FSGB Case: When “there were no mitigating circumstances” considered despite conditions identified by MED

 

Via FSGB: FSGB Case No. 2019-034, July 2, 2020
Held – The Board found that the Department of State (the “Department” or “agency”) did not establish cause to separate the charged employee from the Foreign Service because the Deciding Official (“DO”) did not consider evidence of his personality problems as a mitigating circumstance. The Board was persuaded by evidence in the record that the agency should exercise its authority to initiate, as an alternative to separation, the option of a disability retirement, pursuant to 3 FAM 6164.3(a).
Case Summary – The Department charged the employee with Improper Personal Conduct based upon a pattern of unprofessional and inappropriate conduct toward colleagues, primarily hundreds of unwanted emails and text messages with sexual content. The Department’s Bureau of Medical Services (“MED”) had conducted a mental health evaluation of the charged employee and concluded that “to a reasonable degree of certainty,” the charged employee exhibited “behavior or symptoms (which may not rise to the level of formal diagnosis) of an emotional, mental or personality condition that may impair his reliability, judgment or trustworthiness.” The DO determined that the charged employee committed the charged offenses and that there were no mitigating circumstances. In finding no mitigating circumstances, the DO attested in the separation hearing that she did not take into consideration either the charged employee’s emotional, mental or personality condition that MED identified or the charged employee’s emails to coworkers that included references to his communications with divine beings as well as references to his own possible mental illness. The DO notified the charged employee of her proposal to separate him from the Foreign Service and provided him the opportunity to reply in person or in writing. The DO recommended separating the charged employee to promote the efficiency of the Service. The charged employee did not respond in person or in writing to the DO’s notification of her proposal to separate him from the Service recommendation or participate in the separation hearing. The Board found the Department did not establish cause to separate the charged employee because the DO did not consider the so-called Douglas Factor #11 on the agency’s checklist that relates to mitigating circumstances surrounding personality problems, and did not exercise the agency’s authority under 3 FAM 6164.3(a) to initiate a disability retirement on behalf of the charged employee as an alternative to disciplinary action.

[…]

We do not claim medical or psychological expertise, but, in our perusal of the record, we found indicators that the charged employee was described as exhibiting personality problems, and possibly more serious mental impairment or illness, from the emails and text messages he sent to former colleagues. For example, in specification 84, the charged employee is charged with offering to help Ms. B draft a complaint and get himself fired and committed to a mental hospital for the rest of his life. Also, in specifications 86 and 87, respectively, the charged employee is alleged to have first made reference to someone wanting him to commit suicide, then later noted asking God if his wife would commit suicide and informing Ms. D that the Virgin Mary told him to inform Ms. D that he knew she was worried that he might kill himself. Further, the charged employee displayed unusual behavior when he emailed Ms. B on June 6, 2017 at 8:31 p.m. that he had declined to see a psychiatrist before consulting attorneys about his options to file a lawsuit.11 That suggests the possibility that someone raised with the charged employee the matter of seeking a psychological consultation or examination.
In addition, DS ROI #1 included a statement by the charged employee’s wife that she believed her husband suffered from mental impairment, requiring medical treatment. The record further contains evidence, according to the spouse, that MED had conducted a thorough mental health evaluation of the charged employee on four separate dates. Similarly, DS ROI #2 concluded that the charged employee had expressed that he heard voices and instructions from God, the Devil, and the Virgin Mary. (See Specifications 6-8, 25, 29, 38, 76 and 87).
[…]
In the instant case, while the agency has provided credible evidence that the charged employee’s conduct does not promote the efficiency of the Service, we find the decision falls short on consideration of so-called Douglas Factor #11 on the agency’s checklist that relates to personality problems as a mitigating factor. We also credit the charged employee’s 19 years of distinguished service before his display of conduct that gave rise to the LOR and the proposal to separate him from the Service.12
Moreover, the Board is unaware of a requirement that a DO must be privy to private medical information or be a medical professional to initiate an application for disability retirement. To the contrary, under 3 FAM 6164.2-3, HR/ER, in consultation with MED, can initiate an application for disability retirement on behalf of an employee if, inter alia, 1) the agency has issued a proposal to remove the employee, 2) the agency has a reasonable basis to conclude that illness may be the cause of the employee’s conduct which renders him unable to work satisfactorily, or 3) the employee is incompetent and there is no guardian willing to file an application on the employee’s behalf. The existence of any one of these three conditions is sufficient for the agency to initiate an action for disability retirement, and the Board finds that the conditions in 1) and 2), supra, are apparent in this case.
Accordingly, the Board is of the view that the agency has not considered all mitigating factors before recommending separation for cause and has not exercised its authority to initiate, as an alternative to separation, the option of a disability retirement for the charged employee where grounds for such a retirement are apparent on the record. Pursuant to 3 FAM 6164.3(a), MED then would determine whether the charged employee is incapacitated for useful and efficient service, which is the standard for disability retirement.

