Havana Syndrome Questions @StateDept Refuses to Answer

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The questions below were sent to the State Department on March 16, 2021 for Ambassador Pamela Spratlen, the newly designated  Senior Advisor to the Havana Syndrome Task Force (officially called  the Health Incident Response Task Force (HIRTF) .  She was appointed with direct reporting responsibility to the Department’s senior leadership. The State Department’s media arm confirmed receipt of these questions on March 17.
To-date, the State Department has not responded to these questions despite our follow-up. It looks like the PA leadership has fed our questions to their email-chewing doggo. Poor bow wow!!! PA folks still sore about this, hey? Inside @StateDept: Leaked Cable Provides Guidance For ‘America First’ Cost Savings Initiatives. Oh, dear!
Anyways. If you’re the unofficial kind and have some answers to these questions, please send your howlers here or via Twitter and we’ll get back to you. We’ll write as many follow-up posts as needed.

 

Task Force: 

—1. The State Department spokesperson said that there is an individual on the Health Incident Response Task Force (HIRTF) who is responsible solely for engaging with those who may have been victims of these incidents. The individual was not publicly named. I understand that the 41 recognized victims apparently also have no idea who this individual is or who are the members of the task force. Shouldn’t the State Department be transparent and name all the people on the task force? How do potential victims, (including spouses and foreign nationals) contact the individual tasked with engaging with them?
—2. The ARB Cuba report clearly demonstrates the botched response to these incidents in Havana. It was also an interim report. In addition, we have received allegations that the Department’s response to the incidents in China was much worse. Are there plans to convene an ARB for China? Is there a plan to expand the time frame and places of possible incidents covered in this investigation? We are aware of at least one case that occurred much earlier than December 2016. How many reported cases of mystery illness were excluded by State? With so many varied symptoms, and many unknowns, is it fair to rule out anyone without the full constellation of symptoms? How did the State Department determine that Patient Zero, widely reported to have been injured in December 2016, is really Patient Zero and not Patient Two, or Patient 10 or Patient 20? 
—3. What is the status of the implementation of the ARB Cuba recommendations?
—4. Can you confirm that the mystery illness has been reported domestically (WH staffer in Arlington, a couple at UPENN)?
—5. There were employee/s who suffered grievous treatment in the aftermath of these incidents (e.g. alleged retaliation, uncovered medical expenses). Is Amb Spratlen willing to meet with employees suffering from  medical and bureaucratic chaos brought about by these incidents?

 

National Academy of Sciences (NAS) Report:

—6. I recognized that there is new leadership at State but the HIRTF has been there since 2018. Why did State sit on the NAS report of August 2020 and only released it in December 2020? It is an unclassified report, so national security concerns should not have been an issue.
—7. Has the State Department accepted that the illness is due to microwave exposure? If so, how are employees protected from the next attacks? Why hasn’t State fully implemented the recommendations in the NAS report?

Bureau of Diplomatic Security (DS) and Bureau of Medical Services (MED)

—8. Why is Diplomatic Security still acting (and conducting searches in apartments) as if the cause could be toxic chemicals when NAS ruled out chemical exposure as a cause and pointed to the reported signs, symptoms and observations as consistent with the effects of directed, pulsed radio frequency (RF) energy?
—9. Why is Diplomatic Security still conducting briefings that “only one person was found by State/MED to be affected in China” when USG has officially diagnosed 15?
—10. How many employees who complained of unexplained illness to MED or DS were told to undergo psych evaluations or told to “get their act together” by the bureaus tasked with protecting their welfare? How many mystery illness were reported globally by employees, family members and local employees before State took them seriously?

 

3 FAM 3660 Implementation

—11. 3 FAM 3660 has been in the Foreign Affairs Manual since May 2020 but we’ve heard reports that State is blocking implementation of the prescribed benefits for employees from other agencies. Can you discuss where the responsibility for adjudicating cases under the provisions of 3 FAM 3660 falls? What is the processing time for requests made under these regulations for State and non-State employees? 
—12. There are numerous employees and family members as you know who still have symptoms but because they are not in the group of 41, they do not qualify for the 3 FAM 3660 provisions and therefore are on their own.  What are the treatment options for the hundreds of employees/family members who were medevaced but were not enrolled like the 41 cases in the UPenn study and designated by Department of Labor to get workers compensation benefits?
—13. How many foreign nationals connected with USG missions/residences where the attacks occurred reported similar symptoms as USG American employees and family members? What support and treatment options were available to them? 
—14. As you know, under 3 FAM 3660, a covered employee is an employee of the Department of State who, on or after January 1, 2016, becomes injured by reason of a qualifying injury and was assigned to a duty station in the Republic of Cuba, the People’s Republic of China, or another foreign country as designated by the Secretary of State. What other countries have been designated by the Secretary of State under 3 FAM 3666 to-date?  
—15. Members of the 41 officially diagnosed say State has caused irreparable harm with a “see no evil” response and just wants the problem to go away. Do you recognize the harm of State’s botched past response and lack of transparency?
—16. A” being the highest and “F” being failing, how would you grade the previous State Department leadership’s response to the health incidents?

