Rex Tillerson Talks to Congress About the Not So Shadow Secretary of State, and Stuff

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@StateDept’s Protocol Chief Sean Lawler to Quit Before G-20 Summit #horsewhip #wherearethehorses

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Sean Lawler who was sworn in as Chief of Protocol of the United States, with rank of Ambassador on December 1, 2017 is reportedly resigning over allegations of discrimination and harassment. Bloomberg is reporting that he was pulled off AF1 manifest after his staff complained of intimidating behavior, including reportedly, carrying a horsewhip in the office.

Whoa! There are hidden horses  in Foggy Bottom that need whipping?

Folks are understandably confused. “Wait a minute. Is this right? The dude is carrying around a horse whip on the job?” Or “Wait. Carrying a horsewhip ISN’T protocol?” Or “What, exactly, is the utility of a horsewhip in matters of protocol?” One HR person who isn’t confused notes: “If your manager has a horsewhip in his office & you don’t work with horses… maybe you’re in a less-than-stellar work environment.”

An aside — horsewhip is word of the day for a bunch of folks online.  And come to think of it, what the HR person wrote made sense. This would be challenging when the Best Places to Work ranking comes around next year. The 2018 ranking, by the way, is roaring red and down -3.3 points, comparable only to the State Department’s ranking in 2003.

Anyway, Lawler who was nominated in September 2017 will reportedly resign. As of this writing, his bio is still prominently displayed on state.gov.

NBC’s Josh Lederman reports that “Two U.S. officials said that employees in the chief of protocol’s office had been informed that Ambassador Sean Lawler had been suspended indefinitely pending the outcome of the investigation. A third official said that Lawler had told the State Department’s leadership he planned to submit his resignation to President Donald Trump after the G-20 summit, which starts Friday in Osaka, Japan.”  The U.S. officials who told NBC News about Lawler’s situation reportedly declined to elaborate on the specifics of the allegations, but did say that “numerous employees in his office had resigned in protest of his management and behavior.”

These media reports follow the most recent IG report on the toxic workplace at U.S. Embassy Libreville (see U.S. Embassy Gabon: State/OIG’s Ode to All Things Dreadful in a Small Post).  We’re quietly watching a couple more on bad bosses bubbling up.

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U.S. Embassy Gabon: State/OIG’s Ode to All Things Dreadful in a Small Post

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For small posts in the Foreign Service, the Eagles’ ‘This could be heaven or this could be Hell’ line is often appropriate.  And in the case of the U.S. Embassy Libreville in Gabon, it sounds pretty much like the later. With few exceptions, it’s hard to find things that are working well at the embassy in Gabon based on State/OIG’s inspection. The report lists career diplomat Joel Danies as U.S. Ambassador who arrived at post in March 2018. The listed DCM Randall Merideth arrived at post in August 2017.

Although we don’t have the date, the embassy’s top two officials must have departed post sometime this past winter.  By March 2019, CDA Robert Scott was listed as CDA (chargé d’affaires), with Sam Watson as DCM (deputy chief of mission).  As of this writing, the U.S. Embassy in Libreville is headed by Chargé d’Affaires Sam Watson.  The June 18, 2019 Key Officers of Foreign Service Posts for Gabon (PDF) does not list a Deputy Chief of Mission.

We understand that retired Ambassador Robert Whitehead who was appointed three times as  Chargé d’Affaires to Sudan and was previously the U.S. Ambassador to Togo (2012-2015) has been recalled to service as full ambassador to Libreville. He reportedly arrived in D.C. this past weekend for consultations before going to post. 

The OIG inspection team was headed by former Ambassador to Micronesia Peter Prahar.  Below are selected excerpts from the OIG report on Gabon. You may read the entire report here (PDF).

Post Snapshot:

At the time of the inspection, Embassy Libreville had 36 U.S. direct-hire positions, 116 LE staff members, and 8 eligible family member positions. Other agencies at the embassy included the Department of Defense and the Department of the Interior. The Department of State (Department) completed the new embassy compound, including the chancery, a warehouse, and other facilities, in 2012. [..] A related classified inspection report discusses the embassy’s security program and issues affecting the safety of embassy personnel and facilities.

OIG Sources:

OIG assessed Embassy Libreville’s leadership on the basis of 73 interviews that included comments on Front Office performance; staff questionnaires; and OIG’s review of documents and observations of embassy meetings and activities during the course of the on-site inspection.

Front Office Background:

The Ambassador, a career member of the Senior Foreign Service, arrived in Gabon in March 2018 after an assignment as Associate Dean of the Department’s Foreign Service Institute School of Professional and Area Studies. His previous assignments included management and political positions in Belize, Switzerland, and Afghanistan, and he served as Deputy Special Coordinator in the Office of the Haiti Special Coordinator.

