s worth of sonic experiments. Connor Bolton, CC BY-ND

Both ultrasound and human-audible sound can also affect electronics. For instance, one of us has conducted research in which carefully crafted ultrasonic signals secretly activate voice-control systems, even unlocking an iPhone with a silent “Hey Siri” command, and telling it to make a FaceTime call. Sound can also affect the physical world, as when a singer shatters a wine glass. Microelectrical mechanical sensing chips – such as accelerometers used in car airbag systems and smartphones, and gyroscopes in drones – are susceptible to the same interference. Those systems can be attacked with sound, crashing a drone mid-flight, or fooling a smartphone about whether it’s moving.

Making audible sounds from inaudible ultrasounds.

3. Should people worry about ultrasound causing bodily harm?

It’s well-known that sounds that are too loud can damage people’s ears and hearing. However, there’s little evidence of ultrasound causing bodily harm without prolonged, direct physical contact at high intensity. If you are accidentally subjected to extremely intense ultrasound (such as when holding an ultrasonic arc welder), you could experience an annoyance like a headache or temporary loss of balance. Academics disagree about safe levels of airborne ultrasound. The U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration warns of potential health risks from audible subharmonic byproducts of ultrasound, more so than the ultrasound itself. Many animals can hear higher frequencies than humans. Dogs can hear higher-pitched whistles, for instance. One of our students noticed that his pet turtles would begin to dance rhythmically when he performed ultrasound experiments!

4. What might have happened in Cuba?

In early 2017, U.S. diplomats in Cuba reported hearing strange metallic sounds, and suffering hearing loss and other neurological harm. Later reports of similar effects came from Canadian diplomats and tourists from both Canada and the U.S. Possible explanations have varied: Some have alleged Cuba used an unknown sonic weapon, while others have blamed “mass hysteria.”

Our research offers a new explanation not previously considered by others: The true cause could have been equipment trying to listen in on the diplomats’ and visitors’ conversations. We were able to use ultrasonic tones to create sounds like those that were described and recorded in Cuba. No single ultrasonic tone would do this, but as with musical combination tones, combining more than one can create audible byproduct sounds, including by accident.

A recording of the sound some U.S. Embassy workers heard in Havana.

 

Further, we created a proof-of-concept eavesdropping device that would record audible conversations and transmit the recordings to a nearby surveillance team over an inaudible ultrasonic link. When we placed a second inaudible ultrasonic device in the area, we were able to create interference – technically called “intermodulation distortion” – between the two signals that made similar sounds to those recorded in Cuba. We were even able to control the volume of the audible sounds by varying the strength of the ultrasonic signals. The ConversationWithout additional evidence, our research does not identify what actually happened in Cuba, but it provides a plausible explanation for what might have happened, even if the eavesdroppers were not trying to harm people.

Kevin Fu, Associate Professor of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science, University of Michigan and Wenyuan Xu, Professor of Electrical Engineering, Zhejiang University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

#

Office of Special Counsel on Political Inquiries/Political Discrimination During Reassignments

Posted: 12:45 pm PT

 

The Office of Special Counsel who has authority to investigate  5 U.S. Code § 2302 – Prohibited Personnel Practices says that political inquiries of or political discrimination against applicants for career federal jobs are prohibited under the law. Personnel action under this law includes not just appointments but also reassignments, promotions, and reemployments of federal employees. Keep this in your pocket.

Excerpt:

(a)

(1) For the purpose of this title, “prohibited personnel practice” means any action described in subsection (b).