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Related posts:

 

 

@StateDept’s Vaccination Efforts For Overseas Posts Under Fire, a Test for @SecBlinken

 

Hey, did you see that  DOD is shipping Moderna COVID-19 vaccines overseas for military families?
This is the pandemic of our lifetime. Half a million Americans are dead and many more will die before this is over. DOD has a larger global footprint than the State Department. It has an expansive regional presence around the world.  Why isn’t State working with DOD and HHS to get all overseas USG personnel and family members vaccinated?

Dear Secretary Blinken, Secretary Austin, HHS Acting Secretary Cochran, can you please get this done?

Can we please have Secretary Blinken talked to Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III and HHS Acting Secretary Norris Cochran so we can get this done? If there’s a will, there’s a way. Simple as that. We sent these employees and their family members overseas to do work for the U.S. Government. The least we can do is to ensure that they get vaccinated as they continue to do their work on our country’s behalf. Why is that hard?
Do we really want our diplomats to deliver their démarches to their host countries in the morning and then have them beg for vaccines for themselves and their families in the afternoon?
C’mon!
We understand that the State Department’s COVID-19 vaccination efforts at overseas posts have come under fire. Yes, we’ve heard about the SBU Kosovo cable, and no, we have not seen it. One FSO told us it was a “blistering critique”, another FSO who read it told us it was “whiny”.  It looks like the cable got leaked fairly quickly to NBC News and New York Times. Politico’s Nahal Toosi previously had a thread on Twitter about it. Have you read the cable? What do you think?
News of the Kosovo cable is in addition to the recent reporting from WaPo’s John Hudson – Vaccine shortage prompts U.S. diplomats to request doses from foreign governments, including Russia. That’s the piece that includes an item about “State Department personnel appealed to Moscow for doses of its Russian-made Sputnik V vaccine after Washington could not promise the delivery of U.S.-made vaccine doses in the near future.” Oy! Who did that? A vaccine with no FDA approval? That report also says that in China some U.S. personnel have complained about being subjected to anal swab tests for the coronavirus by Chinese authorities. Double oy! More from WaPo:
The invasive technique has been heralded by Chinese doctors as more effective than a nasal swab despite the unpleasant nature of the procedure. In response to questions about the anal swab testing of U.S. officials, a State Department spokesman said the department was “evaluating all reasonable options” to address the issue with the aim of preserving the “dignity” of U.S. officials “consistent with the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations.”
In a report about anal swabs,  Omai Garner, PhD, an associate clinical professor, clinical microbiology section chief, and point of care testing director in the Department of Pathology and Lab Medicine at UCLA Health said that “it became very apparent, like most other respiratory viruses, the most accurate place to find it is in the upper respiratory tract, so this is why I was a little bit surprised and confused by the reports coming out on large scale anal swab testing.”
What now?
Back in January, two diplomats tested positive of COVID-19 upon arrival in Guangzhou, China. The other passengers from the same flight, some 86 State Department folks apparently were all considered close contacts and placed in “centralized quarantine” for 21 days. The Chinese Government also informed Consulate General Guangzhou that it would “strictly enforce the separation policy” which means one adult/one room.  There was one mention of NAT nasal swab/throat swab but none about anal swabs. Yes, we did ask the State Department and USCG Guangzhou about this at that time but our email got chewed madly bad in an email grinder, never to be seen again. Either that or …
…. holy mother of god and all her wacky nephews please do not/do not make the dog eat our emails!
In any case, we sent a few question to the State Department’s Public Affairs shop asking if they could address the State Department’s vaccine delivery issues at overseas posts. We did say please, too, you guys! But to no avail.
It is our understanding that  State ordered enough vaccine, but HHS is refusing to turn over the entire allotment. Purportedly, the current administration also made a choice not to prioritize government workers (no matter where they serve, etc.) over average Americans in the vaccination. We asked if this is an actual policy on vaccine distribution but got no response.
We also wanted to know if Secretary Blinken is pushing the Biden Administration and HHS to release the remaining supply for DOS so State employees overseas get vaccinated and do not have to beg for those vaccines from their host countries.
We pointed out that given the State Department’s botched response to the Havana Syndrome, some overseas folks were understandably concerned that the health and safety of our people overseas does not matter back in DC.
Perhaps part of these concerns and anxieties also stem from the anecdotal evidence that some minor political appointees reportedly got their second shots just days before they left their jobs on January 20. And weren’t the same folks in charge of vaccinations at State before January 20 the same people in charge of vaccination decisions now?
Anyway, we waited. And we waited. And we waited for a response. We are sorry to report that we have not received a response to-date.
Source A did tell us that communication is spotty, and that there is frustration with Secretary Blinken for not saying anything about the vaccine shortage at State.  “At the moment, the feeling is that it’s not a priority of his.” Apparently, vaccines were originally promised sometime in December, then it became January, then February. This has now been replaced according to this same  source to what amounts to a message of  “we don’t know when you will get it.. maybe this summer.. you should get it locally if you can.”
So folks really just want to hear from their boss saying this is a priority, and that he’ll do something about it.
A second source, Source B,  told us that the leadership at State is communicating much more effectively to explain what the plans and rules are compared to Pompeo’s tenure  and pointed to a recent Zoom call attended by over 1,000 participants.
Source B who is familiar with the developments confirmed to us that State never got all the vaccines that HHS promised and that former Secretary of State Pompeo did call Secretary Azar but got nowhere. We do not know at this time if Secretary Blinken has pushed back or if he is working with HHS to obtain the full allocation for State. It is worth mentioning that the State Department currently does not have a nominee for the position of Under Secretary for Management. The position is currently filled in an acting capacity by the Senate-confirmed DGHR Carol Perez. We should note further that the calamitous response to the Havana Syndrome also occurred during a span of time when the State Department fired its Senate confirmed Under Secretary for Management, and no nominee was confirmed over a lengthy period, leaving only an Acting M. Another lesson not learned, eh?
Our understanding is that “a very small portion of domestic employees” has been vaccinated. One explanation was that for folks working in the buildings in DC, State is able to get almost all of them covered at the same time, whereas at overseas missions, there needs to be enough vaccines for all under Chief of Mission Authority. That is, all American and local employees from all agencies plus all American family members (folks reporting to combatant commands are not considered under COM authority).  A separate issue has to do with getting the vaccines to overseas posts via the cold chain.
If you’re on Twitter, go ahead and tag @SecBlinken, @SecDef, and @HHSGov.
Now we wait and see if anything gets done or if y’all need to start eating nine gin-soaked raisins for your health.