The Deputy Chief of Mission (DCM), a career Foreign Service officer, arrived in August 2017 after an assignment as director of the Minneapolis Passport Agency. His previous Department assignments included consular and management positions in Cote d’Ivoire, Afghanistan, South Africa, and Germany. He had served as a Peace Corps volunteer in Gabon.

Ambassador Did Not Set a Positive and Professional Tone for the Embassy

OIG found that the Ambassador did not set a positive and professional tone for the embassy in accordance with Department leadership and management principles outlined in 3 Foreign Affairs Manual (FAM). In interviews with embassy staff, OIG found that the Ambassador’s verbal outbursts created anxiety and impeded communication and embassy operations. The Ambassador told OIG that he was passionate and committed to improving embassy operations and advancing U.S. interests in Gabon but that he became increasingly frustrated when the staff did not appear to respond to his directives or keep him informed of significant developments. He also acknowledged that he sometimes cursed at employees. American and LE staff told OIG that they were reluctant to provide the Ambassador with complete information on developing situations, fearing they would receive a negative reaction if he did not like what he heard. Finally, OIG noted during the inspection that the Ambassador was in conflict with a key member of the embassy’s security team over an issue that occurred 2 months before the inspection. This conflict resulted in an almost complete lack of communication between the Ambassador and this individual. In discussing the conflict with OIG, the Ambassador agreed that it was essential for embassy security that he take action to repair his relationship with the security team.

The Department’s leadership and management principles require leaders to hold themselves to the highest standards of conduct and to be self-aware. OIG advised the Ambassador to take advantage of the Department’s leadership and coaching programs. The Ambassador welcomed the advice, telling OIG that it was exactly the type of feedback he had hoped to obtain from the inspection. He also committed to work on his tone with staff by moderating the volume of his voice and eliminating the use of profanities.

Ambassador and Deputy Chief of Mission Did Not Form an Effective Leadership Team

The Ambassador and the DCM did not form an effective leadership team, as described in 2 FAM 113.2, which requires the DCM to serve as alter ego to a chief of mission in coordinating mission activity to meet broad program needs. Specifically, OIG found that the Ambassador did not establish clear expectations for the DCM regarding his responsibilities to manage the embassy. For example, the two officers had not agreed on a work requirements statement for the DCM, which should have been prepared within 45 days of the Ambassador’s arrival in March 2018, as required by 3 FAH-1 H-2815.1a(1). In discussing this issue with OIG, the Ambassador agreed that he had been remiss in not making it clear to the DCM what was expected of him. OIG also found that the Ambassador directly assigned tasks to LE staff members without informing the DCM or section chiefs. He told OIG his intent in doing this was to be personable, accessible, and aware of embassy operations. However, OIG found that the Ambassador was unaware that the practice frustrated supervisors. Embassy supervisors told OIG that although they often did not know about the assignments, the Ambassador subsequently would hold them accountable if the projects were not completed.

Oh, Lordy!

OIG found the DCM to be generally unengaged in embassy operations, unfamiliar with the work of the embassy’s sections, and uninvolved in performance management, as discussed later in this report. The DCM told OIG that in the 6 months prior to the inspection, he had prioritized introducing the Ambassador to Gabon but that in the future he would turn his attention to embassy operations.

Deputy Chief of Mission May Have Violated Anti-Nepotism Guidelines

The DCM likely did not comply with the requirements of 3 FAM 8312 to avoid nepotism and the appearance of nepotism in all employment matters. Embassy staff told OIG that the DCM repeatedly urged them to identify an embassy job for his spouse, either by selecting her for an eligible family member position or by encouraging other embassy agencies to create a position for her. This conduct is inconsistent with Department policy. Guidelines in 3 FAM 8324 state that an employee must scrupulously insulate himself or herself from acts benefiting, affecting, or giving the appearance of benefiting or affecting a relative’s career or responsibilities. The DCM denied to OIG that he had pressured anyone to create a position for his spouse or that he had made any comments to compel another embassy agency to hire his spouse. However, based on a review of documentation and interviews with embassy staff, OIG found that the DCM’s actions to secure embassy employment for his spouse likely violated Department standards. Additionally, as discussed further in the Human Resources section of this report, his conduct negatively affected embassy operations, as embassy staff sought to avoid the issue entirely by not advertising to fill any vacant eligible family member positions.

Embassy Did Not Advertise Eligible Family Member Positions (Or how five vacancies could have been filled by  5 of 8 EFMs) 

At the time of the inspection, the embassy had four vacant eligible family member positions that it had not advertised. In addition, another family member was due to transfer within a month, but the embassy had not advertised for a replacement. Management staff told OIG they were reluctant to advertise any eligible family member positions because they feared pressure to select the DCM’s spouse for one of the positions. (This is discussed in more detail in the Executive Direction section.) OIG advised the embassy to advertise and to comply with Department standards if the DCM’s spouse applies for the vacant positions. Failure to advertise eligible family member positions hindered the embassy’s operational efficiency.

Deputy Chief of Mission Did Not Review Nonimmigrant Visa Adjudications as Required

The DCM did not review nonimmigrant visa adjudications in a timely manner, as required by Department guidelines. A Bureau of Consular Affairs analysis showed that from April 1 through June 15, 2018, the DCM reviewed nonimmigrant visa adjudications twice, with an average lag time of 90 days between the visa adjudications and the DCM’s reviews. According to 9 FAM 403.12-1d, however, reviewing officers must review adjudications within 3 business days. The DCM had no explanation for this deficiency. Failure to review visa adjudications in a timely manner increases the risk of visa malfeasance or improper adjudications.

Ambassador, Deputy Chief of Mission Failed to Establish Work Requirements for American Personnel

Neither the Ambassador nor the DCM followed Department guidelines regarding completion of work requirements for American staff. Specifically, at the time of the inspection, the Ambassador and the DCM had not established written work requirements for any of their subordinates within 45 days of the beginning of the rating cycle, as required by 3 FAH-1 H- 2815.1a(1). Developing work requirements ensures that both the supervisor and subordinate participate in the process to develop a mutual understanding of the expectations for the subordinate’s work and how it aligns with the embassy’s goals and priorities. The DCM told OIG he was unfamiliar with Foreign Service performance management requirements because, in his previous assignment, he had only supervised Civil Service employees. Failure to establish work requirements in a timely manner disadvantages employees and can harm operations. Without clear expectations set at the beginning of the performance cycle, employees risk not understanding how to meet or exceed their supervisor’s expectations to achieve organizational objectives.

Embassy Did Not Comply with Department Guidelines on Acceptance of Gifts

The embassy did not adhere to 2 FAM 960 guidelines regarding the solicitation and acceptance of gifts to the Department. Embassy staff told OIG that the embassy did not review the list of companies solicited for July 4th contributions to ensure that proposed donors were neither seeking substantial assistance from the embassy nor would be substantially affected by a pending or reasonably anticipated official action, as required by 2 FAM 962.8a(1). As a result, at least one company for which the Ambassador had actively advocated was solicited for a contribution. The Ambassador also accepted travel on an aircraft chartered by the same company without seeking concurrence of White House Counsel, as required by 2 FAM 962.12h. Failure to comply with these guidelines could create the appearance of partiality or favoritism on the part of the U.S. Government.

And more!

State/OIG made 28 recommendations.  The Department and the U.S. Agency for Global Media concurred with 25 recommendations and disagreed with 3. State/OIG Recommendation 1 says that “The Director General of the Foreign Service and Director of Human Resources should review whether anti-nepotism violations occurred at Embassy Libreville and, based on the results of its review, take appropriate action. (Action: DGHR).”

In its May 29, 2019, response, DGHR disagreed with this recommendation. “DGHR does not concur with the recommendation. The individual in question has left the Department, so no further action is necessary.” 

The report’s second recommendation says that “Embassy Libreville should comply with Department guidelines regarding the acceptance of gifts. (Action: Embassy Libreville)”

Management Response: In its June 3, 2019, response, Embassy Libreville disagreed with this recommendation. The embassy noted that the travel was not provided as a gift and that travel orders were issued for the Ambassador to accompany Board of Directors members to observe the offshore drilling site by helicopter and return by commercial aircraft. The embassy also noted that actions taken by the Ambassador and embassy staff to facilitate access of a U.S. company to the appropriate Gabonese Government officials were consistent with the guidance provided in 2 Foreign Affairs Manual 962.8 that the entity was not “…seeking substantial assistance from post (e.g., nonroutine consular assistance or nonroutine commercial advocacy or assistance) nor would be substantially affected by a pending or reasonably anticipated post official action….”

OIG writes that it considers the recommendation unresolved. “Notwithstanding the embassy’s rationale, the Ambassador’s acceptance of travel on an aircraft chartered by a company for which the Ambassador actively advocated could create the appearance of partiality or favoritism on the part of the U.S. The recommendation can be closed when OIG receives and accepts documentation of Embassy Libreville’s compliance with Department guidelines regarding the acceptance of gifts.”

OIG’s number 3 recommendation says “Embassy Libreville should comply with Department instructions and guidance on reporting significant political, economic, and societal developments.”

Management Response: In its June 3, 2019, response, Embassy Libreville disagreed with this recommendation. The embassy noted it complies with reporting guidance and dispatched cables and communications on significant political, economic, and societal developments through every channel available despite a severely depleted formal reporting staff.

OIG writes that it considers the recommendation unresolved. “During the inspection, OIG identified numerous instances where the Ambassador did not report the results of substantive meetings with business leaders, host government officials, and other senior contacts. The recommendation can be closed when OIG receives and accepts documentation that Embassy Libreville is reporting on significant political, economic, and societal developments.”

 

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

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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?

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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.
[…]
[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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