Ex-StateDept GSO Steven H. Hassan Gets 40 Years For Sexual Abuse of Children and Child Pornography

 

 

On August 13, USDOJ announced that former State Department employee, Steven Hadley Hassan, 52, was sentenced to 40 years in federal prison for sexual abuse of minors, and the production and transportation of child pornography. Our sources identified Hassan as a General Services Officer (GSO), a Foreign Service specialist who joined the State Department in 2010. We could not verify at this time that “he was in the Specialist Orientation class in 2010″ or that he  only “served two overseas tours” or that he “was never tenured.”
The DOJ announcement only identified Hassan as having served in the Philippines and South Africa. In his guilty plea, Hassan admitted to the sexual abuse of Jane Doe 1 in government housing in those two locations  from October 2010 continuing until mid-2013.
Indictment: Abuse in USG Permanent Housing
Count 8 of the Superseding Indictment filed on October 11, 2018, notes that in or about July 2010 through no later than in or about June 2012, the defendant resided in the Philippines in connection with his work as a State Department employee. In or about October 2010, he moved into permanent housing located in Dasmarinas Village, Makati, Philippines, provided by the U.S. Government. In or about June 2012, defendant repeatedly sexually abused a minor, Jane Doe 1, in his permanent housing. 
The Stipulation of Facts in court records signed and agreed to by Hassan says that while stationed in the Philippines, Hassan also sexually abused two pre-pubescent minors who resided in Manila-Jane Doe 2 (born in October 2003) and Jane Doe 3 (born in September 1999), who are sisters, and Hassan produced images of the abuse. Further it states that both Jane Doe 2 and Jane Doe 3 met Hassan in 2010 when he offered them food from a local restaurant near where they lived. Thereafter, the Defendant transported Jane Doe 2 and Jane Doe 3 in his minivan to a local hotel and sexually abused them.[…] Hassan most recently sexually abused Jane Doe 2 in 2015 when he visited the Philippines for a brief trip.
Count 9 of the indictment notes that in or about July 2012 though no later than in or about July 2014, the defendant resided in South Africa as a State Department employee. He moved into permanent housing in Pretoria, South Africa, in a U.S. Government-provided housing. Thereafter through in or about September 2013, defendant repeatedly sexually abused  Jane Doe 1 in his permanent housing.
Work Background
Steven Hassan’s 18-page resume online indicates that he worked for the U.S. Navy from 1987-1993, and various military-related work from 1993 to 2007 in Guam, Everett (WA), Yokosuka, Japan, and Whidbey Island (WA). It also indicates that he worked as an Administrative Assistant for the State Department’s MED Bureau from 2007-2008 (FederalPay.org lists him under Miscellaneous Clerk and Assistant for the State Department in 2007). From 2008-2010, he worked for the National Cancer Institute (FederalPay.org lists him as working for the National Institutes of Health in 2008 and 2009). His online resume also identified himself as Assistant General Services Officer (GSO) at the US Embassy Manila in the Philippines from June 2010-June 2012, then Assistant GSO at the US Embassy in Pretoria, South Africa from July 2012-August 2014. 
The Stipulation of Facts includes the following detail: “Hassan eventually brought his Sony camera and the SD card within it back to the United States after his tours overseas were completed, some time after November 2015.”
Hassan’s online resume notes that he worked as a Senior GSO at the U.S. Consulate General in Karachi, Pakistan from September 2014 -January 2016. Hassan’s brief visit to the Philippines in 2015, and the most recent abused of Jane Doe 2 alleged in the Stipulation of Facts appeared to have occurred while Hassan was assigned to the US Consulate General in Karachi. 
The last entry in Hassan’s online resume indicates that he worked as GSO at the “Near East Asia/Pacific Executive Office” at the State Department from “February 2016-present” but also lists as part of his duties and accomplishments updating “all EAP/GSO standard operation procedures.” We should point out for those unfamiliar with State Department bureaus that NEA and EAP are two different offices.
Arrest and Detention
According to the “Affidavit in Support of the Criminal Complaint and an Arrest Warrant” executed by a special agent from DHS/ICE’s Homeland Security Investigations, an FBI Task Force Officer in an undercover capacity accessed a publicly available peer-to-peer file sharing program known to law enforcement to be used by individuals with sexual interest in children from an Internet-connected computer on January 22, 2018. 
The undercover (UC) was “friends” with a user, and downloaded 24 folders from that user which contained approximately 2600 depictions of child pornography. The UC determined the IP address of the user, eventually served a subpoena to the ISP provider which returned the user name during the session as that belonging to Steven Hassan.
On March 27, 2018, a judge authorized a state search and seizure warrant of Hassan’s residence in Frederick, MD.
On April 13, a federal search and seizure warrant for Hassan’s residence was issued for evidence relating to possession with intent to distribute child pornography.
On June 8, 2018, Hassan was arrested at his residence in connection with a federal warrant and has been detained since that time.
On August 17, 2018, the State Department (through HR’s Office of Employee Relations, Work/Life Division) updated 3 FAM 1810 Family Advocacy Program (Child Abuse, Child Neglect, and Domestic Violence) of the Foreign Affairs Manual. Was this pure coincidence or did this case precipitate the update of the FAM? 
Plea and Sentencing
Under the plea agreement signed by Hassan on March 5, 2019, the penalties under the statute he was charged has a minimum  of 15 years, and a maximum of 30 years, with supervised release for life.
On August 12, 2019, United States Attorney Robert K. Hur wrote to the court informing the judge that “three of Defendant’s victims in the Philippines have informed the Government that (1) each is seeking restitution for harm suffered as a result of Defendant’s offense; and (2) each is willing to agree to restitution in the amount of $1,000 per person. The Government has informed Defendant’s counsel of the amount of restitution sought by each of the victims. Defendant does not object to it. Accordingly, the Government at sentencing tomorrow will ask the Court to include $1,000 in restitution to each of the three victims who have sought it in the Judgment and Commitment Order.” 
On August 13, 2019, U.S. District Judge Paul W. Grimm sentenced Steven Hadley Hassan, age 52,  to 40 years in federal prison, followed by a lifetime of  supervised release.
Questions
If not for the undercover officer who was able to access Hassan’s pornographic files online, we would not have known about his sexual abuse of Jane Doe 1 and other minors, or his production and transportation of child pornography, would we?
What medical and mental health assistance were made available to Jane Doe 1 whose abuse occurred in USG-provided housing?
We recognized that Hassan has been identified in court documents as a former State Department employee. But when exactly did Hassan become a former State Department employee – was he already a former employee before his arrest, or did he become a former employee following his arrest? We’ve sent the State Department several nagging questions about this case on Wednesday; to-date we have not heard anything back. 
And then there’s this: Diplomatic Security’s DSS conducts more than 38,000 personnel security actions each year for the Department of State and other federal agencies. What happened to this one? Also what about the Continuous Evaluation Program?  Diplomatic Security says on its website that the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI) implemented Continuous Evaluation (CE) program in December 2016 to ensure the federal government maintains a strong and trusted workforce.  CE applies to all Executive Branch personnel who require eligibility for access to classified information or eligibility to hold a sensitive position. How did that work here?