(2) For the purpose of this section—

(A) “personnel action” means—

(i) an appointment;

(ii) a promotion;

(iii) an action under chapter 75 of this title or other disciplinary or corrective action;

(iv) a detail, transfer, or reassignment;

(v) a reinstatement;

(vi) a restoration;

(vii) a reemployment;

(viii) a performance evaluation under chapter 43 of this title or under title 38;

(ix) a decision concerning pay, benefits, or awards, or concerning education or training if the education or training may reasonably be expected to lead to an appointment, promotion, performance evaluation, or other action described in this subparagraph;

(x) a decision to order psychiatric testing or examination;

(xi) the implementation or enforcement of any nondisclosure policy, form, or agreement; and

(xii) any other significant change in duties, responsibilities, or working conditions; with respect to an employee in, or applicant for, a covered position in an agency, and in the case of an alleged prohibited personnel practice described in subsection (b)(8), an employee or applicant for employment in a Government corporation as defined in section 9101 of title 31;

(B) “covered position” means, with respect to any personnel action, any position in the competitive service, a career appointee position in the Senior Executive Service, or a position in the excepted service, but does not include any position which is, prior to the personnel action—

(i) excepted from the competitive service because of its confidential, policy-determining, policy-making, or policy-advocating character; or

(ii) excluded from the coverage of this section by the President based on a determination by the President that it is necessary and warranted by conditions of good administration;

(C) “agency” means an Executive agency and the Government Publishing Office, but does not include—

(i) a Government corporation, except in the case of an alleged prohibited personnel practice described under subsection (b)(8) or section 2302(b)(9)(A)(i), (B), (C), or (D);

(ii)

(I) the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Central Intelligence Agency, the Defense Intelligence Agency, the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency, the National Security Agency, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, and the National Reconnaissance Office; and

(II) as determined by the President, any executive agency or unit thereof the principal function of which is the conduct of foreign intelligence or counterintelligence activities, provided that the determination be made prior to a personnel action; or

(iii) the Government Accountability Office; and

(D) “disclosure” means a formal or informal communication or transmission, but does not include a communication concerning policy decisions that lawfully exercise discretionary authority unless the employee or applicant providing the disclosure reasonably believes that the disclosure evidences—

(i) any violation of any law, rule, or regulation; or

(ii) gross mismanagement, a gross waste of funds, an abuse of authority, or a substantial and specific danger to public health or safety.

(b) Any employee who has authority to take, direct others to take, recommend, or approve any personnel action, shall not, with respect to such authority—

(1) discriminate for or against any employee or applicant for employment

(A) on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, or national origin, as prohibited under section 717 of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (42 U.S.C. 2000e–16);

(B) on the basis of age, as prohibited under sections 12 and 15 of the Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967 (29 U.S.C. 631, 633a);

(C) on the basis of sex, as prohibited under section 6(d) of the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938 (29 U.S.C. 206(d));

(D) on the basis of handicapping condition, as prohibited under section 501 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 (29 U.S.C. 791); or

(E) on the basis of marital status or political affiliation, as prohibited under any law, rule, or regulation;

(2) solicit or consider any recommendation or statement, oral or written, with respect to any individual who requests or is under consideration for any personnel action unless such recommendation or statement is based on the personal knowledge or records of the person furnishing it and consists of—

(A) an evaluation of the work performance, ability, aptitude, or general qualifications of such individual; or

(B) an evaluation of the character, loyalty, or suitability of such individual;

(3) coerce the political activity of any person (including the providing of any political contribution or service), or take any action against any employee or applicant for employment as a reprisal for the refusal of any person to engage in such political activity;

(4) deceive or willfully obstruct any person with respect to such person’s right to compete for employment;

(5) influence any person to withdraw from competition for any position for the purpose of improving or injuring the prospects of any other person for employment;

(6) grant any preference or advantage not authorized by law, rule, or regulation to any employee or applicant for employment (including defining the scope or manner of competition or the requirements for any position) for the purpose of improving or injuring the prospects of any particular person for employment;

(7) appoint, employ, promote, advance, or advocate for appointment, employment, promotion, or advancement, in or to a civilian position any individual who is a relative (as defined in section 3110(a)(3) of this title) of such employee if such position is in the agency in which such employee is serving as a public official (as defined in section 3110(a)(2) of this title) or over which such employee exercises jurisdiction or control as such an official;