 


 

 

MikeyPo Shows Once More His Smallness as Secretary of State #ByePompeo

We’re not sure why people expects anything better from the 70th secretary of state. If you were shocked, you have not been paying attention. This secretary of state has shown repeatedly, despite a much touted swagger, that he was not the man for this job. Why do you think he needed that swagger?  But swagger can only take one so far. Reality eventually catches up with you. He will go down in history not only as the most political secretary of state in modern times, but also the worst one by far.
No, we haven’t forgotten about Rex Tillerson, but the 69th secretary of state was not an  ideologue nor an opportunistic hack like his successor. SecState 69th was also his own man, and he recognized a moron when he saw one. Unfortunately, this is something we cannot say about the soon to be former secretary of state otherwise known as ‘a heat-seeking missile’ for … oh, golly, you undiplomatic, you!
Folks may complain in the future about other secretaries of state, but we expect it will always come down to the threshold question — is he or she Pompeo-bad?
The leadership behavior at State appears to be trickling down. A senior security official at the US Embassy in Kabul recently called the U.S. election on social media, a “fraudulent election”, called President-Elect Joe Biden, a “senile idiot” and Vice President-Elect Kamala Harris, “a woman that claims to be black, but she’s not.” As if that’s not offensive enough, this senior career official also writes, “Oh and did I mention, so much for the economy, when this stupid fucking moron appoints Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren to his cabinet. Watch it all collapse and then you’ll wonder what happened to our country. Obama fucked it all up and Trump turned it around. Now it all goes to shit again.”  Meltdown at the Kabul aisle!
This is not only unacceptable and outstandingly bad behavior for a senior official overseas, this is also against the Department’s Foreign Affairs Manual, see 3 FAM 4123.3  for Political Activities for starters. But given the tolerance for bad behavior in Foggy Bottom, will US Embassy Kabul, DGHR, or the State Department clean up or just look away with a sigh?
There are some good news though; come January 20, Mr. Pompeo (and his buddies), whether he accepts the Biden reality or not, will have to step down from his job. And oh, my gosh!  He also must leave the USG-provided housing he now occupies (one flag officer says yay!) and return to … well, we’re not sure exactly where that might be. Maybe Kansas where he almost run for the Senate and could have won a six-year term.  It doesn’t matter, really, does it?  He’ll be working on his 2024 project unless somebody crashes it.  Somewhere, we imagine, he will be grilling a journalist or two with blank world maps. And he needs to walk and scoop after Sherman and Mercer.
Also on January 20, please fumigate swagger from Foggy Bottom and get moving. There is much work to be done. We hope folks will pour their energies in the rebuilding and strengthening of our institutions. But we also hope they won’t forget to write down their memos to file documenting their last four years of organizational life. May y’all remember because the world will not go back to what it was as the Kabul incident shows.  Something broke here. And it will take many long years to repair. But it’s important to remember, and uphold — as Sheila S. Coronel of the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism wrote in “A warning from the Philippines on how a demagogue can haunt politics for decades” — uphold “a truthful record of history” even as some of these people swagger into the sunset.