Via USDOJ: Former Foreign Service Officer Sentenced to 40 Years in Federal Prison for Production and Transportation of Child Pornography
Sexually Abused at Least Five Minors While Stationed Overseas as a Foreign Service Officer

Greenbelt, Maryland – U.S. District Judge Paul W. Grimm today sentenced Steven Hadley Hassan, age 52, of Frederick, Maryland, to 40 years in federal prison, followed by lifetime supervised release, for sexually abusing minors to produce child pornography and transporting those images to the United States.  Judge Grimm also ordered that, upon his release from prison, Hassan must register as a sex offender in the places where he resides, where he is an employee, and where he is a student, under the Sex Offender Registration and Notification Act (SORNA).  Hassan has been detained since his arrest on June 8, 2018.

Continue reading

Mental Health Resources, Staff Care, Counseling Assistance, Hotlines For Furloughed Employees

Posted: 3:06 am EST

 

+ State Department Mental Health Resources

Via STATE: MED’s Employee Consultation Services (ECS) office remains open with reduced staffing during the furlough. You can reach ECS at 703-812-2257 or email MEDECS@state.gov.  We emailed MEDECS and received the following auto-response email:

Thank you for contacting our office. During this lapse in appropriation period, Employee Consultation Services (ECS) continues to provide urgent short-term counseling services for domestic and overseas staff, Family Advocacy case management, urgent consultations, and referrals. Please provide a short narrative of ‎the nature of your urgent request and one of our clinicians will correspond as soon as possible or you can reach our office during DC working hours at 703-812-2257. For other urgent requests after working hours, please contact us at 202-320-7493.

Worklife4you is also available for consultations and referral services 24/7 at 866-552-4748, worklife4you.com.

WorkLife4You (WL4Y) is a comprehensive and confidential resource and referral for employees. WL4Y specialists are accessible 24/7 by phone (1-866-552-4748) and online to provide expert guidance and referrals for a wide variety of services to help employees balance the demands of their professional and personal lives. Employees can view the services by logging into the website, www.Worlklife4You.com, with the Screen name: statedepartment and Password: infoquest. Employees will need to register individually to use the services.