(8) take or fail to take, or threaten to take or fail to take, a personnel action with respect to any employee or applicant for employment because of—

(A) any disclosure of information by an employee or applicant which the employee or applicant reasonably believes evidences—

(i) any violation of any law, rule, or regulation, or

(ii) gross mismanagement, a gross waste of funds, an abuse of authority, or a substantial and specific danger to public health or safety,if such disclosure is not specifically prohibited by law and if such information is not specifically required by Executive order to be kept secret in the interest of national defense or the conduct of foreign affairs; or

(B) any disclosure to the Special Counsel, or to the Inspector General of an agency or another employee designated by the head of the agency to receive such disclosures, of information which the employee or applicant reasonably believes evidences—

(i) any violation (other than a violation of this section) of any law, rule, or regulation, or

(ii) gross mismanagement, a gross waste of funds, an abuse of authority, or a substantial and specific danger to public health or safety;

(9) take or fail to take, or threaten to take or fail to take, any personnel action against any employee or applicant for employment because of—

(A) the exercise of any appeal, complaint, or grievance right granted by any law, rule, or regulation—

(i) with regard to remedying a violation of paragraph (8); or

(ii) other than with regard to remedying a violation of paragraph (8);

(B) testifying for or otherwise lawfully assisting any individual in the exercise of any right referred to in subparagraph (A)(i) or (ii);

(C) cooperating with or disclosing information to the Inspector General (or any other component responsible for internal investigation or review) of an agency, or the Special Counsel, in accordance with applicable provisions of law; or

(D) refusing to obey an order that would require the individual to violate a law, rule, or regulation;

(10) discriminate for or against any employee or applicant for employment on the basis of conduct which does not adversely affect the performance of the employee or applicant or the performance of others; except that nothing in this paragraph shall prohibit an agency from taking into account in determining suitability or fitness any conviction of the employee or applicant for any crime under the laws of any State, of the District of Columbia, or of the United States;

(11)

(A) knowingly take, recommend, or approve any personnel action if the taking of such action would violate a veterans’ preference requirement; or

(B) knowingly fail to take, recommend, or approve any personnel action if the failure to take such action would violate a veterans’ preference requirement;

(12) take or fail to take any other personnel action if the taking of or failure to take such action violates any law, rule, or regulation implementing, or directly concerning, the merit system principles contained in section 2301 of this title;

(13) implement or enforce any nondisclosure policy, form, or agreement, if such policy, form, or agreement does not contain the following statement: “These provisions are consistent with and do not supersede, conflict with, or otherwise alter the employee obligations, rights, or liabilities created by existing statute or Executive order relating to (1) classified information, (2) communications to Congress, (3) the reporting to an Inspector General of a violation of any law, rule, or regulation, or mismanagement, a gross waste of funds, an abuse of authority, or a substantial and specific danger to public health or safety, or (4) any other whistleblower protection. The definitions, requirements, obligations, rights, sanctions, and liabilities created by controlling Executive orders and statutory provisions are incorporated into this agreement and are controlling.”; or

(14) access the medical record of another employee or an applicant for employment as a part of, or otherwise in furtherance of, any conduct described in paragraphs (1) through (13).

This subsection shall not be construed to authorize the withholding of information from Congress or the taking of any personnel action against an employee who discloses information to Congress. For purposes of paragraph (8), (i) any presumption relating to the performance of a duty by an employee whose conduct is the subject of a disclosure as defined under subsection (a)(2)(D) may be rebutted by substantial evidence, and (ii) a determination as to whether an employee or applicant reasonably believes that such employee or applicant has disclosed information that evidences any violation of law, rule, regulation, gross mismanagement, a gross waste of funds, an abuse of authority, or a substantial and specific danger to public health or safety shall be made by determining whether a disinterested observer with knowledge of the essential facts known to and readily ascertainable by the employee or applicant could reasonably conclude that the actions of the Government evidence such violations, mismanagement, waste, abuse, or danger.

#

 

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:

#