 

Is @StateDept Suppressing the IG Report on Protocol Officials? What’s Happening to the Whatchamacallits @StateOIG?

The least surprising thing about this report is that a State Department spokesperson strongly defended Henderson and attacked the inspector general. Have you heard the Acting State/OIG Matthew Klimow offer any defense for his people or their work product? We have not. Is A/IG going to say he does not comment on leaked reports? But since there is no plan to release this report apparently, there is also no reason to offer a defense? Is that it? But wait, the State Department has commented on the leaked report and has attacked the inspector general office. Is that how this works?
The State Department spokesperson also shared testimonials purportedly from three unnamed State Department officials (they all have nice things to say!). Also, the spokesperson shared a lengthy comment from one of Pompeo’s two BFFs in Foggy Bottom, Counselor Ulrich Brechbühl.
HuffPost notes that “No part of the State Department’s response directly refuted the idea that Henderson regularly drank to excess on the job.”
If you remember, in November 2019, State/OIG also released a report on the Review of Allegations of Politicized and Other Improper Personnel Practices Involving the Office of the Secretary.  The State Department’s response includes Brian Hook’s 8-page response as well as an official response by  you guess it — Counselor Ulrich Brechbühl who wrote: “The Department disagrees with the finding in the report that improper considerations played a role in the early termination oof Employee One’s detail. The report ignores the compelling evidence provided by Brian Hook that his personnel decision in this matter was actually made prior to any of the non-merit factors being brought to his attention, and that the decision was mad for entirely professional and lawful reasons.”
Hey, isn’t this the same office that stayed quiet as mouse when career professionals were attacked by political characters, particularly last year?
Wondering why parts of this report kept getting leaked. Some questions though.
Is the State Department suppressing this IG report?
On what grounds? Hurt feelings?
Is the Acting State/OIG Matthew Klimow now allowing the State Department to decide which of the IG reports can be made public?

So what’s happening to the whatchamacallit …. the Linick-era investigations of you know who? Shhhhhh!  Shhhh!!! Keep it low. Top aides knew about it, but they were so bad they never bothered to tell their boss they knew the name of the fella in the IG’s crosshairs and then surprise, the former IG got fired and prevented from returning to his office. And they could not keep their excuses for the IG firing  in a straight line, the excuses kept toppling over like drunken sailors on liberty call. Then you know some staffers left or got fired. Then, the replacement guy quit. And then a career person stepped in, but then got replaced. Again.  So what’s happening to the whatchamacallits …. go ahead, tell us, just whisper….

Burn Bag: If you donate $10,000, you will receive a “personal visit with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo”

Via Burn Bag from Sender A:
“Secretary Pompeo is attending the Florida Family Policy Council (FFPC) annual dinner on October 3.  The invitation for the event states that if you donate $10,000 (Diamond Table Sponsor) to the organization you will receive a “personal visit with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.”  If you donate $3-5,000 you will receive “2 VIP Tickets to Reception with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.”  (https://ffpc.regfox.com/2020dinner)
This is an obvious pay-to-play situation and a clear violation of the federal regulations on fundraising activities (5 CFR 2635.808).  The statute lists below an example of a prohibited activity:
A nonprofit organization is sponsoring a golf tournament to raise funds for underprivileged children. The Secretary of the Navy may not enter the tournament with the understanding that the organization intends to attract participants by offering other entrants the opportunity, in exchange for a donation in the form of an entry fee, to spend the day playing 18 holes of golf in a foursome with the Secretary of the Navy. (https://www.law.cornell.edu/cfr/text/5/2635.808)
This is exactly what Secretary Pompeo is doing.  The Florida Family Policy Council is charging thousands of dollars for the opportunity to meet the Secretary of State.  Moreover, the Department and U.S. government – and, by extension, U.S. taxpayers – are paying for the Secretary to fundraise for the FFPC.  The Department will send staff to support his travel and he will fly a government plane to/from the event.  Significant resources will be spent so the Secretary can fundraise and promote the cause of an organization that is very openly hostile to the LGBTQ+ community.  
Not only does Secretary Pompeo’s pay-for-play participation violate statute, it marginalizes State’s LGBTQ+ community and is wholly inconsistent with the remarks of Deputy Secretary Biegun at the virtual panel discussion on U.S. engagement on LGBTQ+ issues:  “We need to lead by example. At the State Department, our management team, led by Under Secretary for Management Brian Bulatao and our Director General Carol Perez, is working hard to recruit, retain, and promote a diverse workforce, and to build a culture of inclusion. We continue to identify ways our workplace can be more inclusive for our LGBTI employees as well as for all of our employees.”  (https://www.state.gov/remarks-at-a-virtual-panel-discussion-on-u-s-engagement-on-lgbti-issues/).”
(Also see https://www.flfamily.org/issues-research/marriage-family/lgbt-issues).