+ USAID Staff Care

Via USAID Administrator Mark Green: Our colleagues who are managing the email box shutdown_info@usaid.gov briefed me that they have received several questions about whether Staff Care remains open. Yes, it does. Staff Care is available to the USAID workforce throughout the funding lapse. Staff Care does great work, and we encourage you to reach out whenever necessary. As we have heard about some of the challenges our colleagues are facing at this time, we encourage you to share this message broadly.

We encourage you and your colleagues to reach out whenever necessary to Staff Care, which will remain available throughout the lapse in appropriations. The Staff Care Call Center is open 24/7 and can be accessed through the toll-free phone number below or the website. The Staff Care Services Center in Washington, D.C., at 601 13th Street, N.W., Suite 900 South, is open for walk-ins and appointments from 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, and from 10:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. on Tuesday and Thursday. You may make appointments for the Staff Care Services Center through the call-center line as well.

Staff Care Services 24 Hours a Day, 7 Days a Week, 365 Days a Year
Free Phone: 877-988-7243
Direct Dial: 919-645-4960
Reverse Charge Calling: +44-0-208-987-6200 (Call your international operator and request the charges be reversed to the number listed above.)
TTY: 888-262-7848
SMS: 314-910-7728
EMail: support@usaidstaffcarecenter.net

Website: staffcare.usaid.gov
Registration code: USAID

USAID Staff Care Services Center
601 13th Street, N.W.
Suite 900 South
Washington, D.C. 20005

+Peace Corps: Personal Counseling Assistance – Employee Assistance Program

The Employee Assistance Program remains available throughout the lapse.  Feel free to contact 1-888-993-7650.

+ Washington, D.C. Behavioral Health Community-based Service Providers

You can call or visit a provider to help you make a choice. And, you can talk with a mental health counselor at our 24/7 Access Helpline 1-888-7WE-HELP to help you select the most appropriate provider. Check link for list of providers and contact info.

  • Same Day Urgent Care
    You can walk into a clinic located at 35 K Street N and be seen the same day without an appointment from 8:30 am to 3 pm. Services include assessment, counseling, psychiatric evaluation and medication management. You may be referred to a community provider for ongoing care. If you have questions, please call (202) 442-4202.

+ Alexandria VA Emergency Hotlines

If you are in a crisis and need to talk to someone, call the CrisisLink Hotline at 703.527.4077 or text “connect” to 85511 (for TTY, dial 711), or the Department of Community & Human Services Emergency Services at 703.746.3401.

+ Montgomery County Crisis Center

The Crisis Center provides crisis mental health services 24 hours a day/365 days a year.  Services are provided by telephone (240-777-4000) or in person at 1301 Piccard Drive in Rockville (no appointment needed).  Visit https://www.montgomerycountymd.gov/HHS-Program/Program.aspx?id=BHCS/BHCS24hrcrisiscenter-p204.html.

 

 

@StateDept’s Blackhole of Pain Inside the Bureau of Medical Services (MED)

Posted: 12:46 am  PT

 

We previously blogged about the ongoing problems encountered by Foreign Service families with special needs children when dealing with the State Department’s Bureau of Medical Services (MED) (see @StateDept’s Mental Health Services Drive Employees with Special Needs #FSKids Nuts).  Note that as employees prepare for the summer job rotation, MED will be reviewing the medical clearances of employees and family members in preparation for their transfer.  Whatever is the number that is now stuck in MED’s labyrinth, expect that number to go up with the upcoming rotations as kids with special needs are snared in the system that is supposed to help but instead has caused so much disruption and pain.

We understand that medical clearance decisions can be appealed to a panel of three doctors. But we’ve been informed that one of the three in this review panel is the reviewing officer of the the other two. We’d like to know how many cases that come before this review panel are decided in complete agreement by all panel members, and how many cases are decided by the two panel members against the decision of the third panel member/rating official? Perhaps something for the congressional oversight panels to look into? Or something to FOIA if this is going the class action route.

Congress should also look into State’s Medical Services perspective on risk. Would it surprise us all if State/MED doesn’t want to take any? State/MED’s mission is “to safeguard and promote the health and well-being of America’s diplomatic community.”  Does that mean keep everyone with the slightest issue inside the United States instead of sending them on overseas assignments? Bad things can happen just the same in the United States – but of course, MED won’t be responsible when employees are on domestic assignments. It is responsible once employees/family members are overseas. So again, what is State/MED’s perspective on risk, and how much does this inform its decision on the medical clearances issued to FS employees, spouses and their kids?

FP’s Robbie Gramer recently had a lengthy piece on FS families in State’s medical labyrinth. It is quite a read, and don’t miss the quotes.

@StateDept’s Mental Health Services Drive Employees with Special Needs #FSKids Nuts

Posted: 12:26 pm ET

 

The Department of Defense Education Activity (DoDEA) operates 168 schools in 8 districts located in 11 foreign countries, seven states, Guam, and Puerto Rico. All schools within DoDEA are fully accredited by U.S. accreditation agencies. Approximately 8,700 educators serve more than 73,000 DoDEA students. This is what it says on special education:

Special education is specially designed instruction, support, and services provided to students with an identified disability requiring an individually designed instructional program to meet their unique learning needs. The purpose of special education is to enable students to successfully develop to their fullest potential by providing a free appropriate public education in compliance with the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) as implemented by DoD Instruction 1342.12, “Provision of Early Intervention and Special Education Services to Eligible DoD Dependents.”

In DoDEA, special education and related services are available to eligible students, ages 3 through 21 years of age. To be eligible for special education: the child must have an identified disability; the disability must adversely (negatively) affect the child’s educational performance; and the child must require a specially designed instructional program. DoDEA recognizes clearly defined categories of disabilities with specific criteria for determining eligibility such as physical, communication, emotional and learning impairment, and development delay.

The State Department does not have its own schools so Foreign Service children go to local schools and avail of local school services. Is the State Department required to meet the requirements of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Improvement Act (IDEIA) with regard to the education of special needs children overseas? Here is what state.gov says:

No. The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) and its 2004 reauthorization, the Individuals with Disabilities Education Improvement Act (IDEIA), are federal funding laws ensuring a free and appropriate education to children with disabilities in the United States. IDEA/IDEIA governs how states and public agencies provide early intervention, special education and related services to eligible children and youth. While existing law does not require DOS to replicate what a public school would provide to a student in the United States, our goal is to approximate what a child would receive in a good US public school system. Per the Overseas Differentials and Allowances Act and the Department of State Standard Regulations (DSSR), the IDEA/IDEIA framework is the basis for the allowable reimbursable services for the Special Needs Education Allowance (SNEA). DOS is committed to assisting employees in meeting the necessary expenses incurred when deployed overseas in providing adequate education for their school-age children. The education allowances are designed to assist parents in defraying those costs necessary to obtain educational services which are ordinarily provided free of charge by public schools in the United States.

Prior to 2013, we understand that the State department took a flexible, supportive approach that ensures support for dependents while creating maximum flexibility for Foreign Service employees to serve overseas. In October 2013, SNEA management was switched to the then newly created Child and Family Programs (CFP).

The Department’s Standardized Regulations or DSSR was also amended to state that “There must be a formal Individual Education Plan (IEP) or equivalent prepared by a professional medical or educational expert which delineates the educational services required to provide for the child’s special needs.  Reimbursement may only be for those services provided for in the IEP which are actually required, as opposed to those services which a parent or school may recommend as desirable.”

Between 2013 and early 2017, we were informed that “SNEA benefits are reined back dramatically.”  Previously authorized uses were  either denied or dramatically restricted.  One parent told us, “No explanations or justifications are provided for the change in policy despite many requests.  At the same time, parents are increasingly challenged by CFP staff, often rudely, about the way in which they plan to educate their children overseas.”  A direct suggestion that the parent curtail his/her assignment was not unheard of.

That suggestion may become more real for parents of approximately 1400 special needs children in the Foreign Service. We understand that in spring 2017, the Office of Allowances formally ruled that 1) based on DSSR language the only dependents who can receive SNEA are those specifically given a MED clearance that allows them to reside full time at post; and 2) No other clearance is sufficient (such as a Class 6 that allows for a child to reside at post outside of the school year in a boarding school situation).

What was the result of this official determination? Apparently, MED started “aggressively” issuing Class 5 clearances to children with educational, mental health and other disabilities even though there are many/many overseas posts where services have been and could be provided to successfully support such children.  It was reported to us that when challenged, MED doesn’t back down, claiming that their decisions are in the best interests of the child since “everyone knows” that only the “mildest” of special needs can be met in an overseas school situation.

Class 5 medical clearance means  domestic only assignment and it is supposedly issued “to those with complex medical conditions.”

For the FS employees with approximately 1400 special needs kids, a Class 5 medical clearance for a family members potentially means 1) DC/domestic assignments for the foreseeable future only; 2) an overseas assignment that leaves the family at home on a voluntary separation, or 3) back to back to back unaccompanied assignment to priority posts while the family stays behind in the United States on a voluntary separation.  We understand that not all these kids are given Class 5 clearance now but as their clearance gets reviewed, families anticipate that the numbers will continue to grow.

“It appears that any child deemed to have “moderate to severe” needs is being given a Class 5 at the time a MED clearance review is triggered.”

When we inquire about potential issues with the SNEA funds, our source speaking on background told us that SNEA has “always been under the administration of MED, and SNEA spending could only be reimbursed after approval by MED authorities.”  We were told that previously, in some cases SNEA was allowed to be used “for therapies that some would argue were either non-traditional or perhaps not fully established as effective” so the source said it is understandable to see the need to standardize the application of SNEA when the Child and Family Programs (CFP) was created and took over management of SNEA. But the source also said “it doesn’t explain the inflexibility CFP staff have employed since” when dealing with families with special needs FS kids.

Who’s doing this and why? Families are pointing at the MED/MHS (Mental Health Services), which oversees the Child and Family Programs (CFP) in the State Department’s MED org chart.  That office is headed by Dr. Kathy Gallardo, the former Deputy Director and now Director in MED/MHS. She reports to Dr. Charles Rosenfarb who is currently the Medical Director of the Bureau of Medical Services. Dr. Rosenfarb reports to the Under Secretary of Management, an office that sits currently vacant and is overseen by the “M Coordinator” and Acting DGHR Bill Todd, who in turn reports to somebody inside Secretary Tillerson’s 7th Floor bubble.

As to why? Well, no one seems exactly sure why. The State Department does not talk to this blog anymore for juvenile reasons but we cannot overlook the elephant in the room. The State Department is looking to cut cost across the board. We expect that it will be looking at everything and inside every cupboard to come up with its desired 37% cuts.  How many families will endure the separation with employees deploying overseas, and families staying behind because their special needs children are not authorized to be overseas?  Last year, Bloomberg  reported that Secretary Tillerson was seeking a 9% cut in State Department staffing with majority of the job cuts, about 1,700, through attrition, while the remaining 600 will be done via buyouts.

So in the case of the special needs FS kids, the State Department is potentially hitting two birds with one big rock? Anyone at State/MED wants to chat, we’re happy to talk and update this post.

#

@StateDept Diplomat: Why would any woman in her right mind choose to report harassment? See me? #MeToo

Posted: 1:31 am ET

 

The following came to us from a Foreign Service Officer who said she is in the middle of an Equal Employment Opportunity (EEO) complaint, has already waited 16 months to get her appeal heard, and now, could face firing from the State Department.  We are republishing below the entire text:

#MeToo In the wake of the Weinstein allegations and the blessed floodgates they have opened, many people have asked why more women don’t report sexual harassment and assault, and called upon women to do so in order to out the harassers and protect other women from them. I offer my story fighting harassment and bullying at the U.S. Department of State as an example of the huge cost women can pay when they have the courage to take a stand. It is a story of a system that is designed to silence and indeed, punish those who come forward, while protecting the institution and the abusers at all costs.

I have served as a dedicated and decorated Foreign Service officer in the Department of State since May 2011 when I left my practice as a litigation attorney to serve my country. My first tour was in Port-au-Prince, Haiti where I worked with the Haitian parliament and political parties to improve their electoral system, including supporting women seeking and serving in elected office, as well as strengthening the rule of law, improving democratic processes, and protecting human rights. I was awarded the Department of State’s Meritorious Honor Award for my work advancing women’s rights in Haiti in 2013, called a “rising star” by my supervisors, and recommended for immediate tenure and promotion. On the strength of those recommendations, I was tenured on my first try in the fall of 2014 after only serving one overseas assignment – a rarity in the Foreign Service.

In early 2015 I was sent to a small Consulate in Latin America to serve as a vice consul adjudicating visas for my second tour. I eagerly threw myself into my new work. After less than 120 days, in May 2015 the Department of State medically evacuated me back to the United States and curtailed my assignment. Why? Because I was suffering from severe physical and mental health issues stemming from a months-long concerted campaign to harass, bully, and intimidate me on the basis of my gender. I filed an Equal Employment Opportunity (EEO) complaint with the Department of State, returned to Washington, D.C. and tried to move on with my life professionally and personally.

Little did I know the harassment, bullying, intimidation, and retaliation had only just begun. Over the course of the summer and fall of 2015 the individuals I had filed my EEO complaint against engaged in numerous acts of retaliation against me, including writing and filing a false, defamatory, negative performance review which to this day remains in my official employment file and has led to the complete ruin of my career at the Department of State. They also spread vicious, false, and defamatory rumors about me, stating that I had been forced to leave Post because I was having an affair with a married American working at the Consulate – an absolute falsehood. Finally, they refused to ship home all of my personal belongings that I had had to leave behind when I was quickly evacuated from the Consulate. After months of delay, all of my things arrived in D.C. covered in toxic mold – tens of thousands of dollars of personal property and memories destroyed. I filed an amended EEO complaint alleging that these actions were all taken in retaliation for filing my first EEO complaint and retained an attorney.

The Department assigned my case to an outside investigator in early 2016. I submitted hundreds of pages of affidavits, briefs, and exhibits detailing the harassment and bullying as well as the concerted and ongoing campaign of retaliation against me. The six individuals I accused submitted virtually identical and brief statements categorically denying all of my allegations and offering absolutely zero corroborating evidence. The investigator failed to interview any of the additional witnesses we proffered and issued a brief report denying my claims and failing to include or address much of the evidence I had proffered.

In July of 2016 I filed an appeal with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and was told by my attorney that it would be at least six to nine months before an administrative judge was assigned to my case due to the backlog of EEOC complaints and lack of sufficient resources to timely adjudicate them. After 16 months, an administrative judge was finally assigned to my appeal at the end of October 2017. But it is likely too late for her to help me.

In the intervening time, the State Department has refused to remove the false, negative, defamatory performance review filed in retaliation against me from my official performance file – stating that they could not do so unless and until ordered by a judge. I have been up for promotion two times since that review was placed in my file in November of 2015. Each time the promotion boards have denied me promotion and issued a letter stating that I was “low-ranked” in the bottom two percent of officers in my grade and cone. As explanation, each letter quoted extensively from the 2015 false, negative, defamatory review filed in retaliation for my EEO complaint, citing this review as the reason for my low ranking.

On November 8, I received notification that because of these consecutive low-rankings I had been referred for “selection out” of the Foreign Service, a polite way of saying I had been referred to a Board for firing. That Board will meet sometime before the end of 2017 and decide whether or not to fire me. The rules state that the Board will not accept any additional evidence or witness testimony and will make its decision instead based solely on my written performance file which includes the false, negative, defamatory, review filed in 2015 in retaliation for my EEO complaint.

By contrast, every individual I accused in my EEO complaint has been promoted and continues to serve at increasingly high ranks in the Foreign Service. They have faced absolutely zero consequences for their unlawful harassment, bullying, and retaliation against me – while I have suffered greatly for coming forward and reporting their unlawful actions and am about to pay the ultimate price: the loss of my job and livelihood.

I followed the rules. I worked within the system to come forward and report the harassment, bullying, and retaliation I have faced and continue to face. I continued to serve my country and work hard to represent the United States throughout this time. In fact, I have continued to receive awards for my work – most recently in September 2017. Yet I have paid and continue to pay dearly for my decision to come forward. So to those who ask why more women don’t come forward, I ask “why would any woman in her right mind choose to report harassment in the workplace when this is the result?”

#

.

Foggy Bottom Rambles: Remaining resilient in the face of uncertainty

Posted: 1:06 am ET
[twitter-follow screen_name=’Diplopundit’]

The following is from the Center of Excellence in Foreign Affairs Resilience posted on the Foggy Bottom Rambles, the blog for unaccompanied tours (UT) employees and family members:

These are uncertain times for foreign affairs professionals. Much of our foreign policy is unclear or changing dramatically. There is a hiring freeze across the federal government impacting family member employment and making it harder to get the job done in understaffed offices and overseas posts. We face potentially severe budget cuts. The more resilient we are, the easier it is to be flexible and adaptable in times of uncertainty and stress. We are more likely to collaborate with others to find innovative solutions to the problems uncertainty brings to the workplace. This is why it is critically important to focus on building or maintaining high resilience during these uncertain times. Here are some tips on how you can enhance your resilience during this challenging period.

The Man and the Expanding Universe Fountain, by Marshall Fredericks, inside the South Court of the Department of State Headquarters (Harry S. Truman Building), Washington, D.C. (Photo by G0T0, Wikimedia Commons)

Take care of yourself: Prioritize taking care of yourself and carve out time on your calendar for recovery, whether it’s taking a 10 minute walk every afternoon, joining friends for lunch, or cooking yourself a healthy meal after work. Resist the temptation to just work longer and harder since this will actually reduce productivity in the long run. Minimize alcohol and ensure you get 7-8 hours of sleep.

Focus on what you can control: Identify what you can control, influence, and not control. Use active problem solving to take more control over important issues. For example, if you feel like you cannot control your work load, practice saying no and setting boundaries to give yourself more control. Develop strategies to influence issues that are important to you and try to stop thinking about concerns outside of your control.

Maintain meaning and purpose: Remind yourself why you work in foreign affairs and explore what you need to stay passionate and committed to the work you do. Look for meaning and purpose outside of work through volunteerism, hobbies, family, and spirituality. Explore your alternatives if you no longer find meaning and purpose at work.

Practice reframing: Look for the positive aspects of challenges you face. If your budget is cut, what are the potential positive outcomes? If you have fewer staff, how can you turn this challenge into an opportunity?

Seek social support: One of the most important ways we enhance our resilience is to spend time with other people. Invite colleagues to lunch and commit to spending more time with family and friends.

Laugh: Watch more funny movies and television shows, listen to funny podcasts, spend more time with friends and colleagues who make you laugh.

#

How are you dealing with Foggy Bottom’s bad jujus?

Posted: 2:45 am ET
[twitter-follow screen_name=’Diplopundit’]

 

How are you dealing with the bad vibes, and negative energy in the Foggiest Bottom these days?  We don’t care what a billionaire says, but health is wealth, so guard it fiercely and faithfully. Will the Deployment Stress Management Program soon include employees on domestic assignments? That is, until that gets gutted, too.  Sigh! If you have coping strategies you want to share, contact us via our Foggy Bottom nightingale line.

#

From Someone Who Has Unfortunately Been There: Sexual Assault Trauma Triage in the Foreign Service

Posted: 1:51 am ET
[twitter-follow screen_name=’Diplopundit’ ]

 

In response to our post — First Person: I am a ✂️ FSO who was ✂️ raped in ✂️… Continuing on has been ✂️ incredibly difficult…, we received the following from a Foreign Service member who does not want to be identified but sent a note that says “here are some suggestions for sexual assault trauma triage in the FS, from someone who has unfortunately been there.”  

1. Reach out to someone outside of DOS for support, like friends and family back home whose discretion you trust. There is so much shame involved in sexual assault, but you do not have to go through this alone.

2. Find a therapist (PhD preferable). Sexual assault survivors report the most improvement with Cognitive Processing Therapy (CPT) and EMDR (you’ll likely have to do this domestically). If you can’t find a CPT sexual assault specialist, try going to your closest VA hospital’s website and look for one there. Reach out to her and ask for a private practice referral for sexual assault in a military-like service. Since you’re overseas, you may be able to find a private CPT specialist who does Skype/telephone. Be prepared to pay out-of-pocket, and it won’t be cheap. And speaking of costs: CPT for sexual assault may be the most psychologically taxing thing you’ve ever done, but it is worth it. I promise.

3. Consider a medical curtailment to get yourself out of the situation immediately. The only department that I trust at DOS is MED. Fill out a MED update form, and note the questions on what should be the second page (related to PTSD). Check whichever boxes are relevant to you. You can also write down there what happened to you—something as simple as “Sexual assault at Post” will suffice. They will have a psychiatrist reach out to you—and you can request a female psychiatrist. If they don’t immediately contact you, start calling twice a day until you get what you need. Depending on your symptoms, you may qualify for a Limited Class 2, but if you need to be back in the U.S. for intensive counseling (and there is no shame in doing so, your well-being is the priority), they can work with you on getting you a Class 4 so that therapy can happen domestically.

4. FSO Friend who wrote in: I know that curtailment can seem like he wins. But this is emergency triage, and you may need to retreat to a place of safety (far away from him) until you have healed enough to decide your next steps. This is a “put on your oxygen mask before attempting to help others” level-situation. Please don’t be ashamed of curtailment if that is what you need to do for you. You are the priority right now. Please don’t tough it out and expose yourself to further harm–including the psychological trauma of being around him regularly. And please don’t suffer in silence. Out of all of the organizations at DOS that claim that they can help, I believe that MED actually can help you. Please use MED if it’s appropriate for you.

#

This is one person’s suggestions based on her experience and perspective and we’re passing this along for consideration. Since the sender did not provide a return email, we have not been able to ask follow-up questions. We have to respect that this is all that she is able to share at this time. She reached out to this blog out of concern for the FSO who was raped.  We will leave this up to you to consider which of her suggestions may be worth exploring depending on what feels appropriate in your case.

Read more about Cognitive Processing Therapy (CPT) (PDF).

Read here on the Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR).

Curtailment is the shortening an employee’s tour of duty from his or her assignment.  It may include the employee’s immediate departure from a bureau or post, or from assignments in the U.S.  3 FAM 2440 says that curtailment is an assignment action, not a disciplinary one. Folks, of course, know that in real life that’s not always true.

Please note that 3 FAM 2444 allows an employee assigned within the United States to request voluntary curtailment of his or her tour of duty for any reason “by submitting the request and an explanatory memorandum to the assignments panel via his or her counseling and assignments officer. The bureau of assignment must state its support for or opposition to the employee’s request.”  What happens if one is a sexual assault victim in a domestic assignment or while on extended TDY or on training and have to go through this to get curtailed from an assignment where the perpetrator is also located? Imagine this happening to an untenured employee. What  does one write in the explanatory memo — I was raped, and I need to curtail my assignment because my attacker is right next door? How many folks will get to see that memo? Something for the new State Department task force to think about.

We should add that another FS member’s medical clearance was downgraded to a Domestic only (Class 5)  after reporting to MED.  12 FAM 210 notes that Class 5 is issued to all who have a medical condition which is incapacitating or for which specialized medical care is best obtained in the United States.  Employees or eligible family members with a Class 5 medical clearance may not be assigned outside the United States.  So right there, that’s really scary stuff for Foreign Service folks.

On November 22, the State Department directed a task force to create a new Foreign Service Manual section for sexual assault (see U/S For Management Directs Task Force to Create New Sexual Assault FAM Guidance).

 

Sexual Assault Related posts: