AFSA Foreign Service Furlough Stories: 10 Days to Get to a Plane for a Medical Evacuation!

Help Fund the Blog Diplopundit 2019 — 60-Day Campaign from June 5, 2019 – August 5, 2019

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Excerpt via AFSA/StateVP Kenneth Kero-Mentz:

For many of us, the shutdown caused real financial trouble, and even with careful planning, paying bills became a stretch. Some members had already tapped into their “rainy day fund” after being forced to leave Mission Russia last year. Others had to juggle funds to pay tuition expenses or mortgages due in January. Unemployment benefits were not available to many members serving overseas. Single parents and tandem couples were hit particularly hard with the delay of first one paycheck, and then two.

We heard stories of how the shutdown affected our members’ work. For instance, at the National Defense University and other war colleges, Department of State students were locked out of lectures and prohibited from participating in seminars during the shutdown. USAID war college students were designated “excepted,” so they could continue attending class. Students from State should have been “excepted” as well. There’s no reason why the U.S. government’s investment in a yearlong master’s degree program for its future senior leadership cadre should be torn apart midstream.

A mid-level officer at a small post in Africa reported that she was busier than ever, covering for her furloughed colleagues, planning events only to cancel later as the shutdown dragged on. As days turned into weeks, and then surpassed a month, morale plummeted. After all, as she said, who wants to work for an organization that consistently understaffs and overworks its team? She wonders if her enthusiasm for what is increasingly becoming a thankless job will ever rebound.
[…]
At one large mission in Asia, all State Department employees were required to report to work regardless of pay status. These people could not do any public-facing work and could not contact their counterparts at other posts or the department (since they were all furloughed), but were required to report to work in a non-pay status. It did not make sense. As many members noted, furlough decisions should be made in a central and transparent manner. Though none of us expected the shutdown to last so long, better contingency planning could have helped.
[…]
The hardships went well beyond juggling work requirements and paying bills. One second-tour specialist was hospitalized and needed to medevac to the United States immediately. The shutdown delayed the processing of the medevac funding request; due to the shutdown and short staffing, it took 10 days to get the person on a plane.

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State/OIG Substantiates Allegation of Whistleblower Retaliation, @StateDept Says Nah, WhatYaTalkingAbout?

Help Fund the Blog Diplopundit 2019 — 60-Day Campaign from June 5, 2019 – August 5, 2019

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Via State/OIG Semi-Annual Report to Congress: October 1, 2018 – March 31, 2019:

The whistleblower protection coordinator, OIG’s Assistant Inspector General for Evaluations and Special Projects, educates Department and USAGM employees, as well as contractor and grantee employees, on the rights and protections available to whistleblowers. As required by the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2013 (41 U.S.C. § 4712), the coordinator oversees investigations of allegations of retaliation filed by employees of contractors, subcontractors, grantees, and subgrantees, as well as personal services contractors.
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[T]he coordinator investigates complaints under Presidential Policy Directive 19, which prohibits whistleblower retaliation in the form of actions that affect an employee’s eligibility for access to classified information. During this reporting period, OIG’s whistleblower protection coordinator completed one report under 41 U.S.C. § 4712, which substantiated allegations of whistleblower retaliation.

Department of State:

“OIG substantiated one allegation of whistleblower retaliation related to a Department personal services contractor. This case was referred to the Department, which is responsible for making a determination as to whether to grant or deny relief to the whistleblower. On March 25, 2019, the Department denied relief to the whistleblower because it believed that there was a lack of direct evidence of retaliation.”

 

Snapshot: 3 FAM 1217 Participation of Spouse (in Representational, Charitable, or Social Activities)

 

“Unless working as an employee or contractor, participation of a spouse in the work of a post is a voluntary act of a private person, not a legal obligation which can be imposed by any Foreign Service officer (FSO) or spouse. Nonparticipation of a spouse in representational, charitable, or social activities in no way reflects on the employees effectiveness on the job.”

Cite: 3 FAM 1217
(CT:PER-924;   09-21-2018)
(Uniform State/USAID/USAGM/Commerce/Foreign Service Corps-USDA)
(Applies to Foreign Service Employees Only)

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U.S. Civil Rights Commission Examines Sexual Harassment in Federal Govt (State, NASA) #FedMeToo

 

On May 9, 2019, the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights held a public hearing in Washington, D.C. to examine the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission’s (EEOC) enforcement efforts to combat workplace sexual harassment across the federal government, including the frequency of such claims and findings of harassment, the resources dedicated to preventing and redressing harassment, and the impact and efficacy of these enforcement efforts. The briefing also examined agency-level practices to address sexual harassment at the U.S. Department of State and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA). Commissioners heard from current and former government officials, academic and legal experts, advocates, and individuals who have experienced harassment.

Below is the video of the event. The State Department portion starts at the 2 hour mark. After listening to the State Department representative OCR’s Gregory Smith presentation in this hearing, we’re now actually curious about the kind of training he is talking about. It almost sound as if he’s waving the State Department training as a magic wand.  And after everything he said during the hearing, we are no closer in understanding what specifically is involved in their sexual harassment training.

Also, apparently, according to the State Department rep, they “strongly enforced” steps against people taking any type of retaliation but … admitted under questioning by the USCCR that “no one has been  fired” for retaliation (3:07 mark). Well, now …

Jenna Ben-Yehuda, the President and CEO of the Truman National Security Project and a former State Department employee also spoke at this hearing as well as Stephen T. Shih, NASA’s Associate Administrator for Diversity and Equal Opportunity.  Both were impressive.  This is worth your time, and don’t miss the Q&A at the end.

Morning Session: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=K0GjPYRAsHQ . (includes State, NASA Reps)
Afternoon Session: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OOZqWFIimoQ (includes CRS rep, NSF)
Public Comments: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KgEFjUr3gHE . (includes USDOJ, State FSO)

The Commission says it routinely seeks public comments on the substance of its briefings. The public comment period is 30 days following the date of the hearing or briefing, unless provided otherwise.  Since the public briefing: “Federal Me Too: Examining Sexual Harassment in Government Workplaces” occurred on May 9, the  Commission will accept written materials until June 10 for consideration as they prepare their report on the subject. Please submit no later than June 10, 2019 to sexualharassment@usccr.gov or by mail to: Staff Director/Public Comments, U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, 1331 Pennsylvania Ave. NW, Suite 1150, Washington, DC 20425.

We understand that the USCCR has asked employees (and the public) for information about:

  • the culture surrounding the reporting of harassment in State and other agencies
  • the reporting process, and
  • new tools that can be used to address the issue
  • prevention of harassment
  • suggestions how to increase enforcement of existing regulations against harassment
USCCR said during the public comment portion that interested parties may submit materials for the Commission’s consideration, including anonymous submission (mark 13.14). Those who are submitting comments with their names attached may want to inquire about privacy/confidentiality for the reporting individual and material as the USCCR will be releasing a public report at some point. An employee  speaking on background notes that individuals who signed NDAs with State may also wish to consult with  a lawyer before writing to the USCCR. We’re not equipped to give legal advice and we think it’s prudent to consult with a lawyer on the limitations on what is shareable to USCCR given the uniqueness of each sexual harassment case.

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Pompeo on @StateDept: What They Needed Wasn’t More Money, What They Needed Was a Leader Who … Who’s That?

The Trump budget proposal for the FY2020 State Department funding is now out. HFAC already called the proposal which includes a 23% cut ‘dead on arrival” on Capitol Hill. Even if this request doesn’t pass, it clearly reflects the administration’s views on diplomacy and development. If a Foggy Bottom joker starts calling prior State Department funding levels unsustainable, we may fall off our chair and scream out loud. The Administration’s budget request for DOD was $686.1 billion in FY2019 and $750 billion in FY2020. And $750 billion is sustainable? Anyway, brief run-down of the budget requests in the last few years:

FY2017:  The FY2017 budget request under the Obama Administration amounted in $52.78 billion in new budget authority for the State Department, Foreign Operations, and Related Appropriations (SFOPS). When Congress passed the appropriations bill, the  total enacted SFOPS funding for FY2017 was $57.53 billion, an 8.8% increase over the FY2016 SFOPS funding level. According to the CRS, the increase is entirely due to a 40% total increase in Overseas Contingency Operations (OCO) funding.

FY2018: President Trump submitted his FY2018 budget request to Congress on May 23, 2017. The request sought $40.25 billion (-30% compared with FY2017 enacted) for SFOPS, including Overseas Contingency Operations (OCO) funds. The 115th Congress enacted the Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2018, which provided FY2018 funding for the Department of State, Foreign Operations, and Related Programs (SFOPS). Division K of the act―State, Foreign Operations, and Related Programs (SFOPS)― provided a total of $54.18 billion, including Overseas Contingency Operations (OCO) funds and rescissions. This represented a decrease of 6.1% from the FY2017 actual funding level according to the Congressional Research Service (CRS).

FY2019: The Trump Administration submitted to Congress its FY2019 budget request on February 12, 2018. The State Department budget proposal under Rex Tillerson included $41.86 billion for the Department of State, Foreign Operations, and Related Programs (SFOPS). CRS notes: Comparing the request with the FY2018-enacted funding levels, the FY2019 request represents a 22.7% decrease in SFOPS funding. The proposed State and related agency funding would be 18.2% below FY2018 enacted and the foreign operations funding would be reduced by 24.7%. Both the House and Senate appropriations committees have approved FY2019 SFOPS bills that include funding at higher levels than the Administration requested and equal to or greater than FY2018 enacted funding. Congress eventually appropriated $56.1 billion, ensuring that the agency has the resources it needs.

FY2020: Trump’s FY2020 budget request for the State Department, the first under Pompeo, proposes $40 billion for the State Department and U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID). State’s Bureau of Budget and Planning guy Doug Pitkin said, “the last two budgets, for example, included reductions to State and AID personnel. This budget does not propose that.” He also argued that despite the almost 25% cut, this  budget request apparently “does support diplomacy and development”.

All that to highlight what Secretary Pompeo said in an interview recently. Secretary Pompeo  (who we imagine is known …er fondly in Foggy Bottom as Swagger Mike) gave an interview to McClatchy’s Kansas City Star and Wichita Eagle on March 11. We must admit that since this was an interview, we certainly could not blame his speechwriters for the gems here. Neither the video nor the transcript of this interview appears on state.gov, as of this writing but the reporters have a short video clip which we embedded below, and you can read the report with the quotes here.

“I’ll testify on Capitol Hill in a week or two on our budget and I’m very confident that the State Department will have the resources it needs,” Pompeo said. “It always has. President Trump has ensured that it has. And we’ll get to where we’ll need to be.”

 

 

“The people at the State department understand what’s going on,” Pompeo said.

 

“What they needed wasn’t more money,” he said. “What they needed was a leader who was prepared to empower them, was prepared to let them go out and do their job.”

“When I talked about swagger it was about going out in the world and having the confidence that as an American diplomat you represent the greatest nation in the history of civilization,” he said.

“That’s what the people of the State Department want and need. We’re giving it to them in spades. They’re responding to it wonderfully. We’re doing wonderful work all around the world.”

State/OIG: Sustained Failure of Leadership at the National Passport Center

The National Passport Center is located in Portsmouth, New Hampshire. NPC opened in 1992 and this past November, it processed its 100 millionth passport application. Below excerpted from State/OIG’s report,  Targeted Review of Leadership and Management at the National Passport Center:

Backgrounder: NPC, the largest of 29 passport-processing agencies and twice the size of the next largest, issued 7.4 million passports in FY 2017, or 38 percent of all passports issued by the U.S. Government from October 2016 to September 2017. Located in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, the center was created in 1992, and it grew from 60 employees at its founding to approximately 900 following a 2007 surge in passport demand.

At the time of the inspection, NPC’s staff consisted of a GS-15 Director, 6 GS-14 Assistant Directors, 16 GS-13 Adjudication Managers, and 57 GS-12 Supervisory Passport Specialists who supervised approximately 350 Passport Specialists. Additional staff included Customer Service and Fraud
Prevention employees, Passport Operations Officers, and over 400 contractors who were responsible for passport production and other support services. NPC operates two flexible shifts, which together cover 22 hours per day Monday through Friday. In addition, depending on workload, NPC scheduled overtime shifts on Saturday and Sunday.

Work Environment and CA/PPT Leadership: Senior leaders in CA’s Office of Passport Services (CA/PPT) were aware of concerns regarding NPC’s work environment since at least 2013, when several NPC employees made allegations against NPC leadership. The employees alleged harassment, “bullying,” a lack of trust in leadership, favoritism, abusive behavior to employees, improper hiring procedures, and an overall lack of transparency in the operations of the organization. In response to the allegations, CA/PPT instructed the Director of the Northeast Regional Office, who oversees NPC and other passport agencies, to conduct an internal review of NPC, which he did in January and February 2014. […] To address the internal review’s findings, CA/PPT ordered extensive executive coaching and training for NPC’s Director and senior leaders. The training lasted approximately 2 years and ended in 2016.

How not to solve the problem: OIG also determined that CA/PPT and NPC senior leaders were disengaged and, based on OIG interviews, generally aware of concerns regarding harassment, abuse, and misconduct. During OIG’s review, CA/PPT senior leaders told OIG that they blamed some of the issues at NPC on the fact that employees have known each other for a long time, dismissing the allegations as grudges held from high school and referring to employees as “crusty New Englanders.” CA/PPT’s senior leaders moreover acknowledged inappropriate behavior at NPC, but hoped that “being really busy would solve the problem.”

Being really busy is their hopeful solution? Good lord, who are these people? Are they available to work their magic wand as WH chiefs of staff?

It works! OIG Hotline Complaints: Between February and May 2018, OIG received a series of hotline complaints alleging misconduct, harassment, retaliation, and unfair hiring practices at NPC. […] Hundreds of NPC employees reported to OIG that retaliation, harassment, and “bullying” pervaded the work environment at NPC. OIG found that the reported behavior was widespread and was either condoned or perpetrated by nearly all levels of NPC leadership. Seventeen percent (91) of NPC employees who responded to OIG’s survey reported that they had experienced or observed discrimination and harassment. Of the 156 NPC employees OIG interviewed, 54 (35 percent) stated that they had experienced or observed retaliation, 80 (51 percent) stated that they had experienced or observed harassment, and 61 (39 percent) stated that they had experienced or observed discrimination.

Employees reported to OIG multiple instances of perceived or possible retaliation by Assistant Directors, Adjudication Managers, and other Supervisory Passport Specialists in denying awards, promotions, and special assignments.

Multiple employees reported incidents of sexual and gender-based harassment to OIG, which in some cases, had been ongoing, widely known, and accepted as part of the center’s culture.

Holy Guacamole Alert! NPC’s already problematic workplace environment was exacerbated by the fact that communication was ineffective at all levels within NPC. […] One example of poor communication was the lack of a formal and effective process for explaining and interpreting new guidance with Passport Specialists. When CA/PPT Office of Adjudication (CA/PPT/A) issued new or updated adjudication-specific guidance, its implementation instructions to passport agencies stated that Adjudication Managers must meet with Passport Specialists to discuss the guidance, answer questions, and ensure everyone understands how to implement the new guidance.10 However, NPC’s Adjudication Managers consistently and affirmatively refused to meet with Passport Specialists. 

You read that part above and you think that’s just bonkers. If they’re not meeting regularly to discuss new passport guidance, how would they know if the guidance they have is already outdated?

Security Procedures: In the course of examining the leadership and communication issues described previously, OIG also learned that NPC did not comply with all required Department security procedures. Specifically […] NPC did not follow facility access control measures that govern employee entry and exit, creating an opportunity for individuals without approved access to enter the building.

Admonishment from CA/PPT senior leader and NPC managers: OIG also notes that, after its site visit, a CA/PPT senior leader visited NPC. According to an information memo CA prepared for the Deputy Secretary following the visit, the CA/PPT senior leader communicated  to NPC employees that the Department does not tolerate retaliation. However, OIG subsequently received complaints that CA/PPT senior leaders and NPC managers admonished staff for complaining to and speaking with OIG.

We should note that the OIG report does not include the names of the senior leaders at CA/PPT or the managers at NPC but they’re on LinkedIn, is that right? Please don’t make them lead the Consular Leadership Day festivities next year, hookay?

Trump’s Second Nominee For @StateDept Personnel Chief Has Some #INL Baggage

Posted: 2:58 pm PT

 

In October 2017, President Trump announced his intent to nominate former FSO Stephen Akard to be the Director General of the Foreign Service (see Trump’s Pick For @StateDept Personnel Chief Gets the Ultimate “Stretch” Assignment). After fierce opposition, the White House officially withdrew the nomination of Mr. Akard on March 20, 2018 (see DGHR Nominee Stephen Akard Now Nominated as Director of the Office of Foreign Missions).

On July 31, contrary to the widely circulated rumors about the next DGHR nomination, the WH announced the president’s intent to nominate career diplomat Carol Z. Perez of Virginia, to be the next Director General of the Foreign Service .  The WH released the following brief bio:

Ambassador Perez, a career member of the Senior Foreign Service, has served as the Ambassador to the Republic of Chile since 2016. Previously, she was the Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary in the Bureau of Human Resources and was Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary in the Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs, both at the Department of State. Over the course of her three decades of service in the Department of State, Ambassador Perez has also served as Principal Officer and Consul General at U.S. Consulate General Milan, Italy, Executive Director and Deputy Executive Secretary of the Department of State, and Principal Officer and Consul General at U.S. Consulate General Barcelona, Spain. She earned her B.A. from Hiram College and M.A. from George Washington University. Ambassador Perez is the recipient of a Presidential Rank Award and multiple senior State Department Awards, including the Distinguished Service Award and Distinguished Honor Award.

Click here (PDF) for her most recent testimony at the Senate Foreign Relations Committee during her confirmation hearing as U.S. Ambassador to Chile in 2016.

The Director General of the U.S. Foreign Service is equivalent in rank to an Assistant Secretary of State. He/She is responsible for all personnel matters affecting the Foreign Service and the Civil Service at the State Department, including appointments, promotions, worldwide assignments, disciplinary actions, etc. Click here for the previous appointees to this position.

In May 2017, State/OIG released A Special Joint Review of Post-Incident Responses by the Department of State and Drug Enforcement Administration to Three Deadly Force Incidents in Honduras (PDF).

Stick with us here. This joint report relates to three drug interdiction missions in Honduras on May 11, June 23, and July 3, 2012, under a program known as Operation Anvil which resulted in four people killed (including two pregnant women) and four others injured after a helicopter with DEA personnel confused cargo in a passenger boat for bales of drugs and opened fire.  No evidence of narcotics was ever found on the passenger boat. In a second incident, a suspect was killed in a firefight that did not actually happen, and in a third incident that involved a plane crash, a Honduran police officer planted a gun in evidence and reported it as a weapon found at the scene.

At the time of these incidents, Ambassador Carol Perez was the Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary (PDAS) at the Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs (INL), the second highest ranking official in the bureau.

One of the report’s findings has to do with INL failure to comply with Chief of Mission Authority which undermined the U.S. Ambassador’s exercise of her authority at post. The U.S. Ambassador to Honduras at that time was Lisa Kubiske. Excerpt from the report (see p.323-324 for more):

As a bureau within the Department of State, INL should understand the importance of Chief of Mission authority. However, INL senior officials repeatedly undermined Ambassador Kubiske’s authority and failed to cooperate with the investigations she authorized.

Within a day of the Ambassador authorizing DS to investigate the June and July shooting incidents, INL Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary Carol Perez began to raise objections to DS involvement. She communicated these objections to both DS and DEA officials, and although she told the OIGs that she did not intend to obstruct the investigation of the shooting incidents, INL’s support bolstered DEA’s unwillingness to cooperate.
[…]
In addition, INL failed to comply with Chief of Mission authority by refusing to assist DS in its attempt to interview the helicopter crews. As noted in Chapter Ten, the SID agent requested to speak with the pilots and gunners, but INL denied this request. The request was forwarded up to the highest levels of INL, and AS Brownfield instructed his staff not to cooperate. Although he recognized that the request fell under the Chief of Mission authority, he instructed that INL was not to produce the crew for DS to interview. Senior DS and INL officials also discussed the request at a September 2012 meeting, but AS Brownfield remained opposed to providing DS access to the crews. In fact, INL was not even focused on the circumstances of the helicopter opening fire on the passenger boat, because they believed the helicopter fire was suppressive only and not intended as a use of deadly force.

The failure of DEA and INL to provide any cooperation with the investigation requested by the Ambassador resulted in the inability of the SID Agent to complete his investigations and develop conclusive findings regarding the three shooting incidents. DEA’s refusal to follow the Ambassador’s written request for information,supported by INL, not only violated their duties under the Foreign Service Act, but prevented a complete and comprehensive understanding of the three incidents. Ambassador Kubiske and other State officials had grave concerns over the methodology and findings of the various Honduran investigations, so she requested the DS investigation to better understand what could quickly become a diplomatic problem. However, her intentions were never realized because of the failure of DEA and INL to abide by Chief of Mission authority.

Tsk! Tsk! Another part of the report notes that INL sided with DEA in jurisdictional dispute, and also specifically names Ambassador Perez:

On June 28, 2012, INL Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary (PDAS) Carol Perez sent an e-mail communication to INL Assistant Secretary (AS) William Brownfield stating that DEA had “squawked” to INL about the DS investigation in Honduras and that she thought the “DS Office of Special Investigations got out a bit too far on this.”

On the same day, PDAS Perez sent another e-mail communication stating that she had been provided good informationto “buttress our arguments that DS has no role in this except at post at the direction of the COM.”

An e-mail communication the same day from another INL official to the INL Director at the U.S. Embassy stated that DS had launched an investigation of the June 23 shooting but that “INL/FO called DS to turn the investigation off.”

On June 29, after Wallace provided Heinemann with DEA’s position at that time on the DS investigation, noting that “INL shares some of our concerns and that INL is in contact with DS senior management” on the issue, Heinemann contacted a DS attorney requesting information on “what has been happening between INL and DS.” In response, the DS attorney told Heinemann:

I learned that Carol Perez in INL contacted DS Director Bultrowicz about this and said that INL’s position is that DS doesn’t have the authority to conduct an investigation of this DEA shooting.

[…] When we asked AS Brownfield and PDAS Perez about these discussions in late June 2012, they told us that INL had not attempted to stop the DS investigation. They did, however, acknowledge raising some concerns about the authority of DS to investigate and their belief that the investigation should be handled by the Embassy rather than DS Headquarters in Washington, and stated that they were simply trying to resolve the dispute without it becoming a problem for INL.
[…]
Several DS officials told us that it was obvious to them that INL was hostile to the DS investigations and voiced frustration that it was much harder to convince DEA to come to an agreement with DS when DS lacked support from other State bureaus on this matter.

The report also has something to say about then INL A/S Bill Brownfield but he is now retired, and he is not currently under consideration to be top personnel chief of the Foreign Service (see our old post So who told Congress the real story about the deadly force incidents in Honduras in 2012? #OperationAnvil

Ambassador Perez is a career member of the Senior Foreign Service. If confirmed, she would be one of the few top ranking female career employees at the State Department, but we believe there are appropriate questions to ask related to her role in the aftermath of the Operation Anvil given the leadership role she will take on as head of a global workforce of over 75,000 employees.

For starters – what are the exceptions for ignoring/undermining Chief of Mission Authority? Click the link to read more about Chief of Mission Authority.  Also what’s the deal with throwing Diplomatic Security under the bus and taking DEA’s side in a jurisdictional dispute overseas? Those were DEA deadly force incidents and these top INL officials somehow thought that DEA should investigate itself instead of Diplomatic Security? Why would INL offer DEA to push the DS investigation“back into the box”?  It was DS not/not DEA, by the way, “who found no evidence indicative of gunfire from the passenger boat.” We look forward to the senators asking relevant questions during the DGHR nominee’s  confirmation hearing.

We should also note that between 2003-2007, Ambassador Perez served as Executive Director at the Executive Secretariat of the State Department; this would have been during the Powell-Rice tenures in Foggy Bottom. State OIG’s ISP-I-07-38 inspection of the office includes the following:

The Executive Director, who has been in the job since 2003, is recognized by her customer offices as a highly professional, competent, and dedicated manager. She has as her twin priorities the overall direction of the office, dealing with the major management issues that arise, and personally assuring that the Secretary gets the pri- ority attention needed to support her mission. […] Having served previously in S/ES-EX, the Executive Director brings a wealth of background and sound judgment in dealing with varied and sensitive management issues ranging from office space, personnel, and travel demands down to who gets parking passes.  Those issues involve a senior level clientele who, by definition, have a high personal sensitivity to anything viewed as impinging on their status. She and her deputy also have to deal with the major resource issues and battle with the Department management offices on the ever increasing space demands emanating from F, S/CT, and the smaller new offices set up under the aegis of S.

Beyond those demands, the Executive Director takes personal responsibility for dealing with support issues involving the Secretary, most visibly the Secretary’s travel. She is responsible for managing the military airlift logistical requirements for the Sec- retary’s foreign travel and accompanies the Secretary on all international trips. That absorbs up to 50 percent of her work time. The Secretary’s staff has only praise for the Executive Director’s performance and her ability to manage logistical crises, large and small, during these trips. They also give her high marks for overall management support of the Secretary’s office.

So there, the links to the two reports are included here and here just in time for your weekend reading.

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State/OIG Finds @StateDept Revoked Security Clearance in Retaliation For Whistleblowing

 

Via State/OIG

OIG did not substantiate any allegations of whistleblower retaliation related to Department contractors or grantees. However, OIG did substantiate an allegation of a security clearance revocation in retaliation for whistleblowing activity under PPD-19. As required by the Foreign Affairs Manual, OIG reported its findings to the Under Secretary for Management. The report recommended that the whistleblower’s security clearance be reinstated.

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Presidential Policy Directive-19 (PPD-19) PDF

The brief note from State/OIG’s semi-annual report includes little details about a security clearance revocation, not suspension. According to 12 FAM 233.4, suspension is an independent administrative procedure that does not represent a final determination and does not trigger the procedures outlined in 12 FAM 234, which includes revocation.  With revocation, the Department may determine that immediate suspension without pay from employment under 5 U.S.C. 7532 is deemed advisable.

After State/OIG’s referral to “M”, the Under Secretary for Management will reportedly transmit the IG materials to the Security Appeals Panel, “if one is convened in the matter, and to other Department officials as appropriate” according to the Foreign Affairs Manual.

Note that the State Department does not have a Senate-confirmed “M” as of this writing. We want to know if the security clearance is not reinstated per OIG recommendation.

State/OIG’s semi-annual report also does not include information on consequences for the individual/individuals who perpetrated the revocation of this whistleblower’s security clearance in retaliation for whistleblowing activity.

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USAID/OIG Takes First Stab in Autopsy of Tillerson’s State/USAID Redesign

Posted: 1:45 am ET

 

In response to last year’s congressional request, USAID/OIG reviewed “USAID’s process in developing its reform plans and its compliance with congressional notification requirements.” We believe this is the first official accounting available on what transpired during Tillerson’s Redesign project, but primarily on the USAID side. We’re looking forward to State/OIG’s review of the project on its side.

The March 8, 2018 USAID/OIG report titled “USAID’s Redesign Efforts Have Shifted Over Time” was publicly posted on March 9, 2018. This report was originally marked “Sensitive But Unclassified (SBU)” and when publicly released, some of the appendices were redacted apparently at the assertion of the State Department and USAID that these be withheld from public view (see Appendix D, E and F. “USAID and the State Department have asserted that these appendixes should be withheld from public release in their entirety under exemption (b)(5) of the Freedom of Information Act, 5 U.S.C. 552(b)(5). OIG has marked this material SBU in accordance with 22 CFR 212.7(c)(2), which states that the originator of a record is best able to make a determination regarding whether information in that record should be withheld”).

USAID/OIG’s task was to determine (1) how USAID developed its redesign plans pursuant to Executive Order 13781, which were addressed by describing both the events and actions taken by USAID to develop its reform plans and the assessments of USAID’s actions by those involved in the process, and (2) whether USAID complied to date with fiscal year 2017 appropriation requirements.

USAID/OIG  interviewed 42 officials from across USAID. Interviewees included USAID employees from the Administrator’s Office, members of the Transformation Task Team, employees across every bureau and independent office, and overseas mission directors. The report says that these individuals were selected because of their knowledge of specific portions of the redesign process. There was also a survey that includes all 83 USAID mission directors worldwide (27 of whom responded). USAID/OIG also interviewed six senior officials from the State Department involved in the joint redesign process “to corroborate USAID testimony and portray a more balanced, objective sequence of events leading to the reform plan submissions.”

USAID/OIG’s conclusion:

“Results of our point-in-time review indicate good intentions by USAID as well as the State Department. However, USAID’s limited involvement in the design of the listening survey, uncertainty about redesign direction and end goals, and disagreement and limited transparency on decisions related to the consolidation of functions and services raise questions about what has been achieved thus far and what is deemed actionable. Given the concerns raised by USAID personnel, transparency—as well as compliance with congressional notification requirements—could prove challenging as redesign plans turn into actions.”

The details below are excerpted from the report:

Redesign process was resource-intensive and ad hoc

  • During this nearly 3-month process, USAID reported contributing around 100 employees (mostly senior officials) spanning 21 of its 24 bureaus and independent offices. Ten employees were detailed full-time to the effort. These participants were 48 percent Civil Service employees, 28 percent Foreign Service employees, 7 percent political appointees, and 5 percent contractors.
  • The State Department was reported to have brought around 200 people into the process.
  • According to work stream leaders, the State Department’s initial guidance for the teams was to “think big” with “no guardrails,” but the lack of boundaries and explicit goals hindered progress. The looming question of whether USAID would merge into the State Department not only distracted teams but further confused the direction of the redesign process.
  • The initial lack of direction was viewed as a hindrance by representatives from all work streams.
  • Participants described the joint redesign process as “ad hoc.” Interviewees from both the State Department and USAID noted instances when leaders of the joint process seemed unsure of the next steps. For example, a senior State Department official involved in coleading a work stream said there was not a lot of preparation, and the work streams did not know what the final products would be.

Joint disjointed efforts and disagreements

  • USAID shared its supplemental plan with the State Department days before the OMB deadline. A senior State Department official stated that the State Department was not pleased with the supplemental plan, noting that some of USAID’s proposals should have been developed through the joint process. The State Department asked USAID to remove some of its proposals relating to humanitarian assistance, foreign policy, and strategic international financing because State Department’s decisions regarding these areas had not been finalized. In the end, the supplemental plan USAID submitted to OMB contained 15 proposals (appendix E), while the version previously submitted to the State Department had 21. The six removed supplemental proposals are shown in appendix F. A senior USAID official noted, however, that USAID let OMB know what the filtered and unfiltered supplemental plan looked like.
  • Interviewees from the work streams and various leadership positions noted disagreement on decisions related to consolidation of USAID and State Department functions and services. Members from the work streams at all levels stated that the ESC—tasked to resolve disagreements within the work streams—rarely did so and was often unable to reach consensus on major issues such as the consolidation of IT and management services, or how to divide humanitarian assistance and funding decisions between the State Department and USAID.
  • Even after some decisions were thought to have been made, USAID officials reported instances when the State Department would revisit the decisions, forcing USAID to defend what was already considered resolved. This rethinking of decisions led a number of interviewees from both USAID and the State Department to wonder whether there were strong advocates for consolidation of services within the State Department.
  • Officials familiar with ESC [Executive Steering Committee] also noted that the committee lacked a formal process to resolve disagreements, and opinions were often split along State Department and USAID lines. As a result, some decisions on consolidation were left on hold and remain undecided.

USAID not part of listening survey decision

  • According to a top USAID official, the decision to administer a survey was made by the State Department alone, and USAID had little say as to whether it should participate or how the survey would be administered. USAID was not part of the contracting process with Insigniam and was brought in after most of the details were decided. The week following the issuance of OMB’s memorandum guidance, Insigniam engaged State Department and USAID officials to provide input into developing the listening survey questions but gave them less than 2 business days to provide feedback. A small group of senior USAID officials worked over the weekend to compile suggestions and submitted it by the requested deadline. Despite this effort, USAID officials did not feel their input was sufficiently incorporated into the survey. 

Questions about data integrity

  • Questions of data integrity were raised, including projected cost savings of $5 billion that would be realized with the proposed reforms—projections several USAID officials characterized as unrealistic. For example, one senior USAID official stated that the contractor responsible for compiling work stream data did not adequately understand USAID and State Department processes before applying assumptions.

 

  • The data and analysis behind the listening survey were also closely held. USAID officials reported requesting and being denied access to the complete, “raw” survey data, which is owned by the State Department. Some interviewees noted that without access to data, it would be difficult to interpret the magnitude of some of the issues identified in the listening survey.
  • This concern with data integrity was consistent throughout our interviews. For example, a senior USAID official stated that Deloitte—who was compiling data for work stream decision making—did not obtain an adequate understanding of processes before applying assumptions to them. Other work stream participants said that because data came from different systems in USAID and the State Department, it was difficult to accurately compare scenarios between agencies. According to several interviewees familiar with the data, the process had poor quality assurance. For example, documents were kept on a shared server with no version control. Moreover, interviewees noted that much of the decision-making information for the work streams was “experiential”—based on the backgrounds of people in the subgroup rather than hard data.
  • In addition, interviewees from both the State Department and USAID questioned Insigniam’s recommendation to move the State Department’s Bureau of Consular Affairs to the Department of Homeland Security—a recommendation some claimed was unlikely to have been based on data from the listening survey. This prompted a number of those involved in the reform process to question how survey input had been processed and the validity of the rest of Insigniam’s takeaways.

(NOTE: A source previously informed us that only 5-6 individuals have access to the raw data; and that the survey data is in a proprietary system run by Insigniam. Data collected paid for by taxpayer money is in a proprietary system. We were also told that if we want the data, we have to make an FOIA request to the Transformation Management Office, but our source doubts that State will just hand over the data).

Concerns about inclusiveness and transparency

  • A number of interviewees, including some mission directors and heads of bureaus and independent offices, felt the redesign process was not only exclusive, but also lacked transparency. According to senior USAID staff, OMB instructed the Agency to keep a close hold on the details of the redesign. While some mission directors noted that biweekly calls with bureau leadership, agency announcements, and direct outreach kept them informed of the redesign process as it occurred, field-based officials expressed dismay and disillusionment with what seemed to be a headquarters-focused process.

Mission closures and congressional notifications

  • [W]hile mission closings remain under consideration, some actions taken by USAID raised questions about compliance with notification requirements to Congress. To meet the congressional notification requirement, USAID must notify the Committees on Appropriations before closing a mission or reorganizing an office. The Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2017, Section 7034, requires congressional notification “prior to implementing any reorganization of the Department of State or the United States Agency for International Development, including any action taken pursuant to the March 31, 2017, Executive Order 13781.”
  • Specific mention of USAID’s offices in Albania, India, and Jamaica as candidates for the chopping block.

Non-notification and violation of FY2017 appropriations legislation

  • In the case of USAID/RDMA [Regional Development Mission for Asia], our analyses of USAID’s actions were less conclusive and raised questions about compliance with notification requirements to Congress. On August 17, 2017, the Acting Deputy Administrator requested from the Asia Bureau and USAID/RDMA a closure plan for the regional mission. The closure plan would outline the timing, funding, and staff reductions for a 2019 closure date. It was noted that the closure plan was for discussion purposes only, and USAID leadership would consult with the State Department to ensure that any future decisions would be in line with overall U.S. foreign assistance and foreign policy strategy.
  • [O]n August 18, 2017, the Agency removed six Foreign Service Officer Bangkok positions from a previously announced bid list. The Agency also informed the U.S. Embassy Bangkok, counterparts in the State Department’s East Asia/Pacific Bureau, and USAID leadership in the Bureaus of Democracy, Conflict, and Humanitarian Assistance and Global Health of a planned closure of USAID/RDMA’s activities. USAID leadership noted that they were given until the end of 2019 to complete the actual phaseout. Our best assessment is that the totality of the Agency’s actions relating to USAID/RDMA— without notifying Congress—violated the spirit of the FY 2017 appropriations legislation. 13

Aspirational savings of $5 to $10 Billion: not based on analysis, “came out of nowhere”

  • According to the joint plan, the proposed reforms would yield $5 billion in savings (link inserted) over a 5-year period; however, this amount did not factor the investment costs of $2.8 billion over that same period, which would result in net savings of $2.2 billion. These projections were characterized as unrealistic by several USAID officials. A senior USAID official involved in reviewing data stated that the $5 billion projection was unrealistic given the process used by the State Department and USAID to gather and analyze information. The official stated that the State Department’s reported aspirational savings of $10 billion was not based on analysis, but rather “came out of nowhere.”

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How to fight work bullshit (and keep your job and your dignity)

By André Spicer | A professor of organisational behaviour at the Cass Business School at City, University of London, he is author of Desperately Seeking Self-Improvement: A Year Inside the Optimisation Movement (2017), co-written with Carl Cederström. His latest book is Business Bullshit (2018).

After getting lost in the conference hotel, I finally located the ‘creativity workshop’. Joining the others, I sat cross-legged on the floor. Soon, an ageing hippie was on his feet. ‘Just walk around the room and introduce yourself,’ he said. ‘But don’t use words.’ After a few minutes of people acting like demented mimes, the hippie stopped us. ‘Now grab a mandala,’ he said, pointing to a pile of what looked like pages from a mindfulness colouring-in book. ‘And use those to bring your mandala to life,’ he said pointing at a pile of magic markers. After 30 minutes of colouring, he told us to share our mandalas. A woman described how her red mandala represented her passionate nature. A man explained how his black mandala expressed the negative emotions haunting his life. A third person found words too constraining, so she danced about her mandala. Leaving the room after the session, a participant turned to me and quietly said: ‘What a load of bullshit.’

All over the world, organisations encourage kooky activities unrelated to employees’ work. I have attended workplace retreats where I learned beat-boxing and African drumming. I have heard about organisations that encourage employees to walk across hot coals, take military assault courses, and guide a raft down dangerous rapids. There are organisations that force their employees to stage a lingerie show, take part in a ‘bush-tucker trial’ by eating insects, and dress up in giant animal costumes to act out fairy tales.

My cynical fellow participant in the mandala-colouring workshop described it as ‘bullshit’. She had chosen her words wisely. The philosopher Harry Frankfurt at Princeton University defined bullshit as talk that has no relationship to the truth. Lying covers up the truth, while bullshit is empty, and bears no relationship to the truth.

The mandala workshop bore many of the tell-tale signs of bullshit. The session was empty of facts and full of abstractions. Participants skipped between buzzwords such as ‘authenticity’, ‘self-actualisation’ and ‘creativity’. I found it impossible to attribute meaning to this empty talk. The harder I tried, the less sense it made. So, during the event, I politely played along.

After spending more than a decade studying business and organisations, I can assure you that my unheroic response is the norm. Most people are likely to follow my bad example, and stick to the script. There are many reasons for this, but politeness is an important one. Bullshit greases the wheels of sociability. Questioning bullshit can be a sure way to lose friends and alienate people. Even when we smell bullshit, we are willing to ignore it so we can avoid conflict and maintain a polite atmosphere. Our desire to keep social interaction going smoothly prevails over our commitment to speak the truth.

In a short aside in his book On Bullshit (2005), Frankfurt describes an interaction between the philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein and Fania Pascal, Wittgenstein’s friend and Russian teacher. ‘I had my tonsils out and was in Evelyn Nursing Home feeling sorry for myself,’ Pascal wrote. ‘Wittgenstein called. I croaked: “I feel just like a dog that has been run over.”’ Wittgenstein, apparently, was disgusted: ‘You don’t know what a dog that has been run over feels like.’

Wittgenstein’s response seems not just odd, but rude. So why did the great philosopher do this? Frankfurt’s answer is that throughout his life ‘Wittgenstein devoted his philosophical energies largely to identifying and combatting what he regarded as insidiously disruptive forms of “non-sense”.’ Wittgenstein is ‘disgusted’ by Pascal’s remark because ‘it is not germane to the enterprise of describing reality’. She is ‘not even concerned whether her statement is correct’. If we were to react like Wittgenstein whenever we were faced with bullshit, our lives would probably become very difficult indeed.

Instead of following Wittgenstein’s example, there are ways we can politely call bullshit. The first step is to calmly ask what the evidence says. This is likely to temper our interlocutors’ views, even if the results are inconclusive. The second step is to ask about how their idea would work. The psychologists Leonid Rozenblit and Frank Keil at Yale University found that when they asked subjects to tell them, on a scale of 1 to 7, how they would rate their knowledge about everyday objects such as toilets, most people would say about 4 or 5. But when asked to describe precisely how a toilet worked, they dropped the rating of their own toilet expertise to below 3. Asking over-confident bullshitters exactly how their idea might work is another way to slow them down. Finally, ask the bullshitter to clarify what he means. Often, bullshit artists rely on ‘zombie nouns’ such as ‘globalisation’, ‘facilitation’ and ‘optimisation’. Pushing beyond linguistic boondoggles helps everyone to see what is solid and what is clothed in ornamental talk.

Politely questioning a peer is one thing, but it is much trickier to call out the bullshit of junior colleagues. Decades of research has found that people listen to positive feedback and ignore negative feedback. But Frederik Anseel from King’s College, London has found that people are willing to listen when negatives are focused on the future. So instead of concentrating on the bullshit a junior might have created in the past, it is best to ask how it can be minimised in the future.

Calling out an underling’s piffle might be tough, but calling bullshit on the boss is usually impossible. Yet we also know that organisations that encourage people to speak up tend to retain their staff, learn more, and perform better. So how can you question your superiors’ bullshit without incurring their wrath? One study by Ethan Burris of the University of Texas at Austin provides some solutions. He found that it made a big difference how an employee went about posing the questions. ‘Challenging’ questions were met with punishment, while supportive questions received a fair hearing. So instead of bounding up to your boss and saying: ‘I can’t believe your bullshit,’ it would be a better idea to point out: ‘We might want to check what the evidence says, then tweak it a little to make it better.’

Next time you’re faced with a bullshit attack, it might be tempting to politely zone out. But that only gives the bullshit artist time and space. Or you might be tempted to follow the example of Wittgenstein, and fight back. Sadly, bullshitters are often impervious to full-frontal attack. The most effective tactic in the war on empty talk seems to be to outflank the bullshitter by posing your questions as constructive tweaks, rather than refutations. That way, you might be able to clean up the mess from within, rather than raging from the outside.Aeon counter – do not remove

André Spicer

This article was originally published at Aeon and has been republished under Creative Commons.

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