@StateDept Plans to Bring Self to a Screeching Halt Worldwide

Sender A via email:
“Do you want to know how to bring the State Department to a screeching halt in 5 minutes, worldwide? Deploy your new program overlay on the purchasing system at year end. Sounds small, right?
Nope.
Today is a workday in much of our area of the world. We have 20 days from today to finish creating and funding orders for everyone, everywhere overseas, before this year’s money runs out, and before the usual continuing resolution begins on October 1 which prevents purchasing. 
So, we got 10 days notice in August to get affidavits from *ALL* the companies around the world we order things from that they do not use Huawei, ZTE or several other Chinese manufacturers. Then that got extended to 9/30.
Except….except….we wake up this morning, and the system we use to create [purchase] orders has been updated, and now requires written verification that EVERY SINGLE VENDOR we get things from —
— whether that’s gasoline to put in the engines of our water trucks (so we don’t run out of clean drinking water) to food for the Marines who work at our embassies — 
does not/does not use Chinese (essentially) technology, NOR DO THEY USE ANYBODY ELSE WHO DOES.
Like, y’know…their internet provider, or telephones.”

 

Note: Blog announcement coming up, stay tuned!

OPM: Protect Employee Privacy Interests During COVID-19

Via OPM:

Under what circumstances should an agency communicate to its employees that there is a confirmed case among one or more of its employees (without identifying the person/specific office)?

The infected employee’s privacy should be protected to the greatest extent possible; therefore, his or her identity should not be disclosed. In an outbreak of quarantinable communicable disease or COVID-19, management should share only that information determined to be necessary to protect the health of the employees in the workplace but maintain confidentiality as required by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).
Supervisors should consult with their agency general counsel to determine what information is releasable. Employees exposed to a co-worker with confirmed COVID-19 should refer to CDC guidance for how to conduct a risk assessment of their potential exposure at https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/hcp/assess-manage-risk.html.
If social distancing, information sharing, or other precautions to assist employees in recognizing symptoms or reducing the spread of the illness can be taken without disclosing information related to a specific employee, that is the preferred approach. Managers should work with their workplace safety contacts and local health officials to stay apprised of information regarding transmission of the illness and precautions that should be taken to reduce the spread of influenza or any other contagious disease in the workplace. Managers should treat this as they would any other illness in the workplace and continue to protect employee privacy interests while providing sufficient information to all employees related to protecting themselves against the spread of illness.
Source: (PDF)

OIG Issues Recommendation For US Embassy London: EUR Says Nah! Y’all Can Just View Workplace Harassment Videos

The long awaited OIG report on US Embassy London was finally released on August 12 (PDF). The inspection was conducted from September 3 to December 9, 2019. Copies of the draft report were furnished to “Department stakeholders” including the EUR bureau and the US Embassy in London. The report does not say when this draft report was sent out for comments. It also does not indicate if it sent a copy of this draft report to the Under Secretary for Management and Pompeo BFF Brian Bulatao. The State Department left a Senior Bureau official in EUR to respond on behalf of State Department Management.
Late April. According to the Project On Government Oversight (POGO), the inspection report went to US Embassy London for comment (see Watchdog Firing Came Amid Probe of Trump’s Friend, the U.S. Ambassador in London).
On Friday, May 15, 2020,  the Senate-confirmed OIG Steve Linick was fired  (Trump to fire State/OIG Steve Linick who is reportedly investigating Pompeo). NYT reported that Linick has been locked out of his office, despite a law mandating a 30-day waiting period for Congress to raise objections.
May 15, 2020, the President appointed Stephen Akard as Acting Inspector General (PDF).
On May 27, 2020, the US Ambassador to London Woody Johnson wrote a memo to the OIG Assistant Inspector General for Inspections Sandra Lewis in response to the draft report.
June 4, 2020: Acting OIG Stephen Akard informed Congress that he stepped away from OFM operations and is recused on “all matters related to OFM”, “matters I worked on”, and matters involving individuals he know personally (PDF).
On July 1, 2020, the EUR Bureau’s Senior Official Philip Reeker (they’ve given up on having a Senate-confirmed assistant secretary) responded to the draft report according to State/OIG.  Reeker’s memo sent to State/OIG Sandra Lewis , appended to the OIG report, does not include the date it was written, and contains just one paragraph in response to OIG’s Recommendation 1. The EUR bureau did not even bother to respond to OIG Recommendation 9 related to the $31.5 million deficit in the the defined benefit pension plan for the LE staff of US Mission London.
August 5, 2020: Politico reported that Acting OIG Stephen Akard has resigned and not expected to return to the office for the remainder of the week.
August 7, 2020: Acting Inspector General Stephen Akard officially resigned from his position (PDF).
On August 12, 2020, State/OIG under Acting IG – Diana R. Shaw (deputy to Linick, then Akard) released its report of US Embassy London, omits from its front page summary the topics that merited the longest response from both the EUR bureau and the ambassador. Should be interesting to see what that draft report looked like. Excerpt below from publicly available OIG report (PDF):

Tone at the Top and Standards of Conduct

The Chief of Mission, a first time, non-career ambassador, arrived in August 2017 and presented his credentials to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II in November 2017. From New Jersey, he was a businessman and philanthropist. The DCM, a career Senior Foreign Service officer, arrived in January 2019 following an assignment as acting Deputy Assistant Secretary for Egypt and North Africa. Prior to that, she had multiple domestic and overseas assignments, principally in or involving the Near East.

When the Ambassador arrived at Embassy London in late summer 2017, he assumed responsibility from the previous DCM who had served as Chargé d’Affaires for approximately 7 months. OIG learned that the relationship between the Ambassador and the former DCM deteriorated during the year that they worked together, affecting mission morale and ending in the DCM’s reassignment. Based on interviews with embassy staff, OIG concluded that the Ambassador did not always model the Department’s leadership and management principles as contained in 3 Foreign Affairs Manual (FAM) 1214 and, in particular, 3 FAM 1214b(4) and (6) regarding communication and self-awareness. For example, some embassy staff told OIG that when the Ambassador was frustrated with what he interpreted to be excessive staff caution or resistance to suggestions about which he felt strongly, he sometimes questioned their intentions or implied that he might have them replaced. This caused staff to grow wary of providing him with their best judgment. With the arrival of the current DCM, chosen by the Ambassador, staff generally reported to OIG that they saw better communication from the Front Office and an increased confidence from the Ambassador in the mission’s staff.

OIG also found that some staff were impacted by the Ambassador’s demanding, hard driving work style and it had a negative effect on morale in some embassy sections. In addition, OIG learned, through employee questionnaires and interviews, that the Ambassador sometimes made inappropriate or insensitive comments on topics generally considered Equal Employment Opportunity (EEO)-sensitive, such as religion, sex, or color. According to 3 FAM 1526.1, offensive or derogatory comments, based on an individual’s race, color, sex, or religion, can create an offensive working environment and could potentially rise to a violation of EEO laws. Based on the information that OIG learned during the inspection, and pursuant to the requirements in 3 FAM 1526.2, a more thorough review by the Department is warranted.

Recommendation 1:

The Bureau of European and Eurasian Affairs, in coordination with the Office of Civil Rights, should assess the Chief of Mission’s compliance with Department Equal Employment Opportunity or leadership policies and based on the results of the review, take appropriate action. (Action: EUR, in coordination with S/OCR)

Washington interlocutors plus “coffee and donuts”

At the time of the inspection, OIG interviews indicated that both the Ambassador and the DCM modeled 3 FAM 1214 attributes of strategic planning and decisiveness. The Ambassador advised the embassy staff on the importance of spending U.S. taxpayer monies wisely, and he and the DCM practiced proper procedures with respect to receipt of gifts. Both mission employees and Washington interlocutors told OIG the Ambassador was reaching out to U.S. direct-hire and LE staff in an effort to know them better, to convey his appreciation for their work, and to continue to familiarize himself with the many aspects of the complex, multiagency mission he was leading. OIG also learned of several efforts by the Ambassador to engage with his staff, including an event at his residence, Winfield House, for LE staff with 30 years or more of service. He also invited staff to join him for informal “coffee and donuts” gatherings in the embassy. Staff and senior Washington interlocutors told OIG they were encouraged by the constructive and effective partnership formed between the Ambassador and the DCM.

Johnson’s Response to Recommendation 1, May 27, 2020 Memo to OIG:

During my tenure as U.S. Ambassador to the United Kingdom and indeed for the entirety of my professional life, I have respected both the law and the spirit of EEO principles and have ensured that all employees under my direction do the same. If I have unintentionally offended anyone in the execution of my duties, I deeply regret that, but I do not accept that I have treated employees with disrespect or discriminated in any way. My objective is to lead the highly talented team at Mission UK to execute the President’s policies and to do so in a way that is respectful of our differences, with zero tolerance for discrimination of any kind. I believe that team cohesion in our mission is better than ever and as is stated in the OIG report’s narrative, that I have taken extensive measures to get to know all of the staff and thank them for their contributions. I am especially proud of how the Mission UK team has handled these challenging times of COVID-19.

In order to address the concerns documented in your report, perceived or real, I have reviewed an S/OCR course on discrimination in the workplace and have instructed the entire Mission UK country team to do the same, with 100% compliance by the end of May. I respectfully disagree with Recommendation 1 and ask that the OIG consider the absence of any official complaints against me during my three year tenure and the generally positive tone of the OIG report on Mission UK before including the recommendation in the final report and concluding that my actions have negatively affected morale.

Management Response (State/EUR) to Recommendation 1, Memo to OIG:

In its July 1, 2020,2 response, the Bureau of European and Eurasian Affairs disagreed with this recommendation. The bureau stated, that given the concern expressed, the Ambassador has viewed the Office of Civil Rights video on workplace harassment and has instructed all section and agency heads to do the same. He has also encouraged all staff to take the Foreign Service Institute training on mitigating unconscious bias. The bureau also represented that the Ambassador “is well aware of his responsibility to set the right tone for his mission and we believe his actions demonstrate that.” Accordingly, the bureau reported it did not believe a formal assessment was required, but proposed that, in coordination with the embassy, it would instead work with the Office of Civil Rights to provide advice and additional training to all staff, including the Chief of Mission, to heighten awareness on these important issues.

Here is the full undated response from the bureau via State/OIG:

OIG Reply to EUR’s response: SIR! Have you meet your obligations under 3 FAM 1526.2, SIR?

OIG considers the recommendation unresolved. OIG acknowledges the actions that the mission has taken with regard to training of staff and the stated bureau proposal to work with the Office of Civil Rights to provide advice and additional training to all staff. These actions, however, do not address the recommendation which calls for an assessment of Chief of Mission compliance with Department Equal Employment Opportunity or leadership policies. The recommendation can be closed when OIG receives and accepts documentation that the Bureau of European and Eurasian Affairs has met its obligations under 3 Foreign Affairs Manual (FAM) 1526.2.

Read on:
3 FAM 1526.2 The Department’s Responsibilities Under This Policy
[Under 3 FAM 1520 – NON-DISCRIMINATION ON THE BASIS OF RACE, COLOR, NATIONAL ORIGIN, SEX, OR RELIGION]
(CT:PER-631;   12-14-2010)
(State) (Foreign Service and Civil Service Employees)

a. If the Department receives an allegation of discriminatory harassment, or has reason to believe such harassment is occurring, it will take the steps necessary to ensure that the matter is promptly investigated and addressed.  If the allegation is determined to be credible, the Department will take immediate and effective measures to end the unwelcome behavior.  The Department is committed to taking action if it learns of possible discriminatory harassment, even if the individual does not wish to file a formal complaint.

b. The Office of Civil Rights (S/OCR) is the main contact point for questions or concerns about discriminatory harassment.  S/OCR is responsible for investigating or overseeing investigations of alleged discriminatory harassment.  S/OCR is committed to ensuring that all investigations are conducted in a prompt, thorough, and impartial manner.

c.  Supervisors and other responsible Department officials who observe, are informed of, or reasonably suspect incidents of possible discriminatory harassment must immediately report such incidents to S/OCR, which will either initiate or oversee a prompt investigation.  Failure to report such incidents to S/OCR will be considered a violation of this policy and may result in disciplinary action.

d. S/OCR will provide guidance as needed on investigating and handling the potential harassment.  Supervisors should take effective measures to ensure no further apparent or alleged harassment occurs pending completion of an investigation.

e. 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).  The Department will also take the necessary steps to protect from retaliation those employees who in good faith report incidents of potential discriminatory harassment.  It is a violation of both Federal law and this policy to retaliate against someone who has reported unlawful harassment.  Violators may be subject to discipline.

f.  Employees who have been found by the Department to have discriminatorily harassed others may be subject to discipline or other appropriate management action.  Discipline will be appropriate to the circumstances, ranging from a letter of reprimand to suspensions without pay to separation for cause.  A verbal or written admonishment, while not considered formal discipline, may also be considered.

So, who you gonna call? 
Dammit, the Ghostbusters!

 

Pompeo’s @StateDept Office – Oh, My! Warning Red in All Categories #BestPlacestoWorkNot

 

The Project On Government Oversight (POGO) recently published a report looking into the firing of former State OIG Steve Linick (see Watchdog Firing Came Amid Probe of Trump’s Friend, the U.S. Ambassador in London). Excerpt below:

In Senate testimony on July 30, Pompeo gave a new reason for the firing, claiming there was dismal employee morale in the inspector general’s office under Linick’s watch. Of “38 assistant secretary level bureaus,” Pompeo said, “the IG’s office was the worst survey results of any of those 38.”

But an examination of the data shows a strikingly different picture.

The department’s Office of Inspector General in fact had the third-highest engagement score of any State subcomponent in 2019, according to the nonprofit Partnership for Public Service’s analysis of Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey data from 2019, the most recent publicly available.

Instead, it was Pompeo’s office—the Office of Secretary of State—that had the lowest employee engagement score of any State Department subcomponent in the “Best Places to Work in the Federal Government” list. Indeed, it ranked near the bottom government-wide, 404th out of 420 federal subcomponents.

So we went and took a look. Within State Department sub-components, the top three highest engagement scores per Partnership for Public Service:

Within State Department sub-components, the three bottom ranked offices with the lowest engagements scores per Partnership for Public Service:
The data includes a total of 24 State Department subcomponents out of 420. Click on the screen caps below to see a larger view. Don’t skip the categories. Click here to see the original data from the Partnership for Public Service.
How soon before the State Department releases its own survey to show that the Office of the Secretary has the best survey results?

Diplomacy in Crisis Report, Also Pompeo Says He “Fought on the Border of East Germany”

The Senate Foreign Relations Committee Democratic Staff issued a report ‘Diplomacy in Crisis: The Trump Administration’s Decimation of the State Department’ on July 28. If you’ve been following the goings on at State, there’s not a lot of surprises in this report.  Never mind the swagger by the WSOS in modern times, but one has to be living in a parallel universe not to see the sad and distressing state of the Department of State.
Quick excerpts below:
    Key Findings:
    • Vacancies and acting officials at the Department have persisted through two Secretaries of State, despite numerous commitments to fill key positions.
    • Three and a half years into the Administration, 11 Assistant Secretary or Under Secretary posts—more than one-third—are vacant or filled by acting officials.
    • As of July 2020, more than half of Senate-confirmed Department positions have been filled at least once by someone who had not been confirmed.
    • Career public servants report that senior leadership exhibits a sense of disrespect and disdain for their work, prompting many to leave and contributing to a loss of expertise at the Department.
    • Senior leadership’s lack of accountability and refusal to defend career employees against attacks has contributed to declining morale and a drop in confidence in leadership.
    • From 2016 to 2019, employees in key bureaus reported steep increases in fear of reprisal for reporting suspected violations of law and declining confidence in senior Department leadership.
    Key Recommendations:

This report makes 10 recommendations aimed at reversing the downward trends in morale, strengthening protections for employees, and ensuring that the individuals leading our foreign policy are of the caliber that the American people deserve in their diplomats.

      • Rebuild and retain expertise in the State Department’s ranks.
      • Reduce barriers to restoring lost expertise and for former diplomats and civil servants to return to the Department.
      • Promote more career employees to senior positions.
      • Increase diversity at senior ranks and throughout the Department.
      • Formalize the State Department exit survey process.
      • Initiate a review of how the “corridor reputation” system at the Department enables or exacerbates the challenges outlined in the report.
      • Restore and commit to minimum vetting standards for nominees.
      • Prioritize and fill senior leadership slots.
      • Maintain an independent Inspector General.
      • Enforce accountability for improper personnel practices and management.
Chapter 4 presents “some of the more concerning trends reported by the Department’s employees—results that are not evident in the aggregated Department-wide data that the State Department has released—which provide critical and troubling insights into the consequences of corrosive and negligent leadership on our diplomatic corps.231”
Some of the trends highlighted by the report are as follows:
  • Office of the Legal Adviser (L):
    A 34 point increase among those reporting that the Department’s senior leaders did not maintain high levels of honesty and integrity, rising from 0 percent in 2016 to 34 percent in 2019.
  • Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration (PRM):
    An almost ten-fold increase in the percentage of respondents reporting that senior leaders did not maintain high standards of honesty and integrity, rising from 3 percent in 2016 to 29 percent in 2019.
  • Bureau of Counterterrorism and Countering Violent Extremism (CT): 
    A nearly two-fold increase in the percentage of respondents who reported that their senior leaders did not generate high levels of motivation and commitment, increasing from 28 percent in 2016 to 55 percent in 2019.
  • Bureau of Intelligence and Research (INR):
    An eight-fold increase in the percentage of respondents reporting that the Department’s senior leadership did not maintain high standards of honesty and integrity, rising from 3 percent in 2016 to 24 percent in 2019.
  • Bureau of International Organization Affairs (IO):
    A nearly tripling in the percentage of respondents reporting that senior leaders at the State Department did not maintain high standards of honesty and integrity, increasing from 12 percent in 2016 to 35 percent in 2019.
Note: Indeed the aggregated report publicly available does not include any of that. Click here (PDF) for what the State Department released to the public.  Like, what concerning trends, hey?
The DGHR notes that “the results show satisfaction with supervisors and with the work itself remains strong. The results indicate that the Department’s challenge areas relate to performance management, fairness, and perceptions of leadership.” Yay!
Note: Click here (PDF) for the nice Message from Director General Carol Z. Perez Regarding the 2019 Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey Results and Next Steps.
The report has a section on Measurable Damage to Integrity, Leadership, and Workplace Culture

The mass exodus of senior and mid-level leadership, and a drop in interest of joining the Foreign Service coincides with a large drop in the Department’s ranking of workplace culture and sinking morale levels. After consistently ranking as one of the top five large federal government agencies to work at since 2012, the State Department fell from a ranking of 4 in 2016 to 8 in 2017 after the Trump presidential transition.266 After a year of Trump administration leadership, the Department’s ranking dropped even more in 2018, from 8 to 14.

The Partnership for Public Service’s Best Place to Work historical rankings from 2003 to 2019 is available to download here (see Scores and Rankings) with the State Department ranking as follows for large agencies:
#3 (2012)
#4 (2013)
#3 (2014)
#3 (2015)
#4 (2016)
#8 (2017) worse than 2010 at #7 and 2011 at #7
#14 (2018) worse than 2005 at #10 but hey, not as bad 2003 at #19, right?
#13 (2019) one step up the hole, but still worse than 2005 at #10 and not as bad 2003 at #19. 

BONUS PIECE: